St Paul advocated praying constantly or always a number of times in his letters. The classic quote is from I Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing…” But he reminds the Colossians pretty well the same thing: “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving…” (Colossians 4:2). And he tells the Romans: “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12). In this, he is really only echoing Jesus Himself, who told the parable of the persistent widow to show “…the necessity for [the disciples] to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). But how can anyone actually do this?
This question is at the heart of the Eastern Orthodox use of the “Jesus Prayer,” repeated as a mantra until the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” sink deep into a person’s heart and soul and never stop. For those interested, the most wonderful presentation of this process is the work of an anonymous Russian Christian, The Way of a Pilgrim (English translation by R M French). It is a beautifully written story of seeking a deeper understanding of praying.
As Catholics, we are also blessed with many ways of praying: beyond our liturgies of the Sacraments and Divine Office, which by nature and definition are communal, we have devotions like Eucharistic Adoration, novenas, Rosary, Prayer of Presence, Centering Prayer, and so on, that can be communal or private. And some of these can share with ecumenical brothers and sisters, as well.
Adoration brings us face to face with the reality of St Paul’s statement about Jesus: “…though he was in the form of God…he humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:6-70). If some folks think that the Real Presence is impossibly degrading for Christ, they need to re-think the Incarnation itself.
The structure of the Rosary leads us into that mystery: of birth, ministry, death, and glorification. The prayers are just as much a set of mantras as the “Jesus Prayer,” and they lift us into communion.
Novenas imitate the actions of the 120 or so disciples and Blessed Mother in the Upper Room, waiting for the promise Jesus made to be fulfilled (Acts 1:13ff): days of prayerful focus and humble obedience.
Prayer of Presence and Centering Prayer bring us to the reality that the mystery of the Triune God is not something to be understood but simply tasted, acknowledged, loved. It is a style of prayer that is very quiet, and it reminds me of a story about the Curé of Ars, who asked an old man what he was doing, sitting in church every day. “I look at God,” the man answered, “and God looks at me.”
So many ways to pray; so many ways to pray always! And why should we? There is only one answer to that: because we are in love. If we are not, prayer makes little sense at all, really.