If we asked 50 Catholics for their definition of prayer, would we get 50 different answers? I think it might be close. In order for us to be on the same page, it is important to turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a specific definition of prayer: “‘Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.’ … Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.” (2559, 2564, 2 St. John Damascene, De fide orth. 3,24:PG 94,1089C.)
Prayer is the ultimate communication with God. The reason for prayer is to connect with God. As we see in John 15:4, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.”
Through this purpose we have the lesson of ACTS to teach us how to pray.
The “A” stands for adoration. We are to praise and adore Him because that is why we are created.
Isaiah 43:21 “The people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.”
The “C” stands for contrition. We must ask for forgiveness and forgive others. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the ultimate prayer of contrition.
The “T” stands for thanksgiving. We are to be thankful for all things.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In all circumstances give thanks, as this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
The “S” stands for supplication or petition, which is the most popular, yet least important type of prayer. This is because it is trying to get something. Scripture tells us that God knows what we want before we think or speak it.
What did the saints teach us about prayer?
In 1818, St. John Vianney’s (1786-1859) bishop sent him to the small French town of Ars, then known for its party lifestyle and sparsely attended Sunday Masses. The bishop told John the town had little love for God, and his mission was to change that. He headed to the new assignment, pushing a cart with his meager belongings through the mountain roads, when he came across a boy. He asked the boy where the town of Ars was. The boy pointed it out. As he pointed up to the sky, the saint famously replied, “You have shown me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven!”
The Curé, or priest, of Ars spent the next 31 years showing the people the way to heaven, which included teaching them the catechism, bringing them the sacraments, and, of course, showing them how to pray. He described prayer as “an elevation, an application of our mind and of our heart to God, to make known to Him our wants and to ask for his assistance.”
He goes on to note, “Prayer is the source of all graces, the mother of all virtues, the efficacious and universal way by which God wills that we should come to Him.”
St. John Vianney’s life of prayer and penance led him to great heights of holiness, a visible sign of which is that his body lies incorrupt in the Shrine of St. John Vianney in France today.
In addition to being a bishop, St. Francis de Sales is also known for the spiritual direction he offered to those in his care. His advice lives on in his writings and has benefited many in the four centuries since his death. Many Catholics have a copy of his Introduction to the Devout Life in their personal library. He said, “Prayer brings our mind into the brightness of divine light, and exposes our will to the warmth of divine love.”
There are more than seven billion people living in our world today, people who speak different languages, grow up in different cultures and have different outlooks on life. But one thing each man, woman and child living on the Earth today has in common is that in order to thrive, to be the person God has called us to be, he or she has a desperate need to commune with God in prayer.
When we pray, we focus our mind on God and the things of God. We lift ourselves mentally, emotionally and spiritually to Him, to contemplate Him, to learn from Him and to share our life and love with Him.
Deacon Greco wrote a 2020 book on prayer, “Miracles Through Prayer.” To get a copy, visit his Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry store at www.spiritfilledevents.com