One of my favorite sections of St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament also can be his most challenging: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
That’s from his First Letter to the Thessalonians. I believe those words have perplexed most men and women ever since he wrote it.
Rejoice always? That’s not exactly easy. There are times you don’t feel joyful, when sadness is overwhelming. Tears occasionally can come more readily than laughter. You get sick, you get tired, you just feel blah, and rejoicing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Giving thanks in all circumstances? People will treat you badly some days. Difficult things will happen, tragic things, horrible things. You will want to cry out to God in your anger or your pain. But you must give thanks. You must rejoice.
And the greatest challenge of all: We must pray without ceasing.
Isn’t St. Paul setting up the rest of us for failure and disappointment? We are human. We simply can’t rejoice always, give thanks at all times, pray without ceasing. God, you ask too much. You know our weaknesses better than anyone. You made us this way.
And yet, we can do it. At least we can try. I don’t fare as well as I want most days, but I have several things that I do in the spirit of praying without ceasing.
I’m not going to list some obvious possibilities such as going to daily Mass, saying a rosary or sitting in “holy silence” at Eucharistic Adoration. Those are great things to do and should be pursued above every other option, if possible. I’m thinking of less obvious things that can take a matter of a few minutes.
The most challenging thought is to pray the “Liturgy of the Hours,” the true prayers of the Church and the ones used as part of the daily routine for priests and religious. I have tried to adhere to some habit with these prayers for almost 20 years.
It doesn’t take much time either. Fifteen minutes for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, then about five minutes for each of the other prayer times. You will find that the momentary escape into the prayers and scripture readings will seep into the rest of the day. Most especially, words from the various Psalms will come to mind constantly.
As for some shorter ideas that I use:
It begins with the moment I step into my morning shower. I thank God for warm water, which not everyone in the world has, and I proceed to briefly thank him for the many blessings he will give me on that day. A spirit of gratitude is the perfect way to start any day. I thank Him for my feet and legs, my hands and arms, for each of my five senses.
When I’m getting dressed to head out for work or whatever else I’m doing, I ask for St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Paul II, St. John of the Cross and a few other special saints to pray for me.
Then I talk with some people who have passed away and I just know they are in heaven. I would ask these people to pray for me now if they still were walking on the earth but asking now seems even more special because of their closeness to God.
I ask Janet (she died when we were in high school) and my cousin Gary (he died before turning 10) to please pray for my children and grandchildren. I ask Ed Schramm (a cousin who was a priest) and Don Blechle (an uncle) to pray for my marriage.
I ask all four of my grandparents to pray for my parents, my sisters and my family. Finally, I ask for the late grandmother of a friend of mine to pray for me and bless my friends.
I proceed to start putting things into my pants pockets. I put two dimes into my left pocket because a dime has special meaning to a dear friend, and as I rub my fingers over them I ask God to bless that friend, her husband and her sons.
I grab a smooth, triangle-shaped stone with an engraved heart, thank God for my four children, my two sons-in-law and my two grandsons, then ask God to bless them.
I grab a see-through plastic heart with the word “Hope” embedded in it and thank God for my wife, ask Him to bless her and my marriage. Those go into my right pants pocket.
The beautifully unceasing part of those prayers is that for the rest of the day, whenever I put my hands into my pockets, I can touch those items and say the prayers all over again for those people.
Every day, at 11:11 a.m. and 1:11 p.m., I look at those numbers on a digital clock and pause for a few minutes. I quiet myself, praise God for all He has given me, my family and friends.
Then I ask God’s blessings upon all of us. I name each of my family members individually, each of my friends as well, and simply ask for God to embrace them at that precise moment. It takes all of four or five minutes.
I often recite “The Jesus Prayer” — Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is an ancient Catholic prayer that can be quickly memorized and recited over and over again as you drive down the highway or wait to fall asleep in bed at night.
At the top of every hour, I pause to offer the next hour of my day to one intention. It might be someone I know who is suffering. It might be for a greater spirit of gratitude. It might for deeper mindfulness of God throughout my day. For the next hour I try to do the best I can at whatever I’m doing in order to make that a wonderful prayer.
Finally, most nights I try to read from some sort of spiritual book or, best, from scripture and simply let the words sink into my heart. As I try to drift off to sleep, I end the day as I began, with saying thank you.
Someone once said, “Prayer should be like breathing. You do not have to think to breathe because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and essentially forces you to breathe. That is why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe.
Similarly, when we are born into the family of God, we enter into a spiritual atmosphere where God’s presence and grace exert pressure, or influence, on our lives. Prayer is the normal response to that pressure.”
You need to breath all day long to stay alive. You need to pray all day long to be alive spiritually.
Just don’t think that the only way to pray is on your knees. And don’t be intimidated. God simply wants to hear from you.