The incalculable power of prayer

In my last column, regarding the violence in Syria, I wrote that "The power of our prayer cannot be underestimated." It is a profound truth that prayer is the most powerful spiritual tool we possess. Why? Because through raising our minds and hearts to God, we are placing our trust not in our own abilities, but in the Lord Who is not only all-knowing and all-powerful, but also who loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves.

When we talk about the power of prayer, it is easy to conceive of this strength in earthly terms. Yet, prayer is not powerful in the same way as having a large amount of money to spend - just because you say many prayers does not mean that you will receive a big house or a dream job. Nor do your prayers change God; our prayers do not convince Him to desire something new for us that He did not previously desire. After all, God is on our side; He always wants what is best for us.

Prayer is powerful because it is the way in which we enter more fully into a personal relationship with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only by being united with Him will we find truth, inner peace and ultimate happiness in heaven. The Lord really longs for us to come to Him with our joys, our sorrows, our hopes and our disappointments.

The first and the highest form of prayer is the Mass itself. At every Eucharistic Sacrifice, we unite ourselves to Christ in offering ourselves fully to the Lord. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest asks us to lift up our hearts, to which we respond "we lift them up to the Lord." Let this truly be a moment of authentic prayer - willingly participating in the Liturgy of the Eucharist by entering into prayerful dialogue with God. During the Mass, we listen to His Word, reflect on His teaching, offer our gifts, which then are transformed into his Real Presence; then we receive back His Body and Blood, Christ Jesus Himself. Indeed, the Mass shows us that whenever we make a prayerful offering to the Lord, we receive one-hundred fold, because the Lord gives us the greatest treasure we could receive - the gift of Himself.

Devotions such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet are also excellent ways to commit regularly to prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful way to sanctify our entire day with prayer by reading the Psalms and consecrating morning, evening and night to the Lord. By praying the Rosary, we seek the intercession of the most faithful disciple, Mary, and her motherly guidance in our lives. The Divine Mercy Chaplet recognizes God's boundless love for us as we humbly ask that His Mercy be poured upon us.

Of course, just as the Lord speaks to us through the Mass, the Scriptures, and the Church, we too can speak personally to Him. If you are unsure where to start, I recommend the use of an acronym that you may be familiar with: ACTS.

- First, Adoration: just as the Our Father begins with the words "Hallowed be Thy Name", we too can begin to pray by praising the Lord for His goodness, His love, His mercy. Remember, all that is good comes from the Lord!

- Second, Contrition: It is a valuable practice to recall your sins not only during the Sacrament of Penance, but daily. In a nightly Examination of Conscience, recall those times you failed to live up to the Lord's commandments and express to Him your sorrow. The Lord is always ready to forgive; He waits only for you to ask.

- Third, Thanksgiving: While it may sometimes seem not to be so, each one of us has numerous blessings in our lives. Thank the Lord for your family, your friends, the beauty of nature, the moments of grace you received during the day.

- Fourth, Supplication: Each of us has concerns and hopes, both for ourselves and for others. Bring all of these petitions to the Lord! He may not always answer in the way that you expect, but He will always respond to your prayers in a way that will help you to grow in holiness and love.

As I mentioned above, anything we give to the Lord, we receive back a hundred-fold. It is certainly this way with prayer. You will find that the more you enter into a personal relationship with God through prayer, the more that your own heart will change. Gradually you will increasingly realize all the blessings present in your life, all that you have to be thankful for. It may be that the more you fall in love with Christ, the more aware you will be of your own trespasses against Him, and so your contrition will become increasingly sincere. And, you may eventually find that the nature of your petitions will change. Instead of praying for specific outcomes - that you are offered a particular job, that you meet your future spouse, that you recover from an illness - you may come to pray, like Jesus, "Your will be done."

In fact, this is the goal of our Christian journey: to come to a moment where we desire only to carry out the Lord's will. Of course, His will is what actually will bring us true happiness! Prayer is powerful, it will transform your relationship with God and, therefore, change entirely the trajectory of your life.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013