Learning to pray

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"Lord, Teach Me To Pray," a three-part prayer series rooted in St. Ignatius of Loyola spirituality, will offer a training retreat at St. John the Beloved Church in McLean Sept. 7 for anyone who wants to co-facilitate small prayer groups for men and women at their parishes.

The series originated in New Orleans about 12 years ago, when Carol Weiler, series director, was inspired to develop a way for women to bring the Holy Spirit into their daily lives. In 2011, after Weiler prayed about it with her husband, the series was adapted for men.

Once a small group is formed in a parish, participants are introduced to Ignatian prayer centered on the Christian virtues, practice the "The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius," and concentrate on discernment and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The three-part series lasts roughly a year. It includes daily individual prayer and two-hour weekly sessions with co-facilitators.

Because the series can be followed with a manual, "any average person in the pew who has a love for God can become a facilitator," said Dominican Father Marty Gleeson, series spiritual adviser.

The daily prayers help participants strip everything that is keeping them from being face to face with Christ, Weiler said. Participants can learn to know, love and serve God in the contemplative dimension of prayer.

For Lisa G. Flood, a small-group facilitator and parishioner of St. Peter Church in Covington, La., "Lord, Teach Me To Pray" is synonymous with a "deeply intimate relationship with Jesus."

"Every day, it made me slow down and commit a certain time to Him," said Flood, a Catholic radio and TV host. "And when I showed up, believe me, He showed up."

She said the series helped three generations of her family to return to the Catholic faith, including her husband, Herb. "It helped me realize that I needed to stop asking (for him to return to the church) but to deepen my prayer life and He would do the rest," Flood said.

The joy and peace she obtained through the intensity of her prayer made people wonder what was changing her. One day, halfway through the series, her husband came home from work and searched for something in her eyes.

"He asked, 'Who are you and what have you done with my wife? I feel loved by you now in a way that I never did,'" Flood said. "I was starting to cry and he said, 'And I know it is only because of your relationship with Jesus that I see that love in you.'"

Now Herb is a facilitator for the men's series and tells people it was "the best thing that could happen to a marriage" and to his prayer life.
"When you grow in love with God, you grow in love with your spouse," he said. "We always had a terrific marriage but with her doing 'Lord, Teach Me To Pray' the marriage went through the stratosphere."

As facilitators, they discover new things every time they guide a group through a part of the series, Flood said, because the series allows God to meet you at whatever stage you are in life.

"It is different every time, depending where I am in my personal love with Jesus and where the Holy Spirit needs to touch me," Flood said. "It's a prayer journey."

God puts the pieces together
In January, five women from the Arlington Diocese went to New Orleans to attend a "Lord, Teach Me To Pray" retreat, looking to deepen their relationship with Christ.

Trish Scalia, a parishioner of St. John the Beloved and Lisa Flood's cousin, motivated the other women to bring the series to Arlington. She had seen how the series affected her relatives and decided to learn more about it when her godmother, who was very involved with the series, died tragically last year.

The women she invited - one who was ill at the time and the rest with 17 children among them still living at home - were amazed they were able to make time to go. Now they believe that God had been putting together the pieces of a puzzle to draw them closer to Him.

Scalia informed her pastor, Father Christopher J. Pollard, of their plans. Then she called Clare Rowan, who is involved with the St. John Women Council, to tell her about the trip.

Rowan said Scalia's unexpected call was the answer to a plea she had made to God regarding her spiritual life that morning.

"I cannot believe she called because at Mass I was praying for the Lord to send me someone or something," Rowan said. After talking to her husband, Rowan called Scalia to book the flight. They left in less than a week.

In New Orleans, the women - four from St. John and one from St. Luke Church in McLean - were impressed by the testimonies of people who had "an opportunity to unite their souls with Christ." After they returned, they talked to Father Pollard and decided to have a "trial run." So, after being joined by two other women, they carved two hours out of their week to pray together.

Rebecca Conaty, the women's small-group facilitator, found that putting herself in the readings from the Bible, a common practice in Ignatian spirituality, enriched her relationship with the Gospel.

"Scriptures that I have heard a hundred times before were different," she said. "When we finished that prayer time, I had visited the Holy Land."

This deep prayer allows you to hear from God and develop a friendship with Him, she said. She added that following the program point by point lets the Holy Spirit do its work.

"You can't veer off," Conaty said. "There isn't any wiggle room for personalities in it - and that is a good thing."

There's no room for socializing either. "You just come in to pray," Scalia said.
She added that the group "came to see our own innate value more, and that kind of self-esteem really translates in healthier, better relationships with friends, families, co-workers and everyone."

This is what happened to Patricia DeSanctis, one of the participants and a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls.

"I am more patient now," DeSanctis said. "I'm getting much better at seeing others as Christ as opposed to the annoying person at a grocery store or the person driving slowly that drives you crazy. I find myself saying Hail Mary's for them."

At the sessions, each person is encouraged to share what happened in their daily prayer life that week.

"To openly share as we did was new and a little scary for some of us," Conaty said. "But I think that the safety net structured in 'Lord, Teach Me To Pray' helped us to really express from the depths of our hearts what the Holy Spirit wanted us to say."

People are not allowed to comfort or offer advice if somebody talks about a struggle or starts crying during the sessions - that would be interrupting the Holy Spirit, Scalia said.

"The Holy Spirit is guiding us, and He will console you, and He is making you struggle through whatever it is that is touching you that week during prayer," she added.

Participants can't talk about what is shared in confidence, not even amongst themselves. All people can do is pray for group members daily, which is "is like having co-warriors in prayer," said Herb Flood, the facilitator from Louisiana.
"'Lord, Teach Me To Pray' has made me more confident in my prayer," Scalia said. "It made me realize that Christ hears me, that He cares, that He loves me, that He won't hurt me, and that He has something good planned for me."
Now, the women hope to draw people to the training retreat in McLean - anybody who is curious about it, even if they don't think they are called to start a small group.

Weiler and Father Gleeson will explain more about Ignatian prayers and how to use the facilitators' manual and get a pastor's permission to start the series.
After the retreat's closing Mass, Father Gleeson said, participants will be sent "two by two" to start small groups in their parishes.

Negro can be reached at mnegro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @MNegroACH.

Find out more
Contact Rebecca Conaty at rebecca@conaty.net or 703/395-2103, Trish Scalia at trishandgene@gmail.com (or go to lordteachmetopray.com.)

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013