Exploring the various forms of prayer during Lent

Among the many things that can be said about Jesus of Nazareth, one thing is certain: He was a man of prayer. He prayed alone, in public, before meals and before he did anything of importance.

Feb 27, 2015

By Daniel S. Mulhall
Among the many things that can be said about Jesus of Nazareth, one thing is certain: He was a man of prayer. He prayed alone, in public, before meals and before he did anything of importance. He not only taught his disciples how to pray, but he also provided his followers with the example of when they should pray — always.

When St. Paul wrote that Christians should “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, he was simply encouraging us to imitate how Jesus lived.

Lent is the perfect time for Christians to reinvigorate their lives of prayer. The season of Lent is modeled on the 40 days that Jesus, after his baptism by John, spent praying and fasting in the desert. During Lent, Christians are encouraged to actively participate in the church’s life of prayer.

While we can pray in many different ways, the concept of prayer is itself quite simple. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it in No. 2559: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” However we choose to pray, our acts turn us toward God and help us to grow closer to God.

The catechism compares prayer to a well of living water where we meet Christ: “Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us. … Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours” (No. 2560).

In prayer we enter into a covenant relationship with our loving Father.

There are many ways that we can pray during the Lenten season. Here are a few that have been practiced throughout Christian history.

All prayer begins with presence. As the psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11). While simple in concept, sitting quietly and letting God embrace us can be very hard to do. The mind wanders. We think of other things. We lose focus. But as Jesus instructed us in Matthew 6:6, when we pray, “go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”

Fasting is an ancient Jewish tradition and one that was practiced regularly by Jesus. Not only did he fast during his time in the desert before starting his active ministry, he also fasted during his passion and death.

While fasting can be an unpleasant experience, it is done during Lent to help us to control our appetites and to focus our attention on God. In this way the act of fasting itself can be an act of prayer. No words are needed.

Giving money to the poor (alms) is also a traditional prayer practice where we learn to be generous with what we have so as to acknowledge that God is the source of all that we have. The act of giving is itself an act of prayer. The key here is to examine our motivation for doing so. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we can buy our way into heaven.

An ancient Christian Lenten practice is reading and meditating on the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. While reading and praying with the Bible all year long is a central aspect of the Christian faith, the prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours is a formal part of the church’s daily prayer and is required for those in professed ministry, but during Lent the practice becomes more common among the laity.

Another way to pray with Scripture is the practice of “lectio divina” or divine reading. In this form of prayer, one reads a Bible passage several times in succession, pausing after each reading to think about a particular phrase or message that leads one to Christ.

The “lectio divina” can be practiced by one person reading and reflecting on the Scriptures in silence, or it can be done in large groups where the readings and people’s reflections are shared aloud.
While some people make reading the entire Bible their Lenten prayer practice, others focus their attention around the church’s daily liturgical readings, the Scripture verses that will be proclaimed during the daily Mass.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it quite easy to pray using the lectionary by posting the readings on its website at www.usccb.org/bible. You can sign up to have the readings emailed daily. The site also contains audio and video meditations on the day’s reading, other Lenten prayer practices include praying the rosary daily, making the Way of the Cross and attending daily Mass. These practices help the Christian to focus on Jesus’ life and ministry, his passion and death, and his resurrection.

As you can see, there are many ways of praying. All help us to turn our hearts and minds to God and to pray without ceasing. Find the ones that work best for you and spend time with God this Lent.

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