DO WE PAY ATTENTION TO OUR VOCAL PRAYERS?
When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret … And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Our Lord teaches us to make our prayer authentic, and to use both our head and our heart. And vocal prayer, no less than mental, is the raising up of the mind to God. Our vocal prayer must never be something purely external.
Slowly. – Consider what you are saying, who is saying it and to whom. – For that hurried talk, without time for reflection, is just noise, the clatter of tin cans .And with Saint Teresa, I will tell you that, however much you work your lips I do not call it prayer.St. Josemaria
It’s not enough just to recite formulas. God detests worship that is merely external. These people honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me. Still, we have to recognize our own weakness and how easily we get distracted, so that we make a constant effort to mean the words we are saying.
It happens to all of us. St Teresa herself said that sometimes she was as dry as a bone, and couldn’t keep track of what she was saying even for the space of an Our Father.
Tell our Lord that I’m going to pray and I would like to do it well; I beg you to enlighten me and help me, so that I can realize what the Our Father is about. Then you start: “Our Father”. And you stop to think for a bit what the word Father means. Think about what your own father is to you, and then think how, besides your father here on earth, you’ve got another father in heaven: God. And so you’re filled with holy pride.
“Our” Father. He’s not just yours: he is ours, everyone’s. That means that you are a brother or sister to all the other people on earth. Therefore you’ve got to love people, you’ve got to help them to be good children of God, because all together we make up the family of our Father in heaven.
“Who art in heaven…” And you remember straight away how you’ve heard me saying that he’s also in the tabernacle and in our soul in grace…
Attention is the most important part of our struggle to say our vocal prayers well. That comes down to little details: pronouncing the words clearly, without rushing them, and avoiding routine even in our tone of voice. There has to be time for consideration, so that our words are accompanied by mental prayer and are the expression of interior acts, arousing thoughts and affections in us. If ever our conversation with God starts to seem arid, our voice and the phrases we say aloud will themselves be a vigorous spur to our devotion, strong enough to carry our heart with them. St Cyprian teaches:
When we start to pray, dearly beloved brethren, we should be attentive and put our heart into our prayers. All thoughts that arise merely from our earthly nature must be left behind, and our soul should be filled with the substance of our prayer alone. This is why the priest stops and prepares the faithful before saying the Pater noster …
Let us therefore close the doors of our heart against the enemy and open them only to God. Let us not allow God’s adversary any foothold in our heart, because by means of subtle images he often slips in and distracts our prayers away from God, so that we have one thing in our heart and another on our lips. Whereas if our intentions are true, it is just the reverse, for not only do our audible words pray, but our spirit and feelings are praying in them. What an insult it is to let yourself be distracted by profane thoughts when you are praying to God, so that what you are thinking is different from what you are telling God! How can you dare ask God to hear your prayer if you yourself don’t attend to what you are saying?
Attentive prayer, with our mind set on the person we are talking to. Then our prayer can be confident, intimate, imbued with the Spirit of sonship, in which we cry out, Abba! Father
SOURCE: Excerpt from the Book of meditations, Thursday in the 11th week of Ordinary time (private collection)
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