4 Lessons a French Priest Taught Me About Prayer
“I want to spend time in prayer, but I just don’t have the time,” I remember thinking as a Catholic single. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a lot to pray about – my single status left me with a lot of questions that I truly wanted to bring to prayer. But with a full
My senior year of college, I was blessed to have the opportunity to fly out to California for a weekend silent retreat with Father Jacques Philippe. He’s a member of the Community of Beatitudes. This soft-spoken French priest taught me about the importance of making time for prayer.
Here are four lessons from Father Jacques Philippe’s book Time for God to keep in mind if you’re wanting a deep, intimate prayer life with the Lord:
1. Prayer isn’t Christian yoga
When learning about prayer and our interior life, it’s helpful to define what prayer is not. “The first basic truth, without which we will not get very far, is that the life of prayer (or contemplative prayer, to use a different name for the same thing, is not the result of a technique, but a gift we receive,” Father Jacques Philippe explains. Unlike so many other activities we participate in (work, sports, and even leisure hobbies), our prayer life is not about following a perfected formula for desirable results.
“We imagine that set procedures of mental concentration and recollection, appropriate breathing techniques prescribed physical positions, the repetition of certain formulas, and so on should cause us to progress in mental prayer,” Father Jacques Philippe writes. “But this view gives a false picture of mental prayer and the mystical life in Christianity.”
Instead of searching for a “perfect” way to pray, ask the Lord for the grace of you need to grow closer to His heart. “Through true contemplative prayer is a gift that God gives freely, we do not understand how to receive it.”
2. We all have time for prayer
So often in my time in college (and even today!), I would make the excuse to skip out on my prayer life simply because I didn’t have time. I worked full time, went to college classes, and wanted something that resembled a social life. In a hurried rush, I kicked my prayer time to the back of my schedule, hoping that when my calendar cleared out a little bit, I’d have time for the Lord.
“Here is a point worth underlining,” Father Jacques Philippe emphasizes. “The mental prayer should not be treated as something exceptional, done at a time snatched with difficulty from other activities, but should become a habit, part of the normal rhythm of our lives, so that its place is never questioned, even for a single day.”
When we see our prayer life as an unmovable rhythm of our day, we’ll be less likely to shove it aside when our schedule gets hectic. After all, we never forget to take time to breath, and we usually find time to snatch a quick bite to eat. We shouldn’t short our soul from nourishment in the times that our schedule is crazy. In fact, that is exactly the time when we should dedicate even more time to prayer in our daily life.
3. We can’t only turn to prayer when things are falling apart
When I was single, I often treated my prayer with the Lord like a vending machine. I put in my time, made a specific request (that someone, anyone would ask me out), and waited for Him to dispense what I’d asked for. If I was talking with a guy who I thought may ask me out, my prayer life fell into a slump. In fact, for a majority of my time as a single Catholic, it was only when I blatantly aware of my single status that I turned to the Lord. If I wasn’t struggling, I just didn’t feel like praying. But that method of prayer wasn’t doing myself or the Lord any justice.
“The answer is that if we wait until we feel the spontaneous desire for prayer, we may end up waiting until the end of our days,” Father Jacques Philippe writes rather bluntly. “That desire for prayer is very beautiful, and also unreliable. There is another motive for going to meet God in mental prayer that is equally meaningful and far deeper and more constant: He invites us to. The Gospel tells us to ‘pray always’. We should be guided by faith and not by our subjective mood.”
4. Our daily life can help (or hinder!) prayer
“We should also be aware that our whole lifestyle can favor or hinder mental prayer,” Father Jacques Philippe explains. “How can we be recollected in God’s presence if all the rest of the time we are distracted by a thousand superficial concerns and worries, if we fail to discipline our hearts and eyes and minds, so as to refrain from everything that could turn us away from what is Essential?”
Father Jacques Philippe isn’t saying that we should tuck ourselves into the adoration chapel, never to see the outside world. Nor is he saying that our life outside of our mental prayer time with the Lord doesn’t matter. What he is emphasizing is that our mental prayer is not separate from the decisions we make in our day to day lives.
If we surround ourselves with things that distract us from the Lord, should we be surprised when we struggle to be present in our conversation with Him? “What matters is that we be always able to return to God (since it is He who supplies the unity of our lives) and to live every moment under His eyes and in contact with Him,” Father writes.
When we are able to realize that our actions affect our prayer lives, we are then free to face every issue (discernment, singleness, friendship) with an “attitude of total abandonment and peaceful trust in God, to live in the present moment without fretting about tomorrow’s cares, to do everything we do peacefully, without worrying about what comes next. It isn’t easy, but if we put our hearts into it, the effort will bear fruit.”
Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband, geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. You can find more about her on her blog "Old Fashioned Girl."