Deepen prayer by defining it

Friday, October 06, 2017 - Updated: 10:00 am

QUESTION: When we were young, we were told that prayer is “the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God.” Is that still a good definition?


ANSWER: Generally, the Catholic Church distinguishes prayer as both public and private. Within “public” prayer, the pre-eminent form is the celebration of the Eucharist. That prayer is addressed to the Father by the entire church (Christ as divine head and we as members).

An additional form of prayer is the Liturgy of the Hours, which may be celebrated publicly as well as privately (that is, in common with others or alone). It is an ancient prayer form utilizing psalms, Scripture readings and prayers.

Other prayer generally falls into the category of private prayer, and that seems to be what the question above is addressing.

It seems that all Christian prayer may be described as “lifting up our minds and hearts to God.” But perhaps for some this definition seems too abstract. There are ways to expand and deepen it.

While we should never collapse the divine into the human, there is good reason to understand God through human experience. Christ became flesh to enable us to do that. In addition, we are made in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, by understanding ourselves better we come to better understand our God in whose image we were created.

What this implies then is that we can understand the nature of prayer by understanding the nature of human conversation. When meeting a true friend, we like to share with him or her the joys and troubles of our lives. We outline for them our difficulties as they patiently listen. While we believe they would do anything they could to help us, most frequently we find consolation in just telling our story. We leave these encounters with renewed strength and resolve, although little or nothing has changed.

There are also times we spend with good friends when we just want to tell them how important they are to us. We want them to know how very much we appreciate their friendship. We give them praise for what they have done for us and tell them that we are grateful.

Finally, there are occasions when we want to share with a friend the difficulties encountered by another friend. We want to share their pain and explore ways in which we might offer assistance.

It seems that these human experiences can help us to understand several aspects of our personal prayer to God, that is, prayer of praise, prayer of thanksgiving and intercessory prayer. Our “lifting up of our minds and hearts” is really a conversation with a divine “friend.” That conversation entails telling God about our joys and sorrows, praising God for what has been given and sharing the needs of those whom we love.

Within our Catholic perspective, there is also the element of prayer that seeks the assistance of the Holy Spirit in our prayer. Not only near Pentecost, but throughout the year (and throughout our lives), we might also pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love.”


Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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