Getting a Grip on
By Matthew Leonard
Our Sunday Visitor, 2014
160 pages, $14.95
To order: osv.com
In the foreword, theologian Scott Hahn clearly establishes Matthew Leonard’s credibility for writing a book about prayer: “Matt Leonard prays — as he does everything else — with intensity, with transparency and with focus.” Hahn adds: “When I see him pray, I want to pray as he does.”
Leonard writes in a friendly, conversational tone, interjecting humor into his writing. He is a wonderful storyteller, frequently sharing personal anecdotes to illustrate his points.
The short chapters make it a quick and interesting read. Leonard begins by presenting a rationale for praying and stating the purpose of his book: “This book is designed to help you take your life of prayer to new heights, even if you are just beginning (in which case any height is new). It’s not just about the why, but also about the how. It’s about the different kinds of prayer. It’s about the different stages of prayer. We’ll even get into the stages of the spiritual life first developed in ancient times. … All this is very important because prayer, when it is truly understood, is spiritual dynamite in the hands of a Catholic.”
What a great analogy! As Catholics, we all need that “spiritual dynamite” — that burst of grace that keeps us growing in our relationship with God and that powerful weapon which wards off evil in our world today.
Leonard speaks of developing an intimate and personal relationship with God, “praying to God like Christ because we are in Christ.” He reminds us that, through our baptism, we become members of the Mystical Body and obtain a new identity, which initiates the process of becoming more like Christ each day until we reach our heavenly home, where we become fully united with him for eternity.
Leonard defines the various types of prayer and the stages of spiritual growth, which accompany prayer — the purgative, illuminative and unitive way — effectively explaining them, with the assistance of notables such as Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and John Chrysostom, along with quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Scripture and relevant life experiences. Leonard explicates the “perfect prayer” — the Our Father — which encompasses much more than we would expect. Leonard also effectively instructs the reader in meditation, contemplation and lectio divina (contemplative praying of Scripture), explaining what each means and how to incorporate them into your prayer life. He discusses who we pray to — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — as well as through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. All of this is presented in such a warm, natural way, as if Leonard is speaking personally to the reader, as a spiritual mentor, sharing the secrets of sanctity.
Prayer Works! is an essential and comprehensive primer on prayer, which is helpful to both the experienced as well as the novice pray-er. It is an upbeat and joyful way to commune with God and to grow in holiness.
Jean M. Heimann blogs at CatholicFire.blogspot.com.