A Firm Foundation for a Powerful Prayer Life

The Basic Book of Catholic Prayer: How to Pray and Why by Father Lawrence G. Lovasik, SVD Sophia Institute Press, 1999 214 pages, $14.95

“Prayer is the lifting of our minds and hearts to God, to praise His goodness, to thank Him for His kindness, to acknowledge our sins and plead for pardon, to ask His aid for our salvation, and to give glory to Him.” So begins this very helpful guide to prayer-improvement.

Many readers know the late Divine Word Father Lovasik as the author of many excellent books and tracts. This one, an edited reprint of a 1961 book, Prayer in Catholic Life (MacMillan), shows how fervently Father Lovasik worked to make God better-known and loved.

Why do we need to pray? How do we pray? And just what is prayer, anyway? Looking to Jesus as the ultimate role model to emulate in prayer, Father Lovasik answers those questions and makes clear, for example, why our Lord prayed openly and vocally before undertaking especially important events and at the close of his life upon the cross. A line-by-line explanation of the “Our Father” is especially enlightening.

But Father Lovasik doesn't merely instruct us in prayer. He motivates us to pray, too. “Following the example of Jesus, you, too, must pray,” he writes, “because there is nothing higher and nothing better than to converse with God — and nothing is more necessary.”

If you feel you need help with your prayer life — and you're in the minority if you don't feel that way — you will find much insight and encouragement in these pages. The idea of prayer is to enter into a deep dialogue with God, and Father Lovasik proves a wise guide in that endeavor.

To be sure, there is a great hunger in our time for a “closer walk with God.” One need only look at the number of books being published on the subject of prayer lately. What makes this one different from the rest of the pack? I think its appeal lies in its sticking to, and fully exploring, the fundamentals.

As a “basic book,” it provides a good starting point for someone with little experience in prayer, yet it's also an excellent review for the likes of me, a monk, who can only benefit from a “refresher course” after many years of dedication to prayer.

After exploring the power of prayer — something I have become more convinced of over the years — Father Lovasik writes of various forms of prayer. Both vocal and mental prayer are considered in depth. It was good to read about vocal prayer written by a teacher who has such respect for the form; clearly the author does not see it merely as mental prayer's lowly preparation.

It's been my experience that many people fear mental prayer or meditation. Father Lovasik helps break that barrier. “Mental prayer is not too high and difficult for you,” he writes, and then relates a simple method of meditating based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Chapters on adoration and thanksgiving follow. We all seem to need to be reminded to thank God for our blessings. Father Lovasik tells how to develop qualities that will help us to pray, beginning with humility.

I suspect that is how people who are poor and homeless pray. We are urged to pray with confidence. Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to pray in thanksgiving for a favor granted before she had received it! Praying with a sincere heart is emphasized, as is perseverance.

Ah, here is where so many people go wrong — they give up praying too soon. At least, that's my opinion, and Father Lovasik seems to agree. “Some people stop praying when they do not get what they ask for immediately,” he writes. Part of the problem may be our intentions: “We often pray to God for things that we believe to be good and useful, but which would be ruinous for us.”

After encouraging us to be attentive when we pray, Father Lovasik tackles preparing for prayer. The advice he gives here may surprise some people who do not consider prayer as something that needs preparation but rather as something one just does. It's true that not all prayer requires preparation — people in emergency-room waiting areas don't need preparation to pray deeply and effectively. But to grow daily in regular prayer, you need what St. Teresa of Avila called “recollection.” It's all about focus, something we're in dire need of in these busy and distracting days.

Here Father Lovasik's advice is both kind and soothing. “Do not disturb yourself about the distractions you may happen to have, but remain faithful, and lead your mind back gently to the subject that should be occupying you.”

As for dryness, something that will affect anyone who sets out to pray every day, we are here reminded: “Prayer requires no special feeling of devotion.” That is something I, for one, am forever saying (or want to say) to people when they express the belief that they do not pray well. Sadly, people seem to worry about their feelings, which, in prayer, are simply not relevant. The will to pray is what it's all about. I should recommend they read this book.

Father Lovasik also writes of using short prayers sometimes called aspirations: “Just as the thought of a friend will often come to your mind, so if you really look on God as a friend, you cannot help thinking of Him at times during the day, asking for mercy, begging a favor, and praising His goodness.”

There is a handy chapter on making one's ordinary actions more prayerful by recalling God's presence. “By degrees you will reach a point at which you always feel that you are not alone, but with and in God,” Father Lovasik writes.

I like priests who both encourage us to grow spiritually and show us how to do so. I like books that help us pray. I like The Basic Book of Catholic Prayer.

Brother Craig Driscoll, founder of the Monks of Adoration, lives in Petersham, Massachusetts.