When is prayer not prayer at all?
Q: Dear Dan, I read your post about praying at the speed of light. I agree, however, one of the commentators seems to be attempting to dull the point that we must be attentive when we pray for it to be real prayer? They said that it is only our intent that matters. If our intent is all that matters, then what if we regularly intend to pray and be attentive to God but never or rarely are, in fact, attentive to God. Is this really prayer? I understand that God is a God of mercy and that he does take these things into account (our intent) and helps us but it seems to me that we should work hard to be attentive and to love him in practice, not just in our intent. If our intent doesn’t result in a change in our practice, then our intent is suspect – at least in my mind. What do you think?
A: Great question! Why don’t we let St. Teresa of Avila answer this for us? She was designated as a Doctor of the Church because of her profound life of holiness and her teachings on prayer and the interior life. What she has to say about this is very simple and straightforward:
Since vocal prayer is prayer, it must be accompanied by reflection. A prayer in which a person is not aware of whom he is speaking to, what he is asking, who it is who is asking and of whom, I do not call prayer; however much the lips move. Sometimes it will be so without this reflection provided that the soul has these reflections at other times. Nonetheless, anyone who has the habit of speaking before God’s majesty as though he were speaking to a slave, without being careful to see how he is speaking, but saying whatever comes to his head and whatever he has learned from saying at others times, in my opinion is not praying. Please God, may no Christian pray in this way. (Interior Castle 1:1)
Jesus also made a distinction between prayer that is not really prayer and worship that is not really worship, etc. We need to be careful not to seek to transform the “narrow path to life,” into a wide path to destruction.
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