The reflection for our next RCIA session asks us about out prayer life, when we pray, and when we find prayer difficult. When I look back on my own prayer life I don't think that I had much of a prayer life for a long time. Like many Catholics my age I think that the experience of prayer that sticks in my mind is the family recitation of the rosary before bed time. The rosary then was an exercise in rote memory. I don't remember praying for anything during this and I'm not sure that I had much of a "connection" with God during this early prayer. I think that my first real experience (like those of many) of prayer was with the prayer of petition. So, in times of crisis I remember praying to God to help or to heal someone.
It is embarrassing to admit it but I think my prayer life only began to develop a few years ago. I first began a regular prayer life when the Catholic school where I was teaching finally got a chapel. I began to spend quiet time there before school began in the morning. That habit of setting aside time to pray in the morning has stayed with me through the last years of my teaching career and the first years of my retirement. During this time I also began the practice of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This method of prayer had two advantages for me. First of all, it maintained for me the habit of praying at a particular time (In my parish we have a community celebration of Morning Prayer which I try to attend every day.). Secondly, the Liturgy of the Hours led me to examine more closely other kinds of prayer than the prayer of petition. The psalms which are the basis of the Liturgy of the Hours praise God, give thanks to God, and many other things in addition to asking God for blessings. I have to confess again that my use of the Liturgy of the Hours for other times of the day has not been as regular as for Morning prayer.
Another thing that has influenced my prayer life in the last few months has been my involvement in the hospital ministry of our parish. It has been quite natural for me to pray for those people I meet during these hospital visits and this intercessory prayer has helped my prayer life a lot. Here I have found that returning to my early experience of praying the Rosary has been a help.
Sometimes prayer is not easy. Quite often my mind does not want to dwell on God and instead I find myself think of any number of other things. I am not sure what causes this (short of attention deficit disorder). I take some consolation from the prayer of Thomas Merton that: "the desire to please you, does in fact please you.' So at these times of distraction I hope that the honest effort to pray does also please God.