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CatechismPrayerSpiritual Life

Snoozing and Losing – Finding the Foundation of Prayer

By July 17, 2020 7 Comments
ImageMarguerite in Church, James Tissot [public domain]

All too often my prayer life resembles a dog in a backyard. I chase every mental squirrel that scampers by, and—since the squirrels are clearly conspiring against me—I never succeed in catching a single one. Not only that, but my senses overpower me. I find myself sniffing every new blossom my snout detects and pricking my ears to identify the origin of every new sound. I am the complete antithesis of the word “focus.”

Yet, focus is exactly what is called for in certain types of prayer. The question then becomes, “How can a guy like me ever soar to the heights of sainthood?” This is especially true because I can’t even run in a straight line long enough to get the plane off the ground. What is a guy to do?

The first thing to do is to turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Some may believe this to be an unlikely source, but the truth is that the Catechism is a wellspring of wonderful tips and practical insights designed to pave smooth our road to holiness. Indeed, the Catechism has an entire section devoted to prayer and the spiritual life, and it is a life-giving well for any who approach with a thirst to be sated. Paragraphs 2559 through 2729, in particular, offer some great advice.

In Good Company

The first piece of advice the Catechism offers for our consideration is that distraction in prayer is a universal problem. In other words, everybody gets distracted in prayer. Rather than see this as a total bummer, it should be understood and received as good news. It means that I am not some freakish Catholic miscreant that simply can’t get his act together while the rest of creation can. Quite the contrary, it means I am actually in good company.

Some of that good company includes the great St. Thérèse of Lisieux who, if we recall, is a Doctor of the Church and who is “the greatest saint of modern times” according to Pope Saint Pius X. In her autobiography, Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse writes that not only was she distracted saying the rosary (much to her chagrin because she loved Our Lady so much), but also that she would often fall asleep during mediation or while making a thanksgiving after Communion! Now that is a distraction!

The Foundation of Prayer

Really? St. Thérèse fell asleep after Mass and had trouble with the rosary and still she is a saint? Yes, really! And again this is good news. If she can become a great saint, then so can I—and so can you. The key here is that St. Thérèse understood the very foundation of prayer. She built her spiritual life not upon the shifting sands of a grandiose platitude but rather anchored into solid rock. What is this solid rock, this sure footing? Catechism paragraph 2559 gives us this foundation summed up in one word: “humility.”

Humility is the foundation of prayer. This is something St. Thérèse understood well. She said, “I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake” (Story of A Soul, Fr. John Clarke, OCD, translator). Instead of seeing her shortcomings and succumbing to despair, the Little Flower simply accepted them as gospel truth. She saw reality as it truly was and recognized she was powerless to change it on her own. She also recognized another gospel truth—that she was loved by God. As a daughter of God she was his cherished possession and she was worth dying for. As a result, the only thing left for St. Thérèse to do was to turn to the Lord in true humility and trust in His deliverance.

Try, Try Again

The same is true for us. If we build our prayer life on the true foundation of humility, knowing that we will struggle and fall down but knowing also that we have a God who loves us unto death, then we will neither despair nor give up. Rather, we will find reason to get up again.

And knowing this reason to get up again will provide us the power to put into practice the counsel the Catechism gives us when it comes to actually dealing with distractions. This counsel will be dealt with directly in part two of this series.

Until then, stay blessed my friends.

Anthony Gallegos

Anthony Gallegos

Born and raised Catholic (thanks mom and dad!), Anthony Gallegos is a native of Denver, Colorado. He attended the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and earned a B-Phil from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. After successfully discerning that he was not called to the priesthood, Anthony married, began a family and graduated from the Augustine Institute with a Masters in Theological Studies. He has served various parishes in various capacities in the Archdiocese of Denver. He joined the Catholic Catechetical School in 2015 and is glad to be “back home again” working out of the same seminary that started his love of studying and teaching the faith.

7 Comments

  • Anne-Marie Kelley says:

    Great to know I’m not the only one who has trouble staying focused in prayer. You sure have a way with words, my friend. Hoping to learn more about prayer in year two of the Catechetical study.

    • Anthony Gallegos says:

      Indeed! Year two of the Ladders of Ascent- our course which covers the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church- is everyone’s favorite. Enjoy your study.

  • Charmie Kirby says:

    Thank you Anthony! Love your analogy about the dog chasing squirrels, sniffing and listening to anything that comes along. I find the best time to pray is when I get out of bed, as I am not too awake to get super distracted.

    • Anthony Gallegos says:

      Ahh Yes, Zombie prayer (chuckle) popular (I am told) with monasteries and hermits alike. Just kidding of course. You do make a point worth exploring. When we pray is a consideration everyone of us should be attentive to as some times during the day are better than others.

  • Lorene DeVries says:

    Thank you, Anthony. As a “young” Catholic, (I’m 76, but have only been a Catholic for 8 years) I appreciate the references given in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Whenever read in it I find wisdom and faith and loving clearness. However, it tends to discourage me. It is so large and I haven’t really learned how to find what I want in it. I tend to ignore it more than I should. Your references give me a place to start, and I know I will find wonderful help for my prayer life. Again, thank you.

    • Anthony Gallegos says:

      Hello Lorene,
      Welcome to the Catholic Church (chuckle) a bit late perhaps… The Catechism is a great tool for any Catholic. If I may make a shameless pitch… have you considered taking the Catechetical School classes offered through our lay division? They are called the “Ladder of Ascent.” Classes will not only help familiarize you with how to look up passages, but it will “defang” common fears such as the book is too big etc. In fact the class will help folks see that the Catechism has a beautiful narrative thread running through it. Peace!

  • Paige Szajnuk says:

    Hey Anthony! Thank you for this article. It’s too bad our semester on prayer was “distracted” by temperature and viral issues.
    I understand the larger point you’re making, but in my mind, sleeping is a rather innocent distraction. I’m much more bothered by, and feel guilty about, sinful distractions like having selfish or even unloving thoughts about someone while I’m supposed to be praying. That seems very irreverent, especially if I’m in the Adoration Chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament! So anyway, parents do love their children just as much when they are sleeping as when they are awake, but do they love them just as much when they misbehave? Time and time again???

    And that bit about St. Therese’s humility but yet she knew she was worth dying for. I’m going to have to think about that for a while. Ironic.

    This is a great article, Anthony. Thank you.

    Paige

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