Friday, February 1, 2013

Why Having a Prayer Rule is a Great Idea

If you struggle with prayer as I do, then a prayer rule just might be for you.

In the early days, or the "honeymoon" phase as some call it, prayer was a sweet joy for me.  Every Sunday, I would pray the Rosary using an online program as a help.  I looked forward to it, immersing myself completely in the prayers and the contemplation of the mysteries.

Years later, things are a different story.  I read in many works that the early stages of prayer and the Christian life are the sweetest - God grants the soul a brief taste of heaven before seemingly withdrawing.  Obviously, I am not stating that I am now in some kind of "dark night of the soul" - frankly, I think that that book of St. John of the Cross is far beyond me to ever understand, unless one day I am somehow incredibly advanced in the spiritual life.  His theology and mysticism, I feel, should be treated as the Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian in the East - but then, I suppose I wouldn't be reading him at all then. 

Regardless, I think there comes a time when some kind of structuring is needed in the prayer life of the serious Christian.  I am not saying this as some kind of expert - God knows I am not - but just from my own experience in having a set prayer rule in my own life.

Truly, if we only prayed when we felt like it, when we wanted to, then many of us I think would pray very little.  We live in an age of distraction.  Everything and anything seems to work against our sitting down with God for a moment or two.  As Pascal asks, "When we wish to think of God, is there not something which distracts us and tempts us to think of something else?"1

Though prayer is a wonderful thing when one wants to pray, what about when they do not wish to, do not feel like it, or are exhausted and want to shut down for awhile? 

This is where a prayer rule of some kind comes in.  With a prayer rule, one wakes up with a beautiful spiritual breakfast readily prepared - all one has to do is eat.  But this is easier than it sounds - one does not suddenly wake to delicious breakfast of perfectly scrambled eggs and fresh sausage; they have to prepare it first. 

When I awaken for work, sometimes in the wee hours of 3 or 4 in the morning, it is all I can do to simply try and keep my eyes open.  Praying a set prayer rule is tough - or beginning it, that is.  But once the candle before the crucifix and the icons is lit, once the prayers begin to pour forth, then praying is easy.  By the end of praying, one does not want it to end.  But the spiritual anchorage is there, and one can face the day easier.

During the day, I take the time to go through the particular lives of the saints of the day and read the Scriptures.  This takes very little time - anyone with ten minutes on a coffee break can do this. 

In the evening, with a prayer rule in place, one can find the opportunity to examine themselves and their conscience, and to return "home" once again to God in prayer.  It is a wonderful thing.

Having a prayer rule has actually helped me have a set and sturdy prayer life, one less focused on my own whims of feeling or inspiration, less random and chaotic.  In effect, it is part and parcel of living the monastic life in the world, as it were.  We are praying with the Church, we are actively participating in her life.

1 - Pensees, 395


  1. I enjoyed your post though I do disagree regarding John of the Cross. The notion of the "dark night" is not one that needs be accessible only to those advanced in some unattainable spiritual manner. Oh the contrary, the "dark night" is a time where the sweetness has gone, leaving time for growth in faith. It is the absence of tangible love, furthering the growth of a deeper love. Some may experience the night in a rather dramatic way, others as a subtle absence. Neither is better or worse, but befitting the soul at hand. This is what I feel, at the least. Smile!

  2. I agree with anonymous and usually, one does not realized they are in the dark night. There can be signs, but one does not know for certain. You will get to John of the Cross eventually if I know you. I have read him several times and each time I have been able to grasp something different.

    The Rule as stated for the Secular Carmelites is a saving grace for me. For there is the promise of obedience as well. It regulates and orders my day. I am thankful for it.

    Have a blessed weekend.

  3. I have to agree with the above poster about St. John of the Cross. He's difficult to understand but not in the same way Aquinas is difficult. He lays out the whole spiritual life from start to finish, so wherever you are in your spiritual life you can always find something that applies to your situation. When I read his Spiritual Canticle for the first time everything up to about chapter 9 read like he was describing my own life. But after that the book stopped making any sense to me.
    Maybe in a few years I can go back and read a little farther.
    I have often wondered what the dark night looks like for people living in the world. Obviously we can't apply John of the Cross directly to our own lives because he was writing for cloistered religious, but do you think God purifies ordinary people in other ways? It certainly feels like that sometimes.

  4. Just as a followup to my last comment, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, the great Carmelite scholar, once said that he never met a single person who started with the Spiritual Canticle and had a problem with John of the Cross. Almost everyone he'd met who had a problem with John had started with Ascent of Mount Carmel or the Dark Night.

  5. Jason,
    What has helped me is the Liturgy of the Hours. At first I found Morning and Evening prayer in those handy, monthly guides like "Magnificat" or "Give Us This Day." But, now with smart phones people can also download apps. "iBreviary" is an excellent one, as is "Laudate" and they are both free. Other free Catholic apps for Android, at least, are "Catholic Prayers," "Divine Mercy," and tons of rosary apps. My current favorite is a scriptural rosary that is recited by students at Notre Dame and you just pray along with them.

  6. I highly recommend listening to Fr John Riccardo's recent podcast series on prayer. His reminder to pray, whether you feel like it or not, helps keep me on track.

    I start the day with LOTH, but one little book that has helped me is School of Prayer by John Brook. Prior to reading his book, I felt like I was just reading words rather than praying. Now, I read his commentary first and then pray; it's made a huge difference for me.

  7. Pat...Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen has an awesome meditation book out called *Divine Intimacy*. It is a bit expensive but it is such a treasure.

    God will purify each soul according to the attachments and disordered affections and passions that lie within the depths of that particular soul. He does try us through the afflictions and trials of everyday life. John wrote for all those who were on the path to to very serious prayer life, so it can be applied to every soul.

    If you pop over to *my desert heart* which is my blog, I have a *Depression resource* page which has many good books pertaining to the dark night.


  8. This might be helpful in understanding St John of the Cross. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's work 'The Three Ages of the Interior Life" brings out a lot of information from this work, among many others who taught the same concepts. You can read this work online at

    St John's work is among the huge pile of books I've collected and will read as I progress. Right now I'm still reading Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's work, and also "The Way of Divine Love" by Sr. Josefa Menendez.

    I've been swiftly ushered along this path, having only determined to join the Catholic church since just before Christmas of 2012. And now, being brought to your blog, I've fallen into another "honeypot" and I've linked your rss feed. Thank you for showing me yet more insights :)