St. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (Thessalonians 5:17) But many of us Catholics only pray for 1 hour on Sundays. How are we as Catholics supposed to never stop praying? How do we pray outside of Sunday? If you have never prayed outside of Mass, it can be difficult to get started. “What do I do? What should I say? Where? When? How long do I have to pray?” are all questions that might be crossing your mind. Everyone loves Top 10 lists so here is a list of some of my favorite practical tools and strategies to help you get started or improve (or start) your prayer life (in no particular order).
1. The Rosary
I try to pray the rosary every day. For me, the rosary is a perfect balance of formal and informal prayer. The formality of the rosary (ie 5 Our Fathers, 50 Hail Marys, 5 Mysteries, etc.) keeps me focused and ensures that I pray for at least 20 minutes. The informality (ie my own personal reflections on each mystery, my petitions, etc.) ensures that the prayer is genuine and not just done out of habit. The rosary is also one of the most powerful prayers of the Church and is recommended by countless saints and popes, just google ‘Rosary Quotes’ and you’ll see what I am talking about. I like to place rosaries in strategic locations so that wherever I am I can pray the rosary. I keep a rosary at my desk at work, in my car, and at my home. You might be thinking, “Tim, couldn’t you just keep a rosary in your pocket??” I tried that but the rosary would always end up in the laundry! If you’re someone who is used to formal prayer like the mass, someone who likes structure, or someone who is unsure of what to say to God, the rosary is a great place to start.
2. The Bible App
The YouVersion Bible App is my favorite app to use for reading scripture. They have a bunch of great reading plans available for you to choose from. You can add the verse of the day to your widgets screen on iPhone. Every time you swipe right to check the news or the weather a Bible Verse will be right there. Make sure to go into settings and set your default translation to a Catholic Bible Translation, I use the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE).
I guess this isn’t a tool per se, but it is a great prayer strategy. Sometimes we go to prayer with a list of things to do, a scripture reading plan, a rosary, journal reflection, etc. These are all good things but sometimes we should simply spend time with the Lord in silence, no agenda. I like to do this in the car. Instead of listening to music or a podcast, I sit in silence. I also like to sit in silence in adoration (more on that below). If you have never practiced silence before, I recommend starting with just 5-10 minutes. When I first told myself I would sit in silence I had to put a timer on my phone and promise that I would not take my eyes off the Eucharist until the timer went off (make sure it is on vibrate if other people are praying around you).
4. Echo Prayer App
Did anyone ever ask you to pray for them and you totally forgot? Would you like to tell others “I will pray for you” and actually follow through? I would recommend the Echo Prayer app. You can put your prayer petitions into the app. The next time you go to pray, you can pray for everyone you promised to pray for. You can also set it to remind you to pray for a random prayer request at any time during the day. The only danger of this app is if you start to ignore the reminders then the app becomes pointless.
I am fortunate enough that my parish has adoration available during the week from noon to 9:00 pm. Being able to go to the adoration chapel at any time is so beneficial for prayer. You can pray at home, at work or in the car but all those places are filled with distractions. Adoration provides the space to retreat from worldly distractions and focus on Jesus. When I am in adoration and I get distracted by something, all I have to do is gaze and the Eucharist to refocus my attention of Christ, it’s that simple, just look at Him. If your parish does not have adoration, you can go to masstimes.org to see all the parishes in your area that do have adoration. If you can’t drive yet you can always ask a friend, parent, Confirmation sponsor or even ride your bike. These are all things teens have done at my parish to get to adoration.
If you do not go to mass every Sunday, this should be the first step in your prayer life. The celebration of the mass is the source and summit of our faith. It is the foundation of any healthy prayer life. It can be especially difficult if your family does not go to mass. Try to invite them to come with you or ask a friend for a ride. If you already attend mass every Sunday try to go to daily mass. I always encourage students to attend daily Mass on their days off school. I always advise getting to mass at least ten minutes early. This gives you a chance to prepare yourself for the liturgy. I also like to briefly read the readings before mass begins in order to better prepare myself for the Liturgy of the Word
Either everyone is sinning less, or people have just stopped going to Confession. It is unfortunate that confession lines are so short. Maybe you’ve been to Confession on retreat, summer camp or a youth conference but don’t forget that this sacrament is available to most of us at least every week on Saturday afternoons. Trying to go to Confession at least once a month is a great habit to get into. Don’t go unprepared. Make sure you do an examination of conscience beforehand. Check your parish’s website or bulletin to find out when the priest(s) hear confession or use masstimes.org.
Making prayer a part of your daily routine is the best way to make sure you pray every day. We are busy and if we don’t make time for prayer we often forget to pray. You can even use your calendar to block off prayer time. I block off thirty minutes every Saturday morning from 8:00am-8: 30 am for prayer. I also pray night prayer before I go to bed. One word of caution, it is good to have a prayer routine as long as your prayer does not become routine.
9. Liturgy of the Hours
The Liturgy of the Hours is prayed by all priests and religious. It is prayed five times a day. It consists of psalms, canticles, writings of saints and doctors of the Church and passages of scripture. I pray night prayer which is the shortest of the ‘hours’. There is also morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer and the office of readings. The Liturgy of the Hours can be confusing so ask your priest or a seminarian at your parish if you want to learn more. You can also download the iBreviary app if you do not have access to the prayer book or check out this video.
10. Worship Music
This is not a tool I personally use often but I know a lot of people who do. Some use worship music in the car and others use instrumental music while they are journaling. The only time I like to listen to instrumental worship music is when I am digging into my spicy chicken sandwich with Colby jack cheese and bacon at Chick-fil-a. There are a ton of worship music playlists you can search for on Spotify and it can be a great way to pray.