Teach Us to Pray
by Janet Schaeffler, OP
The question is often asked today, "Are we teaching our children, our young people, and our adults how to pray?"
The question is often asked today, “Are we teaching our children, our young people, and our adults how to pray?” Of course, different answers probably will come, depending on one’s experiences of learning to pray; view of prayer; and convictions about the roles of parents, the parish, the liturgical community, the catechetical community.
As we explore the gift of prayer during this season of Lent—in our own lives and in the lives of those with/to whom we minister—I offer a couple of reflections/background principles.
* Prayer is a gift from God and it springs from the innermost part of ourselves where we are who we are. We know how to pray more than we know. Our role as catechists is to help people discover what they already know.
* We are blessed because we have many “teachers” of prayer in our lives: our families, everyday life, the liturgy, our mentors, the communion of saints, nature, the rich heritage of prayer, and ritual throughout the Christian tradition—to name just a few.
* Perhaps the greatest challenge that catechists face is that we can crowd our lesson presentations with all the information we want to share (that’s another article). As a result, when we think we’re not going to finish “it all,” we keep going and postpone prayer until the next time.
There are numerous ways we pray with our learners, and in that praying, we are, in fact, teaching them how to pray. Here is a brief review of different forms of prayer that you might use, especially during Lent.
Lectio divina (spiritual or divine reading): This is an ancient form of prayer in the Church. It is a way of reading Scripture to move the words to real life.
The first step, lectio, is reading the Scripture passage. In the catechetical setting, this is best done aloud, with learners creatively reading the passage and then repeating sections, words, or phrases that seem especially meaningful.
The next step is meditatio (meditation). This step helps learners connect the passage to their lives. In the catechetical setting, this could be talked about, journaled, or acted out. Certain questions help this meditation: Where am I in the story? What’s the message or meaning of the story for me? How can the message or meaning be a part of my everyday life?
The third step is oratio (prayer). This is the time to invite learners to be open to God with their gratitude and needs.
Contemplatio (contemplation) is the last traditional step. It’s an opportunity to do nothing. Just rest and enjoy being in the presence of God.
Some people advocate for another step in lectio divina: actio (action). This step compels us to do something concrete in our everyday lives because of the scriptural message that has touched our hearts.
Rituals and gestures: As catechists, we can use our liturgical and seasonal rituals as opportunities for prayer: the Sign of the Cross; the Sign of Peace at Mass; the renewal of baptismal promises; the Advent wreath; the Rosary, especially the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent; the Stations of the Cross.
Psalm refrains from Lectionary readings: We often pay attention to the Sunday readings, as we should, but neglect the Responsorial Psalm, especially the refrain from the psalm. The psalms are powerful prayers of our heritage. Frequently use the refrain of the week’s Responsorial Psalm as prayer with your learners.
Liturgical prayer: Invite learners to pray in the tradition/format of our liturgical prayers:
* a greeting (Loving and gracious God…)
* a remembering (as you promised…)
* a request (please teach us…)
* praise (we pray with confidence because of your goodness…)
Centering prayer: This is a very ancient prayer form in which we rest in God’s presence and attempt to be as quiet and still as we can. Throughout the season of Lent, offer your learners a quieting exercise. Invite them to clear their minds and to choose a word to focus on when distractions arise, words such as Jesus, peace, etc. During centering prayer, learners are invited simply to be and enjoy God’s loving them.
Prayer of the imagination: Children and youth especially love to live in their imaginations. Capitalize on this by inviting them to think of their favorite place—real or made up. During prayer time, have them meet Jesus in this favorite place. With guiding questions, help them develop their reflection into intimate an conversation and listening opportunity with Jesus: Tell Jesus how you are feeling. Tell him about the things for which you are grateful. Tell him about your concerns.
Reaching out: Invite learners to participate in your parish’s canned-food drive—for service is prayer. In addition to earning the money to purchase the canned goods, have learners compose a prayer of blessing to tape to each can. These gifts can be part of the Presentation of Gifts during the liturgy. Liturgical guidelines say that in addition to the gifts of bread and wine, gifts for the poor are the other elements that may be a part of the Presentation of Gifts.
Prayer of thanks: Thanksgiving is—or should be—our primary way of praying. Help learners pray gratefully: litanies of thanks, journaling about reasons for gratitude, prayerful art, music and poetry for saying thanks.
General intercessions: Encourage learners to model their petitionary prayers on the format of those we pray together at liturgy:
* prayers for the needs of the whole Church
* prayers for public authorities and the salvation of the world
* prayers for those oppressed by any need
* prayers for the local community
Blessings, Blessings, and More Blessings
We never run out of times and places for blessings—for blessings are prayer. Teach children, youth, and adults ways to bless their families, their parish, people who are confined to their homes because of age or illness, those who grieve, those preparing to celebrate the Sacraments, those celebrating special occasions.
Begin your catechetical sessions with a blessing. End with a blessing. Consider using holy water in your blessings. During prayer times, use blessing formulas from our liturgy, the RCIA, and our sacramental celebrations, such as: “Our learning time together today is ended. Go in peace.” To which all respond: “Thanks be to God.”
After many years in parish and diocesan catechetical ministry, Janet Schaeffler, OP, is currently involved in catechetical/adult faith formation consultation, writing, workshops, days of reflection/retreats, and teaching. Her website is janetschaeffler.com.
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