IT was a good question from a man with a good heart:
I personally pray for over an hour a day while walking on the treadmill in the morning. I have the Laudate app on my phone where I listen to the daily readings, listen to a reflection by Presentation Ministries and then listen to someone leading the rosary. Am I praying with the heart as you recommend in your writings?
Yes, I have written and spoken in many places about the necessity to not only pray, but to pray with the heart. It is the difference, really, between reading about swimming… and jumping head first into the lake.
OUR LOVE-CRAZY GOD
What makes Christianity stand alone among all the religions of the world is the revelation that our God, the one true God, is a loving and personal God.
Our God does not only reign from on high, but has descended to earth, taken our flesh and humanity, and with it, all our sufferings, joys, expectations, and limitations. He became one of us so that we, His creatures, could know that our God is not a distant, impersonal power, but a close, loving Person. There is no other religion on earth that has such a God, nor such a truth that has not only transformed hearts, but entire continents.
So, when I say “pray from the heart,” I am really saying: respond to God the way He is responding to you—with a burning, passionate, totally committed Heart. He is thirsting for you, He who offers you the “living water” of His love and presence in order to satiate the deepest desires of your heart.
“If you knew the gift of God!” The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 2560
THE PASSIONATE PRAY-ER
So, on the one hand, praying on the treadmill is a good thing, a great way to fill in the time during a workout. In fact, we should “pray always”, as Jesus said.Luke 18:1
“We must remember God more often than we draw breath.” But we cannot pray “at all times” if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in intensity and duration. —CCC, n. 2697
It is good, then, to pray at specific times like my reader. But there is more: there is the matter of the “intensity” of our prayer. Do I “pray with the heart” or only the head?
…in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain. —CCC. 2697
We have to be careful, then, that our prayer is not a matter of only reading or repeating words, or merely passive listening, as one would do if the radio was on in the background. Think of a wife sitting at the table speaking to her husband while he reads the newspaper. He’s kind of listening, but his heart is not in it, into her—her thoughts, her emotions, her feelings, her simple need to not only be heard, but listened to. So it is with God. We should engage Him with the heart, not just the mind; we should “look” at Him, as He looks at us. This is called contemplation. Prayer should become an exchange of not only words, but love. Passion. That is prayer. Another more graphic example is that of a married couple who has intercourse for pleasure alone as opposed to “making love”. The former is taking; the latter is giving.
THE DIVINE EXCHANGE
Prayer is giving to God, while at the same time receiving what He in turn is giving. It is an exchange of selves: my poor self, for His Divine Self; my distorted self-image for the true image of God in which I am created. And only He can give this: Redemption is His gift in return for my faith in Him.
Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”… This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him. —CCC, n. 2715
Moreover, God, who created you, will never let you down. This, too, is part of the Great Love Story of Christianity.
If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim 2:13)
It also true that some of us carry deep and painful wounds that inhibit our ability to trust God—betrayals, disappointments, father wounds, mother wounds, priest wounds, broken memories and crushed hopes. And so, we project these on God; we say He is either cruel, He doesn’t care, He is punishing us… or He doesn’t exist.
And now, look at the Cross. Tell me that He does not care. Tell me that, when we were crucifying Him, He was the one punishing. Tell me that, when we were nailing His hands to the tree, His were the hands raised in wrath. Tell me, after 2000 years since has He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, that it isn’t He who has led you to this writing. Yes, the Love Story continues, and your name is written on the next page. Life, time, and history continue to unfold because God loves this broken humanity, God thirsts for us, and God is waiting for you… to love Him.
…they have forsaken me, the source of living waters; they have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer 2:13)
“You would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” …Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God. —CCC, n. 2561
To love Him, then, is to pray to Him with the heart, or in other words, to be with Him always and everywhere, the way two lovers want to always be together. To pray is to love, and to love is to pray.
Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. —St. Teresa of Jesus, The Book of Her Life, 8, 5; in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Kavanaugh and Rodriguez, p. 67
Contemplative prayer seeks him “whom my soul loves”… prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit… Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. —CCC, n. 2709, 2565
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