Tips for Personal Prayer

by Fr. Frederick Edlefsen

We pray in words only that we may one day be free of words, and adore, praise, and love in silence that ‘Beauty which closes all lips.'

Rev. Dom Paul Delatte, Commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict


For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. 

St. Therese of Lisieux


How to prepare yourself to pray

Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation if you have serious sins.

Ask the Holy Spirit or the Virgin Mary to help you pray.

Find a quiet and peaceful place, like a room, chapel or before the Blessed Sacrament.

Reflect on the beauty of nature. 

Wonder at Creation’s beauty prepares us for prayer.

Read brief passages from the Bible, a devotional book, or a saint’s writing. 

This is called “spiritual reading.”  It feeds the mind with holy thoughts and helps with recollection.  Don’t read with a goal in mind.  Rather, stop reading if you begin to recollect or sense God’s presence.  If you get distracted again, start reading again until you re-focus.   St. Teresa of Avila always went to the chapel with a spiritual book.

What about distractions?  

Don’t worry.   Acknowledge them, but don’t analyze them, narrate them, or try to force them away.  Just recite the “Jesus Prayer” (Lord, have mercy on me) or some short prayer like it.   Be a witness to your distractions – not a participant – until they pass.   Even if they don’t pass, that’s OK.  All God may want from you at that time is your availability.  Dealing with distractions is part of everyone’s “battle of prayer.”

Vocal Prayer

Vocal Prayer is talking to God or the saints with words, aloud or silently.   Like spiritual reading, vocal prayer invites God or a saint to help us recollect.  Vocal prayer may be done with others or privately. The most common vocal prayers are the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, Rosary, though there are many others.  We can also speak to God in our own words or petitions.  Vocal prayer prepares the way for meditation.


Meditation begins with “mental prayer” – using the mind or imagination to ponder something supernatural.   For example, you might ponder an event in Christ’s life, an insight from the Bible, the life or writing of a saint, something you heard at Mass, or a Church teaching.  Spiritual reading helps “mental prayer” because it feeds the mind with spiritual food.  “Mental prayer” often leads to “affective prayer,” which is a deeper level of meditation.  You’ll sense an affection for God and make willed acts of love, springing from within, toward Him.  In other words, meditation moves from the “head” to the “heart.” 

Prayer of Simplicity

Prayer of Simplicity sometimes flows from meditation.  It’s an experience of a simple and loving “gaze” on God’s presence, with the “vision of faith.”   You won’t actually “see” something, but you’ll perceive or “gaze” upon God with the “eye of the soul.”  It usually entails a brief but profound sense of serenity.


Contemplation is purely mystical prayer.  Meditation makes you available to contemplation.    You cannot actively “do” supernatural contemplation.  Rather, it happens to you.  The Holy Spirit takes over and prays within through his Gifts of Wisdom and Understanding.   It’s like an “invasion by God.”  You may feel overcome by a delightful love from God and a peaceful and pleasant inner harmony of mind, will and affections.   Even after the experience has passed, contemplation continues to bear fruit in an enduring confidence in God and a sense of joy and freedom, even when suffering.  Sin becomes distasteful, yet you’ll become more forgiving, patient and humble toward others.  You’ll grow in generosity and a love for the poor and vulnerable. 

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