When I think of my personal prayer life, I don’t usually envision a battle.
I want to think of my prayer as basking in the love of Jesus, having a blissful and joyful conversation. I want to describe my prayer by the consolations that bless my socks off. That’s the way I want to perceive it; that’s the desire of my heart. But in truth, prayer is a battle against both my human weakness and diabolical diversions.
A holy struggle
“The Battle of Prayer” is the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and this description goes on for many pages. (Read the full context for this article here: CCC, 2725-2745.) While there’s no mistaking that prayer is a beautiful part of our Christian life — and one that is necessary for us to thrive — there’s also no denying that daily prayer takes commitment and effort, and for many of us, that equals a struggle.
Against whom or what are we battling? The Catechism offers a compelling answer.
Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God (CCC, 2725).
We are battling against our weak wills when we are lazy or inattentive. We are battling our schedules when we let responsibilities crowd out time for prayer. And we battle fatigue when we are overworked and save prayer for the last thing, if time permits. Truly, that’s the beginning of the battle — the battle to pray at all.
Oh, and yes, there was that other thing: “the wiles of the tempter.” The devil loves it when we fail to pray, or when God does not fit into our lives. We must fight to resist these temptations!
The Catechism wisely cautions: “We pray as we live, because we live as we pray” (2725). That one line is a sermon itself and is worthy of memorization.
If we are living without prayer, we are living without God. Beginning today, we can make strides to reset our schedules and attitudes to make prayer a holy habit.
If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer (CCC, 2725).
We need to train ourselves to embrace silence and escape the noise of daily life to seek the Lord in prayer. Yet many of us also battle distractions when we do pause to pray. We need to deal with those distractions as they come, and pay attention to our own motives in those moments. The Catechism teaches:
Distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve [See Matthew 6:21, 24] (CCC, 2729).
Prayer is a humbling posture for our good. It calls us to acquire a humble vigilance of heart. Prayer is where we learn how converted our hearts really are before the Lord. If we suffer struggles in prayer (or in life), we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. St. Teresa of Ávila advises us to keep our hope — our desire for union with God — always in view.
Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end [St. Teresa of Ávila] (CCC, 1821).
What’s more, as we begin to pray, we can ask the Holy Spirit for the grace we need to pray despite the distractions we face. We never pray alone! So ask the Spirit for supernatural help so that distractions may be borne or overcome.
Persevere in love
The saints knew this: Perseverance in prayer is fueled by love. St. Paul teaches: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit … with all perseverance and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18).
This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love (CCC, 2742).
Let us live as we pray. As the Church teaches, “Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love” (CCC, 2745).