The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock
Parishioners of Resurrection Catholic Church in Dawson Springs, Ky., pray during Ash Wednesday Mass March 2, 2022. OSV News photo/CNS file, Bob Roller.

How to create a more prayerful life this Lenten season

Consistency, quality outweigh quantity, spiritual experts tell Arkansas Catholic

Published: February 14, 2024      
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Sisters Maria DeAngeli (left) and Elise Forst, OSB, pray on the vigil of St. Scholastica Feb. 9 in the St. Scholastica Monastery chapel in Fort Smith.

Lent is a time of reflection to deepen one’s faith and join Christ on the journey to the cross. 

While some Catholics may be looking to give up sweets and sodas, other Catholics may be looking to do something more, such as creating a more prayerful life. 

Priests, deacons, monks, sisters and lay spiritual directors offered their suggestions on ways to be more prayerful this Lent and what to do if you fall short.


Doing what works for you

Jeff Hines, director of the Office of Faith Formation, said everyone needs to pray in some way.

“It’s a basic skill of being a follower of Christ, so everybody needs to do it,” Hines said. “Like everything in the Catholic Church, you can go a lot of different directions, and they’re all good. But the point is to pick something that is entry-level for you.”

If you are just beginning a regular prayer routine, Hines said a good place to start is in the Book of Psalms.  

“If you have a Bible, open it about a quarter inch to the left of the center, and you hit Psalms. Pick a psalm and read it prayerfully,” Hines said. “And reading prayerfully means you’re not reading for your head knowledge. … I use the analogy of electricity going through a copper wire. … The wire … doesn’t do anything, but it becomes a conduit. The word you’re reading is from God, and you are praying to God. The Psalms are the prayer of God’s people.”

Sister Maria Goretti DeAngeli, OSB, a Benedictine sister at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, said the deeply personal nature of the Psalms them a good place to start. 

“Lent, for me, is going to be a 40-day journey to really look into my own heart to see what is there that needs to be refreshed. What can I do to help do that?” Sister Maria said. “For all Christian men and women, we need to look into our hearts. What is God really calling us to do to follow in Jesus’s footsteps? I think our answer is within the Psalms and within Scripture because the people who wrote the Psalms were in agony and were at war with other people, and sometimes really angry, and calling on God to help them find their way… 

“To spend time with that is so important because we live in such a noisy world. … I think we all need to find a time for quiet to really hear what God is saying to us in our day and time. 

Our world is in such turmoil today that it doesn’t take time to give God his due.”

Hines said by reading Psalms every day, things begin to change as your awareness increases.

“You don’t have to expect anything to happen,” Hines said. “You’re reading God’s words. … something happens, undetected to you. You start to notice things. You gain some of those theological virtues … They start happening to you.” 

Zola Moon, a spiritual director and certified chaplain, helps implement a nine-week spiritual program called Invitation to Personal Prayer as part of the Arkansas-based, Catholic spiritual organization Infinitely Rooted. Moon, a convert to the Catholic faith from Methodism, helps participants learn the “fundamentals.” 

“When I came into the Catholic Church, having grown up a Methodist, one big change for me was the beauty of traditional prayers, like the rosary or Divine Mercy (Chaplet), that bring such beauty to our faith life,” Moon said. “But what I learned as a Methodist was personal prayer — you just talk to Jesus. And this is something that in the Catholic Church, sometimes, we’re not as good at helping people with — having that personal, direct conversation with the Lord.”

Sister Elise Forst, OSB, a Benedictine sister at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, said it’s important to understand your unique situation when creating a more prayerful life.

“We should pray as we can and not as we can’t,” Sister Elise said. “Sometimes we see what somebody else does and think, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ But it doesn’t fit our situation … You have to adapt to what your situation is and your temperament. … I think people should feel free to adapt ideas that they may admire or that might help motivate and inspire them, but to be sure to do it in a way that fits them.

“In doing that, don’t compare and judge yourself to what others do — I think that’s very dangerous. Set aside some time for prayer, and be alone without much noise around you … and try to quiet that inner noise… And if you set aside a time to pray, you’re doing it, whether you feel successful at it or not.” 


Consistency is key

When it comes to creating a more prayerful life, being consistent is the key to making a long-term difference. 

“Develop the practice and the discipline. Develop the habit,” Hines said. “You may do it for three to six months a year and not think anything is happening but just develop that habit.”

Father Jerome Kodell, OSB, a Benedictine monk at Subiaco Abbey, said beginners can create a more prayerful life by applying their prayer knowledge to create a closer relationship with God. 

“I think people are looking for a more definite union with God,” Father Kodell said. “I would recommend that they do something very systematic — every day, spend a couple of minutes focusing on the presence of God, either by saying the name ‘Jesus’ over and over again or a similar word. I think it’s very good to use what Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10) said — ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ Do that for two or so minutes every day.”

For Father Kodell, consistency and quality are more important than quantity.

“The important thing is not to be long but consistent,” Father Kodell said. “Pick something you can do that you don’t usually do to remind you every day that it’s Lent. It might be when you first get something to drink after breakfast, like a cup of coffee or juice or water, that you put it off for 10 minutes and remind yourself, ‘I’m doing this because it’s Lent, and I am trying to prepare myself spiritually.’ That’s very brief. I think there are things that people can read, but I think people these days already have plenty of information, and what they’re looking for is communion.”

Father Daniel Velasco, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock and director of the diocesan spiritual direction formation program, said to start with something manageable.

“You don’t have to start with an hour,” Father Velasco said. “If you are intentional about having time with Jesus, even if it’s 10 minutes or five minutes, that is time that you’re spending with God … and you’re being intentional about spending time with him.”

“Consistency is more important than quantity,” said Deacon Danny Hartnedy, a deacon at Christ the King Church in Little Rock. “We have a tendency to often want to go all in and pray five hours at a time. But five minutes a day is better than five hours a year.” 


Ignatian and Benedictine options

Hines said Ignatian spirituality — based on the practices of St. Ignatius of Loyola — can be as simple or complex as you prefer.

“Ignatian spirituality is really great in that there is entry-level, and then there’s Ph.D. level,” Hines said. “There’s the Daily Examen, which is what I ask myself at the end of the day — ‘Where did I see God today, and how did I respond to that? How will it affect what I am going to do tomorrow?’ You can ask yourself those three questions and spend some time thinking about them, thinking back over your day. ‘What were the high spots? Where did I see God today? Was I thankful to God for that?’ That’s Ignatian spirituality.”

While Ignatian spirituality is designed to raise your awareness of God in the world around you, Benedictine spirituality is more structured and liturgical, focusing on Scripture readings, formal prayers and hospitality to others, with an emphasis on work and prayer. Practitioners of Benedictine spirituality might be more likely to pray the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning, afternoon and evening. There are different intensities with which practitioners can pray. 

Sister Maria said quiet time and daily mantras help keep God at the center of her day. 

“We pray the Divine Office three times a day, but I get up early so I can spend more quiet time with my prayer,” she said. “And I spend time with the readings and the Gospel every morning with some reflection … and during the day I have a little mantra that I say as I go about my work — ‘Oh Jesus, how good it is to love you.’ And another one that I found is … ‘So, help me God.’ I try to walk with those thoughts during the day every day.”

Moon encourages participants — and Catholics everywhere hoping to create a deeper prayer life — to slow down, using Ignatian spirituality as a guidepost.

“Spend 15 minutes a day in intentional silence with the Scripture,” Moon said. “We help people structure that time so that initially they have a pattern to follow taken from Ignatian prayer and spirituality. We give people an outline and teach some breathing methods to help them quiet themselves and slow down so they can encounter Christ in the Scriptures. This is personal prayer.”

Hartnedy said Ignatian spirituality allows him to improve his prayer life.

“It’s a universal that we have to have a consistent time and place (to pray), just like anything else. After a time and place, I would say a practice,” Hartnedy said. “Lectio Divina is essential, and as St. Ignatius of Loyola says, we have to have some time to reflect back on how we’re responding to the Lord’s call and the relationships in our life.” 


Following Jesus through popular devotions

Hines said to follow where God is leading you when it comes to picking a prayer lifestyle.

“Don’t feel like you have to do what somebody else does,” Hines said. “Doing devotions is good, and they’re effective. People will tell you (devotions) changed their life and they work miracles. They do change lives. They do work miracles. But don’t let them become your replacement for a relationship with Christ as you would encounter him through the sacraments.”

Hines said the rosary is another popular devotion, but to remember to keep Christ at its center. 

“The rosary is tremendous. We should pray the rosary,” Hines said. “But notice … that Mary said to do what (Jesus) tells you. So as long as a popular devotion is pointing to Jesus, it’s good.” 

“There’s traditionally the Benedictine prayer like Lectio Divina. There is praying where we get into the Scripture with our whole person — St. Ignatius would call that imaginative contemplation,” Hartnedy said. “There’s Franciscan spirituality based on going outside, going in the woods and taking a hike, getting out and moving around and feeling the sun on your face. The key is to focus on the relationship. 

“We’re so blessed as Catholics with some of the richest prayers — the rosary, novenas, the chaplet of divine mercy, litanies. I think the key is to pick something that’s practical and that’s going to work for you.”


If you stumble, get back up

Sister Maria said giving something up all at once can be a recipe for trouble. Instead, use the 40 days of Lent to make a gradual change in your life. 

“Realistically, people think, ‘I’m going to give up something during Lent. I’m going to give up smoking or watching TV,’ or whatever they chose, but that’s not practical,” Sister Maria said. “In Lent, you think about giving up things …  but also think about what you can do to help someone else. Can you be loving? Can you be kind? What can you do to make Lent a time not of just sadness but of joy? … The first few days, it’s really alive, it’s there. 

“But my advice to those people (who stumble) is don’t give up. Start over again. Maybe starting over every day. If you’re going to give up something, don’t do it all at one time. … Just do one thing daily. … Those are the practical things I think Jesus is asking us to do, and if we do those things consciously every day … it will become a holy habit.”

Sometimes, even religious people can stumble in their quest for a prayerful life. 

“I have a great devotion to the rosary again. For a while, I let that go and didn’t do it as much, but now it’s very important to me to pray the rosary every day,” Sister Maria said. “And with that rosary, I pray for the people that need help and prayer.”

Hines said it’s important to remember we are always practicing prayer — not perfecting it.

“It’s always a practice,” Hines said. “There’s no perfection in any of these practices until we are with God in heaven.”

“Hopefully, when we’re making a resolution, it comes from a spot of prayer and a space of love,” Hartnedy said. “When we fall — notice it’s not if — when we fall, come back to that source of love and notice those interior voices. Is this coming from the Lord? If that voice is beating us up and shaming us and telling us that we’re not good enough and we’re not doing enough, that should be rejected as a lie from the enemy. It should be a voice of encouragement — ‘You’re doing okay, but you slipped up here, so let’s start again.’”

Prayer takes many forms, including prayers of blessing or adoration, prayers of petition, prayers of intercession, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of praise (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2623-2649).


Prayers of blessing or adoration

Because God blesses us, the human heart can, in return through prayer, honor God, who is the source of every blessing. This is the basic movement of Christian prayer (CCC 2626). Adoration is one of the first steps for people to acknowledge they are creatures made by God, who is ever greater (CCC 2628).


Prayers of petition

In this prayer form, we express our awareness of our relationship with God as sinners and ask, plead, invoke, and cry out to him in this form of prayer. It may consist of struggle or lamentation (CCC 2629-2633).


Prayers of intercession

Intercession is a prayer of petition in which we pray as Jesus did. This intercession may consist of calling on the Holy Spirit and saints to intercede on our behalf according to God’s will (CCC 2634-2636).


Prayers of thanksgiving

Like prayers of petition, everything one prays about can become an offering of thanksgiving as we remember to be thankful in all circumstances. Thanksgiving is characteristic of the Church, as we celebrate the Eucharist and remember Christ’s sacrifice freed us from sin and death (CCC 2637-2638).


Prayers of praise

Prayers of praise recognize that God is God, and does all of the incredible things he does because he is God. It shares joy and happiness and love of God for all that he does as the benevolent Creator, glorifying him (CCC 2639-2643).


Bishop Taylor wants you to know more about your faith & the Church: Sign up for Arkansas Catholic's free digital edition.

Please read our Comments Policy before posting.

Article comments powered by Disqus