Prayer can be confusing at times, especially when prayer is described in any number of ways. We may have been told that prayer consists of “saying your prayers,” reciting such beautiful formulas as the Our Father or Hail Mary.
While these prayers are perfect to build our spiritual life with and can help us weather many trials in life, God often calls us to something deeper.
St. Therese of Lisieux is cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as saying, “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” (CCC 2558).
While this may seem like a simplistic view of prayer, it gets to the core of what prayer really is. Prayer is meant to be a loving relationship, and often even a simple glance from our loved one can set us on fire with heartfelt feelings.
The Catechism also recalls a similar story from the life of St. John Vianney.
Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me“: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle.CCC 2715
Sometimes this is all we have to do during prayer. We simply need to gaze at Jesus and let Jesus gaze back at us.
St. John Vianney expresses in his own words a similar sentiment in a prayer he composed.
My Jesus … we can only be satisfied by setting our hearts, imperfect as they are, on you. We are made to love you; you created us as your lovers. It sometimes happens that the more we know a neighbor, the less we love him. But with you it is quite the opposite. The more we know you, the more we love you. Knowledge of you kindles such a fire in our souls that we have no energy left for worldly desires. My Jesus, how good it is to love you. Let me be like your disciples on Mount Tabor, seeing nothing else but you. Let us be like two bosom friends, neither of whom can ever bear to offend the other.
When we examine our own prayer lives, let us use these experiences of St. John Vianney to discover how close we are to God. Do we stop and let God gaze at us in love? Do we feel his presence wash over us?
We don’t have to make prayer complicated. Sometimes, we just need to rest and let God’s love overcome us.
Miraculous litany of St. Philomena composed by St. John Vianney
This is the key to achieving peace through contemplation