The answer to the question is both simple and complex at the same time.
Christian prayer is a fascinating subject, one that has captured the attention of both academic theologians and saints alike. It is also a basic part of being Christian and is found in the lives of every believer, from the poor man on the street to the heights of the Church hierarchy.
Yet, prayer can also be confusing and some may wonder if there is a “best” or more “preferred” way to pray.
The Catholic Church has always divided prayer into three main categories: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. A person might ask, is one of these categories of prayer better than the other?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how in one sense, “The Lord leads all persons by paths and in ways pleasing to him, and each believer responds according to his heart’s resolve and the personal expressions of his prayer” (CCC 2699). What this means is that each person’s prayer life is individual and God will move that person according to their capacity in the present moment.
At times some may be moved to be more vocal in prayer, while at others God may inspire someone to seek a more contemplative prayer life. In this sense the “best” way to pray is to follow God’s will and to pray according to the movements of your heart. If you feel God leading you to be more contemplative, then that is where you should go. If peace is found more in meditation, then that is what you should pursue.
However, there is also one single thread that unites all of these categories of prayers and is the key to experiencing the “best” kind of prayer.
The Catechism states, “They have one basic trait in common: composure of heart” (CCC 2699). As the Psalmist writes, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (Psalm 51:19).
No matter what type of prayer you engage in, the key to prayer is a contrite heart, united to God. If you are led to contemplative prayer, but only do so with the intellect, that prayer will be hollow and not plumb the depths of God.
Above God desires to be in a relationship with us and just like any relationship, love must be behind it. One of the biggest temptations for the Christian is to rattle off prayers with our mouths, but never be moved at the heart-level. Instead we need to rethink our prayer lives and ponder where are heart truly is.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matthew 6:21)