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How to pray always — even when you can’t


Jacob Lund | Shutterstock

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 02/03/20

Simple steps for staying close to God.

How often have you said these words?

“I’m just too busy to pray!”

Don’t worry—I won’t ask for a show of hands!

It’s true that some people, seeing the demands of daily duties and the distractions of worldly beguilements, fled to the desert, or a cave or a monastery. (Let’s be clear: That’s not the easy way out!) In silence and solitude, they built their lives around a rhythm of prayer throughout the day. St. Benedict, one of the great fathers of Western monasticism, is known for his motto, “Ora et labora.” (“Pray and work.”) That motto needs to be contextualized. He also said: “Nihil Operi Dei praeponatur.” (“Let nothing be set before the Divine Worship.”) In other words, monastic life is a way of living a constant rhythm of prayer (i.e., Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours), punctuated by diligent work, lived in a well-defined and highly-regulated daily routine. 

Many good people will read that and say, “Well hooray for them! I don’t have that option! I’ve got meals to cook and bills to pay and elderly parents to care for and kids who are always falling out of a tree or down a flight of stairs and a spouse who is as stubbornly human as I am …,” and on and on it goes. I’ve known soldiers and fire fighters and I’ve been a chaplain in a trauma center in a major metropolitan hospital. Very many people, through no fault of their own, cannot imitate the monastics and stop what they are doing—on a schedule—and sing the divine praises. What will become of them?

Like any person, if busy people whose duties immerse them in chaos do not pray at all, then they are good candidates for invasion by the enemy, who is all too eager to plant his flag in human minds and hearts. With a bit of effort, some hope, and a little practice, just about anyone can establish some prayer routines to stay connected to God. Sometimes, the plan has to be very short-term. For example, when I was working at the hospital and I was summoned to the trauma center, I would have to arrive in a matter of just a few minutes. No time for a Holy Hour or the Rosary. Instead, while running to the trauma center, I just prayed the Litany of the Saints (“St. Joseph—pray for us; St. Ignatius Loyola—pray for us”). You would be surprised how many saints you can invoke when you are running towards an emergency!

The second strategy takes a bit more planning. It is true that some folks simply cannot stop at regular intervals and, say, make a Holy Hour or pray (individually or communally) the Liturgy of the Hours. Nonetheless, one can prepare bits of saintly wisdom and Scripture to have on hand throughout the day. Here are three quotes from saints that I’ve jotted down on scraps of paper and have in my shirt pocket today. Over the course of the day, I will take a moment and take in these words of wisdom:

“Truth suffers, but never dies.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

“We find rest in those we love, and we provide a resting place for those who love us.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

“It is better to be a child of God than king of the whole world!” (St. Aloysius Gonzaga)

Padre Pio

Read more:
When Padre Pio felt “good for nothing” this is how he knew he wasn’t offending God

Even if I only have time to glance at one of these while pouring a cup of coffee or waiting for a document to print, I can have my mind and heart drawn to saintly wisdom, and away from the nagging, complaining, self-pitying voices of temptation and distraction that form a constant barrage from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Keeping those bits of wisdom on scraps of paper is a tangible reminder that I am not alone in my struggles, and I have the Communion of Saints and the whole Company of Heaven interceding on my behalf.

Anyone can take up a similar practice, and even have some semblance of a routine to draw upon them, say, during a coffee break or lunch break. And of course, it is always a good idea to have some Scriptural weapon handy in case the enemy makes a direct assault against our mind and heart. I have often put to good use Psalm-based prayer from the Chaplet of the Holy Face: “Arise, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered. And let those who hate You flee before Your Face!”

We don’t all have to be monks and nuns in order to follow Christ’s command to “pray always and not lose heart.”

When I write next, I will speak about cultivating disciplines of both mind and heart. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.


Read more:
Think contemplative prayer isn’t for you? Try this


Read more:
Overwhelmed by struggles? Don’t forget this incredible communion is praying for you!

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