Guide to Prayer

Why Pray?

God has made us greater than everything else he created. Greater than animals, mountains, or the angels. Therefore, nothing on earth will satisfy us. Only God.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Lord.”

Friendship With Jesus

Pope Benedict XVI has made Friendship with Jesus the central theme of his pastoral teaching in much the way Pope John Paul II made “Be not Afraid” a theme.

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea,” he said, “but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. … The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts — an unprecedented realism.”

“The Lord defines friendship in two ways,” he said at another time. First: “There are no secrets between friends.” They tell each other everything. Second, he applied the Roman definition of friendship: “Idem velle — idem nolle (same likes, same dislikes.)”

Prayer aligns our hearts and wills with Christ.

What This Friendship Brings

In his first homily as Pope, Benedict said: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”

He later described more of what this friendship does: “A relationship of deep trust, of authentic friendship with Jesus, can give a person what he or she needs to face life: serenity and interior enlightenment, an aptitude for thinking positively, broadmindedness with regard to others, the readiness to pay in person for goodness, justice and truth.”

Times to Pray

Pray when you rise, when you eat, when you make a major decision, when you travel and when you go to bed. Pray for comfort in suffering, patience in adversity, gratitude in good times and resignation in bad times. Speak to God about anything momentous or trivial that concerns you and devote special time to conversation with God every day in meditation.

Daily Meditation

Start out by praying 5 minutes a day. Gradually add more time.

1. Enter God’s presence.

It’s not a matter of making God present, but of reminding yourself of his presence.

Kneel or sit respectfully. Your body and soul are one. The way you carry your body encourages you to remember and reverence God’s greatness.

Make an act of faith, hope and love in your own words or use those given here, from the Compendium of the Catechism.

Act of Faith. O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because you have revealed them who are eternal truth and wisdom, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. In this faith I intend to live and die. Amen.

Act of Hope. O Lord God, I hope by your grace for the pardon of all my sins and after life here to gain eternal happiness because you have promised it who are infinitely powerful, faithful, kind, and merciful. In this hope I intend to live and die. Amen.

Act of Love. O Lord God, I love you above all things and I love my neighbor for your sake because you are the highest, infinite and perfect good, worthy of all my love. In this love I intend to live and die. Amen.

2. A.C.T.S.

ACTS stands for Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication (petition). Spend time on each in your prayer. Use your imagination: Picture Christ sitting with you in the garden of your soul.

Adoration – Repeat “Oh my God, I adore you. You are so great and I am so small.” Or say the Glory Be slowly and meditatively.

Contrition – Recall your sins and offer reparation for the sins of the world. Say “Jesus, I am so sorry for having offended you. Please forgive me. I love you.” Imagine kissing each of his wounds.

Thanksgiving – Thank Jesus for all he has done for you, your family, your friends, your community, and the world. Thank him especially for the faith.

Supplication – Speak directly and honestly to God about what others need and you need. Ask for what you need most in the spiritual life and pray for guidance and for strength to follow any lights you have received.

3. Meditate

Christ is the best object of meditation, and the Gospels are the best place to start. The first four books of the New Testament – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – recount what Jesus actually did and said, and his interactions with people.

Read a brief Gospel passage. Imagine what it would be like to there during the story. Notice how Christ respects, cares for and challenges people. Read the passage again, applying its lessons to your life.

4. Commit

Commit to some act that will help draw your prayer into your day – for instance, a good deed or a kind word. Close by thanking God for this time of prayer.

The Rosary

“With the Rosary, we allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, model of faith, in meditating on the mysteries of Christ, and day after day we are helped to assimilate the Gospel, so that it shapes all our lives.” – Pope Benedict XVI

The Basic Rosary

There are many places to find the basics to praying the rosary. Here is a pdf from New Advent:


Staying Focused

The Rosary is a repetitive prayer and it is easy to become distracted. Some strategies:

Focus on the words. The three prayers in the Rosary are among the most perfect prayers ever. Allowing our soul to latch on to a word or phrase and ponder it as we pray is very helpful.

Focus on the Mystery. The prayers can also form a back-drop to a contemplation of the individual mysteries. Picture the scene, or use scripture or prepared meditations to focus your attention. Find Rosary meditations here.

Quick tip: Imagine (or look at) a picture of the mystery. Choose three figures. Focus on one per Hail Mary. Repeat the sequence three times and add another Hail Mary. For instance: Mary, the baby Jesus, Joseph; Mary, Simeon, Jesus; Jesus, the rabbis, his parents.

The “Jesus” Clause. Blessed John Paul wrote in his Rosary letter: “Pope Paul VI drew attention to the custom of highlighting the name of Christ by the addition of a clause referring to the mystery being contemplated. This is a praiseworthy custom, especially during public recitation. It is at once a profession of faith and an aid in concentrating our meditation.”

Examples of these clauses: “… and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus in agony;” “Jesus scourged;” “Jesus carrying his cross;” “Jesus crucified.

Warning: The clause has to refer to Jesus. Beware of saying, “Jesus, crowned queen of heaven and earth,” and other strange constructions. When the mystery refers to Mary or the Holy Spirit, the easiest solution is to repeat the name of the mystery: “Jesus, at the annunciation;” “Jesus, at the visitation;” “Jesus, at Pentecost;” “Jesus, assuming you into heaven;” “Jesus, crowning you queen.”

Family Rosary

Saying the daily rosary together can deeply impress the faith on children. You would be surprised at how much children can get out of the daily rosary – and how long the experience will stay with them. Saying a nightly rosary gathers the family in one place, quiets them, and focuses everyone’s attention together on God.

We try to make the rosary fun by periodically changing it up with one of these:

Figurine Rosary. The children take turns depicting the mysteries of the Rosary with religious statuettes or figurines. We have acquired several figurines and accoutrements (including fish tank pillars and temples from pet stores) to create all the mysteries.

Quick Tip: A crèche can easily be transformed into many of the mysteries by an imaginative child. It has an angel;  the shepherds and magi can stand in for rabbis and apostles; and if you have two scenes, a second Mary can play Elizabeth and Mary Magdalene.

Sketchpad Rosary. Probably once a week, we allow the kids to draw the mysteries as they pray them. The drawings range from stick-figures to more elaborate creations by our artists. We have saved some of the best ones. It helps the children “own” their knowledge of the mysteries.

House Rosary. When we pray a “house rosary” we say a different mystery in each room. For instance: We say the annunciation in the closet with the maternity clothes; the visitation in the kitchen (remembering that this is where Mary helped Elizabeth); the nativity by the baby’s crib; the presentation in the playroom (where we present Jesus in the temple of our bodies through our actions); and the finding of the child Jesus by the window closest to the church, where we find him.

Mixed-up Rosary. Put each of the 20 mysteries on a separate piece of paper, and pick five at random from a hat. You’ll be surprised how the element of surprise enlivens the rosary.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.