“Lord, teach us how to pray”

This is the Year of Prayer. How to improve your prayer life now.

By Christina Gray

You wouldn’t be alone if you’ve ever felt awkward, uncertain or ineffectual as a pray-er. Even the disciples who walked side by side with Jesus in the days of His earthly ministry sought help with prayer as told in Luke 11:1.

After watching Jesus pray one day, a disciple asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Jesus responds to this earnest request with what we have come to refer to as “the Lord’s Prayer” — a deeply beautiful and simple model for engaging in conversation with God.

“Prayer is where we meet God,” master catechist John Michael Reyes told Catholic San Francisco. “Jesus didn’t tell them to read the Torah,” he said. “He was saying, ‘I just talk to My Father.’”

Reyes is director of adult spirituality at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco. As the campus minister for all adults on campus, including faculty, staff, administration and parents of students, one of his missions is to show them how to pray, why to pray and the many ways to pray.

The native San Franciscan who attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory was raised in Holy Name of Jesus parish. He was spiritually nurtured there by the Canossian Sisters in a love for the liturgy and sacraments.

In February, Reyes was the featured speaker at a two-day workshop for catechists and others on “Catechesis of Prayer” sponsored by the National Community of Catechetical Leaders promoted by the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Office of Faith Formation. He has a master’s of divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University at Berkeley and a graduate certificate in liturgical art and architecture from St. John’s University School of Theology and Ministry.

Adult Catholics often want to know that they are “praying right,” according to Reyes. He recalled a teacher who came to him concerned that he was, as he wryly observed, only “getting a C in prayer.”

“I said, ‘That’s great that you noticed that,’” he said. “What do you mean by that? Let’s talk about it.”

We want to have that satisfaction that our prayers are being heard, he said. Some cling to rote prayer, but “our tradition teaches us there are so many ways to pray and a lot of it is personal prayer.”

“My hope is to open eyes and hearts in recognizing that prayer is not just the words that you say, but how you come into relationship with God as you say them,” said Reyes.

Pope Francis’ school of prayer

In Advent of last year, Pope Francis announced 2024 as a “Year of Prayer” in preparation for the 2025 Jubilee, a major Church event held every 25 years. The Jubilee, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will be a “year of hope.”

Pope Francis explained that the year is dedicated to rediscovering the “great value and absolute need for prayer, prayer in personal life, prayer in the life of the Church, prayer in the world.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization’s section for new evangelization, which is coordinating the Holy Year, said Pope Francis hopes to set up a “school of prayer” for 2024.

“This will be a series of moments of encounter with specific groups of people to pray together and better understand the various forms of prayer: from thanksgiving to intercession, from contemplative prayer to the prayer of consolation, from adoration to supplication,” the archbishop said.

The Year of Prayer, he said, is “a time to discover how to pray, and above all, how to educate the people of today in prayer, in this age of digital culture, so that prayer can be effective and fruitful.”

Why do we pray?

In his workshop, Reyes asked participants: What is prayer? Who taught us to pray? And why does prayer matter?

His presentation states that 61% of Americans pray. A full 70% pray to connect with God, 45% to feel less anxious and 41% to find a solution to a problem. A full 87% said they have had a prayer answered.

Just as people pray for different reasons, he said, they also pray in different ways. “There is no wrong way to pray.”

Focusing on oneself in prayer rather than on the relationship with God can be paralyzing, however, said Reyes, and lead to tension and resistance.

“Our relationship with God is like every other relationship that we have in that we need to invest our time and energy into it,” he said.

When asked if he had any suggestions for how Catholics can begin to cultivate that relationship, he turned to the daily Examen. The Examen is part of the spiritual exercises developed by St. Ignatius Loyola.

The Examen is not to be confused with the examination of conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, though both require self-reflection.

The Examen (ignatianspirituality.com) is a simple review of the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us, said Reyes.

“A big part is noticing where God has been throughout your day,” he said. “You are praying not just with yourself but with God to see your day through God’s eyes.”

For more information on the Year of Prayer, visit www.iubilaeum2025.va.

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.