Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Praying by Romano Guardini

The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer by Romano Guardini

The Art of Praying does not shy away from the number one issue people have with praying--praying is hard. It's a conversation with God that all too often feels one-sided. It's easy to be distracted by other, mundane things while going through rote prayers. It's hard to find time (and patience). Prayer has no practical, tangible, visible results. Authentic prayer should well up from a deep and profound movement, a fully and clear manifestation of God's presence. Romano Guardinin not only acknowledges these problems, they are the very first issues he confronts.

Moments of transcendent awareness or experience are so few that they are not a reliable foundation for a prayer life, nor are they to be expected. Much more value comes from having a regular routine with a certain amount of structure and focus. The focus comes from preparing to pray, finding a method to avoid distractions and compose oneself. The structure should be a bit fluid, based on personal experience and ability. Some may do well with rote prayers while others may benefit more from spiritual reading (the Bible is the most important text). The time praying should not be too short, for then the effort will seem unimportant and irrelevant. The time should not be too long either, especially if other pressing needs or weariness demand attention. Even the posture of prayer is important. It's a matter of discipline and respect, adopting an outward stance that reflects the inner attitude.

Guardini reviews the various purposes of prayer (adoration, reparation, petition, and thanksgiving) and how they are integral to a fruitful prayer life.  He considers the Triune God and how prayer needs to start with the Second Person, Jesus Christ the Son, who is the easiest way into contemplation of the transcendent God. Achieving a more substantial union with God through prayer requires both oral or formal prayers and personal contemplative prayer. Guardini again provides practical advice and examples, especially using the example and the intercession of the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This personal prayer life needs to be integrated with the communal prayer life of the church through the various liturgies, the most important being Mass. Here too a rich inner meaning is communicated through outward actions. This happens only when the individual looks past his or her personal preferences and embraces the corporate nature of liturgical prayer. It is not corporate in the sense of conforming to business-like formality but in the sense of being members of the Mystical Body of Christ. The corporal union with others is deepest in the Eucharist, which unites each of us with God and thereby makes us children of God. In this way prayer life is balanced between the responsibilities of individuals to God and the individuals' responsibilities to each other through God (i.e. loving one another as He has loved us).

This book is a very helpful and enlightening look at prayer life for individuals, especially those who struggle to find the time, energy, and proper method for a prayer life.

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