Best-selling author Father Jacques Philippe is a native of France whose books have become classics of contemporary Catholic spirituality. A Beatitudes Community priest, Father Philippe is a sought-after retreat master who has been featured on EWTN. Praising the priest’s most recent offering, Thirsting for Prayer (Scepter, 2014), author and EWTN President Dan Burke said, “[It] is among the best of his work and may be the last book you will need to purchase on the topic of prayer.” During a recent stop in Denver, Father Philippe spoke to the Denver Catholic about prayer and offered advice to help people enter into a fruitful Lenten season. His remarks have been edited for space.
Denver Catholic: How should one pray?
Father Philippe: Everybody has to find their own way to pray. But first, and very important, is faithfulness — day after day, year after year. Be faithful taking time for the Lord. Little by little God teaches us how to pray and how to have a deeper relationship with him. Prayer is not a technique we can master; prayer is a grace we receive. It is better to be faithful with poor prayer than to infrequently make a big production of prayer.
DC: What else is important for prayer?
FP: The desire to meet God, to love him, to have a relationship with him. Have a thirst for God, for truth, for light.
Prayer is a relationship with the Lord. God is offering to us his presence, his unconditional and infinite love. We welcome this by our attitude. Foundational is faith: I believe in God and I believe God loves me. Prayer is not to think a lot or feel a lot: that’s good, but prayer fundamentally is an act of faith.
Prayer is also an act of humility and hope. When I pray I manifest that I need God: I need his help and grace. So, prayer is an act of faith, hope and love. Jesus said, repeating the Old Testament (Dt 6:5): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30).
Also important is gratitude. You are not the initiator of this loving relationship: God first loved you. Prayer is not doing a lot of things, but mostly welcoming God’s presence and love. Take time to welcome his presence in faith. We don’t always feel his presence. We don’t understand everything in our life. But if we pray with faith, hope and love, even if it’s not perfect, even if it is poor and we don’t have great mystical experiences, it is OK!
DC: What are some ways to pray?
FP: A good start may be to meditate on the word of God or to read something spiritual to enter into an attitude of openness to God. Read, listen to what God is saying there, meditate on it and transform this into prayer. Other ways are to pray the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner) or the rosary, to adore God in the Blessed Sacrament, to speak freely with God or to silently welcome him. These are some ways, there are many more. What is essential is not the technique but the attitude of one’s heart and taking time to pray.
DC: How do you like to pray?
FP: (laugh) I like many different types of prayer. It depends on the situation. Sometimes meditating on Scripture, sometimes adoration or using the Jesus Prayer or the rosary.
Prayer is not only a human activity but it is also an action of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. With good will and faithfulness, little by little the Holy Spirit inspires and guides how you should pray — in silence, adoration, intercession.
DC: How can one persevere in prayer when lacking zeal for it?
FP: Understand that prayer is answering God’s call. I pray because I search for God, but above all because God is asking this of me. Jesus said, “pray always and do not lose heart” (Lk 18:1). The desire to pray is a call from God, who wants us to be close to him. He knows why prayer is important for us more than we know. When I don’t have the zeal, it helps to know that God is calling me and I have to be faithful to this call. He wants me to have a life filled with his presence and grace. It is important for me and for those living with me. The fruits of our prayer are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (Gal 5:22). Prayer isn’t always fantastic. It may be simple and poor. No matter. If I am faithful, even in my poverty, God is communicating something to me, teaching me and working in the depths of my heart.
DC: The other two Lenten disciplines are fasting and almsgiving. How do those practices help us?
FP: Fasting can be very positive: It means to put God first in my life by removing things that can keep me from God. To hunger for God rather than for human, worldly satisfaction is the symbolic meaning of fasting. I restrain my human appetites to turn to God, my deepest desire, and to put him at the center of my life. Traditionally, we fast from food, but we can also fast from other things — social media, cell phones and other realities that tend to be a distraction — to make time for silence and to be in God’s presence.
Almsgiving, charity, opens us to the needs of others. It’s an invitation to love: to share and not live a selfish, egoistic life. The more I am open to my neighbor, the more I will be open to God. Lent invites us to unite prayer, fasting and almsgiving to live in a deeper way our human vocation according to God’s will, which Jesus said is to love God and to love one’s neighbor (Mk 12: 30-31). We can’t separate the two.
Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your prayer, your fasting, your almsgiving. Lent is a time of spiritual struggle we accept that we may be closer to God and not be taken by the spirit of the world and a superficial life.
DC: Is there anything you would like to add?
FP: We should fast from worrying too much! The purpose of Lent is to trust more in God: to rely on him, his grace and his mercy, and to find our deepest security and peace in him. One of the most important fruits of Lent is to know and experience God as Father. On Ash Wednesday in Matthew’s Gospel (6:1-6, 16-18) we will hear Jesus speaking about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. On prayer, he says: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (He speaks similarly about fasting and almsgiving.) The goal of Lent is to have deeper contact with God as Father: He is to be our hope, our strength, our peace. Don’t worry about so many things or have anxiety about this and that. To rely on the love of the Father is to be a son of God.
For more information visit frjacquesphilippe.com