I've learned that this praying-aloud-thing with another person is a skill that not all Catholics share an enthusiasm for. What I mean is that it is one thing to pray together at Mass, or to pray a rosary aloud with a group, or to pray a formal grace before meals. But it is another experience entirely to pray aloud, somewhat spontaneously, with the people you are with, even when they are Christians themselves, about a subject that is on their hearts and minds.
Now, I'm not talking about my evangelical Christian friends, who are usually very open to praying-on-the-spot when asked. Their freedom to offer a word of prayer or thanksgiving in-the-moment is something worth emulating.
Why don't we Catholics act with the same freedom?
I hear this thought often: We're private. My religion is just between me and God. We Catholics love our private prayer, and rightly so. Jesus taught that when we pray we should close our doors and pray to our Father in heaven in secret. And that's fine. That's good. Let's all do more of that, too.
Maybe all that private prayer is why sharing prayer with another person sometimes feels too intimate, or we fear doing it wrong. But, really, it is nothing to fear because Jesus is there within the breaths of any group prayer: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18: 20).
Some have told me praying with others outside of Church is uncomfortable because we Catholics are raised with the formal vocal prayers of the Church (all of which are wonderful, beautiful, and majestic) but not with informal or spontaneous prayer—that we don't know any other ways to pray.
Other times, we're afraid to do something so spontaneous; we don't want to be labeled as a Jesus freak, or a religious fanatic.
From an evangelization standpoint, all these excuses are hard to square in front of Jesus who asked us to be active in sharing the faith, when he said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ." (Mt. 28:19).
The deeper I read into the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul, and consider the courage that it took to listen to the Spirit in the first evangelization of the early church, the more I'm convinced that those disciples did have not formalized, ritualized, or well-known and rehearsed prayer experiences to fall back on. A lot of prayer happened on their feet, in an on-the-job kind of training; it was prayer in the moment, for the moment, with the people they were with at the moment. And God's Spirit was with them when they stepped out in faith.
When we talk about the New Evangelization, we need to talk about the benefits of prayer in all the ways it brings us closer with God and each other, in personal settings or in community.
Prayer is the fuel to evangelize. It brings Christ immediately into whatever situation we are in. Just as everyone needs love, everyone needs prayer.
Moms, take your children's hands in prayer.
Husbands, take your wife's hand in prayer.
Friends, reach out to your best pal, and suggest, "Perhaps we can pray together for a few minutes the next time we get together."
Jesus gave us great advice when it comes to our mutual prayer: He told us to be direct, be persistent, and be expectant. In other words: "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Mt. 7:7 RSV).
I'd like to apply those words as a strategy, or an acronym for A.S.K., for help in stepping out in faith, and inviting others to prayer, using the key words—Ask, Seek, and Knock—as our guide.
Ask. First, always ask the person you are with if they would like to pray about whatever their current situation is, or whatever the moment calls for. Ask: "Would you like to pray about this right now?" If you get a positive reply, continue on to seek. However, if you get a negative reply, no harm done, and you were kind to ask. Just offer to pray for your friend when you offer your personal prayers at home, or the next time you go to church. Then do it.
Seek. Seek, as in seeking the Holy Spirit.If your friend would like to pray, silently seek the Spirit's guidance. Take a breath and with it offer a silent prayer invite the Holy Spirit to be present.
Knock. Knock on heaven's door. This is where you actually pray out loud with your friend. First, keep it simple and tell them what you are going to do: "We'll bless ourselves by making the Sign of the Cross, then I'll mention the need out loud.Then we can pray the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be for your intention. Then we'll close the prayer with the sign of the Cross, unless you'd like to offer a prayer before we're done." Then do that. It probably won't take longer than three minutes.
Over time, this little apostolate of prayer gets easier. Have faith that the gift of prayer will grow in you. If you make this a steady habit—inviting others to pray—either formally or informally, blessings will follow.
Catholics, let's make praying together normal—not just for Sundays, or for grace at meals. Let's make the Year of faith a year of faith-filled actions that begin with prayer. Amen.