In this section on prayer, we have already seen an overview of sources of prayer, the ways to pray, and how our prayer is effective in drawing us toward the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. While there is clarity on “what” prayer is, it can be difficult to pray for many reasons – to the degree that even the catechism describes the work of prayer as a “battle.” What is it that we battle against when we pray and how is the battle carried out?
Anyone with even limited experience in learning and practicing prayer knows there are all kinds of obstacles to prayer. Our own thoughts, the things around us that distract us, or when the ways of prayer themselves are confusing or not well understood can make prayer difficult. That prayer is a battle first means we acknowledge that prayer is work: it requires effort and does not automatically happen. In our effort to pray, we are to approach it with humble hearts, trusting in God and being willing to give ourselves to Him – as it is God Himself that we are called to focus upon (and not ourselves). Likewise, our approach to praying should facilitate such humble trust and surrender by our praying in a setting where the obstacles are more likely to be eliminated, or at least significantly limited.
We must always stay aware that prayer can slide into various errors. Among those identified in the catechism are the errors of making prayer into simply an act of saying words without sincerity, of psychologizing (by turning inward on ourselves rather than toward the Lord), or of thinking that prayer is useless when not answered as we expect, as its fruits cannot be proven true by observation. It also invites us to consider what may seem as “failure in prayer” and the discouragement that sometimes happens when we think our prayers are not being heard, as invitation to seek deeper humility and trust.
Some temptations in prayer are also identified in the catechism, in order that we would see them for what they are and once again respond with a desire for humility and trust. One of these temptations is simply a lack of faith – where we try to do for ourselves in prayer rather than allowing God to work. An example of this is easily shown by considering liturgical prayer: that when we change the ways of liturgy to suit our own needs, it expresses a lack of faith that God can work through that which has been handed down to us in the Church. Another temptation is “sloth,” (or what is nicknamed the “noonday devil,”) wherein diversions and boredom lead us away from staying true and constant in our prayer.
The catechism concludes this section on the battle of prayer by considering what is called “filial trust” and exhorting us to persevere in the love of God. Filial trust simply describes our trusting in the Lord as His children, especially in times of difficulty. It can be easy to forsake prayer when life becomes tedious or challenging. Expressing filial trust in God is a manner by which we combat the tendency to stop praying by intentionally looking to rely even more fully upon God than ourselves, trusting that He remains with us in all moments. Related to such trust is perseverance in this battle of prayer, acknowledging that prayer is always possible – and truly essential – for us to remain in openness to receiving the love that God has for us, even in the midstof trials.
In conclusion, we indeed battle in prayer employing weapons of trust, humility, and surrender to God. Aware the distractions and trials in life all do come, the battle of prayer calls us to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, relying on Him to sustain us and in due time draw us toward deeper union with Himself, as the victory over our enemies is in Him.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2725 – 2745 speak of the “Battle of Prayer” in some depth.