In his general audience this week, His Holiness Pope Francis spoke about prayer, acknowledging that it doesn’t always come naturally.
“Praying is not easy: many difficulties present themselves in prayer. It is necessary to know them, recognise them and overcome them,” he said.
Can you relate? I think we’ve all encountered times when praying was really tough and we had to fight through it to keep going and not give up. Here are some of the common difficulties that the Holy Father identified.
We’ve all been there. “Your heart is here, your mind is there,” said Pope Francis. The need to concentrate on what we’re doing and shut out the constant swirl of thoughts and images in our mind is important in many areas of life. The solution is mental discipline.
“Distractions are not guilty, but they must be fought,” he explained. We must find vigilance and attentiveness in our prayer. “Since we do not know the day and hour of His return, all the minutes of our lives are precious and should not be wasted on distractions. In a moment that we do not know, the voice of our Lord will resound: on that day, blessed will be those servants whom He will find industrious, still focused on what really matters. They did not stray in pursuit of every attraction that came before their minds, but tried to walk the right path, doing good and performing their own task.”
Have you ever had an experience in prayer during which you felt the love of God pouring over you? Now contrast that with a time when you prayed and prayed and felt nothing. That’s spiritual dryness, and it can last for days, years, or in the case of Mother Teresa—decades!
Pope Francis said, “Spiritual teachers describe the experience of faith as a continuous alternation of times of consolation and desolation; there are times when everything is easy, while others are marked by great heaviness.”
He warns us against shutting down when we don’t experience the spiritual consolations that we desire. “The heart must be open and luminous, so that the light of the Lord can enter. And if it does not enter, wait for it, with hope. But do not close it up in greyness.”
Finally, the Holy Father spoke about the vice of sloth that can creep into our spiritual lives and prevent us from even attempting to pray at all! He tells us to remain vigilant and continue moving forward, working to persevere in prayer even when things are difficult.
“And we too, who are far less holy and patient than Job, know that in the end, at the end of this time of desolation, during which we have raised to Heaven silent cries and asked ‘why?’ many times, God will answer us.”