Sisters share how prayer life has changed and grown through the years
"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.'?" -- Luke 11:1-4
by Renae Bauer
published Spring 2015
How best to pray is a question that probably has been asked for thousands of years, and the answers are as numerous and varied as the Communion of Saints. Prayer can be expressed by what we do ("Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words," said St. Francis of Assisi) or in our quiet contemplation ("Let us gaze upon Christ," wrote St. Clare of Assisi to St. Agnes of Prague), or in our hymns of praise ("To sing is to pray twice," says St. Augustine).
There's no shortage of prayer styles, evident by the Sisters' daily Mass, morning and evening praise, Eucharistic Adoration, private prayer, meal prayers, and spiritual direction. So a few Sisters agreed to share how their prayer lives have been shaped over the years and what has been beneficial in their spiritual growth.
Like many Catholics, Sister Carolyn Zahringer's childhood included Sunday Mass, meal and bedtime prayers, the rosary during Lent and Marian months, and Mass on holy days.
"But my first radical shift in my prayer life came when I entered the Community and learned the Divine Office," says Sister Carolyn. The Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, is the Church's official set of daily prayers and is composed of hymns, readings and other prayers.
Then, as if to demonstrate that prayer truly can be wide ranging, Sister Carolyn shares a very short -- but equally powerful -- prayer she learned from a Byzantine priest: "I learned the Jesus Prayer -- 'Jesus, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' The word 'living' made all the difference."
Sister Joanne Kinjerski has had this experience, too, where a word or phrase can be enlightening. "Sometimes, a line in a book will hit you and you think, 'I could really practice that.'?"
Most recently, Sister Joanne has found inspiration in the meditative life of St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish nun who wrote El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle).
"In her meditations, she saw a crystal ball and there were seven mansions in the crystal ball and in each was Jesus," she explains. "The way to get into that crystal ball is through meditation. If you did that you could pray and talk to our Lord and wander around and just be with him. This was a prayer for her, just being with Jesus."
Sister Connie Wavrunek also spends time with Jesus through the ancient practice of Eucharistic Adoration. This is where she draws strength, courage and hope for daily life. "It's about letting God and letting go and listening. I just need to sit and pay attention to what the Lord wants to say. I'm content being quiet," she explains.
In addition to Eucharistic Adoration, Sister Connie makes time throughout the week for quiet prayer, a time for her to reflect on the concerns of the world and the Church. She finds inspiration in Pope Francis' Feb. 2 message for World Day for Consecrated Life:
"Every consecrated person is a gift for the People of God on a journey. There is much need of their presence, that strengthens and renews the commitment to spread the Gospel, to Christian education, to charity for the most needy, to contemplative prayer; the commitment to a human and spiritual formation of young people, of families; the commitment to justice and peace in the human family," said Pope Francis.
So even though she is in her 80s, Sister Connie continues to do her part in sharing the Gospel and strengthening people's prayer lives.
"When I moved to St. Francis Convent five years ago, other Sisters expressed an interest in initiating a Scripture study group," she says, and attendance has grown to where a second group was formed last year. For her, this growth illustrates the common Christian hunger to know God's Word.
So if your prayer life needs a little freshening up, take comfort in the variety of opportunities available. And if you still struggle to find the right words to pray, remember Sister Carolyn's advice: "Prayer doesn't always require words."
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Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.