‘The Meaning of Prayer’ by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

There is nothing more profitable in which any human being can engage than to pray

It is often said that the basic problem in the world today is the fact that people are not praying, or not praying enough, and this is true. But it is not enough to say that we should pray and should encourage others to do so, but we also need to appreciate what prayer really means, otherwise we will not profit as much as we should from what is the most profitable enterprise in which any person can engage.

Prayer is Conversation

We begin therefore by describing prayer as simply as I can. Prayer is conversation with the invisible world of God, the angels and the saints. We shall take each one of these terms in sequence, and begin with talking about prayer as conversation.

What do we do when we engage in conversation?

We do several things. First. We begin to converse with somebody when we become aware of that person. Awareness, then, is the first condition for conversation. Suppose I am just talking out loud to myself without realizing that I am being overheard. Is that conversation? Well, no, because I was not aware of the other person’s presence. If I was doing anything I was in conversation with myself. In fact, I think most people spend most of their waking hours in self-conversation, which is called, to give it a kind term, soliloquy.

True conversation is always colloquy. It is not only awareness, but awareness of someone else’s presence besides my own. And so many people go through life, I’m afraid, only dimly aware of anyone else’s presence except their own. That is why self-centred people, even when they are apparently in conversation out loud with someone else, are most often really talking to themselves. Ever watch it? It is a spectacle. Real conversation begins when I become aware of another, with stress on the other, and not only of myself.

Second. Besides being aware of someone, and it has to be someone else, conversation means that I wish to share with that other person something of what I have. I wish to give of myself, of what is inside of me, or a part of me to that other person:

  • Thoughts in my mind.
  • Sentiments in my heart,
  • Desires in my will and
  • Feelings in my soul, that I wish to share, so I enter into conversation.