How to do Mental Prayer

Are you ready to deepen your prayer life? Catholic prayer starts with vocal prayer, which are words that we speak out loud or think quietly to ourselves. Mental prayer builds on vocal prayer and channels it into both meditative and contemplative prayer, which don’t necessarily involve words. Meditative prayer is a learning process, “a quest […] to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2705). Contemplative prayer is a more conversational heart-to-heart with God. Mental prayer can be simple, but it requires scheduled time and focus to become a habit that builds your relationship with God. Today on the blog, we’ve rounded up tips on how to do mental prayer, whether you’re just beginning to pray or looking for ways to grow in prayer. 

Schedule Time 

Like everything in this busy life, prayer won’t happen unless we schedule it into our day. We should give God our best time – if you try to pray when you are in bed with the lights out, it probably will not be high-quality prayer. The Catechism says that the “choice of the time and duration of prayer arises from a determined wil, revealing the secrets of the heart” (2710). If you can pray at the beginning of the day or while you are at your best, your relationship with God will flourish.

To use the time we set aside for prayer well, we need to have other space for silence in our lives. If you are often distracted when you sit down to pray, bring a small notebook and write down your thoughts to clear your head.  

Bring a Book

It’s helpful to bring a book to your time of meditation, both to keep you from getting distracted and to give you ideas and themes for your prayer. St. Josemaria’s The Way, The Furrow, and The Forge and the works of Fr. Jacques Philippe are made up of bite-sized points and short chapters that you can easily weave into your prayer time. If you aren’t ready to commit to a book just yet, you could also sign up for daily quotes to inspire your meditation.

There are also plenty of books that help people become better at contemplative prayer. In Conversation with God, available in physical form and as a daily podcast, is one such series. These books walk you through a discussion with God about His time on earth, your struggles, and the path to holiness.

Be Honest

Mental prayer is a time to get to know God, but it’s also a time to share your worries, goals, struggles, hopes, and the intimate details of your soul with Him. That can even mean praying about the things that distract you in prayer, including the state of your fingernails or your children, who are asking for help while you try to pray. Nothing is too big or too small to bring to prayer. God also wants us to share things He already knows about, too, like promotions, layoffs, an upcoming date, or new babies in the family.

“Mental prayer is nothing else but being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him.” — St. Teresa of Avila

For a closer look at how mental prayer can change your life, we recommend Progress Through Mental Prayer by Fr. Edward Leen.