Saint John Paul II on How Best to Pray

An excerpt from praying with Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II on How Best to Pray

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Anyone familiar with the life of John Paul II knows that his many accomplishments were the fruit of intense prayer.

Fr. Christopher LaRocca, OCD, a Carmelite priest who has lectured on John Paul II’s spirituality and had the experience of praying with him in the same chapel, gives us this insight into the pope’s approach to prayer:

With his understanding of the mystical body of Christ, he was able to embrace the whole Church, the whole world in prayer. As priest and as vicar of Christ, the Mass was the center of his life. In mystically entering the paschal mystery, he carried the weight of the whole Church on his shoulders. As he entered into the dark night, he also received the light of the resurrection. He prayed as if he was being crushed like a grape. He would groan during the prayers before and after Mass. This is not a negative thing. It’s a blessing to enter into the passion and resurrection of the Lord. From being united with the Lord in this way, he emerged as a prophet.

When he was asked how one can best engage in prayer and dialogue with Christ, Saint John Paul II suggested starting with Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “The apostle comes to the heart of the matter when he writes: ‘The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings’ (Romans 8:26).”

Our weakness, Saint John Paul II goes on to explain, comes in believing that our prayer originates with us. Prayer, he observes, “is commonly held to be a conversation. In a conversation, there are always an ‘I’ and a ‘thou’ or ‘you.’ In this case, the ‘Thou’ is with a capital T. If at first the ‘I’ seems to be the most important element in prayer, prayer teaches that the situation is actually different. The ‘Thou’ is more important, because our prayer begins with God.”

So, contrary to how it may seem to us, the one who takes the lead role in prayer is God. Saint John Paul II: “In prayer, then, the true protagonist is God. The protagonist is Christ… . The protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who ‘comes to the aid of our weakness.’ We begin to pray, believing that it is our own initiative that compels us to do so. Instead, we learn that it is always God’s initiative within us, just as Saint Paul has written.” As Saint John Paul II teaches us, “Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but when he lets God be most fully present in prayer.”

This article is an excerpt from Praying with Saint John Paul II by Jo Garcia-Cobb and Keith Cobb, which is available from the Word Among Us Press.