The way we begin our prayer often sets the tone for our receptivity to God’s action. God can work through even a distracted soul, but having an organized plan for the start often bears great fruit. As Catholics we generally begin with the Sign of the Cross, which roots our prayer in our relationship with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think a great way to build on this is to follow the approach of the ancient baptismal promises, which were made by us (or on our behalf) shortly before we were baptized in the name of the same Holy Trinity. This approach was shared with me by a retreat director, and so I’d like to take a moment to share it with you!
The baptismal promises are structured with three renunciations (of Satan, his empty works, and his empty promises), followed by three professions of faith (in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Similarly, at the beginning of prayer we can take a moment to renounce the obstacles that keep us from prayer, or hinder our engagement. It is good to be specific to the moment. For example, a person might say, “I renounce the belief that God is not present to me,” “I renounce the belief that my television/phone/etc is a better use of my time than prayer,” or “I renounce the belief that I can live life to the fullest without prayer.” The retreat director recommended invoking the name of Jesus during these statements. It doesn’t have to be list of three things, it can just depend on what is on our mind at the time. The point is that this practice identifies things that sap our strength in prayer. Often these are unconscious thoughts, and naming them can bring them to light and lessen their power over us. Other times, naming them may show them to be illogical or inconsistent.
However, we don’t end with renunciations. What we profess in faith is at the center of our identity; what we reject is only to clear the way for these truths. Therefore, we can continue to follow the structure of the baptismal promises by naming what we believe. “I believe that God is present. That He hears me. That He loves me.” “I believe that God has something to share with me in this time of prayer.” “I believe that God is at work to strengthen my soul and give light to my mind even when I do not feel any emotional response.” Whereas naming a lie can rob it of some of its power over us, naming a truth reinforces the power that it can give to us.
This approach to prayer may only take a minute or two, or it may be extended. I think in particular it is a great way to begin longer times of reflection (whether personal prayer or at Mass). It can give us the help to push beyond merely reciting prayers without much reflection, and instead enable true heart-to-heart dialogue with God. God bless!