By Amber Kinloch
Is your prayer life rightly ordered?
There are four basic forms of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication.* Occasionally, I hear or read something admonishing people not to lapse into the fault of fixating on prayers of supplication (and so centering their conversation with God on themselves.) It’s a point most of us need to hear, but once we’ve grasped it, then what?
Over time, I’ve gained some insight into the benefits of ordering our prayers a certain way. Here is what I’ve learned.
*Note: The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions a fifth form: praise (CCC 2639). I am pairing adoration and praise together here for simplicity’s sake.
Adoration and Praise—The Core of Prayer
Many of us don’t fall often enough to our knees to adore or praise God. Yet praise and adoration are, as it were, the core of prayer.
“Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Adoration is homage of the spirit to the “King of Glory,” respectful silence in the presence of the “ever greater” God” (CCC 2628).
Flowing from Adoration is praise. “[Praise] lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what He does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory” (CCC 2638).
Adoration and praise are the purest forms of prayer. We recognize God as God and render Him His just due. Our souls are humbled as we perceive our own significance in light of His glory. Yet we are not crushed—rather we are filled with joy because God, though infinitely superior to us, condescends to be with us—even to be one of us!—and loves us as the apple of His eye. Overwhelmed by such love we are naturally led on to…
Thanksgiving—Recognizing God’s Goodness to Us
We owe God gratitude for His incalculable goodness to us and for everything we have and are. The Mass itself is the perfect prayer of thanks.
Even on a human plane, we recognize the central importance of gratitude: go talk with a counselor or read any number of mental health studies or inspirational books or magazines—everyone identifies gratitude as a key component for being happy in life.
Despite all this, we are often shorthrift in offering thanksgiving to God. This is no insignificant fault; gratitude is as much His just due as praise and adoration. The Psalms (ex: Psalms 30, 34, 103, 116) and countless saints from the biblical figure Job to St. Paul to Bl. Solanus Casey and others demonstrate that a prayer of thanks should always be on our lips even amidst the greatest trials and sufferings.
Perhaps it would help to remember that gratitude is like an oil that lubricates our relationships. Words of thanks, sincerely and frequently offered, are a hallmark of a healthy relationship between two people. The words “thank you” are quick to say yet essential to a civilized society. By saying “thank you” we recognize the dignity of another and are led to focus on them (however, briefly) and not ourselves.
We cannot say “thank you,” however, without first recognizing what the other has done for us. If we’re honest, we’ll recognize that quite often we fall very short with God despite His overwhelming generosity towards us. We ask for a favor and soon forget how much it meant. We squander this or that blessing or even abuse the gift He gave. Humbled by this, we are led to…
Contrition—Imploring God’s Mercy and Making Amends
Contrition is tricky. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into the trap of fixating on ourselves, our sins and defects, the reasons and excuses for them, how we’ll change and become better, etc.
Contrition is about seeking God. We go to Him, humbly confess what we’ve done to damage our relationship with Him, and beg forgiveness. Ideally, we are sorry on account of our love for Him (perfect contrition). Even imperfect contrition, though, which is rooted in a fear of suffering eternal punishment in Hell, is oriented God as we are driven by a healthy fear of being separated from God, our true end.
True contrition means we want to be rid of our sins. We might be ninety-nine percent sure we’ll lapse into the same sin(s) again, but we’re a hundred percent committed to making another effort to be perfect with the help of His grace. We long to be purified of sin and its effects so that one day we may possess Him in perfect measure.
Contrition motivates us to pray more, to fight harder, and to lean on God more. Recognizing our helplessness and our overwhelming needs we turn to prayers of…
Supplication— Asking So That We and Others May Receive
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Why ask? If God is all-knowing and all-good, couldn’t He just grant us what we need or want as long as it’s in accord with His Will?
He could. But our prayer would be far poorer for it. Prayer, at its heart, is about growing in a relationship with God by conversing with Him, listening to Him, and just being present with Him. If we never had account to ask God for anything, we’d miss out on countless opportunities to talk with Him.
As it is, we’ve no shortage of occasions to ask graces of Him for ourselves and others whether it’s with regard to spiritual growth, daily physical needs, help overcoming a defect, a worry or concern, or even a tiny favor like finding a good parking spot.
The more time we spend humbly knocking at his door, asking for and receiving favors, the more we’re led to grow in trust and are led, quite naturally, back to prayers of adoration and thanksgiving. Thus we wind our way up the spiraling staircase of prayer, focused ever more on Him. May we one day all see Him and rejoice in His Presence.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.