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On Prayer: Prayer Progression by Sister Eileen Byrne, CSJP

First prayers remain with us—this is certainly true for me. They got added to during different stages of my life, but never taken away from or substituted. They are always a constant when I need to pray but cannot rouse my mind and heart to concentrate deeply.

My memories range over the “God bless…” prayers at bedtime, which were usually family connected but could, on occasion, stretch to friends and even pets. Then, there was the family Rosary every evening after tea when we would kneel down, lean on the chair we had been sitting on at the table, and pray together; in later years, as we grew up and, I suspect, as our parents got older, we said the Rosary as we sat at the table. During the day the church bell rang at three different times, eight o’clock, noon and six in the evening and we said the Angelus as we listened to the bell. Even in this modern time, the State TV evening news starts with the sound of a church bell ringing out the Angelus. I don’t remember learning the Our Father or Hail Mary—I just absorbed them and perfected them with repetition, so they were embedded in my soul and remain so.

Early school led to an increase in specific prayers to prepare for First Sacraments—Acts of Contrition and Faith, Hope and Love and as we approached Confirmation we learned the Memorare, the Hail Holy Queen, the Litany of Our Lady etc. All these prayers could be found in any Daily Prayer Book.

It was only when I entered Religious life that I moved on to a different prayer style—meditation and praying with the Gospels, the Psalms and other books of the Old Testament, but always there was the printed word before me, perhaps a short passage or just a phrase or a single word which would occupy my mind and lead me into closer connection with God. Quiet times in Chapel in the early morning were conducive to prayerfulness (and sometimes sleep!). Communal prayer was not confined to Chapel as we used our house-chore time to string prayers for the Holy Souls and to say Rosaries for special intentions. Later, when Novitiate days were long past, I experienced the joy of folding nature, all of Creation into my prayer—I realised that to contemplate Creation was a blessed way to reach God, and I was surrounded by God in all areas of my life. And, as I was drawn to be more aware of the fragility of Earth, I accepted that there was a place for “heart prayer” in response to the concerns I had for Peace, for Reconciliation, for the needy in society, for the injustices I saw around me. These were and still are the times I use the words in my heart, or most often, just open my heart, sit without words and put everything in God’s hands.

I know there has been a progression in my prayer, and while I savor the rich cadences of Psalms and prayers at Office, I also delight in the simplicity of personal conversation with God, the quiet pauses that add so much to my listening capacity, to the quality and depth of my contemplation. Many times in these special pauses I can only pray in thanksgiving that I grew into the freedom of a kind of familiarity with God which doesn’t restrict but encourages, which opens up new ways to meditate.

The best prayers are those which come from the heart; this can be hard work sometimes, when I cannot focus or draw anything from my heart because of my weakness. But I must always be aware that my prayer has a positive influence on how I live. God speaks to all of us—he never shouts so we need to listen for His voice in what we see and hear around us.

This reflection was originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Living Peace.

On Prayer: Prayer Progression by Sister Eileen Byrne, CSJP

"It is most important to inspire the young with a great love of peace."

Mother Francis Clare (Margaret Anna Cusack)