Every college student knows life can feel like a mad dash through a fountain of Post-It notes, clothing pieces, event reminders, alarms, and books. Your highschool friend texts you, “How’s life?” Family asks during a weekend Skype, “So what’s this week going to be like?” A roommate questions when you’re finally both in the bedroom at the same moment, “How’s it going today?” There’s usually one answer: “I’m doing pretty well. 😀 It’s crazy as usual.”
Under such circumstances then, how can we be expected to pray without ceasing (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)? Or as St. Frances Xavier Cabrini said: “We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend on material success…but on Jesus alone.” I have been tempted to ask with a smidge of astonishment in my voice, “How does that work?”
It is easy enough to rush to daily Mass between classes or stop by the chapel for a couple minutes or say a few morning and bedtime prayers. Or an Adoration hour at some point during the week or maybe even make it to a Praise and Worship evening. But can students really be expected to pray all the time?
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton holds the secret to that. “We must pray without ceasing,” she says, “in every occurrence and employment of our lives – that prayer which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.”
In every occurrence and employment. A constant communication with Him. That is prayer through action, not only prayer as an isolated act.
A friend pointed out last weekend that St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “If there is anything you love, love it through God.” Prayer for an active person does not mean only sitting in a chapel 24/7. It should include chapel time, of course. However, prayer is primarily described as a surge of the heart toward God (St. Therese of Liseiux) and an attunement of the soul to the presence of God no matter what we are undertaking.
Here are five practical ideas to introduce Prayer Through Action into your life:
1. A Morning Offering. Even if you forget during the day to offer individual actions, praying a Morning Offering when you wake up is a great way to dedicate the day to God. No matter what happens after that, at least you know you’ve made the initial intention! Here is a prayer I use every morning:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and particularly for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.
2. Every time something amazing happens, get in the habit of saying, “Thank you, God, so much for…”
3. Whenever something upsets you, remind yourself, “Who can I offer this for? Dear God, I’m upset about _______ but please use it for ________” or “Jesus, this is for __________” or “Jesus, use this for whoever needs it most today.” By turning the unfortunate incident into a positive goal, we can first remind ourselves that God is present in everything, second remember that we are participating in the Redemption by offering our sufferings, third make inconveniences a cause for joy in doing good, and fourth help someone else. In the process we gain the added plus of various virtues—self control, patience, peace, cheerfulness, kindness, perseverance…
4. Try at least once a day to offer an action to God before you do it. A simple sentence—“God, please be with me as I do this.”—is sufficient. Then throw yourself into that activity with all your heart. If you’re doing it for God, you might as well do it to the best of your abilities! That in itself is making your life a prayer. And over time, once a day will turn into a multiplying habit.
5. Remind yourself periodically that how you live is in itself a prayer. Giving back to God by acting according to His ways and being who you are leads to union with God. And that is the summit and goal of prayer.