Column: Four basic prayer groups make for a spiritually healthy Lent

by Michael Podrebarac

It’s Lent, and I’m resolving once again to lose some weight, for a number of reasons.

Now we know the secret to maintaining proper weight, and it’s really not much of a secret. We must cultivate a proper balance of nutrition, activity and rest. A healthy lifestyle demands all three.

But a truly healthy lifestyle includes not only taking care of our bodies, but our minds and souls as well. For the latter, prayer is crucial. If we are to make progress in our spiritual life, we must answer God’s call to prayer. And when it comes to prayer — the lifting up of our hearts and minds in communion with God — just like the four basic food groups, there are four basic prayer groups, each of which is necessary daily to sustain a balanced prayer life.

These four essential categories of prayer are: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition and petition. Together they form an acronym, ATCP — As The Christian Prays — a good way to remember them.

Adoration is the praise we offer God simply for being God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that adoration “is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator” (no. 2628). Adoration magnifies God for his own sake: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” Through adoration, we cultivate a deeper love of God, of our neighbor (who has been made in God’s image), and of ourselves (a healthy love, humble in its self-assessment, but cognizant of God’s love for us).

Thanksgiving prayer is related to adoration, because here, too, we offer praise to God. But in this case we are motivated by his goodness and mercy. In the Eucharist (a word which means “to give thanks”) the church thanks God for the gift of redemption, the work of Christ through which he offers humanity to the Father in his own flesh and blood, and leaves his church the same to offer in the Mass, a true sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Father is the source of all blessings. We gratefully return to the Father what he has first given us.

In the prayer of contrition, we acknowledge our sorrow for our sins. There are times when this sorrow is predicated on the trouble that our sins have gotten us (or will get us) into — we call this imperfect contrition. Perfect contrition, on the other hand, is motivated by the fact that our sins have offended God, who alone is “all good, and deserving of all my love.” Our daily examination of conscience reveals to us our sins, increases our sorrow for sin, and aids our determination to amend our lives. It is essential if we are to remain honest with God and with ourselves.

The category of prayer called petition recognizes that we depend wholly upon God for everything. Nothing originates with us. And so we pray for the needs of others. The saints in heaven pray for us. This is called intercession — petitions offered on another’s behalf. To pray for others is to enter the prayer of Christ, who even now intercedes for us before God. And then we also must implore God for ourselves. It is sometimes a challenge to consider our needs worthy of mentioning before God. But he earnestly desires to bless us, according to his divine will. Although we do not always receive the answers we would like, we can rest assured that we have been answered and that God cares for us.

As The Christian Prays — a well-balanced diet of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and petition. Let us pray for one another.

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