For all of us, life is busy. And even if devoted to our faith, it is not always easy to practice it in the way it demands of us, as other things often tend to get in the way and vie for preference in our time and attention. That is certainly the case with me – I have such good intentions, yet all too often they are dashed and I look back only to see what I did not accomplish.
I find this can be especially the case when it comes to prayer.
I have mentioned previously that I have always had a small altar at home and this has always been where I tend to pray. I am a creature of habit and I need to ingrain a habit quite well so that it really takes root and becomes my normal practice. For me personally, having this little altar was very important – it was a constant reminder of the need (and duty) to pray; and a pointed reminder on those occasions where prayer was missed for any reason.
During the time of the pandemic and the associated lockdowns, the little altar became incredibly important for me, its offerings broadening to encompass so many needs out in the world. Throughout the whole of the lockdown, a candle burned upon that altar for all affected by the pandemic – those who died, the ill, their loved ones and those caring for them in whatever way. But even at ‘ordinary’ times, the altar is my special place, where I go often and where I leave so much.
All of us have a great need to pray and none of us are excepted from this duty. The prayer of generous and hidden hearts holds up the world and supports all it’s needs; we tend to associate this duty most often with the religious of various Orders, especially those who are enclosed – but all of us are required to add our own prayers to this end. And so, to fulfil our duty toward prayer and in order to support the world and all within it, a little place to pray is just the thing.
When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret
The Lord advises us, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, to have such a place. He does not specify what needs to be there other than us. And so, while it may be possible for us to have a small home altar, this is not strictly necessary. However, any such altar need not be complicated – a Crucifix, Bible and a candle are ideal; beyond this, perhaps a statue or image of the Blessed Virgin and maybe a few flowers. All of this can be set anywhere – in a quiet part of the house, maybe on a small table or shelf – and it can become a focus for family prayer as much as individual prayer. However, all that is essential is a place with a Bible and Crucifix.
The existence of such an area within our home says something about us and about the value we place on our faith and it’s expression, as well as our desire to live out that faith and to fulfil it’s commands, especially when it comes to prayer.
What is most crucial, of course, is that we make good use of that place – it is not enough to have a quiet corner or an altar and then leave it to gather dust. We need to use it to actually pray.
Our ultimate goal is to interiorise such a place, making this ‘inner room’ a real and active place within us, within our heart. To achieve this, we need the grace of God in conjunction with a deliberate act of the will – our will determines what we actually do, going far beyond mere good intentions.
For the ‘inner room’ within our homes, simplicity is key – if we are too fussy, we lose focus; and if we lose focus, our will diminishes and we stop praying. Equally, the altar or room is not an end in itself – it is simply the means to assist us in reaching an end. Prayer is the goal – not the altar or the room.
Once we are in that place, prayer can take many forms. For me, it is generally the prayer of the Rosary in combination with reading from the Scriptures – I had written about this previously in ‘A Scriptural Rosary’ and again (a little more deeply) in ‘A Scriptural Rosary II’. This keeps things simple for me, but you may have a particular form or method of prayer which works well for you – and that is fine; what matters is that we pray.
If we make for ourselves this ‘inner room’, we will soon discover that there is not one person there, but two – because there, we will meet the Lord, who invites us to enter that room in order that we encounter Him in our prayer.