A Primer on the Importance, and Types of Prayer to Help You to Become the "Real Jedi" Knights
For many practicing Catholics, even basic prayer has become cliché or perceived as only necessary for children or adults in crisis situations. In reality, prayer is the path to holiness and heaven, and praying little or not at all leaves us vulnerable.
Prayer is becoming an old-fashioned idea. But it’s the activity of true superheroes. When I was a little boy, I wished I could be a Jedi Knight. I knew it was an impossibility. I knew Jedi were not real, but I wished that I could be one just the same. They were just so cool! As I got older, I realized that the saints were the real “Jedi,” and becoming like them was not an impossibility. And yet it is impossible without prayer. Being trulyGood (capital G!) and being holy is impossible without frequent contact with the divine power. Only God makes saints.
Let’s get into the necessity of prayer, assisted by quotes from Bishop Fulton Sheen. Then we’ll get into illustrations of the “way of the Jedi” — the three levels of prayer. I fear the length of this article may discourage people from reading it to completion but I hope that you do. You'll enjoy it and it'll help you along the path to holiness.
“No soul ever fell away from God without giving up prayer. Prayer is that which establishes contact with Divine Power…”
Without that very real contact with divine power, our souls grow dark, and our reception of God’s grace is diminished. The more we avail ourselves of the “invisible resources of Heaven” (Sheen), the more our minds are illuminated by grace (we know what is right and good and understand it fundamentally). Our wills are strengthened (we are able to choose what we know to be right and good).
“However dark the way, when we pray, temptation can never master us.”
We need the grace of God to get to heaven (“Without grace, man cannot merit Heaven” -St. Thomas Aquinas). The cross of Christ is our ticket to Heaven, but God’s grace is the taxi that gets us to the station. We can’t get there of our own power, so the Grace of God is an indispensable necessity. While God’s grace is a gift, our cooperation with that gift merits the fruits of that gift. How can you receive your gift if you don’t hold your hands out? Put another way, if the taxi shows up and you don’t get in the car, you’re not going anywhere.
“The first step downward in the average soul is the giving up of the practice of prayer, the breaking of the circuit with divinity, and the proclamation of one’s owns self sufficiency.”
What Bishop Sheen said here is spot on! Like many of yours, my spiritual life has been a long series of ups and downs, and I have long recognized that my downward trajectories have always followed my loss of prayerful disciplines and habits. Being spiritually lazy has the same effect on the soul, mind. It will as becoming physically lazy has on the body—we become weak, lethargic, and a worse version of ourselves. Now let's get into the three types or levels of prayer.
Types of Prayer
How do we go from ordinary people to “Jedi Knights” (Saints)? By going from the lower levels of prayer to higher levels of prayer. It isn’t the prayer alone that sanctifies us, but prayer, being contact with divine power, avails us of the graces we need to live more holy lives, to live with greater love for God and others, to purge our lives of vices and to grow in heroic virtue. It’s the way of the “Jedi”; it’s the way of the real saints. Without deep and profound contact with God in prayer, the mission is hopeless.
There are three main levels of prayer. I call them “levels” because they are a hierarchy rather than co-equal options that God puts before us. The lower forms of prayer merit don’t merit as much grace as the higher forms of prayer. They’re also easier to do and easier to be consistent with. The higher forms of prayer bring us into deeper and more intimate contact with God, so they are made possible more by the Holy Spirit and less by our own will. It’s contrary to that sense of self-sufficiency that Sheen warns against because we cannot attain higher forms of prayer without God raising us to them. The lower forms of prayer sustain us spiritually, but the higher forms of prayer transform us. Lower forms of prayer should guide us to the higher forms of prayer, like steps on a staircase.
The first level of prayer, vocal prayer is the most common, and the simplest for anyone. Not at the Jedi level, but at the level of “Palawan learners (the lowest level of the Jedi order) it is the gateway to higher levels of mastery of prayer.
Vocal prayer is expressed with words, united to interior prayer, the union of body and soul in human nature. Put simply, in vocal prayer you mean what you say, you dont simply recite the words. The words should be paired with good attention of the mind and good intention of the heart. Mindless recital is not good vocal prayer.
The recital of our basic prayers, like the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and so on, is vocal prayer. Recital of the rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, and even the Mass are vocal prayers. Notable, though, is that the Mass, through “only” vocal prayer, is the highest prayer, the most efficacious, and the most meritorious. Reciting the Liturgy of the Hours is also a vocal prayer, but the nature of that prayer — being attached to the sacred Liturgy of the Church — places it very high on the scale of merit.
Prayer isn’t only about merit, though. I don’t want readers of this article to think that prayer is like a contest or a game where the object is to get the most points and the highest score. All prayer has merit and effect. The lower forms are the easiest to do and are especially ideal for the young, the inexperienced, and those whose faith or lives (or both) are hanging by a thread. Never look down on vocal prayer; always feel confident about praying this way as the norm throughout your day. But don’t rely exclusively on vocal prayer. Let’s move on to the next two levels.
Once you get into meditation you have entered the higher order of Jedi (are these Star Wars references getting boring?). You will soon become
Meditation is prayer that engages your imagination or thought and reason rather than words. It takes us deeper into the mysteries of divine revelation, revealing in scripture what is usually hidden beneath the surface of its words.
The Rosary, when meditated on, becomes a meditative prayer. Lectio Divina/Meditating on the scriptures is also meditative prayer. This form of prayer is an important step toward holiness. Many saints have said that perfection (i.e., becoming holy) is impossible without the practice of meditative prayer. Some saints have also said that once a soul has mastered meditative prayer, the devil gives up on them because he knows he can’t get close to them anymore.
Meditative prayer is indispensable, but it does require practice and dedication. It doesn’t come as easily as vocal prayer, but it isn’t too difficult. Meditation is made possible by our cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit, who brings us into a meditative state. The Spirit is doing most of the work. Still, we have to cooperate by making time for meditation and removing natural obstacles to meditation (find a relatively quiet space, reduce or eliminate distractions, etc.)
In the future, I plan on offering practical guides to teach you how to meditate and to coach you through it. So stay tuned for that.
In “Jedi” terms, this would be perfect union with “the Force”. A level that only experienced “Jedi Masters” attain in Star Wars lore, and only experienced saints achieve in real life. But don't think that it can't be you, too. It can be. Stop believing otherwise.
If you’ve ever been wowed, awed, struck silent, and still at the site of an amazing work of art, a song, or a sunny day or sunset, you have some idea of what contemplative prayer is. Contemplative prayer is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God in silence and stillness. It’s a contact with God that is so profound and mysterious that you just want to take it in, not say a word, not move a muscle, but just be in that moment of awe.
I say that experienced saints “achieve it”, but in truth it’s a gift from God, after significant advancement in meditative prayer. It’s the highest form of prayer that we are drawn into entirely by God Himself after we have achieved a level of depth and experience in frequent meditative prayer. Many of the saints have achieved this higher level of prayer.
I’ll leave you with this from St. John Paul II because I can’t possibly compose a better conclusion than what he says here.