A Reflection on Our Life of Prayer
First off I would never claim to be an example of prayer, but these are a few things I've learned. My immediate thought after reading your request was how inseparable faith and prayer are and then the virtue of humility. In the cloister our life is "a life of faith" but in action it's a life of prayer, a call no different from any Christian. No one can do "good works" without a serious prayer life. The Church has never declared someone a saint or blessed based on the amount of works and actions they accomplished, but instead on how they were transformed... converted... usually through these actions. For example, if Mother Teresa knew she was going to have a rough or busy day she spent two hours in the morning praying instead of one.
Prayer makes us humble. We realize how awesome and mighty and powerful God is and in comparison how small and weak we are. We realize we cannot do anything of our own and we stand in need of His grace and mercy. Prayer is simply asking for it... and thanking Him when we get it. In that action the relationship of love is formed. We begin to see the awesome, tremendous love He has for us and as His sons and daughters how deeply in need of Him we are.
Obviously, you can't have a relationship without communication. I think of prayer as similar to being an Apostle of Jesus (only it's difficult in some ways because you can't see Him face-to-face). We are called to sit at His feet and pray... for anything that's in His heart. The Apostles were with Him constantly and it took a long time for them to be transformed by their relationship with Him. We're still human! But without that close deep intimate contact with Him, you cannot aspire to become like Him because you won’t know Him and you won’t know what's in His heart. You see where I'm going with this? You have to spend time, lots of time, to get to know... and to love someone, (it also takes a lot of patience).
One thing I learned right away is when someone shares a prayer request they are ultimately sharing a part of themselves, a part of their heart. It shows humility and makes us vulnerable. (Two things American culture scorns.) It's hard to say "pray for me I'm struggling with X terrible sin" or "pray for my little brother who is having surgery on Monday at 12:30". By saying these things we place a certain amount of trust in the hearer and ultimately in God, because we are Letting Go of the situation and leaving it in His hands. It explains the communion of saints so well. You have best friends you trust them to take care of some difficult situations, you humble yourself and ask for their help, and everything turns out according to His will. It unites us in love. We grow, but really we make the intentions of our hearts known.
As the Psalm reads, "seven times a day I praise you" so we (as all cloistered communities) follow the Liturgy of the Hours: Lauds (morning prayer) Terce (mid-morning) Sext (mid-day) None (mid-afternoon) Matins (Office of Readings) Vespers (Evening) Compline (night) plus Mass and community Rosary. The Liturgy of the Hours are spread out to sanctify the day, you can't go much more than 2 hours without thinking about God and returning to praise Him. It also leaves us in continual communication.
Honestly, sometimes I come to the Office and my first thought is something like, "You know what!? I'm mad at YOU!" maybe because of what just happened in the previous 30 minutes, but the opening line says it all, "O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me." It's a great prayer from the Psalms that shows humility and can adequately apply to any situation. We are NEVER not in need of His help. Slowly, I pull back and I begin to see how wrong I am. Frankly, it's humbling.
I think there are two difficulties with prayer 1) no one likes to be humbled (at least not anyone normal... that I know of) 2) it's hard when you have to trust in faith that it matters, that it's making a difference, especially when it seems like God is hiding His face.
Even if what we pray about doesn't transform a situation the bigger thing is that it transforms us; Through prayer, we are changed. Aside from the actual hours in community prayer, work done is silence is usually spent praying. So the idea is to be spending every moment of every day praying. Along the same lines, profession consecrates us to God so by spending time in recreation as the schedule allows it's an action pleasing to God, because it's what He wills, though it may not be directly prayer. It's still a meritorious action consecrated and sanctifying (for myself and others), which is a very long side thought. So, that is the simple answer to your questions. I hope it helps bring something new to light... in fact I'll pray it does!
Written by an Anonymous Sister