MILLTOWN — Prayer can be a very powerful asset for teachers, but for many, developing a better prayer life is a challenge. The speaker at the annual “Spirituality Day” for educators in the Diocese of Wilmington laid out ways for teachers to develop good prayer habits and to find the joy in their work.
Michael St. Pierre, the executive director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, spoke to hundreds of educators at Saint Mark’s High School on Aug. 25. The annual event was back fully in person this year after being presented in a hybrid format last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prayer is important because the challenges of a school year can wear a teacher down, St. Pierre said. But instead of waiting for the next high moment to lift one’s spirits, a teacher could fill that time with prayer.
He presented the teachers with 10 different settings and asked if they were comfortable praying in each of them. If not, he said, they were in good company. Mother Teresa of Kolkata once said that she went 10 years without feeling she was in the presence of God.
“But you can get better about this. It’s all about habits,” he said. “There are a lot of moments like that in our day. We don’t even think about it.”
St. Pierre, the author of “The 5 Habits of Prayerful People: A No-Excuse Guide to Strengthening Your Relationship with God,” said habits produce momentum. The same goes for any behavior, not just prayer. We need habits when getting into an exercise or sleep routine, he explained.
“We need momentum instead of willpower,” he said.
He cited a book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. McKeown tells the story of Michael Phelps, most-decorated Olympic athlete in American history. Phelps, St. Pierre said, had the same routine before every race, down to the minute. He put in his ear buds, played a song, walked up on a platform overlooking the pool and folded a towel, all at a specific time before his races.
“He wasn’t thinking. He was taking advantage of preparation and training,” St. Pierre said.
He listed several challenges to praying. The first is that people say they don’t see results. But God, he explained, is not a vending machine. Sometimes the results are not tangible right away.
Some people say they are terrified of silence. Silence, he conceded, is uncomfortable.
“When it comes to prayer, we can’t do all the talking. We have to do some listening, and that can be really hard,” he said.
Other challenges he listed is that prayer is boring, or that people are extroverted and not used to listening, or they are easily distracted. He suggested that the teachers check out some resources that are available, including a prayer app online, and he said something as simple as arriving at church a few minutes earlier can be beneficial. Those benefits extend beyond a better parking spot. One can gain confidence in his or her prayer life and savor God’s presence.
“Doesn’t that sound so good?” he asked. “Because it is.”
A better prayer life will help with their teaching, he continued. Pope Francis has said that holiness is the most attractive feature of the church, according to St. Pierre.
“When students see you as a person of prayer, they’ll walk a mile for you,” he said. “Nobody does this better than Catholic schools, and you have to be intentional about it.”
To help get to that point, St. Pierre listed the five habits of a successful prayer life, along with the specific question each tries to answer.
The first is the habit of passion and pursuit. The accompanying question is, “How do I keep a fire in the belly for God?” One of the ways to do this, he said, is to verbalize one’s desires. Tell God you want to love him and want to be happy.
The second is the habit of presence. “How do I tune out the noise?” St. Pierre suggested the teachers leave their phones at home or in the car when they attend church.
The habit of preparation and planning was next. “How do I get myself ready to pray?” One of the ways to get into a better exercise regimen is to put clothes out the night before. For prayer, one could prepare a place in his or her home for quiet reflection.
The habit of persistence was next. “How do I push through resistance?” Giving oneself a bit of grace and kindness can help, St. Pierre said. He said he has talked to priests who tell him confession is difficult in part because people are owning up to the same sins every time they go, and they feel like losers because they keep committing them. You have to find a way to push through, he said.
Lastly, the habit of pondering relates to the question, “How do I schedule a regular time for reflection.” He suggested the teachers keep a journal or meet with a spiritual director.
“It’s important, this habit of pondering. We’ve got to reflect,” he said.