How to Grow Your Prayer Life: Priests Weigh In

Aug 1, 2019 5:00:00 AM / by Fr. Michael Denk

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As a priest, I get asked a lot of the same questions pretty often.

One I've found that comes up frequently is "Father, how do you grow your prayer life?"

There are many ways to grow your prayer life. The mission of the Prodigal Father is to help people discover different ways of encountering the Love of God, The Father, in prayer.  

What I have discovered over the years is by simply asking other people for advice I have been able to incorporate different aspects into my own prayer life.  I thought it would be good to ask some media savvy priests for their advice and share it with you! 

...And wow, am I glad I did!

I decided to ask these awesome priests a straightforward question; "What do you think has helped you grow the most in your prayer life?"

My goal here was to help us all learn from other priest's prayer journeys and to utilize their thoughts, experiences, and advice to apply it to our always growing and changing prayer lives.

Their responses were all so great and powerful that I decided to include them all here for you to read in this post, in no particular order!

As for my personal thoughts on how to grow your prayer life, here are my thoughts:

  1. Some of my most profound moments in prayer have been in Eucharistic Adoration. Since I was in high school I have found that to be the place to go when I really need to feel and experience the presence of God and know that he sees and knows me. I'd encourage everyone to sign up for a Holy Hour at least once a week in their parish.
  2. I have grown in prayer the most by making an annual 8-day Ignatian retreat. An annual retreat where you focus on prayer is a great way to be re-aligned.  St. Ignatius' Daily Examen Prayer has also helped with this.  
  3. Find someone who is passionate about prayer and ask them to teach you how to pray (ask God too, just say "Lord teach me how to pray").
  4. Spend time doing some spiritual reading. It keeps me inspired even when my prayer times may be dry.
  5. When I am really stuck I find that going to confession and naming and being forgiven for my sin opens me up in ways that I haven't been able to pray through.

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1. Bishop Robert Barron - Word on Fire & The Word on Fire Show

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Check out his YouTube Channel

"If you are a total beginner at prayer, take the time and raise your mind and heart to God. Talk to him...what are you concerned about?  Now if you've done this for a while and you are saying 'Ok I am ready for a little more,' maybe try lectio divina... do a 15-minute lectio. Or I might even recommend the next step to do one of the wonderful rote prayers... try the Jesus Prayer."

2. Fr. Jay Finelli - iPadre Catholic Podcast & Blog

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Follow him on Twitter @iPadre

"My spiritual life has grown the most through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Since our parish Adoration Chapel opened 8 years ago, I try my best to make a daily Holy Hour. I also try to spend at least an hour before the Blessed Sacrament prior to Mass. You know the old saying, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” Both Padre Pio, St. John Vianney, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen gave a lot because they lived in deep union with Our Lord. As a priest, I strive to follow the example of these great ones who were completely filled with love for our Eucharistic Lord. Their Eucharistic devotion formed the whole of their priestly ministry."

3. Fr. Ed Broom, OMV - Father Broom

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Subscribe to his YouTube Channel

"In short, I would have to say devotion to Mary, faithfulness to the daily Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament and love for and living out the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."

4. Fr. Alek Schrenk - Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

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Follow him on Twitter: @schrenk

"The greatest help to my prayer life has been realizing that prayer doesn’t have to be 'useful' or 'productive' — and often it’s not, at least not in the way that we expect it to be. It took a long time for me to realize that it’s okay for me not to feel that I’ve accomplished something when I’m finished with a time of private prayer. The silent, waiting stillness of prayer is a marked contrast to the frenetic rhythm of our working lives and stands as a sign of contradiction in a culture that tends to prize only the measurable, useful, and valuable. It’s particularly in times when prayer is dry — that is, when prayer is boring, when the distractions won’t dissipate, or God seems absent — that the objective value of prayer shines forth all the more clearly. Prayer is a sacrifice! That means that God will do with it as he wills. I am still learning to lay aside my own expectation of what I believe prayer ought to be like, and what God wants my prayer to be. The truth is that prayer is not my work, but the work of God within me."

5. Fr. Kyle Manno - St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church

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Follow him on Twitter: @fathermanno or on Instagram: fathermanno

Subscribe to his Youtube channel.

"The most beneficial thing for my prayer life has been consistency in prayer. Prayer is like a seed it must start small and doable.

But it must be consistent, so for example beginning with 10 minutes a day and over several months of a consistent 10 minutes then moving to 20 then 30 and so on. 

This consistent prayer is best also if it's done at the same time each day. Lastly, another beneficial aspect of my prayer life has been breaking it up into a 3 part method.

  1. Talking to God about whatever is on my heart.

  2. Reading through the Gospel. 

  3. Sitting in silence."

6. Fr. Dave Pivonka - The Wild Goose 

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Follow him on Instagram: @wildgooseministry

"The most important thing in prayer life is asking for the Holy Spirit to come to us and lead us closer to God."

7. Fr. Dan Parrish C.S.C. - Assistant Professor at University of Portland 

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Follow him on Twitter: @dparrishcsc or on Instagram: dparrishcsc

"What has helped me most in my prayer life is focusing less on how I *should* pray and more on how I *want* to pray. Prayer has never come easily to me. I am a worker and am happiest when I have my sleeves rolled up and am immersed in a project (especially woodworking, construction, etc.). I always thought that prayer meant sitting alone in silence in a chapel, and that has never seemed all that interesting to me.

Now, quiet time spent with the Lord, especially in the Blessed Sacrament, is beautiful and important for all Christians. But it really isn’t my preferred method of spending time with God. Once I learned that it is okay if I go for a walk, or play the piano or guitar, or spend time outdoors, or pray my favorite little prayer: Come Holy Spirit!; as long as it is expressly aware of God’s presence in those moments, that is prayer too; well that changed everything for me.

What is most important is not how we pray, but *that* we pray. And, interestingly enough, the more I grow comfortable praying as is more natural for me, the more other kinds of prayer (like the rosary, adoration, the divine office, etc.) become important parts of my prayer life as well. Once I stopped struggling against what I thought I had to do and started focusing more on what I wanted to do, my relationship with Jesus deepened and my prayer life grew richer. And for that I will always be grateful."

8. Fr. Rich Pagano - Host on The Catholic Talk Show

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Follow him on Instagram: fatherpagano

"I believe that there are three elements present in my life that has helped me to grow in my prayer and that would be retreats, pilgrimages and most importantly the reading of Scripture. Retreats help me to enter into an inner silence before God in order to listen deeply; pilgrimage helps me to encounter God along the way at significant locations connected to our faith and finally contact with the Living Word of God inspires an immediate contact with the Divine. All in all I truly see great progression in my life when I have invested time in these three realities retreat, pilgrimage & scripture. A wise and prayerful person once said to me that Scripture informs prayer and I truly believe and apply that in my daily life, it has meant all the difference in my development as a prayerful follower of Christ." 

9. Father Ian Van Heusen - The Art of Living Well

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Follow him on Instagram: fathervanheusen or Twitter: @ianvanheusen

"One answer, consistent practice. There is a saying among the desert Fathers that one’s cell will teach you all things. The idea was that if one was willing to spend time in solitude with the right disposition, the Holy Spirit would illuminate one’s heart and teach the believer how to pray. While I think instruction is helpful and guidance important, it means nothing unless the person commits to daily mental prayer/ meditation."

10. Fr. Damian Ference - Author of Word on Fire

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Follow him on Twitter: @frference

"Making the time to pray every day and staying committed to that time has really helped me to grow.  I pray for 40 minutes every morning, whether I feel anything or not (These 40 minutes are my non-liturgical and non-devotional prayer). Knowing that prayer is more about what God is doing in me that what I am doing for Him has also been a great help to my growth, although I should admit that I hope I'm growing a little closer to Him everyday, and I'm far from being an expert in prayer." 

11. Fr. Mike Schmitz - Bulldog Catholic

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Subscribe to his YouTube channel or follow him on Twitter: @frmikeschmitz 

"If I were to sum it up as briefly as possible, I would say this:

  1. The character of God.  Knowing that God is good, He loves me, and I can trust Him.

  2. Taking personal responsibility for one’s own spiritual life.  Knowing that the only way a person can grow in their faith is if they recognize that God is inviting me into a dynamic relationship with Him, is offering the grace to live this, and that I have to be the one who takes responsibility for this 'response.'

  3. Consistency is critical.  A profound spiritual life is the result of repeated action (prayer) over time.  There is no substitute for this.  It is the only way to begin getting past the shallows and into the depths."

12. Fr. Leo Patalinghug - Father Leo Feeds

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Follow him on Instagram: fatherleofeeds or on Twitter: @FatherLeoFeeds

"I would encourage them literally to not take themselves so seriously. To stop trying to emulate someone and just to become more you in the presence of God. Authenticity. To quest the author who made you. And to literally start off by saying to God, “Who are you in my life?” “Who am I in Your life?” And if you just start up with those basic questions a lot of things can happen, but you also must be disciplined enough to take some time for that. Again, it’s a relationship, and you need have time to develop that relationship.   

I think it’s very important for people to have a balance of universal prayer, parochial prayer, and personal prayer." 

13. Fr. Chris Ortega - Thoughts of A Priest

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Follow him on Instagram: fr_co or on Twitter: @FrChrisOrtega

Check out his Facebook Page here.

"I think what has helped me the most in grown in my prayer life is considering things in terms of priorities. I remember reading a blog article about eating healthy. In it, Steve Kamb mentioned that we tend to say 'I don’t have time' when life gets busy or we don’t want to feel guilty about skipping something. He came up with a simple solution: say, 'It’s not a priority.’ J.D. Roth said that 'It’s not what we say that is a priority but what we actually do that’s a priority.'

We may want to eat better or we may want to read more, and yet rather than saying, 'I want to lose weight but I don’t have time to cook healthy' Or 'I love to read but there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it in' say instead, 'Eating healthy is not a priority, but sitting on the couch watching TV eating snacks is a priority,' 'Reading is not my priority, but staying up late, watching TV, using social media is the priority.' What begins to happen is a shift in one’s perspective in life. You begin to be confronted with what you are doing and setting up as the priority in your life; what you are positioning as most important. This can jar someone and cause one to want to shift things.

Why am I talking about this? Well, as a priest, I’m meant to have a prayer life…truthfully, I’m somewhat expected to have a prayer life above the norm…and because I don’t live in a community and structure where I’m told when to pray, I have to create the structure myself, which can be super difficult for me. What has helped me tremendously is looking at my prayer life in terms of priorities. I approach my day asking myself, 'What’s my priority today?' The fundamental core of that answer is, 'My priority is to spend time with my Lord…my God…my beloved…' When I do that, then EVERYTHING in my day has to shift to make sure THAT PRIORITY is fulfilled. It doesn’t matter when it happens, but THAT it happens. So that pushes me to determine when and where it will be completed.

So this simple question allows me to be confronted with those moments when I think I don’t have time. Those busy days when I haven’t had any time to breathe and I’m about to relax and watch an episode on NETFLIX, I can stop and ask, 'Does this episode on NETFLIX have priority over my time with my beloved?' It jars me to accept this as a reality, and it pushes me to steal moments away to pray the Liturgy of the Hours because that is my priority, that is what I desire. I do not want to have NETFLIX as a priority over my Lord.

So considering things more in terms of 'priorities' has helped me dive deeper, has helped me bring conviction and order to my soul…it has helped me keep focus to my prayer life."

14. Fr. Rob Galea - FRG Ministry

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Follow him on Twitter: @FrRobGalea

"So it comes to prayer I think the most important thing to keep in mind for an ongoing growth of prayer is discipline. How important it is for us to keep a certain time and amount of time when it comes to prayer, this is something that I do every day. I make the time for prayer, I don't find the time for prayer and I also try to be generous with God with over a minute.

For example, I pray for 31 minutes or for 51 minutes, actually so my quiet time in the morning is the office and then just doing 51 minutes of prayer. Why 51? Because that is the discipline. It is so easy to rob God of your time by giving a minute less, and a minute less, and for me when it comes to prayer, the discipline in that has helped me maintain and grow my relationship with God. 

Especially with a God very often that we do not often see, we do not see, we cannot feel, we cannot touch, and so this is why this relationship, more than any other, requires a sense of discipline. God always waits for us, he's always there... we just need to discipline ourselves to get ourselves there, to the foot of the cross, to the foot of Jesus and he waits for us and he longs for us. If we're not swimming to and we're not walking towards him, then we're walking away from him there's no middle way."

15. Fr. Dwight Longenecker - Standing On My Head

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Follow him on Twitter: @dlongenecker1

"Two things have been growth points in prayer for me. The Jesus Prayer and Benedictine Spirituality. I encourage all to explore these ways of growing closer to the Lord."

16. Bishop Richard Umbers - Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney

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Follow him on Twitter: @BishopUmbers

"Continually facing up to reality. Jesus was fully human like us in all things but sin #MysteryOfTheIncarnation"

Final Thoughts

And that's a wrap! We hope you found these tips are helpful towards our goal of better understanding of how to grow your prayer life. What better way to learn to grow in your faith besides getting it straight from the priests? 

Which tip did you find the most helpful?

What has been most helpful for you growing your prayer life?

Comment and let us know!

Want to learn some of the types of prayers mentioned above?  Join our FREE program Pray40Days: The Personal Relationship with God You Have Always Wanted.

Topics: Prayer, Prayer Life

Fr. Michael Denk

Written by Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael Denk is the Founder of The Prodigal Father. He is the author of “Pray40Days: The Personal Relationship With God You Have Always Wanted”, and the creator of the “Examen Prayer App.” Fr. Michael is a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland and an Aspirant of the Institute of Voluntas Dei.

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