Prayer, even in its simplest form, embodies the power of grace—our ever-present connection to God. As adults, we need to appreciate the immense blessing of lifting our hearts and minds to our Heavenly Father in prayer. Daily prayer is how we respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship that nurtures our spiritual well-being .. As a community of faith, we find great joy in sharing our spiritual blessings. This includes introducing children to the gift of prayer.
As Jesus traveled on his journeys, he often paused to pray to his heavenly Father. Jesus’s own disciples were inspired by watching Him pray and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. When children see us pray, they, like Jesus’s disciples, are also inspired to know how to grow closer to God in prayer. Each of us are called to hand on the gift of faith to children and to teach them the different forms and expressions of prayer – including spontaneous prayer, liturgical prayer, and reflective prayer – that will empower them to build a lifelong dialogue and relationship with our Heavenly Father.
While praying with traditional prayers is common for Catholics, this is not the only way we can pray. St. Ignatius taught that prayer should resemble one friend speaking to another. We call that spontaneous prayer. One of the easiest ways to equip children with the confidence to pray spontaneously, either alone or in a group setting, is to teach them four guiding words: you, who, do, and through.
Catholics pray communally, each with assigned roles and parts to pray. This more formal prayer is called liturgical prayer. Children who attend Mass regularly become familiar with liturgical prayer and its patterns and rhythms as well as the various roles (i.e. presider, assembly, reader, song leader, and so on) as well as the various ritual actions and gestures (i.e. singing, processions, lighting candles, and so on). . When we involve children in liturgical prayer, we help them to pray, not as individuals, but as members of a community of faith.
In the Catholic Tradition, there is a long history of praying in such a way as to invite Jesus to speak to us through our imaginations. This type of prayer is called reflective prayer. St. Ignatius advocated imaginative or reflective prayer, something that is recognized as one of the hallmarks of Ignatian spirituality. We can teach children Ignatius’ approach to imaginative prayer by encouraging them to place themselves fully into a story from the Gospels and to use all of their senses to participate in that story, paying attention to what they feel, hear, see, smell, notice, and even taste. Above all, we can teach them to pay attention to what Jesus says in the Gospel story and then invite them to use their imaginations to hear what Jesus might be saying to them. This type of prayer enables children to encounter Jesus in a very personal way, bringing Jesus into their hearts.
As you bear witness to the Gospels and nurture the faith in God’s youngest disciples, it helps to remember that a mature faith is a faith that is not only believed, celebrated, and lived, but also prayed.