Pray your way forward, speaker says in Advent mission

Miscellany/Terry Cregar: Matthew Leonard speaks on prayer during an Advent Mission held Dec. 6-7 at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.

SIMPSONVILLE—At a time when this country, and much of the world, is looking for hope, a converted Catholic speaker and author offers prayer as the way forward.

Matthew Leonard, author of “Prayer Works! Getting a Grip on a Catholic Spirituality”, spoke to approximately 150 people during an Advent Mission held Dec. 6-7 at St. Mary Magdalene Church.

“The foundation of our relationship with our Lord is prayer.  It’s something that we desperately need,” Leonard said during a talk titled “Pray Like a Saint: Wisdom for Growing closer to God.” 

The previous night, Leonard spoke on “No Regrets: The Art of Living as a Catholic,” which focused on what the life of a Catholic is about and how to “make their divine destiny a reality.”

On the topic of prayer, he said prayer is “what gets us through this life; this mucky world we live in, and come out perfect on the other side. 

“If you’re not praying, you’re not talking with the person who loves you more than anyone else possibly can,” he said.

Leonard characterizes the Catholic faith as the foundation of his life, both personally and professionally. The son of a Protestant pastor and a former evangelical missionary, he converted to Catholicism in 1998, calling it “the greatest thing I ever did.”

Subsequently, he founded Next Level Catholic Academy, an online platform aimed at helping people transform their spiritual lives and grow toward sainthood.

In his talk on praying like a saint, Leonard said the Catechism’s section on prayer “is the most beautiful part of the Catechism.”

“Prayer is what forms us into the likeness of God,” he said, which was lost in the Garden of Eden. Referring to the Catechism, Leonard said prayer “restored man to God’s likeness and enables him to share in the power of God’s love.”

Again, citing the Catechism, Leonard said, “Prayer is not random. In order to pray, one has to have the will to pray, as well as learn how to pray. There is an art to praying.”

Leonard broke down prayer life into three modes, or stages of prayer, beginning with vocal prayer, followed by meditative and finally, contemplative. 

“When you move into deeper and deeper communion with God, the way you talk to God changes, and that’s the goal,” he said. “The goal of prayer is God.”

He said vocal prayer is the most familiar mode, and also “so very important to us as human beings because we are a union of body and soul. We have a need to translate our interior life exteriorly.”

According to the Catechism, vocal prayer is an “essential element of the Christian life,” Leonard said, one that leads to meditative prayer.

“When you’re praying vocally, you need to focus on what you’re saying, because when you are focused mentally on what you are saying, it becomes a form of meditation. It’s starting an interior conversation.”

With vocal prayer, the quality of a prayer is better than quantity of prayers, Leonard said. “You don’t want to talk too much, because it gets in the way of the conversation you are supposed to be having with our Lord.”

He said those who are new to meditative prayer should start slowly, but keep at it.

“The spiritual life is a marathon. It is not a sprint,” he said. “Keep it simple and don’t get hung up on techniques.”

 Authentic Catholic meditation is attentive reflection on God, Leonard said, aided by some form of spiritual input, whether it be a book, art or the natural world, “to engage our relationship with our Lord.”

Contemplative prayer, the third mode or stage of prayer, comes directly from God, Leonard said. “He is the origin and the cause” of contemplative prayer, arrived at through meditative prayer.

“Contemplation, in a lot of ways, is confirmation of our growth in the spiritual life,” Leonard said.

He said hope is sustained through prayer with God, 

“I know that these days are so difficult. It’s easy to lose hope and not do the things we should do,” he said.  There is no reason to feel despondent if one talks with God and realizes “you are not alone; that God is with you.

“The more you pray, the happier you will be,” Leonard said. “Prayer is what gives you hope, what gives you peace.”