Praying with the Whole Person

Emotion plays a very important part in our lives as Catholics: since we strive to model the example of Christ, who underwent the full spectrum of human emotion during His life on earth, we are called to be emotional people. In fact, even if we don’t consciously strive to be emotional, we nevertheless are, since emotion is a fact of human existence. Unfortunately, the word emotion has a pretty negative connotation nowadays; we immediately think of uncontrollable weeping, anger, happiness, etc. However, the real meaning of emotion (as defined by Webster) is “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” More or less, being emotional equates with just existing as a human being!

So what is distinctly Catholic about emotion? Well, to begin, the root of both emotion and prayer is the same: we reflect on our current situations and relationships – both human and divine ones – and express openly our innermost desires. These desires can be vocalized as emotions (in human relationships) and as prayer (in our relationship with the Holy Trinity). Ideally, these two areas of relationship should not remain isolated from one another, but should coalesce into one ‘emotional prayer’ that constitutes our entire life. In this way, we adhere to St. Paul’s teaching to pray without ceasing. Our whole being is handed over to the Lord, body and soul, when we are able to allow our emotion to enter our prayer, and allow our prayer to permeate our daily lives.

This being said, it is just as important not to allow a lack of emotion in our prayer life to cause us great distress. When the Lord allows us to experience some kind of emotional-spiritual consolation (in whatever form, be it tears or laughter, etc.), we must remember that these things are gifts and nothing else. As humans, we are totally unable to even muster up emotion without God’s grace! At various points throughout the process of conversion, it is common for the Lord to show us glimpses of Himself, which move us to periods of great emotion. However, we must never expect such emotion to occur. We must pray in spite of any emotional or spiritual consolation that we receive. In this way, we continue to offer ourselves to God as a complete sacrifice, not expecting to be repaid in any way for our selfless love of Him, who deserves nothing less.

In short, a simple rule to remember about prayer might be this: always be perfectly up-front with the Lord in times of prayer (telling Him everything, even if it is not pleasant or elegant), offering Him your whole heart, and gladly accepting any gifts He chooses to offer you for the greater glory of His Holy Name. If we would all remember this basic principle each time we kneel down to pray, our lives as Christians would become incredibly more joyful, and increasingly filled with the Love of Christ, in whose image we ought to be formed.