Just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, catechists are called to teach young people how to pray. As a Secular Franciscan, prayer is not something I do; prayer is who I am. When I teach young people how to pray, I am sharing with them the essence of who I am. I recently had the privilege to share my prayer life with a group of eighth- and ninth-graders. Specifically, they invited me to teach them how to meditate.
I began by sharing the story from the Gospel of Mark about the scribe who asked Jesus which commandment was the most important. “The first is this,” Jesus answered, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (See Mark 12:28–30.) Meditation, I explained to the young people, is a way we can love God with all our mind. Unlike studying, in which the mind is used to acquire knowledge, meditation uses the mind to direct the heart, the spirit, and the body toward God. I then made three important points about meditation.
1. Meditation requires discipline.
I began by asking the group how many of them usually study when they have an upcoming test. Most raised their hands. I asked how many played a sport and how much time they spend at practice. I explained that meditation is like studying and practice: it is hard work that requires time and commitment. If we want to have a relationship with God, we have to exercise our spiritual muscles. (This isn’t an original idea. I was simply paraphrasing St. Ignatius of Loyola’s first annotation to the Spiritual Exercises.) I suggested that the young people commit to a regular time to pray every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. I emphasized that the best way to practice prayer is by attending Mass and celebrating the Eucharist.
2. Try different forms of meditation.
I briefly described the steps to praying the daily Examen. It’s a great prayer, and I encouraged the young people to try it. There are as many ways to meditate as there are people in the world. The way we meditate is really not that important; what really matters is that we direct our heart, mind, soul, and body toward God. Catechists can play an important role by introducing young people to the wide variety of forms of meditation the Church offers: the Rosary, lectio divina, and Ignatian contemplation, to name a few. There is no right or wrong way to meditate.
3. Free yourself from expectations.
Finally, I shared a story about how my dog kept interrupting my meditation one day. He insisted that I pet him. “Go away,” I said, “can’t you see I’m meditating?” He refused to go away. At that moment, I realized that maybe petting my dog would be a better meditation that day than doing whatever I had originally set out to do. Meditation is not about achieving a particular goal; there is no such thing as success or failure. With an attitude that is open and free, interruptions (such as my dog) can be revealed to be moments of actual grace. (In my example, the grace I was given was the freedom to let go of my idea of what my meditations should look like so that I could show love to one of God’s creatures.) Interruptions and distractions are never impediments to meditation—they are only opportunities to turn our minds back to God.
To close the evening, I led the young people in a meditation from Little Lessons from the Saints. I asked young people for the names of some saints, and I chose one who was included in the book. I read the reflection and then led them through the accompanying meditation. Afterward, I allowed time for the group to ask any questions they had about meditation.
Disciples are people of prayer, and I’m thankful that I could do this little part in helping form young people into prayerful people. I trust the Holy Spirit will lead them to discover for themselves how they too can make prayer and contemplation the center of their lives.
How do you teach young people to pray? What kinds of prayer have you shared with them? What was their response?