Stewardship – “The Parish as a School of Prayer”

I recently read a power-packed book on prayer called The Parish as a School of Prayer written by Fr. Scott Traynor.

There are four essential habits of growing in intimacy with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. They are: Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, and Respond. I’ll describe each habit as defined in the book and add comments from my own experience and in talking with others.

Acknowledge – “notice, see, name, attend to, become aware of the thoughts, feelings, and desires that are moving in my heart.”

I think that when many people start developing a regular prayer life they are unsure of how to do it, what to say or what to expect in return. Much of our prayer is superficial, and we really don’t tell God anything too personal or specific. There is a level of mistrust in God and a lack of humility and vulnerability on our part. Just like our human relationships, when our friendships are superficial and lack depth, they do not become important to us. We don’t take time to nurture and develop them and they ultimately wither and die. I think this happens for some of us in our relationship with the Holy Trinity. We lack trust and humility which leads to a lukewarm prayer life or worse, no prayer life. The first step in growing in a relationship is to be specific, humble, and vulnerable – this leads to trust.

Relate – “gather what is on my heart and honestly talk to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit what is found on my heart.”

I think many people believe “God knows what’s bothering me, why do I need to tell Him?” This is true, God already knows what’s in our heart and on our mind. But by talking to God in specific detail, we become aware of our own brokenness. Our self-awareness is the first step in recognizing that we were not designed by God to do it on our own and that we need His love, mercy, and forgiveness. Talking in specific detail to God moves us from “self-centered” to “God-centered.” It helps us determine God’s will in our lives. Moving to “God-centered” also helps us become “other-centered” in what we pray for. We pray less for ourselves and pray more for others’ needs. It helps us to be more loving, merciful, and forgiving to family, friends, and enemies.

Receive – “to generously receive and stay with the grace of God.”

I think when our prayer is not humble and lacking in trust and our hearts have a wall around them, we are unable to hear or see God’s response. A key insight by Fr. Traynor is this – “When we share our thoughts, feelings and desires with the Holy Trinity, it actually opens our hearts to receive everything that God desires for us.” God wants a personal relationship with each of us. We were designed to be a two-way street of sharing our brokenness with Him and then receiving His grace. Unfortunately, many of us are only using the outgoing lane and have not opened up the incoming lane for God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. God wants us to be happy. His grace opens us to the giftedness of our future, of all that is possible in our lives with Him.

Respond – “when we say ‘yes’ to God’s love that very grace will inspire, direct, and sustain a concrete and particular response of love.”

I think that many people believe that miracles only happened long ago and they do not happen today; they think that God is not responding to their prayers. But when we accept the Holy Trinity’s invitation into relationship, we begin to see the small, daily miracles that occur in our lives. When we experience God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness in a profound way, we want more of it. Our prayer life isn’t just something we do in the morning when we wake up or before we go to bed, it becomes a relationship that becomes the center of our life throughout the day, in all circumstances, good and bad. When most people receive a gift, they want to share it with others. They are generous with what they have been given. This is true with our relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is a gift waiting for each of us to accept and to share with others.

Teaching another person how to pray is the best gift we can give someone. Please read Fr. Traynor’s book and share it with others.

The Parish as a School of Prayer – Fr. Scott Traynor

  • “I can tell people in that parish really pray. I want to learn how to do that.”
  • The parish as a school of prayer could be every parish’s mission statement.
  • The parish is the school, the pastor is the teacher and the encounter between man and God, the prayer, is the subject.
  • “Our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools of prayer’…opening our hearts to the love of God will open our hearts to the love of our brothers and sisters.” St. John Paul II
  • The Urgent Need
  • Secularism, relativism, materialism, narcissism, and a culture of distraction all hinder a deep and growing intimacy in faith with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Our hearts were made for God, these other things become empty substitutes for the human heart.
  • Leading the parish to become a school of prayer should become a key-point in all pastoral planning.
  • The parish priest is the master teacher in every parish.
  • “Your first duty (priests) is not projects and organizations, but to lead your people to a deep intimacy with the Trinity.” St. John Paul II
  • “Believe in the power of your priesthood! Christ took you under his special protection.” Pope Benedict XVI
  • Parishioners will never put forth the effort to engage in the “battle of prayer” if their desire is not awakened.
  • The priest must be a Christian witness of prayer.
  • In prayer, God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.
  • Generous self-giving for others is impossible without discipline and constant true faith-filled prayer. The Curriculum of the School of Prayer
  • Prayer is a relationship; a growing intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Relational commitment of self-revelation is only possible if I am self-aware.
  • Institute of Priestly Formation: essential dynamics of Trinitarian intimacy are Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond (ARRR):
    • Acknowledge
      • Become aware of what is transpiring on your heart.
      • Name the thoughts, feelings, and desires that are moving in your heart; the good, the bad and the ugly.
      • Not always easy because we live in a culture of distraction.
      • What is on our heart is important because our thoughts, feelings, and desires shape our actions.
      • The Christian who fails to cultivate habitual awareness of the movement of is heart is a Christian at risk.
  • Relate
    • Gather what is on my heart and honestly relate it to God, tell God about it, talk to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; entrust what is on your heart to God.
    • This may seem like a small thing but it is a huge interior leap.
    • In order to relate what is on my heart to God, I must be aware, in faith, that God is present and that He listens.
    • Entrusting what I have on my heart is an act of faith in His love, disposes my heart to receive a greater lived experience of that love.
    • God invites us to intimacy; He does not force us.
    • He invites us to relate our thoughts, feelings, and desires to Him because, as our Creator, He knows this disposes our hearts to receive everything He desires for us.
  • Receive
    • We depend completely on God for every good thing. This dependence is a source of wisdom, freedom, joy, and confidence.
    • The most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to receive God.
    • The opposite of dependence on God is self-sufficiency.
    • The “receiving” takes tangible form: words of scripture, counsel of a trusted friend, a beautiful sunset.
    • God’s love for us is infinite and eternal; but our hearts are finite and limited.
    • This is why God gives us life each day, that we may grow in capacity to receive His love.
  • Respond
    • The response that God asks of us is inspired, directed and sustained by His very grace.
    • If a sailboat is not receiving wind, it is just drifting, it has no power to do anything.
    • We are sailboats, our hearts are sails and God’s love is the wind.

Interdependence of ARRR
•    ARRR is not a method of prayer, but essential habits to deepen our relationship with the Holy Trinity in prayer throughout the day.
•    To grow in intimacy with God, we need to cultivate this honest transparency before God on a consistent basis.
•    Before talking to family and friends about what is happening in your life, start with God first.
•    If we do not share what is on our heart with God, our intimacy with Him will not grow, we will have a superficial relationship with Him.
•    Growing in the habit of noticing what is on my heart and telling God about it in prayer will dispose my heart to be receptive of God’s love.
Supplements to the Core Curriculum

  • Silence:
    • Be intentional to cultivate silence in your life.
    • Amplifies our interior movements. (Stress, gratitude, confusion, etc.)
    • Helps me experience more directly what is really happening within me.
    • Many retreatants will attribute this to the location of the retreat, however, God’s desire for us is unchanged (He always wants us), it is our desire for God that has grown (at the retreat location).
  • Dealing with Spiritual Desolation:
    • Main stumbling block for cultivating deeper intimacy with the Holy Trinity.
    • One way to resist it is to acknowledge it and relate it to God.
    • Prayers of thanksgiving are not easy when in the midst of suffering.
  • Dealing with Distractions:
    • Everyone experiences distractions while in prayer.
    • Distractions reveal to us what we are attached to.
    • When you realize you are distracted, gently return to whatever you planned on paying attention to.
    • When distracted again, tell God about the distraction.
    • If distracted again, pray with the distraction.
  • Is This Real or Made-Up?
    • The spiritual senses are attuned to spiritual reality.
    • Unlike fantasy, the effect of spiritual realities continues on after we are no longer are engaged in prayer.
    • A fantasy masquerading as a prayer will lead to spiritual desolation.
    • The enemy’s aim at making us desolate is to keep us from deeper intimacy with God.

Classrooms for Prayer

  • Mass
    • The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer.
    • The priest can help by being generous with liturgical silence after the homily and after Communion.
  • Confession
    • The evil spirit attacks us at our weakest point.
    •  Spiritual desolation is the first wave of attack.
  • Committee Meetings
    • Start meetings with 15 minutes of Lectio Divina.
    • Members share faith stories before meeting.
  • Home
    • The parish is a family of families.
    • Help married couples prayer together – each spouse reveals what is on their heart that day and the other person offers a prayer, then they reverse roles.
    • Pray with children – same way as married couples.
  • Parish Religious Education
    • Teach ARRR and lead people through the experience.

Simple Plans for Prayer

  • Preparation
    • Where will I go to pray? (Chapel, bedroom)
    • At what time and for how long? (Every morning, 30 minutes daily)
    • What do I pay attention to or pray with? (Scripture, Rosary)
    • What grace do I ask for? (Ask God for a specific gift you want from Him to carry out His will).
  • When the Time for Prayer Arrives
    • Call to mind the presence of God.
    • Begin with the Sign of the Cross and invite the Holy Spirit to assist.
    • Ask for the grace you desire.
    • Turn your attention to whatever desire or thought with which you decide to pray.
    • When your heart is moved, talk to God.
    • When the movement subsides, return to Scripture or the Rosary until your heart is moved again.
    • If nothing is happening, tell God about the “nothing.”
    • Pray a 3-5 minute conversation with the Holy Trinity or particular Saint. Imagine being with God, Jesus, & the Holy Spirit.
  • Take a small break and journal your experience.


Permission was given by the publisher, IPF Publications (The Institute for Priestly Formation), to share the summary of this book.