Talking to God is the easy part. It’s listening to what He has to say in return that’s sometimes challenging.
This school year, students at St. Joseph School in Zell are learning how to participate in conversational prayer with God. Weekly eucharistic adoration, Mass and other forms of prayer such as the Rosary have long been a part of the educational experience for the school of 48 students in Ste. Genevieve County.
With the guidance of pastor Father Henry Purcell and teachers, students are receiving instruction on the give and take of talking to God while in prayer during adoration through guided meditations. In turn, they’re learning how to develop a relationship with Him through their prayer.
Several years ago at a previous parish, Father Purcell wrote a few guided meditations that he incorporated into a family Holy Hour. “I would have (the children) gather close to the Eucharist and teach them how to talk to Jesus, drawing them back into prayer,” he said. The meditations were well-received, with people requesting copies to use in their own private prayer time.
Before the start of the school year at St. Joseph, Father Purcell approached teachers about using the meditations with students. During adoration, teachers sit among students in the pews reading aloud the prompts provided in the meditations.
Each meditation includes a method to encourage conversation with Jesus, rather than just thinking about Him, or reciting a memorized prayer. Different prayers are suggested with themes of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition and petition. Students also are prompted to bring their thoughts back to Jesus in that specific prayer if their minds become distracted.
“It’s giving them the words to pray with Jesus, and trying to build those gentle habits of bringing your thoughts back to Jesus,” Father Purcell said. And sometimes hearing what Jesus has to say in return isn’t just simply listening for the words, but how the experience of prayer speaks to us, he added.
“Listening to experience God is a big piece of diving into prayer,” he said. “It’s in those experiences of beauty that God speaks to us. He speaks to us in so many ways, through our hearts, through our emotions.”
Several students said their new approach to prayer has helped them become more attentive at Mass, because they’re thinking about having a conversation with Jesus there, too.
“When you pay attention more in Mass, it’s easier to talk to God,” said fifth-grader Kyleigh Fischer.
“It’s letting God talk more to us, and not just us talking to Him,” said fifth-grader Kaiden Mueller. “It’s almost like a conscience, like I hear this little voice.”
Others said they’ve learned that conversing with God is much more than asking Him for their wants and needs. “In Mass we need to focus on talking to God, and saying thank you, rather than just asking Him for stuff,” said fourth-grader Brooklyn Meyer.
The ultimate mission in prayer is seeking the person of Christ, Father Purcell said. “When we love Him, we want to know Him more,” he said. “It starts with having a relationship with Jesus.”