An old catechism defines prayer as “raising the mind and the heart to God in  order to speak to him.”  How does one speak to God?   Clearly, there is not some new, totally different language to be employed when speaking to God.  Just as in any real relationship, we talk to the other person in our own words,    so we need to talk to God in our own words.

As very small children we learned to speak by repeating formulas.  We also learned to pray by repeating formulas.  In neither case would we want to remain at that level.  The kind of prayer in which we talk to God in our own words is appropriate at every stage of our lives.

Just as there is not some new and totally different language for talking to God, what we need to say to God is not something totally different from what we need to say to others.  What, then, are the really important things we need to say to God when we pray?  Five things are basic.  Thank you.  I’m sorry.  You are good and I love you.  Help me.  Be with me.  That’s really all we need to say.

That is not to say we should abandon our familiar prayer formulas, like the Our Father.  In one sense, the Our Father is all sufficient; the only prayer we need.   In those traditional prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer, there will always be more that we can really make our own.  The point is we should not limit our praying to memorized formulas.  Unless we come to pray also in our own words  it is difficult to know whether we have really learned to pray or perhaps are just reciting formulas.

Someone has suggested an analogy between prayer and a radio station.  A radio station has both a transmitter and a receiver.  Praying is like that.  We transmit a message to God and wait to receive a response.  We need to keep in mind that what God has to say to us is more important than what we have to say to him.   In his Confessions St. Augustine  reflected that idea in his Confessions.  “You respond clearly, but not everyone hears clearly.  All ask what they wish, but not always hear the answer they wish. Your best servant is he who is intent not so much on hearing his petition answered, as rather on willing whatever he hears from you.”