We're constantly communicating with people. We prove that man is a social animal with the thousand different gadgets to talk and chat. We have computers, FaceBook, SKYPE, instant messengers, cell phones, IPads, and just about anything else possible to stay in touch.

But are we in touch with God? He's the most important person in our life, considering that he created, redeemed, and keeps us alive. Yet numerous excuses jump to mind - I don't have time; I don't know how.

He's not on FaceBook. He doesn't have email. We don't know his cell number. So how can we stay in touch with him?

Prayer! A whole lot could be said on the subject, but let's start with the basics of how to start a conversation with God.

What prayer is NOT?

1. Prayer is not JUST mystical experience or visions.

Don't misunderstand me. Some saints and many men and women today experience Christ in mystical ways and even in visions, but this is not necessary for prayer. We don't have to be mystical gurus.

Talking with other people comes naturally. We don't even think about it. We may like it, we may not. We can be upset. Maybe we don't want to talk. We're bored, and it's hard to find something to talk about. All of this happens in prayer too, but conversation is still possible

2. Prayer is not a self-help therapy.

Prayer's a conversation, not a monologue. We don't repeat a mantra to convince ourselves; we listen and talk to God. We encounter him, and he has to change us. It's not always easy to figure out - but God is always there talking to us, sometimes just in the silence.

There's the story of John that used to sit in the Church for an hour every day without moving or apparently doing anything. When asked what he was doing, he simply said, "I look at Jesus, and He looks at me." It's a two person job.

3. Prayer is not just a good intention.

As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort... Prayer is a battle... In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer."

It's not enough to just want to pray or get the obligation out of the way by calling something else prayer. We can offer Christ's our actions, but we need some one-on-one time. We don't say we love our mother without ever personally talking to her. So, how good is our intention after all?

4. Prayer is not JUST reciting some memorized text.

When's the last time we called up a friend and repeated the same memorized text 50 times and hung up. What about the rosary? Give me a second, I can already hear you raising objections - I should be the one defending it. And I do!

John Paul II says it best in his letter about the rosary and it applies to all traditional prayers.

"Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed”." (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 12)

As a seminarian, I have lots of time to pray: morning prayers as a community, an hour of meditation, daily Mass, midday Angelus and an examen of conscience, rosary, spiritual reading, adoration, night prayers, and a good few visits to Mary and the Eucharist sprinkled in throughout.

But prayer is always tough, and sometimes we take it for granted. I get used to having God at my beck and call. He's there whenever I want to talk, but the computer or the iPhone simply seem more interesting, "God, can't we continue this later?"

There's no magical formula to being able to hear God's voice loud and clear, to enjoying prayer, or to successfully allowing God to change our lives in prayer. It's a relationship, a friendship that must develop with time!

Christ is more faithful, more reliable, better known (or at leastknowable) than any other person in the world! If we think about it, we've already spent at least hours anddays, possibly weeks or months, talking to him. Yet do we really know him?

It' not like speaking with someone next to you,but it's just as real. Who is in Scripture, those around us, and the many different events of our daily lives? Who spends twenty-fourhours a day, seven days a week in the tabernacle so that we can visit him atany time and in practically any place? Jesus Christ! Yet, what do we make of these opportunities?

A few tips.

1. We pray like we live.

We've probably heard it before, and it's true. If we live a life of sin or just don't pay attention to God, it's going to be hard to talk. We don't know what his voice sounds like, what he likes, what he's been up to, his worries, or desires.

If we really love Christ and want to get to know him, we have to act like it. We have to follow his commandments and make time for him. He has to be priority, THE priority.

2. Silence and reflection

I don't need to go into much detail, but I think an every day example suffices to show that external noise and distraction breakdown our human communication. I find it incredibly sad to see a family out for dinner without absolutely any social interaction with each other.

Dad is on the iPhone responding emails or checking the latest stock prices. Mom's chatting away, but not with the kids - a friend just called on the cell phone. The kids are thoroughly engrossed in texting, Angry Birds, or the latest app.

Have we forgotten how to communicate? And if we don't seize the moment with those physically in front of us, what about God?

3. Commitment

We have to make a serious personal commitment to pray. No one will force us. We have to give God time, dedicate some exclusively to him.

Not the time walking to class, waiting in line at the supermarket, or turning on the computer. When can we be alone daily even for five minutes? Unless we're willing to dedicate quality time, we're never going to make friends with him.

4. Some good material

What are we going to talk about? So many times we make the commitment to pray and when we finally kneel or sit down, our mind goes blank. It's like an exam - seconds before, our head was full of ideas, and in one nanosecond, they are all gone.

In reality, there are lots of things to talk about. We don't have to invent anything new.

As Pope Benedict XVI recently said, "We can "ruminate" in many ways; for instance, by taking a short passage of sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle's Letters, or a page from a spiritual author we are drawn to and which makes the reality of God in our today more present, perhaps taking advice from a confessor or spiritual director; by reading and reflecting on what we've just read, pausing to consider it, seeking to understand it, to understand what it says to me, what it says today -- to open our soul to all that the Lord wants to say to us and teach us." (August 17, 2001)

5. Keep it real

Faith is essential. If prayer is story-time or make believe, we're not going anywhere. Christ is really there, and he wants to talk.

When we talk to God, things happen. We might be distracted, bored, or just plain not feel like it, but that's exactly where we keep it real. God's there, and we've got problems and desires - he can help.

Here John Paul II was a great example. As the priest working on his process for becoming a saint told us in a conference, "when his aides would call him with problems and difficult situations that they hadn't managed to come up with solutions for, John Paul II would calmly and trustfully encourage them saying, "We'll figure it out when we've prayed more."

6. We live like we pray

Coming full circle, not only do we pray like we live, but we live like we pray. There has to be a real connect between the two. Experience and conversation have has to change us. Sometimes it might just mean believing, loving a little more. But what shape will that take in our lives.

We should make one commitment, however small it is. It could be an effort to be nice to that someone, who always get's on our nerves. We can go to Church next Sunday. We can say a special prayer for the sick person we know.

Ultimately prayer makes the man. As St. Ephraem said, "Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance.Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride andenvy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven."

Prayer is an essential part of our happiness and our vocation. It's where we figure out, or rather HE tells us, how to make it happen.

How do you pray? What is most important for you? Please comment on the blog, comment, or send me an email.

Next week more on materials for prayer.

Copyright 2012 Br. Mark Thelen, L.C.