His Prayer Life

Prayer was part of Karol Wojtyla’s life from a very young age, as he followed his father’s good example. At the age of seven he became an altar server, attending Mass and saying Morning Prayer before school each day. He also prayed this daily prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Holy Spirit, I ask of you the gift of wisdom for a better understanding of you and of your divine perfection. I ask of you the gift of intellect for a better understanding of the essence of the mysteries of the holy faith. Give me the gift of knowledge so that I may know how to orient my life in accordance with the principles of faith. Give me the gift of counsel so that in all things I can seek counsel from you and can always find it in you. Give me the gift of strength so that no fear or earthly motivations can take me away from you. Give me the gift of piety, so that I can always serve your majesty with filial love. Give me the gift of the fear of God so that no fear or earthly motivations can take me away from you.

Pope John Paul II’s daily prayer life began with the liturgy of the hours which, he told author George Weigel was, “very important, very important.” Then at 5 AM he went to his private chapel to pray until 6 AM. He prayed on a kneeler interceding for the intentions listed on the petition notes that the nuns placed on it. He groaned in intimate union with God before his invited guests. This was followed by his celebration of Mass. After breakfast he walked through the sacristy and kissed all of the relics kept there on a table next to the altar.

Throughout the day he continued praying the liturgy of the hours, rosaries, meditations and in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. At noon, he prayed the Angelus which he recited on Sundays as he overlooked the faithful in St. Peter’s Square. On Fridays he prayed and meditated on the Stations of the Cross which he prayed daily during Lent. He prayed through the intercession of his favorite saints and kept a list of them in his pocket. He also carried a folded paper containing the words of his total consecration to Jesus through Mary.

One of the Pope’s closest advisors, Jesuit Cardinal Robert Tucci, said that the Pope had the capacity to isolate himself from everything around him and pray. He said, “Even when we were staying in the nunciature early in the morning he would spend three quarters of an hour, alone in the chapel … he was a man in continuous dialogue with Our Lord, with the Mother of God.”

During most of his life as bishop and Pope much of his writing was done on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. He wrote, “Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and in contemplation that is full of faith and ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease.” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Dominicae Cenae (On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist), February 24, 1980).

Some people think that they don’t know how to pray. So they don’t. But Saint John Paul II said, “How to pray? This is a simple matter. I would say: Pray any way you like, so long as you do pray. You can pray the way your mother taught you; you can use a prayer book. Sometimes it takes courage to pray; but it is possible to pray, and necessary to pray. Whether from memory or a book or just in thought, it is all the same.” (Pope John Paul II, The Way of Prayer, Crossroad Publishing Co. 1995).

In an audience with young people he said, “We need to admit humbly that we are poor creatures, with confused ideas. … We are fragile and in constant need of interior strength and consolation. Prayer gives us strength for great ideals, for keeping up our faith, charity, purity, generosity; prayer gives us strength to rise up from indifference and guilt, if we have had the misfortune to give in to temptation and weakness.”

“Prayer gives light by which to see and to judge from God’s perspective and from eternity. That is why you must not give up praying! Don’t let a day go by without praying a little! Prayer is a duty, but it is also a joy because it is a dialogue with God through Jesus Christ!” (Audience with Young People, March 14, 1979).

Pope John Paul II described his prayer intentions in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

“What is prayer?”, asked Pope John Paul II. It is commonly held to be a conversation. In a conversation there are always an “I” and a “thou” or “you.” In this case the “Thou” is with a capital T. If at first the “I” seems to be the most important element in prayer, prayer teaches that the situation is actually different. The “Thou” is more important, because our prayer begins with God….

One can and must pray in many different ways, as the Bible teaches through a multitude of examples. The Book of Psalms is irreplaceable. We must pray with “inexpressible groanings” in order to enter into rhythm with the Spirit’s own entreaties. To obtain forgiveness one must implore, becoming part of the loud cries of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Heb 5:7). Through all of this one must proclaim glory. Prayer is always an opus gloriae (a work, a labor, of glory). Man is the priest of all creation. Christ conferred upon him this dignity and vocation. Creation completes its opus gloriae both by being what it is and by its duty to become what should be. . . .

The subject of the Pope’s prayer is the phrase that begins the last document of the Second Vatican Council, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et spes, luctus et angor hominum huius temporis (The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the people of our time). . . .

…The Pope, like every Christian, must be keenly aware of the dangers to which man is subject in the world, in his temporal future, and in his final, eternal, eschatological future. The awareness of these dangers does not generate pessimism, but rather encourages the struggle for the victory of good in every realm. And it is precisely from this struggle for the victory of good in man and in the world that the need for prayer arises.

The Pope’s prayer, however, has an added dimension. In his concern for all the churches every day the Pontiff must open his prayer, his thought, his heart to the entire world. Thus a kind of geography of the Pope’s prayer is sketched out. It is a geography of communities, churches, societies, and also of the problems that trouble the world today. In this sense the Pope is called to a universal prayer in which the sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum (concern for all the churches; 2 Cor 11:28) permits him to set forth before God all the joys and hopes as well as the griefs and anxieties that the Church shares with humanity today. . . .

Saint Paul writes that “where sin increased” (“ubi abundavit peccatum“), “grace overflowed all the more” (“superabundavit gratia“; cf. Rom 5:20).

This profound truth presents a perennial challenge for prayer. It shows how necessary prayer is for the world and for the Church, because in the end it constitutes the easiest way of making God and His redeeming love present in the world. God entrusted to men their own salvation; He entrusted to them the Church and, in the Church, the redeeming work of Christ. God entrusted this to all, both to individuals and to humanity as a whole. He entrusted all to one and one to all. The prayer of the Church, and especially the prayer of the Pope, must constantly reflect this awareness.

All of us are “children of the promise” (Gal 4:28). Christ said to the apostles: “Take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33). But He also asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). This is the source of the missionary dimension of the prayer of the Church and of the Pope.

The Church prays that everywhere the work of salvation will be accomplished through Christ. The Church prays that it can live in constant dedication to God’s mission. This mission constitutes, in a certain sense, the essence of the Church, as the Second Vatican Council has stated.

The Church and the Pope pray for the people to whom this mission must be particularly entrusted, they pray for vocations-not only for religious and for priestly vocations but also for the many vocations to holiness among God’s people amid the laity.

The Church prays for the suffering. Suffering, in fact, is always a great test not only of physical strength but also of spiritual strength. Saint Paul’s truth about “completing the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Col 1:24) is part of the Gospel. It contains the joy and the hope that are essential to the Gospel; but man will not cross the threshold of that truth without the help of the Holy Spirit. Prayer for the suffering and with the suffering is therefore a special part of this great cry that the Church and the Pope raise together with Christ. It is a cry for the victory of good even through evil, through suffering, through every wrong and human injustice.

The Church prays for the dead and this prayer says much about the reality of the Church itself. It says that the Church continues to live in the hope of eternal life. Prayer for the dead is almost a battle with the reality of death and destruction that weighs down upon the earthly existence of man. This is and remains a particular revelation of the Resurrection. In this prayer Christ Himself bears witness to the life and immortality, to which God calls every human being.

Prayer is a search for God, but it is also a revelation of God. Through prayer God reveals Himself as Creator and Father, as Redeemer and Savior, as the Spirit who “scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10), and above all “the secrets of human hearts” (cf. Ps 43[44]:22). Through prayer God reveals Himself above all as Mercy – that is, Love that goes out to those who are suffering, Love that sustains, uplifts, and invites us to trust. The victory of good in the world is united organically with this truth. A person who prays professes such a truth and in a certain sense makes God, who is merciful Love, present in the world.

His prayer made God present in the world and sometimes made himself absent where he continued his path to holiness. Once the nuns that cared for him could not find him. They searched everywhere and finally looked in his private chapel where they found him on his knees in prayer.

Noticing their anxiety, the Pope asked, “Sisters, is anything the matter?”

They replied, “We were worried for Your Holiness.”

The Pope smiled and replied, “I too, was worried for my holiness.”