Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 1, 2011

Prayer and the Four Pillars of the Faith

The Church speaks of the “four pillars of the Faith” for good reason.  The four together make for a strong and stable Faith – one that can persevere, endure and grow.  Something is lacking, if one or more of the four is lacking!  The four together reinforce one another, and the house is secure.

The four are most simply named Creed, Sacraments, Morals and Prayer.  The Catechism is organized with these four as major sections:

  • Part One: The Profession of Faith
  • Part Two: The Sacraments of Faith
  • Part Three: The Life of Faith .
  • Part Four: Prayer in the Life of Faith

We can see a certain logical order in this sequence: first is what we believe – the content of our Faith.  This is the Truth that we believe. Next the Sacraments include the means by which this Truth is made present to us: the means of grace that brings communion with God who is Truth.  Third, the moral life, includes the way in which this Truth is lived in human lives, by human persons.

The fourth pillar, prayer, which seems the simplest and most obvious, is perhaps the least understood of all.  Many Catholics think “prayers” when they think “prayer.”  They think of this prayer or that prayer – perhaps memorized prayers that are trusted and often repeated by Catholics in general, or perhaps personal and spontaneous prayers that are uttered privately, maybe in silence, with great hope that the Lord will hear and answer.  But “prayer” in our Catholic Faith is much more – it is a treasure largely undiscovered; a gift therefore greatly unappreciated and undeveloped.

Here is one Catechism paragraph on the beautiful mystery of prayer:

2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.

Prayer is that relationship with God in Christ, the truth of which is understood by the Creed. Prayer is that relationship with God, which is enabled and nurtured by the grace and presence of Christ in the sacraments. Prayer is that relationship with God, which is lived out according to the moral life given us in Christ. Yes, prayer is that relationship with God in Christ; prayer is that blessed intimate covenant communion that is illuminated, enabled and lived in the other three pillars. How is it that our life of prayer is so typically neglected when it is so crucially important to us?

If our life of prayer is our covenant communion with God in Christ, why is it not our first concern, instead of, typically, our last?  We can see how it could be listed last in a logical sequence, because it is not even understood except by the support of the other three.  But ought it be the last listed in our concerns, our attention or our pursuits?  To ask it even more pointedly: if our personal relationship with Christ is dusty, stagnant and cold, then what good is accurate knowledge about Him, and meeting Him frequently in the sacraments, and even refraining from acting in ways that would dishonor Him?  Remember the hard words of Jesus to some on Judgment Day, “I never knew you.”

Prayer is our covenant communion with God in Christ.  In prayer we come to know Him and He us, Person to person.  In prayer we walk with Him and He with us.  In prayer we remain in Him, and He in us.  In prayer we live our vocation from the beginning; in prayer we journey toward our eternal destiny with God the Holy Trinity.

Brothers and sisters, let us not neglect our life of prayer.   Each of the four pillars of the Faith directs us to God in Jesus Christ.  All four pillars together, like the four pillars supporting an altar, lift up our worship making it worship in spirit and truth – worship that the Father seeks and desires.



  1. Dear Thomas,

    Yes! Prayer is as necessary for us as oxygen. We simply cannot remain alive in Christ if we do not develop our relationship with God in prayer. Pope Benedict XVI urged the same in his Wednesday Audience:

    “Time spent in prayer is not wasted time,” the Pope said today, “but rather a period in which the way to true life is opened. “… The Pope presented the figure of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Carmelite mystic and reformer, who lived in Spain in the 16th century and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. “In our society, often lacking in spiritual values,” Benedict XVI said, “Saint Teresa teaches us to be tireless witnesses of God, of his presence and of his actions.”…

    The Pope stressed that prayer is essential.

    As you wrote, Thomas, all four pillars are important, but perhaps the one we most neglect in the “busyness” of our culture is prayer. You are right that for most Christians, prayer is “a treasure largely undiscovered; a gift therefore greatly unappreciated and undeveloped.” But, by God’s Grace, we can change!

    May God draw us all, and may we respond with a whole heart to His invitation: “Come and learn of Me…”( Mt. 11:28-30). Let us not neglect our Life of Prayer.

  2. Thomas,

    This one thing I find myself struggling with alot. I see how so many people go through their lives as professed Christians of all walks but cringe at the idea of a simple blessing before meals. I have recently started to watch what I am saying during my prayers, finding myself repeating those memorized favorite prayers yet they are now just habits in my daily grind. I want to be moved and feel the presence of GOD when I come to him in prayer yet it seems like I’ve hit a wall. I’ve even started forcing myself to make time for scripture and meditation in the day but my mind doesn’t stop thinking of all the tasks that “need” to be completed. Instead of putting Christ first and trusting all will fall into place I keep trying to control each situation. Even while I tell myself I know there is nothing I can do. God does what he wills and my plans might not be his but prayer will let me see and feel his plan for me. Then there is the whole subject of the Mass being the highest form of prayer. Yet you see some playing with Iphones or speaking during the consecration. Then I get back to my senses and realize I am doing the same thing as them when I pay attention to their lack of attention. It seems like a cycle I am so tired of repeating.

    “Come to me, all ye who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”


    • Hello Timothy,

      Thank you for your comment. Prayer is a struggle! The Catechism recognizes the “battle” of prayer:


      2725 Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.

      You might be encouraged to read the next several paragraphs in the Catechism, which goes on to discuss this in more detail. Prayer is a battle that every Christian, every disciple of Christ, confronts – because we must confront in ourselves that darkness that runs from God. He gives us light, however – and light overcomes all darkness!


  3. Timothy, have you tried a prayer journal? I used to have one – it led to my conversion.

    It’s really easy to become overwhelmed and distracted, even during the Holy Mass. Many times – right after I pray – I completely forget what I have said. (Deborah, do you remember my email – my encounter with Christ during the Holy Mass – and how I nearly missed it! You had asked if I wanted to elaborate.) I think this is a wonderful opportunity – Thank you, Lord.

    The Lord brought this to my attention a few Sundays back. I had prayed during the the Liturgy of the Eucharist – and after the Mass had ended – I forgot about what I had said. The Lord was responding to me – but I didn’t even take notice – until the following morning. I woke up early – and had remembered watching something on tv the night before about praying in the quiet of the morning – as Jesus did during his ministry. The house was quiet – no one was up – so, I prayed while preparing breakfast… And the Lord spoke to me – he showed me my prayer during the Mass – and every concern I spoke to Him of – how he had responded – right away! I was in awe – after Mass – a woman insisted on helping me get my mother – who is disabled – to our car. I finally accepted her help, but only after telling her three times that it wasn’t necessary (-even though I had just prayed – exclaiming to the Lord that “I could really use some help with my mom!”

    When I arrived home after Mass – my father – who was that very morning not interested in celebrating Christmas – was in the Christmas Spirit! Also, something I had prayed about, and while I was completely shocked at this transformation – I did not remember my prayer – in fact, I spent the whole night wondering “what and how did this happened to my Dad?”! And this was my prayer the following morning… and yet again I asked – and I received – all three prayers were answered. It was only in the quiet of the morning that I was able to hear the Lord and reflect, and Praise and Thank Him! For he is always faithful.

    Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!

    • Dear Vickie,

      Thanks so much for “elaborating” on your experience in prayer at Mass. Your encounter with Christ, your forgetting your own words to Him, and His answers to your prayers, are not uncommon, it seems to me. We have such very “busy” lives and our minds race around trying to keep up with the overload.

      Nevertheless, our God is Faithful. He does not forget us, even if we forget Him. How Gracious He is to remind us in those quiet moments, when we can recollect ourselves as you did that morning! When we truly open our hearts, we find He is there waiting to continue our conversation with Him.

      In his Wednesday Audience on St. Teresa of Avila, the Pope also said this:

      “The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, “means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent Him whom we know loves us” (“Life,” 8, 5)… Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life: It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life…”

      Please let us continue to pray for, and with, one another, that we may become the unique saints He intends each of us to be. Thanks again, Vickie.

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