Prayer is conversation with God. In prayer, we present ourselves to the living God and ask for our heart’s deepest desires, and God speaks back to us answering the desires of our hearts and pouring untold graces and blessings into our lives, and into the whole world. There is within prayer an unfolding that takes place. It requires spiritual sensitivity, but, when perfected, brings grace upon grace into the lives of those who practice it. This unfolding has three stages: awareness, understanding, and deciding.
Awareness: The Catechism makes it abundantly clear that God is continually reaching out to mankind. In this reaching out, God offers His grace and His love. We humans are thus invited to respond to God’s invitation. When we accept His love and grace and begin our journey toward Him, we call it faith. This dynamic is critically important to understanding the spiritual life. It is your responsibility to become aware of His grace and love and to respond to it. We become aware of God’s movements in our life through practice. There are many ways to practice this awareness. A simple way to begin might be to thank God every night for all the blessings He gave you throughout the day. Or to spend some time each day reflecting on the day so far and considering where God was present. A more advanced practice of this awareness might include the Examen or Lectio Divina. The biggest help in all of these practices is to use a spiritual journal, simply recording God’s graces and love as you see them in your life. This awareness will grow into a deeper spiritual awareness that seeks to understand not just the movements of God, but also the spiritual movements that are opposed to God.
Understanding: Unfortunately, we must be more than just aware of God’s grace because Satan is the enemy of our souls. Satan and the spirit of evil in the world act against you in many different ways. The world, the flesh, and the devil are collectively known as the evil spirit. The inclinations, dispositions, and temptations that come from them are what most inhibit your growth in holiness. As you become aware of the movements of your soul, you have to discern whether they are motivated by the good spirit (God and His angels) or the evil spirit. Discerning the source of these movements takes a great deal of effort, otherwise their source might be readily apparent. Regardless, as you pursue holiness it is important that you spend time trying to understand the movements of your soul. Prayer and reflection are key, but as they become more complex or more serious it is important that you seek out a spiritual guide. Whether it be a regular confessor, or a spiritual director, or your parish priest. Talking to another person who can be objective is often the most helpful means of understanding, and is a safeguard against so many other evils.
Decide: You have become aware of the movements of your soul and understood their source. Now you have to decide whether to act on the movement or to reject it. When the movement comes from the good spirit then it should be accepted; when it comes from the bad spirit it should be rejected.