St. Catherine of Siena Quotes on Prayer That Will Inspire You
Prayer can be difficult in the modern era: social media, twenty-four hour news coverage, and being constantly “connected” make it hard to be still and know God. The fourteenth-century Dominican mystic Saint Catherine of Siena has much to say that can help us when we come up against roadblocks to prayer.
1. “Holy Spirit, come into my heart, and in your power draw it to you.”
In a single sentence, Saint Catherine of Siena captures the essence of prayer in a nutshell. It is about union with God, a heart-to-heart with Jesus, Who desires to be united with you. Saint Catherine prayed for the Holy Spirit to come into her heart, and draw her close to Him, and we should do the same. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray as we ought. God wants to come to our aid and help us to grow closer to Him. Do not be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit to help you in prayer.
2. “We've had enough exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues - I see the world is rotten because of silence.”
Christians are not meant to be lukewarm (Revelation 3:15 - 16). Rather, we are to be like Christ, and set the world on fire (Luke 12:49). The world needs our prayers! So many graces are not given because we Christians do not pray as we ought. We shouldn’t be afraid to go to God in prayer, and to witness to the faith in public. Cry out to God in prayer, asking Him for your needs and for the needs of the world. In doing this, you are imitating Jesus (Hebrews 5:7), Who cried out to His Father, and the Father heard Him.
3. “You must believe in truth that whatever God gives or permits is for your salvation.”
It is common for us to get discouraged or to have our faith in God shaken when we do not receive what we ask for in prayer. “God did not answer my prayer.” God is not listening,” “He doesn’t care about me.” On the contrary, Saint Catherine reminds us that God always answers our prayers with the answer that is the most conducive for our salvation. God wants our salvation even more than we do, and sometimes He has to say “no” to what we think we want, in order to give us what is really best for us, and what we want most deeply: eternal union with Him in heaven. Prayer should always be open to God’s wisdom, knowing that while we might think we are praying for the right thing, it is God Who knows and wills to give us what is best for us.
4. “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”
We human beings have two unfortunate, yet stubborn, tendencies: a tendency to want things that are bad for us, and a tendency to convince ourselves that what we want is objectively good for us. As a result, we often find that when we get what “we want,” we end up unpleasantly surprised. God, on the other hand, always knows and wants what is best for us, and He is always able to give us what will help us, rather than harm us. When it comes to you, God has one thing in mind: your salvation. All the good, all the inconveniences, the suffering, the blessings, the joys, the sorrows, are all for your salvation. That is what He cares about the most. He does us a great favor by not “answering” our prayers. When we get to heaven, we will be able to see the reason for all our unanswered prayers, and all the good that came about, and the evil that was avoided, by our not getting what we “want,” and we will be grateful to God for giving us what He knew would really help us.
5. “Prayer… unites with God the soul that follows the footprints of Christ Crucified, and thus, by desire and affection, and union of love, makes her another Himself.”
In 1375, when she was in her late twenties, Saint Catherine received the stigmata - the five wounds of Christ in her body. In a very real, physical way, she bore the marks of Christ Crucified; she felt His pain. Although we do not literally receive the marks of Christ’s wounds, we can still be spiritually conformed to Him through prayer. We cannot be like Christ - and consequently, we cannot get to heaven - if we neglect our prayer life. Prayer is what makes us like God. Jesus even said that we must become like Him (Matthew 16:24) in carrying our cross if we want to be His disciples. Through a regular prayer life, we can become more like Christ, for by prayer we know Him better.
6. [The eternal Father to Catherine:] “I give spiritual consolation in prayer, now in one way, now in another. But it is not my intention that the soul should receive this consolation foolishly, paying more attention to the gift than to me.”
God often gives us consolation when we pray: a feeling of comfort, relief, hope, and love. What He really wants to give us, though, is not good feelings, but Himself. As a result, it sometimes happens that He takes away from us perceptible consolations, so that we will pray not because it makes us “feel good,” but solely for the sake of union with God: because He deserves it, and it benefits us. Many of the great saints - John of the Cross, Mother Teresa, Faustina - experienced periods of feeling separated from God. They often did not perceive His Presence or feel consoled in prayer. Nevertheless, they continued to believe in Him and to pray to Him regularly, knowing that their relationship with God did not depend on their feelings. We too are called to persevere in prayer, knowing that God rewards our faith in Him for praying even when we don’t feel consoled. When this happens, He is drawing us even closer to Himself.
7. “When the soul has passed through the doctrine of Christ crucified, with true love of virtue and hatred of vice, and has arrived at the house of self-knowledge and entered therein, she remains, with her door barred, in watching and constant prayer, separated entirely from the consolations of the world.”
While it is not wrong to enjoy good things in this life - health, friendships, good food, a favorite pet - it is important that we remember that these are not the things we were made for. The more we cultivate our relationship with God, the less we will care about these external things, and the more we will see them in the light of our eternal salvation. We do not seek consolation from external goods, which are unable to satisfy. Rather, we use them for the sake of our eternal salvation, and the salvation of our neighbor. Prayer fortifies us against becoming too disappointed when we are stripped of the goods of the world, and allows us to say, (Job 1:21) “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD!”
8. “You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea. The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you.”
The more we know God, the more we can love Him. Each new reality we learn about God is another reason for us to love Him. In prayer, it is important that we listen at least as much as we speak (after all, we very rarely learn when we’re the one speaking!). In the silence of our prayer time, God reveals Himself to us. The good news, though, is that since God is infinite, it is never possible for us to learn everything about God. We can never completely “figure out” God. It is always possible to go deeper and to discover more of the hidden mysteries of God. Our prayer is never done. No matter how old we are, no matter how many years we have been praying, it always benefits us to pray more, in order to love God more.
9. “I do not beseech You for myself alone, Father, but for the whole world, and particularly for the mystical body of the holy Church…”
One of the greatest benefits that God has given us is the power of intercessory prayer. The Catholic Church is so universal that not only does it encompass those of us still living in the world (Church Militant), but it even extends after death into eternity (Church Triumphant), and to those in purgatory (Church Suffering). Before death, we can pray for the souls in purgatory, that God may speed their entry into heaven. We can also pray for people still on earth; our fellow travelers journeying to Heaven. The Church and the world desperately need our prayers! When we go to pray, it is important that we ask not only for our own needs, but also for those of our brothers and sisters in Christ. By doing this, we will be fulfilling Christ’s command to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31).
10. “But, in no way, does the creature receive such a taste of the truth, or so brilliant a light therefrom, as by means of humble and continuous prayer, founded on knowledge of herself and of God.”
We cannot increase in holiness without prayer. The Church’s greatest prayer, of course, is the Mass. When we participate in Mass, we are experiencing Heaven on earth. By attending Mass and maintaining a regular prayer life, we can gain a preview of heaven. Saint Catherine speaks of “humble and continuous prayer.” Why continuous? Because we cannot love someone we do not know. When we pray without ceasing, we accustom ourselves to knowing God, and we make it easier for ourselves to love Him. We also gain greater knowledge of ourselves; how we must amend our lives to grow in holiness. Prayer is the lifeblood of a healthy spiritual life!