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Book ReviewsHighway to Heaven

Most Catholics are quite familiar with prayer books. These compilations of what are known as vocal prayers are common and readily available in bookstores. But one’s prayer life requires more than vocal prayer. What books are available for those who are ready to take the next step in their spiritual life? Two recent titles from Ignatius Press are excellent choices for these beginners.

In the introduction to Prayer for Beginners, the well-known author and philosophy professor Peter Kreeft tells why his book is different from other books on prayer: “Because this one could have been titled ‘Prayer for Dummies’, prayer for people who are not very good at praying, people who find it hard to pray, not people who find it easy—in other words, people like me.” This short book offers many practical steps, some based on the principles contained in the classic by Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.

Reading a book about how to pray is useful only if it leads to implementing what is read. Kreeft makes this very important point: “Reading a book about doing something can be an obstacle to doing it because it gives you the impression that you are doing what you are only thinking about doing.”

The closest the book comes to teaching a method is presenting the steps “stop, look, and listen.” At one point Kreeft challenges the reader to stop—right now—and pray for one minute. “If you cannot, you are in serious trouble,” he warns. He offers an acronym, RAPT, to help the reader remember the four themes of prayer: Repentance, Adoration, Petition, and Thanksgiving. An entire chapter is devoted to the Jesus prayer, which Kreeft calls “the shortest, simplest, and most powerful prayer in the world.”

Fr. Thomas Dubay is familiar to many from his numerous series on EWTN and his best-selling book Fire Within. This master of the spiritual life has produced a beginner’s guide titled Prayer Primer.

In this book, Fr. Dubay stresses that prayer is about intimacy with the indwelling Trinity. He offers twelve examples of the variety of ways this relationship may be expressed. Liturgical prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, prayer in the family (including how to get young children to pray), and fitting prayer into a busy life each get a chapter.

In addition to much helpful information on the timeless basics of prayer, Fr. Dubay answers many questions on contemporary subjects such as the charismatic renewal, the New Age, and centering prayer. He also offers solutions to common difficulties and concludes with ways to assess one’s progress and grow deeper in prayer.

Peter Rohrbach’s Conversation with Christ was first published in 1956. In a reprinted edition from TAN Books, it continues to be an excellent introduction to meditative prayer.

The book is based on the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila, and its title clearly indicates what prayer should be: conversation, not a monologue. St. Teresa, a Doctor of the Church, is known for her classic The Interior Castle, in which she scales the heights of mystical contemplation. Such advanced prayer is beyond the scope of Rohrbach’s book, though it is hinted at in a chapter toward the end. Here, Rohrbach draws on the Carmelite saint’s Way of Perfection and other writings to describe a simple way to meditate. The detailed steps make the saint’s teachings accessible to those just starting out in their prayer life.

Each of the early chapters builds up to the heart of meditation—conversing with Christ. General preparation, immediate preparation, and selection of material for meditation are covered in great detail.

St. Teresa called mental prayer “a royal highway which leads to heaven.” Any of these three books would be ideal for someone just starting down that road.

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