September 16, 2016

Religious Education Supplement

Prayer program teaches participants how to hear God’s voice in their lives

Phyllis McNamara, left, has led a Catholic prayer program called Oremus at Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis—a program designed to help people develop a closer relationship with God. Here, she talks with Cindy Flaten, director of religious education at the parish. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Phyllis McNamara, left, has led a Catholic prayer program called Oremus at Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis—a program designed to help people develop a closer relationship with God. Here, she talks with Cindy Flaten, director of religious education at the parish. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Phyllis McNamara understands when people say they’re overwhelmed by the daily demands of work and family life, but she also has a hard-to-deny comeback for anyone who says they’re too busy to spend time with God each day.

“He’s giving you a whole day, so you can set aside some part of it with him,” says McNamara, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis.

“Once you start doing it every day, it becomes a habit. And then you look forward to that time, and then it becomes a part of your life that you can’t do without.”

For McNamara, one of the best ways for learning how to develop a closer relationship with God is a program called “Oremus: A Guide to Catholic Prayer.”

The guide book for Oremus—Latin for, “Let us pray,”—declares, “You will discover how God speaks to you, even in the smallest encounters. Following the tradition of the Catholic Church and the wisdom of the saints, you will learn how to express yourself to God in prayer, and how to hear his voice.”

McNamara has helped people develop those skills as the leader of an Oremus study group program at Christ the King. Years before, she learned the value of listening for God’s voice and talking with him when she was devastated by the greatest tragedy a parent can experience.

“My daughter Julie died 10 days before her 17th birthday in 1989,” recalls McNamara, who also has a son, Jim. “She had an asthma attack and died.

“I was a single parent, and my kids were my life. You can die from that kind of pain, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t have survived if I couldn’t talk with God. I still get sad sometimes, but then I’ll remember she’s safe, and I know who she’s with. That’s what God promises. I know he’s got her because he’s told me.”

While the program helps people see that “desolation and consolation are a normal part of everyone’s walk with God,” it also shows how prayer can be used to connect with God in routine moments of life.

“Some of the young mothers in our group said, ‘How can I pray while I’m doing the dishes?’ ” McNamara says. “I tell them, ‘You’re thinking about God. You’re doing this for your family. That’s prayer.’ ”

As a spouse and the mother of two girls, Connie Sandlin acknowledges, “I know I should pray every day, but sometimes I get distracted.” One of the most impactful parts of Oremus’ eight-week video program for her was an admission from the priest who developed it and leads it—Father Mark Toups, chancellor of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana.

“You hear his personal story and his struggles in his prayer life, even though he is a priest,” says Sandlin, the pastoral associate and director of religious education at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville.

Even more powerful for Sandlin is the image that Father Toups created in the early part of the video series that she shared with about 30 parishioners during this past Lent.

“He talked about encountering God before you even pray,” Sandlin says. “God is waiting for you. I think about that now before I pray. He tells you to picture yourself sitting next to Jesus. That whole first week is about encountering Jesus before you pray.”

Both Sandlin and McNamara noted that another strength of Oremus is the short series of prompts that are used to draw people to share a more personal response to the Scriptures they are reading. They both focused on the prompts, “I sense the Lord was telling me …” and “I ended the prayer wanting …”

“What I love is that there are no right or wrong answers,” McNamara says. “This is all you, and how you’re being directed by the Holy Spirit to answer the questions. It’s all about, ‘What speaks to you?’ and ‘How do you want God to talk with you one on one?’ It made prayer quieter, more thoughtful, instead of rushing through it.”

That thoughtful approach to prayer was enhanced by the use of a journal during the program, Sandlin says.

“I’m not one who usually keeps a journal, but I did find it helpful,” she says. “It helped me put my prayers into words—to talk to Jesus about it.”

It also helped her to make her prayer more personal—an approach that was different and difficult for her at first.

“I pray a lot for my girls, my family. But this was different—‘What does Jesus want for me?’ ” Sandlin says. “Several of us really struggled with that. We don’t always think of ourselves. We started talking and said, ‘I’m a child of God, too, not just my children.’ I had to start thinking, ‘What do you want from the Lord?’ It helped me see the value of daily prayer. It made me realize what I was missing.”

That reaction was shared by the 30 parishioners who participated in the Oremus program during Lent at St. Anthony of Padua.

“They kept going to [Franciscan] Father Joe [West, the parish’s pastor] after Mass, telling him how much they loved this program,” she says. “It improved their prayer life so much that after it ended, they wanted to continue meeting. We meet the first Monday of each month.”

McNamara knows the difference that talking to God and listening to him has made in her life.

“It teaches you not just to do memorized prayer,” she says. “I learned that you just have to be quiet. I just had to stop trying to control everything. I just had to listen because God is talking to you all the time.

“It’s given me peace. Peace of heart. And confidence. Because I know I’m really not by myself. God is with me.”

(For more information about Oremus, visit the website,

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