How to Pray and Why
By Naima S. Panow MD FRCS

In Medjugorje, I was listening to Father Svetozar Kraljevic who speaks English very fluently. He talked for a while about, apparitions of the Blessed Mary all over the world. He told us why we have to pray and why it’s important to attend daily Mass and receive the body of Christ. He said, “I know it is not easy to attend the Mass daily but at least make the effort when you can.  Learn to spend some time alone and pray silently to God.” Father also insisted we should say the Rosary daily.

At the end of his speech, he looked at us and said, “We could teach you how to pray and remember what you heard during the Homily and the Mass but it is up to you to follow this or forget all about it. Many of you would follow this for few days, weeks and few months but the problems in this life would take you away from what you learned here.”

I do believe the gift of prayer is planted in the heart and mind of the child, no mater how young they are. Babies watch and learn from their parents and grandparents. Never believe it is better to pray alone and leave a child in another room or ask him/her to be quite. Always help them to learn. If you can teach babies to use the bathroom, you can also teach them about prayer.

I am blessed and grateful to my beloved mother who spent time with her children and taught us how to pray. I remember her words and the simple prayers she taught us. Even now I would never go to sleep without repeating these simple prayers, even though these prayers did not come easy to me after my stroke.

During my stoke I realized how it can be difficult for some to say even the simplest prayers. I learned the most important think about prayer we offer it from the heart.

There are so many challengers that can lead us away from prayer. Many have medical conditions that cause a great deal of suffering. Kneeling to pray could cause greater pain making it even more difficult to pray from the heart. God knows you are suffering so try your best just relax and learn to pray from the heart the best you can. So how do we learn to pray from the heart?

Clara Miyazaki a friend of mine from Salt Lake City was an atheist until the age of 60. One old Monsieur asked Clara to believe in God and become a Christian Catholic. Clara refused. The Monsieur never gave up her. It was when he asked Clara to be baptized and learn about becoming Christian when Clara finally agreed. Shortly after this Monsieur died.

Clara went to Medjugorje four times. The first time she went just to see what is happening and look around. That was the first time Clara saw Our Lady. Later, Clara learned how to pray and attended daily Mass. After Mass she would stay in the church saying all 4 sets of the Rosaries and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Clara told me one day Our Lady appeared from nowhere with tears in her eyes.

The Blessed Mother said, “No, No, No. You’re praying very fast and not from your heart. How do you want God and my Son to understand what you are saying? When you pray, you should pray slowly and meditate on each word.”

Clara said, “Our Lady pressed her two thumbs on my chin and the other fingers under the chin and asked Clara to say Our Father slowly.” Shaking, Clara started to say the Our Father when Mary interrupted saying, “No, No, No, slower.” On the third time when Clara was slowly saying the Our Father, Mary removed her fingers from Clara’s chin and said, “Yes, Yes, Yes.” After this, Our Lady disappeared. Since then Clara prays slowly and now spends her time teaching others how to pray.

I guess Clara is armed with so many prayers. During her visit with me and we went out, she had to say a special prayer for the safety of us and those who are driving. When I lost my way, she started prayer to St Anthony. Since she prays slowly, I found my way before she finished the prayer.

Many of us think, we are physically powerful and can carry the world over our shoulders. They would be surprised how within seconds their health could change. Some think prayers are for the old and they being younger still have time to start praying later. They would be surprised to know, physical life is so fragile. They could collapse within a second as I have seen many times during my years as an M.D. and in my personal life.

When I had my first cancer surgery in 1998, I had sever complication, stopped breathing on and off for four hours. I had clots in the lungs (Pulmonary Embolism) which cause some lung collapse. Two months later some of these clots left the lung to the heart, which caused me to have heart Fibrillation and by the next morning I had multiple clots in the brain.

My right side was paralyzed and by the time I was found and brought to the hospital it was too late to get the special shot which is a big success these days for victims of blood clots. Even so, by the next day I was able to move my right leg and my right arm. My speech was very sluggish. I could not remember my family members’ name, not even my beloved mother’s name. I wanted to pray but could not remember the words. I asked a friend to get me a small prayer book. I tried but could not read it. It was easier for me if somebody would be with me to say the prayer and I listen. There were many nuns and other religious people in the hospital, but no one tried to say a prayer with me. They are so busy. I was able to find the name of my church and asked the nurse to call them. My bookkeeper came with her husband and prayed with me also. I could not say much but listened to them. I felt so relaxed.

At home as usual I was alone. My paralyses was gone, but still no feeling in my arm or any part of my right side. I did not give up. I got my Rosary and tried to remember the words in English or Arabic. It took me more than six months to learn how to pray the simplest prayers again.

I watched EWTN and learn the Rosary again by listening to the nuns. I would sit on my bed with my Rosary in hand to be sure I am ok. Once they start the ten Hail Mary, suddenly another prayer in the background made it impossible for me to concentrate what they are saying and how to say Hail Mary. This unsettled me so much I put the Rosary back in the drawer. I was able to look at the religious pictures and know they are there for me but could not talk to them. Praying had become a difficult struggle because after the stroke I could not remember how. I had the desire to pray but just could not do it.

I think many people have the desire to pray but they do not know how.  Even now after nearly ten years, I find it is not easy for me to read the prayers written by others especially if it is long. I found it much easier for me to talk to God, Jesus, Mary, Saint Joseph and so on. I understand what I am saying and am sure they hear me well. They must understand me, because some times for no reason my tears start falling down. Clara noticed that and said, “Naima I think the Holy Spirit touched you.” My brother in Christ, Father Nigro who helped me to later spend time with Mother Teresa, said, “Naima, you do not need to read any thing, just talk to Him, He will listen.” This is some of the best advice I have received since my stroke or can offer to others who find it difficult to pray. All you really need to do is to just “Talk to Him and He will listen.” This is a good example of prayer from the heart.

The churches in Iraq (Before 2003) usually were packed with the faithful praying the Rosary in May, the month of Mary. In the month of June, we prayed for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The church and the community is one body. When one person is sick, every one tries to help praying with the sick, lighting candles for the sick and visit them at home. The priest, Bishop and the nuns join the prayers. Prayers are powerful and a beautiful way to talk to God. The Moslem in Iraq used to join us during Good Friday listening to the homily. They too had special prayers for Mary. It is good we become like one body to offer prayer together with love from the heart.

Ending I know if only we would trust in our heart and pray, we will find that place inside of us where “He will listen,” and in this we will discover why we pray.

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