When Have You Prayed Enough? A Quick Guide for the Anxious or Scrupulous Soul

070113In his attempt to discourage the faithful, Satan will often tap into the idealism of those who have chosen to pursue a special and dedicated spiritual path. In effect, he will tempt them with a false piety by sowing the thought that they have not done all they could do, that if only they would do more, pray more, fast more etc., they would have better results, or that other souls, or that the world would be in better condition.

Not only do such a thoughts seem pious, but, in fact, such thoughts have some roots in reality. Our finite abilities and capacities mean there will always be more that we can do, more that can be accomplished. Frankly, commitment, for limited creatures like us, can always be expanded in wider directions! And this how Satan discourages the devoted and dedicated soul.

But the trap is this, when you could always do more, you have never done enough! And thus discouragement and the sense of being overwhelmed sets in. Presuming that the call to pray more and more is from God, the vexed soul starts to experience God more as a task-master and slave driver, than as a savior and deliverer. And this is just where Satan wants us: discouraged, angry and fearful.

Therefore, it is important for the dedicated, yet scrupulous or afflicted person to consider, along with a spiritual director, a path and prayers that can reasonably be said, given one’s state in life. And, having done so, to pursue that path steadily, not allowing Satan to discourage them by guilty thoughts and false piety, which says they should do more, and more.

In this regard, St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises advises the faithful: Age quod agis (Do what you are doing). In other words, stay the course, hold fast and be constant to an agreed-upon, and reasonable spiritual program.

St. Francis De Sales says in his Introduction to the Devout Life, addresses a similar concern when he writes: The practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation, and to the duties of each one in particular…Tell me please, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life as if he were a monk, or for a working man to spend all day in church like a religious. Is not this sort of devotion…unorganized and intolerable?

St. Augustine also says in his Letter to Proba: More things are accomplished in prayer by sighs and tears, than by many words.

St. Paul does say that we should “Pray always” but by this he means that we should seek the gift to be in living conscious contact with God all through the day. He does not mean prayer in the sense of having suspended all other actions or neglecting other duties.

And thus one should pray daily, but other duties ought not be neglected, including duties to  yourself, to sleep, work, family and communal involvement etc. Prayer is to be integrated into our lives, and by God’s grace support us in our other duties. It will be helpful to speak with a pastor, spiritual director or other wise soul to ensure one does not neglect prayer, but neither is one scrupulously anxious of never having done enough.

Each day, having prayed, serenely move to the other duties of the day and do not be unsettled by discouraging thoughts from the devil that you ought to pray longer and with more words. The Lord knows your heart, and your desire for deliverance, and for holiness.  And when thoughts occur that you ought to pray more and more and in often burdensome ways, simply say, “Jesus, I trust in your love for me.”

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.

And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

21 Replies to “When Have You Prayed Enough? A Quick Guide for the Anxious or Scrupulous Soul”

  1. So Monsignor what if your prayer life consists of a morning offering and various prayers to the angels and the saints, two rosaries and divine mercy chaplet and you made that promise of always fulfilling that formula no matter what obstacle occurs. After may years of easing through these prayers , I now find myself not being able to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary and when I go to Adoration I am saying to the Lord I can’t talk to you now because I made a promise to you to say these prayers first. In the course of the day I will say numerous ejaculations to the Lord. I sense an urgency to pray BUT I am always distracted at prayer and have begun to dislike praying. This frightens me to death because I know to well what happens when one neglect their prayer life. At first I thought I must have sinned but I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently. I just keep struggling and put off praying by being on the computer, cooking anything. I will do this until I can no longer put it off and have to pray!
    Any recommendations on books to help one with the dryness. Sometimes all I can say to the Lord I have nothing to give you but this nothingness. Thank you monsignor and God Bless you!

    1. Hmm…. I wonder if your are edging into contemplative prayer? Consider reading Dubay’s “Fire Within” and pay special attention to his treatment of 4th Mansions.

      1. Thanks you Monsignor for taking the time to respond . I remember Fr. Dubay from EWTN and thought him to be a great spiritual teacher. I will purchase his book. Once again may God Bless You for all you do to bring people to Jesus!

    2. The fulfillment of a certain prayer routine should never be an absolute. For example, one should not morbidly strain to fulfill one’s stated prayers. It is no use to pray, if one injures oneself spiritually or psychologically.

      One’s promised prayers are not an end but only a means. The end is union with God.

      If you say that you cannot talk to the Lord now because you must fulfill your prayers, you are neglecting the end (union with Jesus) for the means to get there.

      Spiritual masters say that you are to suspend your vocal prayers and regular spiritual practices if you find that God is calling you to a deeper union with Him, which is often felt as a profound peace in His presence (called the Prayer of Quiet). To resist this call to stick to your stated prayers is to impede spiritual progress.

      But otherwise, prayer should never be a morbid and compulsive exercise to reach a certain number – His will is found in peace, and when you start losing His peace in what you are doing you are leaving His will.

      Pray only in an attitude of peace and trust in God, and cease when this peaceful attitude is being replaced by a compulsive attitude.

      1. Thank you as well Mr.McCrea for responding to my post. Today I spent some time with Jesus and I did not say any specific prayers. I felt so much better. I did pray my formulated prayer because I have promised I would do so but I just did them at different times of the day. Once again I pray the Lord bless you for taking the time to answer me. I will take Monsignor’s advice as well as yours. Please remember me in your prayers!

  2. We are so ordinary, such sinners, but the difference is we reach out to God… we want to please Him. And He eagerly reaches back to meet us, He Loves us so much!! Teresa of Avila: “The Book of My Life” has helped me so much in her writings and one which is so compassionate and where she is so candid, a book about her struggles and doubts, setbacks and victories in prayer. It really is a book about reaching out to God and His reaching back to us.

  3. So often, your meditations have spoken to my heart. This one, in particular, gave me peace. I, too have struggled with ‘ it’s never enough thoughts’. Your last paragraph is liberating for me. Thank you so very much. There is no spiritual director in my rural parish (priest and deacon not available for this, and neither is anyone else, unfortunately.) Although I have never spoken to you, in many ways you have provided spiritual direction for me through this blog. God bless you for this ministry.

  4. This is very sound advice.

    I have made a commitment to say the rosary daily. However, there are some days that are so busy and I’m so exhausted, that I have to remind myself that Our Lord said that we don’t have to pray with “many words”. When His disciples asked Him how they should pray, He gave us “The Lord’s Prayer” – which is very short (but covers much).

  5. Monsignor, could you recommend a prayer resource or a particular prayer practice that is well-suited for a mom of small children who doesn’t have much control over her daily schedule?

    1. Sarah, I’m sure Msgr. Pope will reply, but as a mom your question made me smile–my girls are teens now, but when they were all small I felt much as you do! I think that saying a simple prayer like the prayer to one’s Guardian Angel upon rising is a good start for the day, with prayers at meals and bedtime for the children, and perhaps a bit of Scripture reading or quiet prayer once they’re in bed at night–when you can!

      If you visit this link, you will find some adorable aids to prayer with small children that I really wish I’d had when my girls were little:


      (I have no connection with the company–I just think the prayer dice are so cute!)

  6. “Age quod agis (Do what you are doing).”–If we do do, then we will know, no?

  7. Might it be fair to suggest that, for the lay Catholic/Christian, the time we spend on dedicated prayer should roughly equal that spent on food? Maybe exceeding it a little, but not so much that it leaves us too “full” to accomplish what the fuel is intended to accomplish?

  8. Mnsgnr; Thanks for this piece. It really solved some oif my worries sometimes. I am better enlightened now to know that even when I am unfaithful, He remains faithful and cares.

  9. Msgr. Pope,
    In our parish Faith Formation we start with the kindergarten age children learning Rote prayers such as The Lords Prayer, Hail Mary etc. adding the rosary in the second grade years along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. We introduce Adoration in the third grade ages with 15 minutes per time and gradually going for one hour by the time they are in the sixth grade and we then introduce prayer through music, whether it be contemporary or Gregorian Chant the kids switch off.

    When the kids reach seventh grade we add in personal prayer that is straight from the heart(we do begin earlier) so they can deepen their relationship with God. We also introduce the Lectio Divina form of prayer so they can learn how to hear what God is asking of us. All are asked and many join prayer groups that are abundant in the parish so they can learn why in the first grade they met a prayer partner, one who knows them and can be leaned upon in times of doubt with prayer and advise them to seek spiritual help. The best thing we encourage is when prayer becomes tedious and way to rote to change up their prayer from.

    By the time they are confirmed they will have the tools and ability to have a deep and personal relationship with God so during the day they have him in their Heart, in their thoughts and in their words, I will say the number of kids that stay in our faith since we started this program twelve years ago as gone from thirty percent to ninety. The surprising thing is the kids asked for it after being at a Steubbenville retreat and they have fallen in Love with God as a result.

    I spend one hour in rote prayer and one hour in contemplative prayer a day and have great conversations with God all day long. I have to say I do not neglect my Husband or Father duties as this would be sinful and my wife would let me know also.

    Msgr. Pope, may God be at your side this Independence Day and from a Vet, I prayed to have a Chaplain like you with me many day’s.

  10. I too thank you for this article, Monsignor. You describe a trap I have had problems with, and it is extremely helpful to find that such august spiritual writers have addressed it (and that I am not alone in it).

  11. Greatly grateful for this. I continue a few morning prayers but, was very concerned that I have not been praying the rosary virtually every day – as I had been for a while. The change came about a year ago when I moved into a sort of group home where senior members (such as myself though it still is a mystery to me about how I got there, wherever “there” is) help people who are struggling with the initial phase of freeing themselves from dysfunction.
    The responsablities which I have now are a tiny bit above my abilities and so, I am growing into them and will let a fuller regimine return to me as the growth progresses. I take comfort in Psalm 90:4.

  12. I was struggling with this very thing! I am a new Catholic and spoke to one of our priests about this during Reconciliation recently. He told me exactly what you have quoted from St. Francis de Sales. It really made a lot of sense to me, though, with the way things are going in the world and in our country, I still feel that I could reasonably add more prayer time to my day. A few days later, the most beautiful thing happened. After morning Mass, an elderly neighbor came to my pew and asked if we could pray together sometime. We made plans and prayed the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Rosary. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of a friend with which to pray!

  13. Msgr. Pope
    Your messages of hope and explanations of our faith are refreshing and informative. Thank you for your blog.

  14. Dear Msgr,
    My first thought was how right you are! I have admittedly sought respite from my household chores by going to sit in front of Christ in Adoration, or reading certain blogs from Monsignors! He knows me so well, that after a time, I’m reminded that He is with me and I with Him even with a mop or laundry basket in hand. The evil one wastes no time in making me think I’m being an unfaithful believer and a hypocrite. I can respond by humming a hymn or hugging my husband, and all that negativity dissipates. God bless you!

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