Why do we pray? I am not asking for the scholarly response or for a qualitative survey. Do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words." Jesus is not telling us to not pray out loud, but he goes on to tell us Your Father knows what you need before you and me. It does not matter what is said out loud. What matters is what we say in our hearts.
One day in Confirmation class, I handed my candidates the Apostle's Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary. I then proceeded to tell them to break it down line by line, interpreting their own meaning. Most of the class knew the words. But even those who had gone to Catholic school for 8-10 years, who had it ingrained into their everyday curriculum, had a hard time deriving some meaning. I is not enough that we know the prayers, but understand the meaning behind the words. Understanding is not learning what others have written and reiterating old letters and Church teachings about them. We must apply it to our everyday lives. When we are saying Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, are you really exalting the Lord in your heart? When we say Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, do you understand what you are asking for from our Blessed Mother, that we are asking her to pray for us even through all of our transgressions, and to intercede for us to our Lord? When we say forgive us our trespasses and forgive those who trespass against us, you are asking for God's forgiveness and also attempting to forgive others?
How often as we pray, especially a long prayer such as the Rosary, or as we sit in Church, do our thoughts wander? I am just as guilty as the next person. If I truly fasted before mass, my thoughts would wonder what I'd have for breakfast. If I have a lot to do, I'd start going through my agenda in my head. Sometimes as I pray the Rosary, my mouth is saying the words, but my mind tends to daydream (not a surprise as I am called "scatter-brained" for a reason.
But this is exactly what Jesus is speaking against. Something that I've gotten in the habit of is sitting in the front, or as close to it as I can, while I'm in Church and closing my eyes for most of it. It's so easy to look around and get distracted by the people surrounding you. When I pray my Rosary, I've started to listen to some instrumental music and say the words aloud, even when I'm by myself. Again, I keep my eyes closed. We must make that extra effort to keep prayer in prayer. The thoughts my mind wanders to, I've learned to add them to my inner prayer intentions. If my thoughts wander to a person, that they are given God's love and protection, if it's about a quarrel that God gives both of us peace, if it's about my tasks, that God helps me see how I should handle my day. It becomes a productive prayer rather than a list of tasks.
Prayer should be our time with God. Let go of the worldly distractions and take that moment to be with Him. Find what works for you in order to fulfill the instructions of Jesus. And whatever we ask for, ensure that we do our part. It is not enough to just ask, but we must also do.