Summary of Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay

Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay, 
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002.


Prayer is absolutely essential:

  • Without it, we are frustrated creatures and will inevitably bring our inner ache for fullness, for infinity, to some lesser thing that will never satisfy – we will be idolaters!
  • With it, we will achieve our human fulfillment and be filled with the utter fullness of the indwelling Trinity!

Prayer is a precious privilege:

“Prayer is a precious privilege – and this is putting in mildly. That the Lord of glory, himself unending joy, beauty, and goodness, would invite us to communicate with him and then begin the conversation with his inspired word, which welcomes our responses, is an unimaginable blessing” (25).

Prayer is interpersonal intimacy and communing in mystery with the sole aim to fall head over heels in love with Love – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“The answer to our question of getting a feel for what prayer essentially is – all types of prayer – we find splendidly etched by St Paul: As we get closer and closer to God, we are transformed from one glory to another, and we thus become more and more like the One we love” (see 2 Corinthians 3:18)” (33).

Prayer is both supremely optimistic and entirely realistic.

  • On the one hand, there is tremendous, even unspeakable joy, love, delight, a huge optimism.
  • On the other hand, all of this is happily and confidently related to our weakness, sinfulness, suffering, pain, and failures (43).


6: Getting Started

Beginning a serious prayer life is before all else to begin conversion – to make God, and not our own pleasures and whims, the center of our gravity. Pray hard for this conversion. Make some decisions about your life and your priorities. Get busy now.

7: Vocal Prayer

Vocal prayer is good, needed, and important because it is rooted in our human nature to express our inner life in bodily ways. “Further, the best of our worded prayers instruct us and nourish our spiritual lives with the truth, goodness, and beauty they express” (56). Nevertheless, if it is overdone at the expense of higher forms of prayer, we must reorder our priorities.

Hints for improving vocal prayers:

  1. Quality over quantity! Much better to say fewer prayers with attention and fervor than many repeated with little care or in a rushing way. If hesitant to give up a devotion as a result, just distribute it over a longer period of time.
  2. If drawn higher, go up! “If during vocal prayers to which you are not obliged, your mind and heart are drawn to meditation or contemplation, you are welcome to cease the worded prayers you had intended to offer” (62).
  3. Recollect yourself first. Pause for a few moments and gather your inner attention to what you are going to do.
  4. Give Liturgy of the Hours priority to all private devotions. It’s the official prayer of the universal Church and is immensely rich, beautiful, and moving.

8: Meditation

Meditation is prayer in a human manner. We read or reflect on suitable thoughts (from Scripture, nature, lives of the saints, liturgy, etc) that will arouse our adoration, praise, requests, thanksgiving, expressions of sorrow and love (68).

“The reading, pondering, and applying prepare us for the heart of Christian meditation: adoring, loving, praising, thanking, and sorrowing with inner, quiet words. These affections of will and heart are the chief aim of meditation, which is not a mere pious study about religious matters” (71).

Simple approach to meditation:

  1. Choose a quiet place & suitable time.
  2. Recollect yourself – make a special effort to acknowledge His presence.
  3. Read
  4. Respond
  5. Resolve

Quick tips for using a method:

  1. Methods are means to an end. Any method of meditation is like a scaffolding used to construct a building. It is a means to an end, not the end itself. And it is not meant to be permanent. Leave it aside when it has achieved its purpose.
  2. Focus on Jesus. Jesus and the mysteries of His life must be the focal point of meditation, the center of our attention.
  3. Simplicity is best. Pay little attention to the method itself. Be calm and unhurried.
  4. Love is the core of communion. Remember, in any stage of prayer, loving is more important than reasoning. St. Teresa of Avila said, “The important thing is not to think much but to love much.”
  5. Meditation is meant to lead us to something better, namely, contemplative communion with the indwelling Trinity.

How long should you pray for?

  1. Pray when you pray best.
  2. Pray when it is possible or feasible.
  3. Establish a solid habit, a usual time.
  4. Better to under-commit and be consistent than over-commit and crash.

Benefits of Christocentric meditation

  1. Deepen interpersonal intimacy with Trinity.
  2. Supernatural insight received. We penetrate into the mysteries of our destiny and the whole purpose of our life.
  3. We become happier (Phil 4:4)
  4. We deal with suffering far better (Rom 8:28).
  5. Brings added richness to both our liturgical celebrations & private vocal prayers.
  6. Sharpens our motivation.
  7. We do far more good to when we ourselves are close to God.

9: Contemplation

Contemplation is “a real awareness of God, desiring and loving him, which we do not produce but simply receive from him when we are ready for it. There are no images, ideas, or words… No methods or techniques can produce it” (85). It will increase in depth and duration as we live the Gospel wholeheartedly. This is a divinely given prayer. God alone can do it. So follow the lead when He inclines you to go higher. Contemplation is a “gaze on the divine beauty” (Ps 27:4) that transforms our daily lives from the inside out.


10: Liturgical Prayer

We need liturgy because “deep in every human heart is a need to worship and to thank” (95). “The Church’s liturgy is itself a splendid teacher of the what and how of prayer” (96) and it’s sacramental power nourishes our prayer in all of its stages of growth. Contemplative prayer is both precious in itself and the inner element of liturgical worship.

“Participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice is the highest of all our prayers, and most effectively when contemplative love burns in the hearts of the celebrant and the laity alike” (98).

11: The Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours is “a vibrant sharing in the Church’s pilgrimage to the Father, with his Son, and through their Holy Spirit” (105). By opening our minds to the ecclesial dimension of the Hours (as it is the official prayer of the Church), “our vision and our love are both expanded” (112).

The “divine office feeds and nourishes our private vocal, meditative and contemplative prayer lives both by its texts and in its periods of silence – just as in the reverse direction our private prayer nourishes our liturgical life. Again we note that truth makes one beatiful whole” (114).

12: Family Prayer

The family is “the domestic sanctuary of the Church.” A peaceful loving atmosphere must exist at home for transition into prayer time seem normal.

Teach them vocal prayers and allow them to adapt it themselves. Explain some of the words over time. Concretely verbalize short meditations. Keep it simple, short, and imaginative. “Teach children to experience wonder, amazement, and beauty in preparation for praising, thanking, and loving the supreme Artist of it all, who is endless Beauty” (121).

13: Prayer in a Busy Life

Some basic guidelines for dealing with the problem of prayer and life:

  1. When our life is properly ordered and we make sound choices, prayer and work or other relationships fit smoothly together and actually contribute to the welfare of the other.
  2. Any time given to meditative and contemplative prayer is time given to those dearest to us. The best thing each of us can do for those we love is to become a saint, a man or woman of deep prayer. Our influence for their good is then powerful and eternal.
  3. Exceptionally pressured days and situations can and do occur. Yet this occasional impossibility for prayer does not harm prayer life – we are loving God in another way. As long as exceptions remain exceptions and do not become the rule, we have no serious problem.
  4. We should try to avoid being overly anxious and unduly stressed with time pressures. Yet we should also avoid wasting time.
  5. Jesus himself is our first model here as well as in all things. He often went off for long and frequent times of solitude and deep prayer with the Father.

“God’s word has it that both here and hereafter communing with him, gazing on his beauty, is our overriding necessity, the most important thing we have to do” (131).

Guidelines for integrating prayer and work:

  1. Work is NOT prayer. They are very different, even though we offer both to God’s glory. Work must always be subordinated to prayer.
  2. Enthusiasm deepens as prayer deepens. Enthusiasm, from the Greek, en theos, that is, possessed by God.
  3. The most fruitful activity flows from contemplative depth.
  4. Perseverance in commitment and suffering is rooted in a burning love for the indwelling Trinity.
  5. Deep communion with God produces happy and attractive apostles, men and women radiant with joy (1 Peter 1:8) and warm in their love of others (2 Cor 2:4).
  6. We need healthy solitude and silence. “Biblical solitude is outgoing – first of all to one’s supreme Beloved, and then to all others in him” (136).


14: When Should We Pray?

Scripture gives 2 complementary answers: There are special occasions for communing with the indwelling Trinity (Liturgy of Hours, Mass, periods reserved for meditation, etc) and there is a praying to him on a continuing basis (Eph 5:19-20).

15: Problems and Pitfalls

Distractions – be at peace. As long as distractions are not deliberate and intentional, they do much less harm than you think.

Emptiness – If you are generous in living the Gospel, an empty-feeling desire for God is a precious prayer.

New Age prayer techniques – They are so intellectually empty of substance that they are not worth writing about. The best thing to do is simply bypass them. To take them seriously is to be led astray.

Centering prayer – Our mind is made to be “be filled with the utter fullness of God himself” (Eph 3:19), NOT emptied (via centering prayer). God alone gives infused communing with himself, techniques cannot produce this.

16: Quick Questions

Imagination – “Success in meditation is NOT due first of all to a lively imagination nor with lofty ideas but to much love” (159).

Prayer journal – A prayer journal is a means to an end, not something one does for its own sake. Thus we should judge it on the basis of whether it does us good or not. Surely vanity about “what I have done or achieved” is not a good reason. If journaling brings about a genuine benefit, and if one does not spend too much time with it, it may be useful. But if little or nothing solid results, it would be better to spend the time in further prayer (163).

17: Assessing Progress

True signs of deepening prayer: “From their fruits, you will know them” (Mt 7:20). We are growing in meditation and contemplation to the extent that we are advancing in humility, patience, love, purity, and all the virtues… Our prayer grows in authenticity, depth, and beauty according as the rest of our life grows in authenticity, depth, and beauty. Some examples of signs of growing intimacy with God: Virtuous living. Generosity in serving others. Being drawn to a healthy solitude. Love for the Church. Embracing factual frugality. Attraction to the Cross. Absence of self-centeredness. Continual focus on God.

18: Growing in Depth

“Our prayer deepens to the extent that our living of the gospel generously deepens. Or, to put the matter in other words, communing with God is authentic as our lifestyle is authentic. Truth is symphonic” (174).

There are 3 main degrees of conversion: (1) Renouncing mortal sin. (2) Give up willed venial sins. (3) Practice heroic virtue (loving without limit).

Tips: Always be aware of gradually sliding back into mediocrity. Begin to love the Cross. Live fully in the present moment. Be convicted that God is your #1 priority.


  1. I love this post and want to so many to see it with the hope of igniting in them a desire to seek the Lord of glory in intimate conversation. He is worthy!

    “Beginning a serious prayer life is before all else to begin conversion – to make God, and not our own pleasures and whims, the center of our gravity. Pray hard for this conversion. Make some decisions about your life and your priorities. Get busy now.”

    I love this. And here, here — “get busy now” for again Christ is so worth the breadth of our time and energy, and most of all our hearts given over to Him unhindered. Thank you for add logs to the fire in my heart. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: