Introduction to “Pray40Days”

Pray40Days: The Personal Relationship with God You’ve Always Wanted, is a 40-day prayer experience led by Fr. Michael J. Denk. It is available as a printed booklet, in audio format, as part of a Retreat experience and via myParish App. We encourage you to enter into the experience over the next 40-days and through it, find the personal relationship with God you’ve always wanted.

Pray40Days will set you on fire! Whether you are just a beginner in prayer, wanting to grow in your prayer, or very advanced, the prayer exercises in this text will help you experience God in a very profound way. I wrote this program with the ultimate desire of helping you grow in your prayer life so that you will come to know God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in a deep and personal way. Pray40Days will guide through different types of prayer that will immerse you in the life of Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and allow yourself to beheld and loved by the Father. By the end of Pray40Days, you will come to love spending time with God and look forward to the wonder that awaits you every time you enter into this quality time with God, who loves you more than anyone else ever could. You will come to not only a “head knowledge” but a felt “heart knowledge” of God. Through these experiences of prayer, you will grow to love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your soul. This love, will not only impact you but touch everyone that you come into contact with. There will be a transformation not only in your relationship with God but also in your relationship with others. This love of God will become a desire to give your life in service, to helping others know, love, and serve this wonderful Father that loves you more than you could ever imagine.

My purpose for writing this text is especially for people who want to grow in their prayer life but just don’t know how. It’s also for people who don’t even know they want to grow, but will soon discover how much deeper you really can go! That desire of yours to pray is a gift from God, and He wants to bring it to fulfillment. Maybe these words will be just what you need to go deeper into your prayer life, grow closer to God and have the personal relationship you’ve always wanted.

Over the years, the parable of the prodigal son has become a central theme in my personal prayer life and my priesthood. What I have come to realize is the key figure in the parable is not so much the prodigal son, but the father. Some great spiritual masters suggest that all we ever need to know about God is captured wonderfully in this parable. I’ve also come to realize that the father outdoes the son in being prodigal. Let me explain this a little bit. The original meaning of the word prodigal comes from the Latin Prodigus, which means, “lavish.”

Here are more uses to help us define it.

prod·i·gal ˈprädəɡəl/ adjective

  1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
  2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.
  3. a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.

We normally associate prodigal with the son, and rightfully so, however, something pretty amazing happens if we associate this word with the Father and His grace. The Father gives the kingdom of heaven away freely and almost recklessly to the good and bad alike.

“He makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

In the Parable of the Lost Son, we hear the son demand: ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ And what does the Father do? He divides the property between his two sons. He almost recklessly and wastefully gives his sons their inheritance.

We all know the story of how the prodigal son goes on to waste everything until he comes to his senses and realizes how good he had it. Now watch how, once more, the Father gives everything freely to his son: “So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began” (Luke 15:11-32).

The celebration is definitely on a LAVISH scale! As was mentioned earlier the word prodigal comes from the Latin word for Lavish.

lav·ish ˈlaviSH/ (adjective)

  1. sumptuously rich, elaborate, or luxurious. “a lavish banquet” synonyms: sumptuous, luxurious, costly, expensive, opulent, grand, splendid, rich, fancy, posh;”lavish parties” (of a person) very generous or extravagant. “he was lavish with his hospitality”. synonyms: generous, liberal, bountiful, openhanded, unstinting, unsparing, free, munificent, extravagant, prodigal “lavish hospitality” or given in profusion.

“lavish praise” synonyms: abundant, copious, plentiful, liberal, prolific, generous; literary plenteous “lavish amounts of champagne.”

  1. bestow something in generous or extravagant quantities upon. synonyms: give freely to, spend generously on, bestow on, heap on, shower with cover something thickly or liberally with.“ she lavished our son with kisses.”

The Prodigal Father lavishes His son with love as he runs to his lost son, embraces him and kisses him. He also goes out to the older brother who is angry and upset. He pleads with him: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

Can’t we see that it is the Father who is prodigal? It is the Father who lavishes his grace on both of His sons and all of us, His children.

These are all words that describe the Father’s Love for us and in a way that He so lavishly, generously, and prodigally offers us His Grace.

This is a great encouragement for prayer. If you offer your time in prayer for God, he will not be outdone in generosity. The Prodigal Father will lavish you with grace, in extravagant ways, beyond anything you could ever imagine.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). God, The Father, is so generous, so loving, so unsparing, so lavish, so extravagant, so bountiful, so openhanded, so prolific, so giving without counting the cost, that we can truly call him The Prodigal Father.

He wants to give it all to you freely. All you have to do is desire and receive His Son, The Holy Spirit, Mary, all the saints in heaven and all the companions on earth and above all His very self. He loves you that much that he wants to give you everything not only in eternal life but right now.

The Father delights in you like his two sons and says, “My son or my daughter everything I have is yours, and now we must rejoice because you who were lost now have been found, you who were dead now have been brought to life!”

As a priest, I have been tremendously blessed with many opportunities to grow in prayer. I make an annual directed Ignatian eight-day spiritual retreat with wonderful priests, I have had great spiritual directors both in the seminary and in priesthood, I was able to make The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which is a 30-day silent retreat (kind of like a spiritual marathon), I get to spend time every day praying a Holy Hour, and continue to read truly wonderful spiritual books by the greatest saints and mystics. All of these blessings have helped me grow in my prayer life. My deepest desire is for Catholics, Christians, and all people to grow in their prayer life. Prayer is not just for religious people. St. Francis de Sales wrote a book entitled “The Introduction to the Devout Life” in the Middle Ages and wanted lay (ordinary) people to have a powerful prayer life. I kind of look at this text as a modern day “Introduction to the Devout Life.” Today, in our era, I want to give all people access to the many blessings that so often only given to priests and religious. You too can experience the powerful prayer life that comes with not only vocal prayer but also meditation and contemplation.

I had very insightful experience that brought forth the idea for this program. I was working with three men in a marketing firm to discuss how to use new media to enhance prayer life. These are really good Catholic men, who went to Catholic grade school and Catholic high school, and go to Mass every Sunday. I’d say these are REALLY GOOD Catholic men. However, they seemed to not really “get” what I was trying to accomplish. So I asked each of them: “Tell me how you pray?”. One man stated that his prayer time is really on the way to work, especially if he has a tough situation and needs God’s help. I encouraged him telling him: “That’s wonderful. That’s prayer of petition and God loves when we come to him for help.” I asked him if he ever set any other time aside for prayer and he said no, that was his time. We went around the table, and I asked the second guy to share how he prayed yesterday. He too said: “Father, I don’t set time aside for prayer, but I am grateful for all that God has given me. I just am very grateful for my wife and kids, I have a good job, Father, I’ve got everything I need.” Again, I encouraged him and helped him to see that was “Prayer of Thanksgiving.” The Eucharist means thanksgiving and it is the source and summit of our lives. Finally, the third guy said: “Father, I do set time aside… Very genuinely and sincerely he described kneeling by his bed every night, as he has since a child and saying the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.” “Wonderful,” I said, it’ so great that you have that nightly rhythm of prayer.” I then described how they were all praying vocal prayer, which is a good and necessary type of prayer but that there is deeper prayer that we can grow into: meditative and contemplative.

I then asked the men if they wanted to grow in their prayer life. Their response: “Nah, we’re good…” All three said “no”; with a priest pitching them the idea! They were all content with their prayer life and didn’t have any real desire to grow. As you’ll discover in this text once we experience going deeper in prayer, we will ALWAYS want to grow and go deeper. I kind of joked with them and said: “do you realize you are praying at the same level you learned in second grade?” They laughed but didn’t understand what I meant. So I told them all to close their eyes…. “Imagine you are walking on the Sea of Galilee. There is a fire you can see the hot coals and embers flying into the air; you can hear the waves crashing and the smell of the salt water. Then you realize Jesus is sitting next to the fire. Try to picture him and then all of a sudden he looks at YOU and invites you to come and sit by the fire with him. You realize this is real, and he is talking to you, and you can see him and hear him. You walk over and take a seat and before you know it you are having a real conversation. You feel the warmth of the fire and hear it crackling in the silence. You smell fresh bread baking, and you look down to notice it cooking on the fire along with fish. And then you look back up right into Jesus’ eyes, and he looks deep into your eyes and then asks the most important question you will ever be asked: “Do you love me?” …. “Do you love me?”…. “Do you love me?”…. There was silence. Then I told them “Go ahead, answer him, tell him from your heart.” After I had sensed each one of them had, I spoke the words that Jesus did: “Feed my sheep.” I instructed them one last time: “Spend a moment in silence now with Jesus by the fire at the Sea of Galilee.” It only lasted five or ten minutes, but when we came to the end, I could tell it had an effect on them. They did have an experience of Christ. I could see it on their face and in their eyes. The president of the company looked at me and said: “Father, I get it, I’ve never experienced anything like that before!” They encountered God in the meditation in a way they had never encountered God before.

What I’ve learned over my years as a priest is that many people are content with their prayer life, but when they get a glimpse of a new way of praying, they want “more.” I think that for the most part most of us haven’t moved beyond a second grade level of praying. Yes, vocal prayer is a necessary and good form of praying, but we are called to grow in meditative and contemplative prayer. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner once said: “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”

My desire for writing this text with the corresponding resources is to help everyone be able to have a share in this mystical life where we “experience God for real.” You can have the personal relationship with God that you’ve always wanted. As you pray through this process, with Scripture and the wonderful Tradition of our Church, hopefully, you will encounter God in a way that you never have before! May you come to know this unconditional love of the Father who delights in you, may Jesus be not only an idea or a person in history but a real person to you, your closest and most intimate friend, may the Holy Spirit bring you a sense of wonder and awe. And may you behold Mary as your mother and experience her beholding you as her child. Do you have any desire to grow in your prayer life? I hope for all of us the answer is a resounding YES!

© 2016, Fr. Michael J. Denk. All rights reserved. No portion of this content shall be reproduced without written consent. Contact: