Prayer is a fascinating subject for me. Supposedly there are 4 types of prayer: thanksgiving, petition, asking for forgiveness, and praise/adoration.
Only one type, petition, asks God to intervene in the world. But think about it for a minute. If God is omniscient and knows everything, He knew you were going to say a particular prayer at a particular time from before creation. So He is not “intervening” in a world already created, He is designing that world before creation begins. And if you didn’t say the prayer (you have free will, of course), that would also be factored in in the design of creation. So God isn’t interfering at a particular time and place–He doesn’t swoop in like Superman to solve a problem or to cure Aunt Hazel of cancer. This is, frankly, a very Protestant point of view. Some Catholics think this way too, but to me that is pure superstition. In one sense, you are limiting God by thinking this way: why? Because you are saying that God can only work directly. He cures cancer, or makes you win the lottery, or causes that tornado to miss your house but destroy the house next door. This is an “active” God as some theologians have called it, or, in my own words, a “tinkering” God who is constantly adjusting His creation. Is God really so stupid as to have to interfere constantly? To use an imperfect analogy, that’s like a painter who constantly returns to his painting to “improve” it by changing this and that. That of course means that he didn’t do a very good job in the first place. What’s wrong with the concept of a God who works indirectly through natural laws that he created at the beginning of the universe?
As for praying constantly, you may be confusing various types of prayer. Only one type of prayer is verbal: “Please let me win the lottery.” Don’t you also pray by admiring a sunset, helping someone in need, or loving your husband/wife? Take the rosary, for example. You say specific prayers on each bead. But you are also supposed to be contemplating certain mysteries, like the crucifixion. Let’s mix in some modern psychology and neuroscience. Let’s say that you sit down and say “OK, I’m going to contemplate the sorrowful mysteries for 15 minutes.” I guarantee that within 1 minute your mind will drift to dinner, your lost cat, or the laundry. It’s very difficult to just “contemplate.” But now you distract your mind…how? By saying the memorized prayers as you count beads. Now your conscious mind that was busy thinking about your cat is busy saying Hail Mary’s. This frees up another part of your mind to actually concentrate on contemplation. This is similar to techniques used in other religions. It’s not unique to Catholicism. And of course those who criticize Catholics for reciting repeated prayers–as in the rosary, for example–are simply showing that they don’t understand the rosary at all. It’s a means to contemplate various “mysteries.”
There have been several articles in Scientific American in the last year where it has been shown that a knock on the head or electronic stimulation of part of the brain “distracts” the brain and allows other parts of the brain to flourish. For example, in a study of people who have had severe knocks on the head, several have acquired abnormal powers they never had before. One became obsessed with poetry. One became obsessed with music. And before being knocked on the head, neither had any interest in poetry or music. Another guy was having various parts of his brain stimulated by electricity for a totally different experiment. But suddenly he realized that all his life he wasn’t able to “read” people’s expressions. He couldn’t tell if they were angry or happy, etc. After he got a little electrical stimulation to his brain, he could immediately recognize people’s moods by “reading” their faces–which he had been unable to do before. Carry this idea into prayer–supression of some aspects of your brain unleashes other aspects that had been hidden. It’s not miraculous, it’s science. Precisely how it works, we don’t know. But it works. There is a current movie out there about some little girl who has some dread disease, but she falls out of a tree and knocks her head and presto, the disease is cured. Of course the movie makes it into a “miracle,” but it’s simply another example of this phenomenon.
Which is more impressive: a God that has to act directly or a God who created all these subatomic particles that act together in almost infinitely complex ways to create the universe we are only beginning to understand? I am much more impressed with the latter version of God. And is it no less a miracle that natural laws–including the laws of probability–have come up with a “cow” after 15 billion years rather than a God who said “Let there be a cow.” Nature is miraculous!