Last year, I discovered the novena — well, I discovered it in my own prayer life. The novena is actually an ancient Catholic tradition that dates back to the apostles.
The novena is a prayer that is repeated on nine successive days or weeks. In fact, its name comes from the Latin word for nine, novem. Offering a prayer for nine days requires effort and dedication, so praying a novena is a way to invest yourself in a specific request or situation.
Most novenas are offered through specific saints who may be a special patron for whatever your cause is. For example, for those who are in an especially dire situation may pray a novena to St. Jude; if you need a job, you might turn to St. Joseph; if you are dating, you might ask for help from Mary’s mother, St. Ann. We ask saints pray for us and to bring our petitions before the Lord.
I started praying novenas back in the summer and found that it actually revived my prayer life in a few unexpected ways. Here’s how.
Consistency and commitment to praying every day
I’m the type of person who falls asleep while rewatching seasons of The Office every night. In the confessional once, a priest asked me if I pray before going to bed, and while the “Goodbye Michael” episode moves me spiritually in its own way, I don’t think it counts as prayer. It’s not that I don’t want to pray, I just consistently forget, and then before I know it, I’ve hardly prayed all week.
So over the summer, I decided to start the St. Joseph novena. I put the reminder in my phone and every night at 10 p.m., it would ping and I’d stop whatever I was doing to say the novena, which only took a few minutes. I ended up enjoying the novena so much that I continued it past the nine days and even added another novena to my prayer roster.
Having the novena become a part of my daily routine boosted my spiritual life because it interrupted my superficial routines (like endless scrolling through Instagram) and recentered the focus of my day-to-day life. It was essentially an opportunity to ponder, “What really matters in this life?” Because I was asking these questions at night during my novena, my reflections carried on through my days and helped me to center everything I did around a greater meaning.
Developing new friendships with saints
This is one of the coolest things about praying a novena. It’s easy to question why we pray through saints — why not just go to the main source? Well, I always think of it as asking a friend who’s close to God to pray for you.
Think of St. Mother Teresa, who dedicated her entire life to caring for the sick and dying: everything she did was to serve others and God. She’s a saint, so we know she’s in heaven and close to God. Why wouldn’t she want to help us? Asking for her intercession is a way to walk with a companion in our prayer.
When you consistently pray through a certain saint, it’s hard not to develop a special relationship with them. You learn about who they were and begin to feel a kinship with them. They become friends to us as we call upon them daily for aid and support.
I began praying with Saint Raphael for healing last year, and as weird as it may sound to some, I now consider him to be a good friend of mine. I felt his intercession and guidance many times and received the healing I prayed for. The friendship you build with a saint goes beyond the allotted days of the novena and they simply become old friends who walk with you through life.
A different insight into prayer
One of the things I really love about novenas is that they draw you out of yourself to consider a different perspective. Novenas are typically written in a way that helps us contemplate the life of the saint and their relationship with God. While recently praying the St. Joseph novena, I was moved by these words:
“It seems that God had purposely intended your (St. Joseph’s) life to be filled with suffering as well as consolation to keep before my eyes the truth that my life on earth is but a succession of joys and sorrows, and that I must gratefully accept whatever God sends me, and during the time of consolation prepare for suffering.”
Dang. Never before had I thought of St. Joseph as a role model through life’s succession of joys and sorrows. But wow, I feel that. Sometimes we get so caught up in the narrative of our own prayer — our wants, our needs, our world view — that we get tunnel vision. Novenas can expand our perspective and impact the very way we pray.
Growth in trust
So, have I received the answer to my prayers? Yes and no.
Every time I’ve prayed the St. Joseph novena for a job, I’ve received one. They haven’t necessarily been the exact jobs I was pining away for, but they ended up being what I needed at the time and I trust they were what’s best for me. Regardless of whether I got exactly what I wanted, every time I’ve prayed a novena, I’ve ended up experiencing some major life lessons that benefitted me spiritually.
And I think that’s the whole goal of praying novenas. It’s not a magic shortcut to getting what you want — it requires a willingness to grow closer to God. I’ve noticed my intentions are usually different at the beginning and end of a novena — they often start with, “Please give me this specific thing;” and end with, “Please help me to accept your will and lead me to what is best for me.”
The point of the novena isn’t to get your wish granted, but to learn how to listen more intently to what God’s will is for you. I think the reason why I keep saying novenas over and over again is that they teach me perseverance and encourage me to never give up trusting in God’s plan for me.
Lastly, the earthly things we typically pray for are temporary, but the relationship we develop with God through constant prayer is eternal. We may not always get the things we think we want in this life, but the best answer to our prayers is always coming to know and love God more deeply.