It came to mind after having started to pray this novena I found via the app, Laudate: as the prayer proceeded, the virtues of the saint interspersed with my petitions for assistance, and then it hit me: I sure wish I was virtuous in the same way myself.
It's a novena to Saint Joseph, and it starts "Saint Joseph, you are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you." -- Do I likewise protect those who love me, like my family? "I have special confidence in you." Do I inspire such confidence? "You are powerful with God" -- am I a just man, righteous and therefore whose prayers are indeed powerful? ".. and will never abandon your faithful servants." Have I never abandoned my family? How many opportunities to spend time with or give assistance to them have I rejected or neglected? "By the love you have for Jesus and Mary.." How much have I loved Jesus or Mary by my actions?
And so on it went, making me realize that there is this aspect to prayer where what we say or express is actually addressing us as we pray. I think it was Saint Paul who wrote that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can lead us to that deeply intimate level of prayer, where the groans in our soul are too profound for wordsmithing (by my paraphrasing). This same Spirit teaches us even as we pray through the words of the prayers themselves, addressing us with the words we use, or, in the flesh, addressing us with the lives of the saints we follow.
And so I stumble into one reason why the treasury of prayers in the Church are invaluable rather than useless. The saints must have known this for centuries, and so came up with monastic and similar rules that revolved around prayer. A pity we no longer emphasize such prayers in even Catholic schools. These troves of intimate prayer have rather been labelled rote, with a subtle or direct emphasis on crafting one's own prayers spontaneously.
I think it's the Catholic both/and principle that makes sense of this. We need these traditional prayers because they are instructive, alongside intimate quiet prayer alone with God in our own words or without any words at all. The words of the prayer are like vehicles in which the concepts are delivered. Once in, it's in, and the Spirit can nurture that into fruitfulness.
Let's bring back those prayers in schools: the Rosary, the Angelus, prayers to particular saints, and novenas. Bring them back and let them work wonders.