To some who complain that their prayers go unanswered, St. James says: “You ask and you receive not, because you ask amiss” (Jas 4:3).
Father Girardey notes: “It is not enough for us to pray, but we should pray well. . . . When we pray, we speak to God and ask favors of Him; and therefore our prayers should be such as to be pleasing to Him. . . . . If our prayers and the dispositions of our heart are such as to be displeasing to Him, we need not be astonished, if they fail to obtain anything from Him.” Father Girardey discusses five conditions or qualities of prayer that are pleasing to God: praying with attention, humility, sincerity, confidence, and perseverance.
Concerning attention, he writes: “To please God our prayer should, in the first place, be said with attention. How many pray and pray much and often, but say their prayers hurriedly, to get soon through with them, or to be able to say many prayers in a short time, and whilst praying they think of everything except of God and the meaning of their words. . . . It is not the number of our prayers that avail us with God, but the manner in which we say them. . . . He who prays without attention does not pray as a rational being, but more like a parrot. . . . Attention is, as it were, the soul of prayer; just as the body without the soul is a worthless corpse, so also prayer with out attention is meaningless and worthless. Hence the prayers said whilst wilfully allowing our imagination, our mind to run about in every direction, to dwell on everything except on God and on what we are saying to Him, are not pleasing to God, are unfit to be heard, for such prayers are wanting in due respect to God. Suppose a person, whilst speaking to you, looked around in every direction, turned his back to you, paid no attention to you, or to what he was saying to you, you would consider him very disrespectful to you.”
Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).