Archive for the ‘Prayer and Spirituality’ Category

 

Getting Personal

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Our Lord Jesus Christ calls each one of us to an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Unfortunately, some Catholics are uncomfortable with this “personal relationship” terminology.

Yet Christianity is not a mere moral code, ethnic club, or cultural phenomenon. Nor is it about rooting for Notre Dame instead of big, bad secular colleges on Saturday afternoon.

Rather, at its very core is the acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our personal Lord and Savior. He saves us as His family, the Church, but He does so by saving each one of us personally. [more]

As we take positive steps to nurture this personal relationship, we must continually return to this fundamental point: It is God who initiates the relationship. God has first loved us, and our vocation is to respond to that love. And God does not merely initiate the relationship; He goes looking for us! That’s what the Incarnation–the Word becoming flesh–is all about.

This awesome truth helps us to see the Eucharist in a new light. Before we enter God’s world as His beloved children, He first enters ours. Since the pre-eminent way that God remains in our world is through the Holy Eucharist, then the Eucharist must give us important clues as to why Christ assumed human nature in the first place (see Catechism, nos. 456-60). The Eucharist points not so much to God’s “inaccessible transcendence” so much as it does to His “divine condescension.” The Eucharist is about God coming to us.

Our Heavenly Father has willed our existence from all eternity, called each one of us by name, and prepared a place for each one of us in heaven. While we remain free to accept or reject His gifts, He earnestly desires our salvation.

Now, what human father would give his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread (cf. Mt. 7:9)? In other words, even flawed human fathers generally strive to do right by their children. How much more has our heavenly Father taken into account our needs and desires in His plan of salvation for us. His will for us is truly “for our own good” or, as we profess more formally in the Creed, “for us men and for our salvation.”

We can see this principle at work in our Lord’s response to criticisms of His disciples who were picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. He says, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). In keeping the Lord’s Day, we are not submitting to oppressive, arbitrary rules. Rather, the Lord’s Day is for our own good. Our participating in Sunday Mass and observing a day of rest corresponds with the basic human need to worship God outwardly, publicly, and regularly (see Catechism, no. 2176). It also addresses the need to put our all-consuming human endeavors in their proper context.

Similarly, Our Lord has taken the initiative with respect to the Eucharist. He gives it to us as the memorial of His suffering and death, commanding us to “do this” in His memory. He further advises us that if we don’t “do this,” then we have no life in us (see Jn. 6:53).

Our Lord assuredly does not place unnecessary stumbling blocks on the road to His Father’s house. Rather, as a God who seeks us out, who is intimately involved with the human family and who knows what’s best for us, He gives us His own Body and Blood to help us experience the salvation He won for us and to strengthen us in our Christian pilgrimage.

It is incumbent upon us, then, to thank the Lord for this sublime gift and to beg Him to increase our faith and devotion. Then we can in some way relive the “Eucharistic amazement” of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. After all, our God is truly with us.

More to the point, He is with you, and He is with me.

Gospels That Little Kids Can Read

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Last week, I discussed the catechetical dimension of the family Rosary, a point which Pope John Paul II emphasized in his writings on this traditional prayer. But 20 minutes is a long time for a five-year-old to sit still. How do we keep our kids engaged?

First, I try to get them involved, as kids naturally want to “do something.” So my children get to hand out Rosaries and prayer books, light candles, and lead individual mysteries, among other things. This can make for interesting Rosaries, especially when the children are not old enough to count to ten or to remember all the prayers! [more]

Second, I count on the children to remember prayer intentions. I receive lots of them, and I find their little memories often work better than mine. Even more importantly, this exercise requires the kids to think outside themselves, and thereby grow in Christian empathy.

Third, the family Rosary is a time for the children to quiet themselves. We find it very helpful to have picture books or images for the children to help them enter into the mysteries. Of course, as they get older, they use prayer books with a little more text, or even the Bible itself for “Scriptural Rosaries.”

Incidentally, a few years ago my family was blessed to belong to a parish in which the church was filled with beautiful stained glass windows depicting the mysteries of the Rosary. I refer to these windows as “Gospels that little kids can read.” It’s utterly amazing how much gets soaked in through their consideration of the events of Jesus” and Mary’s life. It really builds their religious imagination, too.

Several years ago I asked one of my older daughters what her favorite mystery of the Rosary was, and she immediately said the Coronation. I was a little surprised, as I have always had a little more difficulty with that one, since the scene isn’t laid out in detail in the Bible. I asked her why, and she said, “When we pray that mystery, I think about what heaven must be like.” 

Isn’t that what we want our children to think about? It reminds me of Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Living Fatima

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

On this date in 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary made the last of a series of monthly appearances to three children in Fatima, Portugal. This apparition was different from the others, as it included what would become known as the “miracle of the sun,” which was witnessed by tens of thousands of people.

One of the primary messages of our Blessed Mother to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta was that she wanted people to pray the Rosary daily and with great devotion. She especially called upon the faithful to pray for peace and for the conversion of sinners. If we follow her request, we can be confident that we will experience peace in our hearts, families, communities, and world, and that many people will turn their lives over to Christ.

For centuries the Popes have exhorted the faithful to pray the Rosary, most recently in Pope John Paul II”s apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In a particular way, October has been set aside as a month of special devotion to the Rosary, as Pope Leo XIII of happy memory stressed in his encyclical letter on the Rosary (Octobri Mense). Fittingly, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated on October 7th.

For that reason, this month at Catholic Hour we are featuring a weekly series on the Rosary. Last week, the focus was on the importance of praying the Rosary as a family. The next installment will be tomorrow, in which I will give some tips on introducing the Rosary to our children.

But while reading articles on the Rosary is good, praying the Rosary is even better!  When it comes to the Rosary, I urge people to take the “Nike approach”: Just do it!

The Family Rosary

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Back in 2002, Pope John Paul II issued a document entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae, or more simply “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” to foster a renewed devotion to the Rosary in the new millennium. This magnificent teaching is for all the faithful, but in a very special way the Pope is speaking to families. Here is what he said to us:

“A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis” (no. 6). 

It’s not an overstatement, then, to say that the family Rosary can and must play a pivotal role in the renewal of our society. For that reason, I’m going to dedicate a post each week during October to this issue, and in doing so I hope to provide practical encouragement and assistance to individuals and especially families to “put out into the deep” (Lk, 5:4) and make the Rosary part of their daily life.

Today, I simply want to note that praying the Rosary as a family has a teaching component. Yes, it’s primarily a prayer, but the focus on the individual mysteries over time provides important catechetical formation for everyone involved, especially children.

I must admit that I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of the Rosary as a child. I don’t want to be critical of my late father. I like to say that as the youngest of fourteen children I’m grateful that my Mom and Dad didn’t have the “good sense” to stop at thirteen! But my Dad, for whatever reason, didn’t even mention the mysteries as he prayed the Rosary, but just seemed to be rattling off the prayers. That seemed empty and boring to me.

Now, the prayers themselves are powerful, but it’s very important that we don’t skip over the meditative dimension of the prayer. After all, while the prayers are the percussion, the meditation is the melody.

Next week I will discuss ways to introduce this prayer to children, but for now I simply want to emphasize the importance of announcing the mystery. And particularly when praying the Rosary with one’s family or in some other group setting, I’ve found it very helpful to include a short biblical reading with each mystery to further aid our entry into the given mystery.

More to come. And by the way, my wife Maureen and I wrote an entire chapter on the family Rosary in Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the Mystery of Marriage and Family, which is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

The One Thing

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

One of my favorite comedies from the early 1990s was City Slickers, in which three middle-aged, troubled men–led by the character “Phil” played by Billy Crystal–find meaning through time spent on a cattle-driving vacation. One of the interesting subplots of the movie is the relationship between Phil and the mysterious “Curly” character, played by Jack Palance.

At one key moment, Curly revealed to Phil the “secret of life.” He said it”s “one thing, just one thing.” Of course Phil wanted to know what the ”one thing” was, and Curly replied, “That”s what you got to figure out.” 

On a natural level, Phil proceeds to figure out his priorities, leading him to reconnect with his family.

In the Gospel at Mass today, we received a similar message from Our Lord Himself. When Martha confronted Him because she was doing all the work while her sister Mary simply sat at His feet, Jesus responds:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk. 10:41-42).  

This reminds me of St. Paul”s missionary work in Athens (Acts 17:22 and following). He came upon an altar with an inscription, “to an unknown God.” St. Paul used this as a launching point for his evangelization there, as he said, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. . . .”

Here, we have a popular Hollywood movie that rightly points us to look for “the one thing” that will bring meaning and order and peace to our lives. This insight resonates with the hearts of all men and women.

Yet, that”s as far a movie without Christ can take us. While the characters in City Slickers are left to figure out for themselves “the one thing,” we can proclaim to them and to all those in the world that are yearning for meaning and order and peace that turning to Christ is definitively the one thing–not just for Curly or Phil or even Leon, but for all people at all times.

I think St. Augustine, who spent a lot of time looking for the one thing before latching onto it, says it best:

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”  

Caught Up in the Moment

Friday, September 24th, 2010

While getting some exercise I often get my “sports fix” by watching ESPN”s Sports Center. As I do, sometimes I wonder about how “unreal” it is. I”m not talking here about sports” inflated significance in our culture. After all, in the shopping mall of life, sports is the toy store, or maybe Aunt Annie”s Pretzels–surely not the end-all we make it out to be.

Rather, what I”m getting at is that while I”m watching Sports Center, there is no sporting event going on at all. Rather, we keep moving back and forth from the past (statistics, rankings, scores of previous games, etc.) to the future (upcoming games, fantasy drafts, predictions, etc.). Sure, those things have a place, but it’2012-04-24 18:34:17′s interesting how caught up we can get in the past (What was their record last year?) and future (Will the Chiefs really win the AFC West?), almost to the exclusion of the present.

The same is true in all areas of life. How often do we dwell on past glory or setbacks, or on future worries that may never materialize?  All the while, life happens in real time. And what is real time? It”s the present moment.  And because it”s the only time that”s completely real, it”s where we encounter God, where we receive actual grace, and where we respond in Christ-like fashion to others.  

A litte story from my young adult years will illustrate this point: [more]

I spent a couple wonderful years with a religious community in the 1980s as I was discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood and religious life. One day, they brought in a well-known retreat master to give the two dozen or so seminarians a day of recollection.

The first words of the priest to begin the day of recollection really startled me. He bluntly said, “None of you are called to the priesthood.” I looked around the room at all the postulants and said to myself, “Boy, Father Tom (the community”s vocation director) sures knows how to pick ”em!”

The priest then explained that our vocation is “now,” that we must respond wholeheartedly to the Lord right here, right now by being holy seminarians. In five or six years, God willing, the bishop will lay hands on some of us, and then–and only then–would we truly be called to the priesthood.

As it turned out, I wasn”t one of the men called to become a priest. Yet, this important lesson has always stayed with me as a lay Catholic.

A crucial part of the lesson is to seek eternal life right now. This can be quite challenging given the pace of our daily lives. Not only that, we also tend to think of eternity exclusively as the sequel to this life. In other words, we live our thirty or sixty or ninety years on this earth, and then when we die eternal life begins.

However, eternal life is a present reality. Sure, in this life “eternity” (literally a dimension outside of time) and temporality coexist, while only after we die will we experience eternal life in its fullness without the admixture of time. But make no mistake–there are seeds of eternity in us now. If there weren”t, we”d have no basis for believing that we will continue to experience life–the eternal, “abundant” life (Jn. 10:10)–after we die.

Scripture frequently presents eternal life as a present reality. For example, in John 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, to know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.” He doesn”t say, “This will be eternal life….”

The present moment is the junction between time and eternity. The past and the future are not without significance, but they are exclusively temporal realities and thus lack the dynamism of “right here, right now.” God”s grace, which plants and nourishes in us the seeds of eternal life, is encountered in the present moment as we strive to live in God”s presence and accept His sovereignty in our lives.

Scripture does present us the case of St. Dismas, the good thief who converted at the very end of his life so that “this day” he was with the Lord in paradise. However, we can”t presume that when we come to the end of our life that we”ll have the time and proper disposition to accept our Lord”s invitation. That”s a future thing. God speaks to us right here, right now.

We do well, then, to heed the Psalmist”s words, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:7). Or, as St. Paul puts it, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor 6:2).

Or, as a retreat master once told a bunch of fledgling seminarians, “Vocation is now.”

Right Here, Right Now

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

With my daughter entering the convent this weekend, I find myself thinking about my time with a religious community in the 1980s as I was discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood and religious life. One day, they brought in a well-known retreat master to give the two dozen or so seminarians a day of recollection.

The first words of the priest to begin the day of recollection really startled me. He bluntly said, “None of you are called to the priesthood.” I looked around the room at all the postulants and said to myself, “Boy, Father Tom (the community’s vocation director) sures knows how to pick ‘em!”

The priest then explained that our vocation is “now,” that we must respond wholeheartedly to the Lord right here, right now by being holy seminarians. In five or six years, God willing, the bishop will lay hands on some of us, and then–and only then–would we truly be called to the priesthood.

As it turned out, [more]I wasn’t one of the men called to become a priest. Yet, this important lesson has always stayed with me as a lay Catholic.

A crucial part of the lesson is to seek eternal life right now. This can be quite challenging given the pace of daily life in the world. Further, we already tend to think of eternity exclusively as the sequel to this life. In other words, we live our thirty or sixty or ninety years on this earth, and then when we die eternal life begins.

However, eternal life is a present reality. Sure, in this life “eternity” (literally a dimension outside of time) and temporality coexist, while only after we die will we experience eternal life in its fullness without the admixture of time. But make no mistake–there are seeds of eternity in us now. If there weren’t, we’d have no basis for believing that we will continue to experience life–the eternal, “abundant” life (Jn. 10:10)–after we die.

Scripture frequently presents eternal life as a present reality. For example, in John 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, to know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.” He doesn’t say, “This will be eternal life . . .”

The present moment is the junction between time and eternity. The past and the future are real, but they are exclusively temporal realities and thus lack the dynamism of “right here, right now.” God’s grace, which plants and nourishes in us the seeds of eternal life, is encountered in the present moment as we strive to live in God’s presence and accept His sovereignty in our lives.

Scripture does present us the case of St. Dismas, the good thief who converted at the very end of his life so that “this day” he was with the Lord in paradise. However, we can’t presume that when we come to the end of our lives that we’ll have the time and proper disposition to accept our Lord’s invitation. That’s a future thing. God speaks to us right here, right now.

We do well, then, to heed the Psalmist’s words, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:7). Or, as St. Paul puts it, “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor. 6:2).

Or, as a retreat master once told a bunch of fledgling seminarians, “Vocation is now.”

The Family That Overtook Christ

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

My family recently finished as our dinnertime reading The Family That Overtook Christ (Daughers of St. Paul, 1986). It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? [more]May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ.

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. He is one of only 33 saints to have been declared a “doctor of the Church,” whose exceptional, timeless teaching is a sure guide for all of us in our own journey to God.

Now maybe some of us have heard of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and a few of us may even have known about the Memorare. But how many of us have bothered to pick up one of St. Bernard’s classic works, such as his Treatise on the Love of God or his commentary on the Song of Songs?

fulfillment3d.gifI realize that these spiritual classics aren’t as readily available in bookstores as the Da Vinci Code. And even if we found them, we might find them a bit daunting or intimidating. That’s why I’m so grateful to Ralph Martin for writing The Fulfillment of All Desire. In Fulfillment, he takes the writings of seven great doctors of the Western Church, including St. Bernard, and presents them in a systematic, easy-to-read way. Heck, even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher and retreat master, has heartily endorsed this book for all who want to grow in the spiritual life.

So, in gratitude to God for lifting up holy teachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I’d like to conclude with the opening prayer for today’s Mass:

Heavenly Father, Saint Bernard was filled with zeal for your house and was a radiant light in Your Church. By his prayers may we be filled with this spirit of zeal and walk always as children of light. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Dare to Rejoice

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

This past weekend I was considering my own mortality. You see, yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of the death of my second-oldest brother, Ray. Also, a couple days ago was the birthday of my oldest brother, Bob, who passed away just a few weeks ago.  It really struck me that the 32-year gap between their deaths really isn”t that big, even though during that time I”ve gone from being a teenager to a middle-aged grandfather. How, in practical terms, do I understand God”s involvement in the relentless progression of time?

So, I really connected with the familiar readings at Mass yesterday. One was from Ecclesiastes (“For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun”), Colossians (“seek what is above”), and Luke (“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you . . .”)

There were so many things in these readings that really spoke to me. I guess I can sum up my thoughts this way: Life can really beat us up if we lose track of our heavenly prize (cf. Phil. 3:12-15; Mt. 6:25-34; 1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Without Christ, life is a cross without resurrection. And further, I”d say that part of life that beats us up is time itself. I may not have understood that when Ray died 32 years ago, but I understand it now.

And the answer? Well, yes, the daily crosses in our lives are real. Suffering is a given. Are we going allow our suffering to be an absurdity, a waste, or “vanity”?  Or are we going to truly abandon ourselves to Christ and unite everything in our lives to Him–not just in theory but in the way we live from day to day, even moment to moment?

I think that part of the “renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12:2) that St. Paul is talking about is exactly that–we need to change our way of looking at things that bring us down. Why live as slaves, when Christ came to set us free? When we commit ourselves to daily meditative prayer and frequent recourse to the sacraments, when we seek what is above, then our perspective down here is changed for the better. 

Joy comes with the experience of attaining that which we hope for. As Christians, our daily struggles can be a cause of great joy for us. After all, they bring us a foretaste of the fullness of life for which we”re striving.

So join with me this day and every day: Dare to rejoice!      

God Is Greater

Monday, July 19th, 2010

In today”s Gospel, we hear that Jesus is a “greater than Jonah” and also a “greater than Solomon.” While these and other ”great” Old Testament figures have much to teach us, they don”t hold a candle to Christ, the God-man.

After all, Christ is the fulfillment of the various signs and events of the Old Testament. Jonah”s three-day sojourn in the whale”s belly, as remarkable as that sounds, pales in comparison with the Resurrection of Christ on the third day. And Christ”s wisdom, untainted by sin and without limit, infinitely exceeds the created, human wisdom of King Solomon.

In our lives, there are a lot of people that make us ooh and ahh. We talk about being “star-struck” when in the presence of a movie star or sports hero. It”s always a big deal to get a photo op with a president or governor or some other VIP.

And every time I’2012-04-24 18:35:46′ve been in the presence of the Holy Father, people suddenly are unable to put together a coherent sentence–overcome not only by his personality and presence, but also by his office and all that it represents.

And when we have an opportunity to meet someone like that, we naturally jump at the opportunity.

But in the tabernacle we have a “Greater than _________.” You fill in the blank. Jesus is a “greater than Barack,” a “greater than Lebron,” a “greater than Hannity.” I”m sure we all realize that, but why aren”t we spending more time with Jesus–at Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, in moments of prayer throughout the day?

Our assessment of “greatness,” to be meaningful, must be reflected in our time and priorities, which in turn reflects a heart given over to Christ.