Advent 2020 Prayer Study – Week 4

Merry Christmas! I write this in the midst of our celebration of the Christmas Octave. The manger scene is a fitting scene to consider for our final step of the classic “lectio divina” method of praying with Scripture- contemplation. Here we refer not to the human act of prayer, but God’s response. It may be a felt inspiration/guidance or not. However, with faith and hope we take time to listen for God in our prayer. Our goal is not only an interior monologue of our meditation and prayers – we seek a dialogue in which we encounter God’s voice. Just as the figures around the manger gaze in receptive adoration of the birth of the Christ child, let us remember to leave time for contemplation in our prayer to allow space for God to act!

Weekly notes from Facebook-

Monday: Silence can scare us, and drive us to want to fill up the space with noise or busy-ness. However, silence gives a space where relationship can grow and a gift can be received. Our prayerful time with Scripture should include not only reading, reflecting, and expressing our reflections in prayer, but also silence and open receptivity to God.

Tuesday: St Teresa of Avila, one of the master teachers on prayer, describes the difference between human cooperation in prayer (what we have been discussing in the first three steps) and God’s response. Here are some of her words on this topic from Way of Perfection (ch. 31): “I still want to describe this prayer of quiet to you in the way that I have heard it explained and as the Lord has been pleased to teach it to me. . . . This is a supernatural state and however hard we try, we cannot acquire it by ourselves. . . . The faculties are stilled and have no wish to move, for any movement they make seems to hinder the soul from loving God. They are not completely lost, however, since two of them are free and they can realize in whose presence they are. It is the will that is captive now. . . . The intellect tries to occupy itself with only one thing, and the memory has no desire to busy itself with more. They both see that this is the one thing necessary; anything else will cause them to be disturbed.”

Wednesday: Often we are tempted to rate our prayer as “good or bad” based on whether we feel a certain way at the end. While at times we do experience a sense of inspiration, this isn’t the only time that God is active. The response we “feel” can depend on many factors (what is going on in our life at the time, emotional state, etc). If we have spent the time seeking conversation with God (despite distractions), we can be confident that God is at work in our life to guide us by His grace!

Thursday: Yesterday I spoke of not trying to force a particular response in prayer and not to evaluate prayer just on our emotional response, but that doesn’t mean we should have low expectations! As we wait in joyful anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Christ tomorrow, it is good to remember that we should approach prayer with an expectant faith, confident God will be present and active in whatever situation we may be!

Friday: (no post on this topic, as it was Christmas day!)

Advent 2020 Prayer Study – Week 3

The third step of Lectio Divina is prayer. This may sound strange, since isn’t this whole process about praying with the Scriptures? The distinction here is not just doing something in a prayerful manner (eg reading or reflection), but actually talking with God. In our first steps there is a danger of just staying trapped in our own mind or thoughts. Here we need to turn that interior monologue into a dialogue with God. After reading and reflecting on the Scripture passage, what do we want to say to God? What do we want to ask God? For whom or what do we want to pray or give thanks?

Monday: Our ability to make tasks “routine” is often a good thing (eg we don’t want to spend as much time thinking about how to tie our shoes now as we did when we first learned!). However, this can lead to struggle in prayer since we can become less engaged with our conversation with God as our words become habitual. This can happen with formulas of prayer (like the Our Father) or even with our own patterns of thought if we make use of personal prayers. So, let’s look at the types of things we say in prayer, and remember what they really mean! I will guide the reflections this week along the structure of the beginning of Mass, since this is something that has become “routine” for many of us!

Tuesday: We make the Sign of the Cross as we begin Mass, and usually at the beginning of our personal prayers. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on who we are and to Whom we are speaking: we are a baptized child of God and are speaking with the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! This connection of relationship is important to remember as we move from reflection on our Scripture reading into conversation with God.

Wednesday: After the Sign of the Cross comes the Penitential Rite, in which we ask pardon from God for failings “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” Was there something in the Scripture passage that reminded us of a need to ask pardon? We can ask the Lord to give us the grace to learn from our faults. Honesty about failures helps to build a stronger relationship with God. And, although this is an important step, we remember that sorrow for sin is not the only step of prayer. Sometimes we might be tempted to skip saying sorry, but at other times we might be tempted to spend all of our time wallowing in our failures. Instead, we take the time to ask forgives so that we can clear the path to move forward.

Thursday: The Gloria comes after the Penitential Rite at Mass. Here we express our praise and thanksgiving to God in words that are drawn from the message of the angels to the Shepherds at Christmas. This is definitely the longest part of the opening rites to Mass, and I think that this is an important lesson. If we struggle with this prayer, the problem is probably not that the Gloria is too long and needs to be shortened, but that we need to grow in our awareness of gratitude and praise! After reading the passage of Scripture we we can speak with God about what ways it inspired us to give praise or thanks.

Friday: The final part of the introductory rites of Mass is the Opening Prayer or “Collect.” After having called to mind to Whom we are speaking in the Sign of the Cross, asked pardon for sins in the Penitential Rite, and given praise and thanks to God in the Gloria, we now “collect” together our prayers to ask God for what we need and for the needs of the world. What petitions come to our mind based on our meditation on the Scripture passage that we just read?

Advent 2020 Prayer Study – Week 2

The second step of the “lectio divina” method of praying with the Bible is called “Meditation.” This word can be used to mean many different things, and nowadays often is used in terms of what we spoke about last week – mental preparation for prayer in order to focus our attention, etc. However, in the classic sense this word refers not just to mental preparation, but to prayerful reflection and consideration of the Scripture passage. Last week we sought to read through the passage and pay attention to where we felt called to “go deeper.” The first step was like searching for spiritual food, and now in meditation we begin to chew and digest what we encountered. Our prayer to the Holy Spirit is important here so that it can be more than just human reflection or talking to ourselves in our head. What does this passage seem to be saying to us? How does it connect with or shine light on other parts of the Scriptures? What does it tell us about Christ, the Christian life, or heaven? All of these questions can help us to enter into a conversation with God, which we will discuss next week! Below are some daily reflections I posted on Facebook-

Monday: Can a word in Holy Scripture have several senses? St Thomas Aquinas considers this question in the beginning of his famous work called the Summa Theologiae/”Summary of Theology” (Q. 1 A. 10). He answers that yes, a word can have several senses, because God is able of speaking on many levels at once! St Thomas speaks of the literal sense of the text, and then three levels of spiritual meaning – the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. The rest of this week we will be looking at each of these for an aid to our meditation and prayer with Scripture!

Tuesday: The first “sense” of Scripture that St Thomas Aquinas identifies is the literal or historical sense. We may be tempted to skip over the account itself to look for other meanings, but taking the time to consider the scene in depth may help to shed new light on it. A method that could be helpful here is one we spoke of last week – the encouragement of Ignatius Loyola to put ourselves somewhere in the scene as an observer or participant. This can help us to understand the text in a way that prepares us for deeper spiritual senses contained within it!

Wednesday: In addition to the literal/historical sense of a passage, St Thomas identifies three spiritual senses. The first is the Analogical Sense, insofar as “the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law.” The Old Testament prepares for what happens in the New Testament. For example, St Paul sees a symbol for baptism in the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10), and St Peter sees one in Noah’s Ark (1 Peter 3). In a related way, we may even see analogies within the New Testament itself (eg Jesus being lost in the Temple for three days in Luke 2 and Jesus being in the tomb for three days). So, one way of meditating on a passage is considering what analogies/connections it may have with other parts of the Bible!

Thursday: St Thomas’ second spiritual sense is the Moral Sense, “so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do.“ This is probably the most common one that comes to our mind, as it involves asking how the passage at hand can guide us in living a Christian life.  Our temptation can often be to try to change Christ into our own version of Him, but here we are invited to let him renew our way of thinking and acting so that we can be transformed into His image.

Friday: The final spiritual sense has the oddest name… the Anagogical Sense! St Thomas says this refers to “so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory.” In other words, how does this passage direct us to better understand the life of heaven? For example, the healing of the blind or lame may invite us to reflect on the joy of being set free from what binds us here. This sense can especially help to nourish our hearts with hope and desire when we are tempted by discouragement or sadness!

Advent 2020 Prayer Study – Week 1

This year our Advent study is on praying with the Bible, using the book “Praying Scripture for a Change” by Tim Gray as a guide. This book is my favorite introduction to “lectio divina,” the classic method of entering into a prayerful dialogue with the Scriptures. I hope that these reflections also help as a general aide in growing in prayer during this holy season.

The first classic step is “Lectio” – “reading.” It is important to begin with the right mindset. Our goal in prayerful reading is not just “getting through” the book, but savoring its content. This can be challenging for us since we often are focused on efficiency in our life. Instead, we should focus on growing in our relationship with God. We should take some time to reflect on when/where/how we will prepare to pray to help focus and avoid distractions (although the most important thing about praying is to actually pray! Don’t put off prayer just because a situation isn’t perfect), and then begin our reading with prayer.

If you are wondering what to pray with, I recommend the upcoming Sunday Gospel (which can be found at usccb.org under “Daily Readings”) or just reading through one of the Gospels chapter by chapter.

As we read, we should pay attention to what strikes us in the passage. Maybe it is a verse that encourages and inspires us, or a verse that challenges us or confuses us. Our goal at this point isn’t to begin to process it, but to discern where God is calling us to enter into our meditation and prayer. The remaining steps will guide us in how to respond to this passage.

Throughout this week I shared a number of additional thoughts on Facebook, which I will list below. Next week we will consider the second step: Meditation. God bless!

Monday: We can’t completely avoid distractions in prayer, but we can take measures to stay focused. St Charles Bellarmine offered this challenge at the last synod he attended, and I offer it as an invitation to reflect on the place, time, posture, and environment that might help us to enter into prayer: “Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?”

Tuesday: Another key way that we can help to be attentive and focused in our prayer/reading is to begin with a prayer. Here is a classic prayer to the Holy Spirit, drawn from Psalm 104:30 – Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.” O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Wednesday: Here is a very helpful reminder from the Catechism about dealing with distractions in prayer – sometimes we get flustered by them, when really what is needed is a simple response! “To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified” (CCC 2729).

Thursday: St Ignatius Loyola often recommends in his Spiritual Exercises that the reader imagine themselves in a scene of the Scriptures. We may be an onlooker, or place ourselves in the role of someone in the scene. This can help us to enter into the passage that we are reading and spark details to bring to meditation and prayer.

Friday: A final piece of advice for this week to help engage and focus on the text we are reading is to see the way that it connects with the Old or New Testament. St Augustine wrote, “This grace [ie, the salvation of Christ] hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament.” The parts of the Bible are interconnected, and so looking for connections to other passages is another approach we can take during our reading to help prepare for our meditation.

“The Search” Parish Study

This week we are beginning an online study called “The Search!” I thought I’d give a little explanation of it here to help build connections.

It is produced by the Augustine Institute, and available through their formed.org streaming service. This is a great, user-friendly way to connect with a lot of high-quality materials for growing in faith (it uses the same interface as Netflix, which probably helps for many!). It can be used through your web browser or through an excellent app. St Malachy/St Elizabeth parishioners can get a free log-in by noting that they belong to the parish on the log-in screen, otherwise you may need to check with your local parish to see about availability.

Out of all of the series on the website, why did I choose to start with “The Search?” I think it provides an excellent step-by-step reflection on our search for God, and therefore is a great resource for anyone, no matter where they are on the spectrum of faith. As we go through the seven videos in the series, we are asked to begin our reflection on the desires of the human heart and our identity. The topics then move through the encounter with God, our encounter with Jesus Christ, and our encounter with the Catholic Church. Along the way we are able to reflect on the reasons for our belief as well as make/deepen a personal connection.

Each Sunday I will share a link to the next excerpt on my social media (see the links on the sidebar of the main page of this website), and each Thursday I will host a discussion on Facebook live at 5:30pm (6pm en español). All are welcome! If you’re not able to join this live, the recap will be available to view on Facebook/YouTube.

Here is a short excerpt (four minutes) from the first video, which should be accessible to all: http://watch.formed.org/videos/the-search-excerpt-what-do-you-seek (the full twenty minute version is available on formed.org).

También hay una versión en español: http://watch.formed.org/videos/thesearch-ep1-formed-esp-1

I hope you can take part in this reflection, God bless!

The Angelus Prayer

Have you ever heard of the Angelus prayer? It is an old and widely popular devotion throughout the world, but was not one that was part of my home parish/family growing up (no matter how much we learn growing up, there is always so much more out there!). I first encountered it at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois, where we would pray it before the noon daily Masses. Then, in seminary it became even more prominent – we were all expected to have it memorized, we prayed it before most meals, and bells rang for it three times every day! It was at this point when I realized how well-known this devotion had been, and came to appreciate it as a daily practice.

The “Angelus” became popular in the Middle Ages, and gets its name from the beginning of the prayer in Latin, “Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae…” (“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”). It commemorates the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to announce the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary (Gospel of Luke 1:26-38). Traditionally it would be prayed at 6:00am, Noon, and 6:00pm. Church bells would ring to mark the times. People throughout the town – whether at work in the fields or at home – would pause and pray the prayer together. It consists of three sets of responses each followed by a Hail Mary, and then a closing prayer (I will list the full prayer at the end of this post).

What I came to love about the Angelus was the way that it invites us to pause at three key points of the day – the beginning, middle, and end (or breakfast, lunch, and dinner) – to reflect on the presence and action of God. Praying the Hail Mary in between the verses gives us a moment to reflect on the meaning of each section.

The first verse proclaims the Annunciation to Mary – a moment to reflect on what God has done in the history of salvation, and what He has done/is doing in our personal life. Next, it remembers Mary’s response: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” It invites us to see God’s will in the concrete circumstances of our life and to respond positively to His call. Finally, the Angelus calls to mind the fruit of Mary’s response: the Incarnation, Christ dwelling among us in her womb. The end result of cooperation with God’s will is receiving the life of Christ. We have no need to fear it or avoid it.

I wanted to share this devotion as a practice that may be helpful to you in your daily life now! Whether you pray it at multiple times a day or just once, it can help to give us a practical moment of discernment and reflection in the middle of a busy day. Like Mary, may we be open to the voice of God, and respond with our “yes” in every circumstance!

The Angelus

[Note: if two or more people are praying together, the leader says the parts in normal type, and the other(s) respond with the italicized parts]

The Angel of the Lord declared unto to Mary:

And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord:

Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary…

And the Word was made Flesh:

And dwelt among us. [Traditionally a bow or genuflection is done here]

 Hail Mary…

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,

that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Prayer Service in Time of Sickness (bilingual)

Begin with the Sign of the Cross. In the Name of the Father…

Leader: Let us call to mind the presence of God as we listen to these words of Scripture:

[It is recommended to use the Gospel from the Mass of the day, which can be found by clicking the date on the calendar on US Conference of Bishops website, http://www.usccb.org. Otherwise, this reading from Matthew 8:23-27 or another reading may be used instead]

And when [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

Leader: In a spirit of confidence let us continue with prayers of petition. [Note: the italics in the petitions mark the responses]

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

For an end to spread of Coronavirus COVID-19 and every other illness, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.

For all those who are ill, that they may be given strength and recover, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.

For all those who care for the sick, and all those working on a cure or vaccine, that they may be successful, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.

For our family and friends, the poor, and for all those in particular need right now, that they may be protected from harm and illness, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who have died and for those that mourn the loss of loved ones, that they may be given peace, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.

For all of us, that we may grow in faith and conversion to the Lord during this time, we pray to the Lord. Lord, hear our prayer.

[Optional: For any other intentions that you would like to share…]

Let us pray for all of these petitions in the words that our Savior taught us, Our Father, Who art in heaven…

Let us also ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of the Sick. Hail Mary, full of grace…

We end by expressing our confidence in the power of the Most Holy Trinity as we pray, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son…

Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, by the grace of your Holy Spirit cure the illnesses of your servants. Heal their sicknesses and forgive their sins; expel all afflictions of mind and body; mercifully restore them to full health, and enable them to resume their former duties, for you are Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

St Malachy, pray for us.

St Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us.

St Sebastian, pray for us.

All angels and saints, pray for us.

 Prayer of Spiritual Communion:

Appropriate to pray daily, and especially at a time you would normally attend Mass.

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Prayer of Adoration of Jesus in the Tabernacles of the World:

May the heart of Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament be praised, adored, and loved at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time. Amen.

 

Servicio de oración en tiempo de enfermedad

Comience con la Señal de la Cruz En el Nombre del Padre…

Líder: Recordemos la presencia de Dios al escuchar estas palabras de la Biblia:

[Se recomienda utilizar el Evangelio de la Misa del día, que se puede encontrar en las “Lecturas del Día” en el sitio web de la Conferencia de Obispos de EE. UU., http://www.usccb.org. De lo contrario, esta lectura de Mateo 8: 23-27 u otra lectura puede usarse en su lugar]

Subió [Jesús] a la barca y sus discípulos le siguieron. De pronto se levantó en el mar una tempestad tan grande que la barca quedaba tapada por las olas; pero él estaba dormido. Acercándose ellos le despertaron diciendo: «¡Señor, sálvanos, que perecemos!» Díceles: «¿Por qué tenéis miedo, hombres de poca fe?» Entonces se levantó, increpó a los vientos y al mar, y sobrevino una gran bonanza. Y aquellos hombres, maravillados, decían: «¿Quién es éste, que hasta los vientos y el mar le obedecen?»

Líder: En un espíritu de confianza, continuemos con oraciones de petición. [Nota: las cursivas en las peticiones marcan las respuestas]

Señor ten piedad. Señor ten piedad.

Cristo, ten piedad. Cristo, ten piedad.

Señor ten piedad. Señor, ten piedad.

Por el fin de la propagación del coronavirus COVID-19 y cualquier otra enfermedad, roguemos al Señor. Te lo pedimos, Señor.

Por todos los que están enfermos, para que se les den fuerzas y se recuperen, roguemos al Señor. Te lo pedimos, Señor.

Para todos los que cuidan a los enfermos, y todos los que trabajan en una cura o vacuna, para que tengan éxito, roguemos al Señor. Te lo pedimos, Señor.

Por nuestra familia y amigos, los pobres, y por todos aquellos en necesidad particular ahora, para que puedan estar protegidos, roguemos al Señor. Te lo pedimos, Señor.

Por todos los que han muerto y por aquellos que lloran la pérdida de sus seres queridos, para que se les dé paz, roguemos al Señor. Te lo pedimos, Señor.

Para todos nosotros, para que podamos crecer en la fe y la conversión al Señor durante este tiempo, roguemos al Señor. Te lo pedimos, Señor.

[Opcional: Para cualquier otra intención que le gustaría compartir …]

Oremos por todas estas peticiones en las palabras que nuestro Salvador nos enseñó: Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo …

Pidamos también la intercesión de la Santísima Virgen María, Ayuda de los Enfermos: Dios te salve, María…

Terminamos expresando nuestra confianza en el poder de la Santísima Trinidad: Gloria al Padre y al Hijo …

Señor Jesucristo, nuestro Redentor, por la gracia de tu Espíritu Santo, cura las enfermedades de tus siervos. Cura sus enfermedades y perdona sus pecados; expulsar todas las aflicciones de la mente y el cuerpo; restaura misericordiosamente a su salud completa, y les permite reasumir sus deberes anteriores, Tú que vives y reinas por los siglos de los siglos. Amén.

San Malaquias, ruega por nosotros.

Santa Isabel de Hungría, ruega por nosotros.

San Sebastián, ruega por nosotros.

Todos los ángeles y santos, rueguen por nosotros.

Oración de Comunión espiritual:

Apropiado para rezar diariamente, y especialmente a la hora en que normalmente asistirías a misa.

Jesús mío, creo que estás presente en el Santísimo Sacramento. Te amo por encima de todas las cosas y deseo recibirte en mi alma. Como ahora no puedo recibirte sacramentalmente, entra al menos espiritualmente en mi corazón. Te abrazo como si ya estuvieras allí, y me uno completamente a ti. Nunca permitas que me separe de ti. Amén.

Oración de Adoración de Jesús en los Tabernáculos del Mundo:

Que el Sagrado Corazón de Jesús en el Santísimo Sacramento sea alabado, adorado y amado en cada momento, en todos los tabernáculos del mundo, incluso hasta el fin de los tiempos. Amén.

A Way to Start Prayer Based on the Baptismal Promises

The way we begin our prayer often sets the tone for our receptivity to God’s action. God can work through even a distracted soul, but having an organized plan for the start often bears great fruit. As Catholics we generally begin with the Sign of the Cross, which roots our prayer in our relationship with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think a great way to build on this is to follow the approach of the ancient baptismal promises, which were made by us (or on our behalf) shortly before we were baptized in the name of the same Holy Trinity. This approach was shared with me by a retreat director, and so I’d like to take a moment to share it with you!

The baptismal promises are structured with three renunciations (of Satan, his empty works, and his empty promises), followed by three professions of faith (in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Similarly, at the beginning of prayer we can take a moment to renounce the obstacles that keep us from prayer, or hinder our engagement. It is good to be specific to the moment. For example, a person might say, “I renounce the belief that God is not present to me,” “I renounce the belief that my television/phone/etc is a better use of my time than prayer,” or “I renounce the belief that I can live life to the fullest without prayer.” The retreat director recommended invoking the name of Jesus during these statements. It doesn’t have to be list of three things, it can just depend on what is on our mind at the time. The point is that this practice identifies things that sap our strength in prayer. Often these are unconscious thoughts, and naming them can bring them to light and lessen their power over us. Other times, naming them may show them to be illogical or inconsistent.

However, we don’t end with renunciations. What we profess in faith is at the center of our identity; what we reject is only to clear the way for these truths. Therefore, we can continue to follow the structure of the baptismal promises by naming what we believe. “I believe that God is present. That He hears me. That He loves me.” “I believe that God has something to share with me in this time of prayer.” “I believe that God is at work to strengthen my soul and give light to my mind even when I do not feel any emotional response.” Whereas naming a lie can rob it of some of its power over us, naming a truth reinforces the power that it can give to us.

This approach to prayer may only take a minute or two, or it may be extended. I think in particular it is a great way to begin longer times of reflection (whether personal prayer or at Mass). It can give us the help to push beyond merely reciting prayers without much reflection, and instead enable true heart-to-heart dialogue with God. God bless!

What is the Pentecost Novena?

Novenas are a popular form of Catholic prayer. It refers to spending nine days in a row praying for a particular intention. They may have a set prayer, a set of reflections, or another practice along with it (eg, giving up something for the time period or doing some work of mercy each day during the novena). Usually a novena is prayed in preparation for some specific feast day. It’s almost like a little mini-Lent. I personally have gained a lot of fruit from this devotion and have certain novenas that I pray every year.

However, I think that often people do not know that the origin for the practice is very Biblical! – not just some crazy thing Catholics made up :). It comes from the days of prayer that the disciples spent in preparation for Pentecost. Jesus spent forty days with his disciples after the Resurrection speaking to them about the Kingdom of God, and then before ascending into heaven gave the Great Commission for them to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. But, Jesus did not instruct them to immediately begin the work. First, he told them to wait and pray in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father” (see Acts of the Apostles 1:3-4). This promise was fulfilled just over a week later when the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (a word that means “fiftieth day”). This meant there had been nine days of prayer between the Thursday of the Ascension and Pentecost.

A novena can be as simple or involved as you desire. May the Lord create within us the space to receive the gift he desires to give!

Spiritual Thoughts on the Desert

The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert in preparation for entering the Promised Land, and Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the early Church (as the threat of martyrdom waned) the desert became a place that was sought for spiritual renewal. As Christianity had spread throughout the Roman Empire and become more publicly acceptable there was a much greater temptation to mediocrity/lukewarmness. The early flame of lives transformed by the Gospel seemed to be less bright. Christians such as St Anthony the Abbot sought out the desert as a place to reconnect with this early fire. I think we face the same challenge today, and thought I’d share some thoughts about entering our yearly desert of Lent:

  1. The desert was a place where some of the noise and clutter of daily life was set aside. Therefore, it could be a special place of encounter with God in prayer. Jesus often prayed to his Father in the wilderness. We need this nourishment of prayer, too. Why do we stay away from it, or see it as a burden? Imagine someone that is a coffee drinker—coffee to them is seen as a source of life that helps them to enter into the day rather than a burden or obligation that must be laboriously accomplished. It is true that prayer at times includes an aspect of “spiritual combat” (petition, etc), but if this is our only experience of prayer then perhaps we are being called to include more relational prayer in our spiritual life. Find or make space for prayer, and spend time in conversation with God. Receive from his grace, and renew your desire for the life of Christ.
  2. However, the desert is also a place of trial, and this may be why we stay away from it. By stripping away distractions it brings us face to face with some of our difficulties and the challenges of silence. We become more aware of our unhealthy attachments or addictions. As we encounter these difficult truths, though, we can allow God to work to truly heal us. We invite the grace of God into this practice of discipline and seek freedom for love and fidelity. Why are we afraid of silence, or spiritual discipline? What might this reveal to us about what is in need of healing?
  3. Finally, the desert is a place of preparation. Christianity is not a religion that seeks suffering as a final goal, or the annihilation of self. Instead, as our freedom grows the love of God and neighbor reach more profound depths. We enter deeper into communion with others while becoming more fully that person we were created to be. The desert wasn’t the final stop for the Israelites, Jesus, or the saints. Instead, it was a step to something greater to come

God bless!