Category Archives: Prayer

Running to Win the Spiritual Race – May 19, 2016

William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man, and before the saints and angels in heaven, and under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience. St. Paul says, “..we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “..since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..” (Heb. 12:1) St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us. (CCC 2683) St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition, in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.

How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray. I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction, and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can, and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”

Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:

  • The Morning Offering upon waking up
  • Pray the Rosary
  • Attend Mass and receive Communion
  • Pray the Angelus at noon
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
  • Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
  • Grace before meals
  • Attend Adoration
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
  • Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
  • Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
  • Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
  • A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed

Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.

It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become. Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt.10:30) This should give us comfort. God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way, each and every day, and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer,” if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

 

Pray Without Ceasing: The Liturgy of the Hours – 5 October 2015

“Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.” St.John Vianney

The public prayer of the Church is the “Liturgy of the Hours,” also known as the “Divine Office.” (SC, 90) The Liturgy of the Hours unites the voices of the whole Church into a singular and constant prayer, a mighty fire, offered around the world, day and night. It – in conjunction with the liturgical sacrifice of the Mass – echoes Malachi’s “pure offering,” where “in every place incense is offered to My name” among the gentile nations “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” (Mal.1:11) The two liturgies, the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, together form the central components of the Church’s public prayer life. This is the incense offered up to Heaven in God’s name. The Eucharistic sacrifice is obviously the primary liturgical focus, as we are offering Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity back to the Father. But, the Church’s offering of praise and worship, in the Liturgy of the Hours, is like an extension of the Mass. (CCC 1178) It is liturgical in nature, and it continues the Church’s public worship throughout the whole day, albeit in a complementary way to the Mass. As the Bishops state, “In the Hours, the royal priesthood of the baptized is exercised, and this sacrifice of praise is thus connected to the sacrifice of the Eucharist, both preparing for and flowing from the Mass.” (USCCB) We, as the Laity, can participate in this liturgy and offer up our sacrifices too, because of our common, baptismal priesthood. The Liturgy of the Hours is part of the Church’s response to Jesus’ exhortation to us to “pray always” (Lk.18:1) and to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We pray always by consecrating and sanctifying our days and hours and minutes, and even our seconds, from moment to moment. Hence, the primary purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is the sanctification of time. In it, we consecrate to God the phases of the day. (SC, 88) As the “General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours” highlights, “it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and the night.” The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says it this way, By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God.” (SC, 84) It invokes an anointing of the Holy Spirit upon us, an epiclesis, from morning, to noon, to afternoon, to evening, to night sanctifying all that we do. As the letter to the Hebrews says “Through Him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” (Heb.13:15)

But, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? How is it performed? The Liturgy of the Hours is a set of psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, canticles, hymns, intercessions and other prayers offered at seven canonical hours throughout the day. These seven Hours are: (1) Lauds or morning prayer (about 6am); Daytime prayer: (2) Terce or third Hour (about 9am), (3) Sext or sixth Hour (about 12 noon), and (4) None or ninth Hour (about 3pm); (5) Vespers or evening prayer (about 6pm); (6) Compline or night prayer (about 9pm); (7) Office of the Readings or formerly Matins (traditionally around midnight; but now, anytime in the day). These are the prayers the Church offers up twenty-four hours a day and 365 days a year. Now, envision what is really happening here. As the earth turns on its axis and the hours shift from time zone to time zone, groups of Christians pass the prayer-baton to the next ones continuing the spiritual relay across the globe. Believers together all singing, chanting, and praying, one after another, the same ancient prayers of the Church; lay people along with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and even with the Pope himself. The Liturgy of the Hours is more than a simple private devotion, such as a particular novena. Rather, it is said as a form of prayer in unity with the broader body of believers; it is no less than the universal Church coming together every day in liturgical, public worship. The Catechism describes the Liturgy of the Hours as “intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ Himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” (CCC 1175) As a liturgical work, we exercise our priestly function in the Divine Office in unity with the high priest, Christ. The Church, as the bride of Christ, prays to her bridegroom, Christ. And together, the bride and bridegroom sing praise to the Father. (CCC 1174) The Liturgy of the Hours is an unending dialogue of love between God and man. Sacrosanctum Concilium beautifully describes it:

“Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.” (SC, 83)

The Liturgy of the Hours connects us back with our most ancient traditions. Christians inherited the idea of the seven canonical hours in the day from Judaism. As David wrote in Book of Psalms, Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances.” (Ps.119:164) In the Book of Daniel, Daniel’s shown praying three times a day, presumably morning, afternoon and night. (Dan.6:10) These traditions were then carried forward with the first Christians. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles pray specifically at various canonical hours in the day, such as St. Peter praying at noon and again at three o’clock. (Acts 3:1; 10:3; 10:9; 10:30; 16:25) These are the same prayers Jesus would have known and would have prayed. Now, how can we, today, continue forward this ancient prayer into our modern times? Most of us know with evident certainty that our daily lives are awash in clutter, stress, noise, duties, work and responsibilities. It is not easy to pray the seven canonical Hours of the Divine Office. Not easy, especially with young kids, or with a highly demanding job. So, depending upon circumstances, having that time available can be quite difficult. Nevertheless, the Church encourages us to pray what we can, especially if possible, the three major hours of morning, evening, and night prayers. We need to adapt the Liturgy of the Hours to meet our particular circumstances and the rhythm of our day. It should not be a burden, but rather, a sanctifying joy. Although there’s something nostalgic about owning the physical breviary (the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours), I have found it much easier to use an online App for my phone, such as the ‘Divine Office’ app. In this way you always have it at your fingertips (as long as you have your phone), and you won’t have to carry around a large book. It’s very easy to use.  At this point, the most important thing is to just get started, and do what we can. Let the prayers cultivate our days into a sacramental life. It will help provide a spiritual framework to our hours; blessing us from our waking moments till drifting off to sleep. So, let us stop here, and pray as every Liturgy of the Hours begins, “O God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” (Ps.70:1)

Pray Without Ceasing: The Morning Offering – 1 October 2015

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  (Mt. 13:44-46)

How ought we to live our lives once we find the “pearl of great value?” In Jesus’ parable, the pearl of great value is a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. What could be of greater value than to live in communion with God in heaven for all eternity? This is the pearl we are in search of. We are the merchants in search of eternal life. It is the central purpose to our existence here on earth: the salvation of our souls and to live in communion with God for all eternity. Truly, nothing else matters. But, where do we find this pearl of great value? Well, Jesus answers this question directly for us. He says, “For, behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk. 17:21) Other translations have it “the kingdom of God is within you.” To find the kingdom of God, the pearl of great value, we must look inside ourselves, and amongst ourselves. What is the state of our soul? What is the state of our life? Are we examining our consciences each day, and living in communion with the Church and the sacraments? Are we seeking forgiveness for our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and doing deeds of mercy and charity? We attain the salvation of our souls and live out the kingdom of God by being in a state of grace. This is the pearl of great value. It’s finding the goodness of Christ and applying His grace to our souls. And what should our response be when we find this pearl of grace, eternal life? We should conform ourselves in totality to the treasure that we have found. As Jesus says of the merchant, “he went, and sold all that he had and bought it.” Eternal life requires our response. We ought to “sell,” or let go of anything, and all, that prevents, breaks or interrupts our holding the pearl, the kingdom, within our hearts. Finding the pearl of great value implores us to live in a constant state of grace. By living in a state of grace, we can actualize the kingdom of heaven in our lives.

But, how do we live in a state of grace? For starters, we follow the Commandments. We can examine our consciences regularly to see when and where and how we may have broken the Ten Commandments. In such cases, especially for mortal sins, we should go receive forgiveness and absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation. There, our friendship with Christ, and our state of grace, is restored. We should be frequent visitors to the confessional. To neglect this, is to neglect the state of our souls and risk our friendship with Christ. Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, and He answered: “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt.22:36-39) We must love God and our neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments that sum up the whole Judaic law and God’s law. And how must we love God with all our heart, soul and mind? We love God by having a relationship with Him. Yes, we love God through our actions of obedience to His will. We can do this by avoiding sin and doing good. Primarily, this means obedience to the Church, staying close to sacraments, and loving our fellow man. But, it also means we have a relationship with God by talking with Him. Simply put, it means we pray. Through prayer, we can show our desire to have an intimate friendship with God. In order to have an intimate relationship with someone, do we not have to speak with them? And speak with them often? St.Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) Our lives should be a constant state of prayer. Even Jesus Himself beseeches us “to pray always and not to lose heart.” (Lk. 18:1)

But, how do we pray without ceasing and pray always? We know it is mentally impossible, and for all practicality, inconceivable to pray at every moment in a day. We have jobs, we work, we have children that demand out care, and probably millions of other, everyday activities that demand our near constant attention and focus. God knows this. So, how then can we live out the command the Bible seems to give us? I think we can do this by sanctifying our time. We can, with intentionality, offer up each day to God and invoke His anointing on all that we do throughout the day. Saint John Vianney gave us insight into the consecration and sanctification of time, saying All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.” The Church teaches us that the best way to sanctify our day is to say a special prayer to God first thing in the morning, as soon as we wake up. This has come to be known as “The Morning Offering.” In so doing this, we can consecrate the whole day to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catechism says the Christian begins his morning in prayer to dedicate his day to the glory of God and “calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father.” (CCC 2157) The Morning Offering helps us to fulfill our daily vocation to be children of God, by which we “act in the Spirit.”

The Morning Offering is the key moment at the beginning of each day. It sets the tone. It’s in that instance that we consecrate our whole day to Jesus Christ. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It allows us, from the first waking moments, to waste nothing. Now, the whole day, whatever happens, can have eternal meaning. It all becomes consecrated and sanctified to God; in effect, spiritualized. Our desire in the Morning Offering is to subsume all the moments that follow into an intentional spiritual sacrifice. This is our baptismal right, as royal priests of Christ. In our mind’s eye, we can imagine offering up all of our actions, works and sacrifices, united by the power of the Holy Spirit with the works and sacrifices of Christ, and placing them on the altar before God the Father. God will accept our offering. Then, all the things that happen in a day, from moment to moment, like eating, driving, working, feeding your children, cleaning your house, etc., which otherwise may seem insignificant and like wasted time, is now consecrated and sanctified by the grace of Jesus Christ. All of our ordinary and mundane actions become efficacious spiritual works. Our day infused with grace. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and offered to God, walking up a flight of stairs may help repair a friend’s sin. Anointed with the Holy Spirit and offered to God, sweeping the kitchen may help stir belief into a brother’s heart. Now, there are various formulations of the Morning Offering that we can recite, or we can even make up our own prayer. But, one of the most famous versions espoused by the Church is this:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day 
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.   (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

It does not have to be very long.  It just needs our desire and intention to please God.  The Morning Offering makes it possible for us to “pray without ceasing.” It unites our whole day, and all that we will do, with the life of Christ. It consecrates us and sanctifies our actions, so that we can live out our prayer.  We become a dynamic temple of the Holy Spirit and an ambulatory altar of spiritual sacrifices. Our lives become liturgical in nature; our actions sacramental. And, it helps to renew – daily – our firm grasp on the pearl of great value. As St.Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

Prayer in the events of each day and each moment

“Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the kingdom revealed to ‘little children,’ to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influences the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom.” (CCC 2659-2660)