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Prayer of the Heart: Solitude and Community

The late philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that religion is what one does with one’s solitude. There is a certain truth in that observation in that one encounters God by a personal reaching out if the encounter is a genuine one. At the same time, however, the solitary experience of faith hardly sums up the totality of the life of faith. It is true, as the New Testament teaches us, that Jesus frequently sought out quiet places, often before dawn, to pray alone. However, that solitary prayer must be seen against Jesus’ pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem, his visits to synagogues, his participation in prayer with his disciples, and the other observances incumbent upon a faithful Jew. The well-worn cliché “I am spiritual but not religious” can be understood as a preference for my spirituality as opposed to membership in a religion. The cliché is a testament to the American tendency to prize the power of individuality. That dichotomy, however, from the Christian perspective, is an insufficient one overly dependent on notions of …

How to Pray the Rosary with Middle Schoolers

Our parish uses the Edge program for our middle school religious education. Before our first class began, our coordinator asked me to lead prayer at the end of each monthly gathering. When I asked her if there was a specific type of prayer she was hoping I would lead, she thought that perhaps it would be nice to introduce the Rosary to the middle school students. Now, before you think that we prayed the whole Rosary before each class, I will tell you that we decided that a single decade of the Rosary would be stretching the limits of middle school students’ abilities to be quiet, still, and prayerful. Why pray the Rosary with middle school students? First of all, many of our students do not have much experience with traditional prayers of the Church; sadly, that includes experiences of the Mass. We wanted to end our classes in a spirit of prayer that would send students home refreshed, renewed, and filled with hope in the Lord. Since Mary is the Mother of our Lord, …

Receiving Christ and Becoming Like Him

Benedict XVI concludes the first part of his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (2010) by recommending the saints as expert witnesses to Scripture’s abiding truth: “The interpretation of Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who truly lived the Word of God: namely, the saints” (§48). The saints unfold the contents of Scripture by dedicating their lives to performing its message. Their ability to bring the Word of God to life begins when they open the pages of Scripture in order to encounter Christ and to nurture their baptismal relationship with him. Once they learn of Christ’s undying love for them, expressed supremely in his suffering and death, they resolve never to be parted from him. For they are assured by the Holy Spirit that he wishes to remain with them always (Mt 28:20). They rejoice in the knowledge that there will never be a greater love than the Lord’s, this love that reconciles the world to God and that is given to them completely in the Eucharist. This joy of …

A New Song for the New Evangelization: In the Beginning

Few things impact the celebration of the liturgy more concretely than music. Ask any Mass-goer exiting the church to recap the Gospel and he or she may begin to resemble the proverbial deer in the headlights. However, ask that same person to name any hymn sung during the liturgy and you’re not only more likely to receive an actual answer (or even a serenade), but you’re also likely to receive an opinion on the quality of the liturgical music itself. Music quite literally resonates within the hearts of worshipers in a unique way. Whether vocal or instrumental, music has a power to evoke an intellectual or emotional response that cannot be underestimated; therefore, its role in the overall impact of a liturgical celebration also cannot be underestimated. Music clothes our communal prayer in beauty, allowing us truly to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in a way that simultaneously expresses our unique humanity and our universal desire for communion with God and one another. Given this reality, the question for parish music directors in …

An Interview with William C. Mattison III

William C. Mattison III, author of Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues (Brazos Press, 2008), provided Church Life with the following written interview on virtue in the Church and the world today. Why is the formation of virtue essential to a robust practice of discipleship?   Where to begin? Formation in virtue is absolutely crucial. One way to get at it is this. Our faith is thoroughly Incarnational. God becomes man that we might participate in the divine nature. Thus fullness of life—salvation—is not simply something that happens to us, although it is of course God’s initiative and only possible through God’s grace. It is also, however, something in which we participate. We are transformed, sanctified, by God’s grace to live life in Christ. Now virtues are those stable dispositions to do certain sorts of activities well. They qualify our capacities, and make us who we are as a sort of “second nature.” Thus formation in virtue—and particularly graced or “infused” virtue—is our participation in the divine nature, truly begun in this life …

Moral Virtue, The Grace of God, and Discipleship

Moral theology has traditionally explored how people act in the world (“moral”) in the context of their faith in God (“theology”). This volume purposely examines morality in the context of Christian belief. What difference does faith make in how a person lives his or her life? Surely a person of faith engages in certain distinctive activities, such as going to church, praying, and reading the Bible. But what about the myriad of activities that all people partake in every day, such as eating, facing difficulties, exchanging goods, and making decisions? Does the person of faith engage in these activities with the same “morality” as everyone else? As is already clear, a life of discipleship is not simply about performing certain types of actions. It is a vocation, a transformation of one’s very self. Such a transformation of course impacts how we act. The primary question for this chapter is, how does discipleship, a life of following Jesus, transform not only who we are but also how we act in this world? The ancient notion of …

Mary, Icon of Evangelization: Queen of Heaven and Earth, Hope of the Downtrodden

When I was a young boy praying the Rosary, the title of the fifth glorious mystery (La Coronación de la Virgen Maria como Reina del Cielo—the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven) led me to visualize a beautiful woman, dressed in royal clothing and wearing a lovely crown of glowing jewels. This was not surprising, since I was formed to imagine the Virgin Mary as an angelic woman, totally beyond our human condition. Even our catechism seemed to affirm this limited view of Mary—she was conceived without original sin and therefore would not have suffered the consequences of such sin, including temptation, disappointment, and suffering. She would not have been human like us. There was no doubt that she was our loving and compassionate mother, always ready to listen to our lamentations, to console us at any moment. The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe revealed this truth exquisitely. Her compassionate voice, “You have nothing to fear; am I not here who am your mother?” rang deeply within our hearts, giving us an unquestioned …

The Feast of the Assumption as the Olympiad of Christian Hope

Glorious things are spoken of you, O Mary, who today were exalted above the choirs of Angels into eternal triumph with Christ (Entrance Antiphon, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) Elite athletes exist at the edge of the possible and the physically absurd. Consider for a moment the 31st Olympiad underway in Brazil. The marathon runner, who pushes his or her body beyond human limitations to complete the 26.2 miles in the same time that it takes to drive a car from South Bend to Chicago. The swimmer, whose powerful legs and lungs, enables her to move through the water in record time, all the while performing with grace. The sprinter, who runs so swiftly, with such ease, that we re-imagine what the human being can do when formed according to such perfection. The gymnast, who defies all laws of gravity, in the vault, the parallel bars, the floor routine. And as the Olympics end, do not all of us (no matter the lack of our own athletic prowess) in some way expand our imaginations to what we …

Holiness and Prayer

God is holy by definition. When the prophet Isaiah describes the seraphs as singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the Jerusalem temple (Is 6:3), a praise of God taken over in the Christian liturgy, the triple affirmation precisely describes God. The word “holy” (Hebrew: kdsh) means something like “separate” or “different.” The word designates God’s separateness: God is not the cosmos, not a creature, not we humans infinitely magnified. God alone can say without qualification “I AM” (cf. Ex 3). Everything else called “holy”—whether it be places, times, instruments, clothing, images, persons, or whatever—is holy only in relation to God who alone is holy. Not to put too fine a point on it: to be holy is somehow connected to God who alone is, in fact, holy. One primary link to the holiness of God is by prayer. When we turn to God in prayer, either as a community or as an individual, we are doing something that is holy, which is to say, we are making some conscious connection to the source of holiness, God. …

The Raised Hand

You can tell a lot by the timing, posture, and movement of a raised hand. The quick and sudden, mid-sentence hand raise often catches my attention and I anticipate a thoughtful inquiry into my lecture. The slow, slouching, ninety-degree elbow raise frequently precedes the request for the bathroom and freedom from the current attack of information and instructions. The shaking, waving, over-eager, over-achiever hand raise almost always offers to write on the board, deliver the mail, pass out the tests, clean up after projects, email the class, and bring in cupcakes. All of these examples are caricatures of our students, and yet each of these students is in our classrooms this year, and will be every year. I offer this image of a raised hand to share a reflection I had during my third year of teaching. It occurred to me that I had gradually altered my approach to raised hands. When I began teaching, I naïvely called on each and every hand that was raised, and gave my absolute best, most exhaustive answer to …