All posts tagged: prayer

What Did Pope Francis Mean to Say with His Strange Abuse Crisis Letter?

I was received into the Roman Catholic Church exactly one calendar year before Pope Francis published his letter in response to the most recent paroxysm over the Church’s sexual abuse scandal and its cover up.[1] I have been a Christian my entire life, at once nurtured in the Gospel message that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” and recurrently disappointed by the faithlessness and callous immorality of Christians. About a decade of appropriating the Catholic intellectual tradition finally folded me into the Roman flock (though marrying a Latina Catholic from Texas played a role as well). The small boat of Pietist Evangelicalism in which I was raised welcomed philosophy and theological speculation, but the broader Evangelical sea by which it was tossed contained an aged Leviathan of anti-intellectualism. Along the way, I learned from Catholic thinkers about intellectual persistence, hermeneutical charity, patience of judgment, and how to distinguish reflections that are exciting in implication from those that are reliable in their conclusions. In light of recent revelations and accusations, I have felt a terrible …

Cultivating Benedictine Wonder

I awake in the middle of the night, as I do most nights here, with muscles complaining about the hundreds of hay bales I loaded into a barn the day before. It is half past 2AM. The Guest House at the Abbey of Regina Laudis is black and silent, but some 800 meters away in the chapel, an assembly of nuns is awake and keeping watch with the sanctuary lamp. It is the hour of Matins. By the time I rise at 8:00, the flowers have been watered, the cows milked, the sheep sent to pasture, the cat found and fed, the grapevines inspected, and the bread dough set out to rise. I gulp a cup of Folgers and hike up the hill to the Church of Jesu Fili Mariae for Mass. A bell rings, and from behind the wrought iron grille, the nuns process into the sanctuary, bowing to the altar and to one another before taking their places in the choir stalls. Mother Abbess intones the prayer: Deus, in adjutorium meum intende. The …

Ora et Labora: Christians Don’t Need Leisure

We Christians, no less than other human creatures, are interested in ourselves. Deformed versions of this interest are narcissistic: under that rubric, we think of ourselves as if we were intrinsically valuable and important and good, and then we forget that whatever value, importance, and goodness we have has been given to us by the triune LORD whom we worship. That gift denies us anything of our own. Less deformed versions of our concern with ourselves begin and end with the thought that we are creatures, brought into being out of nothing by our LORD for purposes scarcely apparent to us. Thinking about ourselves in this way has the double good of requiring us to think about our LORD, and of deflating our pretensions. It is not easy to think like that, however; narcissism was not abolished by Jesus, even if its eventual overcoming is assured, and a good deal of Christian theological anthropology, professional-hectoring and popular-sentimental both, shows narcissism’s deleterious effects. We Christians remain disposed to concern about how the world seems to us …

The Benedictine Charism of Slow Evangelization

I had the opportunity to spend a week in June at Saint Anselm Abbey in Manchester, New Hampshire for the annual Junior Summer School for Benedictine monks who have made simple vows. Thirty juniors from various communities in the United States, from both the Swiss-American and American-Cassinese congregations, participated in liturgies, attended conferences, and ate meals in community. The week we spent together reminded us how our Benedictine way of life continues to be a model for the entire Church, even after sixteen centuries. One of the activities we participated in was a seminar on the upcoming Synod for Youth, Discernment, and Vocations taking place in Rome this October. Abbot Elias Lorenzo, O.S.B, the Abbot President of the American-Cassinese Congregation, led us juniors in a discussion about what we can do, both individually and within our communities, to evangelize young people in the 21st century. We divided into four small groups and answered prompts about the challenges facing the Church when evangelizing young people. Young people were defined as men and women, ages 18 to …

The Horror Inherent in Leisure

Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as a celebration and a festival. –Roger Scruton Leisure may very well be the basis of culture—as the beloved Josef Pieper says—but the word bears a fantastically unconvincing ring to a family full of farmers and maintenance workers as something to do with one’s life. I can assure you of this from personal experience. When the leisure espoused includes nary a game of sport or hunting, and includes little to no gambling, you can understand the incommensurable impasse a fly-over humanities major finds himself in defending their life choices. The great Walker Percy on more than one occasion relates that it was easier to say to townsfolk in Louisiana that he did “nothing” rather than explain that he wrote for a living. My interest is drilling into a fundamental misunderstanding of leisure by its supposed practitioners and most fervent devotees. Too often the allure of the quietude and unsegmented hours that must be allotted for the practice …

Work: A Four-Letter Word?

There is a certain ambiguity in Scripture about the meaning and value of labor, and I am aware of no clear and positive statement on the subject by the Church. Rerum novarum and Quadragesima anno just don’t really approach the subject, and especially not from a more modern scriptural viewpoint. What I have to suggest on this topic hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of what the idea of work might be for a Catholic, but I do think it might open up some avenues for thought. Genesis has God laboring for six days and then resting (Gen 2:1–4), although this does not seem to mean that labor is tiring even for God; it seems rather to show him as a model for our freedom on the Sabbath day, a gift God gives us by his example. Genesis 3:17–19, on the other hand, takes the position that labor is indeed a curse, at least in the way that Adam and Eve would have to do it after the Fall. Job takes a very negative view of …

Prayer Begins in Pointlessness and Stupidity

A friend of mine, a young mother, recently wrote me to ask me a question about prayer. Are not most of our prayers stupid and pointless? She recounted how she had locked her keys and children in the car, and found herself praying, “God, please may my husband be able come quickly so I can take care of the screaming baby.” But of course he did not come any quicker than the car and speed of traffic and nature of mobile bodies etc. determined. So why ask God about this at all? Is this not just useless chatter? How should one respond to such a question? Certainly, I think that there can be a great deal of stupidity in prayer. Prayer begins in pointlessness and stupidity, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). But prayer is a path, the stupidity and pointlessness can be a step toward a deeper kind of prayer.  Aquinas compares asking things of other human beings and praying to God (Compendium of Theology II,2). When we …

The Unimaginable

“No one has ever seen God,” the Prologue to John’s Gospel concludes, and the reverberations of that statement are registered in 1 John 4:20. For though the epistle opens with the assertion about God incarnate being heard, seen and touched (1 John 1:1), Christian life is pitched in realms where the seen and the unseen intersect. And even though the relationship with Christ is the basis for any Christian identification, Christians live (unlike those first witnesses to the historical Jesus) in the modulations of presence and absence announced by the angels outside the empty tomb: “He is not here” (Matt 28:6). So any scriptural pronouncements about the nature of the material revelation of God in Jesus Christ are stippled with invisibility. They are mediated, interpreted, and wrestled with through texts. Jesus Christ, as the historical revelation of God, is available only in modes in which visibility and invisibility cohere amidst the drifting clouds of unknowing. In the scriptures and the sacraments (most significantly, the Eucharist) we treat what we don’t fully understand and cannot grasp. …

A Prayer for the Rich?

David Bentley Hart has done us a great service by sharing his expertise as a biblical scholar in his informative background essay on debt structures in human and biblical history, “A Prayer for the Poor.” In it he establishes a context that Christ’s original hearers would have been steeped in, but which, as he points out, is too easily missed by over-spiritualized readings of the Gospels. Expounding on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which he persuasively argues are rooted in remarkably concrete needs, Hart lambastes common interpretations that would cushion the conscience by reducing this most famous Christian prayer to a set of “vague, ethereal, painless pieties.” Something is indeed wrong if one can recite such a prayer while perpetuating injustice against the needy with no sense of discomfort or disconnect. Much as we need such a reminder against spiritualizing away the prayer’s meaning, a problem arises when Hart at times veers into the opposite reductionism toward the purely material. Perhaps this material reduction is based on translation principles that assume a singular, static …

It’s More Effective to Attract Than to Simply Chastise

My children recently watched a film with me on St. Philip Neri and they were practically spellbound. “He’s really funny,” one of them commented. “I like that guy,” said another. In a way that books about or even the sayings of Philip Neri can’t quite get, the film made an attempt at presenting the personality of the saint. Of course, watching him on screen is not at all the same as being in his presence, and I for one have come to wonder at what it would have been like to be near to him on the streets of Rome in the mid 16th century. From all accounts, Philip Neri’s personality was unrepeatable. There is something of the man himself that just seems to evade comprehension. Even a film as wonderful as the one we watched—Preferisco Il Paradiso (I Prefer Heaven)—relies on the history of Neri’s effects that only points to but does not fully deliver the personality of that singular man. That personality made crowds flock to him, young people entrust themselves to him, grown …