All posts tagged: prayer

Hitting the Lenten Reset Button

It’s hard to believe, but there are less than two weeks left of this Lenten season. I don’t know about you, but this Lent has been a struggle for me. It seems like every which way I turn, there’s something luring me to indulge instead of fast (I had a stressful day and I want to eat my feelings!), tempting me to slack off instead of pray (It’s so late/early and I’m so tired!), or enticing me to spend money on myself instead of give to those in need (I’ve done really well with fasting and prayer—I deserve to treat myself!). There is something hard-wired within human beings that runs away from the difficult and retreats into the comfortable familiar. There is also something equally innate that is all-too-eager to excuse one’s own failures, to overlook one’s own flaws (something that, oddly enough, seems all-too-eager to condemn the failures and flaws of others). We are masters of rationalization and justification, and Lent—the Church’s annual invitation (challenge) to look at ourselves with an honest eye—somehow turns …

5 Lenten Practices that Aren’t Giving Up Chocolate

With Ash Wednesday now come and gone, Catholics everywhere embark on their journey of Lenten disciplines. Lenten penitence can quickly begin to feel rote. While there is still great spiritual benefit in denying ourselves dessert or Netflix, sometimes we seek a more thoughtful or creative immersion into the three great practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Sometimes our imaginations need a jolt from the routine to help our bodies and soul enter into the Lenten spirit of preparation. Liturgically, baptized Christians undertake Lenten disciplines in preparation for the renewal of baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil. Christians enter Lent in order to re-enter our sacramental participation in the Paschal Mystery of salvation. Ideally, Lenten disciplines will baptize our imaginations, allowing us to approach the world with fresh eyes and refreshed charity. For anyone seeking different ways to practice Lent this year, here are five ideas that may provide a new approach to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. 1. Forgo music. Several friends have practiced variations on this theme. If you have a morning commute (by car, …

An image of Jesus Christ in blue and gold. He holds the Scriptures in his hands.

Lectio Divina with Middle Schoolers

Lectio Divina, or praying with Scripture, is one of my favorite forms of prayer. Taking time to read a passage of the Bible, meditate on what it might be saying for my own life, and responding in prayer to God has been an enjoyable and fruitful part of my spiritual practice since I was introduced to Lectio in high school. Perhaps because of the way I was taught to pray Lectio Divina, I have always been very quick to latch onto one word or phrase in the passage. Being taught how to meditate on Scripture as a high school student, this was a very helpful way to direct my thoughts and truly have a personal interaction with the text. Focusing on one word or phrase allowed me to make the passage personal, instead of just thinking about the most common interpretation. So, naturally, I emphasize this a lot while leading Lectio Divina in my classroom (at the start of class every Monday). When we get to the slide for step 2, “Meditate,” I read or …

Two Principles for Forming Catechists

At the beginning of Notre Dame’s academic year, I accompany seventy Notre Dame students as they prepare to serve as catechists in South Bend area parishes. Over the course of the year, these catechists will spend countless hours planning lessons and teaching the Catholic faith to students ranging in age from kindergarten through high school. Together, we carry out the work of the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, one of the ways that the Institute for Church Life renews the catechetical imagination of the Catholic Church. Most of my work consists of forming these students through workshops, preparing them to take over a classroom of their own. It is my goal to expand and stretch their imaginations, sharing principles that invite them to consider not only what it means to be a catechist, but also what catechesis might say about living as a faithful disciple in the world. I wish to share two of those principles here. Good catechesis creates space for prayerful encounters with God’s Word. Catechesis stands apart from other “academic” subjects in that, …

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 …

Catechetical Spirituality: Sharing the Fruit of Contemplation

When we think of our title as catechists, we usually only consider it to be the name of the volunteer work that we do one or two nights a week at our parish. The rest of the week, we live out our vocations in our married lives, families, careers, and hobbies. However, what would it take for us to see ourselves as being called to be catechists? That, as lay catechetical ministers, our volunteer work with children and adults at our parish is also a vocation? Even though our main ministry as catechists may take place only once or twice a week, the call to be a catechist is something we are challenged to live out every single day of our life, even when we are not in a classroom with our students. Pope Francis echoes this important sentiment in his address to catechists in 2013: Catechesis is a vocation: ‘being’ a catechist, this is the vocation, not ‘working’ as a catechist. Be careful: I have not said to do the work of a catechist, …

Is ‘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 Heart to Heart

The Baltimore Catechism (1891) says, “What is prayer? Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God” (§1099). I believe that these words, taken by themselves, are the heart and soul of what prayer is, but since prayer can take many forms we might look at two of the ways that people pray. Among the many forms of prayer are such practices as formalized prayers, for example: the Rosary, a novena, the Divine Office, or the holy Eucharist. These are all good in different circumstances and for different people. The fact is, though, that they are all predetermined in terms of the words and the sequence of ideas. Their value comes both from the fact that the one who prays is faithful to actually doing the prayer and from the formation that the repetition of these prayers works on the one who prays. Such prayers basically praise God and tell him what we want him to do for us, while the Baltimore Catechism points more to a simple opening of our minds …

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. …

From Fear to Love: Preaching in these Troubling Times

“Are the shootings and the wars going to happen here, Mom?” The little girl asked her mother after hearing yet another violent news story. Nice, Paris, Turkey, Syria, Dallas, Minneapolis . . . and, unfortunately, the list goes on of places suffering the complexity and heartbreak of eruptions of often unpredictable violence. Where next? We may wonder, along with the little girl, when and how terror and violence will arrive even closer to where we live. Often, a first response to violence is fear. Sometimes fear leads to a desire for revenge, to building barriers, or even to a violent lashing out against the ones who have instilled the fear in the first place. Christian preaching has something different to say to the violence that exists near and far in the world. The Christian response to violence is rooted in the bedrock of our faith and the substance of all authentic Christian preaching—the Paschal Mystery. Jesus saw in his time at least as much violence and death as we see today, and we know that …