All posts tagged: prayer

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 …

Answering Unanswered Prayers

Intercessory prayer is a stumbling block for many people. We ask God for the healing of a friend and hear only silence. Why does it seem that God does not answer our prayers? Abraham’s encounter with God in Genesis will certainly trouble these seekers. As God prepares to enact divine justice upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham persistently intercedes for the cities before God. His dialogue saves the city (at least for a time) for the sake of the just. Yet, my prayer with God is often less efficacious than Abraham’s. I pray for the safety of the world, only to see violence unfold in every corner of the globe. I pray for the health of my friends and family, only to see them succumb to cancer. Am I naïve? Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Luke that prayer is less about bargaining, getting our way, and more about learning to see the world through God’s eyes. Jesus teaches his disciples a shorter version of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. …

The Silent Prayer of the Humble Heart

The Catechism begins its discussion of prayer with a flat assertion: “Humility is the foundation of prayer” (§2559). Many people resist the term “humility,” either because they mistake it for humiliation, or they consider humility a sign of weakness, or—to borrow a cliché much in use today—a symptom of low self-esteem. Humility, however, is that virtue by which, as St. Thomas Aquinas rightly says, we recognize the correct relationship between a person and God. Let us, for a moment, consider a person who has the explicit intention to pray. Think of that instant when, before even articulating words or thoughts, this person kneels down or sits in a church or stands quietly in a garden with the desire to communicate with God. What does that gesture mean? At a minimum it signifies that the person desires to address an Other. In that simple gesture, the person also indicates a longing to surrender his or her self-sufficiency to that Other. It is in that very act of self-surrender that humility is made manifest. Because by calling …

We Do Not Bear Our Crosses Alone: Full of Grace

I stood in the Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker in O’Neill Hall—my home for the four years I spent as a Notre Dame undergrad—and stared at the small wooden statues depicting the Stations of the Cross that hung on the wall. Usually when someone mentions Stations of the Cross, my mind immediately returns to Lenten Friday afternoons at St. Joseph Elementary School where the cycle of standing, genuflecting, listening, and reading felt like it went on for hours on end. This experience at Stations, though, was quite different. A lot weighed heavily upon me—academic stresses, concerns with being a Resident Assistant, trying to help friends through changes in their lives, and the uncertainty that came with graduation. While I now can pinpoint some of the causes of these feelings of stress, at the time I could not, and so I tried to dismiss my feelings and to convince myself that I was merely creating a drama in my own mind. And yet, while I recognized that these were natural things for a college student …

Dealing with Distractions in Prayer

I don’t think that I’m wrong to say that we wish both to pray and to feel ourselves to be in prayer but that we blame “distractions” for not allowing us to achieve one or both of these aims. I do believe, however, that we are rather mistaken, in various ways, about what these “distractions” are and what they could mean to us. It might just be that distractions are far from being completely negative. I suppose it is obvious that we do no really serious prayer in the middle of a committee meeting, or when we are helping kids with their homework, or doing anything whatever that needs our full attention and thought. While that is not entirely true, for reasons and in ways that I won’t go into here, on the whole we do at least need to ground our prayer in a habitual time and situation when we can block out those exterior concerns and really focus only on being completely and intimately open to the most important Persons in our lives. …

Learning to Say Help

My toddler son has no problem asking for help. He wants up in a seat, “Help!” He is having a problem manipulating an IPad, “Help!” He wants a snack, “Help!” Today, he sang a song entirely consisting of the word, “Help!” This kind of radical openness to one’s neediness, one’s incompleteness, one’s dependency upon God is at the heart of the Gospel. Christianity is learning to say thank you, to see the entirety of our lives as gifts. Perhaps, this language of “Help” might actually enable us to understand something about Lent too. Lent is not about success. It is not about becoming the best version of ourselves. It is not developing self-control that will enable us to be successful in other areas of life. Rather, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is the way that we Christians give up on the project of self-creation, self-control, self-improvement. It’s the way that we cry out to God through embodied practice that we need help. We fast as a way of recognizing the original gift of the created order; …