Category Archives: Prayer

Praying Through Distractions to Stillness of Heart

Sometimes people tell me, a little apologetically, that they felt distracted at Mass, to which I respond, of course you are and so am I sometimes! However, I use even distractions to call me to the Mass. For example: when I hear the door opening during the Mass it distracts me; however I pray through the distraction and thank the Lord another person comes to worship. When I hear the crying of a child I pray that this child will be reared to love the Holy Mass and be a disciple. When someone wanders in and is somewhat nonchalant in his or her attitude, I pray that this might be the moment that they will respond with deeper devotion to the Lord who is searching for them, in the depth of their heart. Even distractions that are inevitable can be invitations to pay closer attention to what is going on at the altar.

All the rustlings and noises and so forth teach me an important aspect of the Augustine doctrine of the Totus Christus:  the whole Christ, head and members. Christ is alive in the hearts of a living humanity coughing and sneezing and crying and bumping around.  He has gathered a mass of humanity in his presence to invite them to divine communion in the Sacrament of the altar.

If you find yourself distracted during Mass, what can you do? If the distraction is someone else, pray for that person. If the distraction is your wandering thoughts, try to turn your attention to the beautiful words of the Mass. If you can’t concentrate on the words, then you can look at the beautiful surroundings and thank God that he gave us the saints of the ages, depicted in paint, statues, and stained glass. If we can’t think high uplifted thoughts then we can simply rest in the heart of Christ, thankful that he comes to us in the Sacrament of the altar.

There is a little book called Meditations Before Mass, by Msgr. Romano Guardini, in which he speaks of stillness and distractions. He says “Men live, and living things move; a forced outward conformity is no better than restlessness. Nevertheless, stillness is still, and it comes only if seriously desired.” So we pray through the inevitable distractions in order to cultivate within our soul the stillness Romano speaks of. “We must learn and practice the art of constructing spiritual cathedrals,” he says, and “Something of eternity is deep within us… this seed of eternity is within me, and I can count on its support.” Saint Frances de Sales also speaks of gently leading ourselves back, rather than becoming impatient with ourselves.

We pray that stillness be cultivated within our soul as we witness the awesome sacrifice of the Mass, and thus enter into the heart of Christ.

Growing Closer to God, Every Day

Our Bishop has challenged us to walk with him for the next five years on the path to set the foundation for the New Evangelization. There is no new Gospel, rather the gospel must be brought to bear in a new cultural context that presents us with many challenges.

Fortunately, Catholicism gives us an enormous variety of tools for this. They say never underestimate the impact of simple gestures through which we can express our personal relationship with Jesus. So here are just a few of the many, many little things that we can do in our everyday lives, to grow closer to Jesus and deeper into the Church.

  • Make the Sign of the Cross.
  • How about a family Rosary?
  • Read the bible at least 10 minutes a day. That is Lectio Divina; and Saint Jerome says he who is ignorant of the scriptures is ignorant of Christ.
  • Do you have a crucifix in your home in a prominent place? A statue or picture of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart or Saint Joseph? Religious statues and pictures are a daily reminder we are part of the family of God.
  • Do you have a catechism so we can reference the beliefs of the Catholic Church? If you talk with a co-worker about Catholicism and realize you are on a bit of shaky ground on some point, look up that point in the Catechism and next time you will know.
  • After each meal pray for the Holy Souls simply, by saying “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
  • Use holy cards as bookmarkers.
  • Wear a medal and crucifix around your neck to witness to whom you belong: I belong to the Lord Jesus!
  • Say “God bless” you to people.
  • How about a morning offering on the mirror of the bathroom so we can say it each morning?
  • Do we subscribe to good Catholic literature or seek good websites? Do we use technology to deepen our relationship with Jesus? If you have a “smartphone” or if you use the Internet you can get the Bible, the Catechism, lots of prayers and good reading on line without buying a lot of books.

All these riches of the Church are ours, and we can put them to use in our everyday lives, to keep our minds fixed on Heaven and our hearts resting in Jesus, through whom we can grow in a relationship with the living God, in charity.

Msgr. Mark Lane’s blog has two excellent posts on the Baptism of Jesus: http://neweyesonart.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/two-baptisms-and-their-meanings-ravenna/ and http://neweyesonart.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/baptism-of-the-lord/ .

One of God’s Greatest Gifts

Pope Francis has said, “The cross of Christ is an invitation for us to fall in love with him and to then reach out and help our neighbors.” The Lord is with us! How do we develop a personal relationship with him? Through deeper reverence for the sacrament of the altar. Availing ourselves of confession. But something available to us at all times and places is prayer.

Prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. But how many people believe they are not “good at it?” Perhaps they are making it too complicated. The Catechism says “Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.” [CCC, 2565].

Do we have to go to church and compose ourselves perfectly, shutting out all else, to pray? Not at all. Saint John Chrysostom says, “For we do not only have to withdraw to pray, and suddenly turn our minds towards God. No, even while we are busy among the needy, either with the care of the poor or with other concerns, or useful good works – into their very midst we should also bring our desire for and remembrance of God, so that seasoned, as it were, with the love of God they may provide a most acceptable offering for the Lord of all men.”

Maximus of Turin, in the 5th century, said, “Christ wants our every act to be carried out in his own presence as companion and witness, and for this reason: that his personal inspiration may influence us for good, while his constant partnership may cause us to refrain from evil.” He also charmingly recommends: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, imitate the tiniest birds by giving thanks to the Creator in the early morning and at evening.”

But what if we don’t feel anything at all when we pray? Saint Therèse says: “Sometimes when my mind is in such aridity that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me with God, I very slowly recite an “Our Father” and then the angelic salutation [“Hail Mary, full of grace, etc.]” Many people find the Rosary to be a good way to pray.

We also have the Psalms, a wonderful prayer book. Finally, if we feel helpless to make any sort of prayer at all, we can remember that Jesus is at the right hand of God, and he is praying, for us.

The Hidden Life

We just celebrated the birth of Jesus with liturgy that is beautiful and festive. Perhaps we celebrated with friends at Christmas parties. But Jesus came into the world in Bethlehem hidden and unnoticed by most, and he lived most of his life in Nazareth at home, with his mother and foster father, very quietly.

“Jesus’ obedience to his mother and legal father fulfills the fourth commandment perfectly and was the temporal image of his filial obedience to his Father in heaven. The everyday obedience of Jesus to Joseph and Mary both announced and anticipated the obedience of Holy Thursday: “Not my will…” The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of his hidden life was already inaugurating his work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed…. The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life…” (Catechism, 532-3)

In some ways it seems that God is not only hidden, but hidden in plain sight. Why does God hide himself? Besides the obvious answer that we could not live if his glory were suddenly and completely revealed to us, here are some speculations.

Maybe it is a chance for us to prove our love. Maybe our wounded condition leaves us disheartened, so when we do take enough courage, or rather receive from Christ enough courage, to continue or begin looking for him, to inquire into his hidden ways, then this exercise of our courage strengthens us, and gives us greater capacity to receive his love.

His hiddenness does a great thing for us: it makes us at least look outside of our self-involvement, to look for him. This is a small first step to charity. One cannot love another if one is entirely focused oneself.

Further, having to make an effort to search out the things of God also brings home that while God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, he is Other and we should not forget that difference. We need to love God, but also to worship him.

Perhaps God enjoys watching us discover him. We enjoy giving gifts and we enjoy watching people open and discover the gifts we have given them. Maybe God takes delight in our discovering him, because that leads to our loving him and our fellow human beings more.

If our lives seem hidden, that may be a good thing. Paul says “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:3-4)  To be willing to be hidden with Christ, and to search out the hidden things of God as we go about our ordinary lives, is possible and indeed is blessed.