Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Book Review: The Rosary Workout

Friday, January 7th, 2011

The Rosary Workout
by Peggy Bowes
Bezalel Books, 2010

A former member of the Air Force, Peggy Bowes is a personal trainer, Spinning instructor and lifestyle and weight management consultant. In writing “The Rosary Workout,” she sought to create “a plan that would help a person improve both physically and spiritually . . . an integrated approach to taking care of the body and soul.” It is designed for people at all levels of physical and spiritual fitness and can be easily adapted to whatever stage one finds oneself.

Many people say the rosary while walking or jogging, but Bowes has truly developed a systematic workout plan incorporating both prayer and exercise. There are nine levels of progression in “The Rosary Workout,” each named after one of the nine choirs of angels. “Each level is four weeks long and presents a different set of goals for both physical and spiritual fitness.”

Bowes acknowledges that many people may never progress beyond the beginner levels in the fitness component (the first three levels), but we should all continue progressing on the spiritual level. She offers many helpful suggestions for maintaining discipline in both exercise and prayer. Perhaps the most important “helpful hint” is to ask for divine assistance in doing so. Another good suggestion is to keep a journal of both your physical and spiritual progress.

“The Rosary Workout” is easy to understand and offers much encouragement. If you are an Olympic-level athlete who prays three hours a day, you probably don’t need this book. Everyone else will find benefit in it.

Believe in Miracles

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

I’m not sure at what exact age it happened, but at some point my Christmas wish list changed from things that fit under the Christmas tree to less tangible things that don’t come in boxes.

I wish for healing for friends and family members who are suffering, either physically or emotionally. I wish for peace among family members and in the world at large. I wish for wisdom in parenting my children. I wish for belief when I am burdened with doubt. The list goes on. Perhaps you have one of your own?

Unlike my children, who are eagerly awaiting (early!) Christmas morning to open their presents, I know that most likely my wish list won’t magically be fulfilled simply because the calendar states it is December 25th. Yet, still, I hope. I do believe in miracles. I’ve seen them happen.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Hoping in the face of unbeatable odds? Think of the Jewish people who waited and waited for a Messiah. At times, it must have seemed that the Savior would never come. And when He did come? He came in a way they never expected – as a poor baby born in a stable.

He would go on to counter all of their expectations. They expected a military leader, someone to conquer the world for them. What they got was a carpenter who would preach the need for love and forgiveness and who would ultimately die on a cross as a criminal. How could they continue to hope in the face of all that? Wasn’t it all just some cruel joke? Many stopped hoping. Who could blame them?

Yet, for the select few that held on to their hope, their faith was richly rewarded. It was the ultimate surprise ending. The unthinkable happened. Death was conquered!

We celebrate Christmas because of Easter. For those of us who have heard both the Christmas and Easter stories over and over again, they may have lost some of their shock value. This Christmas, try to listen to the Gospel with fresh ears. The Savior of us all, the Son of God, came to earth as a baby in the humblest of circumstances. Angels announced his birth. Both shepherds and kings bowed before him.

Christmas is a miracle of the greatest degree. God still works miracles today. Believe that they can happen. I hope and pray that your Christmas wishes come true.

Book Review: “A Time to Plant”

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt
by Kyle Kramer
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

I admit it. When I received a review copy of “A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt,” I cringed. A book about back-to-basics living? No, thank you.

In my defense, I do try to be a reasonably responsible steward of the earth. I recycle almost everything, try to limit consumption, give things away rather than put them in the trash, etc, but no one would ever accuse me of being earthy-crunchy. I live in a city. If my family was dependent on my gardening abilities for survival, we would have died a long time ago. Being forced to go camping is my idea of a nightmare. Yet, even with all that working against it, “A Time to Plant” was still well-worth reading.

In 1999, Kyle Kramer, who is the director of lay degree programs at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, “bought a rough patch of neglected ground in a rural corner of southwestern Indiana. . . and committed [himself] to its healing and care.” In the past decade, amid myriad ups and downs, he has honored that commitment. In “A Time to Plant,” he shares the tale of his call to live off the land as well as his more personal story of his spiritual wanderings which finally led him to the Catholic Church and finding the extremely understanding woman who is now his wife and the mother of their three children.

Kramer is an honest man. He tells of his failures as well as of his successes. He shares his darkest hour which came while he was attempting to build a house for his wife and new twin daughters, who were at that time living in a pole-barn apartment. “It was five degrees in the unheated shell of the house as I worked by battery-powered headlamp down in the dark basement, my feet blocks of ice; my ungloved, unfeeling fingers fumbling to measure, cut, and solder copper pipe . . .I sat down on an overturned five-gallon bucket, rocking back and forth in a near catatonic struggle to remember even one good reason why I had taken on this gargantuan, impossible project. . . My prayer was a simple and desperate cry for divine help.” God heard his prayer and slowly, things did begin to improve. His marriage survived and the house was eventually completed.

Those who dream of living a life close to the earth will love this book, although Kramer is the first one to acknowledge that there is nothing simple about living a simple life. His idealistic dreams didn’t get fulfilled quite the way he thought they would be. At times, he grows restless and questions this commitment to one place. Yet, overall, he lives with hope and has the connection to the land he always wanted. He and his family are an inspiration.

For those less agriculturally inclined, “A Time to Plant” offers a great deal of wisdom on vocations and their evolution, as well as what it means to develop a true home. It is a very well-written and thought-provoking book.

Hunger for the Eucharist

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

For as long as I have had the honor of receiving communion, the rule has been to fast for one hour before reception. The days of fasting from midnight are real to me only in light of my parents’ memories. I am thankful that the rule was changed. It was a necessity in light of the many times of day that Masses are offered today. Yet, I do find that on the days when I go to early morning Mass and have not eaten breakfast beforehand, my appreciation of the Sacrament is different. At that moment in time, the Eucharist satisfies both my spiritual and physical hunger.

In The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith, Msgr. Peter Vaghi discusses how the Eucharist was designed to feed both our bodies and our souls. He points out how the only miracle that is told in all four Gospel accounts is the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It is “surely an image of the Eucharistic bread. ‘for the Jewish feast of the Passover was near.’ Even the language in John 6:11 recalls the institution of the Eucharist – ‘Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks [eucharistein] and passed them around.’” Jesus fed the multitude in body and in spirit.

He continues to do so today. The Eucharist is the gift of Jesus himself. It is both physical and spiritual food. While the appreciation of physical satisfaction may only occur when we go to Mass hungry, we are always in need of spiritual food.

What does it mean to be spiritually hungry? How does the Eucharist satisfy that desire? Msgr. Vaghi states that Jesus addresses “the same kind of hunger in us that he did in the crowds of people assembled in John 6, a hunger for belonging, a hunger for healing and reconciliation, a hunger for growth in holiness. . . Yes, Jesus nourishes us, that deep hunger for God, a deep hunger satisfied by the Eucharist, the bread of life, the source of our life, this sacrament of love.”

I know in my own life that if I only go to Mass and receive the Eucharist once a week, I find it much harder to get through the week than if I am able to go at least one extra time. The Eucharist gives me a strength and a peace that I cannot get through any other means. Yes, I can pray (and I do!) and it helps tremendously. I can go to adoration and sit in the presence of Jesus and that offers much grace as well. Still, nothing is like receiving the Eucharist itself.

I know I don’t fully understand the mystery of the Eucharist, but I believe that Jesus is truly there, that He comes into each of our hearts and our bodies. He does this because He loves us and wants to offer the very gift of Himself to us. He knew that life is hard. He knew we would be hungry – that we would need food for the journey. The Eucharist is our food. It strengthens us, body and soul.

Being Persistent in Prayer

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

If we are told “No” or ignored repeatedly, most of us will eventually give up. If we are tenacious, we might try a different route to obtain what we are looking for. Otherwise, we might simply curl up in a corner and cry. The second reading and the Gospel this week both emphasize the importance of persistence, especially in prayer. The second letter of Timothy, chapter four, verse two states “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” In the Gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus tells a parable about a judge and a widow. This is a judge that just doesn’t care. He is simply putting in his time; he answers to no one. Yet, he has a problem. There is a widow that won’t leave him alone. She is always in his face, repeatedly asking him to render the judgment that she wants. Finally, he gives in, if only to get rid of her and get some peace. Jesus then goes on to state “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?”

The obvious answer to that question should be “no.” God will not be slow to answer them. However, anyone who has spent some time in prayer knows that slow in God’s world is not the same as slow in ours. While swift miracles sometimes happen, God frequently does not answer our prayers in the way we would like or on the time table we would prefer. We think we know best. God has a different idea. If He is making us wait, or taking us on a different path than the one we would like to be walking, there is a reason for it. In time, perhaps in the next life if not in this one, it will all make sense. The only prayer that is always truly answered is the one from the Lord’s prayer: “Thy will be done.”

Yet, we are still called to be persistent in prayer, especially in those times when the answers are not clear or forthcoming. This is a time of waiting on God. Those are the times when we still need to pray. We cannot become frustrated and stop praying, believing that God doesn’t care or that He isn’t paying attention. God always cares about what troubles us, even when we don’t feel that way. These are the times when our faith is tested, and paradoxically, strengthened.

Waiting is hard. Being persistent in prayer is difficult. It can definitely make you want to curl up and cry. It is perfectly normal to do so. However, even in those times of darkness and uncertainty, we need to be like that widow and keep asking for help. The prayers help, even when it seems nothing is happening. They help give us acceptance and courage and the will to keep going. Be persistent in prayer and trust that God is right there with you in the waiting. When the time is right, He will answer.

A Senior’s Prayer

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

I came across this prayer in a little book of prayers that came in the mail today from the The Central Association of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia, PA.

A Senior’s Prayer

Come, Virgin Mary, come and stay with me, for my day is far spent. Come when I am lonely and my spirit cries out for sympathy as a child cries out in the dark. Come, when my soul is troubled and dismayed, and the sins of my past rise up against me. But most of all, in my dying hour, ask the Lord Jesus to come and forgive me before I am called to my final home. Amen.

St Teresa of Avila Interior Castle

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

October 15th is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila. A Carmelite nun living in the 1500s, one of her most famous works is “Interior Castle” (known as “The Mansions” in her native Spain) which she wrote at the request of her confessor. A mystic who communed intimately with God, she had experienced a vision of “a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illuming and beautifying them all. . . outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark, and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures.” This castle became Teresa’s metaphor for the soul. Teresa truly believed that anyone who knew what treasures lay in the center of this castle would never want to sin because sin mires the soul in “misery and filth.” “Interior Castle” explores each of the seven mansions in great detail. Her intended audience was the sisters who made up her cloistered religious community, however her insights offer much to the world at large.

Teresa wrote reluctantly and felt that she had little to offer that had not already been said. She also emphasized that her description and her path to the center of this castle was not the only one. She believed that “Our Lord will be granting me a great favour if a single one of these nuns should find that my words help her to praise Him a little better.” She focuses on the beauty of the soul and laments that we spend so much attention on our physical body and so little on the divine spark that is within.

Teresa focuses on gaining self-knowledge, but not in the way we in the 21st century interpret that term. For her, self-knowledge means coming to know the soul within. It means understanding our dependence on God and gaining humility by acknowledging that we are nothing without Him. The route to self-knowledge and entry into the interior castle comes through prayer and meditation. As one progresses through the mansions, one comes to know and long for God more and more and to reject the world and its attractions. Teresa encourages the beginner in prayer “to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conforming with the will of God.” She also offers encouragement: “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good.” Teresa also makes the point that prayer leads to action rooted in love. “True perfection consists in the love of God and of our neighbor, and the more nearly perfect is our observance of these two commandments, the nearer to perfection we shall be.”

As one makes her way ever deeper into the heart of the castle, increased spiritual consolations and trials become par for the course. Many (perhaps even most) do not reach the most inner mansions in this lifetime. Teresa is quick to point out, however, that “the Lord gives when He wills and as He wills and to whom He wills, and as the gifts are His own, this is doing no injustice to anyone.” Indeed she cautions her readers to never believe that they deserve any gift that the Lord bestows upon them, nor should we set out to obtain any consolations or mystical experiences because “the most essential thing is that we should love God without any motive of self-interest.”

Teresa was truly granted amazing gifts of insight and experience from God. While we may not fully share in her experience, “Interior Castle” offers a unique portrait of our souls and invites us into a deeper relationship with God.

Book Review: Paths to Prayer

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Paths to Prayer: A Field Guide to Ten Catholic Traditions

by Pat Fosarelli
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Have you ever heard someone speak of “Augustian spirituality” or “Ignatian Spirituality” or “Dominican spirituality” and not been sure exactly what he was talking about? What does it mean to speak about different schools of spiritual thought? If these are questions you would like to know the answer to, then “Paths to Prayer: A Field Guide to Ten Catholic Traditions” is the perfect book for you. Dr. Pat Fosarelli, a teacher at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, has written a concise, informative guide to ten major Catholic spiritual traditions.

Augustinian, Benedictine, Cistercian, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Ignatian, Salesian, Lay, and Mystical spirituality are all explored. Fosarelli offers a historical background to each movement and the saints that inspired it. She then goes on to explain its key features. Lastly, she offers well-known examples of persons who have made this spirituality their own, and references for learning more. Her section on “Lay Spirituality” is particularly interesting. Rooted in the teachings of Vatican II, it emphasizes the role lay persons are called to play in the spiritual life of the Church.

While certainly not meant to be an exhaustive study of any of these traditions, “Paths to Prayer” does provide a wealth of information. As Fosarelli states, “This is a book that is meant to get readers started, so that, having a better understanding of some of the major Catholic spiritual traditions, readers can then move on to traditions they might like to explore.” She has succeeded admirably in that aim.

“Paths to Prayer” is for anyone seeking a general overview of different traditions of Catholic spiritual thought. It would also be incredibly useful in a college course on spirituality or for use by a Catholic book club.

Setting Realistic Goals

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

I am a very task oriented person. I know not everyone shares my joy in making to-do lists and then crossing things off of them once they are accomplished, but for me this is one of the simple pleasures in life. Certainly, I wish that there weren’t quite so many things on the to-do lists to start with, but the pure bliss of getting to make big lines through them once they are done almost makes up for it. Truthfully, most of the things on my to-do lists are mundane. Things like make a doctor’s appointment, take the car in for service, renew a prescription, do the laundry, and bag the trash. I keep a separate work-related one so that when I take out my computer, I know what I need to focus on. Thankfully, I’m no longer in the sleep-deprived haze of early motherhood when I actually had to write “start the dishwasher” on my to-do list or else it wouldn’t get done. Still, my memory is not good and I have too many things to juggle. Without the lists, way too many things would simply drift away, never to be thought of again.

What do to-do lists have to do with setting goals? To-do lists are made up of small doable tasks. They are action items. Do the thing and you get to scratch it off the list. It may go back on the list tomorrow, but for this day the mission has been accomplished. When people make goals (myself included), it is easy to think big. This is good. It is wonderful to dream. This is where many people get stuck. They can see where they want to be and they can see where they are now. What they don’t know is how to get there. It’s easy to get discouraged – to look at the dream and to throw in the towel. It is so far away. How could I ever get there? What’s the point? At these moments, it is important to note that the road from point A to point B is not one giant step. It is made up of smaller steps, actions that can be placed on a to-do list and accomplished one day at a time.

For example, my Bible study friends and I were all talking about how we would like to rid our homes of clutter. This is a big job. One look around my house (or my friends’ houses) and it would be easy to give up. However, we have started a plan. One of my friends sends out a Facebook message to each of us with our task for the day. These tasks are supposed to take about fifteen minutes a day. That’s doable. It’s currently an item on my actual to-do list – “Clean 15 minutes.” When it is done for that day, it is crossed off. I feel like I have accomplished my goal for the day and my house is slowly getting cleaner. Will my house ever be entirely clutter-free? Probably not, but I will be a lot closer than if I had done nothing.

This process can be applied to almost everything – even our spiritual lives. In this case, the goal is heaven. That’s a big goal. We can take a look at our lives and easily get discouraged. However, we don’t need to look at the rest of our lives in one fell swoop. We only need to worry about today. What are some things we can add to our daily to-do list to help us make spiritual progress? Have you always wanted to read the Bible, but can never seem to squeeze it in? Perhaps you could put “read Bible for 5 minutes” on your to-do list. Everyone has five minutes. Start small. You can always add to it. Maybe you have always wanted to say the rosary, but never seem to get to it. Start with one decade. Go ahead – put “say one decade of the rosary” on your to-do list. Perhaps you would like to do more to help the poor? On the to-do list could be “pick out 5 food items to donate to a local food pantry” or “Take three items out of closet that no longer fit and donate them.” These are small things, yes. They won’t change the world, but they will be a start. As one becomes accustomed to doing these things regularly, it will be easier to add other things on. You will find you have more time for prayer and spiritual reading. You will find more ways to help the poor. Make small goals that lead to bigger ones. Start walking the road. If you miss a day, start again the next. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Prayer to St. Faustina

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

2010 is the 10th Anniversary of the Canonization of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who was chosen by God to help promote the importance of Divine Mercy. Her feast day is October 5th.

Prayer to St. Faustina

Saint Faustina,

You told us that you mission
would continue after your death
and that you would not forget us.

Our Lord also granted you a great privilege
telling you to “distribute graces as you will,
to whom you will, and when you will.”

“Relying on this, we ask your
intercession for our graces we need,
especially for our particular intentions.

Help us, above all, to trust in Jesus
as you did and thus glorify His mercy
every moment of our lives.