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Close Encounters

23 Feb

burning bushIn this Sunday’s first reading, we encounter one of the most famous passages in the Old Testament. Moses is wandering through the desert tending his flock of sheep, faithful to his duty, when he encounters the Living God made present to him through the burning bush. This encounter with God changed him and gave him the confidence he needed to fulfill the mission God had for him.

Many of us feel like we are wandering through the desert of our family life, faithfully doing our duty of tending our own little “sheep.” It is easy to get distracted in the midst of cleaning the house, making dinner, getting kids to do their homework, getting to activities on time, or meeting deadlines at work. If we are not mindful, we may miss God’s attempts to encounter us.

The Church has always considered the image of the burning bush as an icon or representation of what happens to us in prayer: We are ignited with the flame of God’s love, and yet we are not consumed.

As we are now deep in the heart of Lent, let us joyfully find those moments of encounter even as we immerse ourselves in our duties of work and family life. Each day, let’s step away from the chaos and allow ourselves time for the Living God in prayer–alone and with our spouse. When we do this, we, like Moses, are changed to better fulfill the mission that God has for us–heroically loving our spouse and children!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Taking Mary’s Hand

23 Oct

33 Days“Hold hands in the parking lot.”

If you spend any time with my family, you will inevitably hear my wife or me say these words to our daughter Maggie as we are coming out of the grocery store, restaurant, or even church. As her parents, we are well aware of the potential hazards that lie in wait as we make our way back to our van. Maggie’s temptation is to dart full speed ahead into the vast expansion of cars.

Could Maggie make it all the way to the van by herself in the midst of the busy parking lot? Perhaps, but we would rather not take the chance. Knowing our daughter, even if she did not get hit by a car, she would probably get lost. We don’t like either of those options. The safest, quickest, and surest path back home is for Maggie to take mom’s hand and allow mom to guide her back home.

That’s exactly what Marian consecration is all about. As children of God, we take the outstretched hand of Mary and let her guide us safely to our eternal home in heaven. In other words, we entrust the entirety of our life to Mary, the Mother of God. Our Blessed Mother promises to keep us safe from spiritual harm and prevent us from getting distracted and losing our way. Who wants to wonder around for hours trying to find the way?

Consecrating oneself and one’s family may sound like a difficult thing that requires a great level of already-attained holiness, but actually the opposite is true. It is a simple journey for the simple-hearted who simply want to be holy, not for those who already are holy. If it seems fancy and out of reach for you and the craziness of your busy life, then maybe it is exactly what the doctor ordered, or at least the physician of our souls. In the craziness of contemporary life, giving oneself to Mary is the way to go.

We love efficiency in America. We love a good deal. We love a guaranteed return on our investment.

Yes, Americans love efficiency. We place a high value on maximizing our effort. We have built some of the greatest factories that have mastered the way to bring about the standardization of quality products in the shortest amount of time.

With Marian consecration, Mary is the factory that turns all of her devoted children into “quality products.” What is the “quality product” that Mary produces? Mary turns her devoted children into “little Christs.” Mary accomplishes this much quicker than we can on our own because, simply put, she knows the end result much better than we do. The mother knows the Son, and knows how to help us be more like Him.

Yes, Americans love a good deal. With Mary, what is the great deal we receive, and what does it cost us to get it? We receive the promise of the sure guidance of the Queen of Heaven! In exchange, Mary simply asks us to place our trust in her. My little act of trust and commitment to the Mother of God gains me her prayers and maternal love. It would be crazy not to accept that deal!

Yes, Americans love a guaranteed return on their investment. With Mary, we have the guarantee from the Spouse of the Holy Spirit that she will honor the gift we make of ourselves and transform us into who God created us to be–and frankly, who we desire to be. Her track record is pretty good. To name a few, she multiplied the investment of four important saints in the recent history of the Church: St. Louis Marie de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.

I choose these four saints because they are the focus of Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, 33 Days to Morning Glory. In his book, Fr. Gaitley takes the writings and insights of these saints and translates them into a common language for all of us to understand and implement into our daily lives.

On December 8, 2014, Archbishop Naumann is inviting and encouraging all Catholics of the Archdiocese to consecrate themselves and their families to Mary. The Archbishop is recommending this wonderful book by Fr. Gaitley as a means of preparation for the consecration day. If you get the book, which is only $2, you will see that the 33 days of preparation will change the trajectory of your life and family. If you have 10-15 minutes a day, you can do this! My wife, Libby, and I just used this book to renew our consecration to Mary this past August, and we found it refreshingly practical in its application to family life. It was like taking a breath of fresh air every day from the craziness of our schedules. It deepened our already good marriage, and it rooted us more deeply in our Catholic faith.

Think of it as a 33-day retreat that allows Mary to prepare you for a great awakening in your spiritual life and the life and a release of joy into your family.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Pope’s Intentions for July 2014

1 Jul

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francisprecious blood for the month of July, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Sports. That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.
  • Lay Missionaries. That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.

July is also the month traditionally dedicated to the Precious Blood of Our Lord. Father Faber describes why we honor the Blood of Christ in Precious Blood: The Price of Our Salvation.

The Precious Blood of Jesus deserves special honor because of its close relation to Our Lord’s Passion. From the beginning the Apostles praised its redeeming power. Some biblical examples:

  • Romans 5:9 “we are justified by His blood”
  • Hebrews 13:12 “and so Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His blood, suffered outside the gate”
  • 1 John 1:7 “and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin”

God’s “Secret Service”

18 Jun

Sermon on the MountIn today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Himself teaches us about the traditional expressions of Christian piety: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We hear about these things quite a bit during Lent, but really, they should be part of the fabric of the Christian life throughout the entire year. They purify our hearts and draw us closer to Our Lord and to our neighbor, especially the poor.

For that reason, one would think that it would be really edifying to see others fasting, praying, and giving alms. After all, good role models always help, right?

Yet, Our Lord’s recurring message today is to do these things in secret, when no one is looking, behind closed doors. Don’t even let your right hand know what the left hand is doing. The only one who needs to know the good that we’re doing is our heavenly Father.

But why is that? Why shouldn’t others be able to watch and learn from us?

The answer is that of course our actions should be edifying to others (cf. Mt. 5:16). However, as Our Lord explains in the course of His teaching, it is very easy for us to do things in order that others will notice us and think well of us. That’s pride, not good example. Sure, there are times that we do good things and others may notice, to their benefit. But our motive must always be  God’s glory, not our reputation. The best way to guard against the temptation to pride is to keep our acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—as well as other acts of charity–to ourselves as much as possible. When we do that, we’re more likely to serve God and not ourselves.

And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Mysteries of Light

5 May

Even though I was raised in a large, Catholic family and received 12 years of Catholic schooling, I left the Church as an undergraduate at the University of California and didn’t come back until I was in my 20s. My newly rediscovered love for Christ not only led me to study His teaching, but also to take a fresh look at traditional prayers and devotions used by Christian disciples for countless generations as aids to growth in the spiritual life.

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Forever Grateful

13 Nov

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures ten lepers as He passes through a Samaritan village. One of the ten, realizing that he had been healed, returns to thank Jesus for this incredible gift. Jesus affirms the faith of the healed man, but He also asks (rhetorically), “Where are the other nine?”

Our taking the time to give thanks seems to matter greatly to our Savior.

Weren’t the others grateful? We don’t know what was on their hearts, but we do know that they failed to express gratitude in word or action. As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday this month, may we take stock of the many blessings we have received from the Lord, and may our own lives of fidelity and service unequivocally proclaim our gratitude to the Holy Trinity for the wondrous gift of our faith, and for the many kindnesses we have received from the people in our lives.

In a particular way, this Gospel passage reminds me of the need to take time after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist to thank Him for this wondrous gift. Too often, I am one of “the other nine,” only too eager to go on with my day without adequately thanking the Lord for coming to me in Holy Communion and for the many graces and blessings in my life.

The time immediately after receiving Communion is an apt time to offer such prayers of thanksgiving, as is the time immediately after Mass. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, reminds us that “the precious time of thanksgiving after Communion should not be neglected.”

I think we do well to adapt a saying often attributed to St. Francis: Express gratitude at all times, and frequently use words.

 

Just Do It!

30 Oct

praying the rosaryAs this month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary comes to a close, I thought I would take this occasion to call all of us to renew our desire to pray the Rosary frequently and with much fervor and devotion.

I’m not necessarily talking about a major overhaul of our spiritual life. Rather, let’s look at it from the standpoint of a dieter. This is a subject I know something about, as I have had to battle obesity ever since childhood. I’m sure that over the years through various diets I’ve lost hundreds of pounds. Most of them did not stay off. Rather, I only started to get a handle on my weight as I made sustainable, lasting changes in my lifestyle.

Similarly, sometimes we make spiritual resolutions–with much zeal and the best of intentions–which turn out to be fad diets for the soul. So, when I strongly encourage the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary, I’m encouraging all of us to look at our daily lives and see what small, long-term changes we can make so as to the make the Rosary an even greater part of our day.

I’ve heard it said that the Church, given her size and “conservative” nature, moves in centuries. I don’t think it’s too much for us to move in “decades”–finding moments throughout the day to meditate on the life of Christ with His beloved Mother.

Back in 2002, Blessed John Paul II issued an apostolic letter on the Rosary entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In this letter, the Holy Father encouraged the faithful to embrace the Rosary in positive, evangelistic terms. He stressed the Rosary as a powerful prayer for peace and for the renewal of families. What I’d like to discuss here, however, is the way he anticipated and answered various objections to the Rosary in a winning way:

Objection #1: The Rosary detracts from the sacred liturgy. Pope John Paul II said that the liturgical renewal did not lessen the importance of popular devotions like the Rosary. In fact, he noted that that is a common misunderstanding of Vatican II. The fact is that it’s not an either/or proposition. The Rosary does not conflict with, but rather sustains the liturgy. Done right, the Rosary actually fosters a deeper participation in the liturgy.

Objection #2: The Rosary is “unecumenical.” In response, the Pope emphasized the Christ-centered nature of the prayer and the right understanding of the veneration to be given to the Mother of God. Quoting Vatican II, he noted that “when the Mother is honored, the Son is duly known, glorified, and loved.” Done right, the Rosary aids and surely does not hinder authentic ecumenism. Just ask experienced pro-lifers.

Objection #3: The Rosary is outdated and is no longer being learned by children. The Pope gently chided those who think this way and invited them to take a fresh look at the Rosary. He suggested that perhaps the problem has been that many youth have not been introduced to the Rosary and in the process we may be selling them short. As the World Youth Days attest, youth are indeed attracted to the faith and specifically are attracted to the Rosary. Done right, the Rosary surely appeals to today’s youth.

So, to those of you who may still be on the fence when it comes to praying the Rosary, I invite you to become Nike Rosary Warriors: Just do it!

For those of you looking for solid resources on the Rosary, I suggest Tim Gray’s book Luminous Mysteries: Biblical Reflections on the Life of Christ, which provides biblical teaching and profound meditations on each of the new “Mysteries of Light.” And for a broader introduction to Marian doctrine and devotion, I recommend a book I coedited with Scott Hahn entitled Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God. Both titles are available through Emmaus Road Publishing.