Tag Archives: prayer

The Hidden Pharisee in Marriage

20 Oct

vacuum“O God, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector.”

The Pharisee in this Sunday’s Gospel is so arrogant! Yet it is easy to be the same way in our own marriages. We often judge our spouse’s actions against what we would have done in the same situation, imagining that our way is right and theirs is wrong. We can say to ourselves, “If only my spouse were more like me, things would be much smoother.”

For example, “O God, I thank you that I am not like my spouse . . . who thinks a vacuum is an appropriate birthday gift . . . or who cries whenever we fight . . . or who always makes us late.”

We all have our own version of that “prayer.” For trivial matters, we can ask our spouse why he or she behaves a certain way, and in the process learn more about him or her. Even when our spouse is sinning, we can look deeply into our own hearts and say, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” and then grant forgiveness.

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.

Winning the Battle of Family Life

11 Oct

Image result for Moses in battleAre you or someone you know facing a serious struggle? It could be at home or at work. It could be your spouse, one of your children, or a friend.

We learn three important lessons from Moses in this week’s reading from Exodus:

(1) Moses is not afraid to confront the battle.

(2) Moses relies primarily on prayer to win the battle.

(3) Moses is not afraid to accept help to win the battle.

In the daily struggles of marriage and family life, it is important to take the same approach. Recognize and confront your battles, rely on prayer, and ask for help if needed.

  • What is the biggest battle your spouse faces?
  • What is the biggest battle you face today?
  • What is the biggest battle your children face today?
  • What time have you set aside to bring these situations to prayer?
  • Who can you ask for help to support you in your family’s battles?
  • Is there a struggling family to whom you can reach out and help?

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.

Freedom!

24 Jun

calling of disciplesHow well do you use your freedom? The greatest choice we can make daily is to follow Jesus Christ and share His love with others.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus invites people to do this, but they offer various excuses as to why they cannot choose the path of discipleship, or at least why they need to put off the decision until they can take care of other important things.

Isn’t this the lot of family life? Daily, Jesus desires to share joy with us, but we are quick with excuses, or we are so distracted that we do not even hear the invitation to encounter Him.

Whether it is stress at work, the busyness of family life, the television, the cell phone, the computer, sports, music, or hurting relationships keeping us from a deeper relationship with Jesus, let’s pray for the grace to make Him the top priority of our marriages and families. He awaits us with open arms!

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.

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.

What Can We Do?

30 Jul

Pope with EucharistEarly in my marriage, I got in the habit of leaving my wife “to do” lists before heading off to work. After a while, I started getting creative and playful with the lists. One time, for example, the final item on the list was “Do something you enjoy.” Upon reading that item, she immediately wadded up the list and with obvious enjoyment tossed it in the wastebasket!

In the Gospel this coming Sunday, the gathered crowd asks Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” (Jn. 6:28). This is a very natural question. However, it does betray a “to do list” mentality. What tasks do we need to do to please God and accomplish His will on earth? Armed with such a list, we can start checking off items one by one.

Yet, in reply the Lord did not give us a laundry list of tasks, though surely there is much to do when it comes to evangelizing our world today. Rather, He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (Jn. 6:29). Of course, that is true, as without the Lord we can do nothing. We would be like branches disconnected from the life-giving vine, unable to bear fruit.

But even more, I think Our Lord is pointing to the primary importance of interiority, of developing a close personal relationship with Him in prayer and seeing in that relationship the vital source of living effective Christian lives. He is teaching us that who we are as children of God and beloved companions of the Lord Jesus is more important than what we do.

Interestingly, yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Martha. As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting about, doing everything on the to do list, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, believing in “the one he sent.”

May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, we should express our faith in active works of charity, especially with regard to the poor.

As we do so, however, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, to become the holy men and women God calls us to be, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord, the center of our faith. Not surprisingly, to follow up on His comment on doing the “works of God,” Jesus is about to embark upon His beautiful discourse on the Eucharist, which we will hear in the coming weeks.

Family Ideas for Lent

11 Feb

40 daysLent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.

Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    • help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
  • For older children:
    • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
    • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
    • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
  • For teens:
    • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
    • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
    • Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
  • As a family:
    • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
    • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
    • Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
  • For teens:
    • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
    • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
    • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
  • For families:
    • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
    • Join in with one of the other activities above.
    • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!

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?

Psalmody to Love

9 Jan

billie hollidayTrivia question (answer at end): What would you have if Billie Holliday came back to life and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours?

I still vividly recall entering a religious community in the mid-1980s. A native of Los Angeles and a fairly recent law school graduate, I knew I was stepping into a very different environment. As I settled into this life, I realized that I was doing many of the same things I had been doing before entering this community. I had already become accustomed to daily Mass and holy hours. The studies (I was preparing for the priesthood) likewise came naturally to a “professional student” like me. And of course the meals and recreation times were very enjoyably spent with the great guys we had in the community.

The one thing that was markedly different for me was praying the Liturgy of the Hours (aka “Divine Office”) at set times each day with the other seminarians and religious. I had owned and used a breviary (a prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours) before entering seminary, but the regularity and fervor of this prayer of the Church was the most distinctive–and in many ways the most enriching–aspect of my seminary journey. This attraction to the Liturgy of the Hours has stayed with me ever since.

For that reason, the commitment of deacons and deacon candidates to pray the Liturgy of the Hours has fit me as an old, comfortable shoe as I’ve begun formation for the diaconate here in Kansas City. I especially enjoy the opportunity to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with my awesome brother candidates during our formation weekends and other occasions.

Still, the Church in our time, particularly since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), has encouraged all Catholics to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. While one may find one-volume and four-volume breviaries at any Catholic bookstore, there are also apps and websites available that add a further element of convenience. I’d also like to mention that my friend Daria Sockey has an excellent blog that gives terrific information and guidance to anyone who would like to take up this beautiful prayer of the Church.

Okay, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Psalm Sung Blue (Yes, my wife didn’t laugh either.) Lord, have mercy on me in your kindness . . .

A Lesson in Humility

10 Oct

pharisee and tax collectorI sometimes find it helpful to my spiritual life to put myself in the place of the characters in Our Lord’s parables. Of course, sometimes I put my wife in them as well. She’s 100% Irish, so I’ve lightheartedly renamed the Parable of the Persistent Widow, who nags the judge until she gets what she wants, the Parable of the Irish Woman.

One parable that I think teaches an important lesson to long-time Christians is the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector found in Luke 18. The Pharisee’s prayer is a laundry list of things the Pharisee is doing for God, while the Tax Collector humbly prays, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The latter prayer was acceptable to God, the former wasn’t.

After a while, we might think we’re in control of our own destiny. At least we’re on cruise control. We’ve accepted Jesus as the Lord of our lives. We’ve become part of His family through the waters of Baptism. We recognize that acceptance of Jesus means the acceptance of His one, true Church and all that entails. We know that we are called to lead lives worthy of our calling. The Lord summons us to obey the Ten Commandments and, even more, to live lives of charity, often expressed in terms of spiritual (e.g., teaching others the faith, praying for others) and corporal (e.g., feeding the hungry, caring for the sick) works of mercy.

At least to some extent, some of us can say that we’re doing all this. So, when we come before the Lord, it can be very easy–at least for me–to relate more to the Pharisee than to the Publican in the above parable: “Yeah, Lord, I know I’m not perfect, but gee, look at all this stuff I’ve done and am doing to help spread Your kingdom. I’m one of the good guys. In fact, I work for the Archdiocese and am in formation for the permanent diaconate. You can’t get much more Catholic than that. Amen.”

Doing good things out of a living faith, hope, and charity are good and necessary. But the more fundamental truth is that we’re all sinners and, without God’s grace, we’re lost. Recognizing and living this truth is humility. Deep down, we all know this truth, but sometimes our thought processes and actions say otherwise. Jesus calls to Himself the “little ones,” but part of us wants to be “big shots.”

I had a friend named Larry who in jest would pray, “Lord, help me find a parking spot . . . never mind, I just found one.” It’s good for me recall this joke from time to time as a reality check. The fact of the matter is that it’s not about me. I get in the way far more often than I help the cause, and when I’m able to help a little, it’s because I was open to God’s grace working in my life, at least imperfectly.

Pride leads us to take the credit for our successes and blessings and brings about an ungodly discouragement in times of failure. The truth is that none of us is quite ready for canonization. Sanctification is God’s work–not ours–accomplished throughout the course of our lives. Speaking for myself, He still has a ton of work to do.

Regardless of what might happen during the course of the day, we do well to conclude our day with the prayer of the tax collector: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Pope’s Intentions for September

2 Sep

woman prayingFollowing are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of September, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Value of Silence. That people today, often overwhelmed by noise, may rediscover the value of silence and listen to the voice of God and their brothers and sisters.
  • Persecuted Christians. That Christians suffering persecution in many parts of the world may by their witness be prophets of Christ’s love.
    ***
    I don’t know about you, but I was especially struck by the prayer that we rediscover the value of silence. Yet at the same time, the prayer calls us to listen to the voice of God as well as to the voice of our brothers and sisters, especially the cries of those who are undergoing persecution and hardship around the world. So the voice that needs to be silent is our own, so that the Lord may transform us.