The Gift of Teaching Others How to Pray

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For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

—St. Therese of Lisieux

I just love the different people I encounter at adoration on any given day.

Just the other day, as I was praying the rosary, a woman in the row of seats next to me seemed restless. She kept getting up and going to the back of the chapel to get some books. She didn’t seem to comfortable just sitting there and looked like she needed something to read.

As I went on with my rosary, the woman asked, “Excuse me, but do you have the Our Father over there by you?”

I rummaged through my bag o’ books and had to laugh: Of all the prayer cards and books I have on me at any given time, how could I not have the Our Father, the most common prayer?!

I apologized for not having it handy but then informed her it was in the Bible. (Matthew 6 for future reference.)

She had no idea and was so grateful that I mentioned this to her.

I went back to my rosary but couldn’t help think: “How sad that this person didn’t  know the Our Father!”

And then I realized the hard truth: There’s no prayer in public schools anymore. There’s no prayer on tv. There’s no one praying out in the open for fear of being sued or ridiculed. So why should I be surprised that this middle aged woman didn’t know the most common prayer in history?

If I hadn’t been raised Catholic I may not know the Our Father, either. But I also didn’t start really praying from the heart until a couple years ago. I started seeing people sincerely speak words from their heart, as they would pray either over me or with me or even before a meal and I thought, “I gotta step up my prayer game. These people are professionals!”

There’s lots of books on contemplative prayer, and meditative prayer and repetitive prayers, novenas, chaplets, devotions, etc. It can seem overwhelming if your goal is just to learn how to pray everyday.

I’m no expert but I thought, if I were to try to help someone learn how to pray, here’s what I would suggest:

Books to Pray With

Two books by Jacques Philippe are great recommendations:

Time for God  And his follow-up book is called Thirsting for Prayer

Both books are under 150 pages, which is why I like them so much. Sometimes I think we say we don’t have time to read about how to pray, but we do. We just have to make the time. And these books can easily be read in a couple of days.

Meditation and Contemplation

There’s also a great way to pray with scripture called Lectio Divina. I’m not too great with this. My poor Spiritual Director had suggested it to me and I really struggle with this one. I can’t quite do this by myself but I have found it to be helpful in a group setting. It’s harder to become distracted with others around, for me at least.

Thomas Merton is probably one of the more widely known teachers of contemplative prayer. His book,  Contemplative Prayer is one of the most popular spiritual books out there. According to reviews, ”

Another great author is Richard Rohr. He has a book entitled, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.  Rohr also has a great website where you can sign up for his daily meditations. Richard Rohr, OFM – Center for Action and Contemplation

There’s an App for that

If books aren’t really your thing and you’d prefer to use an electronic device to pray, I have to mention two that are FREE and worthwhile.

The first is called Examen and it’s my favorite app to use.  Not only is it helpful with your prayer life, it gets you to take a look back at your day for some self-reflection. In our busy day-to-day hustle and bustle, it’s really key to take time to reflect on not only all the good that God provides for us, but the moments when maybe we weren’t really acting or thinking with the mind of Christ.

The second app is called iBreviary and it’s used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is what most priests use and religious as a way to pray for the Church and to mark each hour with prayer and song. I try to pray at least morning and evening prayer and lately I’ve been on a roll praying all 5 times throughout the day. It doesn’t take long and what I like about it is that this forces me to slow down and take a breather to focus on what’s really important. It’s amazing how SANE I feel and how any anxiety I have melts away after I pray this way.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:2

Recently, I shared with my 7th graders the 5 Finger Prayer. It was an easy way for them to understand a certain order to pray in because let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t know where to begin after we make the sign of the cross.

Here’s an easy way to remember that even a kid can understand:

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“But when you pray, go in your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret.” Mt 6:6

I’m in awe of people who create and construct their own home altars. Whoa. That’s a bit advanced for me.

I would suggest trying to find your own “cell” or private space in which to pray everyday. If you tend to become easily distracted, like me, then praying in the middle of a house full of people/kids/blaring tv, etc just isn’t going to cut it. A table or a desk and maybe enough space for a couple of books (the Bible being most important of course) is really all you need!

Speaking of the Word, if there was just one book you need or require to get started praying, the Bible is really the only one you need. And while there are Bible apps, I would suggest an actual Bible. And perhaps a notebook to act as your prayer journal. Because chances are, once you start to really pray religiously (ooooh see what I did there?) you will no doubt want to jot down thoughts that the Spirit stirs in you. Plus it’s a neat way to look back after a few months to see how some of your prayers have been answered!

When all else fails, when you feel overwhelmed by all these methods of prayer, just go back to the beginning and think of the woman I spoke to during Adoration. The most basic prayer you can pray is the prayer Jesus taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

     On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses

    As we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

Amen.

 

Love Thy Neighbor or Mind Thy Own Business?

no-access-71233_1280You know how people usually compare  the journey of dieting and losing weight to the journey of faith?  Maybe it’s just me since I seem to have an ear for this sort of thing and my ears perk up when I hear anything related to food. But I swear ever since I started reading more about the saints and listening to Catholic speakers and reading Catholic books, it seems like desire and sin are always compared with our desire for food, and the  journey to sainthood and heaven is always linked to a weight loss goal.  It’s fascinating because, truthfully, it’s spot on!

Don’t believe me? Read on.

So I have a spiritual director (Hello Fr. Adam!) and what I’ve discovered is that SD’s are similar to Personal Trainers in a lot of ways (similar to any coach/counselor).

We give instruction, we give guidance, we ask questions. But ultimately, we can’t force you to lose weight/get stronger etc. That’s something you have to do on your own. My SD can’t force me to do anything but he does provide guidance, instruction, asks probing questions (that I sometimes hate to answer). “Did you workout like you planned?” similar to “Have you prayed using Lectio Divina?” to which I usually answer, “I plead the fifth Father!”

Most personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches will ask their client to record their workouts and their food intake in a journal. It’s more about self-reflection than anything else. Same is true for anyone seeking the “more” to life. I’ve always journaled but I go through periods of lulls where I just don’t feel like writing anything. And I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve attempted to log my food and kept failing because of laziness.  It’s an ongoing struggle.

And then there’s the gym. Clearly, the most obvious similarity is that to a Church, with the congregation being fellow gym-goers.

But I would say watching people work out is not like sitting in the pews. That’s probably more comparable to every day activity.

For example – I see people at the gym doing exercises improperly at least once or twice at each visit. Of course, no one is going to be perfect all of the time, but that’s why we have gyms – so people can exercise and work their way to their own version of the “perfect” body. (A whole other blog post)

But what about these gym people who seem to have terrible form and their breathing is off and they look like they might drop a dumbbell on their foot (or face!) any minute now?

Do I have an obligation to go up to them to tell them what they are doing is wrong and that they might hurt themselves? If the potential to hurt themselves is imminent, I do and I have. (A dumbbell to the face is no something I would like to watch!) But usually, they’re just going to hurt themselves over time. Not right away.

Keep in mind these are people I have seen repeatedly throughout the week. It’s usually something as simple as improper form. Will it kill them? No. Will it hurt them? Most likely, over time. Will it be an injury they can’t recover from? No idea. But most likely not.

Do I now have an obligation to help them or to say something? What if I wasn’t a PT and just a regular knowledgable gym-goer? Do I interrupt their workout and say something or just let them figure it out on their own? I could just wait until they learn from someone else more qualified. But then, won’t they feel kind of silly or stupid for doing it “their way” for so long? Will they wonder – “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Why is it so hard for me to work up the nerve to say something, and offer a better way for them to achieve their exercise goal at that moment?


Won’t You Be My Nosy Neighbor?

As you ponder that, let’s take the guy out of the gym and put him in a real-life scenario. Let’s say it’s a neighbor. Like, literally, your next door neighbor.

You know he’s married with a kid. You’ve met his wife and daughter. They go to your church. But you don’t know them that well. Just well enough to wave hello and once in a while borrow a cup of sugar or something. (Does anyone do that anymore?)

Let’s say over a period of time, you notice this guy talks down to his wife and daughter. But he seems to verbally abuse the wife more than the kid. You only notice this when you can overhear them if they’re outside. But let’s say it starts to become more frequent. And let’s say he starts to do it while you’re hanging out with him and his family at a cookout or something. Or at a church function.

Do you wait and not say anything? Do you pull her aside and say something? I mean, these people go to your church. But it’s not like he’s sinning right? He’s not hitting her because you’d be able to tell, right? You could always assume he’ll learn how to be a better communicator eventually from someone more qualified than you. You’re just a neighbor and you should probably just mind your own business…right?

The big dilemma is this: At what point do we go from casual observer to intervener?

Because I think that’s what’s happening in the world today but it’s being misinterpreted as being nosy and injecting your self into someone else’s life. Or the most popular argument: “You’re forcing your beliefs onto me!”

No, actually, no one can force you to believe anything. I can’t force you to lose weight, I can’t be forced to lose weight and I can’t force you or anyone to become a saint.

The Christian and Correct Response

It comes back to what I said in the beginning: We can guide. We can offer assistance. We can start the conversation.

And one thing I’d love for people to know, especially those who don’t quite get us Christians, is that we want to help people. I know some Christians are better at this than others. Some yell and scream (not good, seriously can we stop that please?) some calmly approach (better) and some literally offer to accompany and walk with that person on their journey (best). But even this approach may come across as hurting someone, because we are telling them bluntly, that they are hurting themselves by whatever sin they are committing. But even if we tell them the truth in love, I promise we really have their best interests at heart.

When we see someone living their life a certain way that we believe to be wrong and that will hurt them, we have a moral obligation and a duty to help that person the best way we can. But, and this goes to my fellow Christians, once you try to help someone, you have to get out of the way and drop it. No amount of coercion or yelling or degrading will ever get anyone to change their ways.

So I end with a question, for myself and for you, to think about: If you see someone, your neighbor, your fellow parishioner, your friend, doing harm to their soul, will you work up the courage to provide a better way?  Or will you just walk on by? Is minding your own business really the loving thing to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Fill Yourself with Good Things

Luke 1:53

“He has filled the hungry with good things.”

Such a short sentence to reflect on today! You might think it doesn’t mean too much other than God provides us with good things. But I think you can read and reflect on this in a number of ways.

My first observation was on the word “hungry.” This is mainly because as of now, it’s time for me to eat being almost lunch time. Also, I’m currently dieting for a fitness competition so food is on my mind a lot these days.

But did you ever think about how we feed our souls and our minds?

I think about this a lot; we feed on what we see and hear everyday. Something as simple as a movie or a song that we hear or watch. We feed on the words of our friends and co-workers. We feed on what we hear and see and look at everyday.

This is why it’s very important to our faith that we “consume” as much of the Word as we can each day. It leaves little room for the rest of the “anti-Word” to enter our minds and bodies.

You can think of the Word as all the good things God provides to us; good healthy nourishing food of course, but scripture and God’s loving words are good for the soul. What else can we feed on that’s “good?”

  • Uplifting songs on the radio and on our ipod’s
  • Volunteering/stewardship for organizations and causes that need help
  • Positive images in magazines and in advertisements (or simply trashing the trashy ones)
  • Motivational videos on social media and TV
  • Following and reading blogs and organizations that have a “good” theme

How can we avoid or abstain from the “anti-Word” things? (This doesn’t mean REPRESSING our feelings or even AVOIDANCE but it does mean making an effort to surround yourself with “Good” things)

  • When shopping, only purchase what you budget for
  • Avoid the candy/junk food aisle if you know that you can easily be swayed and “cheat”
  • Change the channel on the radio/tv when you know something is coming on that you have no desire to watch/that might make you feel depressed or angry
  • Read books (besides the Bible) that explore theology or are faith based; books that might help you learn instead of escape

Fit In Your Faith Today: What do you “consume” that you know isn’t provided by God? Do you purposely seek out these “anti-Word” items? How can you seek out the “Good” in an effort to become less tempted to consume the “anti-Word” messages/items?

This is probably not an overnight process. This will be a journey for most that might take a long time.

Here are some authors/books that I have found particularly helpful:

Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Christopher West

What Are You Hungry For? By Deepak Chopra

The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose by Matthew Kelly

 

A Change of Plans

Proverbs 16:3

Ask the Lord to bless your plans, and you will be successful in carrying them out.

What plans do you have in mind for yourself today? Tomorrow?

In this passage from Proverbs, we can ask the Lord to bless them and look upon them as favorable and good. It might be something as mundane as driving to work. Do we ask the Lord to bless our “plan” to get in the car and drive? Maybe! But we can also ask him to bless us as we go about our day. What plans do we have once we get to work? Is there a meeting that you’re nervous about? Is there a co-worker you need to have a discussion with that you are not looking forward to having?

Think of your plans as not just ordinary tasks that you must check off a list. Think of everything you have to do as being blessed by God. Almost like asking Him for approval. Think about something you never ask God to bless…perhaps a task you know in your heart is not right. Perhaps it’s risky or conflicts with your values. Maybe it’s acquiring a new client through your job but you have doubts as to whether they will be a good fit. Or it could be you neglected to invite someone to an outing with friends on purpose because you don’t get a long with them. We wouldn’t ask God to bless those events would we? But maybe, if we pray beforehand, we might get a sign from God that these aren’t good plans and we should reconsider what we are doing. He could talk us into a better plan for ourselves in order to be successful.

Fit In Your Faith Today:  What are your plans for the day? For the week? Have you asked God to bless them so you can be successful? Think about the last thing you did that you feel wasn’t right or just or appropriate. Next time, ask God for guidance in these situations. He might change your plans for the better!

Light from the Law of the Lord

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.

When reading scripture, it’s helpful to picture a flashlight or a light coming out from the pages and highlighting the words you’re reading. As we read over the words, as we see them and take them in, they are literally lighting our path. Our path might be dark and unknown but these words light it up!

Not enough people use the Bible as a guide for their lives, perhaps because they are not sure how to use it. One of the best ways someone conveyed this message to me referred to the Bible as:

Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth.

The book of Psalms is especially helpful for this. Choose any chapter and chances are it has some very good information that can be applied to your life right now. The book of Proverbs is great for this as well. The gospels are a staple of course. You can find so many of Jesus’ parables full of advice and guidance. What is really beneficial for us is to get an actual study bible. This bible comes chock full of references and explanations which are needed for some of those difficult and lengthy passages that might leave us confused and baffled. A study bible explains it much more clearly for us.

Fit in Your Faith Today: Open the bible and find a passage that speaks to you. Picture that light coming from the pages, lighting up the way. Highlight your favorite verses so you can come back to them later. Purchase a Study Bible if you can to delve even deeper into your reading. It can change your life!

 

Will You Pray for Me?

James 5:16

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

“I’ll pray for you.”

Do you think this or say this often to your friends or family members who are in need of help? And if you do, do you mean it?

It’s good practice to pray for people and for things that don’t directly benefit you. Often, it’s those that are near and dear to us who need prayer, too. Sure, it’s easy to assume that they’ll just pray for themselves but wouldn’t it be nice to know that you are earnestly praying for them as well?

Not only is prayer the best way to communicate with God but confession as this passage from James reminds us is also a huge part of our faith. Discussing our faults, our problems and our troubles with a spiritual adviser, priest, minister or even a friend can help us become closer to God and become better Christians overall. By discussing and praying and confessing, we build that relationship with God that we need, even though we might not think this to be true sometimes.

Too many times we might think, “I’ll solve this problem on my own,” or “I can do this myself, I don’t need anyone’s help.”

Think of prayer and confession as the telephone line linked directly to God. He is the first one you should call upon when you need help, not the last resort.

Fit In Your Faith Today: Who will you pray for today that needs help? Even if they didn’t come out and directly as you to pray for them, wouldn’t it be nice to know that you are praying for someone else other than yourself?

 

You have a Purpose

Jeremiah 1:5

“I knew before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

From New Life Study Bible: God knew you, as he knew Jeremiah, long before you were born or even conceived. He thought about you and planned for you. When you feel discouraged or inadequate, remember that God has always thought of you as valuable and that he has a purpose in mind for you.

At times, many of us must wonder what our purpose in life is and how can we figure it out? How do we discern what that purpose is?

We’re all called to something, some kind of role in life. Many people feel a pull, or even a PUSH! from God in a certain direction. More often, I think we know when we are NOT meant to be in a certain role (like a job, or living in a certain city, or in a relationship). Sometimes you can feel that it’s wrong, or just not meant to be.

We should be careful not to obsess over this. Pray about it, of course. But a better way to go about finding our purpose might be to choose to become the best version of ourselves in every action we make. If you wake up everyday attempting to live your life in a godly way – choosing good over evil, choosing hard work over laziness, choosing smiles over sadness, how can you not say you’re not living your purpose?

Fit in your Faith Today: Are you constantly searching and discerning what God’s purpose is for you? Recognize that this is something we all wonder about. But spend more time in prayer asking God to open your eyes to your purpose so as not to close your eyes to other things around you that require your attention.

A Little Help: Listen to this Podcast from Busted Halo as they discuss this exact same question.

Who do you love?

1 John 4:7

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

From The New Life Study Bible:

Everyone believes that love is important, but love is usually thought of as a feeling. In reality, love is a choice and an action as 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 shows. God is the source of our love. He loved us enough to sacrifice his Son for us. Jesus is our example of what it means to love; everything he did in life and death was supremely loving. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to love; he lives in our heart and makes us more and more like Christ. God’s love always involves a choice and an action, and our love should be like his. How well do you display your love for God in the choices you make and the actions you take?

What stood out for me in this particular passage was just the overall theme of love of course. Especially with the latest news of terrorist attacks in Paris and the civil unrest that seems to be happening everywhere in the world and just overall bad and terrible news everywhere you turn. It can really make you ask the question: “Where is the love?”

The last line – Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. I automatically consider the opposite of love which is hate obviously. People are full of hate. Full of evil. These extremists or terrorists or whatever category you want to put them in – their heart isn’t full of love. At least, not the kind of love that God represents. I’m not sure what or who they love, but I imagine it’s not our God. I believe it’s their choice to choose hate instead of love, for reasons I don’t begin to understand.

But perhaps the focus should be on ourselves when we reflect on passages like this one. So what can I do or how do I relate to this passage personally? I find it comforting. I find it to be absolutely spot on. I used to think of love as just a feeling. But it’s a relationship. It’s an action. But is it an action that I display every day?

Fit In Your Faith Today: Take the question the Study Bible asks – How well do you display our love for God in the choices and actions you make each day? Are you displaying a loving side of yourself to others or an angry, or disappointed, or prideful side? How can you change these actions and choices to be loving instead?

 

Thoughts on Suffering from Charles Sidoti and Rabbi Akiva Feinstein

I came across this blog post from Charles Sidoti and just had to share.

Sidoti as well as Rabbi Akiva Feinstein share their thoughts on suffering and the questions we should be asking when tragic events occur in our lives.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The span of a human life is simply too brief to achieve any meaningful understanding of the ways of the universe.  Just as we cannot judge a movie by arriving in the middle and leaving before the end, we cannot judge God’s master plan for us or for the world.  It is only with the passage of significant amounts of time that we could hope to gather even a measure of illumination.

 

  • It is perfectly natural to ask “Why?” but our response needs to evolve from there if we are to grow spiritually.

 

  • It occurred to me then that our own suffering, if we could learn to accept it in some measure into our lives, could serve a similar purpose for us.  Even as the sabal (the porter), cheerfully carried his heavy load knowing that he would be compensated, we can be buoyed by the knowledge that our sevel (our suffering) is not in vain.  We can live with confidence that our suffering has a higher purpose and represents an opportunity for growth, even though that purpose and opportunity may not be apparent to us.

 

  • Our personal response to suffering is our responsibility, and we do have a choice.

 

  • We will discover that, although in a different way from joy and happiness, the suffering that naturally comes our way has its part to play in our spiritual growth and in our becoming the loving person that God is calling us to be.

I would highly suggest reading the entire post (it’s not that long) to get the full effect. I was truly moved by the Rabbi’s explanation of the porter and the connection to our suffering. Think of the transformations that could occur in people everywhere if we view suffering not so much as a burden but as an opportunity for growth.

Fit in your Faith Today: Read today’s blog post from Charles Sidoti and reflect on the suffering that you have experienced and endured in your life. Ask yourself how you can see these “tragedies” as “opportunities” to grow in your faith.

God always and in everything

St. Vincent Pallotti

Not the goods of the world, but God. Not riches, but God. Not honors, but God. Not distinction, but God. Not dignities, but God. Not advancement, but God. God always and in everything.

 

Do you worship things of this world? Do you idolize people who have higher honor than you? Do you think if you’re famous or successful, that it’s the key to happiness?

If you do, you’ve fallen for a trick. A scam. Because the things of this world are just that – things. You can’t take any promotions with you to heaven. You can’t take those fancy clothes or that expensive car or your house with you either. None of this stuff that we seem to worship here on earth matters.  Nope, in the end, what does matter is our love for each other and our love for God. That’s it.

Fit in your Faith Today:  Do you worship things? Do you find money as being something you can never quite seem to get enough of? Do you need to prioritize the important things in your life? Start with your relationship with God. Then consider your relationship with others. Is it suffering due to your obsession with material posessions or success in your life? Re-examine your priorities and put God first.