Being Honest in Prayer

Confession is one of the places that I truly find peace. And the two or three priests who are primarily my Confessors are excellent, not only in their compassion, but also in their pastoral care.

One of the things that my confessors have been telling me a lot lately, even different confessors (which only confirms that the hand of God is involved in the Sacrament) is that I need to be honest in prayer. I need to do more than simply think about my troubles, but I need to truly lay them at the feet of Jesus. It’s great to pray a Rosary and meditate on the events of Jesus’ life, but I need to bring my life into that prayer. When I consider the Agony in the Garden I need to pray alongside Jesus about the trials in my life, I need to tell him what is going on, what I’m feeling and thinking. I need to tell him when I don’t want to do something that he asks of me. I just need to be open and honest.

When I consider The Crucifixion I need to tell Jesus about the things in my life I want/need to crucify and ask him to help me to die to self. Or when I consider the Joyful Mysteries, I need to be honest with Jesus about how I am not experiencing joy in that moment, and why, so that I can open myself up to receive the joy of Christ.

Sometimes we Catholics can be accused of our prayers being worthless because we like to pray structured prayers, written by others, and therefore our prayers are not from the heart. I guess that sometimes that can be true. Sometimes its easy to put a front on in prayer, but that is true whether I use someone else’s words or my own. It’s not difficult to pray honestly and from the heart as Catholics, its simply a matter of opening ourselves up to receive the mysteries of Jesus and in that opening up, there is an emptying of self as we place our fears, trials, sufferings, joys, and hopes into his hand and receive his life into our own. The Lord desires honesty from us in our prayers to him. I pray that we might all receive the grace to do so this week.

Novena Rosary for Blogger Spookchristian

I normally wouldn’t do this, but I’m asking my readers to join in a Rosary novena for the conversion of the anti-Catholic blogger who has been commenting on my previous post about the Rosary. I’m on my way to the Blessed Sacrament chapel right now to begin my novena for this blogger.

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Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Perfection of the Rosary

I might dare to say that the Rosary is the perfect prayer for the Christian to pray, that is, besides the Mass. Of course, there is no objective standard against which to measure the perfection of prayer, but there are a few points, which, in my opinion, give the Rosary a distinct advantage in many areas of prayer for the Christian.

The Visitation (2nd Joyful Mystery)

The Visitation (2nd Joyful Mystery)

The first point is that the Rosary is rich in Scripture. There are two fundamental ways that this is true. The most obvious is the way in which the crucial prayers of the Rosary are derived. First and foremost, there is the Our Father, which comes straight from the lips of God in the flesh through the pen of St. Matthew. This is the prayer that Jesus Christ himself taught us to pray and it is repeated, in its perfection, over and over in the Rosary. The second prayer is the Hail Mary. The Hail Mary is a combination of Scriptural salutation and petition. The first half of the prayer is a modified version of the salutation of St. Gabriel to the Virgin Mary as recorded by St. Luke. The second half is a petition asking for another to pray for us. Third there is the Glory Be which combines different key elements of Scripture testifying to the Triune God and to God’s unchanging and eternal nature. But there is also a second fundamental way in which the Rosary is Scriptural, and that is in the very mysteries which are reflected upon while praying. For those unfamiliar with the Rosary I am working on setting up a page that teaches how to pray it, but you should understand that while one prays the Rosary, there are mysteries in the life of Jesus that one reflects upon. When we truly engage with the mystery that we are contemplating, we take Scripture into our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the mystery and to bring it to life within our very lives.

Prayer in Gethsemane (1st Sorrowful Mystery)

Prayer in Gethsemane (1st Sorrowful Mystery)

The second point is that the Rosary is humbling and outward focused. In each prayer that is offered in the Rosary, from the Our Father to the Hail Mary to the Glory Be and to the Fatima prayer, the Christian elevates others, professes his or her need for grace, mercy, and conversion, and rightly orders him or herself in relation to God.

The third is that the Rosary is a community prayer whether one prays it alone or with others. By its very nature, the Rosary is communal in that you don’t pray it alone, but that Mary prays it with you because you are consistently asking for her prayers. The Rosary is terrific for those Christians who experience loneliness or are in a place where there are few to share the experience of group prayer with. But the Rosary also lends itself well to praying in a parish community. The prayers are simple enough to divide between a “leader” and the “people” allowing a back and forth chanting of the prayer, which in itself is symbolic of the conversation between the Christian and Jesus. We worship God in a dialogue: both man and God speak to each other and receive from the other.

The fourth point is that the Rosary is simple to remember, with or without beads. If and when the time comes when we American Christians are forced from our homes, leaving behind our Bibles, crucifixes, and Rosaries, to be burned and looted by those who oppose religious freedom, the Rosary is easy enough to carry in our hearts. The prayers are simple. The mysteries are simple, and keep Scripture alive in our hearts even when a Bible is not to be found.

The Pentecost (3rd Glorious Mystery)

The Pentecost (3rd Glorious Mystery)

And fifth, the Rosary is living and fluid. It is not rigid in its structure. As much as I dislike the addition of the Luminous Mysteries into the cycle of the 150 Hail Mary’s that the original 15 mysteries had, it is a prayer that lends itself to adaptations. For example: some people add scriptural readings relating to the mystery after each Hail Mary. I, for example, offer a simple “pray for us” to each of my patron Saints at the end of each decade, and I fill the moments after the closing prayers with all sorts of petitions and invocations. The Rosary is something that can become something unique to each Christian in his or her relationship with Jesus.

I love the Rosary for it aids me in encountering Jesus quite intimately, in a way that I cannot otherwise experience outside of the Sacraments. If you’ve got a Rosary that’s just been collecting dust in the drawer, take it out and pray it today! You won’t regret it!

Feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh

Today is the feast of St. Sergius of Radonezh (one of two of his feasts actually). To be honest, I hadn’t heard of St. Sergius of Radonezh until a few weeks ago when I was looking for some patron saints who were hermits. I found the story of his life, particularly how he came to the wilderness, to be inspiring. He is a great example of humility and self-sacrifice, as a story regarding the Saint and a bear illustrates.

St. Sergius is an example of suffering and wrestling in humility against evil and against temptation. In my pathetic weakness I ask him to look out for me and to help me fight so that one day I may be as strong as he.

If you are feeling particularly lost in battle against the invisible enemies of God and his people, why don’t you offer up a petition to St. Sergius today on his feast.

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A Loss of the Sense

The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.

Pope Pius XII

To what extent this problem runs in the Church I do not know, but I do believe it is serious. Working with young people, people who are not too much younger than me, it is incredible to witness the extreme disconnect between what they profess and what they do, and not so much what they do, but what they do without shame. Now I am by no means a pillar of virtue, and perhaps I am the worst sinner of all in that knowing and believing that what I do is wrong, do it just the same.

This loss of the sense of sin is most clearly made evident to me in the area of sex. I’ve had the student who plays in the church bell-choir, but who lives with her current boyfriend and unashamedly flaunts their sexual escapades and her sexual adventures with the many many boyfriends she has had in the last couple of years. And then there are the students who back home are close friends with their pastors and volunteer at their churches, but speak of their fornication as if it’s a totally normal and acceptable thing, not at all at odds with discipleship with Christ. And the smalltown kids who wear their crosses, have a poster in their rooms of the cowboy’s translation of the ten commandments, talk about Jesus on their Facebooks , but move from one one-night stand to the next, and openly discuss where they can find the “next chick to…,” well, you know.

Perhaps some of it is exaggerated talk, but I doubt that the majority of it is. And herein lies the problem, that Christians have become more and more comfortable with the morals of the world and are choosing more and more to substitute that system into discipleship with Jesus. However, that is an impossibility. We cannot be disciples of Christ while embracing discipleship of the world. We choose to go along with what the world says is right simply because its popular or easier. You will never find anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says that that is what discipleship is all about.

But if that’s the life that you want, if that’s the morality you want to embrace, more power to you. But you’ve lost the sense of sin if you believe that that is compatible with following Jesus. Now again, I want to note the difference between losing the sense of sin, and stumbling and getting back up. No disciple of Jesus Christ fails to sin. But a disciple is able to see his sin and returns to the Lord and confesses his sin, resolving not to sin again. He knows his sin, he fights his sin, he does all that he can to reject his sin, he doesn’t embrace his sin, or flaunt his sin, or simply pretend it is not sin.

We who have been baptized belong to Christ and we serve him, not the world. It will not be good enough at the end of the world to have professed him on our lips, but not professed him in our lives. I urge you, I beg you, to return to the Lord and take up your cross with him without counting the cost of rejecting the way of the world. You might stumble, in fact you probably will, but he is there to pick you back up and to continue to form you into a man or woman after his own heart.

Cardinal Dolan and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Alas I find myself posting again about “controversial” topics. I only want to share a link, however, to another person’s writings on the subject. I think the author does a great job and bringing the issue full circle to what the gospel really is and what we, as a missionary Church, are called to be for all sinners, not just homosexuals.

Read the article at Catholic in Brooklyn.

The Divorced and Communion

I wanted to find something to write about today, and while I am preferring right now to avoid the “controversial” and focus more on the spiritual and personal relationship with God, sometimes those things intersect. So I’m going to write about the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics and the reception of Holy Communion after reading this article by Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island.

I’m not going to quote the article because its short enough that you can just read it yourself. And I also will preface this with an obvious warning that I am not a canon lawyer, so much, if not all of this post is purely my opinion based upon my understanding of Catholicism.

First, I find it slightly odd that there is an advocacy for the annulment process to be made simpler for the sake of bringing blessings to second marriages so that more Catholics can take Holy Communion. I think that the annulment process is difficult and involves so many factors other than the testimonies of the alleged spouses because the purpose of an annulment is not Catholic divorce, but to determine whether a marriage actually ever occurred. Streamlining and fast-tracking a process that many Catholics already feel has simply become a rubber stamp for divorced Catholics seems like a terrible and scandalous idea.

Second, while I certainly understand the difficulty that divorced and remarried Catholics find themselves in when they are forbidden to receive Holy Communion, I firmly believe it is imprudent to attempt to mollycoddle them and attempt to advocate for them to receive that which one cannot receive while in a state of mortal sin. Regardless of the difficulties, no person can be in two marriages at once, and until the first marriage is declared to be invalid, the first marriage is considered sacramental by the Church and the second marriage is adulterous, and one needs to go to Confession as long as they willingly remain in a state of perpetual adultery.

Third and finally, any attempt to carve out an exception to the rules regarding abuse of the Sacrament of Marriage in order to provide those willfully and stubbornly persisting in mortal sin to receive Holy Communion without expressing contrition and a resolution to cease participation in mortal sin is not only unjust towards the souls living in that sin and unjust towards God, but also creates a perceived injustice towards those in the Church willfully unrepentant of other types of mortal sins. For example: the homosexual couple that has been civilly married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. Say they live in Massachusetts and have been civilly married since 2004 and have adopted children, and like the valid marriages of other Catholics, have their entire lives intertwined from finances to personal property. On top of that they love each other very much, and fully do intend to remain committed to each other forever. They also desire deeply to receive Holy Communion, but refrain because at least in that respect they recognize and accept Church teaching.

Like the remarried couple, asking this couple to deconstruct their “marital” relationship would constitute a lot of difficulty and hardship. Do we, then, seek to carve out some kind of exemption for them? Is this not simply the opposite side of the same coin? Are not remarriage and same-sex marriage severe assaults on the dignity of marriage as God created it? Yes. They are. How can we attempt to relax the rules for one type of serious sin against marriage and not another?

Ultimately I think its important to remember what discipleship is all about. Its about taking up our crosses and following Jesus without counting the cost. Discipleship isn’t about taking shortcuts. It isn’t about making one feel good about themselves. It isn’t about entitlement. Discipleship calls us to repentance. It is unreasonable to believe that individuals will never fall again, but is also unreasonable to expect anything less than a devout attempt to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and any move that compromises reception of Holy Communion without serious repentance, resolution, and contrition from remarried Catholics (or others persisting in mortal sin) would be a failure of the Church to her duty to shepherd the souls Christ has entrusted to her. It is a sad day when people leave the Church because they find discipleship too difficult, but the Church isn’t about having high numbers, it is about saving souls and bringing them to Jesus.

St. Olaf, patron of difficult marriages, we seek your intercession on behalf of the Church, that those in difficult marriages would seek discipleship. We pray that the process which the Church uses in order to determine null marriages would be strengthened and not weakened and that she will take seriously her call to bring sinners to Christ for reconciliation, and that she would also bring reconciliation to spouses who struggle in their marriages. Look after your King’s flock and destroy the roots of sin which seek to destroy the wheat.

St. Olaf, pray for us!
St. Monica, pray for us!
St. Michael, pray for us!
St. Joseph, pray for us!
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

Right now I’m taking the Communion of the Saints pretty seriously. Virtually every prayer I am praying right now either starts or ends with petitions to my patron Saints. And I can’t express how much it helps. And its not just the prayers that I know they are offering for me, but it is the example that they set for me or the inspiration from their lives.

For example, St. Olaf is right now one of my patrons that I am relying on a lot. His is not an example of quiet solitude, but one of conquest, no mercy eradication of those things which oppose God. Even when forced into exile, he was planning on coming back and died fighting for the spread of Christ. That’s inspiring, even if he was not super holy all the time. Then I look to St. Meinrad who was so self-giving that he died because people took advantage of holiness. That might not seem great, but he cared so much for others that he cared little for his own needs or comfort. Or St. Kateri, who defied her entire culture to conform her life to Christ. It often feels like that for me because our culture is one that pretty much disrespects anything godly whether it is the dignity of life, dignity of marriage, humility or any other Catholic concept. Obviously attempting or wanting to go against the flow that virtually every other American gay guy is going can be quite difficult, but surprisingly, Kateri offers an astounding witness in that battle.

But its more than simply asking them for prayers or looking to them as one looks to a fictional character, like a Gandalf or an Aslan. The Saints are our friends, intimate friends. They are our family, our brothers and sisters. They know me because Christ knows me. They love me because Christ loves me. They are near to me because Christ is near to me. They  live in my heart because Christ lives in my heart. They desire nothing more than my salvation because Christ desires nothing more than my salvation.

I would be totally and completely fulfilled if my salvation was a relationship with Jesus Christ and nobody or nothing else. How could one not be? But its very exciting that salvation is also a relationship with everyone who is in Christ as well. I am thankful that God has given me extraordinary, wise, and holy brethren to be a part of my life from beyond death! Without these friends, these gifts from the treasury of God, I don’t know that I’d get by.