Some Thoughts on Prayer

Wednesday, June 04, 2003



The first and greatest commandment is to love God with our whole hearts, our whole minds, and our whole souls. the second commandment is similar, to love our neigbors as ourselves. One of our greatest goals in life should be to develop a deep personal relationship and union with God in prayer that opens us up to experiencing God's love for us and spills over into a love for others. Prayer is at the center of Christian life.

In a web forum permitting debate, an SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X) believer asked me how progressives pray.

For those unfamiliar with the SSPX, these are Catholics who reject much of Vatican II as non-infallible, and believe that the Tridentine Mass (or Latin Mass) is not permitted to be replaced by the Novus Ordo, or the Mass in the vernacular celabrated throughout the Catholic world after Vatican II. The SSPX emphasizes traditional Catholic piety such as the Rosary and Holy Hour devotions, litanies and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I think my SSPX detractor labored under the assumption that progressives do not pray at all, which I have never found to be true. Indeed, every progressive Catholic I personally know has a very disciplined prayer life, though I am sure that there is a great mass of Catholics either conservative or liberal who wish to develop a deeper prayer life.

When one reads the works or biographies of such great progressive Catholics as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Oscar Romero, Pope John XIII, and so forth, one finds that all of them prayed regularly, and often they prayed what might be considered "traditional" Catholic prayers, such as the Rosary. Indeed, Gary Wills, the author of Papal Sins and other progressive literature, also admits to praying the Rosary, and states his devotion to Mary is part of why he remains Catholic.

In my introduction on my home page for these blogs, I indicated that there is a danger of "boasting" about prayer. Matthew 5:5 warns us to not be like hypocrites who pray in public to be seen, and 5:6 tells us to go to our rooms and pray in secret where nobody else can see us. We'll look more at these verses below.

In Luke 18:9-13, Jesus compares a self-righteous Pharisee to a lowly tax collector. The Pharisee goes to the temple and thanks God that he is not like others, and seemed to keep a list of what separated himself from those he considered sinners. The tax collector, who is officially a traitor against Israel, sat in the back of the temple simply praying, "O God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The tax collector is considered justified, while the Pharisee is not. We must avoid the sin of presumption in thinking that simply because we pray certain prayers, we are saved.

Yet, imitating Saint Paul in 2 Cor 11:22-32, I went ahead in my introduction and "boasted in the Lord" and explained some of my prayer life. Paul occasionally found it necessary to boast of his works or prayer in order to give testimony to the power and love of God.

Since few if any people reading this site know me personally, and I will say loud and clear that I am a sinner in many ways, I will go on to offer my testimony to prayer in the hopes of accomplishing two things. First, I want to put conservatives at ease that progressive Catholics are not denying the importance and need for prayer. Second, perhaps any Roman Catholic who is trying to deepen their prayer life may glean something here that will help them accomplish what God is inspiring them to do.

Currently, I pray the Morning and Evening Prayers (Lauds and Vespers) of the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours (more on what this is below).

Lately, I also go to Mass most days, and I pray the Rosary most days, as well some other prayer forms. It has been difficult to find a daily Mass schedule that fits my work schedule, but I found some different churches so that I can make it more often than not.

I wake most mornings these days at 6:00 AM, make the sign of the cross, and pray the Apostle's Creed, a Hail Mary and an Act of contrition, then sit down to recite Lauds, or Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

For those unfamiliar with the Liturgy of the Hours, this a prayer form that originates from Jewish prayer and was preserved with Christian adaptations in an unbroken historical chain from apostolic times. It was especially preserved in the monastic tradition. This is a prayer form whereby one prays the Psalms and some Biblical canticles and readings.

The structure is similar to the liturgy of the Word in the first half of the Mass. There is a hymn, then three Psalms or Biblical canticles followed by a reading from the Old Testament or an epistle. A short responsory is recited or sung, then a Gospel passage is recited. The prayer closes with petitions, the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and a short collect. The Anglicans have a similar prayer form in their Book of Common Prayer.

The beauty of the Liturgy of the Hours is that when you pray these prayers, you are praying with monks, nuns, priests, and other laity all over the world, as well as with our ancestors in faith. Monks pray the Hours seven times per day. I like to pray the "hinge hours" of Morning and Evening Prayer. The hinge hours allow you to sanctify your day. A daily rythm is formed in the cycle of prayer that forms a melody of life. The prayers are Biblical prayers, so you are praying God's own word and joining what was most likely the prayer form used by Jesus.

After saying Morning Prayer, I do about 20 minutes of hatha yoga stretching. I follow the yoga with some light-weight curls, push-ups and sit-ups, then I run in place while praying three decades of the Rosary. Then I cool down while saying the remaining two decades of a five-decade Rosary. I stole this idea from a novel entitled The Great Santini, and like the main character, I enjoy the sense that I am caring for my body and soul at the same time. Of course, if anyone has read this novel, I hope I avoid the major faults of this character, which included alcoholicism and a violent temper. As I shower and get ready for work afterwards, I try to pray in my own words to Mary or to God.

While driving to work, I will continue to pray in my own words, or meditate on a theological question I might be researching. Throughout the day, I will say short "aspirations". My work is in information technology, and we provide a service to our clients helps to provide funding to sheltering the homeless in times of natural disaster. I am at the office 9 to 10 hours per day. I work as an operations manager, and I try to provide great service to our clients, act ethically in my business, treat my direct reports fairly, and work hard at my job. Probably my greatest fault in this regard is when I start writing some of these blogs during a legitimate break, and it spills over into time I should be focused on other matters. Yet, I consider writing these reflections a sort of prayer. I keep a Bible in my office, and have a few management books that use Jesus as a model leader.

In the evening, I go to a parish church that says Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours followed by the daily Mass on Monday through Thursday. If I manage to get to the church early enough, I will spend a few moments in centering prayer prior to Evening Prayer. Centering prayer is the act of quieting the mind to try to listen to God speaking in the depths of conscience. This quieting of the mind is done by simply choosing a short Biblical verse or word and repeating it silently with each breath.

Following the Liturgy of the Hours, we have the Mass, and I receive communion each day I attend Mass. For any non-Catholic readers, the Mass is a ritual prayer rooted in early Christian worship. It starts with an optional gathering hymn and some brief prayers followed by a reading from the Old Testament, Acts of the Apostles or a New Testament epistle. This is followed by a Psalm, usually sung.

On Sundays, there will be an additional reading from an epistle, where the first reading will always come from the Old Testament. This second reading is not part of the weekday Mass.

Following these readings, there is a reading from one of the four Gospels and the presiding priest will offer a Scriptural interpretation of everyday life based on these various readings called a homily. On Sundays, the Creed of Nicea is recited after the homily. On weekdays, it is skipped.

The Liturgy of the Word closes with public petitions, and the Mass moves into the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is a memorial of the Last Supper. Catholics can celebrate communion every day, but Sunday worship is considered the minimum requirement to meet the commandments of the Decalogue. Communion celebrates our full union with God and each other by actually receiving the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearence of bread and wine. After communion there will be a period of silence and some closing prayers. An optional closing hymn will then be sung.

Throughout the Mass there are ritual responses that are recited or sung by the congregation. Because the readings and ritual prayers are the same all over the world each day, a Catholic participating in the Mass is always praying with millions of other people.

On Friday nights, when the parish does not have Mass, I just pray Vespers on my own and spend time with my wife. Yes, I do like to have some time to just hang out and have fun. We even go out dancing on occassion. Lately, we have taken some Spanish classes together, and gone out afterwards. I only say this to point out that having a discipline of daily prayer does not mean we try to escape daily life and being human. Indeed, a religion of incarnation that expresses itself sacramentally is all about becoming more human, not ecaping the human condition.

On Saturday mornings, after my morning ritual, I do volunteer work in a diocesan outreach to immigrants. About every third or fourth Saturday, I also go to Confession in the afternoon. I like to spend some quiet time before the tabernacle (where Christ is present in the uneaten hosts form prior Masses) when I go to Confession as well. The other Saturdays are times for errands and fun.

Sunday is a true Sabbath for me and I spend extra time in Morning prayer, go to Mass where I have recently joined the choir, spend more time in Bible reading and other prayer, and try to relax until after Evening Prayer. My wife and I pray together mopre on Sundays than other days of the week, which is something I would like to change (I would like to pray together daily).

When I get home from Mass after work on weeknights, after spending some time conversing with my wife and fixing something to eat, I may spend a half hour or so reading up on theology or catching up on articles in magazines like Commonweal. Currently, I am reading John Meier's A Marginal Jew series. I do watch telivision, do errands, goof around on the web, or do other things most nights after reading in order to wind down a bit. I suppose all this will change when my wife and I are gifted with children. Anyway, then I'll pray a Hail Mary and some spontaneous prayers as I lie down to bed at night. I would like to develop more prayer as I am going to sleep.

The major fault of my prayer life is that I can easily fall into a sort of legalism, where I am going through the motions of the rote prayers without really concentrating on the substance of the prayer. We'll touch more on this theme that I think is a struggle for all Christians. Furthermore, like anyone else, changes in schedules, stress at work and general tiredness can throw me off of my routine sometimes, and I need to pick myself back up with the help of God's grace.

The goal of prayer in my mind is to grow in a constant awareness of God's presence, power and guidance in our lives, a deep sense of our union with God actualized in the Eucharist, and an ongoing relationship with Her. As the old Baltimore Cathechism used to say in the very first question, God made us to know Him, love Him, serve Him and to be happy with Him in this life and the next. Saint Paul tells to Pray without ceasing. (1 Thess 5:17) Prayer draws us into a sort of altered state of consciousness compared to the one who never prays. This state is not a state of drunkenness or intoxication, but it is higher awareness and state of enlightenment that permits to see the world differently and to inspires us to act differently in the world.

Prayer is more than a laundry list of wishes to place before a being conceived as a sort of Santa Clause to those who win his favor. Prayer is entering into a relationship with a power beyond our comprehension who chooses to reveal himself to us! Prayer is not simply telling God what we want. Rather, prayer is discerning what God wants and putting it into action. Prayer draws us into the heart of God who is ultimate mystery.

Jesus, himself, was somewhat of a mystic, and a man of prayer. The New Testament portrays Christ in the synoptic gospels as praying earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane, and John's Gospel portrays Christ at prayer in a long monologue during the Last Supper before exiting to the Kidron valley wear he is immediately arrested. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus prays Psalms from the cross: Psalm 22 in Mark and Matthew, and Psalm 36 in Luke. John's Gospel demonstrates Psalm 22 played out in the action around the foot of the cross as Jesus "hands over his spirit".

An important lesson in the New Testament is that the Psalms are frequently quoted or woven into the texts. The 150 Psalms of the Old Testament were considered the prayer book of the Jewish people, and these prayers were likely recited by Christ and the early disciples. Indeed, the Liturgy of the Hours, described above, is rooted in daily Jewish liturgical ritual.

The Psalms are part of God's word to us. As part of the canon, we Christians and Jews believe these prayers were revealed to us (through human agency).

I once had a spiritual director who pointed out that the allusions and quotations made to the rest of the Scripture in the Psalms make this a perfect portal to the whole Bible. The Old Testament is completely summarized in the Psalms. The New Testament is hidden in the prophetic Psalms. A person who prays the Psalms will become familiar with the major stories of the entire Bible.

Furthermore, while these prayers are ultimately God's word to us, these prayers express a wide range of human emotion, including the following: gratitude, sorrow, joy, sadness near despair, praise, doubt turning to faith in tribulation, exaltation, anger and forgiveness, and so forth. The person who prays the Psalms will find God's word affirming her or his own state and speaking to the deepest longings of our heart. Our feelings then blend with our doctrines of faith as we learn to see Christ's life in the Psalms and God's Word to us speaks ever more clearly, addressing us in our own human condition. The Psalms and canticles also address issues of social justice and practical moral guidence in our day to day lives.

Let us return, however, to Jesus as a mystic man of prayer. Jesus is often portrayed in the New Testament seeking solitude and quiet time fro prayer, meditation, and contemplation. In the depth of prayer, Jesus is lead by the Spirit and encounters the Father in an intimacy that drives and energizes his entire ministry.

Jesus is portrayed in the synoptic gospels as led by the Spirit for forty days in the desert for fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. Of course, there may be literary devices at use here echoing Moses' praying for forty days on Mount Sinai, and the forty year sojourn of the Israelite people. Nevertheless, a pattern for every Christian is presented here. Before we act, we should immerse ourselves deeply in prayer.

Elsewhere, the New Testament affirms that Jesus is a man of prayer:

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.(Matthew 14:23)

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (Mark 6:46)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (Luke 6:12)

During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

Indeed, though the New Testament authors affirm in many ways that Christ is God in the flesh, it is precisely in affirming that Jesus prayed that the authors most clearly distinguish the Son from the Father and emphasize the humanity of Jesus. Jesus provided his disciples instruction on prayer as follows:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:5-15)

Let's look at this passage piece by piece.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Progressives, as well as many conservatives, do not generally run around "bragging" about their prayer lives. Indeed, I feel a little uncomfortable talking about how I pray for this reason. This often creates the impression that we do not pray at all, and that all of our concerns are with social justice, politics and ethics to the exclusion of spirituality. I am trying to dispel this myth by describing my own prayer life, and affirming that most progressive Catholics that I personally interact with also seem to be people of prayer.

Any good Christian may feel a bit uncomfortable talking openly about their personal relationship with God in prayer, and yet we need to give to testimony to the power of prayer to be effective witnesses for Christ. When progressive Catholics (as well as many conservatives) are out discussing and debating theology and working for justice, we are not usually talking about prayer. This creates an impression that progressives do not pray. Nevertheless, prayer is the source of inspiration, guidance, nourishment, and discernment for all day-to-day action. Many progressives follow the Jesuit pattern of action and reflection in a cyclical pattern throughout the course of the day and the course of one's life.

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Prayer is more than a legalistic system of meaningless ritual and memorized formulas aimed at controlling supernatural powers. This is the fault of so much spirituality in the West today that goes under the auspices of the so-called "New Age". People use crystals or formulas or techniques to try to make things happen, envisioning God as a power that can be controlled. True prayer cannot control God.

Certainly we petition God, but our goal in petitioning God is always discerning God's will. I believe that God honors our desire to pray by allowing all prayer to have some positive effect in the universe. God answers our prayers, and we are grateful for the many times he says yes to our prayers. But sometimes the answer is no, or wait a bit longer. As prayer becomes a daily and life-long habit, we begin to learn what types of prayers God answers, and we come to receive glimpses of the divine will. Yet, God is always full of surprises. Sometimes, when God says no to us, it is only because She has something better in mind for us.

Over time, I have come to sense what to ask for when talking to God. It's a bit hard to describe, but there are times when I know I am supposed to ask for healing for a person, and other times when I know that I should be asking that the person be ready to die and their family and friends find comfort. I know many times when to pray for financial assistance, and when I am being invited to cut my expenses. I know most of the time when to pray for my "enemies" to have a change of heart, and when to pray to discern what I have done to rupture a relationship. This type of "hearing" God is hard to describe, and only comes with time in prayer.

I believe that the same general pattern of babbling to win favor with God described as part of the "New Age" also often infects the so-called "Word of Faith" movement in Evangelical Protestantism. This is a belief whereby faith is viewed as a force and words are considered the containers of this force. There are no magic in the words to prayer. It bears repeating thatt prayer is not a way to control God, and vain repetition cannot used to gain God's favor. Nor are we to babble meaninglessly like some people who fake the gift of tongues, nor utter meaningless syllables like those who repeat senseless sounds as a means of meditation. Nor can we expect to bargain with God in any strict sense.

On the other hand, many Catholic prayer forms seem to outsiders to be "babble". We pray repetitious litanies and Rosaries, and we memorize prayers for before and after meals and for morning and evening. Our Masses are ritual worship, and our sacramental prayers come from books. I think of the ads run in papers saying that a novena to Saint Jude will have certain results, and I cringe at what my Catholic siblings are saying. Are Catholics in general guilty of babbling like pagans?

Some of us may be, and we should also heed the warning of this possibility, but in general, I think Catholics are not engaged in meaningless babble most of the time simply because we use ritual. Ritual is not inherently wrong so much as our expectation of what ritual acheives.

I believe that the author of Scripture placing these words in the mouth of Christ is warning us about any and all ways that we make prayer meaningless for ourselves. Even speaking to God in your own spontaneous words can become meaningless babble if we don't have an intention to draw closer to God. Prayer is communion with God. It is an ongoing conversation that opens the heart to Her indwelling and enables us to live in a constant awareness of God's love. If repetition is done with the purpose of disciplining the heart and mind to draw toward God, there is nothing wrong it. Indeed, the Holy Spirit often draws us into this type of prayer. On the other hand, if ritual and repetition is done with the intent of trying to manipulate God, it can become vain and meaningless babble.

Indeed, I think we all know people who pray, but it makes no difference in their lives, and they seem unconcerned about their hypocricy. There are people who pray daily and are just plain mean, self-absorbed, and seem to gain no new insights from prayer. This is the fruit of meaningless babble, and the person who prays using formulas may not be praying vainly if their prayer is producing fruit.

I had a second grade teacher who was nun in the days when most nuns still wore habits. She asked us to re-write the Lord's Prayer in our words even as she had us memorize the form said at Mass. She advised us that praying can be a simple conversation with God and even stated that talking to God in our words is the highest form of prayer. I believe that almost every Roman Catholic I know or have met knows that we can and even should pray to God in our own words.

Yet, this same second grade teacher did encourage the Rosary. Later in life, a priest once advised me not to think of the Rosary as repetition of 150 to 200 separate Hail Mary's. Rather, he advised to think of the entire Rosary as a single act of prayer. I think this is right. It feels right when I pray the Rosary with this attitude.

For those unfamiliar with the Rosary, this is a method of prayer where a person uses beads to keep count of five sets of ten "Hail Mary's" divided by the Lord's Prayer and some other simple prayers directed at Jesus or the Trinity. As with the Liturgy of the Hours, when we pray this rote prayer, we are praying with others. The Rosary is likely the most common private devotion in the Catholic Church, and I sense that I never pray it alone.

The "Hail Mary" is taken from the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary and her cousin Elizabeth's greeting recited with a request to the mother of God to pray for us sinners. The prayer goes like this:

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. Amen.

Scriptural Breakdown
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. (Luke 1:28)
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus (Luke 1:42)
Holy Mary, Mother of God (since Jesus is God in the flesh, the title "Mother of God" is valid)
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death (see Rev 5:8 and 8:3-4 where the saints lift our prayers to God and pray for us)

While reciting each "decade", or set of ten Hail Mary's, there are Scriptural meditations that a person should consider. The recitation of the prayer to Mary forms a sort of wall against the outside world while the inner spirit is drawn into contemplation of the mysteries of Christ's life. It is helpful to consider the thoughts and feelings of each person involved in each mystery, and to relate their experiences to your own experience and the issues of today.

Originally, there were 15 decades of the Rosary as a replacement for the 150 Psalms for Christians who could not read. Pope John Paul II has added 5 more decades so that there are 200 Hail Mary's recited in a full Rosary. Most people say a set of five mysteries at a time. The mysteries are as follows:

The Joyful Mysteries
1. The Annunciation (Gabriel's announcement to Mary)
2. The Visitation (Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth)
3. The Birth of the Messiah
4. The Presentation (When the Christ child was taken to Simeon at the temple)
5. Finding Jesus in the Temple (when Jesus tarried in Jerusalem)

The Luminous Mysteries
1. The Baptism of Jesus
2. The Wedding at Feast at Cana
3. The Proclamation of the Reign of God
4. The Transfiguration
5. The Institution of the Eucharist

The Sorrowful Mysteries
1. The Agony in the Garden
2. The Scourging at the Pillar
3. The Crowning with Thorns
4. Jesus carries his Cross
5. Jesus dies on the Cross

The Glorious Mysteries
1. The Resurrection of Christ
2. The Ascension of Christ
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
4. The Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven (see Rev 12)
5. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of heaven and earth (see Rev 12)

The beauty of the Rosary is that as the mysteries are prayed over and over day after day, they become like diamond that shines differently in different light. Furthermore, because of the repetitive nature of this form of prayer, one can actually transcend rational meditation and verbal discourse with God to a deep sense of contemplative union and non-verbal awareness of Her presence.

Some people feel a dryness in prayer, when the mind seems distracted and apathetic. Many people fear that they are falling into meaningless babble when this happens, and they become concerned that prayer is not working or that God does not love them.

If you are feeling concerned about this, then prayer is actually working and you are not guilty of meaningless babble. The very desire for a real relationship with God transcending the words on your lips is itself a form of prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit. The tension of wanting more from prayer even when it doesn't seem to come quickly is a sign that prayer is working its effects. This is a normal human experience.

The great spiritual masters of Catholicism speak of three overlapping stages that are common, if not universal, in the spiritual life, and two types of prayer that pass through these stages in a cyclical pattern through life.

The two types of prayer have technical names in theology, but basically they are the conceptual and non-conceptual prayer. Conceptual prayer uses words, visualizations, feelings, and so forth to lead the heart and mind to God. Non-conceptual prayer erases all thought, words, images, visualization, and feelings to rest in simple awareness of God.

The stages are as follows: 1) the illuminative stage, where one seems to draw much insight and feelings of consolation in prayer. 2) The purgative stage, where one feels completely abandoned by God and stumbles along in darkness (the dark night of the soul), and 3) The unitive stage, where one is enraptured by the most direct experience of God available in this life. The stage of dryness and distraction is sometimes the second stage of the spiritual life, and the desire for God is strengthened in this phase.

I would say there are two ways through the second phase. First, don't give up on prayer. It does deepen. Second, don't be afraid to try new prayer forms. If the Rosary is not working, try Scripture reading for a while. Try journaling. Writing letters to God is a wonderful way to add spontaneity to your speaking to God. Learn about centering prayer. This is wonderful means of listening to God, rather than always requesting things from God. Many people find it also to be a relaxing exercise. Join a charismatic group and you may discover that you are being given the gift of tongues. Join a Bible study group. There are so many different ways to pray, that dryness can become an invitation from God to open up to new vistas in prayer.

I pointed out that Gary Wills and Dorothy Day and many progressive Catholics do say such traditional prayers as the Rosary. Indeed, I try to say five decades of the rosary every day myself, as already mentioned. I prayed the Rosary everyday for a while in second grade, but set it aside for the most part until I was 21 years old. My interest in the Rosary was actually re-ignited by a Buddhist priest I met in college. Ever since the age of 21, I would say the longest I have gone without saying at least five decades of the Rosary has been about a week, and, as I have already said, I make a sincere effort to say five decades every day lately. There were dry spells of over a year where I could only say it about once per week, but I have found myslef returing to it time and again.

Nevertheless, the Rosary is a beautiful form of "contemplative" or "meditative" prayer that correlates with eastern meditation forms. Unlike some of the "techniques" of eastern meditation, however, the Rosary draws us into a deeper personal relationship with God as other. The meditations of the Rosary inspire a heart of compassion for others as well by forcing to examine our own participation in the life, passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

Contrary to what some conservatives seem to think, I feel that the meditations of the Rosary often lead to some "progressive" insights. It is through meditating on Jesus carrying his cross and dying (fourth and fifth sorrowful mysteries) that I was hit with the lightening bolt insight that it was women who followed him when the men had run in fear! It is through meditation on resurrection (first glorious mystery) that I realized that Mary Magdalene is first to come to faith in the resurrected Lord. It is through meditation on the third glorious mystery that I see our Blessed Mother at Pentecost. All these insights feed into the way I deal with the question of women's ordination. Indeed, so much is Mary present in the meditations that it seems to me she is sitting at table in the fifth luminous mystery, the institution of the Eucharist.

The sorrowful mysteries also lead me to despise the death penalty and eventually question the rationalizations for war. The third luminous mystery speaks to me of God's reign breaking into our world to liberate the poor and oppressed. I could go on and on, but the point is that the Rosary is a beautiful prayer, and no guarantee that a person will become a "conservative".

Let's continue with Jesus' discourse on prayer:

This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:5-15)

There are volumes written on this short prayer. Saint Theresa of Avila has an extended meditation on this prayer in her Way of Perfection. However, rather than reading my own or someone else's commentary on the Lord's Prayer, let me suggest that a wonderful exercise could be to take one hour to say one "Our Father". Think about, feel, and savor each individual word. Roll the prayer around in your heart and mind slowly.

It is interesting to note that there the Lord's Prayer is never recorded the exact same way twice in the New Testament. I believe that it is difficult to say that we have Jesus' exact words. Rather, the disciples learned from Jesus to say something like our version of the Lord's Prayer. The prayer as we have memorized it is beautiful, but even when Christ taught his disciples to pray this prayer, he was not offering a set of magic words. Rather, he was establishing a pattern for spontaneous prayer.

Christ tells us: Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)

This verse flows into the thought of Saint Paul that we have already seen. We are to pray without ceasing. Prayer is not just something we do when we kneel, sit, stand, or lay down at specific times to perform certain rituals. Ritual prayer feeds into a constant awareness of God and an ongoing personal relationship with the divine. The apostles and disciples of Jesus continued to take prayer seriously after his ascension:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

We see here what may be the earliest reference to frequent communion. In another verse, we see that the apostles continued to pray at specific times in order to lead their own hearts and minds into praying without ceasing:

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer, at three in the afternoon. (Acts 3:1)

Yet, ultimately, all prayer is an act of God within the believer. It is God himself who inspires all prayer:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Romans 8:26)

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:20)

I have alluded to these verses already, and I wish to highlight them again. Though Christ is the sole God-man and the one mediator between humanity and the Father, Christ invites us to intercede for one another. Catholics believe that through prayer with and for one another, we are drawn into the Mystical Body of Christ. We are united in one Holy Spirit. Christ became human that the human might be divinized. We become partakers of the divine nature and Christ wishes to share his role of mediation with us. When we pray to Christ, it is not simply me and Jesus, but me and the whole Christ, the Church! Thus, we believe that intercessory prayer with and for one another survives death. Even when we fail to pray here on earth, or feel unworthy to approach the Father, or simply want another to intercede for us, we can seek the prayers of both our living sisters and brothers and the saints who have gone before us in death to meet Christ! We can ask the saints to pray for us just as we would ask a living friend to pray for us. Here are some verses that seem to me to point to the intercessory role of angels and saints lifting up our prayers on our behalf:

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8)

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand. (Revelation 8:3-4)

Returning to where I began, I want to speak briefly about the conflict between the SSPX and progressives over the Mass. The issue is not simply whether to say the Mass in Latin or the vernacular. Rather, the Tridentine style of the old Latin Mass emphasized a quiet and passive reverence that was aimed at helping the individual achieve contemplative prayer during the Mass itself. The Novus Ordo of Paul VI is aimed at emphasizing in a more clear fashion the communal character of liturgical public worship. Progressives do not deny the value of contemplative prayer. However, we feel that the Mass is not the place for it.

Contemplative prayer should take place at home, when praying in your closet as Jesus advised. By its very nature, a Mass is a public act of worship where we celebrate the presence of the risen Christ in our midst and become the very Body of Christ that we receive. Becoming the Body of Christ is entering into personal relationships with those around you, imaging the union in personal relationships of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The thrust of the Novus Ordo is entirely different than the thrust that developed in the Tridentine ritual over several centuries. The Novus Ordo actually more closely resembles worship as it was expressed in the early Church and even in the period immediately prior to Trent. The Novus Ordo is not a rejection of piety and tradition. Rather, it is a retrieval of the original purpose and meaning of the Mass.

Peace and Blessings!

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posted by Jcecil3 3:10 PM

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