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Lent 2019 is underway

Gonna get straight to it: I love the season of Lent.

Several weeks of group rosary and Stations of the Cross with people on Friday evenings, a time set aside specifically to invite us to deepen the cultivation of our conversion… what’s not to love?

As a recent Catholic convert, I still absent-mindedly or ignorantly blunder the occasional detail and have to google what fasting & abstaining mean, but I dive in with enthusiasm.

And you should to!

Lent is a tremendous opportunity to open our daily lives to grace in a special way without even having to worry about standing out for doing so. Who’s seriously going to give you a hard time for cutting out candy bars for Lent?

Looking for ideas? Pick out a favorite prayer and say it once each day through the season. Maybe the rosary, or the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”), or how about the Suscipe?

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

REAP and STAIR: toolkits for cultivating a healthy relationship with God in daily life

In separate posts just now I provided brief outlines you can use to guide yourself through a daily prayer “Quiet Time” using the STAIR acronym and through a life well-lived using the REAP acronym.

In upcoming posts I intend to explore these in more depth and with examples.

If you cultivate a daily habit based on these guidelines, even for a few minutes every day, within several weeks your life will be meaningfully bettered through the effort.

REAP Daily Living

  • R - Reading

  • E - Examination

  • A - Action

  • P – Prayer

Read the Bible, Church Fathers, Catechism, devotional literature, something inspirational. Consider Lectio Divina.

Examine your life daily. Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of any unhealthy attitudes and behavior interfering with your ability to cultivate intimacy with God.

Act with wisdom, compassion, and clarity of vision throughout your day.

"Pray without ceasing."

During the course of your day, actually make note of things to pray about, including things for which you are thankful, people who have needs, or personal needs. Lift these up briefly as you note them, and review your notes during your daily Quiet Time.

Choose a simple prayer you can remember to turn to several times a day. For example:

  • "Come, Holy Spirit"

  • "Jesus, have mercy" (Prayer of the Heart)

  • “Maranatha”

The STAIR of Prayer

  • S - Stillness

  • T – Thanksgiving

  • A - Adoration

  • | - Intercession

  • R - Request

Stillness - "Be still and know that I am God." Still the mind. Examples include the Rosary, the Prayer of the Heart, Centering Prayer, etc.

Thanksgiving - Have something to be thankful for every time you get quiet before God.

Adoration – Just sit in the presence of God, whether this be in the presence of the Host, nature, or even just acknowledging God's presence reflected in the image of God, in which you were made.

Intercession - Pray for others, and for God to grace you with forgiveness for others.

Request - Offer up the large and small concerns you find that you've brought with you to Quiet Time.

private piety

Piety, in the sense of devotional activity such as giving money to those in need and personal prayer, is essentially a private matter.

In Matthew 6, Jesus admonishes the disciples not to give alms and offer prayers with great fanfare in order to be seen and praised by other people, but to handle such matters privately. Drawing praise to ourselves is harmful to us, diverting our eyes, minds, and hearts from divine love.

Made in the image of God, who is Love, the expression of love from deep within us is natural and can be communal. But the natural expression of our piety should not separate us from contemplation of God by the distracting light of praise shining in our eyes.

Let us turn the direction of that light toward God and away from ourselves.

As Jesus continued,

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who is in secret will reward you.

He warned them and cautions us not to heap up empty phrases thinking we will be heard for our many words, but to pray in a simple, direct manner:

Our Father in heaven, your name is set apart for the sacred.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Provide for all our daily needs.
Forgive us as we have forgiven others.
Don’t leave us alone to give in to temptation,
but deliver us from all evils to see your face.

As we go through daily life we can be dazzled by troubles, pleasures, social complexities, personal problematic tendencies, and more. And we have to keep averting our gaze from the lights shining in our eyes, toward the face of God.

Over and over and over again. Keep coming back.

This is the opposite of heaping up empty words and phrases. It is instead returning again and again to giving as God gives, in keeping with the image of God shining forth inside us.

Every day, pour yourself out as best you can. Give yourself in prayer. Give in generosity to those in need. Give and give, so less remains to impede your view of the image of God inside you.

Let the light of the love of God inside you shine more freely, lighting and warming the world around you.

Your private piety will help the world to see, which is the opposite of what Jesus cautioned against. It’s not shining the light on yourself, blinding yourself. It’s allowing the light to pour forth from within you, that the blinded world may see.

finding the rhythm

I have been continuing to settle into a routine of daily mass and quiet time in the tabernacle chapel, and it seems to be a quality of life improvement.

Currently I use a meditation timer with a non-intrusive gong to let me know when I need to wrap it up and drive to the office. This allows me to read, meditate, reflect, and pray without the distraction of constantly checking the time.

Lately my quiet time has been more Marian and intercessory, a bit less Desert Fathers and Benedictine. With a book on Marian consecration as my guide, I’m reflecting on a different mystery of the rosary each morning. The book has a bit of an Ignatian influence, which hasn’t traditionally been my thing but isn’t bad.

I’ve only missed one daily rosary since this process started, last Saturday when I didn’t set aside quite enough time. I find the rosary a personally meaningful devotional and a helpful tool for stilling the mind as a support for prayer.

When I renewed my commitment to daily contemplative discipline, it took a few days to find any kind of rhythm. I had to find out how much time I needed for certain devotional practices, driving to work, etc. But I also didn’t have a specific plan in place for what to do during adoration.

Over the last few weeks I have found some structure in a natural way, and it’s paying off. For now the book Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary is providing an excellent framing device for reading, meditation, and prayer. After I complete it, I may use the Dover edition of The Imitation of Christ to guide daily reflection. We’ll see.

a week of daily mass and adoration

Back in the spring I entered the Catholic Church after a few decades of skepticism and seeking, having been a devout Southern Baptist for several years in my youth.

But last week I found myself really feeling that I've had a lazy approach to prayer for a while, and that it's been foundational to some issues in my life. So I started up a flexible routine including a daily rosary and asked a friend to hold me accountable.

Then Monday morning I woke up at 4 a.m. for reasons unknown. Although I wasn't crazy about this, it did allow me to get through my morning routine in time to attend 7 a.m. mass, which I have rarely done because it's tough to do everything on my morning checklist with mass at that time. After mass I briefly carried out my morning devotional before the tabernacle.

Then came Tuesday morning... around 4 a.m. and I found myself wide awake again. Again, not ecstatic, but again an opportunity to make it to mass. And another brief visit to the tabernacle.

That night, I set my alarm to wake me up early... so I could go to mass. And Wednesday morning I made it to morning mass and adoration for the third consecutive time, which I'm pretty sure is a personal record.

Later in the day I requested to start coming to work half an hour later (because they still get 40+ out of me every week, fret not). My boss asked for a reason, and responded "good for you" to my honest reply.

By this point I'd streamlined my morning routine a little. Get up a little earlier, carry out my routine efficiently, and now have time to spend 45 minutes to an hour in adoration before work.

My adoration time is somewhat unstructured. On a given day it may include any of the following: praying Morning Prayer with Invitatory from the Liturgy of the Hours, meditating on the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer, praying the rosary, spending time in silence, etc.

This new routine is helping me remember to pause for moments throughout the day to invite the Holy Spirit into my heart and life.

And after several days of this, I find it interesting that although I’m getting less sleep and squeezing more into my daily routine, I feel better in general.

the problem of existence

Life.

Exquisitely brief, dreadfully boring, ecstatic, sad, wrenched between extremes.

I try to make the best of it.

This morning I told a friend that I think I’m basically someone who wishes they were more holy, and who has read a few good books.

Fair enough, even if it only scratches the surface of my problem.

Smarter people than me have put words to it, and found as I have that words alone do not quite describe the dilemma of life. Action is required.

Buddha or St. Augustine might say that human experience is characterized by an “ill at ease” feeling, perhaps phrased as dissatisfaction or suffering. But they would add that our actions of body and mind largely work to create this trouble.

My intention in this journal is to briefly share some personal explorations of these matters, both the problems and the solutions.

Academically, I have a modest background in philosophy and psychology.

Practically speaking, after decades of being “a seeker” I find myself a recent convert and practicing Catholic.

My conviction is that satisfaction may be found through ongoing conversion. And this through prayer, personal reflection, and ethical living.