Prayer in the Catholic Tradition

 Chapter 1 Prayerfulness by Robert Wicks

The first chapter, written by the editor Robert Wicks, is a helpful introduction to the idea of prayerfulness. While the chapter doesn’t explicitly state it, the term “prayerfulness” is a play on the term “mindfulness” derived from Buddhism and used in meditation circles.
Simply put, prayerfulness is

prayerfulness — that is, being in the present with our eyes wide open to the presence and reflection of God in all things, including ourselves. (p. 6)

or

prayerfulness is being in the now with our eyes open to the presence of God. (p. 11)

Wicks begins by describing Jesus call to a new way of life:

  1. in place of power, the call is to friendship and service
  2. in place of success, the call is to faithfulness
  3. in place of certainty, the call is to face their doubts and
  4. in place of retribution, the call is to forgive and love (p. 5)

Following this is a brief discussion (and a table) exploring the fruits of prayerfulness.  Examples from the chart include:

Prayerfulness can

  • lift us out of stagnant, obsessive thought patterns
  • help us to forgo the comfort of denial and avoidance for the peace that allows us to fear nothing but instead welcome all of our emotions, cognitions (ways of thinking, perceiving, and understanding), and impulses with compassion and clarity
  • open up true space for others by opening it up in ourselves
  • encourage us to wonder more about what thoughts, emotions, and events help us create peace rather than suffering
  • make us more in tune with the voice of God that is continually being drowned out by society and our own habitual voices

Wicks goes on to discuss ways to strengthen our prayerfulness, outlining key elements of a rule of life

  • Liturgy
  • Faith sharing
  • Formal prayer
  • Reflection during the day
  • Spiritual reading
  • Sacred Scripture
  • Journaling and theological reflection
  • Prayer in silence and possibly solitude
  • Hospitality

The chapter concludes with common questions about prayerfulness structured in terms of our presence to God (prayer), others (compassion), and self (fullness).

Wicks draws heavily on the thought of Merton and Nouwen in this chapter. His structure is more pastoral and psychological than theological. The influence of the mindfulness movement on the chapter is apparent.

All that being said, the chapter is a helpful reference and framework for those beginning along the spiritual path. It lays out the path of discipleship and the fruits of the spiritual life. In particular, the rule of life is helpful to share with anyone actively engaged in the spiritual life. As an opening chapter to a book on prayer in the Catholic Tradition the chapter does its job well.

Seeking Comments: Prayer in the Catholic Tradition 2

Chapter 2 Traditional Catholic Prayer

by Dennis J. Billy, CSsR

How important is traditional Catholic prayer in an individual’s prayer life? What role should traditional Catholic prayer have in a parish? How can traditional Catholic prayer be fostered and developed? These were questions on my mind as I read the second chapter of Prayer in the Catholic Tradition on “Traditional Catholic Prayer.” The first two questions are clearly answered, but I’m looking for comments on the third (see the bottom of the post).

The chapter begins by identifying what we mean when we talk about “Traditional Catholic Prayer.”

The word traditional suggests that these prayer forms are embedded in popular piety and devotion, structured according to set guidelines, and rooted in the living tradition of the Church. The word Catholic implies that they are closely associated with one of the many theological and liturgical rites within the Catholic Church… The world prayer indicates that they address a personal God, are fundamentally dialogical in nature, and focus on one or more key aspects of human existence: the physical, the mental, the spiritual, and the social (26).

… the phrase “traditional Catholic prayer” speaks of any approach to prayer that has become clearly identified with Catholic faith and recognized by the faithful as a legitimate devotion to be practiced on a regular basis as a means to growth in virtue and holiness (27).

[It] embraces a wide spectrum of set vocal, meditative, and contemplative practices. In its more specific sense, however, it refers to certain popular devotional practices that, at various points in the Church’s history, have seized the Catholic imagination and accompanied the faithful in their spiritual journey (27).

Traditional Catholic prayer is not limited to a particular culture; it includes both Eastern and Western forms of prayer.

If the Western forms emphasize the role of the passion and death of the crucified Lord in humanity’s redemption and the Easter forms highlight the process of theosis in humanity’s divinization, the two complement each other in profound ways and can be used by Catholics from both traditions to deepen their relationship with God and foster a spirituality that is truly one, holy, catholic, and apostolic (28).

Traditional Catholic prayer has common features.  First and foremost it is connected to the liturgical life of the church. Devotion does not compete with the liturgy, but “both are rooted in and flow from the same redemptive, re-creative, and sanctifying mysteries of the Christ event” (29). There is a harmony and reinforcement between traditional Catholic prayer and the liturgy.

Traditional Catholic prayer generally has a rhythm to it. This pattern and/or repetition parallels the rhythm of the liturgy and encourages depth of prayer. This repetition has the danger of becoming mere exterior formalism, but at its best the prayer’s rhythm builds on the insight that “a regular regimen of prayer impacts a person’s attitude, thoughts, and actions for the better” (29) enabling deeper integration and experience.

Prayer shapes the imagination and forms Catholic identity. It can help to “accentuate key aspects of Catholicism that set it apart from other Christian churches and ecclesial communities.” Properly used, traditional Catholic prayer can orient the faithful to the liturgy and practice of the faith. This Catholic identity also helps “to preserve unity in the midst of cultural diversity” (30).

Traditional Catholic prayer assumes private and communal forms. The rosary, chaplets, etc… can be prayed by individuals or in groups having a different purpose and style depending on the purpose of the prayer. These devotions are not required. They evolve over time. The flexibility of traditional Catholic prayer allows them to “weave themselves into the daily rhythm and life of the faithful” (31).

Because they are rooted in a sound anthropology, traditional Catholic prayer “affirms the physical, mental, spiritual, and social dimensions of human existence” (31). This balance is important in allowing a person to pray with their whole self.

There are both Christological and ecclesial dimensions to traditional Catholic prayer. The raising their minds and hearts to God, the faithful “… pray through, with, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who vivifies and sanctifies the Church through her life and sacraments” (31).

Traditional Catholic prayer is an important means of passing the faith from one generation to the next. Because it can exist independently of the hierarchical priesthood, it can provide spiritual sustenance when the sacraments are not readily available.

When seen in this light, such prayers are a major means by which the Church faith, in the absence of the ordinary means of salvation, can be passed on from one generation ot the next. In this respect, they complement the sacramental life of the Church and provide a cushion of spiritual practice upon which it can rely in times of persecution and hardship. … In the past, these traditional prayers have sustained the faithful in the most dire circumstances and helped them to survive (and even thrive) when access to the Eucharist was rare and, at times, even nonexistent (32).

Finally, traditional Catholic prayer is not secondary.  While it is not perfect and can suffer from abuses, it is vital to the life of the faithful and an essential part of any Catholic’s spiritual life.

It is not an inferior form of prayer to look down upon or hope one day to outgrow, but a staple food of the spiritual life that nourishes every dimension of a person’s makeup. It does not conflict with the Church’s liturgy but is intrinsically oriented toward and thoroughly fed by it. It encompasses many shapes, adapts to a variety of contexts, and orients the faithful toward the transcendent through a set of religious practices. It supports a focused “spirituality of practice” that has captured the heart of the faithful, shores up their Catholic identity, enables believers to take ownership of their spiritual lives, and gives their faith a marked personal imprint (33).

This dense chapter does a great job of answering my first two questions:

  1. How important is traditional Catholic prayer in an individual’s prayer life?

Obviously traditional Catholic prayer is critical to anyone’s spirituality. These prayers and prayer forms deeply shape the way each of us relates to God. They have been tested and shaped over time. If traditional Catholic prayer is not a part of your spirituality, it is time to start exploring it.

2. What role should traditional Catholic prayer have in a parish?

Traditional Catholic prayer needs to be integrated into the life of the parish. The parishes I serve as a deacon do not have a strong, recent tradition with these prayers and prayer forms. When they are introduced, there is not a lot of participation. We are beginning new initiatives to foster traditional Catholic prayer in the parish and at home,but it is an uphill battle. That brings us to the third and final question…

3. How can traditional Catholic prayer be fostered and developed?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section. How can we foster traditional Catholic prayer in our homes and in our parishes?

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 9-8-13

… anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Lk. 14:33

Discipleship demands everything. There is the popular expression “God has no grandchildren.” We do not become disciples of Jesus simply by being born into a Catholic family. We do not become disciples of Jesus by being good citizens. We do not become disciples of Jesus by showing up for church on Sunday. Being a disciple of Jesus requires the intentional effort to follow where Jesus leads us.

 We were first called to be disciples when we were baptized. For many of us, that means that we were infants, unaware of what was going on. At some point, we had to decide to follow Jesus. From that moment on, each day, we’ve decided to follow Jesus… and that means going where we might not want to go.

 Today’s Gospel reminds us of the challenge of discipleship. Not many of us want to renounce all of our possessions. We like them. They give us comfort. Our possessions make us feel safe. They give us power. Through our possessions we get control of our lives. And Jesus calls us to renounce all of these things: comfort, safety, power, and control.

 We are faced with a decision. Do we choose to follow Jesus as His disciple even when it makes us uncomfortable? Do we follow when that means taking a risk? Do we follow Jesus when he calls us to let go of power and control and surrender our lives completely into His hands? Do we follow Jesus to the cross?

 Most of us say “yes” and “no” to the challenge of discipleship, especially when it becomes difficult. The question Jesus ultimately asks us to answer is, today what is your decision, will you be my disciple?

 Peace,

Lincoln A. Wood

Deacon Lincoln’s Log 9-1-13

This past weekend, Fr. Jack preached about the importance of getting to know Jesus and allowing Him to know us.  He recommended the book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything:  A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, S.J.  Below is the Martin’s discussion of the Examen, a valuable, proven way to grow in your relationship with Jesus.

Before you begin, as in all prayer, remind yourself that you’re in God’s presence, and ask God to help you with your prayer.

  1. Gratitude: Recall anything from the day for which you are especially grateful, and give thanks.
  2. Review: Recall the events of the day, from start to finish, noticing where you felt God’s presence, and where you accepted or turned away from any invitations to grow in love.
  3. Sorrow: Recall any actions for which you are sorry.
  4. Forgiveness: Ask for God’s forgiveness. Decide whether you want to reconcile with anyone you have hurt.
  5. Grace: Ask God for the grace you need for the next day and an ability to see God’s presence more clearly.

Martin, James (2010-02-20). The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life

I echo Fr. Jack’s recommendation of the book and the examen.  The book is an excellent primer in the spiritual life and roots us in the basics.  The examen calls us to examine our relationship with God daily.  I’ll close this log with another quote from the book that exposes the roots of prayer.

You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.

May you practice gratitude this week and every day of your life.

Postcards from beyond.

Postcards from beyond. That is how Eknath Easwaran describes the sacred texts of India. It would also be a fitting description of this collection of writings of Abhishiktananda.

Born in France and trained in the French Benedictine monasticism of the pre-Vatican II era, Henri le Saux (1910-1973), who became Abhishiktananda, traveled to India and immersed himself in Hinduism.

Reading the story of Abhishiktananda’s life that begins this volume reveals a man who was exceptionally passionate and sensitive.

A monk cannot accept mediocrity; only extremes are appropriate for him (45).

He loved everything good, true, and beautiful and was willing to hold the tension that this love required. Instead of solving these tensions superficially and being satisfied with that, Abhishiktananda allowed this tension to drive him deeper into his own soul. It was the inner conflicts and tensions that shaped this man. It was the tension of loving the other, in this case another religious tradition, that drove Abhishiktananda’s spirit.

All of the writings in this collection are, at least in the broad sense, autobiographical. Abhishiktananda was concerned with experience, not theory.

All notions are burned in the fire of experience (198).

These writings are rooted in his own mystical journey, a journey which is often difficult and dangerous.

Several key themes emerge in the writings. The first, already mentioned, is Abhishiktananda’s focus on experience. He is not primarily concerned about conceptual understanding but a meeting of Hinduism and Christianity at the level of being or experience. Of the conceptual tools that Abhishiktananda uses to explore this meeting, the Christian mystery of the Trinity and the Paschal mystery are central. These concepts are brought into dialogue with the Hindu concept of Advaita (non-duality) and Saccidananda (from Sat = Being, Cit = Consciousness, Ananda = Bliss). Christ is brought into conversation with the Hindu concept of Guru where Christ is described as the Sad-Guru (true guru) and the church is described as his body. The tension between East and West is also discussed with India and the East representing the “Within” and Abhishiktananda counseling that the West needs to embrace the gift of interiority that India offers, but that it can only be accepted on its own terms. There is also a beautiful discussion of inculturation in a letter that Abhishiktananda writes to would-be missionaries to India. As you can see, this book covers a lot of ground!

A few notes on the structure of the book… The book is a little over 200 pages and divided into nine chapters: 1) Benedictine Monk, 2) Advaita, 3) East-West, 4) Immersion in Hinduism, 5) The Life of the Hermit, 6) Christianity, 7) God, 8) Prayer, and 9) Awakening. The writings are roughly chronological so one gets the idea of the development of Abhishiktananda’s thought. No selection is more than a few pages long and a few or only a sentence. The average selection is about a page in length. Selections are drawn both from Abhishiktananda’s published works and from his letters. There is a brief glossary of Sanskrit terms at the beginning of the book.

The book is certainly worth reading. The selections provide a lot of material for reflection and perhaps even prayer. It is obvious that Abhishiktananda was a pioneer in inter-religious dialogue. His insights shed new light on familiar Christian teachings and invite deeper exploration. Some Christians may be put off by Abhishiktananda”s approach which relativizes Christian dogma and doctrine. Abhishiktananda himself struggled with that fact. In the end, he attempts to remain faithful to his experience.

One who knows several mental (or religious or spiritual) languages is incapable of absolutizing any formulations whatever — of the gospel, of the Upanishads, of Buddhism, etc. He can only bear witness to an experience — about which he can only stammer (205).

This stammering witness to the truth of his experience has a lot to teach us.

Peace in the Post-Christian Era

What does a book written by a monk addressing the concerns of the cold
war have to teach us today? Plenty.

Thomas Merton is an insightful teacher in this book. He explores the
issues of war and peace in the context of the cold war. While many of
the concerns Merton addresses have lost their relevance, the
principles Merton presents force the reader to consider when force is
necessary and how it should be used if it is. As I see it, the
fundamental thesis of these essays is found in the essay “Can We
Choose Peace.” Here Merton writes,

“There are very strict limits set upon his [the Christians] exercise
of the right to defend himself and his nation by force, and there are
also strict limits upon his willing submission to evil and to
violence.” (10)

In this book, Merton applies the classic just war criteria very
strictly, to the point that I wondered if he would ever consider the
use of force justified. I discussed this book with a group of men
and we had to keep reminding each other that the choice that Merton is
advocating is NOT simple passivity in the face of evil. However,
Merton is clear that the use of force must always be as a last resort
and in proportion to the good being defended (a particularly important
issue in an age of “mutually assured destruction”). Merton challenges
readers to think creatively and find alternatives to violence.

“As Cardinal Newman so rightly said, the greatest victories of the
church were all won before Constantine, in the days when there were no
Christian armies and when the true Christian soldier was the martyr,
whose witness to Christ was nonviolent. It was the martyrs who
conquered Rome for Christ with a conquest that has been stable for
twenty centuries. How long were the crusaders able to hold Jerusalem?
(129)”

I believe that the theory and practice of nonviolence has made some
progress in the time since Merton. The work of Gandhi and Martin
Luther King, Jr. have demonstrated the power of alternatives to
violence. It is sad that it has not come further. Merton’s book is a
powerful reminder that the principles and practice of nonviolence are
intimately connected with the principles and practice of Christianity.
I enjoyed the book a great deal. However, it is not the first Merton
book I would recommend. The tone of the book is often shrill. Given
the fact that the book was written in shortly before the Bay of Pigs
this tone makes sense. On this topic, I would recommend the essay
“The Root of War is Fear” for a less “panicked” approach to the
question of war and peace by Merton.