In transit with Our Lady

In transit with Our Lady

When I ride the metro by myself, I like to pray the rosary. If I time it right, I can get three decades in on the train itself, and two on the walk to or from the metro station. If I don’t time it right, or start to daydream, or lose my place, I end up at work or at home mid-conversation with Our Lady. Sometimes there’s a lot to say, and sometimes it’s more of a companionable silence. There are times when I envy some of our more charismatic Christian brothers and sisters the ability to craft beautiful extemporaneous prayers, to “freestyle.” It often makes me uneasy if someone asks me to say grace or offer a special intention. Sure, part of it is probably the inherited Catholic cultural discomfort of openly discussing religious feelings, but that’s not all there is to it. I sometimes think that finding the right words takes away from the beating heart of the conversation. Though it would shock the teachers who joylessly doled out countless glow-in-the-dark rosaries in elementary school CCD to me and my bored classmates, I’ve come to love the “formulaic” prayers of our faith. The other day, I was cleaning out those odd corners of my room where things seem to get hastily stashed and quickly forgotten about, when I found the rosary I used in college. I spotted the little soft blue bag covered in dust and I misted over a bit. I was so happy. Though you can ask Our Lady’s intercession as effectively on borrowed plastic beads as you can on pearls, I’m of the opinion...
No room at the inn

No room at the inn

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot this Advent is that there was no room at the inn. Allow me to explain. It’s all too easy to take the uncertainty (and frankly, the humor) out of the Nativity story. Mary’s a young, unwed mom-to-be whose first reaction when faced with the central role in the history of man’s salvation is essentially “I know how babies are made, and I’m pretty sure I can’t be pregnant.” Joseph thinks there’s some funny business going on until he’s visited in a dream by an angel who convinces him that his fiancée is actually pregnant with the Word Incarnate. And can you imagine that conversation when Mary says “I don’t mean to scare you, but I’m going to give birth to the Son of God” and Joe says “…I know.”? Then, they’re just trying to do the right thing, to go be counted for tax purposes, and they end up in Bethlehem with nowhere to stay the night. I bet that Joseph probably wanted nothing more than to find a nice bed for his pregnant wife. He did his best, but he came up short. Can you imagine how badly he must have felt? If you think about it, it’s all rather funny. We know how the story ends. They certainly didn’t! But isn’t that how life is? Not at all how you planned it, not always meeting expectations, so often a case of the best laid plans going amiss, often painfully humorous in retrospect. But God doesn’t make mistakes. The plan didn’t go amiss.  From the beginning of the universe, Our...
How the Charismatic Renewal Led Me to a Traditional Life of Prayer

How the Charismatic Renewal Led Me to a Traditional Life of Prayer

Recently a friend from church asked me about why I started a new household when I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville. At Franciscan, households are groups of men or women who share a common spiritual devotion and way of praying. Usually students join an already existing one, but sometimes a group of three or more students will start a new one. My friend wanted to know if I found all of the other households to be too “charismatic,” but the thing is, my household was extremely charismatic. A lot of our prayer together came from what some of the other founders learned as they grew up in the Charismatic Renewal. During my time in college, I transitioned to a more traditional understanding of prayer and liturgy, but I never gave up entirely what I learned from a charismatic life of prayer. My charismatic story begins with my parents meeting at a prayer gathering back in the late 70s in the basement of a church in St. Louis. Then there is the story of them getting married, having four children, and raising us all Catholic. They became less and less active in their charismatic community as my childhood advanced, but I still was prayed over every night, with my father laying hands on me. When I had nightmares about evil spirits, my parents taught me how to command them to leave me in Jesus’ name. In high school I attended Life Teen Masses on Sunday evening, and started participating in praise and worship–style prayer. I went to the Steubenville Youth Conference in St. Louis and had powerful...
Lenten Practices: Prayer

Lenten Practices: Prayer

There are more than three weeks in Lent, but there are traditionally three things that Christians commit to during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If I tried to do a series of posts that stretched the entire duration of Lent, you’d only have a few days to do the last thing I mention, so instead we can touch on the three traditional practices during the first three weeks, and then let you, well, practice the practices during the remainder. I’m probably the least qualified T&C blogger to comment on prayer or improving your prayer life, so instead of giving you my insights I’ll point you to resources that have been helpful for me in at least realizing what my prayer life should be like. So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts/resources for prayer: Teresa of Avila/St. John of the Cross: I’ve gushed about these two in many of my posts, so I won’t do so again here. Fr. Dubay’s recorded shows on EWTN are a good introduction to their spiritualities. I had tended to compartmentalize prayer, thinking that it had its own life and power separate from other aspects of my life. Their emphasis on detachment revealed how our everyday life, with its sometimes petty passions and wants, can intrude on the efficacy of our prayer life. Just being introduced to the concepts of meditative and contemplative prayer, as distinct from discursive prayer, was revolutionary. Having “graduated” from faith at confirmation, I didn’t consider prayer to be much more than “Bless us O Lord…” Meditation and contemplation orient you to the reality that prayer is dialogue and relationship...
Book Review: Church Militant Field Manual

Book Review: Church Militant Field Manual

My blessed wife gave to me for Christmas what I consider to be the most important book in my library, Fr. Richard M. Heilman’s Church Militant Field Manual. In case you are not familiar, the Church Militant refers to one of three parts of the Communion of Saints included in The Profession of Faith. The Church Militant (Ecclesia Militans) because its members struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  The Church Penitent (Ecclesia Penitens) means the holy souls being purified in purgatory who long to be in heaven.  The Church Triumpahnt (Ecclesia Triumphans) is the Church in heaven. The entire concept of the book is to revitalize this concept of doing battle against the devil as the communion of saints instead of going it alone.  What makes this book more than just an ordinary prayer book is that, true to the military theme, it provides actual missions for the Church Militant to undertake. The first mission is to pray for a holy soul in purgatory.  Fr. Heilman posits that a Catholic should receive a plenary indulgence for every reception of communion.  For those who can attend Mass daily, that would be one plenary indulgence per day offered for a particular soul in purgatory.  When praying for said soul, you pick a particular saint to pray with you.  For example, for my maternal grandmother, “Mammaw”, I picked St. Cecilia because my grandmother loved music. Once you have cooperated with God’s grace and a saint to free the holy soul from Purgatory, you then ask your saint and newly liberated holy soul to join you in a search and rescue mission to...