By Mary Ellen Dunford, affiliate
For every individual there are many different approaches to prayer. It is a personal preference with one way not better or worse than another. Yet we would all agree that the purpose of prayer is to bring us closer to God. Prayer nurtures our relationship with God and deepens our spirituality. During this past Lent a local church held a Prayer-A-Thon. For 40 hours they offered 40 different types of prayer. Each prayer session was one hour. Some of the prayer types included the rosary, Stations of the Cross, Litany of Saints, Lectio Divina, praying the 10 commandments, dance, singing, Taize, journal writing, prayer with nature, drumming, couples prayer, healing touch and walking the labyrinth. It was a wonderful opportunity for people to experience different ways to connect with God and share their experience with others.
To St. Francis and St. Clare prayer was an important part of their tradition. They set aside time for daily liturgical prayer, community prayer and praying alone. Francis felt prayer was a necessary condition for following in the footsteps of Jesus who encouraged his followers to “pray always.” Like Francis and Clare, Jesus calls us to live a life of prayer and to live in communion. To pray always is to find oneself in prayerful communion with God and others while working, playing and experiencing all of the extraordinary and ordinary activities of daily life. Our daily living activities are not distractions from prayer but the source of meaningful prayer. Quoting Richard Rohr, “Prayer is the life of the one who prays.” Prayer is a relationship with God and the universe. Like all meaningful relationships, it takes intentional time and energy. If we are awake and present to the moment, we will grow in our relationship with God through every life experience.
St. Therese of Lisieux states, “For me prayer means launching out of the heart towards God; it means lifting up one’s eyes, quite simply, to heaven, a cry of grateful love, from the crest of joy or through despair.” Her emphasis is on the simplicity of prayer and that we turn to God in times of our joys and in times of challenges and discouragements.
Prayer is the path to following in the footsteps of Jesus. The Christian life calls us not only to take time out to pray but to live a life of service and to pursue peace and justice. Those that pray always are empowered and risk boldly the future.
"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life: Amen."
Remember, these are prayerful sentiments of a saint, a heroically-holy man. Another saint, Mother Teresa, prayed this prayer every day after Holy Communion. Why? She wanted, and desired for her sisters, to impress within, the blessings of a saint, the medicine of a mystic to sanctify and bring about union-with God and others. So, as you pray the prayer and read the meditations, become heroic, selfless, and more Christ-centered, like Francis and Teresa. Some of the prayer may be counter-intuitive-that is, against your grain, contrary to your human nature. Spirituality is like that: you must lose yourself to find yourself (Mk 8:35), and "become as a child" (Mt. 18:3) to enter the Kingdom. Our Sacred Religion is, though rational and understandable, really, trans-rational--mystical mysteries elevating the soul into higher being and love (Cf. Col 3:1-3). After all, we believe in spiritual paradoxes like the God-Man, a Virgin-Mother and the One-in-Three-Lord. All these are what Nicholas of Cusa called "coindenta oppsotiroum"-the "co-incidence of opposites." Whereas these opposites may appear irreconcilable to the world and our rationalistic, scientific minds, they are, in God's plan, harmonized and fused, and the only response is pray, bow, and worship. A pilgrim once said about his Faith: I don't have the pressure to understand everything rationally but am freed simply to believe and accept mysteries. St Francis knew that. Though he wasn't a rocket scientist he was a brilliant Spiritual Strategist-a Mystical Medicine Man, a Spiritual Director. Why? The first stanza of the Peace Prayer is a "Call to Action"-a "Peace Plan" for every individual. We do not need Geneva Convention or Camp David accords, as good as they might be, to be peace makers-we have a "Peace Plan" right here! The second stanza of verses (II) is a "via negativa" of the spiritual life (which some quarters of modern Catholicism neglect or reject): they show and pray for the need to strip and negate ourselves of sins, self, attachments, and other junk. The third stanza of verses (III) are a climax of the Fruits of our Efforts and God's Grace-Union with Him, eliciting a "Spiritual Circle of Unity," where illusion is dispelled and soul is propelled into God-likeness. All kinds of people have found this prayer wise, healing and enlightening. So, then, enough, let us meditate:
Lord Make me an instrument of Thy peace
Look-you are called to be a saint. Yes, you. All are called to perfection (Mt.5:48) not just clerics and religious. St Francis, before he became a "Franciscan," was a layman. He was just like you, but he became like unto God. Why-how? Because of his thirst for holiness and his tireless, faithful desire to be used as a vessel of God's Mercy and Grace. An instrument is a vehicle to be used by another person to achieve a goal. Catholics have always been called to be instruments of holiness, this isn't anything new. Think of Saints Dominic, Catherine of Siena, Mother Seton-all were laypersons in their conversions to holiness. Despite our imprisoning misinterpretations-i.e., that holiness for all was repressed in the Church before and that it is now for all-- the Church has always called people-lay and clerics--- to holiness. Anyway-we-as Catholic Christians-- are called to be instruments. …Think: just as when, in a concert people don't clap for the violin-instrument after a beautiful performance, but for the violin player, the same should be true for us in our call to holiness: we are God's instruments--we should serve and worship God, not ourselves. A news reporter once asked a daring question to Mother Teresa if she were ever tempted to be proud. Mother Theresa inquired with a smile, "Proud about what?" The reporter replied, 'Why, about the wonderful things you have been doing for the poorest of the poor?" Then came her answer, "I never knew I had done anything, because it was God who had worked in and through my Sisters and volunteers." Saints show us the way of Selflessness in a seductive world of self-esteem. Another spin on this: a couple recently heard a Franciscan priest speak of the need for Catholics to share wealth with, and befriend, the poor: "If you have an extra coat in your house-it belongs to a poor person," the bearded preacher said. The couple went home and began planning for a dozen people to go to Nicaragua--to make housing for the poor…Are you serious about being an instrument of God? Are you using the Gifts He gave you for Him and for others?
Where there is hatred let me sow love
There is not only hatred in terrorists, rapists and abortionists, but also, sometimes, in our families, church-communities, in our political world, and, most importantly, in our hearts: So, there is plenty of need for us to be ambassadors of peace and reconciliation (II Cor. 5:20). St John of the Cross counsels: "Where there is no love, place love, and there draw out love." Our sinful tendency while reacting to hateful situations is"eye for an eye" retribution. St Francis and saints counter this inanity. Think of Pope John Paul II- a man (Ali Agha) once tried to kill him. The pope survived the hatred-in-action-assassination and went to the prison to forgive the man and reverse the evil. This is radical today. St Francis himself went to the Middle East and the Crusades to make peace with opposing warriors. Why won't you? Who are those who embrace hatred in your world? And how can you make peace with them? Maybe there is hatred in your office, in your family or elsewhere-be the first to reconcile, to begin anew. Where there is injury, pardon: we all get "injured" in life by another's words or deeds, by physical harm and sickness. Maria Goretti was stabbed eighteen times in an assault by a man and then died. The man was thrown in the slammer and, by God's Grace, eventually repented, reformed and was released-as a practicing Catholic. He became a third-order Franciscan and then went to visit Maria Goretti's mom and asked for forgiveness. She said: "Maria forgave you and so do I."… Be heroic in healing and forgiveness!
Where there is doubt, faith: atheism means a person doesn't believe in God; agnosticism means a person doesn't think anything can be known about God. We are called to alleviate these two sicknesses by proposing Jesus-God-in-the-Flesh--- to folks. Proposing Him, mind you, not imposing Him upon others. He is the answer to all doubts. One time the President welcomed a youth delegation of outstanding citizens for awards. As all were leaving the Oval office, one young man noticed he was last in leaving-with the President himself. So, he stopped and, looking troubled, said: "Mr President, can you do me a favor?" The President listened attentively as if nothing else mattered. The young man explained that a relative was very sick and would soon be undergoing serious surgery. He then asked the President to pray for this intention. The inquirer expected, from the busiest and most powerful and important man on earth, only for the President to say "Yes, I'll pray for him." Instead, the President of the United States then began praying-not standoffish-like, but, rather, by putting his hands over the young man's shoulders and invoking God's help, and then giving him an embrace. The young man wept. Amidst the young man's doubts abut his relative and also about busy, powerful people, the President dispelled all this and boosted the man's Faith! How can you do the same for others?
Where there is darkness- let me sow light
Jesus is "the Light of the world" (8:12), and yet there is still darkness and suffering. Where? People sometimes think it (darkness masquerading as light) will bring them happiness-in witchcraft, pornography, crime, drugs and drink. Only the One True God can bring ultimate happiness. We have other kinds of darkness, too. A soul once went to a psyche wing of a hospital for treatment and healing. Well, in the midst of this pilgrim's "dark night of the soul," they never forgot their spirituality-it was, thankfully, etched in the "spiritual sonar" of the soul thru the holy habits previously practiced for decades! This wayfarer gave out holy cards, invited people to prayer and helped others learn the St Jude novena for "hopeless causes". This wounded soul was a light in darkness. Jesus likewise teaches us in the Stations of the Cross-"Christ Comforts the Women of Jerusalem"-- that, even amidst personal afflictions-we can still be instrument-healers: Spread the Light! A pilgrim-donor to the Grotto recently wrote us: "Enclosed please find a check for $2,500 for your use to help a family or families who may be in serious need. We are doing this because we are Catholic Christians, and we spent about a dozen years outside of the Church's teaching on contraception. Please use the money as you see fit, but we would prefer it to either assist a couple who is being tempted to contracept, or to promote the Church's teaching on why contraception is evil." They gave because they, themselves, once embraced darkness, but now would like to help those enraptured by darkness into the Light and freedom. "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more" (Rm.5:20)
Where there is sadness-joy
Who isn't sad these days? There are plenty of people who suffer interior depressions and darkness. Americans spend at least 10 billion dollars a year on prescription drugs and medications. Today there are amusement parks, game-shows and gameboys, computers, magazines, and fantasy shows, extreme sports, "reality TV" and the Consumerist Complex to make one repress sadness and try to solve it thru inappropriate means. All this illusion equals unhappiness and endless catering to the ego and false, craving, unfulfillable self. Years ago Deacon Darin Didier, of Mt St Mary's Seminary was diagnosed with leukemia. Being a man of prayer he was probably sad-for a while, but then, after I asked him if he was upset or scared about his prognosis, he said: "Well, I pray for the grace to be ordained (June 4, 2005) and be God's instrument as a holy priest. That would be great. But, if God's will is something else, then I hopefully will be saved and be with him forever in Heaven. Either way, it's a win-win situation." Out of a possible imprisoning sadness this man found joy in trusting God's Divine-yet-Mysterious- Providence. How can you help others in their sadness to be awakened?- to remind them nothing can "separate us for the love of God in Christ" (Rm. 8:35ff).
Where there is despair-hope
The worst human emotion-commotion is despair: for one seemingly implodes upon oneself and finds no light-anywhere. Despair is the feeling when, as we say, "all is lost." Hope is when you may feel lost but you have All-God. One time a woman was mourning since her husband's death. They were married 35 yrs. She was home crying. Then, one lonely evening she heard the nearby church bells tolling for Mass. A thought occurred: Jesus is there in the sacrifice of the Mass. I must go. He will help me. The bells signaled an end to her despair-for the All, Christ Jesus, was nearby: "I will never leave you as orphans" (Jn 14:18). How can you be a ringing "signal bell" for another soul to bring comfort and liberation?
(II) O Divine Master, grant that I may rather console than be consoled
St Francis and saintly folks counsel an end of selfishness-though we usually want to be consoled. This is natural, but we are called to be supernatural. Blessed Damien the "Leper Priest" went to the island of Molokai to serve Jesus. No one was there to help him, but he helped countless lepers. Despite his heroic service, tireless daily hours, his desire to save souls and get in the trenches of suffering, no one consoled him. He continued serving the leprous natives-no holds barred…until he, himself got leprosy and eventually died. Think of him and countless other saints in their selfless service to the disguised Christ as He passes thru the world.
Understand than be understood
We sometimes ask: "Why doesn't anyone understand me? If only…" The saints, rather, dispelled all this and just "got in the trenches" of others' needs. Think of St John Vianney and Padre Pio and the uncountable confessions each man heard. They were in the confessional ten hours a day-listening to/hearing sinners. They were understanding-that was their charism. We need to work at it, to not only listen to someone, but to hear them. How can you work on this? Who can you listen to in your workplace, home or community?
Love than be loved
Sometimes at our Grotto we have a bunch of children at Mass, even little children. Anyway, some of the mom's need help and there are some teens present and I sometimes see the teens pick up a nearby, squealing baby for the mom to give her a rest. They might even bring the baby to Communion with them-smiling. It would be easier for the teen to simply pray and stay in their own world but, rather, they choose to love that mom's peace of mind, and that baby, by going the extra mile to help. How can you?
For it is in giving that we receive
Like Christ on Calvary or at the Last Supper-we receive Him because He gives Himself to us. Do the same. St Augustine has a marvelous verse about the Eucharist: "Believe what you receive. Eat what you receive and become what you eat." The giving and receiving become one continuous whole of our Lord's salvation-the more we give the more we will realize He is giving to us: hidden truths and spiritual surprises. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: "Open your hearts to the love God instills... God loves you tenderly. What He gives you is not to be kept under lock and key but to be shared." So, unlock yourself to others. When I visit the drug treatment centers, I may be tired or grumpy. But once I enter and talk to the folks I realize: they are helping me be saved. Their child-like Faith and Confessions and love of the Lord inspire me. I taught one non-Catholic how to make the "Sign of the Cross"-after she asked. I re-visited her a month later and she proudly demonstrated that she remembered it. Another soul who was there and was unaware of this practice asked to be enlightened and be taught how to make the Sign of the Cross. Remember: Bonum diffisum est…Good is diffusive of itself-it keeps spiritually snowballing.
Give away your clothes, money, books, and favorite things-even food: practice holy Charity. You've heard or seen the saying/bumper sticker: "Practice random acts of kindness…" This is an oxymoron-charity should be a virtue, not something random--a usual practice-not always when I want, but regularly. Form the habit and receive in return.
It is in loving that we are loved
"All of us know that unless we believe and can see Jesus in the appearance of bread on the altar, we will not be able to see Him in the distressing disguise of the poor. Therefore these two loves are but one in Jesus. If we really understand the Eucharist, if we really center our lives on Jesus' Body and Blood, if we nourish our lives with the Bread of the Eucharist, it will be easy for us to see Christ in the hungry one next door, the one lying in the gutter, the alcoholic man we shun, our husband or our wife, or our restless child. For in them, we will recognize the distressing disguise of the poor: Jesus in our midst." -Mother Teresa. The other night we had an all night Eucharistic Vigil, and in the Chapel around 3 am, there were about 10 people-praying in Adoration, loving Jesus and being loved by Him. The Dominicans have a beautiful motto: Contempalta alii tradere-give away the fruits of contemplation. Thru your heroic prayer and love of God may you bestow unto others Love-just as the saints did.
And it is in dying that we awaken to Eternal life
In meditation and contemplation, esp., we learn that we need to die spiritually, to our old self and sinfulness. God reveals our true colors when we are still enough to see them. St Francis was a man of great, contemplative prayer-he was offering himself to be purified, to die so that Christ would live in him more. As a matter of fact, Francis died so much that Jesus branded the Stigmata-Crucifixion marks on his body. The tremendous love Francis had inside manifested outside. The North American Martyrs were so converted into an evangelical, Christ-centered consciousness, dying to themselves and their comforts, that they risked and embraced death-cruel tortures-to preach and live Christ. "The Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church".
Perhaps you've read this Peace Prayer of St Francis before but, perhaps, you've never meditated upon it. To meditate means, literally, from the Latin, meditare, to "chew": i.e., to spiritually unlock within "flavors" of Truth which would normally go un-embraced. Our own Mt St Mary's President Powell opened his meetings at a previous secular school, with this prayer while he was president there: Courage! Wisdom!
By: Father John J. Lombardi
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
By: Richard Rohr
St. Francis illustrates this stage in many memorable ways. When he hears one day that the people of Assisi are calling him a saint, he invites Brother Juniper to join him in a walk through his old home town. Brother Juniper was the first simpleton (that is a compliment!), the holy fool of the original friars. Francis knew he could always trust him to understand what he was saying. Francis once said, “I wish I had a whole forest of such Junipers!”
Francis told Brother Juniper, “Let’s take off these robes, get down to our underwear, and just walk back and forth through Assisi. Then all these people who are thinking we are saints will know who we really are!” Now that’s a saint: someone who doesn’t need to be considered a saint, who can walk foolishly in his underwear the full length of Assisi.
A few years later, when people were again calling Francis a saint, he said, “Juniper, we’ve got to do it again.” This time they carried a plank into the piazza. They put it over some kind of a stone or maybe the fountain, and there they seesawed all day. They had no need to promote or protect any reputation or pious self-image.
That’s a rather constant spiritual tradition in the Eastern Church and in the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but it pretty much got lost after the 13th century Franciscans. We became more and more serious about this intense salvation thing, or you might say we took ourselves far too seriously. Moralism replaced mysticism. And this only increased after the in-house fighting of the 16th century reformations. We all needed to prove we were right. Have you noticed that people who need to prove they are right cannot laugh or smile?
When you are a “holy fool” you’ve stopped trying to look like something more than you really are. That’s when you know, as you eventually have to know, that we are all naked underneath our clothes, and we don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. I am who I am, who I am, who I am; and that creation, for some unbelievable reason, is who God loves, precisely in its uniqueness. My true identity and my deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for me, not from what people think of me or say about me. Both the people who praise me and those who hate me are usually doing it for the wrong reasons.
Adapted from Franciscan Mysticism (an unpublished talk)
Gateway to Silence:
I am who I am in the eyes of God, nothing more and nothing less.
Prayerful Path/Mary Maddox