Friday, November 29, 2013

Don’t Stop When You’re Winning: Keep Praying Thanks

A friend sent out this prayer at Thanksgiving. I give it whole at the end, but offer this piecemeal meditation:

Dear God giver of all Grace and of all Blessings…
Maybe we should make “grace” the first gift we thank God for consciously all day. It is the “favor” of sharing in the divine life of God. Shouldn’t that top our list?

I thank you for the gift of these friends and family...
God’s Being is relationship. God is – and can only be – as Three Persons in relationship (that is, interaction) with Each Other. Then all being, ours too, has to be relationship. To live is to interact with friends and family. The human race lives authentically in the measure we all become friends and family to everyone else.

I thank you for the gift of life
Not just our life, but our existence is something God is giving us right now. He can’t just “put us out there” and forget us. God sings the word that creates us. We exist only as long as he holds the note. We exist by ongoing love.

for the breath that sustains us…
Take a breath. Hold it. You have only minutes to live. Unless you take another one immediately, you die. Life is ongoing dependence: on air, water, food, shelter, other people and God. We should make it ongoing gratitude.

For the food we will partake of on this Thanksgiving day that will nourish our souls and bodies... A monk (Brother David Steinl-Rast, OSB) once said: “When you eat, talk. When you keep silence, fast.” The tribal custom of the Ngamas in Chad forbids anyone to eat alone. The Bread of Life (Jesus) is only given in a communal meal, both at Mass and in heaven. There is no take-out. If we cannot forgive, accept others, and sit down together at table, we starve our bodies and souls. We have to nourish both together.

For the love of friends and family without which there would be no life…
There is no life without love. But there can be love without physical presence. Our deceased (that is, fully alive) friends and family are still with us. So are those who are absent. But without love, even those sitting next to us are distant.

I thank you for the beauty of this world that our eyes can see, for the joy that the ear may hear, for the mystery of our creation…
It is a principle of life: what we do not praise we will not appreciate. If you do not praise the beauty you see in others – constantly – you will not notice it. If you praise all the time, you will live surrounded by beauty. Test it. When you see anything good in anyone, tell them. Your whole life will be joy.

I thank you for the children who lighten each moment for us with delight, and for the unborn who offer us hope for the future...
Children give us hope. They don’t have the faults that discourage us. Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Do your faults discourage you? In God’s eyes you are a developing child. Accept that and grow with confidence.

I thank you for another day of life, one more day to show love and give love, for the opportunity to work for justice and peace, for your grace, and your promise to be with us to the end of times...
What a waking prayer! Why do you get up in the morning? Is it sometimes dread to get out of bed? If you want to “show love and give love,” you cannot fail. No one can take that from you. Do you want to “work for justice and peace”? If all you want is to work for it, you can be happy. If you want to succeed in it, your happiness will depend on your hope. Hope means trusting in Jesus until “the end of times.”

Thank You for being Our God and Our Salvation…
We thank God for many things, mostly for things he gives us: food, flowers, children, friends, health, success in our enterprises. Why not thank him above all, more often than for anything else, just for what he is? Why not do the same with the people we love, live and work with?

For these and all blessings on this Thanksgiving Day and every day I give you thanks, loving God, through Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour.
We celebrate Thanksgiving Day to remind us every day should be thanksgiving. We celebrate birthdays to remind us to give thanks every day for every person’s birth. We celebrate Mass to remind us that we experience every day what Jesus’ sacrifice did for us. To “celebrate” is to “single out for grateful remembrance.” Make every day a constant celebration. See, say and remember.

Amen. Happy Thanksgiving. So be it. Every day. And thank you, Eileen Forrest. Even if you weren’t Irish, we would love you!

Now read it as Eileen wrote it:

Dear God giver of all Grace and of all Blessings,
I thank you for the gift of these friends and family.
I thank you for the gift of life, for the breath that sustains us,
For the food we will partake of on this Thanksgiving Day that will nourish our souls and bodies.
For the love of friends and family without which there would be no life.
I thank you for the beauty of this world that our eyes can see, for the joy that the ear may hear, for the mystery of our creation.
I thank you for the children who lighten each moment for us with delight, and for the unborn who offer us hope for the future.
I thank you for another day of life, one more day to show love and give love, for the opportunity to work for justice and peace, for your grace, and your promise to be with us to the end of times.
Thank You for being Our God and Our Salvation.

For these and all blessings on this Thanksgiving Day and every day I give you thanks, loving God, through Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Praying with Thanksgiving

We celebrate Thanksgiving one day every year to remind us what we really want to do all year long. We can have a mystical experience every time we thank God if we know what we are doing.  A “mystical experience” is a conscious awareness of relationship (interaction) with the divine.

Here’s how it works:

Imagine you are in an artist’s house admiring a statue she made. Imagine yourself praising her for it. You experience a bond of common appreciation. Praise makes your relatedness conscious.

Now imagine her telling you that she carved this statue precisely for you, to give it to you as a gift. What do you feel now? Does that add something to the experience? Make you aware of something more in your relationship? Add another bond?

Now admiration and praise have been extended into gratitude.

When we admire God’s work in the world, it is not like something we see exposed in a museum or decorating another person’s house. This could evoke admiration and praise, but not gratitude. When we realize, however, that everything around us, all that we see and hear and taste and feel and experience, was created and is being sustained in existence by God right now precisely for us, then we can move to thanksgiving.

With thanksgiving we enter into another area of truth, another level of mystery. This Person who created all we see around us created it for us. It is all gift. Recognizing this brings us into another kind of relationship with God.

Thanksgiving bonds us to God in love.

But we have to thank him. Just as praise turns admiration into personal relationship, expressing thanks turns gratitude into bonding. That is why we need to thank God explicitly. Thanksgiving is what makes gratitude conscious and real. Thanksgiving makes gratitude an experience. If we understand intellectually that everything on earth is God’s gift to us but do not personally thank him for it, we are not accepting or acknowledging the gift — not as gift.

And we won’t appreciate God as Giver.

We may use all that is provided for us, and be glad we have it. But if we do not personally and explicitly thank God for it, we will not experience what we enjoy as the gift that it is. And we will not experience relationship with God as Giver. We will not have the mystical experience of accepting and returning his love.

Nothing excites love so much as being loved. When we realize the love with which God has delightedly designed the universe for us, proliferating plants and flowers, spreading the stars throughout the sky, tripling to trillions the tastes and colors, sounds, sensations and varieties of pleasure available to us on every level of body and soul, how can we fail to love him back?

But we will not realize we are loved unless we thank God for loving us. We will not realize how and how much we are loved unless we thank him in detail, noticing the shades and nuances and delicacy of his love in the multitude of gifts he is lavishing upon us. Thanksgiving introduces us into the mystery of the multiple manifestations of God’s love. This is a mystical experience.

When we “give thanks” for the meal in front of us, we should go into detail, at least in our minds.

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this food to eat….”

Look at it. Look at what is on the plate. How many different shapes and colors and textures and tastes! How many different kinds of food. How many people combined to produce it.

“Fruit of the earth, and the work of human hands….”

And of divine hands. Hands overflowing with generosity. God didn’t have to feed us with such variety, such richness, such a multiplicity of foods.

He could have made us to live on beans alone.

But he didn’t. That is the marvel and mystery of his love — which we enter into and appreciate by thanking him for it.

A “mystery” is not something unknowable. A mystery is “that which invites endless exploration.” That is what the mystery of God’s love is: love expressed in an inexhaustible series of surprises, experienced in an endless unearthing of benevolence.

By thanking God for his love we experience love. Love for God, love for each other, universal love.

We come to appreciate the meaning of the greeting at Mass: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God… be with you!”

This is the mystical experience that is the fruit of thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Waking Prayer: Making Contact with God

Obviously, the first thing we need to do on waking up is make contact with the Trinity. The life we are about to live this day is “Trinitarian life”—because we are made in the image of God, and God’s life is relationship – that is, interaction – between Father, Son and Spirit. It doesn’t make sense to start the day without establishing conscious relationship – that is, interaction—with the Three Persons whose life is the key to and pattern of ours.

All the above applies to human life. But if we have received (perhaps without recognizing it) the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” then in addition to our human life, we share in the divine life of God. Our life is not just in the image of the Trinity’s; it is the life of the Trinity, shared with us.

So our life is to share in the life – which is the relationship, which is the interaction – between the Father, Son and Spirit. How do we do that?

Let’s make it simple. 

By Baptism we “became Christ” (don’t believe me? see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 795). So just live as Christ. We let Jesus interact with the Father and Spirit (and the world) with us, in us and through us. That can be more simple than it sounds. Start your day with three prayers:

1. Say the Our Father. When his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus responded by teaching them what to pray for – the five priorities of his own heart. When we pray the Our Father, we interact with the Father by making the Son’s desires consciously our own:
  • Our Father: We begin by recalling that, in Christ, we are divine, sharing God’s own divine life as children, not just creatures. We talk to God as Jesus does, calling him “Father.”
  • Hallowed be thy name: Jesus lived to make the Father known and loved. So should we.
  • Thy Kingdom come: He announced the reign of God on earth and worked to establish it. We make this our mission in life.
  • Thy will be done: When doing meant dying, Jesus put the Father’s will first. We choose the same.
  • Give us…bread: Jesus came to gather the whole human race together around the table at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb” – where he himself is the Bread of Life and joy. We condense all our desires into this one and ask for it alone – for everyone.
  • And forgive… as we forgive: The Bread of Life is served only at a communal banquet. Only those can receive it who are willing to sit down with everyone else, forgiving all as God forgives. We ask for this in union with Jesus.

2. Say the WIT prayer. Realistically, we can’t do any of the above. So we interact with the Son by asking Jesus:

     Live this day with me.  
     Live this day in me. 
     Live this day through me
     Let me think with your thoughts, 
     Speak with your words, and 
     Act as your body on earth.

This is the WIT Prayer (With, In and Through). Repeated repetition, all day long, will make you a mystic.

3. Say the “Come Holy Spirit.” We realize we can’t even surrender to Jesus by our own human power. So we join Jesus in asking the Spirit: 

   “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your divine love.”  

    Then we pray to Jesus and the Father, declaring our hope: 

   “Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth.” 

   If we know the traditional prayer of the Church we add: 

   “Father, by the light of the Holy Spirit you instruct the hearts of your faithful. Grant us by the same Holy Spirit that we may always do what is right and just, and always rejoice in his consolation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

By saying these three prayers we are trying, at least, to begin this day consciously loving the Father, united to the Son “in Christ,” responsive to the Holy Spirit. To do this is to live our real life.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Get Real: Pray the Mass

I read escapist novels – like fairy tales and westerns – to escape. Duh. But how does it happen?

The story puts me into a different world. An unreal one, where death is comic-book death, where there are superhuman helpers, and the good guy always wins. I can get out of the real world for awhile, lose myself in a different one. Escape.

It dawned on me: this is what Mass is, except the unreal world we get into there is the real one.

This world is true and false reality. The ground is solid under my feet – as long as God keeps willing it into existence. Of itself it is nothingness. So are other people. So am I.

My relationship with others, no matter how deep, still doesn’t reach the core of their being. I don’t know any of them as they really are. Nor do I know myself.

I feel alive. I am alive – tentatively. But what feels like life has already ended in death, if I include the future. I am more “living” than “alive.” It is a passing condition.

Things give me pleasure. I think of it as happiness. Money and health make me feel secure. Approval and success make me feel I am worth something. Sirach said it like it is: “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity!”

Now let’s go to Mass.

From the moment we enter church we are in a different world. God’s world. What is real is God: Father, Son and Spirit. What is real about us is that we share in the divine life of God (the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”). We are forever. We are divine. That is reality.

At Mass our conscious connection with others is the mystery of “communion in the Holy Spirit.” It is not sociological Catholicism. We are one as the Father, Son and Spirit are one (John 17:11-21). That is a mystery. But it is reality. One that will last forever.

We praise God, calling to mind who he is: “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High!” That restores perspective. That is reality.

We listen to God’s words read at Mass. They clash with the words of the culture, the words we see and hear all day. But God’s words are true. They are reality.

Jesus Christ becomes present in the act of offering himself on the cross. It is a “real presence.” Calvary is present to us. We are present on Calvary. We are united to Jesus, participating in his act of sacrifice. That is reality. It is the reality of our lives. .

At Baptism we “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” We were incorporated into Christ’s body on the cross, died in Christ and rose to be his living body on earth (Romans 6:3-4; 12:12). The truth about our being is that we “were buried with Christ in baptism, and were also raised with him” and “seated with him in the heavenly places” (Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 2:6). That is what we celebrate at Mass. That is reality.

We were “reborn,” “raised with Christ” out of the “womb tomb” of Baptism, so that we might “walk in newness of life.”

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). That is reality.

At Communion time we enter in preview into the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Christ the “Bread of heaven” has entered visibly into each one. For a brief moment all divisions are forgotten, all resentments put aside, all offenses forgiven. We are one as we will be in heaven – and, in the eternal “now” of God, already are. That is reality.

Now “the Mass is ended. You are sent forth.”  We are sent back into the “real” world of shadow permanence, of wavering focus, false perceptions and phony promises. The world which lures us to forget who we are.

But we are sent back to remember. And to proclaim. We go out to bring the whole world into reality, into the celebration that lets us “escape” into the world that is real.

We “Go in peace.”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Praying the "Hail Mary"

The “Hail Mary” is probably the prayer Catholics recite most often, although it is not an “official” prayer of the Church. (Every prayer in our liturgy is addressed to God; never to Mary or a Saint).

No one really knows who put it together or popularized it. It just “caught on” and became a part of the Catholic mentality. We could call it the “laity’s prayer,” because it sums up the blessings common to every Christian. It encourages all of us to live out our vocation.

The “Hail Mary” is just two verses of the Gospel (Luke 1:28, 42) that someone memorized and began to recite, followed by a one-line petition: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

To appreciate the Hail Mary, substitute your own name for Mary. Then the prayer becomes a proclamation of what all Christians are by the gift of grace:

Hail (NAME), you are favored by God.” Mary was in fact “full of grace,” but the phrase is a mistranslation of kekaritomene, “favored one.” All the reborn are “highly favored” by God and should draw strength and comfort from recalling it.

The Lord is with you.” He is with all of us. We proclaim it every time we say “Dominus vobiscum,” “The Lord be with you.” Or “Goodbye,” short for “God be with you.” The prayer helps us stay constantly aware of his presence and confident of his help.

Blessed are you among women/men.” Within the community of believers, each one of us is singularly and specially blessed. “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1Corinthians 12:4-7). Like Mary, each of us is “highly favored” and singularly blessed. We need to keep ourselves conscious of it and use gratefully for others the gifts God is giving us.

And blessed is the fruit of your womb/life.” Jesus said to each of us: “You did not choose me but I chose you,” as I chose Mary. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). As Paul expressed it, all of us, like Mary, are “in the pain of childbirth” until “Christ is formed” in everyone we deal with. We are all “building up the body of Christ, until we become one… in the knowledge of God’s Son and form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature” (see Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 4:13). The Hail Mary reminds us that, in everything we do, God is at work in us to bring Christ to be and to fullness in others. We are chosen to live fruitful lives.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners...” We turn to Mary, remembering how holy, how great she is. She gave birth to God himself. We ask her to pray that we, who are sinners, will be able to do the little things God asks of us and that we aspire to do for the world.

Now, and at the hour of our death.” We ask her to pray that we will be able to surrender to God here and now, while we are still sinners. And we ask her to help us surrender totally at the hour of our death, when our “Yes” to God will be made perfect.

Amen. So be it. This is our life. What we see in Mary is the preview and promise of the perfection we will all have when we see the Church, all of us, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

Hail, favored one of God, blessed are you.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pray Three Times a Day

There is a prayer that all Catholics used to say three times a day.

Back when the culture allowed public expression of religion, church bells used to ring at morning, noon and evening, summoning everyone in town and in the fields to recite the “Angelus.” 

This painting by Jean-Fran├žois Millet (1857–59) showing a couple paused for prayer in their field made the Angelus part of art history. 

The prayer summarizes the whole Christian message.

The Angelus is made of three sentences based on Scripture, each followed by a Hail Mary, and capped by a concluding prayer.

The first sentence announces the mystery of the Incarnation: 

“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

The second sentence recalls Mary’s response to God’s message, teaching us the total surrender which should be normative for every Christian:

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”

The third sentence proclaims the fruit of Mary’s surrender, which is realized anew in every person who accepts the Good News: 

“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 

Jesus “takes flesh” in every baptized member of his body on earth.

There it is:  God’s invitation, our response, the fruit of our response in the Incarnation extended. That is the “glory of this mystery,” which sums up our redemption: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

In the concluding prayer we ask Mary to “pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.” Then we sum it all up in a prayer to the Father:

“Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts; that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

To say this three times a day, conscious of what we are saying, is to grow into awareness of the mystery of what we have become.