Preparing Well For Mass

For a lot of us, preparing for Mass means finding socks and shoes for everybody and trying to get to church before Father walks up the aisle. However, there is something more to preparing for Mass, and a reason to do it well.

If you have the chance, the night before Mass, look over the readings and the Gospel for Sunday. (You can always find them here.) You don’t need to memorize them, but prayerfully read over them. It is also a good practice to read the Collect. This is the opening prayer the priest proclaims right before the readings. The Collect sets the “tone” for the liturgy. Listen to God’s voice; what stands out for you in these words? This preparation will help you enter into the readings more deeply when they are proclaimed at Mass.

Remember that when you enter a Catholic Church, Christ is present. He is present in the people, but He is present in the Eucharist (reserved in the tabernacle) Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, is there, and we have the opportunity to be with Him. That alone should make us want to prepare well.

The Church requires us to fast for one hour prior to Mass (water and medications are allowed.) This small sacrifice is made so that we can focus on the Eternal Food that is Christ Himself.

When we enter a church, we bless ourselves with holy water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is a remembrance of our baptism and our baptismal vows. It is a sign that we belong to Christ, sealed to Him at the time of our baptism. It should be done with reverence and faith.

Before we enter the pew, we genuflect. We genuflect in the direction of the tabernacle. This is our humble way of acknowledging Christ’s presence there. It is the gesture one would make before a king, and we are entering into the presence of the King of Kings. By reverently and prayerfully bending our knee and bowing our head, we are telling Christ, “I know I am in your presence, and that I am your  humble servant.”

In some churches, the tabernacle is kept in a small chapel, typically used for daily Mass and Adoration. In this case, one can simply bow reverently in the direction of the altar. This symbolizes our holy veneration of the altar, where the eternal Sacrifice of Christ will be celebrated.

It is good to arrive a bit early for Mass – 10 or 15 minutes is good. This gives us time to pray. The online ministries of Creighton University says this:

Just like all formal prayer, it is really important to ask for the grace we desire during this Eucharist. We have lots of things to ask for. We know people who are sick. We may be having financial difficulties. Our marriages may be strained. We might be heart sick about struggles our adult children are having. We have many needs. Our focus at this moment is to ask for the grace we need during this next hour, at this Eucharist. We might pray, “Lord, let me enter into this celebration of your love for me. I know that if I let you love me and give me your Good News, and its challenge, and if I let you fill me with your life-giving Body and Blood, I will have deeper peace and courage, hope and a sense of mission to return to my everyday life, in your Spirit.”

When we make the effort to prepare well for Mass, it means that we can enter into the Mystery of the liturgy more fully, with a heart and mind focused on Christ. Because we are fallible beings, we won’t always be able to this (or we are wrangling toddlers who don’t understand that Daddy is trying to pray!), but God appreciates and understands our efforts. And, like exercise of the body, the exercise of our will and spirit will make them stronger and our preparations better. We pray:

May we receive the bread of angels,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
with humble reverence, with the purity and faith,
the repentance and love, and the determined purpose
that will help to bring us to salvation.
May we receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and its reality and power.


5 Ways Prayer Can Help You Make A Decision

Decisions, decisions. If it seems like you have a lot of decisions to make, it’s because you do. One study says we make 35,000 decisions in a day! Admittedly, many of those decisions are small (Should I have cornflakes or a bagel this morning?), but we are all faced with big decisions in our lives.

Some of us are in positions of leadership at work, and have to make decisions about hiring, firing, budget cuts and other decisions that affect people’s lives greatly. Parents must make difficult decisions regarding children (public school or private?) Any adult in our culture has to make weighty decisions: Do I move to a new state for that great job? Is this the woman I want to marry? Does my elderly parent need to be moved to a nursing facility?

It’s not easy to make decisions like these. As Catholics, we are often told to “pray about it.” Many of us hope that God will take out a billboard on the side of the road that says, “Hey, you! Do this!” but it doesn’t work that way. So how can we use prayer to help us make decisions. Here are some ideas.

  1. Use prayer to help you figure out the situation. Too many times, we ourselves aren’t clear on what it is we are actually trying to decide. Say for instance that your’e trying to decide whether to send your child to public or private school. You’ve been struggling with the cost of private school. But settling down before God, in a quiet place, you begin to sort your thoughts out. Yes, finances are one issue, but you also realize that you had a great education in public schools, and you want the same for your child. Sometimes, prayer can help us figure out not only the decision, but the emotions and facts involved.
  2. Journal your prayers. For many of us, writing out our prayers can help clarify things. Seeing the words on paper, allowing ourselves to think through the decision before us, can often help with the decision. Just make sure that you are really praying as you journal, and not simply making lists or writing down ideas.
  3. Be confident about God’s plan, and ask that He help you discern His will. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God couldn’t possibly care about whether or not we take a job three states away. He must have far bigger issues to deal with! But Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, yet cares so much more for us. (Matthew 6) Trust that God deeply loves you, wants the best for you, and is happy to help you make decisions.
  4. Be quiet. This is probably the hardest one for all of us! However, we cannot hear the voice of God if we are bombarded with noise. If that means driving with the radio off, getting up 30 minutes before the kids, or stepping inside a church on your lunch, then do that. Allow yourself this time with God to just listen. Be still. Hear His voice.
  5. God’s will is always good. Now, that doesn’t mean a decision won’t be tough. Telling your 13 year-old that your family is moving likely won’t be a happy moment. Theologian Peter Kreeft says we should look for love, joy and peace. If a particular decision makes us feel angry, unsettled or anxious, we should take that as a sign that we are not moving in a direction God wants.

Above all, give yourself over to God. Tell Him you seek His will and wish to do want He wants. Remember the Our Father when we pray, Thy will be done? That’s a perfect prayer for making decisions.

living faith

Living Your Catholic Faith Out Loud

You’ve probably heard the question, “If you went on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict  you?” It’s not a bad way to examine yourself. When  you reflect upon your life, do people know you’re Catholic? Are you living your Catholic faith intentionally, with prayerful purpose? Are you living your Catholic faith out loud?

For instance, think of your house. When guests come over, do they see a home that reflects your faith or simply a place where people live? No one is suggesting you have to turn your home into a shrine, but if you are serious about your faith, your home should certainly be the “domestic church” we are called to create. A prayer space, crucifixes, a picture of the Holy Father and many other items are a great reminder to all that this home is dedicated to God.

Speaking of a prayer space, one can easily create this. You don’t need an entire room; a nook or corner will do. Even young children can help with the creation and use of a family prayer space. A comfortable chair, a small table to hold a Bible and other reading material, a votive candle and a small crucifix or picture makes for an easy-to-do space for personal prayer and meditation.

Many of us like to decorate our vehicles. If you do, are those stickers compatible with the faith? We don’t want to give the world the impression that our faith is something we leave at church, so a bumper sticker that is off-color or mean-spirited is in contradiction to our faith. And let’s not forget driving itself! Are we kind when we drive? Do we give in to road rage? The ultimate goal is to get everyone to where they are going safely. A short prayer before we even start the engine can keep us “on track” in our vehicles.

Most of us can display items on or around our work space. If possible, make sure your desk has a Catholic “spirit” about it (Yes, sadly it’s true that some work places restrict this sort of thing.) A small cross, a prayer card, a favorite Scripture verse – all of these are great for us but can also start conversations with co-workers about faith and its centrality in our lives. If you can’t put up such items, you can still live out your faith at work by the way you speak about others, refusing to gossip or speak poorly of someone, being ethical and kind in your work.

Even a trip to the grocery store gives opportunities to share your faith. Let’s say the cashier has some dog tags around her neck (this is a true story!). You ask her about them, and she tells you they are a copy of her son’s dog tags. He is a combat soldier, and works in very dangerous places. You ask his first name, and she tells you. You promise to pray for his safety. A simple gesture like this is another way to live your faith “out loud.”

Remember, we are not meant to be “show offs” or holier than thou. However, Christ is very clear: we are to go out and make disciples of all nations. In order to do that, people need to know that we are persons of faith, open to questions, dialogue and that we are someone who prays with intent. Learning to not be shy about sharing the Good News and being open to situations like the ones above can help lay the groundwork for opportunities to share Jesus with someone. Let’s all learn to live our faith out loud just a little bit more!

Way of the Cross Mary

Walking The Way Of The Cross With Mary

The Stations of the Cross are a Catholic staple. Most of us have spent more than a few Friday nights during Lent praying the way of the cross. Sometimes, though, it’s good to get another perspective on a tradition. And that’s where the Way of the Cross with Mary comes in.

There are many variations on this, but the focus is to try and see Jesus’ suffering through the eyes of His Mother, the eyes of a parent. Mary can only stand as witness to her Child’s pain:

I can’t describe his face, with the blood and the sweat, and the bruises and swelling from the beatings. As a mother, I can hardly tell you that there was even spit on his face. It was the face of solidarity with all who have ever experienced abuse and violence.

Creighton University’s Online Ministries has a wonderful Marian Stations of the Cross. (They have other really great Lenten prayer resources as well.)

Perhaps a new perspective on this tradition is just what you need during Holy Week.

consistent prayer

4 Ways To Keep Your Prayer Life Consistent

St. Paul says we are supposed to pray always (Always?? Really?). However, most of us struggle to keep our prayer life consistent. We go through periods of intense prayer (and let’s face it, that’s usually when we need God to “do something” for us) and times when we drift away from prayer. How can we keep our prayer lives running smoothly, in order to stay in relationship with God?

The chart below is a great one to print and tape to your bathroom mirror, your fridge, or near your computer. It “breaks down” your day of prayer into manageable pieces.

First, the morning offering. This is a traditional Catholic prayer that dedicates one’s day to God. It’s a reminder to ourselves that we want to serve God all day, in everything we do.

Next, 15 minutes (that’s it??) of spiritual reading. Of course, the Bible is terrific, but consider a book on a saint’s life, a book explaining some part of Catholic doctrine (such as a book on the Mass) or even a book you can read with your child.

The next one is probably that which we find most difficult: time spent in “mental prayer.” Part of developing a mature faith life means you spend time talking to God. You’d never consider creating a friendship with someone if you could never talk to them – we must do the same with God. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to use memorized prayers, but in order to form a healthy, rich relationship with Almighty God, we have to talk to Him. That means coming before Him with our sufferings, our joys, our praise, our gratitude. If this seems rather daunting, perhaps you can back up a step, and begin by reading a book on how and why we pray.

Finally, there is the nightly examination of conscience. Most of us know that we do an examination of conscience prior to going to Confession, but doing one every evening will truly help us become aware of our daily sins – even those small ones that we might otherwise shrug off. Now, this type of exercise is not meant to become a way to beat yourself up, but rather a way to recognize where you can daily improve your relationships with God and with other people.

With these four fairly simple steps, you can start making the ideal of “pray always” a reality.

prayer chart

stronger than our scars

Stronger Than Our Scars

You have bent down over our wounds and have healed us, giving us a medicine stronger than our scars, a mercy greater than our fault. Thus, even in sin, in virtue of your invincible love, served to raise us up to divine life. (Ambrosian Rite prayer)

A medicine stronger than our scars. That is profound. During Lent, many of us take the time to examine our weaknesses and our scars. But do we ponder the wondrous medicine that is the Cross?

Most of us have scars that are hidden, and we prefer it that way. We perceive our scars as weakness and failure. Sometimes they are: we sin. We do evil and fail to do good. We need the Sacrament of Reconciliation to heal our sin.

But some of our scars are ones life has left us with, through no fault of our own. We weep for our dead friends and family; we miss them and their loss is a scar on our heart. Perhaps our scars are borne from the addictions of others; we fear for the health and safety of loved ones who cannot seem to overcome their addictions to drugs or alcohol or pornography. Maybe we are in a marriage where one party is trying so very hard to be faithful and loving, and the other person wants out. And maybe we bear actual scars from disease, illness or accident – scars that cause us significant physical pain.

We think there is no medicine for these scars – no doctor can fix a broken heart or a parent’s tears. But Christ is the Great Physician, one who heals through the medicine of the Cross. Jesus was also a Man who Himself knew pain.

He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed. – Is. 53:3-5

By his wounds we were healed. That is the radical truth of our faith: God became Man, took our sins and scars upon Himself, and saved us. Yes, we sin and we must acknowledge our sin, but sin no longer means death. Indeed, we are stilled scarred, but Christ provides us a medicine stronger than our scars. There is nothing and no one who is greater than this truth, this Good News, this Christ.

Today, take some time to thank Jesus for the medicine He has provided you. Rejoice in the fact that – despite our afflictions – we are healed through Christ our Lord.


Making Music Part Of Your Prayer Life

In the Catholic Church, we have a rich tradition of music. We anticipate the traditional Christmas hymns that resound on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day: Joy To The World! During Stations of the Cross, the mournful sound of the Stabat Mater brings us deeper into the mystery of Christ’s Passion.

There are many contemporary Catholic musicians who are creating beautiful music as well. At CatholicLink, Becky Roach tells us about “11 Catholic Artists That Will Rock Your World.” There is some terrific music here. What a great addition to our prayer lives!

One of the videos Roach shared is from the Josh Blakesley Band. Enjoy their song, Grateful. Then check out some of the other artists and the music they are creating for the Church.


Hoisting The World To Heaven

As easy as it is to become discouraged about the state of the world, we must remember that saints walk among us. Saints are just ordinary people who dutifully accept God’s grace, hoisting themselves and the world to heaven.

Madeleine Delbrel, a French Catholic writer and mystic, knew this. Delbrel was raised Catholic, but as a teen, lost her faith, proclaiming that “God is dead.” Later, she claimed to have re-discovered her faith in God by praying that she could believe.

Delbrel wrote:

If some have to leave the world in order to find it and raise it to heaven, others have to plunge into it so as to hoist themselves with the world to the same heaven.

I take that to mean that a few souls are called to live a monastic life: a life apart from the world, rooted in prayer and work. Their lives are continuous prayer for the salvation of all. It is a rigorous life, and not one that God calls many to.

The rest of us are “plunged” into this world. We must deal with the sins of ourselves and others writ large: provocative “entertainment,” poverty and hunger, politicians and leaders who scandalize, the complete lack of charity for those with whom we work and live, those strangers on the street. Our lives are filled with distractions; how often do we “visit” with friends and family, only to have everyone stare at their phone screens?

It is into this world we are plunged. Delbrel is reminding us that it is our calling as Catholics to hoist ourselves above all this, and bring others with us. When we lift ourselves above this world, heaven becomes more and more clear, and more and more desirable. We may wish sometimes that this was not our calling, but here is where God placed us: in this time, in this place, with these people. How will you hoist them to heaven today?

Doctors of the Church

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme The News

Have you ever heard the term “Doctor of the Church?” Does it bring to mind a stethoscope and time in a waiting room with outdated magazines? A “Doctor of the Church” has to do with spiritual health, not physical. Let’s talk about the Doctors of the Church.

First, in the 2,000 year history of the Church, only 35 men and women have been proclaimed “doctors,” so you know it must be special. But what does it mean?

[T]he Doctors of the Church are an elite cadre of Catholics who: 1) Demonstrated exemplary holiness; 2) Deepened the whole Church’s understanding of the Catholic faith; and 3) Were officially declared Doctors via papal proclamation. (Technically, an ecumenical council of bishops could also do the proclaiming, but they never have chosen to do so.)

The title itself dates back to the early fifth century, when Rufus of Aquileia decided the term “doctor” made a nice synonym for “teacher.” His innovation soon became a trend, and by AD 420, Augustine himself began giving the “doctor” label to some of the most authoritative teachers from the early Church.

So far, so good. But why should the average Catholic pay attention to these folks? The Doctor of the Church (you can find all of them listed here) have something to teach us. They have provided us with new insights (not new teachings) into our beautiful Faith. They all faced particular challenges – some personal, some regarding the times and circumstances they lived in – with faith, hope and charity.

For instance, there is St. Hildegard of Bingen. She was an abbess, an artist, a mystic, a gardener, a musician … Many people thought she was crazy, or at the very least pompous. How could God reveal himself to a woman, after all? Hildegard loved music, and knew it was one way to pray:

Sometimes when we hear a song we breathe deeply and sigh. This reminds the prophet that the soul arises from heavenly harmony. In thinking about this, he was aware that the soul itself has something in itself of this music…

Then there is St. John Chrysostem. “Chrysostem” wasn’t his name; it was a title given to him. It means “golden mouth,” because of the eloquence of his speaking and preaching. That didn’t keep him from trouble, however. The empress Eudoxia was so offended by him that he had to go into exile. St. John Chrysostem loved the Eucharist:

It is necessary to understand the wonder of this sacrament.  What it is, why it was given, and what is the profit of the action.  We become one body, and members, as it is said, of his flesh and of his bones…  This is effected by the food which he has given us…  He has mingled his body with ours that we may be one, as body joined to head.

With 35 Doctors, the Church has given us an enormous treasure of teachings, insights into the sacraments, prayer: all of the aspects of a Christian life well-lived. Why not spend some time getting to know one of these Doctors? It’s good medicine for the soul.

radical prayer

Radical Prayer

St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest.) The order is known for its great scholarship and truly brave priests. While many Jesuits teach, the Jesuit order is, at its heart, a missionary order, charged with taking the Gospel to those who do not know it.

The Jesuits owe much of their spirit and calling to their founder. St. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier from a noble family. As a young man he dreamed of great deeds as a knight, but injuries forced him to abandon this. While recuperating, he began to deeply contemplate what God wanted of him.

One of the prayers St. Ignatius left us is called the Suscipe, or the Radical Prayer:

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.

No wonder it’s called the “Radical Prayer!” What a scary thought: that one should turn over everything to God! My free will, my memory … everything? Pray that I abandon my wants, desires and dreams for the will of God? Doesn’t that seem, well, just a little … crazy?

Perhaps. Lent is a good time to meditate on this prayer, even if one is not quite ready to pray it in earnest. We are Christians, after all: we bear the name of Christ because we choose to follow Him. And following Christ means a radical choice: picking up our cross, going wherever He sends us, becoming fishers of men.

St. Ignatius’ prayer acknowledges a simple truth: everything we have belongs to God. All the prayer says is, “I know that all I am is because of You, God. I want to use what You’ve given me, what You’ve made me, to do what You have planned for me.”

Even if we are not quite ready to pray this radical prayer, Lent is a good time to start asking God to lead you to it. What do you have planned for me, God? What is your will for me? How can I give everything to You, God?


The Courage of Lent

It is common for children, in their desire to be pious and good, to begin Lent with a long list of “give ups:” “I’m gonna give up candy, and I’m gonna give up TV and I’m gonna give up arguing with my sister…” Adults chuckle, knowing that the child underestimates the stamina and courage that Lent requires.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, the lawyer-father who chooses to defend a black man in the Jim Crow South against the charge of rape, has to explain to his son what “courage” is, as the town divides over the black man’s trial:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

In a sense, we are all losers – we are sinners in need of God’s grace and redemption. If we look to the lives of saints, men and women who are holy inspiration, we often see a bunch of “losers:”

  • Joan of Arc, burned at the stake as a heretic
  • Lawrence, burned in an iron grill by the Prefect of Rome
  • Margaret of Castello, deformed, rejected by her parents and forced to beg
  • Solanus Casey, ordained a priest, but told by his superiors that he could not preach or hear confessions due to his poor scholarship

We can go on. In fact, as Christians, the one whose name we claim, Christ Jesus, was a failure to most who knew him. He did not become king of the Jews, overthrowing the Romans. He was executed in the most horrific and shameful fashion. He went into the Passion knowing that this terrible cup would not pass from Him.

On that horrible Good Friday, the men of courage appeared to be the government officials, the soldiers with whips and chains, the religious leaders who failed to see God in their midst. We know, however, that courage hung on the Cross. “Real courage,” as Atticus Finch told his son, is doing what is right, what it good, even if you know you’ll “lose” in the eyes of the world.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, we must be courageous. We must continue to act with mercy and love, especially when we do not feel like it. We must pray even more fervently. We must see Lent through, courageously.

How to pray

This Is How You Are To Pray

Today’s Gospel is Matthew 6:7-15. The disciples, those men and women who followed Jesus as He went about teaching and healing, hear His teaching on how to pray.

Keep in mind that these Jews lived a life prescribed by law: God’s law for His people. The food they ate, how it was prepared, what they wore, how and when they prayed were all spelled out for them. Yet here was this man, Jesus, who seemed to be turning everything they knew on its head. He tells them to quietly be generous, not to make “a scene” when they pray, but to go to their room and address God secretly.

Then Jesus tells them this:

“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Mt. 6:9-15)

This prayer is so familiar to most of us that it is tempting to merely skim through it. Many of us have said this prayer countless times in our lives. We know it “by heart.”

But is it on our heart? Is it etched into the very core of our being? Just before this passage, Jesus tells His followers not to rattle off prayers thoughtlessly, babbling away.

It’s not simply the words Jesus is teaching us to pray – it is how to pray. We are not to have a prayer life ruled by law after law after law. Rather, our prayer is about relationship. We are not begging for favors from a god of rain, or a god of harvest, or a god of fertility. No, we pray to Our Father: a Father who knows what we need before we even ask. We pray to a Father who provides for our most basic needs but also protects us from the fiercest evil. We pray to a Father who forgives.

Today, take some time to truly pray to Our Father. Don’t rush the words – pray them. Talk to your Father; He waits for you with tenderness and love.