Tag Archives: prayer

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

Cornelius

Today the church celebrates two early saints and martyrs, Cornelius, a pope who died in 253, and Cyprian, a bishop who was martyred in Roman Africa shortly after in 258.

At the time barbarian tribes in the west and the Persians in the east were invading Roman territory; the Roman emperors Decius and Valerian called for absolute loyalty from their people. The empire was imperiled.

To prove their loyalty, Roman citizens lined to offer sacrifice in honor of the emperor. Christians refused, and so at first church leaders were executed or imprisoned, wealthy, influential Christians lost their property, their positions and possibly their lives. Finally, all Christians could expect punishment for not performing the rites of sacrifice.

Not every Christian remained loyal to the faith at the time. Many offered sacrifice, betraying their faith, then afterwards sought to return to the church. Hard liners called for them to be banned for life for their lack of loyalty. Let God judge them when they die, they said. Others, like Cornelius and Cyprian, called to reconcile them after a time of penance, since God is all merciful.

Mercy and justice are always hard to reconcile. The gospels come down on the side of mercy. So should we.

In the persecution, Cornelius, bishop of Rome, was executed first, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in Africa, was executed a few years later. The two men were from different social backgrounds and not always on good terms, historians say, but they found support in their common faith, as this letter of Cyprian to Cornelius, written shortly before Cornelius’ death, reveals:

“Cyprian to my brother Cornelius,

Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle praised in your community. He foresaw in spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that can not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons.

Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of us. Divine providence has now prepared us. God’s merciful design has warned us that the day of our own struggle, our own contest, is at hand. By that shared love which binds us close together, we are doing all we can to exhort our congregation, to give ourselves unceasingly to fastings, vigils and prayers in common. These are the heavenly weapons which give us the strength to stand firm and endure; they are the spiritual defences, the God-given armaments that protect us.  

Let us then remember one another, united in mind and heart. Let us pray without ceasing, you for us, we for you; by the love we share we shall thus relieve the strain of these great trials.”

Love shared relieves the strain of trials.

Praying the Psalms

The psalms are prayers that never get old. Here’s Pius X, whose feast day was August 20, commenting on the psalms:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

“The psalms are like a garden containing the fruits of all the other books of the Bible. Saints like Athanasius and Augustine recognized these powerful prayers. ‘The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.”

Augustine says in his Confessions: “How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears. “

Pius X continues:  “Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise?

Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.”

The Queenship of Mary

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“Christians live from feast to feast,” St. Athanasius said. The church’s feasts are linked to each other through the year, and all are linked to the great feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

The feasts of Mary follow the pattern of the feasts of her Son, who associated her with his saving work. As we do with the feasts of Jesus Christ, we follow Mary’s feasts through the year. We learn the mysteries of God little by little, year by year.

She was blessed from her conception. ( Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8). We celebrate her birth 9 month later. (The Nativity of Mary, September 7). Her death and assumption into heaven are celebrated Augustus 15th. The Feast of the Queenship of Mary, August 22, is part of the mystery of her assumption into heaven. Introduced into the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church in 1955, the feast celebrates the privileged place of Mary in heaven. She “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 59)

Royal titles were commonly given to God and those anointed by God in the Old Testament; Christianity continued the pratice, giving royal titles to Jesus and Mary. She is called queen in traditional Christian prayers like the Hail Holy Queen (Salve regina) and Queen of Heaven (Regina Coeli):

“Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in the valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show to us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Mary is a queen, but also a mother. She is the Mother of God, Mother of Jesus Christ, Mother of us all, the New Eve, given to us by her Son from the Cross through his disciple John.

Mary knows her greatness is from her Lord, as she acknowledges in her Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. He who is mighty has done great things to me; holy is his name.” ( Luke 1:46-55)

Fra Angelico captures Mary’s humility in his portrayal of her (above), bowing before her Son, her hands closed in prayer. The saints below her know that honors given to her are a reflection of the graces promised to humanity.

“Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

St. John Vianney

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August 4th  is the feast of St. John Vianney, (1786-1859) the patron of parish priests. Born in Lyon, France, he had to struggle to become a priest. Once ordained he was made pastor of a small parish in an out of the way place called Ars. “He cared for this parish in a marvelous way by his preaching , his mortification, prayer and good works,” his biography says. He was especially good in hearing confessions and soon people were coming from everywhere to Ars.

Good to pray for parish priests, struggling to minister in the church today as it goes through difficult times of change and questioning.We need more John Vianneys.

John Vianney knew the value of prayer. He wanted to become like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Colette who “used to see our Lord and talk to him as we talk to one another. How unlike them we are! How often we come to church and have no idea what to do and what to ask for. We know how to speak to another human being, but not to God. “

His simple sermons challenged and changed those who heard him.Hurray for simple sermons and priests who preach them.

A Catechism on prayer, by St John Mary Vianney

The noble task of man, to pray and to love

Consider, children, a Christian’s treasure is not on earth, it is in heaven. Well then, our thoughts should turn to where our treasure is.
  Man has a noble task: that of prayer and love. To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.
  Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by a marvellous light. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax moulded into one; they cannot any more be separated. It is a very wonderful thing, this union of God with his insignificant creature, a happiness passing all understanding.
  We had deserved to be left incapable of praying; but God in his goodness has permitted us to speak to him. Our prayer is an incense that is delightful to God.
  My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
  Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
  As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask. And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.

There’s a Harvest Nearby

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” As we begin reading the 10th chapter of Matthew’s gospel tomorrow where Jesus calls for disciples, we may think of the need of our church for more priests and religious. We certainly need more priests and religious today.

But they’re not the only laborers needed for God’s great harvest. What about laborers for places where priests and religious will never be? And what about the harvest itself, where does that happen?

I’m sure at one time or another you have overheard people at a restaurant or on a bus or at some gathering discussing religion. “What do you think of the pope?” “Do you think there’s life after death?” “Do you think Jesus is really God?” Often the questions go unanswered or wrongly answered because there’s no laborer there to cast in seeds of truth.

The harvest is waiting in a lot of places..

Jesus spoke about the laborers for the harvest as he moved from town to town in Galilee and saw  “troubled and abandoned” crowds, Matthew’s gospel says. We need to ask for laborers to walk among crowds like that today. Maybe we need to recognize there’s a harvest not far from where we are, “troubled and abandoned,” at a table nearby.

Daily Prayer

We celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More today, June 22. Holbein’s painting of More and his family, holding their books, portrays a family that prized learning and prayer. More made sure his daughters were well-educated.

Some of those books, I would guess, are their prayerbooks, not unusual in those days. Daily prayer is part of Catholic life and prayerbooks with psalms, prayers and personal reflections were important to those who could read and afford them.

In these uncertain days, are we being called to daily, personal prayer? Prayerbooks (and blogs) may becoming more important for us, as Sunday Mass and parish based sacraments become weaker. So thank you, More and your family, for reminding us what we might do at home.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, was a daily prayer, one of the ways we get ready for what God sends each day. We’re children of God and should act like God’s children each day.

We need to live each day with large vision, doing our part that God’s kingdom come, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We need “daily bread” of all kinds. We’re part of a messy world that’s torn apart by selfishness and smallness and pride. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We need light to go by the right path. “Deliver us from evil” and guide us to do good.

I don’t think St. Thomas More could have lived so heroically in the world he lived in without daily prayer. It brings vision and grace to us; it’s daily bread.

Thursday, 1st Week of Lent

Lent 1

Matthew 7,7-12

Does God answer prayers? A question people often ask. Some say God–if there is a God-doesn’t pay attention to us at all. We’re on our own. No one’s listening and no one cares.

Certainly, Jesus believed his Father listens and cares. He trusted God and asked God for things and taught us to pray as he did. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals a trust that’s unfailing. Over and over he asks that his life be spared. “Father, let this cup pass from me.” He knocked and the door opened; the answer came, yet not as he willed, but as His Father willed. “An angel came to strengthen him,” to accept that answer.

His experience is a model for us. Yes, God gives good gifts to his children, but according to his will; he knows what we need. He gave his only Son the gift of new life, yet he had to first pass through death.

St. Paul of the Cross recognized the mystery surrounding petitionary prayer. Ultimately our prayer is answered, but often enough in mysterious ways that’s hard to understand. Our faith is tested when we pray for things.

“I thank the Father of Mercies that you are improved in health, and you say well that the Lord seems to be playing games. That’s what Scripture says: “God plays on the earth,” and “My delights are to be with the children of men.” How fortunate is the soul that silently in faith allows the games of love the Sovereign Good plays and abandons itself to his good pleasure, whether in health or sickness, in life or in death!”
(Letter 920)

Lord,
I ask, I seek, I knock.
Let me never tire of prayer.
“In the day I called you answered me.”                                                                                 So attentive, so quickly you turn when I call.                                                                   Hear me
and let it be done
according to your will.

What am I going to do for Lent?

table

Lent begins  Ash Wednesday. What am I going to do for Lent? The supper table is a good place to ask that question, because Lent is about renewing ourselves as we are here and now. The supper table is a sign of life here and now.

Those closest to us there. Doing something for Lent must mean doing something for them, first of all, the people across the table–or maybe those who have left our table because we have driven them away. A scripture reading early on in Lent says: “Don’t turn your back on your own.”  Have we turned our backs on those closest to us because we know them too well or we have hurt them in any way?

Besides the supper table, I guess we should also ask that question “What am I going to do for Lent?” in the place where I work, or where I go to school. Don’t turn your back on them either.

Lent is for renewing ourselves as we are, in real life and real time. We don’t have to leave this world or go to Mars to do that

The Ash Wednesday scriptures say: pray, fast and give alms. What am I going to do for Lent? How about praying each day? How about fasting from my own hard opinions of others? How about looking after someone else instead of myself, someone in need?

How about keeping this terrible situation in the Ukraine in mind? Not just looking at TV Broadcasts or online reports. How about praying for peace there? Looks like  economic sanctions are doing some good. Prayer does more good, if we believe what Jesus says.

Let’s not forget something else, though.  “What’s God going to do for us during Lent?” That’s important. Lent is a time of God’s grace, which is more than we can hope for, beyond what we deserve. The great sign of God’s limitless love is the Passion of his Son, a wondrous love beyond all others.

The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden

Mount Olives 3


Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, the gospels say. He brought them up a mountain–a traditional place to draw close to God. There he taught them the prayer we call the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer”, a prayer deeply rooted in the Jewish prayer tradition. (Matthew 6, 9-13)

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “in a certain place”, on the plain, in the course of his ministry. (Luke 11, 2-4) He prayed daily on the journey. The prayer he taught them is more basic than the prayer found in Matthew’s Gospel..

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” (Luke 11,2-4)

Mark, Matthew, Luke recall Jesus praying in the garden before his Passion and the lesson he taught there. His disciples do not join him, but fall asleep.  

They’re sleeping because the flesh is weak, Mark says.

They’re sleeping because they can’t keep their eyes open, Matthew says.

They’re sleeping because of grief, Luke says.

Stay awake and pray, Jesus tells them. Prayer brings you through times of testing and temptation.

Facing the weakness of the flesh, death by crucifixion, Jesus doesn’t wave it away in stoic resignation or look to his own power. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he says. Facing the consequences of his mission, the limits of human power, the “form of a slave,” he depends on his Father for the strength he needs.

In the garden Jesus teaches his disciples how to face trials that come. He kneels on the ground and humbly looks beyond himself to his Father, “Abba”, who hears him. He falls to the ground, trusting his Father’s strength and not his own. Troubled and distressed, for an hour’s time he pleads for help. . 

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke says. Then, an angel comes to strengthen him. The cup of suffering isn’t taken away; he will drink from it, but it will not crush him. God will raise him up.

He teaches us pray as he did and promises to pray with us in our trials.

The Feast of Jesus Praying in the Garden is another feast St. Paul of the Cross recommended to begin the lenten season. We will know the mystery of his cross through carrying it ourselves and entering the garden to pray there with him.

Feasts for Tired Believers

Central Italy, 1800s

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden on Tuesday before that day.

I think both feasts are inspired by our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775) who spent many years announcing the graces of lent in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy..

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was then a place where graces seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

St.PaulCross.017

Now Tuscanny is a popular tourist destination. Then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars everywhere. The people in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so I think as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today, isn’t it?,. These two feasts are for tired believers, as well as missionaries, who face the world where things don’t seem to change. We need another way of seeing things and another kind of heart to journey on..

If you want to pray these feasts with the Passionists, go here.