Tag Archives: prayer

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.

Praying for Christian Unity

We celebrate a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity every year from the 18th to the 25th of January.

Pope Francis, speaking recently to an ecumenical delegation from Finland, said that we, like the Magi, whom tradition represents as representatives of diverse cultures and peoples, Christians today are “challenged to take our brothers and sisters by the hand… and move forward together.”

Some of the journey together is easier than others, the pope noted, like works of charity together, for example. which draw us closer not only to the poor but to one another.

On the other hand, the journey toward full unity is sometimes more difficult, which “can lead to a certain weariness and temptation to discouragement.

The Pope encouraged Christians to remind themselves “that we are making this journey not as those who already possess God, but as those who continue to seek Him.” He called for courage and patience along the way, in order to encourage and support one another.

The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” (Decree on Ecumenism n.1). Ecumenism affects the mission of the church, because the division of Christians prevents the preaching of the gospel and deprives many people of access to the faith” (Ad Gentes, n. 6). Divisions among Christians cause a confusion that hinders people from accepting the gospel today.

Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, an early pioneer in ecumenical activity, strongly urged more prayer together. Might be a good idea to consider . How can we do it?

Poor in Spirit

Christmas is a time of poverty. The Spirit of Bethlehem is one of smallness, of tiny new beginnings that open our minds to the infinite largeness of Incarnate Wisdom. The Christ Child heals us of our presumption. The New Born shows us that we simply don’t know what God has in store. His impoverished delivery stops us in our tracks. We stand like beasts in a stable, our knowledge, our understanding, our science, our facts, our truths stripped of eternal value. All that remains, whether we’re shepherds or kings or someone in between, is for us to nod along with the tiny beat of the drummer boy offering his seemingly meaningless gift. Let’s welcome Christ Jesus, Innocence itself, by being poor with Him. Let’s let go of preconceived notions of having control. To stand before the Lord in our nothingness is worth more to Him than any amount of gold, frankincense or myrrh. Our humility before the bright light is pure praise and prayer to the One Who offers us everything.

—Howard Hain

Mary’s Mother

by Howard Hain

durer

Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519 (The Met)

Christmas is a time for grandmothers.

They bake and cook and decorate. Their homes become mini North Poles, diplomatic outposts of Santa’s Castle.

At its core, Christmas is of course all about Jesus. All about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. All about the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is an extended family though. And it doesn’t stop at grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, or even cousins and distant cousins.

Just ask Saints Joachim and Anne, Zechariah and Elizabeth, or John the Baptist—not to mention all the unknown relatives whom the child Jesus surely encountered throughout His Galilean days. Ask any one of them about the far-reaching ripple effects of family grace.

Those touched by Jesus have a tendency to appear bigger than life.

Look at Santa Claus.

Most of us are aware that he is really Saint Nick.

But do we stop to wonder who Mrs. Claus really is?

I think she’s Saint Anne.

After all, Mrs. Claus is seen as everyone’s grandmother, especially when it comes to holiday cheer. But when it comes to truly celebrating the birth of Jesus, it is through Saint Anne that we approach the gates of Christ’s Nativity.

Mary’s Mother holds a special key. She is first among grandmas, first among those who pinch chubby cheeks, who pass along one more extra sugary treat.

———

Saint Anne help us. Speak to us. Show us how to be grand parents to all those around us, especially the little ones. Stir up the spirit of Advent. Bake away the holiday blues. Cook up a dish of Christmas love that only your hearth can serve.

———

Come one, come all, to the home of Saint Anne. Come with me to Grandma’s house for a holiday visit. Taste and see. Enter her kitchen, where the hot chocolate can always fit a little more whipped cream, where you hear the constant refrain: “eat…eat…eat…”

At Grandma’s your plate is never empty.

Her table is continually set.

She always sees Jesus as having just been born.

She is always wrapping Him up tightly in swaddling clothes.

It is simply grand.

To Grandma, Jesus is always an innocent child.

And she can’t help but see Him deep within both you and me.


(Dec/21/2017)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com


Web Link: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albrecht Durer, “Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, ca. 1519

 

Morning Thoughts: Little Drummer Boys and Girls

by Howard Hain

Yesterday I witnessed a “dress” rehearsal for a live nativity. The cast was made up of first and second graders, and the audience was mostly composed of residents of a retirement home for religious sisters, Franciscans. It was spectacular.

Last week I was at Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes in their “Christmas Spectacular”. It was quite a production.

Sitting in the dark this morning I cannot help but contrast the two.

I also cannot help but relate to the seven-year old who played the part of The Little Drummer Boy.

As that child walked so slowly toward the foot of the altar, where the rehearsal was being staged, I saw my vocation in an entirely different light.

The children were all singing their hearts out, and many of the eighty and ninety year-old sisters were mouthing the words. The boy with the drum didn’t utter a sound. He just kept walking, slowly, extremely slowly toward the altar, every once in a while ever so slightly pretending to tap two tiny sticks upon a toy drum. He was beautifully awkward.

There was no greater spectacle on earth at that very moment. Shall I dare to say, no greater event that heaven or earth has ever known?

For a child was born. We were all being born.


Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.*


.

.*(Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958.)

 

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2-1


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

A Voice That Passes Away

Spring Lake even

John the Baptist is a voice that passes away, according to St. Augustine:  “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.”

John’s “voice” passes away. He no longer baptizes at the Jordan River. He cedes to the Word, and so should we. Our voice passes away; something of ourselves has to go– some of the things we hold dear, the friends who surround us,  the institutions that have upheld us.  Our way must give way to  God’s way.

We think so little of this.

Listen again to Augustine:  “What does prepare the way mean, if not be humble in your thoughts? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

“If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

“He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.”