Archive for March, 2006


March 1st, 2006 No comments

From an old e-quaintance, Marty Helgesen, and last seen online at The Curt Jester, comes a little ditty about the joys of the new liturgical season:

Around 1990 an Episcopalian friend at work, who was born Jewish and raised as an atheist or agnostic, was complaining that Christmas isn’t the only Christian holiday that’s been commercialized. Easter has, too, with the emphasis on fashions. She said her favorite season is Lent because it’s completely spiritual. (It is hard to commercialize a season based on penance and self-denial.) Completely ignoring her real reason for liking Lent and the context of the original song I wrote the following words to the tune of “Raindrops on Roses” from The Sound of Music:

Sackcloth and ashes, and days without eating,
Mortification and nights without sleeping,
A hair shirt that scratches, a nettle that stings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When it’s Christmas,
When the tree’s lit,
When the cards are sent,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I can’t wait till Lent.

On that note, may you have a holy Lent. I may empty out the posting queue, but I shall try to give up reading blogs and other non-essential Internet this Lent. (Pray for me!)

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Chiefly On Prayer

March 1st, 2006 No comments

Hilary has relented and posted Chiefly On Prayer, outlining the advice received from her spiritual director:

A few have asked me for some details about what Fr. Spiritual Director said to me when I asked him, “how do I pray?”.

Now, another friend has posted something to his internal list that says others who are just beginning to approach the Faith want to know, simply, how do I pray?

What are the right words to say? How do I make the sign of the cross. Should I try to memorize things? What if I get something wrong? If I try the Divine Office, do I have to do it all right? Does it count if I leave bits out and only do it occasionally? What is mental prayer? What do the great spiritual writers mean by “meditation?” Is it hard? If I am just thinking about God and sort of daydreaming, does that count for anything? What if I just can’t make anything happen at all and just sit there like a lump; does trying count? Does effort count even if you do it wrong?

Since I have that voice in my head too, let’s see what the recommendation is:

This is what he laid out:
(This is all from St. Francis who wrote it all down in beautiful and lively style, very easy to read and refreshing as a cool drink. So, naturally, for more details, go to the Introduction. But it was all the details that threw me off. So I asked for it boiled down to point form. Which I pass on here. It is only a starter kit, but the instructions for going past this will have to come from higher authorities than I can provide.)

Step one is Remote Preparation — being good, receiving the Sacraments regularly, avoiding unecessary distractions like too much TV or (ahem!) internet. A regular life, that is one more or less set to a daily, unhurried schedule and avoiding occasions for sin.

Spiritual reading. That is the bible, especially the Gospels. After that, some saint you particularly like, or some non-canonized but very reliable spiritual writer like Father Faber, Newman, Abbot Marmion, Dom Delatte etc. Keeping the liturgical year and its meaning in mind.

Step two is Direct Preparation for meditation. It takes a little effort. You have to think ahead of time what will be the topic for your meditation (e.g. based on the Gospel of the day; or with the help of a good book of meditations.

Step three is the actual prayer time. Set aside a period in the day. Everything I’ve read says early in the morning, before the daily dust storm comes up to cloud your sight. Set aside a particular place too. This is very much in line with the deep Catholic understanding that we are physical beings, and that the body as well as the intellect and will is involved. Turn off the music (never trust a spiritual director who places tinkly background music to help you “relax”) unplug the phone and don’t sit facing the window if it can be helped.

Now the hard part: the actual praying.

Step four is put yourself in the presence of God. This is, according to Francis, a simple act of the will. “Lord I acknowledge You are here with me.” Francis offers four different ways, the first of which is simply this little act of will. Only he says it fancier.

Step five is self-abandonment to His divine help to make a good meditation. A little acknowledgement that you can’t do it at all without assistance. Francis says it better and more 17th century, but that’s the gist. You can also ask for help with prayer from your guardian angel, Mary and the saints. Just be simple.

Step six is Considerations: points to think about that you have prepared ahead of time. Francis (and everyone else,) recommends a particular scene from the life of Christ. Often His Passion is recommended, but here is where a sp. director whom you see regularly and who knows you well will be able to help. Get him to suggest or at least approve your topics. Fr. Sp. D. said it is often good to take the Sunday readings. Or the daily ones. (from either Kalendar).

Use your imagination to put yourself into the scene in as detailed a way as possible without becoming distracted from the point. (We moderns are tremendously helped with a lifetime of television and movie watching here. We are really good at reading the gospel and seeing the movie play in our brains. Just put yourself in the movie. Also, this is where your preparation pays off. You ought to have read the passage slowly and with care to get the details firmly in your mind. “Ah, yes, here’s where Jesus goes back and asks the boys to stay up with Him. Imagine how he must have felt to see that they’re napping in His most dire moment.” that sort of thing.

Which leads me to the next thing. Go on to what St. Francis calls ‘affections,’imagining not only with the senses but with the heart. This is the emotional part. Allow yourself to feel compassion for our Lord’s suffering; love; contrition; rueing one’s hardheartedness, etc. Don’t by any means try to generate feelings, but use your will to allow them and use them as prayer even vocalizing a bit if you’re not too shy.

Go to next point when you’re getting no more savour out of this one. (Otherwise, stay where you are.)

Step seven is the resolutions and the big thing is to be SPECIFIC. Just saying, “I’ll try to be better” or nicer or less cranky or whatever, is just wishful thinking. Try something like, “The next time I have to work in the office, when so-and-so does that thing that drives me crazy, I’ll hold on to my temper and try to remember Thy mercy to me on the Cross.” See? Specific.

Step eight is of course, asking for help to fulfill the resolution, acknowledging that there is simply no way to get better without constant grace.

Conclusion is your thanksgiving and a “spiritual bouquet” a kind of set of rememberances that you take with you throughout the day. It fulfills in the spiritual realm the purpose of the little bunch of flowers that people would carry around with them through smelly streets, a nosegay.

Some people say that keeping a journal of the topics, meditations and resolutions, plus any lights given to you in prayer is a good idea. This sounds like a good idea to me, but please, try to remember that the word “journal” is not a verb.) Just write it down briefly in a little pocket notebook if you are forgetful as I am. But don’t start making up things that didn’t happen.

When Fr. had explained all this, I asked, “and that counts? That’s prayer?”

Yes. That counts.

So, there you are. I’ve shared.

Thanks for sharing.

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