If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- tenth in a series (Confession)

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)

Each of the preceding strategies have helped me maintain focus during my times of prayer. However, two strategies I’ve not yet mentioned form for me the foundation of intimate prayer with God. Actually, I consider them more as prerequisites for effective prayer instead of simple strategies. They are confession and forgiveness. The two are as inseparable as faith and works (see St James 2:17). One is useless without the other. And without either, I don’t believe my prayers – despite my ‘strategies’ – get higher than the ceiling.

Today’s post addresses confession. Next time I’ll talk about forgiveness.

The writers of Scripture link prayer and confession so often that even with a cursory reading of the Old and New Testaments, it is impossible to miss to connection. For example: He who conceals his sins prospers not, but he who confesses and forsakes them obtains mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

I called to the Lord with my mouth; praise was upon my tongue. [But] had I cherished evil in my heart, the Lord would not have heard (Psalm 66:17-18).

As long as I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away; I groaned all the day . . . Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, "I confess my faults to the Lord," and you took away the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:3-5).

Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). 

Following the Biblical writers, the Church in her teaching on the effect sin (mortal or venial) have on our relationship with God, quotes St. Augustine: 

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1863). 

The Church further warns: . . . There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss (Catechism, 1864).

Imaginative prayer, Lectio divina, the Rosary, prayer lists, and all the other strategies I use to grow in my relationship with Christ – I have found them all utterly useless if I am aware of my sin  – even venial sin – and I delay my repentance. Thus, the examination of conscience, along with confession, forms the basis of this prayer strategy.

The Church explains such examination as made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings” (Catechism 1454).

When I meet each day with the Holy Spirit, I ask Him to reveal to me things I did wrong that day (or in the very recent past) – the unnecessarily harsh words I spoke to others, lusts I entertained in my thoughts, resentment, an unforgiving spirit . . . . And when He unveils those sins to my mind, I immediately repent, using words similar to the Church’s Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

As the Church teaches, Among the penitent's acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again" (Catechism 1451). When the Holy Spirit reveals to my mind my mortal sins, I bring them to the confessional to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

St. Paul tells us, “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7). Without honest confession and repentance, I believe my prayers are in danger of falling on His deaf ears. Which, by the way, is why I so often pray:

“Lord, I am not as willing to change my lifestyle as I ought to be. But, Lord, whatever You have to do to purge me, to redirect me, to make me holy, Lord, I am willing to be made willing for you to do that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- ninth in a series (environment)

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11.1)

I am sometimes easily distracted during my time with Jesus, so I developed a strategy to mitigate the frequency and length of those distractions. My technique deals with the environment of prayer, which I think is just as important as the style of those prayers. 

1. The Lord Jesus said, “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6). I use a spare room as my “prayer closet,” where I can close the door and keep myself as free from potential distractions as possible. It’s furnished sparsely with only a couch, footrest, small table and a lamp. Across from the couch I placed a crucifix, which becomes the typical focal point of my prayers.

2. Although I spend time with the Lord both morning and evening, my most quality time is in the morning, before I’ve looked at my email or spent time on the computer. Looking to Jesus the first thing after I get out of bed helps keep my mind uncluttered and free from the distractions waiting for me when I move into the day’s business.

3. Part of my time in prayer includes reading and meditating on Scripture. I keep three versions of the Bible (NAB, NASB and NKJV) beside me, as well as a concordance* and lexicon.** During my meditation I might think of an idea or Scripture I read in another place in the Bible. The concordance helps me find it when I can remember only a portion of it. Also, while reading I might become curious how a particular verse is translated in another version, or how the original Greek or Hebrew is used in other places in Scripture. That’s where the other versions and the lexicon are useful.

4. I keep a notepad and pen at my side. It is more the norm than the rarity that while in prayer an idea pops into my head about some task I need to do later that day, or a Scripture I want to memorize, catches my attention. I take a few seconds to jot the ‘to do’ items on the pad, so I won’t forget them. Having written them down, I can then return to my meeting with Jesus. I also keep with me the CDs,  Rosary, prayer lists, alphabet prayers, and other tools I’ve mentioned in earlier posts – all of which help keep my heart focused on prayer.

I try to order everything in my prayer ‘environment’ to keep distractions at a minimum, and my strategies have proved largely successful in decreasing the frequency and length those distractions.

Perhaps my ideas will be useful for you, as well.

* A concordance is a list of key words and their immediate contexts. Many Bibles include a concordance (usually in the back, after the maps).
** A lexicon – in this case, a Bible lexicon – lists all the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic words used in the Bible, along with their definitions and uses elsewhere in Scripture.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Dream and the Reality

I published this some time ago. I thought to reprint it here:

For the Lord Himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first . . . (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

A foreboding pressure - like an ominous, palpable presence - spread over me. It pressed against my chest like a vise. I tried to push it away, but couldn’t move my arms. I tried to scream, but couldn’t open my mouth. I fought to force air through my lips, but my body refused to respond. I tried again and again as terror overwhelmed me -- until in a final, frantic lunge, I exploded with a shattering, guttural cry.

That woke me.

It took a while to fall back to sleep, but when I did, my thoughts careened in disconnected, agitated images. I pushed through narrowing caverns of dirt-ribbed corridors. I searched for an unknown person in danger deep within the caverns. Each turn through passageways seemed more torturous than the last. I squeezed sideways and pressed myself through the tightening walls. Gossamer objects floated in and out of my dream-state.

Cylinders. A sarcophagus. Long, narrow tubes. Closets.

Then my eyes suddenly opened. I looked at the clock. 6:10. I stayed in bed until my breathing slowed.

When I finally stumbled into the living room for my time with Jesus, I tried to lose myself in worship. But the night terrors lingered in the back of my mind.

Until I saw a parallel.

For some, life is like a nightmare from which they can’t seem to awaken. Loved ones fall ill and, despite our prayers, die. Families shatter. Victories appear just beyond our reach on an ever-distant horizon. We search for shelter for those we love. But there is none. We press forward into walls that close ever tighter against us, locking our arms and knees to unyielding rock. Claustrophobia rises in our throat. We try calling for help, but can’t force air past our lips.

And then, for some, it changes. Like awakening from a bad dream, God’s light bursts through our darkness. The Holy Spirit assures us of His presence and care as we read a Scripture, hear a hymn, or someone speaks God’s word to us. In that moment the Promise becomes tangible. And the Holy Spirit whispers, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard ¼ the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Our spiritual ears grab hold of the Father’s vow, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalms 30:5).

Oh, how I long for the morning and -- ultimately -- the Trumpet, when our eyes open to see Him clothed in pulsating light. And we will rise from this earthly slumber to the presence of boundless, fathomless eternity -- more awake than ever before. Sorrow, confusion and terror will have fled forever from the splendor of His glory and we will, at last, approach the throne where the Father welcomes us home.

No wonder our spirits sometimes cry with St. Paul's, “Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.”
And no wonder I pray so often, "Oh, Lord, awaken us to your glory."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Am Confused

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the Passover statute. No foreigner may eat of it.  (Exodus 12:43)

I have often been

Why we invite those to the Table
who give claim to Catholic faith,
whose holiness is suspect,
who reject the moral authority
and teaching
of the Catholic faith
with respect,
for example,
to abortion
and sexual sin;

While at the same time
we deny the Table
to non-Catholic Christians
who live openly holy lives,
who adhere to the moral authority
and teaching
of the Catholic faith
with respect,
for example,
to such things.

I am

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- eighth in a series

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2728) continues its teaching regarding prayer this way: Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness . . . The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.

Dryness. Discouragement. Distractions. I have experienced many reasons and made many excuses to avoid time with God in prayer. My earlier posts highlighted several strategies I have used to keep focused on prayer. Lectio Divina is another. Actually, I’ve practiced lectio divina for decades – without knowing it had a name.

Lectio Divina is an ancient form of prayer often associated with the monastic tradition. It’s description is more detailed than what I am about to tell you (you can find more information by clicking this link), but essentially I practice lectio divina each time I read  the Scriptures and ask myself two questions: What is the writer trying to convey to his readers, and what might the Holy Spirit be trying to convey to me in the passage? While I mull the questions over and over in my mind, sometimes nothing comes to me. At other times I gain new insight into my walk of faith. And, if a particular verse in text catches my attention, I memorize it and speak it back to God as a form of prayer.

The Scriptures are an integral part of any Christian’s faith walk with Christ. Indeed, it is so important to our spiritual lives, the Catechism tells the Catholic faithful: The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (paragraph 133).

Lectio Divina is very special to my time with the Lord because He so often speaks with me through the Biblical text. I don’t know how I could mature in my faith and in my relationship with Christ without constant nourishment on His Word. Thus, it is no surprise the Church teaches: And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life." Hence "access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful" (Catechism paragraph 131).

Two essays I’ve posted to this blog in months past are examples of reflections born out of Lectio Divina:  Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble  &  Sunday is Coming.

I’ll post yet another of my prayer strategies next time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

By Degrees

But you, beloved, build yourselves up in you most holy faith . . . (Jude 20).

Some time ago, close friends gave me a Day by Day Bible desk calendar for Christmas – the kind with tear-off sheets for each day of the year.  Each sheet had a Bible verse and an encouaging quote from a Saint or other notable Christian. I referred to the pages nearly every day I was in my office.

The gift didn't surprise me. From all external signs, she and her husband of fifteen years seemed a model Christian couple. They attended Mass each Sunday and sent their two children to Catholic school. But a few months after they gave me the gift, her husband discovered she’d been routinely unfaithful to him for more than two years.

I know it happens all the time – people attend Mass, say the prayers, hear the homily, sing in the choir, receive the Eucharist. But beneath the religious activity can lurk a Judas.

In the decades I’ve walked with Christ, I’ve observed that no one walked away from Him overnight. It's always been a slow process. A compromise here. An excuse there. Another rationalization. And the heart hardens by degrees.

That's one reason I bring myself to God every morning and evening in prayer, study of His word, and worship. I do it because, although I love Him with a deepening love, I fear that, given the right circumstances, I could deny Him three times. I could succumb to Satan's insidious deceptions and grow, by degrees, unfaithful to my Divine Bridegroom.

So I take the time and I make the effort to strengthen myself in my faith and in my faithfulness to Him. And I routinely ask, Lord, help me labor to remain honest and pure. And holy.