Sunday, October 14, 2012

Let Us Pray

by Mark Rothe
Master Catechist, Diocese of Arlington

It begins . . . with prayer. It begins as it should, as it must if it is to be fruitful, with prayer.

Most appropriately, the Year of Faith was inaugurated at Blessed Sacrament with that most special prayer which involves adoration of our Lord in the most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. There is a great need in this Year of Faith, together with the New Evangelization, for a better appreciation of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Father Anthony Killian said in his sermon at the Holy Hour on Thursday, October 11. He noted how St. Faustina recounts in her diary when Jesus had sadly told her that, all too often, with respect to the Eucharist, people "treat me as a dead object." But He is alive -- in Him, all things are made new, and we can ourselves be renewed in receiving the living Risen Christ, "the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ." (CCC 1405, quoting St. Ignatius of Antioch)

Renewal in Him and through Him is a major reason for the Year of Faith. It is an exhortation to be renewed, Fr. Killian said, so that we can then joyously take that renewed and reinvigorated faith to others.

It must be a living faith and a lived faith that we take to others, rather than treating our Lord and our faith as if they are dead objects. We must open our hearts to Him, to His Spirit of Love and Truth, and worthily receive His Body in Holy Communion with Him, so that His Light might more clearly shine through us, through our lives and witness of Him.

How might we open our hearts in this Year of Faith? What are some of the activities we might engage in during this Year? How might we better inform our intellects and prepare ourselves for the New Evangelization, for our actively participating in the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a cold and dark world sorely in need of some good news?

There are and will be plenty of opportunities to renew and grow in your faith this coming year. For example, Pope Benedict chose October 11, 2012, to open the Year of Faith precisely to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Accordingly, this would be a good opportunity to study the Council, including both the texts and understanding why Pope John XXIII was inspired to call the Council, what he sought to accomplish in the Council, and what the Council fathers believed they had done upon its conclusion, so that you might properly read the texts in continuity with the entire 2000-year deposit of faith. One might also take the occasion to read the various magisterial documents implementing the teachings of the Council, as well as reading other encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, etc. on other aspects of the faith.

In addition to reading authoritative magisterial documents, you might also read some of the writings of the doctors of the Church, the early Church Fathers, and other saints. You might read these materials on your own or you might take advantage of the many programs and talks that are offered at Blessed Sacrament and nearby parishes. For example, this coming Thursday at 7 p.m., we are showing Episode Three of Father Robert Barron's excellent Catholicism series as part of our Cinema Catechism program, and there are also showings on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. On Friday evening at 7:30 p.m., Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples and co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, will be speaking on New Evangelization in the Year of Faith: "Do We Believe More in God's Love Than In Our Own Weakness?" Ms. Weddell is also giving a talk on Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., entitled "Forming Intentional Disciples: A Workshop for Parish Leaders" (registration is requested).

If you have not already read the Catechism, now is a good time to do so, or re-read it. The Catechism is a precious and indispensable tool to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith, Pope Benedict reminds us in Porta Fidei. Of course, you might even think about reading the Bible -- the whole Bible. Find a good and authoritative translation that you feel comfortable with and read it in its entirety.

Beyond personal study, you who are married should be helping your spouse to grow in the Lord and you parents should become more engaged in your children's religious formation. This would also be a good time to become more active in the parish. Outside the parish, you might consider becoming more active in various works of mercy and charity in the community.

However, in all of these various activities that we might engage in during the Year of Faith seeking to renew our own faith, to wake ourselves from our slumber, so that we might be better and more effective workers in the vineyard of the Lord, if we are to be successful, if the vineyard is to actually bear fruit, we cannot do these things on our own. We need help. We need the Lord to accompany us in the field and as we journey through life. In short, we need to pray.

The Year of Faith and the New Evangelization begin with prayer. They must begin with prayer and they must continue to be prayerful throughout. In humble prayer, in responding to the Lord who is already calling upon us, we open our hearts to communication and communion with God. The whole point of the Year of Faith is to grow in faith, which means not simply gaining in intellectual knowledge of various facts about Jesus, but having a closer and more intimate encounter with Him personally. Our knowledge of Him who is Life must be a living knowledge, a knowledge that is alive, and not merely an inanimate acquisition of facts as if He were a dead thing, as if He was merely some historical guy from ancient Nazareth.

We must know Him in our hearts by maintaining communication with Him through prayer, not only so that we might ever be connected with Eternal Life, but so that we might be able to be His witnesses. "It is always important for us to remember that the first condition to speak about God is to speak with God," instructs Pope Benedict XVI (Address of May 24, 2012), echoing what he said before he became Pope, "We ourselves cannot gather men. We must acquire them by God for God. All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer. The word of the announcement must always be drenched in an intense life of prayer." (Address of December 12, 2000)

So, let us seek to improve ourselves in our prayer life. In his homily at last Wednesday evening's Mass, Fr. Killian said that one of the biggest things that people raise with him and other priests is a desire to improve their prayer life. This is nothing new -- the Apostles themselves asked Jesus how to better pray. Especially in this noisy world, where there are all sorts of distractions, and what with all the various hardships that people endure, which might cause us anxiety and restlessness, prayer can be difficult at times.

Perhaps one way to improve yourself with respect to prayer is simply to make a more concerted effort to pray. Every day. Make an act of the will and decisively resolve to set aside one or two times, five or ten minutes every day (or more), perhaps when you first wake up or before going to bed or some other specific time, and simply bring your life to a screeching halt. Call a time-out and just stop all those worldly things that you otherwise would do. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and try to shut out the world. And then pray. Even if the world tries to intrude, just keep going. Speak to God, open your heart to Him, and allow Him to speak to you. Indeed, in prayer, God has already taken the initiative, and we are really responding to Him when we pray.

If your mind is too flustered to pray in your own words, pray with the Church with the standardized written prayers, the Our Father, Glory Be, the Hail Mary, etc., so it is not just you praying individually, but praying in communion with all the faithful. Make this part of your routine, seeking the grace to be able to pray better, so that if you are not able to shut out the world on your own, God will give you the help by grace to do so, and your prayer life will improve. If you are really ambitious, consider learning the prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, where you alternate a selection of psalms with other prayers and readings, and which is ideally said at the given specific times of the day.

Another possibility in improving your prayer life this year might be to go beyond personal prayer and participating in the many prayer groups at Blessed Sacrament or other parishes. One excellent and highly recommended opportunity right now is 40 Days for Life. Beside these 40 days, there are permanent prayer vigils held every day outside local abortion facilities. Also on a permanent basis at Blessed Sacrament are Eucharist Adoration on Fridays, children's Adoration on Fridays, the Legion of Mary on Thursdays, the Padre Pio prayer group on Sundays, the Mom's Rosary Group, and others.

The Year of Faith has begun with prayer. Let it continue with prayer. Let us pray that the Lord stay with us and walk with us. Let us pray, "Credo Domine, adauge nobis fidem!" (I believe, Lord, increase our faith!). In the communion of prayer, let us join ourselves with His Mother, our Blessed Mother, and the other saints, so that they might ever be at our side, guiding us and praying with and for us. With prayer, we keep the soil fertile, we keep the soil watered, and thus we allow the seeds planted in our hearts by God to grow and bear fruit.

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