Light and Life – May-June 2020, Vol 73, No 3 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
In this time of pandemic people have had to stay at home to an extent that they never had to before, perhaps in their entire life. For some, it has been a time of growth; they have discovered new things that they can do at home that are constructive, e.g., taking up gardening, tackling long forgotten home projects, or actively participating in virtual meetings online with loved ones.
For others though, this has been a time of great challenge—even crisis. It has led some to indulge in things that are not good for them, e.g., buying too much on the internet, over-eating, watching too much TV, binging on alcohol, or viewing pornography.
Recently a friend of mine asserted that God has the world in “time-out,” something usually given to children who act up so that they can reflect on their behavior. Maybe God sees the need for a world-wide “time-out” so that his children can reflect on their lives and cast off the things that don’t matter—or worse, the things that lead them away from God. As we find ourselves stuck at home with extra time on our hands, maybe we could use that time for spiritual renewal, for taking “time out” to seek the Lord.
Our situation need not be seen in a bad light however; but as a time of discovering new opportunities or possibilities found right at home that can open doors to unexplored avenues that we never knew existed, pathways
that lead us to God in ways that transform us and give us life. God is infinite and there are countless ways that lead to him, and ALL of them provide renewal, help, blessing and wisdom for the one who travels them. All it takes is a spirit of adventure and the desire for discovery to make sheltering at home a time of drawing nearer to the Lord; we can do that by getting creative and investing in our own life of prayer.
In its most basic form, prayer is communication with God through our thoughts, words and gestures. The wonderful thing about prayer is that God stoops down to meet us where we are. He takes seriously every single prayer, from the child who kneels at her bedside, to the infirm confined to his bed, and to the sinner or addict asking for deliverance from their captivity. The Lord looks into each heart and even hears and responds to our groanings when we don’t know how to pray. (Cf. Romans 8:26) I assure you, the Lord listens to your prayers through every sincere effort you make to reach him no matter how bumbling the attempt.
The way we pray speaks about our relationship with God. “The spiritual life is not primarily about certain practices of piety and techniques of prayer, but about a relationship. It’s about responding to the One who has created us and redeemed us.”1 All prayer is grounded in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Intercessor before the Father. All things flow through him, as he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Further, he says, “I give you my assurance, whatever you ask the Father, he will give you in my name Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23-24)
To set out on this journey of prayer, I recommend a Daily Prayer Hour that you can do every morning or evening, or whatever time of the day that is best for you, with the mindset that it will become part of your daily life even when the pandemic has passed. It’s easier than you think. Further, if you stay with it, you will find that it will in fact change your life, your marriage, or your entire family.
Many people shudder at the idea of praying for one hour. After all, most people get scared at the thought of meditating in silence for 5 minutes! Before you dismiss this as being impossible for yourself, consider just how much you need to draw closer to God and the practical ways in which you can achieve this goal. You can begin gradually but consistently, and if you stick with it, you will discover that your need will become a desire that you seek to fulfill.
When you pray, go to a physical place that is conducive to prayer, e.g., a special room in your home or in the backyard, where you will not be disturbed or distracted. Remember what the Lord says, “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6) Pray at the time of day that is optimal for you, e.g., if you’re a morning person, pray in the morning. As you begin, put aside the business of the day, quiet your thoughts, calm your anxieties, and focus on the Lord. Place yourself in the presence of God. Ask the Lord to calm your mind and your heart, to help you open your heart to him and to orient yourself toward him. Ask him to reveal himself to you, to share with you the mysteries of his life, his wisdom, and especially his love. In my experience, invitation is very important to the Lord; the One who can do all things, rushes into the soul of the person who voluntarily opens the door of their heart to Him.
One last thing, St. Teresa of Avila tells us that whether prayers are memorized or said out loud doesn’t determine their value; what matters is whether we pay attention to what we’re saying and to whom we’re speaking.2 Also,
keep in mind our Lord’s own admonition, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)
The Daily Prayer Hour is broken down into interchangeable parts that can be moved around to create the Hour that you desire, although there is a particular order that I see as beneficial. Though I categorize these different forms of prayer, you will see that each one has aspects of the others, e.g., the Rosary is a prayer of Meditation that includes Intercessory Prayer, while Lectio Divina has aspects of Praise, Meditation, Intercessory Prayer
and Thanksgiving. Further, all Thanksgiving is a form of Praise of God.
1. Praise of God (5 minutes)
2. Rosary (20 minutes)
3. Lectio Divina (20 minutes)
4. Silent Meditation (5 minutes)
5. Intercessory Prayer (5 minutes)
6. Thanksgiving (5 minutes)
Praise of God starts us out on the right path. It turns my focus away from me and reorients it toward God. It’s like getting into a boat and pushing off from shore. Praise of God is one of the highest forms of prayer. It is perhaps the one form of prayer that the devil hates the most. Don’t overthink it. There are many ways to praise the Lord. You can begin by singing a song to God, or praise Him by using your own words or expressions, or by praying the Psalms. The Psalms have existed for thousands of years and have been prayed by hundreds of millions of people. The Catechism states, “Prayed and fulfilled in Christ, the Psalms are an essential permanent element of the prayer of the Church.”3 I recommend the following Psalms of praise—find the one you like and open your prayer with it each day.
Psalm 150: “Praise the Lord in His sanctuary”
Psalm 148: “Praise the Lord from the heavens”
Psalm 111: “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart”
Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul”
Psalm 100: “Sing joyfully to the Lord”
Psalm 30: “I will extol you, O Lord, for you drew me clear”
Psalm 138: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart”
Psalm 117: “Praise the Lord, all you nations”
Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good”
Psalm 145: “I will extol you, O my God and King”
Psalm 34: “I will bless the Lord at all times”
Psalm 92: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord”
Daniel 3:52-90: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our Fathers”
You could also pray the Divine Praises4, or offer praise to God by creating your own litany. This is accomplished by praising God’s name while acknowledging his various attributes or things for which you are thankful. As an example, see “My Litany to Jesus”.
My Litany to Jesus
To you, Lord Jesus, I open my heart:
I Praise your Holy Name, Lord Jesus, (refrain)
… for you so loved the world that you gave your life for us,
… for you do not condemn sinners but love them as your own,
… for your forgiveness is sweet and your mercy tender,
… for the beauty of this world reflects your divine grandeur,
… for I see with the eyes of faith because of You,
… for giving me hope and trust in You in the midst of struggle,
… for the many blessings that you have bestowed upon me,
… for my spouse, children, and the people you have placed in my life,
… for your Church and her sacraments of life, healing and vocation,
… for giving us your Mother as you hung from the Cross,
… for the graces that flow to us through your saints and angels,
… for your humility as the Eternal Word in becoming man,
… for being the Good Shepherd, seeking the lost, broken and forsaken,
… for dying on the Cross for our Redemption,
… for your glorious Resurrection and the coming of your kingdom,
… for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church,
… for bestowing upon us the love that you share with your Father,
To you, Lord Jesus, I open my heart, fill me with the abundant love that
flows from your Sacred Heart!
There is a natural flow as we move from Praise of God to meditating on the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ and his Mother in the Rosary, especially if we include some of those mysteries in our litany. The Rosary is included in this Daily Prayer Hour because of two essential aspects. First, if you pray it correctly you meditate on all of the key mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. If you pray it earnestly while seeking to draw near to God, the mysteries of the Incarnation (God becoming man) and the Redemption (Jesus redeeming the world by his death on the cross) will suddenly open up to you. The more you seek to draw near to Jesus, the more he reaches back to you and blesses you in ways unforeseen. Second, I recommend the Rosary because it is Mary’s prayer. When we pray the Rosary, the Blessed Virgin joins us in our walk of faith, including in our struggles. The Rosary is the means by which Mary unites souls to herself as they journey toward God and his Son; it assures us of her maternal presence and protection.5 Further, God has deigned to grant us graces through Mary; she is always about showing us the many avenues that lead to Jesus.
From the Rosary flows Lectio Divina. This is a centuries old way of using the Holy Scriptures for meditation and prayer. Sacred Scripture is the divine word of God, inspired by the Lord himself. It is in its own special category. It’s alive and speaks to us in every day and age. Lectio Divina has always been a key form of prayer for monks and those who live the cloistered life. It encapsulates much of the life of prayer to which all Christians are called. In this way of prayer, you read the Scriptures carefully, then stop to meditate upon them, speak to God about your reflections, and then make related petitions to God as you are inspired. When praying Lectio Divina, you are not meant to race through the passage you are reading; just read a little, pray with it, “chew on it,” then once you feel the need to pick up where you left off, read further. This form of prayer is meant to lift our mind and heart to God so that we can listen intently for what He says to us.
There are many options when choosing scripture passages. I’ve already recommended the Psalms, which can be used in Lectio Divina. Especially, I recommend two special Psalms that are easy ways to dive into prayer: my personal favorite, Psalm 63:1-9 (“My God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting”) and Psalm 25 (“To you I lift up my soul, O Lord, my God”). I also recommend St. Paul’s letters or various Gospel passages and events that are rich and speak to our situation in life, e.g., the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), the man born blind (John 9:1-41), the call of the disciples, the Crucifixion and Resurrection accounts, the woman caught
in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus’ miracles, the parables, the theology of the Holy Eucharist (John 6), Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Last Supper, the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), and the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56).
Christian Meditation, or contemplative prayer, flows naturally from Lectio Divina. Sometimes in prayer we need to sit down and shut up! God speaks to our hearts constantly—but do we ever listen? St. Teresa of Avila says, “Meditation is the basis for acquiring all the virtues, and to undertake it is a matter of life and death for all Christians.”6 In the Christian tradition, Meditation is Trinitarian in its foundation and Christological in its focus. As we pray in meditation, we connect with the divine life of God within us. As we sit in the presence of the Holy Trinity, our prayer unfolds through our relationship with Jesus.7 (Normally, I recommend that this be done in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament; but for most people this is not a possibility right now.) I recommend five minutes of silent Meditation in which we quiet ourselves—or even empty ourselves—with the objective of allowing Jesus to fill us with his love.
If you are a person who struggles with anxiety, you may be amazed at how this kind of prayer can give you peace and serenity. For me it is a two-fold process. First of all, we empty ourselves of distractions, temptations, worries, etc., by giving them to Jesus. Then we pray to be filled with his presence and love. The Jesus Prayer, i.e., “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” is a famous prayer often used in Christian contemplative prayer. It has been prayed for centuries by those who seek to be healed and blessed by Christ. As you quiet yourself, breathe out and pray the words, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and when you breathe in pray the words, “Have mercy on me.” (I recommend one of my favorite spiritual classics, The Way of a Pilgrim, the story of a man who goes searching for fulfillment. The Jesus Prayer features prominently in the book.)
You could also use a phrase of your own choosing, e.g., “Lord Jesus Christ, I trust in you,” or, “Lord Jesus Christ, please rest in me.” You may also just pray using the name “Jesus.” In the silence of Christian Meditation, a whole new world can open up in our relationship with the Lord. St. Gemma Galgani, when speaking about prayer with her spiritual director, said, “I have been in the presence of Jesus; I said nothing to him, and he said nothing to me; we both remained in silence; I looked at him and he looked at me. But if you only knew, father, how delightful it is to be thus in the presence of Jesus! Have you ever experienced it? You would wish it never to end.”8
Intercessory Prayer is yet another way in which the Church prays. It goes back to the beginning. St. Paul often spoke to the Christian Community of Intercessory Prayer and its value. He says, “First of all, I ask that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be offered for all men, especially for kings and those in authority, that we may be able to lead undisturbed and tranquil lives in perfect piety and dignity. Prayer of this kind is good, and God our savior is pleased with it, for he wants all men to be saved and come to know the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-5) The Apostle reminds us that it is our Christian duty to pray for the Church and the world, for believers and nonbelievers alike.
In your Daily Prayer Hour, pray for those among your family, friends and coworkers as well as for the people who are suffering or in need throughout the world. Pray for all religious and civil leaders—whether you like them or not. They need your prayers. This can be engaging for everyone in your family. Even children understand what it means to pray for people.
I advocate finishing your Daily Prayer Hour with prayers of Thanksgiving. Like Praise of God, these prayers too can be prayed in the form of a litany, e.g., “For food on the table and good health, Lord we give you thanks,” “For blessings upon our family, Lord we give you thanks,” etc. I consider thanksgiving to be an act of faith because when we thank God, we acknowledge his existence and his beneficence. Recall the leper who returned to Jesus to give him thanks (Luke 17:11-19). Upon receiving the leper’s thanksgiving, the Lord said, “Your faith has been your salvation.” Further, when we reflect upon how we are blessed it begins to change our disposition. Gratitude warms the heart and sanctifies the soul. St. Paul says, “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude.” (Philippians 4:6)
In summary, if you are getting squirrely and are searching for something new to do at home—or to put it more bluntly, are trying to prevent yourself from going crazy—I recommend that you find a quiet place, or create one where you can pray a Daily Prayer Hour. Each of us is personally called by the Lord to draw nearer to him, to go deeper in our relationship with him, and to explore the depths of his love. Like children, we can recognize when we are hungry but we don’t always fill ourselves with what we need. Create a place and time for God; whatever you give to him you will get back one-hundredfold. Invite Him to draw near, and root yourself in him, so that you can be “like the tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade.” (Psalm 1)
Footnotes:1. Martin, Ralph, The Fulfillment of all Desire, Emmaus Road Publishing: Steubenville, Ohio, 2006, p. 120.
2. Ibid, p. 122.
3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2597.
4. Cf. ourcatholicprayers.com/divine-praises.html
5. In Sinu Jesu, Angelico Press: Kettering, OH, 2016, p. 96.
6. St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Ch 16, #3, p. 94, Ch. 17, # 3, p. 99, Ch 19, # 2, p. 107.
7. Keating, Thomas, Intimacy with God, Crossroad Publishing Co.: New York, 1998, p. 32.
8. Ruoppolo, Fr. Germanus, CP, The Life of Gemma Galgani, London & Edinburgh Sands & Co.: St. Louis, MO, 1913, p. 235.
To All those who look to the Rosary Center for support & prayers,
We take our ministry very seriously here at the Rosary Center. If ever you have a request for prayers, please send them to us through our website (look for “Prayer Request” at rosarycenter.org) or via U.S. Mail. I keep a basket at the foot of the altar that is filled with your petitions. Every day I bring these to the Blessed Virgin Mary and ask her to intercede on your behalf to Our Lord. Please know that your petitions, for good health—especially safety from the corona virus, increased faith, family concerns, financial needs, etc., are included in my daily Mass and Rosary.
—Fr. Joseph OP, Director
Update on the Rosary Center
Dear faithful supporters of the Rosary Center & Confraternity, the Rosary Center is a 95-year-old building that will finally get a make-over! She is indispensable to our apostolate of the Rosary Confraternity. In order to continue our vibrant ministry and to ensure that it flourishes into the future, we need to make the requisite renovations. In other words, it’s time to shore up the old girl! In these days, I have been meeting with architects to finalize designs for our restorations. When all is said and done, we hope to have a destination chapel in which YOU can come to adore the Lord and pray the Rosary with us in person. If you seek to help us with our dreams, please call me, write me or email me at the Rosary Center. May Our Lady’s work continue!
Fr. Joseph Sergott OP
Director of the Rosary Center & Promoter of the Rosary Confraternity.