Book Whisperer: Favorite Books on Prayer

Book WhispererThis week in Confirmation class we talked about the Rosary, and about how prayer is an important part of Christian life.

Here are some of my favorite books on prayer and the saints….

33 Days to Morning Glory by Michael Gaitley. This “do-it-yourself” retreat is a wonderful introduction to Marian devotion (including the Rosary) and Christian contemplative prayer. We used this little book last year at Ascension, and it was a wonderful experience.

groeschelI Am With You Always: A Study of the History and Meaning of Personal Devotion to Jesus Christ by Father Benedict Groeschel. This massive work is surprisingly accessible, and represents a decade in the life of one of the most beloved and respected Catholic teachers alive today. I am grateful to Ignatius Press for publishing it, and keep it on my “fire shelf” of important books for easy reference.

The New Rosary in Scripture: Biblical Insights for Praying the 20 Mysteries by Edward Sri. Dr. Ted Sri is a popular speaker and theology professor at the Augustine Institute. This book, published by Servant Press, is an especially thoughtful gift for Christians who are curious about this classic Catholic prayer tradition.

What are YOUR favorites?

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Advent Begins: A season of tiny lights

advent wreath 2Happy Advent!

“Blogger Mom” Sherry Antonetti, suffered a miscarriage this week. This energetic mother of ten is walking a “valley of shadow” that is unknown to me. A car accident when I was eighteen caused such extensive internal damage, my doctor informed me I would not be able to have children. (The only silver lining to this was that my then-boyfriend, an Argentinian jackass, dumped me the minute I came out of I.C.U. because “You’re not a real woman anymore.”)

In a way, the knowledge that pregnancy was not in the cards for me made it a bit easier when I got married. As much as I would have liked to have a child, knowing it was not possible gave me the freedom to check that particular dream off my “wish list” and find a new dream with my husband, which we could envision together.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that the pain of the not-quite-realized dream has a special place in the spiritual life. Those of us who never buy a lottery ticket, do not experience the let-down of those who splurge on $20 in tickets without a single hit. That tantalizing possibility causes us to hope in God’s goodness . . . the excruciating aftermath leads us to trust in his mercy.

As we enter the season of Advent, we recall the most extraordinary of all of divine interventions: the Incarnation, the moment in history when God definitively intervened in human history, to remake a future infinitely better than we’d imagined for ourselves. “O felix culpa …” O happy fault, that won for us so great a Savior.

This year, as we enter the Church’s new year, let’s take a moment to reflect upon those moments when we experienced a tiny point of light, a brief moment when possibility turned into disappointment. The angst of childish choices. The agony of free will turned on end. The inexplicable shadow of nature at its worst.

Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts,

Which even now, we receive from Thy bounty,

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health,

As long as I shall live. Amen.

Weekend Ponderings: Persevering Through Pain

A couple of times here I’ve written about a good friend of mine who is battling leukemia, and has a teenage son with extreme special needs (in and out of mental hospitals, etc.) who is making their home life unbearable. She and her husband have tried every legal venue to get their foster-adopted son the help he needs, and because of the danger he poses to the younger boys they have exhausted every possible lead in order to find him another place to stay. All to no avail. He is still there, causing havoc.

Now another brother has been hospitalized for depression. And my friend is once more in the hospital — through her transplant seems to have “taken,” the side effects of her treatment have left her in constant pain, unable to eat or do anything else.

Yesterday when I saw my friend’s husband, my heart broke for him. He is a man caught in a desperate situation, with four boys who desperately miss their mother and fear their older brother. It is understandable that the poor man feels overwhelmed, despite the fact that so many friends are reaching out to them.

As he stood there, giving me the details on the most current difficulties the family is facing, I suddenly got an image of Jesus carrying his cross, step after painful step. The torture must have been unbearable … and yet, somehow he bore it. Somehow he found the strength. Somehow he kept going. People came alongside him, to assist him — carrying his cross, wiping his face. But no one carried him. For that, he had to lean hard on the Spirit.

And so, I prayed with my friend, that God would give him a measure of the same Spirit that strengthened Jesus in those final hours. I asked that same Spirit to defend and protect the older two boys, both of whom belong to God.  I do not understand why God hasn’t given this family a “way of escape.” Every door has been closed to them.

But in a remarkable, and totally unique way, they are being given an opportunity to imitate Christ. In particular, imitate the way he persevered despite the pain, remaining faithful to the God he knew had not forsaken him.

As Christians, we are often eager to share our testimony of victory, of triumph, of celebration. And yet, the paradox of the Gospel remains:  His strength is revealed most perfectly in our weakness.

Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.

Prayer for Catechists (when the year is almost over)

Yesterday was the last day of religious education classes — my fifth graders and I went out side to play “Baseball Review.” I lobbed questions (gently), one at a time … and if the “batter” got it right, s/he took a base. If s/he gave the wrong answer, the question was given to the “catcher” on the other side. If the catcher got it right, the first player was “out.” If not, the “batter” got another question.

I was amazed to discover what answers they got right — and what questions they missed! After months and months teaching about prayer and the sacraments, they could name the sacraments, and could come up with eight out of ten of the commandments. However, they couldn’t tell me the name of our pope — or name even one of the Joyful or Sorrowful Mysteries. Hmm… more work still to do!

Suddenly I found myself empathizing with the hundreds of religious sisters from decades past, who labored to teach thousands of Catholic schoolboys and girls the mysteries of the faith (and watched helplessly as those students left the Church later in life). The kids could recite the Catechism … but had they caught the Spirit?

It’s an unfortunate reality for parents and catechists alike: Our influence in the lives of the children entrusted to our care is not something we can wholly control ourselves. They may look up to us, and on a good day they may even appear to be listening to us … but what they recall is altogether a different matter.

For good or ill, children are watching us. Learning from from what we say … and especially from who we are. If we do our jobs right, years from now when they are grappling with issues of faith, they will remember our carefully prepared lessons. They will also remember us as men and women of faith who showed them the love of God.

An authentic religious education does not stop with the mind. It perseveres, until it reaches the heart.

Prayer for Catechists as We End the Year

We have run the race, we have finished the course.
We have guided these children, gathered before us.
Our worksheets completed, our workbooks read.
Our rosaries prayed ’til our fingers bled.

And now … It’s all up to you, Holy Spirit.
We release these little souls into your care,
Knowing they are safest there.
Make them good, and pure, and true.
Show them how much they are loved by you!

Taking Time to … Breathe

This morning when the phone rang, I wished very hardthat I had been able to find my Daytimer yesterday. That way I wouldn’t have been so surprised when my friend Pat Gohn (left) asked me if I was ready to interview for her podcast “Among Women.”

I wasn’t, not exactly. My husband was conducting business in the living room, and when I moved to the bedroom to conduct the interview he started moving around, getting ready for work. If I’d remembered, I have shoveled out my office enough to talk to Pat in peace and quiet. As it was, all I could do was … breathe.

Do you ever get like this? Feel like you’re going through life in auto-pilot mode, one step ahead of the lions? With kids to feed, home to clean, posters to make, meetings to attend, columns to write, e-mails to answer, books to read, and much else to do … Taking a moment to breathe seems like inexcusable luxury.

But that is exactly what we need to do sometimes. Breathe, so we have the resources to keep running.

Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhew!

Today at AnnArbor.com, I’ve posted a little article about another important way to keep perspective, at least at our house. It’s the family rules: 30 minutes of together time every single day. No computers. No agenda. Just … together. Talking. Singing. Even grumping. It’s all good.

In the interview with Pat about “My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories,” I talked about how we can never hope to have a relationship with God if we don’t spend timein His presence. It would be like running into Grandma’s house, shouting at her from the door, “Hi-Grandma-how-are-you-I’m-fine!” and running back to the car. That’s not the way to build a relationship.

So, c’mon. Breathe with me now.

Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.
Make me aware of your presence, right here and now.
As close and as warm as the air I breathe.
Fill me, calm me, and strengthen me. Amen!

Looking for a Job? Try the St. Joseph Novena!

st-josephOne of my writers at Canticle, Carol Paur, sent me this link to a St. Joseph novena (a 30-day prayer that you offer for a specific intention, through the intercession of a particular saint). St. Joseph’s feast day is March 19, so if you want to do this one, you better get started!

Like every rote devotional practice, the key to this kind of prayerful intercession is placing yourself securely in the hands of the Lord, and offering him your intention without dictating the terms. These kinds of spiritual exercises are not the “gumball machine” variety — put in a prayer, get what you ask for. Rather, they are a humble acknowledgment of our child-like dependence on God, as well as how much we need our older brothers and sisters in faith to look out for us.

I find these kinds of prayers give me a valuable perspective. Alone in our prayer closet, the temptation can be to become so self-absorbed and petty. Litanies like these remind us of just how BIG the family of God is, how deep and how all-encompassing. Seen in that light, whether or not we get a job we can trust that God WILL provide.

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Sitting with Jesus … A Way to Peace

My friend Sarah posted “Our Lady of Medjugorje”  (mostly about Eucharistic Adoration) at “Today’s Catholic Woman”/CE.

“What do you do for a whole hour?” she wondered as she went to her first EA appointment, in the wee hours of the morning. Armed with books and rosary, she went to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament … and found  the peace of Christ waiting for her.

As mothers we often forget to find the peace we need in order to pass it on to our children (who need to get it from us). Sarah’s is a timely reminder of that important fact. “Peace I give to you … not as the world gives, give I to you,” Jesus told His followers. “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

You don’t have to be Catholic to long for a tangible reminder of His presence in your life. If you’re in need of a little peace today, why not go and sit in Jesus’ presence for a while? Take the kids with …. Jesus loves the children!