Hope

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, might be the most celebrated event in the world. All around the world, regardless of religion, culture, race the people wait for midnight and the new year. There is a palpable atmosphere of hope with this celebration. The old year is passing and the future is very noticeable. No matter what the old year held there is always the promise of the new.

Of course, this evening Catholics start the last day of the octave of Christmas.  The eight day of the celebration of the birth of He who is Hope – Christ. We Catholics are, or should be, a hopeful people regardless of what is swirling around us. We are bolstered by the fact of what we are celebrating – God came among us. He came to us, to lift us up. He will never leave us alone; that is what our hope is built upon.

As we travel these last hours of this year, ready to welcome the promise of the next, Holy Mother Church, in her Vigil Vespers, prays two great ‘hymns’; the ‘Te Deum’ and this great ‘canticle’ of hope from Ephesians[1]; let’s make this our prayer as well:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

even as he chose us in him
before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy
and blameless before him.

He destined us in love
to be his sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace
which he lavished upon us.

For he has made known to us
in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose

which he set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.

As we pray this canticle let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the deliverer of Hope, who we celebrate tomorrow as Mother of God, to pray for us to her Son.

Happy New Year !
Ad multos annos!
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[1] Ephesians 1:3-10

Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.

Prayer, The Good Fight

In our reflections on the Liturgy of the Hours we have looked into various aspects.  This evening I want to finish up by looking at its importance in the evangelizing work of Holy Mother Church.

At the end of Mass the faithful are dismissed; not to leave and turn their attention to other aspects of their life, but to take forth the graces that participating in the Mass gives and use them in the world – helping to sanctify it.  The dismissals used in the English version of the Novus Ordo are beautiful but are not as clear and powerful as the Latin dismissal ‘Ite Missa Est’ – ‘Go, you are sent’.

But we are human, and as such our attention and understanding wane the farther we are from Mass.  The church is very aware of this; in fact, in years past the great liturgical seasons were sometimes referred to as tides, which ebb and flow (Christmastide, Eastertide and so forth).  Yes, mankind tends to allow important events, and their effects to fade. It is the same with Mass; for some it takes a while, others it is almost immediate – just look at the parking lot after Mass.

Participation in the Liturgy of the Hours is a medicine against this waning, this fading, of the fruitfulness of the Mass. Participation in the Liturgy of Hours extends ‘to the different hours of the day the praise and thanksgiving, the commemoration of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory, that are present in the Eucharistic mystery[1] The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to retain the graces from Mass by keeping them in the forefront of our thoughts and burning brightly in our hearts. It also helps us prepare for the next celebration of the Mass. St. Rose of Lima, talking about prayer said: ‘Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.[2] The Liturgy of the Hours fulfill her words by extending the sacrifice of the Mass through prayer.

In addition, our participation in the Liturgy of the Hours is also a communal participation in Christ’s Priesthood – His work in the redemption of mankind. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote: ‘Every true prayer is a prayer of the Church; by means of that prayer the Church prays, since it is the Holy Spirit living in the Church, Who in every single soul ‘prays in us with unspeakable groanings.’ As with all prayer, but even more so, the Liturgy of the Hours is an important tool in our ability to wage the good fight against the enemy.  Whether we pray individually, or together, the Divine Office is a prayer of the Church (militant and triumphant). In it we offer the prayers of the church, prayers for the church, prayers for specific people and on and on. By this constant effort of prayer we align ourselves with the Heavenly Hosts who are fighting the same battle but on a different plane; and together we all add our efforts to those of Christ Himself.

I want to end my reflection with another one, a beautiful reflection from Blessed Card. Ildefonso Schuster, who was Archbishop of Milan from 1929 to 1954. This reflection was written in the last year of his life – he was too week to follow the Divine Office very attentively but nevertheless understood and needed to participate.

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.[3]

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[1] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH) #12
[2] St. Rose of Lima
[3] Meditation by Bl. Card. Schuster (found on http://www.newliturgicalmovement.com 9/19/15)

Prayer, Consecrating Time

(5th reflection in a series on the Liturgy of the Hours)

The knowledge that God desires dialog with us, that Christ prayed, taught us to pray, and is participating with us in prayer is a very powerful incentive for our participation.  But if left at that it sounds like we are playing a game of follow the leader.  There is so much more to the Liturgy of the Hours. This evening let’s look at one aspect: Consecration of Time.

From Sacrosanctum Concilium: ‘By ancient Christian tradition what distinguishes the liturgy of the hours from other liturgical services is that it consecrates to God the whole cycle of the day and the night.[1] The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours references this quote and goes on to reinforce it. It reminds us that Christ taught us that we ‘ought always to pray and not lose heart.[2] And so in obedience to our Lord the General Instruction continues ‘The Church fulfills this precept not only by celebrating the eucharist but in other ways also, especially through the liturgy of the hours.[3] And finishes the section with one final quote from Sancrosanctum Concilium: ‘that the day may be truly sanctified and the hours themselves recited with spiritual advantage, it is best that each of them be prayed at a time most closely corresponding to the true time of each canonical hour.[4]

As followers of Christ we are called to go out and continue His ministry of finding the lost and lead the fallen to the heights of sanctity.  By our actions we can witness to the love that is God, and instill in those around us the urge to do the same – we are called to help sanctify where we are.  But this is a daunting task – impossible with just our own talents and strength.  Our minds wander, our will weakens, our attention tires.  Through the Liturgy of the Hours, joining the continual prayer of Christ, Holy Mother Church gives us those moments of re-energizing and strengthening.  We step from the daily routine and step into the dialog of God.  It reminds us of who we are by praying to who created us. By our participation in the structured prayer of Christ’s Mystical Body, we enter the divine to offer God our efforts since the last Hour (of prayer) and pray for His companionship till the next Hour.

This, then, reinforces in us that in our ‘episodic’ life the Liturgy of the Hours makes us aware that life isn’t a journey through ‘compartments’; rather it is one long and joyful pilgrimage with Christ. This in turn places Christ at the center.

Brothers and sisters, God is the origin and the goal – He is the constant in our lives no matter how hectic and disjointed we find them.  Christ’s continual prayer, and our participation with Him in the Liturgy of the Hours, assures us that He is the center of time; and we, in turn, live our lives as such.  By constant prayer we offer the world and its issues as well as offering our victories and failures. We make them a sacrifice of sorts – we offer them as to have God sanctify them – which He does.

But it is as important to realize that moments of prayer are special, grace filled, sanctified moments; and the Liturgy of the Hours done throughout the world means that every moment of the day there is the sanctifying action of liturgical prayer going up to the Father.  Day and night becomes a chorus of sanctifying praise. We, the Church Militant join with those in heaven who, as we in the Book of Revelation: ‘day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”[5]

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[1] SC art 83-84
[2] LK 18:1
[3] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH) #10
[4] SC art 94 quotes in GILH #11
[5] REV 4:8b

Prayer, A Participation With Christ

(4th reflection in a series on the Liturgy of the Hours)

We reflected last week on daily periodic prayer and how it has been a staple over the millennia. Today let’s reflect on maybe the most important aspect of this prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours – participation with Christ.  As the Mystical Body of Christ Holy Mother Church participates with the constant work of our Lord and Savior.  As members of this Mystical Body, of which Christ is the Head, we are an integral part of this participation.

We are aware that in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass our active participation means that we are participating in Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on Calvary – in His offering to the Father for our sakes. Within this sacrifice we offer up our activities; our joys and sufferings, our hopes and fears. We participate through Christ, with Christ and in Christ.

The same action is in the Liturgy of the Hours. Though it is not the Mass, it is an extension and so:

We pray through Him,

As we read 1 Timothy ‘there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…[1]We pray through Christ the Lord of all, Mediator through whom alone we have access to God.[2]

We pray with Him and in Him as we are told in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.[3]

So brothers and sisters, our daily prayer that we offer to God in heaven is a participation with Christ in His constant prayer. As in the Mass where we participate in His great offering to His Father – so too is our prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, a sharing in Christ’s work.

From the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours:

The Head is Son of God and Son of Man, one as God with the Father and one as man with us. When we speak in prayer to the Father, we do not separate the Son from him and when the Son’s Body prays it does not separate itself from its Head. It is the one Savior of his Body, the Lord Christ Jesus, who prays for us and in us and who is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest, in us as our Head; he is prayed to by us as our God. Recognize therefore our own voice in him and his voice in us.” [51]

 The excellence of Christian prayer lies in its sharing in the reverent love of the only-begotten Son for the Father and in the prayer that the Son put into words in his earthly life and that still continues without ceasing in the name of the whole human race and for its salvation, throughout the universal Church and in all its members.[4]

Our participation in Christ’s prayer is added to the eternal and continual prayer of the heavenly hosts – it is the obligation and delight of all faithful, in heaven and here on earth, to fulfill our vocation that St. Peter writes about: ‘and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[5] And again: ‘you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood…[6]

I must admit that when I consider prayer in this light and what it means not to pray the Liturgy of the Hours; I can only think of one explanation: ungrateful and selfish.

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[1] 1 TM 2:5
[2] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours #6
[3] Sacrosanctum Concilium #83
[4] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours #7
[5] 1PT 2:5
[6] 1 PT 2:9

Time to Pray

(3rd reflection in a series on the Liturgy of the Hours)

 

In the past two weeks we have reflected on:

  • Why we can pray;
  • and that God calls us to pray, indeed has shown us how to pray.

This evening let’s start to look into the importance that continual, periodic prayer (such as this Vesper Service is a part of) is for us; by its importance throughout history.

As I mentioned in the first reflection, some people seem to dismiss the value of corporate prayer; others scoff at the idea of continual, periodic daily prayer. The idea of a day lived in prayer, to these people, is retreating away from the world and the responsibilities we have. In a sentence: ‘life is too short and we are too busy to stop again and again in prayer.’

The reasons, the fruits, of such prayer will be for next week, but a short review of the history of our faith shows us that this type of prayer; daily continual prayer is part of the structural integrity of our journey.  People, since the fall, have been striving to open their hearts to God in all that they do; and at certain times of the day stop and offer, as sacrifice, their valuable time to their creator.

If our Creator, the Living God, desires our dialog, then we should. After all it is He who gave us life, it is He who endowed us with divine dignity; it is He who gave the capacity for love, in all its forms. We need to offer it back to Him in adoration, praise, in hope and petition – return His love; and it is by prayer that we can do this. In addition, constant prayer throughout the day offered as a sacrifice back to God is a gift we give Him, because He has given us this day; the day in which we live His gift of life.

We can see from the earliest of times in the Old Testament, from the apostles, and the nascent church that it was understood that as community we must offer prayer; that constant prayer was an accepted obligation.

Seven times a day I praise thee for thy righteous ordinances.[1] We hear proclaimed in Psalm 119. Daniel we hear ‘… went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.[2] St. Paul comments many times on prayer ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving;[3] he tells the Colossians and us.

And from the beginning of General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours we read:

Public and common prayer by the people of God is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church. From the very beginning those who were baptized “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the community, to the breaking of the bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The Acts of the Apostles give frequent testimony to the fact that the Christian community prayed with one accord.

The witness of the early Church teaches us that individual Christians devoted themselves to prayer at fixed times. Then, in different places, it soon became the established practice to assign special times for common prayer, for example, the last hour of the day when evening draws on and the lamp is lighted, or the first hour when night draws to a close with the rising of the sun.

In the course of time other hours came to be sanctified by prayer in common. These were seen by the Fathers as foreshadowed in the Acts of the Apostles. There we read of the disciples gathered together at the third hour.  The prince of the apostles “went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour” (10:9); “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (3:1); “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (16:25).[4]

Our forefathers understood the importance of God in their lives and the need to keep this in the fore of all they did.  Prayer was a necessity and they built a structure within their lives to offer it. They understood the concept of sacrifice, of tithing, their first fruits – time is no different. Brothers and sisters the idea that prayer is a substitute good among the many in our day strips the awareness of the divine from this divine gift of life. 3,500 years, or so, of the tradition of tithing parts of the day to our God shows us that it can’t be just a temporal or cultural affectation – it is integral to our journey.  Our own hearts will tell us that it is important for our own spiritual and physical well-being. Our prayer community radiates the importance of this tithing in our relationships with each other.

So, our history teaches us, our community shows us, our heart tells us: Live a life of prayer by taking time in life to pray.

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[1] Ps 119:164
[2] Dan 6:10
[3] Col 4:2
[4] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours #1

Why We Can Pray

In today’s Gospel[1] we witness the reactions of Jesus’ disciples to His bread of life discourse; and in the first reading[2] we see Joshua meeting with the leadership of the tribes to discuss their allegiances – in both we see the people in dialog.  We see community interaction with each other and with their God. Prayer can be described as the communication of the faithful to He whom they have faith.  There are two basic types – personal and corporate. Personal prayer is just what it is called. With the corporate prayer we see community at work together.

Corporate prayer can be grouped into two broad classes: liturgical and non-liturgical. Liturgical prayer takes two forms – the Holy Mass is, of course, the highest.  It is the source and summit of our faith. Indeed our very existence on this journey needs to revolve around it because it is Jesus Himself. It is His action on Calvary, His sacrifice to the Father in which we too can offer our sacrifices as well. And of course His great gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist where we can be nourished and strengthened on our pilgrimage.

The other type of liturgical prayer is what we are participating in right now – the Liturgy of the Hours.  For the next few weeks, or so, I would like to delve into this great gift that also helps us in our journey; and not only us our actions in this liturgical prayer help the whole Universal Church, and the whole universe for that matter.

But maybe the best way to start reflecting on the Liturgy of the Hours is to reflect on a fundamental aspect of prayer. Why we can even pray to begin with? St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘The prayer of a Christian is never a monologue.[3] Prayer is not a one way action, it is dialog.  If there is no dialog then there is no relationship, at least a healthy relationship.  Prayer is the communication of a healthy relationship.  But still, how are we even able to enter into this dialogue with God?

Because God desires it and initiated it. There is no other way; if God didn’t want to communicate with us then we would be just ‘howling at the moon’ so to speak. But to our great joy – He desires it. And even more foundational, it is in His very nature to communicate. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book the Feast of Faith: ‘The basic reason why man can speak with God arises from the fact that God himself is speech, Word.[4] This should be obvious when we consider that God is a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons in one God.  Within God there is dialog, the dialog of love.  The Son Himself is the eternal logos, the Word, and when He came among us He enable us to enter into an even more intimate dialog than mankind had prior to His incarnation because He embraced human speech and ‘made it a component of divine speech’.[5] In addition, with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit we are brought into an even more intimate participation of the divine dialog. St. Paul tells us this in his letter to the Romans: ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.[6]

Brothers and sisters, let’s always remember that God has given us a great gift in being able to enter into dialog with Him, but even greater we have been given the ability to enter into His own divine dialog – we are an intimate part of His family and as family we are heard, our feelings and words are desired and cherished. For our part, we need to become active participants in this family discussion.

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[1] JN 6:60-69
[2] JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
[3] St. Josemaría Escrivá – The Way #114
[4] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – The Feast of Faith (pgs 25-26)
[5] ibid
[6] Romans 8:26 (RSV)