Looking at prayer

Amidst our heady discussions on the nature of the Church, and moral questions, it may be a welcome break to think about a subject which is to my mind of more fundamental importance.

I was triggered by some work published in the Social Psychology Quarterly at the end of 2010. The social psychologist, Shane Sharp from Wisconsin-Madison University, had undertaken a study of the extent to which people used prayer to handle their emotions.

He interviewed at depth a group of people who were involved in really difficult relationships. While I hope that no one reading this is in a similar position, many might agree that what he discovered is little different in less dramatic, everyday, prayer.

One beneficial experience was the opportunity to vent strong emotions, especially anger. One might hesitate to do this directly to the object of the anger. So prayers can be a way of obtaining relief and getting the emotion under control. Of course there can be occasions when the anger should be expressed directly, and prayer can be a cop-out here.

Prayer also involved the individual looking at himself or herself from God’s point of view. Since we tend to see God as loving and valuing us, this can increase our consolation and sense of self worth. In addition, the quietness and thought which goes into prayer can itself be relaxing and calming. “The experience isn’t that much different from a conversation with a close friend or a parent.”, says Sharp.

We may feel that this description is superficial in the sense that it only describes natural outcomes: the same effect would be present whether or not God existed. (Although Sharp emphasises that actual belief in God and prayer as a real experience must be present.) But it caused me to think a little about my own prayer life.

Having recently been faced by severe illness in my own family, one might have thought that the answer would be an increase in intercessory prayer. In fact the opposite happened. Since every prayer had to end with “not my will but yours be done”, it seemed best to cut a corner and simply accept God’s will on the grounds that he knows what’s best.

This doesn’t, I hope, mean that I have abandoned intercessory prayer. But I have concluded that it is us who need it rather than God. In making such prayers we are acknowledging our dependence and trust in God. And, as we know, there is much exhortation to intercessory prayer in the Gospels – starting with the Our Father. Incidentally I am strongly inclined to intercessory prayer directed at Our Lady. I maintain that this is because she has answered so many of my causes. My wife maintains that it is because if I really need help with something I instinctively ask a woman to sort it out. There may be some truth in that.

I do place a great deal of faith in the Holy Spirit. But I am very suspicious of any view that what I decide after prayer and thought is mandated by the Holy Spirit. That is the high road to self deception and fundamentalism. But I am confident that I make very much better and more objective decisions when my prayer to the Holy Spirit has been made. It is hard not to level up to oneself and the truth of a situation when one is invoking the Spirit’s help.

With age, perhaps, I find contemplative, or apophatic, prayer becoming easier. Putting oneself simply into the presence of God and then just being silent there, is very consoling. But of course I have to be wary of becoming distracted, and so finding that my mind has wandered to pastures new.

Everyone is different, or has different needs at different times. For example, although I strongly approve of contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament and the use of the rosary, neither of these figure largely in my prayer life. But I would certainly value knowing about how all of you experience prayer. I would hope to learn more about it from such an exchange, and perhaps to develop new avenues to prayer as a result.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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35 Responses to Looking at prayer

  1. John says:

    Far from helping at emotionally stressful times, I tend to find that these can be the times when prayer becomes more difficult and squeezed out. It’s almost as though it is when we are well, and when life is running relatively smoothly, that prayer comes more readily. I guess this is the power of the ‘Footsteps’ image – that it’s when we are struggling we are carried, when prayer seems shallowest or to have deserted us.
    I looked forward to retirement as a time when there would be more opportunity to pray, and more time to grow close to God, but the hours and days seem to pass without this happening. (There are times when monastic retreat seems very attractive – or is that just escapism?) The rosary has filled many of the gaps, where more ‘thoughtful’ prayer has not happened, and is so easy to fit in with a walk or driving. In some ways perhaps we don’t grow in prayer. I spent more time in church as a child than I do now. I can’t remember much of the detail; but in retrospect I think God was at least as close then. (‘Become like little children’?)

    Intercessory prayer is so difficult to fathom. I’ve even on occasion warned folk who’ve asked me to pray for them that most of the folk I’ve prayed for have died. Very close family causes seem not to have been listened to. Yet at other times even apparently trite requests have been answered in such a way that I have a strong feeling the Lord has been there. Solomon seemed to have the gift of praying for the right thing (and then making a mess of things himself afterwards). One prayer to the Spirit – to help with, enter into a coming difficult meeting, and help me say the right words – seems to be answered nearly all the time. I’d really recommend this as a prayer that works.

    One thing which has grown with time is scripture, the word, as prayer, particularly in church and particularly when proclaiming the word aloud for others. That is when I think my faith is strongest. Perhaps that is the counter-balance for all the other moments of doubt and disappointment (and lack of growth). I particularly like a recent papal description of the word (by Benedict?) that it is there we truly find dialaogue with God, and in a very real way encounter God.

  2. I’m not sure that my thoughts on prayer will be much help, but you ask, so here goes.

    My basic difficulty is that my faith is not a firm conviction but a working hypothesis. I have some supporting evidence in that a personal experience a few years back seems most probably to have been a minor miracle, but a different explanation is conceivable.

    With no awareness of God as a presence, contemplative prayer is impossible. Praising God seems patronising. I am left with intercession and thanks for the multitude of favours received, as on the whole I have been extremely lucky throughout my 74 years, especially in things that seemed misfortunes at the time. Currently my most heartfelt thanks are for a warm bed at night and in the morning for a good night’s sleep; those are real blessings indeed!

    • st.joseph says:

      It is a difficult to put my prayer life into words,but I will try.
      I found over the years it is more of a’ life of prayer’-doing Gods Will-handing myself over to the Lord and doing what I believe is His Will for me.
      I pray at Holy Mass,I find being in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament,is the closest I can get to Him and He can read my very thoughts,and knows before I ask what my needs are.I can put all my petition before Him-hopefully He will sort out for me the difference between my needs and my ‘wants’
      When my husband was ill and in hospital, he picked up a hospital ‘bug’,I prayed continually in the hospital for 4 months,but then I conditioned myself that it was Gods Will when he died at home.I wasn’t angry with the Lord for not answering my prayers,but was very angry with the hospital, then prayer helped me to be consoled, but I still find it difficult, one goes into hospital to hopefully get well,not to pick up an infection ,someone who was never really ill,and to die at 67.
      I find the making the Sign of the Cross many times a day, a prayer to the Blessed Trinity (I don’t consider it blessing my self) just bringing to mind that we are one with the Lord,and dont wan’t ever to be without Him, having Him always on my mind, so to speak.Sometimes no words are necessary

  3. Horace says:

    I remember from my schooldays, when I was about 14, that we had a retreat at which we were asked to consider an acronym – ALTAR.
    Adoration
    Love
    Thanksgiving
    Asking
    Reparation
    and this has conditioned my attitude to prayer ever since.

    There are other things which have been somewhat downplayed in Vatican II (or more precisely in the confused aftermath of Vatican II)
    : Obligation – “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath Day”, attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays of obligation, fasting and abstinence
    : Liturgy (public duty) – the generally recognised language and form of words which enshrines public prayer, together with gestures and behaviour.
    : Private devotions such as the Rosary.

    ****************
    On the Scientific side:- as far as I remember, the first such study is due to Francis Bacon (1st Viscount Saint Alban), but I cannot remember the details except that it concerned (fairly obviously since it is the only aspect that can be measured) “intercessory prayer” and did not lead to any real conclusion.
    I think that most other studies would be of the kind quoted by Quentin above; interview based psychological investigations.

    As far as objective studies of brain activity are concerned:-
    In the 60’s when the first portable Electroencephalograph (Electrical brain waves) machines became available there was interesting study, carried out in India, of brain activity during meditation (which unsurprisingly revealed greater amplitude, less variability and more persistence of the dominant alpha rhythm during such states).
    There have, of course been many other studies since, one of the more interesting perhaps being:- “EEG activity in Muslim prayer: A pilot study” Haider H. Alwasiti, Ishak Aris and Adznan Jantan.
    More recently there have been studies of brain activity changes as demonstrated by fMRI (for example “Rewarding prayers” Uffe Schjødt, Hans Stødkilde-Jørgensen, Armin W. Geertz and Andreas Roepstorff. Department of the Study of Religion, University of Aarhus, Denmark) fMRI was only starting to develop when I retired.
    Most, if not all, these studies are from a predominantly secular viewpoint (as indeed is the paper quoted by Quentin).

    There were some, not very satisfactory, EEG studies of the Medjugorje visionaries
    but otherwise I do not know of EEG or fMRI studies in a strictly religious context.

  4. Iona says:

    Some random thoughts:

    St. Joseph works overtime for my family; I ask for his intercession frequently and regularly. Maybe, just as Quentin seeks feminine help from Our Lady, I am running to a man for support. However, I believe St Teresa of Avila strongly recommends St. Joseph for any and every need.

    There is weekly Benediction at my church; once a month this is extended to a Holy Hour. I find it tough on the knees, and am beset by distractions moment-by-moment; nevertheless, in the long run it is very calming, like oil on troubled waters. As regards the distractions, again I lean on St. Teresa (well, I think it was she): we shouldn’t worry too much about distractions, since after all every distraction is an opportunity to turn back to God, so if we experience 15 distractions in 15 minutes of prayer we have redirected out thoughts to God 15 times.

    Peter Wilson said, above: “With no experience of God as a presence, contemplative prayer is impossible”. I’m not sure that this is so. Regardless of experience, one can still put oneself in God’s presence and let Him get on with it.

  5. John Candido says:

    Prayer for me is a reconnection to and rejuvenation with God. So it is part experience and part thought process. My regular form of prayer is Christian meditation, as taught by Fr. Laurence Freeman OSB within the World Community for Christian Meditation at http://www.wccm.org/ . My practice of meditation can be equally the most contented and happy experience as well as an ordinary, bored, and distracted one. It can be even worse if I lack sleep, in which case I will most likely fall asleep and waste an opportunity to meditate.

    If you would like to know more about this way or journey of prayer, please use this frequently asked questions as a pdf document by Canadian journalist called Paul Harris at http://www.wccm.org/sites/default/files/users/PDF/harris.pdf . It is quite comprehensive with 56 questions and 198 references.

    I don’t do a lot of intercessory prayer in either a formal or informal context. Although asking to win the lottery is something that I have fallen for from time to time, it being a particularly base request. Such prayers need to be limited and tempered with higher and nobler aims such as peace, justice, tolerance, freedom, and joy throughout the world.

    As somebody that refuses to go to mass because of my disagreements with the church, which is partly based on the need for contemporary ecclesiastical reforms that incorporate modernity, in rare instances I will pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Sitting alone or with a few people scattered about, within a usually quiet and still church; these elements can present themselves for an opportunity for meditation. Similar opportunities present themselves at a park, the seaside, the countryside, on a plane, train, or bus, or in my own parked car.

    Scientists have conducted research on the effects of meditation on individuals. They have found that it does offer both physical and mental benefits to those who are regular practitioners. I would like to direct you to some internet resources that attest to these findings.

    An abstract from a scientific study found that particular parts of the brain increased in size as a result of meditative practice. You can read about this abstract entitled: ‘The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter’ here – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19280691?ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    Dr Herbert Benson M.D. wrote a book a couple of decades ago called ‘The Relaxation Response’. The same doctor is behind The Benson Henry institute for Mind Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States of America can be found here – http://www.massgeneral.org/bhi/

    The use of meditation in groups associated with the 12 step process of recovery has been augmented by the inclusion and practice of Christian meditation here – http://www.christianmeditation11step.org/

    For those that would like to purchase any number of books on the subject of meditation, you can go to the Contemplative Life Bookstore at http://www.contemplative-life.org/

    The Mind & Life Institute seeks to undertake research on meditation through collaboration between Buddhists and scientists in the United States here http://www.mindandlife.org/

    Wikipedia has an article about meditation and scientific research that can be accessed here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_applications_and_clinical_studies_of_meditation

    SecondSight has dealt with this subject quite extensively in ‘The Science of Meditation’ on the 20th May 2010 and you can read about this issue here https://secondsightblog.net/2010/05/20/the-science-of-meditation/

    Finally, although I highly recommend meditation for a number of very good reasons, I would also like to say that Christian meditation is not a magic wand and neither will it turn anybody into a perfect person through its faithful practice. It will not cure cancer, or resolve deep-seated personal or familial issues through its regular practice. If you have medical issues requiring a doctor or specialist, or personal problems requiring a psychologist, social worker, or counsellor, please avail yourself to their expertise.

    • st.joseph says:

      Jesus said ‘Eat My Body and drink My Blood’, and the crowds turned away from Him.
      There is a valid reason to turn away, if one does not believe or, is in a state of mortal sin ,before they repent. But to deny oneself that wonderful Gift that God has given to us through His Son Jesus Christ Crucified (the New Covenant) on the Cross,all because of a principle, mostly pride,then fair enough-it is their loss. Did He die in vain? Why did He need to suffer?
      Could we be saved by ‘just the word’ and not the Word made Flesh?.

  6. Superview says:

    I have, since I was a child, and in imitation of my father, prayed on my knees every night without exception. Recently, like John, following the loss of a lovely personal friend, I have reflected on the evidence that intercessory prayers work, and had to recognise that where I was praying for those who were dying prematurely, my prayers have been quite ineffective – the medical judgement has always prevailed. In many other instances where individuals or families faced personal crisis, and good outcomes resulted, these have always been available possibilities, like the throw of a dice. When catastrophic events occur, such as floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and famines, caused by the essentially chaotic nature of God’s creation, prayer after the fact seems pitiful.
    The formula ‘pray as if everything depended upon God, act as if everything depended upon you’ seems to me to be the essence of an understanding of prayerfulness in the face of such inadequate evidence of its efficacy. One thing that I seek to avoid at all cost, however, is ingratitude for the blessings I have enjoyed, and I have every trust that, if God is God, my earnestly seeking after the truth in the face of so much dross will be led by grace.
    More particularly, it is a long time, beyond memory, since I found the Rosary helpful; indeed, in its collective expression in church it is quite the opposite. It is only when I recollect on Mary as the human mother of Jesus the man, shed of the more than quasi-divine trappings with which she has been dressed, that she is meaningfully included in my reflections. In terms of spiritual sustenance, pondering each phrase of the Our Father is sometimes my only reliable resort, and its inclusion in the Mass as a collective prayer is a high point. The Glory be to the Father etc is a simple and attractive prayer, but I am these days distracted by having noticed the poor showing that the Holy Spirit gets in the Gloria. And by the fact that Judaism recognised a Holy Spirit but did not, as a result, think of God as Duality. The pursuit of consistency in all things is a merciless taskmaster.
    I dearly wish I could say otherwise – and it is not without the profoundest effort on my part, so I pray that the more self-righteous contributors will have pause – but I have never, from my first communion, been able to deny my senses (‘sight, touch and taste’) and ‘adore’ the Eucharist. As a cradle Catholic, obligation and duty govern my conduct, but the concept of the ‘mystical body and blood’ is the closest I can get to the Real Presence, although I am aware I am seeking refuge in obscurity. The Australian priest’s (Golden Anniversary Reflections, Jan 5 2011) reference to ‘static’ verses ‘dynamic’ theologies of the Eucharist was certainly worthy of further clarification in my mind. But then I do note that, among friends, the non-Catholic Christians whom I most admire, and whose salvation is certainly more likely than mine, do not approach the Eucharist in anything like the same way. In passing, it is odd, is it not, that the Eucharist is covered in so few words (the most, about 70, in Matthew) in each of the three Gospels that report it as part of the Last Supper, whereas St. John, who provides the only first hand account, does not mention it, and instead emphasises the washing of the feet (and the so-called Eucharistic Discourse, found earlier in John, though surely one of the most dramatic episodes for Jesus and his disciples, is even more puzzlingly absent from the other three)?

    • John Candido says:

      Superview, I am not a theologian, but I have been doing a bit of research on the internet, trying to answer what are the differences between the static and dynamic theologies of the Eucharist. These distinctions were introduced to us in passing, by Fr. Eric Hodgens’ excellent article within ‘Golden Anniversary Reflections’ on SecondSight, which was previously banned from an official Catholic blog. I have a book review that might be of help to enquiring minds such as yours and to most of our contributors who are of a similar disposition.

      If you were to click on http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3817/is_200303/ai_n9185199/?tag=content;col1 you will find indirect references to the above two distinctions. It is a three page book review that contains this interesting paragraph, which can be located on the first page’s bottom paragraph. Please ignore the page numbers within it.

      ‘Theology is more than an “accumulation of data and the formulation of propositions” (p. 29). The aim of all theology should be to confer union with God and to bring about the transfiguration of the individual or community, who or which comes in contact with the divine (p. 29). Authentic theology is dynamic and creative; static theology is dead theology: “Static theology is unrelated to the needs and concerns of the church in a given time and place” (p. 28).’

      On another webpage I have obtained a succinct definition of what a theologian is, what theology is, and what is his/her work about, if such distinctions are of use to you and others. Go to the bottom of this page http://www.philosophy-religion.org/beliefs/anglican.htm under ‘2001 Addendum: based on public comments by contemporary theologians’ and you will find an intelligent and informed description, which I have copied for you here…

      ‘The church looks to the theologian for prudent advice; his/her job is to show why the church is teaching what is being taught. Furthermore, the theologian can play an exploratory role, not to challenge church teaching deliberately but to ask questions as a way of reinterpreting the tradition for the current generation. The best kind of theologian is one who is anchored in the tradition/community of faith, but is at the same time at the church’s growing edge. When theologians ask questions, they may not only come up with wrong answers, but also with new insights. Theologians are answerable to the church, but also to the demands of the academy. Far from static, theology preserves, explores, and evolves.’

      The previous link is from http://www.philosophy-religion.org which is the home page of an American Episcopalian, Professor Richard Thomas Nolan, who seems to be quite a learned fellow going by his C.V. Although I have not explored his website in detail, it could be a good resource for enquiring minds. His expertise seems to be around philosophy, Latin, and mathematics. I have emailed him a question about the distinction between the static and dynamic theologies of the Eucharist, but he may not answer me due to his warning to all that he is a very busy individual.

      The following four paragraphs are quoted from the website of a generally unknown Christian denomination called ‘Grace Communion International’ who’s website is http://www.gci.org/God/theology . If you were to scroll towards the bottom of the website, you come across a subheading called ‘Ignored’, where you will find this brilliant gem…

      ‘The great Reformation principle of ongoing reformation should free us from old worldviews and behavior-based theologies that inhibit growth, promote stagnation and prevent ecumenical cooperation within the Body of Christ. Yet today doesn’t the church often find itself robbed of the joy of grace as it shadowboxes with all its various forms of legalism? For this reason the church is not uncommonly characterized as a bastion of judgmentalism and exclusivism rather than as a testament to grace.’

      ‘We all have a theology—a way that we think about and understand God—whether we know it or not. And our theology affects how we think about and understand God’s grace and salvation.’

      ‘If our theology is dynamic and relational, we will be open to hear God’s ever-present word of salvation, which he freely gives us by his grace though Jesus Christ alone. On the other hand, if our theology is static, we will shrivel into a religion of legalism, judgmentalism and spiritual stagnation.’

      ‘Instead of knowing Jesus as he is in a way that seasons all our relationships with mercy, patience, kindness and peace, we will know judgment, exclusivity and condemnation of those who fail to meet our carefully defined standards of godliness.’

      It would seem that the distinctions between ‘static theology’ and ‘dynamic theology’ are quite readily understandable and useful to know. All of the debates that what we are engaged within the SecondSight community, is a process of mutually respectful dialogue that is entirely consistent with the notion of dynamic theology. Therefore, a static as opposed to a dynamic theology of the Eucharist, is one that relies on past, and to some extent, present descriptions of its theology. The dynamic theology of the Eucharist is one that is open to and develops from contemporary theological discussion, dialogue, and debate on the Eucharist. As such, it is naturally in tension with its static relation, and depending on its content, it could be in tension with the magisterium of the church as a consequence.

    • John Candido says:

      If you were to go to this article in ‘The washington Post’, you will find a small discussion about the actual meaning of the static and dynamic theology of the Eucharist. http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/catholicamerica/2010/02/sacraments_of_heaven_and_earth.html

      • st.joseph says:

        John Candido ,with all due respect to your intellect. I am really surprised that you seem so incapable of expressing your own thoughts, in your own words ,without resorting to so many web sites, for others.
        Of course we must use the web for info,but yours seems endless.Do you need that much convincing ,that you are not able to have the courage of your own convictions.
        If your were so sure of yours beliefs you would not need to search for proof to back you up.
        No offence meant-just being honest.

      • Superview says:

        Thank you John Candido for this really helpful response. I have only just seen it as I rolled back to see how the comments on the issue had progressed. It led me to some other interesting material, for example this observation at the beginning of the book review:
        “In his 1908 book, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton described the Church’s dealings with theology as a “great and daring experiment of irregular equilibrium.” Chesterton suggested that if one theological idea becomes less powerful, then some other theological idea may become too powerful; and one small blunder in theology may lead to huge blunders in human happiness.” A few days ago I came across some notes I made watching the BBC2 programme “Limbo Babies” shown on 30 November 2010 about the tragic story of the stillborn babies in Ireland who were refused burial in Catholic cemeteries. The Milltown cemetery was mentioned where it is thought thousands of stillborn babies were buried as close to the cementery as the distraught mothers could get them. Pope Benedict , who thankfully has binned the concept of Limbo, was quoted as saying that ‘It was never a doctrine, merely theological hypothesis’. Pity that so few Bishops over the centuries understood that.
        Reading an adjacent comment caused me to reflect on the dictum ‘that it would test the patience of a saint’. Truly said in this instance.

      • John Candido says:

        It is amazing what an ancient Roman Emperor can do when he puts his mind to it, isn’t it? Emperor Constantine ‘reformed’ the church in his own image, and the Catholic Church cannot bring itself to expunge his corrupting influence! Considering that our church has been infected by his malfeasance for around 1,700 years, you would think that Catholic leaders can ‘get it sooner’ and return the church to a simpler, kinder, and more loving way of being church.

        History has amply demonstrated that this has not been possible, for this most human of institutions. Our church is so addicted, addled, and enraptured by power, authority, its hierarchical structure, by rigorism, legalism, being judgemental towards the powerless, and in the example of the limbo babies, coldly indifferent to poor Irish families in their greatest moment of grief. It makes me so angry that they can thumb their nose at the laity in such a contemptuous manner. Shame on them! They are a complete disgrace!

        You would think that this historical example would give the church pause? Not really. You then have the disgusting report of the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of orphaned children, in the care of the church and various religious orders within institutions over many years, which has been the contemporary Irish church’s most searing shame.

        When we swing our focus globally, we find that innocent women and children have been the unfortunate objects of clerical abuse world-wide. When these criminal abuses are denied as having occurred by some members of the hierarchy, the alleged perpetrators are moved from parish to parish by those in authority, cooperation with the police having not been undertaken in a rigorous manner, and victims are further abused by the church’s counter accusations and denigration, you have to ask yourself, how much longer the church has got left in the modern world? Thank you for your reply.

  7. A thought on Superview’s difficulty with the Real Presence.

    The body is the means by which we interact physically with the external world. To interact with the people of Palestine in the first century AD, God took a human body of flesh, blood and bone. To interact with us, He takes a body of baked wheaten flour (among many other ways in which He comes to us). It is just as much His body.

    I have a feeling that this may be altogether too simple, but then according to Aquinas, God is simple (albeit in a different sense). Perhaps I’ve missed some crucial problem in my interpretation; if so, will some kind theologian please enlighten me?

  8. st.joseph says:

    I cannot give a theological interpretation, but it is as I find it, in order to understand the reverance the Church gives to the Blessed Sacrament. It is helpful to examine the honour which the Chosen People paid to the Ark Of the Covenent in the Old Testament. This contained the Covenant 0f God with his people and the promise of the Messiah.
    The transition from the Old Testament to the New came about when the Blessed Virgin Mary consented to be the mother of the Messiah, ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word. At that moment the Word of God was made flesh in the womb of Mary and she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. All the prophecies of the Old Testament was fulfilled,and Mary became the Tabernacle of the Most High and the Ark of the New Covenant.
    At the birth of Her Child she became the first Monstrance, showing Christ to the world.
    The promses that were contained in the Ark were now fulfilled in our Lord’s presence
    in the synogue(Lk4;18-21) That which had been present in promise and prophecy was now truly present in reality.
    Our Lord continued to treat the Temple with reverence,so fulfilling the text; The zeal of thy house has consumed me (Ps 68;10-) Although our Lord was to condemn many of the man-made precepts of the Pharisees and scribes,neverthless does He nowhere
    change this reverence for the Temple (M21;12-13)
    At the Last Supper Jesus offered Himself as the one supreme sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world.That sacrifice would be an abiding presence which time and eternity meet, and fallen humanity is reconciled with God.
    To the Corinthians,who had begun to turn the Holy Euharist into an occasion feasting
    and merry making, St Paul insisted on the perennial truth, ‘For I have received of the Lord that which also I have delivered unto you that the Lord Jesus, the same night that He was betrayed, took bread,and giving thanks, and said,’Take this and eat; this is my Body which will be delivered for you, This do for the commemoration of me.’
    In like manner,also the chalice,after He had supped saying; This chalice is the new testament in my Blood,This do, in the commemoration of me. As often as you shall eat this Bread and drink the Chalice,you will show the death of the Lord,until He come.(1Cor11;23-26
    This gift of Christ to His Church would be the new covenant sealed with the Blood of the Saviour.Just as in the Old Testament the Chosen People had reverenced the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the promises,so now the Church would reverence the Body and Blood of Christ,truly present under the outward appearance of bread and wine.
    The Sacrifice of Calvary is continually offered to the Father,and at the same time the pledge of the ressurection is offered to fallen man(and woman).
    In this Sacrament man finds the fulfillment in all his ideals and longings.’He who comes to me will never go hungry,will never thirst
    This means that the life of Jesus is not just a memory of our Saviour we read about in the Gospels.
    The Blessed Sacrament is the Living beating Heart of the Church.
    God made man in His Sacred humanity is truly present in this faith and love.

  9. John Nolan says:

    Six years ago I took myself off to Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland for Holy Week. As well as occupying the original monastic buildings the monks sing the full Benedictine Office in Latin and Gregorian Chant; I wanted to immerse myself in their prayer life, if only for a few days. I was one of seven guests; the others included an Australian priest and a seminarian from the USA.

    After the evening Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament was carried to the altar of repose. The monks returned to their places in choir. All lights in the church were extinguished save for a single candle, but the night was clear and the Paschal full moon shone through the tracery of a large Gothic window. The air was still edged with incense. Compline was sung from memory – in its monastic form it always has the same three psalms, without antiphons. It was pure prayer, as natural as breathing, without even the distraction of a written text. I had a strong sense of time being suspended; it could have been 2005, or 1305, or even sometime in the first millennium. The same language, the same music, the same purpose. And the psalms themselves linking us with even older forms of worship.

    I left after Vespers on Easter Sunday to reconnect to the real world of political soundbites and reality TV. But it felt less real than the world I had just left, and I hadn’t even touched on lectio divina and monastic contemplation. I did, however, resolve to study Gregorian Chant and sing it as often as I could. I recently moved to a new parish and have been asked by the PP to take on the running of the schola.

    I find it easier to “pray the Mass” in the EF. In the OF there are usually too many distractions, chief among them the mannerisms of the celebrant. To use a modern idiom, I find the whole thing too much “in your face”. And those awful bidding prayers based on what was on last night’s six o’clock news. I have never had much of a devotion to the rosary, which worries me as I get older. As a small child I used to be taken to the Missa Cantata on a Sunday morning (which I loved) and in the afternoon to ‘Rosary, Sermon & Benediction’. Benediction I liked (Latin and incense) but the first two I would have happily forgone.

    • Mr Rubio says:

      It is my pleasure to share with you a little of my own small experience of prayer. Asking for things has never been my forte; perhaps I should be bolder, or seek to increase my self-esteem, but I tend to find it easier to be grateful for what shows up & give thanks for it. Sometimes I sit down & literally count off all the things for which I am grateful – that first cup of coffee in the morning; that moment of patience on the phone when waiting to be put through to a competent official- and the beauty of this practice is that the more you do it the more you notice what God is revealing to you. I have to confess that I’m still a beginner, Lord; you know how rarely I am able to notice and give thanks for the trials & events which you allow and which, in my better moments, I can see are actually a source of good too- God’s pruning.
      I have a fond memory of ‘lectio divina’ (reading scripture not for information or study but meditatively, as though in dialogue). Unable to sit still with my bible, after so many years of professional reading for facts & information, brother Thomas kindly suggested going for a stroll in the countryside, walking slowly with the awareness that God is holding every living thing -self, animals, plant & vegetable life- in being with his love. In this way, whether we are conscious of seeking Him or not, God is seeking us- if we but slow down enough to notice!
      That prayer with the imagination I learnt with the jesuits! Not really my thing, but a marvelous way to remember scripture & get a taste of it inside. Even now, over 5 years after my last try at it, I can remember taking that passage with the tax collector & visualising him running up the tree outside my flat as I stood in the crowd before the Lord. What a story!
      Then there is that tip from a french franciscan for motorway drives- saying the jesus prayer out loud, over and over again; ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. Even better, at home, to synchronise these words with the breath, one phrase when inhaling, another exhaling & so on. In this way can the mind’s chatter be stilled. God, always you are there in the very interstices of living breath.
      I cannot ramble on prayer without a word of silence.
      ‘Silence is hospitality’.
      I invite you to reflect.

  10. st.joseph says:

    John, thank you for sharing your thoughts .I understand your feelings so well.
    I am very blessed that I can worship at a Monastery close by,where I can attend Mass most mornings.
    Terce is sung every day before Holy Mass,and also sung Vespers every late afternoon.
    The peace and tranquility one finds there is beyond anything I can experience in this world.It is a small taste of heaven on earth.
    I can also look forward to seeing Mass on EWTN and all their other programmes.
    That is a wonderful blessing for all those who are housebound and unable to go to daily Mass. One can share in this worship with millions of people all over the world, listen to daily readings ,and the Gospel,and homilies, and make a spiritual Communion.
    Our catholic faith is such a wonderful gift from God..

  11. There’s another aspect of prayer that has just come to mind; simply chatting to the Lord and inviting Him to laugh with me at my own absurdities. I’m not sure whether that’s an impulse of the Holy Spirit or another sort, the generous tot of whisky I took earlier this evening as medicament for a streaming cold. Thanks for the whisky, too; it’s a particularly good one. (Don’t worry, a bottle generally lasts me at least a year!)

  12. claret says:

    Why, when we pray for peace,
    Do wars increase?
    Why pray for the missing to be found
    When they are already dead under the ground?
    Why pray for the sick to be made well
    When death must sound its knell ?
    Why pray for rain,
    but for the floods to drain ?
    Why pray at all
    When man must fall ?

    • John Candido says:

      Thank you Claret for providing such a lovely prayer of great simplicity! I will keep it nearby whenever I am tempted to use prayer as a form of release from the inescapable realities and crosses of this world. It is a beautiful and indirect reminder of the story of Job in the Old Testament, where Job suffered great trials despite being a virtuous man. Job could not understand why he had to endure his trials. He also could not accept the simplistic interpretations of his friends, which consisted of him being deserving of his sufferings because they were the result of his sinning. In the end, Job repents of his angry words to God, does not lose his faith despite his considerable trials, and perseveres in his duties as best he can under the circumstances of his trials.

    • John Candido says:

      Can you tell me where you have obtained this prayer and who composed it? It would seem that this prayer is constructed by five succinct questions, with their associated observations or explanations centred in reality. All of the five questions begin with the word ‘why’. I wonder if the title of this prayer, if it has one, is called ‘Why’ or ‘Five Questions’.

  13. st.joseph says:

    The practice of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has been and is the source of sanctity for innmerable Saints across the ages.
    St Teresa of Avila in her reforms was always delighted when the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in her new convents.
    In the foundation of Medino del Campo she expressed her wish that her nuns should adore the Blessed Sacrament and make reparation for the many irreverences against the Eucharistic Lord.
    It is said of Fr Damien,who did so much for the lepers,and who himself caught leprosy,that after he had built a chapel for them he used to spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament. The source of his strength in giving his life for the lepers was the Blessed Sacrament.
    St Theresa of Lisieux used to find great devotion in praying before the Blessed Sacrament ; but love seeks union,and in her longing to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, she wrote in her biography: ‘After all, Our Lord doesn’t come every day to wait there in a gold ciborium,He has found a much better heaven for His resting-place ; a Christian soul, made in His own image, the living Temple of the Blessed Trinity.’
    St John of the Cross wrote that one act of pure love does more good for the Church than all external activities. That is why St Theresa of Lisieux, a contemplative nun,was
    declared patron of the Missions.
    In our own age we have the example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her nuns,who before beginning their work of ministering to the poorest of the poor and the dying,spent an hour adoring before the Blessed Sacrament, as well as having Mass and
    the Office .They visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in His Sacred Humanity,and then go out to visit him Mystically present in his suffering members.
    The Holy Father called us to make the last decade of the second millennium one of evangelisation. It is no accident that the age of Faith,which saw the rise of so many great Cathedrals and Abbeysthroughout Christendom,and respect for the rulse of law and the dignity of man,was also the age of great devotion to the Holy Eucharist.
    So too,in rekindling the faith and in evangelising, our strength must be in the Holy Eucharist. (Below is thanks to the words of Peter D Wilson in his comment bringing it to my mind, and the rest are words from a homily given by a priest (Opus Dei)

    The bread and wine that are offered by the people at the Offertory of the Mass,represent truley the offering of their whole life to God. Bread does not grow on trees,and wine does not simply flow from the grapes They demand human work and sacrifice.”The bread which earth has given and human hands have made” represents the work that has gone into making the bread, not only the work of the farmer and the miller, but the work of industry,of mans labour in the office,in the factory,or in the surgery.The crushed wheat that becomes flour represents sacrifice,the sacrifice of the sick who are not able to go to Mass, the sacrifice of the persecuted Church,all these through the action of the priest,becomes the bread of life. Similarily the wine brings to mind of man’s labour,produce of the earth and joys of man’s life, the wine that rejoices the heart of man becomes our spiritual drink.
    The Offertory in other words represents the offering of man’s whole life to God,his joys and sufferings. His cross and his ideals united to the sacrifice of Calvary and the death of the Lord lead to the joy of Easter morning and the Risen Christ.
    I hope this will clarify in more detail the ‘static and dynamism’ Eucharist
    Not to mention all the pro-life workers for unborn children etc etc .

  14. st.joseph says:

    P.S Not forgetting St Joseph, a carpenter, and patron Saint of Workers.

  15. claret says:

    John Candido
    Thank you for your kind remarks. I sort of composed it myself after hearing the first two lines being said on the radio by a Church going Catholic believer. ( The singer Gilbert O’ Sullivan – i don’t know where he got the lines from but they were a part of a prayer he recited of which only those lines i can recall.)
    The two lines had a great impact on me and I just wanted to share them on here but as I was writing the two lines then the rest of the words seemed to flow from them.
    In truth I had not connected them purposely with Job so you make a good point. It was a lament . In my opinion when we pray for a particular thing then it has to be acheiveable. When the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray then his response was in a prayer that in many ways makes only modest (but deep rooted) requests.

    • Mr Rubio says:

      I speak as one for whom intercessory prayer has not come easily. It seems to me a devastating error to consider the achievability of prayer requests; far better, I think, to be malleable in God’s hands- that is, to hope for the best outcomes but to be ready to adapt to the realities. In my experience God’s plan for my life is far more trustworthy than my own, but He seems to want me to keep on trying.

  16. st.joseph says:

    Claret, I respect your opinion when you say’when we pray for things they have to be achievable’.
    How do you feel about miracles,which are considered to be impossible?At least to our understanding. Everything is possible with God. The many miracles Jesus performed on earth, seemed impossible. We do not know how many miracles God works in our lives,that we don’t know about.
    I never give up asking for help from Our Lord. Persistance can often work miracles.We will never know.But sometimes one won’t believe until they can see, like
    St Thomas.

    • st.joseph says:

      Claret, I didn’t mean to sound presumptious in my above comment,or that you didn’t believe in miracles.
      You are a priest, so obviously you will believe that every day a miracle happens at Holy Mass. When the Angels adorn the Altar ,which we can not see,taking our gifts up to the Father.
      I can say I am convinvced because so many things have happened in my life time,sometimes sound unbelievable.
      Even with my children and grandchildren.My children have high flying careers,and yet their faith is intact. Thank God.
      We were never a family that said the family Rosary, or Grace before meals,but always tried to live lives of prayer-working with God in the Church.
      I could not begin to say what miracles have happened in our lives, but I will relate one incidentwhich happened when my mother was dying in hospital at 65. I was there with the priest, my son was outside 12 years old crying his eyes out. We were waiting for the rest of the family, my mother was unconscious,but neverthless was answering the Rosary to someone , lifting her eyes up in the room.
      The priest then said to take my son home because, my mother was taking her last breaths,and it wouldnt be long.
      My son and I left and decided to go to the local church and Confession and light a candle for his grandmother. He was crying and very distressed.
      It was 8 O,clock as confessions were over and I looked at my watch.
      when we got home the phone rang and it was the priest telling us that my mother had made a complete recovery and was sitting up and talking.
      The strange thing was it was at 8.o clock, when my son was lighting his candle. But the strangest thing was, when I visited my mother, she seemed a completely different person, in as much she was saying that God had given her a little more time, and it wouldn’t be long before she left us- just a short time she said.
      She went to my brothers for convalence, and laughed and joked,but seemed ‘waiting for something’.
      One morning a Saturday 5 weeks later, she got up, went to Mass, then to the Bookies, (liked her bet) 2 shillings e/w, then for a drink, where she had her usual tot of whisky. My husband and I were taking her home next morning ,but we had a phone call at 12 30am to say she had died.It was Mothering Sunday. She had a devotion to Our Lady,always calling Her Her mother, a fitting day for her to be called.
      Cases like this do happen, the doctors said no reason for it.
      I believe it was a childs petition in distress. My mother used to say that God will answer a childs prayer first.
      I can hear the pessimists thinking’ that doesn’t say much for all the poor suffering children abroad. But we must have Hope.

  17. John Candido says:

    Well said st.joseph! You have made some very good points in your most recent post. The intervention of God in the world can at times be miraculous, and be publicly known as miracles. I also think that you are entirely correct when you say that some miraculous interventions from God will never be known by the mass of people at large. Petitionary prayer does have its place within our prayer lives and it is not to be rubbished or looked down upon by anybody. It has fallen out of fashion with me and others, but I still do it now and then in an informal and quiet way.

    It can be said with some certainty that generous prayers for intentions that do not directly relate to your daily concerns, such as peace and justice throughout the world, are worthy, lofty, and loving. However, prayers that are formed around the supplications of individuals with their personal desires and needs, can be worthy of prayer as well. It is not for anybody to judge such prayers as selfish and/or lacking in idealism, except by God alone.

    In any case, it would not be possible to persuade anybody to make their prayers other-centred when they are facing terrible stresses, depression, self-esteem issues, loneliness, loss of face within their community, anxiety, or physical and mental illnesses. Especially when individuals are facing tremendous stresses, or have illnesses that are terminal, God will not be unmoved towards one’s prayers. However, we must all be humble and accepting of the decisions of God regarding such prayers. To put it simply, God can say yes, or God can say no to our prayers. Unfortunately, no is an answer from God. God may say yes at a later date, but God may also persistently and resolutely, continue to say no.

    Sometimes there will unfortunately be dark and desperate contexts that you and I cannot get out of easily. As hateful as these things are to those who have to endure them, (think of soldiers at war), we are called to carry our cross as Christians and persevere with our lot. Whatever is at the legitimate disposal of suffering individuals, who will use whatever ingenious or commonplace means to ameliorate their condition, a compassionate God will understand your trials and love you as much as when you were an innocent child.

  18. mike Horsnall says:

    I have been reading an excellent book recetly entitled “When the well runs dry-prayer beyond the beginnings2 Thomas Green
    I commend it to you all-and a spiritual director to talk these things through with!
    I like Theresa of Avilla’s idea that the purpose of prayer is to draw water from the well and use it to water the flowers which are the virtues. This strikes me as perfectly lovely. Currently I read the daily office for 5-10 minutes then take a walk down to my church for 10 minutes silently reflecting on the creed. At church I simply sit and do nothing other than place myself in the presence of God mentally-as if paying attention to a person sitting with me. Then I walk back home and during this time I make my intercessions interspersed with Hail Mary’s or any other part of the rosary which helps. At lunch if I manage it I get out my big egg timer and sit for 10 minutes while allowing myself to gaze at a small icon I have here in my office. Last thing at night its evening prayer and an examen of conscience for the day. …I do these things purely because I find them helpful and as an expression of gratitude to the God who found me, hauled me out of a pit and has blessed my life ever since-through sickness and in health. The key issue with prayer is simply to do as much of it as you can in whatever way you can as often as you can-hold all your disciplines loosely or they will kill you-but hold them nonetheless as one bringing home sheaves from harvest.

  19. John Nolan says:

    On a lighter note I am reminded of the anecdote concerning an Irishman whose religious practice was somewhat lax but who was desperate to win the National Lottery and thought that divine assistance might do the trick. He gave up cigarettes and alcohol and started going to Mass every day. Hour after hour he spent on his knees beseeching God to grant him that big win. Months and years passed without his winning as much as a fiver, but he persisted in storming heaven. There was no pilgrimage centre he hadn’t visited. Then one day, praying in an otherwise empty church, there was a blinding light and a mighty voice from heaven. “Patrick! Meet me half way! BUY A TICKET!”

  20. Michael Mahoney says:

    The ascription of life’s blessings, trials and temptations to the benevolent and refining personal care of the Almighty may well comfort us, but, in the end, fail to convince us, for such confidence, in a God who micro-manages our lives, seems grotesquely at odds with the experience of the poor souls of the Holocaust, those millions of men, women and children consigned to the gas chambers despite their piteous cries for help.
    For most of humanity, the exultant song of the Magnificat is a song for the hereafter. It has never been a reality of the world of today. The only song that we are left to sing is, “Lord , for tomorrow and its needs, I do not pray. Keep me, my God, from stain of sin, just for today.”.

    • st.joseph says:

      Michael Mahoney.
      Yes I agree with you. That is a prayer I say during the day but mine is’pain of
      sin.We can feel the pain of our sins and the pain of others. .
      I think the mothers of aborted babies do suffer this pain, We hear testomonies
      from mothers of ‘Rachael’s Tears’
      But this is all due to our human weakness and vulnerbilty to sin.
      Jesus did intervene when He died for us-and suffered a most horrific death on the Cross.If He could have done this before,He need not have been Crucified.
      Our prayers or so very essential.

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