Two New Pages Related To Prayer

As many of you know, we operate a sister site, ChurchYear.Net.

We have been adding prayers and other resources since we began in 2004 to that site. Now we get over a million visitors a year that are looking for resources related to prayer, worship, and – most of all – Christian holidays. Our collection of resources has grown significantly and we are happy so many people enjoy the resources provided.

We recently added two new pages, chock full of prayers. They are prayers for healing and prayers for strength. These prayers are based on Scripture, and some come from The Book of Common Prayer (re-appropriated for Catholics as The Book of Divine Worship). We hope you enjoy these pages.

Also, have a great last day of Christmas, and a blessed New Year from ChurchYear.Net and us.

Assumption, 2010

Almighty God,
You gave a humble Virgin
the privilege of being mother of your Son,
and crowned her with the glory of heaven.
May the prayers of the Virgin Mary
bring us to the salvation of Christ
and raise us up to eternal life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
From the Liturgy of the Hours

Wishing all of our readers a blessed Solemnity of the Assumption on this vigil of the holiday

Correcting a Symbol Deficiency

One of my favorite authors I studied in graduate school was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Anglican romantic author and poet.  Coleridge loved symbols, and believed that symbols were the medium through which we encountered invisible realities. This is something the iconoclasts haven’t understood: in order to partake of invisible realities (such as love, etc), we must use some sort of symbol from the created order. Catholics and Orthodox have understood this, and made it a part of our theology.

A few days ago, to begin our semester on sacraments, I discussed symbols with the seventh graders. I think it is important to discuss symbol because it sets the stage for why Catholics believe that God uses earthly “stuff” to convey grace (for example the water of baptism). God doesn’t just magically and “spiritually” effect our regeneration, he uses a meaning-rich symbol from the created order in the process: water. One of the exercises I had for the class was to look at a relatively boring photo of my wife, sister-in-law, mom, nieces, and grandmother, standing on a road in a cemetery. I asked them to tell me all the symbols they see, and to tell me what invisible reality they symbolize. At first, the students didn’t come up with much. However, as they got started, they came up with ones that I didn’t even notice (for example, there were American flags on a few graves). After awhile, they began to realize that the world is full of symbols that we use to convey deep and invisible realities. I also helped them see that any great artist is going to appreciate and utilize the power of symbol.

And yet, as I was worshiping yesterday at a Catholic parish in the Cleveland area, I was noticing how purposefully empty the worship space was of symbols. The walls were white, and the crucifix was tiny and barely there. There was one banner that looked like it was out of the 1970s, that had a symbol that was intentionally made to look obscure (was it a candle flame? a sun? a child’s first finger painting creation?). In other words, if there was a symbol, it was designed to be unconnected to our experience. I remember thinking that in our natural world we are surrounded by symbols that point us to God, yet many of our modern churches purposely take these symbols away from us, perhaps seeing them either as distracting or out-of-date.

But are symbols out of date? The natural human craving for symbols hasn’t gone away, which is why even those traditionally cool to symbols, evangelicals, are discovering their value. My reading on brain waves suggests that non-verbal symbols stimulate alpha waves in the brain, which serve as a bridge to theta waves. When measuring the waves of individuals in deep meditation and spiritual experiences, theta waves are dominant. Whether you accept the science of brain waves and spirituality, nonetheless, the evidence suggests that words appeal to only one aspect of our brain’s capabilities, while visual, kinesthetic, olfactory, and auditory symbols touch us at a different level. In other words, I would argue that this is where the Gnostics erred: trying to escape the physical world misses the point. The incarnation demonstrates to us that God uses the physical world to give us grace (although obviously we must always remember the physical world is the vehicle, full of symbols, not God himself).

I truly believe that whitewashed churches devoid of sights, sounds, and smells leave us wanting more. Great movies, classic books, and even nature itself, are full of symbols, yet we have seen a period when Catholic churches have tried to strip away all their symbols. I believe that more symbols, saint statues, incense, stain glass, mosaics, etc, all help us connect to God, and correct the “symbol deficiency” many of us have sadly had to endure attending modern parishes.

Palm Sunday of our Lord’s Passion: a reflection

Behold the Man

As much as I love hearing the Gospel readings proclaimed in the liturgy, sometimes they are hard to hear. Usually this is because something Our Lord says cuts to the heart of my own self-righteousness and pride. The Passion narrative read today, however, is the hardest reading for me all year. And not just because of what I hear, but for what I and the rest of the congregation say:

“He deserves to die!”

“Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?”

“Let him be crucified!”

And as I say these things, I’m wishing that this was the only time I said them…wishing I hadn’t said them with my life and sins many times over.

But, miracles of miracles, after this I am given the grace to stand and confess my faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in the Church, the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection. I am invited to call God Father and pray as Jesus taught us. Christ, the betrayed, abused and crucified Lord, does not turn me away, but gives me his peace. He gives Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and dwells with one who is not worthy to receive him.

These gifts make the Passion narrative bearable in the same way Easter Sunday makes Good Friday good.

“Truly, this was the Son of God!”

The Vocation of the Nativity

Christ is born!
Glorify Him!

As the Nativity Season has now hit, I take time to wish you all a merry one!

I was thinking, while chatting with another contributor here, what the Nativity meant, that year, so long ago…

Mary had a vocation: to be the Theotokos, the God-Birther, the Mother of our God. What did this mean?

Well, for the previous 9 months, it meant the grievous risk of execution, should Joseph have chosen to put her out, or at best, being excluded from the community as a harlot… Not a happy thought.

Then, for the next several years, to live a life hunted by the crown. To go wherever her son’s safety required. To do what was needed. To help him be fully human. To do the things his body could not yet do. To feed and clothe him. To care for and nurture this most adept of children.

Then, for several years, spent in obscurity, to simply be mom to a precocious child who could kill wih a word, should he have chosen to. Oh, what a constant stress that could be!

And then, at his coming of age, to find him not where he “should” have been but teaching the rabbis and priests! Again, putting it all at risk.

And then, to take him down from the cross, body broken, naked, battered, and bloody. And to trust another to hurry him to a tomb.

Did she know?
How did she cope?

Joseph, too, had a vocation…
To keep a woman who bore a child not his own, to raise that child as his own, to flee with them from Herod, to let him experience being the one not in charge, and to finally let him go. We know little of his role past the temple… and not much about him, either. But his calling, as the angel came to him, was to change his life. And not just his, but all of our lives.

Vocations are many and varied…
Just because one isn’t called to be a priest, deacon, hermit or monastic does not mean one has no vocation.

Each of us has a role to play in the salvation of others, even if it is just singing joyfully that song one hates, but the parish loves. To be the best Christian we can be.

To know that, 2 milenia ago, God chose to beget his only son, who was both fully god and fully man, and to have him live as one of us for some 30 years… and then to be the last blood sacrifice required of mankind. God chose his own son to be sacrificed, knowing that he could not intervene in his own plan as he had for Abraham. God, the great I Am, had made the law, and now had to fulfill it. He did…

And so also, we, the poor banished children of Eve, take his mother as our own. And praise her willingness to take on the unknown risks as she did so long ago, culminating in the Holy Family.

So, I ask you, Brothers and Sisters, to pray for me, and that you find your vocation, that thing that God wants you to do to aid in the plan of salvation. Even if it is nothing more than to Give Glory to God by participating in the Divine Liturgies of our Holy Catholic Church, be it the Roman Mass, the Holy Quorbono, the DL of St Basil or St John, or any of the other expressions of our Catholic Faith.

And He is born unto us! God is now with us! We have found him in the cave at Bethlehem!