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Every Day Catholic - January 2010

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Finding Your Own Way to Pray
By: Jim and Susan Vogt

Susan isn’t comfortable raising her arms in praise. Jim found Forty Hours devotion less than satisfying even as an altar boy. As children, we both learned the rosary but seldom say it now. None of these prayer styles is wrong; it’s just that prayer is such a personal experience. What inspires one person bores another. What seems old-fashioned to one connects another with her religious heritage.

Prayer, be it memorized or spontaneous, individual or communal, filled with incense or the fragrance of pine needles in the woods, is communication with God. On some level it flows from a human yearning that reaches beyond any particular religion. Most people eventually seek answers to life’s persistent questions: Is there anything more than what meets the eye? Is there really an afterlife? We may not often be aware of these yearnings, but sooner or later, a crisis occurs, a life-changing decision is before us or we simply marvel at the miracle of a newborn child—and we pray.

But how? And are we holier if we pray more? Conventional wisdom answers the latter question. Yes, prayer puts us in more conscious relationship with God. This relationship of thankfulness, dependence, trust and honor should make us better people—more aware of our inner selves and more attentive to the needs of others. It’s the how that stymies many of us.

We were no exception. Early in our marriage we decided to pray together. What seemed simple became complicated as we compared our different styles and personalities. Jim is a morning person. Susan is not. Praying in the middle of the day seemed like an interruption even though St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17). Even if we prayed separately, we still had to deal with how to do it. While Sunday Mass is our primary time of prayer, each of us was searching for a private and couple connection with God too.

The solution? Trial and error. We started taking turns planning prayer each day—creative, but tiring. We just didn’t have that much creative energy. We then learned about the Liturgy of the Hours and liked that because it had a formula. Neither of us had to plan it. Eventually we were drawn to quiet time with the Lord, perhaps prompted by the day’s readings.

Quiet time was eventually interrupted by crying babies and getting children ready for school. (Yes, we defaulted to early morning prayer since anything later got pre-empted by chores, and at bedtime, we just wanted to, well, fall into bed.)

If we have any wisdom to pass on it’s probably that the older and more mature we became, the simpler our prayer became. Even daydreaming sometimes serves as a holy time as we recognize that it’s often in the daydreams and distractions that our worries and stresses come to the fore. Rather than fight them, we integrate them into a petition: “Dear God, give me energy for this high-maintenance child” or “Lord, help me to see some good in this irritating colleague.” Sometimes Susan’s groggy morning prayer is simply “showing up” since the effort to get out of bed 15 minutes early is motivated by the desire to be conscious of God’s presence.

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Prayer generally falls into the broad categories of verbal or nonverbal, individual or communal, memorized or spontaneous, contemplative or active. Seekers might experiment with many of the following forms of prayer and let trial and error lead them to deeper conversation with God:

  • Familiar prayers: Revisit the Our Father, Hail Mary, Morning Offering, grace before meals or the rosary.
  • Weekday Mass
  • Spiritual reading: Our favorites include Fr. Ron Rolheiser, Fr. Richard Rohr and Kathleen Norris. Choose “good” books: Those granted an imprimatur or “Permission to Publish” are considered free of doctrinal or moral error.
  • Liturgy of the Hours: This originated as the way monks set aside seven times each day to “pray without ceasing.”
  • Short spontaneous prayers: These may range from “Praise God!” to “Lord, give me wisdom to make a good decision.”
  • Meditation: Try centering prayer, reflecting on one’s day, an examination of conscience or using a prayer prompt like a picture, statue, reading or guided meditation.
  • Eucharistic adoration: Many use this to keep company with the Lord.
  • Communal prayer: Join others for Taizé prayer, Penance, healing services or group prayer with friends before a meeting or activity.
  • Nature or everyday circumstances as reminders of God’s presence: Take a reflective walk in the woods and pray at stoplights or while waiting in line—instead of being impatient.
  • Prayers of the heart during crisis or joy: Check out the psalms to find the words to express your sorrow, gratitude, awe or anger. They were often the outpouring of ordinary people’s emotions in times of need or joy.
  • Prayer with children: Children can lead us back to prayer if we feel awkward about starting. Other times they pull prayer out of us as we desperately try to understand them. (See Susan’s book Just Family Nights as one resource to help your family pray together.)
Remember, prayer is basically conversation with God. Books and organized prayer can help, but if you have a relationship with someone, you want to spend time together. If you can talk, you can pray. Heck, talking isn’t even required; just being in each other’s company is what counts.

But prayer isn’t all there is to spirituality. Becoming a holier, more spiritual person includes having an attitude of gratefulness, looking for the good in others rather than complaining, living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and doing the dishes and changing diapers as acts of service for those we love. Donating money so that others’ lives may be a little better, putting up with annoyances, enduring an illness or physical pain, sacrificing our wants for the needs of another—all these actions make our hearts bigger and deepen our spirituality.

Consider this: If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy.

Permission to Publish received for this article, “Finding Your Own Way to Pray,” by Jim and Susan Vogt, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 9-15-2009.

next month’s topic:
Faith and Finances—Managing Debt

Making Connections

■ What is your greatest challenge in prayer?

■ Have you ever thought that prayer styles with which you aren’t comfortable are in some way wrong? What, if anything, has changed your mind?

■ In addition to prayer, what more will you do to become a holier, more spiritual person?

Movie Moments

Chariots of Fire
By: Frank Frost

Chariots of Fire, based on real events, is about two athletes—one Jewish, one evangelical Christian—who compete in the 1924 Olympics for Great Britain. But the movie is about more than sports; it’s about belief. Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is a missionary to China who decides to put aside that vocation for a while to pursue running, much to his sister’s chagrin.

Coming out of a church in Scotland one Sunday, he encounters a couple of boys chasing a ball across the road. He gently admonishes one of them that Sunday is not a day for playing football—a belief that will play a key role in his own decisions during the Olympics. But in the next scene he’s running in a race that’s used as a drawing card for an evangelical event. His apparent sense of freedom and joy is enhanced by an inspirational musical score. Cut to a church service and a religious hymn. The hymn continues over another race. Subtext: Running for Eric is a form of prayer.

Eric explains to his sister, “I believe that God made me for a purpose...but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” The elation he feels when running makes him mindful of God. In the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, this is finding God in all things, an advanced form of prayer. But the running itself never comes before God. At one point Eric explicitly compares racing to faith; both require strength from within. He repeats Jesus’ teaching that “the Kingdom of God is within you.” But beyond words, the movie repeatedly makes the point in visual and musical language that we can find sacred space in whatever we do.

Next time you watch Chariots of Fire, ASK YOURSELF:

■ Name examples of ways the filmmakers nonverbally suggest that Eric’s running is a spiritual experience.

■ How does the parallel story of Harold Abrahams reinforce or contrast with the notion that running can be spiritual?

■ Do I have a talent or love of something that can draw me to God?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Lillian Farrell
By: Joan McKamey

“Growing up, I was afraid of God,” says Lil Farrell, “but today my relationship with God is one of love. Scripture says that God is love. God’s love isn’t the warm fuzzy type; discipline is part of love. These are things I try to pass on to kids.”

These “kids” are her daughters (ages 26, 23, 20 and 18) and the hundreds of young people she’s encountered as parish catechist and adult mentor for Confirmation retreats at Blessed Kateri Parish in Sparta, New Jersey. Lil and her husband, Frank, have also taken teens on mission trips to Appalachia.
She says, “The Scripture passage that inspires me is ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the king-dom of heaven belongs’” (Matthew 19:14).

Lil couldn’t teach children to pray unless she was an experienced pray-er. How did she move from fearing God to a love relationship with God? She tells Every Day Catholic, “I was 15 when my father stopped drinking. That shaped me a lot. That’s when I started to see that there’s a different God out there. He’d been sober for 35 years when he passed away in April. He taught me by example and by living the Serenity Prayer that great suffering transformed becomes great love.”

Lil, a public school nurse by profession, finds many opportunities each day to spend time in prayer. She says, “One way to pray is through using our gifts and talents and offering prayers while we’re doing it.” Lil loves to quilt and prays for the person who will receive each quilt as she makes it. Singing is an important form of prayer for her. She is a cantor at her parish and also sings in a Christian ecumenical choir. She tells of being moved to tears and “strongly feeling the presence of God” when singing with the choir. She attests to the truth of the saying “He who sings prays twice.”

Lil began blessing children when her own daughters were small. She says, “One thing I’d say anyone should do as parent or catechist that will make a lifelong impression is to bless the children. I’ve seen the effect this has on children; it’s powerful. I place my hands on their heads and say: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace’ (Numbers 6:24-26).

“I cherish the opportunity to talk to kids about who they are. I try to be approachable. Jesus was very inviting and led by service. I’m grateful for that.”

She continues, “I like to think of God as a friend. I don’t want them to be afraid of God. ‘Fear of the Lord’ is a good thing, but it’s more like awe than being scared. God is not just out there; he’s within me as well. That’s the main point I try to get across to my own children and other kids. When I was little I didn’t necessarily keep God with me consciously. Now God is integrated throughout everything in my life. I want kids to know this.”

Passing On the Faith

Small Pockets of Prayer
By: Jeanne Hunt


Sister Regina always told Janie, “If you don’t have time to pray, you don’t have time for anything.” Lately, Janie hasn’t found time to pray. Between soccer games, work and caring for her aging mother, Janie hasn’t had a free moment. Even settling into prayer at Sunday Mass has been difficult.

A Response

Our fast-lane mentality is a deterrent to active prayer lives. I suggest we learn to combine prayer and work or, as St. Benedict would say, “ora et labora.”

This may seem a surprising combination. Prayer is often pictured as a kneeling activity. However, if we wait for knee time, we’ll rarely connect with God. St. Benedict taught his monks to always be at prayer, to see every action as an oppor-tunity to talk to God. Does God want us to keep the conversation going while driving car pool, walking grocery aisles and stirring soup? Yes!

Each day offers pauses when prayer fits perfectly. I call these “small pockets of prayer.” We pick up the morning paper, notice the breathtaking sunrise and pause to praise the Creator. We’re tied up in traffic, so we pray the rosary. We arrive early at the soccer field, turn off the car and talk with God.

God offers us many pockets of prayer. These moments begin to infuse our schedule, and we start hearing God’s invitation to create more: Once a week, eat lunch alone and pray, or skip the evening news and watch the night sky with God instead. God walks through the day with us. God listens and watches. Knee time is a rare commodity, yet three minutes here, two minutes there add up. Looking for small pockets of prayer makes our entire day holy.

Janie enters the grocery checkout line and sees the “coupon lady” ahead of her. Rather than move to another lane, Janie pulls out her daily reflection book; she reads and prays as she waits. For the first time in months she’s relaxed and free of the constant guilt of too little, too late with God. She unloads her cart, praying, “Good and gracious God, I’m weary tonight as I head home to make supper. Give me renewed strength and a smile for my family. Amen.” As she puts the bags in her car trunk she reflects on how praying on the run has changed her. She realizes that God doesn’t only wait for us in chapels; he loves to find us wherever we go.


Bench Time
By: Jeanne Hunt

(For praying alone or as a guided meditation with a group)

Preparation: Find a park or city bench, bench in a church garden, a pew...and resolve to visit your bench at least once a month. Bring anything that will lead you to prayer (a Bible, devotional book, rosary, journal, a poem) and a copy of this prayer.


Jesus, sit down with me. I want to simply be with you. My heart needs nothing profound. I only want to know your presence here on our bench. Come to me now. Share this bench with me and speak to my heart.


Read the Gospel reading of the day or a Scripture passage of your choice.


Sit in absolute stillness and imagine Jesus is sitting next to you. Try to empty your mind of everything that concerns you. Try to just “be” with him.

Imagine his words. Ask him to give you one short phrase or take a passage from Scripture. Allow this to rest in your thoughts. Give yourself over to God’s divine presence.

Lift up to God all the burdens you carry. Open your hands as if each person, each situation, each challenge were lying in your palm. Then lift your hands up and release these burdens into God’s care.

Close your bench time with a thoughtful recitation of the Our Father.


Gentle Jesus, my strength and my companion, thank you for sitting here with me. Come with me into the world that awaits me.

Bless yourself with the Sign of the Cross, allowing your hands to bring God’s touch as you bless yourself.

Peter of Alcantara: Peter was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He served as confessor to St. Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. His death came one year before the Council of Trent ended. 
<p>Born into a noble family (his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain), Peter studied law at Salamanca University and, at 16, joined the so-called Observant Franciscans (also known as the discalced, or barefoot, friars). While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was named the superior of a new house even before his ordination as a priest; at the age of 39, he was elected provincial; he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.</p><p>Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself. His patience was so great that a proverb arose: "To bear such an insult one must have the patience of Peter of Alcantara."</p><p>In 1554, Peter, having received permission, formed a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor.</p><p>As spiritual director to St. Teresa, Peter encouraged her in promoting the Carmelite reform. His preaching brought many people to religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.</p><p>He was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself. —Pope John Paul II

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