Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everyday Prayers – The Sign of the Cross

How many of you have ever said an Our Father, a Hail Mary, or a Glory Be so fast and with so little attention that you're hardly even aware that you said it? We Catholics are so familiar with these common, everyday prayers that sometimes they fly right by us, and we don't slow down to give them the consideration and devotion they deserve.

Over the next few weeks, we're going to explore some of our most common Catholic prayers. We'll spend some time digging into their meanings, reflecting on their words and phrases, and discovering how these prayers help us grow in our relationship with God. 

We'll begin with what is perhaps the simplest and most powerful prayer of all, the Sign of the Cross.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

1. As we say this prayer, we trace a cross over our bodies, touching our forehead, chest, and shoulders. In doing this, we literally accept the cross. We tell Jesus that we are taking up our crosses, mentally and physically, in our minds, in our hearts, and on our shoulders. We are ready to bear the cross with Him and join our crosses to His.

2. In the Bible, a name is something far more than a word used to call or identify someone. A name refers to a person's character, who he is in the depths of his being. So when we say that we are going to do something in the Name of God, we mean that we are going to do it in His character. We are going to imitate His traits: His love, His mercy, His faithfulness, His attention, His goodness, and His holiness.

3. When we use the Sign of the Cross to begin a prayer or activity, then, we promise that we are going to pray and/or act in God's character.

4. The Sign of the Cross also reminds us that God is the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is one God in three distinct Persons. This is a key dogma of our Catholic faith, and it is an awesome mystery for contemplation.

5. We were baptized using this very prayer, so when we pray the Sign of the Cross, we remember our baptism. We recall that when we were baptized, God came to dwell in our souls. When we are in a state of grace, God's very presence is within us, and we are temples of the Holy Spirit.

6. The Sign of the Cross is a powerful prayer, for it calls on the Blessed Trinity, inviting Him into our lives, our words, our thoughts, and our actions. We should use it often and in all situations.

7. The Sign of the Cross is a prayer with both words and gestures, and we must be careful to to say the words (out loud or silently) and make the gestures slowly and deliberately. Because the prayer is so familiar, we tend to rush through it, but this obscures its beauty and the depth of its meaning and significance. We must remember that, just like any other prayer, the Sign of the Cross is about connecting with God and developing our relationship with Him.

Let's end by praying with attention and devotion:

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Great Light

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of sin. Give us repentant hearts that are open to Your forgiveness.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of fear. Help us to be confident that You care for us and that there is nothing we need to fear.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of pain. Heal us if it is Your will, or give us the strength to bear our sufferings with patience and to unite them to Your cross.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of worry. Inspire us to cast all our cares upon You.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of selfishness. Open our hearts that we may see the needs of others and respond with love.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of distraction. Focus our minds and hearts on You.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of materialism. May we adjust our priorities so that You hold first place in our lives and people are always more important than things.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, we so often walk in the darkness of doubt. Increase our faith.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...

Lord Jesus, You are our great light. Illuminate our darkness with Your love. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“I Did Not Know Him.”

In today's Gospel (John 1:29-34) we hear John the Baptist testify about Jesus. When John sees Jesus coming toward him, he exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” Hinting at Jesus' divinity, John goes on to explain that Jesus ranks ahead of him because He existed before him. John then says, “I did not know Him.”

These words might make us pause for a moment and think, “Huh?!? Of course John knew Jesus! They were cousins. John recognized Jesus even when he was still a little baby in his mother's womb. And John hesitated to baptize Jesus because he thought Jesus should be baptizing him instead. How could John say he did not know Jesus?”

Hold that thought for a moment, and let's see what else John has to say about Jesus. John claims that the reason he is baptizing is so that Jesus may be known to all of Israel. John is the forerunner, the one who prepares the way, the one who lets people know that Someone else is coming. 

John continues, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon Him.” Yes, he did, at Jesus' baptism. Then he repeats his puzzling statement, “I did not know Him.” 

God had, however, given John a hint: “...the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, He is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” When John saw the Spirit coming down on Jesus and remaining, he finally knew Who He was, and he could confidently bear witness, “Now I have seen and testified that He is the Son of God.”

Let's return to our puzzle. How could John say that he did not know Jesus? Even in our own lives, we understand that there are many levels of knowing someone. We might merely know of someone, that he or she exists and perhaps who he and she is by sight. We might know someone as an acquaintance and chat with him or her now and again. We might know someone a little better and call that person a friend. We might also know someone very well and be able to grasp the interiorities and intricacies of his or her personality and thought processes. Sometimes, the people we think we know surprise us by doing something that seems out of character. That may cause us to say, “I thought I knew him, but I guess I really didn't.”

John the Baptist, then, is speaking about one of these levels of knowing. Clearly, he knew Jesus by sight. He would certainly have been acquainted with Him. He would probably have even called Him a friend by the time Jesus came to him for baptism. But clearly, John did not know Jesus on the highest level. He did not know Who Jesus was on the inside. He did not know the interiority of Jesus or the depth of His person. 

He did, however, find out. He listened and watched. He heard God give him a hint, and he looked for its fulfillment. And he found that fulfillment in Jesus. Then John could really and truly say that he knew Who Jesus was, the very Son of God Who had come to baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Documents of Vatican II: A Treasure Chest for Today's Church

Shortly after his election to the papacy on October 28, 1958, Pope John XXIII invited the Catholic Church to open its windows and let in some fresh air. He longed for the Holy Spirit to blow through the Church in new and exciting ways so that the Church might be refreshed, renewed, and ready to interact with the modern world. On January 25, 1959, the Holy Father announced his intention to convene an ecumenical council that would bring the Church's teachings up-to-date, not by changing them but by expressing them in language that modern people could easily understand and appreciate.

Between 1962 and 1965, the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, produced sixteen documents. Each document is the culmination of hours of study and preparation by theologians and experts; difficult and sometimes heated discussions among the 2,600 bishops who attended the Council; and draft after draft of painstaking corrections to ensure the preciseness of every word. In the end, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Vatican II has presented the Church with a rich treasure chest brimming with vivid, eloquent Catholic doctrine to help today's Catholics better understand the Church, the world, their faith, and themselves.

The Four Diamonds of Vatican II

Four Vatican II documents shine like diamonds among the Council's treasures: the four “constitutions,” namely, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), The Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), and The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Guadium et Spes).

Dei Verbum presents the Church's teaching on Divine Revelation. In clear and pleasing language, the document explains the nature of God's self-communication to humanity; the relationship between Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (the Church's teaching office); the content, inspiration, inerrancy, and interpretation of Sacred Scripture; and the vital role of the Bible in the life of the Church.

In Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II Fathers meticulously examine the Catholic Church. As a multifaceted reality, the Church is both mystery and human history, the people of God and a hierarchical institution, the united Body of Christ and a diverse entity made up of laity, clergy, and religious. Lumen Gentium explores these aspects of the Catholic Church and much more.

The Church's sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium explains, offers Catholics access to Heaven on earth, for in the Eucharist, Jesus is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The document offers a profound reflection on the liturgy, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments, meditating on their depth and grandeur and suggesting reforms to guide Catholics into full and conscious participation in the Church's liturgical life.

Guadium et Spes comments on the state of the modern world and the Church's place in it. Discussing everything from atheism to the arms race, from culture to marriage and family life, this document paints an authentic portrait of the modern world with all its possibilities and problems. Further, it unfolds the mystery of the human being and identifies Christ as the center of all human longing and the only solution to the world's troubles.

Gold for the Laity

In The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem), the Vatican II Fathers directly address the laity, which has a special obligation and opportunity to permeate the world with the Spirit of Christ. Lay people, Apostolicam Actuositatem instructs, are called to evangelize in word and deed, witnessing with their lives to the new life of Christ within them and carrying the Gospel to people, places, and situations only they can access. They are responsible for renewing the secular world and infusing Christian faith and values into every aspect of society, their professions, their social organizations, their governments, and their families. In its final exhortation, the document proclaims, “It is the Lord Himself, by this Council, Who is once more inviting all the laity to unite themselves to Him ever more intimately, to consider His interests as their own, and to join in His mission as Savior.”

Brilliant Gemstones for Clergy and Religious

Four Vatican II documents describe the crucial ecclesiastical roles of bishops, priests, brothers, and sisters and offer recommendations to renew hierarchical and religious life. The Decree on the Pastoral Office of the Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus) discusses the pastoral duties of bishops within their own dioceses and the universal Church, emphasizing the bishops' participation in Jesus' priesthood, kingship, and prophetic office and suggesting possibilities for fruitful episcopal cooperation. The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) speaks to priests about their ministry “in the person of Christ the head”; their essential spiritual and moral qualities; and their relationship with bishops, other priests, religious, and laity. The Decree on the Training of Priests (Optatam Totius) focuses specifically on the formation of men for the priesthood, detailing the doctrinal, spiritual, and moral training seminarians should undertake on their journey into clerical life. Finally, The Decree on the Up-To-Date Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis) encourages religious communities to embrace a spiritual renewal that will inspire them to cherish the spirit and traditions of their founders; perfect the evangelical councils of chastity, poverty, and obedience; and witness to Christ in the modern world.

Silver Goblets of Friendship

Vatican II sought to promote unity among all Christians and cooperation with non-Christians through mutual understanding and dialogue. Four documents work toward this goal. The Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum) assures Eastern Rite Catholics that their liturgies and traditions are a valuable asset to the universal Church. The document also extends a hand of friendship and a prayer for unity to Eastern Churches still separated from the Holy See. In The Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), the Vatican II Fathers express a longing for “one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and sent forth to the whole world...” as they propose basic principles and suggestions for dialogue and cooperation among Christians. The Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) emphasizes God as the common origin and destiny of human beings and recognizes the elements of truth found in other faiths while firmly maintaining the need for missionary activity so that all people may receive the Gospel and embrace the fullness of truth found in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Lastly, The Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) emphatically asserts both the existence of the “one true religion” of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church and the necessity of human freedom in seeking and choosing the truth. No one, the Vatican II Fathers maintain, can be forced to accept or reject the faith against his or her will.

Colorful Tapestries to Spread the Faith

The remaining three documents of Vatican II, The Decree on the Means of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica), The Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), and The Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes Divinitus), focus, respectively, on spreading the faith through modern means of communication and media, educating children and adults, and promoting missionary activity. All three documents emphasize the serious necessity of handing on the Catholic faith in all its color, fullness, and complexity.

Digging into the Treasure Chest

The documents of Vatican II are a veritable treasure chest of Catholic doctrine for the modern Church, and the best thing Catholics can do is open the chest and dig in. Lay readers unfamiliar with Church documents should begin with Dei Verbum, Lumen Gentium, and Apostolicam Actuositatem, which are the most accessible of the lot and offer exceptional instruction and inspiration for the laity. These documents are not difficult in vocabulary or style, but they are dense and rich in doctrine and beauty. They are not meant to be read quickly for information but savored and contemplated slowly in small portions and with open hearts and minds so that the Holy Spirit can blow into the Church and into every Catholic, just as Pope John XXIII hoped and prayed so many years ago.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

The Servant

In today's First Reading from Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, we read a portion of the first of Isaiah's four “Servant Songs.” These songs prophesy the mysterious “Suffering Servant” whom God will send on a mission to the world. 

Scholars have long questioned just who this Servant is, and because prophecy works on several levels, there are a number of possibilities. The Servant might be the prophet Isaiah himself, for he certainly had a mission. He might be a king of Judah. He might be a personification of Israel as a nation. He might be the future Messiah. He might even be a combination of any or all of these, for prophecies can be fulfilled in different ways at different times. The New Testament, of course, identifies the Servant with Jesus, but that does not diminish the prophecy's complexity.

Our reading today gives us some important information about the Servant. God, speaking through Isaiah, says that the Servant is someone He upholds and someone in whom He delights. God has put His spirit on this Servant and sent him on a mission. The Servant will bring forth justice, not just for the Israelites but for the nations. 

How will he bring forth justice? His method will be gentle, quiet, mild, meek, and compassionate. He will not go around shouting in the streets. He will not assume a harsh tone that cuts people down. Smoldering wicks and bruised reeds are safe with him. He will not smother those who are depressed and weak. He will not break those who are hurting and sinful. But he will bring justice to all who wait for him, even to the ends of the earth. 

In the middle of the reading, God begins to speak directly to the Servant. He says, 

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. 

God has called the Servant so that justice may triumph. He holds him by the hand, sustaining him and giving him power to fulfill his mission. God has formed the Servant and watches over him, guarding and preserving him. 

Further, God has set the Servant as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations. The Servant will be a new covenant, a new bond of self-giving love between God and humanity. He will shine God's light to all people, Israelite and Gentile alike. As a covenant and a light, the Servant will open the eyes of the blind, free prisoners, and lift those in darkness up into the light. 

Today on this Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, the Church invites us to reflect on the Servant prophesied in Isaiah. In doing so, we should ponder some significant questions.

1. Why is this reading included on this feast day? 
2. How does Jesus fulfill the prophecy of the Servant? 
3. How are we called to imitate the Servant in our own lives? 

Lord, on this feast of Your baptism, please give us the compassionate and gentleness of the Servant. Please help us recognize both our own mission and others' needs. May we always keep the covenant we have made with You at our own baptism and shine Your light to the world. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

A Prophecy of Joy: A Guided Meditation

Our First Reading today (Isaiah 60:1-6) exudes joy. It overflows with joy. And if we are really listening and striving to comprehend, it should make us joyful, too. 

Take a moment to revisit the first half of the reading:

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears His glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses. 

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God tells Jerusalem that a great light has shone upon the city and its people. The glory of the Lord has come. Darkness covers the rest of the earth, all the Gentile nations, but God shines on Jerusalem. By the light radiating from city, other nations will see the truth and come pouring into Jerusalem to meet their Lord.

Now reread the second half:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

When Jerusalem experiences the influx of the nations, the city will burst out in joy. With an overflowing heart, it will receive tribute from those who arrive. Riches from around the world will flow into Jerusalem. Exotic people will arrive, bearing gold and frankincense, and even more importantly, praising the Lord. 

How do these readings help us understand today's feast of Epiphany? Meditate on the following questions:

1. What is this great light that has come upon Jerusalem? How is God revealing Himself?

2. Why does darkness cover the earth and all the Gentile nations?

3. Why do the Gentiles pour into Jerusalem? What attracts them?

4. Why is Jerusalem so joyful at the arrival of these Gentiles? Is it merely because of the gifts they bring, or is it something more?

5. Why do the Gentiles bring such lavish gifts?

Now take a few minutes and read today's Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12). Then return to the five questions above. How does the Gospel fulfill Isaiah's prophecy of joy? 

Finally, reflect for a few minutes on how these readings apply to you. How does God reveal Himself to you? How do you respond to God's great light? What gifts do you bring to God? Are your lavish with your gifts? Are you a joyful person? Why or why not?

Lord, on this Epiphany, increase our joy. You are our great light, which shines out from Jerusalem, from the New Jerusalem, the Church, to the whole world. Draw us to You. Help us to open our hearts that we may lavish our gifts upon You, especially the gift of ourselves. Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


...the arrival of Rosary Meditations: Deepening and Enriching a Remarkable Prayer!  

Please visit Createspace or Amazon to order your copy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Saint for the New Year

Have you chosen a companion saint for the New Year yet? Or perhaps a better question...has a companion saint chosen you for the New Year yet? 

I used Jennifer Fulwiler's Saint's Name Generator again this year. It's an easy process. In one click of a mouse and with a little prayer, God gives you the perfect saint to walk with you in your journey through 2014.

This year, I was chosen by St. Martha. I think God is chuckling a bit about this, but He is also making a point. I tend to work and worry a lot. I also get very distracted sometimes, and like Martha, I don't always take the time to sit at the Lord's feet and just listen to Him. I even get rather impatient with people around me who don't seem to have their priorities in order. I can almost hear Jesus saying to me, “Amy, Amy, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” 

St. Martha, then, is part of God's personal message to me as well as my companion saint for the year. I hope to learn more about her over the next twelve months. I also intend to pray to her often, asking for her intercession with confidence that she will place all my needs before God. After all, she has a front row seat in Heaven! 

So if you haven't already done so, please open your heart to a new saint for the New Year.