Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Notes from the Hours: An Intercession

One of the intercessions from this morning's Liturgy of the Hours encourages us to pray as follows: 

Teach us to be loving not only in great and exceptional moments, but above all in the ordinary events of daily life. 

Most of us tend to feel pretty good about ourselves when we show love in some big way. Perhaps we do a major favor for someone or give a substantial amount of money or time to a charity. These are wonderful acts of love, but this intercession reminds us that there is more to love than the big things. 

How about the genuine smile we give to the grumpy check-out clerk at the grocery store?

How about the harsh words or complaints we bite back and don't say?

How about the door we hold open for someone who has his or her hands full?

How about the attention we give to someone even when we're busy with something else?

How about the effort we make to do a little extra around the house so other family members can relax?

How about the kind words we speak even when we wouldn't have to?

How about the pleasant expression we put on our faces even when we feel anything but pleasant?

How about the times we bow to another's wishes rather than insisting on our own way?

How about the prayers we say for the people who need them? 

When we do these kinds of things (and the possibilities are endless), we are indeed loving in the ordinary events of daily life. They may not seem like much, but they can make a huge difference, perhaps even an eternal difference. 

Lord, give us Your Holy Spirit that we may love in the ordinary events of daily life. Amen.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lost Prayers #1

This series of posts will feature traditional Catholic prayers that are now rarely used. It's time to revive these beautiful words of love to God.

A Prayer for the Love of God 

O my Jesus, Thou well knowest that I love Thee; but I do not love Thee enough: Oh! make me to love Thee more. O Love which burnest always and is never extinguished, my God, Thou Who art Charity itself, kindle in my heart that divine fire which consumes the Saints and transforms them into Thee. Amen. 

Prayer for Grace to Do the Will of God 

Grant me, most kind Jesus, Thy grace, that it may abide with me, labour with me, and persevere with me to the end. 

Grant me ever to desire and to will that which is the more acceptable to Thee, and pleases Thee more dearly. 

May Thy will be mine, and my will ever follow Thine, and be in closest accord with it. 

May it be my one care to will and to be unwilling with Thee, and may I be unable to will or not will anything but what Thou willest or willest not. Amen. 

(Both prayers come from the 1910 edition of the Raccolta.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Colossians 1:1 – Apostle

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother... (NRSV-CE)

Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by calling himself an apostle, in Greek apostolos. According to Vatican II, all Christians, even the laity, are called to an “urgent and many-sided apostolate,” a mission to live and spread the Gospel wherever we go and in whatever we do (1). We are all apostles.

But what is an apostle? We can get a better idea of the meaning of this word (and our mission) by studying the Greek word apostolos. The noun is derived from the verb apostellō, which means “to commission, send forth” (2). The verb, in turn, is comprised of two parts: the preposition apo, meaning “from, away from” and the verb stellō, meaning “send” or “dispatch.” Stellō, however, has another meaning: to make ready, arrange, equip, and set in order. 

Based on the simple, primary meaning of the verb apostellō, then, we usually define an apostle as someone who is commissioned or sent forth, and this is true. God does send us out into the world to serve our fellow human beings in His name and to live and spread the Gospel, just as Vatican II says.

But if we stop there, we miss an important piece of the puzzle. God doesn't just send us out; He makes us ready first. He sets things in order for the success of our mission. He arranges what we are to do. And He equips us for doing it. That's what the stellō part of the verb tells us. God doesn't just leave us to go off on our own, using our own meager resources and powers. He first provides us with everything we need, and He continues to supply us during the whole of our apostolate. 

So when Paul calls himself an apostle, he certainly means that he was sent by God, but he also indicates that he is sourced by God, Who makes him ready for his mission, equips him with everything he needs, and paves the way for his success. His job is to cooperate and rely on God's support every step of the way. The same is true for us, apostles that we are, as we, too, live the Christian life.

(1) Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, paragraph 1 (Flannery edition). 
(2) Information on Greek words and meanings comes from Bible Hub and Perseus Digital Library.

Friday, February 16, 2018


My new Literary Excavations blog!

Are you interested in medieval literature? Does Beowulf intrigue you? Or Chaucer? Or the treasures of Old English and Middle English literature? How about modern fantasy? Do you have a fondness for Middle-earth, Narnia, or Harry Potter's Wizarding World? Are you up for close readings, literary tidbits, word studies, or poetry analysis?

If so, the Literary Excavations blog might be just right for you. Check it out here!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Esther's Prayer: Penance

As we enter into the penitential season of Lent today, we can learn a lot about mortification and humility by studying Esther's words and actions.

When she agrees to Mordecai's plea and decides to face the king and request the lives of her people, the first thing Esther does is set herself and her attendants to a three-day fast, and she asks the rest of the Jewish community to join her. Esther realizes that fasting helps a person put God first and self last. When we deny ourselves things that are good, things that we enjoy, like food or material goods or particular types of entertainment, we say to God and to ourselves that there is something more important than our own desires, pleasures, and satisfaction. We turn away from the things of this world for a while and focus our attention on God. We make Him our priority.

Notice, too, that Esther sets herself to a very severe fast. She and her companions and the Jews will have nothing to eat or drink for three days. Nothing. That probably makes our fasts look pretty wimpy. Esther, though, knows that she is facing an extremely serious challenge, and she understands that the only way she can get through it is to set herself aside and let God take over. Her fast helps her do that.

But Esther doesn't stop with a fast. She also physically mortifies herself by removing all her queenly clothing and ornaments, covering herself with ashes and dung, and mussing her hair. Esther is sharply aware of the dangers of pride, especially in her position. She is, after all, the queen. She has power. People jump at her slightest command. She possesses all the best. But she knows that all these things are only for outward show and that if she relies on them, she will fail in her mission. So she gets rid of them. She replaces them with the most humble of clothing and even covers herself in filth to remind herself that she is nothing and can do nothing by herself. Only God can save her, and Esther is humble enough to know it.

If we pause to consider for a moment, most of us would have to admit that we are pretty concerned with our outward appearance. We want to look our best all the time because, perhaps, it helps us feel like we are in control, like we have some power to influence people...others but also ourselves. While we certainly don't need to go to extremes like Esther did, perhaps we might try this Lent not to be quite so concerned about how we look to others and a good deal more concerned about how we look to God.

Of course, Esther caps her fasting and mortification with prayer. She praises God, humbly confesses the sins of her people, remembers God's past actions, and places herself and her mission firmly in God's hands. She trustingly asks for help and courage. Then, when she has prepared with penance and prayer, she rises and calmly faces her mission, firmly believing that God is the One in control.