By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about Marian prayer.
Since early Christian times, Mary has been considered a model of prayer. By entering into the mind and heart of the Mother of God and praying as she prays, we also can be grounded in a disposition of true and faith-filled prayer. When we take on the interior disposition of Mary and her life of prayer, we can more easily let go of our fears and anxieties and begin to cultivate an attitude of attunement toward the Spirit.
In particular, Mary is an extraordinary model of contemplative prayer because, as scripture says, she listened, pondered, believed, and responded with trust in God’s power and love for her. The Magnificat, for example, is Mary’s contemplative canticle when greeting her cousin, Elizabeth, after learning from the angel Gabriel that both were pregnant. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” Mary exclaims in the prayer, “and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-55). In praying Mary’s song, we do not pray alone but join our voices with the countless men and women throughout the ages who have praised God in these words.
Another form of contemplative prayer rooted in the Marian tradition is the rosary. Indeed, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter, The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that “[t]he Rosary is an exquisitely contemplative prayer.” A popular devotion to Mary widely prayed by many Catholics, the rosary enables us to recall the mysteries of the life of Christ through Mary’s own experience. Because she was closer to the Lord than anyone else, the recitation of the rosary helps us to meditate, through Mary’s eyes, on the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as her assumption into heaven and coronation as the Queen of Heaven.
Mary also serves as a model of prayer in her role as mediatrix, intercessor, and protector. Indeed, there are many works of art around the world that depict Mary as a protector. In particular, her cloak or mantle is a powerful symbol of her motherly care. In addition, many prayers request Mary’s intercessions, including the Hail Mary and the Memorare, which enable us to ask for her intercession and protection from danger or harm.
Mary has been remembered and cherished from the earliest days of Christianity. We should ponder on her assent to God’s plan of salvation and call upon her as our spiritual mother and model of prayer, who walks beside us and intercedes for us, as we move towards our final end in transforming union with God for all eternity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) states, “When we pray to [Mary], we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men” (CCC n. 2679).
By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
It’s flu season, which means that it’s time to get vaccinated against whatever strain(s) of flu are likely to strike this year. I’m a big believer in flu shots and always opt for the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four different flu viruses. Would that we could also get inoculated each year against another debilitating disease called “affluenza.”
The term “affluenza,” which is a merging of the words “affluence” and “influenza,” is now a recognized word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines the syndrome as an “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.” The term originated as the title of a 1997 PBS documentary and 2001 follow-up book and became entrenched in the lexicon when teenager Ethan Couch asserted it as a defense in his 2013 drunk driving trial.
If affluenza is a disease, all Americans have been exposed to it. Although the term “Black Friday” was not coined until the 1960s, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been known in the United States as the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season, at least since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade first began in 1924. As holiday shopping began to move online, marketers later created “Cyber Monday” in 2005.
Whether we prefer to brave the crowds on Black Friday or shop from the comfort of our own homes on Cyber Monday, it has become a national tradition that much of the time during the weekend after Thanksgiving will be spent purchasing the “must have” toys, electronics, and fashions of the season.
The not-so-subtle cultural message we and our children receive from marketers is that, however much we have, we all need more. As Donna Bee-Gates explains in her book, I Want It Now, exposure to media images depicting lifestyles more lavish than our own, causes us to experience “relative deprivation.” As a result, we feel disadvantaged compared to the fictional people we observe in the advertisements, which then causes us to take our own material blessings for granted.
Fortunately, there’s an antidote to affluenza, and that is gratitude. When we are grateful, instead of looking at fictional people and feeling deprived, we are able to look at real people and feel blessed. From that position of gratitude, we can focus on what others don’t have, instead of what we don’t have.
In 2012, a global giving movement was started, called “Giving Tuesday,” which kicks off the holiday and end-of-year charitable season after the excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In keeping with the spirit of this special day, I’ve set up a Giving Tuesday fund. Donations can be made through online giving or you can text (415) 767-1934, and enter the amount of the donation, a space and the code GIVINGTUESDAY. You can also drop off your donation at the church office with a notation that it is for the Giving Tuesday fund.
Let’s spiritually inoculate ourselves against affluenza with gratitude and celebrate the season with a true spirit of Christmas!
As part of the Saint Brendan Small Bytes speaker series, Father Roger spoke last week about ways to make gratitude a form of prayer. During an interactive session, he explained the many psychological, emotional, and spiritual benefits of practicing gratefulness.
To listen to Father Roger’s complete talk, click here. Below are some really practical ways to get started.
GRATEFUL FOR EVERYTHING A-Z
This is a very simple but fun exercise. Go through the alphabet, starting with the letter “A” and ending with the letter “Z.” For each letter, write down or think about the first word that comes to mind. After you identify each word, think about something positive and grateful to say about that word. For instance, “A” might stand for the word “Apple,” and you might write or think, “I can taste the sweetness of a perfectly-ripened apple and am thankful.” Try doing this exercise with your children and grandchildren and enjoy bonding over gratefulness.
THE THREE BLESSINGS EXERCISE
Stop for a few minutes and devote your full attention to being still or slowing down. Focus on your breathing. Now review your day and consider what went well from the time you got up until evening. It could be little blessings. Perhaps you enjoyed a good cup of coffee in the morning or a nice warm shower. Maybe a colleague at work greeted you cheerfully and you had a great chat.
Write down the three good things that happened and write a sentence or two, reflecting on why the good things happened.Repeat the same exercise at the end of each day for the next six days. You’ll find yourself feeling much better about life because the exercise corrects our inherent negativity bias.
GRATEFULNESS IN TIMES OF TROUBLE
Gratefulness can help us navigate through troubling times in our lives. We are not grateful for the trouble but for the experience of learning and healing.
Close your eyes and breath in and out for a few minutes. Focus on a particular concern in your life.
Take a pencil and slowly trace a path through the labyrinth below. Take your time and think about your concern as you draw. When you get to the center, pause for a while and hold your concern quietly in your heart. Then make your way back out, visualizing your tension and confusion lightening with each turn you make. When you reach the entrance again, picture your worry being left behind.
LETTER OF THANKS
Take a few minutes to start a special letter of thanks to someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude. Try to pick someone who is still alive and could meet you face-to-face. It’s helpful to pick a person or an event that you haven’t thought about for a while.
Write about 300 words or roughly one page and then plan a visit with the person in the letter to deliver the letter. Read the letter out loud and then talk about it.
By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about how common it is to struggle in prayer and what you can do about it.
While prayer is essential to happiness, feelings of well-being, and spiritual growth, most of us neglect it more than we should. Common excuses include lack of time, distractions during prayer, general fatigue, and the rather unsettling feeling that we are not being heard. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to prayer as a “battle” (n. 2725). Fortunately, we can overcome these struggles to some extent by correcting erroneous notions and setting realistic expectations about prayer.
For instance, some people subscribe to the misguided idea that prayer should always be personally rewarding. When they discover that it often is precisely the opposite, they give up. The collective experience of monks and mystics throughout the ages, however, has been that sustaining a life of prayer frequently is dry and unfulfilling. Indeed, prayer is a battle. Sometimes it’s like walking on water, while at other times we may feel that we are sinking like a stone. On some occasions, we experience God’s love and goodness, while on other occasions, we may feel bored or distracted.
It is impossible for anyone to remain alert, attentive, and actively engaged in prayer at all times. Developing a rhythm and ritual can get us through this difficulty. Ritual helps us to keep praying even when we’re too tired to muster up the energy. To the extent we pray faithfully every day, year in and year out, we can expect little excitement, lots of boredom, and regular temptations to look at the clock. Despite this, our connection with God will grow and deepen, as well as our intimacy with the Lord, to the extent we are faithful to a prayer ritual.
A second erroneous understanding of prayer is that we must already be at peace emotionally before we approach the Lord. Not wishing to offend God, we may choose to refrain from prayer under the false belief that we should only pray when we’re not angry, distracted, or preoccupied. Yet, genuine prayer does not try to conceal such feelings. God wants our hearts and minds just as they are. Equally as foolish as cleaning one’s home before the maid arrives is the attempt to heal ourselves of disturbing thoughts and emotions before presenting ourselves to the divine physician. We ought not to pray in the manner we think God expects, but with whatever is inside of us at the time and simply allow God to be present in those moments with us.
Traditionally defined, prayer is “lifting our minds and hearts to God.” More times than not, we will fail to achieve this ideal in prayer. Just keep praying anyway, but do so with realistic expectations. Praying with others also can help. Start or join a Saint Brendan small group today to enrich your prayer experience. For more information, you can explore our website at http://www.stbrendanparish.org/small-groups.html.
Jesuit Father Joe Spieler spoke at Saint Brendan Church in October about how to deepen our prayer lives by practicing contemporary contemplative prayer. Click here to listen to Father Spieler's complete talk.
Each of us has the capacity for contemplation. Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real, which could be the face of God, ourselves, or something beautiful in our lives.
Contemplation is the form of prayer where less is more. Words are not used very much. You might just use the word “Jesus” or repeat the phrase, “Lord have mercy.” Or you might just look quietly at a crucifix or an image of Jesus.
Place your feet flat on the floor. Take 5 or 6 deep, slow breaths. Feel the air coming in and feel it going out. Let your attention rest on your respiration. Distinguish the temperature of the air coming in and going out. What are the sensations on the inside of your nose?
Notice your breath for another 4 or 5 cycles. Notice the beating of your heart (wait 30 seconds). “Now, in prayer, we offer our whole selves to the Lord God. We offer the beating of our heart as our act of love.” (wait 20-30 seconds). Count down to 0 from the number 5. “Open your eyes when I get to zero.”
BODY AWARENESS EXERCISE
Place your feet flat on the floor. Let your eyes close. If your forehead is carrying tension, relax it. Let your jaw drop. Let your hands be relaxed, wherever they are. Become aware of the subtle sensations on the outside of your head where your hair is. Try to pick up any sensations that are there. (pause). Then move to your face. Become sensitive to sensations in your face. (pause) Then move to your shoulders. Pay attention to how your clothes are on your shoulders. Down your arms. Down into your hands. What are the feelings? What do you pick up? (pause) Then the base of your neck. Feel the support of the chair on your back. Down to your hips, thighs, knees, and ankles. Feel the shoes around your feet. Notice the support of the floor under your shoes. Repeat the body scan again. Head . . . face . . . shoulders . . . . arms, hands, and fingers . . . your back, down your legs, and down to your feet. Still breathing. Now do it a third time, from the top of your body down to your feet. (pause) Then one more time.
Try to notice and go to where there is an uncomfortable part of your body, perhaps a place is sore or in pain. Have your attention go there. Then, in an imaginative way, breath into your nose and imagine that the healing and strengthening and soothing of the Lord’s Spirit is breathed into your body, right to where that pain is.
Take 3 big breaths. 1 . . . 2 . . . 3. Open your eyes and stretch.
THE JESUS PRAYER
The “Jesus Prayer” sustained the early Christians. They would breath in and say the holy name of Jesus. J-E-S-U-S. It is a repetitive prayer that can be done for some period of time, like three to five minutes. Center yourself with your feet flat on the floor and close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing. As you inhale say the first syllable (J-E) and exhale with the second syllable (S-U-S). It’s very simple but can be very satisfying and very deep. It is just taking a chance on God’s grace and being in God’s presence and making ourselves available.
By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about the art of spiritual direction.
Prayer is critical for the Christian life. But how do you know whether you’re praying well or whether you’re really communicating with God or just hearing your own voice in your head. Since God is neither visible nor comprehendible to us, it can be difficult to know how and when God is speaking to us. Fortunately, we don’t have to make the spiritual journey alone. A group of specially trained individuals, called “spiritual directors,” can help you answer these questions.
“Spiritual direction is help given by one believer to another,” writes William A. Barry in his book, The Practice of Spiritual Direction, “which enables the latter to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”
The goal is to help others discover the importance and meaning of their spiritual experiences. Spiritual directors work patiently and empathetically with their clients to help them come to (i) a fuller realization that God desires a loving, relationship with them and (ii) a greater understanding of what the Lord is asking them to do at particular times in their lives.
According to Sr. Mary Ann Scofield in her book, Sacred is the Call (Crossroad Publ’g Co. 2005), the “director ‘tunes in’ like a person fiddling carefully with a radio dial, spinning from one music clip to another, one fragment of speech to the next, until ‘Aha, this is it!’: the director recognizes the presence of God in the conversation, and then helps the directee to explore further what has occurred or is occurring.” The most common format of spiritual direction is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit religious order. But there are others.
While priests, religious, and seminarians often have their own spiritual directors, the practice of spiritual direction is not just for clergy and religious. Everyone needs someone to talk to about their spiritual life. If you think you would like a spiritual director, try looking for someone who exhibits the fruits of the Holy Spirit, such as joy, peace, and self-control.
Spiritual directors do not have to be priests. Trained lay people also are good candidates. Mercy Center Burlingame is one of the major centers for the teaching of spiritual direction in the United States and can connect you with the right spiritual director. Call (650) 340-7416 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Or, consider joining one of Saint Brendan’s twelve small group experiences. The leaders are not necessarily trained in spiritual direction, but you will be able to talk about important issues, pray, and just do life together with other people, all in a relaxed, informal, and safe environment. To learn more, visit our website at www.stbrendanparish.org/small-groups.html.
The Culture Project International has sent five of its missionaries to invite San Francisco to become fully alive. Lindsay, Amanda, Bianca, Jesse, and Peter arrived in San Francisco on October 14, and will be serving the Archdiocese until Christmas. Their mission is to reclaim the dignity of the human person and to inspire young people to live for real love. “We hope to inspire young people to say yes to love and all its demands,” said Team Leader Lindsay Fay.
Each of the missionaries believe in the infinite potential of the human person to choose the love for which they were created. Each day, the team speaks to young people about human dignity and sexual integrity. They are young people hoping to encourage other young people in virtue.
Through the hospitality of the Archdiocese, the women are staying at Saint Cecilia’s and the men at Saint Brendan’s. During their stay, they hope to serve as a passionate presence and an example of young people living out their Catholic faith. The missionaries are very excited to get involved in the activities and outreach of the parishes in San Francisco and neighboring dioceses.
This is the first time that The Culture Project has sent a missionary team to San Francisco. “We hope that the seeds we plant here,” said Peter Santiago, “will bear great fruit for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Church at large.” By speaking in schools and parishes, the missionaries hope to offer an alternative to young people. They realize that now more than ever young people are at risk of losing their way. They see a world that is losing hope in real love and an opportunity through mission to make a difference. Through authentic encounters and a spirit of joy, they proclaim the good news of life and love everywhere they go.
To proclaim the good news, the missionaries constantly turn to the teaching of the Church to inform their outreach. They especially refer to the work of Saint Pope John Paul II, who said:
He is called in that truth which has been his heritage from the beginning, the heritage of his heart, which is deeper than the sinfulness inherited, deeper than lust. The words of Christ, set in the whole reality of creation and redemption, reactivate that deeper heritage and give it real power in man’s life.
The five missionaries let young people know that the deeper heritage of their heart, that restless desire for authentic and beautiful love, runs deeper than any wounds. They believe that young people deserve to know that their desires are calling them to lay down their lives in authentic love.
In their endeavor to offer the Archdiocese hope, the whole team is grateful to the staff at Saint Brendan’s and at Saint Cecilia’s for their kind hospitality and the opportunity to be a guest in the parish communities for their stay in San Francisco. Prayer is a pillar of their mission. They look forward to seeing the parishioners at Mass and other parish events in the near future.
By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about contemplative prayer.
Contemplative prayer seeks to become more aware of the mutual indwelling of God in our lives. This style of prayer relies less on the use of words and focuses more on cultivating a simple, wordless presence before God. It is non-verbal and therefore marked by a kind of stillness, silence, focused awareness, and reflective attentiveness to the world around us.
Contemplative prayer is different than other styles of prayer because it encourages us to shift gears from active motion of the mind to an attentiveness towards God through silence. It is a permanent shift in a dedicated life of prayer toward a greater awareness of the presence of God. Contemplative prayer encourages us to slow down, sit quietly without having to do a required task, and let the reflections of the mind come to us naturally.
A contemplative person is characterized by a long-term commitment to practices that actively encourage a deep, inward attentiveness to God’s movement in the self and the world. A contemplative person also values a rhythm of life that includes regular periods of solitude and withdrawal from outside activity.
In our frenetic world today, it is not uncommon for many people to long for this kind of lifestyle. A few individuals discover a vocation to become full-time contemplatives and join a contemplative religious order or even become hermits. In this way of life, they structure their days by making the contemplative practice of prayer a priority. In scripture, for example, Mary of Bethany is a model of contemplative prayer, when she “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10:39).
Contemplative prayer often appeals to those in the second half of life. Although according to the psychologist, Carl Jung, the task of the first half of a person’s life is to build a strong ego through active achievements, the wisdom of the second half of life encourages us to let go of the ego, in order to explore the world within and seek spiritual wholeness.
All of us, however, can learn to maintain a contemplative rhythm in our everyday active lives with jobs, family, and social commitments. Although personality and temperament are among the factors that incline a person to the quiet, inward, and regular rhythm of the contemplative style of prayer, it is not merely for introverts. Contemplative prayer does not require unusual gifts or maturity in the life of prayer. The practices of contemplative prayer can be chosen and cultivated by anyone, regardless of their vocation, lifestyle, or stage of life.
A daily practice of at least one or two periods of twenty to sixty minutes devoted to quiet prayer or meditation is a normative way to practice this prayer style. For more information and practical tips on practicing contemplative prayer, listen to Jesuit Father Joe Spieler’s recent talk on contemplative prayer at Saint Brendan Church. You can find his talk at www.stbrendanparish.org. Just click on “Our Messages” and scroll down to the section on our Small Bytes talks.
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