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 email@example.com 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.
By Manolito Jaldon,
St. Brendan Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation
Confirmation candidates in the Saint Brendan faith formation program recently served at an emergency shelter for single mothers and their children in downtown San Francisco. I am deeply grateful to Maureen Kosewic, who organized the faith formation families to serve at Raphael House last Saturday.
Raphael House was established in 1971 as the first homeless shelter for families in Northern California. Over the years, the organization has served over 20,000 at-risk families by helping them to achieve stable housing, financial independence, stronger family bonds, as well as a deeper sense of personal dignity and worth. Without any government funding, Raphael House has realized unparalleled success, with up to 85 percent of its families finding long-term housing and attaining real financial security.
Volunteer administrative coordinator for Raphael House, Kellen Sarver, first took the confirmation candidates on a tour of the facility, including the playroom for toddlers, family kitchen, and community library. As we made our way to the rooftop, we caught a glimpse of some of the living spaces where Raphael families actually live.
The candidates, along with their parents, then helped to prepare the facility for its upcoming Harvest Festival. They pulled weeds on the rooftop garden, traced leaves onto construction paper, made pumpkin decorations, and even sketched out a scarecrow.
It was a wonderful Theresian exercise! The great Catholic doctor, Saint Therese of Lisieux, believed that we should do small things with great love. Doing these little things to help the residents of Raphael House prepare for their Harvest Festival was an act of love by our teens that, in some small way, helped to transform a facility into a warm and inviting home for the holidays.
After the visit to Raphael House, I had to dash over to a friend’s wedding. A thought came to my mind and heart, as I transitioned to another event. When two people come together in the Sacrament of Matrimony, they create a domestic Church, in which children are reared, educated, and nurtured in the faith. Through the bonds of Matrimony, they help their children to value the things that Christ valued, to love the things that Christ loved. This is the truest imitation of Christ.
One of Christ’s greatest concerns was for the poor. Indeed, he could not have identified himself more with the poor, when he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).
There is a great need to care for the homeless in San Francisco. In fact, family homelessness increases each year by ten percent. Because service is at the heart of our Confirmation program, we will continue to give our youth the opportunity to meet Christ face-to-face in service to them. For that is where Jesus is! Let us continue to foster this value in our own domestic churches.
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 how to manage distractions in prayer.
When we pray, we should develop an environment that promotes stillness and quietness within us, in order to be fully present to God without distractions. However, that is not always an easy task. At times, we may find ourselves bored, daydreaming, or feeling anxious or upset while praying. These distractions can be frustrating and even prevent us from praying more often and forming a deeper relationship with God. We may even feel like a “failure” in prayer. Fortunately, there are many ways for us to improve our prayer lives.
We should accept and value the fact that we are embodied persons. Since the body lives in the temporal realm, distractions are inevitable. Because prayer necessarily involves the body, we first should make a concerted effort to put ourselves into a relaxed position and become physically-centered when we pray.
Breathing is critical. Inspiration is like drawing in God’s Spirit. Exhaling is like driving out anything that separates us from God. Focus more on your breathing during prayer, and distractions inevitably will diminish.
Our posture during prayer also is important. Kneeling has been given an honored place in the Western Catholic tradition, but Christians in the early Church also stood to pray, in order show a readiness to go and do God’s work. One saint even prayed lying flat on his back. There is no right or wrong posture during prayer. Choose one that works for you and leads you deeper into prayer.
We also must focus our minds during prayer, using techniques that can help us stay focused. When beginning your prayer session, for example, choose a simple, repetitive chant or hymn that requires little effort and repeat it over and over in your mind. If your mind is stuck in a negative place while praying, think about those things in your life for which you are grateful. When distractions enter, reflect on how you feel about that thought and simply let it go. Imagine the thought drifting out of sight, like a boat floating down a river.
Distractions are a common problem during personal prayer. We cannot stop our minds from thinking, and we cannot stop having feelings. We can, however, learn to listen to those thoughts and feelings, in order to hear how God is speaking to us through them.
Despite the common belief that being distracted in prayer is a nuisance and a kind of spiritual failure, it actually can be a gift. Distractions in prayer can lead us to greater self-awareness by helping us to see the false “gods” in our lives. By experiencing and acknowledging these distractions without self-reproach or blame, we can strive to seek where God is present in those distracting thoughts, which ultimately will lead us closer to the Lord.
By Joanna Collins
Author of Lyrics of Parish Song for Year of Prayer, “We Gather in Your Presence”
On the journey of faith, prayer might well be considered our GPS. It reminds us of our origin, outlines our route, and highlights our destination. In truth, however, prayer is also the vehicle that carries us and propels us forward. Without it, our destination is simply unreachable. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, prayer is “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC 2558). It’s not just important. It’s vital.
Like most raised in the faith, prayer for me began with, well, prayers: dinnertime grace, an Angel of God and “God Bless” before bed, and all the standard “Church prayers.” I knew people who were great pray-ers. My great-grandma, Rose, comes to mind, whose name, I was convinced, was short for “Rosary.” At some point, prayer also became internal: little conversations with God when I wanted to thank Him for something good or, more often, ask Him for something I really wanted. Simple.
Over time, life grew increasingly complex, and prayer shifted, mainly to the back burner. Prayer time was Sunday Mass. Sure, I made my requisite visits to the Grotto before exams during college days at Notre Dame, but what usually occupied my mind in those minutes were the math formulas I needed to know the next morning. And the distractions and diversions just kept on coming.
But God keeps knocking. I recognize now that prayer begins with God’s movement toward me, not vice-versa. And He never gives up. When I’ve struggled most, He’s been there, waiting for me to turn to Him in a quiet moment, admit my failings, and listen. And as I come to know the loving relationship He desires to pour into me, prayer time takes on a whole new urgency.
God is beyond us, God surrounds us, and God is within us. Prayer reflects that reality. We encounter God externally in the wonder of creation and in the songs and prayers of our community of believers. We come to know Him more deeply as we ponder His Word, and seek His grace and mercy in our hearts. Ultimately, we find God in our innermost being, in the quiet contemplation of our soul. God speaks to us in those moments of silence. And in the silence, we can listen.
Paul exhorted his disciples to “pray always,” to pray as we live. But, borrowing a paraphrase of the Catechism, we can’t pray always if we don’t pray sometimes. Personal prayer needs to be built into our day. For me, prayer happens in the stillness of the morning, beginning with a humble offering of praise and gratitude, reflection on the deep desires of my heart, and a renewed commitment to allow God to shepherd me. I offer intentions for each of my daughters, seeking guidance for them where they are most in need of His Wisdom. Then, with a short ‘examen’ at the end of the day, I give thanks for the times I responded to God’s call, and ask forgiveness for the times I didn’t.
God invites us into relationship with him. May prayer be our heartfelt response.
By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist
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 how God’s grace and prayer relate to each other.
First, it’s important to understand that grace is not a thing. Grace actually is a relationship with God. Through the favor of God, we are invited into his life of love. Grace is that free and undeserved gift from God that draws us more and more closely to him.
The experience of grace develops as we become more fully aware of God’s presence, particularly at pivotal moments in our lives. A German Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, reminds us, for example, that “grace is present in our experience at times when we live beyond our limits, when we hope beyond our hope, sacrifice our safety for our fellow neighbors, or when we seek the cause of truth and justice.”
Grace and prayer are intrinsically intertwined. They depend on and cooperate with each other. The more we turn towards God in praise and thanksgiving, the more the Lord’s grace silently works within us to turn us even more consciously towards God.
It is a kind of cooperation between the human freedom to choose God or to reject him and the grace the Lord gives us to be able to choose him in the first place. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux put it, “every good act which fosters our growing union with the Father through Christ in the Spirit and the love of our world is brought by God’s grace and in human freedom.”
In other words, the more God pours out his grace on us, the more disposed towards prayer we become, and the more we pray, the more God’s grace is set into motion when we pray. This relationship between grace and prayer continues to grow and deepen until that day when we are gathered fully into God’s kingdom and this world is transformed into a new heaven and a new earth and God “may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). On that day, “cooperative grace” becomes “consummating grace.”
The practice of asking for God’s grace in prayer can be found in the famous Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Each week, retreatants are directed to pray for God’s grace to make them more penitent for wrongdoing, to deepen their love for Jesus and their desire to know him and share in his mission, to experience the suffering and death of Christ, and to share in the joy of the resurrection and new life in Christ.
Grace supports and fulfills us as we pray, and we can and should ask for an outpouring of God’s grace in our prayer. This week, try asking the Lord not so much for the specific things you may seek in life, such as health or material blessings. Rather, try simply asking for God’s grace to fill you completely and deeply, and then watch how over time you experience his presence more fully.
By Ben Gerigk,
St. Brendan Catechist
Each week in the bulletin, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks entitled, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about the meaning of traditional Catholic prayer.
All forms of prayer seek to address the divine through dialogue and a focus on the physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects of human nature. Traditional Catholic prayers, however, are those specifically associated with the liturgical and theological rites of the Catholic Church. Often an individual’s first exposure to the practice of prayer, traditional prayers are deeply embedded in the popular piety and devotion of the faithful, structured according to certain guidelines, and rooted in the rich tradition and history of the Church. Therefore, traditional Catholic prayer is an approach to prayer that has become clearly identified with the Catholic faith and recognized by the faithful as a legitimate devotion to be practiced on a regular basis, in order to grow in holiness and virtue.
The first Catholic prayer, of course, was the Our Father, taught by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. It is the most traditional of all forms of Christian prayer because it remains at the heart of sacred scripture and the prayer of the Church, especially the Mass. Like all traditional Catholic prayers, reciting the Our Father helps us to recall the teachings Christ gave to his disciples thousands of years ago. Examples of other traditional Catholic prayers include the Hail Mary, Glory Be, Morning Offering, Act of Contrition, Prayer to the Holy Spirit, Angelus, Memorare, Guardian Angel Prayer, and the Sign of the Cross.
Traditional Catholic prayers also include a wide spectrum of practices, including vocal prayer, meditation or mental prayer, and contemplation or prayer without words. They can be prayed individually or in a group setting, with or without members of the ordained ministry. Through art, music, and other modalities, traditional Catholic prayers also can be made relevant to today’s Catholic culture.
Sometimes these prayers are criticized for allegedly diverting the attention of the faithful away from the Mass, the greatest prayer of all. Wicks argues, however, that traditional Catholic prayers actually direct our focus towards the liturgy. By attempting to deepen a person’s relationship with God, these prayers assist him or her in participating more fully and sharing more deeply in the fruits of the Sacrament.
As Catholics, we should treasure these special forms of worship that have spanned the generations and incorporate the many types of traditional Catholic prayer into our own prayer life. Even faithful Catholics may fall into the temptation of setting aside traditional prayers, because they do not pray on a set schedule or perhaps find them to be outdated. Yet, because they are traditional, these prayers will always endure in the Catholic imagination. If we allocate sufficient time to pray these time-honored invocations, then our love for God can only intensify and our sense of community as one Body of Christ can only grow stronger.
By Manolito S. Jaldon, Jr.
Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, St. Brendan Parish
Last year the Office of Faith Formation at the Archdiocese took a survey among its catechists. Sixty-seven parishes out of the ninety parishes participated. The results tell us that in San Francisco 112 students participated in Faith Formation as Under 5 members; 1181 were registered in grades 1-6; 2312 students were preparing for First Holy Communion and 1816 were participating in their preparation for Confirmation. The vineyard is abundant in San Francisco County!
This ministry has been popularly called CCD, which stood for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, established in 1562. Awe-inspiring saints like Charles Borromeo, Robert Bellarmine, and Peter Canisius, supported the Pope Pius V in establishing the confraternity in which lay people learned methods on teaching the doctrine and eternal truths of the faith.
In a modern post-conciliar world, the ministry is now called Religious Education or Faith Formation because we do more than teach the catechism. We teach children to live life with Jesus at the center of their studies, social groups, and communities. We allow children to ask their questions about Christ in order that they may find him as life’s greatest friend. We train children to be integrated into the parish life through our various ministries, so that they feel a sense of belonging - they feel that the Church is the extension of their front porch at home!
At Saint Brendan Parish, we have looked to Sadlier, Loyola Ministry, and Life Teen as our catechetical tools to form people in faith. We focus more on just having students learn doctrine and eternal truths. We focus on having students encounter the authentic Christ who gathers us around the Eucharist each Sunday. We are disciples forming disciples, not just getting them through sacramental programs. We have 47 students registered into our Faith Formation where we collaborate with families in doing catechesis both at the parish level and at home. We focus on instilling Gospel values to your children and teens.
This task is not only a major undertaking as a parish, it is essential. It is a fact that if by the time teens go to High School and do not commit to a youth group or parish ministry they will leave the Church and find their sense of belonging elsewhere! We can no longer fall into the myth that your teens will return to Church when they begin a family as young adults. Millennials today must be convicted of something or they will fall for anything.
I can personally testify that there is a hunger to rediscover the authentic Christ for teens. They hunger to know more about this love that is hidden in the Eucharist and that guides their political deliberations against a society that has ignored or become passive of this saving God. As we continue to move through this Faith Formation Year, let our discussions with our children around the dinner table and at home not be about a subject in a program or academic textbook. Rather, let our discussions be about a person - Jesus, who is personally connected in our lives, reigns in the domestic Church we know as the family.