Friday, 6 November 2015

Prayer: Slowing Down

Prayer is oxygen for the soul. Just as the body needs to breathe, so we need to allow our souls to draw in deeply the love that is the very source of our existence.

Often, we bring to prayer the hectic pace that can pervade our days. And then we can wonder why there was no awareness of the Lord’s presence. Many blessings of consolation and guidance and encouragement are not received because the vessel of our heart is already filled, busy about many things.

So, rather than rushing into prayer, it is good to change pace and prepare our hearts. We slow down, find some solitude, move into silence, and still the mind and heart. ‘When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen’ (Matthew 6:6). We consciously enter into our inner sanctuary.

A sacred space can greatly help. For some of us, it may be a corner of a room with a comfortable chair and a crucifix and Bible on a table, for others it may be a quiet spot at the back of a church we pass daily on the way to work.

There is a power in simple rituals to help us centre the heart and mind. Some of us may light a candle before an icon or cross. Others of us may bless ourselves slowly and prayerfully, invoking the Spirit to lead us in prayer.

We bring our bodies to prayer. If we notice that we are carrying tension in our bodies, we can sit straight and breathe in slowly and gently, holding our breath briefly before exhaling. Doing this several times can help ease stress and calm the body. All of this is both a preparation for prayer and a prayer itself.

The image of our heart as an open vessel, ready to receive, has been used to describe the interior disposition that most blesses us in prayer. We take time to prepare our heart so that we come before the Lord receptive and docile to his grace.

A powerful prayer of trust that gives the Lord freedom in our prayer might be: ‘Jesus, all that you want to give me, I long to receive. All that you long to do in me, with all my heart I want it to happen.’

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Honest to God

The psalmist encourages us: ‘Pour out your hearts before him’ (Psalm 62:8). That’s easy enough when there is a strong sense of God in our lives, and our hearts are full of gratitude and praise, and good, positive feelings. But what of those times when ‘negative’ feelings predominate?

It is particularly important to share the emotions we consider negative with the Lord, such as disappointment (even anger) with God, bitterness at the unfairness of life, fear, desolation, grief, and confusing doubts. 

Sometimes we can make the mistake of thinking that we should only speak to the Lord of positive things and positive emotions, and so we bury the negative ones.

A sign of intimacy is when we can share our whole life, warts and all, with a true friend. The strength of the friendship shows itself in trust and openness. That’s the sort of relationship that the Lord wants with us.

Therefore, strong emotions admitted, named and shared in prayer, far from blocking our relationship with Jesus, become part of that bond and deepen it. Speaking candidly about these feelings means our prayer is genuine. 

We are letting the Lord into our real lives and his love can flow.

Honesty in prayer leads to intimacy with God. Hiding our negative emotions and always having to put on a good face weakens friendships, including our friendship with Jesus. Then, our prayer can be just going through the motions; we grow distant from the Lord and our relationship with him becomes formal rather than personal.

The first person we meet in prayer is ourselves. Authentic prayer is showing ourselves to Jesus with candid honesty. Honesty is a sign of intimacy and honesty deepens intimacy. 

The real person before the real God – that’s real prayer!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Seasons of the Heart

Like any relationship, our friendship with the Lord, expressed in prayer, goes through different stages and seasons. So there are times when prayer comes without effort and flows with ease. We experience the Lord’s closeness and receive helpful insights when we pray. 

These times of sweetness and light cannot be permanent.

At other times, we can experience a sense of dryness and boredom when we come to pray. Our enthusiasm for prayer wanes. The Lord can seem a thousand miles away behind a brick wall. We may feel forgotten by Jesus and wonder why we bother.

But these are the very times when our love is being matured and deepened. We are moving beyond just what we can get out of prayer to really wanting to be united with the Lord and his will for our lives.

Fidelity and perseverance in prayer at this stage are vital. It may seem to us that nothing is happening, but the Spirit is working in a hidden manner and with intense love within our souls – far below the level of thought and feelings. What we experience as absence and darkness is the presence of the Lord given to us in a new and more profound manner. 

In time, and with faithfulness, there comes a gradual re-awakening of the heart – a greater conviction of how unquenchable is the Lord’s love, and a fuller awareness of all the ways he is present to us.

Our growth in prayer is measured not by experiences and warm feelings, but by fidelity and by an increasing gift of ourselves in love to the Lord and to others.

Whatever the season of the heart, we are asked to remain faithful to prayer.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

"Profoundly United with Every Creature"

Pope Francis' wonderful teaching, Laudato si: on the Care of our Common Home, ends with two prayers he composed: A Prayer for Our Earth, and A Christian Prayer in Union with all Creation.
They powerfully express the Christian-Franciscan vision of our place before God as one with all He has created.

These prayers are filled with a spirit of praise and joyful gratitude, and also a humble awareness of failure and our need for grace to live out our divinely-given vocation on this earth.

One would hope these prayers become well known among the Lord's disciples and help form our self-understanding as creatures, children and servants of the Most High God.       

For the ancient principle still holds true: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi - as we worship, so we believe, so we live.

A Prayer for our Earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

A Christian prayer in union with creation
Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!

Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!

Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.

O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

"Laudato si" - a Franciscan Voice

The message from recent documents of the Franciscan Order is clear: commitment to what is now called JPIC – Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation – is “part of our DNA, of our spirituality, and is one of the characteristic elements of our charism”.

From the beginning of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis made it clear that his choice of his papal name was indicative of his concern for what may be called “JPIC issues”. And in his historic encyclical “on the care of our common home” he confirms the profound and all-embracing implications of our Gospel discipleship.

His radical teaching draws its title from the opening words of the Canticle of the Creatures - Laudato si. It goes on to speak of the Poverello’s vision of how to live on this earth as God’s child in fellowship with all other creatures. Indeed, the Pope reflects the saint's spirit and wisdom throughout the document.

While the encyclical is popularly referred to as a climate change encyclical, it is first and foremost about human relationships. The Pope writes, “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.” Violate any of these relationships, and we offend God, promote injustice, and exploit our home.

Other religious Orders would be delighted with this celebration of their particular tradition. It certainly provides the friars with a graced opportunity to embrace more fully what has been passed on to us as our heritage and mission.
Bill Short OFM writing of our Franciscan faith vision says, “People seek an alternative language, an alternative way of looking at the human person, at Christ, salvation and creation. We have a hopeful word, a distinctly Franciscan voice, to speak to the concerns of our day.”

May this encyclical help the Friar Minors rediscover with confidence our full “Franciscan voice” and so inform, inspire and influence our thinking and our actions.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Missionary Disciples

The Irish Franciscans are gathered for their Provincial Chapter - held every three years - from Sunday 29 June to Friday 4 July. The meeting takes place in the Franciscan College, Gormanston, Co Westmeath.

During the week some 90 friars, including two friars from our Custody in Zimbabwe, will pray, reflect, discuss and make important decisions. With both Irish society and the Church going through a time of major transition we Friars Minor need to make sure that our life and mission are responding to 'the signs of the times' - our times.

The theme for the Chapter is taken from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel: 'Missionary disciples, witnesses who never cease to be disciples!'

We are honoured that our Minister General, Michael Perry OFM, will be with us to lead us in a 'spiritual day' on Monday. However St Francis teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the true Minister General of our Order. If we are not being open and docile to His inspirations and guidance little else matters!

We ask you to pray with us that the Spirit of the Lord may be with us with divine grace, light and courage.

May our deliberations be guided by His wisdom. May whatever decisions we reach help us live more faithfully the Gospel life we have promised, and may they bring glory to God and serve His people.

Please keep us in your prayers!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Enjoy the Lenten Feast

It is several years since I came across the list below on Fasting/Feasting, describing a different type of fasting during Lent.  It still makes a great deal of sense to me.

What we feed in ourselves grows strong, for better or worse. We can be unaware of the powerful impact our habitual way of thinking has on ourselves and others.

Authentic religion brings about inner transformation. We can focus on the inessentials, the externals while the Lord looks to the heart.

In the Franciscan story we read that Gordan of Giano was a novice at the Pentecost Chapter held in the woods below Assisi in 1221. Several thousand friars had come together. Gordan tells us that Francis went among them collecting all their instruments of penance, hair shirts, corded ropes, whatever.

He did this for two reasons.  Firstly, he did not want his brothers in their fervour  to overdo their bodily penances. But especially Francis realised that physical self-denial can simply inflate one's spiritual pride.  It is a danger warned of by Christ in his parable: "The Pharisee lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed: I thank you Lord that I am not like the rest of men. I fast twice a week..."

It is easier to give up chocolate than unkind words.

It is easier to increase our devotions than our spirit of gratitude.

It is easier to abstain from food than from bitterness.

So this list is not simply a Lenten exercise but a programme for life, for daily living in grace and generosity. It goes straight to the core of the Gospel: the renewal of our hearts and minds.

FAST from judging others;                     FEAST on the Christ within them.

FAST from emphasis on differences;   FEAST on the unity of life.

FAST from apparent darkness;             FEAST on the reality of light.

FAST from thoughts of illness;              FEAST on the healing power of God.

FAST from words that pollute;              FEAST on phrases that purify.

FAST from discontent;                            FEAST on gratitude.

FAST from anger;                                     FEAST on patience.

FAST from pessimism;                            FEAST on optimism.

FAST from worry;                                     FEAST on trust in God.

FAST from complaining;                         FEAST on appreciation.

FAST from negatives;                               FEAST on affirmatives.

FAST from unrelenting pressures;        FEAST on unceasing prayer.

FAST from hostility;                                 FEAST on non-resistance.

FAST from bitterness;                              FEAST on forgiveness.

FAST from self-centredness;                  FEAST on compassion for others.

FAST from personal anxiety;                  FEAST on eternal Truth.

FAST from discouragement;                   FEAST on hope.

FAST from facts that depress;                FEAST on verities that uplift.

FAST from lethargy;                                 FEAST on enthusiasm.

FAST from suspicion;                               FEAST on truth.

FAST from thoughts that weaken;         FEAST on promises that inspire.

FAST from shadows of sorrow;              FEAST on the sunlight of serenity.

FAST from idle gossip;                             FEAST on purposeful silence.

FAST from problems that overwhelm;  FEAST on prayer that under girds.


The Psalmist prayed: "My soul shall be filled as with a banquet" (Ps 63:6).  We can choose with what we will nourish our souls. My prayer for us all during this season of grace is that we will feast richly on all that will make our lives flourish in Christ-like serenity and goodness.