5 practical ways to pray more in the New Year

Start the New Year off right in your spiritual life! Check out my latest article at Aleteia:

As the New Year approaches many of us will pledge ourselves to numerous “New Year’s Resolutions” –typically these involve such goals as losing weight or exercising more. If we’re really feeling inspired we may pledge to visit the Tabernacle every day or even read the entire Bible cover to cover.

Unfortunately, as with most New Year’s Resolutions, our spiritual stamina only lasts for about a week and we find ourselves right back where we started, feeling like failures and wondering “Is it possible to commit to praying more in the New Year? Should I just give up now and get it over with?”

Incorporating more time for prayer is not easy task, so to help you get closer to your spiritual goals, here are five practical tips that can give you a head-start on making 2017 your best spiritual year ever:

1) Believe in your goal and in God

This first step might sound obvious, but we usually miss it. Often when we think about getting “serious” about prayer, we say something like “I know I will fail. I could never do it. I will never be holy enough.” In all honesty, these thoughts come straight from the Deceiver, who will do everything he can to dissuade you from starting a program of prayer. He will try to convince you that you are “not holy enough,” or “too busy,” or someone who “never follows through.” Satan is hell-bent on preventing you from praying every day and will fill your mind with numerous lies that all revolve on the idea that “you don’t have what it takes.” Don’t listen to him!

You are a son or daughter of God and he is with you at your side. You can do it! If we open ourselves to God, he will guide us and give us the strength we need. We need to have faith that God will be there for us and that we can do the impossible. Above all else, faith is a gift given by God. So like all gifts, ask for it! Ask God to increase your devotional fervor.

“For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:19)

2) Recall what has worked and what hasn’t

In the spiritual life, there are bound to be highs and lows; times when you felt fully alive and times when you felt dead in the water. Look back at the past and see what worked and when you felt “fully alive.” You may notice some patterns that may be useful or that you may want to replicate in the present.

Additionally, we all have different habits. This could be the way we get ready in the morning to the particular way we fold our laundry. Prayer also needs to be a habit. When thinking about the other habits you engage in, what is a common thread? Most likely it is something you learned when you were little and continued to do every day of your life. It then became ingrained into your life and you barely think about it. Making prayer a habit is extremely important if you want to add more prayer in the New Year.

And don’t be afraid to start small. Even as small as beginning and ending the day with a Sign of the Cross and a “Glory Be.” Of such small beginnings, have saints arisen.

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The beauty of a forgotten Advent tradition: the “Rorate Mass”

The Rorate Mass is a beautiful tradiation worth preserving for future generations. Here is my article at Aleteia:

The season of Advent falls each year in the dark month of December and it is a month when we see the general theme of the liturgical season being echoed in nature. Darkness has crept over the world, and is increasing each day. Yet, there is hope for soon the days will begin to lengthen and the sun will conquer the night. The earth reveals that there is a light in this dark place and that Light reigns victorious.

The Church makes this truth more visible with an ancient tradition (often forgotten) called the “Rorate” Mass. This votive Mass during Advent in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary receives its name from the first words of the opening chant in Latin, Rorate caeli, or in English “Shower, O heavens.”

The Mass is most often celebrated in communities devoted to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (aka, the “Latin Mass”), but is also an option for parishes that celebrate Mass in the vernacular.

What is peculiar to this celebration of the Eucharist is that it is traditionally celebrated in the dark, only illuminated by candlelight and typically just before dawn. The symbolism of this Mass abounds and is a supreme expression of the Advent season.

First of all, since the Mass is normally celebrated right before dawn, the warm rays of the winter sun slowly light up the church. If timed correctly, by the end of Mass the entire church is filled with light by the sun. This speaks of the general theme of Advent, a time of expectation eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Son of God, the Light of the World. In the early Church Jesus was often depicted as Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun,” and December 25 was known in the pagan world as the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). Saint Augustine makes reference to this symbolism in one of his sermons, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.”

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Why We Need Rose Vestments

On one Sunday each Advent and Lent, the priest will come out of the sacristy wearing rose vestments and inevitably makes some sort of comment about how the color of his vestments should not be classified as “pink,” but rose.  Often the priest is somewhat embarrassed, especially when his parishioners give their pastor a hard time.

Photo by Brett Crandall (Wikipedia)

Yet, the use of rose vestments during the sacred liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent has been a part of the Church’s tradition for many centuries and is a tradition we must hold onto. Rose gives us joy and a promise of hope; our world is in need of both.

“Computer geek” takes one more step toward sainthood

Such an inspiring story about a modern-day saint who is a perfect inspiration for young teenagers. Wether you knew it or not, you probably have seen his panels on Eucharistic Miracles come to your parish. Here is my article about him at Aleteia:

On Thursday, November 24, 2016, Cardinal Angelo Scola closed the diocesesan phase in the canonization process for Carlo Acutis, a 15-year-old Italian boy who died in 2006 of leukemia. He was a well-loved teenager who devoted himself to prayer and daily Mass as well as computer programming, film editing, website creation, editing and layout of comics.

According to the website for his canonization process, “Carlo was gifted at anything related to computers so that his friends, and the adults with computer engineering degrees, considered him a genius. Everyone was amazed by his ability to understand the computer secrets that are normally accessible only to those who have completed university.”

One of his most significant computer ventures was cataloguing all the Eucharistic miracles of the world. He started the project when he was 11 years old and wrote at the time, “The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of Heaven.” He then asked his parents to start taking him to all the places of the Eucharistic miracles, and two and half years later the project was completed.

Acutis researched over “136 Eucharistic miracles that occurred over the centuries in different countries around the world, and have been acknowledged by the Church” and collected them into a virtual museum. Besides creating a website to house this virtual museum, he helped create panel presentations that have traveled around the world.

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Put this movie on your watch-list

Set to hit theaters in December and January, “Silence” aims to breathe life into a captivating novel focused on the many struggles of Jesuit missionaries in Japan:

The movie is based on the best-selling novel, Silence by Shusaku Endo. It’s synopsis is as follows:

“Seventeenth-century Japan: Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to a country hostile to their religion, where feudal lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. Eventually captured and forced to watch their Japanese Christian brothers lay down their lives for their faith, the priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. Shusaku Endo is one of the most celebrated and well-known Japanese fiction writers of the twentieth century, and Silence is widely considered to be his great masterpiece.”

The adaptation is very intriguing, especially because the filmmakers and actors went to great lengths to immerse themselves into Jesuit spirituality. As I note at Aleteia:

To prepare for Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of the Catholic novel Silence, actors Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) did some extra homework and checked themselves into a seven-day silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat house in North Wales.

The two actors portray Jesuit missionaries in the movie and in order to bring an authenticity to their roles, Garfield and Driver steeped themselves in Jesuit spirituality. While on retreat at St. Beuno’s (a place where Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins lived for three years), the actors spent the time entering into complete silence and were led through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The actors took the retreat seriously and would only wave to each other in the refectory to maintain the silence.

Garfield said about the experience in The New York Times, “On retreat, you enter into your imagination to accompany Jesus through his life from his conception to his crucifixion and resurrection. You are walking, talking, praying with Jesus, suffering with him. And it’s devastating to see someone who has been your friend, whom you love, be so brutalized.”

Looking back at the whole experience Garfield admitted that God was working in his heart, “I had the feeling that I was being called to something: called to work with one of the great directors, and called to this role as something I had to pursue for my spiritual development.”

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I am intrigued by the whole project and look forward to seeing it in theaters.

The first Thanksgiving in America was a Catholic Mass

I bet you didn’t learn this at school! Check out the full article at Aleteia:

Did you know that the first “thanksgiving” meal in the United States was not celebrated by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, but by Spanish settlers, in what became Florida? And that first “Thanksgiving” was Eucharistic!

Historian Dr. Michael Gannon narrates the events that took place on September 8, 1565.

“When the first Spanish settlers landed in what is now St. Augustine on September 8, 1565, to build a settlement, their first act was to hold a religious service to thank God for the safe arrival of the Spanish fleet… After the Mass, Father Francisco Lopez, the Chaplin of the Spanish ships and the first pastor of St. Augustine, stipulated that the natives from the Timucua tribe be fed along with the Spanish settlers, including Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the leader of the expedition. It was the very first Thanksgiving and the first Thanksgiving meal in the United States.”

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How to Find Interior Peace When the World is in Turmoil

When the world is in a state of division, it is often hard to find peace of heart. Here is a great little book that I found helps me maintain peace when everything else is in shambles:

Is your heart restless? Do you struggle with prayers not being answered? Are you worried about what is happening in the world? Do you need more peace in your life? If you are interested in finding peace in your soul and relieving the anxiety you feel in your heart, I highly recommend Father Jacques Philippe’s book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart.

In the short book, Father Philippe sets out to teach the reader how to maintain a peace of heart that allows a soul to discover God’s will in all things and remain faithful in the midst of any trial. He describes the task of his book by using an analogy:

“Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly will it be reflected. If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it…The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us.”

Father Philippe explains that “God is a God of peace. He does not speak and does not operate except in peace, not in trouble and agitation…Often, we cause ourselves to become agitated and disturbed by trying to resolve everything by ourselves, when it would be more efficacious to remain peacefully before the gaze of God and to allow Him to act and work in us.”

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