It may seem hard to believe but Ash Wednesday is next week and you and I will begin our 40-day journey of prayer, penance and charitable works. I have decided that my Catholic Sun columns will be an offshoot of a book that I have been reading by Dr. Brandt Pitre who is the Distinguished Research Professor of Scripture at the Augustine Institute. The title of the work is, “Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus.”
In one way it fits my desire to get back to basics in my spiritual life, so I thought I would take you on the journey with me. Each week I will explore with you various aspects of prayer and Christian living and what it means for our lives. Dr. Pitre describes prayer as “the Beating Heart of the Spiritual Life” (p.3). My goal is when we reach Holy Thursday 2022 on April 14th, I will have a second pastoral letter ready to share with our diocesan family dedicated to the upcoming three-year Eucharistic Revival and titled, “In the Breaking of the Bread.”
In introducing prayer Pitre speaks of three major forms of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation and comtemplation.
Vocal prayer is one in which we are quite familiar with, especially our memorized prayers. However, I note a clumsiness and hesitancy, even with myself, when it comes to engaging in this type of prayer spontaneously. So, I have to ask myself if I take enough time for prayer each day. By the way, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests a person needs to spend one hour a day in prayer (and if busy, 90 minutes in prayer). And if you and I thought our schedules might excuse us—guess again?!
Meditation is moving from one’s lips to one’s mind, especially by reflecting on Sacred Scripture and entering into both the biblical scene and a dialogue with God. When I was on my 30-day retreat a few years back, I was encouraged to write down each day my conversation with the Lord coming from being present in a particular Gospel scene.
Luckily today, there are some great resources available for Daily Scripture readings and meditation. A couple of popular ones are by Father Mike Schmitz and Bishop Robert Barron.
A third way of prayer is one I struggle with because of the busyness of my mind—contemplation.Contemplation is listening, seeing and praying with one’s heart. It is summed up in the words, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). What I want to suggest is the other two types of prayer can lead us into this third kind of prayer. For me, a prayer that can help us do all three is the Rosary—it can be vocal, lead us into scenes from Jesus’ life, and speak to us in our very hearts.
In summing up our engagement with Jesus in these forms of prayer Dr. Pitre states: “Jesus himself is the supreme teacher of the spiritual life” (Intro, p. xvii).
The holy season of Lent is all about “Spring”—about nurturing new growth and life. How can you and I do that in our relationship with Jesus which in turn is meant to lead us deeper into the life of God?
In speaking of the fruits of one’s vocal prayer, meditation and contemplation, Dr. Pitre notes: “According to Jewish Scripture, the key to being ‘blessed’—or more literally ‘happy’—is daily meditation on the Word of God. A person who meditates on Scripture regularly is like a ‘tree’ that bears much spiritual ‘fruit’ because its roots are constantly drinking from the living water of God’s word” (p. 20). Again, some popular resources to assist us in this regard are publications such as “The Word Among Us,” “The Magnificat,” “Give Us This Day,” along with various websites dedicated to Catholic prayer forms.
I don’t know about you, but I can frequently feel that life is too complicated these days. The more we seem to have, the more headaches there are. However, in reading Dr. Pitre’s reflections on the spiritual life, he takes me back to one of my favorite scenes in the Gospel of Luke—Martha and Mary (Lk 10:38-42). In it, Martha is “anxious and troubled about many things” (Lk 10:41). However, in a very down to earth moment Jesus teaches Martha that only “one thing” (Lk 10:41) will get her out of her rut—making room for God in her life.
That is my simple prayer for our diocesan family this Lent 2022—that in whatever may seem to be weighing us down there is an answer—the answer is, “prayer”! The answer is really making room for God in our lives, especially if one is busy!
In the coming weeks in this column, we will explore the spiritual path further looking at Temptation & Repentance, Vice & Virtue, Examining Our Hearts, the Spiritual Battle, and Jesus Our Living Water & Bread. So, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct in his ways, and we may walk in his paths” (Is 2:3). God’s blessing on your Lenten journey!