In this issue:
During Lent, Catholics are challenged to embrace the season’s three “pillars” — prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer is integral to a good Lent. But how to pray?
The seven penitential psalms, scriptural Stations of the Cross, “Gospel contemplation” and “lectio divina” are ways to enter more deeply into prayer this Lent.
By Effie Caldarola/Catholic News Service
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
These words are from Scripture, in 1 Samuel, Chapter 3. The young boy Samuel, the future prophet, awakens the aged Eli because he thinks he has been called by him. But Eli recognizes that it is God calling Samuel. When it happens again, Eli says, tell the Lord you are listening.
In a very real sense, these are words we are all called to speak during Lent. During this season when we come close to the suffering Jesus, we desire to let the Lord know we are listening. This listening is called prayer.
During Lent, Catholics are challenged to embrace the season’s three “pillars” — prayer, fasting and almsgiving. A pillar supports something, and in this case, the three pillars, taken together, support a strong Lent, worthy of our call to renewal, repentance and growth.
Keep in mind that just as a three-legged stool collapses if one leg is taken away, so our Lent is not sturdy without an integration of these three principles of growth. Prayer is integral to a good Lent.
Sometimes, we mistakenly think of prayer as recitation, as somehow scripted for us. In reality, prayer is a relationship. Like Samuel, we are being called into dialogue with God. It is, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “a silence in which another voice may speak.”
Most of us yearn for a deepening prayer life, and Lent, with its focused 40 days, provides a great opportunity.
There are many forms of prayer and no one “best” way to pray. People often pray in different ways at different times in their lives.
But a good first step is a commitment to a time and place. Prayer may seem ethereal and other-worldly, but the reality is we need a practical, down-to-earth commitment, a real space, an actual time. We all have moments when we are moved to prayer. It’s how we bring that movement into our busy lives that counts.
Choose a time and stick to it. For busy parents, it may have to be early morning before others arise or the half-hour after kids are in bed. Maybe it’s a few minutes at lunchtime or a few minutes of quiet meditation after early morning Mass.
Place is also important. Find a peaceful, quiet place with no distractions. Perhaps consecrate your special place with a medal, rosary or holy card, or light a special candle.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by overcommitting to time. Choose a realistic time period that’s doable for you.
But how to pray? How to find God’s voice inside our noisy minds and busy schedules? How to quiet down and listen?
“Lectio divina” is an ancient form of prayer that’s accessible to all. The church provides daily Scripture readings that can be the gateway to prayer.
Choose a daily reading and go through it slowly. Pause and recall a word or phrase that particularly speaks to you. Spend time reflecting on what moves you. Then slowly read the entire text again to put the phrase into context and explore deeper meaning.
A third reading may bring you into dialogue with God about how the passage touches you. Listening to Scripture reflectively gives the Spirit a chance to speak.
Another helpful use of Scripture is sometimes called “Gospel contemplation.” St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, urged praying with the imagination by selecting a Gospel passage, reading it carefully and then putting yourself into the experience.
Perhaps you can imagine yourself the Samaritan who stops to help the wounded victim, or perhaps you are the Levite passing by or a bystander. Use your imagination to re-create the entire scene — the weather, the scents filling the air, the sense of fear in the wounded man. See what Jesus might teach you as you become one with a Gospel passage.
During Lent, many find the Stations of the Cross a helpful prayer that can lead you into a deep experience of Christ’s passion and a deeper love for him. Or perhaps committing to a time of eucharistic adoration will help you find the intimacy and silence that bring you to prayer.
Others may find that with spring riding the coattails of Lent into April, a daily prayer walk is helpful. Nature can inspire prayer in many, while for others a walk through the neighborhood may be too distracting.
The “examen” is a powerful daily prayer. It allows you to review the preceding 24 hours with gratitude, focusing on what was life-giving and what was not. The “examen” helps you examine where you felt the hand of God and how you responded to God’s will and where you fell short. More detailed directions for the “examen” can be found online.
No matter the prayer method you choose, a prayer journal helps. After you have prayed, write down what you have felt and heard during prayer.
Choose the method that is best for you. The important thing to remember is that God is in control and is infinitely merciful and gracious towards our failings and our efforts.
(Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)
By Nancy de Flon/Catholic News Service
The cross of ashes traced on our forehead on Ash Wednesday invites us to “repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Lent calls us to examine our lives, assess our relationship with God and discover where we need to set things right.
Our Lenten prayer might include sorrow for sin and requests to God to help us to bring about the change in our mind and heart that we call conversion. Our tradition offers prayers whose words we might “borrow” to help us along — the seven penitential psalms (Pss 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).
The Book of Psalms originated not as a single book, but as something like the hymnal you use at Mass: a compilation of several smaller collections assembled over a long period of time. That the penitential psalms are spread throughout the Book of Psalms, not grouped together within a subcollection, suggests that sorrow for sin is a part of the human condition that can assert itself in many different contexts in an individual’s life.
Tradition associates the psalms with King David. David initiated the process of compilation that eventually produced the Book of Psalms. He is also believed to have composed some of the psalms, including one of the penitential psalms, Psalm 51, “Miserere mei.”
Composed after David had sinned by seducing Bathsheba, Psalm 51 has all the elements of an act of contrition: It appeals to God’s mercy; acknowledges one’s sin; pleads to God for wisdom; and recognizes that God prefers a humble, contrite heart to adherence to outward ritual. Psalm 51 appears frequently in our Lenten liturgy, beginning with Ash Wednesday’s responsorial psalm.
Human life is complex and varied, and these psalms reflect this in the way each emphasizes a different context for expressing penitence. Yet, certain themes are common to a few or most of these psalms.
Psalms 6, 32, 38 and 102 emphasize an important psychological truth: the effects of guilt on our physical health and other unresolved spiritual issues. Psalm 32 expresses the relief that comes from honestly acknowledging one’s sin to God; I like to use this psalm as a prayer of thanksgiving after confession. Other psalms describe how one’s strength (6, 102) and health (38) are sapped by guilt.
The effects of sin can include alienation from other people as well as from God. The psalmist is avoided by friends (38) and reviled (102) and persecuted (143) by enemies.
Psalm 143 serves as a good introduction to praying with imagery to apply the text to our own life. Are the “enemies” actual persons or are they out of the physical realm? The line “The enemy has pursued my soul” suggests the latter.
We may ask ourselves, Who is the enemy? A crippling sense of guilt that prevents us from fully embracing God’s mercy? Destructive inner voices that insist we’re unworthy of God’s deep love? Psalm 143 is especially rich as a way into using a prayer text metaphorically rather than literally.
Penitence would be incomplete without confidence in God’s mercy. Despite the guilt that plagues him, the psalmist trusts in God’s merciful love (6). Though beset by ill health and the taunts of friend and foe, the psalmist has unshakeable confidence in the mercy of God who knows him through and through.
Psalm 130, “De profundis” (“Out of the depths”), used by the church as a prayer for the deceased, emphasizes unwavering trust in the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.
Described here are just a hint of the treasures to be found in the penitential psalms. Explore them for yourselves to see what else you can discover.
Lenten practices, in order to bring about true conversion, ought to have elements that continue in our lives beyond Lent. Perhaps making the acquaintance of these psalms will provide material to deepen your spiritual life for every season of the year.
(De Flon is an editor at Paulist Press and the author of “The Joy of Praying the Psalms.”)
By Anna Capizzi/Catholic News Service
Meditating on the Stations of the Cross is a traditional Lenten devotion. Picture yourself in the scene as you accompany Jesus along the Way of the Cross. What does he say? What do you say?
1. Jesus prays in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“He said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch'” (Mk 14:34).
2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested.
“Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him” (Mt 26:50).
3. The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus.
“They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us,’ but he replied to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond” (Lk 22:67-68).
4. Peter denies Jesus three times.
“He began to curse and to swear, ‘I do not know this man about whom you are talking.’ And immediately a cock crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.’ He broke down and wept” (Mk 14:71-72).
5. Jesus is condemned to death.
“They persisted in calling for his crucifixion. … The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder ‚Ä¶ and he handed Jesus over to them” (Lk 23:23-25).
6 Soldiers whip Jesus and crown him with thorns.
“And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck him repeatedly” (Jn 19:1-3).
7. Jesus carries the cross.
“So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha” (Jn 19:16-17).
8. Simon the Cyrenian helps Jesus carry the cross.
“As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross” (Mt 27:32).
9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
“A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children'” (Lk 23:27-28).
10. Jesus is crucified.
“They crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left” (Lk 23:33).
11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief.
“He said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied ‚Ä¶ ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:42-43).
12. Jesus speaks to his mother and the disciple.
“He said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother'” (Jn 19:26-27).
13. Jesus dies on the cross.
“He said, ‘It is finished.’ And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit” (Jn 19:30).
14. Jesus is placed in the tomb.
“Taking the body, Joseph (of Arimathea) wrapped it (in) clean linen and laid it in his new tomb” (Mt 27:59-60).
(Capizzi is the special projects editor at Catholic News Service.)
“From Ashes to Glory” on IgnatianSpirituality.com is a Lenten prayer series by Jesuit Father Joseph Tetlow. The program uses the “examen” prayer as a guide for each week of Lent.
Below is an excerpt from the “examen” for the first week of Lent:
1. Give thanks.
I thank God for this day, for my life, for all I am and have and for his word.
2. Pray for light.
I ask the Father to let me see my day as the Holy Spirit sees it, and to show me what I need to see.
3. Find God.
I look at my day in the light of the Spirit.
I look back over the morning, the afternoon and the evening. Who talked with me or worked with me? Did I get done what I meant to do or leave things out?
4. Anything wrong?
Do I trust that God is with me when I fail? Where I was ungrateful, I repent and offer thanks.
5. What now?
I look forward in hope. What have I to do now? What have I to avoid?