Mar 212016

Once again my plans for a Holy Lent have been dashed by reality.

Sure I had a framework planned out involving more prayer and fasting. Most of that lasted the whole first week of Lent and then I started to find excuses to lighten up. Not that my initial plan was over the top or beyond my reach. Just that once again I tried to brute-force holiness by doing stuff and forgetting to invite God into this. A stoic at prayer.

Not that it was a total failure. I did manage to be very consistent in the course of spiritual reading I set out for each day. With the help of the Strides app I have also managed to pray the Rosary each day when before I was rather less consistent on weekends.

Still I notice the same awful tendencies I have and self-centeredness. Still Lent does help me to be more aware of this and even failing I see myself failing and resorting to prayer. I try to put the Jesus Prayer on continuous loop at these times. Lent can often be a good cure for spiritual pride as you find any spiritual pride to be rather ridiculous in face of the truth. I provide myself comic relief by laughing at myself.

Last night while thinking about my Lenten misadventure I remembered Lent wasn’t over yet.

So I am going to cram for Holy Week. Pick up that dropped framework and carry it out for the rest of Lent and the Triduum before Easter.

Like most crammers I have the expectation that I can make up my lack of progress the night before Easter. I will just pull a Lenten all-nighter figuratively. Yeah that’s the ticket. Besides Jesus paid those late workers in The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. So I’m holding him to that.

Feb 092016

This my be my most audacious post on my blog. One in which I offer prayer advice. When it comes to praying badly I am quite an expert at it. Really though this post is how to help to develop the habit of prayer for some personality types. Plus with Lent starting, just possibly what I offer might be useful to someone.

I really put the pro in procrastinating and so even things I prioritize gets put off for later and then don’t get done at all for that day. Why put off something today you can put off tomorrow? Really I have been thinking about doing this post for a couple of weeks.

Last year I got an Apple Watch and I soon found that the activity tracker was very helpful for me. For one the three-ring activity indicator was a constant reminder I was failing in one of those areas. So I started to prioritize exercising each day and looking for opportunities to walk. I soon found I was doing this every single day, even on days when I could have found tons of reasons not to do it that day. I have maintained this for over six months now and went down some pant sizes and have made this a habit every day of the week.

During this I was observing myself and wondering why this visual indicator was so important to me? Part of it was maintaining a streak and continuously hitting the goals. A visual indicator of an accomplishment. But I also found that even when I was unable to exercise because of sickness or travel, that when able to do so again – did so. So it got me into the habit to the point where it was a habit.

Still as much as physical health is important, I wanted to prioritize my prayer life even more. So I figured that if the activity rings provided me the motivation I needed, then maybe something could help me likewise in my prayer life. Around the same time I had been thinking about this I had seen various app reviews about goal oriented apps where you could set daily goals to check off each day with various options.

One of the prayers I have continued in since even before I officially entered the Church was the Liturgy of the Hours. Really I had been pretty good starting my day with the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer, but Evening and Night Prayer would often fall away – especially on weekends. The same for the Rosary – I normally would pray it towards the end of the day during the first part of the week, but weekends rarely.

So I wanted to set two goals. One to pray those hours in the Liturgy of the Hours that I sometimes didn’t get to and to be much more consistent in praying the Rosary.

So around the beginning of the year I bought an an iOS app called Strides: Goals & Habits Tracker + SMART Goal Setting and set these two daily goals. I was also able to set the time where it would show an indicator that one of my goals needed attention. So now for over a month I have not failed to meet these two goals daily.

So for whatever reason my personality quirks found this method useful in meeting goals and actually planning a head of time to make sure I provide the time for this. When it comes to exercise and prayer it certainly does take a significant block of time each day – but what I would fill that block with otherwise would be less helpful for me. I also found that more consistency in praying the Rosary was actually helpful in praying the Rosary for me. There was another prayer hack that I added in praying the Rosary, but I will discuss that on another day.

No doubt this technique will not work for everybody. You have to care about some indicator badge on an app and it has to annoy you enough to meet the goal.

The app I used – Strides has been getting the job done for me. It is fairly easy to setup and to interact with daily. Although based on this review I would probably have bought Streaks instead as it seems to be the better designed app. Momentum Habit Tracker is another possible consideration for much more tracking. I admit the main reason I haven’t switched over to Streaks is that I already have a months worth of data in Strides and while losing it would really mean nothing, there is psychological momentum connected with it.

No doubt there are equivalent apps on Android, although the one they have called Streaks is a habit reminder, but is is not from the same creators as the iOS app of that name.

Mar 042015

Via Tom at Disputations:

I’m having a raggedy Lent so far this year, which on the upside means I’m not at risk of vainglory in how well I’m keeping Lent.

But I have managed to actually complete a novena – to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots – in the nine days since Ash Wednesday. (I probably complete on time about 10% of the novenas I start.) And just a couple of hours after I finished the ninth day’s prayer, I received some fantastic news related to my prayer intention.

Correlation? Empirically so. Causation? Impossible to say, as impossible as when something good happened related to my prayer intention the other time I completed a novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

Now, there’s nothing at all miraculous about the good things that happened. I’m inclined to think – even, in a way, hope – they were purely coincidental. If it turns out to be the case that God wants to answer my prayers, then my lousy prayer life is responsible for a whole lot of grace missing in this world.

Frankly, though, it doesn’t matter. The act of prayer is in itself a grace, which if maintained becomes the habit of prayer, and that’s a good in itself. Whether or not we get what we pray for in some discernible way, we are sure to get what praying does for us, which we can then give to those we’ve been given to love.

Offer yourself to Jesus. Invoke Mary’s aid. Trust.

Well said with something to chew on.

Thomas L. McDonald’s “How I Pray” series had contemplative lay hermit Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB for this week’s entry.

Another delightful entry in this ongoing series and I especially enjoyed:

I think my favorite rosary is the plastic glow-in-the-dark that hangs on the shade of a small lamp beside my bed. I love praying it as my last motion of the day. I don’t worry if I fall asleep while praying it, assured that my Guardian Angel or a saint will carry on. I look at it this way—I don’t imagine we are ever fully matured spiritually until after death. So we are always children, and if a child is resting in your arms and falls asleep mid sentence, would you mind it so terribly much? I thought not…

I just love this image of my Guardian Angel or a saint carrying on a Rosary I started but fell asleep praying. Still considering the number of times this has happened, Heaven must have a duty roster to carry on my Rosary whenever I start one. Annoys me the number of times this has happened and when awakening and going to bed not being able to sleep. Guess I should have brought my Rosary to bed with me.

As a consequence my habit now has been to pray the Rosary standing up to prevent this from happening.

Dec 162014

My Advent hymn listening is about to wind down as I start listening to Christmas carols on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Since traditional Christmas carols played a part in my conversion I am really looking forward to this. Listening to Advent music only for most of Advent is only a couple year tradition for me, but partly I find for myself the delay in listening to my favorite carols lets me appreciate them even more. Plus I have found that Advent hymns are also pretty awesome especially as performed on Advent at Ephesus.

I have a fairly good collection of these carols once on a CD and now living in the cloud. Unfortunately the production values on too many of them are not very good. Especially ones involving choirs. I remember being disappointed after buying the “John Rutter Christmas Album” for the Cambridge Singers. While the hymn selection was excellent, the sound is low and just not that sharp.

So I am always on the lookout for a higher quality collection of Christmas carols that mixes the familiar with the lesser known. I received Christmas in Harvard Square for review and was happy to find it perfectly fulfilled my requirements.

The album is performed by [The Boys of St. Paul Choir School][]. This is the only boys’ choir school in the United States of America and students attend full time between the forth and eighth grade. I just looked at the information regarding this album on Amazon and found that they used John Rutter & Sir David Willcocks arrangements and that the schools is based in Cambridge. So after I just complained about a specific album I found this a bit ironic.

Now I only gave this album one listen or else my personal Christmas carol embargo would have fallen and I would be playing them 24/7. One listen was certainly enough to make me love it as the boys voices come shining through with high production values. The majority of hymns on this album are the lesser known, or at least the lesser played. Still all of these selections should be better known. All I know if that I am going to give this specific album a listen daily just before and during Chrismastide.

Another polished well-produced piece of sacred music is O Day Of Resurrection! – Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday by the [New Camaldoli Hermitage][hermitge] a group of Benedictines located at Big Sur. These recordings of the Liturgy of the Hours in plainchant is captivating. I found it to be perfect background music while doing spiritual reading.

On another note (pun always intended) I sometimes hear complaints about Christmas carols being played early in stores and shopping centers. Now normally this is a complaint I could appreciate, but I have been thinking that perhaps we shouldn’t really grumble about it. At least Christmas carols are still being played in public and political correctness has not yet wiped it out for fear of offending the ear of the non-Christian. Sure the mix of these songs in public lean more towards the Christmassy secular songs, but actual carols slip through repetitions of “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” So I have decided to enjoy this while it lasts.

Nov 242014

Thomas L. McDonald at God and the Machine started a series called “How I Pray”. As Tom said this is a “shameless rip off” of the Lifehacker series “How I work”.

Every Monday in How I Pray, I ask various Catholics about their prayer routines, their prayer lives, and their experience of prayer.

In the first week of the new series he subjected himself to the questions to be answered, in the second week it was my turn to answer How I Pray and this week it is Jimmy Akin’s turn.

Tom’s and Jimmy’s answers are a nice read and I look forward to further entries in this series. It is really excellent to see concrete examples of how other work out their prayer life and what helps them.

Sep 232013

One of the figures of Greek mythology that always intrigued me from childhood on is Cassandra. The daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy and later when she refused his attempted seduction was cursed so that no one would believe her.

The tensions of this combination gift and curse is one that intrigues the imagination and draws sympathy for this tragic character.

In modern times there seems to be an almost Cassandra-like quality to the Catholic Church. The Church teaches the truth and yet so few believe her. When Cassandra prophesied she was called crazy. A common charge of believing Catholics who are also called crazy for believing what the Church teaches. For Cassandra the people seemed to have a selected amnesia for when her prophecies were fulfilled they still thought her crazy. That type of selected amnesia is quite evident in critics of the Church. In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI predicted various outcomes if contraception became widespread. Yet as all of these have unfortunately come true there is no rethinking about what a contraceptive culture leads to or any acknowledgment that he was right.

We have itching ears always looking for the latest fad whether it is fashion or theology. The cult of the new (and improved!) conditions us to a worshipping of progress where something is good just because it is happening now. A look for easy answers to complicated questions. A sort of Occam’s razor prevails where the path that contains the fewest crosses must be correct. Or really if the path contains any crosses it must be rejected.

If we can’t fully understand something we assume it must be false. Yet when St. Peter heard Jesus’ words on the Eucharist:

“And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

One thing are culture is good at is creating rocky soil. Defertilizing the soil by evoking self-esteem for self-esteem sake, pride, and a disconnected individualism. License over self-control. A denial of free-will with the increasing “born-this-way” propaganda.

Yet the Church has always to some extent had a Cassandra-like quality that extends back to the prophets. The messages of the prophets were more likely to be met with a stone than appreciation. Still it is easy to whine about the culture which is just another aspect of the cult of the now. Evangelization has never been easy in any age and while there are some different difficulties now than in the past, the same basic problems exist. We are sinners that just don’t want to admit that fact. If we do admit to being a sinner we do it in the same way Uriah Heep did in saying he was humble. I find it surprising to see just how resistant to grace other people seem to be, that is until I look to see just how resistant to grace I am.

Jesus told us we would be persecuted and somehow we act astonished when we are. Or maybe like myself you see a lack of persecution because of a laxness in preaching the good news. Perhaps we experience persecution because of a politically incorrect message, but not specifically for preaching Jesus Christ. I think Pope Francis has a point regarding the primary proclamation of salvation and our redemption from our Lord Jesus Christ. We can get bogged down in serious issues and forget some of the good news to proclaim. Although this is another both/and where one thing is not to the exclusion of the other.

While I might comment on the frustration of the Cassandra-like quality to the Catholic Church, the difficulties in a post-Christian culture are not immune to grace and on our side prayer and fasting. We don’t like the new evangelization because we were never crazy about the old evangelization as both of them require work on our part.

Sep 032013

From the Angelus on 2 September:

… All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mat, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Considering the short lead time between the Pope’s announcement and the 7th of September I wonder how many Catholics will even hear about it? Father Z brings up this topic and wonders about possible remedies.

Certainly the media isn’t going to get the word out for the most part since there are three times as many stories about the Pope’s alleged “selfie” compared to his call for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria.

As far as I can tell most diocese and parishes really have no way to quickly get the word out in a situation like this where the parishes bulletin or an announcement ahead of time is not really possible.

Although there is an excellent solution that should be much better known. The service flocknote started by Matthew Warner is really the perfect solution for both regular communication and special cases like this. I wish my diocese had this.

During the last papal election the service provided a white smoke alert and supposedly they are continuing with sending information to those who signed up regarding something “particularly noteworthy.” I would say the Pope’s call for this day of prayer an fasting should be something they notified people about.

Really we need a kind of amber alert for prayer, or should I say Ember alert.

Canonist Ed Peters posts on “A fast on Sept 7 is not canonically required, but…

Granting that popes are not held to the same canonical standards as are diocesan bishops in regard to their manner of establishing obligatory days of penance (1983 CIC 331, 1244), I do not think that Pope Francis “proclamation” of September 7 as a day of fast and prayer for peace in Syria is canonically binding on the faithful. The manner of the proclamation used (an Angelus talk) and not used (e.g., publication in the AAS), and of the vocabulary used (e.g., invitation) and not used (e.g., decree, direct) suggests the urgent-but-still-exhortative character of the pope’s plea, not its binding character. Besides, in cases of “doubt of law”, potential obligations are not binding (1983 CIC 14, 18).

In short, a Catholic who does not observe a fast on Sept 7 does not violate canon law. What such disregard for the pope’s unusual request might indicate about one’s desire to act with the Successor of Peter is another question. + + +

Be there or be square.

Feb 202013

I am still going through stages of assimilating the Holy Father declaration that he renounced the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. It is not exactly like the common stages of grief. Although there was an initial denial that the story was true. Didn’t exactly go through anger or depression. More like selfish feelings of loss in having him taken away from me. This was a Pope who never phoned in a speech and you could count on hearing the profound whether he was speaking to the whole world or just to the Vatican police and fire brigade. A Pope who could speak to any audience and considered all audiences of being capable to hear the truth.

My selfishness rebels at the idea of his going into a life of prayer and silence in a monastery. I can overact to this and think like Gandalf  “He has fallen into shadow.” Yet this very act reminds me of other basic truths. His new hidden life of prayer reminds me of the rest of the hidden Body of Christ in prayer. Even when Pope Benedict XVI does indeed die he will still be hidden from us but still praying for us. Somehow the acceptance of this has helped me to some degree to see more into the reality of the Communion of Saints as something more than just theological belief. My long years as an atheist did not prepare me for a life of prayer. While I do pray to the saints it mostly feels like a cold one-sided conversation. My acceptance of the theology helps me to make those acts of faith. Faith seeking understanding and understanding seeking faith.

Dec 292012

We should all have a “Becket List” where the only thing to do before you die is to become a saint.

St. Thomas Becket himself was voted “Least likely to become a saint” in his High School yearbook. Well not really, but this would have certainly been the attitude of those who had known him prior to his conversion. He is a great example of wherever you are right now on your own path of conversion that sanctity is always within reach while we still draw a breath. Especially considering the connection of the Holy Spirit and breath.


Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy; Act in me O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy; Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy; Strengthen me O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy; Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen. – St. Augustine

Photo Credit chrisjohnbeckett via photopin, creative commons

Nov 122012

Via Ed Peters:

Cardinal Tim Dolan just delivered an excellent address to the USCCB. It needs to be read, and even listened to, in its entirety. Here I’ll underscore just one of his points: “The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent” (my emphasis).

For what it’s worth, I unequivocally endorse the re-institution of Friday abstinence in the US. This decision lies quite within the authority of the USCCB (see 1983 CIC 455, and 1249-1253) and, among other things, would render moot, once and for all, nagging questions about whether the episcopal conference ever really got around to substituting “other forms of penance” for abstinence from meat back in 1966, or 1983/1984, or whenever.

Still I can hear it now: “Okay, Peters, if you’re so gung-ho in Friday abstinence, do you abstain from meat on Fridays now, and even if you do, why should it be made a law for everybody?” Fair enough.

First, I don’t abstain on most Fridays now. Most times I simply forget; moreover, I’m pretty good at talking myself out of inconvenient observances if they are largely personal. I need the directives toward goods (like penance) and away from evils (like presumption) that law by its very nature offers. Second, abstaining from meat on Fridays would not be to introduce a new rule, but rather, to eliminate a variance on or exception to the common (and ancient*) rule of abstinence that is already set out in canon law, above. Third, the corporate example of all Catholics engaging in some sort of common religious exercise outside of Sunday morning is, I think, desperately needed in a world that wants to relegate religious observances to a six-hour window once a week.

Ex labiis Cardinalis Dolan ad aures episcoporum nostrorum!

If the bishops of the England and Wales could reinstate Friday Abstinence than we certainly can. Maybe we could have a piety war with England and see which country could out piety the other.

On the personal side to answer the same question Mr. Peter’s answered, my selected Friday penance is to fast by only eating one meal on Friday’s. I would gladly (if forced) mix that with mandatory abstinence and for me eating fish is a bit of a penance.

The previous action of the predecessor of the USCCB not to specify a form of penances has meant that hardly anybody choose to perform any penance at all. I think this was a serious mistake and followed up by another mistake. It is one thing not to specify the penance, it is quite another to put no effort into educating Catholics that they “must perform an alternative penance.” Ask a Catholic what form of penance they are performing on Fridays and it is almost guaranteed that you will get a blank stare instead of an answer.

I know fasting on Friday’s really helps me to focus more on Good Friday and the reasons I need a savior in the first place. I must admit though that I really like the “Solemnity Loophole” where when a Solemnity occurs on Friday you should not be doing any penance. People have learned the “Solemnity Loophole” when the Feast of St. Joseph occurs on Fridays during Lent and this gives you something to look forward to throughout the year. Food tastes extra good on Solemnities. Some people might take on an extra penance of eating a Fish Filet sandwich at McDonalds.

So I guess I will be ironically fasting and praying for a return of Friday Abstinence.