Prayer in Your Domestic Church

 

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Philipp Schumacher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A thriving domestic church — your family home and life of faith — is central to the faith formation of you, your spouse, and your children. One of the most important elements of family faith life is prayer. Family prayer time is the space where everyone in the home learns how to enter into the prayers of the whole church, and through this family ritual little children are exposed to “the Church’s living memory” (CCC 2685).

Perhaps prayer time has not been part of your family life; it’s never to late to start. You may be a young family with little ones, and you want to establish a growing family prayer routine. Or, you may be a family with older children who aren’t used to corporate prayer. As with various spiritual disciplines of the domestic church, many people are a bit overwhelmed about where to begin. It is easy to look at all the possible expressions of family prayer time and do one of two things: give up completely or try to do everythingContinue reading “Prayer in Your Domestic Church”

First Anniversary

This past Sunday — June 22 — was a special day for my husband and me. It was our 1-year anniversary of coming into the Catholic Church. This past year has been one of unspeakable joy and amazing grace, as we have learned through practice what it means to be Catholic and what a treasure our faith is to our young family. At so many points in the last 12 months I have noticed God’s attention to detail, as significant events seem to have been punctuated by artistic expressions of His grace. Sunday was no different.

Not only was it extremely fitting to be sitting in weekend mass on this special day, but it was even more beautiful because that day was the first mass of our parish’s own Father Christopher Seith, who had been ordained in the Washington Archdiocese just the day before. Every detail of the mass was so special, done according to traditions that set the occasion apart. There was incense, special robes were worn, most of the mass was chanted, and several priests from the parish and co-seminarians celebrated the mass along with Fr. Seith. There were tears in the eyes of some parishioners — ones who had undoubtably watched Fr. Seith grow from childhood and prayed for him as he discerned God’s call to the priesthood. I can imagine what a blessing it was to those people in the congregation, as they were about to receive communion from the freshly anointed hands of their new priest.

As I half-knelt in my pew — my sweet baby sleeping peacefully on me in the carrier — during the Eucharistic blessing, I found my own eyes filling with tears. How special. How beautiful. I thought, God, the detail of your love is overwhelming! I was already filled with joy at being in mass today and remembering that first mass for our family one year ago. I am so touched that today would be the first mass of a young priest, and that the imagery such an event entailed would so poetically mirror my own conversion and first time at the Eucharistic table.

But God is good that way.  He gives us the markers and signposts we need, and then he gives us more to bless us with his love. In response to such blessing, I would offer up a prayer for all priests. In fact, I think that in years going forward I will not be able to think about my “Catholic anniversary” without thinking of and praying for our priests. Pray with me, and pray for our priests whenever God brings them to your mind:

“O Jesus, Eternal Priest, keep your priests within the shelter of your Most Sacred Heart, where none can touch them. Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch your Sacred Body. Keep unsullied their lips, daily tinged with your Precious Blood. Keep pure and unworldly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood. Let Your Holy Love surround and protect them from the world’s harmful ideas and practices. Bless their labors with abundant fruit, and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here, and their everlasting crown in the hereafter. Amen.” ~ St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus

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June 22, 2013

Put Your Hands to It

An interesting and surprising realization hit me the other day — I hardly ever write things. No, I’m not referring to my rather long postpartum absence from this blog, and I’m not talking about the craft of writing. I type emails on my computer, grocery lists on Apple’s “Reminders,” updates on Facebook and Twitter apps, and texts on my phone. But other than the rare (unfortunately) thank-you note to a friend, I don’t actually write much. Writing — the act of using pen and paper — we are still familiar with this, correct?

We type into virtual notepads, notebooks, journals and stationary more now than physical ones. Writing has become a mediated form of intrapersonal and interpersonal communication. Okay, so what? Many things have moved into mediated or electronic forms because it is more efficient, right? Yes, that is true. In economic terms, it takes less time, can be better preserved, and takes up less physical space. We may have gained efficiency, but I wonder what we lose by not taking pen and paper in hand.

If a practice starts to lack in utilitarian function, it often goes the way of the buffalo. In some schools in our country administrators have either done away with handwriting in the curriculum or seriously considered removing it. They argue that the time would be better spent focusing on typing and computer literacy skills that students must have to be successful in life. (It boggles my mind that the issue is either/or and not both/and.) It seems the shift away from physical pen and paper serves as one illustration of a larger cultural push to be ever more efficient and conceptualize the worth of many things monetarily.

Should utility be the only or primary measure of something’s worth? If so, why is it that I started thinking about all of this when I realized that I missed the way a pen felt in my hand? Why is it that the physical formation of letters and words on a piece of paper starts to unlock my creativity and generate meaningful thoughts? Why is it that I miss the tactile nature of my handwriting.

I believe that it has everything to do with the way we are made as embodied spirits. We are made to put our hands to things, not just our minds. In fact, it is in the act of putting our hands to things that they often become meaningful or help us create meaning. But putting our hands to things — involving our bodies in the semiotic process — is not always useful. In other words, it may not increase our net worth or save us time in our busy day.

For example, when I am in mass and physically participating in the liturgy, I am not accomplishing a task. Yet, my physical actions are full of meaning, and there is a mystical connection between what my body is doing and what my spirit experiences. Father Robert Barron, in his documentary series Catholicism, has described the liturgy of the mass as a useless activity, one that has no utilitarian purpose.

I think the push toward efficiency and economy in our lives (a result of modernist cultural influence) actually robs us of some experiences that would open our minds and make us more contemplative people. When we put our hands to things we are participating in what they represent. I recently experienced this in getting ready for the birth of our new son this past spring. I decided that I would make a few things for the nursery and for the new room into which my two-year-old was moving.

I confess, the initial decision to sew some basket liners and paint letter tiles for the wall was the result of not finding what I wanted online. So I bought some chalk board paint and borrowed a friend’s sewing machine. It started out as a “nesting” project, but then it became much more. With the hum of the sewing machine and my hands guiding the fabric, I found myself imagining playing with my boys in this space that I was creating for them. With every stroke of paint, my thoughts turned to contemplating motherhood and my role in my kids’ lives.

I suddenly had a desire to create more things — not because there was some need of them, but because of the space the physical activity allowed for contemplation.  I now understood why people love sewing, or quilting, or gardening, or painting, or smoking their pipes. These physical activities  (hobbies, as they have been labeled in our modern age) involve a tactile activity that opens up a contemplative atmosphere in our lives. I think that is one aspect of what happens in mass; I think that is the substance of my inkling to take pen and paper in hand.

We have been created as contemplative beings, but much of our daily activities in modern life do not draw us to contemplation; they drive us from it. After a while, our souls start to feel parched — the way our physical bodies feel when going too long without water. We need space in our lives for contemplation; so we need to put our hands to things more often. Grab a pen, pipe, needle and thread or your garden hoe; and let that physical activity open up space for contemplating life.