From Fr. James Martin, SJ
At the Vatican today a man is threatening to jump off of the dome! How he got up there in the first place is a question I’d like to ask.
Vatican security is trying to talk him down. The networks will steer clear of live coverage in case of the worst scenario. So please pray for the person up there that he might know of the care being shown to him and that he might be talked down.
O Lord, hear our prayer.
So a student I know, Brendan, writes on his tumblr today:
It’s very rare to see a group of friends saying grace before a meal at a restaurant (even my own youth group is guilty of not praying before a meal when we go out to eat). We are too often afraid to reveal the vulnerable parts of ourselves, especially something like faith that we define our entire lives around. We fear judgement, or the awkwardness that may accompany the situation of reaching out to someone in prayer. I am a huge victim of that, I almost never reach out to people in prayer out of some irrational fear of a hostile reaction. I always am confused over where this fear comes from, I have never actually experienced or witnessed a hostile reaction to an invitation to prayer.
My wife and I eat out often and we always say grace. We recently ate with our friend the recently ordained Fr. Tom Gibbons, CSP and again with Sr. Michelle L’Allier, a Franciscan sister from Minnesota. We said grace at the diner and the restaurant openly.
But is saying grace only an experience for the times we eat with religious folks? Would we be comfortable saying grace with an agnostic or atheistic friend or companion? At our secular university, a colleague took me to task for offering a grace at our campus ministry association’s luncheon which several of the university officials are invited to and attend.
My reaction: “If you think they didn’t expect us to pray before a meal in which a bunch of ministers were gathered then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Besides, I kept it interfaith.
Friend: “You said ‘Lord.””
Friend: “Well that has a certain religious connotation to it.”
Me: I give up. I’m a jerk for praying, I guess. I’m sure everyone was extremely offended.”
Sarcasm will get you everywhere.
But the truth is that many people are very skittish about public prayer. They are so afraid that someone is going to be upset with their prayer. Surprisingly, I told a friend who is an atheist that I would keep him in my prayers and he replied kindly, “I’ll take all good thoughts and wishes coming my way, thanks!”
Perhaps the reason we’re so skittish about prayer says more about us than it does about God or even about the beliefs of others that we assume we might offend?
The problem I think is that we don’t want to seem “showy” about our faith, thinking we’re putting it in the faces of those who don’t pray at meals or who don’t pray at all. I can see some going over the top with a public grace and end up making a spectacle out of prayer rather than providing a moment of grace where all around us is holy. It’s almost as if to say, “Hey you heathens at the table next to us—you might want to think about praying right now.”
And there are some who probably do pray for that reason and are boisterous about that fact. And that saddens me, because we can turn hearts in gentler ways simply by being the religious people that we are without much fanfare. How many times have we been emboldened by the prayers of others? Were they overly dramatic? Probably not.
I also think there’s a value to a more private, yet public grace before meals. Often when I’m in a mixed religious crowd I will make the sign of the cross before my meal and simply pray privately and when done I resume the gastronomic affair. Others know what I’m doing and don’t much care one way or the other. I’m not trying to make someone uncomfortable and most of the time I goes relatively unnoticed.
And to be honest, I don’t always say grace. Meals often aren’t the most prayer-filled time in my day and I often find several other grace-filled moments of the day where my cup runs over more with gratitude than with table wine at dinner. So I may be at a lunch and forget or am mired in conversation with another and we just start eating.
Here’s what I really hate though. I was once at lunch with a colleague and our appetizers came and I began to eat as we continued the conversation we were engaged with. At some point, my friend awkwardly paused while I was in mid-bite and made the sign of the cross, as if to say “Well, if you’re not going to pray, I’m going to.” He didn’t invite me into his experience, he just chose to purposefully make me feel uncomfortable, as if I were terrible for not remembering to say grace, or simply not choosing to. He could’ve asked me if I wanted to join him in grace and then I would’ve been glad to pray with him. It’s the difference between a public prayer necessarily being communal and a private prayer not needing to be as demonstrative.
Prayer is not an exercise in “I’ll show YOU how holy I am.”
And often our prayer is a reminder…during Lent we fast from food but not from prayer. Are we less holy when we don’t partake in a meal because we don’t engage with grace? Nonsense! We realize that we fast because we have the opportunity to do so, and how many others in the world would love to be able to abstain from meat, much less an entire meal. Most people in the world get only a bit of food once a day and many don’t have access to clean water. When we fast, do we consider that? How about when we say grace?
Or do we just enter into a litany of “Isn’t God great for giving us food?” If we do so, might we be more than forgetful of the poor, whom God never forgets?
One of my colleagues used to be quite uncomfortable with public graces. Another was incredibly comfortable with it and would take the lead in saying it when we’d collectively lunch or dinner out. Some time ago, the colleague who was uncomfortable with public prayer took me to dinner as a gift. Our food came and he dug in immediately but then looked up at me and said, “I said a private grace!”
I chuckled and replied that I had done the same, knowing his discomfort well ahead of time.
And perhaps this is a measure of who we are as a people often disconnected from where God is in our lives. Some are more communal or evangelical in their prayer styles while others are more private, contemplative or intimate.
Whatever the case, the good news is that we can be reminded of God and of others in all things. A simple meal, good conversation, mindfulness and open to the grace that God offers us in all things…
Not just simply the food we ingest.
Editor’s note: Buzz Aldrin was Presbyterian…a snip from an old post in Guideposts from 1989:
Before the lift-off, Aldrin was looking for a way to honor God’s presence in the Apollo 11 space mission. He talked with his minister, Dean Woodruff of Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston. When in their discussions the Christian sacrament of communion was mentioned, a plan emerged.
Two Sundays before the moon shot, Aldrin participated in a small, private communion service at his congregation, after which his minister broke off a corner of the communion bread and gave it to Aldrin along with a tiny chalice with some wine. Aldrin sealed these in plastic packets and safely stowed them in his personal preference kit (each astronaut was allowed to take a few personal items with him).
The rest follows:
From the Atlantic, an interesting article on the experience of religion in space. How does a Jewish astronaut celebrate the sabbath? NASA was sued for the Apollo 11 Astronauts reading from Genesis. And Buzz Aldrin apparently in his memoirs reported that he brought a small vial of wine and a communion wafer. It was interesting when he chose to do this:
This is in part the sentiment Buzz Aldrin relays in his 2009 memoir as he recounts how he took communion in the minutes between when he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans on the moon’s surface, and when Armstrong set his foot down on the dust. Aldrin says he had planned the ceremony as “an expression of gratitude and hope.” The ceremony was kept quiet (un-aired) because NASA was proceeding cautiously following a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 Genesis reading, but it proceeded with a tiny vial of wine and a wafer Aldrin had transported to the moon in anticipation of the moment (personal items were strictly restricted by weight, so everything had to be small). He writes:
During those first hours on the moon, before the planned eating and rest periods, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements along with a three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” I poured a thimblefull of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. My comments to the world were inclusive: “I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.” I silently read the Bible passages as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.
Neil watched respectfully, but made no comment to me at the time.
He continued, reflecting:
Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God. It was my hope that people would keep the whole event in their minds and see, beyond minor details and technical achievements, a deeper meaning — a challenge, and the human need to explore whatever is above us, below us, or out there.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable? I hope so because that might indeed be good for you. Thus is the thesis of my former colleague, Fr. Brett Hoover’s new book called Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul.
Not enough comfort and we’re dreading life and perhaps even untrusting. Too much comfort and we become complacent. Hoover discusses much of this citing examples throughout the book from friends, groups of people and even “me” his former colleague (I make 1-2 anonymous appearances in the book.
It’s honestly a great book that’s thought provoking and provides lots of good research studies in brief about how comfort helps and harms. And I love the cover—an old slipper! If only a plush bathrobe went along with it—ahhh!
So congrats to Dr. Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP. Another masterpiece is out there for you to discover. A great gift for anyone who’s down in the dumps, but it’s also good for us who might be flying high too and asking ourselves that dreaded question of whether or not we are too comfortable. As people who live in the creates nation on earth, this just might be a healthy way to seriously look at ourselves and find gratitude as well as challenge.
Let’s not forget…Jesus often accused the Pharisees of forgetting about the poor–or in short, becoming too comfortable–so comfy that they forgot the great needs of those around them.
Perhaps the same is true of us. If so, look no further for a remedy. I wanted to go out and get all kinds of things done after I read this knowing that I too, often get too complacent.
Lord, today is going to be stressful, I fear.
Help me not to fear but to praise you in this morning,
knowing that all I need is to find you and my stress shall be removed.
Lead me therefore, not into this temptation,
where my anxiety gets the best of me.
Rather, deliver me from what evil wishes me to pay heed to,
grasping the attention of my conscious mind for it’s own dark purposes.
“Lead, Kindly Light”
and by this light may I be able
to judge fairly what I need to determine as good and true.
May the decisions I need to make be laced with fairness.
When the negativity of others be not my downfall
But my opportunity to shine light on their darkness and
to do so without condescension.
May I not get lost today in the darkness of my sins
But may I move through the day guided by your own glorious light,
leading me to be the best version of who you have made me to be.
Let me remember that in communion this day,
I am united with you, Lord and therefore as you become one with me
I must become one with you.
Perhaps the best I can do is become like one who has gone before me,
A sinner-saint, often frightened by their own lives but who live it anyway.
Nay, the best I can do is become
Who you have made me to be.
And in doing so I honor your creation
With all that I am. Amen.
Becky Eldridge reflects ironically on the noises all around her as she seeks silence on a young adult retreat this week. It is there that she finds God all around–in parties, music, baseball bats and in helicopters searching for a murderer:
Turning back to the young adults breathing deeply in the silence and in their time with God, I found myself overcome with the understanding that God was somehow in all of these moments at the same time: God speaking to each young adult uniquely in their silent prayer, God celebrating within the joy of the party, God savoring the experience of community at the baseball game, and somehow, at the same time, God was in the search for the young man (helicopters on a hunt for someone who had shot a cop the day before), comforting the family and friends of the fallen police officer and comforting the family of the man on the run, and offering wisdom during the decisions of both the man and the officers who sought him.
An amazing moment for Becky where the whole world just comes alive.
Ignatius reminds us that God is in all things, holding us all together in what I often call “dynamic tension”–including the good and the bad alike. Much like the wisdom literature where the age old question of not just bad things happening to good people, but even moreso, good things happening to bad people, is explored. God is in the midst of all of it.
And so are we all. Perhaps that’s important to reflect on today.
There is much to pray and reflect on. There is much to notice. Can we even remember all the needs of those who ask us to pray for them? Do we bother to slow down and even see (or hear!) the vast amounts of things going on in the world?
It reminds me of this scene in Superman Returns:
Perhaps this is just a glimpse of what God (rather than Superman) hears–or more likely how we might perceive how God hears us.
But what do we hear? Are we deaf to the call of the poor or the downtrodden? Do we hear even our neighbor’s cry for help? Can we listen with intent for the unspoken cry of another close to us–when we know they are just slightly “off key?”
The good news is that God listens this deeply to all the recesses of our hearts. All of us. Perhaps we are called to the silence each day so that we might be able to pray and respond more often to what we hear and to even hear what we most are in need of ourselves.
After reading about monk’s commitment to silence I was up late and engaged with just a portion of the great movie Into Great Silence, which is based on an amazing book, An Infinity of Little Hours. It’s the story of Carthusian Monks who keep silent mostly reserving speech only when absolutely necessary. Here’s just a clip:
It’s an amazing movie and it’s pretty long, nearly 3 hours. A friend mentioned to me that he actually drifted off during the film in the theatre and when he awoke he wasn’t lost at the movie at all. He hadn’t slowed down in some time and his body took advantage and “told him” to recharge a bit more deeply.
But the large question is how comfortable are we with silence. At our student mass we start out with “calling for silence” which when I look at the words they almost sound dumb. “Now we’re going to be silent.” It’s very countercultural and the students love it. We ring the bells and draw people more deeply into the mindfulness of the moment of being with God, of the need to be no place but there in that moment. We’re silent again after communion together as one body in Christ.
At times it seems awkward to me, but the students and the permanent community tell me otherwise. They remind me of their need for quiet, for silence and it’s made me reflect on how much noise exists in my life. The buzzing of my cell phone instead of a loud ring tone even makes noise to alert me of more sounds coming my way. My dog barks sometimes at an ear piercing screech. My wife and I are talkers and sharers, filling up our days with chatter. Often my wife puts a TV or radio on moments after she enters the house. Our staff at St. Joe’s is very talkative and loud and we like it that way. We enjoy each other’s company, laughter and presence.
And so silence to me and to those around me doesn’t come naturally. But lately, this lent, I’ve been craving it. Hawaii, was quite silent at times and I enjoyed just some of the natural sounds of the water and the wind as we gazed into the sunset or looked out from Diamond Head’s peak.
Right now it’s well into the morning here in Buffalo. My body is still adjusting back to East Coast time. I crashed today at 9PM and awoke at 11p and headed to bed, waking up again at 2:30AM and the dog got cranky and wanted to eat, his body thrown off by my own unnatural rhythms as well. Right now he’s lying next to me as I type. It’s become my favorite time where the silence envelops us and we can sit and just be still for hours at a time. I start to type and reflect in the silence but even the clacking of these keys break the easier stillness, which if I’m honest, I need daily.
Silence is hard for most, especially in a world of noise. But it is in that silence that we often meet God a bit more intimately than we do otherwise. And in that silence we also find ourselves sometimes feeling uneasy at our lives, our situations. Our worries rise to the surface, even some superficial ones. God points out where we are most uncomfortable in our lives and calls to us in the silence to address that.
This past January I went away with the students to Kentucky on an alternative break. I had been feeling uneasy at that point and wasn’t really feeling engaged with my work. But I had plenty of time for silence that week and I took advantage of the small chapel from time to time or a nice long walk in the woods. Even during service time, I found myself talking less and packing groceries or tossing wood in silence. And there I was able to admit my worries to God about my life and was able to hear God calling me further into discovering where I feel most called with my students and where I needed to address matters with friends, co-workers, students and family. In the silence, I found not only myself, but God—calling me into relationship and comforting my afflictions, prodding me to repair relationships and challenging me into a deeper sense of ministry.
Today, I love the silence. Sometimes I even get annoyed when it’s unnecessarily broken. In the bible “the fool” is often portrayed as the one who chatters incessantly about nothing. While the wise one is quiet, waiting until the right moment to speak. I find that to be especially helpful as an image for me as a spiritual director, where indeed, I need to listen more than talk and wait in silence for the right words to come to me.
And then, and only then, can I break the silence in hopes of helping another find God.
And hope that I too, in the silence am patient enough to wait for him to come again, and whisper to me in the silence that I love.
Carl McColman over at Patheos has a great piece on how the Cistercians respect for silence has been misinterpreted over the years as a vow. Their restraint on speech comes from a different place. He compares their affinity for silence to the commitment that married couples make to one another as the result of their vows to love. And he goes very deep.
The silence of a monastic is like the intimacy and vulnerability of a marriage. It emerges from a place deep within the heart of the nun or monk. True spiritual silence is far more than the mere absence of noise; just as true love is far more than the absence of hatred or fear. Silence, embraced for spiritual reasons, opens us up to the hidden presence of God in our lives. Such hidden presence is subtle, and cannot be well expressed in words—for words, even those printed on a page or computer screen, paradoxically signify the absence of silence. The silence of God can never fully be explained but must simply be experienced—rather like love within a good marriage, which can never be fully captured by words but can only be lived into by those fortunate enough to enjoy a thriving union.
It is only out of humility that I can write these words, for as a layperson, who am I to comment on the experience of monks or nuns? But I’m taking the risk of sharing these thoughts anyway, for I believe that the silence of monastics is a reminder to all people of faith—even those of us who do not live in a cloister—to make room in our lives for at least a modicum of silence, hopefully every day. But just as monks do not reduce restraint of speech to a vowed act, it would be equally futile to try to regulate our quiet in any kind of legalistic way.
I learned something! Nice! Read the entire article to learn even more.
Often people on the far Catholic Left have little use for Bishops on the Catholic right–which they would claim are most Bishops. While I’m not sure that’s true (perhaps popular Bishops would be more accurate?) Michael Sean Winters reports that Bishops often get more flack from the right-wing of the church.
From Distinctly Catholic
Now, we have two new examples of far-right attacks on the bishops. The first is an article in the American Spectator that calls out Cardinal Wuerl for his handling of the Guarnizo case and argues that the cardinal has been derelict in his duty. The author notes the stance of Cardinal Raymond Burke on the issue of denying communion, conveniently ignoring the fact that many conservative canonists agree that Guarnizo went too far. The author is clearly unaware of the role of a bishop in his own diocese when he writes: “Cardinal Burke has spoken; the case is closed.” Perhaps someone should inform the Pope that Cardinal Burke disapproves of the way he, and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, dealt with the issue of denying communion – they didn’t do it.
But, what truly shocked was this sentence: “I’ve heard Church insiders call the cardinal ‘Wuerl the girl,’ a reference to his precious personality.” What does this have to do with anything? Isn’t this just a slur cast at Cardinal Wuerl? Why publish such a thing?
The other example comes from a group calling itself Concerned Roman Catholics of America (CRCOA) although I think Crazed Roman Catholics of America might be more appropriate. They are calling for protests at the upcoming Catholic Religious Education Conference, annually sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. They think the event is a hotbed of dissent and want all good Catholics and all good bishops to stay away. Here is their throwdown to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles: “”Why does L.A.’s new, reputedly orthodox Archbishop José Gomez bring back the same dangerous speakers whom his predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahony brought in year after year?
Even the like minded can’t seem to get along. As Charlie Brown might say: “We’re doomed.”