One of the elements of our upcoming Easter Vigil is a litanty of the saints – we ask members of the communion of saints for their prayers and assistance. Such a litany is also a part of other liturgies of our faith, such as the ordination of priests and our All Saints Day liturgy. The litany of the saints is one of the oldest prayers in continuous use in the Catholic Church. I love the prayer, particularly some of the sung versions that are used on various occasions.
There are certain saints that are named no matter who is praying the Litany, but there is also some variation. In Vincentian celebrations, our prayer includes invocations to St. Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marrilac and Frederic Ozynam, to name a few. Jesuit ordinations include prayer to St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier. The approach we sometimes adopted at the retreat house during the Triduum was leave out a pad and pen, inviting those participating to list saints they would like to see included. This led to some interesting inclusions.
I confess I liked the retreat house approach, because we all have “favorites” among the saints – saints who are especially dear to our hearts.
Although the Litany of Saints is designed to be prayed communally, it can also be prayed indivually. So here is my invitation in this last week before Easter: compose your personal litany of the Saints. By all means start with the traditional prayer to Mary, the archangels, John the Baptist, Joseph and Peter. But then, add the saints that have special significance for you. As you go along, you might articulate what it is about that saint that makes you include them in your litany. Then use your personal litany in your prayer.
Last night was the final gathering of those participating in the Lent Retreat in Daily Living I’m offering at St. Hubert. (The St. Thomas group finished last week, since the law school is on spring break this week.) As we do each week, the participants started by spending time in small groups, sharing something of their prayer experiences from this past week.
This past week, the participants began praying with Week 3 of the Exercises, which focuses on Jesus’ passion and death. This week, they will continue with Week 3 through Good Friday, spend Holy Saturday praying with the “Tomb Day” experience and then spend some days contemplating the Resurrection, before ending their retreat with an exercise known as the Contemplation for Learning to Love Like God.
During my talk, I spoke a little more about Week 3 of the Spiritual Exercises and then spoke about both praying with the Resurrection of Jesus and praying the Contemplation for Learning to Love Like God. In the course of that talk, I spoke about the prayer material I distributed, which will take the retreatants through the about two weeks of prayer.
You can find the recording of the talk I gave this week at St. Hubert here . (The podcast runs for 23:13.) You can find here a copy of the prayer material I distributed at our session.
One of the Lent resources I’ve been checking out periodically is the Creighton University Online Ministries Praying Lent series. One of the Lent reflecions they offer is titled Realigning Our Priorities. The thrust of the commentary is that Lent offers a good time to both review of what we value and evaluate hwo our actions compare with what we say we value. Since I do a values exercise as part of our semi-annual vocation retreat with law students that focuses on both of these elements, it is no surprise that I was drawn to this particular reflection.
One of the things that I found very helpful was the discussion of Naming My Values. The suggestion is that
I will try to be as explicit as possible. Instead of saying, “My kids,” I might spell out the values that are important to me in saying my kids are a value, e..g, “It is extremely important to me tha I be there for and with my kids when they are encountering key growth moments in their lives, in so many areas – homework time, for reflection time, in relationship struggles, in wins and losses, in relaxing and having fun.” We might want to “open up” our values,a s we name them. What does it mean to say I value “my faith” or “my relationship with God” or “service to others”?
This seems to me to be a very helpful approach. It is easy to simply rattle off a list of values – my family, community, health, etc. But simply naming values in general terms does not necessarily lend itself to any particular action. If we, instead, actually make some effort to refine our values in the manner suggested here, it might be easier to envision what the value might actually means in terms of concrete behavior. That might make it more likely we will act in accordance with our values.
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. We celebrate today Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The apparently triumphant scene – with people shouting “Hosanna” and laying palm branches before his path – may, in one respect, seem a cruel mockery to us, as we know what awaits Jesus.
Yet, we still march into our churches, waving our palms and we cry out, just as the people of Jerusalem did, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The difference is that we shout it knowing we are paying homage to no worldly king.
Instead, we wave our palms and sing our Hosannas to the Messiah who, in the words of the Palm Sunday invocation by the priest prior to the processional into church, “entered in triumph into his own city, to complete his work as our Messiah: to suffer, to dies, and to rise again.” For us, the triumphal entry is the prelude to Jesus’ suffering and death, which allows us to “share in his resurreciton and new life.”
And so, on this day, we not only process in with our palms and our hosannas. As we will again on Good Friday, we listen to The Passion of our Lord, knowing that the King to whom we pay homage is on his way to his death, willingly undertaken for our sake.
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of winter. The short days and the cold weather are no friends of mine. But, ah, Spring.
My first sing of Spring was that the amaryllis that my friends Maria and Michael sent me after their November visit started blooming last week. For months I watched the hard bulbs do nothing. Slowly the green shoots started forming and growing. Then, suddenly, a week or so ago, beautiful red flowers appeared. I look at them and smile (and whisper words of thanks for this wonderful gift from my friends).
I love watching the buds forming on the trees, listening to the birds, feeling the warmth in the air (even amid some remaining cold days), and seeing the sunshine. I love that I can take long walks and bicycle rides rather than going to the gym. I look, I listen, I feel – and I smile, and give thanks to God for spring.
I’ve written before of my love of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Not being a poet myself, I share today his poem, Spring:
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Friday is the traditional day for praying the Stations of the Cross during Lent. There are many different versions of prayer material for praying the stations, a devotion commemorating the passion of Jesus. Some of them move me more than others.
A version I find particularly powerful is Clarence Enzler’s, Everyone’s Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press, which attempts to apply Jesus’ suffering to our personal lives. The prayer for each station, which includes both a statement by Jesus of his suffering and our responsive prayer, is accompanied by a black and white photo of everyday life, that aids in one’s reflection.
Since I just spoke yesterday about the Mary’s suffering, I offer for reflection today, Enzler’s prayer for the Fourth Station – Jesus Meets his Mother. It speaks powerfully of something that is always a difficult one for us – seeing the suffering of those we love.
First, Jesus speaks:
My mother sees me whipped.
She sees me kicked and driven like a beast.
She counts my every wound.
But though her soul cries out in agony,
no protest or complaint escapes her lips
or even enters her thoughts.
She shares my martyrdom –
and I share hers.
We hide no pain, no sorrow,
from each other’s eyes.
This is my Father’s will.
In response, we pray:
My Jesus, Lord,
I know what you are telling me.
To watch the pain of those we love
is harder than to bear our own.
To carry my cross after you,
I, too, must stand and watch
the sufferings of my dear ones – the heartaches,
sicknesses and grief of those I love.
And I must let them watch mine, too.
I do believe —
for those who love you
all things work together unto good.
It can be a struggle to pray this station – and to mean the last part of the prayer when faced with tremendous suffering of those we love. Mary can be a good companion in that struggle.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, a mere several days before the beginning of Holy Week. It is a meaningful juxtaposition.
When the Angel Gabriel came and invited Mary to participate in God’s plan for salvation, Mary said yes. She could not possibly at that point have had any idea what that yes would mean – what pain it would bring her. She said yes not knowing that a sword would pierce her heart. She chose to say to God, “Let my life be your will, and not mine,” willing to live through whatever the end result of that would be, without knowing what it would look like. We move into a week where we will walk with the suffering Mary had as she endures the suffering and death of her son.
I joke sometimes when talking about the Annunciation that, being a lawyer by training, I don’t tend to sign documents without looking at them. I want all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, and I want to fully understand everything, before I commit myself to something. I don’t much like surprises and I want a clear idea of what I’m getting myself into. But I also recognize that, as the Annunciation makes clear, with God we don’t always get all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. God invites us to follow Him on a path that is sometimes misty, in ways that raise questions we cannot always see the answers to.
In the words of Brenda Morris in a poem titled, Theotokos, “Our yes to God “can never be informed consent but always something like a pregnancy – A risky state which nurtures the unknown and lets it grow.”
Today is the 30th anniversary of the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. On March 24, 1980, Romeo presided at a special evening mass. That evening he proclaimed from the Gospel of John that “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” As he concluded his sermon, which preached the need to give one’s life for others as Christ did, he was shot in the heart and died almost immediately.
Romero was tireless in his call for solidarity with the poor and oppressed, a voice for those who had no voice. He was strident in his denunciation of violence and called for a culture of peace and an end to the killings that were destroying his country.
He was criticized by many for being too political in his sermons. But that was a criticism he would not hear, believing that it was the mission of the Church to “save the world in its totality and to save it in history, here and now.” He exhorted that “We cannot segregate God’s word from the historical reality in which it is proclaimed. That would not be God’s word… It is God’s word because it enlightens, contrasts with, repudiates, or praises what is going on today in this society.” His duty, he believed, was to help people to apply the Gospel to their own lives and to the reality of the world in which he lived. “We turn the gospel’s light onto the political scene, but the main thing for us is to light the lamp of the gospel in our communities.”
Today we remember Oscar Romero, martyr, friend to the poor and prophet of justice. May we remember him by heeding his call.
Last night was the sixth gathering of those participating in the Lent Retreat in Daily Living I’m offering at St. Hubert. (The St. Thomas group meets today.) As we do each week, the participants started by spending time in small groups, sharing something of their prayer experiences from this past week.
This past week, the participants brought to a close their prayer with Week 2 of the Spiritual Exercises, where the focus is on getting to know Jesus so that we desire to follow him more deeply. This week, the retreatants will move to Week 3 of the Exercises, which focuses on Jesus’ passion an death.
During my talk, I spoke about the movement from Week 2 to Week 3 of the exercises. I also reviewed a number of the dynamics of Ignatian prayer. Finally, I talked about the prayer material for the upcoming week.
You can find the recording of the talk I gave this week at St. Hubert here . (The podcast runs for 16:48.) You can find here a copy of the prayer material for the sixth week of the retreat.
Although we are in Cycle C for scripture readings for Mass, parishes have the option on Sundays of using the Cycle A readings if they have adults preparing to receive the sacrament of Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Thus, although the “normal” Gospel reading for yesterday was Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman, about which I wrote yesterday, the optional Gospel reading was Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. Because of the importance of the Cycle A Gospels for Lent, the presider for our Monday liturgies at the University of St. Thoams has been using the Sunday Cycle A reading at that Mass.
John’s account of Jesus raising of Lazarus is a powerful passage and one I have prayed with often. To foster reflection on the passage, consider some questions offered by Creighton Online Ministries:
Where do I resent the losses in my life and somehow blame God for them, rather than seeing them as places where God’s glory will be revealed?
Where do I doubt that Jesus can bring life?
Jesus stands before the tomb weeping. He places no barriers to his feelings about death…Can I be with him there?
Jesus shouts the liberating words of life, “Lazarus, come forth!” How is he shouting that to me today?
Read John’s account and then take one or more of these questions and see where they take you.