During these past months and weeks when we could not gather as a faith community because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I suspect that most of us concentrated on personal prayer at home even more than we did before the “Shelter in Place” began. It was a real opportunity for families to devote some quality time for prayer, for husbands and wives to say the rosary together and for individuals to set aside more time for spiritual reading. All this could be some of the positive results of this difficult time of trying to stay at home and coexisting day after day. Now that more and more reopening is taking place, we might step back a bit and consider how our prayer will continue in a deeper expression of our relationship with God.
In desperation, the quarterback throws the ball as far as he can, hoping—praying—that one of his teammates will catch it in the end zone and score the winning touchdown. This play, famously called a Hail Mary pass, occurs only in the closing seconds of a game and only when there is no other chance for success.
Unfortunately, the Hail Mary pass reflects many people’s attitudes about prayer: that it is an action taken only when all other hope is gone and only divine intervention can save us. There is little or no expectation that the prayer will be successful or bring results, and no deep belief in God to whom the prayer is addressed. Like a divine 911 call, we beg to be heard and rescued from our distress.
While this notion of prayer is common, it does not reflect a Catholic understanding of prayer, which is much broader and richer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this popular view an “erroneous notion of prayer” (#2726). The Catechism notes that prayer is not a psychological activity, and neither can it be reduced to “ritual words and postures.” Instead, the Catechism says prayer comes from the Holy Spirit as a response to God’s presence in the world. “God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer….God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response” (#2567).
Simply put, prayer is the way that we communicate with God. In her book, The Spirituality of the Catechist, Dominican Sister Janet Schaeffler writes that prayer is a “mystery” that helps us to explore ourselves and what it means to be human. It helps us to learn and understand more about God and helps us to develop a strong relationship with him. Prayer, she writes, “helps us to become more aware of life, of who we are. In all parts of our lives, we need to be more aware. As disciples of Jesus, we especially are called to be aware of the closeness of our God, to recognize, to feel and to hear God within our lives, within our world.”
Sister Janet says, “We are already in the presence of God; we are always one with God; we are continually united with God. Prayer helps to bring to our awareness this cherished connection that we have with God.”
We can pray alone or with a group. It can be a private conversation or as part of a religious practice. While most pray using words, others pray with gestures, dance, music or silence. Some prefer to pray in private. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus tells his followers to pray in secret, although this counsel seems more of a condemnation of those who pray just so they can be seen. Others may be most comfortable praying before the Blessed Sacrament in a church or singing God’s praises under the starry canopy of the night sky. Some use written prayers or traditional gestures, while others are more spontaneous, saying or doing whatever comes to mind, or what they are moved to do.
There is no correct prayer posture, although certain ones are commonly used and have been found by many people through the centuries to be helpful. While kneeling in prayer has been a prayer posture for centuries for Catholics, standing with arms raised is also an ancient Catholic tradition.
People also pray in a variety of other ways, such as bowing their heads and folding their hands, or even humbly laying prostrate on the floor to profess their utter need for God’s help and their submission to his will. In other religious traditions, some Muslim Sufis whirl or spin, Hindus chant, Jews sway and bob their heads, other Muslims kneel with the forehead touching the floor, and Quakers simply sit in silence until someone is moved to speak.
People pray for any number of reasons, including asking God for miraculous healings (and yes, winning the lottery), which are called prayers of intercession. They give thanks for God’s great goodness or simply offer worship and praise. A simple acronym that is frequently used to help us remember the various types of prayers is ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication).
Sister Janet notes that when we pray with someone in need, we are accompanying them on their journey. We let them know that they do not travel alone. She says that for our prayers to really have substance, our efforts must begin with prayer, not end with it. In other words, it is not enough to pray for the poor. We must do something to alleviate their poverty, such as giving them food to eat. Thus, along with our prayer, we are also called to action. In this way, prayer changes us because it opens us to the needs of others.
Finally, prayer is a statement of humility. When we pray, we acknowledge that we are not God and that we need the help of God and others if we are to succeed. Pope Francis illustrated this well when, with his first public gesture as pope, he asked the world to pray for him. Yes, prayer is a way of life, not a once-in-a-while Hail Mary pass.
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Paul continues to develop his thoughts about the contrast between an Adamic humanity and a messianic humanity in Romans 8. Here, Paul expresses the contrast in terms of flesh and spirit. While flesh has incapacitated us with violence and death, spirit empowers us for life and justice.
Interestingly, Paul begins this chapter referring to a law of the spirit of life in Christ and a law of sin and of death. He connects the law of sin and death with the flesh. Going back to Adam and the first death in the Bible, the law of flesh may be one of measure and competition. It is seen in Cain’s jealousy of Abel that leads to the first murder. That same law brings about condemnations and more deaths through punishment or revenge.
The law of the spirit gives up this jealous competition and hostile calculation. It enables a ruler to arrive unassumingly on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10) instead of showing up haughtily with a mighty military. With this law of the spirit, God not only is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, holding up the falling, and raising those who are bowed down (Ps. 145: 8-9,14) but also takes on vulnerable and sinful flesh (Rm 8:3). The law of the spirit leads to divine revelations to dependent infants instead of to self-assured elites, and to Jesus offering peace and rest to the weary and the humble (Mt 11:25-30). The law of the spirit is a different value system and way of life.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises God and tells of how he has revealed truths “to the little ones.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Jesus confesses the Father, acknowledges, and blesses him because he has hidden the mysteries of the Kingdom from those who think themselves learned and has revealed them to infants, the poor of the Beatitudes” (#2603).
The reading from Matthew portrays Jesus as inviting those who are labored and burdened to find rest in him. He explains that he is meek and humble of heart. This describes the meek king and Savior who rides a colt from the reading from Zechariah. Jesus’ invitation to the lowly inaugurates God’s Kingdom. As Lumen gentium notes, “To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed his mystery to us” (#3).
For Your Reflection: Do you pray that you will be given strength to lead a life as one who lives in the Spirit? When have you looked to the meek in order to understand how God works in the world? What can you learn about God from people whose burdens are heavy?
MEMORIAL OF SAINT BENEDICT, ABBOT
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Benedict was born into a distinguished family in central Italy, studied at Rome, and early in life was drawn to monasticism. At first he became a hermit, leaving a depressing world—pagan armies on the march, the Church torn by schism, people suffering from war, morality at a low ebb.
He soon realized that he could not live a hidden life in a small town any better than in a large city, so he withdrew to a cave high in the mountains for three years. Some monks chose Benedict as their leader for a while, but they found his strictness not to their taste. Still the shift from hermit to community life had begun for him. He had an idea of gathering various families of monks into one “Grand Monastery” to give them the benefit of unity, fraternity, and permanent worship in one house. Finally he began to build what was to become one of the most famous monasteries in the world—Monte Cassino, commanding three narrow valleys running toward the mountains north of Naples.
The Rule that gradually developed prescribed a life of liturgical prayer, study, manual labor, and living together in community under a common abbot. Benedictine asceticism is known for its moderation, and Benedictine charity has always shown concern for the people in the surrounding countryside. In the course of the Middle Ages, all monasticism in the West was gradually brought under the Rule of St. Benedict.
We are happy to welcome back Fr. Ed McKenzie, O.F.M., who has been away for several months on medical leave in Saint Louis. He returns with new energy and motivation. We have missed Fr. Ed both in the ministry and in the friar community, and we know that those who regularly come to St. Peter’s will be glad to see him at the altar and available for confessions once again. Good to have you back, Fr. Ed.
We also welcome a new member to our friar community in the person of Fr. Abraham Joseph, O.F.M. Fr. Abraham has just graduated with his degree in theology from Catholic Theological Union, and he comes to us as a newly ordained friar priest—ordained on the Feast of St. Anthony, June 13, 2020. Fr. Abraham began a Master’s Degree in Social Work at Loyola University while finishing his theological studies. He will be at St. Peter’s for approximately a year and a half doing the final work on his Social Work degree and helping us ministerially during that time as his studies allow. Welcome, Fr. Abraham.
A GENTLE REMINDER
St. Peter’s is now offering two weekday Masses at 11:40 and 1:15 Monday through Friday and
Sunday Masses at 9:00 and 11:00. Reservations are required. Call the Office at 312-372-5111 to register.
Confessions are heard on the lower level of the church from 10:30-3:00 Monday through Saturday. Anytime you are in the church building you must wear a mask or some face covering, and social distancing (six feet apart) is observed at all times.
SAINT PETER’S ANNUAL GALA
A week or so ago I was checking back over the bulletins we had published in the month of July during the past three years, and I was struck by all the information we were sharing during July about the forthcoming Gala. Things were in full swing at the beginning of July. We had already sold all the tickets to attend the Gala after days of inviting the many parishioners who came to daily and Sunday Mass, the raffle tickets were won by one wonderful person who was delighted to be going on a magnificent pilgrimage with Fr. Mario, volunteers were in place to get all the items for the silent and live auctions, and the final details were being worked out with the staff of the Union League Club for this mid-July tradition.
Not too long ago we thought that all of the above would once again be part of July 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic came along to change not only our plans for the event but also for almost every other summer Chicago event throughout the city. To say the least, we are truly disappointed. Not only is the Gala the major fundraiser for St. Peter’s, but it gives us all a chance to gather for a sparkling evening of sharing stories, renewing friendships, and helping to reduce our annual budget deficit to a considerable extent.
We want to both thank all of you for your generous response to our Gala in the past and to tell you that we are looking at the possibility of having this year’s Gala sometime during the month of October, provided the pandemic will allow. As soon as these future plans are finalized, we will alert you to the date and the venue. We so much hope you will be able to join us for another great evening together.
A SUMMERTIME CHUCKLE
A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. The next week the man realized that he would need his wife to wake him at 5:00 A.M. for an early morning business flight to Las Vegas. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he finally wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5:00 A.M.”
The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9:00 A.M. and that he therefore had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife had not awakened him—when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. It said, “It is 5:00 A.M. WAKE UP!”