Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism Session I


These are my thoughts on part one of's weekly discussion of Forming Intentnional Disciples.  I'm putting my answer to the study questions here in order to link it on the CatholicMom study site. Those of  you who aren't interested in this topic, just skip any post the has Lawn Chair Catechism in the title.

From the book, Forming Intentional Disciples. The author has just asked a parish leader to describe her relationship with God.

"After thinking carefully for a few moments, she responded briskly, “I don’t have a relationship with God.”  Her answer stunned me.  My first thoughts were, “That’s not possible.  You’re a leader in your parish.  You wouldn’t do that without some kind of relationship with God . . ..”
. . . By the end of the interview, I realized she had accurately described her spiritual reality.
Sherry goes on to explain that she began asking the question routinely.  And here’s what she discovered:
We learned that the majority of even “active” American Catholics are still at an early, essentially passive stage of spiritual development.  . . . We discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that many pastoral leaders do not even possess a conceptual category for discipleship.  As long as this holds true, the theology of the laity and the Church’s teaching on social justice and evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics."

Here are the study questions with my replies:
  • How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?I was blessed with a good catechetical formation--my first three years of religious education (mid-sixties) were a blend of traditional, memorize-catechism questions with wonderful Bible stories,  saints' stories, and explanations of doctrine suitable to my age. I was enchanted with the faith from the first, was aware that God was real and was with me. When things changed in 1968 or 69 to the post Vatican II felt-banners/love and peace/experiential style of catechesis, my parents had the good sense to withdraw me from these classes and give me the Baltimore catechism and children's Bible to read at home. This worked for me! I recall vividly what an incredible encounter with God my confirmation was (grade 5 in those days).I also recall that when our family became interested in Marian apparitions (both approved as well as some that have since turned out to be bogus)my faith was boosted immeasurably by this kind of evidence of heaven's interaction with mankind.  ..Since that time, my relationship with Christ has been like a marriage, which means that at times the intensity and committment wanes, due to my own periods of neglect and selfishness. So I"m still a disciple, learning, messing up, and trying again.  Praying the daily psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours teaches me to both talk to God and listen to what he is telling me. Committing myself to daily prayer is like being committed to marriage, day in and day out, both on the days when it's all sunshine and glory, as well as the days when it seems humdrum and boring. 
  • What does the word “discipleship” mean to you?  Do you perceive a need in the Church  today to help lay Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?Oh boy, yes! Despite losses in recent years, there are still a HUGE number of practicing Catholics.Why don't we have more of an impact? It's pointless to look back, but I suspect that widespread dissent/neglect/ignorance of Church teaching on marriage has lots to do with the current situation. But you can't get people to sign up for NFP courses and/or quit co-habiting and/or live a marriage of sacrificial love if they don't first want to follow Jesus with all their hearts. How do we make this happen? Where do we start? How do we work with our priests on all this? I sure hope this study leads to some concrete answers. 
  • How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship?  A hotbed of discipleship?  A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers?  Or perhaps something in between? I know I can't judge for sure, since who knows what it in everyone's hearts, but the appearance is: A gathering of sleep-walkers with a minority of disciples. Weekday devotions are attended by the same handful of people. Periodic Bible studies--same thing, same people. Outside of teaching religious ed, most outlets for being "active" in the parish involve helping with the liturgy (choir, lector, EME) or parish social and fundraising events. We have a food bank, too--a great work of mercy that I"m grateful to be involved with, but these activities seem totally disconnected from the work of evangelization.  Our pastor is definitely preaching with a view to arousing people from complacency and increasing their appreciation for the Eucharist, but it doesn't appear that the results are that astounding. Those of who care are not sure what we can or should be doing. We Catholics aren't comfortable with approaching others and starting  the "Are You Saved?" type of discussion. (not that a Catholic would start with "Are You Saved?", but you know what I mean.) Anyway, as a "disciple" who is definitely not great at being an "apostle", I'm longing for answers.

Great summer Catholic book study at Catholic Mom--Do this!


I just learned about this fantastic opportunity to do a study and online discussion of Sherry Wedell's very important book, Forming Intentional Disciples.  I'd already read this book once, rather quickly, on order to write a review for a magazine. But I'd made a mental note to read it again, because this is a book that calls us to really search our hearts about what is happening (or not happening) in our parishes, and to decide what God might want us to do about that.

If you've been wanting to figure out what part you might have to play in the New Evangelization, this book is THE starting point as you search for clarity and inspiration. The folks at have teamed up with Our Sunday Visitor to offer the book at a reduced price, with free shipping. They also have weekly study questions. If you want to do more than talk to yourself about what you've read, there is the opportunity to share your thoughts on each chapter with all the other people who are dong it. Just make a comment each week, and/or share a blog post if you choose to put your reflections on your blog.

To whet your appetite,Forming Intentional Disciples   takes on the Elephant in the Room that no none wants to talk about: not only are Catholics drifting away from the Church in droves, but the vast majority of those who continue to go to mass, receive the sacraments, and even take active leadership roles in parish organizations are not what the author calls "Intentional Disciples". This term means someone who has a personal relationship with God, is actively seeking to grow in holiness, love, and union with Christ, and actually recognize the sacraments and Church teaching as a means to that end.  Until more  practicing Catholics fit this category, there won't be a real revival in parish life.

I hope this gets you interested. Now I'm going to do my first study section and comment. This is going to go on all summer so it's okay to jump in late. Oh, and guys: don't let the "CatholicMom" thing scare you. It might be a women's website, but this book study is open to everyone, and it looks like there are men participating in the comments already.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mercy Me! I Plum Forgot... do a weekly Q&A post last week. 
Sorry about that.

So, if the Breviary bewilders, compline confuses, or matins* muddles you, ask away.
Or if you are trying to choose a breviary and want advice about editions, inquire freely.

*matins: older name for Office of Readings

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Smart aleck husband quotes Psalm

The other day I went  to check on my son, who was playing outside. Not seeing him, I began calling, "Michael, where are you? Come here, I want to see where you are!"
No response. I began running into the yard, calling more frantically, when the prodigal boy finally  stepped out of the barn with a mischievous smile on his face. So I scolded him a bit for not responding more quickly, ending my rant with, "So when I call, answer me!"

(voice from husband lounging on deck) "--O God of justice! From anguish you released me, have mercy and hear me."

(interior grumble from me):" Let's have fewer cute remarks, sweetie, and a little more help with watching Michael, or I'll release you from anguish permanently, if you get my drift."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Interior Dialogue on today's Office of Readings

Sometimes--not always-- when I pray the Liturgy of the Hours I find myself responding verbally to what is there.

This morning, with Office of Readings, I was particularly chatty:

Antiphon 1 : I am worn out with crying, longing for my God.
me: No I'm not! Neither worn out nor crying nor especially longing at the moment.

Psalm 69: Save me, O God, for the Waters have risen to my neck..I am wearied with crying aloud...My eyes are wasted away...
me: Oh,right. Okay. Not about me. This is You, Lord, in your passion. It's Friday, after all.

Psalm 69:more numerous than the hairs on my head are those who hate me without cause. Those who attack me with lies are too much for my strength.
me: Oh, and it's people who are suffering persecution and imprisonment for their faith in You.  For the Church and the Pope who suffers attack and insult from atheistic governments and media.

Psalm 69: as for me in my poverty and pain, let your salvation, O God, raise me up.
me: Really, this is for everyone who is in pain--the sick, the dying, the poor. And you know, Lord, it's even for me. Poor. Too poor to know what I' missing when I spend half half the day surfing the web or shopping for clothing when I could be spending more time with you. Like C.S. Lewis said about slum children refusing a seaside vacation because they barely knew what the sea was, so making mud pies in the gutter was all the pleasure they would cling to.

Reading from Ecclesiastes: ...among all things under the sun, this is the worst, that things turn out the same for all. hence the minds of men are filled with evil and madness is in their hearts during life, and afterwards they go to the dead...They will never again have part of anything under the sun.
me: What a bummer.Poor Solomon, or Qoheleth, or whoever this guy was. Can't wait for the second reading to turn all this despair into something good.

Ecclesiasters, cont.: Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works....enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of the fleeting life under the sun.
me: Ha! Tell us life is painful and short, but don't worry, just have fun while you can! Seriously? This is not hugely consoling. Hmm...think I"ll run out later for a bottle of Shiraz, a wedge of brie and some crackers. That would be nice for Bill and me before dinner.

Second Reading, commentary on Ecclesiastes by Saint Gregory of Argrigentum: Come eat your bread in gladness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for your works have been pleasing to God.
me: I like this translation better. Wish the breviary people would get their act together and harmonize the darn translations.

Second reading,cont.: If we interpret this reading in its ordinary sense, it would  be correct to call it a righteous exhortation, in which Ecclesiastes counsels us to embrace a simple way of life and to be led by doctrines which involve a genuine faith in God. Then we may eat our bread in gladness and drink our wine with a cheerful heart. 
me: okay. That's a little better. Hmm...maybe some thin sliced French bread with the brie instead of crackers...

Second reading, cont.: But a spiritual reading of the text leads us to a loftier meaning and teaches us to take this as the heavenly and mystical bread, which has come down from heaven, bringing life to the world, and to drink a spiritual wine with a cheerful heart, that wine which flowed from the side of the true vine at the moment of is saving passion.
me: Yes! Much better. Thank you St. Gregory. Hmm... I think I'll go to noon mass.

Do you ever dialog with the daily psalms and readings?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ecclesiastes and Job can be Downers...

...if you just read through them on your own. The only way to go is the Office of Readings, which for the next three weeks (starting today) includes selections from these books followed by commentary on them from the saints and fathers of the Church.  Here, Augustine, Dorotheus, Gregory the Great ,  and others show us the way out of the depression of Ecclesiastes, and an answer to the problem of suffering the goes beyond what God told Job.  

The way and  the answer, of course, is Jesus. But you have to do these readings to really appreciate it.
Just one more example of the Word who is God fulfilling the questions, types, hopes and longings in the word of God.

Even if Office of Readings is not in your daily routine, you could always  do just the readings, minus psalmody, to have a fantastic Bible study/lectio divina/spiritual reading time. 

Flash: apostles in upper room not scared this time around!

This is my yearly post Pentecost rant, generally made to my husband. This year I'll make it here.

Despite what appears in numerous articles, sermons and devotionals, I think the authors are wrong when they suggest that the apostles  in the upper room were hiding in fear during the nine days before Pentecost. There is no scriptural evidence for this.  It seems that these writers are confusing the mental state of the apostles in the days following the Crucifixion with their mental state after the Ascension. 
We see in John 20,19 that the apostles were behind closed doors "for fear of the Jews" on the evening of the Resurrection. But after Jesus ascended into heaven, they returned to Jerusalem "with great joy" (Luke 24,52), fully convinced of His divinity ad having received His promise to be with them always. The returned to the upper room, and rather than act like fearful men in hiding, made plans to carry out their mission in a pretty business like manner, choosing a replacement for Judas. Then continued to  persevere in prayer with Mary.Luke also tells us that, far from being sequestered, they were "continually in the temple blessing God"(53)  The reason for that retreat in the upper room was not to hide out, but simply to pray for guidance and await the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. It seems that their reasoning for this first novena was not that they were too scared to begin spreading the kingdom, but not sure exactly how to proceed in doing that. Hence the sensible decision to pray and wait. And, no doubt, to receive comfort and wisdom from the Blessed Mother. 

Obviously, the coming of the Holy Spirit gave them an increase in courage, (the gift of fortitude).  But the scriptures do not indicate anything resembling the fear they had experienced before the Ascension. At least, that is how it appears to me. 

End of rant.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Avoiding Post Pentecost breviary trauma

I'll be travelling for the next few days, so this is my last change to wish you all a blessed Pentecost. What follows is an adaptation of an older post which I re-run annually. If you are new at the Liturgy of the Hours and use a breviary rather than a website or app, you will need this information.

Once the grand finale of the Easter season, namely Pentecost, has passed us by this weekend, one might tend to think that things go "back to normal" in the liturgy. After all, we do call it "Ordinary Time", right?

But no, not exactly. For one thing, the term "ordinary" in  "Ordinary Time"  does not quite correspond to the,um ordinary definition: routine, normal, business-as-usual. It mostly refers to the fact that the Sundays and weeks are numbered, or "ordered". (Although we certainly can feel the contrast between the solemn events of the previous holy seasons as compared to ordinary time, so we're not entirely wrong to feel that Ordinary time is somewhat ordinary in the popular English sense of the word.)
For another thing, for those who use mostly  hard copy breviaries, rather than rely on breviary websites to do their work for them, the next week or so can be among the most confusing of the entire year. Although we enter Ordinary time as of Monday, there are no Sundays of Ordinary Time until the second week of June!  All this makes for plenty of head scratching as we flip here and there trying to figure things out.
So just keep an eye on your parish calendar if you forget what week we're in. Or print  this post and keep it in your book.

Monday starts the 7th week of ordinary time, using week III of the Psalter. There is no 7th Sunday in ordinary time because of Pentecost.
Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday. (with its own special liturgy in the proper of Seasons. DON'T use the 8th Sunday. Continue with the 8th week (Psalter week IV) on Monday.
The Sunday after (6/02) that is Corpus Christi (with its own special liturgy), so DON"T use the 9th Sunday of Ordinary time. Continue on Monday with the 9th week and week I of the Psalter.
The next Sunday, June 9th, we finally get a Sunday of Ordinary Time, the 10th. Now you are fully back in Ordinary Time, even on Sundays. (Psalter week II)

Then we shall be back to nothing but Sundays in Ordinary time clear through until Christ the King in November.
Hope this is helpful.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ever Pray the Hours with a group? Q&A plus weekly welcome!

A warm welcome to new blog followers Julie, Michelle, Monica, David and Emily, who now bring the official blog followers number to 201! I can't tell you how much this cheers my little numerological heart.

And welcome to others who use feed readers whose names I may never  know. As always, C&C is your forum to share both your questions and your comments about the Liturgy of the Hours.

Today an anonymous reader asked an interesting question in the comments section on the "About" tab:

"Has anyone experimented with online or local groups for recitation of LOTH? I am a home worker with a lot of flexibility and am lucky enough to have a nearby parish where Morning Prayer is recited by a few people before Mass every weekday - but how about the other hours? I have seen Rosary groups via Skype but never LOTH groups. No monasteries nearby, sadly. Glad to hear of any experiences."

Since the majority of laymen who pray the LOTH daily are doing it mostly on their own, at home, with at most a spouse or older children to share the experience, I don't tend to write a lot here about group recitation of the hours. And that may be a defect, since, after all, praying in community is the ideal. The Church's instructions on the LOTH say that in a number of places. The very nature of these prayers is communal, and they are set up for dialog. (antiphons, response, strophes, etc.)  Even when praying alone we should try to be conscious of praying with the universal  Church. But if there is an opportunity to pray literally, physically, with others, we should take those opportunities when possible. 

Here at my parish Morning Prayer is offered after 8am mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Scott, another blog follower, responded to Anonymous' request with this:

Here in Chicago, Daytime Prayer and Evening Prayer are recited in Holy Name Cathedral before the 12:10pm and 5:15pm Masses respectively, Monday through Friday. The Evening Prayer group is quite large sometimes. They're led by two leaders, one standing on each side of the front pews. The psalms are said alternating sides, strophe by strophe. They use (and provide copies to borrow) Christian Prayer published by the Daughters of St. Paul.

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius chant the LotH publicly in church daily at St. John Cantius Parish:
Copies of Shorter Christian Prayer (published by Catholic Book Publishing) are provided for borrowing.
As to the second query about "community" recitation via Skype or a Google Hangout: I have no idea? Does anyone out there do such a thing? Would anyone like to try?  Being on the (relatively young and cool, but still.) end of the baby boom generation, I'm not well versed/comfortable enough to run such a thing myself. But if any of you want to do something like that, feel free to use the space here to get to know who might be interested.

So--tell us when and where if at all, you pray any of the liturgical hours with others, and what you might know about online venues for same.

Or just ask any other question you may have about the Divine Office.

PS. This week's National Catholic Register has a feature article about the Liturgy of the Hours by journalist Celeste Behe, and I am quoted frequently  therein. So far this has only  appeared in the print edition. I'll let you all know if and when it is posted online.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why Does God Need so Much Praise?

Yesterday's psalter included Psalm 50, which twice refers to the necessity of giving praise to God:

Give your praise as a sacrifice to God (vs. 14)

A sacrifice of praise gives me honor (vs 23)

Why are we supposed to praise God all the time? Is the Lord eternally fishing for compliments, like a beautiful actress past her prime? Does He really need us to tell him how wonderful He is every single day, and be hurt if we forget to do so?

Of course not. If the whole world neglected to utter a single breath of praise for all of history, God would not be hurt or diminished in any way. But we, the non-praisers, would be sadly crippled. The duty to praise God is for our benefit, not His.

To praise God is to acknowledge and be in touch with Reality. To be whole and sane, because we recognize what we are and What God is.  To praise is to admire and appreciate. It's a natural response to beauty, goodness, and truth. Someone who had seen a hundred gorgeous sunsets but never felt moved to say "Wow! That's beautiful! Just look at that!" would be suffering from a terrible impairment. (Notice the impulse to say "Just look at that!"  Part of the nature of praise is the urge to invite others to praise as well. Which is why the psalms constantly say "Praise the Lord.")

When we recognize our place in the universe--as mere creatures, fallen creatures, who have been miraculously elevated to the status of sons and daughters--praise is the only fitting response. C.S. Lewis says that "In commanding us to praise Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him." 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Office of Our Lady of Fatima

A friend recently remarked that the work my husband and I do adds up to a perfect blend of liturgy and devotion.

 Bill, my husband, travels the country with the National Pilgrim Virgin statue of Our Lady of Fatima. He speaks about the Fatima message, particularly a part of the message that is least noticed but most practical. This would be the part that we can play daily in answering Our Lady's requests: that we accept, bear with submission, and  "offer up" every big and small pain, inconvenience, frustration, suffering, etc., for the love of God, in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for the conversion of sinners.   This facet of the Fatima message gets a warm welcome from everyone who hears it. Many people who come to Bill's talks  don't feel up to a commitment to the daily rosary, but are relieved to learn of something that they can do. After all, daily suffering comes to everyone regardless of their degree of piety and devotion to prayer. Traffic jams, stubbed toes, overdue bills. So much daily straw that can be spun into gold.   A brief prayer of offering that makes suffering meaningful is within everyone's grasp.

Instant penance, joining our little problems to the sufferings of Christ.  No hairshirt required.

So Bill goes around telling everyone about this easy and valuable spiritual practice.

And I write about the Liturgy of the Hours.

So we enjoy today's optional memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. This memorial was only put on the calendar a few years back, so the second reading and the concluding prayer will not appear in your printed breviary. But you will find them at Scroll down to the end of each hours to find the Our Lady of Fatima elements.

O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Digital Breviary fail today. Update: all is well

Update: as of noon both websites appear to have been fixed. Thank you to the good people who respond to readers and rectify problems, even on a Sunday.

The Office of Readings on ibreviary today has the correct psalmody but the readings of the 3rd Sunday of Easter. appears to be having problems this morning with all of today's content.

Thankfully, has its act together.

And there's always your good, old fashioned print breviaries, the content of which never leaps out of its rightful spot into the wrong day.

I like to trumpet the ease of breviary sites and apps, especially to beginners, but this is the other side of the coin. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Evening Prayer I for Ascension tonight...

...unless your diocese moves Ascension to Sunday.

It looks like the breviary is pretty clear what page you use in each situation. Check your online/mobile breviary carefully to make sure you are doing the appropriate liturgy according to the ordo of your diocese. Right now it seems that has the Solemnity of the Ascension starting tonight, without provision for  Thursday, sixth week of Easter offices.

Most dioceses in the United States apparently transfer the Ascension to Sunday.  

According to the knowledgeable Scott Richert of the Catholicism page, only the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha  retain the Thursday celebration. So it's sort of an east coast thing, with Nebraska as an outrider.

There are arguments for and against this Ascension-shifting business. I know them all, and have my opinion, which is irrelevant here. I just want to help everyone follow the appropriate liturgy for the day.

Now, if you pray the Pentecost Novena, you have to start Friday, regardless of when your diocese observes the Ascension.  And if you want daily reminders and links to the actual prayers, then sign up with Pray More Novenas

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why Does Prayer Have to Be Structured?

That was a question that a caller asked me yesterday on Relevant Radio's "On Call" program. The host, Wendy Wiese, had been discussing the Liturgy of the Hours with me for the better part of half an hour when caller asked his question. I didn't ask first whether he was Catholic or Protestant. That might have given me information that would have helped me tailor my answer. But there's nothing like unscripted Q&A's to induce a grand fit of I- should- have -saids  later on.

I answered that prayer could and should be both: at times informal, simple conversation with God. Brief phrases of faith, trust, praise and love. But most of us need structure at times as well. Unless our energy level and emotions are at perfect pitch, we often don't know what to say when we pray, or don't feel much like praying. Structured prayer--by which we mean using words that others have written, in a certain pattern or method--is a great help. These prayers give us, as Pope Benedict put it, "the language for the encounter with God."  And when God has given us inspired prayers, such as the psalms, it's probably because he wants us to use them!

Later, another caller supported what I was saying by bringing up the example of buying greeting cards for our loved ones on special days. Sure, we are perfectly capable of saying "I love you." "Happy Birthday" , and whatnot. So why do we waste time browsing through phrases and verses printed with a pretty picture and hawked by Hallmark?  That's a very "structured" way to communicate love or good wishes, don't you think?

I wonder if people who defend spontaneous prayer by denigrating structured/memorized/liturgical prayer less likely to buy greeting cards for their spouses, lovers, children, etc., than the rest of us? They ought to do  a study on this.

Do you have any simple, articulate responses to the informal vs.formal prayer issue? If so, share them here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Persecution Complex? plus weekly Q&A

Don't forget it's the feast of Sts. Phillip and James (the son of Alphaeus not Zebedee)  on Friday. Common of Apostles with Easter options plus the stuff specific to Phillip&James in the proper of saints.

Reading psalm 18 this morning (Office of Readings), with it's talk of powerful enemies, misfortune, entrapment, and eventual rescue by the Lord had me thinking again about how to pray these "persecution" psalms. I'm not aware (happily) of any flesh and blood enemies who are out to hurt me. So I'm most likely to think about the evils suffered by persecuted Christians around the world, or else I think about Satan, who is the enemy of each of us individually and the Church as a whole.

The last week or so there's been a number of items in the news that makes me wonder if the idea of "persecution" is about to become less abstract, less generalized, less something-that-occurs-far-away. Marriage was just re-defined away from its nature (as the foundation of the family) in the state of Rhode Island. This is the state with the largest percentage of Catholics in the nation. It is inevitable that lawsuits will eventually  be mounted  against Catholic pastors, teachers, and others who continue to speak, think, and act in accordance with Catholic morals. Another news item states that the Pentagon is making it a court-martial offense for Christians in the military to speak about their faith to others.

Not to be an alarmist, but it seems like a real possibility that we may soon be praying Psalm 18 in a more personal way than before. Not firing squads or prison (one hopes), but fines, job loss, law suits and public ridicule. Which, should it happen, will be a grace--there's a beatitude for this, right?

Welcome new followers Richard M. and Bob.

It's Q&A time. Any questions about the Liturgy of the Hours, from simple to complex, are welcome here.