Tag Archives: prayer

The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden

Mount Olives 3


Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, the gospels say. Early in Matthew’ gospel Jesus brings his disciples up onto a mountain–a traditional place to draw close to God– and taught them how to pray. High places, mountains are holy places in the Bible. 

Jesus taught the prayer we call the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer” on a mountain. (Matthew 6, 9-13) The prayer has deep roots in the Jewish prayer tradition. Its concern is that God’s kingdom come.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches prayer to his disciples “in a certain place”, on the plain, in the course of his ministry. (Luke 11, 2-4) They see him praying regularly and ask him to teach them, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.  In answer, he offers a shorter, probably more primitive version of the prayer found in Matthew. Again, its concern is that God’s kingdom come:

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” (Luke 11,2-4)

Mark, Matthew, Luke present Jesus praying in the garden before his Passion, but this time the disciples, instead of asking for his instruction, are sleeping. 

They’re sleeping because the flesh is weak, Mark says.

They’re sleeping because they can’t keep their eyes open, Matthew says.

They’re sleeping because of grief, Luke says.

Stay awake and pray, Jesus tells them, because it’s a time of testing.

They face the weakness of the flesh, and Jesus faces it as well. He faces death by crucifixion, a frightening trial, but he doesn’t wave it away in stoic resignation or depend on his own power. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he prays. He accepts the consequences of his mission, the limits of human power, the vulnerability of human nature, the “form of a slave.” He depends on God and the promises his kingdom will come.

From Jesus in the garden we learn how to pray when trials come. He kneels on the ground, Luke says, and humbly looks beyond himself to his Father, “Abba”, who hears him.

He falls to the ground, Mark says, trusting in his Father’s strength and not his own. His prayer is troubled and distressed; for an hour’s time he pleads for help. . 

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke says. Then, an angel come to strengthen him as a result of his prayer. The cup of suffering isn’t taken away; he will drink from it, but he will not be destroyed by it. God will raise him up.

We ask him to teach us pray as he did. We ask him to pray with us in our trials. God’s kingdom will come.

Feasts for Tired Believers

Central Italy, 1800s

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden on Tuesday before that day.

I think both feasts are inspired by our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775) who spent many years announcing the graces of lent in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy..

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was then a place where graces seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

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Now Tuscanny is a popular tourist destination. Then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars everywhere. The people in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so I think as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today, isn’t it?,. These two feasts are for tired believers, as well as missionaries, who face the world where things don’t seem to change. We need another way of seeing things and another kind of heart to journey on..

If you want to pray this feast with the Passionists, go here.

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?

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Who is Paul of the Cross?

He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.

He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.

There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.

There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.

But there is also the man named Paul.

And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.

His weaknesses greatly interest me.

Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.

If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.

We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.

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In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…

…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…

…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…

…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…

We just may find ourselves.

Or we may find someone that we used to know.

Or we may find someone that we should get to know.

But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.

And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.

For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.

Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.

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The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.

And the answer is always the same: With God.

Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.

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I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.

As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.

For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.

A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: Francesca and William

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Julie Manet with cat”, 1887


 

Francesca, like most 4-year-olds, is not particularly gentle when it comes to petting a cat. Well, let me put it another way, her gentleness as compared to her zeal when It comes to petting a cat is somewhat lacking. Hence, our cats spend most of their time in the attic of our apartment, hiding from the over-affectionate hand of Francesca.

One morning I was on the couch and Francesca was sitting at the coffee table working on a coloring book. From the door leading to the attic peaked the head of William. Francesca saw him and quickly looked at me, and for some reason this time she attempted to implement what she had been told many times before.

In a barely audible whisper, she looked for affirmation: “Daddy, I shouldn’t move, right?”

“No, Francesca, stay still…”, I whispered back, “…let him come to you. Just leave your hand down by your side.”

And lo and behold, William began to make his way toward us, and began to even approach Francesca’s still fingers. He sniffed. He balked. He approached again. Francesca went to move and stopped. William and Francesca courted each other, one filled with fright, the other excitement, both nearly shaking with emotion.

Francesca broke the tension and attempted to pet his head. William allowed it but could not hold together the nerve to stay put once Francesca’s hand moved past his neck. Off and up the stairs William went.

I realized something. Sometimes, when a person is filled with fear he can not be approached. No matter how kind, soft, sincere our intention, he just can not take the approach, any approach. He needs to make the first move. And we on our part need to simply stay still, patiently waiting for him to come closer, and then maybe, just maybe, we can make a kind gesture. But even if the person runs away at that point we need not take it personal. It is fear that is the cause. Neither the person giving nor the person receiving is to blame.

But unlike cats, who usually show fear just as it is, perhaps with an occasional threatening hiss, humans on the other hand show fear through a different type of tremble. They often preemptively throw insults, curses, mocks, pushes, and even outright physical strikes.

And just as it is hard to ignore the sharp claws of a frightened kitten digging into your arm—even when we fully understand that the kitten truly means no personal harm to us—it is hard to ignore such “attacks” from our fellow man. It is hard to strip them down to what they really are: pathetic attempts at self-preservation. But then again, was not Jesus striped down? And shouldn’t we always keep Christ’s Passion in our hearts? Well, then, as a sign of gratitude, we owe it to Jesus to see His Passion in all our interactions, especially the encounters that cause us pain, be it a superficial abrasion or a wound that pierces the core of our soul.

Let us then employ God’s grace in seeing all harshness, in any form, from any human being toward us, as fear. And by doing so we find ourselves very much in the actual footprints of Christ. For what nailed Him to the Cross was not jealousy nor anger nor even resentment, but fear, fear of the worst kind, fear of the truth. And in the case of Jesus, Truth had a very real face.

But we too are alive. We too have within us the divine presence, a presence that some find dreadfully frightening.

No, we can not like Jesus be sinless, but we can see our persecutors as he did: men to be pitied not punished, men that need mercy not condemnation, men who if we don’t offer forgiveness to are less likely to find it within themselves when they are at the other end of the sword—when it is their turn to be insulted, cursed, mocked, pushed, and even outright physically struck for simply wanting to love.

In the mean time, Francesca continues to color and William sleeps peacefully up in a tight nook of the attic. In the fullness of time, they’ll see eye to eye, as shall you and me.


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

 

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“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)


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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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—Howard Hain

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Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

Cornelius

Today the church celebrates two early saints and martyrs, Cornelius, a pope who died in 253, and Cyprian, a bishop who was martyred in Roman Africa in 258.

At that time, the Roman emperors Decius and Valerian were demanding absolute loyalty from their people, as barbarian tribes in the west and the Persians in the east began invading Roman territory.

To prove their loyalty, Romans were expected to offer sacrifice in honor of the emperor. The Christians refused, so at first church leaders were executed or imprisoned, wealthy, influential Christians lost their property, their positions and possibly their lives– all Christians could expect punishment for not performing the rites of sacrifice.

The persecution was widespread. Cornelius was bishop of Rome, Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, an important Roman province. In the Roman persecution, many turned away from their faith; after it ended they wanted to return to the church they once knew. Hard liners called for them to be banned for life for their lack of loyalty. Let God judge them when they die, they said. Others, like Cornelius and Cyprian, called for welcoming them again, since God is all merciful.

Mercy and justice are always hard to reconcile. The Sunday gospels we just read seem to come down on the side of mercy. So should we

The Queenship of Mary

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“Christians live from feast to feast,” St. Athanasius said. The church’s feasts are linked to each other; all are linked to the great feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August 14, leads to the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, August 22, a feast introduced into the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church in 1955 to celebrate the privileged place of Mary in heaven. She “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.” ( Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 59)

Royal titles were commonly given to God and those anointed by God in the Old Testament; Christianity continued the pratice, giving royal titles to Jesus and Mary. She is called queen in traditional Christian prayers like the Hail Holy Queen and Queen of Heaven:

“Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in the valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show to us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promise of Christ.

Those called a queen, Mary on her part knows her greatness is from her Lord, as she acknowledges in her Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. He who is mighty has done great things to me; holy is his name.” ( Luke 1, 46-55)

Fra Angelico captures Mary’s humility in his portrayal of her (above), bowing before her Son. Honors given to her are a reflection of the graces promised to humanity.

“Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Praying the Psalms

The psalms are prayers that never get old. Here’s Pius X, whose feast day is August 20, commenting on the psalms:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

“The psalms are like a garden containing the fruits of all the other books of the Bible. Saints like Athanasius and Augustine recognized these powerful prayers. ‘The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.”

Augustine says in his Confessions: “How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears. “

Pius X continues:  “Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise?

Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.”

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)