Tuesday, February 20, 2018

When Waking Up Takes a Heroic Effort

Dear Theophilous,

Like most people, I think the hardest moment of my day is the first. Monday to Friday (along with the odd Saturday and Sunday) we all dread it… that moment when the alarm starts blaring to start us in motion. There really must be a more humane way to start the day.

Everyday the temptation is overwhelming… the desire to hit the snooze button, or even better – just turn the alarm off, roll over and forget for a few more precious minutes that the world and its worries exists. Especially in the dark days of winter when there are still hours to go before the sun shows its shining face.

I could… very easily I could… but I don’t.

Recently I heard this moment referred to as the Heroic Moment, called such as a testament to the heroic effort that is needed to get out of bed each morning.

I have found that the amount of heroism needed to get oneself going comes down to the first thought that goes through my mind… Do I wake up saying:

Good morning God!


Good God, it’s morning!

The order and the tone make all the difference as to how the rest of the day is going to pan out. I also find this helps give me the push to persevere in my morning prayer life, my struggles with which I’ve written about here before.

From this point, I dedicate my day to God through Christ.

Stumbling to the kitchen, where I charge my phone overnight, I begin my morning routine with a morning offering prayer. Although there are a few different versions of the same prayer, I have gotten into the habit of using one from the Laudate app:

Oh my Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day.
For all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of all my family, friends and relatives,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father.


I find this self-centering at the very beginning of my day sets me off on the right foot, ready to meet the trials of the day with God’s grace.

Do I meditate on my morning offering constantly through out the day? No. With the challenges that the vocations of husband, father and educator bring, I’m often pulled in many different directions, my mind occupied by daily trivialities. What offering my day to God, in its prayers, works, joys and sufferings, from the moment I awake does is give me a focal point to return to. When my mind gets sidetracked, when the daily grind starts to take its toll, when I enter into the sufferings of human life, a quick reminder that even these I have offered to God allows me to restart again, a reboot in God’s grace, so that I may persevere.

How hard life must be for those who do not have this faith foundation.

This is why every morning when the alarm blares I’m able to joyfully proclaim: God morning God!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Parish Hopping

Dear Theophilous,

We’ve had a hard time attending our parish over the past couple of months. It has noting to do with our pastor or what has been going on in our parish, but rather something that has been necessitated by our son’s minor hockey schedule, as well as visiting family during different holidays. Then, on the weekends when we can actually get to Mass at our own parish, it is often at a different Mass than the one we regularly attend. It’s actually gotten to the point where some people think we have left the parish and they looked surprised when we return to our regular pew at the regular time.

Parish-hopping has allowed us to gain a fresh perspective on both the universality of our Catholic faith, as well as the idiosyncrasies endemic to local parishes. Celebrating the Eucharist at different times and in different communities has opened our eyes to the wealth and beauty of out Catholic faith. Even though the faces around us may not be familiar, and the music styles may vary, or the pastors focus on different ideas in his homily; the core of the Mass is always the same, the prayers and responses never changing.

No where was this universality of the Catholic faith more evident than during our summer vacation a couple of years ago when we visited my in-law’s childhood homes in the Azores Islands. There we were on Sao Jorge Island (a 50km by 8km volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic, with a population generously estimated at 7,000 souls), attending Mass in a language of which I have a minimal grasp, and yet I recognized the prayers, readings, and eventually, the responses.

Yet, despite this universal beauty, despite the deep rooted sameness at the core of the Mass, despite the source and summit of our faith being the Eucharist; recently I have come across more and more Catholics who are parish-hopping, because they are unhappy with the local accessories that adorn each Mass.

It should come as no surprise that in a culture based on consumerism, where the mentality of if you won’t meet my demands, I’ll take my business elsewhere reigns, Catholics (faithful people for the most part) bring this same consumeristic outlook when it comes to their parish. Sadly, it has happened on more than one occasion that when I welcomed a new family to our parish they’ve responded with: “We just moved to the area and we’re shopping for a parish.” To which I will blithely reply, “If you live in town, no need to shop around, this is your parish.” Hopefully the playful chuckle is enough to convince them of a warm welcome than a perceived chastisement.

What are people looking for when they parish-hop, shopping around for a parish like it were a new car? Whenever I ask this question the answer is usually either music or homily (and, unfortunately, usually in that order). Little is often said of a sense of sacredness, right-worship, or love of the Eucharist. Many will say that they were not being ‘fed’ at their previous parish because something was lacking. Jeff Cavins sums this up beautifully when he states: “It’s not that they are not being fed, the Eucharist does this universally. What they are really saying is that they are not being entertained.” (please note that I have paraphrased Jeff Cavins’ statement)

Recently, I have noticed a growing number of Catholics who are parish-hopping due to a pastoral cult of personality.

We all have people whom we get along with better than others; they’re called friends. We have all had colleagues we worked with better than others, bosses we preferred over other bosses, a favourite cousin or aunt. It’s normal that over the course of our lifetimes we will come into contact with priests and pastors with whom we develop a stronger relationship than with others. Although we may grow more spiritually under the guidance of one priest over another, this is no reason to affect our relationship with Christ and His Church.

Unfortunately, what happens is that over the years of a pastor’s tenure in a particular parish, the parish’s identity becomes closely linked with the pastor’s personality. It becomes his parish instead of His parish. This cult of personality within an individual parish can become very dangerous.

Invariably, priests are moved, and the ensuing shake-up within the parish, from musical styles to liturgical norms, will rankle with the faithful in the pew. Many have become used to things happening in a particular way, and when things change (sometimes overnight) they don’t like it. Most will grit their teeth, bear-up and slowly come around to their new pastor’s vision. A few will muster up the courage to talk to their new pastor, seeking for a way to grow from this new direction. A number will just leave, hopefully to a near-by parish, and in some heartbreaking cases, completely from the Church.

It must be a heart-rending process to come to the decision to leave a parish that has been home for years, if not decades. In many cases, it would be like leaving behind family who you have loved and who have loved you. But we must remember that we can never leave the faith, and that God has a plan for us, even when it hurts.

I’ve heard faithful and faith-filled Catholics state: “I can’t go to Mass there, the priest just makes me so mad!” My heart truly breaks to hear this. We should never feel pushed away from the Church because of the sinners that make up her earthly body (St. Augustine took this on when he took on the Donatists). If this is the case, I would strongly urge you to talk to the pastor that makes you so angry so that you can both grow closer to Christ.

I strongly believe that God brings people into our lives for a reason, whether they be friends, co-workers, bosses or priests. Some will carry us on our spiritual journey, while others will seem to challenge us at every turn. It doesn’t matter if we see them as friend or foe, what matters is that we take the opportunity of meeting them as a chance to grow in our love and service of Christ.

No matter where we live, God has created a parish to meet our spiritual needs. There will be times when our parish buoys us on the tides of spiritual joy, and there will also be times when our parish challenges us in our faith. God knows what we need at every moment of our spiritual journey. God knows when we need the comforts of our home parish, and He also knows when we need to be challenged in our spiritual complacency.

Forced parish-hopping may be the spark we need to get out of our faith slump, but it should never be the answer to the challenges we encounter in God’s plan for His parish in our neighbourhood.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Finding a "Little Way" to Pray

Dear Theophilous,

Even the greatest saints suffer spiritual dryness from time to time. One of the best examples being St. Teresa of Calcutta, who suffered from a dark night of the soul that lasted for almost 50 years. If someone of Mother Teresa’s holiness had such a prolonged and laborious prayer life, then should it come as any wonder that the rest of us struggle in maintaining our own small prayer routines?

Prayer life is something I struggle with on a continual basis, a struggle I’ve reflected upon here before. There are times, very few and far between, when I feel as though I’m on top of my game; prayer comes easy and I come away feeling as though I would levitate like St. Joseph of Cupertino. Most of the time, however, I feel as though I’m simply ploughing through the routine of prayer, prattling of the words of rote prayers while my mind wanders to the troubles of the day – I’m going through the motions, but I’m really just mailing it in. And then there is the dark night of my soul, usually in the darkest and longest nights of winter, when my prayer train goes completely off the rails, and I will go for days neglecting my prayer life, my Rosary collecting dust just like the treadmill.

It was into this prayer darkness that a good friend Monica McConkey of Equipping Catholic Families recently shone a wonderful light.

Out of the blue I got a message from Monica asking me to check out her new e-book “A Little Way to Pray”, and I was moved by both her honesty with her struggles in the prayer life, and even more so by her determination to persevere in her growth in holiness. As I read Monica’s reflection a line jumped out at me, and I thought that is so me… that line so sums up my prayer struggles:

More often than not, the moments I’m overwhelmed and frustrated and in most need of prayer are the moments I forget to pray and just continue to struggle on my own.

… As I look back on my day, my week, or my month, I can see the wisdom in this one line. Monica shares the every day struggles she encounters when prayer could have (and should have) seen her through – laundry, dishes, meals and homework; and I can see all the times when prayer could have (and should have) seen me through life’s daily challenges – an unmotivated student, a difficult colleague, household chores and little time for myself. In the moments when I most needed to pray, to look to God for help, I pushed ahead on my own, got frustrated, becoming the man that God never intended me to be.

Knowing one has a problem is half the battle. Knowing that one struggles in prayer will only lead one into a deeper prayer life. Knowing that one has to hand over those troubles to God is the first step closer to Him.

In the tradition of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, Monica calls these little hiccups of life her Little Way to Pray, using them as prayer prompts in:

  • Sinfulness
  • Weakness, and
  • Littleness.

This is something I’ve thought of before. Struggling with a temper that can erupt under stress, I have sought out Bible verses to recall when I can feel my blood pressure rise. I figured if I just turned to God before I hit my breaking point, then I would become the quiet, docile saint I so long to be.

Unfortunately, like every great intention, things never go according to plan. Monica shares how she did not instantly become the earthly saint she intended (something that takes great courage to admit), and I, myself, will still blow my top, only to immediately resent it, beating myself up for days with lingering resentment.

But we can’t become discouraged, nor does God want us to give up. We are called to persevere in our quest for holiness. We will never achieve sainthood in this life, but this life is to be a time of preparation for when we are ready to enter into God’s Kingdom.

In The Little Way to Pray, Monica has created a tool to help in times of prayer struggle. In the beautiful way as she always does at Equipping Catholic Families, she has created fridge posters and pocket cards of prayer prompts … those little things in life that we can use to help remind us to turn to God in difficult times, both big and small. My favourite being:

Here I am in all my littleness. Please take care of this, because I can’t.