Sunday, September 30, 2012

Laity are the Church in the World

Here is a link to a talk by Archbishop Fulton Sheen that I was lucky enough to stumble across today. What a great meditation for a Sunday.

Keep Your Stick on the Ice

About a month ago, on one of the Byzantine Catholic forums that I enjoy reading and participating in from time to time, a generous gentleman began a thread offering to lift up young parents in prayer. The motivation for this was the fact that so often young people, particularly young parents with young families, have little time for personal prayer due to the time constraints that come from raising children, working a job (or multiple jobs), household duties, etc. He called this a "take-off on the Communion of Saints." As he said, "We lift each other up and go it together."

What a marvelous idea! In my mind this simply reinforces the fact that even in our private spiritual lives we are never alone, never separated from the rest of the Body of Christ. As my spiritual father used to say, our spiritual lives are not just "Jesus and me, and to hell with thee." We are part of a Body made up of many members. When we feel that our spiritual lives are lacking, when we are pressed for time and simply cannot devote as much time to prayer as we would like, why not take advantage of the fact that we are not alone?! Why not ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to lift us up in prayer?

Soldiers on the battlefield develop a deep sense of camaraderie that oftentimes goes even beyond that with blood relations. Having been through the same trials, suffering and struggling alongside one another, they become a source of support for one another. The history of warfare is full of men performing heroic deeds simply to save the lives of their fellow brothers-in-arms. Who of us hasn't heard stories of men in modern times throwing themselves on live hand-grenades and sacrificing their lives so that their friends might live? Do you think the spiritual life is any different?

Universally the great mystics of the Christian East and West refer to the spiritual life as "warfare." The Eastern Fathers in particular are very detailed and sometimes quite graphic when describing the tactics and state of this spiritual warfare. They speak of the tactics of the enemy and what we must do to overcome the onslaught of temptation coming from "the world, the flesh, and the devil." In all of this they emphasize having a spiritual father/mother, one who has been through the battle and can aid in guiding us safely through as well. If this is not possible, then they recommend having spiritual friends alongside us, to fight the good fight with us. Such spiritual friends act the same way fellow soldiers act to one another. They are a sense of support and encouragement when we are down, wounded by the enemy, by our own personal failings and sin, or simply from sheer exhaustion of keeping up such an intense fight. We in our turn also act as a source of support and encouragement for them.

One of the great things I encountered within the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is the formation of "small groups" or "men's/women's groups." Usually these were groups of a handful of people - no more than five or six - that would meet once a week to discuss what was going on in their spiritual lives, what their struggles were, what they needed prayer for, etc. The group would then offer any support and suggestions that they thought could be helpful. In an age where spiritual fathers and mothers are rather limited, what a great way to find some support and encouragement in the spiritual fight!

There was/is a Canadian comedian who used to end his television program with a saying directed at the men in his audience: "I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together." How true. In this spiritual warfare, we, as the Body of Christ, are all in this together; and we ought to be pulling for one another. We ought to be able to rely upon one another for support against the onslaught of our enemies, whether that onslaught comes from our own fallen nature, from the world around us, or from the devil and his minions.

This world is passing away. This battle is not permanent. But, as a professor of mine used to say, "We're all in this together, and none of us is getting out of here alive." At the end of our lives, when the dust clears and our personal battle is over, we have more of a chance of standing victorious over our enemies when we have fought against them not as individuals, but with the help and support of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And our brothers and sisters also stand more of a chance if we have been there to support them and to lift them up in prayer. So let's lift one another up in prayer and support one another in the good fight so that when this is all over we may stand in the rays of the eternal Sun and shout in victory to our God Who has saved us! May heaven consume us.

Liturgical Prayer Ropes: Colors of the Byzantine Liturgical Year

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I would like to start offering prayer ropes made in the various colors of the Byzantine liturgical year. Following is a list of the various liturgical seasons and their designated colors according to the Byzantine tradition. As the summit of the liturgical year I will begin with Easter/Pascha and work my way through the liturgical seasons from there.

- Great and Holy Pascha - White

- Pentecost - Green

- Annunciation/Incarnation - Light Blue or White

- Advent - Dark Blue, Purple, Dark Green, Dark Red

- Christmas/Birth of Our Lord - Gold or shades of Yellow

- Epiphany - White

- Transfiguration - White

- Great Lent - Black, Dark Blue, Purple, Dark Green, Dark Red

- Palm Sunday - Green

- Feasts of the Cross (including Great and Holy Friday) - Purple or Dark Red

- Feasts of Our Lord, the Prophets, the Apostles, and Holy Hierarchs - Gold and Yellow shades.

- Feasts of the Mother of God/Theotokos - Light Blue or  White

- Feasts of the Prophets, Apostles, or Holy Hierarchs - Gold or Yellow

- Feasts of the Bodiless Powers (angels) or Virgins - Light Blue or White

- Feasts of Martyrs - Red

- Feasts of Monastic Saints or Fools for Christ - Green

It is my hope that this will generate more interest in liturgical prayer and the connection between our private prayer (particularly the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern tradition, and the Rosary in the Latin tradition) and the prayer of the Church - i.e. the Liturgy. If there are Roman Catholics out there who would like rosaries or any other chaplets made according to the liturgical colors of the Roman tradition, I am more than happy to oblige.

We must always remember that we never pray alone. When we pray truly, it is the Spirit that prays within us because, as St. Paul says, we do not know how to pray as we ought. Prayer is not only our personal dialogue with God, but is above all our entrance into God's eternal dialogue mediated to us through the Body of Christ, the Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit teaches us to pray through the mediation of the Church. And it is particularly by being attentive to the Church's rhythm of prayer in her liturgical life that we learn how to pray truly.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Hi All,

I know that, prior to this morning, it has been a long time since I've posted anything. I apologize. I have several things in the works here, but am sitting on them before I post because I need to pray and read some more in order to fine-tune my own thoughts. The post I put up this morning has been in the works for a few weeks now.

A brief update on prayer rope orders. I am currently VERY behind due to the great interest in my work. I am truly humbled by the fact that folks have taken such a liking to my prayer ropes. To those of you who have ordered ropes from me, rest assured that I am working on them and doing everything I can to get them finished up for you as soon as possible. For those of you who are interested in ordering ropes either as Christmas gifts or just to have a prayer rope on hand, I recommend getting your order in ASAP just to give me some time to get the rope done by Christmas. I tend to get pretty swamped with orders about a month before Christmas and usually don't get caught up until well after New Years.

Of late I've also been getting more and more orders from outside the U.S. In order to accommodate this I'm in the process of setting up a PayPal account. I'll update everyone once I've got that established.

Finally, in news completely unrelated to my prayer ropes, but totally relevant to lay spirituality, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has recently proclaimed Blessed Volodymyr Pryima as the patron saint of the laity. I am very excited about this news and hope to learn more about this man of God in order to share with you in the future. Pray that I can find some sources in English on the life of Blessed Volodymyr, and my his example be an inspiration to all of us.


Old Habits Die Hard

Do you find yourself getting discouraged any time you sin? When you make serious efforts to eradicate those sins that have become habits in your life, does it seem like you meet up with a brick wall and continually fall into the same traps? I know any time I go to Confession I feel as though I just repeat the same laundry list of sins, receive absolution, do my penance (if one is assigned), and go about the rest of my day knowing that in a few weeks I'll be back in front of the same priest confessing the same sins I've been confessing for years now. Do you, like me, ever wonder what the point of it all is if all we're doing is falling into the same sins over and over and over again? How can we become holy people, saints, if we just keep sinning?

I remember hearing a saying while I was growing up - I don't remember where I heard it from or who said it first, I just remember hearing it. A saint isn't someone who never sins. A saint is someone who gets up and continues the struggle even after they've sinned. Perhaps St. Basil of Poiana Marului said it best in his Commentary on the Book of the Blessed Father Nil Sorsky:

Experience tells us that from time to time strugglers fall either in their thoughts or in their feelings... It is not possible even for the very greatest of men completely to avoid some fault in these daily sins which are not mortal and which consist of words, a thought, ignorance, forgetfulness or being compelled willingly or unwillingly by circumstance.

Even the greatest of men fall daily. The Scriptures tell us that even a righteous man falls seven times a day. Again, the mark of a truly holy person is not whether or not they fall, but what they do when they fall. It seems to me that at every fall we are presented with three possibilities: 1) We despair of ever overcoming sin and give up because we don't think it possible; 2) We choose to just remain in sin and persist in our sins because it is easier than struggling against them; 3) We get up, shake ourselves off, repent, and continue the fight, repenting of our sins and using them as opportunities to learn humility.

Elsewhere in the writings of St. Basil I've read that God often permits these sinful habits to persist in us, lest overcoming them at an inopportune time we become conceited and end up falling into even greater sins. So when you find yourself falling into the same sins over and over again, don't despair. Turn to God in repentance and humility, knowing that in His time He will give you the grace you need to overcome these faults, and that all the while He is preparing you for the day when you do.