Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A School of Prayer

This past Sunday in the Ordinary Form calendar was the feast of the Holy Family, moved from the Sunday after Epiphany. I think the mystery works very well during the Octave of Christmas...perhaps they could blend the two Sundays together.

At any rate, in 2011 Pope Benedict delivered a Wednesday audience during the Octave of Christmas, meditating upon the Holy Family of Nazareth. What is the Holy Family? Well, the Holy Father gives us his answer as he exhorts us to imitate them.
The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together. The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents. An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer. If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill this gap later. I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
The Incarnation did not have to occur, and even as it did, the Christ could have entered the world in any way, considering God's omnipotence in both scenarios. A child was not necessary in one sense. In another, it was. Our Lord came to sanctify the whole of human existence so that we might be released from the bond of sin and slavery, and for all of us, for some duration in our lives, this includes the family. It includes our work and daily routine as well.

Often spending our time in prayer is associated with the monastic life. To be sure, there is no greater vocation than to exclusively contemplating the life and mystery of Our Lord while giving oneself entirely to Him and doing His work. Ora et labora.

Sometimes I don't see a distinction between the two. You see, Our Lord and our blessed Lady did everything as a prayer. We must move through our lives submitted to the holy will of God, "which is love and mercy itself." In the words of Our Lord, "Not my will, but Thine, be done," and Our Lady declared, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word." St. Joseph never uttered a word in the Sacred Scriptures, but he spoke through his actions, doing the things of his vocation, particularly working as a carpenter, instructing and guiding Our Lord through the Jewish liturgical and cultural rhythms. The hard labor thus becomes an offering to Our Lord, mixed in with the liturgical actions and the chaplets prayed throughout one's day.

There are still people today who spend incredible amounts of time in liturgical prayer through saying the Office and praying the Mass, and in formal prayer: Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, etc. That's wonderful and necessary for a fully formed spiritual life. It must begin with the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the "source and summit of the faith." It must also include Marian devotion. For something not expressly handed down in the Sacred Scriptures, the Popes sure talk about it an awful lot. Our Lady leads us to her Son, but we have to respond to grace through prayer.

 In fact, I think these people unite it so thoroughly to their daily tasks that I can safely say all they do is pray. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and our recent Popes are very famous examples. But I can think of people who I know on an individual people who do this. And it's inspiring, really, to see "ordinary" people with families and jobs doing extraordinary things out of Love for Him.

Also praised and even deemed necessary by the great spiritual masters is mental prayer, time spent in an interior dialogue with God. Wikipedia has an excellent summary with recent teachings from Popes and recent  writers.

Prayer is composed of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. This is clearly expressed in the Our Father and I think also in the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.") more common to the Eastern Churches. HERE is a succinct explanation. What a great topic for meditation, I think.

"The family that prays together, stays together." In communion with the Catholic Church, I might add. It is far easier to make a habit of the daily Rosary and other prayers when one is a small child than when one is an adult. It is not impossible, just not as easy.

All this leads us to love the Lord God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths, and one another as we love ourselves, following the commandment of Our Lord in the Gospel.

Here, by the way, is the audience talk of Benedict XVI. It's beautiful.

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