How To Survive a Social Media Attack With Your Soul Intact

The past weekend our diocesan Facebook page came under attack after our bishop wrote about the spiritual implications of voting for intrinsic evil. Some of the posters engaged the substance of the arguments; some, while disrespectful, were at least not vulgar or obscene; and the rest made for the most soul-damaging work of my life. I won’t describe the types of things I had to delete from our page. Suffice to say that the language, while course, was nothing compared to the brutality of the photoshopped pictures that people posted. I was sick to my stomach and sick in my heart.

So how does one maintain faith, hope, and charity amid such a morass of filth and hate? How can you weather such a storm with your heart still ready to reach out to others? Here’s how I handled it:

  1. Find some beauty. I was fortunate that, in the middle of this mess, I chanced across a picture my friend Dorian had tweeted of a beautiful cathedral dome. Taking in that beauty for just a few seconds lifted me up a bit and reminded me that, while my computer screen was filled with ugliness, there is beauty in the world.
  2. Take a break. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a little while. While I didn’t like the idea of something obscene being posted in my absence, the truth is that policing our Facebook page is not my most important job — either in my work for the Church or in my life. Taking time with my family, reading a book, making a meal — anything to get my mind off the Facebook page for a little while helped me to get back to a sense of “normalcy.”
  3. Remember it is temporary. Just remembering that this, too, will pass came with a great sense of relief. Our Facebook page has been attacked before; this one, too, will subside with time as people get bored and move on to the next confrontation. And in fact the main brunt of the attack was over in under 24 hours.
  4. Pray, pray, pray. We’ve been praying the St. Michael Prayer after Mass in our  diocese  for a couple years now, but never has the phrase “defend us in battle” taken on such immediacy for me. Asking the archangel for his intercession — especially on Saturday, when it was the Feast of the Archangels! — helped me to soldier on through the attacks. St. Michael is a powerful patron when undergoing spiritual trials — rely on him!

How do you maintain your spiritual wellness when confronted with sin and ugliness online?

Video: Fortnight for Freedom Prayer Rally – Springfield, IL

Yesterday our diocesan bishop, the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, hosted a prayer rally outside the Illinois State Capitol as part of our observance of the Fortnight for Freedom. I was particularly impressed with this rally’s focus on prayer as the primary strength of the Church. Bishop Paprocki was one of the architects of the Fortnight for Freedom and his consistant message has been that the Fortnight should be an event centered on prayer and education — not partisan posturing.

The rally was recorded; I offer it here, the day before we celebrate our Independence Day,  as one example of how the Church participates in the public life of our nation in a spirit of affirmative orthodoxy.

(Any complaints about the shaky camera work can be directed to your humble servant, who forgot the tripod.)

Technology and Prayer: The Angelus Bell

A few months ago I decided to add a new element to my prayer routine: the daily Angelus. Unfortunately I had a problem in that my schedule varies greatly from day to day, so making a habit of praying at noon is difficult.

The solution: my cell phone.

I created a new alarm on my phone set to go off at noon every day. That could have been enough, but it didn’t seem very “churchy.” Knowing that in the past churches would ring their bells to signal the praying of the Angelus I decided to take things a step further. I did a search for “church bells mp3”, downloaded the sound of a church bell ringing, and set that sound as the alarm tone. The result: at noon every day my “Angelus bell” sounds from my phone, signaling me to take a few moments for prayer!

This system has worked very well and, if you’re like me and carry your phone almost everywhere, it can be a simple way to incorporate a little more prayer in your day!

Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving

As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection this Sunday, it is an opportune time to reflect on what we have done and experienced during our Lenten journey. Have we made this time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving a renewal for the joyous dawn of Easter? Or have we gone through the motions and failed to

Sr. Joan Delaplane, OP, once wrote of Lent that

Yes, we are called to fast, to pray, and to give alms; but not as ends in themselves. Fast not only from food, but from the fear that God will not be our enough; fast from talking all the time and give, not only alms, but a listening ear to our children, our spouse, our colleagues; fast from nurturing anger and hurts and give forgiveness; fast from needing other’s approval and give God the glory ¦ Fast from cynicism regarding our government or our times and write or call a legislator ¦ The focus for those on the Way must be God, God’s people, God’s poor, and God’s Kingdom.

Of course, the truth is that we are called to do these things year round, to let our Lenten practice become our Christian witness. May God grant us the grace to carry on our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving as an Easter people born again through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

3 Minute Retreat Mondays

I am honored and pleased to have been invited by Loyola Press to contribute a series of reflections based on their 3 Minute Retreats for the Mondays of Lent.  My first reflection will be posted on Monday; other authors will be contributing their own reflections for each of the 40 days, beginning with an introductory reflection tomorrow by Fr. James Martin, SJ.

The easiest way to access all the retreats and reflections is by submitting your email address, through the 3 Minute Retreat web site, or via their  Facebook page. I will be posting my reflections every Monday of Lent on this blog and on my Facebook page. I hope that you will find these reflections a beneficial addition to your Lenten preparation!

Experimenting with Prayer – Media Divina

I spent the last two days conducting a retreat/workshop on social media for the principals of the Diocese of Belleville. For the opening prayer on Wednesday I decided to experiment with a variation of lectio divina  that used the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3-23) across various  media.

I began with reading the parable from Sacred Scripture, asking the participants to listen for a word or phrase that spoke to them. We meditated for a few minutes, then went around the room and shared our word or phrase.

Next I showed this video version of the parable:

I asked the participants to focus on a visual image from the video that spoke to them in a special way, or on how their understanding of the parable was deepened by the video. We again spent a few minutes in meditation and then shared.

Finally I played the song “Thistle & Weeds” by Mumford & Sons. (I also projected the lyrics so the group could follow along) and asked them to listen for God’s call or invitation to action. We again meditated on what we had heard and shared. We then closed with a short prayer.

I think this prayer experience was a success; the group seemed to appeciate the multi-sensory nature of the prayer and they did an excellent job of drawing out meaning from the text. (And most of them weren’t previosly familiar with lectio divina.) I will definitely be using this form of prayer for future events.

(I also put together a PowerPoint for praying the Angelus with the group; I’ve posted it on my Handouts page for anyone to use.)

A Child Learns the Power of Prayer (A True Story)

A year or so ago our oldest was packing for a weekend trip to Grandma’s house. He was growing increasing despondent because, months before, he had lost track of his Nintendo DS and really wanted to take it with him for the car ride. He had searched the whole house several times, was ready to give up, and plopped down on the living room chair.

“You know,” he said, “Mrs. D. at school told us about a prayer we could pray when we lost something.”

“Oh?” I replied. “You mean the prayer to St. Anthony? ‘Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and can’t be found.'”

“Yeah, that one. I hope St. Anthony can help me find it.”

I am absolutely not making this up: 30 seconds later the kid gets a strange look on his face, plunges his hand into the cushions of the chair, and brings out his DS.

That is the day my oldest became a believer in the power of prayer.

Opening Prayer for Peace

Photo by Prakhar Amba / flickerCC

This morning I am leading an opening prayer for a meeting. I had prepared a perfectly serviceable Liturgy of the Word for the Feast of St. Athanasius. However, given last night’s news on the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. military forces, I decided to go in a different direction.

Without getting into politics, praying for our enemies and for peace is one of Christ’s commands to us. In that spirit I have prepared a brief  Liturgy of the Word for Peace. Feel free to copy and use it.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part II: The Priestly Ministry of Christ

Photo by Prakhar Amba / flickerCC

(Missed the first part of this series? Start at Part I)

The three-fold ministry of Christ is beautifully summarized in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Christifideles Laici. Of the priestly ministry the pontiff says:

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God. (14)

So the faithful participate in the priestly ministry through prayer; offering up their work to God; and through their participation in the Holy Eucharist.

I am convinced that, as administrators, the most important thing we can do for those who work under us is to pray “ first, for ourselves! “ that we may be given the wisdom, discernment, and patience to do our jobs well. But we also need to pray for those who work for us, that they may be given those same gifts. (Especially that they will have the patience to deal with us!)

In the Church we also have the privilege and responsibility to pray with our co-workers. Hopefully we all pray before meetings, but time should also be taken for more extended times of prayer, such as days of reflection and retreat. We must also remember to pray together when significant events occur in the lives of our coworkers, such as the births of children or the deaths of spouses.

In addition to prayer we participate in the priestly ministry of Christ when we engage in and encourage others in their formation as disciples of Christ. This, too, is a type of prayer! (Don’t believe me? The Order of Preachers actually has a tradition of study as prayer, such that a Dominican friar may skip communal prayer if in the middle of studying.)

As our bishop said in his homily during Sunday’s Morning Prayer, faith formation is a life-long process. We didn’t graduate at Confirmation! God is mystery, and the depths of that mystery are never plumbed. We grow in our faith by participating in programs of formation, by readings spiritual works, by studying Sacred Scripture “ all for the purpose of our own sanctification and to better enter into communion with God, his Church, and one anther.

Photo: Prakhar Amba / Flickr

You/Who/Do/Through

Welcome to new readers directed here from Joe Paprocki’s Catechist’s Journey blog — and thanks to Joe for the shout-out! You can subscribe to my blog by clicking on the RSS link at the top of the page or following me @sullijo on Twitter. You might also be interested in a free webinar I will be giving November 17: Reaching Parishioners with Facebook.

Tuesday’s webinar on Leading Prayer as a Catechist by Joe Paprocki (catechist extraordinaire and brother to my boss) was excellent. I was especially impressed with the section on extemporaneous (or spontaneous) prayer — something Catholics are not well known for.* Nevertheless, extemporaneous prayer need not be something to fear.

Joe gave a simple formula for extemporaneous prayer that anyone can use to come up with a quick prayer on the fly: You/Who/Do/Through. I’ve been using this method for years to great effect.

After remarking on the formula to some new principals yesterday, they asked if I would send out something they could use with teachers to help them when they have to come up with prayers on their own.

Here is the one-page Spontaneous Prayer Handout I came up with to share with them. Please feel free to copy it for use in your parishes and schools.

* My wife’s family once asked me to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner. Knowing they aren’t Catholic, I skipped the traditional grace before meals for a short spontaneous prayer. My wife’s aunt, a staunch Methodist, came up to me afterward and remarked, “I didn’t know Catholics could pray like that!”