Yesterday I offered another short live video on our office’s Facebook page. This time I spoke about praying in difficult times:
Last week I wrote about viewing Christian apprenticeship as something that happens outside the immediate orbit of the parish. So what would non-parish based Christian apprenticeship look like? Broadly speaking there are few set characteristics. It could center on a stable, long-term group or activity. It could involve strangers coming together for a short time. It may be sponsored by a religious community, or it may be a work of the lay apostolate.
What distinguishes apprenticeship from other pious activity is a desire to come together as followers of Jesus Christ with the aim to grow in holiness through specific, intentional acts of faith. By way of example, taking teens to serve at a soup kitchen could be an act of Christian apprenticeship if it is more than just a “service trip” — that is, if it integrates various facets of Christian living, including prayer, fellowship, and theological reflection.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but does reflect some of the activities I have seen build Christian fellowship and discipleship. in such a way as to be true apprenticeship:
- Rosary Potlucks: I first encountered these gatherings in a homeschooling community our family participated in some years back. The idea was simple: once a month families would gather at a home on a Sunday evening for a shared meal, fellowship, and the praying of the Rosary. The participants varied from month to month, with people coming and going as their schedules permitted, but the practice of hospitality and common prayer was impressive.
- Pilgrimages: It’s a shame that so many Catholics assume a pilgrimage has to involve a trip to Europe or the Holy Land (making them prohibitively expensive or difficult for many). There are a variety of opportunities for local pilgrimages to shrines, historical religious landmarks, and beautiful basilicas that are just a day trip away. Especially during the Year of Mercy, a special trip to the diocesan Holy Door with a group of friends or fellow parishioners would be a great way to grow together in faith.
- Small Faith Communities: Admittedly, as an introvert, I tend to have a hard time in small faith sharing groups (as I’m sure the Why Catholic? group I led a while back can attest!). But having a committed group of people coming together as part of a book club, parish-based program, or sharing based on the Sunday readings is an excellent example of Christian apprenticeship in action. By sharing their own joys and struggles as a disciples, the members support each other and build up the Body of Christ.
- Service Groups and Activities: The Works of Mercy and other apostolic activities are a vital part of Christian apprenticeship (cf Rite of Christian Initiation no. 75). Catholic Worker houses, crisis pregnancy centers, volunteer organizations such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and local food pantries can serve as places both where the faithful come together to practice solidarity with and service to the poor and neglected, but also where they can be inspired by the faith and example of those they serve. My own encounters with Shalom House in Kansas City when I was young impressed on me just how vibrant these types of communities can be.
What types of apprenticeship activities outside the parish have you experienced?
About four years ago one of the high schools in our diocese, finding themselves with sliding enrollment, started a prayer campaign with the specific intention of increasing the number of students at the school. The centerpiece of this campaign was a weekly rosary before the school day. Since beginning that weekly rosary their numbers have steadily increased and they are nearly at capacity.
Inspired by this a member of my department recently approached me about starting a similar endeavor in our curia offices with the goal of increasing levels of discipleship in our diocese.
To that end, for the past two months, we have held a morning rosary in our curia chapel every Thursday before office hours. We chose Thursday both for scheduling reasons and because the Luminous Mysteries seem especially relevant to the cause of discipleship. In place of the traditional prayer after the rosary we have substituted the collect prayer from the Mass for the New Evangelization.
We also developed a small pamphlet for people to take home in case they couldn’t join us Thursday mornings.
It is, of course, too early to know of any direct effects of this effort. Regardless, reminding ourselves of the end goal of our work — to help individuals grow in holiness and become more dedicated, authentic disciples — is essential for those of us in more “bureaucratic” ministries. I trust that God will bless these prayers with an abundant harvest.
It’s been a while since I took “Spirituality and Human Development,” but one of the themes I recall from the class is that our spirituality and prayer life change as we age. The accumulation of experience allows us to gain new insights into the divine and opens us to new ways of communicating with God; this, of course, has an affect on our relationship to God.
This has hit home for me a few times in my life. A year after completing my graduate studies I found myself engaging in new types of prayer — particularly an increased use of the Rosary and a greater sense of efficacy in my silent prayer. At first I was uncertain why I was being drawn in this direction (beyond my generation’s general reappropriation of older faith practices). Eventually it dawned on me: while in college and graduate school I had used my studies as the foundation for my prayer life. Indeed, there is a long history in the Church of study as prayer (to such an extent that Dominican friars are excused from communal prayer if engaged in study). Following my master’s degree and subsequent exit from higher education, my prayer life dried up for about a year as I “re-learned” how to pray. Since I was no longer spending significant time immersed in the study of scripture, Church history, morality, and the like, my normal avenue for prayer had been cut off.
While this was undoubtedly painful, it also proved to be a great blessing as it opened me to new ways of prayer that I did not have the time or energy to devote to before.
Lately, after nearly a decade of fits and starts, I’ve gotten into a general rhythm of using the Liturgy of the Hours. I’m not as consistent as I would like, but most morning and many evenings I take 10-15 minutes to pray Lauds and Vespers. I’ve not yet gotten into the habit of adding Compline, but I am working towards it.
Nevertheless, and in spite of the inconsistent nature of its application, the effect has been profound: I’ve notice a real change in my temperament and attitude when I begin the day with Morning Prayer, and a stronger resistance to temptation when I’m consistent for several days in a row. In particular I find myself dealing with my children in a more patient manner — something, my wife likes to remind me, that I need to work on.
As before, I’m not sure why it is that, at this particular moment in my life, this type of prayer has suddenly “clicked.” But unlike before I haven’t lost the types of prayer that I relied on previously. I still pray the Rosary and still find comfort in silent prayer. What I am experiencing now is a wider embrace of prayer types, not a replacing of the old.
The Second Vatican Council teaches that “the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office,” for “all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ’s spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church their Mother.” (Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 100, 85) I am still discovering just what this mean, but I am thankful that, at this time in my life, the Liturgy of the Hours has been such a source of strength and a means of increasing virtue in my life. I pray, too, that it will continue to do so as I continue to grow in love and knowledge of God.