3 Minute Retreat: Blessed and Broken

My next reflection was posted today for Loyola Press’s 3-Minute Retreat!  You can view the retreat on the  3-Minute Retreat web site  or  Facebook page. (It really does only take three minutes!)


The breaking of the bread has always been an intriguing symbol to me. Bread can only be shared when it is broken; it can only fulfill its purpose through its own destruction. This seems a fitting image of the call to martyrdom “ loving God so much that we are willing to allow ourselves to be broken for him, to die to ourselves for something greater. Yet in this brokenness is also great blessing, for it is not a barren, empty destruction, but the means by which we are given new life. Just as the broken bread was blessed and sustained the multitudes, so too are our broken lives blessed and made an instrument of the Kingdom of God.

Original photo by libraryman/flickrCC

Passing On the Peace

About two weeks ago my family and I found ourselves in an unlikely setting: participating in the Divine Liturgy of the Maronite Catholic Church. Specifically, we were at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri.

I’ve attended a Divine Liturgy before (in the Syro-Malabar tradition), so it wasn’t that foreign to me. But I was delighted to experience the way in which the Maronites conduct the Sign of Peace: The person receiving the Sign of Peace puts their hands together at about chest level, as if in prayer. Then the person giving the Sign of Peace places their hands on the outside of the receivers hands.

It’s a surprisingly intimate gesture.  Even more delightful, however, is that the congregation doesn’t just give the Sign of Peace will-nilly; the priest begins by giving the Sign of Peace to the ministers in the sanctuary, then (at this parish) to two ushers who have come up to the front of the church. The ushers go down the aisle, giving the sign to the persons sitting at the end of each pew, who then “pass it down” the pew from one person to the next.

The whole effect, at least from my vantage point in the back of the church, was to literally see Christ’s peace spread across the faithful gathered in prayer, from one person to the other. The fact that it began with one person also emphasized the unity of the congregation — this wasn’t just many people wishing peace to each other, but a single peace being passed from person to person.

When I remarked on the practice to my friend Fr. Zehnle, he said that he had heard of (but not experienced) similar practices in monastic communities in the Latin Church. I’d love to see the practice adopted in more parishes — I think it would help people understand, through gesture, the profound nature of our communal sharing in the peace of Christ.

Original photo by catholicism/flickrCC

3 Minute Retreat: On a Peace Mission

Today the first of my Lenten reflections based on Loyola Press’s 3 Minute Retreat series goes live! You can view the retreat on the 3-Minute Retreat web site or Facebook page. (It really does only take three minutes!)


Children are natural peacemakers “ probably because they are also natural peace breakers! Not a day goes by that two of my children don’t get into some sort of argument over a toy or game or who touched who. There is yelling, some recriminations, and maybe a few tears. Yet as soon as the problem arises it seems to right itself and they are off on another adventure without a grudge between them. My children are the clearest signs in my life of God’s wonderful gift of peace and the possibility for real reconciliation. They give me hope that maybe one day I’ll be able to practice that same kind of peace with those around me!

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!

Keeping Advent

Every year it seems that the cultural observance of Christmas starts a little bit earlier. Stores are constantly seeking to lengthen the time they have to sell holiday items; this year I even saw some stores with Christmas decorations in stock before Halloween!

While this is understandable from a commercial point of view, it clashes with the Church’s observance and understanding of Advent — that time of both preparation for Christmas and anticipation for the Second Coming of Christ.

How can we keep Advent in a culture that has forgotten this important liturgical season?

  • Put up an Advent wreath in your home. Light it during meal time with your family.
  • Start each day in prayer and reflection. Many parishes provide a booklet of reflections for use during Advent; you can also purchase such booklets from a local Catholic bookstore or online Catholic supply store.
  • Utilize a site such as the University of Creighton’s “Praying Advent” page for daily prayers and audio reflections.
  • Don’t decorate your house or trim your tree until the week before Christmas and leave the decorations up throughout Christmas Time.
  • Attend the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, either at a parish reconciliation service or at your parish’s normal time.
  • Find or download an album of Advent music (yes, they do exist!) to play during the season.

For the record: This year Advent begins on November 27. The Octave of the Nativity of the Lord begins on December 25 and ends on January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God). Christmas Time begins the evening of December 25  24 and runs until January 8 (the Epiphany of the Lord) 9 (the Baptism of the Lord).

Have a very blessed Advent season. Come, Lord Jesus!

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.)

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.

Setting the Context for the Roman Missal, third edition

At our January 20 meeting of DREs in the diocese, our director of worship and the catechumenate, Eliot Kapitan, delivered a great presentation addressing four common questions about the new translation of the Mass. Because of bad weather, many DREs couldn’t attend so we recorded the presentation:


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!”

Aging, Prayer, and the Divine Office

Statue: angel prayingIt’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.