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.

A Further Thought on “Lessons from the Baptists”

I recently finished teaching a five-week course on the history and documents of the Second Vatican Council. The course ended with a discussion on the ramifications and conflicting interpretations for the council in the 40+ years since its close. As I reflected on the intervening years I recalled the widely-cited convention that it takes at least 40 years for a council to really come into its own. If that’s true, we are just now at the point where we can begin to implement the documents of Vatican II.

This, in turn, prompted further reflections on Dr. Ed Stetzer’s thoughts on the future of denominations in the life of the Church. If, as he states, denominations need to be focused on their mission in the world as opposed to looking internally at their institutional structures, then it may well be right to say that our 40-years of navel-gazing after the council are up and, rather than look at   how the council affected the Church (spiritually, institutionally, theologically, etc.) it is time to re-read the documents in light of what it means to be a Church in the world.

A lot of time and energy has been put into catechizing the People of God about the implications of the council and calling them to greater participation in the life of the Church. But I’m not convinced that, apart from the ecumenical movement, a lot has been done to point out the significance of the council for the work of the Church in the broader human community.

Too often Bl. Pope John XXIII’s call to “open the windows” of the Church has been interpreted as an invitation to let the influences of secularism into the Church. I would argue that the purpose of opening the windows was to let the Church out into the world! Christ called us to be the light of the world; how can we be light to the world while huddled in the safe confines of our churches — physically or psychologically?

The council highlighted many important truths about the nature of the Church and reminded us that we are the People of God. But we are people sent on a mission. It’s time to stop thinking about how we organize that mission and time to start putting it into practice.

Upcoming Catechist Formation Opportunities

I will be offering two learning opportunities aimed at catechests in the coming months:

The first is a one-hour webinar on social networking. This webinar will offer an overview of social networking for beginners with a special emphasis on implications for Catholic educators and catechists. I will take a brief look at the Church’s teaching on social media, examine the most popular social networking sites, and offer guidelines for getting started in the world of social networking.

While the primary audience will be teachers and catechists from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, there should be plenty of spaces available. To register, click on the time you would like to attend:

  • October 20 at 3:40-4:40p
  • October 21 at 3:40-4:40p
  • October 21 at 7:30-8:30p
  • October 22 at 7:30-8:30p

The second opportunity is a course I will be teaching at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Springfield, Illinois. “The Second Vatican Council: Its History and its Documents” will run for five consecutive Tuesday evenings from October 6 to November 3. We will examine the historical forces that influenced the council, look at selections from the documents, and talk about how the council has been interpreted in the 40 years since it closed. To register, contact the Office for Catechesis.

“Restoring clarity where there had been confusion…”

There are worse ways to mark the passing of Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, than by taking to heart these words from an unpublished interview by John Allen:

I began by explaining the gist of my project, which is to identify the most important forces shaping the future of the Catholic church over the next 100 years. Dulles did not hesitate to offer his candidate: “The internal solidification of Catholicism,” he said, a project that Dulles said began under Pope John Paul II and continues under Pope Benedict XVI.

I pressed Dulles to explain what he meant.

“Restoring clarity where there had been confusion in the period following the Second Vatican Council,” Dulles said. “Rebuilding a strong sense of Catholic identity, including a clear repudiation of the notion that church history can be divided into a ‘before’ and ‘after’ Vatican II. You can see this working itself out today in theology, in liturgy, in religious life ¦ both popes have emphasized the organic connection between the ‘now’ of the church and what came before.”

Read the whole interview. It is, as you would expect, very insightful.

On the Catholic Interpretation of the Bible: Dei Verbum

Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith, the sacred synod takes its direction from these words of St. John: ‘We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ’ (1Jn 1:2-3). Therefore, following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent and of the First Vatican Council, this present council wishes to set forth authentic doctrine on divine revelation and how it is handed on, so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love.

Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation)

22 years after Pius XII’s encyclical on biblical studies, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Pope Paul VI promulgated Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from the Second Vatican Council.

Dei Verbum begins with an extended reflection on the nature of Divine Revelation itself. Stressing the importance of both God’s words and deeds (2), the document goes on to show that “Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself… especially through His death and glorious resurrection.” Because revelation has been perfected, “we now await no further new public revelation” (4). Finally, the Council Fathers affirm that while God can be known through the light of human reason, it is only through grace that man is able to submit to revealed truth (5,6). Continue reading “On the Catholic Interpretation of the Bible: Dei Verbum”