Spiritual Life: May 2009 Archives

For the most part, the time for priestly diaconal ordinations have come and gone. Where I am for the summer, a newly ordained priest is due to arrive in a few days. Having heard plenty of ordination homilies over the years none are as insightful as Benedict XVI's especially when he proposes a plan to be spiritually fit. Of course, all what is said is not restricted to priests but applicable to the laity as well. All of us reading this post are familiar with all the points made about developing a prayer life and seeing them together constitutes a serious plan. Father Mark draws our attention to one item that is near-and-dear to many of us: lectio divina. I am re-posting a portion of Father Mark's recent May blog entry because I think it's helpful.


What is Father Everypriest's daily Rule of Prayer according to Pope Benedict XVI? Let's consider the elements of the Rule in the order in which the Holy Father presents them.

1) Daily Holy Mass. Daily. Not 6 days week, not 5, or 4 days a week, but daily. The liturgical cycle in its hourly, daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms is given us precisely to facilitate our "abiding" in Christ hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and year after year. Integral to the liturgical cycle is daily Holy Mass. The Eucharistic Sacrifice sends the divine lifeblood coursing through one's spiritual organism. Without daily Mass, the priest will succumb to spiritual anemia.

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2) The Liturgy of the Hours. The Hours give rhythm and grace to daily life. They are a school of discipline (discipleship), a supernatural system of irrigation channeling grace into every moment of the day, a privileged way of offering thanks in communion with all who, "in heaven, on earth, and under the earth," confess the Name of Jesus and bend the knee before Him. A priest who loves the Divine Office will enjoy an interior life that is sane, and sound, and wholly ecclesial. Fidelity to the Divine Office refines the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, sharpens one's discernment, and imparts to everything the priest does a certain Eucharistic and doxological quality.

3) Eucharistic Adoration. Are you surprised? Eucharistic adoration has known a kind of springtime since The Year of the Eucharist (2004-2005) that was also the year of the death of Pope John Paul II and of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Two Americans known for loving their brother priests and ministering to them tirelessly -- Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Father Gerald Fitzgerald of the Holy Spirit -- insisted on a daily hour before the Blessed Sacrament as a sine qua non of priestly spirituality. The priest who adores the Blessed Sacrament exposes his weaknesses and wounds to the healing radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. Moreover, he abides before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus as the representative of his people: of the sick, the poor, the bereaved, and of those locked in spiritual combat. The priest who looks to the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, and draws near to His Open Heart in the Sacrament of the Altar, will, just as the psalm says, be radiant, and he will not be put to shame.

4) Lectio Divina. Again -- a monastic thing? No, a Catholic thing. The quality of a priest's preaching is directly proportionate to his commitment to lectio divina. Neglect of lectio divina leads to mediocre preaching. Opening the Scriptures is like opening the tabernacle: therein the priest finds the "hidden manna" his soul craves. The four steps of lectio divina can be accommodated to any length of time: 1) lectio, i.e. the Word heard; 2) meditatio, i.e. the Word repeated; 3) oratio, i.e. the Word prayed; 4) contemplatio; i.e. the indwelling Word. Lectio divina cannot be occasional; it is not a random pursuit. Learn to say, "I am not available." Get over feeling guilty about taking time for God!

5) Holy Rosary. Yes, the daily Rosary. It's a spiritual lifeline that has saved many a priest from spiritual shipwreck. The brilliant and holy exegete and founder of the École biblique in Jerusalem, Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, was observed praying fifteen mysteries of the Rosary each day, and asked, "Why, Father, do you, a great exegete, need to pray the Rosary?" "Because, " he answered, "it decapitates pride." I would add that not only does the Rosary decapitate pride; it decapitates each of the seven capital sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. With the passing of the years I have come to appreciate the profound wisdom of an old Dominican priest to whom I used to make my confession years ago. Invariably, after confessing my miseries, Father would ask, "Do you say the Rosary, son?" And invariably I would reply, "Yes, Father." And then he would say, "Aye, then you'll be alright." A priest who prays the Rosary daily will be alright and, almost imperceptibly, will grow in purity and humility.

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6) Meditation. Meditation can mean many things, even within our Catholic tradition. It is integral to the prayerful celebration of Holy Mass and the Hours. "it nourishes Eucharistic adoration. It is the second "moment" of lectio divina. It is the soul of the Rosary. In my own experience, meditation is related to "remembering the things the Lord has done." Saint Gertrude the Great, a model of the mystical life grounded in the liturgy, used to say, "A grace remembered is a grace renewed." Understood in this sense, meditation, by recalling the mercies of the Lord in the past, infuses the present with hope, and allows the priest to go forward with a holy boldness.

Is it necessary to set a period of time apart for meditation as such? That depends on whom you ask. The Carmelite, Jesuit and Sulpician traditions would hold fast to some form of meditation as a daily exercise. The monastic tradition has, on the whole, taken a more supple approach to meditation. It is a daily practice, but one diffused in every form of prayer, including the liturgy itself. One learns to pace one's prayer, to pause, to breathe, to linger over a phrase, a word, or an image. Whether one espouses the Ignatian way or the monastic approach, meditation is an integral to every priest's daily Rule of Prayer.

The Suscipe

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The Suscipe prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is a regular part of my spiritual regimen --and it has been so for many years-- because it reminds me of the total abandonment to God's will that I want to live. I offer the prayer here in English and Latin for your convenience. It is a perfect part of morning prayer.

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or possess Thou hast bestowed upon me; I give it all back to Thee and surrender it wholly to be governed by Thy Will. Give me love for Thee alone along with Thy grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem. Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem. Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es; id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum. Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones, et dives sum satis, hec aliud quidquam ultra posco.

(Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises)

O God, our Father, endless source of life and peace, welcome into Your merciful embrace the fallen of the war that raged here, the fallen on all wars that have bloodied the earth.

Grant that they may enjoy the light that does not fail, which in the reflection of Your splendor illumines the consciences of all men and women of good will.


You, Who in Your Son Jesus Christ gave suffering humanity a glorious witness of Your love for us, You, Who in our Lord Christ gave us the sign of a suffering that is never in vain, but fruitful in Your redeeming power,  grant those who yet suffer for the blind violence of fratricidal wars the strength of the hope that does not fade, the dream of a definitive civilization of love, the courage of a real and daily activity of peace.

Give us your Paraclete Spirit so that the men of our time may understand that the gift of peace is much more precious than any corruptible treasure, and that while awaiting the day that does not end we are all called to be builders of peace for the future of Your children.

Make all Christians more convinced witnesses of life, the inestimable gift of Your love, You Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen,

(Pope Benedict XVI, Polish Military Cemetery, Montecassino, May 24, 2009)

Jesuit Fathers Campbell and McMahon write in their book, Becoming a Person in the Whole Christ:

The essential foundation of our ability to become a person lies in our ability to transcend isolation and to share ourselves as free gift with another.

This capacity for openness to all of reality, the hallmark of every spiritual being, is the essence of man as person, providing him with potentialities for human growth that are unlimited. It is also the "ground" of our capacity for religious experience, making it possible for God to give Himself to us through a sharing in His divine life, and ultimately in the fullness of open friendship with Him.

There are very few men who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely to His hands, and let themselves be formed by His Grace. A thick and shapeless tree trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture ... and would never consent to submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor who, as St. Augustine says, sees by his genius what he can make of it. Many people who, we see, now scarcely live as Christians, do not understand that they could become saints, if they would let themselves be formed by the grace of God, if they did not ruin His plans by resisting the work which He wants to do... In this life a thing is good only in the degree in which it serves eternal life. And it is evil in that degree in which it makes us turn aside or away from it. In this way the soul, suffering contradictions on this earth, enlightened and purified by the eternal dew, builds its nest on the heights, concentrates all its desires on the search for Christ crucified since, after being crucified in this life, it will rise to life with Him in the next.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola to Ascanio Colonna, Rome, April 25, 1543

Thinking about prayer, my desire to pray and the priest's duty to be man of prayer, I found this reflection on prayer, dependence on God helpful. I think Dom Augustin's essay is quite good at getting the heart of reality. Perhaps it be helpful for you, too.

The reasons for praying are as numerous as they are imperative. They correspond to all our needs without exception, and to all occasions. They are also in accord with the favors we receive in answer to our prayers and to God's rights over His creatures.

Our divine Master's word has explored and lighted up everything, our human world and God's world. He revealed the powerlessness of the first when He said: "Without Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).


We have read these words often enough, but without penetrating them. We no more understand the "nothing" than we do the "all." The nature of our being does not allow us to understand it. We do not look at our tiny being as it actually is in the light of the "all." We do not compare the hours of our life, so short and transient, with God's changeless eternity. We do not see the place we occupy in the universe as compared to His immensity, which infinitely overflows our tiny universe, and could embrace numberless others, far greater than ours. Above all, we forget that our being is not ours. 

Moment by moment we receive the tiny drop of being that God designs to give us. The only reason we have it is because He gives it to us; and having received it, immediately it begins to dissolve; it slips through our fingers and is replaced by another which escapes us with the same rapidity. All this being comes from God and returns to Him; it depends upon Him alone. We are like vessels into which He pours that being drop by drop, so as to create a bond of dependence upon Him, whereby His Being is manifested and made known and, when lovingly welcomed, is glorified.

Prayer is this intelligent vessel, which knows, loves, thanks and glorifies. It says, in effect: My God, the present moment and the light by which I am aware of it, comes from You. My mind, which appreciates it; the upward leaping of my heart which responds to that recognition and thanks You for it; the living bond created by this moment -- all is from You. Everything comes from You. All that is within me, all that is not You; all created beings and their movements; my whole being and its activities all is from You. Without You nothing exists; apart from You is just nothingness; apart from Your Being there is merely non- existence.

How this complete dependence, upon which I have so often and so deeply meditated, ought to impress me! I feel that it plunges me into the depths of reality, into truth. Nevertheless, it does not completely express that reality. There was a time when this nothingness rose up in opposition to "Him Who is". It wanted to be independent of Him; it put itself forward, refused to obey Him and cut itself off from Him. It made war on Him and became His enemy. It destroyed His Image in the heart's citadel where hitherto He had reigned, and usurped His Throne. These are only metaphors, and they do not do justice to the real horror of the plight created by sin; but we must be content with them, as they are all we have. We must remember, however, that they are completely inadequate.

And every day we add to this predicament, already so grave. Every personal sin of ours is an acceptance of this state: we choose it, we love it and prefer it to union with God. We lap up, as it were, these sins like water. We take pleasure in plunging into them as into a stream, the waters of which rise persistently, and in time overwhelm us and carry us away. They toss us about like a straw, and submerge us. Thoughts, feelings, words, really bad acts and innumerable omissions fill our days and nights, and intermingle, more or less consciously, with our every movement, and at all hours. They spoil the purity of our ordinary actions such as eating and drinking; they introduce themselves into our sleep and mix with our waking movements, and with our external acts as with our most intimate thoughts. Because of our fallen state, everything becomes matter and occasion to drag us down further into evil.

Dom Augustin Guillerand, O. Cart. (1877-1945), The Prayer of the Presence of God

I recommend to your consideration the stages of the spiritual life outlined by Jean-Baptiste Chautard in his book The Soul of the Apostolate. The 9 stages are listed by Capuchin Friar Charles on his blog, a minor friar.

The renowned German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked, "it is very easy to over-estimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others."

Indeed. Beginning right now let's take an honest look at ourselves and our work.

Jesus, gentle and humble of Heart,

You are the Bread of Life;

help me to live my life hidden in Your Eucharistic Heart

in the Presence of our Father

united in the love and power of Your Holy Spirit.

Give me a listening heart,

a heart to love You for Your own Sake, to love You in myself,

and to love You in my brothers and sisters as You have loved.

Consume me in the fire of Your love.

Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word and my Mother,

you are the first "house of bread."

Help me to live in perfect love by being:

the bread of Humility and Abandonment to the Father's will;

the bread of Sincerity and Truth,

the bread of Purity of Heart;

the bread of Word and Eucharist;

the bread of Simplicity, Poverty and Littleness;

the bread of Silence and Solitude;

the bread of Prayer and Contemplation;

the bread of Reconciliation and Peace;

the bread of Interior and Joyful Suffering;

the bread of Charity and Desert Hospitality,

broken and offered with Jesus to the merciful Father

and shared for the salvation of the world.

Holy Mary, Lady of Bethlehem, Queen of the Desert,

guide me in the journey of the Spirit that, together with you,

I may participate in the wedding feast of the Risen Lamb

until at last I may sing an eternal Magnificat of Love and Praise, 

face to Face, before our All-Holy Triune God. Amen.

A Way of Desert Spirituality: The Plan of Life of the Hermits of Bethlehem

Father Eugene L. Romano, Founder of the Hermits of Bethlehem, Chester, New Jersey

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Spiritual Life category from May 2009.

Spiritual Life: April 2009 is the previous archive.

Spiritual Life: June 2009 is the next archive.

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