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Beholding God

Department for Adult Education and Evangelisation

“The glory of God is humanity, fully alive; the life of humanity consists in beholding God”. This simple website seeks to offer us tools for discernment, tools for prayer and resources to enable our diocesan community to deepen its awareness of the God who reveals himself to us. Through prayer we seek to enter into a loving relationship with the God who opens up before us the wonder of his life and love.

“The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.” (CCC 2560)

Hopefully, there is something here for you, something which will lead you to a deeper understanding of prayer and a richer understanding of the spiritual life. These pages may be simple signposts leading you elsewhere to other resources. They may not hold the answer or, at least, the complete answer but they may direct you to somewhere that can help quench that inner thirst for the waters that only God can give.

 

God is our home...

God is our home. More mysteriously, Jesus tells us that we are God’s home too (cf John 15, v.4). It is in God that we live and move and have our being, as St Paul reminds us. Jesus surprised the Samaritan woman, whom he encountered unexpectedly by Jacob’s well, by telling her that we carry this well-spring of Life, God’s Spirit of Love, within us wherever we go (cf John 4,v.14).The psalmist also reminds us that we are never out of God’s reach or presence, however far from home we may be:

“Where shall I go from your presence? Where shall I flee from your Spirit? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I go down to the depths, you are there also. If I rise up on the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea. Even there your hand leads me, Your right hand holding me fast.” Psalm 139

Made in the Divine Image, we ‘human merely beings’ are the fragile, earthenware vessels which contain this priceless Treasure, who is Christ. God is closer to us than our breathing! The entire universe, too, is ‘ablaze with the glory of God’, and so everywhere is God’s domain, and our humanity, flawed though it be, is to be a reflection of that light.

St Irenaeus of Lyons asserts that ‘the glory of God is humanity, fully alive; the life of humanity consists in beholding God” (Against Heresies, Book 4, 20:7) Spirituality is about the WHOLE of life, illuminated by the Spirit, who pervades all things. St Ignatius Loyola invites us to ‘find God in all things,’ and Dom Helder Camara suggests: ‘All, absolutely all, speaks to me of You.’ Spirituality, then, is about LIFE, lived to the FULL (John 10,v.10) in Christ, through the Spirit.

Prayer is that breath of the Spirit, breathed in and through us, in communion with the Father, through the Son. Sometimes this may be expressed in words, but often in ‘sighs too deep for words,’ which are nevertheless understood by the indwelling Spirit who knows and understands all.

When we pray, we are entering into that great stream of love which flows between Jesus and our Abba. We don’t need many words (Matthew 6, v.7) because our Abba knows us from within, and what we need, before we ask. Such intimacy, knowledge and love!
The invitation is to an ever deeper union with God through love and unceasing prayer, which transforms us to become ever more like Christ, and to reflect his love and presence in our lives and our world.

As one of the Desert Fathers said to a brother who came seeking guidance on prayer:

“If you will, you can become all fire, all light.”

Nourished by the wonderful gift of the Eucharist, the table of the Word in Scripture, the Sacraments and our common life in Christ, we discover more and more of the beauty and mystery of God’s presence which surrounds and enfolds us in love, always and everywhere.

Where do I begin?

Spirituality! Just what do we mean or understand when we hear that word or others talking about their spirituality? What does it mean to you and how is that connected to your faith journey, the way you live and how you pray? Are you that ‘disciple who is bearing witness’ (John 21:24) to the things of the Lord? In the Catholic tradition spirituality is about our relationship with the Lord and with his creation.
Bishop Brian Noble, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Spirituality Committee said: “The word spirituality now is bandied around in all sorts of different contexts, and can really mean anything from body piercing to prayer, meditation and contemplation.”

He goes on to say that they wanted to introduce some clarity on the question of spirituality for the benefit of the Catholic community. In response to this the Bishops’ Conference have produced a helpful book on Catholic spirituality called “Do you love me”. This book is based on the last chapter of St John’s Gospel – Chapter 21. You can find a link to this book and a short video in the links section of this website.

Do you love me? takes a ‘read-and-reflect’ approach to learning more about our Catholic spirituality. This book may be a good place to start if you are just starting to explore your own spirituality or reading John 21.

“Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”. Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep”. John 21:1-19

Now take a deep breathe… are you ready to be taken where you would rather not go… If you are, now is the time to explore your spirituality through the pages of this website, through prayer and in this Year of Mercy, acts of mercy or service in your parish or community, be that at home or work. Our spirituality is about developing that personal relationship with each other and with the Lord. Our Catholic spirituality is something very active. It is something we do, not just something we read about.

Links:

Do you love me?

Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

The first question we all have to answer is ‘what or whom do you seek’. This is not a one off question, it is a question we need to ask at the start of everyday and sometimes several times a day when things get tough or we are challenged to wander from the path. Are you ready to follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem? Are you ready to put yourself under the impulse of the Spirit and into the hands of God to do his will? Are you ready to put yourself to the task of bringing about God’s peaceable Kingdom, wherever you are and in whatever you do?

So do you truly seek God? Take some time to reflect on this key question, a question we all have to address in our lives? And if you answer YES be prepared to travel the road less travelled. T. S. Eliot in his very powerful poem, ‘The Four Quartets’, which is in some way (intended or not) a guide to the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, says:

We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…

…A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

The point here is that we will spend our whole lives seeking God and it will be costly. The key seems to be that God seeks us out where we are and where we find ourselves living out our lives. God is calling us and is waiting to bring us to him – that may be to be a ‘Martha’ or a ‘Mary’ – we each have a different and unique path to the Father. You have to do two things 1. Say yes Lord and 2. Learn to listen with the ‘ear of your heart’. Within the pages of this website you will find help to guide you on this journey – a journey to the centre, to the heart of the matter, which is YOUR relationship with God the Father. If you hear God’s voice today do not harden your heart.

The following prayer was written by a twelfth-century monk, who was also a theologian and philosopher and who was immersed in his relationship with the Father. Take it as your guide as you set out from the shore on the most amazing journey you will ever take, one of Spiritual Friendship and discover of who the Father is for you and what your true name is on that ‘white stone’ in heaven…

Prayer of St Anselm of Canterbury

O my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You,
where and how to find You.
You are my God and You are my all and I have never seen You.
You have made me and remade me,
You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess,
Still I do not know You.
I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Teach me to seek You.
I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Teach me to seek You.
I cannot seek You unless You teach me
or find You unless You show Yourself to me.
Let me seek You in my desire,
let me desire You in my seeking.
Let me find You by loving You,
let me love You when I find You.

Prayer: A bridge between longing and belonging

This page or indeed this website is not going to tell you how to pray, but hopefully encourage you to have a go… to see prayer in a different light and something that YOU can do and all you have to do is make yourself available to God, to be truly present and to listen with the ear of your heart, as St Benedict says. He also says ‘keep it short’!

“To pray is to come into presence. It is about leaving the heavy emotional, cognitive, and ideological baggage outside the door. When you sit down and come into the presence it is then that you are most your self”. John O’Donohue, ‘Eternal Echoes’, 1998.

There was a very famous Abbot in this Diocese and whose two favourite maxims on the subject of prayer were these:

“Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t” and secondly, “The less you pray, the worse it goes”. Abbot John Chapman OSB

Abbot Chapman’s spiritual letters are well worth a read if you can get hold of a copy. They are letters to people like you and me working away at our daily tasks, living our lives in whatever circumstances we find ourselves living in, and finding it hard to pray. This is just as true for a lay person as it is for our parish priest – we can all struggle and prayer is not the reserve of those in holy orders!

We are blessed in our catholic tradition with writings on prayer and you only have to review this website to gain a sense of that richness. So great is this richness we could spend all our time reading about ‘prayer’ and not finding the time to get down to ‘doing’ it. We are constantly seeking the right school of prayer or ‘method’ or ‘technique’ of prayer. We can so devote ourselves to the method or technique that we can begin to lose sight of why we are praying or even fail to get started.

One question you may want to ask just now is ‘what is pray’ or as a recent visitor to our Diocese said ‘why bother praying’? The answer is simple but may be different for each of us. We may each find our own way of praying as Abbott Chapman suggests: – Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t. Prayer is different for Martha as it is for Mary.

We need to switch our focus and start to see prayer as a way of life with the living springs of that life found in the scriptures (see Lectio Divina), and especially with the various ways in which anyone who faithfully prays is led into Christ’s Paschal Mystery and starts living the mystery. This suggests that prayer is about a real relationship with the Father. In relationships we invest time and energy… and that is what we need to do in our prayer. We make ourselves available to the Father so we can journey towards that ‘wholeness’. As Abbot John says: ‘The less you pray, the worse it goes’ and we know the less we invest in a relationship the more it starts to break down and people drift apart. On this journey we may find it helpful to find a ‘guide’ or what we may call a ‘spiritual companion’ (see Spiritual Direction). Prayer is something more than an exterior act performed out of a sense of duty, an act in which we tell God various things he already knows. It is much more and there is a great hidden treasure waiting for us if we can commit to sit with the Lord of life and listen, sometimes listening to what he is not saying. Prayer is the beginning of a lifelong conversation with God. To pray is to come into the presence of God. ‘It is about leaving the heavy emotional, cognitive, and ideological baggage outside the door.’ When you sit down and come into the ‘presence’ it is then that you are most your self and where you come home to yourself and to God. It is this ‘presence’ that God sees us as we truly are. This presence is the nearest thing to God the Father.

If you need evidence of this pick up a good translation of the psalms and spend sometime listening to what they have to say about this relationship with the father… How the people of God speak with him – this is a real relationship in the making… The psalms are prayers in human form, in which a whole range of human experience of joy, suffering, pain love and longing are poured out before God. They show us a way of speaking with the Father, in away that is truly human, in away that the two sons in the parable of the prodigal son spoke with the Father. They were able to express their inner-worlds. The psalms are sometimes known as ‘the monks prayer book’, as the express the whole range of human experience.

Prayer is in the main about Watching, Waiting and Wondering about what God may do next in our lives if we have the courage to let him in. It is what Mary Magdalene was doing on the first Sunday morning, watching, waiting and wondering what would happen next in her life. It could just as easily be called ‘Lectio Divina’ on Life…, which in part is about understanding the canvas of our lives…

You may find this YouTube link helpful. Studies have shown that everyone prays; even some atheists say that they pray. So what is prayer? What makes Christian prayer distinctive? Bishop Barron answers these questions and offers recommendations on how to improve your prayer life. Visit WordOnFire.org to learn more.

Do you love me?

DYLM

Do You Love me? is a beautiful prayer resource which is the fruit of conversations held between the Spirituality Committee of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and representatives from the dioceses themselves.

Published by CTS, the book is a practical guide to Catholic Prayer and Spirituality based on Chapter 21 of the Gospel of St John, from which the title is taken, and it shows us how Catholic Spirituality is something we do, not just something we think about or read about. It is very easy to follow and included throughout the book are quotations from significant spiritual writers such as Saints Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, John Paul II and many more.

Do You Love me? takes a ‘read-and-reflect’ approach to learning more about our Catholic spirituality and it concentrates on developing the personal relationship of each individual with Christ. It is not a book to be read from cover to cover, but chapter by chapter at most, and even then while stopping from time to time to reflect and even take notes or journal if that is helpful.

It is designed for use both by individuals and by groups, and the chapters take us on a journey through searching, recognising, experiencing, conversing, following and choosing. Each chapter, too, follows a similar format and includes helpful ways to get us thinking, and teaching us how to get more out of reflections on the scriptural reading and how to relate what we discover to our everyday lives. The chapters all have suggestions for personal reflection and for conversation, along with a final section on how the chapter could, if wished, be used for conversations in a group setting or simply with friends over coffee. If you wish to use it in a group session, ideas for timings and ‘how to’ are available here.

Inexpensive at just £5.95, it is also available online from the Bishops’ Conference website

Each chapter of the book follows the same format:
Way In – a short introduction on common life-experiences
Inside the text – a quotation from John 21
Digging deeper – drawing on Catholic teaching and spirituality
Inside out – taking our reflections deeper
Pray a Psalm – a psalm chosen to reflect the chapter’s theme.

If you decide to use the book in a group setting, it is a good idea to talk about confidentiality. Some of the shared reflections may be of a personal nature, so people need to feel confident that what they say will be honoured, respected and kept ‘within the four walls’. You might also suggest that people read each chapter before coming to the session so that the larger sections of text can simply be summarised by the leader. The same format is used as for individuals but the ‘reflect-and-jot’ sections become opportunities for conversation with others.

A group meeting might last an hour and a half as below:

Way In – 5 minutes
Inside the text – 10 minutes
Shared reflection (reflect and jot) – 30 minutes
Inside out – 10 minutes
All together – 30 minutes
Pray a Psalm – 5 minutes

Spirituality Committee Resources

Building on the Spirituality document Do You Love Me? the Spirituality Committee is producing a series of resources to assist parishes explore the document. These include a number of follow-up materials which are intended for use in the Year of Mercy.

The three documents use the same format as the chapters in Do you love me? but reflecting on the parables of mercy in the Gospel of Luke: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. They are intended for use by individuals or small groups.

Pope Francis has written:

In the parables devoted to mercy, Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (Lk 15: 1-32).

In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon.

Do You Love Me? Resources

Do You Love Me? Prayer and Spirituality (pdf)

Ideas for using ‘Do You Love Me?’ (pdf)

Year of Mercy Resources

Parables of Mercy 1 – The Lost Sheep (Luke 15: 1–7) (pdf)

Parables of Mercy 2 – The Lost Coin (Luke 15: 8–10) (pdf)

Parables of Mercy 3 – The Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11–32) (pdf)

Prayer in…

Pope Francis’ Prayers, Homilies, Daily Meditations, Messages, Letters, General Audiences, Bulls, Encyclicals can be found here.

General Audiences: On Prayer can be found here
Pope Benedict XVI

1. Christian Prayer
At the General Audience on 4 May 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father began a new catechetical series on the subject of prayer.. In his first catechesis, the Pope drew attention to the fact that in ancient cultures, prayer was almost always addressed to God.

2. Prayer and the Religious Sense
At the General Audience on 11 May 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father continued his new catechetical series on the subject of prayer. In this catechesis, the Pope said that, despite the growth of secularism, there is evidence that man is religious by nature, and that he “bears within him the desire for God.”

3. The Prayer of Abraham
At the General Audience on 18 May 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father continued his catechetical series on the subject of prayer. In this catechesis, the Pope reflects on examples of prayer from the Old Testament, beginning with the Patriarch Abraham.

4. The Prayer of Jacob
At his General Audience on 25 May 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father continued his catechetical series on the subject of prayer. In this catechesis, the Pope reflected on the account in Genesis 32 of the Patriarch Jacob wrestling with God all night at the ford of the Jabbock.

5. The Prayer of Moses
At his General Audience on 1 June 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father continued his catechetical series on the subject of prayer. In this catechesis, the Pope reflected on the Prophet Moses, his role as mediator between God and Israel, and his intercessory prayer for God’s mercy.

6. The Prayer of the Prophet Elijah
“The primary aim of prayer is conversion: the flame of God that transforms our heart and enables us to see God”, and thus to live in accordance with God and live for others. The Pope said this in his catechesis at the General Audience on Wednesday 15 June 2011, held in St Peter’s Square.

7. Prayer in the Book of Psalms
At the General Audience on Wednesday, 22 June 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father continued his catechetical series on the subject of prayer. The Pope began a new stage in his catechesis, entering “the book of prayer” par excellence, the Book of Psalms, with the intent to comment on particular psalms in the comming weeks.

8. Keep the Holy Bible Within Reach
On Wednesday, 3 August 2011, the Holy Father resumed his General Audiences at Castel Gandolpho, continuing his catecheses on the “school of prayer.” In this catechesis, the Pope suggested for vacation reading books of the Bible that are less well known, for example, Tobit, Esther, Ruth.

9. God Speaks in Silence
Monasteries are true and proper oases of the spirit in which God speaks to humanity. The Pope said this to the faithful at the General Audience of Wednesday, 10 August 2011, that was held in the courtyard of the Papal Residence at Castel Gandolfo.

10. In Madrid with the World’s Youth
The day before departing for Madrid, for the 26th World Youth Day, the Holy Father asked the faithful, taking part in the General Audience of Wednesday, 17 August 2011, at Castel Gandolfo, to join with their prayers in this important ecclesial event. The Pope went on to explain “rumination” on truths of the faith in mental prayer.

11. A Colourful Alphabet
Art is one of the paths that lead men and women to the encounter with God, the source of every form of beauty. This was the topic of the Holy Father’s reflection at the General Audience on Wednesday, 31 August 2011, for the faithful in the square outside the Papal Residence at Castel Gandolfo.

12. The Cry of Anguish that Opens the Heavens
God never abandons his People, he hears its desperate cry. And that cry becomes a prayer of thanksgiving since humiliation is transformed into glory and death into life. This sums up the Catechesis on Psalm 22 which the Holy Father offered the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall on Wednesday morning, 14 September 2011, at the General Audience.

13. A God Who Answers the Cry of Man
When people ask for help, God answers. In the Holy Father’s Catechesis to the faithful in St Peter’s Square at the General Audience on Wednesday, 7 September 2011, he reflected on Psalm 3, in the Jewish tradition attributed to King David, in which the Psalmist cries out to God to save him from his foes.

14. Who Can Find Grass and Water in the Desert
On 5 October 2011, at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square, resuming his Catechesis on prayer, the Holy Father commented on the image of the shepherd who “knows each one of his sheep and calls them by name; and they follow him because they recognize him”. This week Benedict XVI reflected on Psalm 23[22].

15. Open to Hope, Steadfast in Faith
The history of humanity, even though it is marked by suffering, is a history of salvation. For this reason we must “always be open to hope and steadfast in faith in God”, the Pope said to the faithful on Wednesday, 12 October 2011, at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square. The Holy Father was reflecting on Psalm 126[125].

16. The History of God’s Goodness from Creation to Salvation
At the General Audience on 19 October 2011, the Holy Father spoke of the “Great Hallel”, Psalm 136[135]. This solemn prayer of thanksgiving was traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Passover meal, he said, so it “was probably also prayed by Jesus at the Last Supper celebrated with his disciples”.

17. The Alphabet of God’s Law
At the General Audience on 9 November 2011, in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father returned to his series of Catecheses on prayer. He focused his meditation on Psalm 119[118], a long and solemn canticle on the Torah, the Law of the Lord.

18. True Kingship is Service and Gift of Self
At the General Audience on 16 November 2011, the Holy Father concluded his Catechesis on Christian prayer by commenting on Psalm 110 [109], one of the famous “royal Psalms”. The Pope said that it was perhaps “originally linked to the enthronement of a Davidic monarch”. The Church interprets this Psalm as a prophecy of Christ.

19. Windows Open to Heaven
Addressing the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the General Audience on 30 November 2011, the Holy Father announced that having reflected in previous Catecheses on some examples of prayer in the Old Testament, he would now be examining the prayer of Jesus.

20. With the Heart of a Child
At the General Audience on 7 December 2011, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, continuing his series on the prayer of Jesus the Holy Father focused his meditation this week on the Cry of Messianic Exultation of Jesus Christ.

21. Hearts Open to the Needs of Those Beside Us
At the General Audience of 14 December 2011, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, the Holy Father continued his Catecheses on the prayer of Jesus. In prayer, the Pope said, Christians strengthen their “personal relationship with God” and at the same time open “their hearts to the needs of those beside them”.

22. The School of Prayer in the House of Nazareth
At the General Audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall, on 28 Decmber 2011, the Holy Father spoke of the Holy Family, the house of Nazareth, as a “school of prayer” where one learns “to listen, meditate on and penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.”

23. The Food That Gives Strength to the Weary and Bewildered
At the General Audience in the Paul VI Hall on 11 January 2012, the Holy Father commented on the prayer with which Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the food of pilgrims which becomes strength for those who are weary, worn-out and bewildered.

24. The Church Is Born From Jesus’ Prayer
The Church is born from Jesus’ prayer, and thus becomes “the place in which Christ’s same mission continues”, the Holy Father said at the General Audience in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday, 25 January 2012. The Pope continued his Catechesis on Christian prayer in light of the Jewish feast of expiation “Yom Kippur”, commenting on the priestly prayer which Jesus offered at the Last Supper.

25. Jesus’ Prayer in Gethsemane
At his General Audience, on 1 February 2012 in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father continued his Catechesis on prayer, reflecting on the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane. The Pope spoke of the human freedom brought about by saying Yes to God, exemplified in the Son’s obedience to His Father.

26. The Prayer of Jesus as He Faces Death
At the General Audience on 8 February 2012, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Holy Father, in his series of reflections on Christian prayer, reflected on the cry of Jesus from the Cross. “In the most difficult situations, when it seems that God does not hear, we must not fear to entrust to him our overburdened hearts.”

27. Ever in God’s Hands
At the General Audience on 15 February 2012, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, continuing his series of Catecheses on the Christian prayer, the Holy Father reflected on Jesus’ prayer in the imminence of death, in particular, the three words from the Cross recorded by St Luke.

28. Wordless Is the Word
At the General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 7 March 2012, bringing the series of his Catecheses on prayer to a close, the Holy Father reflected on the importance of silence in Jesus’ life and on the Christian’s relationship with God.

29. Without Mary There Is No Church
“It is impossible to talk about the Church if Mary is not present”. This comment of St Chromatius of Aquileia on the Acts of the Apostles was taken up by Holy Father at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 14 March 2012.

30. The Church That Prays Finds Harmony in Times of Trial
At the General Audience on Wednesday, 18 April 2012, the Pope resumed the series of his Catecheses on prayer with a reflection on the “little Pentecost”, as Luke tells it in the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Father emphasized the union in steadfast prayer of the Church under persecution.

31. Charity and Justice a Spiritual Service
At his General Audience in St Peter’s Square on 25 April 2012, the Holy Father pointed out that charity and justice are not only “social actions” but are a “spiritual service,” part of the Church’s mission. This “unity of life between prayer and action” is exemplified by the Saints.

32. St Stephen’s Prayer
God never tires of reaching out to man; even if he often encounters an attitude of misunderstanding and diffidence, if not of “obstinate opposition”. The Holy Father said this to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square at the General Audience on Wednesday, 2 May [2012], with reference to the witness and prayer of St Stephen, the Protomartyr.

33. Peter Trusts in God
During the General Audience in St Peter’s Square on 9 May 2012, the Holy Father spoke to the faithful about the last episode in St Peter’s life recorded in Scripture, his imprisonment, in which he “completely abandons himself into the hands of the Lord”.

34. Prayer Sets Men Free
Prayer helps us overcome every form of slavery, it liberates us from contradictions, and allows us to live in authentic freedom as the children of God. The Holy Father offered this reflection at the General Audience on Wednesday, 16 May 2012, to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square.

35. Christianity a Religion of Trust
In his General Audience of 23 May 2012, in St Peter’s Square, the Pope explained the fatherhood of God as having two dimensions, the first as our Creator, a relationship shared by all human beings, the second as our Father by adoption, reserved to those who receive the Holy Spirit from Christ, the true Son.

36. God Comforts in Trial and Tribulation
Living every situation united to Christ is the only way to overcome discouragement in the face of suffering and troubles, Benedict XVI said to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square at the General Audience of Wednesday, 30 May 2012.

37. Prayer the Power to Overcome Weakness
Prayer has the power to help us get the better of every human weakness, to avoid the snares of the Evil One and overcome every other adversity. This was the subject of the Reflection, which the Holy Father, continuing in his series on prayer, offered the faithful at the General Audience on Wednesday, 13 June 2012 in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall.

38. Prayer Brings into Being Men and Women Who Can Love
In his General Audience of 20 June 2012, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on prayer, speaking about the hymn that introduces St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, “which is a hymn of blessing, an expression of gratitude, of joy.”

39. The Way of Christian Life
At the General Audience on Wednesday, 27 June 2012, the topic of the Holy Father’s Catechesis was the Hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians, proclaiming His saving work, from the humiliation of the Cross to the glory of the Resurrection.

40. St Alphonsus Mary Ligurori and Prayer
The Holy Father addressed the faithful taking part in the General audience of 1 August 2012, in Piazza della Libertà, the square outside the Papal residence in Castel Gandolfo. Resuming the General Audiences after the summer break, the Pope focused his Catechesis in Italian on the teaching of St Alphonsus Mary Liguori.

41. The Spirituality of St Dominic Guzmán
On 8 August 2012, at the General Audience in Piazza della Libertà, Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father spoke about St Dominic Guzmán, the 13th-century Spanish mendicant who founded the Order of Preachers. Continuing his series of reflections on prayer, on the Memorial of this “man of prayer” the Pope reflected on the nine ways attributed to the Saint.

42. Prayer in the Book of Revelation
On 5 September 2012, after arriving at the Vatican from Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI resumed his teaching on prayer with the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Hall. From the Book of Revelation, we learn that “in prayer that we become ever more aware of Jesus’ presence with us and in us.”

43. Prayer in the Second Part of Revelation
In a continuation of his catechesis on Prayer in the Book of Revelation, at his General Audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on 12 September 2012, the Holy Father said that Revelation teaches us that, “by raising our gaze to God’s Heaven,” in faithful fellowship with Christ, we learn to see the events of our lives in a new light.

44. The Liturgy Is Service and Participation in Divine Action
The liturgy is “service in the name of/on behalf of the people” and participation in “God’s Action”. The Holy Father said this at the General Audience on Wednesday, 26 September 2012. He reminded the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square that the Second Vatican Council began 50 years ago “with the discussion of the draft on the Sacred Liturgy.”

45. The Christian Liturgy: Heavenly Worship Open to All
The Christian liturgy is the “worship of a wide open heaven”. That is why “there are no ‘strangers’ in the liturgical community”. The Holy Father said this, continuing his reflections on prayer, at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 3 October 2012.

The Catechism

Within the Catechism of the Catholic church we can discover much wisdom about prayer in Christian life: how to pray, the sources and ways of prayer, and why Jesus’ gift to us of The Lord’s Prayer is so powerful and central to our prayer life. In YouCat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read:

“Prayer is turning the heart towards God …. it is the great gate leading into faith by which we no longer live alone or for ourselves or by our own strength. We pray because we are full of an infinite longing and [because] God has created us for himself: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. But we also pray because we need to; Mother Teresa says, “Because I cannot rely on myself, I rely on him, twenty-four hours a day.” ….Praying is as human as breathing, eating, and loving ….. Praying strengthens us in our weakness… [it]removes fear, increases energy…. Praying makes one happy.”

In the Catechism we read how people like Abraham, Moses, Mary and Jesus, himself, prayed; and we are reminded about the different kinds of prayer – blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise. We learn about why it is good to pray in all these ways – and about how to do so. The Catechism also teaches us how to pray from the Bible and about the relationship between our own personal prayer to the prayer of the Church. Whilst prayer is very personal it is not a private matter, “it is strengthened when it regularly flows into the prayer of the whole Church”. And we need the Holy Spirit when we pray, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).

The Catholic Church’s rich heritage of prayer is very much alive within the households, parishes and communities of the Clifton Diocese. We hope that you will use this web page to find out about and try out some new ways to be, to pray and to develop your spiritual life – and thus move towards what Jesus wants for us – to live life to the full!

We are grateful for Ignatius Press’ permission to reproduce this superb section from their YOUCAT prayer book. You can buy a copy of the prayer book online – which is a great resource not simply for the young, but for the young at heart.

YOUCAT and PRAYER

You can pray. Maybe you have not prayed since you were a child. Maybe praying is still something completely unfamiliar to you. Or someone told you that it is difficult to pray or that it will do no good anyway. Perhaps you are afraid that God would not hear your prayer. Or you have heard about great feeling s that can be experienced during prayer and you are afraid of being disappointed. But all that must not prevent you from praying.

Take a small step!

You can pray. We can tell you that, although we do not know you personally at all. But the One to whom you can pray and who wants to speak to you knows you. He is quite close to you. He knows you better than you know yourself and is closer to you than you are to yourself. Jesus is God, who has become man. And already when he came into the world he decided to swell in your heart, too. He is waiting there for you. He wants to be sought and found there. He wants to speak to you there and to be heard by you. He knows you and loves you as no one else does. You can entrust your whole life to him, with all that is beautiful and difficult in it, with your joys and your sorrows, with what makes you happy, and with what is unsightly and makes you ashamed.
Praying means entrusting yourself to God with everything. Praying means being silent and listening. And it means letting him into your daily life, into your flesh and your memory, into everything that you say, think, and do. God has already taken the big step toward you. The path into prayer begins for you with only a small step. We invite you to take it.

LITTLE SCHOOL OF PRAYER

Make the decision. God willed and created us to be free human persons. Many times a day we deliberate, set priorities, make decisions. Without decisions nothing gets done. If you want to, make the decision to become a praying person and to shape your relationship to God. Decide deliberately ahead of time; I will pray at such and such a time. In the evening make the decision to pray the morning prayer and in the morning to pray the evening prayer.

Be faithful in little things. Many begin to pray with great resolutions. After a while they fail and think they cannot pray at all. Begin with definite short prayer times. And keep doing it faithfully. Then your longing and your prayer, too, can grow, as it is appropriate for you, your time, and the circumstances.

The most important part of praying correctly is doing it regularly. That means not only when your heart impels you. The soul lives on prayer. But all life requires regularity and repetition, a rhythm.
Romano Guardini

Take time to pray. Praying means being alert to the fact that God is interested in you. With him you do not have the schedule appointments. There are three criteria for the time of your prayer that can be helpful. Choose set times (habit helps), quiet times (this is often early morning and in the evening), and valuable time that you like but are willing to give away as a gift (no “spare moments”).

We can pray at any time. I know that we can, but I fear that generally those who do not pray at set times seldom pray.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Prepare a place. The place where you pray has its effect on your praying. Therefore look for a place where you can pray well. For many people this will be at the bedside or the desk. Others find it helpful when they have a specially prepared place that reminds and invites them; a stool or a chair with a kneeler, a carpet, an icon or picture, a candle, the Bible, a prayer book.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.
Matthew 6:6

Rituals give structure your prayer life. Getting over inertia every time so as to pray can be a great expense of energy. Give your prayer a fixed order (a ritual). This is not supposed to restrict you but to help you, so that you do not have to deliberate every day whether or how you want to pray. Before prayer place yourself consciously in the presence of God; after prayer take another moment to thank God for his blessing and then to place yourself under his protection.

The prayer that a person prays to the best of his ability has great power. It makes a bitter heart sweet, a sad heart glad, a poor heart rich, a foolish heart wise, a timid heart bold, a weak heart strong; it makes a blind heart see and a cold heart burn. It draws the great God into the little heart; it carries the hungry soul upward to God, the living source, and brings two lovers together, God and the soul.
St Gertrude the Great

Let the whole person pray. Praying is accomplished not only in thoughts and words. In prayer your whole person can be united with God: your body, your internal and external perception, your memory, your will, your thoughts and feelings or the dream from last night. Even distractions often give you important information about what really concerns and motivates you and what you can intentionally bring into God’s presence and leave with him. When things to be done that you do not want to forget occur to your while praying, you can just write them down and then go back to praying.

When your mind wanders or gives way to distractions, gently recall it and place it once more close to its divine Master. If you should do nothing else but repeat this during the whole time of prayer, your hour would be very well spent and you would perform a spiritual exercise most acceptable to God.
St Francis de Sales

Pray in a variety of ways. Discover and practise the many ways of praying, which can vary depending on the time, once frame of mind, and the situation at the moment; a prayer composed by someone else with which I join in; personal prayer about my own concerns; praying with a passage from Sacred Scripture (for example, the readings of the day); the prayer of the heart (or ‘Jesus Prayer’), in which a short prayer formula or just the name ‘Jesus’ is repeated with each breath; interior prayer, in which the whole person is silent and listens internally and externally.

Use the opportunities. You can also make use of the opportunities that arise to pray at in-between times (for example, short fervent prayers, a petition, a prayer of thanksgiving or praise): whilst waiting; while riding on the bus, the train, or in the car (instead of turning the music on right away); during free time; while visiting a chapel or church along your daily walk. Let the opportunities you have to pray become invitations to unite yourself again and again with God.

Let God speak. Praying also means listening to God’s voice. God speaks most explicitly in the words of Sacred Scripture, which the Church reads day after day. He speaks through the Tradition of the Church and the witness of the Saints. But he also speaks – often in a hidden way – in the heart of every man [and woman], for instance, in the judgement of your conscience or through an interior joy. God’s word in Scripture makes it possible to hear the word of God in the heart and lends a voice to it. Give God a chance to speak in your prayer. Become familiar with him, so that you can learn to tell his voice apart from the many other voices and come to know his will.

We complain that [God] does not makes Himself present to us for a few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and half hours during which God maybe knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy’…?
Anthony Bloom

Pray with the Church on earth and in heaven. Anyone who prays – whether alone or with others – enters into the great community of those who pray. It extends from earth to heaven and includes those who are alive today and also the angels, the saints, and the unknown multitude of those who live with God. Praying also means praying for each other. Therefore it is good to pray not just by yourself but also, when possible, with others; with your family, with friends, with your congregation – and with the saints. You can ask them for their prayers. For in God’s sight, the community of those who pray does not cease with death.

Make space for prayer in your lives! To pray alone is good, although it is more beautiful and fruitful to pray together, because the Lord assured us that he would be present wherever two or three are gathered in his name (cf Rom 8:20).
Pope Benedict XVI, WYD 2009.

Related Links:
Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part 4 – Christian Prayer
Compendium Catechism of the Catholic Church – can be read on the Vatican website or it can be downloaded here

Ways of Praying

Adoration

‘HEART SPEAKS TO HEART’
THE PRAYER OF ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT

The motto of Bl John Henry Newman (‘Heart speaks to Heart’) cannot be bettered as a description of the beauty of this form of prayer: sitting in the stillness and silence , adoring the Christ of the Eucharist.

This form of prayer began to develop in the life of the Church in the 13th and 14th centuries, at a time when there was great controversy about the doctrine of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the consecrated Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. It was and remains a way of deepening our faith in ‘this most wonderful gift’ of the Eucharist and so entering into a more profound communion of heart with God.
The prayer of Adoration is at once a preparation for and an overflow from the Celebration of Mass. It is never a substitute for the Mass, but enlarges our hunger to be fed at the Table of Christ’s Love and Sacrifice. That is why many parishes will precede weekday Mass with a time of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. If your parish does not, perhaps you could think about suggesting this to the parish priest, parish council or Liturgical Committee.

Before Jesus returned to the Father in what we call the Ascension, He promised to be always with us, His disciples, His Church. The Eucharist is one of the primary and tangible ways He fulfils this promise. At Advent and Christmas we acclaim Jesus as our ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God-with-us’. Sitting before the tabernacle of Divine Presence or gazing on the Bread of the Eucharist exposed leads us to experience powerfully that He is indeed God always with us.

But how should we use this time of Adoration? Firstly try to give some time – at least 15 minutes, hopefully more. There are books of Eucharistic Devotions to help us focus on the love of Christ made visible and tangible in the Bread of Presence before us. The Scriptures are a privileged source of prayer and reflection during such time.

But above all, let your heart speak! In our noisy world of smart phones, tablets and ipods we neglect our deep need for stillness, to enter into the silence of God’s heart where He speaks beyond words to the heart that is open to listen. God rarely shouts – He usually whispers His precious life-giving Word of Love – a Word beyond words, too deep for the understanding but which can be experienced by a silent listening heart that yearns for Him. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a prayer of Love’s dialogue, a personal encounter with our Brother Jesus who has laid down His life in love for you – the sacrificial love you that embraces you, enfolds you in the Eucharist. Let there be few words in your prayer of adoration, but rather a mutual listening, Heart speaking to Heart; a mutual gazing upon the wondrous Presence that burns love into our hearts. We gaze upon the Sacred Bread – but He gazes into your eyes with all the love with which He loved the young rich man in the Gospel. And in a Word beyond words He calls you ‘Come to me, I will refresh you, heal you, love you beyond your imagining, send you to be My love in the world’

The Bread of Christ that you gaze upon with loving adoration is the Bread of Freedom, the Paschal Bread; it is the Broken Bread that makes you whole; it is the Bread of the Poor that calls you to live like Christ Jesus in service of the poor of our nation, the poor of our world. It is the Bread of Life which brings me Life in all its fulness but without which my life in Christ withers on the Vine. It is also the Bread of Creation transformed into and filled with Christ, a truly Cosmic sacrament which is the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s promise of a New Heaven and and New Earth.

So the prayer of Adoration can become not only the bedrock of your own personal discipleship of Christ, becoming like the Master you gaze upon; but also can become the source of love’s power for the mission of the your community, can become the well-spring of loving intercession for your world, especially its peace. For the Eucharist is indeed the Sacrament of Peace, not just for yourself or your parish community, but can radiate peace into our world.

So find out when your church (or another) is open and slip quietly in, away from the noise and pre-occupations of your world. Sit awhile before your Brother Jesus in the Eucharist. Be in the stillness and listen to His Heart, watch for His gaze of love, pour out your own heart’s pain and joy, hopes and disappointments, and let ‘Heart speak unto Heart’.

Centering Prayer

Centering prayer is about being silent and receptive before God, usually after reflecting on the next Sunday’s readings from the Lectionary.

Centering prayer is sitting quietly and comfortably with the Lord. Imagine going for a casual walk in the park with a friend, settling together on a bench. Neither of you has much to say: you are sitting with someone you love and who loves you. Then let go of this imaginative scene. Don’t picture anything; sit, loving and being loved. When the mind wanders, be prompted back by a prepared Sacred Word of your choice. Don’t force anything; don’t say anything: this is Centering.

Centering prayer is letting go into deep, waiting. Respond to God’s silence with your silence. Just let God love you as Elijah in the cave, as thunder, lightening, wind and rain have been beating down: he is hearing God’s still, small voice and he is a bit afraid, but he is mostly in awe of the wonder of God’s silence, compassion and mercy. All he can do is offer himself and his total submission to God and receptivity to whatever God has in mind for him: this is Centering.

Centering Prayer is a receptive practice. Thomas Keating’s ‘Open Mind Open Heart’ is the usual reference text for best practice. You may also be interested in the concentrative practice of a mantra, in the school of John Main and the World Community of Christian Meditation.

To find out more, you are welcome to join us on Thursdays 10.30am to 11.30am during Advent and Lent at St James’ Priory Bristol, or outside these seasons, at the same time and day, by joining the person with the half-hour timer at the back of the Church.

Charismatic Prayer

Letting the Holy Spirit pray in us

“When Pentecost day came round, they has all me together… and were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues” (Acts of the Apostles 2: v 1-4)

“All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of and daughters of God, for you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out “Abba, Father!”… The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness, for when we do not know how to pray properly, the Spirit makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words.” (Romans 8: v14-16 & 26)

In preparation for the Second Vatican Council, Pope St John XXXIII called upon us all to pray to the Holy Spirit, that Spirit might ‘renew the Church with signs and wonders as like a New Pentecost’. That great Council of the Church re-affirmed the charismatic character of the Church and the many charisms and ministries of lay people flowing from the Spirit’s gift in Baptism and Confirmation.

Shortly after the Council ended in 1965 a group of professors and students at a Catholic University in USA experienced a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit accompanied by spontaneous joyful praise, the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing, and a deep love for the Word of God and desire to witness to Jesus. For them it was a life-transforming experience, literally a ‘being born again’. Remarkably quickly, like fire spreading through the brush, other groups caught this ‘fire of the Holy Spirit’ and formed small communities of spontaneous prayer, open in a new way to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. An international movement was born in the Catholic Church that we know as the Charismatic Renewal.

So what is ‘Charismatic prayer’? All real prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Just as the Holy Spirit is the eternal dialogue of love and life flowing between the Father and Son in the Trinity, so our prayer is in reality a sharing in that same eternal dialogue: for we are reborn as sons and daughters of our Father, co-heirs with Christ and filled with the same Holy Spirit as filled Jesus at the Jordan river. Our prayer is the breathing of the Spirit deep within us. Whether our prayer is in words uttered, tears shed, or the silence of contemplation, it is by nature charismatic for it is the Spirit of God praying within us who are Temples of the Holy Spirit.

What we call Charismatic Prayer (as experienced by Prayer groups and individuals who have experienced the so-called ‘Release of the Holy Spirit’) is the re-emergence of ways of prayer familiar for many centuries in the life of Church, but seems to have got lost in the excessive formalism of prayer and worship in more recent centuries. Its re-emergence today is part of the renewal of the Church in our present age. Charismatic prayer is characterised by an ease and a joy in spontaneous prayer, coming together in groups to pray and sing with another, an emphasis on the prayer of praise (rather than solely intercession), an openness to charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit such as healing, inspired teaching, prophecy, discernment, the prayer of tongues etc.

For many people this ‘experience’ of the Holy Spirit with its new-found gifts of prayer, praise and ministries, comes after participating in ‘Life in the Spirit Seminars’ during which individuals have an opportunity to be ‘prayed over’ (with the ‘laying-on-hands’) in small groups for a fresh out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives. For some their lives are changed dramatically, for most there is a gradual change that leads to deeper intimacy with God, a thirst for prayer and the Word of God, a hunger for the Sacraments, a desire to pray with others, to witness to their faith (or give testimony) more publicly and a willingness to be more involved in the life and ministry of their parish communities. They experience ‘coming alive in Christ’.

This form of prayer also helps us to heal some of the divisions that have afflicted the Body of Christ over the centuries. We can enter more easily into prayerful fellowship with our Evangelical and Pentecostal brothers and sisters and find new ways of witnessing together to the Gospel of Christ before our world. The Charismatic Renewal has given new impetus and heart to the Ecumenical movement.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? There are a number of prayer groups meeting around the diocese and a few parishes who sponsor from time to time the 6 week course known as ‘Life in the Spirit Seminars’. In addition the Charismatic Renewal Movement both nationally and in our diocese holds ‘Days of Renewal’ and ‘Celebrate’ Conferences. If you wish to make contact with a prayer group or to know more about these events then please contact:

Clifton Committee for Charismatic Renewal   (email: ann08.bevan@gmail.com)
Celebrate Bristol   (email: bristol@celebrateconference.org)

The Divine Office

“The Church’s praise is not to be considered either by origin or by nature the exclusive possession of clerics and monks but the property of the whole Christian community.” (General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours n.270)

Christ told us of the need to ‘pray continually and never lose heart’ (Luke 18:1) and the Church has faithfully followed this by never ceasing in her prayer and by urging us to pray: ‘Through him (Jesus), let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15). We, the Church, do this by not only celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, perhaps most especially by praying the Liturgy of the Hours – whose purpose is to sanctify the day and all human activity with prayer and praise of God.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the recitation of the Divine Office had become a very complicated affair with, sometimes, a large number of books (Bible, hymnbook, lectionary, book of psalms etc) needed on hand to recite just one ‘hour’ . Even with the introduction of the ‘breviary’ (which ‘abbreviated’ the number of books required into a smaller number of volumes), the Prayer of the Church had become inaccessible to most of the men and women who make up the greater part of the Church. The Church’s daily prayer had, little by little, been taken away from the Christian people and entrusted to clergy and religious.

The Second Vatican Council, responding to the many calls for revision, addressed this and the end result was a completely revised Divine Office, finally promulgated by Paul VI in 1970. The Office was now restored as the Prayer of the Church. While still ‘sanctifying the entire day with prayer’, the number of hours was reduced from eight, which included offices in the middle of the night, to five – the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer (Compline). Religious orders often add two additional times of prayer, at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer form the two ‘hinges’ of the daily worship of the Church and are probably the most familiar to lay men and women. They are the principle hours of the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Church encourages them to be celebrated by individuals in their daily lives, but also where possible in parish churches, particularly Evening Prayer (also known as Vespers or Evensong) on Sundays.

monk-reading-the-bible

The formula for both Morning and Evening Prayer is simple: Introduction – Psalmody –Scripture –Prayer.

So, why pray the Prayer of the Church?

Primarily because it is the Prayer of the Church – and we are never alone while praying it. Because it sanctifies the whole twenty-four hours of the day throughout the world, there is always someone, somewhere, praying along with us. It is also a beautiful form of prayer, being based on the psalms – so rhythmic and beautiful in themselves. Finally, it is, whether prayed alone or in a communal celebration, liturgical prayer.

As Fr A.M Roguet OP points out, in his book the The Liturgy of the Hours: the General Instruction with Commentary,

“whether it be a group…of lay people, or even a lay person on his [her] own – if they celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, they are truly praying the prayer of the Church, with Christ, and their celebration is ‘liturgical’ in the fullest sense of the word.”

Healing Prayer

Open to the Mercy and Compassion of God

“At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to Jesus, and laying his hands on each he cured them” Luke 4: v 40

“…a great crowd from all parts…had come to hear Jesus and to be cured of their diseases…Everyone was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.” Luke 6: v17-19

We journey through a world of beauty and pain, a world of peace and turmoil; we journey as disciples of Jesus who ‘healed all who came to Him’; we journey as a People of Hope, not only filled with hope in God but bearers of divine hope to this world. Hope is the expectation of a better and more whole, more peace-filled world. This hope becomes a well-spring of vision and energy that will bring a measure of healing and new beginnings to our sisters and brothers, to our world.

We tend to think that healing is something very rare and happens in places like Lourdes or through the lives of saints (long dead!). Yet Pope Francis has famously described our parishes as ‘field hospitals where all will find welcome, love and healing.’ All the Sacraments have a healing dimension and the Church as Sacrament of Christ is to be a healing presence in our world – and so every parish is to be a healing presence in its community, the ‘field hospital’ of Christ where the broken and hurting will find hope and healing. Healing is to become the ‘ordinary’, not the ‘extra-ordinary’, experience of all communities that celebrate the Eucharist – Jesus, the Broken Bread that makes us whole!

What is ‘Healing’? Healing is a journey into the wholeness, freedom and peace that God wants for each of us. It is part of the journey into the mystery of who we are in Christ, into the reality of being a beloved daughter or son of Abba, our Father. The human person is ‘a freedom for love’ made in the image and likeness of God. Whatever limits that ‘freedom for love’, whatever wounds or scars the image of God within us, Jesus comes to heal, forgive and set us free to be our true selves in Him. Sometimes this might involve the healing of our bodies (curing or restoring health). Often it will involve the healing of inner self: the healing of hurting memories, of rejection or inner pain that leads us to inner freedom enabling us to love more fully. This is true ‘wholeness’.

So what is healing prayer?

Firstly, it is believing that God’s desire for us is this wholeness and peace. Therefore in the quietness of our own prayer (and especially at Mass) we confidently bring to ‘Abba’ our Father our own brokenness and pain, physical or emotional, to the God of love.

Secondly, it can be bringing our need to our sisters and brothers in the Christian community for their prayer through what is called ‘the laying on of hands’. Often, Jesus would touch with his hands those who came to him – a gentle touch of compassion and love – and he taught the disciples to do the same. The Word of healing is made flesh in the hands of another when our touch is caring and respectful. Of course such healing prayer does not require physical contact if the recipient of such prayer is uncomfortable with touching.

Thirdly, healing is a ministry that flows from the Holy Spirit given in our baptism and confirmation and therefore like so many other ministries is not restricted to the ordained among us. There are opportunities to receive simple training that will encourage each of us to be ready to pray healing with others (not just for others) and a normal part of a parish’s ministry as God’s ‘field hospital’. This is not setting ourselves up as ‘healers’ – Jesus alone is the healer! We are simply allowing ourselves as part of the Body of Christ to be used by our Good Samaritan, Jesus, to pour the wine of compassion and healing upon wounded brothers and sisters.

Finally, healing is not just about our individual journeys into love’s freedom, but is also (even primarily) about being a Church not afraid to reach out and touch the wounds of our world, of the communities where God has placed us. When Jesus healed the lepers he ended their exclusion from society and reintegrated them. When Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood (constant periods) he challenged his society’s attitude to women and illness. When Jesus healed the centurion’s servant and praised his faith he challenged our attitude to ‘the enemy’. When Jesus raised up the Samaritan as an example of compassion he challenged racial and religious discrimination. What are the wounds of our society we need to touch and heal? Working for justice, struggling against poverty, being a voice for the excluded, welcoming the immigrant – all are part of the Healing work and prayer of the Body of Christ.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? There are a number of parishes in the diocese who hold Healing Services and have small teams trained to offer healing prayer. Many prayer groups also pray healing in this way. If you wish to receive healing prayer or learn more about this ministry, then please contact:

The Bishop’s Committee for Health and Healing (email: richard.mckay@priest.cliftondiocese.com)

Lectio Divina

Sacred Reading

‘If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, and you will learn the truth and the truth will set you free.’ Jesus invites us into the ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’ (Romans 8, 21), into his very own life of communion with the Father, in the Spirit, who is our life. Down the ages, men and women have entered into that joyful place of union with God through prayer and contemplation, as well as active ministry. As Mary treasured and pondered the words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, and the words and actions of her Son, so we are invited to enter into that place of intimate communion through our prayerful pondering of God’s word in Scripture, and our faithful living what we hear.

This contemplative pondering of Scripture, Lectio Divina, (Sacred Reading), has evolved through the monastic tradition, as the Community devotes its life to prayer in silence and Liturgy, in order to listen ever more deeply to the Word who speaks, and then to live what has been received. The repetition of Psalms and readings plants the Word firmly in the heart to guide, heal and transform.
Since the Second Vatican Council, this practice of Lectio Divina has become increasingly widespread, and many individuals and groups now relish the fruit of this ancient art.

Reading (Lectio), Pondering (Meditatio), Praying (Oratio), Contemplating (Contemplatio) and finally Living the Word (Actio) are the natural stages of this process, giving time to allow the Spirit to speak, prompt, heal, teach and lead the disciple. ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’

St Benedict in his Rule emphasises the importance of listening with the ear of the heart, so that we can follow in the Way that leads to Life. Many Lectio prayer groups are emerging out of this desire to listen and follow, and the fruit of this prayer is manifold.

Meditation

Meditation, and its modern cousin, mindfulness, are in the air.

Yet many of us do not realise that meditation, as a way of contemplative prayer, has been present in Christianity from the beginning.
Jesus frequently withdrew to be alone, in silence, with His Father. And in one of his teachings on prayer he urged us to go into our private room (the inner chamber, our heart) and when we have shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in that secret place…not babbling as the pagans do (Matthew 6).

The first monastics, the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th and 5th centuries, said that they had inherited a prayer practice from apostolic times – ceaseless prayer by the constant repetition of a single “formula” or prayer phrase. A way to be continually aware of the presence of God, since we are, as St Paul wrote, “temples of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 8).

In the last century, Thomas Merton was one instigator of a contemplative revival; he wrote that “meditation or ‘the prayer of the heart’ is the active effort we make to keep our hearts open so that we may be enlightened by Him.” Its purpose was “to deepen the consciousness of the basic relationship of the creature to the Creator, and of the sinner to his Redeemer”.

Visiting the UK in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that we need to make space for silence, “because it is in silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true selves”.

Jesus urged his followers “to make your home in me as I make mine in you.” But too often we go walkabout – we are not at home! Fortunately, like the father of the prodigal son, our merciful God is always there waiting – and welcomes us when we do come home.
Meditation is a way of emptying ourselves of thoughts, plans, and fantasies. To take the spotlight of consciousness off ourselves. To leave self behind and to make space for God. To be and not to do, for once.

The practice is simple, though not easy (and yet young children take to it readily). “Unless you become like little children…”

Adults often like to meet together in groups to meditate, for support and encouragement of their individual practice. There are over 30 such groups within the area of Clifton diocese. Not all are in Catholic parishes – meditation is a natural way for all Christians to pray together.

If you would like to learn about ways of meditation, or to find a group near you, or to request an introductory session or course in your parish or school, email bristol@christianmeditation.org.uk. And/or you can find more on here.

Mothers Prayers

Mothers Prayers was started in England in November 1995 and has spread rapidly throughout the world with contacts in over 100 Countries and has the approval, support and blessing of Christian leaders of all denominations.

There are now thousands of groups around the world. Two grandmothers, Veronica and her sister- in- law Sandra, felt led by the Lord to start Mothers Prayers and to pray in a special way for their children.

They felt that they should bring all the pain and the worries they had for their children to Him and to trust in His words ‘Ask and you will receive’.

Through this promise, they understood that the Lord is just waiting to take away pain and to bless and heal them and their children when they come to Him in Faith.

During these years there have been many, many wonderful answers to prayers including children coming off drugs, children returning home after being absent for many years, improvements in children’s health and relationships (in the family and at school).
The mothers also have been blessed and have experienced a great peace.

Lord Jesus, we come before you as mothers, wanting you to bless our children, and all children throughout the world. We thank you for our children – they are a precious gift to us. Help us, always to remember this, especially when they are in difficulties. Lord, they live in a troubled world – a world that does not always acknowledge you, – a world that may sometimes cause them to be laughed at if they admit to belief in you. Help them to be strong, Lord. Helps us to know that you are always with us – sharing in the joys and in the sorrows, joining us in the laughter and weeping with us in the pain. Please give us all the graces we need, to fulfil your plans for our lives and for our duties in our families. You are Almighty God. You can change things. So we turn to you in faith and love knowing that you will answer our prayers. Lord let us always remember how much you love us and our children and how you urge us to come to you with our problems. Amen

Related links: for more information see the Mothers Prayers website

Spiritual Direction

Spiritual direction is “help given by one person to another within a faith tradition, which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.” (William A. Barry and William J. Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction)

Life is a gift from God, a sacred journey, and as we walk this earthly path, we walk with God and in communion with others. God is always with us, in the midst of our lives but if God were trying to speak to us, would we always hear? If God were either reassuring us or challenging us, would we be aware? When God has been supporting us, have we always noticed? Sometimes we need the wise guidance, support, and loving challenge of another to help us to make God’s desires for us known. Every faith tradition in the world has seeker-guide relationships. Jesus is the role model for spiritual directors in the Christian tradition. He drew people into relationship, walked with them, and illuminated their lives with the startling revelation of His Father’s Kingdom. Spiritual accompaniment can help us to put our own anxieties and concerns into perspective, to make good life choices and to be more open to the part that God is playing in our lives.

Spiritual direction is concerned with a person’s actual experience of a relationship with God and it presumes that God is encountered in daily life. The religious experience is not isolated, nor does it consist of extraordinary events; it permeates every strand of life. It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God. Most often this is a relationship that is experienced in prayer in its many forms. We need to remember that the real spiritual director is God. God touches the human heart directly. The human spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director is there to help a person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper relationship.

Spiritual direction is a three-way relationship; with the true Director who is the Holy Spirit, the human director, and the directee. God is always the true Director at work in our lives. A spiritual director simply serves as a channel through which God works to uncover and discover the Divine at work in our everyday experiences. Through spiritual direction God is leading the person to deeper faith and more generous service. God touches the human heart directly. The human spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving advice and solving problems. Rather, the director ‘walks with’ the directee without judging, creates the space for God to work and helps the person respond to God’s invitation to a deeper, loving relationship. In this way spiritual direction is a gift to help the directee to become more aware of God’s presence, encouraging them to see and savour the goodness that exists around them, and for sorting out difficult situations and discerning life choices. The direction process invites the person into this deeper relationship with God and thereby into a deeper understanding of the spiritual aspects of being human. It teaches how to listen and to see how God is already at work.

Related links:
Clifton Diocesan website – Spiritual Direction Network
To contact our Network Coordinator, Sue Thomson, email: network@cliftondiocese.com
Ministry of Spiritual Direction – Spiritual Directors please also contact Sue Thomson (email address above) for further information.
Sacred Journey – a website exploring the journey into spiritual direction

Taize Prayer

“A parable of communion.
The prayer and spirit of Taize.
God’s presence is a breath that fills the entire universe.
It is an inrush of love, light and peace on earth.
Borne forward by the breath of life,
we are drawn to live in communion with others
and we are led to make the hope of peace
a reality in the human family.
May this communion and this hope
shine out around us!”

Inspired by the Rule of St Benedict and the life and witness of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, Brother Roger (Roger Schutz) began to gather young friends around him to live a simple monastic community life of prayer and manual work in an obscure rural village in Burgundy, France, after the devastation of World War 11. Living together in peace, and praying for reconciliation and healing in a divided and traumatised Europe was their intention, and this grew as young people were drawn to join them on this little ‘city set on a hill’ to pray and share their vision and dream for a world of peace, trust and reconciliation.

There is a Gospel reality which makes life beautiful-peace of heart.

Ambrose wrote,

“‘Begin the work of peace in yourself
so that, once you are at peace yourself, you can bring peace to others.’
The peace of our heart makes life beautiful for those around us.
Such a peace is rooted in a mysterious presence, the presence of Christ.
We then, like the apostle Peter, ‘Fix our eyes on Christ
as on a star shining in the night,
until the day begins to dawn and the sun rises in the heart.’ “

Living in the spirit of the Beatitudes, ‘simplicity, joy and mercy,’ has become a hallmark of the way of life of the brothers of Taize, and this witness has profoundly influenced and inspired countless young people and others who have been on pilgrimage to Taize to live for a week or more and to share in the life of hospitality, prayer and biblical reflection and sharing. Spreading out from Taize itself, the community has planted small gospel communities in poor areas around the world, and established a simple but profound gospel seed of their ‘Pilgrimage of trust on earth’.

Gathering thousands of young people from all over the world and from different Christian backgrounds, and encouraging them to share their faith and friendship in a spirit of mutual respect and prayer has gradually built deep bonds of communion and trust in generations of young people. The profound and simple beauty of the repetitive chants used in the common prayer of Taize have enabled many young people and others to enter into prayer in a spirit of unity and peace and to build bridges between divided communities.

On his visit in 1986, Pope St. John Paul II said:

‘One passes through Taize as one passes close to a spring of water. The traveller stops, quenches their thirst and continues on their way.’

Another of the close friends of Taize, Pope John XXIII, exclaimed: ‘Ah, Taize, that little springtime!’

Long may this springtime last and bear the blossoms of peace and reconciliation!

“You breathe your Holy Spirit on us
and you tell us: ‘Peace be yours’.
Opening ourselves to your peace-
Letting it penetrate the harsh and rocky ground of our hearts
means preparing ourselves to be bearers of reconciliation
wherever you may place us.
But you know that at times we are at a loss.
So come and lead us to wait in silence,
to let a ray of hope shine forth in our world.
AMEN”

Quotations of Brother Roger of Taize

For more information on the community of Taize, it’s prayer, it’s song, and it’s spirituality, please look at the Taize website.

Schools of Prayer

There are many ways to pray and many prayers...

There are many ways to pray and many prayers that can be used as a aid and tool for praying. This section of the Beholding God website seeks to draw upon the traditions of some of the religious families within the Church. Each founder provided their followers and fellow community members with a particular charism for prayer, and each can offer us a way of discovering – in our own lives as disciples and followers of Jesus – a deeper, richer sense of prayer to deepen our relationship with the Lord. We go back ‘to school’ as it were so that we can learn from these great teachers. They would never offer themselves as perfect models but, nevertheless, they offer a guide into deeper love of the Lord and a deeper experience of knowing the immensity of his love for us.

We take time to look at these ways of praying and tools for prayer. We’ll explore a Benedictine approach to prayer, look at the way St Francis and St Clare saw prayer, understand St Bernard’s vision of prayer, immerse ourselves in an understanding of what Carmel, or St Ignatius, or St Dominic can offer us. We’ll reflect upon the prayer of Jesus and prayer lived out in the lives of the early desert fathers and mothers. There may be something here for you, something that might aid your prayer, strengthen or focus your prayer, but hopefully something that will deepen your awareness of God in your life and an awareness of the God who seeks to make him home within you.

Using this section, you‘ll find yourself taken to the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference website and a series of video reflections taking you into an understanding of these different ‘schools’. There’s no competition! No one way is better than another… if it helps you, then it helps you… and that is a good thing. We don’t have to abandon the well tried and tested ways that have brought us this far. It may be that listening to these ‘practitioners’ and ‘teachers’ we might learn from their way of following the Lord and hold him at the centre of our lives. Begin with the Introduction and gently work your way through these schools

  • The Prayer of Jesus
  • The Desert Fathers and Mothers
  • The School of St Benedict
  • The School of St Bernard
  • The School of Carmel
  • The School of St Dominic
  • The School of St Ignatius

Many of us lead busy lives but finding time for Christ in prayer offers us the nourishment we need to be at peace on our spiritual journey. Monks, nuns and priests in Catholic religious communities often have deeply prayerful lives that bring them closer to the Lord. So what can we learn from those with a devotion to great saints like St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Dominic, St Benedict, St Francis of Assisi, St Clare, St Bernard and St Ignatius? What do each of these ‘teachers’ offer us as a tool for prayer and how does their prayer begin to shape ours? From the Dominicans to the Benedictines, the Carmelites to the Franciscans, this podcast series explores some of these wonderful ‘Schools of Prayer’. Each contributor belongs to a particular family of prayer – for example, we ask a Benedictine to talk about prayer at the school of St Benedict – and ask what their particular founder offers us, as Christians, in our life of prayer. If prayer is about deepening our relationship with the person of Jesus, how then do we draw on that particular witness and example? How can we learn more about what prayer can be and apply something of their vision of Christian discipleship to our way of life and desire to love Christ?

Praying in Christ also means the other deep dimension of that prayer is relationship. It’s a prayer in and with the Church – the Body of Christ. Even on those occasions I can’t pray or when I’m asleep – or not conscious of God – the prayer of the Church carries me.

Fr James Hanvey SJ, Jesuit priest and Master at Campion Hall, University of Oxford, gives us a reflection on Christian prayer on the link below.

What lies at the heart of Christian prayer?

Noise is one of the distracting ways we avoid the most important issues about life and God – about others and ourselves. In the desert there are no distractions. Clarity accompanies the quality of its quiet. In this link, Canon John Udris reflects on the Desert Fathers and Mothers, recalls stories to help us visualise their prayerful lives.

Learning from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

St Benedict, in his Rule, is very specific about what we do during the day – prayer, work and meditation…

Fr Stephen Horton OSB, Prior and Novice Master at the Benedictine monastery of Prinknash, lives in the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict. He talks about the School of St Benedict in the link below.

The School of St Benedict

Saint Bernard encourages the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He says: ‘It is light, food and medicine… When preached to us, it is food… When we meditate upon it, it is light… When we invoke it, it is medicine that soothes our pains…’

Sr Mary Apolline from the Berdardine Cistercian community at Brownshill, Stroud gives us her reflection on the remarkable twelfth century saint and reformer and also her life as a Bernardine sister.

The Prayerful Guide – St Bernard of Clairvaux 

An integral part of a Carmelite’s relationship with God is to be a friend to him as well as to receive his friendship.

Fr James McCaffrey OCD, a priest from the Carmelite Priory in Oxford, talks passionately about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Carmelite spirituality in the link below.

Carmelite Prayer and Spirituality

The Dominicans are at the origin of one of the most humble, popular and accessible forms of prayer – the Rosary. We often see artwork depicting our mother Mary giving the rosary to St Dominic – a prayer so precious and powerful that it’s said to be coming from Our Lady herself.

Sister Hyacinthe, a Dominican Sister of St Joseph who lives with the community at St Dominic’s Priory in the New Forest, Hampshire, reflects in the link below.

The School of St Dominic

Dr Rob Marsh SJ from Campion Hall, Oxford, reflects in the link below. “Of all the things I could say about Ignatius of Loyola’s attitude to prayer, the one that strikes me most, is his belief that God is alive and active in the world and in our lives – in every corner of them. God can be found in all things. Prayer is the aspect of our life where we consciously practice at our relationship with a God we also find in our work and in our play. Or maybe it’s better to say where God finds us.”

The School of St Ignatius

Resources

Praying with your children

Teaching our children to pray is an essential part of introducing them to Jesus Christ. Our Lord gave us prayer so we could communicate with him directly, and getting children comfortable with prayer helps them to understand that God is always close and to grow in consciousness of his presence. We are all called to holiness, and all to prayer.

The best way to begin guiding our children in prayer is to pray in their presence. Even before they have learnt to speak, we can invite them to pray with us as best they can. We can look for opportunities to pray in front of them, just as we would seek out opportunities to teach them about manners or about how to treat each other with kindness. As well as praying in the morning or before bed, we can encourage them to come to God with all things and at any time and that no request before God is too small. Some children may feel shy about praying out loud and may say they can’t think of anything to pray about. If this happens, we can pray for something first, and then ask them to finish the prayer.

There are many ways in which we can share the joy of prayer with our children and help them deepen and grow in their experience of prayer; some of these are explored on the adjoining pages. It is also important that children understand prayer can simply be a conversation with God, one that is held with respect for his unending love and power, but that is spoken in our own words.

Prayer is not complicated and is meant for everyone. An early Christian poet, St Ephraem, wrote, ‘Birds fly, fish swim, people pray’. Human beings are made to pray, because they are made for God.

“The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells.” (p18 Amoris Laetitia)

Praying with young people

Young people can often find the act of praying a challenge. Their world can be so full and loud with the variety of activities they take on outside of their formal education. Therefore, enabling young people to find time and space to pray, and helping them to see the value of stillness and prayer is an important aspect of their formation as young Christians. As Cardinal Basil Hume says in his book, ‘To be a Pilgrim’,

“One of the best definitions of prayer is the one in the catechism: “Prayer is the raising of the mind and the heart to God”. Better perhaps to say: Prayer is trying to raise our hearts and minds to God.”

To be aware of themselves, of God and to connect in their own way by making the considered decision to try and pray are key to establishing a prayer life.

The desire for their own sacred space: Young people can often desire their own space in which to pray. Some maybe self-conscious in large group situations where they feel forced to contribute or pray a certain way. Encouraging young people to find their own ‘sacred space’ is key to enabling them to be still, be aware and connect with God.

The desire for security and regularity: Young people can often feel more secure in a regular group setting such as a parish youth group. Being with their peers with a common cause or aim can help them feel part of that community and connected to God through the cause or prayer. Encouraging young people to find time for prayer with their peers is an important aspect of their prayer life.

This contradiction is an indication that young people are all different, unpredictable and connect with God in many different ways and in different situations. There is a joy to be found in this that should be encouraged and celebrated.

Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia (18) that; ‘The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have their own lives to lead.’ Giving young people the freedom and encouragement to find the style and time of connection to God – prayer, empowers them take responsibility for their faith.

Tips:
Leave unexpected prayers, books and other items in their bedroom that they may use.
Encourage less use of social media and quiet time. This often works if the whole family takes advantage of a ‘quiet house’.
Encourage connection with other young people in your parish.
Establish prayer together before meals and surround important moments of celebration in prayer.

Resources & links:

Books:

– YouCat prayer book available from ctsbooks.org
– The Catholic Youth prayer book. Saint Mary’s press
– The book of uncommon prayer. Steven L. Case. Zondervan Publishing

Websites:

– Online prayer justpray.uk
– Daily prayer:  sacredspace.ie   &   prayingeachday.org
– Catholic Youth Work forum resources: catholicyouthwork.com/latest-resources/prayer/
– CAFOD resources for young people: cafod.org.uk/Education/Young-people

Interesting Twitter feeds:

– Pope Francis @pontifex
– Cardinal Tagle @CardinalChito
– Bishop Robert Barron @BishopBarron
– CAFOD prayers @CAFODprayer
– CYMFed Flame Catholic Young people gathering @FlameCongress
– Clifton Diocese Youth Ministry @cliftonyouth

Instagram feeds:

@instapray
@churchmemes
@franciscus

Prayer as a family

There is such richness in our family experiences. It is important to take time to reflect, to name and to celebrate the presence of God in all our daily lives and to also recognise the presence of God in the troubles and difficulties of everyday life. In doing this we will be able to see the constant presence of God at the heart of our families.

Family life changes and what suits one family as to prayer and expressing their faith may not suit another. Families need to come together and decide together where and when they pray and how they pray. They need to decide what they are comfortable with when it comes to prayer or talking about faith or expressing it.

It may be that a family creates its own family prayer, that they pray the Rosary together, that they pray scripture together or they come together daily to simply reflect on their day. What is essential is that when families come together to pray, wherever it is, they must first remind themselves that God is there and then consciously place themselves in his presence, and ask him for help.

Praying and reflecting as a family at the end of a day may be as simple as asking each other to think about: What has made you happy today? What has made you sad, angry or sorry today? What has been difficult today? Who do you want to pray for? It is about taking a moment as a family to create a space to reflect on how God has touched each of their lives that day.

Another simple way to take a little time to reflect is to STOP!

Sorry – To say sorry
Thank you – To give thanks
Others – To offer prayers for others
Petitions – To offer petition requests either for ourselves or others

The resource ‘Family Spirituality’ offers guidance and a wealth of suggestions as to how families can deepen their spirituality amongst the challenges of everyday living. As Bairbre Cahill says in its introduction, it is not about putting God at the heart of your life as a family – God is already there – it is about helping recognize, name and celebrating His presence.

The Catechism tells us the Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. (‘Prayer in the Family’ by John and Beth Viatori p6). For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit. (CCC, 2685).

Praying as a Catholic couple

Our faith offers us a myriad of ways of praying together for ourselves and our families. The Rosary is the prime example of a family prayer, recalling the life of Jesus as we pray. This prayer has been prayed by many generations before us and is still very popular today. However it is only one way and if it isn’t so appealing to you at this time you can use others.

Have you ever just come before God in prayer and spoken to him in your words, explaining how you feel, what is happening in your lives right then, both the happy and sad times? Do you take it in turns to talk to God and each other?

My husband and I always hold each other’s hands and/or each other as we pray together. For us this has been both a source of comfort and blessing. It helps us to recognise that we are a couple so we both have a share in whatever we are praying about. Over the years we have learnt to share both the prayer and the conversation with each other and with God. It takes practise but the closeness it brings to your relationship is so valuable.

There are resources to use to help you pray as a couple. One resource is “I am with You”.

It has a reflection on the Gospel from Sunday that sheds light on the gift of human love and asks us to reflect, as a couple. Each week’s reflection is only two pages long. Cardinal Nichols says “I hope that husbands and wives will discover the source of courage required for that acceptance, pardon and dialogue which characterise a true communion of hearts and minds”.

He commends it to us as “a timely initiative……which will help to deepen Eucharistic love within marriages so to constantly renew the core of the domestic Church”.

Praying with your (non-Catholic) spouse

The Sacrament of Marriage joins husband and wife together in more ways than one! Marriage also often heralds a shared name, a shared mortgage, a shared home… And in that home, books come together too. In our home, Quantum Physics in a Nutshell and Early Medieval Architecture share a bookcase, though not a shelf. Sharing a shelf, you’ll find CS Lewis sitting beside Mother Teresa;Evangelium Vitae beside Rowan Williams’ Open to Judgement and The Treasury of Catholic Wisdomstands next to Love’s Redeeming Work: the Anglican Quest for Holiness.

Ours, you see, is a ‘mixed marriage’: I am Catholic and my husband is Anglican. Over half of married Catholics in the UK are married to Christians who are not Catholic and so the chances are that you are from one of those marriages. Welcome! Here, we’ll look at some of the many possibilities for praying together with your spouse that might be particularly relevant if your spouse is not a Catholic Christian but from a different denomination.

It might be tempting to think that as an ‘inter-church couple’ you can just pootle along your own spiritual path much as you did as a single person, albeit in parallel with your spouse, but no, this is not so! In addition to the many changes that marriage brings, you’ll find that your prayer life will change also. Whilst your spouse has officially become your ‘number one’, remember that you can only love your spouse as well as you do because you have first known God’s unconditional and superlative love. Knowing His love, patience and forgiveness enables you to bring those virtues to your married life. You still (more than ever!) need to remain close to the Lord in prayer and draw ever closer to Him, both aloneand with your spouse. Consider these words of St Paul to the Colossians:

All things were created
through him and for him
He is before all things
And in Him all things hold together.
(Col 1:16-17)

A marriage that takes place between baptised Christians in a Catholic Church is a sacramental marriage. The sacramental grace, which God pours abundantly into the spouses as they bestow the sacrament on each other, is the very life of God, living and working with and through the couple as they co-operate with that grace in their lives. Of course it is possible to live together without praying together but what amazing treasures we miss out on if we do! I know – believe me, I know – that it is difficult to find ways of praying with your spouse if you don’t have the same faith background, but look again at St Paul. Does he say, ‘in Him all cosy Catholic couples hold together’? No! Our marriage is just as sacramental as a marriage between two Catholic Christians and if we want Christ to be at the centre of our lives and our homes, we also need to ensure he is at the heart of our marriage. How can we do that unless we know Christ as a couple?

You have probably come across instances where you know both halves of a couple from different places. Maybe you know the wife through work, while you know the husband through doing the Cubs run or whatever. They have a common surname and it had never crossed your mind that they even knew each other until one day, they both come to pick up their Cub and you’re really surprised… initially at least. As the Cubs runs over time (or is that just our boys’ Cub Pack?) you chat with them both and find that each of them ‘make sense’ to you, now that you are meeting them as a couple. They are a little different when they are together; more complete, somehow – you feel that you are, for the first time, seeing the whole of each person.

I’m not, of course, saying that if you never pray together then God doesn’t know you’re married but I do think that when we pray together as husband and wife, we are more fully ourselves; greater even perhaps, than the sum of our parts. When we pray together, we are more likely to bring our wholeselves to the Lord, including our marriage in all its gritty glory. If we pray together, we are also much more likely to be honest with ourselves and each other; more likely to show each other our vulnerabilities, to support each other, to seek support from each other. We are more likely to ask – and grant – forgiveness if we pray together to the One who first forgave us.

All very well, but how?

Firstly, start from where you are. Don’t try to create a prayer life for you both that is unfamiliar to youboth. It may seem that when it comes to prayer, you have little in common but try asking yourself these questions:

–  What does your prayer life contain at the moment? For example, do you use hymns or other worship music as a form of prayer? Do you say a Morning Offering? Or grace before meals? Do you find moments of prayer when reading from the Bible? Do you like to light a candle when you pray, or use an icon or statue as a focus? How do you find praying at Mass or at other church services?
–  Where do you find God in your life at the moment?
–  What moves you to prayer? What about your spouse?
–  Are there forms of prayer that you are uncomfortable with?

It might be that you need to look again at when you pray. Just before you go to bed, for example, might not be the best time? Early evening might now suit better: after work and dinner, just simply putting a few minutes aside to light a candle, sit together and pray silently for a moment, then thank God for your day, for each other, for your marriage. There might be a prayer that is especially dear to you both that you might use as a focus. It doesn’t need to be fancy – God’s not giving you marks out of ten! – but what is important is that you remember, daily, that your marriage is grounded in God.

Looking at what you hold in common, you might find that your spouse’s church use the same series of readings at Sunday services as we do. It might be an idea, then, to use the Sunday Gospels as a basis for your prayer. You can read more about that here: (Link to Lectio Divina for inter church couples). This would be more of a weekly aspiration, assuming your lives are already full-to-over-flowing.
At the end of the day, remember that there are no gold stars awarded for fancy prayers. God loves you both already, and your love of Him and your spouse delights Him more than we could ever guess. Be bold in your love and together, spend time loving Him who first loved you.

It would be fantastic to grow this section of our website with your prayer ideas.

How do you pray as a couple? If you have ideas, we’d love to hear them. Please do let us know using the ‘contact us’ box.

Lectio divina for ‘inter church’ couples: What? So what? and Now what?

What?

The term ‘lectio divina’ simply refers to the time-honoured method – practised by monastics since their beginning – of prayerfully reading the scriptures.

Whilst understanding scripture is important, lectio divina is more about learning to listen to what God says to us through scripture and to respond prayerfully to what we hear. It is a perfect form of prayer for married couples who come from different Christian denominations, as it uses something we share – the Bible – and enables us to hear God speaking to us individually and as a couple. It offers opportunity for us to pray together as a couple and so it strengthens our marriage. It is important to note that this is not Bible study. A good way to think about it is that the scripture passage like is one half of a telephone call. Our prayer experience in lectio divina is like the other half of that call. My half can be completely different from my spouse’s half and that is fine – after all, wouldn’t it be a bit freaky if our conversations with God were exactly the same? Not even identical twins are that alike!

To practice lectio divina, we set some time aside – maybe half an hour to begin with – and start by establishing external and internal peace. It could be that some music or a prayer focus such as a candle or icon might help. Then, asking the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin the first stage (lectio): one of us reads a passage of scripture aloud (usually the Gospel for the coming Sunday) and we simply try to listen to the passage as though we’re hearing it for the first time. This is so that we pay attention to what the passage is saying of itself. Without paying attention to scripture at this level, there is a danger that we simply manipulate the text to our own purposes, rather than letting God speak through his scripture.

The second stage of the process is meditatio: we listen to what the scripture passage is saying to each of us. This stage is deeply personal. This is not a search for something original or clever to say about the text, nor is it a quest for identifying the most objectively important message of the passage. It requires a listening of the heart: which word or phrase ‘jumps out’? There is no need at this stage to analyse the reasons for it (indeed there is a risk that if we do so, we may suppress a challenging or otherwise unexpected response to the scriptures), but simply acknowledge that it is there. We share that word or that phrase briefly, then we go further into our meditation and, through reading the passage again, we ask in prayer what that word or phrase means to us.

Having meditated attentively upon the Lord’s word, we move on to the third stage of lectio divina: oratio, or prayer. What do we say to the Lord in response to his word?

The fourth stage of the lectio divina structure is contemplatio. As we spend this time in wonder, we pray for the grace to see as God sees and for the wisdom to discern God’s will for us. David Foster compares this stage of contemplation – or ‘wonder’ – with lingering after sharing a meal with a friend:

“We sit and take time to enjoy the food shared, and especially to enjoy the company in which we have shared the food and drink. It is a time for gratitude, humour and togetherness. So it is good not to hurry out of the presence of God we have savoured in our time of prayer… this is a time just to let God be God, and to let God be God for me. Our own self-offering to God will come naturally out of that.” [1]

Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation are the four stages of lectio divina but of course, there is always actio, for as St Paul says, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5:14). The impact of our lectio divina in our lives – the caritas (or charity) it inspires – is the true completion of the process of lectio divina. In what way is God calling us to change as a result of our encounter with His word?

So what?

As an ‘interchurch’ couple, it might be all too easy to see the differences between us when it comes to faith, but the practice of lectio divina cuts through denominational differences and straight to the heart of Jesus’ rayer ‘Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you’ (Jn 17:21). Lectio divina is a form of prayer that you can practice at home as a couple that will not only strengthen your spiritual lives but your marriage also. In my own practice of lectio divina, I have been challenged, surprised, delighted and have received many unexpected graces, but don’t just take my word for it, though: Pope Benedict XVI has said of lectio divina,

“if it is effectively promoted,
this practice will bring to the Church
– I am convinced of it –
a new spiritual springtime.” [2]

Now what?

It may be that you or your spouse have a lectio divina group in your parish – if so, go there and get started! When you’ve got the hang of the format, you can then use it at home too. If you don’t have a group available locally, then do have a go at home by simply using the Gospel for each Sunday. If you don’t have a Sunday Missal, the readings for Mass can be found at Universalis (http://universalis.com/mass.htm).

[1] David Foster, Reading with God (2005), p.112
[2] Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the International Congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation ‘Dei verbum’. 16th September 2005

Prayer Groups near you

BRISTOL – CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Contact: Sheila Mapson
4 New Buildings , Fishponds, Bristol, BS16 2BT
T: 0117 939 0285
E: sheilamapson@hotmail.co.uk
www.wccm.org

CLEVEDON – GREYFRIARS PRAYER GROUP
Core Team Leader: Neil Quinn
24 Kennaway Road, Clevedon, BS21 6JL
T: 01275 343763
E: neilpat24@hotmail.co.uk

DEVIZES – DIAKONIA PRAYER GROUP
Information: Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy
2 Park View, Devizes, Wilts, SN10 1PJ
T: 01380 722543

NAILSEA – CHRISTIAN MEDITATION
Joint Facilitator: Shelagh Layet
3 Linemere Close, Backwell, Bristol, BS48 3PX
T: 01275 463727
www.wccm.org

STROUD – CHARISMATIC ECUMENICAL PRAYER GROUP
Contact: John Heal
Immaculate Conception Church, Beeches Green, Stroud, GL5 4AA
T: 01452 612612
E: jodieheal@yahoo.co.uk

SWINDON – CATHOLIC CHARISMATIC RENEWAL OF ST MARY (Prayer Group)
Contact: Elias Fernandes
St Mary’s Catholic Church, Tovey Road, Swindon, SN2 1LQ
T: 07833 746001
E: eliasfernandes@mail.com

SWINDON – HOLY ROOD PRAYER GROUP
Coordinator: Margaret Powell
17 Burford Avenue, Swindon, Wilts, SN3 1BU
T: 01793 542601

SWINDON – SHRIVENHAM PRAYER GROUP
Leader: Emilia Love
5 Fairthorne Way, Shrivenham, Nr Swindon, Wilts, SN6 8EB
T: 07779 615 370 / 01793 782453
E: EmiliaLV@aol.com

TAUNTON – CHARISMATIC ECUMENICAL PRAYER GROUP
Information Contacts: Andrew and Marguerite Walker
2a Stone Close, Taunton, TA1 4YG
T: 01823 286061
E: walkerandrew@outlook.com

TROWBRIDGE – ST JOHN’S PRAYER GROUP
Coordinator: Colette Wall
11 Shepherds Mead, Dilton Marsh, Westbury, BA13 4DX
T: 01373 826856
E: colettewall99@gmail.com

WELLINGTON – ST JOHN FISHER ROSARY GROUP
Leader: Julia Tucker
The Gardens Coach House, Court Drive, Wellington, TA21 8QH
T: 01823 662490
E: juliatucker@live.com

WESTON-SUPER-MARE – OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE PRAYER GROUP
Leader: Deacon Thomas Moffatt
The New House, Shrubbery Road, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 2JH
T: 01934 621084
E: thomasmoffatt@btinternet.com

YEOVIL – UPPER ROOM PRAYER GROUP
Leader: Patrick Russell
23 Roping Road, Yeovil, BA21 4BD
T: 01935 427813
E: pat.yeovil@gmail.com

Retreats and Recollection

Wasting time with God

Someone once described a retreat as ‘wasting time with God’ and who would not want to do that?

However, different people have different experiences of retreats. Some look back at school retreats with a mixture of memories both positive and negative. At Emmaus House they are sometimes called Treat Days or Desert Days.

Others come to retreats out of their own choice at another moment in their lives – maybe when a choice lies ahead of them.
The kinds of retreat are vast: individually guided, preached, walking, retreats incorporating paint, clay, music, dance and dreams. Retreats can be silent, part sharing… and so it goes on.

Am I alone or would I prefer to have someone there to listen or someone to suggest a passage from Scripture? How long should my retreat be? Three days? Five days? Eight days? Even the Spiritual Exercises of thirty days? It is even possible to embark upon this over a length of time and at my own pace.

And where will I go? There are retreat centres around the country (although less than there were). There are monasteries when we can partake in the prayer life and the liturgy of the community. In our own diocese these vary from monasteries to small houses, and retreat and days of reflection are available with or without spiritual accompaniment. Some are organised (or can be by these centres), others are for individuals to take time and space as is needed. You’ll find a list of what is available in the diocesan directory.

Ammerdown Centre, Radstock
Bernardine Sisters in Brownshill, near Stroud
Butleigh House of Prayer, Glastonbury
Emmaus House, Whitchurch, Bristol
Marist Retreat Centre, Nympsfield, Gloucestershire
Alabare House of Prayer, Salisbury

Dulverton Centre (for school, family and groups of young people)
St Benet’s, Downside Abbey (accommodation for student groups)

Elsie Briggs House of Prayer, Westbury-on-Trym
Abbey House, Glastonbury

Links and Contacts

These links are designed to offer you some resources for a deepening of prayer and reflection. There are so many available, so many web pages, publications and apps. These are offered by way of a beginning… just to point and sign post the way. If you know of good websites, links, resources, we’d be happy to have them pointed out to us so that we can share them with others. You can contact us using the Contact Form.

 

 

The Divine Office

iBreviary – The iBreviary is your portable breviary. You can use it to pray with the full texts of the Liturgy of the Hours in just five languages. Simply launch the application and all the texts of the day will appear before you. You can also download the App.

Universalis – a superb, online resource with the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily readings from the Liturgy of the Word, a calendar all available via PC or App.

 

 

Daily Reflections

Bread4today – a Redemptorist resource. An app that can be downloaded from iTunes to help us pray through the day. These short reflections give us good direction! It is free to download, so why not give it a try?

pray-as-you-go – an Ignatian resource immersing you into deeper prayer, reflection and contemplation

3-minute retreats – 3-Minute Retreats invite you to take a short prayer break right at your computer. Spend some quiet time reflecting on a Scripture passage

Sacred Space – a joint venture by the Irish Jesuits and Loyola Press

Thinking Faith – Thinking Faith is the online journal of the Jesuits in Britain. Explore our website to find articles and reviews which will help you think about your faith and think, through your faith, about the world

Centre for Action and Contemplation – you can sign up here for a daily newsletter offering you a simple reflection for each day from Fr Richard Rohr

Fr Ronald Rolheiser OMI – Sign up for Fr Rolheiser’s newsletter to receive a twice-weekly meditation from his previously published writings

Living Light – Nationwide Christian Trust are a UK based organisation seeking to help people find The Lord and to strengthen them in their spiritual lives through a variety of initiatives

 

 

Bishops’ Conference Publications

‘Do you love me?’ – A practical and participatory guide to Catholic prayer and spirituality. These guidelines are not just about what Catholic spirituality is, but also about how to develop your own relationship with God.

 

 

Retreats and Retreat Centres

These online directories will help you find centres that offer opportunities for Christian retreats

Emmaus House Retreat – a non-residential spirituality centre offering an integrated approach to the development of each person

Shared Cloister – For many people there isn’t time or opportunity to travel to the monastery. The solution, therefore, is for us to bring something of the monastery to you. You can find online reflection, online retreats – shared and ‘five-minute’ retreats, talks and podcasts

Catholic Retreat centres

Christian Retreat centres

The Retreat Association

Catholic Spirituality Network (CSN)

The Well Centre for Spirituality – Elsie Briggs House of Prayer, Bristol

 

 

Ways of Praying

World Christian Community for Meditation

Taize  the website of the international community offers wonderful resources for prayer and reflection as well as their chants

 

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs

Q. I have always prayed the Divine Office but find this becoming mechanical. Any suggestions ?
A. Try to become more aware of the Church as a praying community. When you pick up your breviary, you have chosen to join your voice to the great hymn of praise raised by the Church and as you start to pray you are joining someone, some community, somewhere, that is also starting praying. This is not just you saying the Office, it is you joining in the constant adoration and worship of God raised from all corners of the world and beyond.
Q. When I sit to meditate, I find I tend to “drift off”. When I come to, I find time has passed but I am not sure whether or not I was asleep or was I praying. What should I do ?
A. Perhaps choose a different chair ? Seriously, when one gets caught up in God, time ceases to matter to us; we are getting in touch with eternity. Were you asleep ? Perhaps. But your sleep was given to God and He can use you as he wills.
Q. Does God answer prayer ?
A. Invariably yes – given that “no” could also be an answer. When we ask God for something, we have to avoid the trap of telling Him what the answer should be. God is a free agent and He answers out of love and from His immense overview of all the factors involved. We only see the immediate good; God is concerned with the knock-on effects of which we can be totally ignorant.
Q. When nothing seems to be happening in my prayer life, can I make things more “real”?
A. You can’t but God can. You need His help. Reality partly depends on your relationship with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have to read the scriptures so that God becomes a real person whom we can pray to and talk to and argue with. We have to get to know Jesus, reflecting on his teaching and how it applies to me and my circumstances and my world. We have to become friends with Jesus so that he is often in our thoughts and that chatting with him is as natural as chatting to our friends. The Holy Spirit should be our guide and “enlighten me “ the phrase that we often use.
Q. I find “prayer guides” (books, articles etc) pretty useless. How do I find the way of praying that suits me ?
A. I think the short answer to this is practice. Finding a mode of prayer is a deeply personal thing and the Church offers its centuries of experience to the sincere seeker. Failing any other advice, choose a form of prayer and explore it on a regular basis for at least a couple of months and then try to assess how you feel about it. Note that “what you get out of it” is not the criteria to use; worshipping God and coming closer to Him is.
Q. “Raising one’s heart and mind to God” seems to me to be a natural gift. It is easy to do. Is there more to prayer than this ?
A. Yes: your life must reflect this reality. Jesus commands us to keep the commandments and we must do our best not to miss opportunities for service and, should the occasion arise, of teaching others how to wed prayer and action into one reality.

Contact

If you would like to get in touch with the Beholding God team, please use the form below and someone will contact you shortly.