My Weekly Prayer Intentions

Several years ago, I came up with this weekly schedule of prayer intentions that correlates with the mysteries of the rosary.  Throughout each day I offer my “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” for the following intentions.

On Mondays we meditate on the Joyful Mysteries.  On Mondays I pray for a Culture of Life.  Pregnant mothers, unborn children, and the elderly (such as Simeon and Anna) are front and center in the Joyful Mysteries.  Every life is fraught with difficulty, yet every life contributes something “irreplaceable and unrepeatable” (St. John Paul II) to the Plan of God.

On Tuesdays we meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries.  On Tuesdays I pray for persecuted Christians around the world.  Christians are the Body of Christ, connected one to another as intimately as the cells of one organism.  Corporately we are called to share in Christ’s sufferings, and when one part of the body hurts, the whole body suffers.

On Wednesdays we meditate on the Glorious Mysteries.  On Wednesdays I pray for Christian unity.  Christians of all different traditions are united by our common faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit draws us closer to each other in the bond of Love that is the life of the Blessed Trinity.  Please God, we will be finally and gloriously united in heaven when we follow Him and Mary into the presence of God.

On Thursdays we meditate on the Luminous Mysteries.  On Thursdays I pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  Our priests and deacons baptize us as Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.  Consecrated people are mystically married to Our Lord and His Church and stand as signs for the union with God that we are all called to.  The ordained preach the Word of God and call us to repentance.  They urge us to pray and grow in holiness so that we may be transfigured.  Our priests, by the gift of God, make Jesus present as the Eucharist.

On Fridays we meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries.  On Fridays I pray for the conversion of sinners, myself included.  Every Friday is an invitation to meditate on Jesus’s total gift of Self for us and an opportunity to deepen our own conversion as well as pray for the conversion of the whole world.

On Saturdays we meditate on the Joyful Mysteries.  On Saturdays I pray for my friends and family.  Mary and Elizabeth rejoicing in each other’s presence (and in the hidden presence of others); the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; the shepherds and the Wise Men; Simeon and Anna rejoicing in the culmination of God’s Plan; a beloved child lost and found…all of these can be related to our own human ties and concerns.

On Sundays we meditate on the Glorious Mysteries.  On Sundays I pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.  The entire Church–Militant, Suffering, and Triumphant–will one day be together in glory in the presence of God because of the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Church Militant is especially close to the other members of the Body of Christ when we gather for the Mass and partake of His most precious Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

When we pray the rosary in our family during the long period of Ordinary Time between Pentecost and Advent, we meditate on all of the mysteries as described above.  During Advent and Christmas, we meditate on the Joyful Mysteries throughout the week to help keep our focus on the particular season.  Likewise, we meditate on the Luminous Mysteries in the first, briefer period of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent.  During Lent we meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries, and during Easter and Pentecost we meditate on the Glorious Mysteries.  It is intriguing and fruitful to search for connections between all of the mysteries and the above prayer intentions.

avila-photo238

 

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Catholic and Christian: Surprise!

An important step on my journey to the Catholic Church was finding and reading Catholic and Christian: An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Alan Schreck (the 1984 version).  It was the summer of 1999, and I was preparing to spend my junior year of college in Spain.  I found the book in my local bookstore and planned to read it to guard against losing my (then Protestant) faith in a predominantly Catholic country.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the unfamiliar Catholic beliefs had strong foundations in Scripture and reason!  This book removed many of the obstacles between me and Catholicism.  (See “My Journey to the Catholic Church” under Autobiography to read more about that.)

Since my entrance into the Catholic Church in 2004, I have recommended this book to many people—Protestants with mistaken views of the Catholic Church as well as Catholics who were on the verge of leaving the Catholic Church.  One of those people was a dear family member, who ended up misplacing the book for several years.  It was recently returned to me, and I fondly turned to the Introduction.  A few minutes later, I was blown away and very humbled.

I had remembered the book primarily as a work of apologetics in favor of Catholicism.  In fact, the author explained that he had written it with rather different purposes in mind.  He did indeed want to demonstrate the Scriptural basis of peculiarly Catholic beliefs (the pope, Purgatory, prayers to the saints, etc.), but his stated purpose was twofold.  First, he wanted to help Catholics understand their own beliefs more clearly so that they would not be thrown into doubt by other Christians who called those beliefs into question.  Secondly (this was the part that really surprised me), he wanted to help non-Catholic Christians understand Catholicism better so that they could recognize Catholics as their Christian brothers and sisters.  A book that I thought was a work of Catholic apologetics was written to further Christian unity!

Schreck laments the divisions in Christianity and suspects that it is a tactic of the Devil to make Christians waste their energy arguing with each other about their differing beliefs rather than standing together to reach out to a broken world in desperate need of Jesus Christ.  Schreck recommends that we consider the differences in belief that Christians of other traditions have as mistakes that any well-intentioned Christian could make.  I was very humbled by this reflection because I, driven by the zeal of the convert, have definitely been guilty of trying to argue non-Catholic Christians into Catholicism.  The version of the book I read was written in 1984; how much more urgent is the need for Christian unity today!  As our bewildered culture slides further and further into darkness, we must set aside our differences to let the Light of Christ shine ever more brightly so that more people can find their way to the Source of that Light.

Another surprise for me was the validation I felt of my pre-Catholic Christian faith.  Schreck states that Catholic Christianity is not the only authentic way to be Christian.  Thanks be to God, I did know and love Jesus for the first 24 years of my life before I entered the Catholic Church.  Such an affirmation of course in turn strengthens my respect for non-Catholic Christians.

I thank the Lord and Alan Schreck for the great help that Catholic and Christian has been to me, both as a help towards the Catholic Church and as a needed corrective in my relationship with non-Catholic Christians—my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Life is a Parable

As Father David Kuetner explained in a homily at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church (Sunday, June 17, 2012), Jesus taught so much in parables because life is itself a parable.  A parable is a story about something that we are familiar with (such as a merchant in search of fine pearls) that is meant to point to something else more mysterious (the kingdom of God) (see Matthew 13:45-46).  Everything in this life can help us learn about God–a gift that is meant to point us to the Giver.  Jesus taught in parables to orient us to that reality.

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My Journey to the Catholic Church

(The original version of this piece appeared in Fuller Theological Seminary’s student publication, the Semi, in 2004 under the title “From Campus Crusade to Catholicism.”)

In the summer of 1999, I flew to Colorado to attend Campus Crusade for Christ’s Junior/Senior Weekend, a segment of their national staff conference.  While I was there, I attended a seminar entitled “Reaching Today’s Catholics.”  I had not thought much about the Catholic Church at that point outside of history class, but a voice inside me wondered, “Aren’t Catholics Christians, too?”  Based on some of the questions that staff members were asking, the answer for some of them was apparently “No.”

After I returned from my Crusade Summer Project in Newport Beach, CA, I began to feel nervous about my pending junior year abroad in Spain and what that historically Catholic nation might do to my faith.  Figuring I ought to arm myself by learning more about Catholicism, I wandered into Barnes and Noble and bought Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck.  To my surprise, the author presented biblical evidence for every Catholic doctrine he was explaining.  Why had my Evangelical friends been so convinced that the Catholic Church taught unbiblical beliefs?

An unexpected illness cut my year in Spain down to about three weeks and brought me back home to Houston.  I naturally returned to my home church, an orthodox Episcopalian parish.  One day in the church bookstore, I picked up another book that would impact me dramatically:  Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard.  Though I had benefited greatly from my time with Campus Crusade, I was beginning to feel dissatisfied with its neatly packaged version of the gospel and with Evangelical spirituality in general.  Howard helped me to articulate this dissatisfaction and prompted me to return to the historically-anchored, liturgical worship that I had grown up with.  In his book, Howard speaks without much distinction of the apostolic churches (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism, of which the Episcopal Church is a subset), but I noted his postscript with interest.  Just months after completing the book, Howard had joined the Catholic Church.

After a period of recovery in Houston, I returned to Stanford to resume my undergraduate studies.  At the beginning of my senior year, I met Robert, the wonderful young man who would later become my husband.  Robert grew up Catholic, and we agreed to learn more about each other’s denominations.  We took turns attending Episcopalian Eucharist and Catholic Mass.  Once again, everything I learned about Catholicism made sense to me, and the tiny Episcopal parish we attended was downright disappointing compared to the robust congregation of Stanford’s Catholic Community.

After graduation, Robert and I began a two-year long-distance relationship.  I was placed back in Houston by Teach For America and again returned to my home church where I was dissuaded from immediate conversion.  Yet as time went on and the Anglican Communion faced major crises in the summer of 2003, I became less and less confident about asking Robert to become Episcopalian.  (The Episcopal Church of the United States of America consecrated Gene Robinson, a divorced man living openly with his homosexual partner, as the bishop of New Hampshire against the desires of the worldwide Anglican Communion.)  We resigned ourselves to being of different denominations.

Then I began my studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in the fall of 2003.  There are very few Catholic students at Fuller, but as fate (or Providence) would have it, three of them were in my very small Hebrew class:  Michael Barber, Kimberly Gilmore, and Travis Lawmaster.  These students love sharing the gospel and can quote Scripture like Evangelicals, and they are passionately committed to Catholicism.  Meeting them reawakened the possibility that I too could be such a Christian.  Michael, who was also in my Early Church History class, boiled the Catholic Question down to a question of authority.  All of the other Catholic beliefs that are strange to Protestants stem from this one issue.

As I began to grow in my Christian faith during my time with Campus Crusade, I was always taught to regard the Bible as the highest authority in matters of faith.  Yet in my church history class at a Protestant seminary, I learned that the Church existed for centuries without the Bible as we have it today.  How did the Church “get by” for so long?  Also, what do we do when seemingly valid interpretations of Scripture conflict?  The answer lies with Jesus.

When our Lord walked the earth, He did not hand us the completed New Testament.  Rather, He selected twelve men to be His disciples and apostles.  Day after day, He taught them about the kingdom of God and about how they were to spread the gospel after He was glorified.  One man in particular, whom Jesus surnamed Peter (“rock”), stands out as the leader of the Twelve.  Jesus invested him with special authority, declaring that on this rock He would build His church “and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power of binding and loosing, rabbinic terms that refer to excommunication and to forbidding or allowing something (see Matthew 16:18-19; for a prophecy concerning the steward of God’s kingdom on earth, see Isaiah 22:20-23).  The rest of the disciples were also given a share in Peter’s authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18), and Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to teach them all things (John 14:26).  As history tells us, the apostles appointed successors after them, and the bishop of Rome (that is, the pope) was recognized very early on as Peter’s successor.

As the Church expanded and as heretics devised their own “canons” of Scripture, it became necessary to decide on an authorized list of books to be read in the congregations.  It was the successors of the apostles who decided which books were inspired Scripture and which books were not.  As I learned about this process I began to wonder how Protestants could put so much faith in the Bible without trusting in the apostolic authority that assembled the Bible in the first place.  The Catholic Church is the one church that can claim unbroken apostolic succession and that continues to recognize Peter’s successor as possessing all of the authority that Jesus gave him.  I became convinced that it was inconsistent to accept the Bible as inspired without accepting the teaching office of the Catholic Church as uniquely authoritative.

And so, here I am, incredibly grateful to be Catholic.  The fall of 2003 witnessed a peaceful yet sudden gift of faith in my heart.  I ask Mary and the Saints to pray for me.  I believe in Purgatory.  I look to Pope Francis as the Holy Father of our Church.  By the grace and mercy of God, Robert and I were married in a state of grace in the Catholic Church in June 2004.  There is no doubt that my marriage to Robert has been strengthened and enriched by our unity of tradition, and I rejoice that God led me to this decision with reasons that convinced me on their own merit.

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True Freedom

Two intriguing quotations pointing to true freedom:

 

“In essentials, unity;

in nonessentials, liberty;

in all things, charity.”  (St. Augustine)

 

“The laws of the Church preserve the freedom of the Holy Spirit.”  (I read this on http://www.canonlaw.info: “Leges Ecclesiae conservant libertatem Spiritus Sancti.“)

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Handmaid of Your Handmaid

Luke 1:38 from the Vulgate:

“dixit autem Maria

ecce ancilla Domini fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum”

Vanessa, consecrated to Jesus through Mary:  “Ecce ancilla ancillae tuae (Behold, I am the handmaid of Your Handmaid).”

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Full of Signs: A New Way of Seeing the World

I will never forget a moment during my sophomore year at Stanford when I first realized a new way of looking at the world.  That year was one of great spiritual growth for me thanks to my involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ.  I was standing near the Tressider bollards thinking about how we can learn about God because of our parents.  He is like our parents (at least the good ones), so we can know something about Him.  Then I realized that perhaps it was the other way around:  perhaps God made families the way they are in the first place so that we would be able to learn about Him.  Perhaps other things in our world are signs meant to point us to Him.

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Excerpt from “Why Practice Penance?”

As Catholics, we believe that God forgives us the guilt of sin because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but we still need to deal with sin’s “temporal consequences” one way or the other (i.e., in this life through practicing penance, in the next life through purification in Purgatory, or through some combination of the two).  I first learned about this concept at Fuller Theological Seminary in Early Church History with Dr. Nathan Feldmeth (fall 2003).  I have found the distinction between guilt and temporal consequences hard to understand, so I was glad to read a helpful explanation of the distinction in Dr. Paul Thigpen’s Lenten article entitled “Why Practice Penance?”  (March 2011 Newsletter of the Coming Home Network International.  Pages 10-11..)  Here is an excerpt with a helpful analogy:

Suppose you tell your five-year-old that he can’t jump off a tall fence because he will hurt himself.  But he does it anyway and breaks his arm.  When he calls out to you crying in pain, he’s quite remorseful for his misbehavior and afraid that your anger will alienate you from him.

At this point, you forgive him for disobeying you–that is, you lay aside your anger at his wrongdoing so that it doesn’t stand between the two of you.  But other consequences of his sin must still be dealt with.  You must take him to the hospital to have his broken arm set, and that will be a painful process.

The truth is that we’ve all disobeyed God and broken some of our spiritual “bones.”  God forgives us of the guilt resulting from our sin, the break in our relationship with Him.  He restores the friendship.  But He doesn’t wave a magic wand, bypassing our free will, to fix those “bones.”

Instead, we must undergo a process that undoes what we have done, and it requires our cooperation.  We must work, with the assistance of divine grace, to let go of whatever binds us, straighten out whatever is crooked within us, repair what is broken, restore what we have unlawfully taken, embrace whatever truths we have denied, and learn to love God above all things.  That process is what we call penance.

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Spirit-Breath-Wind

I came across this passage in The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter (London:  Harper Collins Publishers, 1997)  that reminded me of a theological train of thought of mine:

Barfield examined the history of words, and came to the conclusion that mythology…is closely associated with the very origin of all speech and literature.  In the dawn of language, said Barfield, speakers did not make a distinction between the ‘literal’ and the ‘metaphorical’, but used words in what might be called a ‘mythological’ manner.  For example, nowadays when we translate Latin spiritus we have to render it either as ‘spirit’ or as ‘breath’ or as ‘wind’ depending on the context.  But early users of language would not have made any such distinction between these meanings.  To them a word like spiritus meant something like ‘spirit-breath-wind’.  When the wind blew, it was not merely ‘like’ someone breathing:  it was the breath of a god.  And when an early speaker talked about his soul as spiritus he did not merely mean that it was ‘like’ breath:  it was to him just that, the breath of life.   (Carpenter, The Inklings, 41)

“Spirit,” “breath,” and “wind” are the translations given to the Hebrew word ruach, as in “the Spirit [ruach] of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  It is also translated as the “breath of life” in Genesis 6:17 and 7:15, though a different word is used for the “breath of life” breathed into man by the LORD God in Genesis 2:7.

Death came to Adam and Eve, both physically and spiritually, when they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But a new “spirit-breath-life” is given thanks to Jesus:  the Holy Spirit.  Jesus breathes on the disciples after His resurrection and tells them, “‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'” (John 20:22-23).  And, of course, the Holy Spirit rushes on the disciples and Mary at Pentecost:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Body of Christ.  He is the “breath of life” of the Church.

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The Bible’s Best-Kept Secret?

I am starting to wonder if Mary may be the Bible’s best-kept secret.  St. Louis de Montfort sure thought so:

Even though Mary was his faithful spouse, God the Holy Spirit willed that his apostles and evangelists should say very little about her and then only as much as was necessary to make Jesus known.  (True Devotion, page 1; Bay Shore, NY:  Montfort Publications, 2006)

Yet Mary is the beautiful answer to so many questions.  If Jesus is the New Adam, who is the New Eve?  If Eve is the mother of all the living in our natural life, who is our mother in our new supernatural life in Christ?  If God is our Father, who is our Mother?  If Jesus is our Lord, who is our Lady?  If Jesus is our King, who is our Queen?  Is Jesus is our brother, who is our sister?

The little that is said about Mary, or that Mary says, in the Bible speaks volumes.  As the Holy Spirit has led the Catholic Church through the centuries, Mary’s particular role in salvation history has become better understood.  Nothing ever taught about her by the Magisterium has ever contradicted Scripture, nor can it, for the Word of God will never contradict Itself.

One of the most wonderful things about being Catholic is that we do not only have the Bible; we also have Tradition.  These are the two streams of the one Living Word of God.  We can thus declare much more with confidence than can our brothers and sisters in Christ who are cut off from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church through their forebears’ revolt (the Protestant Reformation).

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