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by Matthew Kelly
Walk Humbly with Your God
by Father Bob Sherry
Some moments in life are so special that you want to bottle them so you can experience them over and over again and share them with everyone you know. I had one of those experiences while I was recording the Resisting Happiness audiobook earlier this summer.
In order to keep my voice fresh I usually record over a number of days for about four hours each day. On the second to last day I was recording the chapter “Let Your Light Shine”. This is one of Jesus’ central invitations in the Gospel. In the book I share how my son Harry likes to sing the song “This Little Light of Mine” each night before he goes to bed. If I don’t sing it with him, he says, “Light of Mine, Light of Mine!” over and over again until I do.
As I was sitting in the studio that day reading the words to the song, I thought, “We should get Harry in here to sing this for the audiobook.” So the next day I brought Harry down to the studio and we recorded it. Here are some pictures from that day, and, more importantly, the audio recording of Chapter 32 and Harry’s performance. Enjoy!
I also want to encourage you to sign up for our Best Advent Ever email program. We have some very talented speakers and authors who are going to help us all slow down and prepare for Christmas in a different way this year. Advent begins November 27.
The treasures of Scripture and other truths of our faith are not always obvious on the surface but they are limitless for those who dig for them.
— From “Walk Humbly with Your God” by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R.
If our spiritual life is going to develop properly, we must learn how to meditate, to practice mental prayer. What does this mean? When I entered the seminary, I discovered there were designated periods of mental prayer or meditation in the daily schedule. At first it sounded somewhat mystifying. “What is mental prayer? How do I meditate?” I wondered.
I was used to saying formal prayers, such as morning and night prayers, and some devotional prayers in a prayer booklet. But somehow the idea of mental prayer seemed complicated. I heard talk of different methods and steps in the meditation process. Every day in the chapel the community heard a reflection from a meditation book, and even this had many meditation points to consider. I felt a bit apprehensive!
After going to a few meditation periods, however, I realize that mental prayer came quite naturally. There was nothing to be afraid of. I began simply by thinking about Jesus in the Gospels, about his words and actions, or about some important part of my Catholic faith, like the Mass or God’s mercy. Then I found myself wanting to talk to the Lord about my reflections. I came to realize that my thinking or reflecting (that’s the actual meditation) was leading me to new insights about Jesus and the truths of the faith. These insights, in turn, were stirring up various feelings within me that are referred to as sentiments or affections. The more I meditated and came to new insights, the more I spoke with the Lord in my own words. It was like having a loving conversation heart-to-heart, mine and his.
In fact, I came to realize that I had actually been meditating for a long time—whenever I prayed the rosary, for example. When we recite any of the twenty decades of the rosary, we meditate on either the joyful, luminous, sorrowful or glorious mysteries that commemorate the significant events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. By constantly thinking about that—meditating on—these mysteries when I prayed the rosary, they became more meaningful for me and I came to know more of Jesus’ and Mary’s love for me.
A similar thing happened when I made the Stations of the Cross. Meditating on fourteen scenes from the Passion and death of our Lord, I experienced sentiments or affections of deeper gratitude to Jesus for all he suffered for me. I felt deeper sorrow for my sins, too, since they caused Jesus to suffer so much. This in turn moved me to be more resolved, with the help of his grace, not to commit these sins again in the future. Judging from my own experience, I would say that many Catholics first learn to meditate simply by reciting the rosary or making the stations.
Here are a few suggestions that might help you as you move into mental prayer or meditation.
Mental prayer, also called the prayer of the mind, usually develops naturally from formal prayer or the prayer of the lips, as my own experience demonstrates. A comparison between these two types of prayer can be useful. As we know, Saint John Damascene defined prayer as the raising of the mind and heart to God. In formal prayer, when we focus on the words of the prayer with our minds, the heart is then moved to love God with the sentiments contained in those words. If we recite the Act of Faith, for example, the words would logically stir up sentiments of faith, moving us to think: “God, you are all-knowing and you reveal to us what we need to know and do to get to heaven. I believe in all that you have revealed to us! Please grant me a strong faith so that I will always believe what you teach us through your Church!”
In mental prayer, however, the focus is not simply restricted by the words of a prayer formula. Rather, the focus is usually on a story, such as an event in the life of Jesus, or a teaching he gave, such as a parable, or something from the life of a saint or from reading a spiritual book. The mind is not limited to the words but moves through various details of the story or ideas contained in the teaching. By reflecting on these details, the mind can produce a far wider range of insights that stir more sentiments in the heart. The mind is freer to roam through this spiritual food for thought. The working of formal prayer and mental prayer is like the difference between reciting a poem where one is restricted to the words, and telling a story where the individual can elaborate in his or her own words.
Mental prayer has other benefits, including promoting a greater understanding of the teachings of our Catholic faith. Meditating leads us deeper into these realities and we discover insights that were not obvious at first sight. Saint John of the Cross describes this process similar to mining for precious metals, like gold. If there’s “gold in them there hills,” then the more you mine, the more you’ll find. The treasures of Scripture and other truths of our faith are not always obvious on the surface but they are limitless for those who dig for them.
Another benefit, as we have seen, is that our reflections stir up the vital sentiments of the heart so needed for loving and serving the Lord faithfully. These sentiments are really the most important fruit of mental prayer. They lead us to talk to God; without them we would end up in a purely intellectual exercise. Prayer requires this sort of conversation, and the sentiments are necessary to it. In this regard, we should mention that beginners practicing mental prayer do much reasoning or reflecting in the mind than speaking from the heart. As time goes on, however, less reflection will be needed to procure more affection.
This is similar to the growth of human friendship. When friends first meet, they ask a lot of questions and share many facts about themselves to get to know each other better. After the friendship has grown, however, there are fewer questions but a deeper knowledge and more intense mutual love. In fact, when the reasoning in prayer becomes significantly less and the sentiments in the heart begin to predominate, it is usually a sign one has come to the third stage of prayer, affective prayer or the prayer of the heart.
Finally, mental prayer helps us form the resolutions we need to grow in the love of God and neighbor through a conscious and consistent practice of Christian virtues. Our reflections, under the light of the Holy Spirit and with the assistance of his grace, give us insights on how to apply the values of the Gospel, Church teachings, and the wisdom of the saints to our own daily lives. Mental prayer is a must for growth in Christian holiness.
We’re starting a packed month. We began with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. On Tuesday we will vote in the national election. Then we will enjoy a grand finale with Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent. You may have a birthday or anniversary to celebrate as well. I have a Dynamic Catholic pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi.
While some 450 years ago the word “celebrate” meant “to attend in great numbers,” today we think of a party, festivities, or a religious ceremony. We could not imagine a celebration without a festive atmosphere. We are human—flesh and blood. We need something tangible, something we can see, smell, taste, drink, or somehow experience.
What is a birthday without cake and candles? Thanksgiving without a turkey or ham? Christmas without lights and a tree? Boring, that’s what.
So here are three considerations for us to grow spiritually during this month of celebrations:
First, look for a deeper meaning in things as you celebrate. On our pilgrimages, we always invite the travelers to be pilgrims rather than tourists. That means we want to see how ordinary things speak to our souls. We pray that God will give us eyes to see deeper and hearts to hear the sacred in the simple. A tourist will take a picture, while a pilgrim will have an experience.
Second, ask yourself how each celebration can help you become a-better-version-of-yourself. We can’t ask that question often enough in life. Our souls seek inspiration. Every thing, every choice, every person, and every event in our lives has been given to us by God to help us grow closer to him. Years ago, lying on the sandy ground of a Utah desert, looking up at zillions of stars, I felt I was looking back into eternity at the hand of a God whose name was Amazing Wonder. How dare some astronaut say there is no God out there! Or right here beside me.
Third, these and all celebrations can give life a rhythm, a cadence, a cycle of hope. We hope to be where the saints are. We hope the best for the election outcome. We give thanks for the gifts of the year. And we ground our hope in the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
So this month, let’s focus on finding deeper meaning, becoming better people, and cultivating hope for the future. Celebrate November 2016.
Be Bold. Be Catholic.®
I have never written a word concerning my Bible studies or my mornings of prayer. I never really like talking about myself. And I am not sure where to begin . . .
Let me start by saying that I am not a Catholic. But what I want to make perfectly clear is that Dynamic Catholic has made a huge difference in the way I pray, praise, and glorify our Father.
I never really had a formal teaching of Christianity as a child or adult. Like most everyone, I believed there was a God but never really gave it much thought. When that began to change, I turned to my studies, reading everything I could get my hands on.
Then a longtime family friend shared some Dynamic Catholic resources with me. I loved them! I participated in all of Dynamic Catholic’s email programs—Best Lent Ever, Best Advent Ever, and Summer of Mercy. I signed up for DECISION POINT emails and Daily Reflections. I love the way everything is explained and shared each day. I love that I can open an email every morning for an inspiring reflection or video.
I have passed these emails along to my friends every single day. They, too, are inspired, and have come closer to our Father as a result. We are all sharing the love he has designed for us to share and live by, either with each other or total strangers.
After reading my Dynamic Catholic emails every morning, I open my Bible to read the Gospels. Then I pray. My morning is a beautiful time for me, and this routine is a wonderful way to start my day.
Dynamic Catholic has truly helped me overcome so many difficult moments and thoughts. It teaches me how to be a better person, experience God’s love, and live the life God has designed us to live.
Thank you for creating and sharing Dynamic Catholic resources!
Sign up for Best Advent Ever, our upcoming free email program. Every day you’ll receive an email with free Christmas music, practical tips, or short inspirational videos that will help you slow down and focus on what matters most. Your experience of Christmas will be unlike any you’ve experienced before.
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Making time for each other isn’t that difficult if you think about how to anchor the time around already established routines at home.
Life is short, and the holidays fly by. Don’t waste this time texting your friends about how crazy your family is making you (even if it’s true). Do your best to be present to them, seek to understand and to love.
Waking up early is a war. It is a battle against the self. You are your enemy. And there is only one way to win the war: Discipline.
When you choose to be the-best-version-of-yourself, when you exercise virtue and strength of character, you impact the world more than you will ever know.