Are you praying too much?

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Victory, O Lord by Millais (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Sunday’s Mass readings were all about prayer–winning battles through prayer, supporting each other in prayer, and never giving up. I love encouraging people to grow in their prayer life!  But today I want to ask a question that might seem odd to you: Can you pray too much? There are three ways in which I believe you can.

Don’t let prayer keep you from living out your vocation Again, this might confuse you. Haven’t I said before that prayer helps us live our vocation better? That’s true. But you still need balance. If you are a stay-at-home mom with small children, you should not be spending hours a day alone in your room praying. If you are the father of a young family, you should not be spending most of every evening at Church. If you are a college student, you should not normally miss class to go to adoration. St. Francis de Sales, instructing lay people in Introduction to the Devout Life, wrote, “Do not spend more than an hour thus [in mental prayer], unless specially advised to do so by your spiritual father.”

God gave you your vocation. He works His will through it. There may be a time later, after the kids have grown older, or you are retired from your job, when you can spend hours a day in prayer. But unless you are  called to religious life, that is not God’s plan for you for most of your life. Live the vocation you have, not the one you don’t.

Continue reading at Contemplative Homeschool.

Let Teresa of Avila teach you about patience

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Window in the Convent of St. Teresa (photo credit: Wikipedia).

Teresa of Ávila wrote these words on a bookmark she kept in her breviary:

Let nothing disturb you;
Nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.St. Teresa was determined to reach the heights of holiness. Yet at the same time she was realistic, based on her own experience and those of the nuns under her care as head of the Discalced Carmelite Order. Put these two characteristics together, and you have one of the wisest guides to the spiritual life. Let’s take a closer look at her advice.

Perseverance is a key to success Remember the parable Jesus told about the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)? We must never give up praying when it seems God is not hearing us. Teresa advised her sisters to apply this lesson to growth in prayer.
… I say that it is very important – it is everything to have a strong and firm resolution, not to stop till we arrive at the water [union with God], come what may, or whatever may be the consequence, or whatever it may cost us. No matter who complains, whether I reach there or die on the way, or have not courage to endure the troubles which I may meet with, or though the world should sink under us… (Way of Perfection, Chapter XXI)It’s easy to get discouraged in prayer. Seeing no measurable growth in intimacy with God, we might be tempted to give up. We might wish to say along with the doubters in the end times, “Where is this coming He promised?” (2 Peter 3:4).  Don’t!

Continue reading at Contemplative Homeschool.

Fighting demons while you sleep

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Orthodox Bulgarian icon of St. George fighting the dragon (photo credit: Wikipedia).

I used to have spiritual warfare dreams. For what seemed like hours, I would dream that a demon was trying to attack me. To repel him, I had to say, “In the name of Jesus, be gone!” Then he would leave–and be back a few minutes later. Over and over I did battle with demons. I would awake exhausted.

Spiritual warfare in daily life I don’t usually have such dreams any more. But some days I feel like they’ve become my waking reality. Life as a homeschool mom can be trying. I must overcome constant temptations. One moment, three kids ask me for help at once. The next, “J” spills juice on the floor I just mopped. Then two others get in a fight, and one talks back when I discipline him. All during math class.

Now none of these situations is major. But when you barely have time to breathe between one and the next, you get exhausted. You discipline in anger instead of love. You yell at the toddler for acting like a toddler. You argue with your older son.

Or maybe you don’t. But I often do.

Read the rest at Contemplative Homeschool.

Are you making a daily morning offering?

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Praying Girl by Heyerdahl (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

St. Francis de Sales is the master of the spiritual life for lay people. His book, Introduction to the Devout Life teaches us how we can grow closer to God while living out our lives as spouses or single people in the world.

One of the practices St. Francis urges his readers to make a habit of is the morning offering. In fact he says, “Never omit this practice.” A morning offering sets the tone for your day. It helps you acknowledge that the day is God’s, not your own. It can give you the strength you need to face trials, peace amid busy schedules, and added grace for unforeseen temptations.

I confess I was never taught to make my own morning offering as a child. We sometimes had family prayer in the morning. At Catholic elementary school we started the day with prayer. But no one told me I should make a private morning offering until I was much older. I found it hard to take up the practice, and even harder to maintain it over the long-term.

Continue reading at Contemplative Homeschool.

Falling asleep during prayer

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Sleeping Biy by Lrylov (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

If you are a parent trying to grow in holiness, you have no doubt fallen asleep in prayer. Among nursing babies, sick toddlers, wet beds, and waiting up for teenagers, parents spend years being sleep deprived. Then we go to pray and find ourselves nodding off, or even dreaming. How should we handle this?

Am I being lazy? Before reading Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, I would get mad at myself and feel like a failure when I fell asleep. Of course, if I were to tell the whole truth, I was often at fault. I used to pray mental prayer last thing before going to bed. Even though I’m a night person, this is not a good time to pray. My thoughts are already on sleep. My mind and body are tired, and it feels like I’m giving prayer the lowest priority on my daily agenda. Sometimes I prayed that late due to forgetfulness. (Whoops, I haven’t prayed yet–better do it now!) Other times I was putting it off. But at least I was making some effort.

I find morning is the ideal time to pray, even for a night owl like me. It’s harder to forget and makes prayer my top priority. My mind isn’t racing with the business of the day.  And if I’m too tired, I can adjust the time I go to bed at night until I get it just right.

That’s how I reasoned in my single days.

Continue reading at Contemplative Homeschool.

Educate your kids for divine union

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Through prayer and study, I’ve created a list of the elements of an education that I think best starts children on this road. Divine union comes through living a life of prayer and virtue. So, generally speaking, we want to teach about prayer and virtue, model them, and practice them with our children. But we also want a home and a school environment that is conducive to prayer and virtuous living.

Prayer requires leisure The Greek work schole, from which “school” comes, means “not-at-work time.” In classical society, school was a leisure activity, a pursuit of wisdom that had little to do with the workaday world. The truest education is free or liberal. It is not “useful” in a utilitarian sense. It is not servile. It is learning about things that are valuable in themselves, rather than means to obtain what we desire.

I wrote about leisure’s importance several months ago. Besides the suggestions you can read in my previous post, teach your kids to have an attitude of openness to learning and to God. Humility is one of the most important virtues to cultivate. Teach them to ask, seek, and knock. Show them that learning is a lifetime venture. Only God has all the answers. Continue learning yourself, especially about the faith. Model awe. Teach your children proper respect.

Try to bring these fundamental questions to each subject: What is man? What is my purpose in life? Discuss them in math, science, literature, art–even physical education. Orient everything towards our highest good.

Contrary to the notion popular in our culture, leisure is not the same thing as entertainment. True leisure never leaves us as spectators. It requires us to participate with our minds, hearts, or bodies. True leisure is time to think, to imagine, and to love. For kids especially, that also means time to play.

Continue reading at  Contemplative Homeschool.

Teach your kids the one thing necessary

Are you teaching your kids to do mental prayer? I’ve written about this in the past with a few examples  of kids’ meditations. Today I’m sharing with you a meditation for kids about… mental prayer.

You may want to print this out.

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1. Read aloud to your children Luke 10:38-42, using your favorite children’s Bible. This is the Gospel from last Sunday, so they should recognize it.
2. Study the painting above. (It’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, attributed to Georg Friedrich Stettner). Ask them to identify the people in the painting. Discuss the painting in this manner: “Martha and Mary are both holding something. What do you think those objects are? What does each represent? (Mary is reading the Bible. This represents meditating on Sacred Scripture. Martha is holding a duck, symbolizing being busy with household tasks.) Who are the other people in the picture? What are they doing? How many people appear to have been listening to Jesus? (Only Mary does.) Does Mary look disturbed by what Martha is saying? (No, she looks peaceful.)
3. Discuss: Why do you think the artist filled the foreground of the picture with food? (To show how much work Martha had to do or had been doing.) Do you think Martha was doing something important? (Yes, Jesus and His disciples needed to eat.) What could she have done differently so she could sit and listen to Jesus too? (She could have made a simpler meal.)
4. Remind your children of the Feeding of the 5000. How much food did Jesus need to feed all those people? (5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.) Do you think Martha needed to work all day to cook for Jesus? (Probably not, because He could have fed them miraculously, as He had done before.) Why do you think Martha was working so hard? (She was probably trying to show Jesus how much she loved Him by making Him a great meal.)

Continue reading at  Contemplative Homeschool.

Do You Love Me?

  A reflection on John 21:  15-19

Picture by Heidi Knofczynski, taken during a lesson on John 21:1-19

Do you pray with the Scriptures?  When you read them, do you allow a word or an scene from the passage to speak to you in your heart and draw out from you a prayer?  It is essential for each of us enter into prayer in this way.  Yet, it is a direction that many “voices” –  from the world, and from your own ego – will dissuade you from; because it will reveal your idols, your weaknesses.  The Lord seeks to lead us out of those “Egypts” in each one of our souls.  To do so demands much; it demands a love that endures all things, hopes all things and to be completely truthful, I do not have that love yet.  That is important for me to understand, not for me to despair but so that I can live in His truth, endure in His light and be drawn up into a more perfect love by following His voice.  


When they had finished breakfast, 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.  Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.  And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”  John 21: 15-19

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

I need to live in His truth, I need to know who I am and who I am called to be in His truth.  I need it  desperately, and our whole culture is dying for lack of this truth.  In this Gospel, through the questions of Jesus, Peter is taken back into the bitter memory of his betrayal of the Lord, in order to receive the profound, unfathomable mercy of Jesus, and to be drawn up into His perfect love. What courage this takes!  We, who are so easily offended, we, who so often confess our failings in a self-justifying context, are also taken through the drama of the Lord’s threefold questioning of Peter.  Three times he questions Peter’s love for Him, mirroring the three times that Peter denied Him. The anguish of Peter by the third round is palpable. I can understand this, it can be agonizing to allow Christ to plumb the depths of our own individual depravity.  Especially in this hyper-sentimentalized culture, where there is no incentive to grow in a deeper more perfect love, to have cowardice and unwillingness to suffer in order to grow in love revealed in the unflinching light of His gaze is terrifying.  Who really wants to face their own spiritual impotency?  Yet, to grow in His perfect love is to drive out fear (1 Jn, 4:18), because above all we are afraid of our own ultimate futility – our own spiritual impotency.  Christ is the only possible answer to that fear.  Moreover, when Peter submitted to Our Lord’s probing and tending to the wounds of his darkest failure, we are shown that his little love was enough for Jesus, who would transform that little love into perfect love.  And then we see how much potency in the Spirit is released!  
We must obey God rather than men!

Perfect love does drive out fear!  Look at how Peter and the apostles rejoice at the sufferings and worldly dishonor they receive on account of the Lord! (Acts 5:41)  How can I be released from the bonds of my spiritual impotency?  How can I be freed the dark hidden wounds in my soul?  These wounds may not always be obvious, but they have a subtle control over my love, they keep me in bondage.  Again, I am not speaking of the sentimental love of our time, but the passionate, agape love of God.  The love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:7)  This is the love that our fears would block us from entering into.  This is the love that Christ will so gently draw you into, if you, like Peter, allow His Spirit to enter into your darkest wounds and heal them.  And not just heal them, but as we see in Peter, transform them!  His cowardice, in the power of this love, is lifted up to courage.  The Fisherman from Galilee will endure humiliation and martyrdom for Christ and His Church.  “I will praise you Lord…You changed my mourning into dancing!” Psalm 30 2;12

Worthy is the Lamb!

It seems a little unbelievable.  In this age of stunted, materialistic love, we may be a bit jaded in our hope that we could encounter Christ so intimately from reading the words of Scripture.  We may be afraid to enter into the contemplative prayer that will bring us to Christ in this profound and personal way.  Do it anyway.  Put aside your fears, suspend you disbelief.   When you read the Gospel, when you hear it proclaimed at Mass, place yourself in the readings in your imagination.  Yes, there may be detracting voices -inner voices, worldly voices- that will hurl all sorts of accusations and distractions at you.  Yes, it may take time to build up an ability to endure in this type of prayer.  Yes, you may have to let go of the insipid, sentimentalized one-dimensional Jesus that is too often presented to us;  this Jesus inoculates us against the One who is the worthy Lamb of God, in whose presence all creation trembles and cries out to in adoration. (Rev 5: 11-14)  Persist!  And be ready, because He will surprise you.  Like He did for Peter, Jesus will ever so gently direct you to true repentance and deep healing. He will take your breath away and you will begin to let the Spirit breath through you.  
You brought my soul up from Sheol

My own experience in this type of prayer is an example of how important it is to persist through those false  voices.  For many years in prayer I have entered into the scene of the sinful woman we read of in Luke’s gospel.  In this prayer I am that women attempting to approach the Lord, but the Pharisees are standing in my way.  They present every objection imaginable to discourage me from persisting to see the Lord.  They accuse me of my own unworthiness and some of their accusations are devastatingly accurate.  The worst one is:  “Just who do you think you are!”  And they go on:  “You do not belong here, you never will.”  “You do not need Him as much as others do, how presumptuous of you!”   “He will just send you away.”   It has really taken me years to get through that gauntlet.  Even when I did persist and I fell at His feet, I could not look at Him, I was too afraid.  And in my day to day life as well, I can tell you that this fear, fundamentally a fear of rejection, has stopped me from doing many, many things that I ought to have done.   But, one day I did look up at Him.  And He looked at me with eyes that were strong and serious, and said “ Well, who do you think you are?”  Wow! Those words from Him seemed to be my worst fear coming true, but the Lord’s eyes never wavered, and drew from me the answer “I am yours.”   And He responds, “ You did not choose Me, I choose you:  Follow me.”

Alleluia!

Take a moment to enter into this Gospel (or whatever scene you are drawn to). What would He ask you?  In moments of prayer, much like Saint Peter’s encounter with the Lord , Jesus will gently draw you to look at yourself with unflinching honesty, but bathed in His light you begin to receive the courage, the power to be so much more than forgiven:  to be transformed, to be potent and fruitful in His Spirit.  Follow Him!
Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!
Heidi@Journey to Wisdom

National Day of Prayer — Praying for Amrerica

For the last 62 years, the first Thursday in May has marked the National Day of Prayer Observance designated by Congress when people are asked to turn to God in prayer and Meditation. With the help of 30,000 volunteers, there are tens of thousands of events held across the country to turn our attention to the eternal.

 The theme for the 2013 National Day of Prayer is “Praying for America”. The organizers for the National Day of Prayer have suggested several techniques to raise our prayers to heaven. Keeping with the Praying for America theme, it is suggested that prayerful people follow a 7×7 prayer for Americas seven centers of power seven times a week. Namely, Americans are encouraged to pray for: 1) the government; 2) the military; 3) the media; 4) business; 5) education; 6) church and 7) the family.

Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America.      How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence.

Lord, we need Your help in America. In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.
Scripture tells us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, so that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6)
That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land. (2 Chronicles7:14)
Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much.

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.

But May 2nd is only the beginning of the ministry to Pray for America. During Memorial Day weekend, the organizers will launch the first Pray for America Rally Tour, with a specially decked out bus to promote fervent prayer in the communities where they will visit.

As an outreach to social media, the organizers of the National Day of Prayer are highlighting a video by Santus Real “Pray”.

In trying times like this, we need all the prayer that we can get.

h/t:  National Day of Prayer
      Pray for America

When you're too worn out to pray

Christ as Savior by El Greco. You can pray, even when you're too tired to think.

Prayer takes energy. When you are stressed, you may find you can’t use your imagination to meditate. You may be too worn out to converse with God. This was the case with me last year, when homeschooling three kids with a baby overwhelmed me.

Several times when I went to pray, I had too little strength to picture a scene from the Gospels. I could barely muster the energy to think the words, “Jesus, I love you.”

But I knew I had to pray. And I knew Jesus was there. I knew His love was constant. That meant He was loving me at that moment. So I decided just to soak in God’s love, like I might soak in the sunlight. I sat silent, reminding myself briefly every few minutes that God’s love was surrounding me. I let Him love me, and that was my prayer for half an hour.

I’ll never forget one trip to the confessional at this period of my life. I don’t remember what I said to the priest–certainly no specifics about my prayer method–but his advice astonished me. He said I should just sit and let God love me–the very thing I had felt inspired to do.

If you are too emotionally drained to pray, try this method.