Are you living a contemplative life?

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Two Girls Praying By Emil Munier

Are you a contemplative? Some people, faced with this question, would answer an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Perhaps they are saints, at a high stage of union with God. Or perhaps they practice Eastern (as in Hindu or Buddhist) forms of meditation that they equate with contemplation. Some would call themselves contemplative because they are thoughtful and quiet. The rest of us might answer, “No.” Since we are not saints, we wouldn’t dare think of ourselves as contemplatives in the proper sense.

Nevertheless, everyone, no matter his stage in the spiritual journey or his vocation, can live a contemplative life.

A contemplative life is a life ordered toward union with GodIf you have read The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, you know Teresa divides the spiritual life into seven stages, which she called mansions.  (To be completely accurate, she says that a soul goes back and forth among these stages, rather than proceeding from one to the next in a straight line.) Supernatural contemplation begins in the third or fourth mansion. But contemplative living can begin at our first conversion, even in childhood. Contemplative living prepares us to receive God’s gift of supernatural contemplation.

Read the rest at  Contemplative Homeschool.

Appreciating Advent Through Art for the First Week on Advent

Detail of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (1512)

Today is the start of the new liturgical year for the Roman Catholic Church. It also marks the first Sunday of Advent for the Latin Church (other Eastern Churches started a fortnight beforehand). In our secular society, we can be tricked into thinking that the Advent calendar is only a countdown for Christmas shopping.  But scripture during Advent reminds us of the dual nature of the season:  to prepare for the cyclical celebration of Our Lord’s birth as well as Parousia (the Second Coming). 

The Lectionary during Cycle A features Isaiah’s prophetic vision (IS 2:1-5) when God reigns Supreme and swords are hammered into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, a professor of liturgy at Loyola University in New Orleans, uses a detail of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to illustrate the scripture.  

The Gospel (MT 24:37-44) alludes to the Second Coming where Jesus exhorts the faithful to be prepared as Noah was for the Flood.  This is sobering “Good News” but it should help lead us with our walk with the Lord, especially in this period of preparation.  

The Isaiah panel on the Sistine Chapel prompts a ponderous thought. Zsupan-Jerome wondered if position of Noah’s Ark about Isaiah prompted the prophet to think  of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark landed, as he handed the vision of God’s Holy Mountain? This would lend the aspiration that man should seek God’s holy mountain to, borrowing a phrase from the Responsorial Psalm (PS 122), “dwell in the House of the Lord.”

The Noahide Covenant established that the Lord would not destroy humanity through a flood. The Messiah’s admonition to be prepared has some soothing subtexts rather than relying upon our own inadequate righteousness. The name Jesus can be translated to “Yahweh Saves”.  Moreover, the Lord so loved the world, He sent His only son to be born of this world in all things but sin and be an intregal part of our salvific history. 

As we come into this season of  devout and joyful expectation, it would behoove us to consider the nuances, hermaneutics and deeper meanings of Advent, as expressed through art, scripture and the easily overlooked holiday trappings.  

h/t:  Loyola Press 

Advent activites for your family

D lights the first Advent candle a few years ago.

D lights the first Advent candle a few years ago.

Advent is here and with it our six-week break from homeschooling. Instead of doing school work, we do an activity each day preparing for Christmas. Some are distinctly religious. Others are not. Here are some ideas for activities you can do with your family.

Learn and sing Advent hymns 
Sunday at Mass, D was amazed that I knew many of the verses of O Come, O Come, Emanuel by heart. Well, that was the only Advent hymn I learned in Catholic school, and I don’t recall singing any other one at Mass in the 70s and 80s. It wasn’t until I started praying the Divine Office as an adult that I learned some of the beautiful hymns I had been missing. Here are some you will want to learn along with your kids, if you don’t know them already:
People, Look East. This song by poet Eleanor Farjeon helps you to see all the preparations for Christmas–including setting a merry  table–as preparations for Christ. This is a good one to start your Advent.Wake, Awake, the Night is DyingCome, Thou Long-Expected JesusO Come, O Come Emanuel.  Sing this one beginning December 17, when the Church prays the O Antiphons.Behold, a Rose of Judah. My personal favorite for Advent, save this one for the last week or two before Christmas.
Read the rest of the ideas at Contemplative Homeschool.

Meditation for kids: the thankful leper

File:CodexAureus Cleansing of the ten lepers.jpg  Instructions for Parents I recommend that you meditate on Luke 17:11-19 in your own prayer time before presenting it to your kids. If you’re not sure how to do this, look at last Thanksgiving’s meditation. Talk to the Lord about it from your heart. Ask Him to teach you to be truly grateful, and to lead your children towards thankfulness.

Next, read and discuss the passage with your children. Use your favorite children’s Bible. Define any words they may not know. (I have highlighted some words in the meditation you may want to define before praying with them.)

Choose one or two of the optional activities at the end of this post to help them dig deeper into the meaning of the passage.

Finally, read the meditation aloud to them, pausing for several seconds to a couple of minutes after each of the first two paragraphs. Ask them to repeat the final prayer after you, sentence by sentence.
This meditation works best with children ages seven to ten. For younger or older children, see the variations. It is especially appropriate for those making their First Confession this year.

 Read the meditation at Contemplative Homeschool.

USCCB Reaffirms Steadfast Commitment to Religious Liberty

As the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops concluded their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore, the USCCB issued a special message on the H.H.S. Mandate.  The Bishops have been steadfast and vocal in their opposition to having the government force Catholics and other believers to violate their religious precepts in the pursuit of universal coverage. 
During his tenure as President of the USCCB, New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan lead the faithful to conduct Fortnight for Freedom in 2012 and 2013 to celebrate, educate and advocate maintaining America’s Fundamental Freedom–the First Amendment freedom: the freedom of exercise of religion.
As Cardinal Dolan passed the helm of the USCCB to Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz,  Dolan urged his brother bishops to make the protection of religious liberty around the world a priority as he believes that it is a central social issue of our times. Dolan recalled the words of Pope Blessed John Paul II that we are living in a new age of martyrs.  Dolan stated:

We as bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives literally hang in the balance, as we dare not allow our laudable battles over religious freedom at home to obscure the actual violence being inflicted on Christians elsewhere.

It seems incredible that the USCCB needs to again issue such a pronouncement, but useful idiots arguing for Obamacare are still convicted that Catholics just want to push their beliefs on non-Catholics, rather than protection that unalienable right.
The USCCB’s special message fleshed out this fidelity to religious freedom to practice one’s faith in America.

Do you know these Carmelite saints and blesseds?

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein circa 1920, and St. Raphael Kalinowski. (All photos from Wikipedia.)

November 13 is the first anniversary of Contemplative Homeschool. The 14th is the Feast of All Carmelite Saints. To celebrate, I’d like to introduce you to a few Carmelite saints and blesseds  you may not know. In the future, I hope to delve deeper into the spiritual insights of more Carmelite saints on my blog.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Elizabeth Catez was born in 1880 in France. Her father was in the army. He died when Elizabeth was seven. She, her mother, and sister moved to a home in Dijon that overlooked a Carmelite monastery.

When Elizabeth made her first Communion, the mother superior told her that Elizabeth meant “House of God.” That impressed the young girl. It became the central idea of her spirituality–the realization that the Holy Trinity lived in her soul. She made a private promise of virginity at age 14 and entered Carmel at 20. She spent only five years in the cloister before her death from a prolonged illness in 1906.

Read the rest at Contemplative Homeschool.

Submit your best spirituality post for a 2013 Frankie Award!

Have you written a blog post on Catholic spirituality that your readers loved? Has another blogger’s post inspired you to grow closer to Christ? Now is the time to nominate yourself or them for a 2013 Frankie Award.

Named in honor of the great spiritual director and patron saint of journalists St. Francis de Sales, the Frankie Award recognizes the best in Catholic spiritual writing. The award winner will receive a special badge to proudly display on his or her blog, along with a $10 gift certificate to Mystic Monk Coffee. Plus, the winning post will be posted in full here at CSBN. I will promote it on social media and encourage CSBN members and our readers to do so as well.

Read the rules at Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network.

A Bit of the Book Review of 40 Days for Life by David Bereit and Shawn Carney

 

40 Days for Life: Discover What God Has Done…Imagine What You Can Do (Capella Books 2013, 269 pages) is a book which chronicles the trials and tribulations for the 40 Days for Life  campaign as prayer vigil against abortion from its genesis around a wooden table in College Station Texas in 2004 to its spread world-wide.  The book is co-authored by David Bereit, a pharmaceutical rep who left comfortable career to follow the call of the Holy Spirit to do His will in uncertain circumstances.  The other narrative voice is Shawn Carney, a young Texan who inherits the College Station leadership after Bereit answered the call to work for other Pro-Life organizations in Washington, DC. Carney became the Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life, while  Bereit later returned  to lead the National 40 Days for Life campaign.
[L] David Bereit [R] Shawn Carney of 40 Days for Life 
The 40 Days  for Life idea was modeled after several key scriptural moments, like the flood which necessitated Noah’s Ark and Jesus’ Prayers in the Desert before beginning His Earthly public ministry.  Similarly, the book followed a structured course. Each chapter is one of forty vignettes, followed by concurrent scriptural  passage concluded with a prayer.  Presumably, this book was intended to be read over forty days.  Perhaps it had a different impact in short, reflective increments rather than reading the contents in several sittings.
The power of the faith of Bereit, Carney and of many prayer warriors who participated in the 40 Days for Life is palpable. The book does not sugar coat the hardship and anxiety of starting up the campaign.  But their testimony shows how the Lord provides.  40 Days for Life also recounts some of the acerbic resistence which Pro-Lifer’s were met with in witnessing the call of their conscience by publicly praying against abortion.
Several of the stories are quite striking and seemed pulled from current headlines.  

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The details of the unhygenic conditions, the crusted blood on the linoleum floor and rusted abortion instruments at 72 Ransom Street called to mind the horrific details from the recent trial and conviction of late term abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia. The appalling conditions are not isolated incidents in abortion mills, but pro abortion advocates get apoplectic if anything id deemed to impede the so called “right to choose” or more clinically “womens’ reproductive health”.
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The years of globe-trotting by Bereit and Carney to prayerfully support unborn children allowed for some serendipitious experiences. Shawn seemed to have quite a knack for unexpectedly rubbing elbows with his opponents. 
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The book was mostly conversational in tone, reading almost like an oral history that was culled  by their collaborative writer Cindy Lambert.  However, a couple of entries  started with ambitious introductions but the transitions to their stories seemed forced and rough.
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40 Days for Life would be a welcomed bedside daily devotional for prayer warriors committed to the Pro-Life cause.  It gives great examples of the power of prayer to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to defend life.  The book gives many perspectives on how abortion affects the unborn child, the often grieving abortive mother, the father, the extended family and the community.  If only people spouting pro-choice propaganda would choose to  the time to read 40 Days for Life, one wonders how many hearts of stone would turn to flesh.

SEE MORE at DCBarroco.com

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.

A Brief Book Review of 10 Answers for Atheists by Alex McFarland

Alex McFarland, an Evangelical Protestant professor of Christian Apologetics at North Greenville University (South Carolina), has authored 10 Answers for Atheists (Regal, 2012) as an outreach tool to spread the Good News to atheists and agnostics

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Alex McFarland

The tone of McFarland’s prose was conversational with some sprinklings of erudition which reflects the author’s academic auspices.  For example, when McFarland described the scientific atheist, he alluded to “directed panspermia” as an out of this world explanation of our origins.  Moreover,  Jim Morrison of The Doors was alleged to be an “Antinomian Atheist”.  

These pop references do not always work.  To illustrate a “Biblical Scholar Atheist”, McFarland posits Penn Jillette as he rejects scripture as “B.S.”.  This Bible Scholar Atheist label on Jillette seems like a bad trick for one who does not ascribe to Judeo-Christian scripture.  

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McFarland categorized atheists into ten subgroups.  There seemed to be overlap between some of the groups, like the Angry Atheist and the Injured Atheist.  The University of Tennessee study which was Assessing Atheist Archtypes with six categories seemed more on the mark.  However, McFarland may have included other categories to finesse the apologetic approach. 

McFarland offered a clear yet concise historical survey of disbelief which provides an underlying basis for agnosticism and atheism from Antiquity and the Enlightenment to present day.  

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It was surprising that “Roman” Catholics and the Orthodox were not condemned along with modern Mystical spiritualism, as those original Christian creeds used their mysticism to draw closer to union with God. The crux of the Protestant Reformation was religiosity based on biblical roots (often understood as sola scriptura) as well as the primacy of a salvation by grace.  But McFarland does not divide with Catholics or Orthodox Christians on this score in the spiritual warfare against atheism. 

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McFarland poses the ten questions by atheists:

Are faith and reason really compatable? Isn’t belief in God delusional? The dysteleological surd – If God is so good, why is there evil in the world?Why join a flawed faith like Christianity which has harmed the world? Isn’t Christianity just mythological? Why believe in Zombies (a messiah resurrected from the dead)? Can’t science explain everything?Why believe hypocritical Christians? Couldn’t Jesus just be a space alien?

His answers plant the seeds for useful apologetics as well as the thirty common objections included in the index.

As a Catholic, I am mindful that the practice of my faith differs with a more evangelical expression of faith by  bible based Protestants.  However, the 10 Answers for Atheists has some material which would provide some thoughtful responses when dialoguing with questioning agnostics and atheists.   Some of the book seemed extraneous to inter-(non) faith dialogue, such as the comparative religion section.  McFarland seemed compelled to justify bible based Christianity before delving into agnostic apologetics.

 Aside from the Angry Atheist and the Resident Contrarian Atheist, McFarland’s 10 Answers for Atheists could serve as a useful field manual for believers beginning dialogue with non-believers.  It does not seem geared at convincing atheists through a casual perusal.  The casual Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris dismissals would be insufficient for true non-believers.  Moreover, an agnostic or atheist reader would need to drudge through comparative religion and justifying bible based Christianity sections before getting to the crux of the answers for atheists.

SEE MORE at DCBarroco.com