Category Archives: Prayer

More important than food…

blackfriars-oxford

-Blackfriars, Oxford

Prayer allows me to participate in life. “Man does not live by bread alone…” (Mt 4:4) Finish it yourself.

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“Words have a certain staying power. Most of them are in one ear and out the other, but every once in a while words seriously hit home and have a lasting impact. Jan 17 the Western Church celebrates St. Anthony of Egypt, the “Father of Monks.” As a young man, he walked into a church one day and heard the words of Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). While he had probably heard these words many times before, something was different that time. He left the church with a firm conviction to do exactly what Jesus said. He sold all his possessions and became a hermit in the Egyptian desert.

While Christians relish the response of St. Anthony and the holiness of his life, we are not all called to respond in the same way to those words. Still, by the grace of God, the truth, even a truth we may be quite familiar with, has a way of giving us a much needed slap upside the head.

I can still remember a particular phrase that hit home for me. After a year of graduate school, I was down in some pretty serious dumps through a particularly paradoxical combination of overwork and laziness (with an added dose of emotional baggage). Nothing seemed to be going right. Just getting up in the morning seemed to be a monumental task. I was in a rut of bad habits and I needed help getting out. When I was finally fed up with simply trying to slog my way through the day, I did what I should have done weeks before and called a good friend of mine, a priest, back home. Having put up with my initial round of whining, he cut me off before I had a chance to really get going. He asked me bluntly, “Are you praying?” I attempted to dodge the seriousness of the question and responded by simply saying that I was not praying enough. I was still making it to Mass on Sundays, and even an occasional daily Mass, but I had little to no prayer life outside of that.

Then came the line that has stuck with me ever since, “You’ve got to pray every day. Prayer is more important than food.” We kept talking for a while after that. While I forgot all of his other words of wisdom, that phrase about prayer stuck with me.

I would like to tell you that I have not eaten another bite of food since then and that I have been surviving for seven years on Hail Marys and Our Fathers, but of course that did not happen. I did put that line on a sticky note on my desk, and every day whenever I managed to roll myself out of bed, before I’d let myself pour a bowl of cereal, I’d sit down and pray—five minutes at first, then ten, then a bit more. And, you know, it worked. Surprisingly enough, when I stopped trying to take on everything myself and asked God for help, getting up in the morning wasn’t quite so challenging, my work wasn’t quite so daunting, and those ruts I had dug didn’t feel quite so deep.

“Prayer is more important than food.” These words are a bit silly, and my friend doesn’t even remember saying them. Still, these words have stuck with me through the years. When nothing seems to be going right, I know the question to ask is, “Am I praying?”

Whether it’s “I’m too busy” or “I’m too distracted,” whatever excuses I hold up for neglecting prayer are simply that, excuses. That silly phrase is a reminder that the true power behind any word or action lies first and foremost in God.”

Love,
Matthew

Begging, Gratitude, Prayer, & Silence…or, The Economics of Gratitude

(I remember, vividly, praying, especially at Office, for “our benefactors”.)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1627662.stm
-by Br. Thomas Davenport, O.P.
“A couple weeks ago I had to face one of the more difficult aspects of our
Dominican life: begging—or, to use the traditional term, “mendicancy.” I
was sent to our parishes in Somerset, Ohio to give the annual financial
appeal at all the masses, asking the good people of St. Joseph’s and Holy
Trinity to support the student brothers here in Washington, DC. While I
have found much joy in our life of poverty and am profoundly grateful to
all those who support us, the prospect of asking people for money in these
difficult times was a bit daunting. It’s hard to beg, I found, and one of
the reasons for this was brought home to me by St. Thomas’ treatment of
gratitude in the Summa Theologiae.
St. Thomas says that gratitude, as a virtue, is part of the cardinal
virtue of justice, by which we give to others what is due to them. In
exercising gratitude a beneficiary not only recognizes the favor bestowed
by a benefactor as a favor, but also seeks to repay the benefactor in some
way.  In fact gratitude pushes him to seek to be gracious in return, not
simply just, so he seeks, as far as possible, to repay more than what he
has received, going beyond strict justice.
This is a troubling thought. For, although I am extremely grateful to our
generous benefactors, particularly those in Somerset, what do I have to
offer in return, besides a smile and a thank you? Sure, some day I or one
of my brothers might end up serving as a priest there, but right now that
seems like such a distant and tentative return.
Reflecting on this problem, I was reminded of one of the much beloved
stories of the early days of the Order. At that time—the early thirteenth
century—the brethren would beg for their food on a day-to-day basis.
Whether at home or on the road, they were completely dependent on the
generosity of their neighbors. Accordingly, the story goes that Blessed
Jordan of Saxony, the second Master of the Order, was traveling with a
group of the brethren, and he sent them out to beg for their breakfast.
After reconvening at a nearby fountain, they found they barely had half as
much bread as they needed. At this point, contrary to all expectation,
Jordan began singing for joy—he was so full of gratitude for what they had
received. The others joined in, making such a racket that a nearby woman
rebuked them, saying, “Are you not all religious men? Whence comes it that
you are merry-making at this early hour?” Upon realizing their elation was
over such a paltry amount of food, she was so edified that she went home
and brought them an abundance of bread, wine, and cheese. In return, she
only asked that they remember her in their prayers.
Using this story in my appeal in Somerset, I focused on the thankful and
joyous disposition of the friars themselves; but the pastor there made a
comment that caused me to think more fully about the woman in the story,
and especially her request for prayers. Although I had already
underestimated the value of a thank you and the promise of future pastoral
service, I had completely forgotten one part of the equation. Right then
and there, I had the opportunity to pray for those benefactors and to
promise that my prayers would continue. Of course, it’s silly to try to
calculate the value of prayer—as if a Hail Mary had a going market
price—but suddenly I felt much more confident about my ability to give
back more than I had received.
In retrospect, it seems I should have recognized this basic truth about
Dominican life much earlier. After all, we pray communally for our
benefactors, living and deceased, quite often, even going beyond the
regimen of Masses and prayers that is mandated by the Constitutions of our
Order and the Statutes of our Province. In addition, there are the private
prayers of individual friars. Thus, even though my prayers are not as
efficacious as those of someone as holy as Blessed Jordan of Saxony, I do
not have to worry; I do not have to repay my debt of gratitude alone.
Rather, my debt is linked to that of the whole Order, which takes on the
responsibility corporately and wholeheartedly.
A few days after I had returned from Somerset, one my brothers made a
comment that brought home to me just how inadequately I had understood the
Order’s relationship to its benefactors. He pointed out, indirectly, that
the woman in the story was not just a helpful reminder of the importance
of prayer, but also someone I had in fact been praying for daily since
entering the Novitiate! For nearly eight hundred years, Dominicans have
been unleashing a continuous stream of prayers for her and all our other
generous benefactors. Thus, to the people of St. Joseph’s, I was promising
not just my prayers and the prayers of all my brothers, but also the
prayers of every future Dominican for as long as God deigns to preserve
our Order. Ultimately, then, it seems that kind woman got much more than
she could have expected from some bread, wine, and cheese.”
Love,
Matthew

Mary the Dawn

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grace, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run.
Amen.

Prayer to the Teenager Jesus

Jesus, you were a teenager.
You know what it’s like to struggle with identity, authority, sexuality.
You know what it’s like to want to figure it all out; what it’s like to not be sure, to live with uncertainty.
You know what it’s like to want freedom and respect.
You know what it’s like to struggle to accept responsibility.
You know what it’s like to feel and to actually be awkward and what that feels like.
You know what it’s like to be humble enough to learn from and respect Mary and Joseph.
You know what it’s like when Joseph and Mary drove You crazy, and You made them crazy, too.
You know what it’s like to work hard to make wise choices.
You know what it’s like to forgive Yourself when You don’t.
You know what it’s like to want to be liked, to be popular.
You know what it’s like to be made fun of when you’re not, because You were different.
You know what it’s like for your body to change, to suffer zits.
You know what it’s like to be embarrassed, when Your voice changes.
You know what it’s like to like someone else, and the hurt of not being liked in return.

Jesus, You know all these things.
You know where I’m coming from.
Help me to ask You to be my friend.
Help me to realize my friendship with You is very much like my friendship with any other teenager.
That it grows with the time we spend together.

Help me to find the time to get to know you better, Lord; to spend time with You and Your Word, especially in prayer.
Help me to know how to pray, and that it’s ok if sometimes I don’t.  You’re cool with it.
Help me to trust You, Lord.
Help me to be patient, Lord, with You, with myself, with my parents, my brothers and sisters, my friends, my teachers.
Keep me safe from all the dangers I see, hear about, or encounter at school, when I’m hanging out with my friends, or on the internet.
Help me to remember I probably really don’t completely understand how much my parents love me; and that they always do, even if they don’t always tell me directly, or especially when they’re mad at me or I’m mad at them.
Help me to understand it’s hard for my parents to put into words how much they love me, just like when it’s hard for me to put into words how I feel when I have strong emotions.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me when I’m at a party and everybody’s drinking.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me so I won’t drink and drive.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me so I won’t accept a ride when someone else has been; to call home instead for a ride, even if I’ll get in trouble, but that that’s way better by far, and someday I’ll understand why.
Help me to remember how much they and You love me when some kid wants to sell me or give me drugs in the locker room or behind school.
Help me to remember not everyone on the internet, especially someone I don’t know, really wants what’s best for me.
Help me to remember while having fun and sharing with my friends on the internet, that not absolutely everything about me must be posted, that a little mystery makes me more interesting and safer.
Give me the courage, Lord, to say “no” even when other people may not think that’s cool.
Help me to wonder and to choose what You think would be cool and to do that instead.
Help me to know that if we’re best friends and I choose to do what You think is cool, it really doesn’t matter what other people think
about me.  That’s what being best friends is all about.
Help me to know it’s not me setting the timing, but You, Lord.
Help me trust You, Lord, that You are Who everyone says You are, the best friend I could ever have.
Help me to be patient enough to allow that to happen.
I do believe that is Your will for me.

Amen.

(c) 2008, Matthew P. McCormick.  All rights reserved.