Growing Apologist

Becoming a Defender of Truth

The Five W’s of Prayer: Part 2

Praying Angel

This is a continuation of the series of posts on prayer, in particular The Five W’s of Prayer: Part 1.  See also the introductory post, In His Holy Name.

“Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer in the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.” (Catholic Catechism 2725)

Previously, I asserted that prayer should be easy and natural, but thanks to Adam and Eve, it isn’t. In our sinfulness—our shame and guilt—prayer has become a difficult thing to do. Yet it, is a necessary and a good wholesome response to God’s love and a reflection of our own love for God and his commandments. We can read the bible, study his word and tradition, go to church, and perform acts of charity and mercy, but if we do not pray, there is no point to it. There is no relationship with God without prayer. The Catholic Church (and other sects of Christianity of course) knows this and knows that the tempter knows this. That is what makes prayer a ‘determined response on our part’ and ‘a battle’—for if we can be stopped from praying, nothing we can do will bring us to God or impart God’s grace in our lives and our hearts.

Before we can take up the shield and sword of God, let us take a moment to learn more about prayer, in particular the When and Where. The other three W’s (What, Who and Why) were covered in the first post here.

When Should We Pray?

“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” (Eph 6:18)

God gives us the aid of the Holy Spirit

Saint Paul directed us to pray without ceasing. By praying without ceasing, we welcome God to walk with us in our lives and establish our foundation in God. Prayer becomes a constant conversation with God. This is an easy thing to say, but perhaps a difficult thing to put into practice. There are many objections to prayer—no time, too many distractions, it is dry and boring, not being heard to name a few. I would be the first to admit the constant, ceaseless prayer is difficult at best, maybe even impossible. I would also propose that it is also very simple, all we have to do is ask for God’s help to make prayer a continuous practice, and in that way a prayer will make constant prayer possible through the Holy Spirit.

Some people pray only when the road becomes difficult, others pray only when the road becomes easy. As the Catholic Catechism beautifully states it, “We pray as we live, because we live as we pray it.” So the answer to when should we pray is clear; with the aid of the Holy Spirit, always, constantly, and without ceasing.

Where Should Prayer Happen?

“According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.” (CC 2562)

The Immaculate Heart of Jesus

Just as our works are in vain without prayer, our prayer itself is in vain if it is just lip service. The bible speaks of this often, “The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men, therefore I will again deal with this people.” (Is 29: 13-14) While the Catechism asserts that the church is the proper and favorable place of prayer, as well as a sacred place in the home, monasteries, and shrines, the true place that prayer should happen is in our hearts. (CC 2691) As we see from Isaiah, it does not matter where our physical body is, if our spiritual body is far from God.

Let’s pray that God imparts the Holy Spirit upon us so that we can continuously pray with our hearts close to God!

References and Additional Reading

Catholic Catechism, available online

The Holy Bible, available online

Rahilly, Alfred. “Reason.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 Feb. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12673b.htm>.

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Christmas: Pagan or Christian?

Christianity sprung from the roots of the Jewish people and the gentiles some years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first ‘Church’ was

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the S...
Announcement of Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds

not really a church in the way that we think of it today, but a collection of people who believed in Jesus and looked to the disciples for leadership. Just as any organization instituted in modern times, this collection of people had to develop the mission, goals, traditions, celebrations, teachings and so forth of the early church and organize it in a meaningful way. After all, if it were empty and disorganized, it would have been stale and died like a diseased flower.

These were the people who first believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the people who established the beginnings of the first Christian church. During this time, it was not only the Jews who formed this first church. The gentiles were also converted. Just as a good friend explained to me once, a gentile is another word for non-Jew or even pagan.

It is only logical that the people establishing this new religion would not abandon everything familiar to them when they chose to follow Christ. It is from these roots that the people established the traditions and symbolism of Christianity. But why are people so surprised and outright disgusted when presented with the history of various Christian traditions, celebrations and symbols? We should rejoice in the rich history and culture of our religion, not deny its existence. After all, everything has a beginning.

I believe that realizing and accepting this is a step in the correct direction to help those outside the faith to understand that it is not ignorant people who follow religion blindly, but wonderful, smart, analytical people. People who have taken to the time to think through their beliefs and are prepared to defend the faith to the skeptics.

It is on this basis that I present a brief history of Christmas day and the Christmas tree. However, don’t take my word for it. Click on my references and search for answers so that you can know for yourself as well. Take possession of your faith.

Christmas Day

World Calendar

A World Calendar

It was not until around the year 273 AD that Christ’s birthday was pinned to the calendar to be celebrated on December 25. In fact, there was much argument as to whether Christ’s birthday should be celebrated at all because celebration of the gods’ birthdays was a pagan practice. The actual day of Christ’s birth was unknown—it had never been recorded. The early Christians were left to debate on the date that his birth should be celebrated. The favored dates were January 2, April 18, April 19, April 20, May 20, May 28, March 21, March 25, November 17, and November 20. December 25 hosted two other pagan festivals, one for the Roman god Saternalia, “Unconquered Sun”, and another for the birthday of the Iranian god Mithras, “Sun of Righteousness”. It was fitting that the birth of the one true “Unconquered Sun” and “Sun of Righteousness” was celebrated instead of the pagan gods.

Reference

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2000/dec08.html

Additional Reading:

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp

http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml

Christmas Tree

candlelit Christmas tree

Tree Lit with Candles

Along with morphing the birthday of the pagan sun gods into the birthday of the true God, some of the pagan traditions were absorbed into Christianity, such as the Christmas tree. Plants and trees that remained green all year had been the symbol of life because winter could not conquer them. The early church and pagans believed that these plants had special powers to keep away evil entities and sickness. Many different pagan religions used the evergreen plants in worship of their gods. In particular, the Romans decorated a tree with lit candles for their god Saternalia, “Unconquered Sun”. The decorating of the Christmas tree as it is today was not until the 16th century in Germany (legend credits Martin Luther) and nearly four centuries passed before America caught onto the idea. The symbolism of the Christmas tree is much the same as the way the Romans used it except with a Christian twist—a reminder of the miracle of the birth of the true Unconquered Son.

Reference

http://thehistoryofchristmas.com/trivia/trees.htm

http://www.mysticlightpress.com/index.php?page_id=123

Additional Reading:

http://www.orlutheran.com/html/chrtree.html

http://www.historyofchristmas.net/

What do you think? When we celebrate Christmas on December 25 or decorate a Christmas tree, are we celebrating pagan traditions?

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Love Came Down

A reflection on love and relationships in light of Jesus

Holding Hands shadow on sand

If there is anything that I’m learning that is a matter of importance, it is that love is rough. It is one of the hardest things that a person can do, especially all giving love. I do not have any kids of my own. I am not married. But I have this man, whom I adore, and as I wait for him to present me with a ring, I realize that there will be never anything harder to do than always fully giving myself over to the love that is between us.

I struggle everyday to set aside my more difficult traits for him. I know that I could go to a jewelry store and find the perfect ring. I could get what I desire most, propose to him, and take care of it so that it would never plague me again. But I realize that this is not the love that we are supposed to have for each other. I am not even sure that it could be called love. It would be me pushing events in the manner and timing of my choosing merely because I couldn’t suffer waiting any longer. It would be taking the easy way out.

The love that we feel, between the BF and I, between the parent and the child, more importantly between husband and wife, it is a very minor reflection of God’s love and endurance for us. I have a hard time setting aside my controlling behaviors for the man I know very dearly, the man who I profess my love for. And yet Love came down from heaven with an even greater purpose—a purpose to redeem all of mankind—to suffer incredible pain that would have killed any other person time and again before they even reached the cross.

Jesus didn’t just love us. He was human, and yet he was able to set aside his humanity in order to do the Lord’s bidding. Jesus suffered greatly for us. He knew what was coming and he still did not run, push it aside, or take the easy way out, because he is love. Loving people and being in relationships is not easy at all, but we have an amazing intercessor that is willing to help us understand just what love endure. Who better to show us how to set aside our wants, desires and emotions for the well being of our love ones?

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How Cell Phones Separate Us From God

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.

My mother, three nephews, niece and I piled into her big suburban this Sunday to attend church in a neighboring city in the mountains.  It takes around an hour to get there.  The drive is beautiful.  The city fades into the desert which becomes hilly and the hills become spotted with trees until enough elevation is gained and the wonderful vegetation of the forest surrounds the car on all sides.  And the most beautiful thing is no cell service.

My nephews are twelve, ten and seven, and all three have a cell phone.  I understand why my mother (who is raising my them) got cell phones for my nephews, but it was disheartening that the entire drive up the mountains to church, all three were constantly on their cell phones, playing games and checking for service.  Then I realized that I just turned my cell phone on for the millionth time, and I quickly became disgusted.

We are constantly ‘plugged’ into the secular world through these small devices.  Our children are growing up believing that it is normal to be plugged in like we are.  I hate to admit it, but even I who admonish the social medias and having a cell phone attached like a third arm, am obsessed with communicating with the outside world.  I am beginning to think that I am more obsessed than I think I am and that scares me.  It’s like this saying in running, it is not the big rock that twists your ankle–it’s the little one.

I think that this applies to us Christians and our relationship to God as well.  It isn’t the big sins that catch us, for we watch out for those.  It’s the little ones.  We all know the Ten Commandments, and we do our best to be ‘good’ Christians and follow them.  We notice (hopefully) the big sins in our life such as do not steal, murder, covet the neighbors stuff, adultery, idolatry, etc., and correct those in our life, but do we notice the little things?  Such as obsessing over a cell phone instead of obsessing over the coming of Christ?  Checking the latest Facebook status update instead of the Word of God?  Or even placing high priority of the incoming call above prayer?  How about Christmas shopping over attending church service?

Let us set aside the cell phones, the social medias, the emails, the constant pounding of the secular world against our consciousness, — just for a little while this Advent season—and truly ponder the wonder of the little baby who came to suffer for our sake out of great love.

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Veteran’s Day: St. Martin of Tours

In honor of the retired and active military persons– Thank you for your service!

Martin of Tours

By Charles L. O’Donnell [1]

“As I today was wayfaring”——
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in Heaven’s evening—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

 “He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song—
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

 “Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

 “Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud—
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”

Saint Martin and the Beggar

Five Quick Facts about St. Martin of Tours [2]

  1. Born in 316, he was a catechumen by the age of ten and a roman soldier by age of 15.
  2. He left the Roman service by age 20, accused of cowardice, by proclaiming “With the sign of the Cross, I shall more certainly break through the ranks of the enemy than if armed with shield and sword.
  3. During his service as a Roman soldier, he came upon a beggar, but only having his sword and cloak, he cleaved the cloak in two for the beggar.  Later, Christ appeared to him in a vision, bearing the severed cloak, proclaiming, “Martin, the catechumen, has clothed Me with this mantle!”
  4. St. Martin had the gift to heal the sick, discerning of spirits, and raised three people from the dead.
  5. He died on November 11, 397 and was later canonized as the patron saint of many including: reformed alcoholics, beggars, soldiers, equestrians, and wine makers.

References

[1] Martin of Tours, Charles L. O’Donnell, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Edited by Harriet Monroe, Volume IX, October-March 191607, page 116, Link

[2] Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop, Catholic Culture, Link

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Anima Christi

This is my favorite prayer, called Anima Christi or Soul of Christ.  If you would like more information, Catholic Culture has a spiel on it.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

Body of Christ, save me.

Blood of Christ, inebriate me.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

O good Jesus, hear me.

Within Thy wounds hide me.

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.

From the malicious enemy defend me.

In the hour of death call me,

And bid me come unto Thee.

That with Thy saints I may praise Thee.

For ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus Carrying the Cross. Illustration by El G...

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The Communion of Saints

Catechism 962 “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Paul VI, CPG § 30).  [1]

Revelation 5:8 presents the saints in heaven a...

The Apostles Creed, a statement that covers the pillars of the Catholic faith, includes the belief in the Communion of Saints.  But what is the Communion of Saints?  In order to understand this topic better, let us break it down into two words: “Communion” and “Saints”.

Communion is defined by Dictionary.com as “association; fellowship; interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication; the act of sharing or holding in common; participation”. [2] It is also defined by Catholicism to be “In Christian parlance [or manner of speaking] the most sacred expression for any one of different forms of togetherness.” [3]

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys

The Saints are of course the holy people on Earth who live by the word of God.  Usually when we think of saints, we think of unique people who have set themselves apart for the will of God such Saint Theresa.  The Church defines the Saints (with a capital S) to be:

A name given in the New Testament to Christians generally (Colossians 1:2), but early restricted to persons who were eminent for holiness. In the strict sense, saints are those who distinguish themselves by heroic virtue during life and whom the Church honors as saints either by her ordinary universal teaching authority or by a solemn definition called canonization. The Church’s official recognition of sanctity implies that the persons are now in heavenly glory, that they may be publicly invoked everywhere, and that their virtues during life or martyr’s death are a witness and example to the Christian faithful. [4]

Based on this, the Communion of Saints can be defined as the togetherness of the persons who were eminent for holiness during their life on earth.  The Church goes even further to say that all people are called to holiness. [5]  The Church itself can be defined by the term ‘Mystical Body of Christ’ which is the belief that the Church consists of the people present on earth (Church Militant), the souls in purgatory (Church Suffering), and the souls already in heaven with God (Church Triumphant).  [6, 7]  The Communion of Saints is considered to be the togetherness of the all persons in the Church; those on earth, in purgatory and in heaven [Please visit reference 7 for scriptural basis of this belief]. [7]

Praising-hands

Just as people on earth ask one another to pray for each other, it is the Catholic belief that we can ask anyone in the Church to pray for us, including the souls in purgatory and the souls already in heaven.  When we pray to the Saints, it is not out of worship, but it is embedded in this belief of the Communion of Saints, that when we pray to the Saints, they then pray with us and for us just like our fellow Christians on earth and lay our requests at the feet of Christ. [7]

References

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Holy See, Website Link

[2] Communion, Dictionary.com, Website Link

[3] Communion, Catholic Culture, Website Link

[4] Saints, Catholic Culture, Website Link

[5] Pope speaks on the communion of saints, News Feature, Catholic Culture, Website Link

[6] Mystical Body of the Church, Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, Website Link

[7] Communion of Saints, Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, Website Link

Related Articles

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A by Whosoever Desires

St Augustine of Hippo on Prayer for the Dead by Dominus mihi adjutor

The Holiness of God in the Lives of His Saints by Transformed in Christ

For the Communion of the Saints by Blessings on the Journey

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