9 Steps To Deep Devotion (Part Deux)

Did it hurt? It should have.imgres

If you prayed over and meditated on the first three steps we outlined in my last post, you should have felt something stir. (No, not that…that was your third plate of lasagna from last night.)

Seriously, unless you’re a saint, any real pondering on the first three steps to deep devotion probably stung a little. But as  muscle-bound brutes like to scream in the midst of their fifth set of curls with 55lb. dumbbells: “No pain, no gain!” (You can actually see the spittle sailing through the air.)

But let’s cast aside all fear and continue seeking hard after God by continuing with the next three steps (4, 5 & 6) outlined by St. Peter Alcantara’s Finding God Through Meditation (edited by Dan Burke, author and president of the Avila Institute).

4. Solitude – First of all, it’s kind of hard to sin against others when you’re alone. (Though unlike a tree falling alone in the forest, slander is still heard even when the subject is not present.) But while solitude is all well and good for hermits (who can be crabby), what about the rest of us? We’re made for community. We’re made to live in families. So for most of us, temporary solitude – alone time with God – is the only kind of solitude we’ll ever get or really need.

Solitude is a necessity for meditation. Let’s be honest. We’ve enough distraction between our ears that we don’t need any help. Plus, you can’t hear God if your ears are filled with something else. Spending time alone with God is one of the absolute necessities in any healthy life of prayer.

5. Reading of spiritual books – This is huge. In fact, I’m getting this list from my spiritual reading. Like you, I’ve got shelves of books waiting to be read and absorbed. If you’re wondering where to start, it easy. Begin with Scripture. But also turn to the masters of the spiritual life. They’re totally inspiring! They show us the way!

I realize that sometimes older books can be a bit hard to plow through,FOD_copy_t so here’s one of my modern favorites: The Fulfillment of All Desire, by Ralph Martin (which just happens to be on big-time sale right now). It’s great because it provides a lot of passages from saints at the top of the prayer chain (e.g. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Augustine, etc…) and gives understandable commentary.

So turn off the tv, radio, or podcast to which you’re listening for 15 minutes and read. (It can even be a book with pictures if you want.) It will help you grow in devotion.

6. Continual Memory of God – Sometimes you see this called “practicing the presence” of God. It’s a vital tool of devotion for people who don’t live in a monastery in the hinterlands. In fact St. Peter Alcantara says, it’s the “only remedy for those who have neither time nor place with opportunity to insist to long prayer and meditation.”

One of the best ways to stay in the presence of God, says Augustine, is to practice ejaculatory prayers – spontaneous aspirations thanking and praising our Lord as you go about your daily routine. Try putting that into practice this week and see what happens.

So there you go: solitude, spiritual reading, and practicing the presence of God. Three more keys to deeper devotion to God. But remember, devotion doesn’t just happen. You’ve got to follow through!

God bless!

Matt

P.S. Did you see I’m leading a pilgrimage to see Our Lady of Guadalupe in February? Join me!

What Most Catholics Never Think About In Mass

My unruly child(ren). The Dallas Cowboys. Phineas and Ferb.
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Unlike the rest of you super-holy people, my mind sometimes wanders at Mass. But in prayer the other day, I was struck hard by one of the deepest mysteries present in the words of Our Lord – “Do this in remembrance of me.”

This sentence, of course, is what Jesus told the Apostles to do at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19). We hear a variation of it at Mass in the Liturgy of the Eucharist (i.e. “Do this in memory of me.”).

“Memory” (or “Remembrance”) in Greek is anamnesis, a word that literally means, “making present the past.” In other words, the celebration of the Mass is a re-presentation of the once and for all sacrifice of Christ. (Note that it is a “re-presentation”, not a “re-sacrifice” as some misinformed Protestants think we believe.)

On one hand this “remembrance” is directed toward the Last Supper itself (which we re-present via the Mass). But there’s another aspect. One that makes it even more personal.

Our remembrance is directed toward what happened directly after the Last Supper. The crucifixion.

As Scott Hahn brilliantly demonstrates in his talk The Fourth Cup (also see Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist), the Last Supper is directly connected to the crucifixion.9k=

What Jesus did on the Cross was the culmination of the ritual, sacrificial meal he celebrated the night before. “This is my body, given up for you.” (Luke 22:19). And today we continue to celebrate that sacrificial meal.

The Mass is a re-presentation of the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Our Lord.

But as I said, this sacrifice wasn’t Christ alone. It’s our sacrifice, too.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I tend to breeze by the word “sacrifice” like an A-list movie star blowing past drooling, camera-waving paparazzi. It’s not a word I like to dwell upon. But we have to.

In the Mass, it’s not just Christ being offered on the altar. It’s us! We offer ourselves along with our Lord on the altar. The priest says, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God…”

When Christ said “Do this in remembrance of me”, he wasn’t only referring to the ritual of the Eucharist we celebrate. He was saying, “Do what I do. Make yourself a sacrifice. Give yourself in life-giving love to everyone. Be like me!”

And the beautiful thing is that Christ doesn’t just tell us to make ourselves a sacrifice. He actually empowers us to do so by giving himself sacrificially to us in the Eucharist. Joined to his sacrifice, we can offer ourselves in sacrificial love both to God and others. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Can I get an “Amen”? Tell me this Catholic faith of ours isn’t awesome!!

God bless!

Matt

catholic_FINAL_150P.S. My free, weekly podcast, “The Art of Catholic“, has arrived! Check it out on iTunes and PLEASE leave a rating. The more ratings, the more exposure iTunes gives to the podcast. And wouldn’t it be great for people who have fallen away (or never even heard the name of Jesus) see a podcast all about the Catholic faith? Please spread the word because we’ve got to utilize every outlet we can for the New Evangelization!

9 Steps to Deep Devotion (Part 1)

Are you devoted to God? I mean, really devoted?Alcantara-Cover-Small.001-e1421966538531-281x380

Not long ago I interviewed Dan Burke, author and president of the Avila Institute on my radio show. (Look for it on iTunes soon – “The Art of Catholic.”) We were talking about a book he edited by St. Peter Alcantara, titled Finding God Through Meditation.

It’s a tremendous little work on prayer and spirituality.

One of the things I came across in the book that I really “liked” (in an uncomfortable, convicting kind of way:) was a list of nine steps to acquire and strengthen devotion to God.

I know I need deeper devotion, and I’m betting you do, too. I found these very inspirational, and helpful in getting (and keeping) me on track. So I want to share them with you over a couple of blog posts. (I’m commenting on his list, not quoting his text directly.)

1. Completion of the exercise – Whatever we’re doing in our spiritual lives, we have to resolve to see it through. Don’t ever forget we’re striving for the “pearl of great price”, so we can’t let any obstacle keep us from the things that draw us closer to our Lord. Realize there is going to be hardship and difficulty…especially in the beginning of our move toward God. Even for experts, it’s hard to overcome our disordered desires.

Whether it’s direct work of the Evil One or our own issues and problems that distract, we can’t let anything keep us from living in Christ. Keep the end (i.e. God) in mind at all times and keep striving! Nothing this good comes without work!

2. Custody of the heart – Think about the things you desire in your heart. Are they worthy of God? Really consider whether they going to help or hinder your growth. Do you chase after vain things?

In the positive sense, do you seek after things in your life that would help you acquire devotion? The goal is to have a quiet heart that is at peace, undisturbed by the turbulence and vanity of this world. A heart not distracted by the “bright, shiny objects” that lure our affections and waste our precious time. Pray about this.

3. Custody of the senses – This one is a biggee! What television do you watch? What magazines or internet sites do you read? With what music or conversation do you fill your ears? How do you use your tongue? Do you praise others, or gossip and cut people down?

We relate to God through our five, God-given senses. Which means that we can turn from God through these same means. We have to be extremely careful about what we allow to enter our mind and bodies (not to mention what comes out). It’s hard enough to enter into prayer and relationship with God given the number of distractions with which we already deal. It’s almost impossible to acquire devotion to our Lord if we’re constantly dumping trash into our minds. As the old saying goes…”garbage in, garbage out.”

Let’s all spend some time meditating on these points. And feel free to comment!

If you can’t wait and want to see what St. Peter Alcantara has to say about this and more, just click “Finding God Through Meditation” and you can get read the book for yourself.

God bless!

Matt

P.S. I’ve been told that Emmaus Road Publishing (the publisher of “Finding God Through Meditation” is having a monster sale right now! Check it out!