Tag Archives: Catholicism

Take 5 minutes daily for an Ignatian Examen

Since How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard came out, I have occasionally been asked which of the “forty tips for faithful college students” is the most important. If someone were to pick one and do it, which one should it be? I’ve always answered, “Go to Mass, every Sunday at least and on weekdays if you can.” I have been fortunate working at The Catholic University of America for the last year because there are ten Masses a day on campus that I can choose from. However, for some students and young professionals, it simply isn’t an option. In this case, my advice changes a bit: if you can devote five minutes of your day to prayer (which you can), the Ignatian Examen is a great place to start.

“The examen” was given to us by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (a.k.a. the Jesuits) in the 16th century. Ignatius was a worldly and self-satisfied soldier before his conversion. Saint Paul just needed to be knocked off his horse to find his faith, but Saint Ignatius was struck by a cannonball. In his long convalescence, Ignatius read the lives of the saints and fell in love with the stories of their virtue and bravery. Ignatius’ charism reflects both the discipline of his military background and the docility he gained from his injury and recovery. Ignatian spirituality has become one of the most versatile and enduring forms of prayer in the Church, and the examen is its foundation.

Everyone does it a little differently, but the basics of the examen are straightforward. It begins with an invocation, asking God for an awareness of His presence and for His guidance. This is imperative. I used to really struggle to do a nightly examination of conscience because I was asking, “Okay, where did I mess up today?” It was something I avoided doing because I didn’t want to go to bed thinking about all of the mistakes I had made. The good news is that I was doing it wrong: that’s not the Ignatian examen.

The examen will sometimes highlight areas for improvement, but it’s really not about what you’re doing. It’s about what God is doing in your life. When you look back on your day with the examen, it’s less like an athlete reviewing game footage and more like sitting by a pond and observing where ripples emerge on its surface. It requires trust that God will show you what you need to look at.

I ask one very simple question in this process: “God, where are you today?” Sometimes I’ll find that it was in an encouragement I received from a friend that day. Sometimes it’s the peace I feel in that moment, often while walking my dog. Other times, it’s the sense that I could have done something more — some small courtesy I could have offered a stranger but did not because I was in a rush. For the blessings, I offer thanks; for the mistakes, I ask pardon. And finally, I try to carry a better awareness of God in my life forward to the next day.

All of this, when done with the right mindset, is edifying. It helps us see where God is at work, where we may have overlooked him, and prepares us to see Him there the next time. And finally, it gives us hope and consolation. The Ignatian Examen shows us that God is always with us, always ready to forgive us, always wanting to bless us. In the bustle of everyday life, whether as a student, professional, or parent, it is helpful to bear that in mind.

 

AURORA GRIFFIN, a featured speaker at the 2018 Legatus Summit, attended Harvard University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in classics in 2014. There she served as president of the Catholic Student Association. She was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where she earned a graduate degree in theology. She has been working at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. for the last year and will be matriculating to the Stanford Graduate School of Business this fall.

On the wings of prayer: Frank Kravetz’s Nazi “hell-hole” survival

“That was now my rosary that I used to ask the Lord to help me,” said Frank Kravetz, resident of a Nuremberg prison camp he called simply the Nazi “hell-hole.”

“My bed stopped shaking … and my anxiety lifted.”

Frank was a POW of Stalag 13-D. Life was scary inside, and among the worst moments were the bombing campaigns by U.S. aircraft soaring overhead. The Nazi camp leaders would head underground into bunkers, leaving American POWs in their barracks as inadvertent targets of their own airmen. Frank feared he might ultimately be killed not by hostile Germans but by friendly Americans seeking his liberation.

One frightening evening Frank gripped both sides of his mattress. He felt some loose string. He broke off about 20 inches and began tying 10 little knots. He created a rosary. He worked the threaded beads and prayed. It helped, especially given that “just existing became what was important.”

A resident of a Nazi camp scratching for survival wasn’t what Frank Kravetz had in mind when he signed up to serve his country in World War II. The kid from smoky East Pittsburgh enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a tail-gunner.

Frank’s life took a dramatic turn on November 2, 1944 in a bomb-run over Germany. He crammed into the tail of a B-17, wedged inside a flak jacket. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers, each carrying 18 250-pound “general purpose” bombs.

Frank’s plane came under hot pursuit by German fighters. Frank took them on with a twin .50 caliber machine gun. It was a dogfight, and Frank was badly wounded. His B-17 was filled with holes. The crew had to bail, quickly.

Frank was bleeding profusely and could barely move. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, taking care not to cross the cords, and tossed him out. To Frank’s great relief, the chute opened, and Frank said he floated like he was on the wings of angels.

The tranquility halted with a rude thump as Frank hit the ground. German soldiers immediately seized him.

Thus began “hell’s journey,” as Frank dubbed it.

Liberation finally came April 29, 1945, by General George Patton’s Third Army. Frank described the jubilant scene: Thousands of emaciated, ecstatic POWs chanted Patton’s name. Some fell to their knees, overcome with emotion. Patton seized a bullhorn: “Gentlemen— you’re now liberated and under Allied control… We’re going to get you out of here.”

It finally hit Frank and his remaining 125 pounds of flesh: “I’m going home.”

Frank eventually arrived in New York City and hitchhiked all the way to Pittsburgh. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks’ front door—no trumpets, no dramatic music, no parade. He hugged his mom and dad and sat down. He found and married his sweetheart, Anne.

How did he survive? I asked that to Frank several times. With me and especially with younger folks he spoke to, he didn’t shy from sharing his secret: “Pray. It helps.”

As Frank prayed, he promised God he would never complain about anything again if he survived. Our blessings are so bountiful that we need to be grateful, especially compared to deprivations others have faced—like a Nazi prison camp. Frank cited 2nd Corinthians 1:8-10, which speaks of dealing with hardship, despair, and relying not on ourselves but God.

That’s what Frank Kravetz did, right up until his death in August 2015, at age 91, joining his beloved wife of 68 years, who died only four months prior.

To Frank, who was too humble to consider himself a hero, we might say: Well done, faithful servant.

DR. PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

6 ways kids lead parents to God

Our children often push us to our limits, and we may react in uncharitable ways. When that happens, we might be tempted to think of them as obstacles to Christian growth. Wouldn’t it be easier to be saintly if we didn’t have to deal with temper tantrums, sibling spats, and broken curfews?

Yet consider what the Second Vatican Council fathers had to say: “Children contribute in their own way to making their parents holy” (Gaudium et Spes, 48). What a startling notion! We can strive for holiness, not despite the trials of parenthood, but through them. Our children can teach us to be more holy.

Some of the best opportunities to grow spiritually emerge precisely at those places where we encounter the most difficult challenges of family life. Here are six practical ways to cooperate with God’s grace so that can happen.

1. Let your children’s needs and shortcomings drive you to pray. If the parenting road were always smooth, you’d be tempted to forget all about God while you busy yourself with dirty dishes and soccer games. This is one way He gets your attention. Get alone with God first thing every morning and ambush the little bandits with prayer before they get out of bed.

2. Let parenting challenges drive you to learn from Scripture and saints’ lives. Meditate, for example, on St. Paul’s beautiful admonition to families about how to live together (Eph 5:21–6:4). Apply his famous “hymn to love” (1 Cor 13:4–13) to your family life.

Learn also from parents in the Bible: Mary and Joseph are our model. Others teach us by their mistakes, such as King David’s struggles with his rebel son (2 Sam 13:1–18:33); Rebekah’s family trickery (Gen 27–33); and Eli’s failures in childrearing (1 Sam 2:12–17, 22-25; 4:12–18).

Study as well the lives of saints who grew spiritually through their role as parents. Read about St. Monica’s struggles with her wayward son, St. Augustine, or the daunting family challenges of St. Rita.

3. Let children’s questions about spiritual and moral issues drive you to learn more about God and His will. In your struggle to respond to their questions, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the great truths of our faith.

4. Let parenting battles drive you to seek fellowship with other Catholic parents for mutual support and advice. Don’t be embarrassed to talk and pray over your parenting problems with others who struggle. Think of other parents as comrades in arms.

5. Let parenting struggles drive you to the sacraments for grace and strength. The grace we receive in the Eucharist fortifies us for the task of parenting as it does for every other duty of life. And parenthood is one of God’s secret strategies for getting us into the confessional.

6. Let your kids teach you some basics about the spiritual life. Jesus said: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). What can you learn from your children’s holy example of simplicity, honesty, trust, zeal, faith? What surprising gems of wisdom may come out of their mouths?

When all is said and done, perhaps the most important way we can let our kids help us grow in holiness is to view the hassles of parenting as scouring pads: they can either scrape us raw or scrub us clean.

If we resent our children’s needs, demands, and shortcomings, they’ll forever be rubbing us the wrong way. But if instead we embrace the frustration and heartache as part of God’s plan to polish us into saints, in time we’ll find ourselves shining in ways we never have before.

PAUL THIGPEN, PH.D, is an award-winning journalist and the bestselling author of 49 books. He and his wife, Leisa, have two children and five grandchildren who are helping them to become holy.

The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order

Dr. Scott Hahn
Emmaus Press
208 pages

Is there hope for the state of marriage in our culture today? Scott Hahn believes so. “If Catholics would simply live the Sacrament of Matrimony for one generation,” he writes, “we would witness a transformation of society and have a Christian culture.” Despite the prevalence of divorce, infidelity, and a myriad of aberrant ideas of what marriage and family life means, Catholics can indeed change hearts and minds if only they commit to living as they should and reap the fruits of the sacramental life of the Church. Grace, Hahn reminds, is a powerful thing; with God’s help, Catholics can keep to His plan and inspire others to do likewise.

Order: Amazon , St. Paul Center

What Happens Now? Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You

John Hillen and Mark Nevins
Select Books
308 pages

New how-to books on business and management are published every week, and “change or die” is a recurring theme. This book, co-authored by Legate John Hillen, fits that mold, but its focus is not so much on creating more efficient production workflow or superior personnel practices, but on the ever-changing assets required of business leaders themselves. As an enterprise or organization scales up and evolves, so must a manager’s leadership skill set lest he or she lapse into a professional “stall.” Constant learning and reinvention is the key to staying on top of the game. Consider this a guide to the “interior life” toward an effective and sustainable career.

Order: Amazon , Select Books

Heart of the Redeemer

Timothy T. O’Donnell 
Ignatius Press
356 pages

Has devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus become outdated? This updated and revised edition of the modern classic originally published in 1989 provides a thorough historical and theological study of the Sacred Heart devotion, taking the reader from its scriptural and dogmatic foundations through the 17th-century visions of St. Margaret Mary Alcoque and to the reflections of recent popes. In doing so he makes a convincing case for the relevance and even urgency of devotion to the Sacred Heart. He describes how it is linked to the Eucharist and other forms of piety including the popular Divine Mercy devotion and closes with concrete suggestions for practicing it.

Order: Amazon , Ignatius Press

Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic

Peter Kreeft
Sophia Institute Press
133 pages

Peter Kreeft is a gifted writer in that he facilely breaks down complex ideas into simple language. Here he offers his personal testimony as to why he embraces the Catholic faith, in 40 brief chapters. His stated reasons run from the intellectual (“Because Catholics still do metaphysics”) to the personal (“Because of my mother”) to the almost playful (“Because of the nouns”), and each is thought-provoking in its own way. Perhaps some will lead the already-Catholic reader to reflect thoughtfully on the vital question which ought to elicit an answer backed with conviction: “Why am I Catholic?”

Order: Amazon , Sophia Institute Press

Taking refuge in God’s heart

It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe it is also true that what can and will kill you can make you stronger. My beautiful sons are living proof of this.

Joe Sikorra

When our older son John turned seven, my wife, Lori, and I shared a parent’s worst nightmare: “Your son has a neurological disease. It is fatal,” the specialist said. Our hearts had been dealt an unimaginable blow from which I could not imagine recovery. It couldn’t be worse. Right?

Six months later we were told our other son, Ben, four years old, suffered from the same disease. Two sons stricken with the same debilitating disease, and a lifetime devoted to dealing with the effects.

“How tragic. How awful,” we heard. Yes. But can you also imagine these very same lives experiencing joy in abundance? Overflowing love and laughter alongside such heartbreak? Is it possible for all of these contrary emotions to exist within one heart?

St. Paul, whose life personified struggle, redemption, and joy, knew the words of Jesus to be true: “Not for man, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Along the difficult journey, Lori and I made numerous and wonderful discoveries about struggle, loss, life, death, friendship, resilience, support, depression, anger, faith, the power of choice, marriage, guilt, humility, pride, acceptance, and barbecuing. (Not all discoveries have to be life-changing.)

I didn’t choose the Batten disease road. Most people don’t choose pain. And Batten’s would bring all kinds of pain. But how we chose to engage in the struggle was made up of a myriad of choices daily. The battle was to find light.

Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To do that, I would not only have to examine, but act, trusting that each step would bring me closer to that light.

The struggle was crushing many days and understandably, for many families and marriages, the weight of those circumstances would have been too much to bear.

Our struggle was not against a diagnosis. That was a one-day event that quickly became history. If victory over the past were to occur, it would have to be found in the moment. But how? We would meet the enemy each day in the declining health of our sons. And each day we were given a choice as to how to meet it: either with courage, love and laughter or with despair.

We didn’t always win. Sometimes fear, rejection, and depression ruled the day. The battle was long and victory never assured. Love, hope, faith, and trust would be fashioned in struggle and tears.

Yet faith and hope would provide nothing if they remained just words found in scripture used as slogans. Those were the weapons offered, and if we used them well, the victory would yield peace and joy. Our lives seemingly continued to grow and become increasingly enriched as a result of the struggle that continually brought us to our knees.

We had to take refuge in God. The only other option was to turn away from Him.

As Paul writes, “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:11-12). Happiness isn’t found by keeping struggle at bay. Nor can it be denied. But if we learn to embrace it, we can utilize it to learn and grow and ultimately experience true joy in Christ Jesus.

JOE SIKORRA writes about his family’s struggle with the diagnosis of Batten’s disease for his two sons in his new book, Defying Gravity: How Choosing Joy Lifted My Family from Death to Life (Ignatius). He is also a marriage and family therapist and host of “The Joe Sikorra Show” on Relevant Radio.

 

Amazed by God’s Grace

Larry Oney
The Word Among Us Press
148 pages

“As a black man, I can speak from experience about the realities of injustice, poverty, and struggle, but I can also speak from experience about the power of God’s triumphant love and the amazing grace that he gives us throughout our lives,” writes Legate Larry Oney in the introduction to his inspiring spiritual autobiography. His book intersperses scenes depicting the joys and challenges of his own life — from his days growing up in a large sharecropping family to his conversion to Catholicism and ordination as a permanent deacon — with personal reflections on God’s mercy, justice, and the power of forgiveness and healing. It’s a compelling testimony.

Order: Amazon

Ten Battles Every Catholic Should Know

Michael D. Greaney
TAN Books
266 pages

Given the topic of specific Christian battles against militant Islam, a Catholic who knows a little history might think of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, a victory still commemorated today as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This volume tells the story of Lepanto and nine other battles against Ottoman Turks, most from the same 16th century and situated in places like Malta, Cyprus, Austria, Hungary, and Armenia. Many of these accounts are likely to be met with limited familiarity at best, which should only make the reading of these careful historical narratives all the more enriching.

Order: Amazon , TAN Books