Tag Archives: Pray

Pray and rest – where God lives on earth

I am the pastor of a parish that lays in the shadow of the United Nations building on the East Side of Manhattan. Our church is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. We have two daily weekday Masses — one in the early morning, and one at lunch hour. Both Masses attract people who live or work in the neighborhood. So do the Confessions offered before the noontime Masses. I am truly impressed by the number of people who take time out of their busy schedules to be with the Lord and receive His sacramental refreshment.

I am also inspired by the number of people who stop by the church when there is no Mass being celebrated simply to pray to God. They have come to the house of God to be with God. People kneel, sit, or stand in the sight of God and open their hearts to Him. They especially turn toward the Divine Savior Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle to renew their love and devotion. They also light candles and ask the intercession of the saints.

Our parishioners come from all the nations of the earth. Many work at the United Nations. Others are from among the many immigrants who come to New York in search of a better life and jobs that will allow them to help their families back home. As with Rome in the past, all roads lead to New York, or at least it seems that way.

The people who come to spend time praying in our church are part of the mystery of God’s providence. They are a great reminder to me that the priest and the parish church — indeed, the whole Church throughout the world — are only here to make available to people the opportunity to get to know and love Jesus Christ. The people praying in my parish church are glad (I hope!) that I am there, but that is not why they come. I can be transferred tomorrow, but the parish will still be here. They come to find where Jesus lives and to spend time talking with Him.

They come to a Catholic parish because that is where God resides on earth. The house of God is a truly accurate description of the parish church. As I observe the comings and goings of people who visit my parish, I am reminded that they want to be with God in heaven when they die, and so they come to prepare for that journey by spending time with God in His earthly abode.

It has been said that home is a place where they have to take you in no matter what you may have done. Our parish home is where God not only takes you in, but purifies you from your sins in the sacrament of Penance and then nourishes and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist.

I know that people are happy when they see their priests praying in church apart from Mass. The lay faithful should know how much we priests are inspired and encouraged by seeing ordinary people step into the church to spend time in prayer. Take advantage of seeing an open door at any Catholic parish to spend time in heaven’s antechamber, where the God we long to see face to face in the next life is already present among us, hidden in the sacred host in the tabernacle. We all benefit spiritually from this very good use of our time.

FATHER GERALD E. MURRAY is pastor of Holy Family Church in New York. He holds a doctorate in canon law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and appears as commentator on religious topics on TV and radio, including EWTN, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio, and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in the U.S. Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.

Turning totally to God…

Every year, the Catholic Church goes into the desert.

For 40 days, Catholics pray, fast, and give of their time, talents, and resources. Lent is a season where Christians accompany Jesus in the wilderness and strip themselves of creature comfort to refocus on their spiritual journey.

“The main point of Lent is conversion. That doesn’t mean merely a small course correction or a small little thing we have to fix. Ultimately, conversion means we’re turning with Jesus, that we’re living truly with Christ,” said Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts who serves as an attaché for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

Beyond a six-week grind

Seen through that lens, Lent is far more than a six-week period where Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays and “give something up” like chocolate or candy. In the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – this penitential season offers the opportunity for a “reset.”

“Anything short of that is not going to hit the mark that Lent points us to,” Father Landry said.

In Paragraph 540, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that during the “solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” In the fourth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we learn that the Spirit led Jesus, after his baptism, into the desert “to be tempted by the Devil.”

For 40 days, Christ prayed, fasted and resisted Satan’s temptations to attain earthly power and test God the Father. Jesus emerged from the wilderness tired and hungry, but ready for his public ministry; a road he knew would end on Calvary.

Meaning of ashes

“The theme of Lent is given to us on Ash Wednesday,” Father Landry said. “It’s to repent of anything that leads us from the Lord and to truly grow in faith by believing the Gospel. Everything that comes afterward is for helping us turn more and more in faith toward Christ.”

The Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday, when faithful who attend church that day will have an ashen cross traced on their foreheads, with the priest or minister saying, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” That act symbolizes our mortality, our need for ongoing repentance, and the call to continual conversion and holiness.

Holiness in everyday action

“Lent is meant to make you holy, so everything that we’re going to do during Lent has to be with that end in mind,” said Father Landry, who generally encourages daily Mass or a half-hour period of daily prayer. Fasting has to take into consideration someone’s physical and psychological health, though it should be something that reminds one that they’re imitating Christ’s self-denial.

With regard to almsgiving, Father Landry said he encourages people to reach out to someone each day during Lent, such as a great aunt in a nursing home, an elderly shut-in neighbor with no living relatives, or a high school friend who recently lost a parent.

“A small reach-out can be a phone call, a letter, even a text message or email, to give alms of themselves each day during that season,” Father Landry said. “That is something that will help them reorder their relationship with their neighbor far more than writing one check to a good cause.”

Ordering the ‘interior house’

As a penitential season, Catholics are called to do penance during Lent. Interior penance can be expressed in many and various ways.

“Penance is sincere sorrow in action,” Father Landry said. “We can say sorry to God for our sin, but penance involves those practices that help us to turn our life around so that we’re no longer doing the same things that wound our relationship with God and others.”

In Paragraph 1434, the Catechism says Scripture and the Church Fathers insist, above all, on three forms of penance: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Those forms express conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others.

During Lent, Catholics should dedicate a little more time each day for prayer. That could be a half-hour of contemplative prayer, reading the Bible, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, attending Daily Mass, a weekly Holy Hour, or renewing a devotion to the rosary.

Prayer, temperance attunes toward God

Popular Lenten devotions such as the Stations of the Cross on Fridays — where the faithful spiritually accompany Jesus during his Passion — are meant to deepen that pillar of prayer.

“They’re not just good holy practices,” Father Landry said. “They’re ways to help us attune our heart and our life to what God is doing.”

The Church calls on Catholics, ages 18 to 59, to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Canonically speaking, that means a person on those days is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two small meals that together do not equal to a full meal. However, that is a minimalistic approach that Father Landry said “is never going to make us holy.”

“At a practical level, we need to be regularly doing something that allows us to keep our appetite in check,” said Father Landry, who encourages people to abstain from soda, coffee, and alcohol and to only drink water during Lent.

He also advises people to give up all desserts, not just chocolate.

“If we’re able to do those types of things, it’s going to be much easier for us control our appetite in general, so that we’re able to obey God rather than our lower nature,” said Father Landry, who added that fasting also helps the faithful to cultivate mercy for the poor and hungry.

“There are almost 800 million people who go without adequate food in the world,” Father Landry said. “So fasting allows us to have a great solidarity with them as well.”

Almsgiving – the forgotten ‘other’

In that same spirit, almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God,” as the Catechism says in Paragraph 2462. Almsgiving can take the form of donating money and goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity. Special collections during Lent, such as Catholic Relief Services’ popular Rice Bowl program, present opportunities to give alms.

Almsgiving, which is derived from the Greek word for mercy, is intended to transform the Christian’s heart to have genuine compassion for one’s neighbor.

“Like prayer gets our relationship with God right, almsgiving helps us to get our relationship with our neighbor right,” Father Landry said, “So that we recognize that God is calling us to love our neighbor as he has loved us first, to the point of real sacrifice.”

The Sundays of Lent, which are not counted in the season’s 40 days, retain a joyful Easter character. A tradition in the Church holds that those Sundays provide a weekly respite for people who are seriously fasting during Lent. Deciding whether to relax one’s Lenten fasting on Sundays is a matter of individual conscience.

Worthy Lent draws to True Christ

Lent ends on Holy Thursday, which marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum, which includes Good Friday and culminates with the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil. The Triduum is the summit of the Church’s liturgical year. Father Landry said celebrating the Triduum is essential to living a good Lent.

“If our Lent preparation is going to do its thing, then it’s going to help us live a truly holy Triduum as the most important time of the year,” Father Landry said. “It can make us holy by keeping us very close to Christ throughout the most important events in our salvation.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.