Posts in Communication
Five Things You Can Do For Lent (and why they matter a whole lot!)
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Ash Wednesday begins on March 6, 2019 and for millions of people around the world, this means something- action. All of us want to put our faith into action and Lent is the perfect time to do this.


People will begin a 40 day sprint towards Easter and will either give things up - a sort of sacrifice- and also try out new things. It’s also a wonderful time for humility, a time to acknowledge that our prayer lives are rarely what they ought to be. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.”


I figured it would be interesting to connect five actions you can take during Lent to my upcoming book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People. I wrote The Five Habits in order to provide a virtual toolbox of strategies for prayer. It’s designed for the busy person in mind.

Before we link the book with Lenten action, let’s remind ourselves why Lent matters in the first place. Lent comes from an old word meaning “lengthen”- as the days get longer, the sunlight returns and we inch ever closer to Easter. Since Easter is all about Jesus triumph over the cross through his resurrection, Christians have, for thousands of years, practiced a sort of “retreat” during Lent. This looks like, not surprisingly, a series of actions designed to help us get ready for Easter. 


Lent is a fitting time for self-denial.
— Pope Francis

If you “do Lent right”, you’re more likely to enter into the deeper mysteries of the season and as a result, draw closer to Jesus. As Pope Francis said, “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."

The problem of course is that we get distracted, tired or bored during Lent. The things we resolve to give up can become a distant memory if we’re not laser-focused on the task at hand.

Ok, let’s now match a strategy with each of the Five Habits:

  1. Habit of Passion and Pursuit >> Begin to enjoy five minutes of pure silence each day. Start with one minute each day for a week. Each week, add a minute to your silence. Invite God into the stillness.

  2. Habit of Presence >> Look people in the eye. When you are in public and in passing or when you are one-on-one with someone… work to give them your full attention.

  3. Habit of Preparation and Planning >> Choose the tools you’ll use during your morning quiet time. This will likely be a Bible and journal. Besides that, what else speaks to you? An icon? A crucifix? Identify and group the tools you’ll use. Place them somewhere that you’ll have your daily quiet time.

  4. Habit of Persistence and Perseverance>> Install a quote that inspires you in a place you’ll see it. This might be a quote from a saint or a Bible quote. Put the quote inside your journal or Bible. Or, have the quote framed and placed in a spot where you’ll see it often.

  5. Habit of Pondering>> Take one day off from technology each week. This is the single most powerful strategy I’ve used in the last five years. Step back from your phone and give God one day a week to break through the noise of digital stimulation.

These strategies really work. More significantly, they matter a whole lot. They contribute to a more prayerful life and collectively will help you to slow down. When we slow down, we are more present and it’s much easier to find God in everyday life. 


Quick Win: Learn the One Phrase that Will Transform Your Prayer


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Can You Pray in 10 Minutes a Day?
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What can you do in just 10 minutes? 

I did a quick inventory from the past week and came up with a few answers:

Change the sheets on the bed

• Unload the dishwasher

• Steam clean the kitchen floor

• Call my parents on the phone

• Iron my clothes for the following day

You could probably create a similar list if you had to. It’s actually kind of amazing when you think about it. Much of the time, I tend to underestimate what can be done in just ten minutes

A question I’ve been thinking about lately relates to this. Can you build a meaningful prayer life on just ten minutes a day? 

The answer surprised me. 

Let’s compare prayer to physical fitness. If you asked the same question, (Can you get fit in just 10 minutes a day?) would you get the same answer? Yes and no. And, it depends.

Yes, you could get fit (or at least more fit) by dedicating 10 minutes every day for brisk physical activity. Do this over and over again and you’ll have built a steady habit of fitness. Will this propel you towards olympic competition? Most likely not.  Will you develop six-pack abs in just 10 minutes a day? Perhaps...

Now turn it over to prayer and the 10 minute question. Will you become a saint by giving just 10 minutes a day to the Lord? Probably not. It will likely take you more time and a lifetime of devotion and service. But can (here’s the six-pack abs element) you build a strong foundation of prayer in just 10 minutes a day?

I think you can.

Prayer is not so much about minutes but about routine and momentum and honest dialogue with God. If 10 minutes can help you with that routine and stronger relationship with God, it might be just the thing to focus on in the coming month.

You can do a lot in just 10 minutes a day. God can do even more than we imagine in that same block of time, given over to him faithfully each day.

To be clear, this is not about speed or about rushing through prayer. While Jesus did recommend brevity (Matthew 6:7), it’s of course good if you can spend more than ten minutes in prayer. We’re talking about the basics and about foundational habits. Saint John Paul II said, “Become a saint, and do so quickly,” but he didn’t mean that we ought to hurry when we pray. Rather, he meant for us to sense the great love God has for us and respond accordingly.

I’m mindful too of this quote from St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, “He who prays most receives most.” Give God your 10 minutes and let Him do the rest. Over time, these moments will expand and then spill over into the other minutes in your day.


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What a Baseball Player Taught me About Prayer
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Craig Kimbrel is the closer for the Boston Red Sox. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he is the last pitcher to face the other team. At the end of the game, Kimbrel is the final stop before victory. Translation: the guy is a stud with ice in his veins. Nothing faces the closer.


What makes Kimbrel so fascinating to even the casual fan?


It could be his diminutive stature- he’s only 6’ tall. It may be his long beard. One could easily point to his success- he’s been one of the best closers since entering the big leagues in 2010.


What stands out for me regarding Kimbrel is his unique posture as he prepares to deliver a pitch. He stares towards home plate and strikes a pose- it’s really more of a pose. His right arm sort of dangles and he enters the mysterious place where pitcher and catcher communicate through hand signals.


Then, in the blink of an eye- he delivers the pitch.


So what does all of this baseball talk have to do with prayer? Consider the various postures we use when we pray:


  • Kneeling: a gesture of surrender, repentance and obedience.
  • Standing: a sign of respect and praise.
  • Hands up: an act of praise.
  • Palms out: a sign of openness.
  • Hands folded: a sign of focus and concentration.


If the best athletes in the world use gestures and postures to execute their craft, we can learn something from them. They pay attention to the slightest detail and maybe it’s time that we do as well.


Watching Kimbrel this year in the playoffs caused me to ask: what is my ideal prayer posture?


The answer came quickly- it’s hands up, palms open, head slightly bowed. When I need to pray with all of my might, that’s the posture I use. It means openness and reminds me of my total need for God. I feel like I can talk with God in the most honest way possible- as if I’m not holding anything back.

 

This isn’t to say that other postures aren’t valuable. They are. It’s just that this particular posture seems to be most effective when I need to pray and pray hard. It’s good to pay attention to these things. 


How about for you? What’s your ideal prayer posture?


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The Church We Desperately Need
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As the parents of four children, my wife and I have often had to look our kids in the eye and remind them that we are the parents and they are the children. We have the life experience and hopefully the wisdom to make good decisions. I would assume that all parents can relate to this dynamic. Most of the time, our children agree even if their eyes roll.


In the weeks that have passed, a similar dynamic has unfolded in the American Catholic Church except one thing is different. Clerics, embroiled in another sex-abuse scandal and a subsequent set of cover-ups, have assured the faithful that they are indeed sorry for their lack of candid leadership. Most of us read the headlines with sadness but not with surprise. Once you’ve heard a “we deeply regret...” statement, often written by lawyers, you can get dismayed.

 

We’ve heard it before. 


Much of the Church’s messaging is that of a parent, along the lines of, “We’ve got this. We have the wisdom to make good decisions.” Therein lies the problem as the “we” used by many clerics is a limiting pronoun. It actually means we, the leaders of the Church rather than we, the People of God.


This people isn’t uniform. We have different roles, originating in the Early Church and then morphing into Holy Orders as they exist today. The ordained are meant to build up the rest of the Body. The rest of the Body is meant to cleave to Christ, become one with the Lord and then be sent out on mission. The Early Church articulated more formal roles such as teacher and administrator but over time, these got lost. These roles aren’t bad so long as each respects the other.  

 

One response of an American bishop, hailed by many as a firm and comprehensive “plan”, mentioned the role of the laity as a component of the Church’s solution for dealing with sex-abuse. Worth noting is that the laity is mentioned last in a list of three criterion for how the American Church can move forward.


What we have is a faulty ecclesiology in full display for all to see. Maybe faulty isn’t the right word. Incomplete might be better.


I’m convinced that many leaders simply do not value the laity as members of the People of God. They value them but only so much. If you’ve ever heard the old mantra, “pray, pay and obey”, you get the point. As a result, leaders make poor decisions and exercise a “circle the wagons” approach to crisis management. Imagine the decision-making that the Church could enjoy if it fully embraced its dignity as People of God...


Many observers have it right when they say that the absolute crux of the current scandal is a gravitational pull towards clericalism. It sucks the life out of even good priests, enveloping them in a system best described as an “old boys club”.


A good and faithful priest I know put it this way, “Far too many bishops and priests think they are above the laity.” The abuse of children is as much about disrespect as it is about sickness. The sin of pride is alive and well.

 

Clericalism isn’t the only culprit. It’s also a lack of faithfulness. It’s a laxity that, over time, fell out of love with Christ and turn inward towards self-preservation.


Nearly all of the current language used by the Church in its response to the current scandal is reactionary. We are in fixing mode and for now, that is probably the right pose to strike. The building is on fire and we need to put it out. What’s missing is a broader discussion of how best to eradicate clericalism and bring the Church into a fuller understanding of what it means to be the People of God.


What we currently see isn’t merely the fruit of sin and infidelity. The current storm is also produced by an ecclesial system of us vs them. So long as the Church continues to operate as the property of a few, its fruit will be short-lived and the Gospel will be short-changed.


As a layman, I long for a Church that seeks to make decisions together. I don’t want a Church that operates out of consensus or through a vote. What we need, desperately, is a Church that values all of its members to the point of involving them at the level of decision making. No change in Church teaching is needed. No slogan can capture this shift. What is needed is the deep conviction that the Church needs the perspective of the laity and not just when things hit the fan.


I look forward to the day when a Bishop stands on a stage along with a layman and considers him an equal rather than a supporting actor. I envision the next scandal, whenever it comes, being solved by laity and the clergy working together and genuinely learning from one another. 


This is the Church we need. This is the Church that can be Christ’s bride more faithfully present in the world. This is the Church that can bring the Gospel to the lost and hope to those in despair. 

 

This is the Church we so desperately need. 

Faith, CommunicationMike StPierre
How to Pray During a Time of Scandal
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Here in New Jersey, a school superintendent was found to be defecating on a rival school’s athletic track. Meanwhile, a prestigious Catholic school has acknowledged that over a dozen of its priests have been accused of sexual abuse. Nationally, we’ve become accustomed to the President embroiled in legal battles over his own promiscuous behavior.


Scandal. It’s ugly and seemingly everywhere.


No matter who you are, scandal has an effect on you. It can make you negative. It can sap your hope. It can make you sick to your stomach.


The real question isn’t so much about stopping scandal, although that should be on the mind of anyone in a position of authority. Rather, the question I face is more interior: how should you pray in a time of scandal?


The recent flurry of news surrounding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a painful case study. A prominent cleric who climbed the ecclesial ladder of success is being accused of decades of deviant behavior. He apparently led a secret double life and it’s coming to light as he approaches his 90th birthday.


As the stories of McCarrick’s shadow life emerged, I felt sick to my stomach. Having known people who served in McCarrick’s dioceses, the news seemed even more shocking. How could a charming and magnetic person have so much darkness? And, how could my church not have stopped this?


My anger then diffused to the wider church. Having run a Catholic high school for seven years, I knew every good, bad and ugly thing about my institution. Now magnify that kind of an awareness on the church that propelled McCarrick into higher levels of leadership. People knew. A lot of people must have known. Those that didn’t know the specifics at least knew the generalities.


Sickening. Frustrating. Maddening.


Are we that complacent that we didn’t speak up when children were being abused? Was our affection for a charming cleric so great that we lacked care for those who were being abused?


Resolve. That’s where my own prayers have fallen as the McCarrick story has developed.

  1. I am resolved to pray for the church and pray for those abused.
  2. I am resolved to pray for McCarrick’s soul for it’s clear that he is far from being canonized a saint.
  3. I am resolved to pray for our priests and bishops, that they will cast aside clericalism and pursue holiness above all aims.
  4. I am resolved to not get negative when I feel sad and frustrated by the church.
  5. I am resolved to find ways to improve whatever unhealthy structures have contributed to the church’s total failure related to McCarrick.


We’ve failed, yes. We all hurt in a time like this.


The questions we cannot avoid and must accompany our hurt are these: are we praying daily for the church and all of its members? Can our responsibility for the church make it better? Can we avoid negativism and pursue holiness?

 

So how can you pray during a time of scandal? First, remember that, no matter what is going on “out there”, you and I still have work to do on our own prayer lives. Just because McCarrick’s abhorrent behavior is the talking point of the news doesn’t mean that I am off the hook for having a daily quiet time. In addition to our own daily prayer, we can find creative ways to help the church be more whole and holy. Second, in a time of scandal, you can take the brave step of praying for those that are in the trenches. In particular, I’m thinking of our priests. They need not only prayer but a word of encouragement. Imagine how you would feel if your entire industry was marred by a perception of sexual abuse? It must be lonely and for that reason, our priests need our encouragement. 


I’m resolved. Are you?

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Four Signs That You're Full of Yourself
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There's no better example of a person who is full of himself than Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards.  The Netflix series, now in its fifth season, details a man (Underwood) obsessed with himself and his desire for power.  

It's bad enough that Underwood is consumed by a thirst for political office.  What's worse is that he has no compass for anything else in his life- no friendships, no hobbies, no religion, etc.  This makes for a very unhappy man.

I've been thinking of Underwood (yes, in part because I've been binge-watching the newest season of House of Cards) and the times when I might be full of myself.

No, not to the extent that he is but still, let's be honest: each of us has a bit of selfishness inside of us.  

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How can you spot a person who is really full of it?  I suggest four signs:

  1. They refer to themselves in the third person.  This is typically reserved for pro-athletes who almost always are full of themselves.  
  2. They are easily offended.  This is a character flaw and to be avoided at all costs.  Readers would do well to pick up a copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth. 
  3. They over-promise and under-deliver.  This leads to broken commitments and failed projects. 
  4. They publish every thought.  The filter just isn't there for people who are full of themselves.  They love to pontificate.

Take note this week of your vocabulary.  That will often give you clues of your pride-to-humility ratio.

A Boston priest, Fr. Thomas Judge (early 20th century) famously said, "Humility is truth".  I think what he was getting at is that life is full of imperfections and blessings.  It's good to appreciate both and not take yourself too seriously.