Thursday, January 31, 2019

the posture of prayer

St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Houston

"The Prayer," Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City

Years ago, during what in retrospect was the worse years of our marriage – a time when Michael and I didn’t like each other very much, we managed to do ONE thing right.

I don’t know which one of us suggested it, or where the idea came from, but we began the practice of getting on our knees, holding hands, and reciting the Memorare together.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided.
Inspirited by this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me.

The words of the prayer truly expressed our struggle as a couple to hang on to hope for a future together, while offering up our reluctant surrender. Remember. Never. Unaided. Implored. Confidence. I fly to you. Hear and answer me.

And it put our dire needs in the hands of She who could bring our petty petitions to Jesus, and even use her motherly influence on our behalf!

No matter what had transpired that week, that day, or even that evening, every night we ended the day by getting on our knees next to our bed. Perhaps we were subconsciously recalling that child-part of our Spirit who once-upon-a-time learned to pray that way?

Trust me. This wasn’t easy. But one of the lessons I learned from that experience is that posture is important, especially in prayer.

Getting on my knees. Bowing my head. Holding hands. Opening up my hands.  Each of these became an intrinsic part of my prayer life, and of our praying.

A few years ago, while on retreat at Sacred Heart of Jesus Retreat Center in Los Angeles, I learned one more prayer posture that has become fundamental for me, a daily practice.

Every night, the Carmelite nuns and postulants end their prayers by standing before the Blessed Sacrament, opening their arms wide open, and reciting three times the words,

O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put my trust in Thee.”

Sunday, January 13, 2019

because listening is the way to holiness

 “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.”
~Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3, verse 13

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“At the Jordan the heavens opened to indicate that the Savior has opened the way of salvation and we can travel it thanks to our own new birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5), accomplished in Baptism…
The commitment that springs from baptism is therefore “to listen” to Jesus: to believe in him and gently follow him, doing his will.
In this way everyone can tend to holiness… the vocation of all the baptized.”
~Pope Benedict XVI,
as quoted in Magnificat,
January 13, 2019
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I have been blessed to visit the River Jordan three times in my life, so far. But it was only on my Jordan pilgrimage that I had the exceptional blessing of having a whole hour – on my own – meandering around the banks of the River Jordan.

It was a very holy hour… dangling my feet in the water, listening to the murmur of the breeze...  taking in the soft concerto of the birds that afternoon. If you want to hear what I heard, here’s a 20 second video of my time there:

As we enter this brief, first "Ordinary Time" of 2019, here’s praying that all of us make time this year to listen more intently!

May we hear and see the Beloved in each moment, in each person, in each interruption, at each “place” we find ourselves. 

In the words of Servant of God Luis María Martínez, “For one who loves, the entire universe revolves around the Beloved; for [her], flowers scatter their fragrance, the mountains serve him as a grandiose pedestal; the waters of the river murmur his name and the stars in the firmament write it with their light.” 

Friday, December 21, 2018

the Lord your God is in your midst

It has not been lost on me this Advent just how different this third week is compared to the rest of this season.

On the first week of Advent we celebrated St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicholas, and the powerful feast day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

During the second week, we had St. Lucy, St. John of the Cross--and the beautiful feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Yet while our first two weeks featured a pretty high-ranking posse of saints, this third week of Advent is instead quiet, still, full of calm.

Instead of outward-directed feasts, it is the Scripture readings for each day that have knocked me off my feet!

The Lord, your God, is in your midst”!

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.”

Do not be afraid…because your prayer has been heard.”

For nothing is impossible for God!

And today, as if to emphasize the message we might have missed from Sunday’s readings, we hear once again the same reading from the Prophet Zephaniah. May I suggest you read it today as a message for you, personally?  Go ahead, LISTEN with your heart to what God is saying to you today:

“Shout for joy, [fill in your name]! Be glad and exult with all your heart, [fill in your name]! The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear… Fear not, [fill in your name], be not discouraged! The Lord your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love”
~Zephaniah 3:14-18

[photos: Ein Karem: Mary traveled to Ein Karem for three days to visit Elizabeth ]

Thursday, December 13, 2018

when you find yourself standing at the edge of an ocean

With music on the harp and all stringed instruments; sing out with joy as you proclaim: the works of God are all of them good.
~Sirach 39:16

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Our holy seasons always ought to be something special. They are really holy mysteries, and they should awaken a mystery as echo, as consideration, as prayer, in our minds and in our hearts.

The theme…is that, somehow man will be confronted with the Last Things, will be placed in the final order, will face the definitive questions, and definitive answers will be expected of him.  Whenever the Church dons solemn purple vestments, it always means that serious questions are being set forth and we are facing the great connections, the principles of universal validity… This means that we think about man, about ourselves, from the perspective of the ultimate reality and, in so doing, become ready—really ready—to encounter and respond to Him, the Ultimate, in an appropriate way, as befits a creature encountering the [Absolute] Ultimate.”

~Alfred Delp, S.J. in
Advent of the Heart:
Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings

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Advent may be my favorite of all liturgical seasons.

We are eagerly waiting for Christmas, yes. But we are also getting ready, our homes and, hopefully, our hearts.

I think life is like Advent. We are always getting ready for what comes next, praying that we learn to notice God in the every day of life, and begging that our hearts awaken to His voice within us—now.

What do you think of the quote above? I have been ingesting and chewing on Father Alfred Delp’s words on Advent for several years now—off and on.  And I am struck by the reality that the personal confrontation with “definitive questions” that Father Delp notes as intrinsic to holy seasons, is not only relevant for Advent, but it also applies rather well to significant, major life events in my life.

Major life moments—the birth of a baby, a major crisis, the death of a parentbecome our very own, personal, intimate, holy “seasons.” Much like the liturgical "purple seasons," these moments confront us in a very poignant way, challenging us to meet head-on the ultimate questions about life and its meaning.

I first thought about this four years ago, as I mourned the death of my dad. In a very real way, the months that followed his sudden death reminded me of that feeling when I’m standing in the waves at the edge of the ocean—and I begin to loose my footing. With every wave, my feet sink deeper and deeper into the wet sand as the water threatens to topple me over. It’s the epitome of the phrase, loosing my footing!

That time was most certainly a “holy season,” one that demanded that I confront deep questions and fears, even doubts, about death, and about my certainty regarding the meaning of life—both now and in the hereafter.

Whether I admitted it out loud, God already knew that along with the sadness and grieving, my spirit was swimming in questions. What do I really believe? Why are we here? Why death? How confident and certain am I about the “Absolute Ultimate”? Is it okay to acknowledge doubt?

At the end of the day, at least today, all I can do is kneel humbly before God… right in the midst of this holy mystery that is my life.

I don’t have to have it all figured out. I am waiting—and getting ready.

[all photos from our Holy Land pilgrimage!
© Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, 2018]