Alpha testimony from a cradle Catholic

Recently, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa tweeted a link to this testimony by a cradle Catholic who had a life-changing faith experience after participating in Alpha.

Since I recently discussed Alpha here, here, here and here as a possible tool for ordinariate parishes to consider in evangelizing, I thought you might find this testimony interesting.

I converted to the faith in 1961 when I got married. That’s when I became a “church-goer”. When it was Sunday, I was supposed to go to Mass. It was my parish, so I was supposed to serve. I believed what I was doing was my religious duty—just fulfilling obligations. I see things very black and white, and this was no different in my religious life.

I thought of church like a job, no different than going to work. Even still, I thought I was doing things right and that I was a good Catholic. But in attending Mass on Sunday, never did I think of, “who am I going to Mass for?” In all of my service, I was never thinking of Jesus.

My experience of Catholicism was completely devoid of faith and completely separate from someone to love, or be loved by. This didn’t change until 2018 when I discovered there was more to Catholicism than being a “church-goer”.

Snip

By the end of the 10 weeks of Alpha, my view on religion had changed. I realized there was a lot to this faith that I didn’t know. I wanted to continue my journey, so I decided to take Discovery next. It was in Discovery that my idea of God transformed from an outside influence to a partner and a friend. My perspective of religion changed from rules to follow, to a person I understand and know and love. I learned that Jesus knows me and loves me personally.

A verse of Scripture that influenced this second conversion in my life was Revelations 3:20, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.”

I chose to open the door. I chose to place Christ at the centre of my life. I know now He was there on the other side of the door the entire time. For those 57 years, He was waiting for me to let Him in.

Our whole journey as Christians, in prayer, is to constantly and gently place Christ in the centre of our lives, through thick or thin.

On “holy noticing” and Christian contemplation

Picking up on some recent topics here on the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog, I came across an interesting piece at The Stream by Mark Judge on prayer that goes with some of what I have come across in reading David Torkington.

Judge writes in Jesus in the Desert: a Christian approach to trauma:

Christians can practice mindfulness, but it’s not the same mindfulness associated with Buddhist and New Age practitioners. Mindfulness is defined in the dictionary as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It’s a practice that in recent years has become hugely popular in the West.

Noticing God’s Grandeur

Hindu or Buddhist mindfulness tends to treat the material world as an illusion one must transcend. My experience in the ocean, in contrast, focused on the beauty of God’s nocturnal world and a belief that Christ could salve my wounds. Its raised my awareness that the world, though fallen, is still a place charged with the grandeur of God.

The best term for what I experienced, and continue to practice, is what the theologian Charles Stone calls “holy noticing.” In his book of that titleStone argues that the original mindfulness is not New Age, but biblical. He defines it as “the art of holy noticing – noticing, with a holy purpose, God and His handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.” He then goes on:

Should Christians embrace [mindfulness] just because everyone else is doing it? No. Much about mindfulness in popular culture has nothing to do with God, Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity. And ‘Christianizing’ the latest fad dilutes the faith and can lead us astray.

David Torkington also warns against importing New Age or Eastern religious practicessuch as the use of a mantra even if the mantra is a Christian word.  This kind of meditation is not the same thing, he says, as what the anonymous writer of The Cloud of Unknowing was advocating.

Torkington writes:

What is so pernicious about these mantra movements is that the whole emphasis is on self, and seeking self-satisfaction,  in the form of inner states of peace or of esoteric forms of transcendental awareness. If you are continually encouraged to act selfishly time and time again seeking psychological palliatives you become more and more selfish. Selfish acts lead to selfish habits and selfish habits eventually lead to an inner disposition, not of love but of selfishness which in the end makes a person porous to evil. In the same way selfless acts that pertain to the very essence of authentic Christian prayer make a person porous to love, the love of God.  In authentic Catholic teaching the profound experience of God’s love does eventually begin to abide with and in genuine mystics, but only permanently after the purification that the mantra-men know nothing about.

The key is whether one is willing to repent, and whether the “holy noticing” one practices allows the Holy Spirit to purify us by convicting us of sin, and bringing about repentance.  This does not mean an unhealthy introspection and navel-gazing where we take it upon ourselves to go on a search and destroy mission regarding our sins and weaknesses.   That can be a form of pride, of scrupulosity and of taking it upon oneself to be the judge, rather than acknowledging God as the Judge.  Instead, gently bring your attention back into the present moment as you discover during your prayer you have become lost in a thought-stream,  daydreaming or distracted.

In this blog post The Essence of Prayer–Gently Trying,  Torkington writes:

I don’t want to start hair-splitting, but I think it is very important to distinguish between what is the essence of prayer and what are the means to prayer. People are always asking me to advise them what method of prayer to adopt, or more usually to bless the prayer pattern that they have already adopted. Some people fritter away their lives searching for the spiritual equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone, the magic formula for prayer which will infallibly lead to mystical contemplation, or to whatever other spiritual ‘goodies’ they have set their hearts on. The truth of the matter is there is no perfect means of prayer. There are just different means, to help us keep gently trying, to turn and open our heart to the only One who can make us new. Methods and techniques of prayer are like props. Their purpose is to help a person to keep on loving, to keep turning back to God. If the rosary helps to do this, if the stations of the Cross, or some other devotional practice helps to do this, then that is fine. Others may find the slow meditative reading of the Scriptures helpful responding to them in their own heart-felt prayer, or by using ancient prayers like the ‘Jesus prayer.’ Or by saying prayers from the liturgy like the Gloria from the Mass or even the great Eucharistic prayers themselves saying them very slowly and prayerfully.

No Magic Formula

The important point to remember is there is no magic formula, no infallible method or technique. There are just hundreds of different ways of prayer to do one and the same thing. A means of prayer is good for you if it helps you, here and now, to keep gently turning your heart back to God.

“Keep gently turning your heart back to God.”  Easier said than done!  The first thing though is to show up and do it.  If you experience distraction after distraction and find while praying the Rosary you are somehow doing up your shopping list as you say Hail Marys, gently bring yourself back to God.  If you are doing the offices, and finding yourself not able to remember what you just read because you are thinking about that difficult person you have in your life as you are glossing over the text, gently bring yourself back to God.  Don’t force.  You don’t need to whip yourself if you have not prayed everything perfectly.

Show up and gently turn your heart to God, as Father Bob Bedard, the founder of the Companions of the Cross used to say, “Give God permission.”

 

 

 

Sarum Vespers for Candlemas

Sarum Vespers

This event involves Roman Catholics from a range of choirs and organizations in the Philadelphia archdiocese, including ordinariate members.

“The liturgy will take place at St Patrick’s Church, served by the Dominican Friars, in center city Philadelphia (242 S 20th St) on the Eve of Candlemas: Saturday, February 1 at 7 pm. Event co-sponsored by the Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture. Please direct all inquiries to James T.M. Griffin at chantphiladelphia@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Andrew Petiprin joins Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Institute

We have posted several times, here, here, and here on Andrew Petiprin, a former Episcopalian canon who crossed the Tiber with his family a year ago.

Now he has joined Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Institute as the Fellow of Popular Culture.   His colleagues at Word on Fire interview him in this video.

Congratulations, Andrew Petiprin!  It’s good to hear the kind of appreciation he has for his evangelical childhood and his Anglican formation.  The interviewers note that it’s not always that way, especially for Catholics who leave the Church for another denomination.  Petiprin stresses that he was attracted to the Catholic Church as opposed to running away from something. Anyway, he has an interesting background and comes well-equipped for serving in Bishop Barron’s apostolate.

Peter Jesserer Smith did an interview with Petiprin last April for the National Catholic Register on “Becoming Catholic in a Time of Scandal.”

You mentioned that Anglicans can bring certain gifts into the Catholic Church that can really enrich Catholic life and faith. Could you expound on that a little bit?

Those looking at this situation need to remember that the Catholic Church in a sense decides what the gifts are that Anglicans bring into the Church. So that’s an important thing to note. But the thing that delights me is thinking about the liturgical and musical tradition. Anglicans have a wonderful tradition, too, of using Scripture in a way that I think can really speak deeply to the Catholic Church: the tradition of praying the daily offices [Morning and Evening Prayer, also called Mattins and Evensong] and praying the Psalms are not just things that are done in monasteries (although it’s wonderful that they are done in monasteries), but those things are done in a parish church or indeed even in a home, in a family context. Those are really wonderful things.

Anglicans are also used to (with the exception of just a few kind of very large parishes) a smaller church context with more of an intimate social life and that sort of thing. I think that could be something that could speak deeply to people’s needs in the wider Catholic Church, as well: that going to church isn’t just about fulfilling your Sunday obligation and then going home, but it could actually be a smaller-scale thing where you’re actually sharing your lives more deeply [with fellow parishioners] and celebrating the Lord’s Day in a more holistic way.

 

 

Some more thoughts on prayer

An article by David Torkington popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, and since I wrote about him yesterday, I thought a link to this article would be a good follow.

In Learning to Pray Takes Time and Practice, Torkington writes:

Building a life of prayer means turning our lifestyle upside down if need be to find the necessary daily time for prayer. Prayer is not just a luxury for priests or religious, or people who happen to have spare time on their hands. It is an absolute necessity for everyone who wants to plunge themselves effectively into the mystery of Christ’s life, to be drawn into the endless ecstasy of life and love that unceasingly surges out of the Son towards the Father. We are filled to the measure of our weakness by the Father’s richness. The more we are filled with his fullness, the more we are lifted up out of ourselves in a self-forgetfulness that enables us to pray properly for the first time. The more we are tangibly immersed in the mystery of God’s love, the more we begin to see that all prayer leads to praise, to give glory to him and to lose ourselves in his inexhaustible goodness.

The trouble is we do not believe this, except as a purely academic principle of theology that we scandalously disregard in our lives. We beat our breasts with a sponge, reach for a  drink and nibbles, and slump down in front of the television. If we did believe it, then we would scream out for God’s help; we would go to him, find time to open ourselves to his healing power and urgently create space in our lives for prayer. The space and the time we find in our daily life is the practical sign of our sincere acceptance of our own weakness, and of our total belief in God’s power, which can alone help us. You might say you would like to be a concert pianist or speak fluent French or become a scratch golfer, but I will only believe you mean it when I see you practise for several hours a day.

Read the whole thing.  If you hardly pray at all on a daily basis, it may encourage you to start doing so.  If you already pray the daily offices  of Morning and Evening Prayer (all of us in the ordinariates, lay people included, should at least try to do this!) it might encourage you to linger a bit longer, to “up your game.”

Interestingly, the more time you spend in prayer, the more time opens up for you.  Back in 2013, I began praying 15 decades of the Rosary a day and did so for a period of a year or two.  I would not do all 15 decades at one sitting.  I would go for walks, I would pray a decade while waiting in line, or pray a set of mysteries while driving or cleaning house.

What amazed me was it was easier to pray 15 decades a day  than to find the 20 to 30 minutes to pray only five or one set of mysteries!  Another key is committing to pray for a certain length of time first thing in the morning, preferably even before I bustle about to make coffee or get dressed. Otherwise, the demands of the day start to press in.

The other thing I have discovered about prayer—especially that of sitting silently in God’s Presence, in what Torkington calls the “sacrament of the present moment” is that it can feel pretty awful much of the time—awfully boring, full of distractions and increased awareness of all one’s aches and pains. However,  it’s after one stops and goes about one’s day that one experiences the inflow of God’s grace with more evidence of patience, of being aware in the present moment and of experiencing less frustration or negative reaction to people.

Would that I could keep at this!  I have not found it easy to sustain every single day and I am thankful that coming across David Torkington’s writings has given me impetus to press ahead with more diligence.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is facing some big career changes.   She has some time to ponder the direction God wants her to take, and told me she felt like she needs to prepare for death.  I noted that maybe it’s not physical death she is being called to prepare for, but a new level of death to self—-so she can say, like St. Paul, ‘It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me.’  She sent me a link to this article in LaCroix entitled Boredom is a condition of the inner life.

In it, Charles Wright, a historian and writer, tells LaCroix, why he is currently living in a monastery and what the boredom of monastic life offers.

But boredom can be dry, painful…

It’s also a test. The emptiness, stripped bare, reveals our own inner chaos.

Everything that shrouds the social character goes away. Soon there is nothing left, except our bundle of poverty and misery.

We find ourselves empty-handed, heartbroken and crushed. That’s when God’s grace can work.

The realities of the Kingdom never make noise, they manifest themselves discreetly, at low intensity, never in a strong way.

Boredom, which goes hand in hand with silence and solitude, is a condition of the inner life.

How can Christians make this boredom worthwhile?

In my opinion, the Church is undoubtedly too caught up in the Western notion of “doing,” whereas we need to learn to simply “be.”

Prayer and docility to the Spirit are the real source of all renewal, the inner beginning of all reform.

What David Torkington’s overall message is, and that of Charles Wright above is that we will not have renewal and true reform in the Church until we allow ourselves to be stripped bare, to undergo this spiritual death, and to find that humility and docility to the Spirit that comes with it. Then God’s love will shine in us, but we have to make room for Him first.  This is a responsibility of all of us, not just for our own salvation and sanctification but for those around us, for the world’s.