How to get ‘back to the basics’ of spirituality and prayer? His Lordship Bishop Dolan will join Stephen Heiner to discuss how we can do it.
What is more obviously part of Catholicism than spirituality and prayer? Stephen admits it would be odd to put his customary question to the bishop as to the Catholic attitude towards it.
‘I think we could agree,’ jokes Bishop Dolan, ‘that we would say, well, the Catholic Church is in favour of them.’
At first, Stephen asks His Lordship what ‘extra’ a devout Catholic can do to help them attain perfection.
But, of the person who goes to Mass on Sundays, prays their daily rosary, fulfils their duties of state, learns the catechism, follows the liturgical year, does daily spiritual reading, etc., the bishop borrows a quote from the Divine Office: ‘who is he and we shall praise him.’
Indeed, the Catholic today who faithfully does all of these things is extraordinary. We need not compare him to the mass of godless modern people, however. He is extraordinary even among Catholics.
The discussion instead turns to a more uncomfortable question: why do so many display a coldness towards the basics of prayer and spirituality?
Now, this isn’t about wagging the finger at those of us needing improvement in our habits of prayer and devotion. We all fall into this category to some degree.
Nor is this episode about listing the spiritual practices we might take up to improve as Catholics. Bishop Dolan and Stephen intend, rather, to confront the attitude that sees the basic practices of Catholic spirituality as things to be endured, tolerating them – only to an absolute minimum – to disrupt a worldly life.
It is unthinkable for some that the spiritual life might sometimes fairly extend itself so as to take something away from secular activity.
So, let’s go right back to basics. We cannot talk about what more a person can do to reach perfection, if the simple drive and imagination which suggests to a person the ‘extra’ they might do, is lacking altogether.
There was once a time where the Catholic Faith, with its liturgical life, had been the centre of people’s every activity. As Stephen puts it, ‘the culture shaped you into a runway in front of Our Lord. Today you have to make your own runway, and perhaps that is the difficulty or resistance for some people…’
For most Catholics living in the modern culture, Catholicism is not integral to their lives. It takes a positive effort to live as a Catholic, and for many this is too much to ask.
This mentality is impervious to the constant exhortations and suggestions from the clergy. What about committing to 15 minutes spiritual reading a day? The bishop says that ‘for the vast majority of our Catholics, this means nothing.’
This is shocking to hear, but let it serve as a reality check for ourselves.
There will always be excuses on hand as to why we should neglect prayer. After all, ‘we have an enemy,’ reminds Bishop Dolan, who ‘is always suggesting to us why we couldn’t possibly pray, tempting us not to do it. That’s the problem! He will tempt us to something else, and we will not have the armour of prayer.’
We must understand that prayer begets grace, and that we are always either gaining or losing those helps which ‘get us over the line’ in the moments we would otherwise give up. The most basic thing we can do is to confidently make a start.
Stephen suggests that ‘if people say, ‘I’m busy, I have other things to do’ – really examine how valid that statement is. When you say you’re busy… there is no one else that could help you? This cannot be scheduled to the weekend? This cannot be done another time? We will be responsible for every second, [and every] minute that is given to us.’
Those who do not have access to the sacraments must wonder at the reasons people give, who do have access, for resisting all of the tremendous graces on offer.
For many, going to Church implies work. ‘I won’t be amused at Mass or by praying the rosary’… ‘or I might, God forbid, be bored!’
But, as Bishop Dolan reminds us, that, although it is true that when you come to Mass and when you pray, everything about it is work, it is work for which we gain an eternal rest.
According to Bishop Challoner, when Our Lord left the Garden of Gethsemane he was ‘refreshed’ by His prayer. ‘We too will be refreshed if we make the effort… Those who apply themselves know what I’m talking about,’ says Bishop Dolan.
‘It is extremely spiritually profitable to kneel as close to the tabernacle, the Blessed Sacrament exposed, as possible, and look with the eyes of Faith. To look. Surely you could do that.’
In very simple ways, then, we can give generously to God in prayer.
‘Our Lord does want to talk to us. Children are encouraged to pray like this, and so are adults. Just be confident in communicating to Our Lord, and be with Him.’
Christ has called us His friends, and Stephen suggests evaluating our friendship with God as we would any other friendship. Do we treat Our Lord as a friend? Are we as generous in finding time for Him as we are in scheduling to catch up with people for a coffee? What would we think about the friend who persistently found excuse to not meet up and chat with us? We might reasonably think that they were actively avoiding us, or it would at least appear that the friendship was not worth much to them. We can examine ourselves on this point.
We might feel ashamed to think, as Stephen points out, that ‘there are articles out there for taking internet sabbaths; non-Catholics who turn off their router and collect the devices.’ ‘Do not the Gentiles also this?,’ Stephen asks, quoting Our Lord. ‘If a non-believer can set aside a day of the week for their own secular edification, we will be held to that kind of standard… [and] we as Catholics are called to so much more than simply turning off the router.’
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