It’s the one day of the year when you know who believes what you believe.
Ash Wednesday is become a very popular feast day, perhaps more important to some people than Holy Days of Obligation. At Marquette University, where I teach, Ash Wednesday Mass and the distribution of ashes will positively fill the modest but spacious octagonal chapel in the student union. Student ministers will distribute the ashes, and as many as 200 students will file into the central sanctuary to have an often quite large sign of the cross marked on their foreheads in ash.
Reading poetry shows us the beauty of the world through new eyes.
“A poem in the pocket means we will be accompanied wherever we go,” writes Bishop Robert Morneau.
Morneau’s words ring true to me. Poems have been sturdy companions on my spiritual journey, accompanying me through moments of rejoicing and lament and everything in between. While the liturgical prayer of the church and reflection on scripture are bedrock spiritual practices for me, praying with poetry has also been a fundamental part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember.
When artists create an icon, they engage in a centuries-long sacramental and theological practice. Their work reveals the unseen face of God.
A year before I became a Catholic, I went on a retreat to an Orthodox monastery north of Columbus, Ohio. The monks occupied an old farm house and converted the basement into a chapel, complete with large, colorful icons. Every morning I attended Morning Prayer while icons of Our Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the saints looked on. The images stared at us, speaking in a mysterious language I didn’t quite understand, as we gazed back at them.
The point of a pilgrimage is not simply moving from point A to point B in order to collect a coupon at the final destination.
Those who practice Zen refer to sitting in meditation as zazen. The Japanese word means “just sitting.”
They do nothing else except sit and wait. Shedding the unnecessary. Allowing the world to reorder itself into its simplest form.
Silence is not an battery-charging pit stop on the road of apostolic work. It is—or at least aspires to be—uniting one’s own heart with the heart of God.
According to Trappist Father Thomas Keating, a decades-long practitioner and teacher of centering prayer, contemplative prayer is about relationship, not method. It’s your intention and your relationship with God that counts.
Just like baking, prayer takes time, patience, and a dash of ingenuity.
Growing up, I spent one week every summer with my grandparents in upstate New York. It was a week full of traditions and rituals that were repeated year after year, immersing me not only in the love my grandparents and I shared, but also our family history. We went for walks in the woods, visited the tiny public library, and I played with giant pickle jars full of buttons. Most important, we baked molasses cookies.
Gardening isn’t just an issue of environmental sustainability. It’s also good for your soul.
Running and prayer are siblings in repetition.
Let the ancient words of Mary, Zechariah, or Simeon leave their mark on your heart.
One of the most valuable experiences from my boarding school days—and one that has remained with me—is the habit of formal prayer. I remember praying the Nunc Dimittis at night prayer in the quiet of my high school chapel: “Now you may dismiss your servant, Lord, according to your word, in peace.” Just saying the words instilled a sense of peace.