Music as a spiritual practice helps us tell our Christian story anew.
One of my core childhood memories is of singing at Mass. It’s neither a sappy nor a prayerful story, however. This was one of my rare moments of rebellion. While the rest of the congregation stood and sang together the opening hymn at Mass, I was lying down, sprawled out in the pew, singing my own made-up lyrics that went something like, “I don’t want to be here! I’d rather be watching cartoons!” My mother rightfully glared at me, urging me to stand up and behave.
Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy, although the practice isn’t strictly about burying a dead person.
Sometimes when I visit my parents’ graves, I remember going as a boy to the same cemetery with my mom and grandmother, carrying the plastic flowers as they bent over to dress the graves. I was never thrilled to go—I would rather have been running bases, riding a bike, or throwing a ball. It’s different now, and not just because my body doesn’t tolerate those activities so well anymore. The only one of the three of us left, I’ve only just begun to catch on to what they knew.
No amount of classes can prepare you for the experience of God’s presence in the Eucharist.
At my former parish I was the catechist for second graders, students for whom the chief focus and driving dynamic of the school year was, of course, preparation for first communion. Every lesson, every Sunday, was parsed for its eucharistic significance, though preparation began in earnest once we hit Lent. One morning we took a look at da Vinci’s The Last Supper and talked about the disciples’ reactions and what they might mean.
To be a lector is to live out the Catholic commitment to prayer, community, and storytelling.
At the start of the Triduum last year, a theater monk offered our group of lectors this advice: Do your homework. Tell the story.
To pray vespers is to become alive to a liturgical cycle that flows throughout the week, each office of worship informing the next.
I attended evening prayer for the first time at a monastery in upstate New York. I was immediately drawn to it because the service correlates perfectly with the poignancy of dusk—that hour of the day that imbues the most routine action with a sense of subtle mystery. Ritualizing this transitional time instilled in me peace and refocused my energies for the evening ahead. It was a practice I longed to continue on a more regular basis from my home in Brooklyn.
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.
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