Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Battling for Prayer

My latest missive for The Catholic Telegraph:

A few weeks ago, I was asked and gladly was a part of our first CREDO retreat in the northern part of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Held on the beautiful grounds of the Maria Stein Retreat Center, where I had often gone as a teen for retreats, we gathered over 80 young people for four days of prayer and reflection, funny enough on the topic of prayer: what is it?  How does it happen?  Styles of prayer, etc.  We wanted to give the attendees not just information about prayer, but opportunities to also ‘experience’ prayer, to begin a life-long habit of prayer, to begin a life-long habit of journeying with Christ to our homeland in heaven.

As we put together the retreat, there was something of a science to prayer that we wanted to convey, for there certainly are ‘steps’ that one can take for growth in one’s prayer life.  But so much of prayer, in fact the very source of prayer, does not start with the individual who is praying, but is actually a graced moment from God Himself, He is the author of the prayer of the individual, in that great twist of faith that so often happens.

Because God is the both the source and the summit of our prayer life, the routine of personal prayer can certainly help us ‘clue in’ to what God is doing in our lives.  But ultimately, prayer is that deeper conversation between the heart of the believer and God.  So, while there is certainly a ‘science’ to prayer, there is also an art to it as well, a certain requirement for flair, for the unexpected.

This is where the challenge can really arise, especially for those of us who live in the modern world.  So much of what we are formed in by this culture is to be in control, to take charge and be a ‘self made man (or woman),’ as it were.  In prayer, this is exactly the opposite.  Instead, it is the call to ‘let go and let God.’  YIKES!  Because when He takes over, who knows just how deep the rabbit hole really can go!

This is where the Catechism of the Catholic Church turns an interesting phrase.  For in discussing prayer in Part IV, they certainly hit the section which we all experience at some point in our lives: spiritual dryness, or as Saint Paul so eloquently termed: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

The Catechism terms this struggle ‘The Battle for Prayer,’ recognizing that ‘prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. (CCC 2725)’  While that initial definition seems to be rather easy to embrace, it is that second half, the ‘determined response’ that can lead to difficulties, especially when we bump into those physical and spiritual limits that sometimes come our way and realize that to ‘pray always’ actually does take work!

In response to the dryness, the lack of faith that sometimes arises in prayer, or simply the laziness that is easy to succumb to in prayer, the Catechism calls us first to a filial trust: the trust that God, as Father, hears our prayers and provides the gentle encouragement, not always in the way we want, but in the way we need.

Often, when we experience these frustrations and dry-spells, we throw in the towel and give up with a thought that our prayers are not efficacious.  However, it is precisely in these moments that our prayer takes on a deeper level, because we do not pray so that we see the results, but rather so that we might be drawn deeper to God, and that is something that only He can do in us.

Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta experienced years of darkness and dryness in her prayer, which strangely enough became part of the secret to her great success.  Shall we not also expect the same?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

thoughts on a new hobby....

Over the last year, I've had several people suggest that I needed to take up a new hobby.  I was finding that my days 'off' consisted of more work instead of doing something that allowed me to relax and do something productive and fun, while also still generally being inside (because of a photo sensitive condition).

Let's see, that eliminated Golf, just another four letter word.  Monday's eliminate Art Gallerys, (or maybe I just wanted to eliminate them?  (BUT the Cincinnati Art Museum is FREE!))

Ok, what's left...  hmmmm.....  (add in:)  I was having trouble finding a beer that I liked and on a recent trip to visit friends in NYC, struck up a conversation on beer brewing.  Yeah, but it's too long and complicated a process and I don't have the equipment and the space (wait, have you seen the residence where I live!)

New Hobby Born: home brewing!

Now that I have six batches under my belt, and talking about it with a friend last night, some thoughts.

First, it is nice to do something that you see the results of a few hours worth of labor, when you finish that batch and wash up, I have made: THAT!  In so much of our work, whether as a priest or just a faithful committed Catholic, we sow seeds that grow for someone else to harvest.  It's nice to have something concrete to look at.

Second: There is just enough tedium to the process that it keeps you honest and sharp.  From keeping everything sterile and clean, to washing labels off old bottles, to stirring a boiling pot of wort, just enough to keep you sharp, without being too taxing mentally.

Third: There is a cooperation with God.  The brewer prepares the Wort (unfermented beer), God gets the yeast to work their magic.  After a few hours of boiling, stirring, steeping, siphoning, etc., the yeast is pitched across the product and it is set aside, and through a slow, steady process, sugars are turned into alcohol and what was once too sweet, is turned into a delicious concoction.  God's Grace builds on our nature, taking what we offer Him and bringing it to a higher, greater level than we can do on our own.

Fourth, more than anything, it is fun to share!  So far, I've brought a number of products to friends and family to share the fruits of the barley.  What greater gift than to say, I made this and want to share it with you!  So far, there have been good returns, too!  (People actually like drinking this stuff!)  (Added Bonus: no taxes!)

Let's see, I started w/ a Robust Porter from Brewer's Best Kits; round 2 was a Witbier, also from Brewer's Best.  3 was a Russian Imperial Stout, (with Lots O Flavor!) also from Brewer's Best, I've pulled some of these aside to rest and sleep for a year or four.  Round 4, with my pop, was a Belgian Abbey Ale from Listermann Brewing Company here in Cincinnati  (With the Witbier, good summer brews.)  Round 5 was an Australian IPA from Brewer's Best, ready to go in bottles tomorrow.  6 was a Irish Red Ale, also w/ Pop brewed this past weekend up at Indian Lake, a kit from Northern Brewer.  Tomorrow, an Imperial Vanilla Porter from Hop City in Atlanta gets brewed.

I have a few other kits, including a Black IPA and a Scottish Ale that will be brewed by the end of the summer.  Dad has a Nut Brown Ale kit, too.

If you're in the neighborhood, stop over and have ya some!