Temples of the Spirit

At Sunday Mass, the weekend before Lent, the priest asked the congregation during his homily what we planned to do for Lent – how were we going to use this holy season to grow deeper in our faith, to become better persons?

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Among his suggestions, he included saying a decade of the Rosary each day. As Lent arrived this past Ash Wednesday, I thought about that homily, and, while I was driving to work I decided to pray a decade of the Rosary.

I find the Rosary prayer to be very contemplative, and often my mind wanders from the visualization of the particular Mystery intended for the decade prayed. As I thought about the Annunciation and what it have took for Mary to say yes to God’s will, I had a moment – a sort of awakening about how I should approach prayer, how prayer creates tangible benefits, and how prayer strengthens the life of the Spirit in us.


Praying

For the most part, I realized that most of my prayers have been about asking God for things – for peace, for good health to family members and friends, for our children’s success in life, and so on. I have also prayed in thanksgiving for blessings that have been given to family, friends, and myself.

To a much lesser extent, I rarely prayed for acceptance, for recognition that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prayers of acceptance, of allowing God to work within and through me crystallized in my mind.

Benefits of Prayer

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Prayers that focus on acceptance of what might not be within our control and on those aspects of ourselves that might be improved or changed, offer us an opportunity to strengthen our mental and spiritual capacities. Scripture passages and images ran through my mind – do not worry about the things of this world. A temple of human hands is destroyed, but Christ rebuilds the temple in three days.

Prayer helps our minds focus beyond the temporal world around us. It builds up in us a reservoir of strength, of peace and calm to manage our way through this life focusing not only ourselves but also on others whom we allow to enter into our lives.

Life of the Spirit

When we practice the discipline of prayer, we become better at identifying those aspects of ourselves that can stand improvement. For example, becoming a better person – one who interacts most favorably with others and is comfortable in his or her own skin – ironically is one who has developed a life of the Spirit.

This journey of prayer brings us closer to the reality of death – the transforming moment when our lives transition entirely to Spirit. I believe that the more energy we devote to preparing for this moment, we will be less anxious when the time arrives and have a more fulfilling experience.

These 40 days of Lent provide a time for us to consider how we will invest the time we have in our lives. This upcoming week, both the Fathers’ Club and Mothers’ Guild will embark on their annual retreats on March 8 and March 12, respectively. May the time they invest in meditative prayer and spiritual reflection enrich their experiences during this Lenten season. On Tuesday, March 11, the student body will bless the Lenten cross in the center of the Quad.

I believe that if we devote some of our time to the development of a strong prayer life, we will have made a doubly rich investment – one that provides us with contentment in this life and the ability to embrace life after death as the joyous gift that it is.

All of these thoughts rushed through my head as I prayed one decade of the Rosary on the way to work on Ash Wednesday morning. I prayed a second decade immediately after.

Saying “Yes” Every Day

Where has summer gone? After a busy start of the school year in August, and event-packed September, who can remember the summer as October begins?

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to pause each year on October 7 – the Feast of the Holy Rosary – to pray the Rosary with Father McLaughlin in the formal garden before the statue of Mary. This year, the rain forces us to take our prayer into the Patio Music Room before the painting of the Assumption of Mary.

The Battle of Lepanto, Paolo Veronese

The Battle of Lepanto, Paolo Veronese

Along with 35 or so mothers of current and former students, I enjoy joining in the Rosary that reflects on moments in the life of Jesus – joyful, sorrowful, glorious, or luminous mysteries of Christ. In 1572, Pope Saint Pius V established October 7 as the Feast of the Holy Rosary in thanksgiving to God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto – victory that prevented Islam from spreading into Western Europe. Pope John-Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries, or “Mysteries of Light,” in his 2002 Apostolic Letter entitled, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary. The five reflections are “The Baptism of Jesus,” “The Wedding at Cana,” “Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom,” “The Transfiguration,” and “The First Eucharist.”

While the central figure of the October 7 feast day is Mary, the great prayer of the Rosary underscores Mary’s “yes” to God, and focuses our prayer to Jesus through Mary. Originally attributed to Saint Dominic, the Rosary is thought to be modeled after the 150 psalms with 150 “Our Father” prayers followed by decades of the “Hail Mary.” Hypnotic and meditative, the prayer requires us to consider the events in the life of Christ as we pray over and over again two great prayers of our faith.

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I first recall praying the Rosary in grade school, remembering how sometimes I was distracted by the heat in the classroom or how I became drowsy after just having had lunch and recess. The prayers seemed so repetitive and boring as a child. Only after I grew older do I now appreciate the contemplative power of the Rosary. I am especially grateful for it on anxious nights before bed when my mind cannot rest. I begin the prayer and feel as though I am resting my head in the arms of Mary. That image and feeling of complete resignation offer me the peace and comfort I seek in those sleepless moments.

In recent weeks I came across an alternative idea about the life of Saint Norbert that helped me consider how conversion of our hearts and God’s call in our lives might really come about.

In speaking with Father Ted Antry, O.Praem., after a Mission and Heritage meeting at Archmere, we started to discuss Norbert’s call by God. The account, found in Chapter 1 of The Life of Saint Norbert, Vita A, explains that Norbert was on horseback on his way to Freden when a storm arose and a bolt of lightening scared his horse, throwing him to ground. It was then when Norbert heard the words of Psalm 33 spoken to him, “Turn from evil and do good.”

The Conversion of Norbert

The Conversion of Norbert

Father Antry suggested that the conversion of Norbert may have been articulated in that final defining moment on the way to Freden. However, Norbert may have been considering a call to conversion, to a different way of life, several years before when he was at the imperial court of Henry V. Norbert became disenchanted with Henry’s use of force against the Pope, and he left the Court along with his position as the son of noble parents. In other words, a study of Norbert’s life may suggest that his conversion was a process of discernment over several years, culminating in the vision of establishing a new religious community.

I like this explanation of Norbert’s conversion because I find it more plausible based on my own personal experience. I do believe that many of us have not had that singular defining moment – “the thunderbolt” that completely changes our lives. Rather, discernment happens over time. This discussion about Norbert’s conversion also led me to consider the story of how Mary said “yes” to God’s call during the Visitation of the angel Gabriel.

After Saint Gabriel told her that she would be the Mother of God, I would like to believe that her affirmative response was not a simple one. I would like to think that Mary, as an example for us today, had to have prevailing faith to learn more about the plan of salvation for humankind that included her. Not just once, rather each day, she had to say “yes” to God with a blind faith that each of us would very likely find difficult to manage.

When I consider the 501 students enrolled at Archmere this year, their families, and all those who support our community as parents of graduates, alumni, grandparents, and friends, I am overwhelmed with joy by our responsibility to make sure Christ is present in our words and actions, so that transformative experiences are possible every day. In the coming weeks, we will be welcoming to campus the grandparents of our students, our alumni celebrating class reunions, and other alumni, parents of graduates, and friends who will be attending the events of this year’s Homecoming. These lasting relationships are the signs of transformative experiences – ones that allow us to share our mutual belief in God and make us want to care for one another – loving God and neighbor, the two greatest commandments.

During this month of the Holy Rosary and of Respect for Life, I hope that all of us may take the time to offer prayers to God through the intercession of Mary for the courage to say “yes” to God’s call – a call to serve within our families, the Archmere community, our local communities, and the world.