Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Release ... It's Getting Closer

I have been looking forward to this book's release for quite some time, and I can't believe it's almost here.  The human prayer of Jesus - it's an absolute ocean for us to immerse ourselves in, and the Holy Spirit opens the way through the Church's sacraments, devotions, and practices!  I'm very excited by the early reviews that have come in:
Picture "Shane Kapler has reflected deeply upon the Scriptures and the history of the Christian people. He makes it clear that the mystery of God is not something to be figured out, but rather, something to immerse oneself in." 
- Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, Springfield, IL

Picture "This text beautifully and masterfully demonstrates that when our eyes are opened to the rich theological truths of the Church, seen through their ancient Jewish scriptural and liturgical roots, our hearts will stand all the more ready to embrace that Sacred Heart of Christ who taught us to how to pray." - Kevin Vost, author of Memorize the Reasons! 

Picture “This book gives more than most of us know how to wish for. Shane Kapler leads readers beyond ‘prayers’ to prayer. Beginning to pray in this way, we can begin to live our heaven even as we pass our days on earth. As the child's voice said to St. Augustine: Take up and read! This book can change your life for the better.” - Mike Aquilina, author of
The Mass: The Glory, The Mystery, The Tradition 

 Picture "In this well researched book we learn how Jesus truly and concretely desires to incorporate us into his prayer life with the Father. Kapler offers a brilliant and well organized blending together of the rituals of the Jewish tradition and the liturgical prayer of Jesus and His Church.   Historical, theological, liturgical, devotional, and deeply personal, this book is certain to help you grow more in love with Jesus and the treasures offered to you through His Church!"
- Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, author of Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest

You can read more about the book HERE as well as check out some of the themes in my most recent blog posts.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How to Pray When the Words Won't Come (Look to Jesus, Literally)

At some point in life each of us finds ourselves at a loss for what to say to God. It is usually at a time of intense trial.  The pain of disease, agony of loss, or sting of betrayal leave us overwhelmed.  Our sadness and anger are so acute that we fell abandoned, as if God were a universe away.  How do we pray in those moments?  We look to the example of our Lord Jesus, who desires to draw us into his own prayer.

We can and should look to how Jesus prayed in his Passion (his words and use of the Psalms) ... but I wouldn't necessarily begin there.  More than anything else we need God's nearness, need to know that we dwell in his presence; and for that we should look to how Jesus prayed within the womb of Mary.

Our Lord's prayer throughout his first 40 weeks on earth was completely wordless. From the nanosecond his soul and body came into existence, our Lord's entire humanity was oriented toward the Father. The writer of the Epistle to the  Hebrews heard the prayer of  Jesus' heart in Psalm 40:
When Christ came into the world, he said,
"Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
(Heb 10:5-7; Ps 40:6-8)
Simply by being, by existing as a child, Jesus was at prayer. It was the prayer of surrender, entrustment. Words were not needed.  In the heights of his soul, Jesus gazed upon the Father with all the clarity of the saints in heaven. He was “not engaged in the adult business of thinking at all." Rather, "in the earthly paradise of his Mother’s body, he is resting and seeing and loving and praising the Father.” [1]  And his prayer is available to us in our moments of need.  No, we do not have his direct vision of the God the Father, but we can gaze upon the God-Man in the Eucharist.

No matter how deep our pain and confusion, nor how distant we might feel from God, we objectively place ourselves in his presence when we visit him in the tabernacle.  When the Eucharist, the Lord’s Body, is reserved in a Tabernacle or exposed to our eyes in a monstrance, we are allowed to kneel and gaze upon our brother Jesus ... as He gazes upon the FatherThere he is – just as he has been from all of eternity - surrendered to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and offering himself completely to us. St. Jean Marie Vianney once asked a parishioner what went through his mind as he sat in the church, day after day, staring up at the altar: “Nothing.  I am not much good at thinking, nor do I know many prayers.  So I just sit here, as you see, looking at God.  I look at him and he looks at me.  That is all.”[2]  That is all?  What a reflection of Jesus' prayer in the womb of Mary!

When you don't have the words, put yourself in Jesus' presence and fasten your eyes upon him.  Be with him.  Open your arms to him and let his Holy Spirit, dwelling within you, "intercede with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26).  Begin there.  In a short time your ability to speak will return and you will be able to make Jesus' prayer in Gethsamene your own (it's there in the Our Father).  You will be able to open your Bible and pray the psalms he did upon the Cross (Ps 22, 31, and 69), psalms that praise the Father for the resurrection to come, even amidst the pain.  But begin, like Jesus, by gazing upon the Lord.

[1] Saward, John, Redeemer in the Womb (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993),  p.73.
[2] Lomask, Milton, The Cure of Ars: The Priest Who Outtalked the Devil, (New York: Vision Books, 1966),  p.151. 

If You Need Help Fasting ...

Back in the Fall, after I wrote a couple of posts about fasting, I was contacted by the kind folks at Live the Fast.  They are an apostolate dedicated to helping people integrate the ancient practice of fasting into their spiritual lives. I  recommend visiting their website, where you will find plenty of resources:
articles, quotes from saints and popes regarding fasting,written testimonials, blog posts, videos on the spirituality of fasting from the apostolate's founder as well as Scott Hahn and Mother Olga of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, and nutritious breads ready to order.

Live the Fast sent me a sample of their breads. (You can order three dozen rolls, enough for nine days, for $23.50. Live the Fast's founder owns LaVallee’s Bakery Distributors, New England’s premier provider of artisan breads.) Because breads typically found on our supermarket shelves lack the nutritional value of breads used in biblical times, LaVallee used his baking expertise to produce highly-nutritious fasting breads - no untreated, unbleached flours and no artificial preservatives or additives.  If you wish to fast on bread alone, but are cognizant of your nutritional needs, these would be the people to contact.

If you peruse their website you will see that they offer the book Fast With the Heart by Fr. Slavko Barbaric.  I have not read the book.  It may have very good things to say about fasting, but the late Fr. Barbaric was associated with the alleged apparitions occurring at Medjugorje, which have not received Church-approval, and which I personally have had great reservations about for a number of years. So, I draw that to your attention.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If Jesus Prayed Judaism's 18 Benedictions, Why Don't We?

“The Son of God who became Son of the Virgin also learned to pray according to his human heart. He learns the formulas of prayer from his mother ... He learns to pray in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people.” (CCC 2599)

Until five years ago, when I began an intense study of Jesus' earthly prayer, I had never heard of the Eighteen Benedictions.  What I quickly discovered was how they are a beautiful tapestry of blessings and petitions that the Jews had been praying three times a day for at least a century before the birth of Christ. Their centrality in Jewish prayer is witnessed to by their Hebrew name, Tephilla, or simply “the prayer.” (You will also hear them referred to as Amidah, “standing,” since they are prayed while standing; Jesus likely refers to this in  Mk 11:25.)  These benedictions both praise God for his goodness and ask for his continued blessings and the fulfillment of his promises.  With their importance in the prayer life of Jesus and his Jewish apostles, why didn't their use continue among Christians? I believe the answer is two-fold.

First, Scripture assures us that Jesus entered history in the “fullness of time” (Gal.4:4).  He entered at precisely the right moment of history for these blessings and petitions to form an integral part of his daily prayer with Mary and Joseph.  And Jesus' own death and resurrection - and all that means for humanity - were the answer to many of the Eighteen Benedictions: "Blessed be the Lord who forgives our sins, ... who raises the dead, ... restore the kingdom of David, ... allow us to worship in your sanctuary."

Second, Jesus commanded us to pray the Our Father.  Because it comes from God the Son, it is literally the perfect prayer.  Its seven petitions encapsulate all others, the Eighteen Benedictions included; and when prayed slowly, with the proper awe and love expressed in these words, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name," can encapsulate all blessing and thanksgiving as well. The early Church recognized this, and so we find its first catechism, the Didache (70-120 A.D.), instructing believers to pray the Our Father three times a day (8:1). The 1993 Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that this was done “in place of the ‘Eighteen Benedictions’ customary in Jewish piety” (CCC 2767).

In the early days of my conversion I neglected the Our Father. As a "rote prayer" that I learned in childhood and often rattled off with my parochial school classmates, in my heart-of-hearts, I didn't believe it could capture the "closeness" and "spontaneity" Jesus 
wanted me to enjoy with the Father! (Ridiculous, right? Ah, but far too common.) Like many others, I had misunderstood Jesus' words in Mt 6:7, "when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words." Jesus, a faithful Jew, was far from opposed to praying "set" prayers. (While hanging upon the Cross he prayed the same Psalms he had since childhood!)  Rather, Jesus was warning his Jewish audience against the errors found in pagan prayer - believing that God would be moved to grant their requests by the sheer amount of verbiage.  

God wants prayer to be an expression of our hearts; and as the Holy Spirit brought me to recognize, nothing expresses them better than the Our Father.  St. Paul went so far as to teach that it is the Holy Spirit who puts this prayer on our lips: "you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out 'Abba! Father!'" (Rom 8:15). 

So why don't we Christians pray the Eighteen Benedictions? Ultimately, it is for the same reason we no longer offer the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses: Jesus, and the prayer he taught us, is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 5:17; Heb 8:13) ... and the Eighteen Benedictions.

If you'd like to read more along these lines, you might enjoy the soon-to-be-released Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

If You Can't Make Daily Mass, Pray Like JMJ

Our spiritual lives are centered upon Jesus' sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist. Probably the majority of us however, have schedules that keep us from attending Mass on a daily basis. It may come as a surprise to learn that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph - and the majority of Jews at the time - found themselves in an analogous situation. They also arrived at an ingenious solution that we can make our own.

Jewish religious life was built around sacrifice; and the only place it could be legitimately offered was Jerusalem's Temple. Every day, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., its priests made the daily offering, or tamid. After the singing of a Psalm and the recitation of Judaism's creed, the Shema, a lamb, cake of bread, and wine were offered on the altar. (Remind you of the Mass?) It was the heart of Israel's spirituality, yet Jews such as the Holy Family lived too far away to take part except on special occassions. (Nazareth was approximately 70 miles from Jerusalem.)

At least two centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish people adopted the practice of stopping, wherever they were, three times a day, to pray facing toward the Temple. They prayed at 9 a.m., and 3 p.m., as the tamid was being offered, and again around sunset when any remaining scraps were burned on the altar and the Temple gate closed. The people's daily prayer joined them to the Temple's sacrifices!

Of what did their personal prayer consist? It largely mirrored the Temple's liturgy.  At the first and third times of prayer, they recited the Shema, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD ..." ; You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Dt 6:4-9; Dt 11:13-21; and Num15:37-41). 
At all three times of prayer they prayed the Eighteen Benedictions, a beautiful tapestry of blessing and petition.

St. Paul invites us Christians to unite our lives - our regular, busy lives of work and family - to Jesus’ sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist. 
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, for this is our spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). United to Jesus, our every thought, word, and action can become an offering to the Father.  It is as simple as making our own daily (preferably morning) offering: “Jesus, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.”

Further, we can mirror the Holy Family's beginning and ending their day with the Shema, by beginning and ending ours with the Sign of the Cross. It is our Nicene and Apostle's Creeds in miniature. Whenever we make it we proclaim our belief that it is through Christ’s Cross that we enter into the inner life of the Father, Son, and Spirit; and his grace can empower us to do so with all our mind, all our heart, and all our strength! (It is our Christian Shema.) The early Church also retained the Jewish practice of praying three times a day, but instead of the Eighteen Benedictions they prayed the Our Father (CCC 2767). Taught to us by Christ himself, it is the perfect prayer, encapsulating all others (CCC 2765; 2762).

So if you can't make it to Mass, take a lesson from the Holy Family: pray a Daily Offering and have recourse to the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father (slowly, intentionally) at least three times in the course of the day. You would also be well-advised to invite Mary and Joseph to pray with you; if they were good enough for Jesus, they're certainly good enough for you and me!
Oh, and if you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the soon-to-be-released book, Through,With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Jesus' Transfiguration - 4 Steps to Hearing God's Voice

You recall Jesus' transfiguration: While Jesus was at prayer on a mountaintop, Peter, James, and John witnessed Him become “more brilliant than the sun.” Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, and the disciples heard them discussing his “exodus.” The scene culminated with a cloud (the Shekinah, or cloud of God’s glory) overshadowing the mountain as God the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” (Lk 9:28-35).  We all want to hear God's voice the way Peter, James, and John did; and the narrative of Jesus' Transfiguration gives us a blueprint for doing that - a practice known as lectio divina, "divine reading."

Step 1 - Get yourself "into position" to hear God
We have it easy compared to the apostles.  They had to climb a mountain before they experienced the Transfiguration.  For most of us it's just a matter of finding a quiet place in the house or stepping out onto the porch.  (Alright, depending on your family, a small hike might be in order.) Consciously place yourself in God's presence by making the Sign of the Cross.  Pray the Our Father to ask God for the daily bread of his word.  You need his word so that his Kingdom may more fully come and his will be more fully done in your life.  This bread, like the Eucharist, strengthens us to fight temptation and the evil one (Eph 6:17; Mt 4:3-11). We need the Lord to open the ears of our hearts.

Step 2 - Read his word
Like Jesus, allow the Father to speak to you through Moses (representing the books of the Law) and Elijah (the prophets).  Listen to Jesus himself in the gospels, and the apostles in the epistles.  Accept what you read in a spirit of humility, not intellectual pride or skepticism. By all means, use the study notes in your Bible's margin and commentaries to better understand the text; but never allow your heart to question its truthfulness. Jesus is our model.  As Dr. Scott Hahn pointed out, "Jesus embodies the response of personal humility that the form of the written Word requires. Hearing the Scriptures as the voice of the Father, he allowed himself to be formed by it message in all aspects of his human life" (Consuming the Word, p.99).

Step 3 - Invite the Spirit to "overshadow" you as you ponder what you have read
This is meditation, Christian meditation.  No need to cross your legs or chant "ohm" (although softly reciting ten Hail Marys - a decade of the Rosary - is highly encouraged). Meditation simply means to think things over deeply and prayerfully.  Try to get inside the text by asking questions.  Interact with it the way Jesus interacted with Moses and Elijah.  For example, if you were meditating on the Transfiguration, try putting yourself in St. James' sandals: What would have gone through your head when you saw Jesus' face begin emitting light right there in front of you?  When you heard the Father say, "Listen to him," would your mind have turned to the parts of his teaching you had conveniently ignored? Now ask yourself, "What parts of Jesus' teaching have I been ignoring?"  If you take seriously what you've read, how should your life change?  Can you think of something concrete that you can begin doing today?

Step 4 - "Listen to him" - resolve to live what you have heard
Voice your thoughts and conclusions to the Lord.  Ask him for the grace to live out whatever resolutions you have made.  Allow Jesus to accompany you "down the mountain," as you reenter the business of life.

And there you go - 4 steps to hearing God's voice!  Please let me know how it goes.
P.S.,  If you enjoyed this post, you might also like the soon-to-be-released book, Through,With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

We Still Find Him in the Temple

Mary and Joseph were at their wits end.  After three days of searching, they had finally found Jesus.  There he was, seated in the Temple's second court, asking questions of the rabbis.  Mary blurted out, "Son, why have you done this to us?  You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow."  His answer caught them completely off-guard, "Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I had to be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:48-50). Jesus says exactly the same thing to those of us hungering for his presence today! He waits for us in the temple of our parish church.

The Catechism (593) reminds us how deeply Jesus loved the Temple of his day. It was adamat-qodesh, holy ground. God was present in the Temple's innermost chamber in a way unsurpassed anywhere else in all of creation, except in Jesus himself. It was the only place where sacrifice could lawfully be offered and, like all faithful Jews, Jesus made pilgrimage there at least three times a year. 

In the New Covenant, Jesus takes all of this to a higher level.  The Temple prefigured him, in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9). Through Baptism he makes us members of his Church, "living stones" in the spiritual temple of his Body (1 Pet 2:5). The many sacrifices of the Jerusalem Temple found their fulfillment in his one upon the cross, the same sacrifice renewed in our celebration of the Eucharist; and it is his Eucharistic presence that allows us to speak of our church buildings as temples.

Jesus waits for us in these buildings, ready to engage our hearts as he did the Temple's rabbis.  The tabernacle in which our Lord dwells under the appearance of bread is the reality foreshadowed in the Temple's Holy of Holies and the table of shewbread kept before it.  When Jesus told the woman of Samaria, "an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... [but] authentic worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth," he was not eliminating the idea of holy ground.  Rather, he was expanding it.  Holy ground is now found wherever our Lord's Body is reserved in the tabernacle.

Are you longing for Jesus?  Do you feel like you can't find him no matter how hard you pray?  Make a pilgrimage to the temple - not thousands of miles away, but down the road to your parish.  There you will find him.  There you will objectively enter into his presence, no matter how deep your sadness or confusion.  There you will offer yourself to him, place yourself into his heart, without any need for words.  In the simple act of going to him, sitting in his presence, and gazing at him with longing, you will have prayed beautifully.  "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps 51:17).

Like Mary and Joseph, you will always find Jesus in the Temple.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the soon-to-be-released, Through,With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Jesus Had Me Surrounded

I just returned from a Saturday evening Mass, on the eve of a snowstorm in St. Louis ... if you think Christmas Eve is crowded, you have no idea!  (Personally, I found it pretty darn awesome.)  Shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers and sisters after Communion, I had the simple thought, "Jesus has me surrounded."  And it was absolutely true. 
I found myself in the middle of a visible manifestation of that tremendous mystery written of by St. Paul: "we who are many are one Body, for we all partake of the one Bread" (1 Cor. 10:17).  Our communion in Jesus' sacrifice (made present in the Eucharist) creates the Church and deepens its unity.  As St. Augustine taught, "“If you have received worthily, you are what you have received [the Body of Christ]." There I sat, visibly surrounded by other cells of Jesus' Mystical Body!  It is a constant spiritual reality - for each of us - and tonight's experience made it visible.  Pretty cool that it happened as we celebrate Epiphany, Jesus' "manifestation" to the Gentiles (represented in the Magi).

Let me leave you with one last thought:  The next time you and your brothers and sisters are walking to your cars after Mass, remember these words of St. John Chrysostom, "Let us return from that Table like lions breathing out fire, terrifying to the devil!"  (Yeah, they didn't call St. John "the golden-tongued" (chrysostom) for nothing.)

Our Prayer: God's Love for God

"This holy Spirit of Jesus is in us, and he is speaking through us when we pray. Basically prayer means that from the depths of my heart, God speaks to God" - Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, 496

Reread those words.  They probably would not be the first to jump to mind if someone asked, "What is prayer?"  You and I would probably respond that prayer is speaking with God.  And that is true; but at it's deepest level, Christian prayer is something that God - God the Son, Christ - is doing within us.

"But Shane, I don't feel anything like that happening when I pray."  Well no, you wouldn't. God is higher than our feelings; he is beyond our powers of detection. We know this truth because, like so many others, it was revealed by Christ to the Apostles and handed down to us through Scripture and Tradition.

Our Gospel is that we have been made sons and daughters in the only Son (Jn 1:12-13; 2 Pet 1:4).  In Baptism we received the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:4-5), who reproduces Jesus' prayer within us (Gal 4:6).  St. Paul wrote how it was no longer him who lived, but Christ who lived in him.  And if Christ lives in us, then he prays in us (CCC 2740).

"Prayer" is at the very heart of Jesus' identity.  From all eternity he is the one who makes a perfect return to the Father of the love that has been lavished upon him ... and that love is the Holy Spirit.  When the Son became a man he expressed his relationship to the Father through human thoughts, words, and actions aflame with the Spirit (Lk 10:21).  Jesus' human prayer was unlike any prayer offered since humanity's fall. It was not the prayer of fallen man, a creature making requests or giving thanks to its Creator.  Rather, it was the the prayer of a son, the prayer of the Son - gratefully receiving all that he was and had from the Father, and offering himself in turn through the Spirit.  And Jesus joins us to himself in Baptism and sends his Spirit into our hearts so that he might express his love for the Father through our thoughts, words, and actions!

Any stirring we have to prayer is the action of Christ. Granted, when we start out in the spiritual life, we may petition God for some petty items or experiences. Yet, even when our prayer is lacking in substance, the Spirit is mysteriously at work within us, interceding "according to the will of God ... with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26-27). And if we will open our ears and eyes to the words and actions he has inspired within the Body of Christ, our outward prayer can become a purer manifestation of the prayer of Jesus himself.  

Where should we begin?  The Mass.  The highest point of Jesus' human prayer was at the Cross, where prayer and his gift of self were one (CCC 2605); and that is what becomes present to us on the altar!  We are meant to join ourselves to Jesus' prayer and offering: "Through him and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Amen.”  The Mass is a school of prayer: 

  • we praise and thank God in the words of his angels and saints
  • allow him to speak to us in the inspired words of Scripture
  • confess our faith in God and what he has revealed when we pray the Creed
  • intercede for the needs of the Church and world
  • petition the Father for the same needs that Jesus did at the Last Supper
  • pray the very words that Christ gave us in the Our Father
  • and make a grateful return of the Fathers love by offering ourselves to him in union with Jesus

The Spirit intends for the perfect prayer of Christ that is manifested in the Mass to spill over into our times of personal prayer too.  The Liturgy of the Hours, prayerful reading of Scripture, and the Rosary; devotions such as the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart Devotion; and practices like fasting and the wearing of scapulars - the Spirit has inspired all of these to bring our daily prayer and lives into union with Jesus' prayer and offering made present in the Eucharist.  The Church's liturgical prayer, devotions, and practices bring our minds into conformity with Christ's, so that even our most spontaneous prayers are manifestations of his heart.  

Christian prayer:  God the Son, loving the Father, in the Spirit - through you and me.
P.S., If you'd like to learn more, please keep an eye out for Through,With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.