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A New Year and  time for me to upload some more features from our most recent parish magazine for the perusal of our cyber readers.

The first one is about a day of prayer we had at our parish last year. Though held in May the content is ever relevant.

Here it is in its entirety:-

Parish Day of Prayer

Saturday 8th May 2010

 

On Saturday 8th May 2010, Fr John Edwards SJ led our parish in a day of prayer and reflection. There was a fantastically good turn out not only from our parish, but from our Deanery buddies too.  Everyone I’ve spoken to enthused about the day, each taking something different from it to help with their own prayer lives.  I’ve used those comments to form the basis of this article hoping that what we found helpful will be of help to you too.

 

The day began with a Mass with commentary from Fr John.  He explained that you can imagine the structure of the Mass as being shaped like a capital ‘M’.  The Liturgy of the Word forms the first ‘۸’ and the Eucharistic Liturgy forming the second ’۸’.  In the first ‘۸’, we speak (on the upwards stroke, to God) through our prayers of repentance and the Gloria.  The opening prayer is at the apex, and then we listen as God speaks to us (the downward stroke) through the scriptures – most crucially through the Gospel – and the homily.  We give to God in our recitation of the Creed (on the upward stroke of the second ۸ now), the offertory and the Canon with consecration.  We reach the apex in the Great Amen, then God gives to us in the Lord’s Prayer, the subsequent prayers for peace, in communion and finally in the blessing and dismissal.  Imagining the structure of the Mass in this way makes it easier, he suggested, to ‘recall one’s wandering attention’ and also easily enables us to adopt the attitude appropriate to each part of the Mass.

 

Fr John pointed out one ‘enormous prayer’ that we make when simply crossing ourselves on forehead, lips and heart before we listen to the Gospel during Mass… an enormous prayer that we can omit to ‘pray’ if we’re not careful.  Later on, Fr John suggested praying for the priest during the ablution of the hands that he may become ‘less unworthy’.   Only a priest, I thought, could put it quite like that.

 

After Mass, we listened to Fr John speaking about prayer.  A refreshing characteristic of the day was the absence of group discussion or ‘sharing.’  This enabled us to gain as much as we could from Fr John while he was with us.  Having said that, discussion and sharing are very important, and two people have said to me that the most significant thing they got out of the day (and this wasn’t to belittle the rest of it) was a conversation they’d had in a spare moment, over lunch in one case, and at the end of the day in another.  That really illustrates the importance of talking with others about our faith.  As Benedict XVI has said, ‘There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.[1]We are fortunate if we have family members, friends and colleagues with whom we share our faith.  However, this is increasingly not the case and it can lead to a great loneliness in faith.  Do you know what I mean?  We don’t currently have a formal prayer group in our parish; we could have one.  We don’t have a men’s or women’s group, a book group…  If you feel you could do with some ‘friends in faith’ or you can empathise with those who are and feel you could be a friend in faith, give some serious thought to this and let me (or FrC or another Forum member) know what you think might work in our parish.

 

During this morning session, Fr John spoke about the Anointing of the Sick.  I’d not thought too much about that Sacrament before and his insight really brought home to me the redemptive aspect of suffering.  He used the example of a man suffering with cancer.  As the cancer grows, it squeezes the life out of him.  The cancer brings agony for him and his family.  He asked us to imagine the man then being anointed; being touched, sacramentally, by Christ.  As the cancer continues to grow – to sap life from him – so it confers Christ’s life.  It continues, on and on until, at the hour of his death as the man loses his own life, he is endowed with Christ’s.

 

Fr John talked briefly about confession and reminded us that God the Father looks at us and sees our entire life.  Much of it – through his grace – gives him glory anyway.  The sinful bits – the stuff we take to the confessional – are therein touched by Christ and then shine more beautifully than the rest!  The result is that, having received the sacrament of reconciliation, our life is ‘a complete success story’ in the eyes of God.

 

One theme to which Fr John kept returning and which everyone mentioned to me was this: it is a fact of prayer-life that we get distracted.  It is our intention that counts.  Upon realising that we’ve been distracted, we’re simply to re-focus our attention on the Lord and not get too worried about it.  Everyone was glad to hear ‘it’s not just me.’  Putting aside the time for prayer shows God we love Him.  Coming to Mass with the right intention shows God we love Him.  That we subsequently get distracted by the other stresses and strains in our lives is overlooked by God in the same way as a parent (on a good day) doesn’t mind the mess a child makes when trying to be helpful.

 

Fr John spoke of the Rosary as a study of the Gospels.  One parishioner commented, ‘I have always thought of the Rosary as purely a devotion to Mary but now look on it as the life of Christ from the Annunciation through to the Ascension.’  He also appreciated being introduced to the Luminous Mysteries, introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002.  Another parishioner was heartened to hear Fr John saying it’s okay not to pray a whole Rosary in one go, but just to concentrate on one decade at a time.  ‘Otherwise’, she said, ‘the whole thing’s a bit daunting, isn’t it?’  Together, we said one decade.  Better to say one decade than never start for fear of never finishing!  He also mentioned that the last sense to leave a dying person is touch and so he hopes that someone will think to put a Rosary (and therefore also a crucifix) in his hands as he dies.  How many times have we asked for Mary’s prayers ‘at the hour of our death?’  Mary will certainly be praying for us then, so what a beautiful idea it is that when we can’t do anything else, we are prompted to think of our Blessed Virgin Mother and her Son, our Saviour

 

After a delicious lunch, we moved back into the church for a practical session on prayer.  Here, Fr John took us through numerous different types of prayer and – just for a few minutes each time – we had a go.

 

Prayer, Fr John emphasised, need not be complicated.  We tried praying very, very slowly – one word to each breath.  Someone has since remarked that she has slowed her prayers right down since attending the Prayer Day and it has made a real and lasting impact on her prayer life.  Someone else said he’d tried it subsequently and found it quite difficult.  Fr John acknowledged that not all methods suit all people, but it doesn’t matter – there are so many ways of praying that if one doesn’t suit, it is not a problem: there are always many more!

 

We tried meditating on a very short passage of scripture.  We listened to it being read; then we listened to it again and again.  We used our imaginations to picture the scene, smell the smells, hear the sounds, and imagine the feelings of the characters involved.  He urged us simply to open our hearts and listen to what that scripture passage is saying to us.  This very simple method of prayer lends itself especially to preparing the readings at Mass each Sunday, whether we are to be reading them at Mass or simply listening to them.

 

In general, we loved Fr John’s down-to-earth approach.  In all humility, he said that sometimes he struggles to stay awake during prayer, which prompted one woman to say she was happy to be in such great company!  He knows the frustration of not being able, physically, to kneel.  He acknowledged frankly that we often don’t ‘feel’ anything in prayer.  It doesn’t matter, he said, and was quite insistent upon that point.  Sometimes we even ‘feel nothing’ when we’ve received the sacraments of the Eucharist or Reconciliation.   At the end of the day, feelings do not matter very much.  He said that it is what one knows and what one does that are important, not what one feels.  Grace is something deeper than feelings.

 

As the day ended, Fr Christopher implored us to have a think about what we need as a parish to enrich our prayer lives further and to bring our ideas to him.  As our Bishop has written, ‘Growing in our relationship with the Lord is the wellspring of our Christian life and so prayer and teaching others to pray is of fundamental importance.’[2] The Day of Prayer happened as a response to a request and benefitted a great many, not only from our parish but further afield.  As a parishioner, please do have a think about how our parish could grow as a school of prayer, and please don’t keep all your good ideas to yourself!

 

 


[1] Homilyof His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Mass, Imposition of the Pallium and Conferral of the Fisherman’s Ring for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Sunday 24 April 2005.

 

[2]Called to be a People of Hope’ p.9 ( a Clifton Diocese document).

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