Praying, for me, is not the same as when I began my Lay Cistercian odyssey seven years ago. I considered myself somewhat religious, but I could never have imagined I would be where I am today in my prayer life. Some of the prayer are the same ones I said years ago. All that is good, but what has changed is my willingness to give up what I thought I knew about prayer and contemplation to embrace silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community (The Cistercian Way).
As I imagine myself sitting in a chapel at Good Shepherd parish, Tallahassee (one of two Faith groups in which I seek God) and praying the Liturgy of the Word, particularly the Office of Reading, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. A group of us pray the official prayer of the Church Universal out loud and in choir (alternating side as we pray the Psalms).
I began reciting the Liturgy of the Hours (we called it the Divine Office back then) in 1965. Deacons and priests are required to recite these seven prayer every day (almost everyone does it in private). Monks and nuns recite the Liturgy of the Hour in choir as their default and only individually, if they don’t have public recitation.
TWEEKING TIP FROM MONKS
As I began praying as a Novice Lay Cistercian (first two years of formation), the monks at Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) would teach us each month about how to pray, what to pray, when to pray, problems with saying prayers. Here are a few tidbits from what they taught us. https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=5812&action=edit
LITURGY OF THE HOURS — Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, and Eucharist form the core of what constitutes prayer as a Lay Cistercian. Monks and nuns have a schedule every day where they pray at certain times and meet in community for Eucharist and recitation of the hours. Lay Cistercians, not living in the community of a Monastery, are encouraged to have a schedule also but keeping it might be a bit more challenging because of family, work, retirement, etc…
Tips in reciting the Liturgy of the Hours
Pray it as though you had marbles in your mouth. Speak slowly and pause after each stanza for a second and for two seconds before and after each element (Psalms, Reading, Antiphons, Intercessory Prayers, and Lord’s Prayer. Make sure everyone agrees to speak slowly, if you are in a choir setting with others.
Pray as one voice. One of the things I picked up from how the monks pray at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) is they recite and sing with one voice, very slowly and with long pauses. It is like looking at Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup running down a stack of Bisquick pancakes.
Keep to a schedule, as much as you can. Brother Michael, O.C.S.O. taught us to pray as we can not as we should. Every day, pray at the same time. If you miss a day, no big deal, we are love-centered, not sin-centered. Do your best to give glory to God and forget the rest. Remember, it is ALL prayer.
My motives for attending Eucharist have moved from one of obligation to one of anticipation of meeting Christ and joining Him to give praise to the Father, something I cannot do alone. It is all part of the transformation, very imperceptibly and without sensationalism, that happened to me as a result of my approach Christ using Cistercian practices and charisms. Dying to self seems like such a irrelevant concept when applies to the psychological constructs of what makes an individual fulfilled as a human. The mental photo that I have of sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter and peering down a snow covered path waiting for Christ is so important this part of my journey. I moved from thinking that Christ is everything to me and that he will always be there for me at my beck and call, just waiting for me ask him for help, to one of sitting in the last bench at church, not willing to lift my head to heaven, and continuing to say over and over, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner. Anticipation is the door through which I can move to the next level of my spiritual awareness. Approaching Eucharist helps me to walk through that door each and every day. Here are some ways that I have found useful in sustaining Christ in a World that says, “You don’t have to deny yourself to follow Christ, follow yourself.”
The Eucharist is one of seven gifts that Christ gives us and the Holy Spirit sustains in us to give us grace. These Sacraments are what the Church needs for it to move down through the centuries and to love others as Christ loves us. Christ loves us by giving his Body (the Church Universal) the power to regenerate itself.
Baptism is the gift of adoption by God to be sons and daughters of the Father.
Confirmation is the gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in our time on earth.
Eucharist is the gift where the Body can feed and nourish itself with the Holy Spirit and then accompany Christ when he once more Ascends to the Father with praise and glory.
Reconciliation is the gift whereby we start over once more in trying to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). It keeps the Body from decay and ruin. It protects it from false prophets and errors in individual thinking. It keeps our Baptism and Confirmation fresh and makes all things new in Christ.
Holy Orders allows the other Sacrament to be sustained throughout the ages. There is only One Lord, One Baptism, One Faith, One Church in each age. We pass on our heritage from each age and grow in love. Celibacy is not a Sacrament, it is a discipline embraced by most Western Faith Traditions. Those who are ordained as Bishop, Priest, or Deacon are set apart from the Laity, much as the Tribe of Levi was set apart from the other Eleven Tribes, to devote itself to service of the Body in sustaining our Faith.
Matrimony — Sustaining spirituality can’t happen without humans having some way to sustain their species. The physical universe is our base to exist has humans. The mental universe is our base to discover meaning and why something is. The spiritual universe has, as its base, both the physical and mental universes. This is quite consistent with the natural law, that which would apply to all inanimate matter and time plus all animate beings. Let me caution you to always think of reality containing two dimensions, one physical and mental and the other mental and spiritual. When we use the word, matrimony, there are two ways to look at it, one way includes God and the other does not. A Sacrament means Jesus gives his Church this gift to allow us to receive grace (God’s life in us)’
Annointing of the Sick — This the Sacrament of healing for the Church, for the body, for the spirit, for the Church Universal. Individuals may receive it in private, but it is still a public prayer, offered in reparation for sin and to ask for forgiveness for ourselves and our enemies.
Believing in the presence of the Word is important. One of the characteristics of love is a longing to be present to the one you love. Love is not only the motive for being present to Christ, but also it is the product of being present with God.
I have moved deeper in my quest for meaning from Eucharist as obligation to Eucharist as an chance to encounter the love of Christ in a way no other prayer has.
The temptation in approaching the Sacred is that I have to do something, it depends upon me to sustain this longing. I have found that I have calmed down exponentially since I learned to appreciate silence and solitude and allow God to be God and me to be me.
Existential psychologists would say you are just present to one another and appreciate who that Being is rather than making it in a carbon copy of yourself. We are made in the image and likeness of God and not the other way around. That has implications for my spirituality because I don’t grow deeper in my self but move from my self to God.
Eucharist is the ultimate prayer of transformation because what Christ is as he approaches the Father with his gifts of life itself (taking on the nature of a slave and by dying for our sins) and returning to the Father to give him the praise and glory that Adam and Eve (representing all of us) refused.
Each time the community (not the individual) comes together to celebrate the death of the Lord until he comes again, Eucharist means we catch a ride with Christ as He relives all that he did, all that he was, all that he will be. The doxology is the crescendo of prayer when the Priest offers to the Father (remember, we are together with Christ’s arms around us) all praise and honor, through, with, and in Christ. This ALL means 100% of God’s nature and also 100% of our human nature. To be sure, Christ’s sacrifice happened one time in temporal space, but the Mystery of Faith is that it happens all over again in all its majesty and glory each time we come together as a community with a Priest to be a mediator between the unseen God and we sinful member of His Body.
I grow in appreciation of the infinite Mystery of Faith each time I attend Eucharist.
My question, and one I have come to ask each time I approach the Sacred, is why would I not want to be with the One I love as often as I can.
Part of this transformation from self to God, as it pertains to my Lay Cistercian spirituality is, I try to be Eucharist, not that I am God but I realize that I am an adopted son of the Father. What that means is clearly revealed by Christ. (The Real Presence of Christ to those I meet this day). Read Matthew 25 Just like the sign of Peace we receive at the Eucharist, we also are charged with moving from hatred to love, to try to become what St. Benedict sets for for us in Chapter 4 of his RB (Rule of Benedict). Not so surprisingly, there is a golden thread that weaves it way through Eucharist and prayer, all that I do that day, all I hope to become, each day. The Golden Thread is Christ. Each day, with each new experience, we as a community of living Faith, proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again in glory, but loving God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength and our neighbor as our self (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37). Lay Cistercian spirituality, as I understand it, is one of placing myself in the presence of Christ and waiting. This applies to all the prayer opportunities that I use each day. The product of these encounters are a transference of charims (humility, obedience to the will of God, love, hospitality, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit) from my false self to my true self, an adopted son of the Father.
ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
One of the biggest helps to sustain my Faith, outside the Eucharist itself, is prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Eucharist is not the same as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, although both involve the Real Presence of Christ. The Faith of those present do not cause the bread in the Monastrance to become the Real Presence of Christ. Only a validly ordained priest (Catholic or Orthodox) can confect the bread. Because Eucharist is indeed the actual Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, I have strength that the World cannot give to be able to do the following (in no order of importance):
Tips to Pray Before the Blessed Sacrament
LECTIO DIVINA — Benedictines, Carthusians, Camaldolese, Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustianians, Jesuits, and many other types of Lay organizations all use Lectio Divina as one of the pillars of their prayer practice. Read this source to find out the five steps of Lectio Divina and what it means.
https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org/2018/06/28/lectio-divina-actio/ Here are some of the things I learned to help me do Lectio Divina more effectively (in no order of importance).
Lectio Divina has been the same eight words for me since 1964. “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5). With my companions of silence and solitude, we sit (I used to be able to kneel ten years ago) before the Blessed Sacrament and listen with our ear of the heart. (Prologue to St. Benedict;s RB).
Prayer is about moving beyond the words to be at One with the object of your love. Read the following blog to get a sense of how deep love can take you, if you just let go of your preconceived ideas about who God is or what prayer is. He must increase and you must decrease. https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org/2019/06/24/growing-deeper-in-your-faith-five-levels-of-spiritual-awareness/
THE ROSARY — Meditation on the Life of Christ
A minister once asked me if I was saved and I gave him what he considered a flippant answer. I told him I have been saved 25, 146 times in my life. When he shut his mouth from dropping open, he told me I was going to Hell. I told him that he was indeed a most powerful man to be able to condemn someone to Hell without knowing anything about their heart. I had just finished meditating on the life of Christ in the prayer called the Rosary and had asked myself how many times I had said the Rosary in my lifetime. I guessed it was over 500 but wasn’t counting. I did wonder how many time each morning I woke up since birth as an adopted son of god (baptized on September 29, 1940) and it was, at that time, 25,146 times. Tempus fugit. Here are some of the things I learned to help me meditate on the life of Christ more effectively (in no order of importance).
The habit of prayer is an important part of my Lay Cistercian life, as I live it. I have made a schedule of prayer that seems to help me out. Here is an example of what I mean by a schedule. You will go far by praying the Rosary but you will go farther by making a schedule to help you in the habit of prayer. https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.org/2019/06/05/five-practices-that-make-a-lay-cistercian-what-does-your-contemplative-practice-look-like/
Like Lectio Divina or the mantra used by monks sometimes, I pray the rosary as a private devotion to help me focus more on Christ and less and less on me. Repeating the prayers and words becomes secondary to meditating on the Mystery of Faith. I love this devotion, more so than when I began reciting the Rosary in 1955.
The Rosary, appropriately so, always begins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the sign of the cross, the pledge of our victory over sin by Christ. Read what the Rosary is and what it is not from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Each day, okay, on most days, I recite the Rosary in public with a group of parishoners from Good Shepherd, Tallahassee, Florida. We do so every day, except Sunday, in common, although the Rosary is a private prayer of the Faithful.
Here are some resources that you might find helpful. I did.
For those without Faith, the recitation of the Rosary can be a stumbling block. For those with Faith, no answers are necessary, says St. Thomas Aquinas.
READING SACRED SCRIPTURE — Reading from Sacred Scripture is reading the activities and word of Christ that come to us through various authors who want us to have some activities to help our belief. Saint John in 20:30 gives us a hint of why people of the time of Christ wrote down so much about Him:
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[a]that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT –Lay Cistercians
Those who have elected to follow the Rule of St. Benedict (Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, Camaldolese) read the RB (Rule of Benedict) frequently and try to install in their way of life what he wrote. I find that all of the RB does not apply to Lay Cistercians, much much of it does. Remember, I am speaking a someone who is still trying to apply the principles of spirituality to my life as I live it out. It it is a process of becoming rather than the attainment of a completed task.
The Cistercians have, like other reformers of the Rule, interpreted the Rule of Benedict to their particular approach to life. This is the Cistercian Way, one that is based on certain practices and charisms (what it means to be a Trappist). Trappist is a strict interpretation of the Cistercian charisms).
Posted on March 5, 2019 by thecenterforcontemplativepractice
There are five things about prayer that I have learned from my time going to Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia.
Without editorializing too much, I offer them for your consideration for those times you find yourself approaching the Sacred through prayer.
I. PRAY AS YOU CAN: Brother Michael, O.C.S.O. told us this during a conference on Lectio Divina. This is important because many times I don’t find myself in an environment conducive to praying. Either there is too much noise for me, or I am doing “things” to help the family and find myself waiting for my wife outside of Trader Joe’s market or going to the Premier Gym to exercise.
I learned that it does not make any difference in praying if I am in Premier Gym or attending the Eucharist. Each type of prayer is different and not to be confused with each other, but both or prayer, the lifting of the heart and mind to God. I pray as I can. I have done Lectio Divina outside Trader Joe’s waiting for my wife to finish her shopping. I have stopped waiting until I find quiet (usually impossible for me) and embraced noise as a form of silence. My mind focuses on Lectio Divina at Premier Gym in the midst of all that noise and distraction. I pray as I can.
II. PRAY WHEN YOU CAN: I learned that some days are better than others. Life sometimes throws me a curve in my intensity of prayer. I go to Eucharist, pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and evening, do Lectio Divina, but there are times when I sit at Tom Brown Park in Tallahassee, Florida and sit on a park bench seeking God. Both types of prayer are part of my integrated spiritual life.
In being a Lay Cistercian, I am more and more aware of praying Lectio Divina outside of formal prayers with others. I am looking at the blue sky and praising God for his creation.
III. WORK IS PRAYER. Formal prayer is not the only time I pray. When I offer up my writing to God, my going to the Gym for exercise, whenever and wherever I find myself, I can sanctify the moment. It comes and it goes.
IV. LIFTING THE HEART AND MIND TO GOD. Prayer is nothing other than thinking of the one you love and wanting to sit next to them.
V. DON’T LIMIT PRAYER. Prayer may be formal or informal. It may take the form of contemplation as an individual or the prayer of the Church Universal, Eucharist in a community of Faith.