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.


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.

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

  • Liturgy of the Hours may be recited publically or in private. Since this is a public prayer of the Church, try to recite it outloud, even if you are the only one there. I move my lips while reciting it, if there are others in the Church praying.
  • Go to a place of silence and solitude (sometimes I do this at Trader Joe’s Market while my wife shops) and read from my four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours (with big print). My favorite place is in the Chapel at Good Shepherd or in Eucharistic Adoration (24 hours at Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Tallahassee, Florida). Why would you not want to go there, if you truly believed that this was indeed Christ present body and blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread.

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.

  • It is the way I ask for forgiveness of sins, it is the place where two or three are father in His name.
  • It is where I head the Word of God and its implications for this day, each time I am present to the Lord.
  • It is where I offer up my self for that day or week to the Father, it is where the gifts of bread and wine are offered to the Father by Christ alone.
  • It is where I tag along with Christ and sheepishly approach Christ who alone can approach the Father face to face.
  • It is where these gifts of bread and wine become Christ (John 6), the Mystery of Faith.
  • It is where I take that peace from Christ into my heart to transform it from self to God.
  • It is where I give that peace from Christ to others around me and my family.
  • It is where I receive the real body and blood of Christ, unworthy as I am to even approach Christ much less the Father.
  • It is where Christ’s heart rests next to mine in love and silence and solitude. It is where my commitment to be what I have just received is strengthened and transformed from my false self to my true self.
  • It is where I say I will love others as Christ loves us, having Christ as my energy and not my own.
  • Eucharist is not made possible by the Faith of those present but by the recitation of the words of consecration (John 6) spoken by the priest over both the bread and wine.
  • Eucharist is the sacrifice of thanksgiving of the Church Universal to the Father through, with, and in Christ in unity of the Holy Spirit.

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.


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):

  • With Christ, I have the strength not to judge others who do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ, although it is radically different than what my Church teaches, but rather to ask for God’s mercy on both of us.
  • With Christ, I have the strength to see what is invisible to the eyes of my mind but not my ear of the heart (Prologue of St. Benedict’s Rule).
  • With Christ, I have the strength to endure those who hate me, vilify me, put down my heritage, my God, and my Lay Cistercian practice and not to return hatred for hatred. (St. Benedict, Chapter 4, RB).
  • With Christ, I can grow deeper in awareness that everything around me, all the words I speak, all my actions to discover what is meaningful, are just the tip of the iceberg. Life is about discovering the deeper meaning. Contemplation is a way to strip away that which is irrelevant and impure, like the refiners fire.
  • With Christ, I can move from false self to my true self, from self to God, from being a human with no hope of fulfillment as is our destiny to one of faith, hope and love.

Tips to Pray Before the Blessed Sacrament

  • Listen with the ear of your heart.
  • Time with Christ in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is the perfect place for silence and solitude. You just wait there, often without prayers, alway asking God to be merciful to you, a sinner.
  • Empty your need personal prayers for this or that. God knows what you need. Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all else will be given to you.
  • Embrace humility and meekness.
  • Move away from dependence on saying prayers to communicate with God to praying using prayers as the point of departure
  • Do not raise our eyes to the heavens or even look at the Monstrance but rather keep you eyes lowered and repeat over and over, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
  • Try Lectio Divina by saying this phrase, “…have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5). Pray for this to happen to you, now.
  • Sit in silence and solitude.
  • Go to a place inside you that Steven Hawking could not look.
  • Contemplation is a state where there are no words, there are no scenarios to distract you from focusing on

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. 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).

  • When I began my Lay Cistercian phase of my lifetime walk with Christ (began in 2010) with my first discernment retreat at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) in Conyers, Georgia, my attention span was 10 minutes, on a good day. That is when I thought I had to fill my silence with prayer, reading Scriptures, trying but failing to do Lectio Divina. The secret is persistence and consistency. Try this as a beginning exercise in prayer. Every day, read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. Ask someone to be your spiritual guide to whom you will report at the end of 30 days. Every day is important. At the end of those 30 days, how did you do. What does this tell you about yourself. Can you now do 90 days?
  • You know you have mastered Lectio Divina when you realize that you never will master it and that, you know all five levels are there, you do them automatically and never you never even think of them.
  • You spiritual life happen, like any skill you acquire, through practice. The greater the skill, the more you must practice to attain it. Do you have the patience or will you wilt under the heat of discomfort or failure. The World tried to get us to stop contemplation because it is too difficult, too irrelevant, and takes up too much of your valuable time.
  • What could be more valuable that having you heart sitting on bench in the cold of Winter and having Christ sit next to you? Would you sell all that you have to be able to do that? With God’s grace, I would.
  • Prayer is either the Church, or you, talking to God. If you are talking you can’t listen. Lectio is a prayer where you begin talking to God but end up, hopefully, with you listening to Christ’s Being sitting next to your heart. This is the deepest part of contemplation and may or may not be a part of Lectio. It may happen anywhere at any time. Your heart must be in-sync with the heart of Christ.
  • Contemplation is the absence of words, thoughts, prayers, or any mental constructs you normally use for communication. Contemplation is being present to the One Being who Is. What sounds like nothing is actually everything that is meaningful and the ultimate destiny of each human who is born from a human but who dies into the communion of the faithful (Nicene Creed) who stand before the Throne of the Lamb in perpetual contemplation (love).
  • What I am doing right now is what I consider Lectio Divina. I began by thinking of my eight words “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5), The theme plus all these ideas just popped out. Granted that it might seem a little disjointed at time, it is a way for me to commit my Lectio thought to a blog so that you can read them. This is the Actio part of the five step of Lectio Divina, the one recommend by Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Those with other talents, I would encourage to do a group Lectio (different than a discussion group or a prayer group) using the five steps of Guibo II. If you are an artist, use art to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. If you are a musician, use Lectio to create music. If you are a poet, write of how your heart sits next to Christ and what happens? There is a product that comes from any Lectio Divina (or any prayer) when you join your heart and mind with that of Christ. This is called good works, not the misconception most reformers had that we can buy our way to heaven (we can’t) or bribe our way to heaven (we can’t) but the pure product that comes from the Holy Spirit filling our heart with love. There are only three outcomes to Lectio Divina: good works (ones that comes to us through Christ’s love and transforms us into Christ); bad works (those that the World thinks is love and transforms us into ourselves); and no works (those that Satan encourages us to choose as love, those that do not transform us into anything). You can choose any one you want. Remember, there are consequences to all our choices.
  • Lectio Divina, as with any prayer, it not the end in itself but only a means to an end, to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5).

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.

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.

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.

  • The Rosary is not about Mary at all. It is about how Mary presents to us the key anchors of our Faith and asks us to meditate on this Mystery of Faith, her Son. She tells you to do what he tells you.
  • We only pray to God but we do ask the Saints (Mary being the first of all saints) to pray with us as they stand before the Throne of the Lamb.
  • I try to focus on the core milestones of Jesus’ life. I don’t force any thoughts to come, but, like Lectio Divina, they always so come. I don’t have a preconceived notion of what Christ will tell me in meditation.
  • Saying the Rosary is good. Praying the Rosary is better. Praying the Rosary with the hope of transforming yourself from your false self to your true self by meditating on the life of Christ is best.
  • Some days are better than others. I don’t always have a maximum effort at saying the Rosary. Some times, I fall asleep. That doesn’t mean I am on the wrong path.
  • Praying the Rosary is the Big Leagues of spirituality. To do so consistently each day or each week is an indication of your love for Christ.

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:

John 20:30-31 

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.

  • When we read other books, we do so for enjoyment, to knowledge, for enlightenment, or for many other reasons (you might even be addicted to reading books. Reading Sacred Scripture is different. It has the power of the Word to transform you with words. Here are some ways that I try to tweek what might seem like an ordinary reading into something special for me.
  • Realize that God speaks to me through His Word. I must be attentive to this means to listen to God with “the ear of the heart,” as St. Benedict writes at the beginning of his Prologue to the RB.
  • Realize that the time I take to read Sacred Scripture is holy time, dedicated to God in reparation for my sins and to ask for mercy and forgiveness for those times I was not sensitive to love others as Christ loves us.
  • Realize that I must read slowly, more so than usual.
  • Realize that the Word produces energy for my spiritual life, even if I don’t feel its effects right now.
  • Realize that I have life in His name (John 20:31).


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).

  • Each monastery has a different set of disciplines as set forth by the Abbot/ Abbess.
  • They all follow the constitutions and statutes of the Order of Cistercians Strict Observance (Trappists).

  • Lay Cistercians serve at the pleasure of the Abbot/Abbess.
  • Lay Cistercians International meet every three years to clarify their role and make recommendations for the future.
  • Lay Cistercians, if accepted by the local Lay Cistercian community and approved by the Abbot/Abbess make final promises after five years of discernment (Novices for two years, Junior promises for each of three years and final, lifetime promises).
  • Lay Cistercians are bound by stability to a particular Monastery and Abbot/Abbess.
  • As part of my practice each day, I read Chapter 4 of the RB. Two important parts of this prayer are: Read Chapter 4 list of what St. Benedict calls Tools of Good Words; next, do it every day. Both are part of prayer.
  • At this level of my awareness of Cistercian practices and charisms, I use the following Chapters of RB (in bold print):

The Rule of Benedict


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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: