This past weekend, I attended the annual retreat for Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia. It was a three day retreat (from Friday evening through Noon on Sunday). The theme was Praying with Mary, a topic of great importance and also of great interest, as I meditate on Philippians 2:5, my personal center for all that exists.

During the next several blogs, I will attempt to write down some of the ideas I gleaned from the retreat. I must confess that my memory is not what it once was and I have trouble remembering what was said in the talks. Please be patient with the foibles of a broken-down, old, Lay Cistercian trying to seek God where he find him each day.

One of my behavioral changes, as I become more in tune with Cistercian spirituality, is the notion of speed. Everything has a beginning and and an end. Everything! My retreat had a beginning and an end. My life has a beginning and an end. When I look at contemplative prayer, most especially the Cistercian practices in which I participated in my retreat, I was struck by the slowness of prayers. The monks take their time in chanting the Divine Office, offering the gift of Christ in Eucharist to the Father, meditating on the life of Christ in the Rosary, and, most noticeably, the silence and solitude of Lectio Divina once daily.

Listen to the Gregorian chant by the monks.

Did you notice that they are VERY slow in their singing, pausing frequently. This is deliberate, after all, all they do is praise God as their primary purpose in life.

Here are some of the tips about prayer that I learned from the monks.

  • Pray as you can, not as you should.
  • Say the words as a prayer, not to just get them over with as quickly as possible.
  • Pause between the antiphons and the psalms (Liturgy of the Word), and when reading the Epistles or Gospel at Eucharist, take your time and read it as though you St. Paul and you want your audience to know something about “having in them the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
  • Pray the Rosary slowly, not to get it over as soon as possible.
  • Use prayer to communicate with God and listen to what He tells you.
  • Listen with “the ear of the heart,” as St. Benedict tells his monks at the Prologue to the Rule.
  • All prayer is God time. God doesn’t live in human time.
  • Don’t forget who you are in relationship to the Father. You can only go through Christ to get to the Father, even if we say we pray “to” the Saints. God is One and so there is no one else to pray to except the NOW, “I am the one who is.” In this sense, since they are before the Throne of the Lamb, we ask the Blessed Virgin and the Saints to join with us in our adoration of the Father through, with, and in Christ, in union with the Holy Spirit.

Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who will be, at the end of the ages. —Cistercian doxology

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