India, My Friend, and Toilet Paper

This is part four of a series on prayer. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“He passed away.” One of the Missionaries of Charity said this to me when we returned from lunch break. I was on a five-week mission trip to Kolkata, India in the summer of 2008. The Missionaries of Charity chose me to serve in the Home for the Dying.

Before we flew to Kolkata, seven fellow college students, four FOCUS missionaries, and I had a retreat in Newark, New Jersey. I had just come back into the Catholic Church several months before and hadn’t yet figured our this whole “grace” thing. “I WAS STRONG. I COULD DO THIS MISSION TRIP BY MYSELF,” I thought to myself during the retreat. This obviously wasn’t the right outlook, especially considering-this may be a FOCUS legend-that the FOCUS missions team ranked the difficulty of each trip with toilet paper rolls…the more toilet paper rolls, the harder the trip. Kolkata was one of the trips that had the most toilet paper rolls!

During the retreat, our trip director mentioned that Kolkata is not a place where you seek the aid of a Missionary of Charity for every issue you see. “See the need, meet the need,” she said. I saw a need the first day I walked into the Home for the Dying: love.

There was an Indian man lying on a cot. He was skinny, a little bit older than me at the time, the whites of eyes were yellow, and he was sweating. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak his language. So, I pulled up a small stool and rubbed his head gently for an hour before he fell asleep. My group and I left for lunch. He passed away during our lunch break.

This was the first of many experiences that helped me realize, “I AM WEAK. I CAN’T DO THIS MISSION TRIP BY MYSELF.” Still, I didn’t quite know what to do. I knew I needed Jesus, but how? When?  Where? Why? Prayer.

You see, the four FOCUS missionaries on the trip experienced just as much suffering, joy, heartache, happiness, etc. on the trip as I did. But, every time I looked at them, they seemed at peace, especially during our holy hour each day. They had a Friend who would help them through not only Kolkata, but life.

10 years ago today, I was on that trip. Fast forward to this morning, May 23rd, 2018. In several minutes, I will go to the chapel and pray. I will pray for 30 minutes and will do the following:

  • Vocal prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, followed by a prayer of thanksgiving)
  • Examen (Where have I responded to God’s grace, where have I not, and pray an Act of Contrition)
  • Lectio Divina (Read a Scripture passage, Reflect on the Scripture passage, Request a specific grace gained from reflecting on the Scripture passage)
  • Mental prayer (a dialogue with God about anything and perhaps even some journaling)
  • Rest (receive the love of God, give that love in return, and just be with my Friend)

Two things to wrap up, “…Apart from me you can do nothing,”* and “I have called you friends…”** Two passages from John 15. In other words, apart from my Friend, Jesus, I can do nothing. Prayer is simply spending time with Jesus so that I can receive His love and, again, give that love effectively in return.

What does your prayer routine look like when you go to the chapel, your room, etc.? Please respond in the comments section below.

*John 15:5

**John 15: 15

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness and The Stairs

This is part three of a series on prayer. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

My legs were burning. I desperately needed water. My heart was beating fast. I could barely talk. I hadn’t just returned from a run, mowing the lawn (thankfully we rent so I don’t do that), or from the weight room. I was just walking up…THE STAIRS!

Those fateful items were my form of exercise this past weekend. It was not intentional exercise-in fact, every time I have to walk up the things I groan, tisk, and sigh-it’s simply because we have a two-story house.

That’s why I was disappointed when Dene’ asked for a second time, “Do you have James’ water bottle?” James, the hydrater in training that his dad has taught him to be, likes to sleep with his water bottle. We were putting him to bed and Dene’ asked me to go get it downstairs. I walked down the stairs, strolled around the kitchen mindlessly for several minutes before filling up my own YETI, and promptly returning to James’ room…without his water bottle. Back down the stairs and, unfortunately, back…up…the…stairs.

If you are like me, this sort of thing happens often. I have a goal in mind-something as simple as going to get a water bottle-and several minutes later I don’t accomplish the goal and, even worse, don’t remember what the goal even was! That’s why my next form of prayer is so vital!

Catholic mindfulness. Mindfulness is “paying attention to the present moment without judgment or criticism.” When Dene’ leaves for work and the boys are set up for success for the day, I do a mindfulness exercise. This usually takes 10-15 minutes and begins with a prayer asking God for the grace to help us be present with Him during the exercise. For our prayer purposes, this is a way I receive God’s love, grace, and mercy in the here and now, knowing that God only gives me that love, grace, and mercy in the present moment. It also helps me live in the present moment during the day so I can avoid those water bottle/stair experiences. Too, it aids me in remaining cognizant of my identity as a son of God in the ups and downs of my day.

If you would like to learn more about Catholic mindfulness, I would recommend visiting this website and purchasing this book. I will do another post about how this practice has impacted my life later.

How do you remain aware of God’s loving presence throughout the day? Please comment below!

*Gregory Bottaro, The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment At a Time (North Palm Beach: Beacon Publishing, 2018), 3.

Bibliography

Bottaro, Gregory. The Mindful Catholic. North Palm Beach: Beacon Publishing, 2018.

 

The Wake Up Call

This is part two of a series on prayer. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

It’s 4:30 AM. Without pushing the snooze button, we immediately jump out of bed and walk over to the two kneelers in the corner of the room. In front of us are pictures of saints and stunning representations of the Holy Trinity. We light several candles before praying a rosary together, holding the beads in our outside hands so we can hold each other’s inner hands…FALSE!

If you are like Dene’ and me, the toughest thing we do each day is get out of bed. Dene’ and I hit the snooze button at least three times before finally rolling out of bed when our almost four-year-old son comes in and wants to cuddle sometime around 5:45 or 6 AM. Now that I think about it, what’s the point of the alarm at all?

Prayer? I can barely put a coherent thought together until I’ve had at least four sips of coffee so what does prayer look like at this hour? Well, like Dene’ is my friend and all I can say to her before the sun rises is, “Good morning”, the first prayer-which I sometimes forget-of the day is the same, “Good morning Jesus.”

That is it for prayer-it’s always good to be aware of God’s loving presence, of course-until nature calls after my first cup of coffee and breakfast. This is a completely natural and routine way of setting aside five to ten (the latter if your spouse is understanding…) minutes of quiet time for a little bit of vocal prayer. Below is a list of the prayers I pray*:

I may also have another novena or two going on for a specific intention. The first five prayers listed can be found on the iMissal app and you can find the others by simply clicking on the link. I’m a big fan of the Pray More Novenas website because that usually has novenas to some of the more well-known saints.

So, that takes us to about 8 AM. Stay tuned for the next several hours of prayer throughout the day!

What is your morning prayer routine? Please share in the comments section below.

 

*The “Acts of…” remind me that I can “will” the theological virtues with God’s grace even if I don’t feel like it. Mary is the surest way to Jesus so I give myself (especially my words because I can tend to get a bit awkward in social situations if I feel nervous) and my family to Mary. Through Mary, I give my day to Jesus with the Daily Offering. Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS, says the Litany of Humility will “ruin your life”, but it’s ruined mine in a good way. I still struggle with pride, but like Tylenol with a gluten-inspired headache, the Litany of Humility takes the edge off! I ask St. Joseph to intercede for me so I can love my family as I ought! I pray the St. Thomas Aquinas novena because he is one of the patron saints of teachers and Dene’ is a first grade teacher. The Novena of Surrender is incredible because it reminds me that, no matter what happens throughout the day, I am loved by God and all will be well!

The Prayer: Part One

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Mid-May, 2011. We got up at 4 AM and drove 671 miles towards our new calling…FOCUS missionaries!*

Dene’ and I had been waiting for this day for months so we didn’t mind the long drive from Pike Road, Alabama, to the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on the campus of the University of Illinois. Any excitement we had felt turned into nervousness as we were immediately surrounded by over 250 other recently graduated college students. Each of these persons had a beaming smile on their face. And, each of these persons, as we now realize, hid the same nervousness, excitement, and questioning that we were experiencing:

  • “How are we going to raise our entire income by raising funds?”
  • “Where are they going to send me?”
  • “Will I like my team?”
  • “How come I’m not as holy as all these other people?”**

That evening, we walked into the church for our first holy hour with FOCUS with these questions and more running through our head. The already beautiful church was completely dark except for the spotlight on the tabernacle and the hundreds of candles that lit up the sanctuary, creating a sense of romance and calm.

Then, he said it, “It begins here and it ends here.”

I will never forget the founder and CEO of FOCUS, Curtis Martin, saying those words. He was referring to prayer of course. All our efforts, be they evangelical, intellectual, physical, or social, begin with receiving the love of God first and giving our love, imperfect as it may be, back to Him.

If we are to 1) know we are loved and 2) give love effectively, we must pray for “apart from me you can do nothing”, Jesus says. So, over the next several days, I will be sharing how I pray throughout the week. My method is not the perfect method, nor do I do it as consistently as I ought, but I hope you will find some encouragement and inspiration as you begin to figure out or continue with the prayer method that works for you!

Happy praying!

*FOCUS stands for Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

**This being the most frequent question as we speak with current and former FOCUS staff members.

 

 

The Stop By

You’ve heard it before, “Leadership is not a title. Leadership is influence.” Truth.

None of us like to be micromanaged. But, I think we would agree that it’s nice if those who lead us also know us, know what we are working on, and notice us.

Let’s start simple. If you are currently in a leadership role, good for you! When was the last time you stopped by the office of someone who worked for you, sat down (if they aren’t too busy), asked, “How are you?”, and listened-full engagement-to the response?

If you are not currently in a leadership role, who cares? You can still have influence! Stop by a colleague’s office today (if they aren’t too busy) and ask, “How are you?” and listen-full engagement-to the response.

The person may not reveal too much at first, but if you keep doing “the stop by”, they will open up, feel valued, and dare I say, feel loved!