During my confirmation homilies this past year, I have emphasized that the heart of our Catholic faith is an encounter with a person, the person of Jesus Christ. The essence of what it means to be a Catholic is a relationship, a friendship, with Jesus.
Knowing what we believe and why is very important. However, Catholicism is not fundamentally knowledge about Jesus. It is, rather, knowing Jesus, not simply as a historical person, but as a living person who is animating and transforming the lives of people in 2016. Without this personal relationship with the living Jesus, our dogmas and doctrines will make no sense.
Catholics are called to live moral and ethical lives. However, once again, the heart of Catholicism is not our moral code. Without a friendship with Jesus that motivates and inspires us, we will not to be able to persevere in living a virtuous life.
How do we develop this relationship, this friendship, with Jesus that is the essence of our Catholic faith? As with any friendship, first and foremost, we must spend time with Jesus. This means that, first and foremost, we need to be men and women of prayer.
While the prayer life of each person is unique in accord with the particular circumstances of his or her life, there are elements of a vibrant life of prayer that are universal. The following are the elements of my prayer life.
One of the things I enjoy about the life and ministry of a bishop is that no two days are alike. With many other aspects of my schedule fluid, I strive for consistency in my prayer life.
There are certain “givens” in the prayer life of a priest. When I was ordained a transitional deacon 42 years ago, I made a commitment to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This allows me to be united with clergy, religious and laity throughout the world in praying certain prayers throughout each day. The Liturgy of the Hours is composed of hymns, psalms, readings of Scripture, canticles from the New and Old Testaments, the Lord’s Prayer and specific intercessions.
One of the graces of praying the Liturgy of the Hours is that it requires one to pray throughout the day. The Liturgy of the Hours consists of morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer, night prayer and the office of readings. The office of readings contains extended readings from the Old or New Testament as well as a non-scriptural reading usually taken from the writings of one of the saints.
For me, the most important part of every day is offering the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This time of year, most nights I am celebrating a confirmation Mass. During other times of the year, I am offering Mass at one of our parishes, high schools, with a religious community, or some other gathering or archdiocesan event.
For instance, for three nights last week, I presided at confirmation Masses and on the other days celebrated Masses with the students of Bishop Ward High School, with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionaries serving in the archdiocese, with a pro-life gathering in St. Louis, with Ascension Parish in Overland Park for its 25th anniversary and with the Sisters, Servants of Mary. If I do not have a public Mass scheduled on a given day, I offer a private Mass at the chapel in my residence.
Each day, I spend one hour in prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This is easier for me to do because I have a chapel in my residence where the Eucharist is reserved. Most days, I make this Holy Hour at the beginning of the day.
During my morning Holy Hour, I will usually pray the office of readings, and morning prayer. As part of the Holy Hour, I spend some time in meditation based on the biblical readings for Mass or some other spiritual reading tool. Part of the meditation is to seek to listen to what the Lord is attempting to say to me and to make a specific and concrete resolution to practice a virtue or make an act of renunciation during the day. I spend some time in praise and thanksgiving. I remember specific intentions and people for whom I have promised to pray. I also usually pray over my schedule, asking the Lord to guide me and to bless those with whom I will be sharing part of my day.
In addition to praying the other portions of the Liturgy of the Hours during the day, I pray the rosary, frequently while in route to some event. I also pray over next Sunday’s readings at some point in the day and do at least 15 minutes of spiritual reading. The book I am reading at the present moment is: “Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin: The Extraordinary Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux” by Helene Mongin. Much of the activities of the day also provide opportunities for prayer, e.g., prayers before meetings, leading prayers for groups, praying with people throughout the day and, of course, prayers before and after meals.
I end the day with night prayer. This includes an examination of conscience that begins with a remembrance of the many blessings and graces of the day followed by recalling my sins and failures. I entrust to the Lord the many challenges that the day’s events have made me more keenly aware before asking for a restful night. I recall Pope St. John XXIII’s last prayer of the day: “Lord, it is your church. I am going to bed.”
The life of a bishop is good for one’s prayer life because it provides so many daily experiences that make me aware of God’s presence and my need for his help. I am constantly reminded how inadequate my own abilities are in comparison to the responsibilities I carry. This drives me to my knees and into the arms of God.
The most important elements for my prayer life are: 1) thanking the Lord for the blessings of the day; 2) seeking his guidance with the challenges of my life; and 3) listening to God’s voice as he speaks to me through the prayerful reading of the Bible, through the events of the day and through the inspirations that the Holy Spirit places in my heart. While formal prayers are helpful, the most important part of my prayer life is prayer from the heart.
A day without prayer is to the soul what a day without food or water is to the body. At this stage of my life, conversing with friends is one of the most enjoyable and life-giving experiences of any day. It is natural, then, that prayer — conversation with Jesus — is the part of my day that I find most refreshing and renewing.