Posts in Faith
If Your Prayer is Simple, That’s a Good Thing

How simple is your prayer? This question is particularly valuable for those starting out and for those highly mature in the spiritual life.

  • The “starter” just wants to be with the Lord, spending time simply with the One who they are falling in love with.

  • The “veteran” has a simple prayer life as if a grandfather is spending time with his grandchild- the time together is enough.

My graduate class this semester is dealing with this tension- how simple should prayer really be? It’s a fascinating topic and one that my students are (appropriately) wrestling with. It’s something I wrestle with too! At times, I want to engineer more feeling, more emotion and more clarity. At other times, it’s cool to just present myself to the Lord.

Be compassionate with yourself when it comes to this tension. Depending on the season of your life, the level of simplicity will correspond. The key, not surprisingly, is to keep showing up day after day. The Lord will do the rest.

Five Things To Look for in a Faith-Based College

It’s a concrete fear that many parents have: what if my kids lose their faith while in college?

Whether from peers who have had children leave the Church or from the abundant research on this very topic, the fear is real. It’s also justified. The fact is that many students do abandon their faith (intentionally or not) during the college years.

There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • Access: with Catholic campus ministry on just over 800 campuses nationwide, this leaves thousands of campuses without Mass, a chaplain, a campus minister or any semblance of a faith community. Of the 1,000+ community colleges, it’s even worse.

  • A weak foundation: while we can bemoan the droves of young people who turn away from the faith while in college, it’s worth inquiring about the strength of their foundation while they were in high school. In other words, “did they really have a strong faith before college?” Often, the answer is no. This is very uncomfortable to talk about but I believe that most teens don’t really know the Lord- which leads to the next point.

  • A lack of personal relationship with the Lord: simply growing up in a faith-based home is no longer enough. Unless the students knows the Lord personally, she/he will likely leave their faith while in college. Unless they know how to “be Christian” in an atmosphere that isn’t, their “spiritual resiliency” will be fragile.

  • An initial confrontation with intellectual challenge: if it’s hard for you to understand and articulate your faith, imagine what happens when you encounter a professor or fellow student who challenges you- it can rock a student’s world. They then feel inadequate and want to turn away. Their “apologetics muscle” isn’t strong enough to endure the challenges of most campuses. It’s not that the student doesn’t have faith. Rather, their faith vocabulary lags behind their belief.

If you are a student or a parent of a student approaching college, I suggest searching for the following five “signs” of spiritual vitality on a campus:

  1. What is the Catholic vocabulary of the campus? From the college’s website to the promotional material, pay attention to how comfortable the college is about its Catholic identity. I receive packets all of the time from Catholic colleges and often, thankfully not always, the mention of Catholicism is but a footnote. Every word in a promotional brochure is labored over. The fact that a college would go out of its way to avoid its Catholicism should tell you something.

  2. What is important for the college based on the tour? While I wouldn’t judge a campus entirely based on a 19 year old tour guide, each guide is coached to mention certain things and avoid others. Pay attention to this. Does the tour mention the chapel? Does the tour mention faith-related routines and rituals? Is D-1 football the real “religion” on campus? Are the blue safety lights mentioned more than anything else?

  3. How updated is the campus ministry web page? Not every department in a college has full capacity to change its own webpages. This is unfortunately one of the consequences of red tape in higher education. Nonetheless, a campus ministry suite of pages does tell you how active the program is. Pay attention to this. It’s a good sign if the contact information is up to date and inviting to the guest.

  4. How many students attend Mass regularly? Don’t ask about this because most will likely have but a vague answer. Rather, go to a daily or weekend Mass and just look around. Note that summer is not usually a fair time to judge as colleges are typically quieter in June and July.

  5. How has the campus responded to recent moral challenges? Every college has its challenges- a scandal here, a discrepancy there. The key is how the college leadership responded to the challenge. When it involves morality, this is often an important marker of a college’s commitment to its core faith-based values. Was there a cover up? Was the college quick to respond? Was there a sense of pastoral concern and dialogue?

In future posts, I’ll be talking more about the college reality. For now, look for these five things as you begin to assess, in charity, the strength of a college’s faith foundation.

FaithMike StPierre
Make the Sign of the Cross

In this recent video on YouTube, I shared a story of a Protestant friend of mine. We walked into a chapel and I blessed myself with Holy Water, making the sign of the cross. Unfamiliar with this tradition, he thought it was odd to dip one’s finger into the water. I showed him that there was nothing magic about it.

Rather, making the sign of the cross was an ancient practice. Anyone could do it.

The sign of the cross is also a wonderful way to begin or end your time of prayer. Think of it as a bookend. Without the bookend, the novels will fall over.

This week, try slowing down and making the sign of the cross. Enjoy it. Savor it. Recognize that God is present and that you are taking special note of that fact.

Try Starting Your Prayer With a Question

Starting lines matter- a lot. They give us an objective beginning to whatever we are doing. This applies to our prayer lives as well.

There are probably hundreds of different ways to begin your time of prayer. These might include:

  • Making the sign of the cross

  • Reading a particular Bible passage that is meaningful to you

  • Repeating a phrase or mantra

  • Gazing at a religious icon

One thing that I’ve been trying lately is to simply take note of how I’m feeling. Do I have a knot in my stomach? Am I feeling at ease? Is something worrying me?

This “self inventory” is particularly important when we are going through a difficult or stressful time. Our family has recently been dealing with the loss of a loved one. Very difficult stuff. You want to start the day with a spring in your step. Instead, you feel a brick on your chest when you wake up… the stress of it all.

St Teresa of Avila said this, “Before prayer, endeavor to realize whose Presence you are approaching, and to whom you are about to speak. We can never fully understand how we ought to behave towards God, before whom the angels tremble.” In other words, take note of how you are approaching God, feelings and all.

Three Ways to Get More out of Church Feasts

This week has been chock-full of feast days, from the Sacred Heart to Saints Peter and Paul. Much of the time, these feasts come and go without much reflection on our part. Save for a decent homily (which is  hardly a guarantee), it can be easy to lose sight of each feast.

My recommendation is to utilize the following three (and boy, are these simple!) steps when the Church provides a feast day:

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  1. Do some online research. Whether it’s over at SpiritualDirection.com or a basic Google search, there is plenty of material to bring you up to speed on a particular feast. Don’t overdo it but give yourself five minutes to brush up on your saint or feast.
  2. Utilize art. On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I was able to find some beautiful modern images that really spoke to me. If you are a visual learner, this step will be particularly helpful. You might download the image to your phone wallpaper or share it with others on Facebook.
  3. Ask the particular saint to pray for you. This isn’t saint-worship. Rather, it’s similar to asking a holy aunt or uncle to pray for you. Their holiness can move mountains. Why wouldn’t we ask a saint to do the same? 

There is so much richness to the Church’s liturgical calendar. With just a bit of intentionality, your faith can be augmented by the calendar.

You Need Alone Time

In this episode of Praying Well, I talk about the serious need that each of us has for alone time. Call it thinking time, time with God, or interior time- breaking from the everyday pace of life has never been more important.

The Why of Alone Time

Rather than filling all of your time with others or with the noise of technology, each of us needs alone time. Here are just a few of the “why’s” behind alone time:

  • Because our world is increasingly noisy due to social media and technology

  • Because solitude is elusive, scary and looked down upon (i.e. it’s not seen as “fun”)

  • Because Jesus himself took time alone to pray (see Mark 1:35)

The When of Alone Time

If you’re not sure when you can actually get some alone time, try the following:

  • Early in the morning

  • During your commute to work

  • When you are running errands

  • Late at night

  • When you are working out

  • When you are outside in nature

I know, some of you may be saying, “Mike, you don’t understand. My days start early and end late. There is literally no down time!” This is a lie we often tell ourselves. You have 15 minutes that you can carve out for God. I do too.

Is Alone Time Prayer Time?

This is an important question. Just spending time in solitude is not necessarily prayer time. For example, you could be out and about, running errands and listening to sports talk radio all the while. That’s time by yourself but probably wouldn’t constitute true alone time. 

Rather, quality alone time with God integrates prayer with time. For example, you need to weed your garden and you say a prayer at the start of it, thanking God for nature and the beauty of the outdoors. Then, while you are working, you are thinking of spiritual things and talking to God. This might be out loud on interiorly. The key is that you’ve “located” your time within God’s providence. It’s His time. You are participating in it. A quiet atmosphere helps. Things don’t have to be totally quiet but less noise is always a good thing.

Following Up

You’ve read this post and you’re already thinking of the busy details of your day. Still, you want to incorporate more alone time in your schedule. What to do? I suggest scheduling your alone time with God right now. Is there a 15 minute block that you can pencil in and just “be” with God? Even a small window of time can be helpful.