Humbling Prayer

I recently told this story to a friend of mine.  As I was driving home afterwards, I thought that it might be worth sharing here too…

When I was living back in England, my parish had a Hospital Visiting Ministry with which I was involved, run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Every Saturday we would hand out free newspapers, identify the patients who would like to receive Holy Communion the following day and spend some time speaking with them. This would be done by two different people every week, each covering half of the hospital.

Out of all the wards we visited, the one I hated visiting the most was the ASU, where stroke victims were treated. I think I disliked visiting this ward more than any other because it was often a very frustrating experience.

I’ve always placed a very high premium on communication, and those in the ASU usually had difficulty with speaking, a common consequence of suffering a stroke. It frustrated them not being able to make themselves easily and fully understood and it frustrated me in not always being able to understand them.

Entertaining Angels

One day I came into the ASU and was directed by the nurses towards a particular gentleman. He was very old and ill. He was hard of hearing so I got quite close to him and introduced myself and asked if he would like to receive the Eucharist that weekend. With a great deal of obvious effort, he nodded that he would.

On a normal day, that would have been the end of my interaction with him and I would have gone on my way. It was obvious that it required a great amount of exertion on his part to communicate with me and it would probably be better to leave him. In our training we were encouraged to spend less, rather than more time with the patients, for fear of tiring them out, or even worse, annoying them with our continued presence.

“May my prayer be rise before you like incense…”

However, that day something made me to stay. I asked him if he would like it if I quietly prayed with him for a little while (something we generally didn’t do). He nodded again. I was expecting him to simply lay there while I sat next to his bed and prayed quietly, but what happened next caught me completely off-guard…

“…and the lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice”

I saw his right hand rise up from the bed, touch his head, then move down towards his chest and then to each of his shoulders. I heard the faint words pass from his lips: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”

He then lead me in prayer: an “Our Father”, a “Hail Mary” and a “Glory Be”…. It was clear that this was draining for him.  It caused him physical discomfort, which was particularly evident by the time he made the sign of the cross again when we had finished. I was deeply moved.

I told him someone would visit him the next day with communion, I said my goodbye and left the ward. Outside in the hall,  I found a chair and slumped down upon it. Now that had been a prayer! I had just witnessed a true sacrifice of praise to the Lord. That gentleman didn’t have much to offer the Almighty, but offered it anyway.

It made me wonder. How many times had I entered a church or started to pray and made a quick, almost flippant, sign of the cross without thinking? How many times had I rattled through the ancient prayers of the Church without giving any real attentiveness to their words? Never again, I told myself.

He is risen!

During the last few days of Holy Week, as the Church proclaimed Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, I thought many times about that Saturday afternoon in the hospital. I have recalled the image of that elderly gentleman making a slow, painful sign of the cross over his weak, failing body.

What rich symbolism there is in a simple sign of the cross! And what a powerful declaration of faith! It declares faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ, trusting that, one day, our own fragile bodies will also be raised up by God and that we will find them renewed, transformed and brought to wholeness in Him.

“Now if we die with Christ, we will also live with Him” – Romans 6:8

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Gotta get to church on Sunday…

I guess it was pretty inevitable that this was going to happen…

( Make sure you watch the rap bit 😉 )

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“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?”

I now have several posts in draft which I will be posting next week once I have had a chance to proof-read them.

However, today I wanted to draw your attention to a really interesting documentary which was recently aired on television and which is now available online.

CBS was granted the extremely rare privilege of being allowed onto Mt. Athos and interview some of the monks there. It is an extremely ancient site of Christian monasticism and has changed little over the course of Christian history and is commonly regarded as the spiritual capital of Orthodoxy.

Watch Part 1 | Watch Part 2

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Friday Frivolity: William & Kate

Apparently some secret footage of the wedding rehearsal has snuck out from Westminster…

Happy 100th post 🙂

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My Favourite People: Fr. Robert Barron

In a previous post I spoke about one of my favourite people, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I spoke about how I came to discover him, his sermons and writings, as well as try and describe something of the impact he had upon me.

I think it is appropriate therefore, that in this next entry, I’ve chosen to talk about someone whom I’ve often heard referred to by other people as “The Next Fulton Sheen”.

This person is Fr. Robert Barron.

If Sheen Had YouTube…

Fr. Robert is a priest who lives near Chicago in the United States. I first came across him on YouTube while I was still living in England.  He is a published author (I finished his book “The Eucharist” this week), but he has also embraced the new media and is using it to extend the reach of his ministry. It is in this sense that he is like Fulton Sheen – he’s a superb communicator and uses all means available to proclaim the faith, although in terms of style he and Archbishop Sheen are very different.

On his YouTube channel he offers commentary on recently released films and uses these movies as a springboard to talk about some theological, philosophical or life issue. Previous reviews have included HereafterInceptionThe Adjustment BureauTrue GritEat, Pray, Love …. I like this approach as it combines two things I love – faith and films 🙂

As well as the movie reviews, he also directly addresses particular issues.  These have included the BP Oil Spill, the sex abuse scandal, anti-Catholicism and also the recent eruption in the Evangelical world over Rob Bell’s latest book “Love Wins”. I like the way he approaches all these rather delicate subjects and I always find his commentaries to be  measured and thoughtful.

Word On Fire

After I had watched a few of his YouTube videos I began visiting his Word On Fire website. Each week he posts his sermons online and I am now subscribed to the podcast feed so I get to hear him preach most weeks. These terrific sermons were some of the first resources  to be recorded on free CDs given away at the JP2 Group.

The New Evangelization

Most people of my generation received pretty appalling Christian formation growing up. I would say that I was far more fortunate than the majority (mostly thanks to the efforts of my mother) . However, despite going to a “faith school” and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, my formation after First Holy Communion was pretty minimal.

The thing I particularly like about Fr. Barron is that, although he is accessible to those with no religious background, he also consistently calls those who have received some Christian formation to go deeper in their faith:

“Then we will no longer be infants…instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of [Christ] who is the head… From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work ” – Ephesians 4:14-16

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Byzantine Back and Forth

This week is Holy Week and as the LifeTeen band isn’t playing this weekend, it means I can spend Easter at my favourite church, an Eastern Rite (Byzantine) Catholic parish near to where I live.

Alleluia!…well, almost 😉

One of the things I love about the Byzantine Rite is the standard set of greetings and responses which take place during the year.

For example, when I first attended the parish I got there very early on in the morning and heard the priest greet a parishioner with the exclamation: “Glory to Jesus Christ!”, to which the parishioner responded “Glory forever!”. This seems to me like a wonderful way to begin any conversation! 🙂

These responses change throughout the liturgical year.  At “Nativity” (Christmas) it becomes:

“Christ is born!”
“Glorify Him!”

We will shortly be entering the “Pascha” (Easter) season when it will change to:

“Christ is Risen!”
“Indeed He is Risen!”

And at certain blessings, such as at the end of Great Vespers or at the Kiss of Peace:

“Christ is among us!”
“He is and will be!”

 These all seem wonderful ways of proclaiming the faith! Feel free to practise in the “Comments” section below…

“Glory to Jesus Christ!”…

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What is the significance of “IHS”?

As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve started teaching myself New Testament Greek.  This endeavor has already started bearing some rather fruity tidbits…

In the first few lessons I learnt the Greek alphabet and, even with this basic information, certain things which had previously mystified me, started to make sense. Today I would like to share with you one of my first “aaahhhh…” moments 🙂

For those Catholics reading this, it’s time for a pop quiz!  Often in churches, you will see the letters “IHS“. You see these letters on books, altars, baptismal fonts, communion hosts etc, but what does it mean?

IHS in the "Gesu" Church In Rome

If you don’t know what this means, then don’t worry, you’re in very good company! Only a few people I’ve spoken to about this have known the answer. Catholic churches are so densely packed with symbols that it’s all too easy to become numb to them. Familiarity can lead us to stop asking questions, yet our places of worship have so much to teach us about our own faith!

Okay smarty-pants, what does it mean?

The “IHS” is a “Christogram”. This is a type of monogram which is an abbreviation of Jesus’ name.

“Wait a minute!” I hear you say! “‘IHS’ looks nothing like the word ‘Jesus’!”. And, of course, you’re quite right…until you translate “Jesus” into Greek…

Greek has its own alphabet and in it “Jesus” is spelled “ιησυς” and when capitalized it becomes “ΙΗΣΟΥΣ”. If we take just the first three letters of this word then we have “ΙΗΣ”. These are the Greek letters “iota”, “eta” and “sigma”. When these letters are converted (“transliterated”) into our alphabet it becomes “IHS” (sometimes “IHC”, “JHS” or “JHC”).

There are some other suggestions as to what “IHS” stands for, although these are rather unlikely. Two Latin phrases have been suggested: “Iesus Hominum Salvator” (“Jesus, Saviour of men”) and “In Hoc Signo” (“In this sign…[you shall conquer]”). I even came across two English phrases – “I Have Suffered” and the rather nice “In His Service”. Unfortunately, these are all “backronyms” – phrases constructed to fit an already existing acronym.

So, there you have it.  “IHS” is a shorthand for “Jesus”. It was used in the Early Church, popularized by St. Bernardino of Sienna in the 15th Century, adopted as the seal of the Jesuits in the 16th Century and can now be found in Christian art and architecture throughout the world.



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