success stories

The Results of the First Dialogue

Provided by The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood
Washington Theological Union
Web site: JKNIRP.COM

The responses below are from participants on JKNIRP.COM to the question:
What best helps you maintain your spiritual life amid a busy, daily schedule?
The quotes that begin each comment are meant to help summarize unique and important insights.

1. You can’t discuss the spiritual life until you go beyond knowing about God to having a relationship with Him.

Have you ever had the feeling that some priests are actually uncomfortable speaking with another priest about spirituality? I think it's partially because of the way we have "academified" theology. Don't get me wrong: I love everything about education! I just think that by trying to "define" God we have missed the boat. As I explain to my students: English is an especially difficult language when it comes to certain nuances. We have only one word for "to know." But the Spanish (French, Italians, etc.) have two words: saber (to know things intellectually) and conocer (to be acquainted with, to have a relationship with). Too often we try to saber God. This, of course, is impossible -- as God is infinite, and we are finite. The finite can never "know" the infinite. On the other hand, what we can do is conocer God. We can (should and DO) have a relationship with God. That's the better (more achievable) road to take. It also takes the pressure off. We don't have to know everything about God. In fact, we cannot in this life. Perhaps one day our seminaries will spend more time on knowing God, than on knowing about God.

2. The Virtue of morning in the spiritual life

I really enjoyed the comments about the morning and it being the best time for many of us to pray and to dedicate the day to the Lord and ask for the help and support of the Holy Spirit for the next 24 hours. As a layperson, it's made a big difference in my life. My mornings used to start with the great Morning Prayer I found on the Internet:

Dear God,
So far today, I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, I haven't lost my temper; I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or self-indulgent. I'm really glad about that! But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed, and from then on I'll probably need a lot more help. Amen.

That used to be me!

But now -- every day for the past few months I've been getting up early so I can read the Psalms and the Mass Readings for the day. It really makes a difference. I find I get a lot more out of Mass at noon if I've read the Readings and the Psalm and had time to reflect on them before I arrive at Church. It also helps me to get more out of the Sermon and understand the Gospel.

I'm also trying to go for a walk every morning, and as I do, I say my prayers and the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It makes my morning walk less of a chore and more of a "walking meditation" if I can call it that. I really enjoy it and in fact, I look forward to it every day!

My morning commitment feels like I'm "walking with God" every morning when I exercise. I highly recommend it.

It's a funny thing -- it's such a natural thing for me now -- I'm surprised to see people listening to their walkman and radios instead of meditating or praying. It makes my morning walk on the Mall by the Capitol feel like I'm walking on holy ground! Then again, maybe I am! Thanks for reading. Peace

3. The spiritual empowerment that the breviary, silent retreats, support groups and liturgical celebration create

To help me maintain my spirituality among the busy daily schedule, I try to be very faithful to several things. First of all it is the breviary. An interesting aspect of this is that we gather here at the Chancery as a staff at 8:00 a.m. every morning (except Wednesday) for Morning Praise. On Wednesday, we have Eucharistic Liturgy for the staff at 8:00 a.m., and on this morning the VG and I pray Morning Prayer together.

Secondly, the Bishops of our Province gather every year for the first few days of January for our annual retreat, mostly in silence.

Thirdly, I belong to a support group of several other bishops from our Province; we meet several times each year, and there we share our challenges with ministry and spirituality.

Fourthly, there are many occasions of celebration, especially liturgical celebrations, that are spiritually strengthening-- ordinations, Chrism Mass, special Masses, e.g., for people celebrating wedding anniversaries, for people in consecrated life, for the harvest and rural life, for catechists, etc.

Lastly, some years ago I made a 30-day retreat at Guelph; this was a most important experience. And just a couple of years ago, I had a three-month sabbatical at St. John's University, where I lived in the monastery, followed their prayer schedule, and attended a couple of courses in the School of Theology.

4. Self-discipline and proximity to a chapel are potent ingredients for a healthy spiritual life.

The self-discipline of awakening 30 minutes earlier than "necessary" ... having an in-the-rectory chapel nearby ... and spending that 30 minutes -- before the rest of the staff comes in -- often carries me throughout the whole day. (And my experience as pastor -- 12 years -- tells me that there is "a crisis a day"!)

5. Early Morning Prayer: an excellent way to sanctify the rest of the day

I couldn't agree with you more. Morning is a special time to spend in prayer and being alone with God before the demands of the day "get up". I have also found that if I pray like this in the morning, I find time during the day to say the Office. It is a way of sanctifying the day.

6. Much has been written on this topic I know. I have been an inner city pastor for 15 years. All of us in this area are struggling with high costs, dwindling lay leadership and parishioners, the possible consolidation of schools and sharing of personnel. In many ways, I find that our ministry is similar to hospice care. We are all waiting to find out which parish will have to share a pastor or be closed. While this situation exists in many parts of the country, it is still very difficult. As a pastor, it is hard not to be personally affected by all of this, i.e., parishioners' fears and sadness, and one's own sense of "Did I do enough?" to prevent this from happening at this time. I would appreciate hearing from others, especially those who face similar circumstances.

7. Taking little spiritual coffee breaks throughout the day do a world of good for the soul and body

Comparative religions can jump start us back into our own

Considering that the Benedictine Order has been around for 1500 years, my mere 18 years with it is a mere drop in the bucket, but here goes.

Busy schedules in a monastery? You would think we would be the models of contemplation and have a lot to offer. We do and we don't.

Back during a time when monasteries had the support of a monarch or wealthy patron, I suppose it was possible to live the contemplative life more fully. Under the American capitalist system (which I'm not knocking), those days are over. "Ora et labora" takes on new meaning in a modern economy. From history we know that it was natural for schools to develop alongside monasteries, and so we were involved in educational apostolates early on.

You cannot run a school in this day and age and expect to live secure in a magic monastery somewhere.

My monastery is very active, operating a seminary, numerous parishes, and a college apostolate. Many of us work five days a week in the school(s) and then are assigned to help out at parishes on weekends, sometimes leading to 7 day work weeks stretches at a time. On top of that, we still have to go out with out tin cup asking for help for scholarships for our students, and assistance for our retired brethren. Not complaining, it's just the reality. We don't have monarchs anymore to subsidize our work. Ironically, I have benefited from some of the Ignatian principles of "active contemplation." It's kind of a inter-order dialogue, which has its pluses to be sure. I think those of us in religious orders should try to maintain whatever is specific and unique to our own traditions first, but to appreciate the charisms other communities stand to offer.

Not long into my monastic journey, I grew steadily weary of the monotonous recitation of the psalms, all the more dreary because don't chant or sing all of our offices.

Then, my intellect was throwing a wrench into everything by wondering what purpose was served by reciting psalms that regarded Israel as #1 and all other nations as somehow less than that. "Moab I will use for my washbowl. On Edom I will plant my shoe," takes on poignant meaning when you read the papers about contemporary Arab-Israeli feuds. What's the point in propping up such a system? Disenchanted and disillusioned, and because of marvelous friends from other religious traditions, I began flirting with them. The grass was greener on the other side of the religious fence.

My dallying into other world religions, as well as other branches of Christianity, was my salvation. You could call it my existential hermeneutical circle.

My inquiry into these other traditions all had a mysterious way of turning me around and helping me to re-appreciate my own Catholic tradition. I began to discover that I had "Catholic blood" in my veins.

The Jewish Scriptures were the Scriptures of Jesus and the Apostles, and I grew more fond of Jewish ritual and traditions, not to mention Jewish humor! I still have the same blocks with some nationalistic biblical passages, but then I realized that every ethnic group has one thing in common: pride in its own. This kind of perspective has helped me negotiate my way through the psalms again.

The Hindu tradition of puja helped me to re-appreciate the Catholic teaching of The Real Presence of the Eucharist. Once the gifts are blessed, they are not the same anymore. One ingests the nature of the divine. The Eucharist took on a renewed mystical meaning for me, albeit a postcritical one. I know now more than ever that the Eucharist is not a casual thing, and I hold it in new sense of awe.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism have helped my interior life, and to realize that we have a choice, to sow seeds of suffering (i.e. sin) or to sow seeds of happiness (i.e. virtue). The beautiful words of the "Dhammapada" are as lovely as anything in the book of Proverbs or the Sermon on the Mount. "Hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love." You can't top that. Maybe St. Paul and Jesus were onto something.

One of my students was a Theravada Buddhist. His morning meditation included the beautiful "Loving Kindness Meditation." Offering a blessing on all living creatures. Inspiring.

The appreciation in Zen Buddhism for silent meditation is unsurpassed. St. Benedict's teaching on silence took on new meaning for me, after taking a class in Zen meditation. Also, the monastic interreligious dialogue group is putting out a new book, "Benedict and the Dharma," a look into the common ground between Christian and Buddhist monasticism. Many good things are happening. Daoism. I studied taijiquan, the ancient Chinese art of self-defense. I don't practice enough, but even when I do a little bit, it changes my whole day. It helps me to see the balance between masculine and feminine energies and how they apply in almost everything. Why else would the Chinese version of the Gospel of John open by saying: "In the beginning was the Dao." Shinto has an appreciation for divine energy (kami) in all creation. It approaches animism or pantheism perhaps, but how far is that from Benedict's assurance that "the divine presence is everywhere"? A simple walk across the campus or anywhere makes this obvious.

One of my students is a devout Muslim. He is a magnificent ambassador for this great world religion. The Lord's Prayer, for the most part, sums up the Muslim's desire to submit to the will of God. Also, Muslims show little embarrassment with their prayers. I think of their commitment to pray five times a day, and it is not a very long shot from there to realize the sacredness of the Hours.

My original disillusionment with my own religion, drew me to study how others do it and make sense of reality. In so doing, mysteriously, they have helped me to come back to where I was, and to re-appreciate the beautiful riches of the Catholic faith. Some people have dubbed this kind of experience a second naivete, or a post critical faith.

I also discovered that beyond naive appreciation of other religious traditions, that they all have skeletons in their closet. They all have their Crusades and their Inquisitions, which is also mightily instructive, when looking at the clean sweep of our faith.

The beautiful thing is that every human being in every age is somehow damaged. It leads to a kind of humility. It all helps to make sense out of a world that sometimes does not. All the religions, including my own, and specifically my esteemed Benedictine tradition, help to repair the world.

At the end of each day, I can honestly say my efforts are not perfect, and they are often infected with self-interest. But the religious life provides a map and a compass. May I also add, that friends and opponents both help to sharpen one's knowledge of how to walk on the path that leads to life.

So, frequent stops throughout the day, little inner coffee breaks for the soul and heart, do me a world of good.

Many of us are perpetually on the go. A good thing to be sure, to have the strength and the wherewithal to make some contribution to our communities. These words of Jesus take on new meaning for me all the time: "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).

8. A daily, regular schedule of communing with God provides the opportunity to see the beauty of God’s world.

I find it necessary to set aside time to contemplate and pray on a regular basis. In that I am now retired from the business world I enjoy walking outdoors, usually three to five miles at a time. In that period I have the opportunity to see the beauty of the world that God has created for me, a fact that draws me into a period of communication with my heavenly Father. The key for me is to abide by a daily schedule which includes my walk and my quiet time and hence the opportunity to pray. When the weather is poor I go to a gym and use the treadmill, again providing the time to be quiet and to reflect and to communicate. Again it's abiding by that schedule of devoting time to a quiet period that puts me in a position to pray. Retirement is a gift of time to reflect on the important things in life, a gift which few have the opportunity to experience.

9. The spiritual inspiration found in “them old churches.

I have always enjoyed history and architecture. I have taken the opportunity to take several tours of Chicago, my hometown, to witness its architecture and history. I have been especially drawn to visiting the churches in this city, especially the Polish churches that were built in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. These places are special to me to appreciate their beauty, but more importantly to view the efforts made by poor immigrants to build such magnificent houses of worship. I find it amazing how those with few means were able to construct such beautiful places to worship. It aids me to focus on the more important issues in life, to be in a place where there is great evidence of sacrifice to build a beautiful home for an adoring Father. Such visits, which I describe as "churching", permit me to focus on my relationship with my God and to thank him for his many gifts to me.

10. Prayer, exercise, hobbies and support groups, essential to a well-rounded spiritual life

I have been doing pretty well at staying up on the daily office, getting regular exercise and maintaining a reading habit and pursuing a social life and outdoors recreation. I also belong to a priests' support group. Without these things I'd never handle the demands. I also meditate daily (Using the Jesus prayer for 20 min. of centering prayer.) Prayer, exercise, hobbies, and support are ESSENTIAL.

11. Places, books, movies, conferences, and retreats combine to impact one’s spiritual life.

Part I is about my work from 5-15 yrs. ordained.

Part II is more recent ministry and spiritual life at 34 yrs. ordained. During the 1970's, in Philadelphia, I had developed two community group homes for juvenile delinquents. Looking back, I wonder how survival was possible as a person and a priest. My days were filled with routine referrals from the Court and Human Services. Many days were also filled with unexpected incidents and near violent behavior by the clients committed to our care, and the stress of living in the inner city.

Now, I realize what maintained my spiritual life during times that were one crisis after another and had no set schedule. Every Sunday, I took ministry at St. Donato's Church and sometimes on weekdays. I was often asked to say a noon Mass at the Drexel Newman Center that was a half-mile away from one group home. Depending on traffic patterns there are about four ways to arrive there and return.

One day after Mass, I cut down a city alley, and a block away came upon a police emergency ambulance stopping at the curb. Some men were standing over a person on the sidewalk. I gave him the sacrament of the sick. Shortly after at the hospital, Lou D. died of a heart attack at the age of 43. Coincidence?

Years later, I read in going back to basics, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. Those fine words have a greater depth of meaning joined with perseverance for returning to that source.

On one winter weekend, I was visiting relatives in upstate Pennsylvania and driving conditions were too poor to return Saturday. On the way back on Sunday morning, I was given a speeding ticket with apologies for the new computer lock-in. The cost was $76. Arriving for Mass a few minutes late, I worked the incident into the homily. Following Mass, people came up to me and handed me $1 and $5 bills. Later that day, I emptied my pockets, and the amount was exactly $76. Coincidence? God was the Spirit saying, "I will take care of you, but slow down." Now after 34 years in the active ministry, life is a more balanced continuum of the active and the contemplative.

The earlier years of excessive activism and 80 hour weeks has changed. High school teaching, extra-curricular activities, together with hospital or prison chaplaincies were the norm. The experience of working with juvenile delinquents was a mysterious mixture of grace and personal risk. Now, parish work has put some reasonable order into my life.

Over the years, there have been certain places, books, movies, conferences, retreats, and persons that have made a significant influence on my spiritual life. I have been close to nature and enjoyed hiking, even mountain climbing, and fly fishing. "The River Runs Through," written by an eighty-year old English professor struck a cord in me that joins all creation with spiritual life. Recently, I took a course in Karl Rahner at the Washington Theological Union. And I came to understand in a deeper way what St. Francis de Sales meant by "grace builds on nature," and it seems correct to say nature builds on the essential graces in creation and upon the graces of our sacramental system. This reminds me again that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.

There is a memory that returns to me often. In a previous assignment, our parish served a regional hospital. One day, as I finished my rounds, I stopped at the nurse's station. The infectious disease physician, a Jewish doctor, said to me, "Have you seen Dr. C." I replied, "No, he is not on my list." The physician explained that Dr. C. had been a trappist brother, went to medical school, and served the poor in NY City. He acquired AIDS and was close to death. I went into the room and suggested that he pray as the trappists often do in centering prayer, "O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me....." He received the sacrament of the sick and died within the hour. What are God's ways? He did not his name on the list, a Jewish friend told me he was dying, and on that beautiful day I could have played golf.

12. Spiritual reading, outreach to others in need, and remembering our parents make for a good spiritual life.

Here are some things my wife and I do to promote my spirituality:

1. Read a passage from a spiritual book each day and rethink it through the day. For example, "I pray that I may feel that God's love will never fail. I pray that I may have confidence in His unfailing power."

2. Make it a point to call a friend or relative at least once a week to see how they are feeling. Offer encouragement when they are facing difficulties.

3. Do volunteer work at church. For example, I write the church's newsletter.

4. I visit my mother's and father's grave sites and think of the good times we had.

5. My wife visits a nursing home with our dog who is Delta certified.

6. My wife attends neighborhood Bible study group.

13. There is nothing like a regular silent retreat to realign your spiritual life

How ironic that, when we are the busiest, we are in greatest need of spiritual rootedness!

What I have found for spiritual exercise is the regular scheduling of a silent retreat - usually the Trappists.

This opportunity approaches amidst the frantic pace of parish life, personal life, family, friends. As the name suggests, a "retreat" should be just that: a retreating.

On a day-to-day basis, I am finding that the pastoral appointments, advising, etc., is itself a spiritual renewal. If it isn't that anymore, than I need to step away for a while.

14. Determination: an indispensable tool for spiritual development

"If it's important to you, you make time for it - no matter how busy you are." How many times have I said that to people RE the practice of their faith!

My spiritual development is important to me, but sometimes I succumb to demands of the ministry, exhaustion, lack of discipline, or sheer laziness in taking time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament or praying the Liturgy of Hours. Have to grab myself by the seat of the pants to get back on track.

For myself, I have found a spiritual director/confessor to be essential - he makes me accountable. Though he lives in a monastery 106 miles from me I try to schedule an appointment about every six weeks. The distance and time are significant but so are the results - don't know how I ever did without it (for many years I denied a need for it).

A yearly, 8-day directed retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA has also become an important part of my spiritual development. I find the atmosphere of silence essential, as well as refreshing. Once again, it's a seven hour trip and a real hassle getting coverage over a weekend, but the dividends are significant.

Most important, the celebration of the Eucharist - the summit and source of Church life. I challenge myself to be intentional, prayerful, reverent, etc. as a way of communicating that the Eucharist is important to me and should be important to the assembly. Lastly, recognizing that as I preach, I need to listen to and be challenged by the Gospel and by my own words - sense of my own need for conversion.

15. Gathering spiritual strength from priestly camaraderie.

I get my greatest strength from Priest Gatherings in the diocese - whatever they are and no matter how far I have to drive. Whether diocesan retreats, Convocation, Days of Recollection, Gatherings of seminarians,, senate meetings, support groups, clusters, even the funerals of priests or members of priest's family. Gathering of priests are very special to me.

16. Having a agreeable place t pray helps one’s prayer life

We recently had a Prayer Labyrinth built on parish property near the rectory. I find that it is a neat place to pray, away from the traffic noise, and distractions everywhere else on the grounds. At the center is a Peace Pole with "May peace prevail on Earth" written in 10 languages in use in our area. I find that this offers opportunities for "peace" and reflection that I have difficulty finding elsewhere.

17. Where do you find a good spiritual director these days?

I agree with so much that has already been said. We, as priests, need to be spiritually connected to Christ, especially in His Word and the Eucharist, otherwise we will not be able to live up to the demands of our ministry and grow in our discipleship. I have tried to find a director for quite some time, yet I have not been successful. What do you look for in a director? What convinced you to choose the person you did? Thanks for your input.

18. Don’t wait until later to pray because later never comes

What I found to be most helpful for me in my personal spiritual life is having a time each day for lectio and private prayer. The monastic horarium [set prayers for each part of the day] provides the structure for liturgical prayer. I need the set time and place for this prayer; if I wait "until later" later never comes. It is during lectio that I listen to God's calling, challenging, offering hope to me and then I ask him to listen to me.

19. Social justice exemplars can change your spiritual life

Your question: What spiritual experience in my life has drawn me closer to God's people?

My reply: I served in the Chilean Church from 1964-72. During the last five years I was an episcopal vicar to Cardinal Raul Silva. During those years I was changed profoundly by the poor of that country. Shortly after my arrival, and on several subsequent occasions, Santiago suffered earthquakes so severe that they literally opened fissures in the ground just a short distance from my residence. Even the enormous power of these quakes was dwarfed by the "emotional earthquakes" I experienced as a result of the Childean Church's social commitment, its courageous and inventive defense of human rights, and its new way of being Church. Both pastorally and philosophically, I was forever changed by my experiences within that Church much as Archbishop Romero and Cardinal Bernardin would be transformed by their experiences in El Salvador and Chicago respectively. Thank you!

20. An hour with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament keeps one on the spiritual track

My response to your question pertains not only to priests and other religious but also to all Catholics. I will mimic the late great Archbishop Sheen's "Going on Retreat" audio cassette series ... in this awesome presentation, he states very, very emphatically that the reason that priests leave calling is a lack of belief in the Real Presence ... and I seriously suspect that's ditto for Catholics that leave Mother Church.

Bishop Sheen states equally emphatically that his solution is that each priest spend one hour in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day over and above their offering of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. ... yes, even though I am not a priest, I try to also practice what the Bishop

21. Spiritual methodology coupled with doing something extra special for another every day is a one-two punch in spirituality!

As I read your comments, they reminded me of how much I rely on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. These were drilled into us at the seminary.

What I like about them is that they give me a spiritual methodology that brings order to the way I maintain my spirituality. At night I like to review the readings for the next day's Mass and make "points," i.e., notes on my reflections. Early the next morning I go over these and make them my homily.

I find the early morning the best time to meditate because I am at my highest energy level, and because I can think of no better way to start the morning.

I especially enjoy meditation on the readings of the Mass because they capture the liturgical seasons as well as our four yearly seasons.

One exercise I find needs to be added to this is doing something out of the ordinary for someone during the day like phoning someone who has been having difficulties, or listening more intently to someone who is having a dark moment and wants to talk.

The spiritual exercises are wonderful for "me," but to come to full fruit ion I must do something for "someone else." Otherwise, I am into my own comfort zone of spirituality.

22. Ordering the day with spiritual orderliness

One way to utilize nature is to have a meditation night cap

I admire such orderliness. I have never achieved it since I left the seminary. Through the years I have acquired a habit of frequent recollection that involves a running conversation with God and his best friends. I often pray to my deceased parents and friends like St.Therese of Lisieux.

Driving is a frequent opportunity for prayer and reflection.

On the way to morning Mass I say my rosary and think about my daily homily. When I was younger I could fall asleep in an instant. Now it takes time. This can be a good time to discuss a few things with God. In the seminary I would sometimes fall asleep during morning meditation (6:00 AM.). Why not use nature. Meditation at bedtime can still put me to sleep.

I try to read my office before Mass. This also helps in my homily preparation. This is too varied to be called a program. It is sort of a spiritual wandering. I like it. I hope God does.

"Chatting" to God and the saints mentally on an informal level at anytime and anyplace seems to work for me. It is something I have always done, long before Ordination. Driving can be a great time for prayer, just as long as you keep alert - or you may meet Him face to face earlier than expected!

Contemplation before an Icon or statue has also worked for me, even though it seems to be a bit unpopular among Americans, they seem a bit 'protestantised' in their attitudes sometimes.

23. Utilizing place wherever it might be to maintain spirituality

To the specifics regarding sustaining ingredients to a priestly spirituality.... ...don't forget PLACES. For example, my car is an important place for me to go to pray. No phones. No interruptions. And distance! Sometimes I go to the car at the wrong time of day (e.g. late night -- friends of mine holler at me for that imprudence).

Still, my car is important. Do priests have other holy/common places? I'm an old English teacher. Your examples list persons & things. But a noun like "spirituality" could use a PLACE in translation, too.

I tried to tell my Associate that the 40 minute trip to Queen of Heaven Cemetery for five minutes of committal prayers wouldn't be so bad if he used his car like a chapel. I do....at least sometimes . . . Another thought... We all preach a lot. We are the "senders" of God's Word (or at least the channels). Can an exercise in being a "receiver" of the Word help our souls? How much preaching do we hear? Does any of the preaching we hear really help awaken the soul?

Personally, I find a couple of categories of preaching helpful. Funeral preaching --- that's a variety I do hear often enough whenever I concelebrate funerals of relatives, common friends, brother priests. Some of that preaching fizzles. However, very often it explodes. I have heard a lot of great funeral homilies that have left a permanent mark on my spirit. Another category is preaching I hear when on vacation. Most often, I am incognito when on vacation. The preacher doesn't know he has a "trained" ear in his congregation. More often than not, I hear something worth hearing when I go to Mass on vacation. I have almost come to expect it. Maybe because I listen to it fresh, I often find vacation homilies better than I expected myself to give.

The third category surprises me. I look forward to hearing the Cardinal. I think he composes most of what he speaks. Very often, it's on the level of a graduate course in theology. But maybe I appreciate that style. He doesn't preach as I would. But he preaches in a way that hits something at the base of my soul. I look forward to hearing him at the Chrism Mass, at big ceremonies, etc. I thought he was especially creative, yet just as deep as ever at his last episcopal ordination. I suspect this third category might not resonate with brother priests across America. I just thought that PREACHING RECEIVED might be a moment of increased spirituality overlooked sometimes by professional preachers. For the priests involved in our project, the issue would be --- does any variety of preaching help you as a receiver of the Word?

24. Find Mass wherever you travel and you will discover a heightened appreciation for the universality of the Church

I was heartened to read Gary's comments on daily Mass as a spiritual aid. There was a time in my life when I was significantly busier than I am now (including frequent travel) and when I was going through a period of serious discernment. I made a commitment to get to Mass every day I could and kept the commitment even when out of town on business. The experience of the Church in a variety of settings (rich, poor, black, white, urban, rural, liberal, conservative, ethnic, multicultural, etc.) greatly heightened my appreciation for the universality of the Church.

[It also led me to the conclusion that, in general, the level of preaching during the week is almost uniformly better than Sunday preaching, It puzzled me for a long time, but I eventually came to the conclusion that daily homilies usually have one good thought and that point is hard to miss. The notion that a Sunday homily should take 15-20 minutes generally results in a rambling homily with many points (or sometimes no discernible points). But now even I digress.]

As a lay person, daily Mass gives me a connection me to the Scriptures, to the Eucharist and to the bigger Church. For whatever reason, praying the psalter through Daily Prayer just never had the same impact for me.

25. Catch those daily homilies; they are usually better than Sunday’s

Jim Curry opened an interesting idea, which I think is worthy of some discussion. He mentions that the daily homilies are significantly better and more productive than the Sunday homily.

My parishioners tell me the same thing. So, should we investigate if this is not a directive to single point 2-3 minute homilies on Sunday. It certainly would be easier for me, but I wonder, considering the extremely minimal time our Catholics have for religious education, if this would be a long term solution for the better, or would it just allow them more lethargy in learning?

26. There is a special mystique about daily Mass not found on Sundays

Just a simple priest. RE: Jim Curry’s comment as a priest I gain much more from daily Mass than from weekend Mass. Weekends are too much like "work" and impersonal. Weekday Mass with my people is more a dialogue and sharing homily. I grow more spiritually on these occasions

27. Ignatius exercises set the tone the night before and the morning for a good spiritual experience

Jim, all of the examples listed in the question are activities or events that have had some impact on my spirituality. Maybe I'll address more of them in a later response but, from my layman's perspective, I can quickly see two major activities that aid my attempt to keep advancing spiritually. These activities have become welcome habits that I hope I will continue throughout my life.

One major aid is daily Mass. Many years ago when I was in Catholic elementary school daily Mass was a required routine that I followed without discontent, but also without much thought. There’s a familiar repetitiveness about it, and it’s easy to take it for granted and lose the sense of awe and wonder. Now, daily Mass is the way I actively choose to begin each day. I prepare the night before by going over the next day’s readings and making them (or one of them) the basis of my bedtime meditative or contemplative prayer. The next morning, I not only receive the Eucharist and experience the familiar, “constant” parts of the ritual, but also get to hear the readings and hear the priest talk about the thoughts those readings had triggered for him. I’m fortunate to be in a parish in which all three priests are excellent homilists — so I have a great source for increased understanding and inspiration. If a priest should ever feel that he’s in a bit of a rut with the routine of daily Mass, he might be encouraged by remembering that he is bringing this gift to many who do appreciate and cherish it.

The other major aid is consciously acknowledging Christ’s presence throughout the activities of the day. My goal is to have this become more habitual, completely natural, and without the need for conscious efforts. The Ignatian Exercises (Spirituality in Everyday Life) have given me insight and tools to pursue that goal, and the Ignatian examine and participation in a Cursillo discussion/prayer group have helped me maintain focus. It was my spiritual director who introduced me to Cursillo and shepherded me through the Ignatian Exercises and simply stated the goal by quoting Godspell – “to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly, day by day.” I owe him much for all that and for his continuing direction – but that’s another story. I will mention one device that he suggested to trigger a few pauses to sense Christ’s presence during the day. That was to listen for the church bells or, as in my case, if you can’t hear them from your office, set an alarm. Since I spend much of my day at my computer or in meetings, which my computerized calendar tells me to attend, I’ve schedule “meetings” each day at 12: Noon and 6: PM. At those times, my computer beeps and a small cross “+” shows on my calendar screen. If I should get lost in the business of the world for most of the day (which can happen), I have at least those two moments of reflection.

28. Recalling the blessings of the past is an excellent exercise for dispelling the darkness of the moment.

Spiritual exercises on the Internet are well worth exploring

As a priest I find the Ignatian Exercises on the Internet at Creighton University very helpful for daily focus. I can spend as much or as little time and the focus of each week becomes a gentle background for each day. A prayer of silence is good also even for a minute or longer...God is in control not me. In periods of darkness I write and recall the blessings of the past looking at my own scriptures.. I also feel I must have ongoing spiritual direction to daily discern God's action in life. The most powerful is to show care and love for others...sometimes even those closest to me can be the most neglected.

29. Trying to be at peace rather than doing peace, an excellent spiritual exercise

Trying to “be” at peace rather than “doing” peace is an excellent spiritual exercise. As a teacher in a high school, I love the fact that I get to talk about God all day. My sense of spiritual balance came the day I resolved to "be" more than to "do." I know it can sound trite, but the most profound truths in life often seem the simplest. I try to "be" peace for other people. I find it gives me an acute awareness of God's presence. My students think I'm a wide-eyed, naive optimist. But I know differently: I know I am simply trying to build the Kingdom here and now. To see the changes occur in my students' attitudes toward God, toward life is a wonderful affirmation that I am truly but a servant. (I'm a priest too, by the way)

30. The examination of conscience is a much- needed spiritual practice

Early prayer combined with exercise exercises the body as well as the soul

I find that early rising to pray is paramount in my life. I run and pray 15 decades of the rosary, then the divine mercy chaplet . This way I exercise my body and soul. If I am too tired to run, I still recite all my prayers. During the day i also repeat prays while i work(for the sake of his sorrowful passion have mercy on us and all of the world).Thinking only of the present moment is the best way to avoid sin.

Over the years I have been a traveling preacher. Currently I am living in one place and having the same congregation each day or weekend. It is quite a change, and more of a challenge to prepare homilies now.

The spiritual practice that I have found most helpful in all of my work is the EXAMINATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS (as developed by Fr. George Aschenbrenner, S.J.) I added one step to the process.

This practice helps me to look at the day, and to see how God comes to me in many different ways, and how I respond. At the end of the five steps of Fr. Aschenbrenner I have added the step of wrapping up the day and giving it all back to God as a gift. All I ask for in exchange is a deeper faith and love with which to respond to God's coming tomorrow. In this way I recognize that the first move in my relationship with God is always from God. God is the giver, and I am the receiver. Then I can work with what God gives me, and give it back to God, who then is the receiver. In this way I never see God as one who "takes" anything. God always gives, and then waits to receive back.

It is not a fancy practice, or one that takes very long - but it does create a greater awareness of God's presence in me, to me and through me. It also creates a greater freedom of action each day since I have given yesterday to God and don't carry yesterday with me.

31. The Eucharist as the center of spirituality

A source for spiritual encouragement from other humans who became saints

As a priest, I find the greatest source of spiritual boost to be the celebration of Eucharist. I was blessed to have had a liturgy professor who stressed over and over again that we do not read the Mass - we pray with and for the gathered community. I draw great spiritual strength from them and I hear that they draw from me as well as we all open ourselves to the continuing presence of God.

I am also intrigued by the lives of the saints. Their varied avenues to Faith encourage me that even in the worst of times, God will be there. Some of them were criminals, some were belligerent, some were lackadaisical, some were holier-than-thou, but each found God in some twisted passage.

Click here to return to Success Stories Page