For a couple of years now, I have felt drawn to consider joining the Marian Catechist Apostolate founded by Servant of God Father John A. Hardon, presently under the direction of Raymond Cardinal Burke. There is a three-year formation period, at the completion of which one can become either an active or contemplative member of the Apostolate. According to their website:
The mission of the Apostolate is to form and nurture catechists for the teaching and sharing of the Catholic Faith. Marian Catechists must be heroic souls whose spiritual and doctrinal formation equips them for active participation in the new evangelization of America. Understanding that the foundation of all true and effective catechesis is a vibrant spiritual life, the spiritual formation of each Marian Catechist is vitally important; our efforts to share the Faith will be futile unless our lives attest to its beauty and richness. We become authentic witnesses to Our Lord Jesus Christ through a holiness of life and a life of prayer that develops and is nurtured slowly over time.
That sounds wonderful. I cannot imagine any better way to spend my life! The Apostolate is under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and all members are encouraged towards a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary – absolutely no problem there. They even have a Writers’ Apostolate (I could live with that!!)
Just one drawback…. I read the list of expectations for those preparing for consecration at the end of the three-year formation. They include:
Holy Mass and Holy Communion – daily
Holy Rosary (five decades) – daily
Morning Offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – daily
Memorare for the intentions of our International Director – daily
Angelus – twice daily
Way of the Cross – daily
Spiritual Reading – 15 minutes daily
Meditation – 15 minutes daily
Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition – each evening before retiring
Sacrament of Confession – every two weeks
Umm… I work! Both of my kids are in college, but still I can’t just abandon my family responsibilities entirely. This religious commitment is looking like a full-time job! Mass – every day? The Rosary – all five decades? Spiritual reading? Meditation? The Stations of the Cross – when it isn’t even Lent?
Are you trying to kill me?
There is of course Catholic precedent for this kind of lifestyle. Read the lives of the saints. Daily communion was a must. The physician St. Joseph Moscati was a daily communicant, and it is said that on days when he was not able to receive Communion, he did not have the courage to attempt to help the sick, claiming, “Without Jesus, I do not have enough light to save my poor patients!” St. Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, wrote, “My distractions are numerous, and with Jesus I learn to recollect myself. The occasions of offending God are frequent, and I receive strength every day from Him to flee from them. I need light and prudence to manage very difficult affairs, and every day I can consult Jesus in Holy Communion. He is my great Teacher.”
Okay, but St. Joseph died before World War II, and St. Thomas even farther back, during the reign of Henry VIII. Modern life has brought with it certain pressures that they didn’t have to deal with!
Well, how about St. Gianna Molla, the Italian pediatrician who died in 1962? She wrote in her youth a program of spiritual life for herself which included morning and evening prayers, Mass and Holy Communion, at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and the recitation of the Holy Rosary. When her fourth pregnancy was complicated by a uterine fibroid, she refused an abortion and demanded that the physicians save her unborn child even if it should cost her her life. It did. St. Gianna was ready when the moment demanded heroic virtue.
Do you think her spiritual program may have had something to do with that readiness?
Too far back in history? How about 2011? Arizona’s Federal District Court Judge John Roll, arguably an exceedingly busy man, was a daily communicant and a lector at St. Odilia parish in Tucson. After Mass on January 8th he went to Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent meeting to congratulate her on her re-election. When a gunman opened fire, Judge Roll shielded a man in the crowd, saving the man’s life, and giving his own. Roll’s colleague, Justice James Teilborg, himself an Evangelical, said of this tragedy, “None of us were ready for John Roll’s death, but John Roll was.” When the moment came, Judge Roll was ready.
I’m starting to run out of objections….
Daily Mass attendance, Bible reading, the Rosary, the Stations, examination of conscience, confession…. Whenever I think of these things as “obligations,” my heart sinks. How am I supposed to add more duties into my already too-busy schedule? But when I see them for what they really are, my outlook changes radically. I am a Christian. Jesus never declared that He was the butter-and-jam of life, to be smeared atop whatever Christians are already engaged in. Jesus is the very Bread of Life, in other words, He is my life, and that changes everything.
Our devotions, our prayer life, are meant to form the skeleton of our lives. Most of us treat them as if they were our “hair” rather than our bones. We arrange them to our liking; we grow them long or we cut them short, we curl them, style them, color them…. But rather than trying to “fit our devotions in” somewhere, we are meant to BEGIN with our spiritual life, to build upon its framework. No, that doesn’t mean that every person is going to incorporate the Stations of the Cross into her daily spiritual routine, but it does mean that every person is going to have a daily spiritual routine, and that it will be more than a 5-minute chat with God as we fall asleep every night….
I’m sure you’re aware that, as stewards, we’re accountable for how we spend our time. St. Turibius of Mongrovejo (who baptized both St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin of Porres) was wont to insist that “Time is not our own, and we must give a strict account of it.” For some of us, there’s going to be some serious ‘splaining when we give that account! The problem is that our minds are “occupied with earthly things,” as St. Paul put it in Philippians 3:19. He also said that those of us thus occupied are living as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Harsh? When we insist on living for ourselves, setting up our own agendas and demanding that our will be done, in other words, refusing to be crucified with Christ, that description is pretty accurate.
When I think of prayer as something I’ve got to squeeze into my already-too-busy schedule, my heart sinks. But that’s as foolish as trying to squeeze breathing into my busy daily routine. I have been born again; I am a new creation – and this new creation is sustained by prayer. Prayer isn’t something to be squeezed into my schedule – it is what I do to continue living. Try surviving for a while without your skeleton. I hope you enjoy your life as a shapeless blob. I doubt you’ll get much accomplished.
So you work? Can you pray the Angelus while you prepare the kids’ lunches? Can you recite the Rosary (reverently!) in your car on your commute? Can you sneak off on your lunch break for Mass? Can you devote your 10-minute afternoon break to the Stations? You walk your dog, don’t you? – think of it as an opportunity for prayer! The time you spend cleaning up the kitchen after dinner can be a great opportunity for an examination of conscience – your hands are busy, but your mind and heart are free!
Remember the cardinal rule of Biblical body-building: Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Our spiritual life needs to be the foundation upon which we build our day. We have to have a defined shape to our lives, and the structure of our prayer life provides that shape.
So, yeah, I’ve applied. I’ve got three years to study the materials, which will give me three years to ease into the requirements for consecration, requirements which I believe will become increasingly dear to me as they become a regular part of my day. I’ve gotten tired of life as a shapeless blob. Check back often as the Holy Spirit builds the new me.
On the memorial of Mary, Help of Christians
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credits: Picture of old woman in Normandy (France) by Nicolas Laurens