Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Adverting to God:
Making Life a Prayer


We're told in Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all."

"Pray without ceasing" -- what can that possibly mean? How can one be praying and carrying on with life at the same time?

Over the years, I've been asked what a Catholic's day should "look like." But there is no single answer to that. Secular priests live differently than do the religious, who live differently than lay people do. And not all are called to practice the same devotions, or to practice the same devotions in the same way. We're all very different from one another, with different gifts and callings. And different constraints: a homeschooling mother of five has no time to pray the Breviary, for example, and a shut-in can't be expected to attend daily Mass.

Now, I could write a master list of what the Uber-Catholic who lives his life the way a combined priest, religious, and very disciplined, by-the-book sort of layperson with no time constraints or job might. And such a list might look like this:

Waking Morning Offering (all); Three Hail Marys
Sunrise The Breviary: Matins and Lauds (priests and religious)
6am The Angelus (all); The Breviary: Prime (priests and religious)
9am The Breviary: Terce (priests and religious)
Noon The Angelus (all); The Breviary: Sext (priests and religious)
3pm The Breviary: None (priests and religious)
6pm The Angelus (all)
Sunset The Breviary: Vespers (priests and religious)
Bedtime The Breviary: Compline (priests and religious); Nightly Examination of Conscience (all); Three Hail Marys (all)

Mixed in would be the Rosary, Lectio Divina, Novenas relevant to a current cause or feast, whatever other private devotions the Uber-Catholic is called to, and, of course, prayers would be said both before and after meals. There'd be other prayers as well: when passing a cemetery or hearing news of a death, the Eternal Rest prayer would be prayed. When hearing bad news, hearing sirens or seeing emergency vehicles, the Catholic would cross himself and offer an Ave for whoever's in trouble. When passing by a Catholic church, he would cross himself and offer a quick prayer of praise to Christ in the tabernacle. When saying or hearing the Name of Jesus, he will bow his head. When hearing Christ's Name taken in vain or God otherwise insulted, He will bow his head and pray "sit Nomen Domini benedictum" in reparation. When he stubs his toe or spills some milk, he'll utter a short ejaculation or aspiration to keep his mind on holy things, and "offer it up." When he turns on a light switch or lights a candle, he'll pray "Jesus is the Light of the world, a Light which never knows darkness." There'd be the Act of Contrition after confession, of course, too, and there'd be daily Mass. Some time each week would be spent in adoration, and Nine First Fridays in a row would be spent in church, as would five sequential First Saturdays.

But "praying without ceasing" is more attitudinal than based on our beautiful formal prayers and devotions. And to really understand it, I don't think anyone could do better than to read the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori:

In order to keep yourself recollected and united to God as far as the imperfections of human nature permit, endeavour, by means of what you see and hear, to raise your mind to God and to recall the things of eternity. For instance, when you see running water, reflect that your life is rushing on in like manner and taking you nearer to death.

When you see a lamp going out for want of oil, reflect that thus your life will one day flicker out and be extinguished. When you see graves or the bodies of the dead, think of what will happen to yourself one day. When you see worldly people rejoicing in their wealth or distinction, have pity on their folly, and say to yourself: "For me God is sufficient": ‘Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we in the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 19:8). "Let them glory if they wish in vanity. Be it mine to glory only in the grace of God and in His holy love." When you see monuments erected to the dead, or take part in the funeral ceremonies of the great ones of this world, ask yourself the question: ‘If their souls are lost, what will all this pomp avail them?’

When you look out over the ocean and see it now calm and tranquil and now lashed to fury by the winds, consider the difference there is between a soul in sin and a soul in the state of grace. When you see a tree that is withered, reflect on the fact that a soul without God is fit for nothing but to be cast into the fire. If you ever happen to see one who has been guilty of some great crime, trembling with shame and fear in the presence of his judge, or his father, or of his Bishop, consider what the terror of the sinner will be in the presence of Jesus Christ, his judge.

When thunder crashes through the heavens, and you grow alarmed, reflect how those miserable souls that are damned tremble as they hear continually in hell the thunders of the divine wrath. If you ever see one who has been condemned to suffer a painful death, and who says, “Is there, then, no longer any means of my escaping death?” consider what will be the despair of a soul when it is condemned to hell, as it says: “Is there, then, no longer any means of escaping from eternal ruin?”

When you behold beautiful scenes in the country or along the sea coast, or when you look at flowers or fruit, and are pleased by the sight or the perfume, say: "For me God has created these lovely things in this world, that I may love Him. What delights has He not prepared for me in heaven?" Seeing fair plains and beautiful hills, Saint Teresa used to say that they reproached her with her ingratitude to God.

The Abbot de Rance, founder of La Trappe, declared that the beauty of creation around him obliged him to love God. Saint Augustine had the same thought: “The heavens and the earth and all Your works cry out to me to love You.” There is a story told of a certain holy man, that in passing through the fields he would strike with a little stick the flowers and plants which he found on his way, saying, “Be silent; do not reproach me any longer for my ingratitude to God. I have understood you; be silent; say no more.”

When Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi held in her hand any beautiful fruit or flower, she used to feel herself glowing with divine love, saying to herself, “Behold, my God has thought from eternity of creating this fruit, this flower, in order to give it to me as a token of the love which He bears towards me.” When you see rivers or streams, reflect that as their waters run towards the sea, and never remain still, so ought you ever tend towards God, who is your only good. When you happen to be in some vehicle drawn by horses say: “See what labour these innocent animals go through for my service; and how much pains do I myself take in order to serve and please my God?”

When you see a little dog, which for a miserable morsel of bread is faithful to its master, reflect how much greater reason you have to be faithful to God, who has created and preserved you, and heaps upon you so many blessings. When you hear the birds sing, say: “Hearken, O my soul, to the praise which these little creatures are giving to their Creator; and what are you doing?” Then do you also praise him with acts of love.

On the other hand, when you hear the cock crow, recall to your memory that there once was a time when you also, like Peter, denied your God; and renew your tears and your contrition. If you see the house or the locality in which you fell into some sin, turn to God and say in your heart: "The sins of my youth and my ignorance; remember not, O Lord." (Psalm 24:7). When you see valleys fertilised by waters that descend on them from the heights of the mountains, consider that grace in a similar manner leaves those who are proud, to flow into hearts that are humble. When you see a church beautifully adorned, consider the beauty of a soul in grace, which is truly the temple of God. When you look upon the sea, consider the greatness and immensity of God.

When you see fire, or candles lighted on the altar say: “For how many years ought I to have been burning in hell? But since You, O Lord, have not yet condemned me to that place of woe, grant that my heart may now burn with Your holy love, even as this fuel or these candles.”

When you behold the heavens and the stars, say with Saint Andrew of Avellino (1521–1608): “My feet will one day tread upon those stars.” Recall also frequently the mysteries of our Saviour’s love; and when you see straw or a manger or a rocky cave, remember the Infant Jesus and the stable at Bethlehem. When, you see a hammer, or a saw, or a plane, or an axe, recall how Jesus laboured like any ordinary young working man in the cottage at Nazareth. If you see cords, thorns, nails, or beams of wood, think of the sorrows and death of the Most Holy Redeemer.

When Saint Francis of Assisi happened to see a lamb, he shed tears, as he exclaimed: “My Lord like a lamb was led to die for me.” When you look at an altar, a chalice, or a chasuble, recall to mind the great love which Jesus has shown us in giving Himself to us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Following the example of Saint Teresa, often offer yourself to God during the day, and say: “Behold me, O Lord, ready to do what You will. Make known to me Your holy will; I am eager to do all that You ask of me.” As the hours go by, make repeated acts of divine love, for—to quote Saint Teresa again—these acts of love are the fuel by which divine love is kept burning within the heart.

One day, when the Venerable Sister Seraphine of Capri (Serafina di Dio, 1621–1699) happened to see the convent mule, the thought occurred to her that the poor animal could not love God. She expressed her compassion in these words: “Poor brute you can neither know nor love God.” Then a wonderful thing happened—tears welled into the animal’s eyes and forthwith began to flow abundantly. Do you imitate the saintly sister’s example. When you see, creatures incapable of knowing or loving God, use the intelligence that He has given you to repeat many acts of love.

If anything painful or disagreeable happens to you, immediately offer to God what you have to suffer, and unite your will to His. Accustom yourself to repeat in every trial: ‘It is the will of God; it is my will also.’ Acts of resignation are the acts of love dearest to the Heart of God. When you have to arrive at some decision, or to give some important advice, ask God’s help before you do so. Repeat as often as you reasonably can during the day: ‘Incline unto mine aid, O God,’ as Saint Rose of Lima was accustomed to do. To obtain this help of God turn frequently to the crucifix or to the picture of our Blessed Lady (which, of course, you will have in your room) and do not fail to invoke frequently the names of Jesus and Mary, especially in time of temptation. God, being infinitely kind, has the greatest desire to communicate His graces to us.

The Venerable Father Alphonsus Alvarez saw our Lord, on one occasion, with His hands filled with graces, going about seeking souls to whom He might dispense them. But He will have us ask Him for them: Ask and you shall receive; otherwise, He will withdraw His hands. He will, on the contrary, stretch them out to us and willingly open them to us if we invoke Him. Who ever had recourse to God, asks Ecclesiasticus, and God despised him by refusing to hear him? ‘Who has called upon Him, and He despised him?’ (Ecclesiasticus 2:12). David declares that God shows not only mercy, but great mercy, to those who invoke Him: "For You, O Lord, are sweet and mild; and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon You." (Psalm 85:5). How good and kind God is to those who lovingly seek Him! "The Lord is good to the soul that seeks Him" (Lamentations 3:25). He is found even by those who do not seek Him: "I was found by them that did not seek Me" (Romans 10:20); with far greater willingness He will anticipate those who seek Him in order to serve and love Him.

I conclude with a thought from Saint Teresa. It is this: "The souls of the just should do on earth, through a spirit of love, what the Blessed do in heaven. In heaven, the saints occupy themselves only with God; all their thoughts are for His glory; all their pleasure is to love Him. Do you act in the same way? During your life on earth let God be your only happiness, the only object of your affections, the only end of all your actions and desires, until you arrive at that eternal Kingdom, where your love will be consummated and made perfect, and your desires will be completely fulfilled and satisfied."

And that's what "pray without ceasing" means.

As to formal prayers and routines, do what you're called to do -- no more, no less. If your routine is making you grouchy or anxious, you're likely trying to take on too much, which is a great danger -- one likely to lead to spiritual "burn-out." If it's making you proud, re-think things and examine yourself. And know that if it's all done without charity, it's "as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal" (I Corinthians 13:1). Talk to your priest if you have a prayer routine that isn't bringing about more spiritual fruits.

But do pray without ceasing. Advert to God throughout your day, and praise Him in all things. Some books that may help you (all are in pdf format, from this site's Catholic Library):

How to Pray at All Times by St. Alphonsus Liguori
Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade
Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
The Heliotropium by Jeremias Drexel, S.J.
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
Light and Peace by Fr. Carlo Quadrupani (see chapter X)

Back to Being Catholic