Holy Cross brother offers ideas for prayer discipline.
By Eileen Flynn
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, February 02, 2008
‘Lent is so early this year. It’s coming at us like a speeding train."
The Rev. Joel Giallanza’s words are so true, I thought as I furiously typed them. Ash Wednesday is this week. Already we’re talking about Lent, and it seems we’ve barely recovered from Christmas.
Laura Skelding AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The Rev. Edwin Reggio attends evening prayers at St. Joseph Hall at St. Edward’s University. One way to prepare for Lent is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, made up of Psalms and readings from the New and Old Testaments.
 
There’s a opportunity here. And perhaps no better person to explain that than Brother Joel, a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, an order of Catholic priests and brothers. He’s the coordinator for the Institute for Spiritual Direction for the Catholic Diocese of Austin, so he’s well-suited to advising believers on how to deepen their prayer life and draw closer to God.
At a time when folks are probably feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of shifting gears from post-celebratory haze to the penitential 40-day period leading up to Easter, Brother Joel has a suggestion: the ancient prayer discipline known as Liturgy of the Hours.
The Liturgy of the Hours, which probably dates to the Middle Ages, includes Old and New Testament passages and Psalms that Christians can read in the morning, at midday and at night. We often associate this with Islam and Judaism.
But many of us might not realize that Catholic priests and religious brothers and sisters also practice the discipline daily.
"The whole sense of it is to keep alive throughout my day the sense of God’s presence," Brother Joel said.
He tries to pray with his community when he can — he lives with four Holy Cross brothers near St. Edward’s University. Doing the Liturgy of the Hours works best in community, he said, but even when alone, he feels the company of millions of Catholics around the world who are reading the same prayers. Contemplating the readings also helps him work through his personal struggles.
The practice seems to be catching on with more lay people, according to Brother Joel. Some use their coffee breaks to sneak in a prayer during the workday. Some gather in churches before a daily Mass or in the evenings. St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Pflugerville recently began offering the Liturgy of the Hours at 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. All Christians, not just Catholics, can follow this routine.
For those who can’t buy the official book ("Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours"), the psalms and readings are available online at http://www.ebreviary.com. Brother Joel said he observed young people studying their BlackBerries before Mass, at first assuming they were checking e-mail and then realizing they were reading downloaded Scripture.
Another option, Brother Joel said, is find out the daily Mass readings on the diocesan Web site and use those.
When all else fails, he said, make it up.
"The whole purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is to make holy the day from beginning to end," he said, "so the spiritual life doesn’t get compartmentalized."
Many Christians long for an authentic connection with God, a daily rhythm with the holy. Maybe because the coming weeks bring such intensity — the reminder of one’s mortality on Ash Wednesday followed by weeks of reflection and sacrifice — believers don’t want to miss the opportunity to challenge themselves spiritually.
Brother Joel said he hears from other spiritual directors who field anxious questions from believers as Ash Wednesday looms: What can I do for Lent?
"I would tell people — I almost want to promise them — that (the Liturgy of the Hours) will impact your day," he said.
Speaking of spiritual disciplines, the Rev. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk and priest, is back in Austin this Saturday for a one-day centering prayer retreat at First United Methodist Church, 1201 Lavaca St. Keating founded the Centering Prayer Movement, which invites people to a contemplative mode to receive God. More listening than talking. The retreat is titled "Journey to the Center, the Lenten Struggle for Inner Freedom and Conversion."
For more information, call 347-9673 or e-mail officemgr@consciousharmony.org.
So yes, Lent is coming at us like a speeding train. But fortunately, Christians can find some trusty guides here in Austin to help them find their Lenten rhythm.
eflynn@statesman.com; 445-3812
 
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