In My Thoughts And In My Words...

With so much time spent in prayer, there's a danger of prayer becoming dull. Some days it feels like the words in the Breviary run together, or sometimes I can sit through the Office of Readings and not really "hear" anything said. There are times when I think I can recite the Benedictus in my sleep.

The danger I worry about is letting prayer become something other than communication towards God. If I don't actively take charge of my prayer life, prayer becomes a chore rather than a gift.

One of the prayers I've worked hard to keep is the Confiteor. With a Penitential Act each morning and Examination of Conscience each evening, there are plenty of opportunities to recite the Confiteor. For those of you unfamiliar with the Roman Catholic liturgy, it often goes like this:

I confess, to Almighty God
and you, my brothers and sisters*
that I have sinned through my own fault.
In my thoughts and in my words
in what I have done
and what I have failed to do.
And I ask the Blessed Mary ever Virgin
All the Angels and Saints
and you, my brothers and sisters
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

*(since we're a men's community, we only say "brothers.")

Living in such a small and intentional community as the Novitiate House here in Allison Park, I soon realized that there were few occassions of sin that didn't in some way involve one of the other guys I lived with. Whether it was getting upset, forgetting a commitment, etc., being here meant that we were the Recipient as well as the Donor of less-than-brotherly interaction (a nice way of saying what I really mean). Nevertheless, in the beginning or the end of the day, our plea to God to forgive our sins was said in unison with those whom we sinned against. It was a stark difference from being in a church, where I felt it was just me talking to God about my faults.

Recognizing this, I didn't want the Confiteor to be lip service. If I wanted to honestly confess to my brothers that I had sinned, I realized I'd have to do a lot more than just recite the prayer. I found it almost hypocritical to stand across the chapel and see someone whom I was having issues with, asking for their prayers.

Not wanting to think my prayers as hypocritical, I did something the next night that changed my entire prayer experience of the Examination of Conscience...

...I looked the other guys in the eyes as I talked about my faults.

Ordinarily one wouldn't think that reciting a prayer while looking at another would be a huge issue. In prayers of thanksgiving, petition, and blessing, we often look at the focus of our prayer - whether it's the meal we're about to eat, the person in the hospital bead, or the couple that's been married for 50+ years. Looking and praying isn't beyond our capabilities.

But I looked at my brothers as I told them how I had sinned by my own fault. I realize that God is the one who forgives, yet there is a humbling sense to admit fault and wrongdoing to another person. And when the prayer had finished, I wondered why I felt more embarassed to express my shortcomings to my brothers than to my Creator..."whom I should love above all things."

Understanding how I present my sins to God soon became a topic for contemplative meditation. Recognizing God's over-abundant love and grace, I wanted to understand how I could better open myself, in a sense of humility and love, to that love and grace. I realized that this question arose out of a desire 1. to connect at a deeper level with my prayer and 2. to build a better relationship with my brothers, even when I wanted to put bleach in their laundry! (just kidding guys...I know you read this too!)

With those thoughts, I continued this practice of looking at the other friars during the Confiteor -acknowledging my failings and asking for their prayers for me. It was (and still is) a humbling experience, but I soon realized I wasn't alone in this slightly unnerving practice. As I exchanged glances with the other friars, they would look away, look down, or close their eyes - probably experiencing some of those same anxieties as I was.

Yet as time has progressed, I can see that others have picked up on what I'm doing, and are mindful to look back at me. I see it as a testimony of how willfully entering into the experience of prayer can effect others. I don't know that it's cause me less occassions to sin, but I realize that I'm willing to be open and honest to my brothers and to my God about what errors I've made - an important task in a Religious Order that looks so much for transparency.

Thanks to the other guys for posing for me!

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