Tag Archives: Prayer

Praying in a Modernist Space

Are modernist buildings good places to pray?

abbey church interior

source and overview

I may be somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand I am an advocate of Traditional Catholicism, including Traditional Catholic architecture designed to serve Traditional Catholic worship. (If you search through this blog you will know this.) On the other hand I love much of modern architecture. I love many buildings that many others do not like. I grew up in a modernist house, I studied modern art and architecture in college, and I have been a fan of early twentieth century and mid-century modern art and design. With this in mind, I found this lecture about one of the more famous (infamous?) modernist churches to be quite fascinating, not only for its informative content, but also because the lecturer gives a highly (almost ecstatically) positive perspective on exactly the kind of church design many would deride without hesitation.

Abbey Church SJU_Inaguration__020

source and more images

This lecture below is by monk, educator, and artist David Paul Lange, OSB. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, this is an excellent overview of modernist principles in architecture, especially at the mid-twentieth century point, and why it made sense to people at that time to build a church according to those principles. It is also an excellent “unpacking” of the design, and the ideas behind the design, of a particular church, the Saint John’s Abbey Church:

I find Brother David Paul Lange’s speaking style to be a bit too breathless for my tastes, but he is a great evangelist for the modernist perspective in architecture, and for this church. But I have some questions:

  1. Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
  2. Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
  3. Is this church worthy of praise? As an example of modernist thinking, yes. As an example of excellent construction, yes. As a place for worship, you tell me, but I think no, at least not within a proper understanding of ideal Catholic worship.
  4. Therefore, does this church represent a different ideal of worship than traditional Catholic worship, I think so. But you tell me.

Notice a few things:

  1. He speaks of praying more than worshiping. This makes sense given this church is for a monastic community which is focused a great deal on prayer, but it is also significant. The focus is more about the nature and needs of praying than offering a sacrifice to God. Praying in a church is a good and normal thing. However, prayer is a part of worship, but not the only part. Many spaces can be prayerful. Only specific kinds of spaces serve the needs of worship.
  2. He speaks a lot of his own feelings. In a sense this entire talk is an explanation of his personal experiences of this church, and his feelings during and about those experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point, but as a Catholic would it not be better to also foreground the Body of Christ as a corporate entity a bit more? In that sense he would then speak more of the nature of man in general and his relationship with God. And then tie it back to this church and how it functions.
  3. This is more about a “modernist space” than a church (hence the title of the lecture), even though it is a church where the Eucharist is celebrated. He points out the way the outside comes into the church interior, reminding those inside of the connection with nature, what time of day it is, what weather is outside, etc. In this sense I gather the space functions a bit like stepping into a forest and praying. I like this in a sense, but when I think of celebrating Mass I wonder about the idea of Heaven on earth and the traditional way churches close off the outside world and creating a space that is more heavenly than earthly.
  4. He speaks of the honest use of materials, and how older churches seem dishonest somehow, using paint to create false impressions and faux marble, etc. This is a particularly important part of the lecture. I too love the modernist focus on materials. I also don’t believe such focus is necessarily bad for church design, but a church interior should be (traditionally speaking) a kind of three-dimensional icon of Heaven. Rough, earthy materials that evoke nature have their place, but they should serve a heavenly image, no? Here’s something I might explore in another post, but consider this: Is not a statue of St. Michael (for example) fake because it is not actually St. Michael? Same for the Holy Mother, etc? Would not any church that aspires to create a sense of the heavenly liturgy within its walls be a dishonest use of materials? Maybe. But perhaps that’s a “dishonest” use of the word dishonest.
  5. The bell tower, he argues, with its horizontal lines, points to (or mirrors) the horizontal earth rather than to God. He claims it reminds him that God is everywhere and in all things, and perhaps that’s a good reminder, but this is a curious claim and raises the question, in my mind at least, what is the purpose of a church? To call us to the earth or to call us to Heaven? Do we not minister to each other (horizontally) because we have first sought out and worshiped God–a vertical action? If we do not begin with the vertical does not our horizontal orientation eventually become skewed?
  6. He also mentions that the population of monks used to be 350, but now are only 150. They don’t need such a big church anymore. Only by way of correlation, but still interesting (and troubling): They commit themselves to modernist ideas, they build a modernist church to symbolically represent that modernist spirit, and not long after they lose 60% of their members. Apparently modernism doesn’t need monks. Perhaps modernism doesn’t really need man either.
  7. At the end of the lecture, just before questions, he jokingly apologizes for going a bit long and keeping the Downton Abbey fans from their show — a show whose popularity arose from a longing for an earlier time, represented, in part, not by modernist architecture, but very traditional architecture, and clothing, and customs, etc. Will future generations swoon over the modernist mid-twentieth century in the same way? Perhaps Mad Men did some of that, but that is an awfully dark show.
  8. The first question at the end, by another monk (I believe), is exactly my question, and worth the time for watching this lecture. I have never been in this church, so I have no way of saying what my thoughts would be, but I also wonder if such a place is naturally conducive to prayer, or liturgy at all for that matter. And I truly get the experience from having studied art and swooning over art that others think is stupid or meaningless. And I also find the questioner’s reference to the new cathedral in Los Angeles being obvious a place of prayer puzzling, since it also has been roundly derided for its modernist and non-Catholic design. The answer to his question included: “Do people get modernism? I think the answer is no, by and large,” and “Until I explain this…” In other words, modernist art and architecture requires explanation in order to appreciate it. This is one of the attractions and weaknesses of modern art. I have experienced exactly that feeling of “getting it” after studying it. And yet, I think this may be why modernist architecture is not a good choice for Catholic churches. He also says we are not actually living in a “modernist” society. In terms of art and architecture this may be true specifically in light of design principles–modernism, from an art historical perspective occured at a time in history which is now past. However, the spirit of modernism as a philosophical and theological undergirding of society and the Church is still very pervasive. How modernism in ideas and modernism in design interrelate is a fascinating topic too big for this post.

In the end I find the Abbey Church a beautiful and amazing space. However, I do believe it is probably best suited as a performance space than as a church. I would not advocate a church being built along these lines. Rather, I think we should be informed more by the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass with its focus on God rather than man, uniformity with the Church through history, and creative use of new and old materials that look to the past for inspiration and the future for permanence and authentic timelessness — which can only be done by beginning with a true understand of both God and man.

Finally, I wonder if much of the problems with using modernist design principles and materials for Catholic churches could be solved if the liturgy was the Traditional Latin Mass. In other words, imagine if Vatican II never happened, and the Novus Ordo Mass never promulgated, could churches have been designed in somewhat contemporary and modernist fashion and still fulfill the needs of the TLM? Can architects build “honest” churches and still be Catholic? I think so. But also keep in mind that the St. John’s Abbey church construction began on May 19, 1958, and lasted until August 24, 1961 — well before the council even began, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.

If you want to know a bit more about the architect Marcel Breuer:

If you want to know a bit more about the building of the church:

 

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Beauty, Catholic Church, Christian Life, Church History, Curious, Liturgy, Prayer, Tradition, Video, World View

We are not contending against flesh and blood…

satan

A lot of Christians in the U.S. publicly complain about persecution at the hands of the godless secular society. They are sued, or spit on, or yelled at, or denied service, or given the stink eye, or sent bad tweets — and they wail against the injustice. A lot of Christians fight back, protesting, holding signs, denouncing their enemies, and even using the court system to make others treat Christians better. And, sadly, many Christian attack each other too. They publicly call out their brothers and sisters before other Christians as well as the godless society at large. They do this on social media of course, but also in the courts.

A lot of Catholics also complain about the Church, about bad bishops and bad popes, about weak leadership and false doctrine. They complain about bad liturgy and poor catechesis. Why doesn’t the Church do this, or that? What’s wrong with all those other Catholics? Why are they destroying the Church?

In short, Christians look at other people and see the enemy. This is not unique to Christians but, if you are a Christian, consider these words from St. Paul:

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Do we take these words seriously? If we did what would we be doing differently?

I know Catholics who hate Pope Francis. They complain and denigrate the holy father. I’ve written before about my struggles with the pope. I understand the struggle, but who is the real enemy here?

If the German bishops have gone off the deep end and are very publicly courting heresy, are they the enemy? If Vatican II has wrought such damage, as some say, who is the real culprit? Many Catholics in Ireland just voted in favor of abortion, and then they loudly celebrate their win. Who’s victory is that really?

People have always dug wells where they believe they will find water. But why do they think water is where they think it is? Why do so many people make poor choices? Why do so many people reject God? Why is there so much evil in the world?

No human is innocent. We all have free will. We all must face judgement. But is the real battle between me, who is a sinner, and you, who is also a sinner? If we choose to love then has not the conflict ceased altogether? To battle is to seek the other’s defeat. To love is to seek their salvation. To be a Christian is to be Christ to others, and point them to Him.

We are living in a creation that is running wild with demons. Sin and Satan are the forces at work. They will have their way if we do not fight them. But it is God, in fact, who fights our battles for us. The winds of the modernist demons have swept powerfully around the globe for the past 200 years. They have caught up millions of souls, including priests and bishops and even popes, and certainly many, many Christians. The spirit of the age is the spirit of the evil one — some might argue it is also the spirit of Vatican II. I hope not, but I’ll let you judge.

Our battle, then, is not with each other. Our battle is against Satan and all his works and all his empty show. Put on the armor of God. Remember your baptism. Take up your cross. Rejoice in your sufferings. Love others as Christ has loved you. Let God and His mighty angels fight your battles.

And lean into the fight. Carry the banner. Do not be afraid. God is with you. Trust Him. Pray, and pray, and keep praying.

I write these words because I need to hear them more than I need to write them, but there they are.

St. Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in battle. 
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. 
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, 
and do thou, 
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, 
by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan, 
and all the evil spirits, 
who prowl about the world 
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

St_Michael_Raphael

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Cardinal Sarah and the Power of Silence

I have been rereading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. It is such a profound and enriching book. I find this true even more so on a second reading. I feel someday the Church will call him Saint Robert.

This beautiful video gives some sense of who Cardinal Sarah is, and his insights on silence in the life of Christian faith:

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Morning Rosary

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

photo 3

The crucifix on my desk where I kneel and pray.

Each morning, after my Bible and Catechism reading, I try to pray the rosary. The rosary played an important part in my coming into the Catholic Church. I wrote about it here. I have come to love the rosary. Praying the rosary every morning helps me get through the day. When I go to bed at night, I look forward to praying the next morning — that and my coffee. (Before you read further, know that I am not at all pious. The life of faith is a struggle for me.)

Here’s the basic form I follow:

First, if I can, I pray kneeling. I have set up a crucifix, a tryptic of Mary, and a candle on my desk. These things help me focus and get my mind and heart into a more devotional mode. I don’t need them, but I like having them.

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The icon on my desk where I kneel and pray.

Typically I’m the first one awake in the morning in my house, so it is quiet. I usually up at 4 AM. I have tended to be very self-conscious in the past, so it was hard to pray if I knew others knew I was praying. Now it’s easier for me. Sometimes my son (now 8 yrs old) walks in on me. I invite him to pray with me. Sometimes he says yes… for a while at least. I need to do a better job of having my family pray together. This is a big area of failure for me.

Second, I tend to follow the standard rosary structure, with a couple of common additions. Note: I am praying the Rosary more and more in Latin. The Devil hates Latin, so I’ve been told on good authority. Here’s my morning prayer:

  • I cross myself
  • then I recite the Apostles Creed
  • then I pray the Our Father
  • then I say “For an increase in the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity,” then pray three Hail Marys
  • then I pray the Glory Be (I always cross myself each time I pray this)
  • then I read the first mystery (I sometimes use the Laudate app on my phone to provide these texts, and to remind me of the prayers if I forget the words)
  • then I pray the Our Father
  • then, just before I begin the decade, I ask Mary for her prayers. I have a little notebook that I keep a list of my prayer intentions. They have basic headings: Family, Church, Work, etc. Each heading has below it a number of specific things that I pray for, such as my wife, each of my three children, holiness, the Pope, our parish priests, etc, etc. Each heading group gets one decade of the rosary. For example, the first decade is for my family, the second for the Church and the world, etc.
  • after each decade I pray the Glory Be prayer, and then the Oh My Jesus prayer (as asked by Our Lady of Fatima — this I feel is very important)
  • after praying all five decades, I follow with praying the Hail Holy Queen
  • then I sometimes pray the Our Lady of All Nations prayer (which is linked to Fatima), though I pray this less these days. Perhaps I should more
  • then I cross myself
  • then I pray the intercessory prayer to St. Pio of Pietrelcina. I do this for the restoration of my parishes original high altar to be moved back to the sanctuary, for a TLM institute or society to be established in my parish, for a TLM religious order to be established in my hometown, and that my parish would become an inspiration for our diocese in terms of worship, TLM, and passion.
  • then I finish with the St. Michael the Archangel Intercessory Prayer
  • I then cross myself and blow out the candle

The whole thing takes about thirty to forty five minutes, depending on how much time I devote to my list of individuals to pray for.

By the fourth decade my knees are usually killing me. It’s a struggle to keep going. This will sound funny to contemporary ears, but I want to pray like a Medieval–that is, accepting my suffering as a reminder of the efforts we all have to make towards holiness. So I shift my weight from knee to knee, but I try to stay kneeling. Maybe it will get easier eventually.

As an aside: I have written before on the physicality of faith, the life of prayer, confronting the holiness of God, and what that requires of our bodies. We live in a neo-gnostic or neo-dualistic age where we have lost touch with the fact that the human person is body and soul together forever. We separate “ourselves” from our bodies: we are spirits and our bodies are things. I believe the Medievals, however, knew better the physicality of spirituality and true worship of God. They sought divinization. Most Christians today probably have not even heard of divinization. I think the “spiritual but not religious” thing is driven mostly by this neo-gnosticism/dualism and those ignorant they are neo-gnostics/dualists — where spiritual is equated with the self and thus good, and religion is equated with the body and thus bad or less-than.

My family and I live in a wooden area. If it is light enough outside I will open the curtain and look out at the trees. Sometimes there are deer and wild turkeys making the way through the neighborhood. There was even a bear sighting recently not far from our neighborhood. Rather than a distraction, however, I find their presence reminds me of God the Creator.

I’ve also become fascinated and inspired by the idea of the rosary as a spiritual weapon. I especially like this talk by Fr. Don Calloway. May we all be so enthusiastic for the rosary. My recent post of a lecture series on Fatima and the end times speaks volumes to why we need to all be praying more.

Pray the rosary.

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Who am I to judge?

43-Pope-Francis-gt-1-

Not a few Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. I can understand this. There are reasons for their concern, and many of their arguments make sense to me. But I even see a few critics who appear to have literal conniptions, blown gaskets, and serious bouts of distemper. Yet, I just can’t go there. In a sense I am with them, and I am not with them. Here’s what I mean:

I grew up in a Protestant faith which was rather Fundamentalist in tenor. I was trained to be very sensitive to doctrinal variations and the places at which lines ought to be drawn between various churches that claim a to be Christian. We didn’t use the word heresy, I don’t think Protestants use that word often for obvious reasons, but we certainly leveled the evil eye at all the heretics that surrounded us. But the word heresy is certainly appropriate for Catholics to use. The Church has a long history of battling false views of Jesus, man, and the gospel, going all the way back to the apostles. Although my own views have changed over the years, and I eventually entered the Catholic Church, I find myself giving a lot of sympathy to those who are called to battle heresy. Perhaps this makes me too sensitive, old habits die hard, but I have similar worries as do the critics of Pope Francis.

On the other hand, I have also come to see that the narrow way into the Kingdom of God (for it truly is a narrow way) also allows for a myriad of unique individual journeys on the path to faith. And those journeys are extremely hard to judge. This, I believe, is how we experience God’s Providence in our lives and in the lives of others. The lives of the saints not only challenge us to live holy lives, they also challenge us regarding the “process” because each saint is so different and unique compared to the others — and compared to us. Studying the saints is both eye opening and humbling. I want to be open to how God will surprise us. This is something Pope Francis frequently emphasizes.

So while I sympathize with the pope’s critics, I also realize two things: 1) God is in control, and 2) the best way to do battle is through the pursuit of holiness, prayer, and love.

First–God is in control. Let’s be honest, many of us respond to such statements by quickly saying, “Oh, of course, God is certainly in control, still…” or “Yes, yes, that’s a given, but…” Frankly, I don’t believe most of us truly believe that God is really in control, or at least we don’t act as if we emotionally, viscerally own this truth deep in our beings. We fret, we worry, we have conniptions and all that. But if we are Christians we ought to believe it, and that belief ought to have real concrete implications on our actions, words, and feelings. It seems to me that a lot of the ranting and raving, sometimes even foaming at the mouth, at nearly everything Pope Francis does, grows directly from roots that are not planted firmly in the radical faith that God is good, God is love, and that it is God who fights our battles. We pray, we submit, we serve, we love, we show mercy, we work hard at being Christ to others, and it is God who fights for us, His Church, and the the life of the world.

Second–holiness, prayer, and love. One of the great and shameful signs of sin dwelling in us is our pervasive tendency to see sin in others and not in ourselves. Christ says to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. We insist there is no log. Or we downplay it, excuse it, and dismiss it. The pope got a lot of praise, but even more criticism for saying, “Who am I to judge.” A lot of judgers then piled on. I think it very likely that was not the best moment of the pope’s pontificate, and even a closer look at the context of that utterance gives one pause, but truly, who am I to judge. My holiness is so inadequate that what I actually should say is that I don’t even have the time or the energy to judge the pope.

I have friends who make their living examining issues within the Church and writing articles about them. Part of their job is to be professional judges of various decisions and actions of Church leadership, and sometimes they are quite critical of the Holy Father and various Bishops. They are smarter than I, and more in tune with what’s going on, but even then, I cannot go along with them too much. I listen, but I hold back. I appreciate their work and observations. I even agree with them much of the time. And sometimes on this blog I will be critical as I am trying to sort out my understandings of Catholicism. But in general, I feel called to humility. It is not my place to criticize the pope or bishops. Instead, I am trying to seek holiness and, frankly, I am not good at it. I don’t really know how to do it.

Lately I’ve been called to prayer. So I pray for the Church and the pope every day. I pray for my parish and our priests. I pray for holiness. I read the Bible and the catechism every day. I do this not because I’m holy, but because I’m not. I look at myself and I have to say, “Who am I to judge.”

But I still judge. God have mercy.

Jesus save us from Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of mercy. Amen.

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Pray to Mary Each Day: Prayers by Saint John Paul II

Sunday

Mary, Mother of our Redeemer and Mother of the Church, we offer you the praise of the Angel of the Annunciation–Hail, full of grace! Through you the Holy Spirit gave this world Jesus its Savior–Son of God, Word made Flesh, Foundation of the Church.

Monday

Through you God’s holy people, his Church on earth, appeal for light and strength in its pilgrimage of faith. You have gone before us on the same journey and are now glorified in heaven. Be for us who are still on that journey of faith a true Star of the Sea, leading us to the presence of your Son where he sits at the right hand of the Father, enthroned in glory.

Tuesday

You were the first to believe. You persevered in prayer with the disciples in the Upper Room. You were a unique witness to the mystery of Jesus. All generations have called you blessed. Now in this Marian year God’s holy Church looks yet again to you for inspiration and help.

Wednesday

Be our Mother. Share with us your limitless faith. Take and keep us within your protective arms in a world that has largely lost faith and abandoned hope. Petition for us from your Son—as once you did so powerfully at Cana of Galilee—an increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life so that the Church may flourish in our time and thereby magnify his name. Touch the hearts of all our youth that they may see in every walk of life an opportunity to serve.

Thursday

Take from all our hearts the selfishness that sours relationships and keeps us centered only on ourselves. Give us hearts aflame with charity and filled with love. Make us, like the apostle John who was commended to your care, loving children of our heavenly Father, conscious always of your maternal presence in our lives.

Friday

Look favorably upon your children in our failure to provide the one flock under one shepherd for which Jesus prayed. Shine forth for us and for all the peoples as a sign of sure hope and solace as we strive to make our pilgrimage of faith hand in hand. Be our common Mother who prays for the unity of God’s family. May we see in you our model of that obedience of faith which should be found in all who listen attentively to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

Saturday

He who is mighty has done great things for you. Humbly we ask that you in turn may do for us these things for which we pray in the name and through the power of that most Holy Spirit who lives and reigns in the unity of the Father and the Son, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[I posted this once before, but as I am doing some current study of both Mary and prayer, I came across this post and wanted to publish it again.]

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A Virtual Pilgrimage to the Original Image of Divine Mercy in Vilnius Lithuania

O Blood and Water,
which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus
as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You

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