Prayer: The Best New Year’s Resolution

Jared Staudt

In our lifetime, there has never been so much expectation for a new year, hoping that we can all turn a corner and leave a difficult year in the past. So much is out of our control, yet there is one thing that we can do to allow our lives to be shaped by the one who is truly in control. Our lives will be better this year if we give more time to God in prayer.  

But what is prayer really about? I found it startling, when reading the sociologist Christian Smith, that we focus more on ourselves during prayer than on God. Citing a survey of U.S. Catholics, Smith relates that “the most frequently reported subjects of prayer are personal well-being and family relationships … Again, worldly issues dominate the prayers of American Catholics, and more ‘spiritual’ concerns — with the exception of giving thanks to God  —recede far into the background” (Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters, Princeton University Press, 2017, 193). There is nothing wrong with praying for oneself and one’s family, although, if our prayers stop there, we’ll be missing the very heart of prayer: communion with the living God.  

The Carmelite Anders Cardinal Arborelius, the first cardinal from Scandinavia, can teach us how to pray in a more God-focused way through his guide, Carmelite Spirituality: The Way of Carmelite Prayer and Contemplation (EWTN, 2020). The focus of prayer is God — sitting before him in silence to receive the gift of himself that he wants to give us. Cardinal Arborelius teaches that “adoration,” in particular, “is so important in Christian life … Adoration is completely God-centered. It is the core of our prayer to praise God just because He is God, just because He is what He is — not because He has given us so many things or insights, but just because He is God. It is our main obligation as creatures to adore Him Who made us. Until we have learned to adore God in spirit and truth, life is bound to be very troublesome because we will be bound up in ourselves. Maybe the best way to learn the art of adoration is to see our own poverty, that we are nothing and God is everything but that He still loves us and gives us all His riches” (113). When we focus on ourselves and not God, we turn our attention away from the real gifts he wants to give us. We ask for crumbs when he wants us to feast on his divine life.   

The Cardinal points to the need for this adoration to become a way of life, guiding us not only every day but throughout each day. By refusing to be consumed by the daily grind of life, and focusing on God in prayer, we actually can approach the daily details more easily: “When we start to look upon our entire life as a pilgrimage, our attitude will change gradually. The small things of everyday life tend to become more important. Every little step we take becomes immensely valuable. We become aware that we are walking with Jesus to the Father with the wind of the Spirt drives onward, step by step. Every step brings us closer to God already, here and now” (7).  

The Trinitarian emphasis in this quote shapes a large part of the book, with chapters on the contemplation of the Holy Spirit, remaining in the Holy Trinity, believing in and becoming a child of the Father, belong and surrendering to Jesus, and following the Spirit. Prayer is Trinitarian because Jesus shares his own love for the Father with us, who is the Holy Spirit, the one who draws us into the life of God. The Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ, who leads us to the Father, in whom we can rest secure as his sons and daughters. “We never want to be without Jesus and His Word,” Cardinal Arborelius says, because “we don’t want to be on our own. We don’t want to be independent individuals but His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of His Father. We love to depend on Him alone” (8).  

This brings us back to our initial problem — we miss what God wants to give us in prayer, or we don’t even pray at all. The Cardinal reminds us that what we need most is to spend time with God in prayer. “We are the temples of the Most Holy Trinity; our dignity couldn’t be greater. But, and this is a tragedy, most Christians couldn’t care less. God lives in them, and they are busy with all kinds of other things” (11). He calls us, following the great Carmelite tradition to prioritize prayer, even in simple ways, such as reminding ourselves with the rhyme, “now-Thou” to turn to the encounter with God each moment (58).  

It is not an exaggeration to say that if we renew our efforts of prayer, opening ourselves to the life of the Trinity within us, 2021 will be a better year! 

Featured image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

COMING UP: ‘I have seen the Lord’: St. Vincent de Paul’s new adoration chapel honors St. Mary Magdelene’s witness

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“I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18). 

One couple from St. Vincent de Paul parish took these words to heart with urgency last year during the pandemic and decided to build a Eucharistic Adoration chapel for their fellow faithful to be in the Lord’s presence themselves. 

Mike and Shari Sullivan donated design and construction of the new Eucharistic Adoration Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene adjacent to their parish church to make a space for prayer and adoration that they felt needed to be reinstated, especially during the difficult days of COVID-19. 

The chapel was completed this spring and dedicated during Divine Mercy weekend with a special blessing from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. 

“It was invigorating to have the archbishop bless the chapel,” Mike said. “The church has been buzzing.” 

Mike has been a Catholic and a member of St. Vincent de Paul since his baptism, which he jokes was around the time the cornerstone was placed in 1951. The Sullivans’ five children all attended the attached school and had their sacraments completed at St. Vincent de Paul too. 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila dedicated the St. Mary Magdalene adoration chapel with a prayer and blessing at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church on April 9, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

The 26-by 40-foot chapel is a gift to fellow parishioners of a church that has meant so much to their family for decades, and to all who want to participate in prayer and adoration. 

The architect and contractor are both Catholic, which helped in the design of Catholic structure and the construction crew broke ground in mid-December. The Sullivans wanted to reclaim any Catholic artifacts or structural pieces they could for the new chapel. Some of the most striking features of the chapel are the six stained glass windows Mike was able to secure from a demolished church in New York. 

The windows were created by Franz Xaver Zettler who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century.  The Munich style is accomplished by painting detailed pictures on large pieces of glass unlike other stained-glass methods, which use smaller pieces of colored glass to make an image. 

The two primary stained-glass windows depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, the chapel’s namesake, and they frame either side of the altar which holds the tabernacle and monstrance — both reused from St.  Vincent De Paul church.  

The Sullivans wanted to design a cloistered feel for the space and included the traditional grill and archway that opens into the pews and kneelers with woodwork from St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. 

The chapel was generously donated by Mike and Shari Sullivan. The stained glass windows, which depict St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene, were created by Franz Xaver Zettler, who was among a handful of artists known for the Munich style of stained glass from the 19th century. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Shari is a convert to Catholicism and didn’t grow up with the practice of Eucharistic adoration, but St. Vincent de Paul pastor Father John Hilton told her to watch how adoration will transform the parish. She said she knows it will, because of what regular Eucharistic adoration has done for her personally. 

The Sullivans are excited that the teachers at St. Vincent de Paul school plan to bring their classes to the warm and inviting chapel to learn about the practice of adoration and reflect on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

The words of St. Mary Magdalene “I have seen the Lord,” have become the motto of the chapel, Mike said, and they are emblazoned on a brass plaque to remind those who enter the holy space of Christ’s presence and the personal transformation offered to those inside.

The St. Vincent de Paul  Church and The Eucharistic Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene is located at 2375 E. Arizona Ave. Denver 80210 on the corner of Arizona and Josephine Street. The chapel is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Visit https://saintvincents.org/adorationchapel1 for more information about the chapel and to look for updates on expanded hours as they occur.