Weekend Reading

Sports and the Christian Life

With the Olympics under way, Cardinal Wuerl links the values of sport to our lives as everyday Catholic Christians.  Well worth reading.

Forgive others and find peace, pope says at Assisi

I can personally testify to the correctness of this observation.

Summer Excursions: Encountering the Sacred at the National Gallery of Art

What if I’m Hit by a Truck?

Training prepares church for terrorism, shootings and other disasters

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Book Review: The Seven Deadly Sins

You may have heard of the Seven Deadly Sins, but it’s a fair guess that if you were catechized anytime after 1971 you can’t name them, must less describe them — or recognize how they apply to your life.

That’s one very good reason to get The Seven Deadly Sins by Kevin Vost.

Based on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Vost gives us both a history of the deadly sins in scripture and a battle plan to vanquish them from our lives.  Want to know how to slash sloth, end envy, abolish avarice, vanquish vainglory, gut gluttony, level lust or rout wrath?  You’ll find the answer in this book.

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Mortification and Credit Cards

Yesterday’s reading in “In Conversation with God” focused on the concept of mortifications, of “taking up our cross” every day.

One possible mortification in this consumer society is to always pay cash.  Or, at any rate, use a payment method that draws directly against cash.

The problem with that, of course, is that in many respects credit cards are better than debit cards.  For the most part, if your account is hacked with a credit card your liability is no more than $50, whereas with a debit card, your bank account can be drained.

On top of that, credit cards offer some good rewards, while debit cards for the most part don’t.

There is a way around this conundrum:  Treat a credit card as if it was a debit card.  To do this, you would not send in simply the entire statement balance, but rather in the first month you’d send in enough to pay off the card if full plus  your anticipated spending for the next month.

After that first month, you need do nothing more than (1) check your balance regularly, just as you would do with a debit card, and (2) make sure that you never run up a charge without the money to cover it being already in your account.

Then you can choose what card has the best rewards, based upon your needs.

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An Insight into a Young Dorothy Day

When Pope Francis visited Washington a few months ago, he heaped praise on Dorothy Day, saying she was a “representative of the American people” with a “passion for justice.”

She was known as a liberal — some would say a socialist or communist.  And certainly she associated with many of the leading socialist and communist figures of the early 20th Century.

But a new book, Dorothy Day, Journalist 1916-1917, by Tom McDonogh focuses on just two years, 1916 and 1917, when she was a young journalist in Manhattan.  Certainly what she saw and wrote about in left-wing periodicals of the time would be enough to make a person tend toward socialism.

In her stories for The New York Call Day describes a miserable existence on the lower East Side.  She knew the existence because she lived it, although it appears she didn’t need to.  But the difference between sympathy and pity is to understand the precariousness of the working poor, for whom unemployment, sickness or starvation could plunge a family into destitution and starvation.

It’s a worthwhile book for those seeking to understand lower-class life in New York City around the time of World War I and well as for those seeking to understand why Dorothy Day became such an advocate for the poor.

The economy under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama make this book particularly relevant for out times.

 

 

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Brain Scans Reveal 1st Physical Evidence AA Prayers Reduce Cravings

How important is prayer?  A new study gives dramatic evidence that prayer isn’t simply a “spiritual” activity, but one that can have real impacts on people’s lives.  The study may explain how the Lord’s Prayer to “lead us not into temptation” works.

 (Photo by Flickr user Andy via Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Andy via Creative Commons license)

In the first study to explore brain physiology in AA members, researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center found that members who recited AA prayers after viewing drinking-related images reported less craving for alcohol after praying than after just reading a newspaper.

The reduced craving in those that prayed corresponded to increased activity in brain regions responsible for attention and emotion as measured by MRI, according to study results published recently in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

“Our findings suggest that the experience of AA over the years had left these members with an innate ability to use the AA experience—prayer in this case―to minimize the effect of alcohol triggers in producing craving,” says senior author Marc Galanter, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse at NYU Langone. “Craving is diminished in long-term AA members compared to patients who have stopped drinking for some period of time but are more vulnerable to relapse.”

The study results revolve around craving, one of the criteria physicians use to diagnose addiction. Such strong desires can persist even in addicted people who no longer use alcohol or drugs, and AA members recite abstinence-promoting prayers to reduce cravings.

“We wanted to determine what is going on in the brain in response to alcohol-craving triggers, such as passing by a bar or experiencing something upsetting, when long-term AA members are exposed to them,” Dr. Galanter says.

To investigate, Dr. Galanter and his colleagues recruited 20 long-term AA members who reported no cravings for alcohol during the week preceding testing. The participants were placed in an MRI scanner and then shown either pictures of alcoholic drinks or people drinking to simulate drinking behavior in a laboratory setting.

The pictures were presented twice: first after asking the participant to read neutral material from a newspaper, and again after the participant recited an AA prayer promoting abstinence from alcohol to represent the impact of AA.

According to the study authors, all research subjects reported some degree of craving for alcohol after viewing the images, and less craving after reciting an AA prayer.

MRI data revealed that there were changes in parts of the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that controls attention, and in brain sites responsible for control of emotion and the semantic reappraisal of emotion, which represents the different ways a people understand situations based on their perspectives.

“This finding suggests that there appears to be an emotional response to alcohol triggers, but that it’s experienced and understood differently when someone has the protection of the AA experience,” Galanter says.

In Galanter’s decade-long research into the role of spirituality in long-term AA members, he and his colleagues have found that members undergo a transition from initially craving alcohol to a new status where they reported little or no craving.

This reduction in craving, according to Dr. Galanter, is associated with the amount of time that passed following a “spiritual awakening” in AA, which marks a transition to a different attitude toward drinking.

Previous investigations by other researchers of the role of prayer on drinking behavior found that alcohol abusers who reported a spiritual awakening drank less after treatment for alcoholism. Research participants assigned to engage in prayer—unrelated to drinking—every day for four weeks drank about half as much as those who were not.

“Our current findings open up a new field of inquiry into physiologic changes that may accompany spiritual awakening and perspective changes in AA members and others,” says Galanter. He says the study results also support the validity of a long-term AA experience in terms of physiologic changes in the brain.

In early 2016, Oxford University Press published Dr. Galanter’s book What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?, which provides context for his group’s studies of the psychological affects of AA.

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Praying with Opus Dei — The ‘Norms of Piety’

As I noted last week, with St. Josemaria Escriva was developing the Norms of Piety observed by members of Opus Dei, it was almost impossible for a layperson to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  To start with, the Divine Office was in Latin.  Secondly, back in the 1930s we lacked smartphones, tablets, etc., all of which make it possible to avoid the use of a Breviary.

So St. Josemaria came up with Norms of Piety that enabled Opus Dei members and others to have an intense prayer life with the aid of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Let’s look at its components:

  • A Morning Offering
  • Mental Morning Prayer of 15 to 30 minutes
  • Mass
  • Visit to the Blessed Sacrament
  • Reading the New Testament
  • Angelus
  • Holy Rosary
  • Mental Afternoon Prayer of 15 to 30 minutes
  • Spiritual Reading
  • Examination of Conscience, Three Hail Marys for purity before going to bed

You can see how one could take these elements and develop a daily routine incorporating them:

  • Upon arising, Morning Offering
  • After making a cup of tea, Read New Testament for 3 to 5 minutes, use that text as the basis for Morning Prayer.
  • Daily Mass
  • Visit to the Blessed Sacrament at noon or after work
  • Angelus at noon
  • 30 minutes of afternoon prayer after work, before or dinner, based upon today’s spiritual reading
  • Examination of Conscience, Three Hail Marys for purity before going to bed

Hopefully, this three-part series has helped you see how you could develop a vigorous prayer life anchored around the other activities of your day.

Some people, of course, have additional opportunities for prayer.  A nurse or doctor, for instance, could do a short prayer or aspiration, before seeing each patient.

It is worth making the effort to develop a throughout-the-day prayer routine, to anchor it to other things you do.  But it is also important not to try it all at once.  If you are just starting out do just one thing.  Then next month, add one more thing until you finally have a complete routine that works for you in the way you live your life.

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How to Pray Always — Without a Breviary

Last week I wrote about how I never go more than three hours without prayer.  For me, the key to that is to pray all seven hours of the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours.

But that involves the use of a Breviary, or other prayer books or prayer apps.  And many people find that to be a challenge.

Back in the 1930s, when St. Josemaria Escriva was developing the spirituality of Opus Dei, it was almost impossible for lay people to prayer LOTH.  So he developed an alternative, but the alternative pretty much keeps to the idea of ritual and routine.  We’ll talk about that next week.

But for this week, let’s talk about how a person who uses Magnificat can do essentially the same thing.  Each issue includes Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer, along with several meditations, and Daily Mass.

So if I was to use Magnificat, this would be my schedule:

  • When I wake up, say a Morning Offering, a sort prayer offering my day to God.
  • After making coffee — before or after breakfast — Morning Prayer
  • After dinner and the evening news, Evening Prayer.
  • Before going to bed, Night Prayer.

But what, you might say, about the daytime hours?  Traditionally, Catholics would say the Angelus at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.  You could also pray the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before, during or immediately after the work day.

So, as you can see, it’s possible to “pray constantly” without praying the Divine Office or using a breviary.

Next week:  Opus Dei’s Norms of Piety

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Ritual and Routines Are Key to Prayer

“Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Easier said than done, as anyone who has tried it knows.  It is certainly vital to be always joyful and always to give thanks.  But for today, let’s focus on “pray without ceasing,” sometimes translated as “pray always.”

Exactly how are we to do that?  One has to eat.  One has to work.  And whether one’s work is mental or physical, it is difficult if not impossible to pray while preparing tax returns, or  grading papers or running a piece of construction equipment.

The answer, I think, is in establishing routines and rituals.  That’s what people who pray the Liturgy of the Hours do.  They pray certain “hours” (which really are anywhere from five to 20 minutes) at the same time every day.

In my own praying LOTH, here’s my normal schedule:

When I get up, I pray the Invitatory.  It begins, “Lord Open My Lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise,” and includes  Psalm 95.  I have it memorized, so I don’t need to use a Breviary or other device.

After fixing a cup of tea, I settle in and pray the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer.  The Office of Readings can be prayed any time, but it’s the first “hour” for each day, so it’s easier to simply follow the order in the book.

Morning prayer is supposed to be prayed in the morning (Duh!), and it immediately follows Readings.

The daytime hours are optional for most people.  But, as a member of the Confraternity of Penitents, I am required to pray them.  They are short — take no more than five to eight minutes — which makes them easy to forget.  So I pray Midmorning Prayer immediately before starting work, Midday Prayer at Lunch, Midafternoon Prayer at roughly 3 p.m.  But sometimes Midafternoon Prayer is prayed at the end of the workday.

After dinner, and after the CBS Evening News, I pray Evening Prayer.  And I pray Night Prayer before going to bed.  Some people combine Evening Prayer and Night Prayer.  That’s allowed, but I usually don’t do it.

You’ll notice that I anchor every single hour to something else.  That makes it part of a routine.

Still, you might say, this isn’t praying without ceasing.  I don’t say Hail Marys every time I type a word.  Still, it effectively spreads my prayer throughout the day.  I never go more than three hours without consciously praying.  I use the Daytime Prayers as a way to sanctify my work, so you could say that even while I am working I am also praying.

You might say, “that’s nice, but I don’t want to lug a breviary around with me.”  Neither do I.  I do use a Breviary at home.  In my car and in my office I have copies of Daytime Prayer, which contain just those prayers.  And I have both the Divine Office and iBreviary apps on my smartphone.

This has become routine for me, so much so that I don’t even think about it.  But every once in a while, I do — and I’m always astounded to figure out, including about 15 minutes of mental prayer, I’m praying abut 90 minutes a day.

Next in this series: Other ways to pray constantly, but without a breviary

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25% Calorie Reduction Leads to Health Benefits in Non-Obese Adults

Jesus made it clear he expects us to fast.

But few Catholics do.  At least on any sustained basis — even as little as fasting just on Fridays.

But new evidence suggests fasting is good for you.

The latest found a 25% calorie restriction over two years by adults who were not obese was linked to better health-related quality of life. The study was published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Calorie restriction can increase longevity in many species but concerns remain about potential negative effects of calorie restriction in humans.

Corby K. Martin, Ph.D., of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La., and coauthors tested the effects of calorie restriction on aspects of quality of life that have been speculated to be negatively affected by calorie restriction, including decreased libido, lower stamina, depressed mood and irritability.

Their work extends the literature with a study group of nonobese individuals because beneficial effects of calorie restriction on health span (length of time free of disease) increase the possibility that more people will practice calorie restriction.

In this clinical trial conducted at three academic research institutions, 220 men and women with body mass index of 22 to 28 were enrolled and divided almost 2 to 1 into two groups: the larger group was assigned to two years of 25% calorie restriction and the other was an ad libitum (their own preference) control group for comparison. The analysis included 218 participants and self-report questionnaires were used to measure mood, quality of life, sleep and sexual function.

Data were collected at baseline, a year and two years. Of the 218 participants, the average age was nearly 38 and 70% were women. The calorie restriction group lost an average of 16.7 pounds compared with less than a pound in the control group at year two.

According to the authors, the calorie restriction group, compared with the control group, had improved mood, reduced tension and improved general health and sexual drive and relationship at year two, as well as improved sleep at year one. The bigger weight loss by the calorie restriction participants was associated with increased vigor, less mood disturbance, improved general health and better quality of sleep.

A limitation of the study is its selection of a sample of healthy individuals.

“Calorie restriction among primarily overweight and obese persons has been found to improve QOL [quality of life], sleep and sexual function, and the results of the present study indicate that two years of CR [calorie restriction] is unlikely to negatively affect these factors in healthy adults; rather, CR is likely to provide some improvement,” the authors conclude.

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Why Eating Late at Night Might Be Making You Fat

The secret to better health could be as simple as an early dinnertime — and a 12-hour fast, according to this Reader’s Digest article.  When you get hungry, or want that evening snack, link it to a prayer for those who never get enough to eat, and you’re fulfilling Jesus desire that we fast.

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