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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f you’re think about buying Divine Office app, do so now!

From Daria Sockey’s terrific Coffee and Canticles blog:

if you have been  thinking about buying the app but were putting it off, DO IT NOW. Otherwise you may have to wait for a long  time. I know this app isn’t free, but it’s a good one and really worth it if you need the audio versions when travelling. 

Update: For these last few days it’s available, the price of the app will only be $3.99  Definitely worth it.

Full details here:

Also, Card. Wuerl on the Pope’s latest Apostolic Exhortation:

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Welcome, New Catholic!

At the Easter Vigil you took a huge step, becoming a member of the Catholic Church, the one founded by Jesus roughly 2,000 years ago.

We hope and pray that as a years roll on, you’ll be ever more grateful that you did.  But that depends on you.  The Catholic faith isn’t one to simply study, like you might in an academic setting, but to live.

Over the centuries, Catholic thinkers have developed a set of practices which I hope you will adopt as your own.  (See note on implementation below).  Over time, they transform us into the better version of ourselves that God wants.  The practices are:

  • A morning offering – you can Google “morning offering” and find several fine, if elaborate, ones. Or you can simply use the one used by most people in Opus Dei:  “Oh my Jesus, I offer you all my thoughts, actions and sufferings of this day for the intentions of your most Sacred Heart.  ”
  • Morning Prayer. You can use something like the morning prayer found in the Liturgy of the Hours, or in the Magnifcat (which is like a Reader’s Digest version of LOTH), or some prayers of your own.  You can focus on the challenges of the day – a teenager’s fashions, a challenging boss, whatever.  It does not have to be long, and it does not have to be elaborate.
  • Daily Mass. Especially see the implementation note below).
  • Spiritual reading (See below)
  • Evening Prayer/Examination of Conscience/Night Prayer – Same comments for evening prayer as for morning prayer.
    • Examen – Benjamin Franklin took a few minutes to review his conduct every day. If it was good for a person who didn’t really believe in God or Jesus, it’s doubly good for us.  This does not have to be a long, involved process.  What did you do that you wish you hadn’t done?  What didn’t you do that you wish you had?
    • Night Prayer – I’m willing to bet your Mother taught you “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. But if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  That’s night prayer.  You can get more elaborate.  You can follow the format in LOTH or Magnificat.  But you don’t have to.  The idea is to put your soul into God’s hands overnight.

None of the prayer parts requires a lot of time.

About Daily Mass:  You can get so much out of it.  But it is hard to do if you’re working, especially if you’re on a suburban campus, as you are!  So you can adopt a workaround.  You might start with the readings of the day and commentary on them.  You can find the readings listed in the parish bulletin.  You can find the readings and commentary on the Catholic Bishops website (  Or you can find the readings/commentary in Magnificat or The Word Among Us.  I believe EWTN has them in an audio version, and I bet you could download them as a podcast, so you could listen as you drive to work.

The readings can also provide a basis for your morning or evening prayer:  As you read them, ask yourself what God is trying to tell you.  From my own experience, sometimes the answer is nothing – or maybe I should say simply a historical lesson about the life of Jesus.  But sometimes I have found they hit me over the head with a 2×4.  One day I read St. Paul say, “Owe nothing to any man other than the love of Christ.”  For whatever reason, I focused on the “owe nothing” part and concluded I should get out of debt as quickly as possible.

If you want to go further than this, you might combine the readings/commentary with the Rosary.  Together, they will take roughly as long as Daily Mass.

About Spiritual Reading.  I don’t think enough emphasis is put on spiritual reading in normal parish activities.  It really is something we all should do daily.  Obviously, you could read something like St. Augustine’s Confessions or one of the books on the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan list.

But books like Jennifer Fulwiler’s Something Other Than God will also serve this purpose.  As would “Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks,” a first-class business book published by Columbia Business School Publishing, or any one of a number of other books.

My practice is to try to read a few pages every day of whatever book I’m reading.  In the case of Jennifer’s book, it’s 248 pages long, we have roughly five weeks before Pentecost, so you could try to read 50 pages a week, roughly seven or eight pages a day.

Read it for enjoyment.  Don’t study it.  But when you’re done, ask yourself what you learned that was interesting to you.  And, if you find God speaking to you at any point, so much the better!

About implementation:  Anytime you put down a list, such as I just did, it inevitably looks daunting.  But we learned to crawl before we walked, so apply the same principle.  Whatever you’re doing, keep doing.  Just add one thing.  What I’m asking you to add during this period is the habit of spiritual reading.

Good luck — and remember, to be Catholic is to experience continuing conversion.





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What I’m Reading: Holy Saturday’s Silent Embrace

From The Catholic Thing.  You can find it here.

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‘We Want Barabbas’ in Our Own Times

We all have the tendency to look upon the Gospel as (1) a historical record from long, long ago, and (2) providing nice quotes to provide comfort for our own struggles.

It’s much less common, I think, to reflect upon the fact that the Gospel is played out, time and again, in our own day.  The players names are different, but not the human drama.

Just last Sunday, we once again were taken back to the days immediately before Jesus’s crucifixion and heard again the cry, “We want Barabbas, we want Barabbas.”

But we, too, make that cry in our own time.   The way of Christ calls us to sacrifice and penance.  But how do we respond?  We, too, want Barabbas.

Not that Barabbas, the revolutionary and murderer of 2,000 years ago, of course.  But isn’t it true that time and again we opt for things contrary to the teaching of Christ?

President Obama, like the Jews of 2,000 years ago, calls for the release of revolutionaries and murderers — not Barabbas, but Islamic militants held at Guantanamo Bay.

So does Sen. Bernie Sanders in his presidential campaign.  Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s Secretary of State, stands silent on these calls, so she wants Barabbas, too, but lacks the courage to say so.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State goes on murdering Christians, both within its territory and, as we were reminded, in Western Europe.

Politicians in both Europe and the U.S. also want Barabbas — the Barabbas of safety, of non-confrontation with radical Islam.  Donald Trump, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, says he wants to rebuild the American military — but not to employ U.S. forces in the Mideast.

Sen. Ted Cruz says Obama should expand Guantanamo, not close it.  Gov. John Kasick does too.

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day turned to Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus.  All the presidential candidates of both parties acknowledge the need for “boots on the ground” to confront ISIS — but they want the Barabbas of European or Arab boots, not American.


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Why Are Muslims Seen as ‘Devout,’ But Christians Aren’t?

I teach a course in Interpersonal Communications at Prince George’s Community College.  One of our in-class exercises involves a fill-in-the-blanks activity in which class members at random shout out whatever completes the sentence.  For example:

  • Christians are _______
  • Mulims are _______
  • Jews are ______
  • Republicans _____
  • Women are _______

In every one of my classes, the first response to “Christians are” is “hypocritical,” while the first response to “Muslims are” is “devout.”

When I ask why Muslims are seen as devout, but Christians are seen as hypocritical the inevitable answer is (1) Muslims pray five times a day, and (2) Christians often say one thing but do another — a point made in a recent debate by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

We know Muslims pray five times a day because they tell us.  They ask for a room at work or at school in which to pray.

But Christians have no requirement to pray at all, much less a certain number of times a day.

There’s a famous picture by Jean-Francois Millet showing a farm couple pausing in the field to pray the Angelus.  This prayer was traditionally recited in Roman Catholic churches, convents, and monasteries as well as by the faithful at home three times daily: 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm

It’s not a long prayer — it takes at most 90 seconds.

We don’t have to wait (and wait and wait) for the Hierarchy to decree we should pray the Angelus three times a day.  We can simply begin, ourselves, to make it a habit.

The easiest way to do that is to link it to meal times.  Most of us eat breakfast, lunch and dinner so, while it will require effort, it should be relatively easy to learn to pray the Angelus and to offer grace before each of those meals.

Relatively easy is the operative word.  Because, if you’re like me, changing your meal time habit will require some effort, and, perhaps a reminder.  In her blog, “The Cloistered Heart,” Nancy Schuman notes that in monasteries the day is regulated by bells.  It may be that the way to remember to say the Angelus and grace before meals is to set an alarm on your cellphone.

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Why Penance Is So Hard

Members of the Confraternity of Penitents have four major areas in which they practice  penance:  90 minutes of prayer a day, food (fasting about one-third of the year and eating meat only on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday), clothing and becoming and remaining debt-free.

Each of those is a challenge.  Most people tend to put prayer at the end of the list of things to do in a day, which is why it is reduced to perhaps five or 10 minutes just before bed, or saying a rosary as we drive to work.  Fasting should make one hungry, but the real pain may well be knowing that one can’t have a steak or even a McDonald’s hamburger that day.

If you’re like me, the thought of never wearing your red Indiana University tee-shirts and sweatshirts again is surely painful.  And becoming and remaining debt free means, at least in the short run, not being able to splurge on stuff just because one wants to.

Why this would be so is explained in a new study from Johns Hopkins University.  The gist is that each of these are associated with positive memories.

To be able to devote 90 minutes a day may mean getting up 30 minutes or an hour earlier, and that means giving up that TV show you’ve loved.

One doesn’t miss steak if all one has had is a bad steak.  But it’s the memories of good times with people one loves over steak that makes abstaining from meat four days a week such a challenge.

One may look absolutely terrific in blue pants or a blue skirt and a grey or white top.  But for me, wearing my red IU tee-shirts and sweatshirts takes me back to days when I was young and everything was new and exciting.

And being debt free means remembering how whatever one wanted could be had instantly, just by whipping out a piece of plastic.

The essence of penance, I suspect, isn’t simply praying a lot, or fasting or being restricted in clothing or becoming and remaining debt free.  Rather, it’s the constant struggle triggered by happy memories from the past.

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