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Virtual prayer groups

By Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington
How many times have you told someone, “I will pray for you,” after learning of a troubling diagnosis, a bereavement or a worry on that person’s mind? Prayer is something we Catholics do, for and with one another — from the highest form of prayer, which is the Mass, to private devotionals for particular intentions.
When it comes to building a culture of life, prayer may be considered the most powerful tool we have. Especially in a state like Vermont where abortion is widespread and assisted suicide is legal, movements like 40 Days for Life (40daysforlife.com) and Cenacles of Life (cenaclesoflife.org) offer tangible opportunities to pray and fast in solidarity with others who are committed to promoting the sanctity of human life. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for some people to find time to gather physically to pray.
Thanks to the tools of our modern age, however, a solution has emerged: virtual prayer groups. These take many forms, but their common feature is that members connect digitally around shared prayer intentions, allowing them to pray “together” wherever they are and whenever they can.
Many Vermonters participate in Nine Days for Life, a United States Conference of Catholic Bishops-sponsored novena for pro-life intentions that takes place nationwide during the nine days leading up to the annual March for Life each January in Washington, D.C. Participants register at 9daysforlife.com and are sent daily reminders and prayers via email, text or social media apps.
Social media platforms like Facebook also offer myriad public and private prayer groups devoted to specific causes. Informal prayer groups can arise organically and take a variety of forms; not all require members to be tech-savvy.
Lori Daudelin, who helps coordinate the diocesan post-abortion healing ministry known as Project Rachel, developed a prayer ministry called “Friends of Project Rachel Prayer Partners,” a community of volunteers who pray for participants in the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat as well as those who call Project Rachel for support.
Daudelin sends requests to members using both email and surface mail outlining prayer requests. “Members’ time commitment is whatever they want it to be,” Daudelin explained. “They offer the prayers they feel led to.” She always is looking to add new members to this prayer community.
Pam King of Swanton, co-director of religious education at Immaculate Conception Church in St. Albans, leads a virtual prayer group which began spontaneously more than two years ago when a handful of friends agreed to pray a novena for a mutual friend who was experiencing troubled times. King sent daily reminders via text message to connect participants and to formalize their effort. Members texted “Amen” after they finished praying. The group continues with some 30 participants who receive either text or email reminders.
With input from the members, King identifies prayer intentions and searches out appropriate prayers to support them. “We have developed a kind of spiritual family where we support each other in times of need,” King explained, adding that it is a format that is easy to adapt to suit the goals of any prayer ministry. She often consults the website praymorenovenas.com to find suitable prayers for the group.
“Catholic Apptitude” (catholicapptitude.org/mission) is another online resource offering reviews of many digital apps devoted to prayer and devotions.
There are no limits to when individuals can pray, and now, with the availability of digital media, there are fewer limits to how and when we can pray together. 

Originally printed in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Praying in secret

By Carrie Handy
Respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus exhorts His listeners: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them,” and, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray … so that others may see them.” Commenting on this, a priest I know said in a recent homily, “Most of us are pretty good at obeying this part of the Sermon on the Mount; it comes pretty easily for most of us.”
Pondering his statement, I wondered why that would be. Is it because in our modern culture, we are perhaps a bit too happy to have an excuse to hide our faith from the world? Here in Vermont, ostensibly the least religious state in the nation, being a Christian is often conflated with being a bigot and a hater. No one relishes that kind of calumny, but shrinking from our responsibility to be Christian witnesses to our faith may be helping to dilute its power in the wider culture and allow such error to flourish. Jesus didn’t intend for us to use His words as an excuse to let our faith disappear from the landscape.
Sadly, Catholic principles rapidly are disappearing from the landscape. Where they do exist, they are often the subject of criticism and ridicule. Opposition to abortion is translated into oppression of women; opposition to assisted suicide is framed as indifference to suffering. Believing in the complementarity of the sexes and that our sexuality and our physical bodies have a God-given purpose which must be respected, and which obviates abortion, sterilization, contraception, homosexual acts and same-sex marriage, to name a few examples, makes us judgmental haters.
Catholics today are called as never before to become informed about the truths of our faith in order to be able to explain the “why” behind the teachings that seem increasingly at odds with modern society. Unless we can articulate these truths within the wider culture, we run the risk of being swept up into a secular mindset that runs counter to basic Christian principles. As I’ve heard Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne say on more than one occasion, “The number-one purpose of the Church is to save souls.” Saving souls in today’s world means standing for truth, in charity, even when it’s hard.
We are called to be salt and light and leaven in the world. Standing for pro-life truths in particular can be extremely challenging in a state where abortion on demand and assisted suicide are legal. It is incumbent upon us to spread the pro-life leaven amid a culture of death and to help reignite our determination to protect the most vulnerable lives among us.
How to do that? Here are a few ideas:
* Educate yourself. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website has a wealth of material covering a range of topics related to human life and dignity.
* Educate others. Bring pro-life speakers to your parish and community. The Respect Life Speakers Bureau can help.
* Speak up. If putting yourself out there is uncomfortable, start small: Something as simple as occasionally sharing a pro-life article or quote on social media can signal to others that you are pro-life.
When someone in your midst displays ignorance about, or disdain for, your faith or pro-life views, “out” yourself as a believer. Don’t be afraid to let them know you disagree.
* Pray. Join or begin a digital pro-life prayer chain such as 9 Days for Life; volunteer for 40 Days for Life or Cenacles of Life.
* Participate. The Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January and the Vermont Rally for Life in Montpelier offer opportunities to show the strength and breadth of the pro-life movement.
* Help. Donate to Birthright, Carenet or another pro-life pregnancy care center; reach out to an unwed mother in need; become a hospice volunteer.
In short, put your toe in the waters: Identify yourself as “pro-life” and follow the Spirit where it leads. Above all, while you pray to your Father in secret, do not be afraid to be a witness for life in the world.

'NovenaNetwork' app

If you’re looking for a way to pray novenas with others, there’s an app for that.
NovenaNetwork is a free social media iOS app made by a young parishioner of St. Pius X Church in Essex Center.
“I like novenas. I’ve had a few pretty amazing experiences with my prayers being answered after praying novenas, although not necessarily when or how I would have expected them to be answered, of course,” said Marissa C. Le Coz, 22, of Essex Junction. “Social media plays a big role in the world today. NovenaNetwork takes the social media concept and uses it to encourage people to pray novenas together.”
She had the idea for NovenaNetwork during the fall of her junior year at Dartmouth College. Although she had found websites and apps for reminding her to pray the nine days of her novenas, none were standalone social networks like what she had in mind -- social networks that would allow users to anonymously bring their prayer intentions to everyone using the app.
She originally planned to code NovenaNetwork during the winter vacation of her junior year, but it was more than she could take on then and returned to it as her senior culminating experience for her computer science degree.
Le Coz graduated from Dartmouth this year and plans to return in the fall to pursue a master’s degree with an eye on a career in software engineering.
While at school she attends Aquinas House Catholic Student Center where she has served as a member of the Outreach Committee, a lector and on the retreat planning team.
“My faith plays an important role in my life, so it was really awesome to be able to work on a project as part of my coursework that so directly pertains to my faith,” she said of her app.
Users can anonymously “start” novenas for particular prayer intentions, selecting from a library of novenas that the app provides, and then other users of the app can “join” these novenas. The user who initiates the novena chooses the start date, so everyone praying that novena prays on the same nine days for the same intention. Each user who joins a novena chooses a time for daily push notification reminders to pray each of the nine days.
“I think that this app is helpful both on an individual level and on a communal level,” she said, explaining that on an individual level, NovenaNetwork reminds users to pray the novenas they join: “So, if someone is not in the habit of praying daily, using NovenaNetwork is a step in the right direction, as the app sends prayer reminders in the form of push notifications, which come right to your phone, wherever you are.”
Each novena included in NovenaNetwork’s library includes a bit of information about the saint (or member of the Trinity, in the case of the Novena to the Holy Spirit) to whom the novena is addressed. “NovenaNetwork may help some people to learn more about the saints or even to discover some new saints. I know that I definitely learned a lot as I was writing up these descriptions,” she said.
On a communal level, NovenaNetwork encourages intercessory prayer; not only do users pray for the intercession of the saints, but they also pray for the intentions of one another.
NovenaNetwork -- released May 24 -- currently has a library of 20 novenas, but Le Coz plans gradually to expand the library as she releases updates for the app.
Her favorites are the Novena to the Holy Spirit and the Novena to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.
She currently does not have any other app plans, but she does plan to continue to make improvements to NovenaNetwork in the future and maybe add some new features.
Get the app at itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=122832


Rules of engagement

“No road is long with good company.” Turkish proverb
Every great relationship needs someone to initiate the conversation to get things going.
Great personal advice? Certainly, but on the website where I found this quote, “start the conversation” was the first of several tips on how to improve your social media engagement.
Be attentive, spark intrigue, know your audience, have a sense of humor, share compelling data – translate those into rules to improve personal relationships and your friends and loved ones will be happy.
If we followed the rules of engagement for social media marketing in our personal relationships, whether with family, friends, or even with God, we would be making real relationship headway.
But our culture has become such that we are more comfortable engaging with technology than we are with other people.
Recently I came across a video of a popular Italian-American comedian, Sebastian Maniscalco. He was new to me, but the topic of his act caught my eye -- The doorbell rings: then verses now.
He described how when the doorbell rang 20 or more years ago, the whole family jumped up and went to the door, delighted they were to have company. Mom brought out a store bought cake she was saving for just such an occasion. A pot of coffee was made and life was good.
Today, he demonstrated, when the doorbell rings, everyone drops to the floor and is shushed by parents into silence. Dad mouths the words, “Did you invite anyone over? Who invited someone over?” He commands somebody to grab the sword from under the couch and instructs mom to do the army crawl out of the kitchen so whoever is at the door won’t see movement and know someone is home.
The performance loses a lot in a simple text translation, but I had tears from laughing. All comedy is an exaggeration of some kind, but for me this skit rang true. When I was young we didn’t hesitate to open the door when the bell rang.
We didn’t have store-bought cake but my mom always had a box of Jiffy muffin mix ready to pop into the oven. The white and blue Corelle Ware percolator was ready on the counter for the unexpected guest and we often had family and friends popping in just to visit.
Today, when the doorbell rings we know instinctively it’s not a visitor. Everyone is too busy, and you just don’t drop in on people in this day and age. You make an appointment. If there’s someone at the door, it is probably someone proselytizing, a salesman, a utility company coming to turn off your service, or the mailperson needing a signature on a certified letter, which is never good.
Because we live in an age of fear, we now have security systems built into our doorbells just in case a visitor is really a criminal casing the house. I mean, who else would be stopping by without calling first?
Social isolation, including isolation from God, has become a reality for us in a time of increased social media use. While technology is speeding ahead in light years and employees are required to stay abreast of the latest and greatest, our real honest-to- goodness facetime with the people in our lives is being tossed aside like yesterday’s android phone.
The truth is we cannot have healthy relationships without investing time and presence. We need both for our loved ones and for God.
A friend of mine shared some of her dad’s wisdom as he reached the end of his life. He said it was important to get your priorities straight – God, family and work, in that order.
The great thing about God is you don’t need to call ahead and He loves company.

--Mary Morrell
  • Published in Diocesan

Increase our faith

Stir into flame our faith, O Lord! Inspire us to avoid that which is not of you or your life. Help us to avoid the traps of this world, such as greed, avarice, lust, and reckless ambition. Keep us, Lord, from being judgmental and gossips. In humility, Lord, we ask..... Increase our faith!

Stir into flame our faith, O Lord! Inspire us to embrace your heavenly Father who created us, who has redeemed us, and who continually sustains us. Inspire us to know in the depths of our hearts that his life and his will are what will make us happy and give us meaning and purpose in life. In humility, Lord, we ask..... Increase our faith!

Stir into flame our faith, O Lord! Inspire us to accept your teachings, Lord Jesus Christ. You taught us to love one another and to find you in all people and in all situations. Take our hands, Lord, and walk us to the cross of your Son, Jesus, and to the empty tomb, in which we will find hope. In humility, Lord, we ask.... Increase our faith!

Stir into flame our faith, O Lord! Inspire us to live our Catholic faith with determination and devotion. Remind us of the importance of the Eucharist in our lives, your presence in this bread and wine, coursing through our minds, hearts, hands and souls. Help us feel your Eucharistic presence in our decisions, thoughts, and actions. In humility, Lord, we ask... Increase our faith!

Stir into flame our faith, O Lord! Inspire us to be gentle, loving, forgiving, patient, and compassionate among your sons and daughters. Keep us mindful Lord that you love all of us equally, even those people we might dislike or not get along with. We especially pray for those people in our lives with whom we have a difficult history. In humility, Lord, we ask... Increase our faith!

Stir into flame our faith, O Lord! Inspire us as a parish and as your body, the Church, collectively to witness to your love and life for ourselves and our wider community of Rutland and Wallingford. Help our parish to be a beacon of light and hope, a community in whom others feel love, acceptance, kindness, and generosity. In humility, Lord, we ask... Increase our faith!

Please, Lord, stir our faith into a flame of love for you and others. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Prayer by Msgr. Bernard W. Bourgeois, ​October 2, 2016 
Submitted by a parishioner of Christ the King Parish (Rutland, VT)

If you encounter a prayer, quote, homily, or other sentiment that inspires your faith, submit it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for publication consideration.

  • Published in Parish

'Pray with Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with Your Children'

"Pray with Me: Seven Simple Ways to Pray with Your Children"

By Grace Mazza Urbanski. Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2015. 160 pages. $14.95 paperback, $11.99 Kindle, $10.49 Nook.

This beautiful little book should be among the items any new Catholic mother receives at her first baby shower. Urbanski, herself the mother of five children, outlines in gentle terms just how parents can convey a love of prayer to their children, even if those same parents start out feeling uncomfortable or inadequate to the task. As the author states in her introduction, "We think a prayerful person should also be a perfect person," an expectation which is precisely the opposite of what many parents feel on any given stressed-filled day. However, that is not a prerequisite for helping children form a prayerful relationship with God. Instead, she says, "Jesus invites us to focus on the beautiful hope he plants deep in our hearts, our fundamental desire for our children's good."

Urbanski approaches praying in seven different ways, some which may be familiar and others which may show a new way of relating to God. Her first chapter, Spontaneous Prayer, speaks of praying from the heart and from the "stuff" of everyday life. "Like an enthusiastic best friend, God loves to hear from us about even the most mundane details of our lives," she says. "Nothing is omitted. Spontaneous prayer invites God into the fullness of each day." In the second chapter, Praying from Memory, she explores the area most of us think of when we "say our prayers" – those beautiful words we learned so thoroughly and so long ago that they spring to our minds and lips almost without thinking. (The appendix of the book is, in fact, "A Treasury of Memorized Prayer"). In the face of differing thoughts (mostly in educational settings) about the value of memorization, she points out another way of looking at it: "Memorized prayer," she notes, "can become robotic, but consider another phrase we use to describe memorization: learning by heart." It is the heart which allows such prayer to nourish us.

In chapters three and four, Urbanski urges parents and children to pray both with Scripture and song. Chapter three essentially explores Lectio Divina on a child's level (with a good dose of St. Ignatius thrown in), while even the most "can't carry a tune in a bucket" parent may be amazed at the science behind the value of music for the human mind, heart and soul. "Biologically, singing releases chemicals in the brain that make us happier, more hopeful, and more trusting," Urbanski notes. "Spiritually, lifting our voices in sung prayer opens our hearts as well." And if the idea of singing seems intimidating, she reminds us that "like any activity that is a little new, singing together gets easier when we do it every day."

"Silence takes practice" the author tells us in the next chapter, but it is in silence that we most often hear the voice of God. In a world in which we are all – children included – bombarded by constant noise, cultivating the ability to find quiet time leads us to God, and then naturally to what Urbanski discusses in chapter six, Reflection. "Reflective prayer," she says, "invites us to see ourselves as we truly are: unique, beloved children of God." Finally, she talks about the Apostleship of Prayer, the Morning Offering, and praying with the Pope. "Faithfully remembering the pope's prayer intentions each month expands a child's worldview," she concludes. "By the end of a calendar year, children have considered 24 diverse groups of people and global issues."

This is an encouraging book, one that not only shows parents how to pray with their children, but how to pray better themselves. Highly recommended.

  • Published in Reviews
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