Mystagogy means to lead those, just initiated into the life of the Church, to an understanding of what it is they are now to become.
Every Lent, the Church invites us to immerse ourselves in the three traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. After Lent comes the time of mystagogy during which the new sons and daughters of the Church are called to further illumination through intense prayer and study. Literally, “mystagogy” means leading those who have been initiated into the life of the Church, further and further, into understanding what it is they are now to become. From the ancient Church to today, this time has always consisted of a two-fold process: learning to distance oneself from what in the world detracts from a fuller appropriation of Christ’s own life, as well as a greater desire to become more and more conformed to the living Lord in the very concrete circumstances of one’s very particular life and day.
The hopes of this article is to allow us all an opportunity to see Lent not as something that is now to be put on the proverbial shelf for another year, but to continue how we pray, and fast, and give alms, by continuing our increased attentiveness to God’s presence. The number one Christmas gift this year was the Kindle Touch. I can’t believe the number of children who have iPod Touches. We all probably need to ask ourselves the following question: “Is the media that I am using drawing me closer to God, or away from God?”
Here are a few different examples that can be reflected: What do I find myself watching on TV? What do I listen to on the way to work? What am I surfing for online? How often am I on my smart phone, or iPad, or Kindle? What relationships am I forming on Facebook? Are these generally drawing me towards God and intimacy, or taking me away from God and intimacy? A modern mystagogy is a time for us to see how our use of technology distracts us from God, only reinforcing the bad habits that keep us away from the intentional silence and stillness demanded by deep and true prayer.
The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. (CCC §2721) If you don’t know what these types of prayer are, read the section on prayer in the Catechism. If you don’t have a catechism, buy one! Section IV of the Catechism, especially, gives a wonderful overview of our tradition of Christian prayer.
Here’s where new media comes in. The Internet can be a great way to learn to pray. There are numerous wonderful sites that help us to pray in each of these ways. I invite you to explore them (I even have my own blog—fathermichaeldenk.blogspot.com—and there you can scroll down to find “Online Sacristy—Great Links for Catholics” where you can discover numerous sites that will help you develop your prayer life). You will also find links to help you in your priesthood, or your religious life, or your marriage. It covers growth in the gift of chastity, how to combat addiction, and even how to return to the Church. The links will provide great resources, including articles, podcasts, CDs, and books.
Many parishes offer not only increased opportunities for prayer during Lent, but also different forms of prayer such as a Lenten mission and the Stations of the Cross.
The Catechism states that the Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church,” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. For young children, in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory, as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit. (CCC §285). This Lent could be a great time for families to begin or renew praying together.
Great Catholic apps can also be found on your iPod, Android, or Blackberry. Just go to the App Store or Market and search “Catholic.”. You will find an abundance of Apps that will help with everything from learning how to pray the rosary, to preparing for Confession. Some of my favorites are: iBreviary, iPieta, Confession, and Rosary. Kindle, also, has numerous writings of the saints for free, including: St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Therese’s The Story of a Soul, and many others (Search under “Catholic” or “Saint”). I encourage you to explore these and download at least one “Prayer App” to help you grow in prayer, now that the communal and explicit strictures of Lent are behind us.
Fasting and Abstinence
Yet, during this past season of Lent, the fifth precept of our Church is to observe the prescribed fasting and abstinence (CCC §2041-43). While fasting means that the amount of food we eat is considerably reduced, and abstinence means that we give up a particular kind of food or drink, or form of amusement, the Church’s true spirit of fasting has always meant that we begin to discipline all areas of our lives. It is not so much a matter of how many calories we ingest, but a matter of realizing that God alone can fulfill our hunger only when we resist filling ourselves.
Abstinence is where technology can come in to play as a “form of amusement. Abstinence doesn’t necessarily have to be giving up something bad or sinful. Technology seems to be our “go to” form of amusement. A good technological abstinence may be to give up the electronics that do not aid prayer or almsgiving. Maybe this means giving up some things all together. That is, it might mean abstaining from more television, so as to keep up the prayer we fostered during Lent. Maybe it is abstaining from video games on your iPod, or even giving it up all together at certain points during the week. Maybe it is giving up surfing the internet, especially, if it is leading you to sites that are not good for your vocation. Maybe it means turning off the radio, and praying on the way to work, or listening to a CD of the Rosary, or a lecture. This might even mean calling someone you love, and praying together over the phone.
The bottom line is that technology may be the very thing we need to abstain from, especially, if is not leading us to God, or intimacy with others. Could God be calling you to abstain from technology, now that you have spent 40 days examining your (immortal!) soul? The harder this would be for you to do, probably the more necessary.
Above all, we need to continue to make time for solitude and silence in our lives. The Holy Father (who lit the Christmas tree from an iPad this year) realizes the need we have for silence. So much so, that the theme that he adopted for this year’s World Communications Day is “silence,” advising us that “silence is not presented simply as an antidote to the constant and unstoppable flow of information that characterizes society today, but, rather, as a factor that is necessary for its integration. Silence, precisely because it favors habits of discernment and reflection, it can be seen primarily as a means of welcoming the word.” Now that Lent is past, is there still intentional and prayerful silence in your life?
The Sixth and final precept of the Church is a form of almsgiving: To provide for the material needs of the Church according to their ability (CCC §2041-43).
Giving alms to the poor is one of the most concrete ways of fraternal charity: “It is also a work of justice, pleasing to God: He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and he who has food must do likewise. But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit” (CCC §2462 and §2447).
If we think of this in terms of media, most things we buy online are a luxury and a privilege. One suggestion is to deny ourselves anything we would buy online, and almsgive, or match, whatever we buy online with an almsgiving.
One of the longstanding traditions of our faith is that of tithing (or, “a tenth-ing”, from where the word comes). The idea of tithing is that we give 10 percent of any of our income to God (cf. Gen 14:20; 28:22 and Mal 3:8-11). If you haven’t been tithing, now can be a great time to start. Simply focus on every paycheck that you get, every gift that you receive, any cash that someone gives to you, and take 10 percent out of that to give to the poor, to your favorite charity, or to your local parish on Sunday.
An additional practice could be to make some form of concrete sacrifices, in order to alms-give. Here are some practical suggestions. Give up downloading any apps, games, music, or other online purchase, and put that money in some form of the old “Rice Bowl” (Orb.crs.org). This is a wonderful way of almsgiving, because, not only are you giving up, but you are also learning about, and helping, those who are the poorest of the poor in our world. If it is something that you need, then try to make a matching alms to Catholic Relief Services or the Jesuit Refugee Services. The hope with almsgiving is that we will learn to be generous, and become more trusting in, and dependent on, God to meet our needs, rather than providing for ourselves.
These are just some of the ways that we can pray, fast, and almsgive after Lent, and throughout the “digital age.” I invite, and encourage you, to choose one way to increase your prayer, one type of fasting and abstinence, and one form of almsgiving. These longstanding traditions of our Church help us grow in our faith, and encounter the love of God, in all aspects of our lives. This is a process that continues after Lent, through our digital age, and until the day when we shall realize fully the love of Christ, more than we have even now. That is, if only we can silence the world long enough to realize it.
Further Reading: Brandon Vogt, “The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists and Bishops who Tweet.”