Tag Archives: Prayer

Praying through Panic

Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern

The worst place to have a panic attack might be in the middle of Mass. While I am praising the Lord’s name and listening to his word, my anxiety sits in the pit of my stomach, making me feel like I am at the edge of a cliff. I know that I am safe here in the Lord’s house; I know that God loves me, yet my body and my emotions are convinced that the world is crashing down around me as my hands start to shake and my breath catches in my throat. Forcing myself to take a deep breath, I try to focus on the things I know to be true: I am safe, I am loved, I am breathing, I am sitting in Mass, I will be ok.  I continue to repeat these thoughts until the anxiety that was creeping up the back of my neck recedes and I feel normal again.

Generalized anxiety is a mental disorder that is characterized by excessive worrying about a number of things. The worry is out of proportion to the impact of the events that are causing it. This means that something as small as wondering if my friend had a good time when we went out can cause me to physically panic with worry that I failed them unless I was personally ensured that they enjoyed themselves.  My emotional response to everyday situations can be over-the-top and physically painful. But through my faith in God, I can always find ways to cope with the gap between what is truly happening and my emotional response. My faith acts as a bridge connecting how I feel to my belief in God and His plan for me. 

Grotto candles refracted in a crystal ball.

When I experience a panic attack, my thoughts will race. With no control over what I am thinking, negative statements start playing over and over in my mind tearing me down. This is usually when I start to pray.  Not trusting my racing thoughts, I often just pray the Hail Mary repeatedly as a plea for God to grant me peace. The rhythm of familiar prayer helps slow my thoughts down just enough that I can gain some small measure of control. Then I list out the things I know to be true:

  1. There is a God.
  2. God loves me.
  3. My worth comes from God.
  4. My worth cannot be diminished by anyone but God.
  5. My worth to God does not change because I made a mistake.
  6. I am not any less loved by God because I made a mistake.

By focusing on God’s love for me and the worth his love gives me, I can begin to slow down my breathing and my thoughts.  Taking deeper and deeper breaths, I begin to focus on the truth of my situation, whatever they may be.  Whether I got a bad grade, or embarrassed myself in front of the class, or simply felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I must get done, I can now start to look at it for what it is: a situation that I can handle with God’s love to strengthen me.

This knowledge does not always mean that the feeling of panic goes away. My body may still feel as if I am being physically attacked, even though mentally I know everything is fine. My heart may still be beating fast, my stomach may still be in knots, and my hands may still be shaking. By focusing on God, my faith keeps me on the bridge between how I physically feel and the truth of the situation.  Faith is my bridge between anxiety and reality.

When Joy Runs Dry

Nathan Miller, Senior Anchor Intern

“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.”  Psalm 47:2

In my blog last semester, I reflected on the Litany of Humility prayer. In my blog this semester, God has given me a whole new life experience to understand humility…and right now, I can’t say I’m all too thrilled about it.

Just a few days before Christmas, I had surgery to repair my torn ACL (and meniscus, as I found out afterward). But this wasn’t a recent injury. I had torn it in the first couple weeks of fall semester playing football with my friends. If anyone asks though, just tell them I was wrestling a bloodthirsty bear while protecting a small child lost in the woods.

Successful surgery!

I celebrated the Christmas season with a big brace on my leg, using crutches to get everywhere. I needed help with simple things like getting dressed, showering, making food, and pretty much everything else that would normally require you to balance on both legs. Every task was a “big production” as I came to say, and my limited mobility kept me from getting out of the house very much. As someone who is used to providing for himself, I quickly grew frustrated with my temporary disability.

It is remarkable how quickly frustration can erode joy. On one hand, I had so many reasons to be thankful – the surgery was successful, I had adequate insurance, and my family and girlfriend went to great lengths to care for me and make me comfortable. Even more, I was still able to attend Christmas Mass and see my extended family as we celebrated the coming of Emmanuel. But yet, my frustrations mounted. Getting up at night to use the bathroom was a hobbling mess. Mom always offering 5 different ways to help when all I wanted was to rest. And probably above all, I felt incredibly lethargic and cooped up. My motivation to do things like reading books or study for my upcoming CPA exams was low, and even lower was my motivation to pray. You would think that having so much free time, especially over Christmas season, would have inspired me to pray. But I found many excuses: “I have to do my rehab exercises first” or “I need to take a nap first” or “now my family is home I should play a game with them.”

Unable to move normally. Frustrated with being taken care of all the time. Not taking time for prayer. I realized about one week after surgery that my supply of joy was running on fumes. How did I deteriorate so quickly? Of course, there is something to be said for coming off of major surgery and still being on strong pain meds, but I also had to find the wellspring of hope to replenish my joy.

Two things in particular helped me reclaim a spirit of joy amidst my temporary disability.

First, I needed to express gratitude, internally and externally, for the gracious help of my family, but in particular my mom. As we were driving back from visiting one of my relatives, she sat in the second row of the van with me and let me rest my leg on her lap (since I needed to keep it straight and that’s a difficult task in a vehicle). As my leg rested there, she silently started massaging my foot. In a few moments, I was unexpectedly overcome with a sincere feeling of gratefulness and humility. In that small moment, I saw how deeply she cared about me. For this time in my life, I once again needed to unabashedly rely on my mother’s love. Recognizing this brought me one step closer to joy. I allowed all the kindness of my loved ones to soak in as I embraced my limited capabilities. Gratitude is a wonderful medicine for grumpiness.

Second, I brought myself back to a routine of prayer. As I sipped my morning coffee, I sat by the window and started with Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It has long been one of my favorite ways to pray because it makes me feel a deep connection with the universal church and puts words into prayer for a whole spectrum of human emotions. Even though it’s my favorite prayer, it was still difficult most mornings to start it. After about five minutes of praying, however, I felt my resistance soften and my mind open for God to enter. From there, I was able to use my own words to talk with God about how I was feeling – my frustrations and my desire for joy. He in turn comforted me with His steady peace and directed me to embrace gratitude. This conversational prayer helped me see God amidst my little suffering, but was only possible because I first entered into formal prayer. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit works through our prayer, even when we feel we are at our weakest.

Joy is decidedly different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting, yet joy is sustaining. Even still, I found that joy can run dry, and it is in these times that we need to draw on the wellspring of love shown to us by our family, our friends, and above all, our Heavenly Father. Joy, invigorated by gratitude, is one of the marks of a Christian life. It is a mark I hope you will join me in striving for each day, on Our Lady’s campus and beyond.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”   Romans 15:13

Family Christmas 2017

Being Mindful of God

Melissa Gutierrez Lopez, Senior Anchor Intern

“Highs? Lows? Where have I seen God?”

This is a little exercise that my Compass group did my freshman year, way back in 2014. Each week, we would start our meetings by sharing some highlights and lowlights about that week and by answering the question “Where have I seen God?” This was my favorite part.

Now a Senior, I remember this exercise because it left an impact on my spiritual life. When I first heard it, I saw it as a challenge to look for God in every encounter and every moment, especially since I wanted to have something to share at the beginning of each Compass meeting. I thought it was nice, because I was constantly reminded that God is with me and found comfort that His presence can be made known, even in unexpected ways. What was great about this retrospective question was that for me, it was a practice that involved appreciating God’s will and presence in every moment of my life. It became a habit to find God at times and places that people wouldn’t normally think of, as in not just at the Grotto, in a chapel, or at Mass. I found myself recognizing God in my walks to class through God Quad, in the laughter that I shared with my friends, and in the multiple instances of admiring nature. It was in these small moments that I was able to turn to God, become attentive to Him, and give Him thanks for the many blessings in my life. He felt more real and I felt my spirituality and faith growing.         

Now, it has been about three years since I was in that Compass group, and every now and then, I’d have little moments that remind me of that challenge I once had. I now feel like I have lost the habit of being mindful of God. I say grace before my meals, I give thanks at Mass, and I pray. But, I feel like I am no longer as attentive as I used to be. Somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten this habit and find myself needing to focus on getting through my responsibilities, especially when I’m having difficult days.

The Grotto is a special place of prayer for many students.

However, God surprises me by making His presence known, even when I’m not being attentive. One example is a day that I wasn’t feeling myself and I decided to go out for a walk. I didn’t expect to run into anyone or have anything in particular happen. I just ventured out to roam around and clear my head of the lonely sensation that I was beginning to feel. I decided to make my way to the Grotto and randomly met a friend whom I hadn’t talked to in a while. It was nice running into her and having the opportunity to chat for a bit, especially because of how I was feeling. After we parted ways, I thought about this accidental encounter. It felt like a purposeful encounter of God’s love, for it was an unexpected moment where I was reminded that I am not alone. I felt God near even in the midst of loneliness.

The reality is that God is always present, regardless of whether or not I am attentive to Him. Even if I am not aware, He is there, ready to receive my attention when I turn towards Him even if it is just for a single moment in my day. Realizing this, I hope that can be more mindful of God, become closer to Him, and grow in my faith.

Why We Minister: Allie Greene

Allie Greene, Assistant Director of Liturgy

I sat in the Basilica alone on a freezing winter evening, in need of a quiet place to pray. I chose a pew, sat down, crossed my arms, and glared daggers at the tabernacle. My silent prayer went something like this:

“Really – nothing? It’s been months. Which part of my prayer was unclear? I’m out of patience and so tired of this. No more gentle ‘I trust in your will’ prayers. It’s your turn.”

Both satisfied in my silent reproach of God and defeated that I had come to that point, I genuflected and exited the church. It wasn’t my finest moment of trust in God’s providence and grace.

It was, however, one of the most honest moments of prayer I’ve ever experienced. Before then, I believed that giving my intentions over to God would feel good-natured and graceful, easy to do with answers to follow quickly. I was wrong: it felt more like exhaustion from running out of other options.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart // University Photographer

The answer to why I minister is rooted in my experience of prayer. I try to be a faithful disciple, and I hope to help our students do the same, to grow in faith here at Notre Dame and far beyond. Specifically, my ministry is to help our students to pray well together, and there’s a phrase I use to describe this work: serious joy.

It’s serious because this ministry is no small task: to teach students how to pray and how to lead communal prayer, to offer formation as they plan Masses and prayer services, and to encourage them to grow in their faith long after they leave Notre Dame.

At the same time, this ministry is abundantly joyful. I’m privileged to see what happens when students — while praying together — encounter God. I hear them give reflections on Scripture and listen as their words bring new light to old passages. I watch as students give their time, energy, and boundless courage to lead music during their hall’s Sunday Masses. I see their heads bowed, eyes lifted, hands folded, hugs of peace, and other postures and gestures of prayer expressed. It’s a true joy to pray with, for, and among our students.

I have a personal investment in working with students to plan liturgies because it was in the Mass that God and I first found each other. In effort to grow in faith, I’d gone on service trips, attended many retreats, and prayed with Scripture; however, it was in Mass that I first encountered God and that encounter is what compelled me to return.

At different points in my life, I’ve found great comfort at Mass — even if I’m distracted, even if I don’t know the songs, and even if I only caught the opening line of a homily before my mind raced in another direction. I have strong memories of events that took place in the context of Mass, some monumental and some rather routine: I’ve witnessed my college friends become ordained priests, and received chrism oil on my forehead at Confirmation; I’ve run straight from the lake to church on a summer Saturday, and celebrated the beautiful sacrament of my sister’s wedding. Like my prayer, Mass takes different forms and shapes, but it is a constant in my life. Mass was both fifteen-minutes before starting my high school day and the three-hour Vigil on the night before Easter. Mass sounds like a packed residence hall chapel of women’s voices and like echoing silence after communion in a French cathedral.

Truthfully, going to Mass doesn’t always feel like the most thrilling activity in which I participate. I can’t compare it to rollerblading, kayaking, or watching Notre Dame football. But I don’t go to Mass because it’s always thrilling. I go to Mass to meet God there, again and again. And I keep going back because of what the liturgy compels me to do after: to be God’s hands, feet, voice, and love in the world.

I’m grateful for this ministry in helping students to pray well together. I hope that they will always want to return to God in different moments of prayer, as I do, and never to be far from that encounter.

Student Prayer in Ryan Hall Chapel

About a month later, I felt overwhelming gratitude when I received an answer to my despairing, wintry-day prayer. So I returned to that same pew in the Basilica, this time for a different style of prayer. I found there a place to pray when I was exhausted and felt unheard, so it made sense to go back when I was grateful and filled with hope. I was honest with God before in my pain and confusion, and honest with God again in amazement and joy. I minister with the hope that our students will do the same and find faith in the constancy of God’s love, particularly in the way it is revealed to us through the Mass.

God’s Call to Prayer

Ben Swanson, Anchor Senior Intern 

I returned to campus after spring break with a sense that I had been gone for a very long time. I was on tour with the Glee Club and as we traveled through the American Southwest (enjoying every moment of it) I was left with very little time to pray. During the day we were either exploring a city or on the bus, and anyone who has been on such a bus for an extended period of time knows that it isn’t the best place for silent reflection or prayer. It is noisy and busy and exhausting. In the evening we would have a concert, visit with those who were hosting us, and then promptly collapse exhausted into sleep. Overall it was a week that did not lend itself to a consistent prayer life. And I felt it. When I returned I knew that I needed to pick up where I left off. I knew that I should go to Adoration in the CoMo chapel, or at least set aside some time to pray and center myself back into an awareness of God. The problem is that I really didn’t want to. I felt just a little bit lost and something kept convincing me to go do other things. This continued on for a week where some voice kept calling me to prayer but I kept myself away.

 

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Eventually, I made my way into a chapel by overriding strong hesitation and forcing myself to make an effort. I sat down and began to pray. I knew that something was different. I felt foreign and distant from my prayer. It was like seeing a very old friend again and not knowing what to say because there is simply too much to say. I didn’t know whether I should apologize for my absence or be angry that God didn’t do more to pull me in sooner. It was in that chapel, in that moment of ambiguity in prayer, that I realized something remarkable. God didn’t feel distant from me. He felt as close as ever. I looked back across this week of hesitation and I realized that God had been pulling on my sleeve, flicking my ear, and reminding me constantly that I should be praying. At the time I thought it was just annoying. I was angry with God for not calling me back to prayer while at the same time I was annoyed that a little voice in my head wouldn’t let me just go my own way in peace. I didn’t realize until later that God was that little voice. I realized that I had been talking to God all week. I had been telling him: “I know that I should be praying, but just give me a day or two.” I asked God to wait for me, that I would be back soon.

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

God did wait for me. He was there waiting to hear everything I had to say or to sit with me in silence whenever I was ready. But God wasn’t going to just let me wallow until I happened to find my way back. He was constantly pulling and calling out to me. He told me time and time again that I would find joy in coming to Him. I couldn’t find my way back to prayer except through prayer. Only God could be the source of a relationship with God. I wasn’t going to find that through ignoring him. I have often had long periods of time where I cannot hear God or it seems as though God cannot hear me, and I know that I am not unique in this. In these moments we are filled with the temptation to run and hide. We think that wherever God is he doesn’t want to hear about our problems. He’s probably angry with us and we need to fix things before presenting ourselves before Him again. The beauty is that God, whether we feel close to Him or not, is always with us. He is always calling us to Himself. We hide ourselves from Him and dress Him up in all sorts of disguises so that we may ignore his call for a moment. But God does not ignore us, even for a moment. He hears us and sees us in every moment of our lives. He waits for us to hear His call so that He may welcome us with open arms into the joy of His love. In a little over a month I will be leaving Notre Dame and I know that I will encounter more “tour bus times”, those periods when prayer is neglected for a while. I know that I can take hope in the fact that God will always be calling me back to him and waiting for me with open arms.

Finding Discipline

Adam Wood, Senior

I am not the most disciplined individual. In fact, I’m a pretty heavy procrastinator. I think the thing my mom was most excited about when I left for college was not having to watch me get stressed because I put off homework until the night before. Out of sight, out of mind. These days, when I am home on breaks, I intentionally don’t tell her the things I want to get done while I’m home because I know she’ll ask how they’re going, and I’ll feel stressed because they usually aren’t going at all. Even still, when I was home for a few days over fall break, keeping my to-do list secret didn’t stop her from saying, “You must not have had anything to get done while you were home because I don’t see when you possibly would have done it.”

November 1, 2016; A student studies on a bench in front of St. Mary's Lake. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Unfortunately, my lack of discipline tends to spill into other parts of my life, like not exercising and, more importantly, not devoting myself to regular prayer. I know that conversing with God on a regular basis is a good thing to do. It’s easy for me to connect the most joyful and peaceful times in my life with those times when I had the most consistent prayer life. That is why I find it so frustrating that I struggle time and time again to have ongoing conversations with God. Now I know this is easier said than done. With the steady flow of exams and projects, extracurricular activities, and the ever-present stress involved with finding an answer to the “what are your plans for next year?” question, it is definitely difficult to find time to hit pause on the day and just sit with the Lord for a few moments.

Something that has always helped me with my struggle is being part of a supportive Christian community. This is why I am so glad I chose to come to a school where the opportunities for being a part of such communities are plentiful. From my dorm brotherhood in Fisher Hall, to the Compass groups I lead, to the Notre Dame Vision mentor community, and the friends I have through Campus Ministry, I have been able to connect with individuals who challenge me to strengthen my connection to the living God through prayer. For someone like myself who often struggles with having the discipline to develop my own prayer routine, it is a blessing to have the encouragement of others that share the common goal of growing in faith.

Jul. 15, 2015; ND Vision students walk on campus, Summer 2015. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

When I am able to interact with these small groups, it serves as a wonderful reminder of the beauty within the worldwide community of the Church. It is a reminder that our Christian faith is first and foremost a communal endeavor, and that my motivation for cultivating personal prayer shouldn’t be to feel better about myself, but to be strengthened by God and to be a witness to others. After all, the goal of my life as a member of the Church should not simply be to get myself to Heaven, but to get everyone else there, too. In addition to not being a particularly disciplined person, I also don’t consider myself much of a writer. So I perused the YOUCAT in search of a quote by someone who could say what I am trying to say about Christian community. Before long, I stumbled upon this gem by the French poet Charles Péguy: “We must be saved together. We must come to God together. Together, we must present ourselves before him. What would God say to us if some of us were to return without the others?”

The point of this meandering blog is to say that in my desire to become a more disciplined person of prayer, I don’t need to rely wholly on myself. I should continue to draw strength from others, so that I can, in turn, provide strength for them.

My Way

Jessica Pedroza, Senior

During a recent pilgrimage to Mexico City, Father Joe (famous for Spanish and milkshake Mass) said the language in which you pray and do math is your primary language. I suppose this makes me bilingual. Just as I don’t think twice about breathing, I don’t hesitate to address God in Spanish or reason through the steps of a math problem in English. I’ve always grown up around two languages and two cultures, but my spiritual identity resonates more clearly within my Mexican/Latina culture.

jess-1
In front of the old Basilica; Mexico City.

I remember those weeknights as a young girl when my mom, sister, and I would kneel while my dad and brother stood – all of us praying el Santo Rosario (the Holy Rosary) as a family. In the silence of my heart, I would pray for my dad to stop drinking. 

I remember those Friday nights when we’d go to the casa de oracion (prayer house) and worship God through song, clapping and shouting “Gloria a Dios!” (Glory to God).

I remember the day of my Quinceañera and how, in the midst of the princess dress and the big cake, we made sure to stop and celebrate Mass before the party to give thanks to God and leave some roses for la Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

At some point, the prayer house stopped running. My Sunday parish switched from celebratory, upbeat songs in Spanish to solemn hymns in Latin. I began attending a Catholic high school where the monthly Mass and prayers were in English. But I couldn’t connect with “Our Father, who art in heaven” as much as I could with “Padre Nuestro que estás en el cielo.” I started, for the first time, to study theology and I had so many doubts. And I had forgotten to pray every night because God had already helped my dad to get sober. I didn’t need to ask for much else. 

I didn’t come to Notre Dame to better connect to my Catholic identity. Little did I know, my faith would become an integral part of my experience here.

You can’t imagine…

The love I felt that first night freshman year when Father Joe, knowing I had arrived without my parents, came to visit me in my dorm and left me a note;

The joy I felt when I first went to Spanish Mass and heard the same worship songs I had heard as a child, and recited the Spanish prayers that seem to roll easier off my tongue;

The awe I felt when I saw the impact La Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City had on my friend as he kneeled and cried in front of Nuestra Señora (Our Lady); 

The ache I felt placing a picture of the grandparents I never met on the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Altar at an Institute of Latino Studies celebration; and

The peace I felt spending time alone at the Grotto one Thanksgiving when I couldn’t make it back home to my family. 

After nearly three and a half years, Notre Dame feels more like home than home now, and I think the opportunity for me to worship in both languages has a lot to do with it. I’d love for people to understand that sometimes we seek spaces where we can be completely ourselves. It’s not that I don’t want to participate in my dorm community. Rather, Spanish Mass is the best way I can let God work through me. It is because my culture is full of traditions, like Posadas, when we walk with candles through campus, remembering Mary and Joseph trying to find shelter and Dia de Los Muertos, where we construct altars to remember our dead family members and friends and celebrate life… 

Dec. 3, 2015; Las Posadas walk from the Grotto to Farley Hall. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)
Las Posadas walk from the Grotto to Farley Hall. (Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

I thought that, in college, I’d get so wrapped up and busy in other things that I would continue to lose that child-like faith I once had. I still fall and I still question, but what a beautiful blessing it is to be able to continue to grow in my faith and experience God at Notre Dame – de mi manera (in my own way).