Wednesday, December 10, 2014

yHope: Lord, Teach Us How To Pray!

In April of 2008, Pope Benedict XVI made an apostolic visit to the United States. On the first full day of his visit, he gave an address to youth at St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York. A priest friend of mine, along with many young men from Boston who were discerning their vocation, were there. When my friend returned home, he told me that a young person had asked the Pope for his thoughts on the decline of vocations and the overall decline of participation in the life of the Church. The Pope was quiet for a moment and then responded, “If we teach young people how to pray, then we will have vocations; we will have a fuller participation in the life of the Church.”

His simple answer resonated with me. For years, colleagues and I have been running programs that encourage personal and family prayer. They were well planned, but often not as effective as we had first hoped.  The problem is that many young people don’t know where to begin in prayer. Not only that, the parents of these young people don’t know how to gather their families together in prayer. 

Here's an example. One of the programs we offer from the Boston Vocation Office is called the Vocation Chalice program. Its purpose is to encourage families throughout the archdiocese to pray for and promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Each week at Mass, a designated family is invited to take the gifts up at the Offertory. At the end of Mass, the family is called by the priest to come forward to receive the chalice bag and a blessing. (This bag contains a consecrated chalice, a poster of the seminarians to hang up, the prayer card, and stationery to send notes of encouragement to seminarians, priests, and religious.) The family takes the chalice home for the week and puts it in a place of honor, praying for an increase in vocations and for their perseverance. The following Sunday the family returns the chalice bag for another family to take home. 

Sounds like a good program! However, little by little, several parishes dropped out, because not enough families were volunteering for it. Why? Most families didn’t really know what to do once they got it home and set up the place for prayer. They didn’t know how to begin. Prayer hadn't been a regular practice in their families. We need to do as the Holy Father said; we need to start teaching young people how to pray.

So, in 2009, I began bringing young adults together regularly in a group called yHope (Young Heralds of Pauline Evangelization). In yHope the spiritual directors don’t just talk about prayer. We pray with the young adults and teach them methods of prayer. Bi-weekly on Saturday mornings, the young people gather with priests and religious for the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. This is always done in the presence of the Eucharistic Christ, who is our guiding Light. Each time, we slowly and prayerfully read together the Gospel that we will hear at Sunday Mass, reflect quietly, then usually read the Gospel a second time. After another period of reflection, the young people begin to share how God has spoken to them.

Following Lectio Divina, we expose the Eucharist and enter into a holy hour, using the Way, Truth, and Life method of the Pauline Family.  We first adore Jesus Truth simply by gathering “at his feet” and again listening to his Word. In this moment, we recognize that we are in the presence of the One who has the power and the desire to transform our lives to become in a sense our “truest selves”, the persons he has made us to be. Next we adore Jesus Way: We confront the Word that has been spoken and contemplate God’s action in our lives. This period is usually spent in silence, meditative singing, or even a little journaling. The final movement is meant to help us share Jesus Life. Here we bring to God our needs and the needs of the world. As a priest leading the young people in prayer, I find this moment particularly beautiful, as they express their thanks and share their petitions to the Lord. They seek union with Jesus Life, who poured out his life for us.

A few weeks ago members of yHope went on retreat and there we taught them more methods of prayer such as the examen and the Angelus. It is beautiful to see that through prayer God is showing these young people the path he desires for their lives. Just over a month ago, four members of yHope made their promise as Pauline Cooperators.

Yes, Lord, teach our young people how to pray…and some of them will become Young Heralds of Pauline Evangelization.

Photo credits: Fr. Michael Harrington, IGS

Fr. Michael Harrington is a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and a member of the Pauline Institute of Jesus the Priest. An economics and political science major, he worked in finance for five years, before entering the seminary in 1994. He was ordained in 2000 and has since served the Church as parochial vicar, state chaplain to the Massachusetts Knights of Columbus, and for the past several years, assistant director of the Office of Vocations and director of the Office of Outreach and Cultural Diversity. Fr. Michael made his first profession of vows in the Institute of Jesus the Priest on November 22, 2009.


Mary Jane Madeline said...

Thank you Father Harrington, for letting us know how you are using your vocation. I don't get to every HFI Tridium, but have met you and have enjoyed your homilies.God bless you in your service for our Divine Master.

Mary Jane Madeline said...

Enjoyed learning about Father Harrington's service and commitment to teaching our younger generation how to pray.