Catholic Piety for Protestants Series Part 1: The Anima Christi

If I had to choose the single most striking thing about our transition from conservative Presbyterianism to the Catholic Church, it’d be a tough call. There are quite a number of things I have changed my mind about, and it all adds up to a different, better religious life than what I had before.

But the thing the had the biggest personal impact on me is probably not what I would have expected. Changing my mind about Sola Scriptura, Mary and the saints, the Pope, images…these are not small issues. But the thing I least expected is far more subtle, and yet had an enormous impact on my conversion. What is this mighty thing?

Catholic piety.

Protestants have a lot of different perspectives on Catholics, and so if I seem to paint with a broad brush, forgive me. I speak from what I know and where I was. And where I was, I didn’t understand Catholic piety and spirituality at all, or even really believe it existed. I looked at the Church and her strange (to me) ways, and saw scary, creepy heresy. I saw layers of medieval superstition, instead of the clean, spare brightness of the Reformed tradition. I saw people enslaved to the outer trappings of an empty tradition.

In other words, I saw a fantasy concocted in my own mind and imbibed from the world in which I moved.

As I mentioned in my Reflection after the Easter Vigil, a memory that had a huge impact on me was that of hearing a gentleman behind me at Mass in our early days of visiting; he was participating in the prayers, and his voice overflowed with genuine faith. That moment has since struck me as a turning point in my attitude toward the Church and toward Catholics. It was the moment when I really internalized the fact that I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.


Tweet: I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.


There was so much more to the journey, and so many questions that had to be explored. This could never have been “The Reason” I converted, but that experience has become symbolic to me as that time I recognized the presence of my Lord, and could never look back.

So, I want to start a series on Catholic prayers and piety; a basic rundown of some of the classic Catholic prayers and how they reveal the heart of the Catholic Church. These prayers are a wealth of spiritual truths, and I think I am not the first nor the last Protestant to be surprised at the depths of love and faith that the Church has to share with the world.

First up:

The Anima Christi
The Prayer:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Separated from Thee let me never be 
From the malicious enemy defend me 
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints 
Forever and ever
Amen
Impact:

Praying and reflecting on these ancient words pulls the mind and heart to Christ. To someone who didn’t understand that the Catholic Church is all about Jesus, listening to the entirety of a large parish recite such a Christ-centered prayer with feeling was an experience that contributed to my changing perceptions of Catholics. 

The Facts:
  • Also known as The Aspirations of St. Ignatius Loyola.
  • Dates from the early 14th century
  • Often mistakenly ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, but predates him. St. Ignatius often references the prayer in his Spiritual Exercises
  • Often used as a communion hymn or prayer – sometimes in responsorial fashion

(Source: New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

Further Resources:

In closing, I’d like to share with you a beautiful rendition of the Anima Christi by John Michael Talbot (whose music is very worth exploring). I was familiar with John Michael Talbot before I knew much of anything about Catholicism, so I knew this song long before I knew where it came from.

I plan to make this an ongoing series. Do you have a favorite prayer that you’d like me to write about? Comment and let me know!

Embracing Prayer When it Hurts

As I mentioned recently, we’ve put our two older boys in Cub Scouts, which is a new adventure for our family. We don’t really have the skills that one would wish for in Scout parents, so we kind of have to wing it and hope for the best.

The first project was the Pinewood Derby. The boys get a little kit to build a car out of a wooden block, and then they race them.

Well, you have to cut that block into a shape (I mean, you don’t have to, but if you don’t, your child’s car will lose the race and everyone will feel sorry for him, so you kind of do have to). I don’t own any power tools, or very many other tools either. We ran out and bought a saw, sketched a few lines, shrugged off my lack of skill, and went at it.

It wasn’t ten minutes before I was bleeding. I learned how to use a saw, years ago, but it’s been awhile, and I maybe forgot a few safety rules. I lost control of the saw, and it bit into my knuckle. It hurt like the dickens, and it bled profusely, and I was scared I had seriously hurt myself. So, I did what any mature, responsible adult would do: I mopped up the blood, put on a bandage, and promised myself I’d look at it later. I went right back to sawing…and hurt myself again. I’m telling you, I am a born Scout mom.

I went through the whole day, uneasily noting that the blood was soaking the bandage, and postponing the inevitable unwrapping. I didn’t want to take the bandage off. It was bound to hurt, and I didn’t want to see the wound, didn’t want to face how bad it might be.

Is your prayer life ever like that?

Sometimes in the hard seasons of life, we try to cope with the pain by forgetting it, by burying it under all the to-dos on our list. That tactic gets us through our days, but it does nothing to bring healing and health to a soul that is wounded by sorrow or sin.

Spending time in prayer, though, rips off the band-aid. The wound is exposed, the blood (and the tears) can flow, and we might have to feel the pain that we’ve been ignoring, the fear that we’ve been burying. We naturally try to avoid that pain – but like avoiding the doctor for fear of stitches, that natural impulse leads us away from true comfort and true healing. 

I go up to our parish chapel for prayer when I can. It’s more private than home, usually, and there’s something about walking through the door that says, “I choose to be here; there are a lot of things I have to do, and a lot of things on my mind, but this is the door I will walk through today.”

Once I’m there, though, it can be hard to begin. When your heart is aching, it’s hard to know what to say, and hard to overcome the desire to avoid opening that wound up. As a convert to the Catholic Church, I have come to deeply appreciate the rich tradition of recitation of rote prayers. I used to think they were empty, just mindless words, but they aren’t. They are the things our soul needs to say when we don’t know how.


Tweet: The Church’s historic prayers are what our soul needs to say when we don’t know how.


So start with a Rosary. Start with the Our Father. Start with the Memorare, or the Magnificat. Just start. And maybe that day, your heart and mind won’t cooperate, and you just won’t feel a thing. That’s okay, because God was there. He heard you anyway, and He can still answer those prayers. Or maybe that day, the band-aid will come off, and your Savior will comfort your wounds and give you strength to walk out into the rain and carry on.

If you’re wondering, I have to admit that I never did look at my finger that day. Around supper time, I accepted that I was just too chicken to look for myself. I asked my teenage daughter, who has had some veterinary training, to take a look for me and see what she thought. I had a nasty cut, but it didn’t end up needing medical attention.

It might have made a better wrap-up if I’d looked at it myself and gone and got stitches. But I guess sometimes we’re not that strong. It’s a good thing prayer isn’t a magic fix that we take upon ourselves to accomplish. It’s just asking for some help from someone who knows what He’s doing.

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