Tag Archive: prayer


How to Manage Anxiety during Exam Time

anxietyAs students all over the world enter exam season – are we putting them under too much stress?  Exams and anxiety go hand in hand, we all want to do well when we face a test.  Jesus’ ultimate test was when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane and we are told that he sweated blood as he prayed before his arrest.  This is no exaggeration – sweating blood  is a medically acknowledged phenomenon, Hematohidrosis,   that has been observed in times of great stress.  It is probably no surprise that it is recorded in Luke’s Gospel because Luke was a physician! Hematohidrosis was recorded happening to a girl in London during the Blitz  and has also been observed in people awaiting execution.  A sign that,  in Jesus Christ, God fully entered the human experience and is no stranger to whatever we have to go through.

managing_test_Although I hope no-one is sweating blood as they revise for their exams – it is good to think about managing anxiety, so that is it becomes productive rather than crippling. It is all about getting things into perspective… On Judgement day God isn’t going to ask you how you did in your exams – he will ask you how you loved.   Jesus is a sign of the fullness of God’s love for us, whatever life throws at us with Him we are never alone – and he has experienced all that we have.  We can hand over to him our worries in prayer…. during revision… even at the start of an exam (before we start panicking!).  Just the simple act of lighting a candle when you start a revision session, and keeping it in your sight – is a prayer and helps us to keep things in perspective.  When we sit down to answer the exam paper – spending a minute in quiet prayer – centering ourselves with deep breaths – offering the next hour or so to God – means that when we start looking at the questions we are less likely to panic.
This a beautiful prayer, written by Fr Adrian Porter SJ, from the Jesuit Institute
as I prepare for this examination,
let your strength and your wisdom be present to me.

May I revise my work thoroughly.
May I understand what it is I have to know.
May my memory be reliable and orderly.
May I be calm and focused on the task ahead.
May I know & feel the love & support of my family & friends.
And may you, the author & creator of all things, enlighten me.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rumble Strips of Advent


Homily given today for the first Sunday of Advent (Year B) at the Holy Name Church, Manchester

Stay Awake

images We know that there are certain activities that we engage in where it is dangerous when we are tired, when we are sleepy ……  Probably top of the list is driving …. driving vehicles. If you nod off at the wheel, just for a few seconds, it can be fatal.   On Motorways and A roads in Britain they have rumble strips on the side of the roads – so that if you start drifting off the road, when you reach the edge the tyres hit these rumble strips.  The vibrations of the tyres rattles the whole car – so that you are alerted, you wake up, to drive safely and stay on the road.  Advent is the liturgical equivalent of these rumble strips…..  Jesus’s central message in this first advent Gospel is ‘Stay Awake….. ‘   ‘Be Vigilant’……  this is the spiritual state that we have to cultivate in Advent –  Being Spiritually Alert …..  Sharpening our senses as we watch and wait.  And what are we waiting for – the coming of Christ both now (soon at Christmas) but also the final and definitive coming of Christ.

So there are two ways we can enter advent – firstly let us think of what is it that makes us Spiritually Drowsy….. and secondly…. What is it that distracts us from being vigilant? ……   Or if you like what sedates us and what distracts us.

Complacency makes us spiritually drowsy…….  whenever I go home and visit my mum and brother, I love to light a real fire….. I love the sound of the logs crackling, or the heat of the coal.  You can relax, forget about all your worries, everything is all right and inevitably I fell drowsy and nod off.  So it is complacency that makes us spiritually drowsy…   The big challenge of advent is to feel the need for a saviour ….  it is so easy to think of Jesus as a guru, or a nice guy, a teacher…..   Jesus is greater than that…..  He is our saviour – our redeemer.   In a culture that is obsessed with ‘self help’, it is tempting to think that we can sort all our problems out with discipline, having a healthy lifestyle etc…… but you just to have look at the news to see how this is no enough.  St Paul famously said ‘I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.

If we are honest we know we cannot do it ourselves –  if we think of the world of addiction – the universally popular recovery programme, for alcohol, or gambling, or sex …. Is the 12 step programme –  and the key to this is  Embracing a higher power ……………. Even in the field of psychology  and therapy – there is more and more written about strategies of ‘Intervention’.  The incarnation, the birth of Christ, God becoming man – is intervention at a cosmic scale. Advent is a time to wake up – out of our spiritual drowsiness, out of complacency and remember that we need God, that we need Christmas.

Secondly – Jesus tells us in today’s gospel – it is not just about staying awake, it is also about being alert – watching and waiting.  Not to be distracted from what really matters.   Technology is creating a culture of distraction – just look at how we use our mobile phones…. Perhaps this hour in church for some of us is the longest we go in our waking hours without checking our phones………  Advent is a time to refocus….  To hone our expectation …. To keep focused on what we are waiting for ……   The key way of doing this is prayer…..  A Jesuit told me once that prayer is making yourself ‘extraordinarily available to God’.  However for many of us prayer is not easy – we get bored, easily discouraged. This is why next week we are offering a Week of Guided Prayer …..  It is a superb opportunity to learn how to pray – we will be providing a team of spiritual directors – who are available for a daily meeting, at whatever time is convenient, as well as evening workshops on prayer on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. It is the best way to prepare for advent ….   We have some places left – however I strongly suggest you pick up a form at the back of church and fill it in as soon as you can if you want a place…..

So let us use these four weeks of Advent well – Staying awake, watching and waiting, praying and learning to pray – so that this year we can enter into the joy of Christmas in a deeper way than ever before….


This letter from Marquette University 1996 graduate and journalist James Foley was published in Marquette Magazine’s fall 2011 issue after he returned safely from Libya, where he had been captured. Foley was kidnapped again in November 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war. He was executed this week by Islamic militants.

26514236-mjs_foley_02_nws_wood_foley-2b6q92oMarquette University has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.  With Marquette, I went on some volunteer trips to South Dakota and Mississippi and learned I was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems. I came to know young people who wanted to give their hearts for others. Later I volunteered in a Milwaukee junior high school up the street from the university and was inspired to become an inner-city teacher. But Marquette was perhaps never a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist. Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention centre in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her. I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused. Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. Later we were taken to another prison where the regime kept hundreds of political prisoners. I was quickly welcomed by the other prisoners and treated well. One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. In the hall I saw Manu, another colleague, for the first time in a week. We were haggard but overjoyed to see each other. Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

download (7)I said a final prayer and dialled the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.” “Jimmy, where are you?”-“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” – “Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest. – “Are they making you say these things, Jim?” – “No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?” – “Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” She started to cry. “The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?” I said I hadn’t. – “They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked. – “I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat. The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away. “We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.  I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released.