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Praying with Fr. McCandless

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Over the years, Father Michael Denk has found that priests and the religious are extremely blessed to be taught “how to pray”. This often takes root during formation, which for priests happens at the seminary. In this edition of Praying with Priests Father Michael Denk sits down with Father Michael McCandless, Vocational Director at Borromeo Seminary in the Diocese of Cleveland. Together they discuss Father McCandless’ own prayer life, as well as direction and advice he has given to seminarians over the years. Hopefully, by learning “how to pray” beyond basic vocal prayer, we can all benefit and grow into a deeper relationship with God, through prayer.

 

Hi, I’m Father Michael Denk of The Prodigal Father and I am here with Father Michael McCandless, Vocation Director of the Diocese of Cleveland. Welcome, Father Michael.

Father McCandless:

Thank you, Fr. Michael, glad to be here with you.

Father Michael:

We are continuing our series of interviews of “Praying with Priests.” I am really excited to do this with Father Mike because he is the Vocation Director of our diocese and he helps a lot of guys discern their call to the priesthood. He does a lot of this by helping them really move into the interior life and pray. So, Father Mike, I just want to begin by asking you, what was your first memory or first memories of prayer?

Father McCandless:

When I was a child—after my mom and dad divorced—my stepdad came into my life and he began the habit of walking me up to my bedroom to go to bed. When he did that, he would kneel down next to my bed with me and he taught me from the very beginning, I think, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Prayer to One’s Guardian Angel. But before we did that, we would say the Act of Contrition.

We said those five prayers every single night. I would say probably a majority, a good majority of nights, we would say those together and he would teach me wherever I was…he would fill the words in for me. After being around him, I could actually say the prayers on my own.

Now, what was interesting too is that I was very young, probably about four, when I moved to Mississippi, so I was away from literally everybody else that was around me. I was away from my grandparents who I lived with. I’ll get back to that because there is a memory there from earlier childhood. A really good memory. We moved to Mississippi and we moved to Annunciation Parish. I wasn’t old enough for kindergarten, but I remember going to Annunciation Parish, just outside of Columbus, Mississippi, every Sunday. I can still picture the inside of the church and I remember that church from when I was very young. I remembered my parents going to Communion and I, not being old enough, couldn’t go.

Father Michael:

What did that feel like?

Father McCandless:

It was interesting because my mom would…my mom and dad would always…they would get up from kneeling and I would stay kneeling and they would go to receive Communion. It was interesting because one of the first times it happened my mom looked at me and I, not sure what was going on, thought they were going somewhere far away. But I knew they would be back. I didn’t know if it would be days or hours…it was like a minute, right. Mom had looked at me and said, “I’ll be right back, honey.” And, whenever she got back in the pew, she would kind of touch my head. That was always one of the best moments for her, when she got back in the pew and she’s received Communion.

She was always smiling, she was always devout. She and my stepdad receiving Communion was always the first remembered experience of God, church, prayer and Communion. So, I guess in some respects, I saw Eucharist in them before I even knew what Eucharist was all about when I was young.

My stepdad’s prayer with me was very key because eventually he would know that I would do that on my own. Eventually, when I got older, like six or seven years old, he did not necessarily kneel next to me by my bedside. But that was key because he kind of knew, or I think he would ask from time to time if I was saying those prayers.

My grandfather on my Mom’s side was also really a key figure. This was interesting because he was instrumental in my priestly vocation in a way too. My grandpa would take me to church on Sunday mornings sometimes, and mom would too…this was before my mom and stepdad met…this is when I was like three years old or something like that. He would take me to church and would sit with him and I think my mom too. My grandparents live a quarter of a mile from Holy Family in Stow. So, we would walk or drive down. That was probably my earliest experience of church and of liturgical prayer.

My stepdad working with me, being with me and teaching me, and helping me to memorize so those prayers were internalized. That was really key, as was my parish church of Annunciation down in Columbus, Mississippi. All those were key. All those were key moments.

Father Michael:

A hot topic that is often brought up is people taking kids to church. They wonder if they should take their kids to church if they’re going to be loud. Are they going to be tortured by being there? What did it feel like for you to go to church?

Father McCandless:

I always liked church when I was a kid. I think there’s a difference between…there’s a difference between I’m temporarily not entertained so there’s the pain or slight suffering of not being entertained. Or that might come because I would like to know more about what’s going on but I can’t necessarily see into it at the level that I would like to or could later on in life. But when I was younger, I always liked church. I liked dressing up. I liked going with mom and dad. I liked the beauty that was around me. Although, you could probably argue that Holy Family in Stow is not a really beautiful church, but it is home. It is home to me. It still is. It is still home.

Father Michael:

You can find beauty in any church, I think Father Mike is trying to say.

Father McCandless:

Yes. You can. You can find beauty in every church. What’s interesting about that is, though, I work with kids who are in seventh and eighth grade, sometimes sixth grade, when they come to visit the seminary and I receive thank you letters from them. We are talking probably people who are six/seven years older than what I was from these memories that I am talking about and I look at their notes and sometimes their notes are developed in such a way that they know what’s going on when they come to visit the seminary and when the go to Mass with the seminarians. They know what is happening and it obviously is not a year of just going to church that has helped them to become that reflective. They’re grateful that they can sing like that, pray like that. To have experiences of hearing about God’s plan for them. So, I think prayer in church is an important thing. That many things are happening in a child’s mind and heart but it may be below the surface.

Father Michael:

What did it feel like for you to go to church as a child? What kind of emotions did it evoke? Was it boredom? Was it awe? Was it a mixture? What did you feel like?

Father McCandless:

There were times of boredom. I soaked in a lot of things in church and I didn’t realize it when it was happening. So, one of the times that I came back it was a Sunday afternoon, I think. I was with my mom and my stepdad in the kitchen and I was getting a drink of water. I used to have to climb on top of the countertop and a get a cup—a red plastic Tupperware cup—I remember exactly what I used. I filled this cup with water and as I was drinking from it, I elevated it and I began to say, “Then He took the cup.” It wasn’t the chalice at that time. There’s the old sacramentary translation. “Then he took the cup, again He gave thanks and praise and, giving the cup to all His disciples, He said…..” I just kind of repeated that portion of the Eucharistic prayer.

Father Michael:

How old do you think you were?

Father McCandless:

I think about four. My mom and my stepdad just kind of looked at me. You know, just kind of mystified looks at me. Like, did that just happen? What are you….? Wow, okay. I suppose he is soaking up something at Mass. They laughed. They chuckled after that and I guess I chuckled too. Did I experience boredom at Mass? Yes. Did I soak things in? Yes. Did I want Communion? Yes. I wanted to walk in line. I wanted to go with my parents.

Father Michael:

Do remember your First Communion?

Father McCandless:

Yes, I do.

Father Michael:

Tell us about it.

Father McCandless:

Holy Family in Stow, second grade and I was right behind a young man named Ralphie who was in the same class as me. His family was friends with my family. I wore a white blazer—correct that, an off-white blazer. I remember exactly what I was wearing. It was an interesting day. My mom put a scapular on me earlier in the day and said “I’d like you to wear this. It’s good for you to wear.” I remember getting the rosary from my aunt and uncle.

I got a really important gift, actually, so I am glad you asked that. It took me back to a memory of my prayer which was my First Book of Saints by Father Lawrence Lovasik. He was an SVD father.

But going back to the day of, I remember us walking out, we sat by ourselves, you know, all the communicants. We sat and I received, I think, with my parents. Fr. Day was one of the vicars of the parish. We had tasted the hosts ahead of time, non-consecrated, so I knew what I was getting into and I knew what it would taste like and I knew what the wine would taste like too. I just remember being very joyful.

We celebrated. We had a big meal as a family. Everyone came over to the house in Stow. They were pleased with what was going on. Of course, I was pleased with what was going on. Of course, there’s this newness of receiving communion and then there is, not a bad, but an ordinariness of going frequently and that, of course, came too. Yes, the reception of communion has had different impacts, several levels of impact, in my life. And a lot of it is dependent on, you know, candidly, a lot is dependent on sin. A lot of it is dependent on anxiety, the stress, getting out of the earthly assignments and projects…just wanting everything else to stop so I can have and be with. It’s more of a …

Father Michael:

Do you find it not stopping when you receive communion, or stopping?  What happens in those moments?

Father McCandless:

Everything else just goes to second, third, or tenth place and that’s what I hope for, that’s what I want. I think when I was younger, I don’t think that…I didn’t live in a way that my life was reflective over, you know, Lex Vevendi.

Father Michael:

What is Lex Vevendi for a listener that doesn’t know?

Father McCandless:

Yes, so Lex Vevendi, Lex Credendi is the law of prayer. It is the law of belief or the law of the church, the belief of the church. It is a liturgical saying that we use that prioritizes how we pray and is often the foundation of what we believe.

Father Michael:

So, just to review for our listeners, Lex Orandi is As We Worship.

Father McCandless:

The law of prayer.

Father Michael:

The law of prayer and how we pray. Lex Credendi is So We Believe.

Father McCandless:

The law of belief.

Father Michael:

The law of belief, or what belief comes of prayer, and Lex Vevendi would be So We Live.

Father McCandless:

Is the daily living out.

Father Michael:

How we live it out.

Father McCandless:

Exactly.

Father Michael:

Okay, good.

Father McCandless:

I didn’t have that reflection when I was in grade school or early high school of Lex Vevendi. Like what I’m doing is actually going to impact how I’m going to live, but now there’s just no separation between that. It’s impossible to receive communion, to concelebrate or celebrate Mass and to receive communion and to not have it be immediately connected to what am I doing? What’s on my schedule? Who do I have to see? What am I struggling with? What kind of anxieties am I going through right now? Who am I supposed to intentionally pray for at this Mass? Who has just recently asked me for prayers in the last two hours?

Father Michael:

So, now it has become connected with your life.

Father McCandless:

Everything can be presented to God and can be remembered and touched. Everything that I need touched, everything that people had asked me to bring to God, communion is where it all comes together. It all comes together. You know, confession is so key in my life because it’s the time when I believe I’m the right kind of vessel again. But in the midst of being the right kind of vessel and receiving communion, it’s not as if all the imperfections of the world are wiped away. It’s just this is God coming and arriving now and I cannot fabricate, try to make happen, deprive myself of sleep and work harder. I can’t do anything in my own power. To ask, beg, to have things more together or more complete in that moment than they are in that moment. So, communion is the moment of completion.

 

 

 

 

 

If you have thought about considering the priesthood or would be interested in more information, please visit www.BorromeoSeminary.org

For more “Praying with Priests”, visit the archives!

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.