PETE: For those who have not yet read your book Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer, the book focuses on the Anima Christi prayer. Could you tell us a little about your personal connection to this prayer and why you chose to write an entire book on it?
SISTER MARIE-PAUL CURLEY: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know and love the Anima Christi, but after I entered the Daughters of Saint Paul, I learned that our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, encouraged us to say this prayer at the end of our meditation every morning, and so I did. Praying it daily, the personal, familiar aspect of the prayer became something I treasured. The first line of the prayer, “Soul of Christ, sanctify me!” is really personal if we think of it as praying soul-to-Soul. This personal aspect was very appealing to me.
For several years, I’d wanted to write another book on the Eucharist—a book about how to live a Eucharistic life. I wanted to explore what it means to live a Eucharistic life day by day, in a way an ordinary person like me can grasp and strive for. But I didn’t know how to approach such a deep topic and make it accessible. One day, I realized that the Anima Christi would be the perfect “way in” to such a challenging but important subject, because the heart of the Anima Christi is how Jesus’s Eucharistic love transforms us, and that’s what I wanted the heart of the book to be.
After that, I just had to work up the courage to begin it. The Soul of Christ prayer is recommended by so many saints, and commented on by them, I wasn’t sure if I should attempt it or not. Would I really have something to say about this prayer and about praying Eucharistically that could help people today?
PETE: What do you feel people can gain from praying the Anima Christi?
SISTER MARIE-PAUL CURLEY: I think that praying the Anima Christi can help people realize that our Catholic faith and our prayer life is not simply about believing the truth and sanctifying our minds, but it’s above all about encountering Jesus Christ. Our life of faith is our personal relationship with Christ. Jesus wants us to love him with our whole minds, wills, and hearts—in other words, he wants a relationship with us that takes into account every aspect of our personhood.
Secondly, Jesus wants to be close to us so much that He gives us Himself in the Eucharist. By praying this powerful Eucharistic prayer, we are able to appreciate the great gift of the Eucharist and allow Jesus in the Eucharist—at Mass, in adoration—to transform us, to help us to grow in holiness. The Anima Christi can help us to rekindle the “Eucharistic amazement” that St. John Paul encouraged us to live.
PETE: How can your book aid people in gaining a deeper appreciation for the Anima Christi?
SISTER MARIE-PAUL CURLEY: The book just helps us to slow down and take our time praying this treasured prayer. Each chapter of the book explores one line from the Soul of Christ prayer. But the words and sentiments contained in the Anima Christi are so rich that I decided to approach it from two different directions. The first part of each chapter is a phrase by phrase (sometimes word-by-word) meditation. The second half of the chapter continues to reflect on that same words of the prayer, connecting them to a Scriptural reading, and offering side notes so that this part of the chapter can be used as an hour of adoration. (The side notes contain prayers, reflection questions, and suggestions for hymns, all designed to assist someone to make an hour of adoration.)
PETE: For those who struggle with getting into a routine prayer regimen what advice can you give?
SISTER MARIE-PAUL CURLEY: What many writers and I have found true of writing is also true of prayer: if we show up every day, something eventually happens. If I set aside the time to write regularly—which is a huge challenge for me—the ideas and paragraphs eventually start to flow. If I show up for prayer daily, then my relationship with God will start to grow. Remembering that God wants this relationship with me more than I do helps me when my prayer feels a bit dry. So if I make time for God, God will not waste it, even though at times it may feel like nothing is happening.
It’s always hard to start a new routine, but routine becomes important when it helps us to give priority to our relationship with God, to spending time with God. For most of us, a routine ensures that we make time daily for prayer.
Here are a couple suggestions for setting up a daily prayer routine:
1) Honestly look at your typical day and see what you can realistically commit to. Choose to start with something manageable. If your prayer life is erratic—deep some days and nonexistent the next, try starting with just ten minutes of meditative prayer every day. Pick a time when you’re alert and won’t usually be interrupted. Perhaps getting up ten minutes earlier is the best choice. Or set aside ten minutes before you get ready for bed. If you have the opportunity to take a long lunch break, you can pray at noon daily. Once you find a time that works for you, always give your prayer precedence at that time. Your relationship with God, who created, redeemed, and sanctifies you, is the most important relationship in your life. You will never regret putting aside time for prayer.
2) The ten minutes of meditative prayer can be focused on the Word of God. Pick a short Scripture passage, read it prayerfully, ponder it, and apply it to your own life. (Lectio divina is “Sacred Reading” with the Word of God, and it’s life-changing. There are many great resources on praying with the Word of God—I offer a very short beginner’s guide you can download for free here.) You may wish to use the Anima Christi prayer to conclude the lectio divina.
3) Use the in-between moments of your day to reconnect with the Lord, remembering the Scripture passage that you prayed with, or praying with a familiar prayer such as the Anima Christi. If you pass by a church regularly (daily or weekly), try making it a practice to stop in and make a visit to Jesus in the Eucharist.
4) After you have a well-established short routine that works for you, see if you can lengthen it to a daily time of prayer that really sustains and helps you to grow in your relationship with God. (Some laypeople find two longer times of daily prayer—of about 20-30 minutes each—both manageable and sustaining for their relationship with God.)
5) Look for occasional opportunities to take time “apart” with God. You and He deserve a get-away together! Perhaps a weekly or monthly Eucharistic Hour of Adoration, or an annual weekend retreat.
PETE: I found Soul of Christ to be a great book for meditation. Thank you for your efforts in providing myself and other readers with this excellent resource. Do you have any other book projects in the works we can look forward too?
SISTER MARIE-PAUL CURLEY: Thank you for the kind words and the enthusiastic review—I hope that readers will find the Anima Christias enriching to their prayer life as it has been for me. My next book is a practical, personal, and spiritual approach to discernment. For this book, I’m trying something new—I’m blogging it! You can find the first two chapters up online on my blog, www.CoAuthorYourLifeWithGod.com. I absolutely love getting questions and feedback from readers, which will help me write a much better book.
PETE: Time for my signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What is currently on your bookshelf to read?
SISTER MARIE-PAUL CURLEY: Oh dear. There is no way to answer this question briefly. I always have a huge pile of books waiting to be read that I’ve somehow begged or borrowed. I love to read all kinds of books from theology to science fiction, and there are several areas in which I always have one book going (the spirituality of communication, Saint Paul and/or Scripture, the spiritual life and prayer). Of course, I’m always reading the Bible and usually either reading or re-reading at least one Church document—currently, I’m going through The Joy of the Gospel a second time.
On my current reading shelf: The Theology of St. Paul by James Dunn (this delightfully thick and deep volume will take me another year, probably!), Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, and Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity and Faith by Luci Shaw.
On the to-read shelf: Commentary on the Song of Songs by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, along with The Cantata of Love: A Verse by Verse Reading of the Song of Songs by Blaise Arminjon; Treatise on the Love of God by St. Francis de Sales, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Brant Pitre, and for fun: Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. (I don’t get much time for fiction, but my next fiction “to read” is Way of Kings by my new favorite fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson. That last book may end up being a summer vacation read!)