Yes. I Pray for the Dead

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.  It seems almost everyone I know has lost a beloved friend or family member in the last few months.  So many others are battling cancer or some other serious illness.  The specter of death lingers in our shared emails and in our phone conversations.  We keep each other updated and share our fears and our hopes.  And we pray.  We pray for healing and comfort.  We pray that the doctors will be guided by the Great Physician and make our friends whole and healthy again.  Mostly, we pray for God’s will to be done, for we know that this is the prayer that never fails.  And when a loved one dies, our prayers for them continue on.  As a Catholic, I believe in praying for the dead because I believe in purgatory.

Souls in hell can’t benefit from our prayers and the souls in heaven can’t draw any closer to Him.  But those Christians who have died and still have an attachment to sin must be purified before entering into His presence.  The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen described it this way.  Imagine that you have hammered a nail into a piece of wood.  The nail is your sin and the wood is your soul.  Once you repent of this sin, God removes the nail but the hole remains.  Your penance and prayers, through the mercy and redemption of Christ, fill in this hole with His grace.  So, if you die with some holes still there, you need to “get things right” before embracing Him fully.  If prayers can benefit our loved ones in this life, it seems reasonable that our prayers would benefit those being prepared for heaven in purgatory.  Praying for the dead is a very ancient practice which is part of the Jewish faith.  Even today Jews pray the “kaddish” prayers offered for the purification of deceased persons.  Jesus never taught us to stop this holy practice, though He certainly taught us to stop other Jewish rituals which He knew were vain or useless.  The purification that happens in purgatory is purely a work of God’s grace and we see it as a part of the ongoing sanctifiction of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.  We read the truth of this in the New Testament in several passages:  Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 21:27; I Corinthians 3:13-15; I Thessalonians 5:23; and Hebrews 12:1-2.  The early Church encouraged the faithful to pray for the souls of the departed.  We see this in the writings of Abercius, Perpetua, Cyril of Jerusalem; Epiphanius of Salamis, John Chrysostom and Augustine.  Since all these were writing between AD 160 and AD 421, prayers for the souls in purgatory were a holy practice from the earliest years of Christianity.

Praying for the dead is a way of affirming that their life goes on, that death isn’t the end but a journey into eternal life.  Praying for the dead witnesses our communion and solidarity as members of the Body of Christ.  We continue to gently hold onto one another even after death through our faith and by our prayers.  Praying for the dead is both a human and Christian way of saying:  we have not forgotten you, we will never forget you.  Our prayers remind us that we are all made one family through Christ.  Back before I joined the Catholic Church, it seemed odd and rather sad to me that my fervent prayers for my loved one were supposed to cease at the moment they took their last breath.  Did my love for them stop at the moment of their death?  Of course not.  And as Christians, we know that life is eternal.  Love has conquered death and praying for those we love after they die is one of the great gifts of the Christian life.  One of the most beautiful of all Catholic prayers is one we pray at a funeral Mass which, by the way, is called “The Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection.”  We pray for the deceased person:  “May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace. Amen.”  What beautiful words of love to lay at the Lord’s feet as an offering on behalf of anyone we’ve loved and who has passed on to eternal life.

“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood Of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, those in my own home and within my own family. Amen.”

–the prayer of St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1301)

Pope St. John XXIII

The Sunday following Easter is celebrated in the Catholic Church as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” In the spirit of the Easter season, this is a day when we give special thanks to the Lord for His great mercy and we pray that every person on earth knows that God loves them and forgives them of their sins. This devotion to Jesus’ mercy was something that St. John Paul II had promoted during his papacy. Another pope, St. John XXIII is known for his teaching on the mercy of God.

He was born Angelo Roncali in 1881 in Sotte il Monte, a village of 1200 at the foot of the Italian Alps. His family had lived there since 1429. The future pope was one of 14 children and his family farmed for a living. Their cows shared the ground floor of their home with them. He grew up happy and loved and in 1904, was ordained to the priesthood. He rose to the College of Cardinals in 1953 and was elected Pope in 1958 at the age of 76. Most officials within the Church expected him to be a kind of “caretaker” Pope from whom little innovation or real leadership would be expected. Good Pope John surprised everyone by calling for a worldwide Church council—the Second Vatican Council—which would transform Roman Catholicism. Though his papacy lasted just 5 years, his influence on our faith has been remarkable and lasting. Yet aside from his calling for Vatican II, he’s best remembered for his sense of humor. In his honor, here are a few of his most well-known quotes:

—When a reporter asked Pope John, “How many people work in the Vatican,?” he replied,”Oh, about half.”

—On another occasion,a Vatican official told him that it would be “absolutely impossible” to open the Second Vatican Council by 1963. “Fine, we’ll open it in 1962,” the Pope answered. And they did.

—The Pope was often the butt of his own jokes. He often laughed about his appearance—big ears, large nose, and round figure. One day after a session with a photographer, he said, “From all eternity God knew that I was going to be Pope. He had 80 years to work on me. Why did He make me so ugly?”

—He joked about his humble origins, too. “Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways: women, gambling, and farming. My father chose the most boring one.”

—Becoming Pope might have surprised him a bit. “It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and I decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.” And another one: “Anybody can be Pope: the proof of this is that I have become one!”

—Lastly, he was once at a dinner party where a woman was seated across from him wearing a very low-cut dress. His papal secretary turned to him and whispered, “What a scandal! That woman—everyone’s looking at her!” “No one’s looking at her,” said Pope John. “Everyone’s looking at ME to see if I’M looking at her!”

Both popes, John Paul II and John XXIII, lived lives of humility and service and millions of the faithful join together in giving thanks to God for both of them. And both men are proof that being saints means sharing the joy (and laughter) of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“I live by the mercy of Jesus, to Whom I owe everything and from Whom I expect everything.”
—Pope John XXIII

Living an Easter Life

Easter is the ultimate truth of the universe. Every other truth is dependent on the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again. He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all our sins. Through His death and resurrection, we have been given eternal life. Everything has changed. Everything has been made new (Revelation 21:5). Everything. Including you and me and how we live our lives. This isn’t a philosophy. It’s not a theory. Our salvation is a Person. A real, historical Person. He has transformed the world and all that it’s in it. The power of Easter is utterly and completely and shatteringly true. Easter is the power of creation itself given to each of us as a gift from God. Yet so often we fail to accept it. We trudge along with downcast eyes, burdened by life, acting as if Jesus never defeated death. We don’t realize that He has set us free.  

A free life is one that reflects the truth, the love, and the power of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter morning. It’s a life lived without fear of the tomb. And it’s amazing. Interested?

Love your family. Lay down your life for them. Celebrate the worthiness of your beloved by uniting with them in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Don’t be fooled by the world’s attempts to lure you into living with someone, or being satisfied with some other imitation of marriage. Live the Sacrament. Be open to the gift of life. Allow the Lord to involve you in creating your family in His timing, which is always perfect. Raise your children in the faith of His Church. Pray for them and with them every day. Let them see you welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, visit the imprisoned and give without counting the cost.  

Treat your neighbors as members of your family. Be honest and straightforward in your business dealings. Pay others a living wage. Involve yourself in the life of your community. Teach your children to respect the laws of our country and how to serve others in your neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and true, even if it is unpopular. Share your faith in the public square. Work hard to support your family and let your children see the value of a job well done. Give of your time, talent and treasure to support the Church. Teach your children to do the same. Be joyful in all that you do. Let your children see that even our suffering can be a blessing when it is offered to the Lord. Life can be hard and it’s often unfair, but we are just passing through this world on the way to our true home. Help your family keep their eyes fixed on Jesus by watching you follow Him.  

Never be afraid of loving. Be kind to everyone. Show mercy. Pray for the people who cause you pain. Give people second chances. Be content in silence. Put down your phone and talk. Teach your children to pray the Rosary. Make time for art and music. Seek beauty and teach your children to know true beauty. When we seek beauty, we seek God. Life your life in the joy of Easter morning, every day. Christ has freed us from the chains of sin and death. He gave us a Church to lead us to heaven. That same Church gave us the Bible, which is His holy word. Rejoice in the gift of His love and embrace a life lived in faith. Allow Him to love you as He created you to be loved. Easter changes everything.

“Are you capable of risking your life for someone? Do it for Christ.”

—St. John Paul II

Plant Your Faith

Springtime gives me hope. Every year as the earth blossoms into new life, I’m filled with gratitude for the beauty of creation. Spring affirms change and growth and renewal. It reminds me in a million different ways that I have been made “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). So many of the familiar flowers and shrubs in our home landscapes have long traditions as living reminders of our faith. I’m sure most of us have at least a couple of these examples in our gardens, but we might not know their histories.

Probably the most beloved flower of all is the rose. St. Ambrose tells us that the rose grew as the greatest and most beautiful of all the flowers in paradise. It flourished there without thorns until sin entered the world. The rose then grew thorns to remind man of his sins but it retained its beauty and fragrance to remind us of the splendor of heaven. A red rose is the symbol of martyrdom, of giving our life for our faith. A white rose symbolizes purity. Roses are often associated with the Virgin Mary. A rosary is a series of prayers which we present to Our Lady like a garland of these most beautiful flowers.

Most of us know the story of St. Patrick and the shamrock. As a missionary to the pagan people of Ireland, Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate how the three Persons of the Holy Trinity exist as One. Americans often confuse shamrocks with clover, but the shamrock is a lovely green plant that is much larger than the tiny clover and makes an excellent bedding plant.

Holly is a staple of most American home gardens. The waxy green leaves and bright red berries make it a favorite at Christmastime. Legend has it that the holly was used to make Christ’s Crown of Thorns and the bright berries reflect the drops of His Precious Blood which the painful Crown produced. Its evergreen beauty reminds us of the promise of eternal life in Christ and His promise to be with us in our darkest trials. The old poem, “The Holly and the Ivy” contrasts the two plants and their symbolism.

Laurel is another beautiful shrub that comes in many varieties. In ancient times, the winner of a race or other athletic competition was rewarded with a crown made of laurel leaves. It reminds me of having run the race of faith that St. Paul mentions. Laurel symbolizes triumph as well as chastity. Several orders of nuns wear wreaths of laurel on the day they make their final profession of vows and many sisters choose to be laid to rest wearing a laurel crown, as well.

One of my favorite flowers is the columbine. Brilliant blue, it’s a real show-stopper. Another name for columbine is “Our Lady’s Shoes” which comes from a legend about the origin of this flower. After the angel Gabriel had come to Mary at the Annunciation, she left to share this good news with her cousin, Elizabeth. As her feet touched the earth on her journey, columbines sprang up in bloom at each footstep. What a wonderful story! Columbines remind us of the joy that Mary felt knowing the Savior of the world was on His way.

Lilies are hardy perennials that multiply rapidly and bloom their hearts out. They have been seen as symbols of purity and chastity for centuries. You’ll frequently see lilies in paintings of Saints who died as virgins. St. Joseph, the husband of Our Lady, is often depicted holding a lily—both as a symbol of his own chastity and in his role as the protector of Mary’s virginity. The fleur-de-lis is a variety of lily that was adopted by King Clovis of France when he was baptized. This familiar 3-petaled bloom went on to become the symbol of French royalty and of France itself. An early bloomer, the fleur-de-lis is a sweet, fragrant addition to any garden.

So many flowers and shrubs have been linked to events in the life of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Do a little research for stories about daffodils, bleeding hearts, Passion flowers, and marigolds to find more about your “faith garden,” These are just a few of the many reminders of the love of Christ and the faith of His followers. Plant a corner of your garden with some flowers or shrubs that will pull you closer to our Creator. He made a Garden for us all, once. And the beauty of springtime is a reflection of that first, perfect garden.

“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.”—-St. Thomas More

An Online Lent

Many of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers have chosen to go offline for Lent. By leaving social media behind they hope to use these weeks leading up to Easter in a quieter and more spiritual way. A lot of what’s “out there” can be distracting, silly, and burdensome. I completely understand their need to be rid of all that might keep them from becoming what God wants them to be. Lent is a time for spiritual growth. But I’ve decided NOT to go dark and maybe I can explain why.

I can’t think of a better place to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel than on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, etc. And I can’t think of places that need it more. The internet is the public forum of our day. It’s where everyone in the world comes together. It’s where Christians should be gathering. We can be a presence that shares the love and mercy of Christ in a way that brings light to darkness and hope where there is discord and despair. It’s not always easy or pleasant, but easy and pleasant isn’t what He promised us, after all. Imagine what St. Paul would have tweeted if he’d been on Twitter. Or St. Paul’s Facebook posts or Instagram photos. I’m sure the Apostles would have used social media as another one of their tools in their way of connecting with people. I don’t know about you, but for all its annoyances, Facebook is sometimes where I first learn about what’s going on in the lives of my friends and extended family. I read about illnesses and worries, their troubles and triumphs, even the news that someone I know and love has passed away. Facebook is full of prayer requests as well and I’m humbled and thankful for the chance to add my voice for healing and peace in God’s good time.

Having said all that, I think it’s prudent to be prayerfully and thoughtfully engaged in social media. It’s way too easy to let the internet control you—instead of you controlling your use if the internet. To begin with, remember that the internet is NOT FREE. When you’re online you’re spending your most valuable resource—your time. So make it count. During Lent (and the rest of the year) it’s best to limit your time online and to use some discipline and self-control. Don’t respond immediately to every post or photo. Be thoughtful and reflect on what fruit your response might bear. Sometimes the most loving response is your silence. You don’t need to comment or “like” or retweet everything. Don’t post just for the sake of posting something or updating your status. Posts that prompt others to say “how cute!” or “how sad!” or leave people wondering (e.g. “Feeling lonely right now…”) are self-serving and better left unsaid. Here’s where you can do some more Lenten fasting. Fast from posting selfies, from new profile pix, from gossip and snarky comments. Don’t post photos of what you had for dinner (especially that steak you ate on a Friday in Lent!) or your latest game score or quiz results. Nobody cares what kind of tree you are anyway. These kinds of posts say: Look at me. Think of me. Like me, please. They’re at odds with the spirit of preparing ourselves for Easter. “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

On a positive note, there are lots of good digital resources that can help you make your Lenten journey more spiritually-nourishing. I’m following Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Both these men offer daily Lenten reflections and prayers that help me stay on track. Using the iBreviary app, I can pray the Divine Office. I use a rosary app that let’s me pray using my iPhone. Lent is a great time to increase our prayer time and develop better prayer habits. Post a favorite prayer on Facebook instead of your Candy Crush score.

Social media isn’t always a bad thing. Like everything in the world, it’s how we use it that gives it value. Moderation and prudence are key. But it’s where people meet to talk things over in our modern world, so I’m staying involved in the conversation this Lent. I’m posting. I’m praying. I’m trying to be a witness.

“It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways…we need love and to be loved. We need tenderness.”
—-Pope Francis

A Soldier’s Faith

In my parish church we have beautiful plaques depicting the Stations of the Cross. These stations tell the visual story of Christ’s last hours. Traditionally, the 14 stations start with his arrest in Gethsemane and end when His Body is placed in the tomb. In our stations, there is the figure of a Roman soldier who follows Christ’s journey along the way. And, at the crucifixion, the artist gives the soldier a halo as he gazes on the suffering Christ. It’s at that moment when the soldier is transformed from a pagan employee of the Empire into a new believer in Jesus Christ. In Catholic tradition, the soldier’s name is Longinus and he is the centurion who thrust his lance into Christ’s side after His death. It was St. Longinus who then proclaimed, “In truth, this man was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Often when I’m sitting in “my” pew at church, my eyes follow this centurion as he helps guard Christ through His trial and condemnation, and then as He carries His cross to the hill at Golgotha. Each station shows this soldier carefully observing Christ. His eyes never leave Him. Jesus is tortured and beaten. He falls down again and again under the weight of the cross. Jesus is dirty, bleeding and exhausted. The centurion looks regal and important in his spotless Imperial uniform. The two men couldn’t look more different. And yet the centurion is transfixed by this beaten man. He walks with Jesus, seeing Him struggle to bear the weight of the cross in His weakened state. Jesus meets His mother and Longinus watches. Our Lord’s face is wiped of sweat and blood by St. Veronica, and Longinus watches. He sees Jesus stripped of His garments and stands looking when He is nailed to the cross. Surely Longinus must know why this Nazarene is being put to death by Rome. He’s heard the stories. He knows a bit about the Jews and their laws about blasphemy. And he’s witnessed dozens of other crucifixions. Oh yes. His superiors make good use of the cross. And yet, there’s something different about this one. This Jesus. Longinus can’t take His eyes from Him. It’s as though the Person of Jesus Christ is revealed to Longinus in His faithful suffering and tender self-sacrifice.

I pray to be more like St. Longinus. I don’t always keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. I stumble and I fall. I let myself be distracted by the things of the world. Unlike my Savior, I care about what others think of me. I want to be admired and respected. I’m prideful and full of conceit. I try to do everything myself. When St. Longinus witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross, his heart was filled with faith and he allowed the Holy Spirit to open his eyes. “In truth this man was the Son of God.” Am I willing to be such a fearless proclaimer of Christ crucified?

During Lent, we journey with Chris as He moves through His Passion and death towards the resurrection of Easter morning. Like St. Longinus, we’re called to participate in Jesus’ suffering. We meditate on the Stations of the Cross. We imagine ourselves being there, seeing Jesus, seeing His pain and suffering. And knowing that He’s doing all of this for me and for you. Every drop of His Precious Blood is given out of love, to save us. His very life, poured out in love.

St. Longinus allowed God to enter His heart and reveal the truth of Jesus to him. Tradition tells us that Longinus left military service, became a monk, and was ultimately killed for his faith in Christ. I pray that God will fill my heart with that depth of love for His Son. I pray that my eyes too will always be fixed on Christ. And that, like St. Longinus, I will always fearlessly proclaim Christ crucified and give my life over to Him, every day, every hour, every moment. May all of us experience the sweet love of our Lord on our journey through Lent. Amen.

“I do not pray for success; I ask for faithfulness.”
—St. Teresa of Calcutta

Springtime

Springtime is stirring (we hope!) in north Georgia. The dark rainy days of winter are slowly slipping away into memory and every day sees new blooms in our gardens and the woods around us. A thousand shades of green will soon blanket the hills and ridges as sleeping buds burst forth to find the sun. I know how they feel. I’m feeling that same longing for the new life of spring, too. These weeks of Lent prepare us for the true Light of Easter. We’ve been walking to Jerusalem with our Lord, through the good times He’s shared with His friends and now as we will be with Him through His Passion and the Cross of Good Friday. Spring is about changes and new beginnings. And change is painful.

But change is also hopeful. A new beginning opens a world of possibilities. For me, writing is like that. I’m old-fashioned and use a pen and paper writing everything in longhand. Sitting down with a blank white page in front of me is at once a gift and a burden. I can write whatever words I want to write and that’s a marvelous gift. But that freedom brings with it the burden of choosing which words to write and in what order and for what purpose. This is very much what Easter is for us as well. The sacrifice of the Cross opens heaven for us again. After original sin entered the world through our first parents, a gulf of separation kept us from knowing God as He created us to know Him. He wanted to be in an intimate relationship with each one of us, every moment of every day. So He had to build a bridge from His throne to our hearts. And He imagined that bridge in the form of a Cross. A simple wooden cross that would reach from the depths of our sins to the heights of heaven.

The hope of the Cross of Christ is our greatest gift. Through Him, we have the new life we long for–here and for all eternity in heaven. But the joy of the resurrection comes with the exquisite price of Golgotha. Easter is meaningless without Good Friday. In our culture, we often skip anything that smacks of sacrifice or suffering. We want to get straight to joy and happiness. But one look at the life of Jesus shows us how we are to live. And no time in His life is more revealing than this week. He spends time with His friends. He spends time in prayer. He helps those around Him with what they need. He keeps His heart open and His eyes fixed on Friday. He is motivated by one thing and one thing only: love. As we journey towards this Easter Sunday, how well do our lives reflect the hope of Jesus’ gift of the Cross? Like Christ, do we live a life full of prayer and service to others? Are we open to helping those around us when they need help? Does love motivate the decisions we make? If you’re like me, you probably have a ways to to. And that’s exactly when Jesus loves us most—when we still have a ways to go and we choose to make that journey with Him.

If you’ve been away from Christ, today is the perfect day to come home to Him. He’s waiting for you in the sacrament of confession. He’s waiting for you in the celebration and sacrifice of the Holy Mass. He’s waiting to give you the hope and the joy that He purchased for you on the Cross. Spring is the season of new life and light. Christ is calling you to return to Him and receive the new life that only He can offer.

“Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart..”—Joel 2:12

A Holy Lent

One of the many great things about being a Catholic is that we have a rhythm in our faith lives.  Each season of the Church evokes a different spirit within us and our worship is enriched and deepened by the regular changes in focus and feel.  In Advent, we prepare for the gift of Jesus at Christmas.  During Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s coming as the great Light foretold for generations.  Today begins another season, that of Lent.  You probably saw various news reports this week about Mardi Gras celebrations around the country.  Unfortunately, most people have lost the connection between “Fat Tuesday” and today, Ash Wednesday.  The celebration of Carnival, literally “leaving meat”, originated as a kind of counterweight to the austerity of Lent.  Carnival also points to the exuberance of Easter and the joy of the Resurrection, which is still yet to come.  During Lent, we journey with Christ, walking to Jerusalem with Him, as He prepares for His Passion and Death on the Cross.

St. Augustine helps us to understand what Lent is all about when he writes:  “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire.  You do not see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when He comes, you may see and be utterly satisfied.”  Lent is an exercise of this holy desire.  Most of the time, our lives seem to be filled with the “distractions” of everyday living:  work, problems, and anything that takes our minds off our work and our problems.  None of these things are bad in themselves, but they can keep us from seeing what we really long for.  Lent is a time to put aside some of these diversions and get in touch with the true Object of our longing that St. Augustine wrote about.

Jesus is our hearts’ desire and we can know His heart by spending prayerful time in the Gospels.  He shows us there how can be like Him and how we can know and serve God.  This is our Lenten journey.  Christ is our example of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — the three traditional pathways we walk during Lent.  His withdrawal into prayer, His practice of fasting and His acts of charity, mercy, and healing should be our Lenten exercises as well.  When we abstain from meat on Fridays, when we spend regular time in prayer, especially in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and when we reach out to help others, we are putting aside some of the selfish diversions of our lives.  When we imitate Christ in these ways, we allow Him to change our hearts and we prepare to honor what He has done for us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

We each choose what we will get out of every Lent.  As we are marked today with ashes on our foreheads, we hear the words of the priest urging us to turn from our sin and return to the Gospel of Christ.  How we choose to do this, to turn our hearts to God, is up to us.  This turning back to God, in Greek “metanoia”, is what we do every Lent and we do it again today–in the midst of all the diversions in our lives, in the midst of our own sinfulness.  God comes always to fetch us back to Himself, to our hearts’ desire, our holy longing for union with Him.  “God means to fill each of you with what is good, so cast out what is bad!  If He wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go?  The vessel must be emptied of its’ contents and then cleansed.”  St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

Lent is a season of cleansing and of preparation. It’s a time of putting things aside and clearing things out so that we can once again see what and Who is most important to us. Lent can be a “spring cleaning” of the heart and it can reveal to us the rooms inside that we’ve not yet invited Christ to come into. Renewing and refreshing, Lent is a joyful time if we only allow our Lord to take control and fill us with His holy love.

A Tiny, Toothless God

It’s a pretty common thing these days. Lots of people do it. Even some churches are into it, actually. So I though I’d put together some pointers for you, if you’re interested in trying it.

How To Domesticate God

1) Try to ignore Him, if you can. When He calls to your heart in that voice you know, don’t seek Him out. This approach worked pretty well for St. Augustine for many years.

2) Don’t read His book. It’s full of His promises and describes His plan of salvation. It has lots of small words like “love” and “faith” and “cross.” Pretty boring.

3) If you do come across some of what’s in His book, it can be fairly easy to ignore it. Especially things like the 10 Commandments and the parts of it where He describes Who He is (John Chapter 6), His Church (Matthew 16:18) and how to live (Matthew 16:24-26).

4) Forget about “sin.” So long as no one gets hurt, who are we to judge? While you’re at it, don’t believe in hell or the devil either. That’s so 14th century.

5) When someone dies, imagine them in a lovely, mist-filled landscape with no cares or worries. Or even better, imagine nothing at all. Like when a candle flame burns out. It’s over.

6) Think of Jesus as a really cool teacher who was everybody’s BFF and who never said anything that would offend anyone or bring anybody down.

7) If you do somehow find yourself thinking of God, imagine Him as your personal concierge. He’s on-call 24/7,always smiling and never makes any demands on you.

8) Be fearful and afraid. Of everything. Be afraid to fail, be afraid of rejection and disapproval. Be fearful of not being loved and of being alone. Let your fears be your guide.

9) Worry. Try to be strong and confident and do it all yourself. Read lots of self-help books. But in the end—just worry.

10) For goodness sake, don’t pray. Or if you do, let your prayers be quick and superficial. Maybe it’s best to wait until bedtime and limit your prayer life to telling God what you want and when you want it. Pray small.

11) Believe that any sins you have are so bad, so heinous, and so “special” that God could never forgive you. His mercy is no match for your sinfulness. You are a lost cause.

12) Don’t go near the confessional, naturally. Let your sins pile up and do everything you can to keep your heart guarded and far away from Him. Mercy and forgiveness can reveal His face to you and you don’t want that.

13) Believe that you are too old or too young, too busy or too uneducated, too shy or too (fill-in-the-blank) for God to use your for His purpose. A small god has even smaller children.

These are just a few starters for making sure you keep God small and tame. The most common way Christians domesticate God is by keeping Him in a box that they only open for an hour on Sunday mornings. Don’t invite Him to share in any other parts of your life. Keep it shallow, simple, and time-limited. Don’t allow Him to change you. Don’t believe in miracles like the saving grace of Baptism, the forgiveness of Confession, or the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Refuse God’s healing of your body, mind, and spirit. Belittle the promises of God at Fatima or Lourdes or through devotion to His Divine Mercy. You never know what might happen if you give your whole heart to Jesus and abandon yourself completely to His Holy Will.

“…Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
—C.S. Lewis

Everyday Prayers

There’s a rhythm to life.  God created the universe in such a way that day follows night, summer follows spring and the sting of death is softened a bit by a newborn baby’s cry.  Every morning that dawns for us is an undeserved gift from God.  None of us is promised tomorrow.  So when we awake to a new day, our first thoughts should be gratitude to the Lord.  In the Catholic prayer tradition we call this the “morning offering,”  In thanksgiving for His many gifts to us, we offer Him back the gift of this new day.  We’re called on to make our lives “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”(Romans 12:1).  When we begin each day by giving our lives again to Christ, His grace renews us for our work and the challenges we each will face. 

Morning prayers to God have their roots in the Jewish tradition and Christians have followed this practice for centuries.  But the most familiar morning offering is one composed a French Jesuit priest named Fr. Francois Xavier Gautrelet in 1844.  He was interested in teaching young priests the importance of offering all the moments of their day for God’s greater glory.  This is a cornerstone of Jesuit spirituality and is beautifully expressed in Fr. Francois’ prayer:

“O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.  I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, the salvation of souls,the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.”  This simple prayer offers God everything we are and all that we do and reminds us of the need to pray for others and the entire family of God.  Start your day in His presence with this lovely offering.

Then, at the end of the day, we all need to examine how we used our time.  Was it for God and neighbor?  Did we give God glory?  Did we sin?  How and why?  Another Jesuit prayer practice is the “daily examen.”  We begin by becoming aware of the presence of the Lord.  We ask the Holy Spirit to help us review the events of the day just ended.  We remember the day with gratitude to God and we pay attention to what God is trying to tell us through the details and emotions of every hour.  We ask God to help us know His will and how we did or didn’t follow Him.  Be patient and allow God to reveal Himself.  Then look to the next day and pray for His grace to meet the challenges you’ll face.  Pray for hope.  A favorite prayer to end the day with is this one:  “I adore You, my God, and I love You with all my heart.  I thank yo for having created me, for having made me a Christian, and for having preserved me this day.  Pardon me for the evil I have done today.  If I have done anything good, be pleased to accept it.  Protect me while I take my rest and deliver me from all dangers.  May Your grace be always with me.  Amen.” 

A rich prayer life begins and ends with our rising and our resting.  These two prayers, or others of your choosing, help us to focus on what is important in life:  our relationship with Christ.  By beginning and ending our days with prayer, we respond to St. Paul’s instruction to “put on the full armor of God”(Ephesians 6:11).  We ask for His help and forgiveness.  We are grateful for His many blessings.  We become aware of our sins and shortcomings and beg God’s mercy and guidance.  Praying before our day begins opens our hearts and minds to Christ’s will for us.  Praying before sleep invites God to help us follow Him more closely tomorrow.  We get into a rhythm of prayer if we do this.  We put ourselves into His loving hands as He leads us along life’s journey.

“You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.” –St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975)

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