Prayer Is A Risk

  
I’ve been blessed with a very good friend whom I love dearly and who never fails to build up my faith and teach me how to more fully follow Jesus Christ. She’s a wife, a mother, and a grandmother who works full-time and volunteers at three different charities. Somehow she also finds time to be a great cook, a talented painter, and her house looks like something out of “Architectural Digest.” She kind of makes me sick—-but in a good way. Being around her calls me to do greater things. She lifts my heart and spirit in so many ways. This woman’s whole life is a prayer to God. And that’s her dearest example for me. Her life is so full of good fruit because her heart is always seeking the Lord.  

Over the years, I’ve learned about her prayer life by watching her live it. She doesn’t particularly enjoy talking about prayer, she’d rather just pray. But I think we all need to know more about prayer, so with her blessing, I’m sharing some of what she’s taught me. Learning to pray is like beginning any relationship. It develops over time and deepens through growing intimacy. There are times when it seems no one is listening to you, but this is a deception. Our Lord is always there. Are you? 

Begin the day with prayer. Catholics pray a “Morning Offering” in which we give thanks and offer our day to God, in our words, our thoughts, and our actions. We beg Him to do His will through us. My friend finds ways to “pray without ceasing” throughout her day. These ways are not new prayers, with many of her favorites well-known to most Catholics. She says she’s a “dabbler” and doesn’t pray the same way each day. Her secret is to keep at it.  

Just pray. But what does that mean? It means opening your heart and mind to God. It means seeking Him out and inviting Him to breathe His Spirit into you and to know you. It’s an active reaching out to Him. And it’s a quiet and receptive listening to His leading you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. Praying is loving the Lord with your thoughts and emotions as well as your intellect and your will. It’s a process of surrender and submission in which we discover our purpose in life. Prayer is building a relationship, but not like a relationship with another human being. People can disappoint us. People can betray and deceive us. Building an earthly relationship contains within it a seed of doubt. That’s why we treasure our lasting friendships so much. True friends are priceless. But a relationship with the Lord is built upon the rock of Truth. He will never disappoint us. He cannot betray our trust. With God, there is no doubt of His love and faithfulness.

The only risk in our relationship with God is that He will transform us into the person He created us to be. We risk being truly and honestly and completely known by someone, and still loved by Them. We risk having to change, to conform our will and our actions to that of our Blessed Savior. And there will be pain in that changing.  

Ultimately, when we love God we risk giving ourselves away. Loving God makes it hard to walk by a hungry person. It makes it hard to ignore a homeless family standing on the side of the road. Love makes it hard to keep ourselves safely self-involved. This explains why my friend spends her life away in the love and service of others. And how her ceaseless praying is at the center of all that humility and sacrifice. The more she prays, the more she loves, and the more she has to share with others.  

So, pray. And ask others to pray for you. Ask the Saints to pray for you. Ask the Blessed Mother to pray for you. Read the Gospels. Choose a chapter and read one every day. Ask God to reveal Himself to you in that chapter. Pray your way through the Psalms. These are the prayers that Jesus prayed, after all. Pray the Angelus at noon each day. When you get ready for bed, review the day you’ve had and see those things you could have done differently, and with more love. Go to confession. Spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Take the risk to give your heart to the Lord in prayer. 

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love.”

            —C.S. Lewis 

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Here Comes The Pope

  

By now most everyone has probably heard that Pope Francis will be visiting the United States at the end of September. He’ll be here on the heels of a visit to Cuba and will spend five days in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. While he’s here, he’ll meet with President Obama and address a joint session of Congress as well as the United Nations. He’s also here to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. It will be a jam-packed schedule with full media coverage. There will surely be plenty of opportunities for the outspoken Pope to make the kind of off-the-cuff remarks for which he’s become famous. So we can expect some folks to be surprised, shocked, confused, disappointed, and/or elated by what he might say. We should all be ready for that. And we need to understand why it happens.  

Catholics know that our Pope is the head of the Church which our Lord founded on St. Peter (Matthew 16:18). And while we know that he isn’t perfect or sinless, we look to him with all the hope and expectations with which we might look to St. Peter, the first Pope. When Francis speaks, we hear echoes of the Fisherman. Through him, we feel connected to that first living faith of the Church and so, in some ways, every word he says is gold. Is this fair? Of course not. Is it realistic? No. But as the Pope, it’s just part of the job. And in a world with 24/7 media coverage, every word and every gesture goes under the microscope. Of course, we won’t know what Pope Francis is going to say until he says it. But looking over his schedule (and his papacy to this point) we can make some predictions about the theme of this visit. If we do that, maybe we won’t be so shocked at some of the headlines that he’ll generate.  

1) The Pope will tell us that unrestrained capitalism is not the answer to poverty. He’ll challenge us to do better at providing for the poorest among us. He’ll tell us that we have a duty as a wealthy country to care for children, women, and families who need food, housing, education, and employment.  

2) The Pope will chide us for the way we treat immigrants to our country. This includes those who come to our country illegally. He’ll tell us it’s our duty to protect and defend the family ties that prompt many immigrants to cross our southern border. He’ll want us to be more compassionate to and supportive of immigrant families.  

3) The Pope will tell us that climate change is real and that industrialized nations like ours are a big contributor to it. He’ll encourage us to decrease our carbon emissions and to use alternative energies more aggressively. He’ll tell us that we have a responsibility to be better stewards of God’s creation.  

4) The Pope will teach us that the surest path to peace and justice in the world is through the support of marriage and the family. This won’t be what many might want to hear, but that’s not what the Pope and the Church are all about. He will continue to support and defend marriage as a unique covenant between one man and one woman which reflects the love of Christ for His Church.  

Of course, we all have issues we’d like to hear the Pope address. Some want Francis to expand the role of women in the Church. Others hope for a return to more traditional worship. As for myself, I’m praying the Pope will boldly defend the sanctity of life and address the horrors of Planned Parenthood in this country. I hope he’ll challenge our Bishops to do the same. And I pray that he’ll call us all to fearlessly live the Gospel in our daily lives, as a contradiction to worldliness, consumerism, relativism, and “me-ism.” I hope his visit will change us and awaken our hearts to the gift of our faith. And I’m kind of looking forward to all the ways he’s going to be misunderstood and misquoted by the press. It’s always a hoot watching the world shake its collective head. Maybe this time, they’ll listen a little more closely.  

“Ask Jesus what He wants from you and be brave!”

                    —-Pope Francis 

Here’s Your Chance, Sister Joan

  
Dear Sister Joan Chittister:

You don’t know me, but I’ve seen and read a lot about you. I’m a Catholic and you’re a Catholic and yet we disagree on several crucial issues which define our faith in Christ and His Church. Your outspoken defiance of Catholic teaching on abortion, among other things, is most divisive. When people see a Catholic nun defending abortion, it sews disharmony and creates confusion. Recently, one of your quotes has found new favor among those who support the killing of unborn children. You haven’t made any newer statement to correct their usage. Neither have I been able to find any evidence that you condemn the actions of Planned Parenthood regarding their abortion practices including butchering babies for profit. Here’s what you’ve said: “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born, but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.”

Let me be blunt, Sister: we can’t feed or educate or house a child if that child is crushed to death in her mother’s womb. We can debate the politics of social services, but the fact is that the largest provider of child services in the entire private sector is the Catholic Church. Remember the Catholic Church? When you took your vows as a Benedictine nun more than 60 years ago, you entered into a relationship of profound obedience to the Church and her teachings. I realize that a nun who is faithful to the Church rarely makes news and you have always courted the spotlight. You could use your minor celebrity spotlight to support and defend the lives of the unborn. But you choose to attack the pro-life cause instead. Maybe you’re worried if you do that Oprah won’t invite you back to her network talk show. You wouldn’t be able to continue to argue for your other pet cause: the ordination of women. Funny that you would want women to become priests (even if that were possible) since priests faithful to Church teachers are great defenders of the unborn Do you see the irony here? Does it bother you at all?

Sister Joan, please don’t think I’m attacking your vocation. I respect that you have lived your life as a professed “Benedictine.”I put your order in quotes since your house has chosen to abandon in many ways the Rule of St. Benedict, including the cloister. I suppose that is between you and your superiors, your Bishop and our Pope. You’ve had occasion, over the decades, to tempt each of them to issue you discipline or censure because of your actions and speeches. So far, no one in the Church has found the courage to do so. Will the Planned Parenthood revelations be enough now to prompt you into becoming an advocate for innocent babies? I pray it will.

You see, the Catholic Church needs women like you. We need women (and men) of courage and conviction who can speak in charity and in humility to a culture that is at odds with life and innocence. We need women (and men) of faith who are unafraid to speak the truth to sin and to the lies of relativism. We need Catholics who are less-interested in self-promotion than in giving themselves in service to the least among us, like children in the womb. More Mother Teresa and less Oprah, if you know what I mean. Now there’s a women who spoke truth to power, and I don’t mean your friend O. Remember her address to the United Nations? She was fearless in proclaiming the truth about abortion to all the leaders of the world. Like you, she stressed the need to care for (to feed, to educate and to house) children. But here’s where Mother Teresa differs from you, Sister Joan: “Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die from hunger and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today—abortion which brings people to such blindness.”

I pray that you’ll allow God to change your heart and that you’ll become a beacon for life in our culture of death. I found something you once said about women’s ordination: “Feminism is about allowing every member of the human race to become a fully-functioning member of the human race, to become a fully-functioning adult.” Yes, Sister Joan, EVERY member of the human race does have the right to become an adult. Every baby has the right to grow up. Please have the courage to defend that right.  

“If we can accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”

      —Blessed Mother Teresa 

Sin And Addiction

  
The process of overcoming an addiction is almost often a long and difficult one. Small victories are hard-won and relapses are frequent. Long-term success is often found in the company of and with the support of other recovering addicts. It’s a journey that is best made when shared with others who are familiar with our temptations and who’ve walked the same road before us. When you think about it, we Christians walk a similar path with one another. We sin—that’s our “addiction.” We gather in community to worship the Lord and to walk together with Him. Sometimes we mess up and when we do we ask His forgiveness and that of our neighbors. And we begin our journey anew. In the twelve-step community, there’s a poem by Portia Nelson that’s sometimes used to illustrate the journey of recovery. 

“I walk down the street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I fall in. 

I’m lost…I’m helpless. 

It isn’t my fault. 

It takes forever to find my way out.”

For Christians, this is the time in our lives when we begin our walk of faith. Sin seems unavoidable. Often we don’t recognize our actions as sinful, or if we do we don’t want to call it by its real name. When we deny our sin, we give it a power over us that it doesn’t merit. We haven’t yet learned to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and our hearts hidden in His heart. We depend on ourselves instead and we often feel lost and alone. Our sins overwhelm us and we wallow in doubt and self-pity. We find it hard to believe that God could love us and forgive us.

“I walk down the same street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. 

I can’t believe I’m in the same place. 

But it isn’t my fault. 

It still takes a long time to get out.”

Now I’m getting a little better at recognizing and owning my sins. Sometimes I see them as the ugly things they are. I’m beginning to realize how my sins—even the “little” ones—hurt the Lord and my neighbors. I still blame my sins on other people. I don’t go to confession, so I refuse the grace God longs to give me. Most of the time I feel angry and treated badly by the world. I’m ashamed to reach out to my friends in the Church. I lie a lot. 

“I walk down the same street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I still fall in…it’s a habit. 

My eyes are open. I know where I am.

I get out immediately.”

I’m still learning my way as a Christian and I still sin a lot. But more and more I rely on Jesus. I’m less easily led into sin by people or circumstances. I go to Mass and confession. The grace of God’s Sacraments strengthens me. My brothers and sisters in Christ help me and I rely on their prayers. When I sin, I own it. I’m still weak and my faith often fails me. But I know Who is my life and my salvation. I pray frequently and read the Gospel every day. I know Jesus loves me. 

“I walk down the same street. 

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 

I walk around it.”

My life is prayer-centered. By spending time in devotion to my Lord, we have come to know one another deeply. I go to Mass each Sunday and worship God with my faith family. My Christian life is enriched by serving others in my parish and in my community. Bringing Christ to others is the joy of my life and most of the time I’m at peace. I avoid those people and situations which might be an occasion of sin for me. When the storms of life arise, I cling fast to the Master’s hand. I’m far from perfect, but I know Who is. When I sin, I run to my Father and tell Him all about it. He forgives me and holds me close to His Sacred Heart. 

“I walk down another street.”  

For Christians, this last verse represents a life of extraordinary grace and heroic virtue. It is the Saints Road. Saints are people just like you and me. They have their virtues and their sins; their triumphs and their failures. But they never let anything or anyone come between them and Jesus Christ. They each found their own unique way to remain always in the light of God’s grace. Their lives can be our inspiration and guide to our heavenly home—where the street are paved with gold and there are no potholes. And every street leads to the Throne of the Lamb.