When It’s Hard To Pray

The longer I write the more I realize how much writing is like prayer. Writing is something that connects me with God and allows me to hear His voice. Like prayer, writing is a habit that has to be developed over time and like prayer sometimes it doesn’t come easily. Both actions are disciplines of the spirit and both can help us to grow in holiness. Being holy means being the person God intends you to be. Writing helps me to use a gift He gave me and to use it to glorify Him. Like prayer, writing requires preparation and work. Of course we’re not all called to be writers. Some are given much greater gifts. But all Christians are called to pray. In fact I’d go so far as to say that if you don’t pray you aren’t a follower of Christ.  Prayer has to be at the center of our lives. Our faith is based on our relationship with Jesus and without prayer, we can’t know Him.

So if God made prayer so central to His plan for our salvation, why can it sometimes be so hard to pray?  After all, if He made our hearts in such a way that we yearn to know Him, you’d think prayer would come as naturally to us as breathing. Sometimes it does. Most of us are great at praying when we find ourselves in a jam. Up against the wall. At the end of our ropes. Between a rock and a hard place. Remember the old saying about there being no atheists in foxholes. When life–ours or someone we love–is on the line, we’re filled with the need to pray. Our words and pleas and promises to Him overflow and we talk with Him nonstop. That is, until the crisis passes. When the terror of the moment is over, many of us quickly revert to our non-prayerful ways. Perhaps a few of us will experience that crisis as an invitation to a continuing relationship with God. That brush with whatever terror we experienced (death, divorce, unemployment, war, homelessness, etc.) may have opened our hearts to hear Him and allowed Him to draw us close.  Most of us, however, are drawn to the Lord through the regular, everyday, even unexciting details of our daily lives. The Church, in her wisdom, has made most of our liturgical year into “ordinary” time. And while ordinary time refers to those numbered Sundays outside feast and penance, it’s a reminder to us that we can and should encounter God in the regular rhythms of our daily lives.

Consider a significant relationship in your life. Maybe it’s your spouse or a good friend or a sibling you’re especially close to. I’ll bet some of the most meaningful moments you’ve experienced with them are when you’re just enjoying an ordinary day in their presence. Deep love and intimacy are often revealed most clearly in everyday moments. Sharing a meal. Watching a sunset. Being comfortable and at ease in the silent company of a person you love and who loves you back. If that’s true in our human relationships, we can also see that in our prayer relationship with Jesus. The times we can feel most closely-engaged with Him in prayer can be in spontaneous and simple ways each day. The ordinary-ness of our daily prayers are no less valuable than those dramatic, emotionally-charges prayerful “highs” that are few and far between.

The saints tell us a lot about prayer. After all, being saints, we know that their relationship with Jesus bore great and eternal spiritual fruit. Look at St. Joseph of Cupertino. His prayer life was so extraordinary that he frequently levitated several feet off the floor during prayer. But few of us fly around the room during prayers. St. Francis of Assisi, and in our own century, Padre Pio both bore the stigmata or the wounds of Christ as they prayed. St. Isidore and St. Alphonse’s Liguori often appeared in two distant places at the same time while at prayer. But these are the exceptions.

Most saints were like most of us. Sometimes prayer came easily and made them feel close to God. But at other times prayer was a chore. Many of the saints experienced spiritual deserts where their prayer lives seemed pointless and felt as if God had left them alone. We know that St. Teresa of Calcutta struggled with this. For many years she experienced a “dark night of the soul” in her prayer life. Yet no one doubts her spiritual greatness or the fruits of her vocation. This woman knew Jesus well.

We’re each unique creations. Each one of our journeys with Christ is a unique calling. Some of us may fly in ecstasy to Him but the majority of us won’t. We’ll come to know Him in the daily routines of our ordinary lives, sometimes in joyful exuberance and sometimes in peaceful silence. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t think you’re “doing it right.”  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray. And keep at it. Go to Mass and Confession. Fast. And don’t wait to start praying. The only way to get better at it is to pray.

“I pray because I’m helpless.”    —C. S. Lewis

Advertisements

Be Like John

We all know the story of St. John the Baptist.  Born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, he was Jesus’ cousin.  When Mary visited Elizabeth to share the good news of the coming birth of Christ, the infant John “leapt with joy” in his mother’s womb.  He’s remembered as the last of the prophets whom God empowered to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  John preached repentance (Matthew 3:2-8).  He began his ministry in the desert, the wild man of God living on grasshoppers and honey and dressed in camel skins.  He must have been an amazing sight to the fastidious Jews.  But like them, John felt the oppression of the Roman Empire and longed for God to send His chosen family a Messiah that would give the Jews an earthly kingdom.  John was a powerful and gifted preacher and he gained many followers.  He’s probably known best as the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  He looked up and saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  We hear the priest echo John’s words at each Mass when we gaze upon the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

John’s life and ministry always pointed the way to Christ.  He never sought power or glory for himself.  When his followers reported to him that Jesus was baptizing and that many people were now following Him, John’s beautiful response remains an inspiration to us: “…this joy of mine has been made complete.  He must increase; I must decrease”(John 3:30). What’s true for John is true for us as well.  For God’s mighty work to be accomplished in us, we have to get out of His way.  God asked John to spend his life preaching repentance and preparation for Christ’s coming.  John was God’s prophet and at our baptism, each one of us claims a share in Christ’s divine offices of “priest, prophet, and king (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 897-913).  Looking at your own life, how well are you living up to St. John the Baptist’s example?  Does your life point others the way to Jesus?  We might think it’s intimidating to compare ourselves to a prophet like John.  But in many ways we’re living in times very much like John’s own.

He was imprisoned for speaking truth to power.  In his case, he defended the sanctity of marriage and the king threw him in jail and later had him beheaded in order to impress a woman.  John preached the freedom of God’s heavenly peace, yet he was thrown into prison.  Locked in darkness, John came to bear witness to the Light of Christ.  John baptized our Redeemer in water, but received for himself the martyr’s baptism of blood.  Yet John let nothing stand in the way of his message and his mission.  We’re each called by God to a unique mission which only we can fulfill.  God doesn’t expect you to be another John the Baptist or Mother Teresa or Fulton Sheen.  He wants you to We all know the story of St. John the Baptist.  Born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, he was Jesus’ cousin.  When Mary visited Elizabeth to share the good news of the coming birth of Christ, the infant John “leapt with joy” in his mother’s womb.  He’s remembered as the last of the prophets whom God empowered to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  John preached repentance (Matthew 3:2-8).  He began his ministry in the desert, the wild man of God living on grasshoppers and honey and dressed in camel skins.  He must have been an amazing sight to the fastidious Jews.  But like them, John felt the oppression of the Roman Empire and longed for God to send His chosen family a Messiah that would give the Jews an earthly kingdom.  John was a powerful and gifted preacher and he gained many followers.  He’s probably known best as the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  He looked up and saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  We hear the priest echo John’s words at each Mass when we gaze upon the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

John’s life and ministry always pointed the way to Christ.  He never sought power or glory for himself.  When his followers reported to him that Jesus was baptizing and that many people were now following Him, John’s beautiful response remains an inspiration to us: “…this joy of mine has been made complete.  He must increase; I must decrease”(John 3:30). What’s true for John is true for us as well.  For God’s mighty work to be accomplished in us, we have to get out of His way.  God asked John to spend his life preaching repentance and preparation for Christ’s coming.  John was God’s prophet and at our baptism, each one of us claims a share in Christ’s divine offices of “priest, prophet, and king (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 897-913).  Looking at your own life, how well are you living up to St. John the Baptist’s example?  Does your life point others the way to Jesus?  We might think it’s intimidating to compare ourselves to a prophet like John.  But in many ways we’re living in times very much like John’s own.

He was imprisoned for speaking truth to power.  In his case, he defended the sanctity of marriage and the king threw him in jail and later had him beheaded in order to impress a woman.  John preached the freedom of God’s heavenly peace, yet he was thrown into prison.  Locked in darkness, John came to bear witness to the Light of Christ.  John baptized our Redeemer in water, but received for himself the martyr’s baptism of blood.  Yet John let nothing stand in the way of his message and his mission.  We’re each called by God to a unique mission which only we can fulfill.  God doesn’t expect you to be another John the Baptist or Mother Teresa or Fulton Sheen.  He wants you to fulfill your calling and your mission.  These days, the truth of Christ is under assault on every front.  Catholics find themselves in a Church where even Cardinals and Bishops are being confronted with their own fidelity (or lack of fidelity) to the mission of the Church and the truth of Christ’s teaching.

This is a painful time for the Church. But if we’re to be true to our Savior, we have to stand up for His Truth, which is unchanging.  Like John the Baptist, we must constantly point to Christ, no matter the consequences.  John wasn’t afraid to tell the king the truth about marriage.  Catholics must also defend marriage as a Holy Sacrament between one man and one woman.  We are called to defend life and that puts us at odds with those who support abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.  Like John we have to raise the cry of outrage when anyone or any institution threatens God’s gift of life.  We do this through the life-affirming example of how we life.  We support the Church and the affiliated organizations which defend life and the free practice of our faith.  We pray.  We peacefully protest.  And we vote in support of those candidates who also support life and freedom of faith.  The Catholic Church proclaims at every Mass, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Our lives must echo those words as well.  He must increase and we must decrease.  Our mission is to be Christ to one another and to live joyfully, despite the culture, and despite the government.  And while actual martyrdom may not be something we share with St. John, we may very well experience the loss of friends or family who reject our faithful commitment to Christ and His Church.  Like John, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and invite the Lord to lead us through whatever may come.  John challenged the king and lost his head.  But if he hadn’t challenged him, he might have lost his soul.  Our cultural wilderness is starving for the love and charity of Christ.  Will you decrease so that He may increase?

“Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before Me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                     Malachi 3:11fulfill your calling and your mission.  These days, the truth of Christ is under assault on every front.  Catholics find themselves in a Church where even Cardinals and Bishops are being confronted with their own fidelity (or lack of fidelity) to the mission of the Church and the truth of Christ’s teaching.

This is a painful time for the Church. But if we’re to be true to our Savior, we have to stand up for His Truth, which is unchanging.  Like John the Baptist, we must constantly point to Christ, no matter the consequences.  John wasn’t afraid to tell the king the truth about marriage.  Catholics must also defend marriage as a Holy Sacrament between one man and one woman.  We are called to defend life and that puts us at odds with those who support abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.  Like John we have to raise the cry of outrage when anyone or any institution threatens God’s gift of life.  We do this through the life-affirming example of how we life.  We support the Church and the affiliated organizations which defend life and the free practice of our faith.  We pray.  We peacefully protest.  And we vote in support of those candidates who also support life and freedom of faith.  The Catholic Church proclaims at every Mass, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Our lives must echo those words as well.  He must increase and we must decrease.  Our mission is to be Christ to one another and to live joyfully, despite the culture, and despite the government.  And while actual martyrdom may not be something we share with St. John, we may very well experience the loss of friends or family who reject our faithful commitment to Christ and His Church.  Like John, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and invite the Lord to lead us through whatever may come.  John challenged the king and lost his head.  But if he hadn’t challenged him, he might have lost his soul.  Our cultural wilderness is starving for the love and charity of Christ.  Will you decrease so that He may increase?

“Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before Me.”                                                                                                                                                                                                     Malachi 3:11

The Parenthood Industry

There’s a concrete block building in Anand, India that squats in the dirt and swarms with people. At 9 am it’s already packed and the temperature is a sweltering 107 degrees. Women gather here every morning at the Akansha Fertility Clinic to meet with doctors and families. On the walls inside the doorway are newspaper clippings about the clinic and what goes on inside it. The most telling of these headlines proclaims simply: “The Cradle of the World.” You see, the Akansha Clinic makes babies. The doctors there recruit women interested in donating their eggs or in serving as surrogate mothers. They buy eggs and rent wombs, to put it in the most basic terms.

The clinic provides its services to Indian women and couples, but most of their customers come from Europe and North America, specifically the United States. Couples who have not been able to conceive children come to India looking for a surrogate mother to carry their baby for them. The wife undergoes hormone injections to produce multiple eggs which are then surgically-harvested, fertilized with sperm and implanted into the uterus of a surrogate. The cost for this procedure in India can be around $12,000 which is much less than the $75 – $100,000 cost in the U.S. Typically the surrogate mother receives around $5,000 which is an enormous amount of capital for most families in India. That much can change a family’s life drastically.

We in the West have come to believe that parenthood is a right rather than a gift from God. Anyone at any time and in any life circumstance (single, married, gay, elderly) has the right to parent a child. So when that doesn’t happen, India’s fertility clinics become an affordable option. Eggs are available as well as the hormonally-primed wombs in which to implant them. Clinics like the one in Anand are where the pain of poverty and the despair of childlessness meet.

Fully 75% of all fertilized eggs (=babies) fail to implant. We we create children in a lab knowing that only 25% of them have a chance to be born. Surrogacy agreements, which vary widely and have limited legality and enforceability in many areas, allow for all kinds of abuse. Pregnancy “brokers”, questionable medical practices and murky or non-existent record-keeping can make the entire process a minefield for everyone involved. Especially for the child. Some agreements require that mandatory in-utero testing which reveals any kind of defect in the child result in a forced abortion. At times, the egg or sperm used in conception is found to have come from an unknown donor.. Who are the child’s parents in cases like this? I remember when a former co-host on ABC’s “The View” revealed her involvement in a tragic surrogacy situation. Sherri Shepherd was fired from the show in the middle of a nasty divorce from her husband. The couple had arranged for a surrogate mother. Then Ms. Shepherd decided she no longer wanted the child and would not offer any support for him or her. She claimed no connection to the baby since her eggs were not used in the procedure. Her ex-husband has custody of their son now and Ms. Shepherd was ordered by the courts to pay child support. She has no relationship with this child other than a financial one and only because the courts have ordered her to.

Artificial birth-control separates sex from procreation. Our culture separates sex from marriage and marriage from the foundation of motherhood and fatherhood. Our science has allowed us to make children without parents and has turned them into a commodity that we can make cling to life in a rented womb. Whatever we don’t want or find convenient, we can easily abort. And yet we wonder why there are so many divorces, so many troubled children and unhappy and broken families. We shake our heads and we form task-forces. We look to government and social programs for the answers. We place the blame on the targets we each like best. And while we’re busy pointing fingers here in America, there’s a line of women forming at a squat concrete building halfway around the world. They’re getting their injections and having their scans and waiting to be chosen next.

We must remember that life begins at home and we must also remember that the future of humanity passes through the family.”
—Blessed Mother Teresa