Be A Saint!

Friends are one of God’s great blessings to us.  They give us love, support, helpful advice and the dearest ones challenge us to become the best versions of ourselves.  It’s long been said that you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.  For Catholics, our best friends can be the saints.  We believe that these heroic men and women lived lives full of Christ’s love and mercy and are great examples to us of virtue and perseverance.  Their lives and writings light the way for us, showing us how real people can fully live out the Gospel.

 

If your life’s goal is to love and serve God in this life and spend eternity with Him in the next one, then study the lives of the saints.  Becoming holy is the calling of every Christian believer because to become holy is to become like Jesus.  The path to holiness is well-known and well-traveled.  Contrary to Hollywood, it’s not a secret that only a few can know or understand.  The problem is that most people are looking in the wrong places.  If you want to follow Jesus, read the Gospels and the lives of His greatest followers.  The saints are no different from you and me in all things but one:  they never gave up.  Virtuous and sinful, faithful and doubting, they gave their lives to Christ, messed it up, and turned to Him again and again and again.  Sainthood doesn’t happen in an instantaneous thunderclap of holiness.  It’s a journey with Jesus and a path well-trodden by the saints who have gone before us.

 

Saints come from every walk of life, in every age and culture and every social class.  From noblemen and warriors to peasants, teachers, kings or little children…and everything in between.  The saints are our guides to heaven because they’ve already made the journey.  They’ve navigated the pitfalls of sin and doubt and we can learn from their successes and failures.  They’re practical examples of how your life can be transformed through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Their stories challenge us to radically embrace our faith–not just to “slip by” doing the minimum.  Sometimes I think we subconsciously ask ourselves, “What’s the least I can do and still get to heaven?”  What a selfish response to the One Who gave everything to save me! The saints are demanding and many of us don’t like that.  When we look at their lives we become uncomfortable with our own.  And isn’t that the first step in a real conversion of the heart?  It’s when you realize your aren’t making it on your own and you need to change.  I’ll go a step further and say that if the lives of the saints make you uncomfortable, you’re probably just as uncomfortable with Jesus.  Because the holiness, the goodness and the virtue you’ll find in a saint’s life ALL belongs to Christ.  God doesn’t have favorites—He’s calling you to be a saint, too.  It’s what you were made for.  If you need a place to start, read about St. Francis of Assisi or St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Both these remarkable people are wonderful partners for our journey to heaven.  Put your hand in their hands and let them lead you to Jesus.

 

“If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.”  —St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

Farming My Soul

I grew up on a farm. We raised vegetables to sell and to eat and we had cows and pigs and chickens. The land provided for us, so long as my family provided the work. We had the food and money we needed to buy most everything else. My parents worked very hard for us and spent a lot of time planning for next year. Farmers do that. They live in the future: the next harvest, next year, the weather tomorrow and next week. I grew up learning about fertilizer and soil conversation and what made cows sick. I watched my dad repair broken tractors and hay balers. We’d get up at night to help birth a litter of piglets or a baby calf. I knew better than to make pets of any of them because in a few months they’d be on our dinner table, or sold to pay bills. The land was everything to us. We completely depended on it for our lives. As the writer Dr. Ferrol Sams said, “In the beginning was the land.” The Georgia soil and rains never failed us. As I learned a little history and my worldview widened, I realized how blessed we were. We didn’t have devastating droughts or hurricanes to deal with. Locusts and disease passed us by. We were never brought low by price collapses or natural disasters. We depended on our farm and it met all our needs. It never failed.  

We go through our lives looking for what we can depend on like my family depended on our farm. But we’re frequently disappointed in the things we find in this world. Relationships fall apart; we lose a job; our health fails. Even when we work hard and do all the “right” things, sometimes nothing seems to work out. It’s what we choose to do in those broken moments of our lives that reveals who we really are. Do we become bitter and blame others for our failings? Do we shake our fists at the sky, shouting at God? Do we turn to something like alcohol or pills to take away our pain? Or maybe we just give up, withdraw into ourselves and avoid giving our hearts away to anyone else or to any new pursuit or purpose. A spirit that is crushed by the world is a sad and hollow life. It becomes like barren earth that has been made lifeless through over use and lack of care and proper stewardship. Weeds have been allowed to creep in and deplete all the nutrients. Such a life bears little fruit. And a life like this rarely draws others into it.

Jesus often used images of farming and shepherding to describe the Christian life. He talks about pruning and being pruned, about tending the flock and feeding the sheep and heeding the voice of the Shepherd. Anyone has farmed the land or tended stock knows how important humility is. You’re not really in control of very much on a farm. You’re at the mercy of the weather and wind, of plague and flood. You can’t will a crop into existence or demand the birth of a healthy animal. You do your best and live in hope. In that way, you are the co-creator of your crops and your flocks. It makes you appreciate the goodness of the earth and the bounty of her fields. When bad years come, and they inevitably will, you regroup and look with hope to next year’s harvest. You learn not to give up, but to trust and to keep trying. You help out your neighbor when he needs it and you count on him to help you out when times are rough.  

I think back often on those years on our farm. The older I get, the more I value the lessons of living life close to the earth. We were poor, but we never lacked anything important. I witnessed the value of hard work and the rewards that come from it: a fresh tomato, a squirming pink piglet, the smell of fresh hay in the field and the long, slow evening spent reliving the day’s events. The rhythm of the farm is a lot like the rhythm of our spiritual walk. Times of harvest, followed by times of drought; planting seeds in the hope of bounty and quiet times of reflection and rest. It’s no wonder to me that the image of a perfect relationship with God is revealed to us as a beautiful Garden.  

My farm is not where I must soil

My hands in endless, dreary toil.  

But where, through seed and swelling pod

I’ve learned to walk and talk with God.” 

  —from a Novena to St. Isidore

      the patron Saint of farmers 

A Good Read

I love to read. I guess that’s not much of a surprise since I also love to write. I can’t remember NOT knowing how to read. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on my daddy’s lap when he’d come in at the end of his workday. We’d read the newspaper together. When I started school, I remember my first grade teacher announcing that we were going to learn to read. I walked to her desk, convinced there’d been some kind of grave mistake and I asked if I could go on home, since I already knew how to read. That didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped. Thankfully the world of books has never let me down. And the more I read, the more I know what I like.

Two of my favorite authors reward me with characters and stories that engage me on many levels, challenge what I think and believe and make me take a new look at myself. Dean Koontz is known as a writer of suspense thrillers. I love his stories because he’s so adept at describing our suffering in this broken world and the grace that we’re offered to get us through and transcend it. His characters are sometimes weird and strange but then, so am I. There’s always hope and redemption in a Koontz book. Plus, he creates great dog characters which is always the mark of a good writer, in my opinion. I mean if you can understand dogs, you must have a great world-view.

My other favorite writer is Flannery O’Connor. As far as I’m concerned, she’s in a class of her own. So much has been written already about the characters and themes in her stories. I relate to her on a very personal level. She’s a fellow Georgian, a fellow Catholic (as is Dean Koontz) and a fellow odd-duck. Or maybe I should say “peacock” since she raised those birds on her family farm in Milledgeville. She suffered from lupus for many years before eventually dying from it. I watched my own mother battle the same disease for the last decade of her life. So Flannery and I share some things in common.

Every time I read her stories or letters she surprises me. She never fails to make me laugh, too. I love her understanding of human nature and how even in our most sinful moments, the possibility of supernatural grace never leaves us. The presence of Christ permeates us and the world and nothing can separate us from that. And there’s the real rub, isn’t it? If Christ really is the Son of God and He really did die on the Cross and rise from the dead to save us, then EVERYTHING is changed by Him. O’Connor seizes on that “supposition” and shocks us with her crazy Southern (is that redundant?) characters. No sinner is beyond God’s redemptive love, not even the most lost of us. And if Christ isn’t God and He didn’t suffer and die to save us from getting what we all deserve—-then nothing matters. Go and do what you want and live as hard and as fast as you can because your only goal is pleasure before it’s lights out.

Koontz and O’Connor are just two examples of Catholic writers who reveal God to me. Through using their gifts and talents, I can see the actions of grace in unexpected people and situations. Both writers use the grotesque and bizarre, the misbegotten and the twisted to shock us out of our everydayness. They don’t tapdance around sin or redemption: they shout it out loud and point with grand gestures just to make sure we don’t miss it. They highlight the worst in us so that the Light of Christ shines all the brighter. And that’s what we’re all called to do in our lives. We can’t all be gifted writers like these two, but we can use our own talents and vocations to let Christ shine through us.

If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw everything away and follow Him.”
–from “A Good Man Is Hard To
Find” by Flannery O’Connor

“Evil is no faceless stranger, living in a distant neighborhood. Evil has a wholesome, hometown face with merry eyes and an open smile. Evil walks among us, wearing a mask which looks like all our faces.”
–from “The Mask” by Dean
Koontz

“She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”
–from “A Temple of the Holy
Spirit” by Flannery O’Connor

The Darkness Around Us

The mother slaps her child in anger. She locks him in his room at night and lets him cry, unfed and unloved. The mother sees the child as a problem, perhaps even as a punishment. She feels trapped and she takes her anger and fear and sadness out on the boy. He is a reminder to her of all she has lost and all she will never have. We see her and her child. She is accused and despised. The system we have built rescues the child from her. He is the victim and we use the system to try and make him whole. His future is now our future.  

Another mother also feels trapped. She sees the child within her as a problem, perhaps even as a punishment. She is sad and fearful. She goes to her room at night and cries, unfed and unloved. She thinks of a solution to her problem and goes to a clinic, which is not a clinic at all but a slaughterhouse. Inside the clinic, and inside the woman, the child’s head is crushed with forceps. What was once a baby is now sold for parts in the marketplace the system props up. We see the woman but do not want to know her. We do not want to know what happens inside the “clinic” or inside the woman. It is, after all, her choice. Her choice is our choice and that choice is our future.  

We like to believe that our lives are our own. We like to believe that because the alternative to believing is too horrible to bear. What if my choices ripple out to affect the world? What if we really are part of the family of man, living here for a time, and bound to one another in ways beyond our knowing? That binding together makes us responsible for one another. What I choose to do isn’t merely my choice because every action creates the world in which we live today.

The world. Created in the beginning in love and perfection, it was our first parents whose actions brought death into being. Death, and decay, and pain, and sin. What they did, in that garden long ago, is with us every moment. The ripples of that sin infect every living soul on earth today. We carry within our hearts the seed of that turning away from Love. And sin begat sin, from Adam and Eve down to you and me.  

And so it goes. The mother kills the child in her womb. The baby is sold for scrap. Home invaders kill a sleeping couple in Seattle. A teenaged girl is beaten to death by a mob in Kansas City. In Chicago, a young man shoots a gun from his car, killing a toddler playing in her front yard. A couple in Delaware electrocutes the handicapped man for whom they’re paid to care. A boy in Boston sets fire to a dog. A woman in Miami poisons her grandmother. In Chattanooga, a terrorist guns down 5 military men at a service center. In Louisiana, a man shoots two innocent people in a movie theater before killing himself. Is all this violence connected? Does violence breed more violence? Or does living in a violent world make us so numb to murder that taking an innocent life no longer seems unusual? In the end, it doesn’t matter which is true.  

What remains true is that we have no right to be outraged by the violence. We forfeited that self-righteousness when we embraced and funded the killing of babies in the womb. Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973, we have killed more than 50 million children. The killing fields are not in some far-off land, but in our neighborhoods, in our homes. In our hearts. Every day that this murder of innocents continues, is another day of our accountability. And another day of our building a more violent world. Until we protect and defend human life from conception until natural death, we lose any credibility as a culture. We can’t fund abortions and at the same time be appalled and outraged by the violence around us. If we continue to believe that the murder and violence in our world isn’t connected to the murder of abortion, we’re lying to ourselves. We’re lying in the Face of the very Truth Who created the world and sustains our every breath. He offers us His life that ours might be saved for eternity. We can accept that grace and create a more peaceful world, or we can continue on the murderous path we’ve chosen into the wilderness, in the valley of the shadow of death.

“Beneath the bleeding Hands we feel

The sharp compassion of the 

  Healer’s art.”

           —T.S. Eliot, “East Coker” 

Kindness

She’s out there almost every day of the year. Now in her nineties, sometimes the weather keeps her inside, but even that is rare. When the tide goes out on the beach near her home, she goes walking. You’ll see her with her head bent searching the rocks, bundled against the constant wind, carefully stepping down along the way in her rubber boots. She’s looking for starfish. In this part of Ireland, the tides are quick and extreme, by our standards. And when the waters pull back out to sea, they strand starfish on the rocks. Unable to swim, they’re stuck there until the next tide comes in, many hours later. If the sun is out, they can dry up and die. My sweet old friend can’t bear that, so she patrols her stretch of beach and when she finds a stranded starfish, she picks it up and drops it in the basket she carries. She says when she was younger she’d throw each one back into the water as soon as she’d find it, but that doing that now is hard on her shoulder. She waits til she’s done and then empties her basket into the sea when she’s finished with her walk. You see, she’s been doing this for more than sixty years. How many starfish do you think you’ve returned to the water in all those years, I ask her. Oh, a lot, I imagine, she says. I do a little math and calculate that her efforts have easily helped more than a hundred thousand starfish over the decades.

My friend doesn’t know the Loren Eisley story about the man who saves starfish, like she does. In the story when he’s confronted about the futility of his mission, it doesn’t faze him. “You can’t save them all. What you’re doing doesn’t make a difference.” The old man picks up another starfish and throws it back into the water. “It makes a difference to this one,” he replies.

You could certainly argue that the limited efforts of one old lady on a tiny stretch of beach aren’t going to effect starfish populations worldwide. True. I even wonder how many of those starfish get picked up and “saved” again after the next low tide. But that misses the point, I think, just as the often-told Eisley story misses the point. For me, it’s not about the starfish, but it’s about how acts of kindness change our own hearts. And the world.

I believe that kindness is its own reward. You never know the effects of an act of kindness, nor is that even a consideration for us. As Christians, we’re called to charity and sacrifice. That’s how we follow Jesus. We give because He gives. We love because He loves. We bend over and pick up the fallen and the stranded because that’s what He does for us. We don’t stop to consider the cost of our kindness or even the “good” that it accomplishes. We just do it. We reflect Christ’s charity, which is freely given to everyone, whether they treasure it or not. The act of loving and caring for others is transformational in and of itself. Kindness exercises the muscles of our hearts just as a workout at the gym exercises the muscles of our arms, our legs, and our core.

Over the decades, my friend has enjoyed her walks on the beach every day and she’s doubtless helped thousands of starfish in the process. But what she’s really done is to live a life caring for the least of God’s creations. Everyone who sees her is reminded that we can all make a difference in the world, and that no act of charity is ever lost. God sees even our smallest kindnesses: a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement. Or one little starfish given another chance to live another day.

“The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness.”
—-Victor Hugo

Love Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

We can take something as simple as “love your neighbor” and make it incredibly complicated. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ know that love is the heart of His message and He went about showing us how to live that love during His ministry here. We see Him healing sick people, bringing dead people back to life, comforting folks who are grieving and befriending folks most people avoided, like tax collectors and lepers and adulterers. And He ate and drank a lot, with anyone He could find. Loving others like Jesus loves seems pretty simple when we read the Gospels, but when we look around today, sometimes it feels like Christianity is more of a business than a love affair.  

And that’s understandable since any time a group of people come together for a common purpose, an organization will grow up to provide oversight. Girl Scouts have troops, baseball players have teams, churches have pastors and bishops. But I’m not talking about churches or denominations. This is about how we Christians, as individuals, have made our faith overly-complex. I’m pretty sure none of the twelve Apostles had advanced degrees in theology. And yet they took what Jesus had taught them and the grace He shared with them—-and changed the world.  

Love your neighbor. That’s what Jesus did. His neighbors were the people He came across in His daily life. They were His family, the folks at the synagogue, the fishermen and farmers and shepherds that He encountered each day. They were the sick people who came to Him to be cured and the Pharisees who came to Him to condemn Him. He met them in the moment, where they were, with an openness of heart. He listened to what they had to say. When they were in the wrong, He corrected them. Remember, “go and sin no more”(John 8:11). How about “you serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of hell?”(Matthew 22:33). He cut through all pretense and social convention to meet their needs.  

How do we love like He loves? This is one of the great questions we should be asking ourselves every day. It never gets old to ask it. And it never feels as if we know the full answer. Maybe the answer is one of the things St. Paul was writing about when he said, “For now, we see through a glass darkly…”(I Corinthians 13:12). While that may be true, right now, we’re here on earth, trying to love, trying to get it right. So I have a challenge for all of us this week. This week, we’re going to love like Jesus.  

Let’s talk less and listen more. When we’re tempted to judge, let’s remember our own sins and lay that rock back down. When we see a problem that we can solve, let’s solve it. Pick up the trash, hold open the door, meet up for lunch, and make that overdue phone call. Connect with the friends and family and neighbors that we’ve been neglecting. Mend the fence. Right the wrong. Forgive the slight. Help someone else when it isn’t convenient or easy. And then keep that helping to yourself. Be a pushover this week and see how it makes you feel. As St. Ignatius prays, “Lord, teach me to give and not to count the cost.” Just for this week, let’s try not counting the cost of our love—either in time or in energy or effort. Just for this week, let God keep score of how well we’re doing.  

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, He will NOT ask, “How many good things have you done in your life?” Rather, he will ask, “How much LOVE did you put into what you did?”

       —-St. Teresa of Calcutta 

Evil

There were 3 of us in the college chapel that night. It was close to midnight but the chapel was always open and we’d often meet together there after the library closed to pray a Rosary. That night we were the only ones in the chapel and the low lighting and flickering candles made it a prayerful and quiet place. My friends and I had been praying for about 10 minutes when the double doors at the back of the small chapel slammed open loudly, startling us badly. We all turned around to see who had come in with such noise. It was 2 men dressed in black and standing side by side, staring down the aisle, not at us, but at the altar and the Tabernacle behind it. They weren’t students. In a small college like ours, we knew our classmates. It felt wrong, in a way I couldn’t really define. My friends and I kept praying softly and the two men stood without moving just inside the doorway. After a minute or so, my friends and I stood up and stepping into the aisle, turned to face them while we prayed. To this day, almost 40 years later, I don’t know how the 3 of us decided to do this, but we did. I just knew that I had to put myself between these people and the Eucharist. The moment we turned toward them, they left the chapel. We finished our Rosary and then one of my friends left to tell the chaplain what had happened. The priest came and locked the chapel doors that night. My friends and I talked often about that night and the men dressed all in black who seemed so interested in the Blessed Sacrament.  

Over the years since then, I’ve had several experiences that I’d consider a brush with an evil presence. There was the lady who had applied for a secretarial position. When she walked into my office for her interview I felt as if all the oxygen had been sucked from the room. I felt nauseous and couldn’t bear to look at her directly. Then there was the hotel room filled with a darkness that every light in the room couldn’t eliminate. When I lay down on the bed, I felt a heavy, unpleasant pressure on my legs and arms, as if the darkness itself was pinning me down. Needless to say, I didn’t spend more than a couple of minutes in both the interview and the hotel room.

Evil isn’t something we need to let terrify us though, since we are members of the family of God. But neither should we ignore it or tolerate its presence in our lives. Too often, people actually invite evil into their lives through the use of psychics or “innocent” things like ouija boards, tarot cards or seances. The Church teaches us that we should guard our souls against the power of evil, since it seeks our destruction. The grace of Baptism, Confirmation, and Confession is a powerful protection. Frequent Holy Communion is the most bountiful source of grace and goodness. And yet even the Saints often hand encounters with demons, despite their holiness. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Padre Pio wrote at length of these attacks on them. Neither of them ignored the evil sent to persecute them, but neither were they terrified. We should follow their examples. 

Recognize evil for what it is and call it by its true name. It’s not “new age” or “new world” or “seeking” or “channeling.” It’s evil. And it wants to destroy you. But evil’s power over us is limited. The devil isn’t the equal of God in any way, shape or form. He is a creature, made by God, who answers to the name and power of our Lord. And the grace and power of God shields and protects us from him. The Lord gave us a Church and the Sacraments to draw us to Him and enfold us in His love. If you think something or someone is evil, you’re probably right. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and pray for the Lord’s protection. Pray. Fast. Do good for others. Go to Confession and receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Let the devil know he has no place in your heart, your home, or your family.

“…greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

        —- I John 4:4 

Just Stop It

You can never be good enough. You can never be kind enough. You can try as hard as you can, but you’ll never be humble enough or generous enough or merciful enough. You can strive every day to be patient and long-suffering, but it won’t work. You’ll never make it, no matter how virtuous and “good” you are and how hard and tirelessly you try.

You see, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.

Unlike all other religions, from Islam to Buddhism to animism, Christianity teaches its followers that God loves them totally and completely, just as they are. His love for you and for me is dependent on NOTHING that we can ever do or say. His love is His Nature and is contingent on nothing else.

Accepting this fact is life-changing. This is pure, unconditional love and most of us find it a radically-new experience. Only the love of parents can mirror in a human way the perfect love of God for His children. Far too many of us believe that we’re not worthy of this kind of overwhelming love. Somewhere deep inside of us is a list of stuff we think we have to do in order to MAKE God love us. I have to read the Bible more often. I have to tithe. I have to volunteer for more ministry work. Nope. To repeat: there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. He already loves you perfectly. All you have to do is to accept that love.

There’s more good news, too. God is not impressed when you think you aren’t worthy of His love. In fact, there’s NOTHING you can do that will make God love you any less. Think about that for a minute. Probably you’ve always believed that when you do bad things, what we call “sin,” it makes God love you less. But it doesn’t. God IS love—–it’s His very Nature. He can’t not love you, no matter what you do or what you think of yourself.

Does your sin disappoint the Lord? Sure it does. It offends Him and it distances you from Him when you choose to sin. If it’s a serious sin, it can cut you off from a relationship with Him and endanger your immortal soul. It’s serious. But even in the middle of your worst possible sin—–God loves you just the same. One of my favorite Scripture verses promises us this: “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8). Before we even knew Him, He suffered and died for us on the Cross. That’s incredible love. It’s beyond our human imagination. And I think that’s part of why we can’t consider ourselves worthy of His love.

We please God when we take Him up on that love. When we turn away from our sin (repent) we find Him already there, already and always there, waiting to welcome us into His friendship. He’s never been anywhere else.

His love calls us into loving each other. This means loving even most the unlovable among us. That means loving sinners. Just like you and me. And it means forgiving people who have wronged us, even if they don’t apologize and even if we’re still angry or hurting. Forgiving others is being like Jesus, and when we love and forgive one another, it pleases Him.

Sometimes it’s tempting to make our faith really complicated. But the heart of it is pretty simple: to love and forgive others as Christ loves and forgives us. Easter is coming. And it’s all about His love for us and how much He wants to know us and have a relationship with us. We Catholics believe that Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning. He wants to raise you from the dead, too. He wants you to know that you ARE good enough and kind enough—that none of your sins have changed how much He loves you. He wants you to know that you belong to Him, and you always will.

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”


—St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

The Risk of Prayer

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.

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 

Don’t Quarantine Kindness

One of my favorite Pope Francis quotes is this one: “You pray for the hungry.  Then you feed them.  That’s how prayer works.”  I suppose I’ve always known this was true, but each time I pray, it makes me more aware of how I’m praying, of what I’m praying for and of what I need to do so that my prayers are more fruitful.  It makes me aware of what I need to do every day in order to be the love and mercy of Christ to my neighbor. Even in these days of distancing, we can explore ways to put our prayers into action.

Let’s start with what Pope Francis said about praying for the hungry.  Pray and work in your church’s food pantry.  Start one if you don’t have one.  Organize a drive for the local food bank.  Start a neighborhood vegetable garden.  Collect restaurant donations for the soup kitchen.  Host a community yard sale to benefit a feed-the-children program.

Pray for the homeless and educate yourself about all the reasons someone might end up without a roof over their head.  Many suffer from mental illness and/or addictions.  Many more are families who have fallen on hard times.  Don’t assume they just don’t want to work for their housing.  Use the skills you have to help them find jobs. Cut their hair.  Help them with their resume.  Donate to the agencies in your area that can make the biggest impact.  Do your homework.

Pray for the lonely.  Take a meal to your aged neighbor.  Volunteer to drive a parishioner to Mass.  Or drive them to a doctor’s appointment, or the hair salon, or the grocery store.  Deliver meals-on-wheels to the shut-ins or elderly in your area.  Organize a parish ministry that provides in-home help with small housekeeping tasks like taking out the trash, changing lightbulbs, or doing light yard work or repairs.  Even something as simple as a phone call can make all the difference to someone who rarely hears another person’s voice.  Don’t forget those folks in nursing homes, either.  Many of the residents don’t have family or friends to visit them. Send cards if you can’t visit right now.

Pray for your sick friend.  Take them their favorite meal, or music, or movie.  Read to them, especially something you both enjoy.  Or buy them a gift subscription to an audio book service. Be their library connection.  Do a load of laundry for them.  Walk their dog.  Rake their leaves.  Call them when you’re at the grocery store or Target and ask if you can bring them anything.  Be their hands and feet until they’re feeling better.

Pray for your friend who is grieving.  Contact them as soon as you learn of their loss.  Be honest and direct in acknowledging their grief.  Let them mourn they way that they need to mourn and for as long as they need to.  Be available but don’t be hurt if they need their alone time.  Keep asking and keep inviting.  Share your memories of their late loved one, if you know them.  Cry together.  Give them flowers a month (or two or three) after their loss.  They’ll appreciate them more then.

Pray for peace in our world.  Be a peacemaker in your family, at your job, in your parish, and in your community.  Help each other.  Forgive old grievances and hurts.  Your children will learn kindness by how you treat your spouse and other people.  Show them how to be open and accepting towards folks who might look different or speak differently or have different abilities.  Involve yourself in civic organizations that work for justice, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.

 Consecrate your heart and your family to serving the Lord of peace.  Love.  Forgive.  And be patient with everyone you meet.

When we pray, we’re grateful for all the Lord has generously given to us.  We ask Him for His forgiveness of our sins and for His help in avoiding sin in the future.  We ask for what we need, for what our family needs, and for what our world needs.  And we ask for the faith and the strength we need to live out the Gospel in our lives.  As we journey through life we encounter so many opportunities to help those around us.  May our prayers be more than words as we open our hearts to the Lord’s call of service.  As Pope Francis said, “That’s how prayer works.”  Amen.  

“We prove our love for Jesus by what we do, by who we are.”

       —–St. Teresa of Calcutta.

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