A Difficult Prayer 

This week’s reflection is going to be a little different from what you usually expect to find in this space. I’m going to challenge each one of you to pray the prayer I’m sharing here. My Catholic friends may be familiar with it, but I’ll bet most of my protestant readers haven’t seen it before. I’m sharing it because, at least for me, it’s a very difficult prayer to pray. It asks the Lord to grace us with His humility. Ouch. I believe it’s a very powerful and a very healing petition. I’d love to know what you think about it. You can leave your thoughts at tiberjudy.wordpress.com. May the Lord bless you. 
The Litany of Humility 
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me. 

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)

From the desire of being loved, 

From the desire of being extolled, 

From the desire of being honored, 

From the desire of being praised, 

From the desire of being preferred to others, 

From the desire of being consulted, 

From the desire of being approved, 

From the fear of being humiliated, 

From the fear of being despised, 

From the fear of suffering rebukes, 

From the fear of being calumniated, 

From the fear of being forgotten, 

From the fear of being ridiculed, 

From the fear of being wronged, 

From the fear of being suspected, 

That others may be loved more than I, 

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (repeat after each line) 

That others may be esteemed more than I , 

That, in the opinion of the world, 

others may increase and I may decrease, 

That others may be chosen and I set aside, 

That others may be praised and I unnoticed, 

That others may be preferred to me in everything, 

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should. 
Amen. 

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No, I’m Not A Priest 

I have a friend who is a Presbyterian minister. He’s the pastor of a large congregation and he’s always busy. Recently he travelled out of town for a ministry conference. The summer weather caused a flight delay and he spent several hours waiting at the airport. He was about to doze off when a gate agent roused him and said there was an emergency in another part of the concourse and they needed him to help out with it right away. Naturally he followed the agent and several several gates down the corridor, he saw a middle-aged man laying on the floor. A woman keeling over him looked up tearfully when my friend appeared and she pleaded, “Oh Father. Please help him.”

It’s not unusual for some protestant ministers to wear the Roman collar most often associated with Catholic priests. This is true for my friend, who has worn one for many years. It’s a personal choice for him and isn’t something his bishop requires. Over the years, there have been several occasions in which he’s been mistaken for a priest. But that day in the airport was different.  

The sick man was a heart patient and he was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. As they waited on the paramedics to arrive, he and his wife had asked for a priest to come to him. When the gate agent had spotted my friend wearing a collar, she thought she’d found one. The sick man wanted a priest because he thought he might be dying. He wanted to receive the confession, anointing, and Holy Eucharist of the Church which many people call “the last rites.”

My friend told the man and his wife that he was a Presbyterian minister and not a priest. The three of them prayed together in the minute or so until the medical team arrived and he was rushed to the hospital. The incident left my friend shaken. He told me that it wasn’t unusual for people to assume he was a Catholic priest, but that this was the first time someone in danger of death had come to him. He discussed the incident with some of his fellow ministers when he finally made it to the conference. Most of them had also experienced similar “mistaken identity” situations.  

He thought about what had happened at the airport for several weeks before making the decision to stop wearing the clerical collar. As we were talking about it, he summed the process up pretty nicely: “When I wear the collar, I’m advertising something I can’t deliver.” He can’t hear someone’s confession and offer them absolution. He can’t give them the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. And he can’t share the Holy Eucharist with them. He can’t be the Catholic priest that people think him to be.  

I know that my friend loves the Lord and treasures his vocation to the ministry. So I can imagine how he was affected by the man in the airport. It’s his devotion to Christ and his humility in serving Him that led him to stop wearing the collar. It’s humility for him to know that, while we share many beliefs and practices, a minister is not a priest. He’s not able to be a priest and it’s unfair to lead others to think that he’s a priest. This may seem like an insignificant point to many of my protestant friends. But, as a Catholic, I can assure you that it’s not. I pray each day that the Lord will allow me, in the last moments of my earthly life, to be accompanied by a priest of His Church and the Sacraments which Jesus has given to us. I carry a card in my wallet that says, “In case of an emergency, please call a priest and THEN call a doctor.” Those are my priorities. I’m sure the man in the airport was thinking much the same way. May his prayers have been answered. 

You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you….”

             —John 15:16 

God’s Quiet Authority 

Everyone seems angry. We’re all on the verge of an outburst evidently. Folks shoot each other over parking spaces, or something just as trivial. They rant over the slightest perceived offense. We’ve witnessed the decay of social interaction to the point where being in a perpetual state of outrage has become the new normal. We’re cocked and loaded. We’re ready to riot in the streets at a moment’s notice. We see people set fire to cars and loot buildings which accomplishes nothing but the destruction of someone else’s property. If you’re involved in social media, our thin skins are most clearly revealed in the comment boxes of Facebook, Twitter and other sites. The “shield” of the computer seems to open the floodgates of our perceived offenses. We’re petty and mean to one another.  

Surely there are occasions when each of us is within our rights to feel that we’ve been treated unfairly. We’re all human and we all can say or do things that hurt or offend someone else. We’ve each experienced being treated unfairly. When that happens, we feel as if we’re not being respected. So when that happens, what’s a Christian to do?

We know that Jesus told us that we should “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) in response to our enemies. Certainly we see Jesus do this as He endured suffering at the hands of those who sought to destroy Him. He was arrested and did not defend Himself. He was put on trial and beaten and did not defend Himself. He was crowned with thorns and nailed to the Cross and He did not defend Himself. In fact, He prayed for the men who were killing Him as He was dying. And by His lack of self-defense, Jesus beautifully revealed to everyone the glory of the Father.  

Sometimes our silence reveals our true power in a situation. Remember those playground bullies who got their kicks from tormenting kids? Their power came when their victim got mad or cried. If they didn’t get that “reward” the bullies would move on to someone else. So when we respond to the attacks of the world with silence, we reveal that it’s not the world that has authority over us, but our Father in heaven. Just as Christ revealed to us in His Passion, silence is sometimes the greatest display of power.  

We’re so quick to respond to the anger that others show towards us with anger of our own. But when we do this, we’re no better than the world. That snarky comment that we post on Facebook reveals a heart that has given authority over to the world. When we’re tempted to respond to others in anger, we should ask ourselves who has authority over us—God or the world?

How different might our culture be if everyone was silent in the face of anger? Imagine how quickly most of our “outrage” might evaporate if we all took a deep breath and remembered how Jesus dealt with being treated unfairly. If we’re tempted to yell, to gossip, or to speak angry words to those who are angry with us, we can reveal God’s authority in our lives by staying silent. In this way, we set ourselves apart from the world and its angry, confrontational ways.  

“Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.”

     —-St. John of the Cross

It’s not you, it’s me……

I recently read a list of complaints about the church which was written by a young man. It touched on the variety of factors which the author felt has led to young people feeling disengaged, disillusioned, disappointed, and just “dissed” by the church. He cited his list of issues as being central to understanding why so many millennials no longer attend church. The facts are that fewer people of ALL age groups attend church now and while young people often view their issues as unique, they’re not. 

The truth is, at one time or another, we’ve all felt (and may continue to feel) as though our church wasn’t listening to us. That isn’t something unique to churches either. You’re going to feel ignored at work, at home, and among your friends. The church is made up of flawed and sinful people—like you and me. My advice to you is: get over it. If you feel ignored, speak up. Volunteer. You don’t need an invitation to give your time and money to a ministry or project. Just do it. Most churches are chronically in need of more helping hands. You won’t be ignored for long if you’re showing up to help. 

The author despairs that the church isn’t doing enough to help the poor. This might be true for his particular church, but churches do an enormous amount of charitable work. They feed, clothe, educate, and provide medical care to millions of people around the world every single day. If you are in a church that isn’t doing enough for the poor, then start doing it yourself. Open a food bank. Start a soup kitchen. Organize a clothes closet. The poor are always with us and we can always do more to help them.  

He bemoans that his church is not welcoming to newcomers. Does he make it a point to introduce himself to those he doesn’t know? Has he ever invited a visitor for coffee after church? Does he stand at the door and shake hands, hand out bulletins, offer directions or answer questions before church begins?  

The author says that young people want to feel valued. Who doesn’t? We all want to feel that we matter and that we’re contributing members of something greater than ourselves. But this doesn’t happen automatically. Your church can’t value or appreciate someone they don’t know. Are you attending church services? Have you volunteered for ministry service? Have you ever attended a Bible study, a church picnic, or a planning meeting? We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our church, just as Jesus sacrificed everything for her.  

The article goes on to list all the things “the church” could do to improve and to change. The truth is the church is you, it’s me, it’s all of us. If the church has problems, it’s because I have problems. If the church needs help, it’s because I need help. It’s easy to say that you’re not getting anything out of church. The real issue is: what am I bringing to the church? Do I lay myself and my life at His altar and pray that He will use me to enrich His church?

“We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.”

              —–C.S. Lewis

The Heart’s Longing

One of my friends often babysits for her five-year-old granddaughter, whom I’ll call Emma. Recently the three of us spent the day shopping. Emma has an amazing vocabulary for a child her age and she often surprises me with her maturity and awareness. She’s also generous, loving, and kind. So yeah, I’m her fan. During one of our stops the other day, we visited a gift boutique where my friend was picking something up for an anniversary present. Emma knows this store well and she took me by the hand to show me something. On a rather high shelf was a large geode, opened to show gorgeous purple crystals inside the rock. “Isn’t it pretty?” she said breathlessly. “It surely is, Emma,” I replied. Standing on tiptoe, she whispered, “I long for it.”

“I long for it.” Who can expect to hear that from such a small child? Or from anyone, really? And yet, Emma clearly knew what she was saying and I loved her for it. It’s a word you hear more in poetry than in casual conversation, and yet it carries a depth of meaning that we instantly recognize. It comes from a German root meaning “to reach or extend.” Longing for something is a desire so deep and so strong that it almost pulls you out of yourself. Like Emma standing up on her tiptoes as she gazed at that beautiful crystal-filled rock. She longed for it. She was pulled toward it with that longing. And while her unabashed desire for the pretty geode was innocent and cute, the world is full of longings that aren’t.  

What do you long for? What are the desires of your heart that pull you up and out of yourself? They may be things you’ve never admitted to anyone else, or even to yourself. They may be admirable, like peace in your family, or health for a loved one. Or they may be more self-serving like wealth, or power. Human longing runs the gamut from heaven to hell. Our lives are defined by those longings. Our souls are revealed by them. For Christians, it is the longing for Christ that leads us to follow Him. We’ve come to know that only Jesus can satisfy our deepest yearnings. The world and all its charms and attractions may dazzle us briefly, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know, as St. Augustine wrote, that our hearts can only find peace when they rest in Him.  

In Scripture, we often read of that deep longing for God expressed in terms of hunger and thirst. All of us know what it feels like to be really hungry and thirsty. When you are, nothing else is on your mind. Everything in your being wants only to eat and to drink. That’s the image God gives us of our deep longing to be united with Him. Do you hunger and thirst for the Lord? Do you feed your soul with His Word and quench your thirst with prayer? Or do you eat the junk food of the world instead? Do you drink in the praise and admiration of others when what your heart was created for is the living water of God’s love? We were made to love and to be loved. What a wonderful gift to know that love is our purpose and our calling. Through Christ, we live out this purpose and calling in the vocation of our lives. Love is the gift of a heart longing for the Lord.  

And guess what Emma is getting for Christmas…

As a deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for You, O God.”

            —-Psalm 42:1

That Cardinal In Your Garden

Oh yes, they’re beautiful. Who could see that flash of red against a field of snow and not be struck by their beauty? Cardinals are one of those bird species that you never hear anyone complaining about. Seven states claim them as their official birds. They don’t migrate, so they’re around us most of the year. Both the males and females sing a variety of glorious melodies. They’re beautiful backyard companions. And some people, even some Christians, think that they’re messengers from God.  

There’s certainly nothing Christian about this belief. If you do a little research you’ll quickly see that it’s promoted by folks with decidedly un-Christian beliefs—folks like psychics and New Agers of all varieties. And yet some Christians seem to believe that seeing a cardinal means seeing God’s messenger, almost as if it’s written in Holy Scripture. Many folks go a little bit further in their cardinal “gospel” and believe that this bird is actually the spirit of a dead relative who is visiting them. Where these beliefs originated is hard to say. It seems to have just appeared in our not-quite-orthodox quasi-Christianity and grown more popular due to social media. No particular author or source is ever cited.  

Now, can God use a cardinal as a messenger? We Catholics certainly believe so. But I’m speaking here of the Cardinals of the Church and not the bird, of course. It’s these men whose red robes gave the bird its name. They wear red as the symbol of the blood they’re willing to shed in defense of our faith. But certainly God could use a simple bird as HIs messenger. He’s God, so He can do anything, with anything, for any purpose He chooses. And He’s already told us about His messengers.  

Scriptures tells us quite a bit about angels. The word means “messenger of God.” The Bible describes how the Lord sends HIs angels to communicate with us. To begin with, angels terrify us. When they visit, the first thing they say are words to comfort and reassure us. These aren’t your chubby Hallmark cherubs. Angels are big warriors, armed and fit for defeating the “powers of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) that St. Paul writes about. The Book of Revelation leaves no doubt about their strength and power. God has countless angels at HIs command and He gives them watch over us, to protect us and guide us. Catholics believe that each one of us is protected by a specific guardian angel and that we can ask for that protection and guidance whenever we need it. They watch over us during our lives and serve as our companions when we leave this world. Many of us can tell stories of those times in our lives when we felt the presence of our angel helping us through an especially difficult time. We know that angels are real and are sent to help us and remind us of God’s love for us. Why? Because He has told us so.  

So why would we put more faith in a pretty red bird than in the mighty angels who serve at the Lord’s command? I think many folks don’t foster a relationship with the angels, but they still crave a deep connection with God. And so they see a pretty bird and they want it to be more than just a pretty bird. They want it to be His messenger. They’re forgetting that we’re all surrounded by His messengers every moment of our lives. They don’t see the clouds of angels walking among us, waiting for us to ask them for their help. As Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane, He called on an angel to be with Him. “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him”(Luke 22:43). If Jesus calls forth angels, shouldn’t we? I love the pretty cardinals in my garden and when I see one, it reminds me of the great gift of God’s messengers and my need for the comfort, strength, and guidance of His angels.  

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” 

              —Psalm 91:11

Southerners Make The Best Catholics 

Here in the South we’re used to bragging on ourselves. Of course what other folks (spelled y-a-n-k-e-e-s) call bragging is what we just call “telling the truth.” We’ve got the prettiest women, the fastest horses, the best bourbon, the greatest college football teams….well, you get the picture. As a native Georgian, I’ve heard it all since childhood. Generations of my Scots-Irish protestant ancestors have crafted the mythology of all that’s right and true about the South. But my ancestors never expected to beget a Papist like me in these pine-covered hills and here’s what I’ve come to believe: Southerners make the best Catholics. And I’ve got my reasons.

1. Apostolic Succession. For Southerners, this is being able to trace your family tree back to the Mayflower and beyond. We believe in the unbroken line of inheritance (especially of family recipes) just as our Bishops trace their authority to Jesus Christ. If you think this isn’t a serious comparison, then you’re not a Southerner.  

2. Momma. And everything that means. 

3. Language. Most of y’all can’t understand us anyway, so we may as well be speaking Latin. Dominus vobiscum.  

4. Charisms. These are the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. Various Catholic religious orders are founded on different charisms. Dominicans are known for their preaching. Franciscans work with the poor, etc. In the South we have Bulldogs, Tigers, Gators, and others. Different charisms. Occasional fights.

5. The Communion of Saints. Those who have died in Christ are alive in heaven and they pray for us. This is a well-known Southern belief. Visit a cemetery on decoration day, or a front porch on any Sunday afternoon and you’ll soon realize how alive the dead remain to us. 

6. Everybody comes home for Christmas and Easter. No matter how far away they might live, our family knows that their place will be waiting for them at the table and at the altar when they return. Just don’t sit in my pew.  

7. We enjoy a drink or two. Catholics believe the Lord gave us wine and beer to enhance conviviality among friends and family. We see you carrying that flask to your tailgate party and sneaking behind the woodshed for a nip of some home brew. Y’all ain’t fooling nobody.  

8. Flannery O’Connor. She called the South “Christ-haunted.” She’s right.  

9. We believe in miracles. The grace of Baptism. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We believe in the cooling goodness of an August rain shower. The unexpected colors of a glorious Gulf sunset. A Greg Maddux cut fastball at Fulton County Stadium.  

10. Beauty. We see God reflected in the windows and arches of a magnificent cathedral. We hear the angels sing “Panis Angelicus,” the hymn to the Bread of Heaven. Kneeling with the youngest, the oldest, the most saintly and the worst sinners (like me) as we worship the Lord together. The smell of incense rising up like our prayers rise to heaven. The wondrous God-made beauty of a thoroughbred horse, yearning and straining to the finish line. A baby named after her Mamaw, sitting in that Mamaw’s lap wearing her Sunday best. A perfectly ripe, homegrown tomato. The beauty of Catholicism and the beauty of the South reflect the Author of Beauty.

I was born a Southerner and I thank God for my family and my ancestors who saw fit to make a home here. And I chose to be Catholic because God called me to His heart in the Church He founded on St. Peter. I can’t imagine not being a Southerner or a Catholic. They are in my bones like marrow and lifeblood. Both are gifts from God. (No offense to folks from other places. Y’all can’t help it. Bless your hearts.) 
“When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.”

          —Flannery O’Connor, Catholic writer and

               Milledgeville, Georgia native.

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