Tag Archives: Prayer

Going Directly To God

Catholic prayers, liturgies and Sacraments begin and end with the sign of the cross and the words, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen (so be it).”  We do not simply tack these words on for dramatic effect.  They indicate that we live and move and have our being in the Holy Trinity.

The claim that Catholic Christians somehow circumvent Jesus or do not go “directly to God” is a myth spread by ignorance of Catholicism and sometimes overt, anti-Catholic sentiments.  Even when we ask Mary and the saints for intersession, we are only able to do so through the one mediator, Jesus Christ.  We (including the saints in Heaven) boldly approach the throne of the Almighty Father through the mediation of the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I Can’t Open My Eyes…Yet.

Imagine going on a spelunking trip with some friends.  Deep inside the cave is pure darkness.  There is a confusing maze of passages and deep holes to fall into.  Your flashlight is your life.  Suddenly, you feel the floor and the walls of the cave tremble.  Rocks begin crashing against rocks and you realize there has been a cave-in.  As your group regains composure it becomes evident that leaving the way you came is not an option.  The search for an exit begins.

As time goes by, batteries begin to fail.  Lights become dim.  Anxiety grows.  You feel there must be an exit nearby, but the lights go out before it is found.  Trapped in complete darkness, you can only wait for rescue.  Your deepest desire is to leave the darkness and embrace the light.

After days of increasing desperation, you hear the sounds of rescuers.  The ceiling of the cave suddenly opens.  It is midday.  The sun is high and its rays pierce the darkness as it streams through the new hole in the cave.  You immediately cover your eyes in anguish.  You are distracted from the joy of being rescued by the pain inflicted by the light.  The light you so desired is now too much to behold.  It is impossible to fully embrace your freedom until you are able to accommodate the light.  There must be a period of adjustment.  You must become completely detached from the darkness before your eyes can fully see without pain.

This is why Catholics pray for those in Purgatory.  We recognize that they must endure the painful process of complete detachment from this life of sin before they can fully embrace the light of Christ.  Although they are on their way to Heaven, they must be fully adjusted to the Light before entering.  The Rescuer has reached them.  They are open to God and on their way to the Beatific Vision.  They desire to be with God, but they must be prepared and perfected beyond what they were in this life.  We pray for them during this painful state of transition, just as we would pray for someone suffering in this earthly life.

This explains why those in Purgatory are called “The Church Suffering.”  We in this life are called “The Church Militant” because we are still here fighting the good fight.  Those already in Heaven are called “The Church Triumphant” for obvious reasons.  These are three parts of one Church.  The Church is one Body, no matter where it is located.  We in the Church are told to pray with and for one another.  So, we pray for the suffering in this life.  We also pray for those who suffer the process of purging.  They are our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  We support them.

Shhh…Listen…

When doing counseling sessions, I place a noise machine outside my office door to facilitate confidentiality.  The “white noise” prevents anyone standing in the hall from hearing what is being said inside the office.  Most people would not intentionally eavesdrop, but a passerby might accidentally hear our voices.  The noise creates a barrier.

Our world is full of noise.  Recently, I was in a state park far from the sounds of traffic and industry.  As I got out of my car and closed the door I was immediately struck by the silence around me.  The sound of my car door closing seemed swallowed up in the quiet air.  The slightest breeze passing through the trees sounded loud.  The songs of far away birds could easily be perceived.  A sense of the sacred awakened my mind and my soul.  I knew that God was speaking through his creation.

The psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.”  It can be hard to be still.  It can be hard to find silence.  The “white noise” and activities of this busy world can create a barrier between us and God.  As we walk throughout our day we can miss God’s voice amidst all the distractions.  Sometimes it’s difficult to listen to each other, much less God.  Silence may even feel uncomfortable and awkward because people become so accustomed to all the noise.  When that happens, we tend to avoid silence and seek comfort in the familiar noise.  We avoid the stillness.  We forget how to communicate with God.  Even when we do pray we may talk more to God than listen as we try to fill the “awkward silence” with words.

Some people are better at silent contemplation than others, but we all need it.  We all need to “shush” the world around us so we can focus on the whispers of God.  God does not always speak with rolling thunder.  One of the things I love about the Mass is that it includes periods of silent contemplation.  I like when the priest takes an extra long time sitting in silence after Holy Eucharist and people begin to squirm in their seats.  They want Mass to be over so they can get on with the noise of their day.  It’s never more than a minute or two, but it can seem like longer when we are chomping at the bit to return to the “comfort” of the world’s noise and activity.  It shows how even holy Mass can become just another thing to check off of a list of busy activities.  We have so little silence these days.

Sometimes, we think we’re not worshiping God unless we’re making noise or being animated.  There is a time and a place for such worship and praise, but we need not think we are worshipping less when we are still and quiet.  We are told to make a joyful noise, and we are told to be still.  Both forms of worship have merit.  I like that the Mass includes opportunity for everyone to share in the outward praise and inward contemplation.

This Summer I was struck by the vision of three and a half million Catholics, most of them youths, quietly worshiping on the beach in Rio during Eucharistic adoration with Pope Francis.  They were silently reverent for quite a long time.  It was a rare sight to see that many people being still and knowing God together.  World Youth Day was a blend of jubilant celebration and quiet contemplation.  It was inspiring to see that spiritual balance, especially in youths.

We need to find silence and stillness in daily life.  It is part of being spiritually healthy.  It is also physically and mentally beneficial.  We must find ways to turn off the “white noise machine” of life and hear the still, small voice of God.  There is no shortage of competition for our attention.

What Friends We Have!

“What a friend we have in Jesus…”  In John chapter 15 Jesus tells his Disciples that he does not consider them servants but friends.  Afterwards, he commands them to love one another.  The love and friendship of God is both vertical and horizontal, like the cross.  This is why Jesus can say, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.”  So, while a relationship with Jesus is obviously paramount, it in no way excludes the importance of other relationships.  On the contrary, a relationship with Jesus must include relationships with others.  Such is the nature of the Church, the “family of God.”  Being a Christian is never only about “Jesus and me.”  Whether we sin or behave righteously, it affects others.  We are one Body.  We are to be friends with Jesus and with each other.

Who among us would hesitate to confide in good friends when life is difficult?  Would we think twice about asking friends to pray for us?  People commonly post prayer requests on Facebook to “friends” they hardly know.  It can be even more consoling when we know that a close friend or a holy person is praying for us.  A close friend knows us well and can empathize.  A holy person’s prayers are very helpful, according to Scripture.  When the person praying for us is both a close friend and a holy person, it is a powerful combination.

Enter the Saints.  They are ready and willing to pray for us.  They are as holy as can be, and, through Jesus, they know us well.  They are family.  The fact that they have departed from this life does not exclude them from the family of God, it seals their place in the family.  Their love for humanity has been perfected.  They are not dead but are more alive in Christ than we are.  They are not aloof or disinterested in our present lives.  Nor are they secluded in some heavenly, sound-proof chamber that prevents them from knowing our plight.  They know our plight, have endured it, and have been victorious through Jesus Christ.  They are in Christ, not compartmentalized from him somewhere.  Hence, they know us because Jesus knows us.  The Saints are friends of God and they perfectly obey the command, “Love one another.”  They love Jesus and they love us.

To believe that praying to the Saints is idolatry is like saying that asking your friends to pray for you is idolatry.  To “pray” is simply to “ask,” as in, “Pray tell us, how will they fare while you are away?”  Just because it is an old use of the word “pray” does not mean it is “idol worship.”  We ask (pray) the Saints to pray for us because they are righteous, because they are part of the Body of Christ and because we are commanded in Scripture to pray for one another and to love one another.  Nowhere does the Scripture teach us to stop loving and praying with those who are in Heaven.  Scripture does tell us it is wrong to participate in the occult practice of conjuring up spirits.  Catholicism is not a big séance.  The Church does not condone superstition.  We do not ask Saint So-and-so to ring bells or make knocking sounds to communicate with us.  We simply request their prayer intercession.

We can “know” many Saints and relate to them by virtue of the lives they lived and the writings they may have left behind.  We can know of their struggles, their weaknesses, their strengths and their victories.  There are Saints from all walks of life and of all ages.  Whoever you are, there is a Saint that you can identify with on a personal level.  Obviously, Jesus knows what we go through.  Because he knows us, he has also provided other friends for our journey.  These are friends who have run the race, fought the good fight and won the victory by God’s grace.  They have much to teach us.

I encourage you to find a Saint whose life you can relate to on a personal level.  While it is inspiring to reflect upon the Saints as great heroes of the Faith, it can be even more helpful to learn how God helped them with their human vulnerabilities and weaknesses.  Jesus wants us to know that his command to “be perfect” is not out of reach.  Saints are not the exception.  Saints are the standard we are called to.  We are all called to be Saints.  Being more personally acquainted with one who has endured familiar struggles and “made it” is a tremendous spiritual help.  That’s what friends are for; to help each other be Saints.  If you haven’t done so already, become personally acquainted with a Saint or two.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens the countenance of a friend. (Proverbs 27:17)

Oh, Grandma, Not The Rosary Again!

I have to admit that being raised Catholic did not instill in me an appreciation for the Rosary.  An overnight stay with my grandparents was fun, but it also included saying the Rosary before bed.  I remember being quite bored.  The main reason I counted the beads was to know how much more I needed to endure before it was over.  I never really caught on to the profound beauty of the Rosary and my view of it remained a childish one well into adulthood.  Hence, it was easy for non-Catholic Christians to convince me that it was just “vain repetition” and another part of “that Catholic religion” that needed to be discarded for a “real” relationship with Jesus.

I’m not sure if I lacked proper instruction, or if I just didn’t listen to what the Rosary is really about.  I see it much differently now.  In the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a scene where Jesus is carrying the cross and his mother, Mary, watches him fall painfully to the ground.  She flashes back to a time when Jesus was a boy.  She sees her little boy fall and she runs to His aid.  Now He is carrying the cross to His death.  She wants desperately to help Him, but she also knows that she can’t.  Her little boy is suffering and dying for you and for me.  The sword has pierced Mary’s heart.  Jesus is suffering because of His “yes” to the will of His Father.  Mary is suffering due to her “yes” to God, too.  “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to thy will.”

In that short movie scene we can see a “little Rosary.”  It is a glimpse of Jesus through His mother’s eyes.  Of all the people who will ever live, no one knows and loves Jesus like Mary.  The Rosary is a journey through pivotal events in the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary.  She is the greatest, most obedient disciple of Christ.  Thus, she always points us to her Son.  Like she told the servants at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Mary exemplifies the essence of Catholic teaching.  She is all about Jesus, not herself.

The Rosary can certainly become a series of vain repetitions if it is approached that way.  But, like me at my grandparents’ house, that is a childish perspective.  When properly meditated upon, the prayers of the Rosary unite our hearts with Christ and inspire our discipleship.  The mother of my Brother is my mother, too.  For the Christian, God is Father, Christ is Brother, and Mary is mother.  That’s why Jesus gave Mary to John, “the disciple who loved Him,” from the cross.  John represents all Christians in that exchange.  The Rosary is quality prayer time together with the family of God and it includes meditation on our mother’s unique perspective.  There’s nothing vain about that.  It’s all about knowing Jesus better.

The Choice Of Christian Love: Where The Rubber Meets The Road

The love that Jesus demands from his disciples is not a feeling or an emotion.  Jesus commands Christians to love as an act of the will.  It is a decision that we make.  It is a decision to desire good for the other.  That is what godly love is.  Godly love is not:

-liking that person

-enjoying that person’s company

-feeling good or warm and fuzzy about that person

-approving of that person’s sin and evil behavior

-completely understanding that person

-an absence of anger toward that person and/or injustice

-an absence of accountability for that person’s actions

Godly love desires the good of the other, which would include the healing of mental, physical and spiritual wounds and the removal of any evil influences that have taken hold of that person.  Hence, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those that despitefully used them and persecuted them for his name’s sake.  Human perpetrators of evil are perhaps mentally ill, deeply wounded or even possessed by powers of darkness we cannot comprehend.  We live in a world that is both natural and supernatural.  We cannot see all ends, but Jesus can.  According to him, love and prayer is an important response.  He showed us that very thing, even from the cross.

Love of enemy is probably one of the hardest commands of Jesus Christ, but also one of the most critical.  The closer to home it hits, the harder it becomes.  I don’t know how I would react to evil acts perpetrated against my own family.  I don’t know if I could find my love of enemy hidden within all of my anger, grief and desire for vengeance.  It is hard enough when evil hits a family I don’t even know.  But, I also know in my heart that such love is precisely where the rubber meets the road where Christianity is concerned.

I think about Pope John Paul II meeting with his would-be assassin and forgiving him.  I think about the Amish folks that expressed forgiveness for the murderous attack to their community.  I think about the United States being called a Christian Nation by so many.  There are lots of prayers for peace.  I wonder how many sermons will be about love of enemy this Sunday.  I hope our prayers for peace include the love of enemy Christ requires of us.  Scripture says that without love, we are nothing.  Yes, perpetrators need to be held accountable.  But, if our prayers for peace are tainted by hatred, they might be more noise than prayer. 

All the Bible knowledge and Christian apologetic skill in the world is nothing if it’s not put into practice in real life.  I’m working on my attitude.  God help me.  God help the victims of evil and violence.  God help the perpetrators of evil and violence.  God help our world.

Just Another Man In The Presence Of Jesus

The History Channel’s The Bible series was watched by lots of people.  I enjoyed most of it.  There is only so much that can be covered in the time they had.  Obviously, they left a lot out.  I thought some of what they left out could have been covered.  For example, at Pentecost, the disciples spoke in other languages, but they were not shown talking that way to the public.  And it didn’t show how the public thought they were drunk.  There was nothing shown about the Roman guards at the tomb of Jesus or the angels that were there, the road to Emmaus, etc.  Despite all they left out, it was still an interesting program to watch.

I liked that the show demonstrated the humanity of the disciples pretty well.  Even with Jesus staring them in the face they still acted human.  They were in the direct presence of Jesus for three years, but they were not groveling on the ground or prostrating themselves the entire time.  Sometimes they were scared, or they fell asleep, or they had a bad attitude, or they were apathetic, etc.  This is just like we are today, even in the real presence of Christ we have good days and bad days.  Followers of Jesus are not perfect.  Jesus is perfect.

Knowing my humanity, I try my best to do this when I go to Mass:

– I listen carefully to the Scriptures and the sermon.

– I’m mindful of the fact that I am about to encounter the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ and receive Him into my whole self, body and soul.  (“This is my body, this is my blood.”)

– I remember how the disciples fell asleep after Jesus asked them to pray with Him.

– I remember how Thomas doubted until he saw the wounds on the living Christ and then said, “My Lord and my God.”

-I remember that Jesus said to Thomas, “You see me and you believe.  Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe.”

– I remember how Peter denied even knowing Jesus and then repented.

– I remember that all the heavenly saints and angels are also worshiping at this Mass and every Mass.

– I think about how Mass is constantly being said at some point on Earth at all hours of every day and how this links us to each other and to Heaven.

-I remember that there is faith, hope and love, and that the greatest of these is love.

-I remember that God is love, that Jesus is love in flesh and blood, and that I am there to receive that flesh and blood.

-I remember that we are what we eat, so I need to let Christ nourish me and change me into God’s love.