Don’t be “goin’ it alone”

One of the ways the world pulls us down the wrong path is by telling us that we have to “stand on our own two feet,” “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” and do things “my way.” My way is not God’s way. Living the eternal life is a team sport; there are no solos.

I keep a copy of Saint Faustina’s Diary on my night stand. Saint Faustina was a Polish nun who lived in the 1920’s-30’s. Jesus spoke to her on a regular basis and she was the one who brought The Divine Mercy to the Church. She kept a diary for most of her religious life, and I find it to be a great source of wisdom.

A few nights ago I was paging through it and came across this insightful paragraph.

“When one day I resolved to practice a certain virtue, I lapsed into the vice opposed to that virtue ten times more frequently than on other days. In the evening, I was reflecting on why, today, I had lapsed so extraordinarily, and I heard the words: You were counting too much on yourself and too little on me. And I understood the cause of my lapses.” Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Paragraph 1087.

This is a common trap for me. I will often realize that I’m overeating, underpraying, cursing or falling prey to one of dozens of worldly shortcomings and I’ll resolve to stop doing that. I take the very manly route of determining that I will be stronger, I will be a better person, I will force myself to build the habits that I need; I will, I will, I will. And then I fail.

There’s nothing wrong with self-discipline and gradually building ourselves into the person that God created us to be. Living the “if it feels good, do it,” lifestyle is destructive to both our bodies and souls, and we need to resist those constant temptations. But we are designed to do that in cooperation with our Creator. He wants us to call on him constantly throughout the day, not just at bedtime.

So the next time I’m faced with temptation in its many forms, I pray that I will have the common sense to resist…and to pray.


God whispers

God whispers

As I was settling into my prayer and meditation chair, I took a quick peek at emails. I received one from an employee who was going on for four paragraphs about a particular problem that she wanted me to fix. Poof! Instead of quiet meditation, my mind was now occupied with chastising her. Not the real her; my mind was doing a one-man, one-act play of me chastising her. A total waste of energy, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.

But then I remembered what an older gentleman once told me: if someone is annoying you and you can’t stop thinking ill thoughts of them, say a prayer for them. I said a short prayer asking God to give the employee an enjoyable weekend. And the irritation and obsession went away. The employee’s concern still needs to be addressed, but my irritation is gone. And that portion of my head is now clear for more useful things.

Our God is often the God of small things. While God certainly works on the big stuff, in my everyday life I see His handiwork most often in the everyday things. In prayers like that about adjusting my obsession. In granting the grace to get through a personal situation calmly or lovingly. God is the God of All, but often mostly the small.

Is that because the small stuff is easier, or is that because the small stuff is what 90% of life consists of? I suspect it’s the latter. Most of our life is comprised of day to day, moment to moment interactions, connections, irritations, decisions and actions. Think about it; which do you say more often: “I do,” “It’s a Girl!,” “I will go to the Prom with you,” and “Get me the nuclear launch codes,” or “Yup,” “Nope,” “I’ll have it for you in an hour,” “yes, please” and “I’m working on it.” Perhaps we see God in our daily actions because that’s the stuff of life and God lives right here with us.

Our God is an awesome God. He created the stars and the earth and humanity and heaven. He told the atom which way to spin and He bound all of existence together according to a set of natural and moral laws that we have only begun to understand.

But God is found in a whisper. God does not roar. God hugs, God soothes, God corrects and He guides. I can’t hear my God when I am loud or when the world around me is loud. I need to draw back into calm and quiet to hear the Almighty’s counsel.  And when I do, He is there. Without fail.

Three words for a simple day

Coffee cup in hand, I sat down at my keyboard this morning, my mind a complete blank. “Lord, what would you like me to say today?” was all that I could summon to my mind.

There’s no deep wisdom in my thoughts this morning. I haven’t had any really deep insights into the meaning of the Mass, work, charity or mowing the lawn. I’m just sitting here, ready to do your will. I am not on fire with the Holy Spirit; nor am I in the grip of the evil one. I’m just here. What’s a Christian to do on days like today, when everything around us just feels so…ordinary?

Last week, my wife put a sticky-note on one of the kitchen cupboard doors. On the note she wrote the word, “Praise.” It’s a reminder to her that she should praise God in everything and all the time. It’s a simple reminder that there is a God, that He is both within us, coaching us and guiding us, and that He is the Almighty, the cosmic creator of everything. He helps me to love at the same time that He gives the sky its unique pale blue color this morning. Praise, indeed.

A good friend and advisor is always encouraging me to be grateful. Particularly when I am in a funk, he tells me to make a “gratitude list,” a list of the gifts that I have been given. The list is ever-changing, but it’s always fairly long. God’s been pretty good to me.

Before sitting down at the keyboard this morning, I offered up my day to God. No specific petitions; no healings or miracles; no insights. In fact, all I asked for today was that He use me to do His will, whatever that may be. It was a short, “Here I am, Lord,” Samuel-type prayer.

Praise, thanksgiving, and surrender. That’s all I have for today. It’s probably enough.

Don’t say it, PRAY it

Catholic confession time!.How many of you are willing to admit that sometimes Mass is boring? Come on; be honest with me. There have been times when the Priest’s message seems to be about as meaningful as the hum of an electric dryer and your own responses about as automatic as the recording that says, “Thank you for calling. Your call is important to us. Please listen carefully to the following options…” Many of us, particularly those of us who were born and raised in the Faith, get so used to what we hear in church that we could repeat it in our sleep. (In fact, there has been a Sunday morning or two when we have nodded off.)

My own personal struggle is tied to the King-James-ization of the prayers. I’m like one of Pavlov’s famous trained dogs. I may not salivate when I hear a dinner bell (well, yes I do, but that’s another story), but I get woozy whenever I hear words that were not written for 21st century ears. When I hear the words “thee,” “thy” or “thou” my lights go out. It’s an automatic response. What’s a sleepy, undisciplined, yet earnest Catholic to do?

Try this: don’t SAY the prayers, PRAY the prayers. Have a conversation with You Know Who. When it’s time for the Our Father, lift up your hands, close your eyes and picture God standing in front of you. And then TALK to him. TELL him that his name is “hallowed,” that you believe his wonderful kingdom is coming and that you accept his will for you and for all of creation. ASK him to provide you with the bread you need to get through today. Apologize and ASK FORGIVENESS for pulling that cute girl’s hair in third grade and fudging your taxes last year, and assure him that you FORGIVE that little girl for sticking her tongue out at you and you forgive the IRS for, well, being the IRS. ASK your Abba to keep you out of mischief. And then say AMEN! like you really mean it.

It’s reality that many parts of the Mass cannot be ad libbed. We need to use the same words to keep from sounding like a pet shop at feeding time. But whether those words have meaning to us individually is up to us individually. We are praying together as a community, but we are also speaking to God personally and directly. In every part of the mass, regardless of whether it’s the Priest, the Lector, the Cantor, the Choir or yourself, God is always part of the conversation; He’s either speaking or listening. Use the words of the Mass to talk with Him.

It’s a Holy conversation between Ye and He.

How much prayer is enough?

One of the awesome things about the parish we attend is the prayer chain. Parishioners in need of a prayer submit a request to the church by email. The request is forwarded to everyone who’s asked to participate in the prayer chain. There aren’t many rules or guidelines, but there are dozens of reports of grateful parishioners who have felt the love and support of their neighbors, and the healing touch of God.

However, as a recipient of the prayer requests, I sometimes wonder if I’m “doing it right.” On a typical day, we may see three or four prayer requests, and my usual routine is to pause for a moment and say a silent prayer according to the request. Then I delete the email and move on. Is that enough prayer? Should I drop to my knees at that moment (not always practical)? Should I gather up all the requests for a special prayer time before bed that night? Are my prayers sincere enough to get through to God, or do they come off as distracted second-hand mumbling?

The Apostles asked Jesus how they should pray. In response, he gave us, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” He also reminded us to pray together (“Wherever two or more are gathered, I am in their midst…”), to pray often and to pray confidently (“If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you…”). Jesus set the example by praying frequently, sometimes at length, sometimes in just a few words. Sometimes in grateful conversation, and sometimes in painful anguish. Sound familiar?

I don’t consider myself a prayer expert. I think this is an area where I could use a lot of practice and perhaps more of my time should be focused on it. But I also have this feeling that God takes all the prayers we offer and none of them are wasted; no matter how brief, no matter how technically-incorrect. Like a Father admiring his children’s scrawling artwork, God appreciates the effort and the love that goes into our prayers, perhaps more than the words and technique.

God loves us and asks only that we love him in return, and that we talk to him in prayer.


A fun new activity for you and your spouse

Here’s something new that you and your spouse ought to do: pray together at bedtime. I suspect many of you figured this out a long time ago; I’m a bit of a slow learner in some areas. Couples should pray together. Linda and I attend mass regularly, say prayers at meal time, etc., but a regular moment of bedtime prayer was not part of our routine. She went her way with spiritual readings and I went mine (prayers followed by a junky novel).

But then I read the Book of Tobit. Specifically, the story of Sarah, who’d been married seven times only to have each of her husbands killed by a demon on their wedding night. Sarah was at her wit’s end and considered hanging herself in shame. Rather than do that, she prayed to God, who sent the Archangel Raphael. Sarah married Tobit’s son, Tobias. At Raphael’s instruction, they prayed together on their wedding night, and lived. The demon was banished, Tobit was healed of cataracts that had blinded him and they all lived happily ever after.

So, am I worried that I’m going to get strangled by a demon when I go to bed at night? No. The story triggered a memory of something else I’d read, something more modern. You’ve all seen the grim divorce statistics, right? But if you dig around you’ll find another statistic out there that couples who pray together are far, far more likely to remain married. In fact, one version of the statistic says that the rate of divorce among active Christians who pray together as a couple is less than one-percent. Prayer works.

Linda & I are coming up on our 36th wedding anniversary. After three-dozen years, I’m not too worried that I’ll come home one day and find my stuff on the lawn and a handful of papers from a divorce lawyer in her hand. But one of the reasons I’m not too worried about that is that we never assume we have learned everything there is to know about being in love and being married. Making a little more time for a little more prayer sounds like a perfect thing for a married couple to add to their love life.

Forgiveness, the best resolution ever

Today I am your New Year’s Resolution Counsellor. Five cents, please (it worked for Lucy Van Pelt, didn’t it?). After much prayer and deliberation, and even more procrastination (which is what I’m best at) I have discovered the absolute best New Year’s Resolution: forgive somebody.

Over the Christmas Season this year I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about anger, resentment and forgiveness. Apparently, I was thinking about exactly what He wanted me to think about, because God put the Catechism of the Catholic Church in front of me a few days ago, and I read about that annoying line in The Lord’s Prayer. You know the one I mean: “Forgive us our trespasses…(good so far, I like being forgiven)…as WE forgive those who trespass against US.” My whole Catholic train comes screeching to a halt on that second part.

In His sneaky and lovable God-way, Our Father has multiple reasons for making forgiveness a two-part rule. First and most obviously, the world is a better place if we forgive one another. Sitting across the table from someone is easier if you’re not mad at the person on the other side, whether it’s your boss, your spouse or the President of Russia. The more we let bygones be bygones the less likely we will blow the world to smithereens. Forgiveness is a very practical tool.

But God has another reason. It’s good for us. Forgiveness is more important for the well-being of the forgiver than the forgiven. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise. Conjure up a picture of someone you’re mad at and think about why you’re mad at them. Got it? Okay, now honestly, how are you feeling? Irritable? Uptight? A little sick to your stomach, or on the verge of a headache? Anger and resentment are poisons as real as hemlock or nicotine.

Now imagine how your subject is feeling at this moment. Chances are, whatever you’re stewing over isn’t on their minds, at least not right now it isn’t. One of the most frustrating things about resentments is that the “resented” often don’t have a clue that you are mad at them. So who’s suffering the most because of your resentment, you or them?

Let’s take this another step. With the object of your resentment in mind, say a prayer right now. Have a chat with the Almighty. Hm. Nobody home, is there? When I am angry at someone, I almost always find that those are the days I can’t make myself kneel down and pray. When I’m mad, I’m mad, doggone it! I don’t need her, or God, or anybody! So there, bleah!

Paragraph 2840 of the Catechism explains why anger messes up everything. “Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible. We cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see.” The idea that love is a single, indivisible thing is new to me, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. It explained why everyone suffers when one person is mad, why the world just feels out of alignment. And why I feel so alone when I’m angry.

So give yourself a gift this New Year’s Day. Conjure up in your mind that person who “wronged” you. Realize they are just as human as you are and forgive him or her. Ask God to take away your anger. And let it go.

And then have a Happy New Year.

Nothing but a prayer

It’s Monday again. The weekend is over, the Packer’s lost to the 49’ers, the Badgers crushed Tennessee Tech, the lawn got mowed, the flowers weeded and we went to mass yesterday morning. A typical weekend, or as The Monkees might have said back in the 1970’s, “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Except that millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews came together around the world to pray for peace.

Did Saturday’s day of prayer for peace in Syria make a difference? All prayers make a difference. No, the guns weren’t magically silenced, but seeds have been planted. Now we need to water them. Keep praying, Christian Revolutionaries. God is listening and the world is changing, whether you can see it or not.

C.S. Lewis said that prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me. Prayer moves us closer to the center of creation, which is Jesus. Regardless of when God chooses to guide Syria back to sanity, the most important seed of all is this one: On Saturday, we joined hands with our brothers and sisters all around the world, and the world took one giant step closer to that center. That was the first miracle; I can’t wait to see the next ones.

Will you answer his call

Pope Francis has called for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria tomorrow. Will you answer his call, or will you say no?

Country after country in the Middle East has been torn by radical violence, civil unrest, and outright war. Billions of dollars and millions of souls have been lost to terror bombs, air strikes and the pestilence that always follows violence. Will you answer his call, or will you say no?

The government of Syria has allegedly done the unthinkable, unleashing poison gas on its own people. Rebels kill soldiers, radicals kill Christians, and the innocent are caught in between. Will you answer his call or will you say no?

Our country and the rest of the civilized world are near wit’s end. We know that to not respond is to encourage more evil, but we fear that a violent response will open the door to even more evil. Our President and other leaders are only human, and have only human tools at their disposal. Will you answer his call, or will you say no?

Jesus calls us to rely on him in small things and in great things. Remember how Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two to heal the sick and cast out demons, but they could not exorcise a demon that had possessed a young boy? After Jesus expelled the demon, he explained to his disciples that some evils can only be removed by prayer and fasting. Will you answer his call, or will you say no?

They Found the “miracle priest”

I’m sure many of you have been following the Missouri news story about the”miracle priest,” who seemingly appeared and then disappeared from the scene of a serious car accident. For several days, media all over the world were abuzz with speculation about this apparent angel who did not show up in any photographs of the scene, and was known to no one. He showed up, said a prayer with the victim and rescuers, and was gone.

It turns out that he is a real flesh and blood pastor from a real parish. Father Patrick Dowling from Jefferson City, Missouri happened to be driving that particular highway that particular day and stopped to offer help. In his words, “I did what every priest I know would have done.”

So, no angel from heaven, no “divine intervention,” on this one. But, wait just one second. Before we all turn and walk away, I think it’s worth reading Fr. Dowling’s story. Take a second to follow this link to a Catholic News Service article about it.

Now that’s a miracle.