You call that a prayer?

images-4Last year I was teaching a math class at Saint Frances Academy and, as usual, we began the class in prayer. One of my seniors was anxious as she was awaiting word of admission to a fairly competitive college. Her prayer was simple – “Dear God, please get me into this school and get me a scholarship too!” The class erupted into laughter and debate. One of her classmates said, “You call that a prayer?”

Some of the best things that NEVER happened to me.

My student got into the school in question but the scholarship was not as big as she hoped.  Nonetheless, she was determined to enroll.  When she visited the campus shortly thereafter she decided that she actually hated the place.  In her disappointment, she concluded that God wanted her to go elsewhere. When she informed me of her decision I told her, “I am convinced that I will spend half of eternity thanking God for everything he gave me; The other half thanking God for everything he didn’t.” She smiled and agreed.

How to pray.

We spend a great deal of time asking God for what we want. However, the spiritually mature Christian has learned to only hope for what we what.  We should pray for what is best.

When reflecting on some of the greatest disappointments in my life, I realize now that had the decisions gone my way, I would not be nearly as happy as I am now.  Had I gotten the job I wanted out of college, I would have never discovered how much I enjoy teaching at a Catholic high school.  Had I gotten the house that I prayed for, I would not be living in a home that I love with neighbors whom I genuinely like.  Any number of the decisions that I thought were setbacks in my life would have steered me away from a career that I enjoy and a wife that I love very much. In fact, those events were not setbacks at all but rather, course corrections.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom – 1 Cor 1:25

Brothers and sisters, approach God humbly and pray for wisdom above all other things. In other words, try not to tell God how you want something done. Instead, try asking God – “Is this what I really want?”

Adam Where are You?!

One of the great losses of our day is that many people no longer know the fundamental story of Sin and Salvation. The narrative of that story is essential to understanding EVERYTHING. In as brief a way as possible here is that fundamental story:

Resting in Love: Adam and Eve were lovingly created  by God and placed in a garden paradise called Eden. They enjoyed great intimacy with God who walked with them each day, in the cool of the evening as the dew was collecting on the grass. God sought them in love each day.

Ruined by Lust: He never wanted them to know evil or experience its poison so he warned them of a tree whose fruit would unlock the power of evil and cause them to die spiritually. But Adam and Eve yielded to the terrible influence of a serpent, Satan, who appealed to their pride and lust for power. Satan had done nothing for them and God everything, but they listened to Satan who told them they would become like gods and be able to overpower God (who loved them). Yielding to pride and ingratitude, failing to trust God who had warned them, Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and set loose it’s terrible poison. They immediately felt shame and vulnerability, as fear and the poison of sin flooded their souls.

Resulting Losses: God came to the garden at the usual time, but Adam and Eve were not there to joyfully great him. They had hidden themselves out of anger and shame and were no longer able to sense the love that God still had for them. God called out: “Adam where are you?!” But Adam (and Eve) had turned inward and could not tolerate the presence of God. Upon finding them in their sorry state God questioned them as to their bitter condition. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. God explained the consequences of this terrible poison they had eaten. Eve would bring forth her children in pain and experience domination from Adam. To Adam he explained that the whole earth had been cursed on account of what they had done and that it would only yield fruit with great difficultly and hard work.

Restored to Love In anger, God cursed the serpent and promised that he would heal this awful wound. One day He would cause the fruit of  woman’s womb to crush Satan’s power. And sure enough, after centuries of preparation, the giving of the Law and the sending of the prophets to prepare the people, God did work to heal the awful wound. He had never stopped loving Adam and Eve or their Children. Now he would show the depths of his love by sending his own Son Jesus to die in our place so we would not have to die eternally. Our demise had come through a man, a woman and a tree. Now our redemption, our salvation,  would also include a man, (the new Adam) Christ, a woman, (the new Eve), Mary and the tree of the cross. The awful wound was healed by Christ and  the gates of paradise were again opened. And this healing has begun in us once again. God had never really stopped calling. But now that the wound was being healed we could once again hear the call and make a response. “Adam (Eve) where are you?  And how will you respond?

Don’t you see? This brief story tells everything. It explains that something is terribly wrong with us and needs healing. Sin has grievously wounded us so that we can no longer hear and experience God’s love. It explains where the deep drives of rebellion and selfishness, lust and greed, anger and retribution, envy and sloth that so deeply afflict us come from. It also explains that the whole earth was cursed by Adam’s sin. This is why there are earthquakes, disease, floods, fire and death. Humanity, indeed the whole created world is desperately in need of God’s healing. And now it is available through Jesus Christ. The healing can begin for us if we accept the call to Baptism and faith. If we are faithful to prayer, scripture and sacraments, little by little we can hear the voice of God calling to us, Adam (Eve) where are you?!! And the deep drives of sin begin to loose their strength and be replaced by better drives such as love, compassion, kindness, generosity, Chasity, patience, mercy, confidence and deep faith in God’s love for us.

You gotta know the story and answer the call: “Where are you?!” Answer Him, he’s calling.

I suppose my many words can be better said by a song: “Adam Where are You?!”

Asking the smart questions on Health Care

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How about them health care town hall meetings! Why is it so hard for us  to have a serious debate in which people are able listen to one another and respectfully respond to one another. Why is it so hard for people to imagine that the owner of their favorite grocery store may have a different viewpoint than their own? (google Whole Foods, if you don’t what this about!) .

It makes me embarrassed as an American to see us failing to practice the art of good healthy public debate that marks a free society. It also makes me want to ignore the whole issues which is neither smart or responsible.

A duty of discipleship

When I am talking to groups about the mission of the laity, I like to sum it up in three short phrases (borrowed from the document Go and Make Disciples).  As  Christians we are called to live our faith fully, share our faith freely and transform the world. It is an interpretation of 1Peter 2 in which we are reminded that all the baptized share in the priestly prophetic and kingly mission of Jesus. http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/1peter/1peter1.htm

Stewards of God’s gifts

To the people who first heard these words, the association they would make with a kingly mission is the image of the ancient king as a steward of God’s people and God’s gifts. In the ancient mindset, the king served the Lord by serving the Lord’s people and being accountable for building up the kingdom according to God’s design.

As lay men and women we  also have a specific responsibility to build the kingdom of God. One way all of us can do that is to bring the light of the Gospel to bear on the issues of the day, not in a way that imposes our faith, but rather proposes insight from the Gospel and from the Church’s 2,000 years of experience in  applying faith to life.  In a number of areas, the Church has expertise that goes beyond the application of theological principles to active ministry in the field.  Education, social services, and health care are all fields in which the church has been a leader in all corners of the country and the world.

Wading into the Health Care Debate

The Church most definitely has an interest in health care reform and has some expertise to bring to the table. I imagine that all of us have an interest as well, but more than an interest we have a responsibility to weigh the issues in light of  the Gospel and the teaching of our Church.  If figuring out what the real issues are and the right questions to ask seems impossible–help has come.  The Culture of Life Foundation has identified 12 key questions we should be asking as we listen to the debate. The questions can be found at http://culture-of-life.org//content/view/582/1/.  The questions reflect the Church’s commitment to protect the dignity of human life at all stages and the responsibility we have as stewards to assume the cost of the plan. I find the answers short, easy to understand and most helpfully, linked to specific references of the House bill.

Study and Prayer

We are called to make our voices heard in two ways. Firstly, in prayer asking the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom for all those with responsibility in crafting the legislation. Secondly, in the public debate by participation in conversation, and in the public discourse through contacting our elected representatives.

Where was God?

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In the past six months, there have been two incidents involving airplanes and the Hudson River. In the first incident, a plane safely landed on the Hudson and the crew and passengers all survived. In the second incident, a helicopter and a small plane crashed and fell into the river. There were no survivors.  In the first incident it was so easy to thank God for his providence, for such a skilled pilot , for the tragedy avoided. Last week, it was so easy to ask the question; where was God?  Why is one event truly “a miracle on the Hudson” and the other so clearly not?

Who Deserves a Miracle?

I imagine that like me, you have wondered from time to time about miracles. You have probably found yourself asking, in some cases, “what was God thinking?” We probably never think he chose the wrong time for a miracle, but wonder why this time is not the right time; a loved one who has a fatal disease, a car accident that kills, a situation that seems completely hopeless. We know the old saying, God answers all of our prayers, it’s just sometimes, we don’t like the answer. With miracles, sometimes, we miss what is the real miracle.

An Eyewitness Account

Over the weekend, Fr. Jonathan Morris, LC, a priest whom you may know from his work on FOX News wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that indeed there has been another miracle on the Hudson. The full story is worth reading and can be found here:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203863204574348703505285632.html#printMode

It’s the story that at the end of the day where there is love, there is God.

You CANNOT do everything, if you set your mind to it.

To the right is an unusual image of Christ and completely opposite of the more serious Christ we see far more often.  I love this image of the laughing Christ for one reason. The woman who gave me this picture knows me well and in recalling my first call to the diaconate, I told her, “I never in my life thought I would be a deacon.” This picture was a gift as I began formation. When I asked her why, she said, “I want you to know what Christ does when you tell him your plans.”

Does Christ have a plan for me?

In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

What are my gifts and how does God want me to use them?

In the previous post entitled “Marriage, the real vocation crisis” Laura rightfully expands the idea of vocation beyond the vernacular to include marriage. In all my years of working with youth, well-intended people often say one thing to young people that makes me cringe. Let me be clear – They mean well and they are actually trying to motivate a young person when they say it. Nonetheless, it makes me cringe because, it is simply not true.  Here it is:  “You can do anything you set your mind to” or, “You can be anything in life as long as you work hard enough.”

Brothers and sisters, for the Christian faithful, these cliches of motivation need some modification. For the Christian faithful, the first quote should read – “You can do anything God has called you to do, if you set your mind to it.” For the Christian faithful, the second quote should read, “You can be anything in life God wants you to be, as long as you work hard enough.” That is what we should tell young people and that is what we should be telling one another.

Peter’s calling and vocation

For example, Peter, the first Pope, tried to do what he wanted to do. Christ called him to possess the keys to heaven and earth and what did he do? He tried to be a fisherman again. And he wasn’t too successful, I might add. I am sure he set his mind to it and I am sure Peter tried hard enough. But, it did not work out because it wasn’t what God had called him to do. The Church was not built on the Rock of Peter because of his fishing prowess. The Church was built on the Rock of Peter because Peter followed Christ’s call.

“We only seek to do the will of God” – Mother Mary Lange, OSP

Brothers and sisters our life is not our own –It was given to us by Christ and it belongs to Christ. We have the free will to ignore that reality but, it is a reality nonetheless. In the Gospel according to John, Christ says, “It is not you who chose me but I who chose you.” Brothers and sisters, this is one of the most powerful statements of Christ. Christ has called all of us to a vocation. It is through this vocation that we can build up the Kingdom of God, we can spread the Gospel and we draw ourselves and others closer to Christ – Of course, we still have to work hard enough and put our minds to it.

“The Real Vocation Crisis”- Marriage and Family

marriage-2We have  recently posted a number of blogs on vocation, courtship, and marriage, and it may seem like overkill…but here’s another.  Yesterday Catholic News Service published an article quoting Archbishop Timothy Dolan as saying, marriage and family is “where we have the real vocation crisis…If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church.” Part of this crisis, he noted, is that only 50% of young Catholics are getting married.

How can each of us encourage young Catholics in their vocational discernment to marriage?

We can guide a young Catholic toward spiritual direction; we can support a friend who has just begun a courtship; we can speak about the vocation of marriage to a single son, daughter, neice, or nephew; and we can pray for the Spirit of Wisdom and Courage for all people.

Share with us what you’re doing to support marriage and family!

Note: I’m using the antiquated word courtship on purpose. To court is defined as “to seek the affections of; to seek to win a pledge of marriage from; to perform actions in order to attract for mating.” (Merriam-Webster) Courtship is what leads to marriage and mating…which leads to little boys and little girls growing up and consecrating themselves in service of the Church. It also leads to little boys and girls growing up and making the commitment to court and marry. The circle of life!

What Young Adults Want– Relevant Homilies

Preacher2Yesterday, I was on the phone call with a young adult leader discussing topics for an upcoming lecture series, when he made the following comment:

“There are so many topics that the media talks about all the time, but those topics aren’t preached from the pulpit. So we’d want to hear about those.”

Yikes! Are Sunday homilies so disconnected from modern life? I would hope not, but this young adult makes me think that the answer is yes.

As an example of what he’s referring to, I went to a popular news website and browsed for some topics.

End of Life issues
Cruelty to animals
Prayer in public places
Cloning
Financial hardship
Same-sex marriage
Climate change
War in Afghanistan
Just wages

It’s true – I can only remember one homily in the recent past that addressed one of these topics.

What can parishioners do to support relevant homilies? First, love your priests and deacons in Christian friendship. Secondly, give them feedback about their homilies and suggest topics that you feel are more relevant to modern life.

Here are two encouraging excerpts from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

29. Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture God’s word is addressed to all people of every era and is understandable to them, nevertheless, a fuller understanding and a greater effectiveness of the word is fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.

65. The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.

Is this the Body of Christ? – Absolutely!

 

In the previous post, Msgr. Pope gives us insight into a question that many Catholics fail to ponder.  As evidenced by his brilliant answer to a young Catholic, our Holy Father certainly does not fall into that category.  However, I fear that some of us who have been Catholic for a while may lose an appreciation for the gift of the Eucharist.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

A few years ago, one of my high school students was in the process of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. We would dialogue often during her journey and like most converts, she had many questions. By the grace of God, I usually had the answers.

Is this really the Body of Christ?

I recall one issue that she had a hard time understanding and I had a hard time explaining – Transubstantiation. The concept that a simple piece of unleavened bread and wine can become the actual Body and Blood of our Lord was hard to explain and hard for her to fully understand.

Break through

During a break though conversation I said, “Listen. When the minister of Holy Communion says, ‘The Body of Christ’, they are really saying, “This is the actual body of our Savior. It is not a symbol. It is not a representation. It is the actual body of Christ.  This is true because this is how Jesus instituted it.” I went on to say, “When you say ‘amen’, what you are really saying is that you agree with that proclamation. With all of your heart, mind and soul, you believe that you have come into the presence of Jesus is a very tangible way!” After months of dialogue, my student finally seemed satisfied with the conversation.  She was finally able to accurately reflect back to me her own understanding of the Eucharist.

Absolutely!

At the first school Mass following her reception into the Church, I was distributing Holy Communion. In the distance, I could see this young women maneuver herself so that she would end up in my line. When she approached, I raised the Eucharist and said, ” The Body of Christ.” Her response was remarkable. Instead of the expected ‘amen’, she smiled and in all of her excitement replied, “Absolutely!!!”

Now, I knew that the proper response is ‘amen’ but theologically, that was probably one of the most correct responses I have ever heard.

Say and think what you believe.

If you have lost an appreciation for the incredible gift of the Holy Eucharist, the next time you are in line for communion and receive God, please say “amen.” But think to yourself, “Absolutely!”