Tag Archives: Prayer

Offering and Living Each Day

[My wise spiritual director pointed out that I have the intellectual prayer down pat, but need a lot of work on the “Prayer of the Heart,” the friendship, union and companionship with God that comes from a deepening of love.  Therefore, he has suggested a couple of texts, and set me to keeping a journal as I wander through them.  These are the fourteenth day’s thoughts.]

Devotional practices renders all my daily actions please to You, God. I am not where AL* was in his spiritual journey when he wrote this. Nor am I a 17th cent. priest. However, Jesus, help me glean what works for me and leave the rest right now, perhaps to be returned to later.

One of the most obvious things that he mentions that I, not surprisingly, neglect, is that while I offer to God my day when I rise, instead of “asking Him to help me by His grace” as AL suggests and my own sullied experience would commend, I go blithely on, thinking that I can do it all myself. Duh! Only with Your help can I do anything! So how would I have the chutzpah to think that in this monumental task of making sure that all my actions, words and thoughts this day are in conformity with Your will as well as being directed to You, I would be able to pull it off myself. Quite the epitome of pride, control and foolishness! Help me, God, to remember to get with the program and follow up such a wonderfully naive childlike offering with a hearty dose of humble pie, acknowledging from the get-go that I am totally and unequivocally incapable of doing this on my own and must always and continuously ask for and rely on Your help. Take my hand and show me how to do what You want me to do, just as You would a little child, so that I don’t hurt myself [through sin] and am able to do it at all.

The other thing that AL brings up which is timeless in its relevance is to resolve to live during this day as if it were the last day of my life. Not only could it be, if, in Your Divine Providence, You call me home today, but also in the general scheme of things, this is not only “the first day of the rest of my life,” it is also the only eternal Now that I have. As the saying goes, the past is no more, the future is yet to be, all I have is the Now. So in that sense, it not only should be lived “as if” it were the last day of my life, it is also the first as well as the only day of my life which is real, factual, and not a memory or imagination.It would and does therefore behoove me to live it as if it were the only day of my life.

But again, while I can resolve such, without Your constant help and direction, Your hand in mine, I am inevitably going to blow it in some form or other. Therefore, help me take a cue from You and Your mother and ask, seek, knock so that You may do unto me today according to Your will,…and then I will have achieved my resolve and offered a good day, in the same way a little child has “built” his own sandcastle or “put together” his truck. Amen. Alleluia!!!


*Alphonsus Liguori, How to Converse with God,Translated by Fr. L. X. Aubin, C.S.S.R. [Charlotte, Tan Books, 2005/13]

Distractions: Blessings in Peculiar Packages #2

Another peculiar package of God’s blessings are distractions in my “prayer life.”[1] How can I conceive of such a thing? Distractions, after all, take you away from prayer! Nonetheless, I am convinced that, in some way, distractions are a blessing. Like the previous package of pride, distractions are something with which I am plagued and at the same time, through God’s grace, by which I find another path to faith.

I am convinced that, without God’s help, I cannot get rid of distractions in prayer. I used all the techniques in the world: from anxiously waiting for them to pop up so that I can banish them from my thoughts [a useless exercise in futility; they only become the focus of my attention] to sitting on the riverside, letting them float off into the oblivion. I have prayed until I am blue in the face for God to set me free of them…but normally, in everyday ordinary prayer, be it my own or during the Eucharist, the recitation of the Hours or the rosary, etc., distractions arise from every point of the compass, flights of fancy, starting piously innocent but ending up far afield.

On special occasions God grants me the blessings of focus and concentration.[2] But the majority of the time that I am plagued by distractions about everything under, and even beyond, the sun.

Are these simply the floating garbage of life washing up on the beaches of my prayer? To regard them as such would be to somehow fall into the trap of separating my body, mind and emotions from my soul, my spiritual life from my “normal, everyday” life, the sacred from the secular. Since this is the opposite of what I know to be true, the oneness and unity beneath the structure of the analytical categories into which I box reality, how should I re-evaluate these distractions in light of God’s providence? How do I refocus my vision to bring into alignment God’s knowledge of these distractions with their seemingly ungodly purpose of taking me away from prayer, from talking with Him, from praising and reverencing Him, that is my purpose in life? His constant answer: “I am here, learn from it. My grace is sufficient for you.[3][2Cor 12:9]” I must understand why this answer to my pleas are part and parcel of His unconditional love and desire for my greatest happiness, when in fact, these torture me constantly.

This is not an “either/or,” but, like many of God’s mysteries a “both/and.” I also find there are many intertwining answers: (a) growth in faith and humility, (b) seeing God in all things, even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant things in life, and (c) acceptance of my vocation to live the life of the ordinary Sunday-go-to-Church Catholic with all its joys and sorrows, ups and downs, desolations and consolations, nothing out of the ordinary, and with great need to find God right there in the midst of all that clutter of life, chaos of family and job.

I am what is to be a sheep of which Pope Francis wants the clergy is to smell. I am one of the millions and billions who live lives trying to bridge the gap between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, between doctrine and dogma and the lived reality in God’s world. I am only one very small part of this Church in the Modern World, this Body of the Cosmic Christ. I am a beneficiary with all of the blessed mercy and forgiveness necessary to transform the world into God’s Kingdom. And if I do my part of that right here in W. Pawlet, Vermont, and you do your part in San Francisco, Tokyo, San Paulo, Seoul, Beijing, Mumbai, then, not by our individual or even combined efforts, but by the power and providence of the Father working through the Holy Spirit to bring the world to His Son, this ultimate transformation will happen.

Distractions are a microcosms, the evidences of this life and, if I, by realizing that they too are God’s reflection, can use them to come to Him,[4] then I will have brought one more microscopic portion of the Kingdom into focus. I don’t always achieve this; in fact, it is a rarity that I even am conscious of this. But, like Merton, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” [5] And, in that, I am comforted.

Finally, one of the blessings that You, God, have brought about with distractions is my confrontation with “You.” By constantly realizing that I am off the track again, that I have wandered, I then find you searching for me even there. You are indeed the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find this one lone straggler and bring me home on Your shoulders. You exude the smell You wish Your sheep to have, the odor of humility and faith, “of sanctity” as it use to be known. By humbling Yourself in constant service to us, Your brothers and sisters, Your creatures no less, You provide an example for us to follow…You walk the walk, not just talk the talk. By having faith in me as a person, that I am someone for whom it is worth Your time and energy to go out and search, You extend to me the hand of fellowship, of love, of caring; You hope that I will return. And by setting me on Your shoulders with great joy, You show me by your emotions that the joy of the Gospel is a lived joy, a joy of deep friendship, of love, of the bonding of Shepherd and sheep, of God and man. Your actions make clear that there is really and truly more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. [Lk 15:5,7]

So I keep fighting the distractions, shooing them away, to come to You. But at least I know that You are with me anyway and that I am beloved by You, even when distracted. Would that I were not distracted in prayer with You, in conversation with You, in communion with You! But I am and probably will continue to be. I thank You for coming to find me and for our bonding each time after Your rescuing me once again. That is truly such a blessing. Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] “Prayer life” is somewhat of a misnomer. It is normally used to designate that time or portion of one’s life which is set aside specifically for talking with God. While Jesus Himself taught us by example that there are times each day you need to go up to your mountain alone and pray, particularly before making important decisions, He also modeled praising God and speaking about God and calling on Him throughout his normal day. Finding God in all things, in the world around me, is not a separate special investigation I undertake only when I put my mind to it. It is a constant habit that I enjoy, finding, seeing, talking to God wherever I am, whatever I am doing, with whomever I am.   Thus, prayer life is all life seen from the perspective of living in God’s presence and carrying on conversations with Him as you do with family and friends throughout your busy day.

[2] One of the reasons I pray at my computer, typing what comes up between God and myself, is that I am not so distracted, I am forced to concentrate, I can listen to the Spirit for the next inspiration, for His reading on the topic, for what is true and what is false, what is on target and what is not….and raise my mind and my heart to Him in thanksgiving and praise as I relish and record to the best of ability His wondrous view of reality, a feeble attempt at recording a grand masterpiece.

[3] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[4] Not “back” to Him; He is, somehow in some manner which may be totally unrecognizable to me, present in all things, people, and places; so my realization is just an awareness of Whom is already there.

[5] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Good Reads, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/80913-my-lord-god-i-have-no-idea-where-i-am

A brief conversation with one’s Guardian Angel:

Thank you, [fill in your angel’s name; if you don’t know it, ask.], for taking on this rather thankless task of guiding & guarding me today.  I know that you did it because it is the Father’s will & you wished to serve Him & show your love for Him.  I certainly need your help & I thank you for taking the job.  Guide me today in doing His will:

  • pry me from my selfishness;
  • prompt me when I forget that I am helpless in pursuing salvation, let alone holiness & true happiness, & must always rely on God;
  • prod me when I’m stuck;
  • protect me when I face evil or temptation;
  • pacify me when I’m inpatient;
  • proclaim God’s presence to me when I forget to acknowledge it during this day;
  • pop my bubble when I am proud, envious, or jealous, and do not recognize in all others God and that they are also His daughters and sons;
  • prick my conscience when I play God, project or fantasize & restore me to sanity,
  • prohibit me from doing or saying wrong things simply to please & be liked, or because I am angry,
  • pray for me and help me realize that prayer is our script for our role in the kingdom, whether we are talking to God directly or to God in others;
  • plead for me for forgiveness from God and from all around me;
  • put my fears on my cross & help me bear it,
  • help me prioritize,
  • push me when I procrastinate,
  • pep me up when I am tired, and
  • prop me up when I panic.

& may our Jesus ask the Father to give you the strength, patience & perseverance to endure the trials through which I put you & the love to continue your care of me.  I thank Him for you & I ask Him this in the name of His Son, Jesus.

The Ask

“The Ask” is a fundraising term meaning the moment when the fundraiser, gauging that the donor is sufficiently convinced in the efficacy and need of the cause that the donor is ready to actually make a financial commitment, makes the actual request for the person to make a contribution.

When “the ask” is of God, I find things seem complicated. On the one hand, Jesus assures us that the Donor will give: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [1] [Mt 7:7-8] Again, He says all we need is faith: whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. [Mt 21:22] According to Jesus, in dealing with God, it is always good if you’re not just being selfish, if this need is a communal need: Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.[Mt 18:19][2]

With a non-profit here on earth, any donor wants to be certain, (a) that the cause is truly worthy of support, (b) that the need is great; (c) this organization is legit and actually does something to address this need, and (d) that the money will be used wisely and well for the purpose for which the donation is made, and not to pay exorbitant salaries or just to elicit more funds.

God is the same way. He (a) loves us unconditionally, (b) knows we need Him because He created us; (c) wants to be certain that we truly trust Him, and (d) that we show we believe in Him, and love Him by our actions: we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. [1Jn 3:21-22] And what pleases Him is that we love Him and show that love by loving everybody else: whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. [Mt 25:40]

When dealing with God, we have an “in” with the Donor; we go through the Donor’s Son. Jesus does “the ask” of the Father. “Jesus…[is] the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is ‘able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ [Heb 7:25]”[3]

Our own fear and bumbling cause us to make inappropriate “asks.” You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. [James 4:2-3] However, the Divine Factotum, the Specialist in Everything, Love and Truth Himself, the Holy Spirit, not only teaches us what to say but even makes “the ask” for us when we are dumbstruck before the majesty of God, or fixated on the wrong thing, or can’t figure out what we really need: In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. [Rom 8:26]  And the Donor knows “the ask” is legit: The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8:27]

As the deluge of continuous mail from the same organization asking for money even when I have had no contact with it for years attests, persistence is the name of the Donor game. If one “ask” does not do it, keep at it and wear down the Donor’s resistance. Jesus illustrated this explicitly in one of my favorite parables, a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. [Lk 18:1-8]

By my persistence, I show God I’m serious, I am truly in need, His people for whom I am praying are in need, we all need His help, His grace, His mercy. Our cause is just and worthy of His assistance.

But, like Job, I am fearful of the LORD: I put my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more. [Job 40:4-5] I know that I do not know for what I should ask: Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:6] I am as fearful coming before God as Esther was coming before the King, but I desperately need God’s help: My Lord, you alone are our King. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my handdeliver me from my fear. [Esther Gk Version C: 14-30]

But, though His sacred word, God assures us of his love: But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and truth. [Ps 85:15, 103:8; 145:8; James 5:11] Therefore, we pray “Father, accept this offering from your whole family. Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.” [4] and “we dare to say: Our Father….”[5]


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Hereafter, NABRE.

[2] God’s answer to the prayer of two or three envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation. In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as anything for which they are to pray….For where two or three…midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: “…When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them” (Pirqê ’Abôt 3:3). NABRE Notes on Mt 18:19-20

[3] CCC 2634

[4] Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88. CCC 1037

[5] CCC, Pt. 4; Sect. 2, Art.2, I.

Success and Failure…the Wrong Criteria

Spiritual Unfreedom can get all tied up in my life with success and failure when, in reality, these are the wrong criteria, the wrong labels. The right labels are love and all that advances the Kingdom vs self centeredness and all that inhibits the growth of the Kingdom. Using these labels, one can easily see that some worldly successes, from Roe vs Wade to corporate mergers that displace workers and hurt the environment, are self-centered, and some “failures,” e.g. the Cross, advance the Kingdom.

I can’t really relate to the virtues which enable me to distinguish on the fly between the two. Therefore, the grace for which I ask is the “prayerful pause,” the “stop and look both ways before makin’ that decision” grace which will allow me to disengage my buttons which have been pushed and are hurling me headlong into a recipe for disaster and engage silence and a meditative reflective pause to make a more reflective prayerful decision. It allows me to change gears from judging by the world’s standards of success and failure to judging by the Kingdom’s and God’s standards of advancement or harm.

Non Sequiturs: Jesus in the Temple and Dismas

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.[1] Lk 2: 46-47

I never noticed before, but the give and take in this scene is peer to peer, not teachers to disciple. While the first part of the sentence would indicate that Jesus was only an inquisitive student, listening to them and asking them questions, in the second part, the tables are turned: the teachers are bowled over with his understanding and, not questions, but answers! Cool!

Perhaps this is the way Jesus deals with us, listening and asking questions, helping us to clarify and understand Him better,…and in our conversation with Him [aka prayer], we are in awe of His understanding of us and His answers to our questions.

 

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Lk 23:42

It has been pointed out that poor Dismas, whose name is from Greek: “dying,” is the only person in any of the Gospels to address Jesus by his first name, Jesus, without a qualifier, e.g. LORD or Son of David or Teacher. As the late exegete Fr. Raymond Brown put it, “The first person with the confidence to be so familiar is a convicted criminal who is also the last person on earth to speak to Jesus before he dies,” i.e. in Luke’s Gospel.

When you go through a horrific ordeal with another person, there’s little room and no time for formality. You are thrown together by providence and see the other in the worst possible conditions; you know each other without the conventional facades of society. Being crucified with another certainly qualifies as one of these situations. Since the banter had been scorn and ridicule to that point, it was a true gesture of acknowledgement of what Jesus was going through, of who He was, of what His kingdom consisted, when Dismas spoke to him. Dismas’ very words indicate that, in some way, he recognized that Jesus was indeed the Christ, but not in the then popular conquering hero sense, but in a new way, an after death way, a beyond suffering in this life way. Like Peter’s declaration: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God [Mt 16:16], Dismas’ recognition is a sign that he is blessed, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to him but Jesus’ heavenly Father. [Mt 16:17] He recognized that Jesus would live beyond the grave, a recognition in a vague, unclear, but total sense, that this Jesus would exist beyond death and would, indeed, take his place as a rightful king. And it is this King who answers him, not just a plain answer, but prefaced by the formula that indicates that this is a pronouncement of momentous truth, for it is said by God: Amen, I say[2] to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. [Lk 23:43]

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Like the I am statements in John, the I say statements in the other Gospels, as well as the prefaced Amen, or “truth” in Hebrew [from Semitic root a-m-n “to be trustworthy, confirm, support”] indicate God not only being but proclaiming truth. Online Etymology Dictionary, “Amen,” http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=amen

“What can we do?”

Jn 6:28 So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” [1]

Faced with the world falling apart around me, I am bewildered, frozen, totally without any idea of how to answer this question in today’s world.

You have just told the crowd who came seeking You because You fed them bread and fish: Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. [Jn 6:27a]. Their question, and my question, is “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?

There are two ways I ask this: (a) one is of the overwhelming helplessness at my inadequacy to accomplish what God lays out for me to do; and (b) the other is the “playing dumb” posture of pretending that I don’t already know what God wants of me.

The first position, the answer of which could leave me with great humility and awe and comfort that God does work out my greatest happiness even though I am not able to do so, instead usually leads me to frustration and anger at the impossible task and goal God has given, aka dumped, on me! I mean, how can I be expected to “accomplish the works of GOD,” for heaven’s sake [literally]?

The second, the answer of which could fill me with joy and relief that God has placed in my heart how I am to serve him, instead usually has me saying: “Forget that!” and wandering off the reservation, seeking to do everything “my way,” without paying any attention to what God wants nor what you, my “supposed” brothers and sisters, are due and need.

Both exhibit a supreme lack of trust and faith. Both raise the same specter of pride and control, the first from the position of inadequacy and desire for control, the second of self-reliance, self-salvation, the flaunting of “control.” Both are viewing Your creation, the universe, the world, as orbiting around my ego; in the first, I’m on the pity-pot, in the second, on a pedestal.

You have made it extremely simple and blatantly clear what You expect in the next verse: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”[Jn 6:29] Granted, the crowd was having a bit of difficulty identifying Jesus as “the one He sent,” i.e. their Messiah, the Son of God Himself. But from the perspective of 2000 years of pondering “these things in her heart,” [Lk 2:29] the Church, following Mary’s example, has had a great deal of time to come to understand and accept You, Jesus, for what You are, the Christ, the Son of God.

Indeed, even having been put so simply, so succinctly, when I think about it, true faith, deep, abiding faith, faith to move mountains, is totally beyond me. I wish I were Thomas, uttering “My Lord and My God.” [Jn 20:28]

Instead, I am one of your disciples who am unable to drive out the mute spirit from the boy. You are truly justified, Jesus, when you berate me: O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? I throw myself with the boy’s father at Your feet: if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us, explicitly expressing the doubting “if.” You call me on it: ‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith. With the father, I cry out: I do believe, help my unbelief! [Mk 9:19-24]

What a Miserable one I am![Rom 7:24] I cannot achieve the very faith for which You chastise me for not having. I am between a rock and a hard place…a no-win situation!

You gently remind me to be humble, for human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God. [Mk 10:27; Lk 18:27; Mt 19:26]. As the NABRE note says: “Achievement of salvation is beyond human capability and depends solely on the goodness of God who offers it as a gift.”

What am I to do in the meantime? How am I to survive this total meltdown? How do I face the next father with a possessed son, aka a dying spouse, no job, ebola, undocumented, living in poverty, hooked on coke? Your solution, here and always: start with prayer and move on from there! [see Mk 9:29]

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Lao-tzu

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.