The praying community

The Church has three distinct praying communities: the Church militant, the Church suffering, and the Church triumphant. Prayer is the common language and bond between us all. 

The Church militant is us: those still on earth. The “military”portion of it is the daily battles we face to avoid temptation and to endeavor to follow God’s will. There are many battlefields, not just one. Our soul is spirit, so one battle is in the spiritual realm. Another is in the realm of thoughts and actions. Having a mind that can think and ponder is both a blessing and a challenge. Good thoughts are just as easy to think as negative ones, but because we are human, we are often swayed by our emotions and attitudes. Those are yet another challenge.  We might be compassionate towards others or we might want to take justice into our own hands. By far the most difficult battlefield for most of us is our body, we can choose to use it to help others or to indulge in our own pursuits and escapes. It is upon all these battlefields — soul, mind, emotions, and body, that we apply the language of prayer. We pray for one another and for those who have gone before us. We ask the intercession of the saints to help us in all our battles.

The Church suffering sounds rather miserable, but the root of the word suffer, is to submit or endure. It also means to feel keenly. These are the souls in purgatory. They are often referred to as the holy souls in purgatory because they are on their way to heaven, but need the opportunity to purge the last vestige of impurity before they see God. After being divested of our bodies in death, purgatory gives us the opportunity to let go of the spiritual baggage. Time, space, and the physical realm can affect our souls; in purgatory, we can concentrate on what is holding us back from a full relationship with God. The souls in purgatory are destined for heaven, but our prayers can aid them on their way. And their prayers for us, can aid us in our earthly struggles to follow God’s will. 

The Church triumphant consists of the souls in heaven. They have completed their earthly battles, purged the residual taints of sin, and are now experiencing the beatific vision in heaven. While they no longer need prayers for themselves, they want to pray on our behalf. Their prayers are intercessory; they ask God for the graces we need in our various battles. While God alone is the one who makes miracles, we often attribute the good deed to the fervent prayer of a particular saint. 

Prayer is the language of God. It spans across life and death. It is a language that we share across the realms, praying for one another and praying with one another. It is a unity we participate in whenever we think, feel, say, or do good. We are not on the journey alone, and it only takes a prayer to be spiritually linked to a vast community seeking to do God’s will.

Word power

A response to a LinkedIn survey about using cuss words in the workplace made me frown. The effect of the message was: it’s just words, get over it. 

I’ve noticed in the workplace that it is now commonplace to use profanity, even during meetings. At first I thought it was being used for shock value, to make people pay attention. In some cases it may be used to illustrate the extent of frustration at a policies or roadblocks in a project. But there are some that use that type of language in their everyday speaking. In these cases too, there is that sense of, “This is the way I talk. You’re not going to change me, so don’t even try.” But when you hear these words over and over again, they seem to come to mind more readily than the words you want to say. Words have an impact.

While no words we say are as mighty as God’s who spoke creation into being, they are the basic building blocks of communication. The first thing Adam did in the garden of Eden was to identify each animal, basically giving each a name or a label. This allowed him and his descendants the ability to have order and reference points in their communications. When later in the Bible we see man trying to grasp at divinity by building the tower of Babel, God stayed true to His promise to Noah and didn’t destroy man, but rather confused his language.  Because they were unable to communicate effectively with others, the tower project was abandoned. And when Jesus stood before Pilate, it was the crowd, stirred up by those plotting against him, who called for the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate, fearing an uprising gave into the demands of the crowd. Words have power. 

The words we say, even those that may be sugar-coated, convey to others who we are and what we believe. We can use them to build up others and the Kingdom of God, or we can use them to cause hurt, strife, doubt, and destruction. Those that subscribe to the belief that they can use whatever words they want and it’s up to others to “deal with it,” demonstrate a prideful sense of self and a complete lack of compassion towards others. For those of us who have to live and work alongside these individuals, we must take up the battle daily to not let that language invade our minds, our tongues, or our peace in Christ. Let us strive to convey words that build up rather than devastate and destroy.  

Attributes of the saints

On the eve of All Saints Day, I was reminded again of Saint Peter and some of the qualities that transformed him into a saint.

My favorite story about Saint Peter was when he walked on the storm-swept water with Jesus. As the wind blew around my home and the rain pelted it, I watched the local meteorologist for an hour and a half, without commercial break, talk about the progression of a nasty storm through the central Virginia region. We were under a tornado watch. Since I’ve only been in my home about 6 months, it was a bit frightening. Hearing the powerful wind, I was reminded that Peter not only asked to walk on the water to Jesus during a storm such as this, but he actually got out of the boat and started to do so! It would have to be a rather catastrophic situation for me to step outside on a night like that. I was anxious just being inside the house. 

You can say I was fearful, but I don’t think you would call Peter fearless. Saints don’t lack fear, rather they have an abundance of confidence in God. Simply put, they trust Him completely. If Jesus could walk on the water, Peter thought that he could do the same with Jesus’ permission. And he did! It was only when his focus was distracted from Jesus that he realized what a precarious position he was in, and that slip of faith caused him to stumble and sink. To be a saint means that we need to put all our trust in God, not just for a moment or for the initial decision, but for all our lives and in every situation. To be a saint also means that we may stumble at times, but Jesus is never too far away to help, as long as we reach out to Him and trust in His actions.

Another quality of sainthood is to be holy, that is to be set aside from the everyday for a sacred purpose. When we give our lives to God, and trust Him completely, we are separating ourselves so that we are in the world but not of the world — not being consumed with what is popular. Peter set aside his fishing business to be an apostle of Christ, and then to lead the fledgling church through the first years after Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. The call to sainthood is  not just for the apostles, it’s for all of us to mirror the love Jesus displayed to every person we meet. To love without conditions, just as Jesus was equally kind to rich and poor. To be generous, just as Jesus was generous in laying down his life for us. Everyone in heaven is a saint.  They come from all walks of life and their actions spoke louder and more eloquently than words of how much they love Jesus.

The celebration of all the saints may have come and gone, but taking time during the month of November to think about the saints and the qualities they displayed is a good preparation for Advent. May we follow in their footsteps, through this life and into the heavenly paradise.   

Fire of love

Our relationship with God can be compared to a fire. When we meet God in His Word, our hearts, like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, burn with love for God. How would you describe the fire of your love?

Some fires may just have glowing embers, but that could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps those people are just learning about Jesus and don’t have  a personal relationship with Him, so their fire is small. On the other hand, perhaps they have allowed worldly calls to distract them from stoking the fire of their relationship with God. Some can compare their love for God as candlelight, strong enough to take steps forward, but still an external light. For those seeking a relationship with God and trying to get closer, their fire could be likened to one that is burning twigs and brush. It’s a little fire, sometimes intense, sometimes jumping, and sometimes a bit on the smoky side. Is your fire of love for God one that burns large logs and is steady and hot? Or would you compare it to a wildfire, or even a megafire, that is wholly consuming? 

We are all made to burn with love for God. The fire we should strive for is that of the burning bush that Moses saw. That bush was fully on fire, yet it was not damaged. Rather God used it to its fullest abilities, while allowing it to remain with its physical attributes untouched. God’s presence made that bush fully alive, living in union with God, and an example for Moses to see and experience. We too should be burning bushes, and in this Extraordinary Missions Month, we are called to be witnesses of Jesus to others as we live in union with Him. 

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Luke 12:49

Jesus calls us to be more than just creatures that were created, He calls us friends, wanting to spend time with us. The way we feed the fire of our love for Him is by spending time with Him and His Word, reading the Bible whether we occasionally pick it up and randomly open and begin to read, or we read the daily readings. Meditating on what we have read takes those Words and brings them into our minds, hearts, and souls as we look for Him speaking to us. If we read the Bible thinking, “what does it say?”, the message may not get through to us. Rather we need to read it as if Jesus (or whichever apostle or prophet you’re reading) is speaking directly to us. More like, “what is Jesus saying?” As we listen to Jesus on a regular basis, we stoke the fire of our love for Him.

Our love fire for God is one fire we don’t need to be afraid of since the presence of God will transform us to become the best versions of ourselves. It’s up to us to determine what degree we want it to be.

Voice of God

The world is a cacophony of noise. Phones not only ring, but play a song; even my washer completes its cycle with a tune! TVs and YouTube are ready with every type of video and program imaginable. With all this sound comes the voices conveying a plethora of messages. Even when we shut everything off, our minds are a whirl of activity with everything we’ve seen and heard. Whose voice are we listening to? 

If we want to hear God’s voice through the din of this noisy world, we need to learn how to tune into Him. First, we need to pay attention to our thoughts. What thoughts are we listening to? What thoughts are the loudest, being turned over again and again in our head? Are they honest and truthful about ourselves and our relationship with others? Or are they negative and shield-protecting ones that use the excuse of keeping our hearts safe rather than allowing us to  reach out in love? Once we recognize the pattern, we need to shut down those thought processes. It’s not something we can do overnight, but rather takes a daily effort in paying attention for when these thoughts surface. This can’t be done on our effort alone, but something we need to ask for God’s assistance. 

How many times have we, through the voices we hear, judged ourselves not good enough? At whose urging was that? At the end of the day, do we look at what we failed to accomplish and feel that we don’t measure up? This type of negative thought process is just what Satan needs to get a foot in the door of our conscience. He agitates us so that we focus on not being good enough for God. It’s in these times of negativity that we forget that God already knows we’re not good enough; that’s why He sent His Son to save us. He knows it all, and created us anyway. 

We need to keep in mind that listening to negative thoughts and indulging in them, is welcoming Satan into ourselves. How can we hear God when there is already someone else speaking to us? God will always be honest and truthful with us; we may not always like what we hear, but God only wants the best for us and wants to bless us with His love and grace. 

God knows we’re not worthy, but He calls us His Beloved. Isn’t that a sound worth listening to? 

Who needs death?

It’s that time of year again; I now have three choices if I want to watch TV: 1- develop lightning fast reflexes to mute and close my eyes, 2- watch only PBS to avoid commercials, 3- just don’t watch it. Even my favorite channel, the Food Network, gets into the blood and gore of the Halloween season, advertising the special programs that make edible treats which ooze and frighten. It seems that the majority of the nation enjoys the horror that leads to death, however when death arrives, what is their reaction?

I happened upon an article, Mortal remains, by an undertaker, Thomas Lynch. The premise is that in America the only person not welcomed at a funeral is the person who has died. He set the stage for his insights by calling to mind the funeral of Pope John Paul II in the very first line of the article. I was wondering where this would go! Apparently the status quo is not to show the body in a coffin, display grief in public, or stand at the graveside to say goodbye. Rather it is to have “celebration of life” parties, where all are welcome to enjoy the company of those who have come. The question becomes, who is the funeral for: the living or the dead?

While the author does his best to remain neutral about religion, he does make a good case for the living to have some sort of send off for those who have perished. Religions have rituals that make it easier to ease the transition for those who remain. It may not be perfect for everyone, but something is better than nothing, as then each person has to find their own way which can be a painful process. I found it a rather interesting read as we start the month of October, when local fright fests pop up all over. People seem to be comfortable with death when they can control it. They enjoy the horror fantasy. When it becomes real life, they turn to undertakers to perform the necessary arrangements, so that the only thing they need to focus on is the party afterwards.

The last funeral I attended was for a popular priest in my area who often said Mass at the church I attended. There was an open casket before the funeral Mass, and it was very helpful to pray before him and then participate in the Mass. It was yet another moment in the Catholic faith where there is a mix of heaven and earth in one location: Jesus present in the sacrifice, welcoming the body of Father Hamilton, while the living send him on his way. The hope that we have in heaven and the resurrection is truly a magnificent gift God gives us. We can appreciate and thank God for this gift by living and doing His will.

Death will come to all those we love as well as to ourselves. Rather than trying to control it, let us participate in the final send off and appreciate the faith that gives us hope in the life to come.

Leave it at the door?

I was at church for adoration recently and swirling through my head were thoughts (and complaints) about my job. I started to apologize to Jesus because I wanted to focus on Him. I thought I should leave all that at the door before I walked in…or not?

While it’s good that I want to focus on Jesus, He doesn’t need anything from me. I don’t go to adoration to add points to my life score so that I can gain entry into heaven. Rather, I go because I want a personal relationship with Him, and as with any relationship, I need to invest time to make it flourish. Adoration is just one option. Since honesty is the only way with God, limiting my prayer to only thanks and praise “limits” how He can help me. I need to bring all of it: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the “I-don’t-want-to-mention-it.” Healing and guidance can only start once we fully acknowledge everything that is going on in our lives. Jesus already knows what’s happening, but in order for Him to help us (or bless us), He wants us to place all of ourselves into His Divine Hands.

As I thought more about this, I realized that it works both ways. If I want His healing and assistance, I can’t leave Him in the church or chapel; I need to bring Him with me, all day, every day. If I leave Him there, then I also leave the peace that comes from being in His Presence. Limiting my time with God to just a sacred time or place also limits my relationship with Him. I won’t be able to see and recognize those moments when He is working in my life because I’m not open to Him in my daily life. The more I look for Him, thank, praise, and ask for His help, the more I will be able to see and appreciate His handiwork.

I think for me the hard part is not laying my troubles at the feet of Jesus, it’s leaving them there. If I want Him to help, I need to let go and let Him take care of it. I need to believe He will. I must not worry or be anxious, which is something that must be practiced to be achieved. Life gives us ample opportunities to practice, let’s make the most of them.