Catholic Girl Journey

Dos and don’ts of prayer

This past Sunday’s gospel (Mark 10:17-27) is a great lesson in prayer. It’s a what to do and what not to do all rolled up into one example.

Mark begins the account with the three actions the unnamed young man takes: he runs to Jesus, he kneels at His feet, and he asks Him how to gain eternal life. If we stop to think about it, how often do we run to Jesus? When we have questions, problems or joys, is Jesus the first person we think about telling? Do we exert all our efforts to be in relationship with Him? The man’s action of running to Jesus illustrates his passion for more; it’s not just a passing interest. And when he reaches Jesus, he shows humility and reverence for the person of Jesus by kneeling.  This shows he believes Jesus is superior to him and he judges himself unworthy to stand before him. When we kneel in prayer, it helps us order our thoughts, and to submit our petitions with reverence; not like we’re placing an order at a fast food drive-thru. The young man poses this question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. What an awesome question! He doesn’t ask for eternal life, nor even if he will achieve it, but rather what ‘must I do’, indicating he knows his actions play a large part, not just in this life, but in preparing for the life to come. In pondering this question, I must admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed this way. Usually  I am asking what God’s will for me is in the here and now or I am requesting the strength to carry it out.

Jesus’ initial response challenges the young man:  Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”  But then he continues with the plea to keep the commandments.  Because the young man has kept these since his youth, it would seem to indicate that he is on the right track to a life in heaven, but that doesn’t satisfy  the young man. He senses there is more he could do. And so he asks again, but it’s here that everything unravels and becomes what not to do. Jesus takes a deep look into the man and identifies what is keeping him from having a closer relationship with God: his riches. When you ask God to go deeper, you’re asking to be fully directed by Him. Not just to face your greatest weakness, but to take action against it. Jesus tells him to sell all he has. Why? Well, He gives him the answer: to ‘have treasure in heaven.’ He not only tells him what to do, but WHY to do it! How lucky the young man was to receive such direction and reasoning. I often wish I knew the whys of my life! Jesus then invites him to follow Him. Wow! Another amazing direction, clearly articulated directly by Jesus. And what does the young man do? He walks away sad. In essence, he says no to Jesus and no to a deeper relationship with God.  

The spiritual life is not just times of milk and honey, there will be times of struggle and pain as well. Many times those challenges are battling our own weaknesses and our need for control. If we pray to go deeper with God, we have to expect that He will ask us at some point to change our lives. While we may not all be asked to give up everything we own to follow Him, we will be asked to give up what blocks us from going deeper in union with Him.

This account doesn’t just serve as an example of praying but reminds us that prayer is a conversation with God. We talk to Him and He speaks to us. While it may not be face-to-face as it was for the young man, God does respond and does call us to go deeper. The real question is: how will we respond?

Catholic Girl Journey

The price

“Everything has a price,” I overheard someone say recently. I started thinking about that, and while usually the remark is in regards to an object or service, it can also be applied to the spiritual life.

Believing in God can have a price on many levels. From the beginning of the Church, the first followers risked their very lives believing in Jesus. Today, most believers will not be risking their physical body, but they may pay a price in other  ways. There are countless stories of people who once they converted, were shunned by friends and family. They live with mixed emotions; with joy they embrace their faith and with sorrow they see the rift it causes with those they love and with whom they would most like to share the faith. For some, being a follower of Jesus can also have repercussions  at a professional level, even in today’s world.

Another price someone might pay for faith in God is the change that following Jesus causes day to day. The very fabric of our lives changes and is modeled on Jesus’ example. If it is a slow change, it may not be perceived as radical, and thus may be a price we are willing to pay. However, changing the routine of life, the way decisions are made, and even the perspective in which the world is viewed, can sometimes cause regret and temptation to return to the previous way of living when challenges arise.

Once a commitment to follow Jesus is made, abandoning the way can have an increasing price spiritually. In this situation, the risk is to our immortal soul. We are very fortunate that God is loving and merciful and gives us the length of our life and even the moment of our death to choose Him. Still, someone who  has turned away from being a Christian may find it hard to give up the worldly life, especially if this person is prideful and stubborn. The initial relationship with Jesus may be long forgotten like a first crush.

No matter what price we pay throughout our life of faith, it is but a tiny fraction of the price Jesus paid for our salvation. He willingly gave His innocent life, enduring His passion and death on the cross so that we could be eternally welcomed as adopted children by our Father in heaven.   

Catholic Girl Journey

Shaken by storms

I woke up to a low rumble of thunder. Shortly afterwards, while my eyes were tightly closed, I could see the intense flash of lightning. I tried to roll over and fall back to sleep, but with each flash and crash, I only felt more uneasy.

I’ve never liked thunderstorms. I know folks who love them; they will sit and watch them for hours. To them, it’s God’s artwork on display. For me, it’s power and destruction that leaves my nerves jangled. As I lay there, silently saying a prayer for relief against the storm, the thought came into my head as a question. Why are you afraid? So I answered it: because of the overwhelming power and damage storms can do, especially lightning. The next question came: then why do you sin?  No, this is not right, I thought. God does not intervene with fear and intimidation. Leave it to the one who wants me to sin to question me in such a manner.

As I began to wonder what Jesus thought of thunderstorms during His time on earth, I recalled one gospel story about Him being asleep on a cushion in the boat that was being tossed about on the sea, filling fast with water to the extent that the disciples were afraid of sinking and woke Him up. His response after calming the storm and seas was to ask why were they afraid and questioned their faith. (Mark 4: 35-41) Good question for me during that moment. Do I have faith, that no matter what happens, that God will see me though? It’s always easier to think we will be strong in times of trial, but even in a practice session with a thunderstorm, I show just how weak I am.

While the disciples were filled with fear and awe at Jesus’ ability to calm the storm and sea, I have no doubt that He can calm any storm, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or mental. Perhaps the real fear is not will Jesus will calm the storm, but that He will not and instead ask me to walk on the water. Here again, I should not be afraid but should rejoice in the opportunity to practice my trust in Jesus. With the thought of Jesus asleep during the raging storm, I said to myself, “If Jesus can sleep during a storm, so can I.” And after a few deep breaths, picturing Jesus, curled up sleeping in a boat, I too fell back to sleep for the rest of the night.

Catholic Girl Journey

First listen

How do you learn to make a sound, like a letter from the alphabet? You hear it, perhaps repeatedly, until you try to make the sound yourself, practicing it until you’ve mastered it. Through our education, sounds turn to words which turn to ideas and knowledge. Each level of complexity is built on the same foundation of the skill to listen.

This past Sunday’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) illustrates the importance on listening. A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to Jesus. The man cannot communicate properly because he cannot listen; all he hears is silence. It is only after Jesus not just touches him, but prays over him in the command, “Be opened” that he is healed. The literal understanding is the removal of whatever is blocking the man from hearing. But what if the blocker is not a physical problem, but a spiritual one? What if the man chose to walk away from a relationship with God? The command to be open to what God has for him can be very challenging! It’s a challenge we face many times through our lives, when we plan out our future, only to find a curve or fork in the road that we don’t think belongs there.

In reflecting on this gospel, I find the detail of the speech impediment an important clue in the situation. This man was not born deaf, otherwise he would be characterized as mute. Rather this man can speak, but it’s impaired. To me, that means the deafness was a result of an event after he learned to speak. His inability to hear, to listen, affected how he was speaking. The Church in her wisdom each week gives us the opportunity to listen to God through the Liturgy of the Word. We cannot be effective communicators of the message of Jesus unless we learn to listen to Him first. If we are closed to His Word, then we will not be able to speak clearly of Christ.

In our relationship with God, it can be easy to talk all the time, either to fill the silence or so that there is an immediate response. God, indeed, talks to us, but often in ways and at times that are of His making and not ours. We need to always be open to hear His response. We need to be constantly listening for Him. And in the times when we fail, closing ourselves off to Him, all is not lost. He can heal us, just like He did the man in the gospel. We just need to turn to Him and be opened.

Backsides and belly rubs

After just over a year of being a first-time pet parent to my cat, Vera, there were adjustments I needed to make and expectations that needed to be modified.

It sounds a bit idyllic: a cat sitting on your lap, purring away. I try to encourage that in Vera and often sit in my recliner with my feet up and calling her to come snuggle with me. When she first jumps up she’ll often smell my hands, face, and hair or she’ll start kneading. But when she’s ready to settle down, I find her backside is facing me, if not practically in my face. It would be so much more comfortable for me if her head were closer to where my hands are so I can scratch under her chin, where she likes it, rather than it being down my legs. However, I’ve discovered through this behavior she is telling me she trusts me completely. It’s made me ponder my relationship with God and how much (or little!) I trust Him. But if I turn my back to Him, not out of disrespect but out of trust, how does that change things? He can still catch me if I fall. He can still guide me with whispers in my ear on which direction to take. Perhaps I can see more of where I’m going and take in more of the beauty of His creation. It may not be ideal all the time, but practicing having trust in God to the point we can turn our backs may be an exercise worth trying.

On days when I work from home, Vera often takes her afternoon snoozes near my desk. But she doesn’t curl up; nope, she lays on her back with her feet in the air and her one paw  over her eyes to keep the light out. The soft, white fur on her tummy is a siren that calls me to give her a belly rub. She usually tolerates it well, but sometimes bats my hand to her head, which is her location preference. Here, again, in this position she is communicating her vulnerability and total trust in me. To see and touch the most sensitive areas of her body, and on a regular basis, illustrates the bond we share. Do I let God see my vulnerable areas? Do I let Him give me a “belly rub” in those spots? Or do I cover them up and pretend they don’t exist? God knows me better than I know myself, so why am I so resistant to His involvement in my life except for the few things for which I pray? As much as I want to do His will, there always seems some part of me that measures it against what I want.

While we may try to humanize our pets by putting thoughts and words against their behavior, learning what the actions truly mean can not only strengthen our relationships with them, but can also prompt reflections of our relationships to dive into deeper unity with God and those we love.

Catholic Girl Journey

Repetitive repetition

Have you ever noticed in the gospels how often Jesus starts a statement with, “Amen amen. I say to you…”? Why the repetition?

I was at a conference last year where a YouTube video for golf store was exemplified as what to avoid. The owner of the store was doing his best to use this media to get the word out, only he just kept repeating, “We buy golf clubs.” And I do mean repeating; 9 times in 40 seconds of video. However, I do remember that video and know without a doubt, if I had golf clubs to sell, that would be the first place I would think to go. The video, via the repetition, has done its job.

In last week’s reading from Revelation on the feast of Mary’s Assumption, I noticed again repetition. “Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child when it should be born. She gave birth to a son — a boy destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” (Rev 12: 4-5, emphasis added) While this example may be more subtle than other repetitions among the books of the Bible, the point is clear: a child was born. For those that struggle to see Jesus as human, this repetition of the words child/son/boy and birth/born anchor the thought in our memory.

This past Sunday’s Gospel reading continues with the Bread of Life discourse. While it may seem like a recycled reading from last week, it’s actually a continuation of the gospel. It is also a gold mine of repeated words and word families.  There are 5 instances of bread, 6 instances of both eat and flesh, and 9 instances of life/live/living. As a marker of how important all this is, Jesus prefaces the most important teaching,

“Amen, amen. I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53)

The double amen is used to focus our attention on the teaching Jesus is giving us. Some translations use the word truly instead of amen. I’ve even seen it translated as Let me solemnly assure you. I think I prefer the use of double words to make that impact of catching our attention.

In a world that did not have videos to watch or soundbites to hear, repeating key teachings was a way to makes sure the message was communicated, and more importantly, remembered. In today’s world, repeated keywords still capture our attention, like fingers snapping us to pay attention.   

Catholic Girl Journey

The patience of God

God’s patience is on display throughout the whole of the Bible; however, this past Sunday’s continuation of the Bread of Life discourse really underscored just how much He is willing to suffer our hard-headedness as well as our hard-heartedness.

The gospel picks up when the crowd finds Jesus after being fed with the loaves and fishes. They are astonished that He would flee from their intention of making Him king (at least an earthly one). But Jesus cuts off their question by telling them they are seeking Him wrongly, not “…because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves…”(John 6:26) Their response of “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28) makes it appear that they are paying attention to what Jesus is saying. Jesus gives the definition that has become the standard for all Christianity: to have faith in the One whom the Father has sent.

In the most ironic turn of events possible, the Jews ask Him, “What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert…”  (John 6:30-31). Jesus’ initial proclamation to them, is ringing true: they have not seen the signs. Hello, didn’t they just eat the bread that was multiplied to the point there were leftovers? How could they ask for a sign like eating of bread when they experienced it first hand? If the seriousness of salvation wasn’t at the heart of this, it would almost be comical. And then Jesus’ loving, and may I say merciful, patience instructs them that it wasn’t Moses who provided the bread, but the Father. God the Father sees to all our needs, not our wants, but what we truly need. First and foremost is a relationship with Him. Despite the grumblings of the Israelites in the desert, God teaches them He can be relied on to sustain them. Jesus uses a very similar miracle to lay the foundation for what will be instituted on Holy Thursday: the Eucharist.

I must admit that in the 40+ years of hearing this story, it was only this year that I caught on to the depth of blindness displayed by the Jews. It now feels like I have a spotlight on my life to see where I am being blind and dumb to how the Spirit is trying to lead me. We have countless saints, both in example and insights to Jesus and yet we still ask God to give us signs. As this incident illustrates, God does not cast us off and leave us to our ignorance, but oh so patiently answers us, teaching again and again His ways. Let us pray for open hearts and minds to accept the answers He provides instead of insisting on our own.