Guest Post: Blessed Are the Peacemakers (This Little Light of Mine Blog Tour, week 7)

Today’s guest post comes from Barb Mecker. Barb is my sister-in-law’s mother and a woman I respect tremendously for her love, faith, and passion for life. I hope you will enjoy her thoughts on making peace in this decidedly unpeaceful world.

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Barb Mecker Hammond photoWhen I hear the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God,” I often flash back to my days as a peace activist in the late 60s and early 70s. I participated in anti-war marches, volunteered at the Syracuse Peace Council, and managed the local War Tax Resistance Fund.  We certainly had “saints” to whom we looked for inspiration:  Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan and his brother Phil, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and especially for me, Loretto sisters Mary Luke Tobin, Cecily Jones, and many others. We had secular saints who inspired us as well: singers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and so many others; movie stars such as Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Paul Newman. These folks created lots of energy and enthusiasm for the peace movement, probably much like the energy and enthusiasm of children.

Over the years, I have participated at various levels in the anti-nuclear movement, the women’s movement, the protests against the Iraqi War, and the protests to close the School of the Americas (SOA). Mostly though, I had to figure out how to be peaceful in my own life, amidst the stresses of being a wife, mother, teacher, daughter, sister, etc. That to me seemed much more immediate and far more challenging! I really felt far less successful at establishing peace in these personal realms than I did at working for peace on a global level.

Thankfully, I am now retired, my children are grown, and I face far fewer personal challenges to living a somewhat peaceful life than I used to. When I look at issues of peace in the larger world, however, they seem more challenging than ever, both within our own country and within the world, and even within the universe. We don’t really seem to have the inspiring saints that we had during the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war days, or even the days of the women’s movement. How do we work for peace in the current age?

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverMany of us in the Loretto Community have been reading a book by James O’Dea entitled Cultivating Peace:  Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador. He believes that we must go beyond the traditional ways we have worked for peace—with protests, marches, demonstrations, and even conflict resolution. He is not disheartened by the apparent lack of charismatic leaders because he believes that at this time, each of us is capable of being a global leader. Like Jesus says in the Beatitudes, we must cultivate peace in our own lives first, but with advances in our understanding of culture, psychology, spirituality, mental and physical health, we perhaps have better tools with which to accomplish this. He is also convinced that our own interactions with ourselves and others have an influence on the rest of the world, much like the flapping of butterfly wings can affect the weather in a far off location. Although O’Dea’s work has a bit of a New Age sound to it, it seems to me that this is actually quite similar to our belief about prayer. It turns out that my struggles to figure out how to be peaceful amidst the daily stresses of life may have been more important than my direct work for peace! Certainly this makes it possible for each of us to help create a more peaceful world—and perhaps each of us has a chance to become a saint!

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Barb Mecker and her husband Brian Hammond are co-members of the Loretto Community (Sisters of Loretto and co-members). Barb coordinated the Loretto Volunteer Program for eight years after retiring from a teaching career. She and Brian have four children and nine grandchildren.

Blessed Are The Merciful (TLL Review and Excerpt)

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverChapter 5 of This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes ties together the idea of mercy with the 4th through 10th commandments–as I like to call them, the “rubber-meets-the-road” commandments. Today’s excerpt comes from the section for children.

Have you ever heard that old saying, “What goes around, comes around?” That’s kind of what Jesus is getting at here. God is good to everyone all the time, but people have trouble being nice to those who are mean to them.

The last seven of the Ten Commandments tell us how we should treat other people. Here are some things to think about:

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“You shall not kill.”

Most of us are never going to kill anyone, but that doesn’t mean this commandment is an easy one to follow. There are people we just don’t like, and sometimes we say mean things to or about them. “I don’t like playing with you.” “You’re not very good at sports.” “I’m a better reader than you.”

The way we talk to other people and what we say about them when they aren’t around can make them feel that they are important and loved, or it can make them feel like they are worthless. When we hurt other people’s feelings, we are “killing” their spirit. God wants us to talk about other people with respect and not trash their reputation.

Just live it

How can you tell people they hurt you without doing the same thing to them?

(Excerpt from This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes, chapter 5)

Today I have TWO reviews to share! Here is Ellen Gable Hrkach’s review at Amazing Catechists, and Carol at Simple Catholic Living has both a review and a giveaway in process! Hop on over!

Guest Post: Blessed Are The Merciful (This Little Light Blog Tour, Week 5)

Today I welcome blogger, columnist and author Sarah Reinhard to the blog. Her charm and humor shines through everything she writes, and today’s offering, in which she really digs down to the heart of a lived faith, is no exception!

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The Rubber Meets the Road with the Merciful

reinhard sarah 402x401So often, I love the thinking, theory parts of my faith life. I like to think about how things work and go all deep and thinkoretical. I’ve always been this way.

I was all set to live my life this way until right after I became Catholic. It was at that point, with the sun streaming in through our little parish church, when the director of religious education found me and turned her big brown eyes on me.

“You’d be great as a catechist,” she said, so sincerely, so charmingly, so humbly.

Yeah, you know the drill. I said yes. And life has never been the same.

You see, there’s nothing like a class full of younger people—in my introductory case, 3rd graders—to make all that theory into just a bunch of marshmallows. They don’t care what it’s supposed to look like. They want to know how it is. They want to know why. They want to know how.

And the thing about kids, whether they’re in 3rd grade or 5th grade or Confirmation-aged, is that they’ll ask. They’ll demand (if you’re lucky) or they’ll tune you out (if you’re not).

Over the years, I’ve learned that parents—and, really, all adults—aren’t so different. Give them, for example, a tangible way to apply the commandments and live the beatitudes, and, while they might wiggle their eyebrows (their kids got it naturally), they will also think about it. They will probably try them. With God at work, they may even start to make them their own.

There is a longing in the Catholics all around us for Truth and, even more, for ways to apply Truth. We’re at odds with the world around us, but we’re also so very conditioned and immersed in life…where’s the line? How do we know?

That’s where the last six commandments come in. And, if you stop for a minute, it’s also where the beatitude about mercy—”Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”—comes in.

On the surface, it seems too easy to even mention. At first, you almost wonder if it’s not a cutesy way of saying the same thing twice.

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverBut when you try to live mercy, when you try to refrain from strangling a small person or yanking the hair out of a rude operator, when you attempt to swallow the sharp retort or eat the entire foot you just had shoved down your throat—well, then it becomes clear that mercy isn’t so easy to live. At. All.

This year, our religious education program focused on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy each week. The students earned a cut-out hand to hang on the wall for each work of mercy they performed. In my class, I had one student who really focused on bearing wrongs patiently, especially with his younger sisters.

By the end of the year, a couple of the other students in my class were also citing that work of mercy. They were sharing how they helped someone with homework, how they prayed for a friend, how they did something so inconsequential they giggled as they told me.

And that’s what mercy is, isn’t it? It’s bearing wrongs patiently in our homes so that we’re ready to do it in the Great Big Out There. It’s feeding the hungry who clamor and rudely demand so that we are reflexively gracious and generous with the stranger and poor. It’s a thousand small moments not ignored, but made habit. It’s a way of being that mirrors how Jesus himself taught us to live.

Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mother, author, and farm girl who writes at SnoringScholar.com.

Guest Post: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Week 2, This Little Light Blog Tour)

I met Barbara Shoeneberger through the blogosphere, as we both participate in a weekly Catholic carnival. She has approached her chronic health issues with a beautiful attitude of faith. I hope her thoughts today will illuminate the sufferings in your lives as well.

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Barb Feb 2010 resizedNobody gets through this life without mourning. Mourning implies loss of something we value.  Whether it is a dear one, a body part, a capability diminished or extinguished by age, infirmity, or accident; a job, financial security, or innocence; loss can pierce the heart, grind away the stomach, or leave one in a state of emotional and physical collapse.  With loss of what we value comes suffering unique to each person in expression and duration.

Often we are tempted to question God when suffering deeply: “Why me?” That is our first mistake, albeit a natural one. God permits us to suffer for reasons we cannot always see at the time, but by faith we know that He only wills our good. In fact, one of the best ways to suffer well and eventually joyfully, is to seek an ever deepening faith in God. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Next we can begin to look for God’s blessings in the heart of our misery. This is essential to avoid getting stuck in suffering. The finishing phrase of this Beatitude: “…for they shall be comforted,” contains the key. The Greek word for “comforted” is the same origin for the word “Comforter” that Jesus uses in John 14:26 when he tells the apostles, ” But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things…”.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Glass.Mouse)

When we are mourning or suffering, our Father sends us the Holy Spirit to teach us and to show us that He is with us. The Holy Spirit not only enters into the receptive heart Himself, but He comes also by others to help us find peace. We are comforted in our anguish by kind words and sometimes the simple silent being of a friend sitting with us, touching our hands, fixing a meal or doing a chore we can’t do. He puts new people and information into our lives to help us and show us ways to be in a changed existence. Often we describe these people as “Godsends” and indeed they are.

Suffering with joy is my motto for the rest of my life. When we pray “Thy will be done” in the Our Father we are affirming our submission to the good that God desires to do for us. I am joyful in suffering because I have seen how God is reshaping me, redirecting my life, changing my focus from myself to Him. That doesn’t mean that I am not in pain or that I don’t have moments of doubt or panic or rebellion or that I won’t have to start all over again at times because I’ve started to focus on myself and my misery. I just know now that He has a purpose for me, that I am to be faithful to that purpose, that I am not alone, and that I must take life one day at a time. It is enough for me.

O Lord, thank you for the hardship in my life. Thank you for the people you have sent to help me in my difficulties. Thank you for helping me grow in faith, hope, and charity, and for making it possible for me to help others. Please teach me what You want me to know. Give me the grace to understand what You want from me and the strength to do it. Give me submission of heart and will to execute Your plans for me for the good of all.

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Barb Schoeneberger blogs at Suffering with Joy. She serves on the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval committee, provides copy editing and proofreading services to writers, and is working on a book on sin.

Paradox and Contradiction

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness*

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness* (Photo credit: anitakhart)

Call it reversals, call it paradox–Christianity is full of them, and they are a sometimes insurmountable stumbling block for people contemplating religious belief. To destroy yourself in order to find yourself, to die in order to live, to consider yourself blessed when you are mourning, or poor in spirit, or persecuted…to people steeped in the idea that our purpose on earth is the pursuit of the good life, these concepts are foreign and threatening and, well, nonsensical. Why should I deny myself enjoyment and pleasure? Why should I deliberately impose restrictions on myself that are difficult or unpleasant? The more I indulge myself, the happier I’ll be. The rest of it is moral repression imposed by people trying to control the ignorant masses.

Thomas Merton once thought so.

“Here I was, scarcely four years after I had…walked out into the world that I thought I was going to ransack and rob of all its pleasures and satisfactions. I had done what I intended, and now I found that it was I who was emptied and robbed and gutted. What a strange thing! In filling myself, I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear.”

and

“There is a paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence. It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man’s nature, by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problems. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell.”

(Quotes from The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton)

Notice he didn’t say capital-H Hell, as in a place where Satan torments you for all eternity. He said little-h hell, as in a life full of misery, anger and bitterness.

And he’s right. The 2012 “Better Life Index” found that our country is #1 in terms of personal wealth and #12 in terms of happiness. Out of 36. Another survey, the “Happy Planet Index,” listed the U.S. as 105 out of 187. Ouch.

Granted, it’s not a terrible ranking. And granted, plenty of people who call themselves Christians are also bitter and angry and miserable. But let’s consider the possibility that if all our wealth of TV viewing and video game playing and enrichment activities for kids and wide-screen TVs and smart phones and wall-to-wall carpeting and supersized master bedrooms and sporty cars and vacation homes at the beach and girls’ weekends and football games with the guys–if all those things can’t make us the happiest place on earth, then…maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree altogether.

Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 7:37 am  Comments (8)  
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The Lent You Want vs. the Lent You Need

flowers in the snow

flowers in the snow (Photo credit: elpostito)

I confess: I have an idealized view of Lent. My first spring in grad school, Lent came like a breath of renewal on the heels of one of the most difficult six months of my life. My first semester had been a nightmare of homesickness and a hellish roommate situation interspersed with glorious moments of musical learning and discovering like-minded friends. When Lent came around that year, I couldn’t go home for Easter. Every fiber of my soul longed for the familiar sounds and faces of my parish back home.

I thought it would be a miserable forty (-six) days. Instead, the whole season gleams in my memory with a concentrated, pure white flame, as all the suffering and loneliness concentrated to a point and softened the ground of my soul. It was one of the most fertile times of soul growth I have ever experienced, a season in which joy walked beside me on the long daily trek from my apartment to the school of music, across fields and a creek, while winter passed slowly and softly into a spring like nothing I had ever seen. (Spring feels different in places where it’s actually cold and snow-covered all winter.)

I’ve never had another Lent like that one. The next year I spent the season preparing for Comps, which, by virtue of being scheduled for Easter Monday, forced me to spend even Easter Sunday studying. (Blech!) Since then I’ve occasionally caught a whiff of that sanctity, but that spring of 1998 remains the ideal for which I strive.

This Lent has been just about as 180 degrees the opposite direction as it is possible for a Lent to be. I’m failing miserably at my Lenten goals (so spectacularly that at present I can’t even remember what they were anymore). As anyone who’s read my blog the last few weeks knows, I’ve not been a picture of holy motherhood and saintly living lately. And although the provocations are certainly not without justification, it doesn’t change the fact that my response has been less grace-filled and more sinful.

But it occurred to me this weekend–when I went to Confession so to leave the anger and temper loss in the past, and then came home to lose my cool again spectacularly that night–that sometimes the Lent you want is not the Lent you need. Sometimes we need to spend a few weeks staring at the excruciating image in the mirror: the one that forces us to live with the knowledge of our own powerlessness against sin, and how much we need God to carry us through it.

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 7:43 am  Comments (4)  
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It’s Here!

Oh, what it takes to get a not-quite-four-year-old to take a usable picture…

books 1

…while the baby invokes his Right To Wiggle All Over Mommy’s Lap Any Time She Sits Upon The Floor….

books 2

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books 3

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books 4

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books 6

Oh, there they are!

This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes, coming soon from Liguori Publications!

The point of this book is to take faith, which we tend to approach from an internal, heart-and-mind perspective, and bring it down to the intensely, mundanely practical level: the actions and the words of the everyday. Are you ever going to kill anyone? Not likely! But that doesn’t mean you’ve got the 5th commandment covered. It has implications for the way we interact with others every day. Unlike my other two books, I really wrote This Little Light of Mine with adults’ faith formation in mind as much as that of their children. During the penitential and high seasons, we’re at least nominally focused on religious topics. The rest of the year is make-or-break time for our spiritual growth. During ordinary times, we’ll either choose to be committed, or we’ll slip into “me first, God when I have the time and inclination” mentality. I wrote this book to help you think about the specific actions that underlie the religious concepts we talk about all the time.

Losing Our Religion: A Response

Religious symbols

Religious symbols (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NPR did a series last week called “Losing Our Religion.” In this storythe only one I heard in full–the interviewees talked about their ambivalence and in some cases rejection of faith. The ones that really struck me were those who experienced suffering and untimely death in their families, and concluded that God couldn’t exist, because deity is not compatible with suffering.

“So at some point, you start to say, why does all this stuff happen to people? And if I pray and nothing good happens, is that supposed to be, I’m being tried? I find that almost – kind of cruel, in some ways. It’s like burning ants with a magnifying glass. You know, eventually, that gets just too hard to believe anymore.”

It’s hard for me to put my thoughts together on this, so it may be a bit disjointed, but here goes.

In some ways I understand doubt very well. Like many others in the modern world, I respect reason and am skeptical when people claim things just are because they are. I want to know things for certain, and the things taught by faith cannot be known for certain.

Another quote that really stuck me was this one, from Daniel Radcliffe:

I have a problem with religion or anything that says, ‘We have all the answers,’ because there’s no such thing as ‘the answers.’ We’re complex. We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity.”

How did he come to that conclusion? In my experience, religion is excruciatingly nuanced and complex, if you take the time to dig into it. And yet an awful lot of faithful people do paint religion exactly as he says.

Maybe it’s human nature to try to simplify the world so you don’t have to wrestle with it anymore. But faithful people have done the faith a real disservice by trying for so long to make it into something that provides “all the answers.” Because Christianity is a constant wrestling match between belief and doubt, between the best and the worst of your nature as a human being.

Here’s what I know about faith:

  • I doubt all the time. It seems irrational to believe there could possibly be Somebody out there bigger than everything, with a Capital-P Plan. And yet there are moments in each of our lives, regardless of religious belief, when we suddenly become overpoweringly aware of something Bigger Than Me. Motherhood provides those moments to religious and non-religious women alike. And I have found that when my brain quiets and I become open to the power of nature around me, I can feel God. Perhaps one reason faith has suffered such a beating in the modern world is the fact that we are never quiet, never free of music and texts and tweets.
  • Faith that you can claim by words (“Are you a Christian? Have you been saved?”) or wearing a pretty little cross, is okay as a first step, but if it doesn’t challenge you and make you uncomfortable two or three dozen times a day, then it’s pretty immature. Faith is something that should always be needling you, challenging you to be more than you are. Not affirming your own self-righteousness.
  • Faith can be a comfort, but that’s not its purpose. Anyone who thinks religion’s purpose is to make us feel better, I submit, is completely stagnant in their faith, and when tough times come calling, it will shake the foundations of that faith. Why do bad things happen? Because people do bad things. Blaming God for it is a copout. But if people–especially children–are given an insipid, watered-down, feel-good kind of Christianity, how can we be surprised when they recognize it as woefully insufficient for the real world?
  • There is much more commonality between faith and science than the current monologue would lead you to believe. Faith and reason do not stand at odds. The underpinning of my advocacy of natural family planning is the belief that a human’s body and soul/mind are connected. That where the body goes, the mind tags along for the ride. How often does science demonstrate the same thing? All the time. Thus, a woman who is raped has not only bodily injuries, but injuries to the mind and soul. And how many times have studies shown that when you exercise and eat healthier (physical), you feel better, too (spiritual/mental)?

Even many people who have sworn off formal religion still recognize the inherent spirituality of these last two examples. Shouldn’t this tell us something important? Namely, that there is something beyond us in this universe? Whether it’s God or The Force, something is out there, built into the very fabric of our beings. Let’s at least start from that point of commonality, and seek truth beginning from that point.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 8:05 am  Comments (14)  
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Reality Beats the Fairy Tale All To Pieces

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...

When I was ten, I thought I was going to go to Calcutta and be one of Mother Teresa’s nuns. Well, anyway, some kind of a nun. I remember spending one whole library visit looking through the lists of religious orders and seeing which ones sounded the most exciting.

Flute closeupBy the time I was in high school, I no longer felt the slightest interest in religious life. I was going to go to Juilliard and be an orchestral flute player. I practiced during study hall and after school, drove half an hour for lessons, and thought I was doing everything I needed to achieve my dream. I wasn’t, but I didn’t know that. And oddly enough, maybe because of the money, or maybe because I was scared of leaving home, I never even requested an application for Juilliard.

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...The summer after I broke up with my atheist ex, I chaufferred my sister and her boyfriend home from the airport after her overseas summer exchange program. My soul was raw, and I wanted Someone more than anything I had ever wanted in my whole life. Seeing them all lovey-dovey in the backseat made me almost nauseous, not so much with jealousy as with an overpowering sense of something missing.

Enter Christian…and all the years of anxiety that followed. During all that time, what I struggled with most was discerning GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE. I thought of it just like that, all caps, some big, ominous concept that if I got it wrong, I would surely be completely miserable for the rest of my life, and do who knew what to my immortal soul. I mean, what if I was wrong? What if THE ONE GOD INTENDED ME TO MARRY was not Christian, but was waiting another year or two in the future? On the other hand, what if I ditched Christian only to discover that he was THE ONE GOD INTENDED ME TO MARRY?

You can make yourself crazy with questions like that, and I almost did. I didn’t know anything about spiritual attack in those days, but God is good and in the long run, I managed to hang on to reason over irrational fear, to get married and start the life that has proved to be so rich and beautiful and filled with unexpected opportunities to grow. I’ve found joy, but not because I’ve ever come to a point of complete certainty of GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE. I’ve found joy and acceptance in simply doing the best I can with the knowledge I have.

9/4/99

9/4/99

A few weeks ago I was reading The Theology of the Body in John Paul II: What it Means, Why It Matters, by the late Fr. Richard Hogan when all of a sudden one day I sat up straight, electrified:

“Since every vocation is a gift from God, we cannot simply make up our own. Of course, people try to do this all the time. If called to marriage to a specific person, sometimes people … may doubt that they are actually called to marriage or to marriage with a specific person. …

“Usually, in refusing such a gift from God, a person finds his or her path to heaven more difficult. It is not so much that there is only one way to heaven for each of us–for example, that a particular person is suited only for marriage or, more specifically, that there is only one possible spouse for that person. But it seems that God calls us to the best possible vocation suited to our personalities and talents.” (ToB/Hogan, p. 155)

Did you catch that? There’s a sort of fairy tale mindset that we pursue without even realizing it, that says, “There is only one person in the whole wide world with whom I can be truly and permanently happy.” That’s what it means to find a “soul mate.” I’ve always loved this idea from a romantic perspective, but in reality it’s kind of terrifying. What happens if you choose to park on the left side of the street instead of the right, and don’t end up encountering said Soul Mate at all? Are you then doomed to unhappiness and unfulfillment? On such random, inconsequential things does happiness turn! No, it would be a pretty wretched, impotent God who would set the world up that way.

The whole idea that only one person can make you happy is a terrible twisting of the purpose and potential of love. The reality is so much better than the fairy tale: namely, once you’ve found someone with whom you have commonality and compatibility, you choose, mutually, to give yourselves permanently, exclusively, and completely to each other–and joy and fulfillment results because you stick to it, because you choose to seek out joy and holiness and love in action. Not because it just magically “happens.”

That’s really good news–because if it was all dependent on feelings, what would you do when PMS comes around? Or stress, or attraction to another?

“If there were not more than one possible path for each of us, then a vocation could not be accepted freely. ….Constituted as persons by the creative act of God himself, human persons can only act by their own free choice and in light of their own knowledge. God would never violate his own creative act by compelling human persons to act in a certain way. This is why God tolerates the choice to sin. Therefore, there must be more than one possible path to heaven for each of us, although for each of us there is a best vocation.” (ToB/Hogan, p. 155)

How incredibly liberating.

Published in: on January 14, 2013 at 9:44 am  Comments (14)  
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When Prayer Feels Empty

Photo by Carlos 90, via Flickr

I seem to be collecting a lot of prayer intentions lately. Not that there’s anything strange about that–it’s just that for some reason, recently they seem to be hitting a lot closer to home. In times past, I used to promise to pray and then forget all about it. (Yes, I was one of those people, I’m sorry to admit.) Eventually I learned when someone requested prayers, I had to stop whatever I was doing and pray then and there.

But these days, it seems I can’t get these people out of my mind. At odd times during the day I surface from the depths of my own affairs with a heaviness in my chest, a heaviness surrounding a name or two.

We are urged to be specific and forward in our prayers–in other words, to expect miracles. But I’ve grown suspicious of this kind of prayer. The longer I live, the more I see the value of the process. I believe God can work massive, instantaneous change, but most often He doesn’t…because there is value to the process, to the change wrought in us that would not happen if we were miraculously and instantly rescued from suffering.

So for the past several weeks, I’ve prayed for healing from my lingering ear infection, from the leftover fluid and hearing loss…but with no expectation that it will vanish overnight, despite a friend’s prayer for exactly that. Maybe that shows lack of faith. But on the other hand, through this process I’ve learned empathy for the elderly as they are slowly robbed of their hearing–a lesson I would not have gained otherwise. This experience reaffirms a different approach to prayer–one that focuses on grace to endure, on strength and understanding instead of relief from pain. Change my heart, this time. That, after all, is the purpose of prayer: not to force God to do our will, but to open our minds and hearts to accept God’s. I’ve learned to stop asking God to “fix it,” and to ask instead for the grace to accept what is. To say, “What do you want me to learn from this, Lord?”

But it’s one thing to embrace the search for wisdom and insight through suffering in myself. It’s altogether different to try to philosophize away someone else’s pain. I pray grace and strength and insight for them, too…but mostly I beg God to identify a quick exit from their suffering. And the words seem empty. Isn’t a pithy “Lord, please (fill in the blank)” just a pious platitude unless I put action behind it? Shouldn’t I seek some way to ease a friend’s suffering?

I’ve never wished I had Godlike powers so much as when I hear pain and confusion in the voices of those I care about. Yet the reality is that I have no control at all. I can’t heal broken bodies or broken relationships. I can’t remove the circumstances of another’s suffering.

So I pray, recognizing that only God has the answers. And maybe that’s the point, after all: that hurting with those who hurt binds me not only to them, but to God.

(Sharing with Michelle’s community on week one of focusing on the pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.)

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