Category: Prayer

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Grounded 3

A Lent unlike any other: rather than beef up devotion, I find myself reducing spiritual intake. Much of the time I find myself gaping at a Franciscan cross in my living room. Reduction. That’s how I cope in quarantine.

This invasive virus is made worse by wars of words—partisan bickering, lay people pontificating on the latest covid-19 sound bite, weird prophesies that otherwise discerning people blast through the virtual universe. Fools rush into our fortresses. Reduced. To Jesus. Amid many words, I want the Word.

Only One opened my blind eyes and gave me life. Gives me life. Besides staring cross-eyed, I’m reading over and over the last two Sunday Gospels. These are miracle stories, our miracles, which we can personalize as an antidote to our paralysis.

The Word of light opened this blindman’s eyes (John 9). Jesus didn’t quibble about what made me blind (‘born-that-way’, etc.) He just chose to heal me as to glorify Himself (vs.1-5). And He walked with me every step of the way as I grew to discover Him: first the prophet, then the healer, then at last, the Son of Man. The blind see, wisemen go dark, and ‘blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me,’ says the humble King (Lk. 7:23).

The Word of life summons me daily. Lazarus (John 11) stank of death, and grieving loved ones lost sight of the real Jesus as the stench rose. ‘He wouldn’t have died had you been there, Jesus!’ said his intimates; ‘Let us die with Lazarus!’ Hard to say what disturbed Jesus more: the death of his friend or how grief distorted their spiritual sight. As Jesus’ friends, perhaps we too trouble Him with bent vision. And I wonder if my reduction will result in greater faith or the ‘worldly sorrow that brings forth death’ (2 Cor. 7:10). I heed Him, as He commands Lazarus’ tombstone to be rolled away then insists of the dead man: ‘Come forth!’ (vs. 38, 43)

The Word speaks a better Word to us: ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life; the one who believes in Me will live’ (Jn 11:25). Endowed with power to accomplish what He wills, the Word goes forth (Is. 55:11) and will raise His grounded ones.

‘I am under vows to You, O God. I will present my thank offerings to You. For You have delivered me from death, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.’ (Ps. 56: 12, 13)

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Grounded 2

‘Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has…?’

Hard to identify each little loss—they blur into a haze. Maybe familiar Lenten sacrifices like rich food and wine, or the absence of family and friends with whom to share the leanest of fare? (You can’t ‘zoom’ a meal).

Or is it the now familiar infusion of fear in those around you which challenges your peace? You know, that vow to stay calm, to not let ‘it’ get you. Unless you have no nerve-endings, ‘it’ (covid-19) bangs on your door each time you witness people better than you losing breath. Agitation in the outer courts, clamoring for your core…

Jesus in the Eucharist centers me like nothing else. Partaking of the Body and Blood daily has become for this Catholic convert the centerpiece of my worship. Yep, that is what I miss most in the lockdown—no Holy Meal.

Don’t get me wrong: I love singing simple songs of love to Jesus, hearing Scriptural exhortations to armor oneself in faith, and receiving inspired prophetic prayers. But nothing will do like Christ-in-me, the reception of Jesus in the inner courts, fortifying this warrior in the most profound way.

It took time to get there. I was raised Episcopalian where a slightly diluted Catholic take on communion prevailed; I valued the meal but did not know its Subject. Later charismatic versions were super casual, tough to interpret in their myriad forms. Leanne Payne tutored me in an Orthodox version which opened my heart to more. Then a two-year prep at a local parish before becoming confirmed.

I could hardly wait, for I embraced the Catholic view, as you may well know, that insists on priestly prayers (in the line of Peter) to transform the elements into a re-presentation of Jesus—His real body and blood–every Mass.

Quite a claim. I aspired to this edible Jesus and lived with increasing hunger until that Easter Vigil 9-years-ago. Jesus ‘satisfied my desires with good things’ and I’ve not looked back but knelt forward in daily Mass ever since. Until now.

A virus got in the way. Church doors are locked, no opening in view. I hunger for Him. I can remember Him and many healing meals, can meditate on the Word, and prayerfully agree with Annette about His goodness over our family, but I cannot consume Him. Big loss. I ache for Him, not unlike the wait ten-years-ago.

Only now I’ve ‘tasted and seen His goodness’, passed into Him, consumed and been composed by Him. I hunger and thirst for the One.

If there is a purpose in this ‘ache’, Pope Benedict said it first and best: ‘Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?’

I guess he means that it’s ok to hunger a little, to not take for granted what one now expects. Perhaps many of us do not savor enough the Gift of the Holy Meal.

So I wait again. Help me, help us, O God, to hunger patiently.

‘…If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’ (Rom. 8: 24b, 25)

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Grounded 1

My dreams reveal one frustrated guy. I wake up half-smiling at the heart’s antics: I can’t get out of the room or parking lot, no exit, strange humiliations where others have the upper hand and I am out-of-control. This lockdown may just make me loony. In that way, I am a thoroughly fallen American—you know, manifest destiny, don’t fence-me-in, smaller-the-government-the-better kind of stuff.

I am glad for Jesus’ mercy on my stalled but seething heart. And for His Church. On what may be the last homily I’ll hear in person for a while, Father Justin (what a guy) preached on the Samaritan woman. He centered on the fact that Jesus ‘had to go through Samaria’ (Jn. 4:4) in route to Jerusalem. Better put, He chose to go out of His way into this compromised and slightly hostile land in order to extend mercy to a compromised, slightly hostile woman.

Justin’s point? Jesus will go to any length to find you. He will tear up the map, overlook your rebellious thoughts and actions, and pierce every veil in you that repels ‘living water.’ He’ll wear Himself out just to look into your eyes and love you. Lockdowns give you a lot of time to just be loved.

Annoying. I want to act! I don’t want to be the object of desire, I want to be the subject, doing what I want! Well, well. Times have changed.

I was musing on how my roving heart is particularly unsuited for now when I ran into a woman (bad word choice; I kept a polite distance) for whom I had prayed but never met face-to-face. Abbey and I had seen her at different coffee joints; she was evidently trying to erase her womanhood and had adopted a male name.

We both caught her name and brought it into staff intercession. For about 6 months we regularly lifted her up and then, voila, she appeared. Grateful to shake off my self-concern for a moment, I gently told her that Jesus had placed her on my and another colleague’s heart, and that we felt a bit like we knew her as we gathered to pray and caught something of the Father’s love for His very special daughter. Simple. ‘God loves you that much,’ I said and went on my way.

My lockdown may well be an occasion to pray for Samaritans and to enter more deeply into His merciful heart for them. For all of us.

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Advocacy, Not Acrimony

‘I will not leave you as orphans…The Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you…Peace I leave with you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ (Jn. 14:18; 26-28)

Freedom from our ‘pastor wounds’ frees us to advocate for shepherds. They need advocacy! When we pray for their immersion in ‘living water’, we flush out whatever bitterness (acrimony) still tempts us to bite them and we become conduits of the Holy Spirit. I love that! Rather than pine for pastors’ empowerment of me, I can advocate prayerfully for renewal of their strength. That is how St. John continually defined the Holy Spirit—the Advocate, or mighty Counselor, who makes Jesus known to His own, including pastors.

Our spiritual authority to advocate for shepherds is a great empowerment. We kneel child-like yet ferocious before the One who hears and acts when we rebuke the accuser who shames our shepherds constantly; we invoke that Spirit who reminds pastors of who they are as beloved of the Father. We bind away any familiar spirit of discouragement and ask the Father to woo these ones ‘beside still waters’ where He just wants to love them. There He reenergizes His shepherds for all the glorious impossibilities before them.

Their purposes are essential. God has called these ones to function differently than we do. They have assumed the weighty task of re-presenting Jesus to us. That is one big sacrifice! When they do it well, we grow; when they flounder, we are confused, even scattered. We can pray: ‘Good Shepherd, open the eyes of ____ heart to know You well this day, to walk in step with You, to heed Your whispers. Whatever burden You ask _____bear, may (s)he bear it gracefully with You whose yoke is easy. Reveal Yourself through ____ today.’

Not only have they a weighty purpose, they bear that weight in their personhood. (Yes, yoked to Jesus, but also in their humanity.) Some began to pastor unaware of the weaknesses that could cave under pressure; some pastored as to displace or deny those weaknesses. Surprise! Ministry, like marriage, exposes our cracks. We can cry ‘hypocrite!’ over our divided shepherds, or we can cry out for mercy for them, that ‘living water’ might invite them into wholeness. Ask yourself: what invited you to heal, the accuser or the kindness of God? ‘Jesus, lead these ones into trustworthy friendship with persons who can love them truthfully, well.’

More than anything, pastors need to live out of the loving Presence of Jesus who called them in the first place. ‘Having begun in the Spirit,’ shepherds often proceed in the flesh to do the impossible. They readily bear too much weight which breaks down their lifeline: intimacy with the Father through Jesus. We pray for His Real Presence to come quickly and gather these ones in His arms. ‘Father, would You draw Your shepherds like lambs and carry them close to Your heart?’

We take heart. Like the bold and persistent man who sought bread for his friend at midnight, so we cry out as advocates for our shepherds. We know that You, Good Shepherd, hear and act: ‘If we who are evil give good gifts to our children, how much more will You, our Father in heaven, give the Holy Spirit to those who ask You.’ (Lk. 11: 5-13). ‘Pour out Your Spirit like rain upon our pastors, we pray!’

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Softening Hardened Hearts

‘Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ (Heb. 3:13)

At a church service headed by a dynamic, on-the-go leader, a young father asked for prayer: ‘I am ashamed to admit but I am desperate for attention from my pastor who just hasn’t time for me.’ A young woman confessed to me soon after: ‘It’s like he [the elusive pastor] looks right through me but never sees me.’

Both are sensitive souls who suffer from sins of omission from their own fathers; they are insightful enough to know they transfer childhood needs onto pastors who usually fail to meet them. Insight here helps but does not heal. In fact, therapeutic connections can tempt them to a kind of hardness of heart—a defense not unlike the one they erected to the original man who got away.

Of course, real sins of commission occur—ways that pastors have hurt or betrayed us. No projections here: just real bruises from pastors who did some damage. Combine that with larger-than-life media exposure of abusive shepherds—amplified though the virtual universe—and our little wounds can widen. After a shocking round of clerical sexual abuse headlines, I worked hard to not project suspicion onto every priest I encountered for the next month.

Our hurt collects other hurts. Our hearts naturally harden through the deceitfulness of sin—omissions, commissions, and how we imprison many for the felonies of a few. That costs us. And the 97% of pastors who only want to father us well. When sin incites dullness and dread of them, we do more than demonize innocents–we lose necessary links to community and to Jesus Himself. We may become like an increasing number of Christians who fail to gather at all anymore, claiming a purely ‘individual’ relation with Jesus.

We need the lifeline of shepherds. That’s how God made us, and that’s why He commissions certain ones to help us take the next steps in our walk with Jesus. And guess what? Shepherds need us too. Yes, we are sheep and at the same time, we are Jesus’ members, shoulder-to-shoulder with our shepherds who need our witness, our encouragement and the unique gifts we bring to our churches.

What do we do? We use our insight wisely. We combine awareness of childhood wounds with adult actions. First, we own our ‘father wounds’ and ask Jesus’ forgiveness for imposing the burden of reparenting on a mere mortal. Second, we identify ‘pastor wounds’ and seek ongoing healing for them. We forgive our offenders. Third, we turn toward and live through the One Father revealed to us by Jesus who has nothing but time for us. He loves to love us.

We must cultivate this love but it’s easy. The Father loves us like no man ever could and gives us grace to give our fathers, to treat them mercifully as fellow humans, not as the next man who lets us down. I love shepherds because the Good Shepherd loves me well.

‘Simply present your needs to Me with a trusting heart and I will show you that I am a lavish provider for those who let Me take care of their needs.’ In Sinu Jesu

Please take time to watch our video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

prayer schedule

prayer schedule

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