It’s one of the questions I get asked most often in class, so I’ve put together my three best answers to one of the basic questions of our faith… is God really out there?
I’ve been married to my beautiful wife, Jennifer, for nearly twelve years now. Looking back, there are a number of moments in our relationship that terrified me: working up the courage to talk to her, actually asking her on a date, holding her hand for the first time, proposing marriage… and the day I had to explain to her how I spent WAY too much money on playoff tickets in 2006. But these were nothing compared to the fear I felt when, for the first time, I met her dad. [Read more…] about A Good One
“Lord, teach us to pray…” -John 11:1
Since I don’t remember going through it myself, it has been a fascinating exercise observing my children as they learn how to speak. Each of them begins with no clue whatsoever where to start – so they do the only thing they know how to do: they cry. Eventually those cries become sounds that represent something – usually, their best imitation of the sound they think represents their needs. The sounds become words, and once the words become sentences: look out, because many of us don’t stop communicating once we get started!
As I write this, my fourth child is making a great effort to copy the sounds he hears the rest of us saying in a desperate effort to make his wishes known to us. Sometimes these sounds make no sense at all – so he repeats them, louder and louder in hopes that we will figure it out… and when he gets through to us, the joy he feels is palpable. Eventually, he’ll find his words – and his voice – and he’ll be able to talk and listen as well as anyone else (and I look forward to that day – I still have no idea what he means 95% of the time.)
Learning to pray is not that much unlike learning to talk. At first, it may feel like trying to communicate with God is beyond our capacity. So we cry out to Him – usually in a moment of need. But if crying for what we want is all that we do, we may find that the ‘relationship’ part of being close to God is lacking – so we seek for words. Our first words in prayer are usually those copied from others – the Lord’s prayer, Hail Mary, or even the lyrics of a particularly moving hymn or song. These borrowed words are always with us – and are often helpful for getting the conversation started. However, to grow in prayer means that we need to regularly move beyond the words of others and find our own voice – conversing with God using our own words (and listening to His reply.)
For many of us, however, the idea of conversing with God is a long ways off, and you might be unsure on where to start. I’m going to spend some time breaking open the words of several traditional Catholic prayers – to help get you started and to help you find more meaning in some of our rote prayers. One of the resources I’m going to use for this series is a book by one of my favorite Catholic authors, Amy Welborn, “The Words we Pray.” If you want to read it yourself, you’ll find that Amy goes much deeper into these prayers than I can on a blog – and several prayers I likely won’t get to.
So as you seek to deepen your own life of prayer – to find your own words (and learn to listen to His) – I pray that this series will be a blessing to you. (And don’t forget to pray for me!)
A student recently asked me why the most recent translation of the Mass prefaces the Our Father with these words:
…at the Savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to pray…’
It was particularly the word ‘dare’ that stuck out to him, as it seemed odd to suggest that something we’ve been doing most of our lives (praying the Lord’s prayer) was a daring action. I’ve written previously about the concept of divine sonship – using the relationship of father/son (parent/child) to help us understand the closeness God desires to have with us. When one understands that he or she is loved unconditionally, they become capable of incredible things. This is why the image of God as a Father and we as His beloved sons and daughters is woven throughout scripture. St. John writes: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
The danger with a relationship seen only through this lens is that children don’t automatically see the responsibilities that come with their relationship. A child growing up on a farm may love the farm animals and not comprehend that he or she will be required to do simple chores to help maintain that farm (and if that same child eventually inherits the farm, they’ll need to learn and do all the work!) This is why St. Paul writes about the other side of this relationship: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
To consider oneself a son/daughter and a servant of God seems like a strange pairing. You don’t expect someone to have the same sort of intimacy with their son the same way they would with a cook. You don’t expect the same immediate obedience from a child as you do someone on the payroll. And yet, in relation to God – each one of us is both child and servant. It may be that we can look to the story of Robin Hood for some inspiration…
War in the twenty-first century is significantly different than it was in the past. Not only has technology evolved but so has the field of battle. Where in the past the field of battle was clearly marked out with armies standing on opposite ends – often in uniform bearing the insignia of their country or their leader… today, these battles have moved into more populated areas using subversive tactics. While this isn’t the moment to argue the morality of pre-emptive strikes or covert operations, let’s just say that in this arena, it is a much greater challenge to tell friend from foe. This is why there seems to be so much more collateral damage – civilian casualties – on both sides in any conflict.
Yesterday, reflecting on the battlefields of years past, I wrote about the spiritual battle that comes hand in hand with following Jesus. And I think we have a lot in common with the way that wars are fought today: it’s difficult to tell who our enemies are. Gratefully, these enemies haven’t changed much – and the narrative of Jesus’ own temptation by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11) presented us an unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil himself against whom we Christians are called to fight.