Worth Revisiting: A Prayerful Thirst

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“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

From the outside the prayer life of a Christian, particularly those in ministry, may incorrectly be assumed perfect, and yet how could it ever be? For, if it depends wholly on us, broken and fallible as we are, alas our words and petition will always be lacking. And yet, God yearns to meet us where we are, making up for the host of imperfections and sinful ways we have become accustomed to. So then, prayer cannot begin from a self assured position of deservedness but with a humble desire to seek. There need not be a multitude of words (Matthew 6:7) or the right selection

Dryness in prayer

There are, however, times we cannot seem to hear God’s answer amidst the din around us, the circumstance itself or even over our own continuous cries for help. We may very well ask ourselves, just where has our heavenly Father gone? Or better still, what has been done or not done to cause Him to withdraw his favor and presence?

“Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray…The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.” CCC 2725

Digging Deep and Reaching Out

Remaining centered on Christ when our prayer is arid can be difficult at best.  Yet, if we do not then everything else that we do, while perhaps humanitarian, is insufficient and even fruitless for we are lacking our source for wisdom, strength and guidance. It is like a tree with a great expansive reach but very shallow roots. This tree cannot weather the storms that blow us this way and that, or seasons of dryness where showers of blessings seem scarce. Conversely, deep roots sourced in Christ guide us to where we can find new strength and grace when the world around us has changed.

When prayer is difficult..Pray More.

St. Ignatius does not provide easy words for us here and yet it is the very thing we are being asked to do. The sadness, and longing we feel is what St. Ignatius calls spiritual desolation. It can appear at times as boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration or as complete abandonment. While it is often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, for the prayer seeker it is not only an undesired course but therein can lie a fear that it may never be found again. For, intimacy in prayer is such an priceless treasure, that once experienced and lost even in the smallest way or for the shortest time is deeply missed. These are the moments we long to return to when we suddenly become aware of our distance from God or sense that we are seemingly grappling about in the dark. We cannot, however, begin to pridefully think that we were deserving through our own efforts.  And still, it is not solely the journey of the forlorn disciple as the saints too walked this arid desert path of prayer on occasion. What most assuredly is the defining factor is our resolve to trust in God’s will and perseverance in the struggle .

St. Teresa of Calcutta expressed in her private letters (Come Be My Light)  her own spiritual desert that lasted over half a century. 50 years of coming to prayer waiting to hear God’s voice yet instead experiencing silence and solitude. Many a would be follower of Christ might have considered giving up by this time. But this, as she grew to realize, would be her cross one that would help her begin to glimpse the suffering that Christ endured himself. And while his voice was quieted, God met St Teresa in the faces of the poor and marginalized in the streets of Calcutta. Her work would, as she noted, allow the graced opportunity with the daily interaction with the Christ before her.

In Ordinary Time

We can learn much from the remedy that St. Teresa exemplifies through her time of spiritual emptiness and darkness. The “light” that she would find would not be found in lofty highs of prayer but in the everyday moments of ordinary time. Time spent with a priority of making space for God through devotion with the Blessed Sacrament and the prayers of the rosary became the guide for their work and the source of strength and encouragement to continue on.

“Where will you get the joy of loving?-in the Eucharist, Holy Communion.  Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life.  Night and day, He is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that adoration.”

In this meditative stillness, we may also more readily discover the invitation to better discern our own spiritual inclinations and motives. Ask yourself:

  • What is it that is occupying my head and heart space these days? Have I invited God into these instances or sought to limit his presence in my life to where I would like him to be?
  • How do I receive this time of testing? Am I seeking only that the pain be taken away or am I trusting that though I cannot see the purpose or way forward that God does?
  • Even in this time of dryness, what do I have to offer through my daily interactions with others that I perhaps have not considered before?

“Teach my heart Lord to pray as you would have me pray. Let me not seek merely the consolation and intimacy of your love. Yet knowing that you work all things for good, and according to your purpose let me rest assured in your will and presence in my life. And when I cannot feel you near and am tempted to despair, let me trust in the unseen.”

Peace,

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“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

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Loving My Enemy

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:43-48

 By the age of eleven, and flanked by a couple of loyal companions, she was a force to be reckoned with. And if her stare didn’t send you in the other direction, then her insults most certainly would. As a newcomer into the school, I expected much of this and still I wondered just what I had done to incur such special attention. Indeed it seemed as if I was her sole mission, and in one afternoon I was.

Finding me relatively alone on the playground, she and her cohorts spied my backpack and started going through it. “Hey, that’s mine! You can’t do that!” , I shouted.
“Watch me!” she quipped.
Jumping off the swings and seizing my bag I began to walk away. Only to hear their footsteps behind me. As I turned, there she was ready to reassert her authority, pushing me swiftly to the ground.

Somewhere amidst the punches thrown and hair pulled I no longer was afraid.  The principal arrived just in time to see me stand on my feet and her friends run off. Of course both our parents were both called but only mine came that day. Well aware of the history of problems that this girl had been involved in, my mom was told that I was not in trouble and he was sorry to not have arrived sooner.

At first, I felt a sense of victory, no less a modern-day David and Goliath story. And then, over the proceeding weeks and months, when she was no longer bothering me, I was given a different perspective. I started noticing that for parent days, science fairs, and music performances, she was alone. Even her recess was spent trying to secure a spot atop the monkey bars for herself and perhaps a friend. From this vantage point she didn’t have to worry about fitting in.  And from here, she intentionally threw herself off – breaking her arm in a desperate cry for attention.

This was not a first for her, but it was a first for me to empathize and even pray for the one who I felt had persecuted me. With a reversal of fortune, and a helping of grace I saw not her persona but her as a person. A girl who, much like me, was created and loved by God but who had never had anyone express her value adequately. And as a defense, there were walls that seemed almost impenetrable.

Rather than confront or abut these walls, I instead prayed for her. Teachers I noticed too tried to help whenever possible. Until a year later, when she was suddenly absent. Over the years, I have wondered where she had gone and just who she would become. I hoped that she and her family had made a home. Moreover I prayed that the fresh start would allow her the freedom to shed the tough image she had portrayed for so long. Today, I am ever so grateful for this life altering perspective that has allowed me to not be so quick to judge what my eyes first perceive.

Reflect:

Is there someone who needs my forgiveness and prayers that I might instead be withholding? What might I see if I walked alongside my “enemy”?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: That Beautiful Well

 Both figuratively and literally, the notion of a well figures prominently in scripture, literature and indeed in life. The “water” it holds has the potential to be all cleansing, life giving, and life affirming for the one who seeks and believes.  Experienced as endless or empty, pure or tainted, cherished or wasted it holds the capacity to sooth the soul and reinvigorate one for the steps ahead. Without it, we cannot last long in this world or the next.

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

Today, many of us have become so accustomed to the modern convenience of running water we are unfamiliar with the experience of drawing from a well at all. The tall deep stone outer walls and inner hollowness invoke a both a mystery and a knowing that within something special is waiting to be unearthed. Yet, in order to plunge into this discovery, we must first make the journey to the well and then in faith lower our bucket.

The beautiful story in John of the Samaritan woman at the well enables us to glimpse a bit of this faith journey. Here, what would have been a very social fellowship of women gathered, was not so for her. Now having been married six times and a Samaritan at that, she was considered an outcast, and unwelcome guest. With full awareness of this, she had chosen the hottest part of the day to acquire water when she expected no one else to be around. However, to her surprise not only was Jesus there but he, with little regard for societal rules, was speaking directly to her.

What did Christ see in her that would prompt such amazement in her return home? First he recognized that this woman had lived her life simply seeking the satisfaction of her everyday physical needs.  While her intention was to satisfy a temporary physical thirst, Jesus revealed her deeper continual spiritual thirst. For, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”  Christ calls her to a different intimacy, one which was not dependent on her value in the world but bespoke of her inherent worth to God. His desire was to fulfill her deepest need and invite her to move from a mere existence to a life everlasting.

What then was required of her?

Well, in order to be healed she needed to be aware of her thirst, confess her transgressions and then… lower her bucket.

Reflect:

Do I recognize my own incomparable value to God? Am I seeking only temporary satisfaction of my daily needs? If not, what can I do to lead others to the well? 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Sinful Woman & The Good Samaritan


These stories which are unique to Luke give us a beautiful portrait of a prophet, teacher, and savior who knows our hearts, minds and whose love is universal. Here we see Jesus as one that focused on the introspection of the individual, sought out the outcast and the lost, was inclusive of women, brought peace in forgiveness, and who valued love over law, wealth and position. Although Jesus speaks to all, it is the outcasts, tax collectors, widows, and lepers who truly listen while the lawyers, Pharisees, and leaders are deaf to his words. While the intentions of the Pharisees in observing the laws and living a life of sacrifice had value, they sought a life of total perfection. In doing so, they were unable to see past the imperfections not only in others but in themselves and the full extent of God’s love. Therefore, the meaning within these stories is so crucial for our own faith lives today.   For if we have all the faith in the world yet lack love, mercy and compassion we have nothing.

In the story of the Sinful Woman, Luke paints two contrasting character portraits of lives of faith. What began as a dinner invitation at the home of Simon the Pharisee, is both a moment of healing for the sinful woman, and of disconnection and judgment by Simon. The reason behind Simon’s invitation to Jesus could have been one of curiosity, or perhaps simply the honor in hosting the prophet. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Simon hasn’t invested his time or energy in providing Jesus with the full extent of his hospitality. When the woman appears, we learn that she takes the place behind Jesus, yet brings the very best that she has to offer- that of her desire to serve, heartfelt repentance and love.

This woman would not have been intentionally invited, yet she made the difficult decision to come regardless. Knowing that she would suffer the comments and stares of those present to begin her life of faith and service. We are drawn in by this intimate scene with the woman weeping, kissing and wiping his feet with her hair and pouring perfumed oil on the feet of Jesus. While Simon, sits and inwardly judges both the woman and Jesus questioning why Jesus would ever allow this sinner to even touch him if he were truly a prophet. What Simon questions, the sinful woman has accepted on faith. Still, Jesus challenges Simon to see this woman and her situation properly, and learn from her desire for forgiveness and faithful example. Finally, there is a peace that comes with the forgiveness and salvation found by the sinful woman that Simon is unable to know.

With the story of the Good Samaritan, Luke presents a challenge from a man of the law who is seeking to justify his own actions rather than truly wanting the answer on love and neighbor. First, we see how the fulfilling the demands of purity and ritual keep both the priest and Levite from fulfilling the greater command of love. Make no mistake, however, they each had a choice in their decision as Jesus clearly points out. With the Samaritan we find that the one who had the most to lose, and least to gain took the greatest risk in showing compassion beyond that which could have been expected. This time, Jesus challenges the questioner to see the mercy shown by the Samaritan, not as an encapsulated story but within the infinite mercy shown towards us by God. The Samaritan exemplified the point for Jesus that God’s love goes beyond the letter of the law, race, religion or position in society, for his love is without limits and universally extended to all.

Today, in many of our churches we still have “faithful” that seek to limit God’s love, mercy and promise of salvation. This is expressed with judgmental glances, third party conversations,  and an obvious misunderstanding of the sacrament of reconciliation. Witnessed also in the shallow perspective that compassionate action towards others  remains charity instead of inherent calls to justice. For, we who have been given much, much more is expected. God’s love is not reduced  because there are more at the table, but rather his Kingdom grows with every soul who takes seriously the greatest commandment.

Peace,

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Living in the Moment

One of the greatest gifts of ministry is gaining the opportunity to see though the eyes of those who we encounter. If we are able to be unencumbered by our own concerns, schedules and preconceptions, then we are able to truly receive that gift. Not an easy task, given the demands of our day and the increasing expectations of family and work.  Yet, so incredibly rewarding in broadening our perspective and fostering gratitude when invited to walk in the experience of others.

Small and petite “Ruth”, now 94 and suffering from dementia, is currently living with her daughter and her family.  Unlike so many who are hit by this mental deterioration she is able to remain in a home setting cared for by those who know and love her best. This being my second time, I am prepared for what is in store. Greeted warmly first by her grandson,  Ruth meets me with the most beautiful smile. “Oh you came, so very good to see you!”  “Yes, I am here to bring you communion today”, I said. “Really?! That is so wonderful and so very kind of you! What is your name?” “Elizabeth, I am from Resurrection and St. Paul parishes.” “Thank you…this (pointing to her head) doesn’t always remember everything very well.”

Sitting down, we talk briefly as she tells me how she is doing. “Had a good night’s sleep, and they feed me well here. And, the sun is shining!” Ruth who doesn’t remember even long term names and relationships is content merely to know that she is surrounded by family. Due to short and long term memory loss, Ruth is pressed to live in the moment. As she asks me my name again, I place my card in her hand.
“This is yours to keep, my name is here. I will be coming every week with communion.” “Wow, I didn’t know that anyone did that. You know, I haven’t been able to go to church for some time. I can’t remember when..” , she said pausing and looking off. “Can I give you anything in return?”
“That’s ok, that is why I am here. When you can no longer get to church..church comes to you! And no, my gift is being here with you!”, I exclaimed.
“This is the best! What do I need to do?”, her joy and excitement now showing.
“Let’s pray together, and then you can receive Christ.”

With the sign of the cross, all of a sudden I lay witness as her memory comes flooding back. Each word flows from her lips and she is fully present aware of the sacredness of this time and space. Her humble act of contrition spoken, we pray the Our Father together. Placing the Eucharist in her mouth, she closes her eyes and bows her head, her body remembering the motions of a lifetime of faith. In parting, she followed me to the door asking if I was to come back again.
“Of course! I am looking forward to it, you are the best part of my day”, I said.
“You too!”, she said with a smile and a wave.

Reflect:

Is my life so scheduled that I can forget to savor the moment? Could there be an opportunity to share or receive Christ today with someone I meet?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Pauline Church

The difficulties that each Pauline church faced, in the early Christianity, remind us of the challenges that our churches face even today. In these two communities, we see both struggles over authority and teaching from within and social pressures for conformity from without. Upon Paul’s return to the region of Galatia, one of the most apparent sources of conflict stemmed from the considerable differences in the teaching of the gospel that has arisen from the teachings of other missionaries to the area. These men, thought to have been from the church in Jerusalem, sought to encourage adherence to traditional Jewish customs to a population of pagan converts to Christianity.

Map showing the places associated with PaulMore specifically, these people of Galatia had not grown up with Jewish law, but came to Christianity through the word of the Gospel. In being told that they now also had to follow Jewish law, they might begin to question both the teaching of Paul as well as their own salvation. Even though Paul quickly affirms that he speaks the truth of the gospel through revelation (Gal 1:12), he also finds it imperative to assert that his mission had received the approval of the “pillars” of the church. This was indeed a concern for Paul, for if the people questioned his teaching authority then his desire to spread the gospel might also become ineffective.

Why then was there inconsistency in the message now being heard in the gospel spread by the new missionaries to the area?

In Galatians 2:11 we learn of an open disagreement by Paul with Peter’s decision to withdraw from eating with Gentiles because they are uncircumcised. One explanation offered by Galatians is seen in a group from James, who may have persuaded Peter to stop the practice, perhaps out of fear from the circumcised Jews in the area. Likewise, if Peter was eating with Gentiles, then perhaps there was a concern that the gospel message would not be listened to as readily by the Jewish population. However, Peter’s model of separation from the gentiles is being followed by other Jewish Christians, and missionaries. In spreading the gospel, the question becomes whether to preach only to a Jewish population, and if so, is there also a true need to adhere to traditional laws and customs of Jewish law.

Likewise within our church today, do we preach only to those who are like minded like us, or do we understand the broad intention for the gospel?

Paul seems quick to remind Peter that the gospel was not intended strictly for a Jewish audience but for everyone. For Paul, it isn’t a matter of whether or not laws have been needed in the past, but if they interfere with the true message of the gospel in the present then they should be done away with. Paul reminds the Galatians, that their salvation came through faith, having been born of the Spirit through Christ, and not through adherence to Jewish law. To do otherwise, is risking the premise of their salvation through Jesus.

In Thessalonica, in an area of Greece whereby there were a plurality of religions, Paul through Timothy learns of the church facing opposition primarily from their fellow citizens (1Thess 2:14). While he feels it necessary to remind them of their conversion, he also strengthens them with words of comfort, prayers, and praise. Obviously, Paul understands their struggle having faced it not only from the gentiles but also from the Jews . However, in calling them to remain steadfast he also emphasizes the need to be “gentle in their approach, as he was, in growing the church. Paul also realizes the difficulty in establishing and maintaining a church that is distant and encircled by those that live amorally.

Therefore, Paul calls the Thessalonians to holiness, to resist the “tempter”, and continue to follow the Christian moral path. Even if they had followed the guideline for Christian living, they were to “do so even more”. Furthermore, he encourages them to come together as a Church to help one another in charity and thereby avoiding potential business entanglements which might compromise their commitment to Christ. Likewise, Paul recognizes that many within the early church are anxious and expectant for Christ’s return and are concerned for those who have died before the second coming. Paul offers consolation that they too will be raised, but to be alert and ready, keeping true to the way of Christ for the day of parousia. He understood that living in a state of expectation is difficult, and it’s all too easy to let standards down when the day doesn’t come in a timely manner. Moreover, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to see that they had strength in each other, despite his absence, and the world around them.

Within the church of Galatia, Paul understood that the message of the Gospel was what needed to be emphasized, encouraged and affirmed. In the renewed spirit of evangelization occurring presently, we like Paul, are calling those Catholics home that have felt estranged or left the faith. In doing so, we are pressed to live true to the heart of the gospel to be that persuasive “gentle” call, rather than promoting division. In Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, he encourages the Church to find support in one another in enduring the trials that life and the communities around them present. With an ever growing homeless problem, drugs, alcohol, and terse home situations and we can quickly understand Paul’s message to the Thessalonians in the world around us. We need a to be a community of faith that is able to be both present and responsive to a continually changing economic, racial and socially diverse people.

Peace,

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Still a Catholic: Living Gluten Free

The following is a guest post by an incredibly bright, articulate, young Catholic girl named Emily Pruyn. What a privilege it has been to come to know and spend time with her this past year! 

To be a Catholic means to be a part of a community and a universal body of believers, united in Christ Jesus. Partaking of Holy Communion is essential to us as followers of Christ and doesn’t only remind us of His suffering but also shows us the amount of love Jesus has for us. Here, Jesus comes to us in a beautiful way in the Eucharist! This is a unique, personal, and intimate part of our lives and it should not be taken lightly. And for 19 years, I have been blessed to continue discovering a beautiful faith, and to be a part of a welcoming family of Catholics.

One of the biggest changes in my own life, however, affected my daily life in college and impacted how I practice my faith started in 2018.  Around February, I started having symptoms of what seemed to be acid reflux. My family has had a history of acid reflux so, I started taking medicine at night before bed which seemed to work for a while.  The sensation of “choking” continued to get worse and worse as the months passed till I could barely get through a meal without horrible coughing fits and terrible stomach pains.  So too after receiving the Eucharist at church every Sunday.

Through Children’s Hospital, they discovered that in addition to my earlier diagnosed asthma, I had Celiac Disease as well as a soy allergy. As they explained, even a crumb of gluten will severely damage my intestines and lead to serious health complications without adherence to a non-cross contamination gluten-free diet.  Yet, after diagnosis, little did I know how much my daily life would change and how it would interfere with the practice of my faith.  Because of the degree of my disease, I cannot tolerate gluten sensitive communion. Hearing this news hit me hard, because in one day that all of my earlier years just disappeared.  I struggled with wondering if God would be upset with me because I can’t orally receive communion.  My mother supported me and explained that God doesn’t want me to get hurt or sick when I receive either.  He knows this isn’t my fault or that I’m choosing not to receive communion to rebel or be ignorant.

As I continued to pray, I felt God encourage me to inquire about spiritual communion.  I conducted some research and learned that spiritual communion is “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  So, on that following Sunday I attended Mass at Curry and received spiritual communion for the first time.  I allowed the Word of God to reach deep in my spirit and I suddenly felt at peace and comforted!  After mass, my boyfriend Peter said to me, “Emmy, the one thing I adore about you is that during such hard times you keep that beautiful smile on your face.  Remember how special you are and how much God loves you!  God wants to include you, his child, in receiving Him – you just have to do it in a different way than others!”.

At Curry, I felt comfortable receiving spiritual communion because I wasn’t judged and no one asked me why I didn’t receive Eucharist in the traditional way. Yet, I was apprehensive about asking for spiritual communion and receiving it differently at home, especially where I have known my parish priest and deacon for a few years now.  Unfortunately, my concerns were valid as I received negative reactions both from my priest and parishioners. My pastor questioned if my faith had changed or if something happened during my first semester of college, instead of respecting me.  I had to explain my situation to him and then he went on to try and convince me to take the gluten sensitive Eucharist.  When I explained to my priest that I can’t receive the gluten sensitive Eucharist either he seemed only more frustrated with me.  I felt alone and rejected by my own church.  To make matters worse, I had some well- meaning parishioners say, “Welcome to St. Mary’s, are you thinking about joining the Catholic church?” or “Are you not a Catholic anymore?…I noticed you didn’t receive the Eucharist like you used to. Are you okay?”.  Hearing these statements made me feel badly and even slightly embarrassed about my situation.

Just recently, I attended church at home and asking for spiritual communion from a lay Eucharistic Minister was questioned once again. Explaining my situation to her she retorted, “Well what do you want me to do?” then blessing me, she walked away laughing in disbelief!  Both surprised and sad, I chose to pray for her instead that God may bless her with understanding and training.  I can understand why someone may ask me these questions because physically I appear to be a healthy, normal, young adult woman.  However, what people do not realize is that my ailments are inside my body not on the outside.  As they say, never judge a book by its cover!

The same goes for when someone requests spiritual communion. No matter how old or young someone is, if they politely ask to receive a blessing no one should be asked for the reason why.  Since Catholics are called to create a community of love as brothers and sisters and belong to a Christ-centered faith, shouldn’t gluten-free parishioners also be included, loved, and respected?  I am still, and forever will remain, a Catholic too.

Emily Pruyn
Curry College, School of Nursing, Class of 2022