Time, Suffering, and the Power of Prayer

Back to the Future

I was chuckling at this meme today and it got me to thinking about time and prayer.

It reminded me of something Padre Pio once said that really challenged my concept of time.

One day, Padre Pio told his doctor, “I’m praying for the good death of my great-great grandfather.”

The doctor said, “but he died more than one hundred years ago!”

Padre Pio replied, “Remember that, for God, there is no past and no future and everything is present. So God made use, at that time, of the prayers I’m saying now.”

It is especially helpful to remember God’s omnipresence when we are suffering. One of the beautiful aspects of the Catholic faith is “redemptive suffering.” The notion that we can combine our suffering with Christ’s passion and offer it up for our own (or another’s) needs is a hopeful concept. When all seems bleak, when we are undergoing profound suffering, this concept gives added meaning and value to suffering.  Suffering is painful but it’s not useless. How beautiful is it that we can even apply our suffering to prayerful intentions for the past or the future?

It also brought to mind a recent comment by a priest that struck me by surprise, “If you find yourself with a cross, you find yourself with Jesus.”  When I think of “my crosses” or “bringing it to the cross,” I often think of the wood of the cross. However, reframing one’s own crosses in light of Christ’s presence there with us at the cross, brings awareness of the privilege of enjoying His presence during our suffering. Suffering together with Christ seems more of an honor and privilege than the lonely prospect of carrying ones’ cross alone.

And, any time things get rough, I always fall back on St. Ignatius’ hope-filled explanation of suffering: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”

So, when hard times come, as they inevitably will, do not despair!  Make use of that suffering and “offer it up” in prayerful intentions for the past, future, or present and remember that you are not alone – Jesus is always right there with you.

“Christ’s cross, embraced with love, never leads to sadness, but to joy!” -Pope Francis

Matt Maher reminds us of God’s omnipresence in his song “You Were on the Cross”

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I Choose Love

I was talking with a friend the other day and he was reciting an endless litany of all of the bad things going on in the world right now: terrorism, horrible refugee situations, the plunging stock market, eroding race relations, the selling of baby body parts, unstable international affairs, etc. He concluded, “Things just aren’t looking good.”

I had to disagree. Yes, there absolutely are a lot of horrible situations in the world right now – situations that we cannot ignore and that we are called to address. We must respect the dignity of human life in every way we possible and this includes helping those experiencing poverty and those without home or nation. We must be living witnesses of respect for people everywhere of all races, nationalities, and creeds, young and old, born and unborn. We must see the reflection of the God who made us in the face of each of our brothers and sisters. We must recognize that we are all one human family and do all we can to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes, however, we are far away and we don’t feel we have the power to change such situations. We can fall into hopelessness.  We can despair that “the world is falling apart.”

The problem is that hopelessness and despair deny the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.  Jesus said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33

Jesus offers Hope when everything around us seems to be falling apart. Jesus offers the warmth of his Love when the world seems barren and destitute.

In his August 16, 1967 speech, “Where Do We Go From Here,” the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of Love in elegant words of timeless import:

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces …to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.”

Love is the way.

An ocean away, at nearly the same time in history, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina said, “Don’t spend your energies on things that generate worry, anxiety and anguish. Only one thing is necessary: Lift up your spirit and love God.” Likewise, St. Mary McKillop said, “Do what you can with the means at your disposal and leave all the rest calmly to God.”

Suffering in life is inevitable. There have always been and will always be atrocities and strife. How we react to these difficulties is our choice. We can turn away from our suffering brothers and sisters or we can live in love, encountering, respecting, and serving others compassionately. We can be crippled by fear and worry or we can lift up our hearts in prayer and trust that the God of Love hears us.

Myself?  I choose Hope. I choose Love.

“Set A Fire” – Will Regan & United Pursuit Band

What if I Just Don’t Have the Faith of Job?

I was reading this great piece by Dr. Gregory Popcak about how the way you were parented affects your experience of God. It’s a good read – I highly recommend it. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2014/04/attachment-and-faith-style-how-parenting-affects-your-experience-of-god/

After I read it though, I was left with some questions. “So what if my parents were completely unattached and I grew up to be ‘fearful and avoidant?’ What then? What if it I just can’t trust God because of this?”

If you look at the figure of Job in light of this article, it would appear that he had perfect parents. He totally trusts God. He never utters a word against him. Yes, he curses the day he was born and he wishes he had never come into being, but he never says a single word against God.

Despite his insistence of innocence, His friends cannot believe that he could possibly be “blameless” in God’s sight. They sit there for days lecturing him on how he must have done something wrong. Nice friends.

Still, he maintains his innocence. He begs God to tell him what he did. He asks why it is that he is undergoing such profound suffering.

God is silent and does not answer.

What a story. It’s a real page-turner. There’s some real suspense as we wait for God to show up and “set things straight.”

And, there are so many things to be learned from Job. Amidst the most profound suffering, he trusts God completely, he waits patiently, he endures the endless, berating lectures of his friends who clearly believe themselves to be better than him, and still he does not say a word against his creator. What faith.

What is it that Job possesses? What allows him such tenacity through trials?

He has an authentic relationship with God. He doesn’t hide his feelings. He’s quite vocal in fact. Yet, he’s respectful at all times. Even when God is silent, he holds on and trusts that God hears him.  When God finally answers with a long and intimidating response (Job 38-41), Job replies. I am always floored by that line, “Job replied to Yahweh,” (Job 40:3). By that point, I would likely be cowering in a corner, but Job, always humble and respectful, answers God. He doesn’t run away from the relationship. Even after God has taken everything away from him, he’s still willing to talk it out with God and hear what He has to say.

He trusts God implicitly. Although he wonders why all of this hardship is befalling him, at no point does he lose his trust in God. Maintains his innocence, yes. Loses trust, no.

So what are we to do if we didn’t have perfect parents and, as a result, grow up unable to trust God? What if we just can’t get real with God because we are afraid He’s going to drop us like a hot potato? What if we just don’t have the faith of Job?

The obvious answer is counselling. Counselling can be tremendously helpful in helping us to grow and heal those areas of pain and lack that hold us back.

There are two other things that can also be incredibly helpful though too:

  1. Spending time with the Word of God. Sit with the Word of God. In Scripture, we can find the words that we may not have heard growing up. Hearing “I love you,” “you are my beloved son (or daughter),” “I have chosen you,” “I knew you from before you were born,” “I know your thoughts from afar (and I still love you),” can be incredibly comforting. The more time you spend with Scriptures, the more comfort you will get. The more you will understand that you are His beloved son or daughter. When you know this deep in your bones, you will be able to trust Him.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit for help. As my wise spiritual director says, “ask the Spirit to pray through you…let the Spirit pray through you.” This is some of the most profound and fruitful spiritual advice I have ever received. When the Holy Spirit comes, great things happen – things that we could not orchestrate or plan, happen with great ease. The Holy Spirit can heal those areas of lack or hurt, those wounds that make it hard for us to trust and be real with God and with others. The Holy Spirit accomplishes within us that which we just cannot accomplish on our own without divine assistance.

So, if you find yourself struggling in your relationship with God, ask for God’s help. Approach in humility. Be patient. Ask God to help you have a more authentic relationship with Him. Immerse yourself in His Word and ask the Holy Spirit in. You will not be disappointed.

“Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history” (Lumen Gentium, 12).

Francesca Battistelli, “Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”

 

“The Word of God is Volatile”

 

“The word of God is volatile.  It is unpredictable.  It produces a zeal that can be a little embarrassing.”

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the priest at Mass yesterday.

“Yes,” I thought to myself.  “It certainly is. I can’t believe I am writing a blog in the public domain  about my spiritual journey.”  Those of you who know me, know that I’m a very private person and I rarely talk about such things even “in person.”

Yet, over the past few years, I’ve had an amazing journey.  I didn’t intend any of the journey and I certainly didn’t plan to share about it.

Let me start by sharing with you what was going on when I really put on “my walkin’ boots.”  Over the past decade, our family has weathered many serious illnesses.  Actually, to say we have been innundated by illness probably wouldn’t be an overstatement.  We have dealt with preterm pregnancies and the NICU, neuropathy, cancer diagnoses, diabetes, heart issues, neck injuries, concussions, blood disorders, multiple surgeries, epilepsy, dyslexia, and much more.

Over these years, when I would go to pray, I often felt like I would come before the altar of the Lord and fall “flat out” and face down in front of Him because I had no strength to stand.  I had no words to say.  I was too exhausted to even process thoughts.   I was empty and deflated.

Sometimes I wondered if it could even be considered praying – to drag myself before the Lord and then just say nothing at all.

It was during one such very difficult stretch a couple of years ago, that I came across a prayer card stuck between the pages of a book I was reading.  I had received it while I was on an Ignatian retreat in college. It is called the “Suscipe.”

 Suscipe

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory,

my understanding,

and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,that is enough for me.

                                                            –          St. Ignatius of Loyola

I took it out and prayed it.  “What could I lose?” I thought to myself. I didn’t really feel anything at all the first time I prayed it.

I prayed it again a few days later.  “I think I’ll just hand it all over,” I thought to myself.  “God knows, I really am not doing a great job of handling all of it myself.”  So, I prayed the Suscipe, envisioning myself literally handling all of my burdens over to Him.

It felt good.  I felt lighter.

I decided to try to pray it every day.  I didn’t really know that God would even care to receive my weak prayers but I decided to say the Suscipe every morning on the way to work.

Things started to happen.  Just saying the prayer left me feeling comforted.  After saying it, I seemed to have renewed energy and peace.  Some days, it literally felt like an infusion of energy.  Things started to fall into place. I started to meet people in all areas of my life whose friendships would enrich and sustain me.  I also started listening for God more.

I have come to realize that this is an incredibly powerful prayer.  In speaking with a Jesuit friend recently, I learned that this prayer is more than just a prayer of words.  It is an offering of the full and total person to the Lord – mind, body, and spirit.  When we pray this prayer, amazing things happen.  Just try it.  You’ll see.

Ignatius-Suscpie