word of god

The Word of God: Living and Powerful in our Lives

In today’s First Reading, the Lord reveals two significant aspects regarding his Word.  God’s Word is living (“fertile and fruitful”) and powerful (“achieving the end for which I sent it”). In what sense do we say that the Word of God is living?  

Books are wonderful.  Through them and the gift of imagination they foster, we can travel to space and distant lands.  We build empathy through reading about the experiences of real and fictional people from around the world and throughout human history.  We gain wise insights and grapple with the deepest and most profound questions of human meaning.  However, the Bible is fundamentally different from all other books, no matter how brilliant.  All other books ultimately express the thoughts of their human authors. Sacred Scripture expresses a Living Person, the Word of God, the Risen Christ Jesus.  This Person is the Word through whom all things were created, redeemed, and ultimately find their origin and meaning.  Vatican II offers us this key insight, “in reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear.” (Gaudium et spes, no. 22) Ultimately, God’s Word is alive because Jesus is alive, risen from the dead never to die again.

In what sense do we mean that the Word of God has power?  Usually, when we think of something or someone as powerful, it means that they have the ability to coerce or manipulate a response from us.  Failure to comply with them will bring unpleasant consequences.  They necessarily limit our freedom.  However, this is not God’s definition of power.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave us a good definition of biblical power, “Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose . . . power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.”  God’s word has this kind of power.  It is not coercive or limiting to true freedom (the freedom to love), but it has the ability to effect change in our hearts and in our world.  It can truly change our lives and the course of human history.  Scripture is God’s revealed love bringing about his plan of reconciliation and justice.

So how can the Word of God become living and powerful in our lives?  In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the proper disposition for prayer and teaches his disciples how to pray.  When our prayer is rooted in Scripture in the context of our loving relationship with our Father, we experience deep within the Word of God as living and powerful.  Bible studies are a great way to learn about God and should be encouraged.  Nevertheless, to really know (and not just know about) God, we need to spend time with him present in his revealed Word.

The context for Scriptural prayer par excellence is the Liturgy.  Each of the sacraments begins with a Liturgy of the Word, and the sacramental action comes as a response in faith to the living and powerful Word proclaimed.  The oath (Latin=sacramentum) of the Lord, found in his Word, gives each sacrament its efficacy.  To the extent that we actively listen to the proclamation of God’s Word, the better we are able to actively and fully participate in the Liturgy, opening ourselves to a more full cooperation with God’s life and power (also known as Sanctifying Grace) available to us through liturgical ritual prayer.

Another great way to pray with Scripture is through the Psalms.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls them “the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament.” (no. 2585)  For this reason, the Church uses them as the foundation for the Liturgy of the Hours.  Their antiquity speaks to their vitality and power.  For almost 3,000 years, they have been used to sustain and express the praise, longing, and lamentation of the People of God.  Jesus prayed this inspired poetry, even from the cross. (Ps 22:2; Mk 15:34)  In the Psalms, every human emotion is felt, acknowledged, and placed before God.  As a poet and proponent of “communal pondering in a noisy world” Marilyn Nelson said in a recent interview, “poetry comes out of silence and leads us back to silence . . . and that’s why reading poetry, reading it alone silently takes us someplace where we can’t get ordinarily. Poetry opens us to this otherness that exists within us. In any case, I think poetry and the silence of the inner life are related, are connected . . . you read a poem, and you say, ‘Ah.’ And then you listen to what it brings out inside of you. And what it is is not words; it’s silence.”  How much more so for divinely inspired poetry!  

Furthermore, the Psalms are meant to be sung.  The Catechism quotes St. Augustine as saying that the person “who sings prays twice.” (no. 1156)  The human action of singing, especially with others, animates our bodies and spirits, bringing about unity like nothing else.  Do you ever notice how hard it is to remember simple things from last week, but we can summon up song lyrics that we learned decades ago?  

Finally, there has been a resurgence in the practice of lectio divina (Sacred Reading) in recent years.  Pope Benedict XVI encouraged this practice in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. (no. 86)  It can be practiced in a few minutes (at least 10) by yourself, or in a small group.  There are four steps to this practice; Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation.  First, take a passage of Scripture (perhaps begin with a Gospel or one of the readings from the daily Mass).  Slowly read a short passage.  Second, re-read the passage, perhaps even slower than the first time, but now use your imagination to place yourself in the scene, trying to account for all five senses.  If you are reading a non-narrative passage (epistles, wisdom literature, etc.), did you notice a word or phrase that stuck with you?  Third, bring this to prayer.  Simply speak to God from your heart using your reading and meditation to begin the conversation.  Is there a connection you see or feel between the passage and your current situation in life?  Talk with God about it.  Fourth, sit wordlessly with the Lord and rest in him, noticing the movements of your spirit.  Use the reading, meditation, and prayer as kindling for a “fire of love”.  Some have called this silent contemplation “the prayer of the loving gaze”.  Additionally, some have found it helpful to add a last step, one of action.  Did some action suggest itself to you during your prayer?  Make a commitment to do one thing over the next day as a fruit of your daily prayer.

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective.” (Heb 4:12)  God wants to effect change in your life and in our world.  His Word will not return to him void, but will achieve its purpose.  This Lent, may we each find our way to experience this vitality and power more personally and deeply in anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.    



John Graveline, MTS, is a husband and father of three small children.  He has worked for almost twenty-five years as a catechist and ministry coordinator specializing in the evangelization of young adults, adults, and families.  He is currently on the pastoral staff of St. Luke University Parish at Grand Valley State University as the Faith Formation Director.  


Out of This World: The Life of a Hermit

The only hermits left in the world are hermit crabs, right? Nope – the Church still has hermits around the world. What exactly IS a hermit?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which, by the way, refers to this life as the “eremitic life’), hermits “devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance.” Hermits (a term that can refer to either a man or woman) live apart from everyone. Some live under the care of religious orders (such as Carmelites and Trappists), living in community, while withdrawing from the world. Hermits  do not take necessarily take religious vows.

Author Theresa Thomas describes her sister Mary’s life as a hermit in our modern world:

The hermit’s life of silence and solitude is not absolute. Mary’s life follows a plan of life daily including times of complete silence/solitude, but also allows for times of “work” which can include manual labor, language study, works of mercy if a dire need arises, personal spiritual growth, and some very limited spiritual correspondence/direction with people seeking help, as well as occasionally giving retreats or talks, all under the direction of the bishop.

Mary lives a simple life. She dresses plainly, although she has no formal “habit”. Some of the younger nieces and nephews (she has more than 50) call her “Auntie Brown” because of the shades-of-brown clothes and sandals or boots that she wears most of the time. She’s allowed to have some visit time – just not much, and she doesn’t attend social events, parties or get togethers, as a general rule.

The life of a hermit is deeply rooted in Christian history. St. John of the Cross, known for his classic spiritual writing The Dark Night of the Soul, lived as a hermit in Egypt in the 4th and 5th centuries.  There are hermits among us today, but the very essence of their life means they are hidden. We will not see their lives broadcast on social media or the evening news.

Father Cyprian Consiglio is the prior of the New Camalodi Hermitage in Big Sur, Calif., a community of 16 hermits who try to spend half of their day in community work and the other half in personal prayer and study…

Solitude is primary spent in each of the hermit’s personal cells. The cells in a Camaldolese hermitage are separated from each other and have a garden. These physically separate dwellings make the hermitage look something like a monastic village, according to Brother Ignatius Tully.

“Each of our cells has a sleeping area, chapel, bathroom, a central space for daytime activities or studies,” he said.

Sister Mariam, a hermit in Oregon, begins her day at 4 a.m. and continues to pray both formally and informally until 8:30 in the evening. She says that being apart from the world means fewer distractions. It also means one has a lot of time to work on their own sinfulness.

“Basically our broken humanity needs to undergo a deep cleansing and purification process, especially if we desire to dwell in deeper union with God,” Sister Mariam says.

On the other hand, she says, it’s a relief to know we’re not perfect.

“I was broken, but I learned that our God is the most tender, most gracious, most loving God and spouse,” she says. “If we don’t run away and if we continue to say ‘fiat,’ (so be it), he gently, ever so gently, takes us through our bumbling, our vulnerability, our dysfunctions and our woundedness and creates us anew, into the image and likeness that we were first created in.  Believe me, this is no easy work. It is the cross.”

While very few are called to the eremitic life, we can all learn something from these souls. The need to shut out the world and connect with God is a necessary part of the Christian life.  Scripture, prayer and silence: they’re not just for hermits.


5 Easy Ways To Plan For A Holy Lent

Lent? Is it Lent already?? [Runs and checks calendar.]

No, it’s not quite Lent yet. But notice that word “holy” in the title of today’s blog post. Lent will be here whether we prepare or not. If you desire a holy Lent, however, a little planning is essential. Let’s get going!

  1. Find a prayer partner. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Mt. 18:20) Not only is it good to pray with another, it can help us stay on the right path, holding us accountable. If you’d like to have a good and holy Lent, one way to do that is to find a friend or family member to be a prayer partner. Get together now, before Lent even begins, and work out what you’d like to do: pray together once a day, study and pray over Scripture, etc.
  2. Get involved in a parish Lenten group. Many parishes offer special Lenten group programs, such as Living the EucharistThis is a great way to focus our Lenten efforts, with the added bonus of getting to know our fellow parishioners better.
  3. Focus on just one part of Scripture. Lent is not the time to plan to read the entire Bible. That is an admirable goal, but it’s too easy to get excited, fly through Genesis and Exodus, slow down in Leviticus, and then get completely bogged down in Numbers. Instead, focus on just one book of the Bible, or perhaps on just one section of one book. This might be just the thing to kick off a serious practice of lectio divina.
  4. Plan your fast. Yes, fasting is a wonderful Christian practice, and one we are urged to practice during Lent. However, if you’ve always given up chocolate for Lent, now might be a good time to plan something different. First, why does the Church encourage fasting? Then ask, “God, how are you calling me to fast this Lent?” Consider that you may be called to fast from complaining during Lent or that God may be calling you to fast from social media. Give God a chance to speak to you.
  5. Get and keep a prayer journal. Many of us benefit from the simple act of writing out our thoughts in a journal. In this same spirit, keeping a prayer journal can be edifying. It need not be fancy, expensive or complex. Buy a simple notebook and record your prayers, and how you believe God is working as you pray. If you need a bit of guidance or a jump start, check out these resources.

It’s not Lent,  yet. But it’s less than a month away. Spend a little time preparing, and ask God to help you plan for a truly holy and rewarding Lenten season. Then we shall see, in our own souls, how the desert can blossom, and the dry and wasted land can bring forth the rich, useful fruit that was expected of it from the beginning.

read bible

5 Reasons Catholics Should Read The Bible

Today is the feast day of St. Jerome, who lived during the first century of the Church. A man of brilliant mind, he lived as a hermit for years, in order to deal with his many sins. However, God needed his intellect and gift of language; thus St. Jerome is credited with translating Scripture into Latin under direction of Pope Damascus.

St. Jerome famously said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” That thought alone should send us all scurrying for our Bibles! So, why should Catholics make regular Scripture reading and study part of their daily lives?

  1. It is the living Word of God. There are many ancient texts in the history of the world. Many of us, in high school and college, read The Iliad, I Ching, and the Tao de Ching. They are all worthy of study, but what sets the Bible apart? It is the living Word of God. It has no equal, and it is as relevant today as it was when Jerome labored over its translation. Further, the Word of God is Christ: In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (Jn. 1:1 ) Thus, every encounter with Scripture is an encounter with Christ.
  2. Sunday isn’t enough. Indeed, the Mass is full of Scripture. We hear the Word proclaimed from the Old and New Testaments, the Psalms, and the Gospel. We hear the Word sung in our hymns. The prayers at Mass are full of Scriptural quotes and references. And yet … it’s not enough. It’s easy to miss parts of the Word as it’s proclaimed as Mass: we get distracted, the Word is not proclaimed well, we don’t quite hear it. In order to prepare well for Mass, we should “read ahead:” find the readings for Mass and read them prior to Mass. How are they connected? What is God’s message for His people today?
  3. God’s Word keeps us grounded. It is very easy, in the midst of our sloppy, busy, stress-filled days, to lose touch with who we are: God’s children. Taking time to read Scripture every day keeps us grounded, reminds us of who we are. Reading Scripture helps us to recall, every day, that Christ is with us – even in the sloppiness, the busy-ness, the stress.
  4. Scripture reminds us of God’s covenant. God made a promise to our forefathers in faith, the Jews. He told them, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Even though the Jews (like us!) did many things that should have destroyed that covenant, God’s promise is eternal. A covenant is unbreakable, because it is God’s truth. Then, with the coming of Christ, we received a new covenant: “This is My Body and this is My Blood. Whoever eats and drinks of it shall have eternal life.” The Bible, from start to finish, is the story of God’s unbreakable promise to us. That’s pretty important.
  5. Reading Scripture helps us to pray better. Every one of us needs to pray better. Prayer is our lifeline to God. Scripture can help us to pray better. We see ourselves reflected in the sorrow, pain and faithfulness of Job. We understand Jonah’s reluctance to do the job God has set before him. We rejoice, laugh, cry and challenge God with the psalmist. We understand the shame of the woman about to be stoned. We tremble with fear, abandoning Christ, just as most of the Apostles did when He most needed them. To enter into God’s word helps us to see, hear, feel and understand basic human responses … and then do better. We rise above our fears, our sorrows, our shame, because we know God is with us. Always. He never abandons us. Scripture is the story of God’s eternal love and faithfulness.

St. Jerome knew all this. He spent his life carefully and faithfully translating God’s word. He did it not because it was yet another text that smart people wanted to read in their own language. No, he understood that Scripture is the living word of God, as relevant to us as it was to the Jews in their many triumphs and struggles, as it was to the earliest Christians during St. Jerome’s life, and now, in a world where we have so much information at our fingertips it would make St. Jerome’s head spin. But there is no website, no book, no podcast, no Facebook post that equals God’s word. Do not be ignorant of this word, lest you be ignorant of Christ.

World Youth Day

World Youth Day 2016: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

This week marks the 14th World Youth Day. St. John Paul II established World Youth Day in 1986, out of concern for the world’s young people:

In his homily, John Paul II explained to young what according to his plan the World Youth Day should be, both in diocesan and international dimension. He said: “Today you are here again, dear friends, to begin in Rome, in St. Peter’s Square, the tradition of World Youth Day, the celebration to which the entire Church is invited. (…) World Youth Day means just this, going to encounter God, who entered into the history of man by means of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. He entered in a way that cannot be undone. And he desires to meet you above all.”

In 1995, St. John Paul II met the youth of the world in Manila. Four million strong, the young people heard the pope exhort them with the message that they were to be Christ’s messengers to the world.

World Youth Day 2016 is set in Krakow, Poland – very fittingly, as this was where St. John Paul II came of age and was eventually (and secretly, due to World War II) ordained. Pope Francis meets the pilgrims of this World Youth Day with the message of mercy in this Year of Mercy. The pilgrims will have three days of catechesis, along with praying the Way of the Cross, a vigil with Pope Francis and the final Mass. The pilgrims have been encouraged to prepare for World Youth Day by Scripture study, prayer and reflection on questions such as: “Do you live or do you only vegetate?” and “Do I trust in the Word of God about His unwavering love to me…?” Even the event’s logo is rich in meaning: a cross laid over an outline of the map of Poland and the flame of God’s mercy.

Krakow has been deemed the “City of Saints,” having been home to St. Stanislaw, St. Jadwiga, St. Faustina and St. John Paul II, among others. In opening this World Youth Day, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, welcomed the pilgrims:

As WYD Krakow 2016 is about to start, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz appeals to the young pilgrims: “You will feel endangered by the society you did not choose. But, you’re still a part of it. This means you still have responsibility to be a part of the solution.”

Let us keep the pilgrims in our prayers that they may be safe as they travel, that they may come away spiritually enriched by this pilgrimage. and that we may all learn from their example of being willing to go where God has called them. This is the official prayer of World Youth Day 2016:

God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman”.
We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love
that you have enkindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts
and renew the face of the earth.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
Saint John Paul II, pray for us.
Saint Faustina, pray for us.

career advice

Career Advice For Your Spiritual Life

That’s an odd title, isn’t it? What does “career advice” have to do with one’s relationship with God? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Carey Nieuwhof is a Protestant pastor who writes on a variety of topics: leadership, strategy and team building, and entrepreneurship, for example. He recently wrote a blog piece entitled, 25 Random Pieces of Advice for Leaders in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. While many of these things pertain to one’s job and career, they can also help us in our spiritual life.

For instance, Nieuwhof suggests: Study and practice faithfulness. Study your faith. You don’t have to get a Ph.D. in theology to be a holy person, but you do need to know your Faith. Read the lives of saints. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (not all at once.) Earnestly study the Bible. As for faithfulness, if you are married, you must remain faithful to your spouse in both thought and action. For those called to religious life, they have vows and a community to which they must remain faithful. All of us must be faithful to our baptismal promises.

Another bit of advice: Be generous when you have no money. Mother Teresa of Kolkata (who will be canonized on September 4 this year) told this story:

One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days.”
I took some food with me and went. When I came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbors; they are hungry also!” I was not surprised that she gave-poor people are really very generous. I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.

Being generous is more than just giving money to people. It is about being aware of the needs of others.

Next, Nieuwhof says: Wrestle down your pride. Pride is the father of all the mortal sins. St. John Chrysostom said, “[N]othing so alienates men from the loving kindness of God, and gives them over to the fire of the pit, as the tyranny of pride.” God endows all of us with gifts, and we must give Him the glory for those gifts.

Persevere through the dry season. If you have a strong prayer life, it is almost guaranteed that there will be a time when you feel distant from God. In the Catholic tradition, it is often referred to as the “dark night of the soul,” after the class spiritual writing of St. John of the Cross. For whatever reason, God allows this challenge. Be faithful. Hold fast to God’s promise, even if you don’t feel like doing so.

Nieuwhof also says leaders must be bold. Indeed! If we are to be faithful servants of God, we must be bold in our faith. Think of St. Peter, the man who ran away from Christ when he was most needed, denying he even knew him. That same man was transformed by the Holy Spirit to preach and teach boldly to hostile crowds. St. Joan of Arc boldly led an army because she knew that was what God was calling her to, even though the cost was her life. Bl. Miguel Pro led the Church in Mexico at a time when the government had virtually outlawed all Catholic actions, including the celebration of the Mass. Fr. Pro used disguises, escape paths and his wits to stay one step ahead of the law in order to bring the sacraments to the people He died in front of a firing squad, with his last words being: “Viva Christo Rey!” {“Long live Christ the King!) Yes, be bold. Be joyful, and be bold.

While perseverance in one’s career usually brings about financial gain, our faithfulness to God holds a better promise. St. Paul said it like this:  I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. (2 Timothy 4:4-8)

ordinary time

7 Ways To Make Ordinary Time Less “Ordinary”

We are in the midst of Ordinary Time. If you check the thesaurus, “ordinary” is equated with “humdrum,” “routine,” “run-of-the-mill.” Is this what the Church has in mind for this particular part of our liturgical calendar?

No. The highlights of the liturgical calendar are Easter and Christmas. Ordinary time is about the points in between, focusing on the life of Christ. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ. The goal, toward which all of history is directed, is represented by the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, we are enjoying longer and warmer days. People head off on summer vacations, make plans to be on the water for a quiet evening of fishing or a day of water-skiing adventures. We slow down. We sit by the bonfire and talk and sing. Our neighborhood walks are dotted with a few stops to catch up with the neighbors. Ordinary time is not “humdrum” or boring; it’s just a different rhythm.

How can we make Ordinary Time a more spiritual time? How can we, as the U.S. bishops say, grow and mature in our faith? Here are 7 ideas:

  1. Take your Bible to the bonfire. There is something about a fire on a quiet summer night that is perfect for meditation. Choose one of the Gospels at random and spend a bit of time praying. Or look over the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel reading. Let the Holy Spirit, who first came to us in fire, lead you in prayer.
  2. Vacation to a different parish. Even if you’re not traveling, ordinary time is a great time to go visit a parish near you that maybe you’ve never been to, or haven’t seen in a long time. You could visit your diocese’s cathedral, or a little country church. Either way, it’s a great reminder that we are the Universal Church and every Catholic church in the world is our home. If you’d like, pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it!
  3. Get into a rhythm of prayer. Priests and religious are bound to pray the Divine Office every day, but it’s a fine prayer for the lay faithful as well. It can be a little tricky learning how to do this, but practice makes perfect, and that goes double for prayer. There are websites that offer assistance in this. Another fine option is Magnificat monthly magazine, which is a truncated version of the Office (and, they have a children’s version!)
  4. Have your home blessed. The blessing of a home is a long-standing Catholic tradition. Why bless our house? Because we who live there are a domestic church; it is the nursery of faith and the place where our faith is lived out. Ask your pastor to bless your home, and ask if he’ll stay for dinner. What a wonderful way to spend a summer evening!
  5. Ditch the electronics for a day. Yup, this is hard. We will want to check our phones, catch a baseball game, beat our latest score on a video game. But just for a day, ditch the electronics. Head outside. Play tag. Decorate the sidewalks with encouraging messages. Have the neighbors over for ice cream after dinner. Give the dog a bath. Wander. Read. Take a nap. Enjoy the quiet, because this is where God speaks to us.
  6. Make the outside of your home look Catholic. Plant a Marian garden. Find a statue you really like (Mary, St. Francis of Assisi perhaps) and give it a fitting place of prominence. Plan a day for the kids to make garden stepping stones that reflect their faith.
  7. Make Catholic attractions part of your summer vacation. If you are on the road this summer, find a Catholic attraction or two to visit. Maybe it’s a shrine that features a huge cross, or a grotto dedicated to Mary, lovingly made by hand. This doesn’t mean you have to forgo a trip to the water park or skip mini-golf; just plan on one more stop that reminds us that the Catholic faith is big and bold and beautiful, and expressed in many loving ways.

Ordinary time is not meant to be boring or mundane. Enjoy this time of year, and find ways to move closer to Christ, because in Him we live and move and have our being.

(Don’t forget to enter our “Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Giveaway.” Three folks will get a great summer bundle of fun!)

prayer journal

Prayer Journal: A Love Letter To God

Prayer journaling is nothing new: many saints have kept them. The point of a prayer journal is not to be a diary, or a chronicle of one’s day. A prayer journal is a love letter to God.

One great thing about a prayer journal is that it’s easy to do. All you need is a notebook – fancy or not – and a pen. You can take your journal with you anywhere, tucked into a purse, a briefcase or backpack. Sure, you could keep a journal online or in a computer writing program, but using your own hand to write your prayers is really best. It requires a different part of the brain to get a thought from brain to fingertips. Using your own hand to write is far more personal than a typed journal.

If you’re not sure what to journal, start with blessings or gratitudes. What are you grateful for, right here and now? It might simply be that you have food for breakfast. Perhaps you’re grateful for a cup of coffee in the quiet of the house before everyone else starts their day. Even in our darkest moments, we can find blessings. A shoulder to cry on perhaps, or a nurse who gently cares for a dying loved one: once we tune our ears and eyes to gratitude, we find it in abundance. If you’re really not sure where to start, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. The Spirit of God never disappoints.

Another way to journal is to use a Scripture verse as a starting point. Perhaps it’s a line from the Mass readings on Sunday that struck a chord with you. Write that line down, and let your prayer flow from that. One might do the same with a song or a line from a hymn.

A prayer journal should be real; don’t hold back. There are times in our lives that we are really mad at God – maybe we aren’t really mad at Him, but we have no where else to place our anger. When a loved one dies unexpectedly, we might rail at God, “Why did you take her so suddenly?? I wasn’t ready!” Pour out your heart. Remember, a prayer journal is not getting turned in for a grade; it’s a conversation between you and God.

Prayer journaling can be easier if you follow a formula, at least at the beginning. Start with gratitude and praise. Then let God know what is on your heart right now. Nothing is too trivial. Maybe you’re worried about your health or there is a difficult situation at your job. Maybe your toddler is sick and you just want her to feel better. Ask God to give you whatever it is you need to manage for that day. Move towards an examination of conscience. Perhaps that situation at work is partially your fault; ask for the grace to mend it. Finally, end with asking a favorite saint or the Blessed Mother for intercession.

A prayer journal can be as simple as a notebook and a pen. Other people like to draw or decorate their prayers; the process of creativity helps them to “zone in on” prayer. Use markers, colored pencils or whatever feels right if you decide to be more creative in your prayer. This process is terrific because it forces one to slow down and really examine what’s on one’s mind and heart.

Finally, don’t get discouraged. Finding your own way of prayer journaling can take some time. It’s a process, and you have to find your own manner of prayer. Just remember: this is your love letter to God, and like any parent, He loves to hear from His children.


Covenant: God’s Forever Promise

The word “covenant” is familiar to Catholics. It is part of the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass. But what exactly is a covenant?

First, let’s look at a similar word and idea: “contract.” That’s a common enough concept. We sign and enter into contracts all the time. A contract is basically an exchange of goods and services. You make widgets. I call you and order 3,000 widgets to be delivered. You fax over a contract. The contract says you will make and deliver those widgets to me by a certain date. My part of the contract is that I will pay you for making and delivering the widgets. I sign the contract and fax it back. Deal done.

A lot of people confuse “contract” with “covenant.” Yet, they are vastly different. For instance, there are such things as “cohabitation agreements”. (You can see a sample here.) It states that a couple is willing to live together, but only under certain circumstances. Kevin will pay X amount for rent and Ashley will pay X amount. They decide legally who is responsible for what. They may even decide to note that Kevin will take care of the garage and any maintenance, while Ashley is responsible for cooking meals and cleaning up the kitchen.

Not very…romantic, huh? It sounds like a business arrangement. Well, it is. It’s a contract. It’s the exchange of goods and services between two people. And it’s not at all what God has in mind for a man and a woman who join together.

Now, let’s look at “covenant.” The word gets used quite a bit in Scripture. For instance, God establishes a covenant with Noah in Genesis 6. God commanded Noah to build an ark, and to bring aboard that ark every kind of animal and Noah’s family. Noah agreed, and did what God asked. God’s promise to Noah was:

I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you: the birds, the tame animals, and all the wild animals that were with you—all that came out of the ark.

I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.

God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come:

I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Gen. 9:13)

Another important covenant is the one God makes with Abram. Abram (to whom God gave the Abraham.) Abraham was a great leader of his people, but more importantly he was faithful to God. And God made a promise to Abraham:

For my part, here is my covenant with you: you are to become the father of a multitude of nations.

No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham,for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.

I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you.

I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.

God said to Abraham: For your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.

Thus were born the Jewish people, from whom would descend the 12 tribes of Israel and from whom our Saviour would be born.

You see, a covenant is not a business agreement. It’s not an exchange of goods and services. A covenant is a promise that lasts forever, has an enduring sign (like the rainbow for Noah), and always includes God. Amazing, isn’t it? God has made promises to humanity since we’ve been trudging around this Earth and He has kept every one.

As Catholics, our ears hear that word “covenant” during the Eucharistic Prayer: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you. Jesus IS the new covenant: He gives us eternal life, and we pick up our crosses and follow him. The bread and the wine which become Christ: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity are the sign of this covenant.

Now let’s go back to that cohabitation agreement. God does not want a man and woman to enter into a contract. He wants a covenant for them. That’s why Christ established marriage as a sacrament. A man and a woman promise (not who will mow the lawn or who will pay what amount for rent) to honor each other, to accept children from God, to be true during good and challenging times and to love as long as both shall live. And we do this in God’s name. The rings exchanged and blessed are the sign of this covenant.

The idea of covenant, an everlasting promise that includes God, is really the love story God has written for us. It’s an important part of Scripture and therefore our Catholic faith. Catholic theologian Scott Hahn has spent much of his life studying and exploring this, and you can learn a lot from his books and writings.

For today, though, pray about the wonder of God’s promise to you, to each of us as Catholics: we do our very best to follow Him and we will have eternal life with Him. Amen!

bible prayer

3 Ways To Use The Bible In Your Prayer Life

Yesterday, we talked about the Bible and what this holy book is about. Today, let’s talk about three ways to use the Bible in your daily prayer life.

  1. Start with the Psalms. If you’re a “newbie” to using the Bible for prayer, the Psalms are a great place to start. First, we hear them at every Mass, and you’ll find that you’ll be familiar with many of the Psalms. One great part of the book of Psalms is that there is a psalm for virtually every human emotion; King David (who wrote most of the Psalms) poured his heart and soul into these lyrical prayers. The Psalms are part of the daily prayer of the Church, known as the Divine Office, which priests and religious must pray and lay people are encouraged to pray. Pick a Psalm and read through, slowly, meditating on the words. What does it stir up in you? How is God using that Psalm for you, right here and now?
  2. Pick a Gospel. The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all tell of the coming of Christ, His ministry, his death, life and resurrection. The Gospels are surprisingly short, but don’t let fool you: they are packed with material for your prayer life. Make sure you have a good Catholic Bible, one with detailed footnotes. Of course, you can always read Scripture online at the United States Catholic Conference website. Choose one of the Gospels and again: read slowly and meditatively. We’ve heard the Gospels so often that sometimes, we don’t really hear them at all. Take the time to listen to the voice of Christ. How do his parables have meaning for you? If you place yourself into the Gospel as one of the people, does it change your perspective? (For example, think of how the older son might have thought and felt in the parable of the Prodigal Son. In his place, would you have been jealous? Angry? How does a different perspective of a familiar story change your faith perspective?
  3. Finally, some people will simply open the Bible and choose a verse or a section upon which to meditate. Now, one runs the risk of opening up to something likeWhen a man or a woman has an infection on the head or in the beard,should the priest, upon examination, find that the infection appears to be deeper than the skin and that there is fine yellow hair in it, the priest shall declare the person unclean; it is a scall. It is a scaly infection of the head or beard. Let’s face it: that may not give one a whole lot to meditate deeply upon. So, try again. Let the Holy Spirit move you. However, you might just want to stick with that tough verse from Leviticus. After all, it might lead you to ponder how we consider people “unclean” in our society. How do you and I treat people in an “unclean” manner? How can we change that? What does Catholic faith teach us about this?

The Bible is fertile ground for a deeper prayer life, a way to engage God in a meaningful conversation. God has spoken to His people for thousands of years in Scripture, and He continues to do so today. What does praying with the Bible hold in store for you?

doubt faith

Doubt: “A Backpack Full Of Fear”

Who among us does not doubt God? Who among us has never thought, “He has abandoned me, just when I need Him most?” Or thought, “He isn’t real. I’m deceiving myself.”

Any believer who says they do not doubt lies. Oh, we may hide it. We may not speak about it. But we doubt.

We doubt like Peter, who could not believe that Jesus would make sure that stormy waters did not swallow him. We doubt like Thomas, who did not believe Christ truly rose from the dead. We doubt like those whose hearts were filled with evil when God commanded Noah to build an ark. We doubt like Pilate, who questioned, “What is truth?” when Truth itself was standing right in front of him.

Joseph Solomon is a young man who understands doubt. He knows the fear it brings, the anxiety. He knows what was in the heart of Peter and Thomas and Pilate, because he recognizes it in his own heart. But he also has an idea of what God says to that doubt and fear and anxiety. He shares his thoughts in this spoken word piece.

serving others

Serving Others In A Self-Serve World

In the movie, Back To The Future, teenager Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) travels from his 1980s life to his parents’ 1950s world. As he tries to get his bearings, Marty is astounded to see a car pull into a gas station and a crew of uniformed men rush out to service the car. They efficiently pump gas, clean the windshields and check the tires’ air pressure. All Marty can do is gape; he’s never seen this type of service.

For better or worse, we live in a self-serve world. We scan and bag our own groceries, pump our own gas, and spend Saturday mornings wandering through immense hardware stores looking for someone (anyone!) whom might know where we can get a switch plate to match our old one. Like Marty McFly, when we do get great service, we are caught off-guard.

While we may have to live this way in some parts of our lives, as Christians, our lives should be oriented around serving others. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells his disciples that when the Son of Man comes into his glory, there will be a strict judgement, with the righteous gaining eternal life, and the rest to eternal punishment. The criteria? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and ill. And it’s not just for those we know; Christ clearly says we are to reach out to the stranger.

Christ holds us to a very high standard. We need to serve those we know, those we don’t know, those we like, those we don’t. We are to treat everyone we see as if that person is Jesus Christ Himself. And we should not be in it just for the reward, or acting out of fear of punishment. Ultimately, we must act out of our love for Christ.

St. Augustine said, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

It doesn’t take much more than 15 minutes of the evening news to realize that our world is severely lacking love. It is no coincidence that love and service are so closely bound in the Gospel. Love that does nothing is not love; it is only lip-service. Service done without love is a mere obligation, a tedious task to be completed. Service born of and united with love is something far greater: it is the Kingdom of God.