“Do not be unbelieving, but believe”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Do you ever feel “stuck” in your prayer life? Do you ever self-edit as you pray, trying to find the best words or the holiest way to put something? As you pray, do you ever feel disappointed in yourself for what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, and then lose the prayer as you rehearse your words again? These things have been happening to me quite often lately, so these words of the Lord before the Lord’s Prayer stood out to me as words of comfort and power to help me simplify and de-stress my prayer life.

Our God knows what we need before we even ask Him. He’s a Good Father, He sees his children as they are and also as the saints He desires for us to become. Prayer is not a submission request to God, prayer is requesting more submission to God and the plans He already has in mind for us. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking of prayer as this “secret weapon” to employ when things get really tough rather than the ideal mode or state of being human. Prayer is not meant to be “used” for anything, as Jesus reminds us here. Submitting all our requests and thoughts to God as perfectly as possible is not what our God desires; when approaching prayer, He desires that we first acknowledge Him as our providential, all-knowing, benevolent Father.

And if we take that as a starting point, we take prayer to be primarily Other-focused, not focused on our “list of things we’d like addressed soon, God, please.” Wha a comfort to just sit and let your soul meditate and dwell upon the depth of God’s knowing, deeper than we will ever know of ourselves. It is trust in this Knowing that love for God takes root, and grows through prayer, communication with God. Just think of how different conversations about something difficult you’re going through are with longtime friends vs. people you just met; the deeper shared knowing of the friends makes for a very rich and open discussion that requires less explanation, it’s just not needed. Whereas, there might be a lot of background knowledge required by someone you just met. Jesus, here, is speaking out of a deep knowledge of His Father, Whom He addresses as Our Father. He points us to the Father, He gives us His Father.

Maybe as a good prayer exercise, write down all that is in your mind, don’t think of grammar or anything, just write and pray for five minutes and see what comes out. Then, as you re-read the content of your prayers, take time to sit with each area of concern, or joy, and meditate on God’s perfect knowledge of what you need out of this situation, focusing on trusting deeper in His love. Embrace the mystery of trusting in the Father.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

When giving is being filled

And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
– Matthew 6:18

Today’s Gospel is likely a familiar one. It’s a strong teaching about how praying, fasting, or giving alms, while good acts, are hollow when you’re looking for attention. Pride is the root of all sin, so it’s not surprising that it can finds its way into even the most virtuous acts. Remember when Jesus said a demon was so strong that it could only come out through prayer and fasting?

To paraphrase my wife paraphrasing a recent sermon she had heard (I wish I knew which source to cite): Sometimes if the Devil can’t make you sin, he is content to make you ineffective.

I’ve recently been in a season of life that has required a lot of giving. I’m working longer hours than I have, and my duties at home grow in parallel with my toddling son. I wish I could say that my added efforts were perfectly and graciously offered to Jesus, that I was being a regular St. Joseph and that I am the image of St. Paul’s “cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

But they weren’t, I haven’t, and I’m not.

The change has been hard. And I am human (why, Lord?!). And I have gotten resentful more than I have liked.

When I go unnaturally out of my way and egg my wife on to tell me how great I am and how hard I’m working, I have received my award. When I am resentful and require a ‘reward’ (acknowledgment, affirmation, candy, etc.), that very well may be all I get for it.

God is merciful and mysterious, and he knows my heart better than I do, so I trust in him to take my small offerings and multiply them, even when my heart could further be purified. He’ll take care of His part, and today’s Gospel reminded me to take care of mine. Lord, purify my heart.

A Tiny Whispering Sound

Abraham_Bloemaert_-_Landscape_with_the_Prophet_Elijah_in_the_Desert_-_WGA2277

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
—1 Kings 19:9–13

A tiny whispering sound. How gentle God is toward us. He is all-powerful; He created mountains and earthquakes and fire and wind. He could drop anvils and send down lightning to try and get our attention. And yet He speaks to us softly and tenderly.

He is the still, small voice within our hearts. He does not seek to control us; instead, He delights in watching us find our own way. He is always whispering words of guidance and love—and if we aren’t distracted by our own noise, we will hear His voice. But He does not force Himself upon us; rather, He pursues us with gentleness and care.

We are called to imitate this example of gentleness: to be both strong and kind, brave and humble, confident and caring. To be sensitive toward our neighbors without compromising our own strength. To respond to others without feeling as though we have to intimidate them or prove what we’re capable of. To be secure in the knowledge that withholding force is not a sign of weakness in us, but of composure and mercy.

Pier-Giorgio-PortraitLook to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as an example: a strong, active young man who approached the poor and downtrodden with the utmost care. This was a guy who was popular and athletic, who regularly climbed mountains for fun. And yet he didn’t go around flexing his muscles to try and impress people; rather, his true strength showed through in his tenderness toward those who were weak.

When we feel frustrated and wish God would send us a big, loud, obvious sign from above, let us remember that maybe we wouldn’t actually be able to handle such a bold response. God speaks to us softly so as not to intimidate us, but also to draw us closer to Him. In order to hear His gentle whisper, we must draw ever nearer.


1. Abraham Bloemaert, Landscape with the Prophet Elijah in the Desert / PD-US
2. Portrait of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati / Brandon Vogt

Who Is My Brother?

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

The Gospel passage for today reminds me of the sign of peace during Mass, and especially certain Masses where sharing that peace was really difficult with specific people around me at the time, but healing and (what is emphasized in this passage) necessary for approaching the Lord’s table. This passage is especially vivid in application for a Catholic because of the prayers of Mass, bringing our life offerings to His table as a community is important, but being united in doing so is even more important and takes precedence over giving the actual gifts.

And our Catholic Church is strikingly divided on many issues that have caused anger between people who hold opposing views on important issues. Here are just a couple: There are some who believe Pope Francis is the fantastic, merciful pope of the people, but there are others who believe he should retake his theology classes and clarify some issues where he muddied the waters (e.g. suggesting there may be a way for divorced Catholics to receive communion). Fr. James Martin is heralded by some as building the necessary bridge between the LGBTQ community and the Church, while others view some of his statements as dangerous and vague in their theological implications. Heck, after writing all those sides out, they don’t seem entirely mutually exclusive, but it wouldn’t make headlines if we Catholics had reasonable and balanced discussions about important topics. Our world draws out polarized views because we love drama, clickbait, and the warm fuzzy feeling of having a “tribe” that can complain about other tribes. Oh, and the evil one is the Divider, and he knows how to distract us from living in harmony and peace with each other (which he does not want! Bad for business).

Unfortunately, the Church has not avoided the political tensions that are engulfing this nation. And I’m no better! My heart has succumbed to anger against others. I need to learn to pray for our president not by obligation and muttering discontents under my breath, but out of Christian love and trust the God is truly greater than any form of government and can work to change hearts and minds.

But please, do not read this as a political statement. I bring this up because, in searching my own heart for objects of anger, that’s where I landed. I bring this up because even when we are on good terms with people we know and converse with, we may be harboring a reservoir of anger towards certain groups or individuals who we have never met, but are angry at them because of the views that divide “them” from “us.” We might not be able to reconcile with them personally, but it is necessary to reconcile our individual anger with the Lord if we are to truly give our gifts to Him and receive His gifts fully within us. We must not fall into a habit of feeling like we are owed the sacraments, or that they are given without any conditions…we must pave the way in our hearts actively to receive Him.

Of course, there is righteous anger. But we must remind ourselves that because Jesus’ sacrifice covers every person’s sins, people are not our enemies, the evil one is. Still, I would argue, that all too often it is easiest to believe that we are in the moral high ground and give ourselves permission to harbor anger towards others on the basis of believing we are simply expressing a “righteous anger” when we are really expressing a lack of compassion and empathy, and sometimes, an abundance of immaturity in just dealing with other people who are different from you. This is a complex topic that merits further discussion elsewhere, but I want to leave you with the simple and yet painfully difficult charge our Lord gives us to “love our neighbor.” Because truly, when we love our neighbor as they should be loved, we love Jesus as He should be.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

The Hammer of the Heretics

Elijah appealed to all the people and said,
“How long will you straddle the issue?
If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.”
– 1 Kings 18:21

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:19

How long will I straddle the issue?

I love it when Scripture speaks so plainly. Reading this, the second verse from today’s readings, stopped me in my tracks. How long have I straddled issues in my life? What doubts, chronic sins, or bad habits have I allowed to take root in me?

So many times I get caught up in the lie of trying to get the best of both worlds (or more accurately in this case, ‘the best of both Heaven and Earth”). I want to be holy, but I want to be admired. I want to be deep, contemplative, and thoughtful, but I want to be recognized for it. I want to preach the Gospel, but I don’t want to come off as “preachy”.

How long will I straddle the issue?

Fitting, then, that today’s strong verbiage is accompanied by a strong saint’s feast day: St. Anthony of Padua, who is apparently also known as the “Hammer of the Heretics” (though the citations for this are dubious… but it’s a great name so let’s stick with it). St. Anthony’s witness was his life of prayer and preaching; he was (quite literally) tossed and turn on the waves of life and ended up following a much different path than expected: instead of risking martyrdom to preach to the Moors in Morocco, Anthony found himself in decidedly Catholic Italy. What could easily have felt like defeat, or at the very least a blow to his ability to live for God’s glory, instead led to the exact path he needed for sainthood.

St. Anthony shares much in common with our patron Pier Giorgio, chiefly a zeal for service and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wealth, glory, and fame were certainly within both of their respective reaches in life, and yet illnesses sidetracked their earthly plans to bring about even greater glory for God.

These men are an inspiration to me, giving me courage and faith that I could be a champion for God’s kingdom, even here and now in my current, humble state in life. What is needed is zeal and decisive faith. Elijah is calling to me: “If the LORD is God, follow him.”

Salt and Light

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. –Matt 5:1

*     *     *

My late father was an introvert.  At his funeral the joke was that he would have preferred a smaller event, so that he wouldn’t have to talk to so many people.  He was intelligent and well-educated, having studied eight languages while working on a PhD in English—but he chose all dead ones, thus avoiding the risk of having to converse in them.  These ranged from familiar ones like Latin and Hebrew and Ancient Greek, to Hittite and Sanskrit and Tocharian (which in my uneducated mind was spelled Tolkarian, and which I assumed was something that hobbits spoke—until I had to google it).  He tended to stay on the periphery of conversations, only occasionally injecting bits of wisdom, humor or an odd pun.

So it was something of a shock when the phone rang, one day years ago, and it was for him.  It was a collect call from a Massachusetts prison, from a young man named Scott, looking for my father.  Even more of a shock was that my father stayed on the phone with him for close to an hour, using more than a few month’s quota of words on someone we didn’t even know he knew.  This was repeated many times, as Scott had found in my quiet father something of a mentor.

Indeed, my father attracted quite a fan club among surprising populations.  This is probably not the best place to mention “Boomer”, another prison inmate, who saw in my father’s Sicilian features an underlying presence, and took him for a Godfather figure.  He refused to believe that my father was who claimed to be (ironically at the time, a sales rep for a large stuffed animal company) and thought he must in fact be a Boss.  “Let me work for you!” Boomer insisted.  “I could be your hit man!” (true story)

At his funeral many commented how my father spoke rarely, but when he did, people listened.  I know in my own life, I have held on to these bits of wisdom, which while infrequent had more impact than many longer conversations or even entire courses in theology.  And I have come to recognize that this unassuming wisdom was the fruit of a life of prayer.

“One of the greatest evils in the Church today,” my father told me when I was seventeen and on the way to college in Steubenville, “is the number of people in positions of authority who have long since ceased to be holy themselves.”  I heard these words long before the Church was rocked by public scandal and had the veneer of public piety removed from some of the most horrifying of private sins.  But my father’s warning was not directed at others, but as a caution to me.  “It is very easy when you are learning about God, doing things for God, talking about God, to forget to talk to God.”  For my father this was the worst possible fate.

“You cannot give what you don’t have.”  I don’t think that expression was original to Dad, but it points to the necessity of prayer, and is the heart of today’s Gospel.  “If salt loses its flavor, what good is it?” Jesus asks, after telling his disciples to be salt and light for the world.   Similarly, one cannot give light by studying it, talking about it—only by being filled with it.  And the place we are filled is prayer.

There was one cause which propelled my Dad from the comfort and confines of a hidden life, and that was the prolife movement.  In his retirement he went weekly to an abortion clinic, more than sixty miles from our home, to stand alone peacefully offering literature about the help and alternatives available to women as they entered the clinic.  But then later in the morning he would stand across the street with a sign, across from the parking lot where they would see him as they left, with a sign that said: “Jesus forgives and heals.”

Many people thought it was “too soon.”  That the women were not ready for repentance and thus not ready for Christ’s mercy.  But my father believed that being prolife was more than just saving babies, that it was about saving souls.  And he knew from the experience of many who shared their personal stories of abortion with him, that memories of the day would come back years later.  He hoped that with them would come the memory of that message of mercy.*

I think of this too when I think of salt and light, and how the one thing that they cannot be is hidden. Like my Dad, I prefer quiet and solitude, and more than he, invisibility when it comes to controversy.  I don’t like to be the one to speak out, to stand out.  I prefer to be one of the crowd.  But we all know what the “crowd” does to Jesus.

It is in prayer that I draw both the strength and motivation to step out of myself. Just as improbable as my father’s prison ministry is my own public speaking.  I have learned how true it is that “the one who does not speak to God has nothing to say to the world.”  That it is only by practicing faithfulness to daily prayer that I have anything at all to say, and more importantly, the courage to step out of myself and my fears to say it.

Let us ask God today that we may be truly salt and light for the world, witnessing by what we are and have received.

Like my father I have only love for those who have had abortions.  I know the sometimes unbearable pressures of circumstances, boyfriends, family and friends that weigh into such decisions.  I also know that for many, often years later, there is great anguish and pain following that decision.  If you know of someone who is seeking healing from an abortion, there are many organizations who can help including the Sisters of Life linked here.

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again;
For I am God and not a man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you.
—Hosea 11:8–9

Jungholz_-_panoramio_(5)The Heart of Jesus, pure and tender, feels all human emotions more intensely and yet is not ruled by them. His Sacred Heart is not hardened or cold like our own, and so the feelings He experiences are powerful and raw: love, anger, joy, pity, solace, grief.

When Jesus faced His crucifixion and brutal death, He knew that this was the Father’s will for the salvation of the world, but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel distressed or afraid or angry about what was to come—in fact, He felt all those things even more acutely than you or I would. His perfect Heart felt everything more distinctly, and yet He was able to feel those emotions without allowing them to dictate His actions. Jesus stayed the course and persevered for our sake, even as His Heart was filled with dread.

Sometimes, when our emotions distract us from carrying out our plans, we try to numb our hearts and stop feeling anything at all. But our hearts are a gift, to be nurtured and cherished, and if we lose touch with them we will find ourselves without meaning or purpose. So how can we persevere in God’s will as Jesus did without making ourselves numb to those inner cries of joy and anguish?

Mehrerau_Collegiumskapelle_Fenster_R06c_Herz_JesuOnly when we are connected to the Sacred Heart of Jesus will we perceive the immense graces that come from being in tune with our emotions and aware of how God formed our hearts. They are a compass for us as we discern His plans and seek to understand who He created us to be. We will see the beauty of our human emotions, even when they make it harder for us to do what is right. We will find the mysterious grace of sharing in Jesus’s sorrow, knowing that He walks alongside us in our pain. We will remember His Passion amidst our greatest joys and His Resurrection amid our deepest sorrows, and everything will be offered up to Him. Jesus will grant us the heavenly perspective that will allow us to press onward through all the ups and downs of this life, knowing that this is not the end.

Jesus invites each of us into His Sacred Heart. He has sacrificed for our redemption and cleansed us through Baptism, that we might enter into His Love and not be destroyed by the flames. May we offer Him our whole heart, holding nothing back, so that He might transform it like unto His own.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
—Ezekiel 36:26


1. Photo by Richard Mayer / Mosaic in Jungholz, Austria / CC BY 3.0
2. Photo by Andreas Praefcke / Stained glass window, Collegium Chapel, Vienna / PD-US