I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

When we were first married, my wife used to ask me to “whisper a prayer” whenever a situation would arise. At that time I thought her expression was quaint, maybe even lacking a degree of seriousness. However, it was not like her to not take prayer seriously. In those years of our marriage when prayer was struggle for me, Charlotte was steadfast and committed to “whisper up” a prayer that always seemed very effectual.

My track record with prayer was somewhat spotty. My reputation on prayer was “when all is said and done, more is said than done!” In seminary I took a class on prayer with a requirement to write a final paper. I didn’t get the paper in, but my professor gave me the grade anyway. He retired at the end of the semester. When I confessed the paper fail to his successor, he told me to write the paper and get it to him. That was 36 years ago!

I’m not saying I didn’t pray. I did, probably not as consistently as someone in ministry should have, but I prayed. And it always felt like a burden to pray for everyone I should pray for, and it took a lot of energy to state to God how those prayers should be answered. I am being a little facetious, but pastors are good at framing prayers to either instruct the listeners or give coaching hints to God on how everything should come down.

I dabbled in all kinds of prayer techniques and programs: “Change the World School of Prayer,” praying for the “10-40 Window,” “Freedom in Christ” prayers, “Concerts of Prayer,” 24-7 prayer, prayer retreats, all good in and of themselves, but after a while I would have to move on to something else.

Over many years, and especially in the last five, I have learned that the key components to prayer are first, making time for it, second is a commitment to pray for specific people, specific needs and specific causes, third is the commitment to spend that time with Jesus. A growing conviction in my life has been the challenge from Jesus himself, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41, NRSV).

For me it started by incorporating a daily prayer guide. I started with Phyllis Tickle’s multi-volume Divine Hours. From there I moved on to the Book of Common Prayer. And as I was journeying into the Catholic Church and to the present I have made the Divine Office: Liturgy of the Hours my daily companion. I couple that with the Saint Paul Daily Missal that incorporates the readings and prayers of the Mass.

That is great! But how do I pray effectively for the concerns that I have, the people who ask me for prayer, and the burdens I sense from the world around me? Over time I have developed quite a list of prayers and pray concerns. There are prayers that I pray every day, prayers have a specific day focus, and even a monthly focus. I incorporate well-known prayers from the Church as well as ask for the intercession of my patron saint and other saints who are known to have specific concern for marriages, different illnesses, and world affairs.

I would be remiss if I did not mention again the important place the Rosary has played in my devotional life and growing discipleship. Who better to guide and instruct us in prayer than the one who knew how to ask of her Son, and then who tells us “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5 NRSV). Another great gift to prayer is spending time in the Adoration Chapel. There, as I sit or kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I can wait before Him, open my heart and leave with Him the concerns that He wants me to share. I have been privileged to spend specific time there praying for my bishop, my priest, my loved ones, my friend who is soon to announce his resignation as pastor to come into the Catholic Church and many other things to come.

I love to pray, now! I haven’t written that paper, but Jesus has been writing it on my heart. So, “I’ll say a little prayer for you!”

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

Call Me a Bibliophile

I love books! I collect books! By definition I am a bibliophile. My love for books began early. At the age of six I went with my parents and sister to the tropical rainforest of Suriname in South America. That was in 1963. My mother would be my teacher for the next four years. She went prepared with an array of books that would create in me a desire to read and more books to feed my desire to read more.

One of the great treasures that my parents took with us was the 20-volume set of Collier’s Encyclopedia. In the evenings I would chose a volume and read through it. How I loved reading the biographical articles, especially of the kings and queens of England! In the evening, when my dad got home, I would tell him stories from American history, the great battles of wars fought and won. I admire my dad as he listened to me tell him what I was sure he was hearing for the first time.

Along with the encyclopedia, my parents had also purchased the Collier’s Junior Classic 10-volume set. I could chose fairy tales, tales of heroes, stories from history, and many others that found deep resonance in my life. But how could I forget the Egermeier’s Bible Story Book. Every night before going to bed my mom would read a story or two to my sister and me and our hearts were filled with the amazing stories of heroes of the Bible.

Why so much reading? Well, there was no television, no internet, no movies, no smartphone, no video games…we did have a record player and I would listen to stories in that way as well. By the time I saw “Mary Poppins” many years later, I had the songs and dialogue memorized from listening to the record.

When my children came along I told them stories and I read them stories. I have fond memories of reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” to my three kids. And I am so thankful to say that each one developed a love for books and reading. Could it be it was because they too lived overseas?

Now I have eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 12 down to 2, and number nine is due to be born just before Christmas. I love to read to my grandkids and they will usually let me, but to be honest, they have a lot more distractions in their lives than I or my children had.

The past two Christmases I have made a cross-stitch Christmas ornament for each one, but this year I have been thinking that I would like to get each one a special book that they could enjoy now and that would increase their love for reading, a book that excites them and opens to them a world of discovery as reading did for me. That is challenging because you honestly have to weed out a lot of popular books because they are so deficient in plot and content.

Last night I was watching “The World Over” with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN and he interviewed Dr. Matthew Mehan, a teacher in the Washington, DC, area who has just written a book: Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals. The book is written for children between eight and twelve years of age and combines “captivating poems” with whimsy and “breathtaking paintings.” As I listened to the interview I realized I had found the first book that I want to present. It will go to my grandson who turns seven next month and is reading well beyond his age.

So my plan is to record myself reading the book so my grandson will not only have the book, but my voice reading it to him long after I’m gone. Thanks to Amazon it should arrive on Saturday!

Call Me a Bibliophile

Our Wisdom Is Foolishness to God

Boy, we don’t like to hear that! All of our accumulated wisdom from over seven billion people multiplied over millennia of time adds up to a bunch of foolishness. Today’s first reading in 1 Corinthians 3:18-23 from the lectionary says, “Let no one deceive himself, if anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God” (3:18-19 NABRE).

We are so wise in our own eyes. We have libraries full of books. We have an internet of knowledge that just doesn’t stop. Someone is always writing another book. Someone is always adding more data. Where does it stop? As long as we have life and brains we will continue to produce more stuff. Yet all this wisdom is foolishness to God.

Any wisdom that does not point to God is faulty to begin with. It is based on a faulty foundation, or like the house that Jesus described in Matthew 7, it is built upon sand, and then comes along a storm and it is washed away.

This wisdom, we could even call it conventional wisdom, claims that we know best, that we can fix our own mistakes, cover our own sins, justify our actions, say the right words about wrong things and no one will be the wiser. What a wake up call we get when we find out our best laid plans have within them a fatal flaw. Eventually we will pay the piper!

Scripture warns us that our schemes will not work: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh…” (Galatians 6:7-8 NRSV). And “Bread gained by deceit is sweet,
but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel” (Proverbs 20:17 NRSV).

These days there seems to be a preponderance of “sweet bread” being served up–by political leaders who call down God’s blessings on us, but tiptoe around or blatantly support the “sacrament” of abortion, by church leaders who insist there is nothing too much amiss with flowery speeches or by keeping silent, by average Christians who speak one thing and live another, and perhaps most dastardly, those of us who offer up “wise words” about the human condition, but in doing so deny the wisdom of God. It’s just a bunch of gravel in the mouth!

I honestly struggle sometimes about how honest I should be. I’ve related here a couple of times, dear reader, that I didn’t want the responsibility of writing this blog because I knew I couldn’t offer up my own wisdom and gently lull you to sleep. Truly we all have to give account before God regarding our words and deeds, what we have done and what we have failed to do. I know my own faults, even my grievous faults, so I can’t take lightly the truth, but seek to speak in love, for my own soul’s sake and maybe yours, as far as it is my responsibility. I am chilled to the bone when I read Ezekiel 3:18-19.

If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die—and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade the wicked from their evil conduct in order to save their lives—then they shall die for their sin, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked and they still do not turn from their wickedness and evil conduct, they shall die for their sin, but you shall save your life (NABRE).

Warn me of my foolishness, dear reader, and allow me to do the same for you. May we find ourselves sowing to the Spirit, so that we may reap eternal life from the Spirit (Galatians 6:8). That’s the wisdom of God!

Our Wisdom Is Foolishness to God

He didn’t “pinch the incense!”

Today’s news gives a very good example of someone who refused to the “pinch the incense” of the dominate cultural narrative. The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. of the Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, giving the eulogy at the “Queen of Soul’s” memorial service touched on Aretha Franklin’s life and career but also criticized black-on-black crime and said single mothers are incapable of raising sons by themselves. He said black America has lost its soul and that it’s “now time for black America to come back home.”

As expected some are criticizing his remarks as “homophobic, sexist, misogynist, and bigoted.” Check the link above and hear for yourself, a man whom Ms. Franklin chose to give her eulogy. You will hear the heart of someone who refuses to “pinch the incense.”

He didn’t “pinch the incense!”

Just Pinch the Incense!

Polycarp–I love that name–was one of the first martyrs after the New Testament period. He was born in A.D. 69 and was burned at the stake for his faith in Jesus Christ in A.D. 155. He was the bishop of Smyrna, one of the churches that Jesus had the Apostle John write to in the book of Revelation. Polycarp was a disciple of the beloved apostle. When the bishop of Smyrna was 86 years old he was arrested for being a Christian. Because of his advanced age the Roman proconsul took pity on him and offered him the opportunity to declare that “Caesar is Lord.” The only thing that he had to do was pinch a little incense before Caesar’s statue into the fire, all would be forgiven and he could go on living.

The martyr declared: “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Polycarp refused the offer. He was tied to the stake in order to be burned. The fire would not catch, so he was stabbed in the heart and then the fire took over.

Just pinch the incense! For Polycarp and many other Christians during the age of imperialism that was their option, pinch the incense to Caesar or die. Imperialism for that generation became Islamism for seventh-century Christians in North Africa and eighth-century Christians in Spain. For them it was convert, pay a heavy tax or die. This scenario has been repeated in other centuries to other generations of Christians. Pinch the incense to the Shogunate in 17th century Japan. Pinch the incense to Fascism in 20th century Third Reich Germany. And in the same century pinch the incense to Communism in the Soviet Union, People’s Republic of China, Eastern Europe, North Korea and Cuba. And now in the 21st century Islamism in the Middle East and other places has forced many Christians, especially in Iraq and Syria, to pinch the incense or die.

Are we immune in the West, especially in the United States? For the most part we tell ourselves that we are. There is a common narrative that any issues Christians might experience are probably self-inflicted, that we don’t experience anything compared to what Christ-followers endure in other parts of the world. Granted we don’t see the atrocities that our fellow Christians undergo in other places happening here, but is there another -ism that could call for us to “pinch the incense”? I would suggest that the issue that we are already encountering and that will only intensify is the prevailing ideology of our culture, “secular humanism.”

It’s one thing when you can identify the -ism that is out to get you; you can stand together and take a stand for Christ. But what happens when the aforementioned -ism has already penetrated many aspects of the Christian world: the institutions of higher learning, the mindset of the people (the recent referendum to legalize abortion in Ireland), even some leaders of the Church who operate more like CEOs or even Mafia bosses, the average person in the pew who has been lulled to sleep by the “fluffy” sermons that fail to call them to real repentance and accountability to God?

Last Sunday a priest in my former diocese preached a message that declared that the Bible can’t be understood in any literal sense, even when Jesus talked about eating his Body and drinking his Blood in John 6. God forbid that we take St. Paul literally in Ephesians 5 when he talks about the relationship of Christ and the Church and the relationship between husband and wife. Everything is culture-laden, so we have seek how it speaks to our culture. Unfortunately, the priest didn’t lull anyone to sleep, but filled their minds with everything but the truth of Sacred Scripture. He had pinched the incense and the unwitting congregation pinched it right along with him.

In what ways are you tempted to pinch the incense?

Just Pinch the Incense!

“That Nothing May Be Lost”

Fr. Paul Scalia is a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He is probably best known as the son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In fact, Fr. Scalia celebrated the funeral Mass of his father in Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Watching the funeral on television gave me my first exposure to him.

At the end of last month, my wife and I attended the “Defending the Faith” Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH) hosted by Dr. Scott Hahn. Fr. Scalia was one of the speakers, and despite connection problems trying to fly in for the conference, he made it on time and gave a memorable lecture on St. Thomas More and his defense of marriage. I was impressed with Scalia’s deep faith, his discreet holiness, and his devotion to Christ and his Church.

After listening to Fr. Scalia, I determined to buy his book that was on sale in the university bookstore. With the title That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion, it was published in 2017. The synopsis on the Amazon.com page states the following:

Fr. Paul Scalia reveals a scholar’s mind and a pastor’s heart in these inspiring reflections on a wide range of Catholic teachings and practices. Rooted in Scripture, the beauty and truth of these insights places the reader on a path to a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. While keeping the focus on the theology and teachings of the Church, Fr. Scalia also covers these topics:
–shows the unity that comes from the seven sacraments
–provides a roadmap to a life of grace
–encourages a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother
–provides guidance on how to develop a continuous conversation with God

The book is divided into nine sections, and each section contains short devotional readings that can be ingested in less than five minutes. I look forward each morning to spending those few minutes in a deep dive in “developing a continuous conversation with God.”

Fr. Scalia often grabs my attention with a story; this one opened the devotional entitled “Drawn”:

Little Lucette was inexplicably drawn to the man on the cross–inexplicably, because she had no idea who he was or why he was crucified. Her parents had banished from her life any knowledge of or reference to God. But a gift catalog had slipped through their defenses, and Lucette found in those pages a little crucifix. By an interior grace she knew that he had died for others–for her. She secretly tore out the page and would often gaze devoutly–and covertly–at the man on the cross. Over the years her devotion matured into love. She learned Who the Man on the Cross was, and she gave herself to Him in religious life, dying not too long ago as Mother Veronica Namoyo of the Poor Clares.

As I reflected, I thought about the fact that Lucette saw a crucifix in the catalog, not just an empty cross. It was the man on the cross who drew her in. Inexplicably she found Jesus!

“That Nothing May Be Lost”

Keep It Local

One of the bloggers I follow faithfully is Fr. Dwight Longenecker, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Yesterday I read his blog called “The Sex Abuse Crisis: Get Real.” It’s worth reading. I want to make reference to his final point that applies to my blogging as the crisis in the Church deepens and sides are taken.

“I’m not saying, ‘Well now that we’ve all had a big family shouting match, let’s just go home and get on with life as it has always been now and forever Amen.’ I’m not advocating passivity. If your vocation and calling is to keep pushing for reform in the church and holding bishops, cardinals and the pope accountable please go for it, and may God bless you in battle.

However, if that is not your calling, roll up your sleeves, get on your knees and do what you can with what you have where you are.”

Reality is always local. Get real.

There are many people who already have a “dog in the fight” and can and will do a much better job at bringing attention to the present state of things. Before I go any further, let me share with you some of those whom I follow that help keep me informed and aware of how I should pray.

So for the time being I am going to take Fr. Dwight’s advice. Why? Because I don’t think reform is possible? Not at all! What I do know is that for now I will leave the public fight to those who are better equipped to handle it. For now, I will roll up my sleeves, get on my knees, and do what I can with what I have where I am.

I will continue to blog, but I will try to focus, as much as I can on what you and I are called to do where we are. No doubt one of the most important things we can do is pray.

I leave you today with a beautiful and powerful prayer from John-Paul and Annie Deddens of Pray More Novenas:

Prayer for Honesty, Purity and Forthrightness in the Lives of the Clergy

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father in Heaven, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Holy Spirit, comfort us, give us clarity, and bring light to this darkness and evil.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

  • St. Charles Lwanga and St. Monica, pray for the abused, the survivors and for justice.
  • St. Peter, pray for the Church, that it may be rebuilt, healed, and made holy.
  • St. Catherine of Siena, pray for reform and restoration of the clergy.
  • St. John Vianney, pray for the holiness of priests and bishops.
  • St. Benedict, pray that this evil be cast out of the Church.
  • St. Anthony, pray for us to find the way forward.
  • St. Paul, pray for the bishops that they may be fearless in confronting other bishops.
  • St. Augustine, pray for true repentance and transparency.
  • St. Dymphna, pray for consolation for the heartache, depression and anxiety this evil has caused.
  • Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Let’s pray for our Church and for each other! Amen.

Keep It Local