Posts in Faith
The Right Time to Jumpstart Your Prayer Life
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Prayer is a lot like working out- the more you do it, the better you feel. Besides the emotional, confidence-building aspect of regular prayer, it also contributes to your intimacy with Christ.


On the flip side, the less often you pray, the less confidence you have and, on your side at least, the farther you could be from God. I say “on your side” because God never leaves us. His love is constantly poured out on us, whether we have an active prayer life or not.


Romans 8:37-39 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


St. Paul is clear- God’s love is constant. It’s God’s very nature to love people.


As a father, I can relate at least one some level. When I look at my four children, I want for their good. I want them to succeed. I want them to have good friendships. I want them to know the Lord.


Any honest question for those who want to pray more often but are hesitant to do so is this, “when is the right time to jumpstart my prayer?”


Two thoughts in response to this:


The fact that someone is asking the question implies some desire to know God more fully. This is excellent. To use a simile, it’s similar to inquiring about when someone ought to eat more healthily.

The “right time” doesn’t exist unless you consider every moment of every day to be “right”. Since God is pouring out His love on us each and every moment, now is the right time. Five minutes from now is the right time. Two years from now is the right time.


This is both good news and overwhelming. Since every moment is charged with opportunity for intimacy with God, it’s hard to know when to start.


My advice is not so much about timing but about paying attention to the moments in front of you. Notice your own spontaneous desires to pray. Then, do it.


Here are some examples that may help:


  • You notice a car accident on the side of the road. Emergency vehicles tend to a person behind the wheel. Say a prayer for that person.
  • You drive by a church and are ever-so-briefly reminded that God is worshiped there. Say a prayer to thank God for spaces in which people can pray.
  • You think of your elderly parents when you are in the middle of your day and aren’t sure why. Say a prayer for them, asking God’s provision for their health.


It’s simple: pay attention to the spontaneous moments in your life. As a response, pray. Trust that God puts people in your way and thoughts into your head. His inspiration, His “nudgings” are wonderful opportunities to grow in intimacy with Him.


This spontaneous-pray nowness is not a replacement for a daily quiet time. That is the backbone of a momentum-building life of prayer. Still, the spontaneous moments help us to answer the question- “when is the right time to jump start my prayer life?”


Right now. Pay attention to God’s work in your day.

The Church We Desperately Need
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As the parents of four children, my wife and I have often had to look our kids in the eye and remind them that we are the parents and they are the children. We have the life experience and hopefully the wisdom to make good decisions. I would assume that all parents can relate to this dynamic. Most of the time, our children agree even if their eyes roll.


In the weeks that have passed, a similar dynamic has unfolded in the American Catholic Church except one thing is different. Clerics, embroiled in another sex-abuse scandal and a subsequent set of cover-ups, have assured the faithful that they are indeed sorry for their lack of candid leadership. Most of us read the headlines with sadness but not with surprise. Once you’ve heard a “we deeply regret...” statement, often written by lawyers, you can get dismayed.

 

We’ve heard it before. 


Much of the Church’s messaging is that of a parent, along the lines of, “We’ve got this. We have the wisdom to make good decisions.” Therein lies the problem as the “we” used by many clerics is a limiting pronoun. It actually means we, the leaders of the Church rather than we, the People of God.


This people isn’t uniform. We have different roles, originating in the Early Church and then morphing into Holy Orders as they exist today. The ordained are meant to build up the rest of the Body. The rest of the Body is meant to cleave to Christ, become one with the Lord and then be sent out on mission. The Early Church articulated more formal roles such as teacher and administrator but over time, these got lost. These roles aren’t bad so long as each respects the other.  

 

One response of an American bishop, hailed by many as a firm and comprehensive “plan”, mentioned the role of the laity as a component of the Church’s solution for dealing with sex-abuse. Worth noting is that the laity is mentioned last in a list of three criterion for how the American Church can move forward.


What we have is a faulty ecclesiology in full display for all to see. Maybe faulty isn’t the right word. Incomplete might be better.


I’m convinced that many leaders simply do not value the laity as members of the People of God. They value them but only so much. If you’ve ever heard the old mantra, “pray, pay and obey”, you get the point. As a result, leaders make poor decisions and exercise a “circle the wagons” approach to crisis management. Imagine the decision-making that the Church could enjoy if it fully embraced its dignity as People of God...


Many observers have it right when they say that the absolute crux of the current scandal is a gravitational pull towards clericalism. It sucks the life out of even good priests, enveloping them in a system best described as an “old boys club”.


A good and faithful priest I know put it this way, “Far too many bishops and priests think they are above the laity.” The abuse of children is as much about disrespect as it is about sickness. The sin of pride is alive and well.

 

Clericalism isn’t the only culprit. It’s also a lack of faithfulness. It’s a laxity that, over time, fell out of love with Christ and turn inward towards self-preservation.


Nearly all of the current language used by the Church in its response to the current scandal is reactionary. We are in fixing mode and for now, that is probably the right pose to strike. The building is on fire and we need to put it out. What’s missing is a broader discussion of how best to eradicate clericalism and bring the Church into a fuller understanding of what it means to be the People of God.


What we currently see isn’t merely the fruit of sin and infidelity. The current storm is also produced by an ecclesial system of us vs them. So long as the Church continues to operate as the property of a few, its fruit will be short-lived and the Gospel will be short-changed.


As a layman, I long for a Church that seeks to make decisions together. I don’t want a Church that operates out of consensus or through a vote. What we need, desperately, is a Church that values all of its members to the point of involving them at the level of decision making. No change in Church teaching is needed. No slogan can capture this shift. What is needed is the deep conviction that the Church needs the perspective of the laity and not just when things hit the fan.


I look forward to the day when a Bishop stands on a stage along with a layman and considers him an equal rather than a supporting actor. I envision the next scandal, whenever it comes, being solved by laity and the clergy working together and genuinely learning from one another. 


This is the Church we need. This is the Church that can be Christ’s bride more faithfully present in the world. This is the Church that can bring the Gospel to the lost and hope to those in despair. 

 

This is the Church we so desperately need. 

Faith, CommunicationMike StPierre
Why It’s Important to Pray for Others by Name
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The other day, I did something that I was hesitant to do: I prayed for Archbishop McCarrick, the disgraced former Cardinal and leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.


I didn’t want to do it- I’ve never met the man. It felt awkward. It put a scowl on my face. I made sure that it didn’t last long. He is an enemy of young people and I don’t like him- not even a little.


And then I prayed for others who have victimized young people. If I knew their names, I mentioned them. Again, I didn’t want to do it and certainly didn’t enjoy it.


And yet, somehow, it felt right. I’ve been so angry, of late, by the emerging news about the Catholic Church. We have a problem. We don’t form our leaders all that well. We don’t have enough accountability loops in place. We need a culture of servant leaders and instead have built a system of leader idolization. It’s sad.


Praying for others by name is like that- it will depress you. It will take you to a place that you rarely visit. I learned this years ago. Someone tried to harm me and it cut me to the core. It was only by praying for them, by name, out loud, that I found peace.


In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says that we must do this:


You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”


This sounds nice... until you have to do it. Then, it provides a hesitant submission, as if to say, “Ok God, you’re right...I’ll do it.”


We don’t like having enemies.

 

Most of us would rather just get along. I know that I would. Most of my Christian friends are people pleasers, another posture of getting along. That’s not a bad thing but it does make having enemies all the more difficult.


Enemies prop up time and again, like a rash that you can’t ignore. An enemy is someone who opposes you and seeks to do you harm. This is a dark realization and one that Jesus knew full well. He had plenty of individuals who opposed his every move. I imagine that his enemies frustrated him, knowing that they were slowing down his ministry.


Imagine just for a second if Jesus’ enemies spent more time listening and less time ruining his reputation... how things would have been different.


All leaders understand this.

 

No matter what you do, some will oppose you. They may be awful human beings or stellar individuals with good character. But prepare yourself- you will be opposed at some point.


For a follow up, I suggest you spend 60 seconds thinking of your enemies. You won’t need more than that because they will come to your mind immediately. Plus, it’s likely that your enemies can be counted on one hand.


If you have more than that, you’re likely the President. That’s another conversation altogether.


Once you have those individuals in mind, it’s important to take them to prayer. Mention them, by name, to God. Ask for His mercy and provision for them. Pray for reconciliation with them. Ask for a gentle heart towards them, knowing that they are going through something in their own lives that produces resistance towards you.


Praying for others by name humanizes them. This reminds you that they too are loved by God and in need of mercy. This shortens the distance between you and them. It also reminds you of your own need for mercy and God’s love.


It’s the right thing to do.


This exercise is one of the most powerful in all of the Christian life. We are all sinners and more in need of God’s mercy than we realize at any one moment. Praying for your enemies by name is one outflow of this truth.

The Real Benefit of Solitude
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A recent podcast with Erik Fisher and Cal Newport brought to light the topic of solitude. Newport, the Georgetown professor and author of Deep Work cites Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership by Solitude by  Raymond R. Kethledge who describes solitude as “a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds”.


This makes sense. We’ve all been alone in a solitary way- you’re by yourself in a room and no one else is around. Some of us are more comfortable with this than others. Introverts in particular revel in this form of solitude- it’s a space to recharge.


There are other forms of solitude as well. Think about it- each of us can also relate to being alone but in the context of other people. You go for a run and see other people also working out, you find a coffee shop to do some work and see dozens of others walk in and out of the shop. This is a surprising sort of aloneness- alone but with others. Sort of an “alone togetherness”.


There’s alone by myself and alone in the context of others.


Newport’s point: rich solitude (i.e. “good” solitude) is that which is free from the influence of others’ minds. You’re alone, in one way or another, and free to think and pray on your own. You may be in public. You may be surrounded by hundreds of other people. Still, you have a sense of self, a space to think and pray on your own.


There is tremendous power in this. It applies very much to prayer.


The average person is quite busy. They have commitments and errands and places to be. I know that I do. Now consider the busy Christian- still running around but expected to be prayerful at the same time. This is where prayerfulness gets tested. I sat recently with a couple and their three young children. The wife, obviously a good mother, admitted that some days are just so full of this-and-thats that she forgets to pray.

 

I totally get it. Can you relate? 


The million dollar question emerges quickly enough: how do you maintain prayerfulness amidst a busy schedule? Or, in layman’s terms- how do you take your faith with you?


And here is where we apply Kethledge’s concept of solitude. The Christian, embedded in the world, is prayerful because they retain that sense of self while they are going about their day. They find moments of prayer because they have cultivated the muscle of returning to their source: their relationship with God. They know that God has loved them and grounds them in a profound sense of adoption. They bring solitude with them and then, when God-inspiration-faith strikes, they activate their solitude and reconvene with the Lord. 


This relationship with God “pops up” at various times during the day- a spontaneous thought, a recollection of something they read in the Scriptures, a vocal prayer that emerges. These are delightful and can be unexpected. The good news is that you can become a more prayerful person and these God-moments can become the norm rather than the exception. 

 

You really can practice a healthy solitude as a result of never being fully alone. God is always with you and you can revel in this truth. Now that puts new light on solitude.

_____________________

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How to Pray During a Time of Scandal
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Here in New Jersey, a school superintendent was found to be defecating on a rival school’s athletic track. Meanwhile, a prestigious Catholic school has acknowledged that over a dozen of its priests have been accused of sexual abuse. Nationally, we’ve become accustomed to the President embroiled in legal battles over his own promiscuous behavior.


Scandal. It’s ugly and seemingly everywhere.


No matter who you are, scandal has an effect on you. It can make you negative. It can sap your hope. It can make you sick to your stomach.


The real question isn’t so much about stopping scandal, although that should be on the mind of anyone in a position of authority. Rather, the question I face is more interior: how should you pray in a time of scandal?


The recent flurry of news surrounding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a painful case study. A prominent cleric who climbed the ecclesial ladder of success is being accused of decades of deviant behavior. He apparently led a secret double life and it’s coming to light as he approaches his 90th birthday.


As the stories of McCarrick’s shadow life emerged, I felt sick to my stomach. Having known people who served in McCarrick’s dioceses, the news seemed even more shocking. How could a charming and magnetic person have so much darkness? And, how could my church not have stopped this?


My anger then diffused to the wider church. Having run a Catholic high school for seven years, I knew every good, bad and ugly thing about my institution. Now magnify that kind of an awareness on the church that propelled McCarrick into higher levels of leadership. People knew. A lot of people must have known. Those that didn’t know the specifics at least knew the generalities.


Sickening. Frustrating. Maddening.


Are we that complacent that we didn’t speak up when children were being abused? Was our affection for a charming cleric so great that we lacked care for those who were being abused?


Resolve. That’s where my own prayers have fallen as the McCarrick story has developed.

  1. I am resolved to pray for the church and pray for those abused.
  2. I am resolved to pray for McCarrick’s soul for it’s clear that he is far from being canonized a saint.
  3. I am resolved to pray for our priests and bishops, that they will cast aside clericalism and pursue holiness above all aims.
  4. I am resolved to not get negative when I feel sad and frustrated by the church.
  5. I am resolved to find ways to improve whatever unhealthy structures have contributed to the church’s total failure related to McCarrick.


We’ve failed, yes. We all hurt in a time like this.


The questions we cannot avoid and must accompany our hurt are these: are we praying daily for the church and all of its members? Can our responsibility for the church make it better? Can we avoid negativism and pursue holiness?

 

So how can you pray during a time of scandal? First, remember that, no matter what is going on “out there”, you and I still have work to do on our own prayer lives. Just because McCarrick’s abhorrent behavior is the talking point of the news doesn’t mean that I am off the hook for having a daily quiet time. In addition to our own daily prayer, we can find creative ways to help the church be more whole and holy. Second, in a time of scandal, you can take the brave step of praying for those that are in the trenches. In particular, I’m thinking of our priests. They need not only prayer but a word of encouragement. Imagine how you would feel if your entire industry was marred by a perception of sexual abuse? It must be lonely and for that reason, our priests need our encouragement. 


I’m resolved. Are you?

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Seven Simple Ways to Sit Still
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It’s not easy to sit still. Think about it. When was the last time that you sat comfortably and just looked out a window, day dreaming about something?

If you’re like most of us, the urge to check your phone can quickly overwhelm what might have been a quiet moment. That daydream? Out the window with another glance at Facebook or Instagram.

It may be deeper than this. Sure, we’re addicted to our smartphones. What if there are other things at play besides this?

In this post, we’ll examine the causes of our difficulty in sitting still for prayer. Then, we will map out seven simple ways to help you become an expert when it comes to sitting still.

The Causes

When you want to have a quiet time, it’s important to be able to sit still. No fidgeting. No distractions. This is of course, harder than it sounds. From my experience, there are four causes to our inability to sit still:

  • Distraction: if you’re home alone, it’s much easier to sit still. If you’re in a church full of hundreds of people, not so much. If there’s a lot of noise around you, sitting still will be difficult.
  • Access to gadgets: what’s close by? Is your phone in your hand? If so, you may be tempted to check your email quickly. Social media might be calling out your name. To the degree that your devices are within hand’s reach, you may find sitting still difficult.
  • Lack of transitions: most of use need time to “ease into” prayer. Don’t assume that, just because you are trying to sit still, that it will come easily. In our solutions list (see below), I’ll help you with this.
  • Fear: prayer involves vulnerability. When you go to sit still and have your quiet time with the Lord, you’re entering uncharted territory. God may speak to you. You may have a thought that is unformed. An inspiration may come to your heart. For most of us, this is scary.

With the causes of our discomfort with sitting still in hand, now we can turn to seven simple solutions (or ways) that will help you to sit still. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but purely practical. I personally use these “tricks” and believe me, they work!

The Solutions

  1. Begin with a phrase. A transition phrase, even if said only in your head, can be a useful “nudge” into sitting still. Using the same phrase can trigger your brain and heart that you are entering into quiet time. I like to use the ancient formula, “O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.”
  2. Notice your breathing. Just taking notice of your breath will let you know if you are anxious or calm. Pay attention to your body and begin to breath slowly and with intention.
  3. Use a countdown. If sitting still is very (read, VERY) difficult for you, you may try to simply close your eyes and count down from ten to one. This has nothing to do with hypnosis and everything to do with calming your busy mind. There’s something about an old-fashioned countdown that contributes to a peaceful mind.
  4. Set aside your devices. As Jesus says in Matthew 18:8, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.” Could the modern day “hand” be your iPhone? I’m not advocating for you to throw away an $800 device. I am saying that your smartphone is probably too tempting and should be set aside while you pray.
  5. Use a journal. A journal is a powerful tool when it comes to sitting still. It helps get things out of your head. It maps progress. It lets you know that you are thinking through issues. It can be a way to write out your prayers.
  6. Fix your eyes. Some of us benefit from a visual focal point when we pray. This may be a crucifix on the wall or an icon on a table in front of you. You might have a Rosary in your hands that you can look at. If you are a “visual prayer”, try to increase your ability to sit still with a focal point for your eyes.
  7. Close your eyes. This may seem counter to #6 but there are just times when you need to close your eyes. I find this particularly true when I’m trying to pray in church or at a public event (i.e. a conference). Closing your eyes is an act of surrender to God, letting Him bring you deeper into intimacy and stillness.

For a bonus strategy, consider using your Bible as a tool for helping you to still still. A short passage can provide context for your quiet time. If you’re familiar with Lectio Divina, this technique can work quite well, making sense of a passage and integrating it into your prayer. It’s always a good idea to have a Bible close by when you are trying to sit still. 

You Can Do This

Sitting still isn’t easy. With some practice however, it is within reach. God desires a rich and fulfilling prayer life for each of us. By sitting still, you’re giving God the space he needs to transform your life and build confidence in your heart. You can do this. God can do this in you.

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