Don’t Worry. God gets it.

Lookin' down the roadMaybe you haven’t spoken to an old friend in years – it’s a little hard to make that call, even if you’d love to talk to that person.  Was there a falling out?  Or just a withering distance that crept in?  Will they even want to talk to you?  Sometimes it feels that way as we tiptoe back towards God.

There’s a story (told by, that guy, Jesus) that addresses just that experience with God:

The younger of two brothers asked his father for his inheritance.  The father gave it to him, and the son left home.  He partied away all the wealth his father had given him.   After losing his money, friends, everything, the son needed work.  All he could get was a menial job feeding pigs.  He was desperate for food, so desperate that he was willing to eat even what the pigs were given, but he was not allowed even that.

The son realized that the men who worked for his father were better off.  Should he go home? Ashamed of what he had done, the son hoped only to ask for work, and be treated like another hired hand.

His father, who looked down the road every day for his son, had never stopped hoping that his son would come home.  When he saw his son approaching in the distance, the father ran to meet him and embraced his son.

The son began to apologize, but the father didn’t let him finish.  He called his workers to bring his son new clothes, and to prepare for a feast and a celebration.   “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  So the festivities began!

And so it is with God.

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Luke 15:10

You can read the biblical version of the Parable of the Lost Son here.

In another post, we’ll talk about the cranky older brother.  That’s a different point. And keep an eye out for an upcoming post: Sins of the Saints.  If you worry about previous sins and developing faith, this will make you feel better.

For now, just know that God is on the lookout for you, no matter how far down the road you seem to be.

Ways to Look for God

The thought bubbles up – this God thing.  Is it real?  How do I figure this out?

Talk to God.

Right now.  Say something like “God, I’m looking for you.  Here I am.  Please help me find you.”  If you’re a real skeptic, abandon your objections for just a moment and allow yourself to acknowlege that you might not know everything about the universe.

Keep in mind that God is already active in your life.  And he happily meets you wherever you are.  Anywhere.  You do not need be a saint, or a better person than you are.   He is always looking for you, sending out subtle, constant invitations.

So how do you hear him?  Sit quietly and listen.  Pray.  If you feel the urge to do something that will bring you closer to God, do it.

Try this very simple approach to prayer:

  1. Remind yourself that you are in God’s presence and ask for his help to pray.
  2. Think over the day and remember what you are grateful for.  Thank God.
  3. Scan the entire day: remember things that made you happy, stressed, confused, more loving, more selfish, etc.  Where was God’s present?  Where did you feel him?  Where did you turn away from him?
  4. Ask forgiveness from God for your wrongdoings. Consider reconciling with anyone you may have offended.
  5. Ask for the grace of God’s help tomorrow.  Remember God loves you no matter what.
  6. Close with a prayer.  Christians might like to say the Our Father (as St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended in his development of this approach).

Try this ‘examination of conscience’ every day for a few days.  It is often easier to see God at work in your life after it happens rather than as it happens.  You need to reflect on it.

Surprise yourself.  Read the Bible.

Read whatever you want; choose wherever the page lands, or start at the beginning of a Gospel and read it like a novel.  Reflect on it and listen to the persistent ideas that come to you from it.

(When a friend first advised me to do this, I thought, really?  Isn’t reading scripture for square, dorky Bible thumpers?  Or for those angry people who use quotes to condemn others? Or for televangelists who make money from preaching so they can buy big houses and have sordid affairs? You can see where my mind was…)

Turns out the Bible gets a bad rap.  The wisdom of that guy, Jesus, who lived such a loooonng time ago is still incredibly relevant, even thousands of years later.  How’d that happen, when people were writing on parchment with quill pens?

If you get motivated, take a Scripture study class – the history is fascinating and can really deepen your faith and understanding.

Do something kind and unselfish.

Note how you feel and how it affects others.  Live, for a while, as if God does exist, as if his love matters.  See how it opens your heart and your mind.

Know that faith and reason go together.   Keep learning.

Use your brain.  You were made in God’s image – you know that you yourself are more than just a random life-form here on an ant-like worker colony.  Emotion, relationships, love all point to something more about life that we yearn to understand and participate in.   Be open to the knowledge that yes, there is more to life.

But don’t be gullible.  You should be able to ask questions of religion and get reasonable answers from whoever is advising you. God seeks first and foremost to love each and every one of us on earth.  If it doesn’t feel that way, redirect yourself.

There are lots of resources out there to learn more about God, faith and religion.  A great place to start is a book called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Anything by Fr. Jim Martin.  It’s an incredibly honest perspective from a business school grad turned priest, as well as funny, insightful, and applicable to any person of any religion.

If you are a ‘lapsed’ or alienated Catholic, I get it.  But now’s a good time to look again.  There are very approachable priests and faith centers out there, offering open discussions about the state of the church and everything else.

 Continue to Pray. Often.

Finding and knowing God is not a one-off scavenger hunt event.  We are like little children who must grow through learning.  You can pray anytime — while driving, running, showering, washing dishes, walking the dog.  Faith is like other skills – it must be nurtured and practiced and honed one day at a time.

Inside Out

Daily Mass: I used to think this was only for the very elderly (read: on death’s door, and needing expedited clearance to heaven) or very extreme Jesus freaks.

Today, I joined them.

I was snared by a line I heard at school this morning: Communion will cleanse your soul.

Really? Well… who doesn’t need that? Okay, I’ll go.

(Mass is at 8:30 a.m. and I pass it at just that time. How can I say no?)

Now, I don’t think my soul is perfectly polished after today’s Mass. Far from it. But I did learn a few things:

  1. Yes, there are a lot of elderly folks in Mass. But, they are very nice and friendly, at least in my church. And not all are about to leave this world.
  2. In today’s Gospel today Jesus calls the Pharisees ‘fools’ for paying so much attention to washing cups,  plates and hands, while simultaneously harboring ‘plunder and evil’ inside themselves. “Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?” A straightforward reminder that it is not the appearance of goodness that matters, it is the reality. If God is invited into our hearts, the goodness will be real and true.  It is not necessary to proclaim yourself a ‘good’ person, just be one. It will be evident.
  3. Daily Mass is quick! We were finished by 8:55 a.m.  That was bang for my buck (and they didn’t even take a buck — no collection.)
  4. The start of my day was much calmer for this time of prayer and reflection.  I really enjoyed that.

And, oops, after running a few errands, then heading home I checked my calendar… I missed a coffee morning for school that I was supposed to be at after Mass.  Ah, well, at least I was calm about it.

Beautiful Bells and an Imperfect Beginning

My year of faith is off to a beautiful, if imperfect start.

For three-minutes at noon on Oct. 11 (the first day of the Year of Faith), my children’s school rang bells and said the Angelus (a Catholic prayer of devotion to Mary and Jesus).  Every child in the school – about 400 students ages 4 to 12 – encircled the entrance standing in glorious sunshine along the stone steps of the church.  Together with our priest, teachers, and a few parents and parishioners, we recited the prayers.  Then, with most children having brought bells to school, the student body joyously joined the three minutes of church bells.  The deep resonance from the church tower echoed with sweet jingle bells, clanging teacher bells, petite dinner bells, and the giggles and jumping feet of children.  What a beautiful and inspiring few moments.  I can only imagine God smiling at the sight.

We were reminded that our symbolic celebration was connected to the start of the Vatican II council, in which bishops paraded in to St. Peter’s under the musical might of bells ringing in churches all over Rome.

In a less personally lifting experience later in the evening, my husband and I headed to a liturgy of Adoration.  We thought we’d go to the service first, then out for a quick drink to celebrate a big work success of my husband’s.

After struggling to settle our children, we arrived a few minutes late for the service.   We snuck in through a rear side entrance, and sat quietly. We couldn’t find the program (which everyone else seemed to have), and were not near enough to peek at anyone else’s.

The music was spiritual and beautiful, and my husband happily recognized one hymn from childhood.  However, we couldn’t join in the recitation of the unfamiliar prayers.  And as a creature of routine, not having a sense of the timing and process of the liturgy unsettled me, and I had trouble concentrating.

A brief moment of awe descended on me as the congregation knelt in silence, reverently praying and looking towards the Eucharist.  For a minute or two I could imagine God on the altar, here in the church, truly really with me and the power of that overwhelmed me.

And then I lost it.  Staring at an ornate golden structure, like a sun, on the altar (I have no idea of the proper name) I reflected that the service seemed very traditional, a bit ‘old-school’.  So while I enjoyed the service, it wasn’t as helpful for me as the bells.

Maybe I was distracted by my plans to go out afterwards.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been late.  Ah, well.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  I’ll keep you posted. Today I get my ‘Year of Faith guide’… Maybe that will help.

Have you done anything to strengthen your faith?  Has it helped?  Keep at it!

Let the Year of Faith Begin

Bamboo CathedralToday begins the Year of Faith, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI of the Catholic Church.  It is also the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, the event which prompted the Pope’s decision to call for a renewed commitment to faith.

This invitation does not apply to Catholics only.  Regardless of your religion, or what you might think of religion, God is real.  Faith is God’s gift to us – to see beyond the seen, to glimpse a world of purity, of beauty, perfection, and most of all love:  complete, total and unconditional love.   Personally I am taking the Year of Faith as a challenge and an opportunity.

So, what to do in the Year of Faith?

Keep a diary of your faith journey, or a prayer journal (just call it a diary if you are more comfortable with this).  When you look back week to week or month to month, you can more easily see what is often unseen:  where your faith has come, how your prayers may have been answered (heck, for me, I sometimes have to remember what I was praying for), and God at work in your life.

Pray.  Ask God for the gift of faith.  Ask him to strengthen and renew your faith and to lead you on the right path for your life.

  • If you are new to this, start simple.  Say the Glory Be. Or the Our Father.  Or the Hail Mary.  If you don’t know the words, make it up as you go along—God doesn’t mind.  He’s just happy to hear from you.
  • If you know and practice these prayers, take your prayer up a notch.  Try Grace before Meals (or a meal).  Check out the site Sacred Space.  Read and reflect on the Catholic Daily Devotions guide.  Join a prayer group that meets weekly or monthly.

Go to Church.

  • For newbies (or used-to-be’s) who might feel strange about this:  just go!  Catholic churches can be an easy start because they tend to be anonymous (for better and for worse – but you can always introduce yourself if you want.).  Go to Mass, sit and listen.  At a minimum, as you pass a church, pop inside for a quick prayer and look around.  Listen to your inner voice and try to hear God talking to you.  God is always talking to us, encouraging us.  And remember this:  God is never discouraging.  Never.
  • For all you church goers out there:  go more!  Are you a Sunday duty attender?  That’s okay, but to deepen your faith, find another Mass or service that calls to you.  It might be a weekday morning (they tend to be shorter – everyone is on their way to work.)  It might be an evening prayer liturgy, or the Catholic Adoration service.  You know.  It will come to you.  Just try it at least once, and see what gifts your receive.

Read the Scripture. Yes – the Bible.  It is the basis for Christian faith.  The wisdom from the words of this book are beyond compare.  The Bible is chock full of guidance and grounding.  It is also a history of our civilization, and the source of many phrases we commonly use today (‘Go the extra mile’, ‘for everything there is a season’, ‘labour of love’…).  And simply, the stories are great stories.

  • Personally I find the New Testament much easier to understand, so you might want to start here, with the life of Jesus.
  • To deepen your understanding, take a scripture study class.  These are becoming much more common in Catholic communities these days (check on-line or in the bulletin), and are often abundant in other Christian churches.

Do Service. Put perspective in your life, and reach out to those who have less, physically, materially, or spiritually.  This is as much for your good as for those you serve. Volunteer opportunities abound – do the one you’ve been thinking about.  Feel free to start small.

For me today, I am attending the Angelus at my children’s Catholic school this afternoon. (The Angelus is a short prayer honoring Jesus and Mary.)  The Church has been asked to ring their bells for three minutes to celebrate and witness our faith, our belief in God, and the beginning of this great year of renewal.

Our church is also celebrating with a liturgy and Adoration of the Eucharist this evening, which I plan on attending.  I have never been to Adoration before, find the name a little hard to get used to, and don’t quite know what I’m getting myself into.  But I am looking forward to it!  I always grow in my faith through these services, traditions and the Sacraments.  I love that about the Catholic Church.  Fear not – whether Catholic, lapsed, not Catholic, etc. you can renew your faith – just ask God to help you.