Growing Apologist

Becoming a Defender of Truth

Learn All About Prayer From Jesus

Now that we have covered the high level of what prayer is, who can pray, and why, when and where we should pray, one major question remains. How do we pray? It seems like such a simple thing—just talk to God—and yet I feel no shame in asking this question as it is the very question that the disciples of Jesus asked of him.

From Microsoft OfficeIn the book of Mathew, when the disciples ask of Jesus how to pray, Jesus gives them the prayer of Our Father. The disciples were faithful Jews. They were taught at a young age how to pray, with formal and memorized prayers, in synagogues and the temple, and by the priests. Yet something they saw in the way Jesus prayed prompted them to ask him to teach them. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Five W’s of Prayer: Part 2

Praying Angel

This is a continuation of the series of posts on prayer, in particular The Five W’s of Prayer: Part 1.  See also the introductory post, In His Holy Name.

“Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer in the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.” (Catholic Catechism 2725)

Previously, I asserted that prayer should be easy and natural, but thanks to Adam and Eve, it isn’t. In our sinfulness—our shame and guilt—prayer has become a difficult thing to do. Yet it, is a necessary and a good wholesome response to God’s love and a reflection of our own love for God and his commandments. We can read the bible, study his word and tradition, go to church, and perform acts of charity and mercy, but if we do not pray, there is no point to it. There is no relationship with God without prayer. The Catholic Church (and other sects of Christianity of course) knows this and knows that the tempter knows this. That is what makes prayer a ‘determined response on our part’ and ‘a battle’—for if we can be stopped from praying, nothing we can do will bring us to God or impart God’s grace in our lives and our hearts.

Before we can take up the shield and sword of God, let us take a moment to learn more about prayer, in particular the When and Where. The other three W’s (What, Who and Why) were covered in the first post here.

When Should We Pray?

“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” (Eph 6:18)

God gives us the aid of the Holy Spirit

Saint Paul directed us to pray without ceasing. By praying without ceasing, we welcome God to walk with us in our lives and establish our foundation in God. Prayer becomes a constant conversation with God. This is an easy thing to say, but perhaps a difficult thing to put into practice. There are many objections to prayer—no time, too many distractions, it is dry and boring, not being heard to name a few. I would be the first to admit the constant, ceaseless prayer is difficult at best, maybe even impossible. I would also propose that it is also very simple, all we have to do is ask for God’s help to make prayer a continuous practice, and in that way a prayer will make constant prayer possible through the Holy Spirit.

Some people pray only when the road becomes difficult, others pray only when the road becomes easy. As the Catholic Catechism beautifully states it, “We pray as we live, because we live as we pray it.” So the answer to when should we pray is clear; with the aid of the Holy Spirit, always, constantly, and without ceasing.

Where Should Prayer Happen?

“According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.” (CC 2562)

The Immaculate Heart of Jesus

Just as our works are in vain without prayer, our prayer itself is in vain if it is just lip service. The bible speaks of this often, “The Lord said: Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men, therefore I will again deal with this people.” (Is 29: 13-14) While the Catechism asserts that the church is the proper and favorable place of prayer, as well as a sacred place in the home, monasteries, and shrines, the true place that prayer should happen is in our hearts. (CC 2691) As we see from Isaiah, it does not matter where our physical body is, if our spiritual body is far from God.

Let’s pray that God imparts the Holy Spirit upon us so that we can continuously pray with our hearts close to God!

References and Additional Reading

Catholic Catechism, available online

The Holy Bible, available online

Rahilly, Alfred. “Reason.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 Feb. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12673b.htm>.

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FAQ on HHS Mandate

Losing My Religion

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has released a FAQ on the HHS Mandate for Contraception/Sterilization Coverage being enforced on the public.  This two page FAQ is very informative and imparts information that I think is missing from most of the secular news articles.  While I don’t normally like to push political documents to people, this is something that I feel is important enough for people to know.

Some key questions and answers that I found very interesting are as follows.

Didn’t HHS include a religious exemption?

Yes, an incredibly narrow “religious employer” exemption that fails to protect many, perhaps most, religious employers. To be eligible an organization must meet four strict criteria, including the requirement that it both hire and serve primarily people of its own faith. Catholic schools and hospitals would have to eject their non-Catholic employees, students and patients, or purchase health coverage that violates their moral and religious teaching. Jesus and his apostles would not have been “religious enough” for the exemption, since they healed and served people of different faiths. The exemption provides no protection at all to sponsors and providers of health plans for the general public, to pro-life people who own businesses, or to individuals with a moral or religious objection to these procedures.

Isn’t this an aspect of the Administration’s drive for broader access to health care for all?

Whether or not it was intended that way, it has the opposite effect. People will not be free to keep the coverage they have now that respects their convictions. Organizations with many employees will have to violate their consciences or stop offering health benefits altogether. And resources needed to provide basic health care to the uninsured will be used instead to facilitate IUDs and Depo-Provera for those who already had ample coverage. This is a diversion away from universal health care.”

In short, pro-life institutions such as parishes, schools and charity organizations will have to a) let go of people of a different faith under their employment or care, b) violate the law and risk being shut down, c) violate their own conscious in order to appease the government, d) stop providing health insurance all together.  This amendment to the law is NOT in the best interest of the people.

Read the rest of the two-page FAQ here:  http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/preventiveqanda2012-2.pdf

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Preaching for Christian Unity

From Microsoft OfficeI don’t like to preach. Some people might ask, well Pam what is it that you are doing with this blog then? And I would tell them, I’m sharing the truth. To me, preaching is more than sharing the truth—it’s forcing it upon people without listening or respecting their own personhood. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word preach as “to deliver a sermon; to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action; specifically: to exhort in an officious or tiresome manner.” Like the word ‘religion’, the word ‘preach’ tends to be a loaded word.

Lord knows that I have a lot of opinions; some are in line with the Church and others he is working very hard in me to change so that my thoughts, words and actions do not contradict the Church. Today, I have a desire to preach on my thoughts about Christian unity and this whole religious freedom, abortion, health care controversies going on in America.

The Issue

I think that most people would agree that America is having some issues with her values and morals changing. The government is elected by the people to be From Microsoft Officea voice of the people, yet so many of us truly object to the way and the direction that America is being led. Personally, I have always thought that if you have a problem with how something is done, then do something about it. Sitting around, preaching (like I do so now) and complaining does not solve anything.

And the classic question: what can one person, who is not an elected official, do? Another thing that I do not like is politics. My general opinion on that is that politics means many tics and tics can’t survive without a host. But, as just one person of this country, I can vote. And when that fails, as it clearly did in the last election, I can pray.

The Solution

From Microsoft OfficeIt all comes back to prayer. In fact, it should have started with prayer. The classic question should not have been what can one person do, but what can God do. And the answer is anything, everything and the impossible. Being that this is an election year, it feels like America is holding her breath, just waiting to see which direction she will be led in next. It feels like a turning place, like Israel in the bible—will America follow God or will she be left to her own devices to be conquered by other countries?

This battle—will we follow God or not?—feels like it is taking place worldwide, rather than just in America. For if America, the very country that was founded in the name of religious freedom, trumps on people’s religious freedoms, who is to say that other countries will not fail when faced the same issue?

Yesterday was the last official day of the worldwide, church-wide prayer for Christian unity. Whether you joined in or not, now is definitely not the time to stop praying for Christian unity. It does not matter what sect of Christianity, it doesn’t matter where you live or your race or your gender, for we all belong to one church and one body with Jesus as the head. The theme was “We will all be changed by the Victory of Jesus Christ” and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.

Let us pray continually that God will change us all, in his mercy, for his glory and because of the Victory that Jesus won for us.

I’m done preaching… for now…

From Microsoft Office

What do you think?

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In His Holy Name—New Post Series

There are some practices in the Catholic Church that I am not used to yet. For example, the Liturgical Year begins around November 27th (on the first day of Advent). Because the Church year begins on Picture from Microsoft OfficeAdvent and not January 1st, I totally missed the Pope’s declaration of the Year of Faith. Apparently, the Year of Faith begun on October 11, 2011 and will go until November 24, 2012. [1, 2] (I find it rather interesting—coincidence or something more?—that I started this blog on October 10, 2011). That’s great that the Pope declared a Year of Faith, but what does it mean?

The Church Liturgical Year rise and falls with the life of Christ. The Liturgical year starts with Christ’s birth, climaxes with the death and resurrection of our Lord, and ends with a reminder of our own mortality and a call to repentance so that we may always be ready for the second coming of Christ. Each month has a particular focus, so it seems natural to me that the year would have a theme as well.

The Year of Faith is the Pope’s call for all people in the Church to study our faith, to learn more, to grow, and to become stronger, so that we can defend it and evangelize others, in particular the people (and countries) who were confirmed Catholic but have left the Church. [2] In his apostolic letter titled Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI states, “… the Church… clasping sinners to her bosom, is at once holy and always in need of purification. The Year of Faith, from this perspective, is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.” [1] His apostolic letter is full of beautiful gems that are worth reading. You can read the entire letter here or highlights and summary by Catholic Online here.

Prayer?

At reading this, I rubbed my hands in anticipation and thought, this is great, it’s the whole reason I started this blog! But where do I begin? January is dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus (also a feast day on January 3rd). [3] Benedict Baur is quoted on Catholic Culture, “In His name we pray to the Father with assurance of being heard.” [3] It occurred to me, the best place to start anything is in prayer.

Picture from Microsoft OfficeAnd I must admit—I’m not very good at praying. When I was a little girl, I would talk and sing to God all the time, but then I became a teenager and an adult, and somehow I lost that ability. Praying feels awkward. Questions like, ‘Am I talking too much and not listening enough?’, ‘Am I asking for too much and not thanking enough?’, and ‘Is it selfish to be asking so much for me and not much for the rest of the hurting world?’ rise up and then I kind of flounder around like a fish out of water. It was so easy when I was a kid; why isn’t it easy now?

So in light of the Year of Faith, the Holy Name of Jesus, and all those barriers to prayer, here is my next series of posts this month.

  • The first post will be on the five W’s (who, what, when, where and why) of prayer during the week of January 8, 2012.
  • In the second post, I will explore the benefits of structured and spontaneous prayer in the week of January 15, 2012.
  • For the week of January 22, 2012, I will explain the meaning of various Catholic prayers such as Our Father and Hail Mary.
  • The month will wrap up in a list of ways to improve our prayer life.

Happy New Year my friends!

References

[1] Benedict XVI, Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei (11 October 2011), Online

[2] Keith Fournier, The Door of Faith: Pope Calls for Year of Faith, Issues Apostolic Letter (18 October 2011), Online

[3] Catholic Culture, Month of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 2012), Online

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The Question of Free Will

Without free will, we would be like animals

I wonder why we were given free will. Intellectually, I understand—God gave us free will because he made us in his image. He made us to be rational, thinking human beings with the ability to make choices. If he had not given us free will, then we would not have been any different than an ape, a parrot or any other animal. We were purposefully given cognitive abilities, a soul, a beautiful home, and a question—will we choose to love God or not?

On some level or another, this makes sense to me intellectually. Until I look at my life, all of my mistakes and goof ups, the broken relationships, my love ones and their regrets, this sad, sad world, it is then that I no longer understand. Free will gives us the ability to choose, and sometimes we choose wrong, sometimes we choose right, sometimes we can’t tell if it’s wrong or right until many years later. And sometimes I wish that we didn’t have to choose at all because sometimes it isn’t as clear as black and white.

Free will seems to be the crux of humanity. Somehow it makes us beautiful and at the same time makes us the most dangerous being on earth. For with free will, we are given the ability to love one another at any time and the ability to take that love away at the drop of a pin. We are given the ability to make a mess of our lives and to hurt those closest to us.

What would have the Garden of Eden looked like?

It’s a pessimistic thought, really. Perhaps not totally Christ-like. And yet it is the truth. I wonder what it was like for Adam and Eve. They were not placed into a broken world, but into a beautiful world with beautiful relationships. They were naked in mind, body and spirit. Their lack of clothes not only showed the perfect union between Adam and Eve but also between them and God. What would it have been like to be totally naked before our spouse and our God—I’m not taking about physical nakedness but where we drop all of our guards, walls and masks to be in perfect union with one another and with God?

Unfortunately, free will ended that. Adam and Eve were graced before the fall with gifts of perfect unity, but when they listened to the serpent, that unity was broken. And unfortunately, it was broken for all. As a result, we have this sad world with dissent placed between husbands and wives, children and parents, best friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

It isn’t all pessimistic however. We were given a way out, one that God devised before Adam and Eve were removed from the garden. A woman and a man showed us that we can live in this broken world with free will and be in harmony with God and with one another. Where Eve used her free will to listen to the serpent, Mary used her free will to have faith in God. Where Adam chose not to stand up for God’s commandment, Jesus laid down his life. Both were given the same weaknesses as we have and both were able to use their lives for the good of all.

Jesus chose to sacrifice himself for us

Jesus and Mary set an example for us. It is like they are saying; look, free will isn’t just for us to destroy one another, but for us to use it for good. Despite my past, despite all that is broken due to poor choices, I find hope in this. I find optimism among the pessimism. After all, one cannot know white without knowing black, love without knowing hate, right without knowing wrong. One cannot know what it is like to be whole without knowing what it is like to be broken. And we would not know these things without free will. It is through Jesus and Mary, ultimately through God, that we are given hope.

I may not always understand or even like free will. Without it maybe we wouldn’t be such a sad world. But without it, we would not have known Jesus and Mary. Without it, we wouldn’t have the ability to know God. In this light, I suppose that I can accept free will—maybe only with a prayer that God grants us the wisdom to use it correctly.

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Christmas Just Keeps Going

Growing up in a non-denominational Christian household (the first eight or nine years of my life, we attended an LDS church, but eventually stopped going to church all together), we always decorated for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and then un-decorated on December 26.

Christmas was a one day event. And my world view was that all Christians celebrated Christmas this way, even the stores and public places. It wasn’t until the first Christmas that I celebrated with the BF’s family that I realized that some Christians—specifically Catholics—celebrate Christmas as a season, not a day. I remember being amazed and awed, like I was encountering an alien culture, and thrilled that Christmas was only beginning. I was not Catholic at the time, although attending mass every weekend and participating in RCIA (Rite for Catholic Initiation for Adults), but I was thinking that Catholics had it right. It made perfect sense to me.

Even though I had a wonderful RCIA class (and instructor ;)) and I have been Catholic for three years, it always seemed like Christmas lasted for months after Christmas day. Having this blog, writing posts on a regular basis and performing the research for those posts has taught me a lot of things about the Church that I had not consciously learned previously. I am amazed and awed again—thrilled actually—at the traditions of the Church. You may roll your eyes at me and say, dude, Pam, we have already covered this and now you are just repeating yourself, but bear with me as I re-cap the Advent and Christmas season.

Advent, meaning ‘the coming of Christ’, begun directly after Thanksgiving and lasted exactly 40 days until December 25. During this time, we celebrated the feast day of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6), Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Dec. 8), and Optional Memorial of St. John of Kanty (Dec. 19). The scripture readings in mass covered looking forward the second coming of the Lord; the ministry and preaching of John the Baptist, who came to “Prepare the Way of the Lord”; the joy of Christians as the coming of Jesus looms closer; the events that immediately preceded the birth of Jesus. We discussed the meaning of Advent and how to celebrate it, namely preparing our hearts and homes for the first and second comings of Christ.

 

For over a month, we Christians participated in rigorous preparation, full of prayer, meditations, reflections, decorating, gift wrapping, baking, cooking, chanting ‘Come Christ, Come’—sometimes with joy and sometimes with groaning impatience. Hopefully, we all made time to attend the sacrament of confession or lifted our eyes to the heavens with forgiveness in our hearts, turned our thoughts inwards and thought about how we could follow Christ more closely, reflected on forgiving those who have harmed us, sought forgiveness for those we have harmed, and thanked the Lord for all he has done for us. Of course, we should be doing these things regularly, but Advent is a season to focus most intently on cultivating these habits.

It seems to me like a wonderful way to start the New Year. First, to actively humble ourselves, repent and seek penance. Then to celebrate Jesus’ birth with great joy, acknowledging the day that our savior came into the world to bestow grace and forgiveness in our souls. Now, the celebrations continue—it isn’t just one day of celebrations after forty days of repentance—but twelve days, forty days, a lifetime of joy at the miracle that the Lord performed for us.

This is what awes me—the seasons of the Church that rise and falls with the life of Christ, the tools and resources that the Church provides in order to cultivate the saint in all of us; the attitudes that the Church sets—humbled repentance followed by wonderful joy and merriment; the reminders that yes! we are sinners and yes! we are saved. We are saved, not by our will, our actions or our power, but by God’s. There is not a single thing that we can do to be worthy of the grace that the Lord gifted to us. Yet, we cannot sit on our hands and tell God to do it all. We are called to be active children of God, to repent, prepare, celebrate and share. And oh my do we celebrate.

Christmas isn’t over yet (it’s really never over). Its traditional end is on the Baptism of the Lord around January 8, but more commonly ended on the Epiphany of the Lord on January 6.

So my friends: Merry Christmas.

Additional Reading:

What is the Catholic Liturgical year?

The Liturgical Year: Congregation for Divine Worship

Resources for Liturgy and Prayer for the Seasons of Advent and Christmas

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