The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study https://biblestudyforcatholics.com 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Wed, 13 Jun 2018 20:02:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth May Never Be in Fashion. That’s OK. (A Met Gala Reflection) https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/the-truth-may-never-be-in-fashion-thats-ok-a-met-gala-reflection/ Wed, 09 May 2018 19:52:23 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10782

Pope Benedict XVI donning papal regalia in true Catholic fashion

You couldn’t escape if you tried.  Every media outlet, from the New York Times to the Irish Times, with USA Today and everyone else in between has been discussing the Met Gala. This annual fund-raising event and social gathering in New York to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute always pulls A-list celebrities, but rarely receives the attention it received last night, when the theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”

In addition to some lovely items loaned by the Vatican (which will be on display to the public for several months), attendees could also view several Catholic-inspired items from high-end designers such as Versace and Dolce and Gabbana. But the big story were the outfits worn by the attendees, such as evening gowns styled with a papal feel or emblazoned with pictures of the Virgin Mary.

If the public couldn’t help but to have these images shown to them, the Catholic world couldn’t help but opine on what they saw. Some celebrated the exposure that could perhaps lead someone to see the beauty of Catholic art, and feel prompted to look deeper and ask additional questions. Others saw examples of applying the sacred to profane use, at best bordering on (and more likely crossing the line into) sacrilege.

In today’s era of hot takes, I’m going to go out on a limb and say sacrilege is bad. So is hypocrisy. These media outlets rushed to show the influence the Church has on the world through fashion, have contradicted themselves. In recent years, those same outlets celebrating the Church’s influence in the fashion world: The New York Times, The Irish Times, USA Today, and pretty much everyone else in between have written countless columns accusing the Church of irrelevance. Why then, do they cover the Met Gala like it is Oscars, with red-carpet reporting and slow-motion videos of pop stars in “pope hats”? (Actually, The Washington Postit is called a mitre).

Stealing Halos

Perhaps the media outlets covering it see the Catholic Faith as a bit of a freak show, and they can take these backward, irrelevant ideas and make them relevant by shining the spotlight on them. Surely, no one cares about halos on saints and where this idea came from, but when we televise Solange donning an outfit with one built in, haloes mean something now (thus proving the media’s own relevance and power, if only to themselves). However, the main reason they choose to cover it is because they know what works. They will get clicks from those who love the idea of fashiongelization, and those who loathe it. The mere curious will click on it to see what their favorite actress wore. Those who dislike the Church will see it as a way to poke fun, and the websites can tell their advertisers that everyone will click on it, drive up advertising rates, and make money off of the argument they created. 

But more important than the hypocritical coverage, let us instead look at a different question: assuming the Catholic imagination’s impact on culture, what does this mean? Surely, no one can doubt the tremendous influence of the Church over art, whether we look at it from the perspective of a Catholic University today, or a non-Catholic Writer a century and a half ago. However this influence (aside from the art, music, or liturgical “fashion” that was required for the Church’s mission: paintings in churches, Mass settings, priests’ vestments, etc.) is a corollary at best, if not a side effect. When you have an institution as universal as the Catholic Church, it follows that it will have had many influences beyond its mission.

But the important thing is just that: these aspects of art and music are beyond the mission of the Church. The mission of the Church, as Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” When all nations have disciples, then all the nations will see other impacts from this discipleship. But the impact is just a natural occurrence. And even if the Church influences the things of this world, St John tells us “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). Focusing on the fashions at the Met Gala, even the positive aspects of them, has it backwards. If we seek first the influence of the world, then we are not seeking first the kingdom of God. But when, seeking first the Kingdom of God, Matthew 6:31-33 also reminds us of Jesus words, that all other questions, even “What shall we wear” will be answered for us.


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Things Are Looking Up: The Catholic Vision and the Ascension of Jesus https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/things-are-looking-up-the-catholic-vision-and-the-ascension-of-jesus/ Wed, 09 May 2018 19:14:22 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10787 Sadly, devout Catholics who believe and practice their faith are often cartooned as being out of touch and out of sync with the “world” or at least the “times.” Our priests wear robes as if we still live in biblical times, we occasionally use phrases from an archaic and “dead” language, Latin, and we literally believe that Jesus not only rose from the dead, but forty days later physically, not just spiritually, flew up into the air beyond the clouds, promising to return one day. So, it’s believed, Catholics have had their heads in the clouds ever since. The world, according to the worldly-minded, appears to be something Catholics would rather avoid altogether.

The French philosopher and convert to the Catholic Faith, Fabrice Hadjadj, would, however, disagree with this summation. The Feast of the Ascension is the perfect occasion to reestablish a firm foundation and a better definition of how Catholics truly relate to the world. Fabrice comments that, in fact:

“Christ’s Ascension is not an escape, but the way of being the fullness of everything. Don’t you find it magnificent? We are not asked to detach ourselves from earthly things, but to go to their origin, and this origin is heaven” 

Though our hearts truly long to be with him, our feet are firmly planted on his good earth. Just like Jesus. He, after all, never shunned the world, or labelled it as a distraction to be avoided. He did not abandon it or encourage his disciples to do the same. Quite the opposite, Jesus spent long periods of time in a reverent gaze on the book of creation, and pulled his parables constantly from the good things of the earth; wind and water, fire and wheat, bread and birds and lilies. Look at these things, he encouraged us and sees them as so many flagstones leading to “My Father’s House.”

Now we look to Christ on this great Feast of the Ascension and he is going back to that Heavenly Place. Jesus’s word in John 12:32, “When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself” is a beautiful line pointing to the Cross, but perhaps just as gloriously it lights a way to the Ascension. Like the disciples, with feet on the earth, we allow our hearts to be uplifted and moved by this Word who came and dwelt among us, but who has no where to lay his head. He is a presence that is never stagnant, but dynamic. In him we live and move and have our being, and it’s a being on the move. As the philosophers say we are all “homo viator”—persons on the journey. Jesus made the disciples at Emmaus believe, even after their seven mile walk, that he “was continuing on” and indeed he was. And isn’t his Ascension still more of a beginning than an ending of his revelation on earth? As the line from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books echoes, it’s always “further up, further in.”

The Ascension of the Lord is the bookend to complement the Descension of the Lord; that first touch at the Annunciation. Cardinal Jospeh Ratzinger wrote:

“The incarnation is only the first part of the movement. It becomes meaningful and definitive only in the cross and the resurrection. From the cross the Lord draws everything to himself and carries the flesh – that is, humanity and the entire created world – into God’s eternity” (Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord)

That eternity is now unveiled as the very real body of Christ pierces the clouds and carries our hearts up with his. And oh how they are burning within us! His body and blood, soul and divinity now draw all things up and everything is holy now, and everything is made new. The water and wind and rain that touched him are now taken up. The fruit and the bread and the walks and talks and a thousand other things he experienced here are now part of There. You can in fact “take it with you” when all of it has been assimilated harmoniously in holiness.

Now we see more clearly what this world and our time here is really meant to be all about. Again, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

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A Twenty-Something Saint from NJ? Remembering Blessed Miriam Teresa https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/a-twenty-something-saint-from-nj-remembering-blessed-miriam-teresa/ Tue, 08 May 2018 15:34:51 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10777 In a world that seems to be getting farther and farther away from God, faithful Christians often find it hard to find good examples to look up to. Thankfully, we as Catholics have the saints to look towards. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

“The Church… sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (CCC 828).

But even so, it can be difficult for modern Americans to relate to these saints, either because of age or because the times they lived in are far removed from today. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t count the saints among our friends merely because they lived in another century. These great men and women canonized and beatified by the Church provide us with great characters that we should emulate! But at the same time, we can admit that it would be great for young people today to have a saint that they can really relate to.

Thankfully, we American Catholics don’t have to look much farther than New Jersey for an American born saint. And no, I’m not talking about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

A Role Model for Twenty-Somethings

Unbeknownst to many Catholics in the United States, a young twenty-something New Jersey girl was beatified on American soil on October 4, 2014. Her name is Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a nun of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, and she was the first person to have their beatification ceremony take place in the United States.

It’s fitting that her religious order was founded following the example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, as she deserves to be just as well known by Americans as St. Elizabeth is. If young Americans are looking for a powerful intercessor that they can relate to on a variety of levels, then look no further than to Blessed Miriam Teresa.

The first time I heard about her was about one year after her beatification. I was at a beautiful Ruthenian (Byzantine) Catholic parish, and during the homily at Divine Liturgy that Sunday, the priest devoted his homily to Blessed Miriam. He pointed out the newly completed icon of her in the back of the church. As he talked about Blessed Miriam, who was about the same age (twenty-six) as I was at the time of her death, I was greatly inspired by her witness to the Catholic Faith. When the priest read from her writings, I immediately resolved to come to know her even more so as to explore the depths of her spiritual knowledge. These were writings that were specifically written for American audiences in the twentieth century, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn from someone that I could so easily relate to.

The Life of Blessed Miriam

She was born Teresa Demjanovich on March 26, 1901 in Bayonne, New Jersey and was the youngest of seven children. However, Teresa noted in her uncompleted autobiography that this was not the true beginning of her life:

“The real beginning of my life, the life of the spirit, occurred five days after my birth according to the flesh. I was baptized and confirmed in the Greek rite on the thirty-first of March, a Sunday, truly a day of resurrection.”

Indeed, Miriam was baptized in the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church. This was why during his homily, the pastor of the Ruthenian Catholic parish I visited was overjoyed when he told the congregation that “She is one of our own!” The icon that had been painted inside the church would serve as an example to the young, American Catholics of Byzantine heritage; so that they would realize that they could be like her, too.

She was authentically American in many ways. She and her siblings loved playing pranks on each other and on their friends. One of her favorite secular holidays was April Fool’s Day, and such a celebration of that day continued on into college. She was also quite into sports. Particularly, she had a fondness for that “boys’ game” known as baseball! She also played basketball and competed on the track team during her schooling. As she graduated high school in 1917, her experience in secondary school and post-secondary school wasn’t that much different from our own a century later. She took part in Spanish club, as well as drama club and glee club, and performed in and wrote many plays during both her high school and college days. She loved writing poetry, and also served as the art editor for the Elizabethan, the year book for 1923 at St. Elizabeth College. This was the same year she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in literature. She was very familiar with college life, and in her writings, she was able to connect even the frat life to the spiritual life:

“It is a very secret club- this class of the saints, more select than the Phi Beta Kappa’s or the Delta Gamma’s or whatever else they may call themselves. The fraternity of the saints is the Alpha Omega fraternity- the first and last in point of excellence and endurance. It has its own kind of initiation and meetings. And a ‘frat pin’, too. A little different from the ordinary ‘frat pin’ which, made of gold and precious stones and a chain and a guard, lasts in its primal beauty for a while, and then the gold tarnishes and the jewels drop out or the ornament is lost altogether. No. This emblem of the saints is worn by all being initiated here on earth: this ‘frat pin,’ a cross, shaped of a sprig of thorn, becomes only in eternity an ornament revealed in its true splendor, formed of the gold of charity, encrusted with the diamond of faith, the emerald of hope, the pearl of purity, the amethyst of sorrow and mortification, the ruby of courage, the blood-stone of desire, the turquoise of watchfulness. Such is the ‘frat pin’ of the Great Founder Who was nailed to the wood of a tree…”

The Spirituality of Blessed Miriam

We can clearly see that though she lived in the world, she was quite authentically Catholic as well. She had a great devotion to St.Thérèse of Lisieux, her patron saint, just as many young Catholics currently do today.

Teresa’s foundation in the Catholic Faith started with the great witness of her parents, Alexander and Johanna. Her parents were heroically loyal to the Catholic Church, particularly when a schism arose in the family’s parish when Teresa was ten years old. The Demjanovich’s remained strong in their faith, and despite threats from those that left the Catholic Faith for Orthodoxy, Alexander Demjanovich remained firm and loyal. No doubt, Teresa picked up on this excellent example, and the way that she breathed with both “lungs” (East and West) of the Catholic Church throughout her life is a testament to this. Fr. Thomas Loya, a Ruthenian Catholic priest of the Eparchy of Parma explains further:

“She is a convergence point for unity with East and West. You can tell in her spirituality she had the influence of both. She was at home in both Churches, the Byzantine and Latin. She was a real, hard hitting person in her writing. Her spirituality was ‘no-nonsense’ in a good way. But she was a well-loved person, and a vibrant person. Her message was about being faithful to the will of God, and of dying to our own self.”

From a young age, Teresa was fortunate to have had a very deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This would later lead to many spiritual consolations given to her by our Lord, and later in life, she received visions of not only our Lord and our Lady, but also of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Inspired by both her patroness and the Byzantine ascetic tradition, she often offered up little things and small mortifications throughout her day. For instance, when she was rapt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, she would never let her feet touch the ground while kneeling, and would never rest her arms or elbows upon the pew in front of her. She offered up all these small sufferings to our Lord in union with his sufferings on the Cross.

A Sample of Her Writings

She also had a keen understanding of the malice of sin, realizing that all sin, grave or not, was most harmful:

“We all understand very well that the only sins one need confess and must confess are mortal sins… The Church has clearly defined, however… to resort to this sacrament frequently, even though venial sin be the only subject of accusation…

Here, then, we have the case of a [person aspiring to be a saint] who has been going to confession week after week, for many years- five, ten, fifteen, twenty, and as many more as necessary. God has held out to him grace upon grace, and yet… there is no proportionate increase in virtue… What is the trouble?

It is just this: he presents himself week after week before Christ, his Judge, with improper dispositions, which, through force of habit, have virtually become no dispositions at all… And the pity of the trouble is- ‘It’s only a venial sin.’ Only a venial sin! Ah, if we looked at the matter from God’s point of view rather than from our own, we should be forced to say in all truth: ‘It’s all of a venial sin!’ We have no idea of the malice of sin, and therefore we go on our way cheerfully piling up insult after insult to God, and heaping up for ourselves mountains of fuel to be consumed in the weary, slow-burning fire of purgatory. If only we had that clear knowledge of the evil of sin which the saints had…

Why are we so indifferent to the great danger and real harm of venial sin? Why? Because as long as we keep out of hell we are satisfied; that is, as long as we know we will not suffer eternally. ‘It is only a venial sin.’ Yes, I am still a friend of God. But just what kind of friend am I? I wonder if it is one He is pleased to acknowledge? Remember his words: “I will not now call you servants… but I have called you friends” (Jn 15: 15). When I deliberately commit a venial sin with the idea, ‘It’s only a venial sin,’ which is the same as saying, ‘There is no eternal punishment attached,’ am I seeking God, or am I seeking myself? Not God, surely. If I were, I would take care not to do anything that would offend Him in the least.”

A Humble Soul

What is perhaps most amazing about Teresa is the story behind the selected writings of her above. Rev. Benedict Bradley often gave talks every week to the novices at the convent where Teresa lived. He wasn’t that great of a writer, so Teresa would write the weekly catechesis. He later said of her:

“I believed that she enjoyed extraordinary lights, and I knew that she was living an exemplary life…I thought that one day she would be ranked among the saints of God…”

This fact wasn’t revealed to the convent at large until after her death; and how surprised they were when they found out that the erudite and wise words that came from the priest’s mouth were actually from the hand of a twenty-something girl from Jersey!

Fr. Loya points out:

“[Teresa] had very simple wisdom, but it was very profound! It’s that ascetical discipline, where we break our own will in order to do God’s will. She complied with the priest for humility. She willingly went along, because she died to herself and was being humble. She wasn’t saying ‘This is my intellectual property!’ It shows how her spiritual director essentially enlarged her humility… but look who’s known in the end! She is!”

After a brief illness in 1926, she was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and myocarditis, and following an appendectomy, she died on May 8, 1927 at the age of 26. Bishop Kurt Burnette, the current bishop of the Eparchy of Passaic where Teresa lived and died, sees her as a treasure not only to Byzantine Catholics, but to all American Catholics:

“Her learning of the faith through the Byzantine Rite, really affected her theological outlook. She saw contemplation as an outreach of the Trinity…

It’s very interesting that it’s up to God who gets beatified. Up until now, the great American saints were activists. They worked with the poor, did education, and were very energetic men and women. Then, God gives us a contemplative. To me, that’s very striking, that God gave us a contemplative. It shows the importance of spending personal time with God. If you’re in love with someone, it’s worthwhile to spend time with [that someone].”

In a world that finds itself idolizing sports phenoms, musical acts and other entertainers, it’s time to present Americans with someone who reflects the ultimate Good. Blessed Teresa serves that role perfectly. If the saints are to be our friends, then all American Catholics, young adults in particular, should surely start counting Teresa among their friends.

To learn more about her, or to read more from her profound writings, visit the Sisters of Charity’s website. As we walk the path to holiness, we can rely on Teresa as an excellent intercessor. Since she herself can be counted among the saints, her words now ring especially true:

“Union with God, then, is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve – anyone, not only religious but anyone, who chooses, who wills to seek this pearl of great price, who specializes in the traffic of eternal good, who says ‘yes’ constantly to God…The imitation of Christ in the lives of saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life.”


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What Christ Means by Remaining in His Love https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/what-christ-means-by-remaining-in-his-love/ Fri, 04 May 2018 15:30:12 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10774

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:9-10).


In John 15:9-17, Jesus tells the disciples that he loves them like the Father loves him. What does that mean? It means Jesus loves us a lot. Shouldn’t we get that Jesus loves us? He lives for us, dies for us, and rises from the dead for us. He does all of that out of love. Hear that. Jesus really loves us. But, here is the thing, that doesn’t mean we always feel that love. In fact, there are many people, both inside the Church and out, who Jesus loves. The reality is that every human being ever created is loved by God. That is a truth. Jesus came to save all mankind. Also true and terrible, is that not every man will accept that salvation. Many of those whom Jesus loves choose to live outside of his love.

It is a tragedy, one that “being a Christian” in name only will not save you from. Jesus makes that clear too when he is talking to his disciples. These are followers who walked with him up until the end of John’s Gospel. He tells them he loves them and then says “remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.”

It might be tempting to think that Jesus just laid out some sort of quid pro quo scenario. There is a cynical voice that creeps in and says, “see you have to earn Jesus’ love.” But, this is not the case. 1 John 14 tells us that “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Jesus loves us, not because we earned it but because that is who he is. God is love.

“Keep My Commandments”

So, what is the deal with the “keep my commandments” talk? Well, Jesus knows human nature (John 2:24-25). He knows that, as much as he loves us, we are prone to finding other gods. We worship our sports, our work, our children, celebrities, and on and on. So, he gave us a commandment to keep us safe, and in his love. It’s the first one, “You shall have no other gods!” It isn’t so much that God is asking for something, or else! Instead, he is warning us against all the things that will draw us away from him. God desires the very best for us and wants us to live in the reality of his love. His commandments are the guide-rails that keep us on that path.

Consider the rest of this passage. Jesus commands us to “love one another, as I have loved you.” Can you imagine a life lived totally in this way? How much joy would there be in that? A life where every person you met was treated like they were someone incredibly precious. A life where people regularly sacrificed and put others before themselves. If every Christian really took this command to heart, we would not have to look for the love of God. We would feel it regularly through the work and life of our fellow believers.

Too often, we have equated being a Christian with being in some sort of club with great long-term benefits. Too often, living the Faith becomes completing some vague list of minimum attendance requirements. The truth is, we were meant to live in the love of Christ and to go forth and share the love of Christ. The two are not separate but, instead, are intimately connected. Jesus makes that clear. If you are going to remain in his love, then you are called to love like he does.


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It’s the National Day of Prayer, Not of Thoughts and Positive Vibes https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/its-the-national-day-of-prayer-not-of-thoughts-and-positive-vibes/ Thu, 03 May 2018 15:25:01 +0000 https://biblestudyforcatholics.com/?p=10768 As a Catholic Christian, I feel torn whenever I hear about one specific controversy that seems to be erupting again and again not only over social media, but in other spheres of life as well. This controversy is in direct response to what appears to be a near regular occurrence in the news cycle of the global community. Tragedies keep happening with alarming frequency. From the murders of priests in Mexico and the Philippines, to Islamic terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East and Europe, to pedestrians getting mowed down by large vehicles in Canada, to school shootings across the United States.

And the typical human response to all these things? Sadness. Fear that this could happen elsewhere. A call to action. The controversy, though, is what this call to action should be. When each of the tragedies above occurred, many held a certain animosity towards Christians and other persons of faith who offered their “thoughts and prayers”. For instance, actor Wil Wheaton, who was replying to a tweet from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, reminding people that prayers were needed in the wake of the November 2017 shooting in a Texas church, said this:

“The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive … “

Apparently, prayers are immediately deemed ineffective in the face of tragedy. They are seen as a form of inaction on the part of the person offering their prayers. Wheaton later made an apology (which wasn’t really an apology, but a justification), with many people across social media agreeing with Wheaton’s view, some taking it even further. One person in my own newsfeed opined that “God is sick of your prayers.”

This is what the irreligious nature of a secular culture has brought us: a short leash of tolerance for people who believe in God. If someone dares to speak publicly about their faith, even in times of tragedy, that faith in God’s providence is mocked, derided, and ridiculed. Despite this, I will admit to agree with such people on one point: thoughts truly are pointless. Allow me to explain why, and also allow me to explain why prayers are not only effective, but are also a way for us to act in the face of tragedy and evil.

What Good Do Positive Vibes Do?

Again, I must admit, I do get irritated when I see someone say “Our thoughts are with Anne during this difficult time”, or, “Keep all those positive vibes and good thoughts coming Bob’s way as he deals with this heart surgery!” All I can do is shake my head because I realize that that is the best a secular culture can offer. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to see that people care about their fellow man. However, comments like these reveal that good “thoughts” are all a person who doesn’t believe in the reality of a Creator can send forth. That’s not to even mention “positive vibes”, which never fails to make my eyes roll. My sadness or just anger will not spontaneously manifest and exit my body, thus finding its way to the person I’m supposed to be thinking about. “Positive vibes” are a bastardization of the concept of karma, which in itself is also something we shouldn’t put stock in.

So while there are a few elements in the offering of “thoughts” that can be commended, what truly saddens me is that people want to eschew prayer to a loving Creator and instead turn inwards. Think about it. When all we offer are our thoughts, or simply say to someone facing tragedy “I’ll be thinking of you”, we end up sounding very self-absorbed. Perhaps the person you are speaking to will appreciate you are at least thinking of him, but then we have to ask ourselves, “What good will that really do?” We either must act to make the pain go away physically or we must look for a different solution, a spiritual or metaphysical solution. That solution would be prayer.

Even if critics do not believe in God, they must realize that there is a fundamental difference between prayers and thoughts. Again, thoughts turn us inward, and if that’s all we’re doing, then we should be chastised. Our thoughts turn us into gods. It’s as if we think these “positive vibes” that are percolating in our heads can have some effect on suffering people. But if we go outside ourselves, if we lift up our hearts to our Lord instead of keeping everything closed in, then we can be truly effective. That’s what prayer is all about: asking for something. We may not always receive what we ask for, but it is more efficacious to pray than it is to wear a Live Strong bracelet or think “positive thoughts” about someone.

Acting Instead of Praying

Also, many of these same critics qualify their irritation with “thoughts and prayers” by saying that politicians (and oftentimes, they’ll also extend this to people in general) should be acting instead of praying. How can we respond to this? I think the first thing we could say in reply, is to ask why the two have to be mutually exclusive. Why can we not both pray and fight to make the change that we want to see, if it is within our capabilities? We can pray for guidance in how to act. We can pray for the repose of the soul of the dead in situations like Parkland and Las Vegas. We can pray for the victims in hospitals fighting for their lives. We can pray for the families and friends that will be impacted because of such a tragedy. And then, in addition, we can act to do something.

When we do this, we aren’t turning inwards. If I am firmly convinced that there is a God, and if I am firmly convinced that God plays a role in our lives, then how could I not ask for assistance? I trust in something, or really someone, greater than myself. Now if I can’t admit to myself that there is a God, and can only offer my own mere thoughts, then my trust is placed solely in myself. But as a Christian, I have a filial trust in God. And as trust in anyone (human or divine) is difficult for us, we can turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to help us figure out how to obtain this trust:

“Filial trust is tested – it proves itself – in tribulation. The principal difficulty concerns the prayer of petition, for oneself or for others in intercession. Some even stop praying because they think their petition is not heard. Here two questions should be asked: Why do we think our petition has not been heard? How is our prayer heard, how is it ‘efficacious’?

Why do we complain of not being heard?

In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions… Our filial trust is enkindled by [God’s] supreme act: the Passion and Resurrection of his Son. Christian prayer is cooperation with his providence, his plan of love for men (CCC 2734-2735, 2738).”

It’s so very human of us to demand instant results; to think that because we asked for something we automatically must receive it. It doesn’t take into account that we believe in an omniscient God. That is, a God who sees the whole picture, while we as humans only see part of the picture. But over time, many Christians realize that petitions of prayer to God must conform to his will, not ours. We come to trust in God more completely. Unfortunately, for those that have lost that faith, or for those that never possessed it, this trust the Christian has seems silly. They feel this way for at least two reasons. The first, because they see no reason to trust in a God that they cannot see. The second is the erroneous belief that if one takes time to pray, then there is no time to take action.

Acting While Praying

To this second reason we would again ask, “why not both”? Indeed, St. John Chrysostom points out:

“It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop,… while buying or selling,… or even while cooking” (cf. CCC 2743).

Origen also observes that action and prayer go hand in hand:

“He ‘prays without ceasing’ who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer” (cf. CCC 2745).

It’s clear that we can still work at helping others while we pray. Christians have been doing this since apostolic times. Today we often call such prayers “exclamatory prayers” Such prayers can be verbal or mental. Some examples would be the “Jesus Prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners), or “Jesus, I Trust in You”, or even simply just the word “Jesus”. Unfortunately, Jesus’ name is used by many in our modern culture as an expletive. So many people don’t realize that it can be (and should be!) used as an exclamatory prayer in any situation.

“The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and brings forth fruit with patience” (CCC 2668).

Here’s an example of how a Christian might act by prayer and act in a way acceptable to those who are not believers.

A man is out with his family at a sports bar. He is both a Christian and an EMT. The restaurant is filled up for an important playoff game. Two tables over, a woman begins choking on her food, and is clearly in distress. The man acts in two ways. First, he acts by saying to himself “Jesus, have mercy!” He acts again by jumping from the table to assist the choking woman. As he attempts to save the person choking, he continues to say to himself, “Jesus, help me!” The food soon becomes dislodged. The man acted by praying, and he acted by doing a good action. “This prayer [the invocation of Jesus’ name] is possible ‘at all times’ because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus.”

Far from being a hindrance to action, prayer animates the actions we perform. Surely, lifesaving actions can happen apart from prayer, but this quickly aging canard that we need “action not prayers” presents a false dichotomy. We can have both, and we must have both. This applies just as much on wider, societal levels, such as in trying to effect the change of unjust laws.

Prayers do “do something”. If secularists understood what people of faith, particularly Christians, perceive God to be, then they would understand that these people of prayer are oftentimes doing the best they can. To not ask for divine assistance means we rely on ourselves. And if we rely on ourselves, we’ll find ourselves in a world of hurt. We must continue to pray whenever tragedies happen, and we must act in the most efficient and effective way that we can in the present moment. We may find, though, that sometimes the only way we really can act is through prayer.


You May Also Like:

Friar Hears Prophetic Message in Prayer (Ascension Presents The CFRs)
Getting Real About Family Prayer (with Alicia Hernon) – Girlfriends Ascension Podcasts
Oremus: A Guide to Catholic Prayer

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