Posts filed under: praying

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend on your passions.

— James 4:2-3

Our dear God loves to be bothered.

— St. John Vianney

If you would really pray to him for conversion, it would be granted to you.

— St. John Vianney

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. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

— Catechism of the Catholic Church #2735

Lord Jesus, though you were God, you humbled yourself to the extreme of dying on a cross, to set an enduring example to the shame of my arrogance and vanity. Help me to learn your example and put it into practice so that, by humbling myself in accordance with my lowliness here on earth, you can lift me up to rejoice in you forever in heaven. Amen.

— Conclusion of the “Litany of Humility”

Hi Father Shane, I grew up Catholic but am beginning to refer to myself as merely a Christian because I have found some biblical falsehoods that the Catholic church presents, such as purgatory and praying to the saints.. among others. I'd really like to have total faith in the Catholic church.. just why you personally have found truth within the Catholic church? - Anonymous

Well, I call myself a Christian too… no problem with that!

Actually, the argument for purgatory and the argument for praying to the saints are both quite Biblical. Both of them seem reasonable enough to me, and the fact that they’re solidly rooted in tradition (as in, I believe what the first Christians believed) makes them even more reasonable.

There’s a premise that gets circulated a lot in apologetics discussions… that “If it isn’t in the Bible, it isn’t God’s true message to us.” But that’s self-evidently false:

  • There is no list of books of the Bible in the Bible, so the Bible doesn’t even tell us what it consists in, exactly. If I decide to add the Didache (another 1st-century Christian work) to the Bible, you can’t stop me based on what the Bible itself says.
  • The Bible doesn’t say that the Bible is the exclusive source of truth because it never uses the word “Bible.”
  • It never uses the word “Trinity” either.
  • Plus all these questions.

So simply because the Bible doesn’t use the word “purgatory” or discuss praying to the saints in the terms we do (there really weren’t a whole lot of them in Heaven yet when St. Paul was writing his letters anyway!) doesn’t invalidate the concepts per se.

Instead, the fact of the Church as the Body of Christ vivified by the Holy Spirit’s constant presence and guidance should be what gives us most confidence. If the Church proposes something for my belief, and it has good reasons to do so, I would have to be awfully intelligent/inspired/brilliant to tell the Church that I’ve got a much more interesting doctrine about God and salvation.

So even if an isolated point of doctrine doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, I’m simply going to say, “Well, I guess that my measly human brain can’t wrap itself around this one, but I’m quite obviously not the Arbiter of All Truth and I can’t even figure out string theory, so it shouldn’t surprise me or worry me.” (Note: This only applies to things which are “above” reason, not “against” reason. The Eucharist’s truth surpasses reason; the Flying Spaghetti Monster is clearly irrational and silly. There’s a difference.)

Finally, the Church has a whole lot going in its favor, too, even if I find a point or two that perplexes me. (This is true both in theory/doctrine and in morality/praxis.) What about the Sacraments? If I find a denomination that agrees with my conclusions about purgatory, will they give me Jesus in the Eucharist, etc.?

I got to know some very fervent and exemplary Protestants very well in college, but as much as they talked about their particular beliefs, I could always find (not always by my own mental powers, but always at least in books by authors like Karl Keating, Steve Ray, Scott Hahn, Jimmy Akin, etc.) answers to the questions about Catholicism they raised.

Just some thoughts. Feel free to continue the conversation if that isn’t satisfying or if there are other points you’re concerned about…

God bless you!

- Father Shane

A mediocre life begets mediocre prayer.

— Father Louis Colin, CSSR

Thought-Provoking

Today’s dangers to our faith, especially that of our young people, are often not due to the teaching of some renegade, but instead are subtly embedded in the popular culture, making them more difficult to resist. A case in point: In the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) Report of last fall, reference was made to the work of Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. In his 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Smith identified the five key beliefs that the majority of American teens subscribe to: 1) A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth; 2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions; 3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself; 4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem; 5) Good people go to heaven when they die.

This set of beliefs that pervades the majority of American young adults is sometimes referred to as “moralistic therapeutic deism,” (MTD) or more irreverently, as “whatever” religion.

Looking at this belief system, some might ask, “What’s the big deal? Aren’t many of these things okay?” Some, in fact, are truths, e.g., a God exists who created the world, and God does want us to be good. The danger lies in part in what has been omitted, which is a great deal (note, no mention of a need for Jesus Christ, or any savior, for just one example). This line of belief is also a danger in that it is very self-centered: God is principally understood in terms of one’s own project of self-fulfillment and happiness.

Here’s the rest of the article, by Bishop James Johnston of Cape Girardeau. Powerful and spot-on.

Hi Father! I have a question that you've probably answered a lot in your time of being a priest and I am very sorry if I seem to be repeating any other questions that some people might have asked you... I'm a girl in high school dealing with the daily struggles of being a Catholic teenager in a world where Catholicism is "outdated" to some. I've fallen completely out of touch with God and I've tried so many times to rekindle that fire I used to have for my faith, but every time, I go back to doubting. I'm stuck in this never-ending cycle of believing and not believing and quite frankly, it's killing me. I need God now more than ever and I just don't know how to make it stick. Every time I'm back in "believing mode" it feels so genuine. It feels like it's going continue and that I'm finally in the clear, but one morning I'll wake up and it will be gone. So my question to you is, how can make my relationship with God stronger outside of the praying realm? As in, are there other things I can do that can erase some of the guilt and remorse that's been plaguing me from things I've done in my past besides prayer (which I am definitely trying to do almost every minute of the day)? I can't seem to get over that guilt and I know God is forgiving. I just... Don't know how to do any of this anymore and it makes me so sad that I've strayed this far from Him. - Anonymous

Very painful, isn’t it? 

This should truly shock us: Even many of the saints — Mother Teresa and Saint Therese of Lisieux are two famous recent examples — suffered tremendous trials of faith in which they didn’t feel God present. So what is faith, anyway?

I think it could be worth it to give a really quick rundown, taken from the YouCat (#21):

Faith is knowledge and trust. It has seven characteristics:

1. Faith is a sheer gift of God, which we receive when we fervently ask for it.

2. Faith is the supernatural power that is absolutely necessary if we are to attain salvation.

3. Faith requires the free will and clear understanding of a person when he accepts the divine invitation.

4. Faith is absolutely certain, because Jesus guarantees it.

5. Faith is incomplete unless it leads to active love.

6. Faith grows when we listen more and more carefully to God’s Word and enter a lively exchange with him in prayer.

7. Faith gives us even now a foretaste of the joy of heaven.

Many people say that to believe is not enough for them; they want to know. The word “believe,” however, has two completely different meanings. If a parachutist asks the clerk at the airport, “Is the parachute packed safely?” and the other man answers casually, “Hmm, I believe so,” then that will not be enough for him; he would like to know it for sure. But if he has asked a friend to pack the parachute, then the friend will answer the same question by saying, “Yes, I did it personally. You can trust me!” And to that the parachutist will reply, “Yes, I believe you.” This belief is much more than knowing; it means assurance. And that is the kind of belief that prompted Abraham to travel to the Promised Land; that is the faith that caused the martyrs to stand fast till death; that is the faith that still today upholds Christians in persecution. A faith that encompasses the whole person.

I bring all that up simply to say that “feeling” faith isn’t part of any of these definitions. Sometimes we will feel wonderfully close to God, especially when contemplating some splendid natural vista or very occasionally in prayer. Other times you simply won’t “feel” anything and you’re forced to fall back on simply saying “What I saw in the light I will not stop believing in the dark; the thickest clouds can’t make me think the sun isn’t shining up there.”

Then, too, you don’t have to give yourself faith. You can’t, anyway. It can only come as a gift. So more than worrying about not having it, ask God for it. Not anxiously… calmly, quietly, simply, lovingly. And sure, expect that some days you’ll wake up and won’t feel anything special. Other days you will. That’s life! What’s happening is this: If we were to constantly feel bubbly about God, we would end up falling more in love with the bubbliness than with him as a person. So he has to wean us off of that. True love isn’t just about love-at-first-sight attractiveness, right? It is only “true” if it endures even when that initial attraction wears off.

Besides prayer? Definitely the sacraments. Even including Confession, if you haven’t been able to make it to Confession since those things you regret. And bring all these struggles up in a more personal way in Confession, and the priest may be able to give you far more prescient and personalized advice. 

Regarding the guilt, maybe you could spend some time praying over the parables in Luke 15. Don’t just see yourself as the prodigal who’s far from home; see yourself as the one who is being embraced by the father who’s so glad to have him home. (After all, if you’ve been to Confession, it’s true!) Or perhaps Luke 7:36-50 if that inspires you more… how do I treat Jesus? 

So I think it’s all about “trust”… trusting in God’s word that he has forgiven you, letting yourself be embraced. Trusting in God’s word that he loves you and that he’s always present, even when you don’t feel him. Just let yourself go.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Dear Father,

I started praying the rosary, but I don't know if I'm praying it quite correctly.
Do you have any words of guidance for me or others that are praying the rosary?
How are we supposed to pray it? What do we meditate on? I know there are certain mysteries that Pope John Paul II has advised us to pray on certain days, but what are they for or what is their purpose? I am just in need of some general guidance—i'm new to this.

Thank you!
- Anonymous

God is good! Great to hear that he has inspired you to get closer to him this way.

Here’s a document that can be a good start as far as the merely technical aspects of the order of prayers with which Catholics usually pray the Rosary, though there are actually very many different varieties of ways to pray it.

This site has some neat resources, especially some meditations on the different mysteries (click on “Rosary Mysteries”) that can be helpful to call to mind the mystery that you’re contemplating.

Finally, here’s a good explanation of the spirituality behind the Rosary and why we pray it in the first place.

God bless you and say a little prayer for me the next time you pray it, especially if you pray the Luminous Mysteries! Actually, as I finish writing this, I’m off to pray my own Rosary for today, and I’ll remember you there.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

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