Tag Archives: prayer

What Reality TV and The Eucharist Have in Common

So, Jon and Kate are getting divorced.  On the fateful night of that announcement, a friend’s Facebook status read, “I want to look away from Jon and Kate Plus 8, but I can’t… It’s like watching a train wreck!”  This is pretty much how I have felt about the few sittings of Reality TV I have stomached.  Whether it’s a pop star hopeful about to share their tone deafness with the world, or a family inviting us into their dysfunctional lifestyle, I feel that watching such scenes is a lot like witnessing some person or object about to tumble to the ground… you know a mess is coming, but you just can’t stop it from happening.

Have you ever asked yourself why people subject themselves to such public humiliation? I have. For Jon and Kate perhaps the original motive was to make some extra cash to support their growing family, and maybe there are others who go on these shows for the money as well.  But I think many who participate in Reality TV do so because it is exciting to be on a screen seen by millions, even if for only 22 minutes.  I think there is a huge number of people today wanting to be famous, wanting to be known.   Reality TV capitalizes on this longing.

I read of a study that polled teenaged girls’ dream career prospects.  Would you believe that with all the possibilities open to girls today that being a personal assistant to Brittany Spears trumped doctor, scientist, lawyer, teacher, etc?  Mind you, the girls preferred being a personal assistant to a pop star to actually being something lucrative and personally fulfilling.  There is a good chunk of our young women who would rather pick up a famous person’s dry cleaning than figure out a cure for cancer!  Why? They want to be known.  Even being close to fame is close enough.

Contrast that study with 150 middle-schoolers, kneeling or sitting on hard carpet for an hour and a half, waiting for their 15 second visit from a soft-spoken middle aged man holding a piece of bread.  They are singing, reading, crying, or even more strangely, just sitting quietly.  Is this the newest extreme challenge show? No, it’s Adoration, and it’s these kids’ favorite part of a 5 day camp that includes swimming, boating, sports, music, a dance and games that involve getting completely covered in mud.  The man is our camp priest and the bread, of course, is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

It has been my experience that on any good retreat, teens love Adoration best.  Average teens!  Why? For the same reason that someone will eat a roach sandwich on TV. They long to be known.  At the camp I am describing, the priest blessed each and every person with the monstrance, which is a beautiful gift.  But even in huge college auditoriums with thousands of people, that Eucharist reaches every heart from its distant spot on the altar.  In the presence of Jesus, there are no strangers.  With their hearts opened by the other activities of a retreat, the teens encounter Jesus personally.  They are not one of many, but a unique individual known and loved deeply and completely.  The most famous Person in all of history, the One who created time itself and set the world in motion meets each person who comes into His presence, and supplies for each soul’s need.

So, that answers the title question: Reality TV and the Eucharist both speak to the human need to be known.  But of course, we must also contrast these two things.  In the interest of brevity, I will speak to only one main difference.  The fame sought out by those involving themselves in Reality TV is fleeting and empty in the best case scenario, and destructive in the worst.  For all the controversy they stir up today, in 20 years Jon and Kate will be no more than a question in the Entertainment column of the “00’s” Trivial Pursuit game.  The culture will have moved on to something new by then.  In more cases than not, fame consumes the famous, making their downfall a sport for others’ amusement.  At the very least, those who sought to be known through fame will simply be forgotten.

With Jesus, of course, it is the opposite.  Each person who puts themself in the presence of God is connected to the source of their life.  Though God knows us completely even when we do not acknowledge Him, the more time spent with Him leads us to greater absorption of His love.  The more we let Him love us, the better we know ourselves and the closer we get to who we were created to be.

Do you want to be known? Do you want to be the object of affection of the most important Person in the universe? So precious to the King of Ages that He would send His Son to die in your place? You already are.  Go spend some time with Him and He will convince  you that it’s true.  He’s waiting!

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Lessons Learned From Yardwork, pt 2

Okay, so yesterday I talked about my helper in the landscaping rock removal project.  Today I am going to talk about my neighbor.  Those four years when our yard was not in optimal shape, I would look at my retired neighbor’s lawn and cringe.  I started to call it Disneyland, because it was always so nicely manicured.  And I would wade through my own weedbeds and feel like the folks next door were secretly glaring at me through their windows thinking, “I can’t believe we have to look out our windows at that yard.  Maybe we should put up a fence!”

I should clarify right away that the couple next door could be most genuinely kind people that God ever made.  It is clearly my pride that 1.) thought enough of myself to think that the whole neighborhood gave a hoot about my yard, and 2.) didn’t think enough of my neighbors, who probably just thought, “wow, they have a lot going on over there”.  I am getting better.  I am going easier on myself and actually trying to tap into their expertise for advice, which they are always happy to give, but never offer.

Anyway, back to the rock bed.  After my helper abandoned ship, I remembered that my wonderful neighbor had offered to loan us his wheelbarrow if we ever needed it.  Seeing as my Home Depot bucket could only hold about two shovels full of rocks before it got to heavy for me to carry, I jumped when I saw him in his driveway.  We went back to his shed where he not only had a wheelbarrow, but offered me a very solid metal rake and a shovel.  Holy cow, those tools made a HUGE difference!  Earlier, my first attempts at shoveling had proved fruitless because the rocks were so ground in.  But after raking them, they came up easy.  And having the wheelbarrow meant I could actually get a decent amount of rocks loaded before having to dump them on the side of the house.  The project that moments before had seemed eternal now was moving along at a workable pace.

The right tools.  Are you using them in your difficult situation? Of course, for us Christians, the primary one is prayer.  There is a funny correlation in my life between my deepest moments of self pity and my lack of prayer.  How do we expect to keep our eternal perspective, to experience God’s love or the peace that passes all understanding if we are cut off from its source?? And we Catholics have the amazing privilege of the grace of the sacraments.  Reconciliation to free us from the bondage of sin and Eucharist to fortify us in grace.  And don’t forget about Baptism and Confirmation which fill us with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, or the needed vocational grace of Holy Orders or Marriage.  Also, there is study, where we go deeper into our faith so we can come to love God better by knowing him better, and the support of Christian friendships.  Without these tools, at best we plug along patiently picking one handful of rocks at a time, making record-slow progress.  At worst, we simply give up, faced with the impossibility of completing something way beyond our capabilities.

If these tools make our burdens so much lighter, why don’t we always avail ourselves to them? Back to my neighbor situation.  One huge one is pride.  I can do this myself, I don’t need your stinking help.  Another can be a form of pride which is that we assume things about God that aren’t true.  Like me with my yard, we assume God is wagging his head at what a failure we are, and we are afraid that our requests to him will be met with an “I told you so”.  We don’t realize he understands exactly why our yard is such a mess, and is waiting to lend a hand to get it cleaned up.  Or maybe we had just never considered that there was a better way than a pair of gloves and a four-year-old’s dump truck.  Whatever reason, when we recognize that we are off track, we need to equip ourselves.  As I mentioned yesterday, uniformity with God’s will is not just something we “muster up”.  It is a work of grace that comes as a result of using these tools on a regular basis.

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Lessons learned from St. Gianna (Molla)

gianna_sainthoodApril 28th Feast Day of St. Gianna Molla
Our Gianna’s first hospitalization, even though it was her healthiest, was by far the hardest for me.  During later ones we would have the slim hope of transplant to focus on, but during this one, as they tested the heck out of our little girl, we were coming to grips with the truth. Inside what looked like a normal baby was a liver full of cells that couldn’t make enough energy to keep her alive.  Our baby was going to die. Again.

St. Gianna Molla kept me company during those few days, as I had just received a biography of her for Mother’s Day, a week or two before.  There were two things that stood out to me in this particular account of her life. 

The first was of the very real pain her martyrdom caused her family.  It is easy to gloss over this in saints from eras long past, or for priests or religious even.  But here was Pietro Molla, Gianna’s beloved husband, sharing about how hard it was for him to raise their four children alone.  How hard he tried to protect his kids from the limelight surrounding Gianna’s growing popularity and her cause for canonization.  How awkward it was for him to allow his personal love letters to be published all over the world.  It was hard for him to share his Gianna with the Church, when he would much rather her have just been his unspectacular, non-miracle-working, grocery-shopping, diaper- changing wife!  Yet, he knew she was not his to keep to himself, and so he allowed the process to continue.  In 2004, He and their three surviving children (their daughter Mariolina died a few years after Gianna did) were at her canonization ceremony. Wow.

Our Gianna is also a saint, and I can share some of Pietro’s sentiments: saint-making is tough!  Especially at that moment in time, I did not want to share my Gianna with the Church.  I did not want her to intercede for people or inspire them.  I just wanted her to keep making diapers, and spitting up and wearing cute baby clothes, just like any other normal baby who lives to see their first birthday.   I love St. Gianna Molla, and I am grateful for what she did and who she now is.  But dang, she reminds me how real saints are, and that even when God is doing great and wonderful things, it still sometimes hurts!!

The second thing that struck me from that read of Gianna’s life was her unfailing trust in Providence.  Can you imagine having to decide between giving your baby life and giving her a mother? St. Gianna didn’t want to die. She loved life, and especially her family.  But she trusted God: that He was good as He claimed to be, and that He would take care of her family in her absence.  Pietro talks in that book about the times that were darkest for him and the kids and how he could feel Gianna’s tangible presence.  God did come through… through Gianna. 

And this is where we are left today.  Especially as we navigate the waters of a job search, and ponder the future of our family, we need to hold fast to what St. Gianna taught us: to trust in God’s Providence.  How grateful I am today for both of my St. Gianna’s!

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us!
St. Gianna Marie, pray for us!

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Sometimes He Says Yes

The day after Easter my son asked me if he could have lunch.  At 10am.  It wasn’t because he was particularly hungry, just that he knew he couldn’t have any candy until he had eaten lunch.  In Isaac’s case, this behavior is amusing.  With grown-ups much less so.  I would much rather someone come out with their actual question or request rather than dancing around it, hoping I will offer or somehow psychically mind-read the real issue. 

And yet, like many things that drive us crazy about others, it is something I am tempted to myself, and especially with God. It is hard for me to go to Him and ask for something tangible and specific.  Instead, like a preschooler thinking he’ll out-think Him into early candy consumption, I often play spiritual games with Him.  Sometimes I think I hide behind wanting Him to do His will, so that if He chooses not to grant my request I will not be disappointed.  Now, of course it is a good thing to want God’s will in all things.  The saints were people who got to the point where they were as thrilled with rain as sunshine, sickness as health, hunger as plenty, because they knew all things came from the hand of God, and they wanted what He wanted for them.  So, in one sense, it’s good to not put in specific requests.  If we’re doing it for the right reasons.

If we avoid doing so, is it because we are in true uniformity with His will, or because we don’t believe He has time for us, or that we are important enough, or that He is good enough to grant such a request?  These are not good reasons!  God is our Father, and He wants us to ask Him for the stuff we need and want.  Just as I recognize that Isaac biting his finger for the umpteenth time is not the biggest trial he’ll face in life, I empathize that that hurts, so does God see our trials in perspective, but with empathy.  The little things of our lives matter to Him.  And sometimes He needs us to just come out and ask before He will provide something, in order to build up our faith.

This week I had been watching the weather like a hawk.  We had four groups of teens planning to go out to do yard work for parishioners, and it was supposed to be cold and raining.  It occured to me after flippantly asking others to “pray for sun”, that perhaps I should take my own advice.  Very specifically, I asked, “Lord, please let it be sunny enough that we can go do chores tomorrow”.  Saturday morning, I sat down for prayer and read from Matthew about the star of Bethlehem and it occurred to me: God orchestrated a huge, burning ball of gas millions of lightyears from earth to show the location of a tiny baby in a stable.  He can hold off some rain for a few hours.  As I finished praying, the clouds cleared and the whole day was dry enough to work. 

Could God have been glorified through a weather cancellation? Absolutely.  But I think He chose to answer my little prayer to build up my faith.  To show me that I can trust Him with the small things as well as the big.  I have started getting specific with Him in bigger things.  It is good to remember that even though sometimes He says no for our own good, sometimes He does say “yes”!

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In the Presence of Greatness

Last night I had dinner with the Archbishop. Impressed? Don’t be.  I was kind of along for the ride with one of my young ladies who is open to a vocation to the religious life.  The Vocation Office hosts these dinners at the Archbishop’s residence in order that the young women might hear some sisters’ vocation stories and get some advice on beginning to discern God’s plan for their own lives.  So it wasn’t anything great I did that got me there. But still, it was pretty cool to be served dinner by a successor to the Apostles and to pray with him in his own chapel.  Cool and not a little bit awkward.  I never know what to say to important people, and inevitably end up saying something I instantly think is stupid.  At the end of the night, I thanked the Archbishop for a personal letter that he had sent us when Gianna was sick this summer, and I saw him look at my nametag, trying to remember who I was.  I don’t say this to fault the Archbishop.  He shepherds thousands of souls, and as one who has a part in the lives of only hundreds, I understand well the limits of the human person.  I think we all left impressed by his hospitality and honored that he opened his home and schedule to us.

Earlier in the day, I had a different experience.  I had met with a group of youth ministers about our summer youth camp, and spent over an hour praying for the camp in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  During this prayer time we had a chance to pray over each member of the group. Each person’s experience was so unique, each receiving what he or she needed from the Lord.  How interesting that in this instance, we were in the presence of one much greater than the Archbishop (his boss, in fact!) and instead of awkward fear there was peace.  In the presence of the One to whom “all authority on heaven and earth has been given” we felt deeply known, accepted, loved.

This is a phenomena we Christians should not take for granted.  Jesus calls us not to be slaves, but friends.  What?!? The God of the universe calls us friends? That which makes us feel nervous and out of place in the presence of persons of great power should be so magnified in the presence of God that we cannot get up off our faces.  After all, He could smite us with a blink of the eye.  Instead, this great Deity stoops down and washes our feet, or better yet, sheds every last drop of His blood to win for us the right to call Him friend.  And if Jesus was going to go through that much suffering to establish a relationship, by all means we honor Him by taking Him up on the invitation.  But I think it does us good to remember how truly strange it is to be able to approach with confidence the Throne of Grace, how unique it is that our Creator calls us himself our bridegroom and how profoundly grateful we should be for the privilege.

Something to think about next time we are invited to Jesus’ house for supper…

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