Phil 4: 4-8

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Make a Difference

During his homily for the 7:00 a.m. Mass we attended at St. Bernard’s monastery, Father Francis reflected on the thoughts he had during a recent sidewalk Rosary for life that he and a group prayed.  He talked about how, at the time, he wondered, “What difference does this really make?  Cars are going by so fast and no one’s reading our posters.  No one in those cars can hear our prayers.  It just seems futile.”  But—after thinking further about it upon his return to the monastery, Father told us, he knew that it did indeed make a difference—that anytime we pray to our Lord, it makes a difference—and we should never forget that.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding marriage, a lot of us have been feeling somewhat discouraged.  Although many had suspected there was a reasonable probability of a decision like this one occurring, it was still a punch in the gut when it came to be.  There are plenty of articles, posts and interviews from clergy and other experts dissecting the decision and prognosticating the future of religious freedom in the United States.  This has left a lot of us wondering what the heck just happened, and why, after all the praying ostensibly being done prior to the SCOTUS decision, such a whacky outcome occurred.  Some may even wonder, as did Fr. Francis, what difference did it really make?

Recently Cardinal George Pell, told the participants at a conference in Ireland that we are “are entering a new phase of political struggle which can only be fought by lay people.” Some pundits blame Church leadership over the last few decades for the catechesis or lack thereof that has led to the culture we now face and the resulting struggle that it has created.  Whatever the reason, the fact is that in the here and now, we all have a job to do, clergy, religious and laity alike, and it’s going to take more than committed, orthodox bishops and priests to address the mess we presently find ourselves in.  It’s up to all of us to make a difference.

But how can an ordinary lay person make a difference, given all that we’re facing in this secularized culture—isn’t it like trying to drain the ocean with a measuring cup?  It may feel like that at times, but we need to remember that Jesus told us, “…with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26).  How can an ordinary lay person make a difference?  Here are some ideas we might prayerfully consider:

·       Beef up our daily prayer.  Prayer is speaking with God, developing a relationship with Him.  We don’t develop strong relationships with other created beings without dialoguing with them, and we won’t develop a strong relationship with the Creator without dialoging with Him.
·       Pray the Rosary.  As part of our prayer regimen, we ought to be including a Rosary a day.  None other than St. Padre Pio said, “The Rosary is the ‘weapon’ for these times.”  It was true then and it is true now.
·       Mass intentions.  Request that one or more Masses be said for our special intentions for the country.
·       Get involved in parish ministries.  Many parishes have a variety of ministries in which we can play a part, ranging from supporting liturgical celebrations, to men’s and to women’s ministries, and to pro-life and evangelization ministries, to name a few.   
·       Contact our bishops.  We may want to ask them to support a nationwide day of prayer or Rosary for our nation—it worked at the battle of LePanto, didn’t it?  The current head of the USCCB, Abp. Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D. can be reached at
·       Contact our senators and representatives.  We should encourage them to sponsor and pass legislation that protects religious liberty.
·       Evangelize by our actions.  We can show others charity in our interactions with them and let them see God’s merciful love in our interactions with them and with other people.
·       Don’t be afraid to speak the truth.  At the very least, we all need to pray for the fortitude to speak up when positions are raised by others that run counter to our Catholic Christian beliefs.  It may be uncomfortable, but who would we rather offend—our Creator in eternity, by not speaking out, or other created beings in this short life here on earth?

As Christians, we face an increasingly likely future of religious persecution, given the legislative and judicial temperament of the country.  Consider as just one example the bakers fined $135,000 recently.  Yet it seems that many Catholics and other Christians are oblivious to this possibility.  Either that, or they believe it’s something that someone else will address—no need for them personally to get involved.  But there is a very real need for each and every one of us to get involved, and there is no time like the present to begin doing so. 

And something else to remember is that despair and discouragement don’t come from God—they’re from the evil one.  He wants us to think that it doesn’t matter what we do, that all hope is lost and that the secular, relativist, atheistic agenda is winning.  That’s why we must heed St. Paul’s advice: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22). 

What kind of legacy do we want to leave our children and grandchildren?  We CAN and must make a difference. 


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Prescription for Stress Reduction

Recently, I attended a webinar in which the presenter discussed the effects of stress in our lives, citing various statistics about heart muscle regeneration, chemicals our body releases, neurotransmitters, etc.   As it happens, I’d been reading a book recommended during a homily by Fr. Miguel on EWTN recently, Be Healed, written by Dr. Bob Schuchts from the John Paul II Healing Center.  In it Schuchts tells us that many experts believe 90% to 95% of all physical illnesses are caused by stress.   In fact, he cites resources that link unresolved anger and bitterness to an increased probability of many forms of cancer, arthritis, digestive problems, and heart and immune system issues, just to name a few.   The general message here (stress is bad for us) probably isn’t news to anyone, but the approach suggested by the webinar presenter for dealing with stress is something that you may find interesting—I know I did.

Based on psychological and physiological research, the webinar presenter suggested in a nutshell that we would all benefit by cultivating a stronger awareness of the positive elements of our lives and taking occasional breaks throughout the day to recharge mentally.  More specifically, her formula for success includes:
  1. Start the day quietly reflecting on what you are thankful for (10 to 20 minutes)
  2. Take a break—disengage and unplug—mid-morning to quietly meditate for a couple of minutes
  3. At noon, do the same—disengage and unplug—for about five minutes
  4. Midafternoon—same drill as in the morning—disengage and unplug—to quietly meditate for a couple of minutes
  5. End the day with a reflection on all that you have to be thankful for

Does this process of starting and ending the day in thanksgiving, together with some pauses to reflect during the day, look suspiciously familiar to you?  It’s not unlike the Divine Office, which has been prayed in one form or another in the Catholic Church since about the 12th century by the clergy and religious, as well as some laity, who stop throughout the day to recite the prayers.  Now admittedly, it might be difficult for many of us in the laity to be able to take the time required during our work days to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours, but we all can find some time at the start and end of the day, and perhaps during the day, for short periods of prayer.

For example, at a less intense level than praying the Divine Office, in Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Fr. Michael Gaitley suggests getting into a prayer routine that includes at a minimum, a morning offering prayer, which includes offering thanks to our Eternal Father for all that He’s done for us, (including His gift of our small share of suffering), pausing at the 3:00 o’clock hour for reflection on our Lord’s passion and Divine Mercy, and closing out the evening with an examen process that includes a prayer of thanksgiving as well. 

Consider also the current advice from many Christians, including Catholic Christians, to develop an “attitude of gratitude” if one wants to improve their life.  In fact, besides recommending that we take some time out each day to read the Gospel, inserting ourselves into the scenes as we meditate on them, St. JosemarĂ­a Escrivá continually exhorts us through his writings to be grateful to God for all things.   

More recently, in an interview posted at EWTN, therapist Eric Gudan states that,

 “Gratitude is a positive moral affect. In other words, it is a pleasant feeling arising from the good action another has done to you, from judging that it has been good for you…A growing number of studies have linked gratitude with higher general feelings of happiness and have found that more grateful persons are more satisfied with life. This includes people who may not necessarily feel grateful, but attempt to arrive at the virtue by mental exercises such as thinking about the gifts that they received…

…one way of confronting depression is seeing the power that negative attitudes have upon our experience of the world and our relationships, affecting our behaviors and ultimately even our brain chemistry…Depressed persons generally have a negative attitude…This negative attitude becomes a filter that focuses and amplifies all the bad things that happen...Gratitude, on the other hand, is the uplifting feeling resulting from the recognition that another person has done something good for us. Instead of a negative self-focus, gratitude has a positive other-focus.

We have been created to love and be loved. There is a way to consider every person you come into contact with as a gift, an opportunity to love in order to become the person you were made to be.  In addition, any love that you have experienced through another person is a gift. Thus, with this attitude, there is always something to be grateful for.”

So, the bottom line in all of this would seem to be that developing a healthy prayer life, asking for the grace daily to maintain an attitude of thanks and praise, and consciously being thankful to God for all things will lead to a better life—and it really does work!

As a sidebar to this post, at the end of the webinar referred to above, the host asked me specifically if I had any questions.  I told him, “No—no questions really, but rather a comment:  It occurs to me that what you’re suggesting in a secular context is something that we believers have been doing through daily prayer for a very long time.”  At this, there was some commotion and background noise, throat clearing, etc., followed by a short pause, ending with the host’s non sequitur, “Well…I go for walks,” together with silence from the presenter… J

Blog post re: the Divine Office from Ian at Aquinas and More store, Ft. Collins, CO

More in-depth discussion of Divine Office from EWTN

Laudate App for iPhones/iPads – access to Divine Office

Magnificat website – morning and evening readings and daily Mass readings

Article from ETWN about gratitude’s salutary effects on depression