I respect Billy Graham. He’s the real deal.
Nigerian Christians have suffered a decade of murderous attacks from militant islamists, in particular the killer cult of Boko Haram.
At the same time, Christianity has been growing. The Pentecostal movement is flourishing in Nigeria with all night prayer services drawing thousands of worshipers.
The old saying is, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Present-day martyrs for Christ are no exception to that.
From PRI The World:
Credit: Rowan Moore Gerety
Under an open-air pavilion built to seat a million people, children sleep on mats spread out on the cobblestones while their parents enter their 6th consecutive hour of worship.
All-night prayer vigils are at the core of the country’s booming Pentecostal movement. Some churches draw worshippers in the hundreds of thousands.
At one church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Friday night vigils take place in what locals call an “auditorium.” It’s a covered pavilion the size of 87 football fields, and it’s not quite big enough. The church has already cleared ground for a bigger one.
In fact, it’s something of a pattern: the church’s old pavilion was demolished a few years back, and now vendors have set up shop on the old foundation.
“Once the service starts, all these people selling, they’ll close their shops and go inside the auditorium to listen to the word of God,” says Wale Akande, a volunteer who stands by the auditorium, welcoming visitors to the Holy Ghost Service in a fluorescent green vest.
The pavilion here was built in 2000 to seat a million people. It’s basically a corrugated rooftop. The ground below is paved with cobblestones and lined with thousands of crude wooden benches and plastic chairs. Akande says attendance is down tonight because of rain; the pavilion is only a third full.
Not, mind you, the gun-toting, building-blowing-up, people-killing kind of revolutionary. If we would just pull the shades off our eyes, we’d see that killer revolutionaries are old hat, trite and not really all that unusual. People have been killing people since Cain and Abel.
Jesus was the kind of revolutionary who lights the spark of ideas that wind through the centuries, slowly elevating all of humankind. He was the counter-cultural, upside-down uber revolutionary of all time who taught us that the God who made everything everywhere loves us and knows all about us down to and including every single hair on our heads.
This attention to life and love is universal, it seems, since the same Jesus told us that not even a bird falls from the sky but that the God of everything, everywhere knows and takes note of it. This is the God Who looked at creation and said, “It is good.”
Jesus is a revolutionary today, just as much as He was in first century Palestine.
His Vicar, Pope Francis, has been speaking and teaching this same revolutionary message that His Master taught 2,000 years ago. He hasn’t changed the message. Pope Benedict taught the same Good News, as has every other Vicar of Christ. Despite their failings and weaknesses, not one of these men has ever departed from the Gospel Good News of Jesus Christ to teach a false gospel of god made in our image.
For reasons that I think have a lot more to do with the Holy Spirit than those who are slavering over the Holy Father’s teachings would ever admit, this old wine of the Gospel has become new again in Pope Francis’ way of expressing and living it.
“Bombshell” is the word that pundits attach to comments he makes that are nothing more nor less than what the Church has taught from the beginning. I keep hearing about these “bombshell” comments from people who are offended or upset by them.
So, I’m going to go over them and try to explain why the only thing new about them is the simple fact that the revolutionary teachings of Jesus Christ are always new and always challenging. Following Him is not now and never has been for sissies.
Here are a few examples of statements the press has termed a ‘bombshell.’ Give them a look. You’ll see what I mean.
1. Who am I to judge?
What this statement is not:
Pope Francis’ said this in relation to a priest who is in a prominent Vatican position, and who had fallen into public sexual sin in his past. This particular priest also happens to be homosexual, so his sexual sin was with other men. The Pope simply said that if a man has repented and is trying to live his vows and the Church teachings, “Who am I to judge?’
This was not a statement that gay sex is ok. It was not a statement that it’s ok for priests to break their vows.
What this statement is:
It was an affirmation that we are all made new in Christ. I am the recipient of this same grace, as, if you will be honest, are you.
St Paul murdered Christians before he became the great apostle. St Peter denied he ever knew Christ and cursed His name before he became the first pope.
If a priest falls off the chastity wagon and then repents and lives his vows afterwards, how is that different from you and me? Who, as the pope said, are we to judge?
2. And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.
What this is statement is not:
Pope Francis was not saying that all truth is equal and one “god” is as good as another. He was not saying that Jesus is just one among many Gods.
What this statement is:
The Pope was telling us that there is One God, that Jesus Christ is His son, and that this Jesus is Lord of all, including the Catholic Church and the Pope. The Church doesn’t own God. God owns the Church.
3. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.
What this statement is not:
The Pope is not saying that Church teaching is picayune and that we can ignore it.
What this statement is:
The Pope is saying “by grace you are saved and that not of yourself.” You can not earn heaven. Jesus Christ has saved you. We belong to Him, or we don’t. It’s our choice.
4. We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
What this statement is not:
It is not a repudiation of 2,000 years of Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life and holy matrimony. The Holy Father is not undoing what Jesus did at the Wedding of Cana. He is not saying that the early Christians were wrong when they condemned child sacrifice and abandoning disabled children and baby girls.
What it is:
The Holy Father is telling us that abortion and gay marriage are not the only sins against life and against God. As I sometimes jokingly say, you can’t claim, “I am anti-abortion, so that means I can rob all the banks I want.” We need to live out the whole Gospels in our Christian walk, not just one or two commandments.
5. It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.
I’m not even going to try to explain what this is not. It’s obvious what the Pope was saying to priests and nuns: Walk the walk.
It applies to the rest of us, too, which may be why some people get so upset about it.
Prayer is a conversation.
Prayer is an action.
Prayer is friendship, love, companionship and trust.
It is not a performance or a recipe you must follow to “get it right.”
I’ve read a trove of books and articles about prayer down through the years, all of them well-meaning, and none of them either wrong or right. The authors of these books and articles seek to give Christians instructions or a methodology for doing prayer right.
The most common advice is to avoid laundry-list prayers in which you just say “I want this. I want that.” as if He was your personal genie and prayer was the lamp. That’s good advice, by the way, for the reason that just listing your wants is not prayer at all for the simple reason that it’s not conversation. It is, at base, rude and presumptuous. How would you feel if the only time you heard from your kids is when they want something?
But the writers who give this advice usually try to help you out by giving you a formula to follow before you present your list of wants. Begin your prayers with another list, they tell you. List your thank-yous. Then move into a list of praises for the wonderment of God’s creation. Don’t forget to ask forgiveness for your sins. After all this, you can get back to the real reason for praying and trot out that list of wants.
The main problem with this advice is that it’s just another kind of clocking in. It is predicated on formulas found in the Old Testament (Think Abraham dickering with the angels over Sodom and Gomorrah) and also mirrors the formulas of many public worship services.
Even though it is based on legitimate foundations, when you go through it as you kneel beside your bed at night, it is not genuine. You may be following the recipe, but your heart is really only in the end piece where you ask for the things you want.
There is nothing wrong, in fact, there is a whole lot right with saying thank you to God for the blessings of your life. There is certainly nothing wrong with pondering His greatness. We all need to confess our sins and ask His forgiveness. It is wise to do this daily.
But you don’t need to go through this whole list of worship stuff in order to pray. In fact, practicing prayer in this way can lead to, well, practicing prayer instead of actually praying from the heart. If it’s a performance, God sees through it, even more clearly than you do — and if you will admit it, you see through it too.
Other people advise that you use a totally formulaic approach. The most common formula used by Catholics is the prayer-meditation of the Rosary. Protestants urge the laying on of hands and a sort of rotational prayer among friends. They also advise “claiming God’s promises” by quoting a verse of Scripture and telling God you are “claiming” His promise in that scripture.
I’m a big fan of the Rosary myself. Prayerfully meditating on the Gospels through the heart of Mary is a powerful experience. I’ve also had groups of people gather around me, lay their hands on me and take turns praying for me. That’s an incredibly powerful experience, as well.
I am, however, not so much in favor of the “claiming God’s promises” stuff. The prayers I’ve heard that were done in this way sounded more like an attempt to bully God than worship Him. But maybe I just haven’t heard it done right. I’ll leave that to people who know more about it.
Still other authors advise that you meditate on a painting or crucifix to focus your mind while you pray. There are those who tell you to set aside a place in your home for your prayers.
None of this is bad advice in itself — except perhaps for the effrontery of reminding God of His “promises” like a lawyer carping at a witness on the stand — and all of it can have positive applications.
However, these various pieces of advice and formula can leave the average Christian with tongue-tied brains where prayer is concerned.
I’ve been there.
I never could get into the first, say thank you, then praise god, then confess your sins, then ask for what you want formula. I tried it a couple of times, and it was dead as dirt for me. God and I both knew I had reduced Him to a little g god of doing it right instead of the big God Who is a living being. So I chucked that bit of advice almost as soon as I considered it.
However, I did drink deeply of the notion that I should not just ask God for things. Unfortunately for me, this led to a deeper and almost immediate shut down of praying altogether. Somehow I morphed this into an admonition not to bother God with my itty bitty stuff.
I almost quit praying for a time, simply because I’d read too many books telling me all the right ways to pray, and the sum total of them was to make me feel that my little prayers were unworthy.
I reached the point that I never asked God for my wants, stopped talking to Him about my hurts and fears and pits and stains, aches and scars. I felt that all this stuff of my life was unworthy of Him and since it was just about everything I had going on in my mind, I didn’t have anything much to say.
When I first found Christ, I chattered to Him almost like a stream of consciousness prayer. I would fall asleep at night, just talking to the Lord about whatever was in my mind. But somewhere along the line, I become too sophisticated for that. I began to try to pray “right” and in the process, I found myself praying to a wall instead of entering into conversation with my heavenly Father.
My prayers got drier the more I censured them. When I read enough books to become convinced that it was wrong for me to go to Him with my picayune wants and needs, that I should only approach God with problems that were worthy of God, my prayers verged into formulaic deadness.
I stopped praying except in church because I didn’t feel that my prayers were worthy to be prayed.
It was a strange time of living faith without conversation with the One in Whom I had such faith.
In all this time, God never left me. His presence was right there with me, but He was quiet, letting me bumble around in my unworthiness.
What saved me was, ironically enough, a prayer. I had a personal problem, a family problem, that was driving me up one side of the proverbial wall and back down the other side and then back up again. It was one of those things I couldn’t solve and didn’t think I could bear. I just burst out saying, “Lord, I know I’m not supposed to talk to you about this, but it is more than I can handle.”
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I realized as I was praying my desperation prayer about my desperate little problem that I had it all wrong. I was supposed to be talking to Him about these “little” things that make up my life. Because …
My prayers are not “worthy” of Him. Ever.
I are not “worthy” of Him. Ever.
That is the point of Calvary. The cross on which Jesus died is the bridge. We walk through Calvary onto the cross and into God’s loving arms. Not because we are “worthy” but because we are loved.
If you love God, you will find yourself thanking Him spontaneously. When you look into your baby’s eyes. When you finally get that new house. When you find a job. When you lie down at night in a comfortable bed. You’ll say “Thank you” from your grateful heart without any formalities.
If you love God, you will find your awe of His greatness spontaneously. When you look up at the night sky. Or down the tube of a microscope. When you see your child on an ultrasound or stand on a ship and watch a whale break through the water, glistening in the sunlight. You’ll know that He is God.
There is no reason to turn your prayers into formal worship sessions. Prayer is talk. Not God talk. But talking with God, your heavenly Father, Who loves you beyond your ability to comprehend.
It’s not only ok to chatter to God the way you did to your parents as a small child, it’s good. Prayer is putting your hand in His hand and walking through life beside Him.
I still pray the Rosary, by the way. I also pray a prayer of consecration to Our Lady. I do not ever refuse to have people lay hands on me and pray for me. Every single one of these things blesses and sustains me.
Real prayer is conversation and these things are just another type of conversation.
Don’t worry about praying worthily. Just consider that the same God Who made everything, everywhere; Who holds all of existence in existence with a single thought, enjoys your conversation that same way you enjoy listening to the talk of your little children or, as in my case, my elderly mother.
Consider that miracle of miracles. And be grateful.
Then talk to Him from your heart.
Our Lady specifically asked at Fatima that we insert this prayer into each decade when we pray the Rosary.
These are the other prayers we were taught at Fatima:
My God, I believe, I adore, I trust and I love you. I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love you.
When we offer something to God
Oh my Jesus, it is for love of you, in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for the conversion of poor sinners.
When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament
Most Holy Trinity, I adore you! My God, my God, I adore you in the most blessed Sacrament.
The Angel’s Prayer
With the Blessed Sacrament suspended in mid-air, the Angel of Fatima prostrated himself and prayed,
Most Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — I adore you profoundly. I offer you the most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ — present in all the tabernacles of the world — in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners.
Why do non-Catholics want so desperately for the Catholic Church to change its teachings?
It’s fascinating, the amount of emotion at least some non-Catholics seem to have about Catholic teaching. I can tell you that when I was in the anti-God period of my life, I did not give one whit what any church taught. I paid them the ultimate diss of not giving a care.
But from what I’ve seen on this blog, there are a large number of people who claim to be atheist or some what-not version of what I was in my anti-God period, who appear to think about Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular, 24/7. They appear to be, in a word, obsessed with the minutiae of Catholic teaching.
If you doubt this, go to some of the atheist blogs. All they ever talk about is God, Christian teaching, and the Bible.
There are a few issues in particulate that really rev their engines. They are:
When someone confronts them with the obvious inconsistency implied in their obsessive demands that a Church they claim is a stupid cult alter teachings that they claim are based on a myth, they start denouncing Catholics for using their rights as American citizens to vote and advocate according to their consciences.
It’s as if it offends them that Catholics have the same rights to vote, free assembly and to petition their government as other citizens. I suppose it’s true that it does offend them. Because one takeaway I get from reading the comments from most (not all, there are a couple of clear exceptions) of these people is that they are, at base, bullies.
I also think that the core reason they keep coming around here to drop off their load of insults (most of the truly insulting ones never see the light of day on this blog) is that they are either mental on some level, or, whether they will admit it or not, they are God haunted people who desperately want what the Church offers, which is peace with God, eternal life and a spiritual home. It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to go to God on God’s terms. They want Him — meaning His Church — to come to them on their terms.
These are people who refuse to be forgiven for their sins. What they want is to have the Almighty ratify their sins. They are obsessed with finding, not absolution, but vindication, from a Church they claim they believe is a fraud.
However, that’s just my reaction. Yours may be different. I’m going to throw this open for discussion.
Why do you think nonbelievers are so obsessed with the Catholic Church?
Divorce is one of the plagues of modern America. It is the root cause of much of the misery of our modern life. The damage it does to our children and their children and their children’s children is incalculable. It is almost as if we have visited a social plague of Biblical proportions on ourselves with our disregard for marriage, home and family.
And we do disregard these things.
Social policy, especially as it pertains to how business activities are regulated, do not ever seem to consider the good the family. If you want to see what people really care about, look at what they serve. Judged by that standard, American government — and the American people as well — consistently put the Almighty dollar ahead of families, including, or perhaps most especially, children.
Divorce is a cause and a symptom of these values, as well as a result of them. In this way, we have created a divorce cycle that feeds on itself and appears to be endangering the survival of the institution of Holy Matrimony in the larger society. If we are heading toward a society where only certain groups of people maintain stable homes and families, there is no better place for one of those groups to form than among faithful Catholics.
It appears that the foundation for this sort of thing may already be in place.
According to a recent study by the Applied Research Apostolate at Georgetown University, Catholics divorce. In fact, Catholics divorce a lot. But compared to those other guys and gals out there, Catholics don’t divorce so much.
I suppose it’s a relief to learn that we’re not as prone as non-Catholics to steer our marriages — and our lives and our children’s lives — onto the rocks. In fact, I know it’s good news. The study shows that 28% of Catholics have been divorced at some time in their lives. I am assuming that this includes people who converted to Catholicism after they were divorced. If that’s true, the numbers for cradle Catholics might be even lower. Catholics who are married to other Catholics divorce at the slightly lower rate of 27%, so there may be something to that notion.
Protestants divorce at a rate of 39%, other faiths at 35% and people of no faith at 40%.
What this means is that, while we’re far from the point where we need to pop open the champagne and begin congratulating ourselves, we have a basis of solid Catholic families on which to build. Our ultimate goal should be the conversion of the larger society. But for now, I think it’s more than enough for us to look to ways to strengthen and build strong Catholic families which can raise children who will grow into productive and faithful adults.
I’ll talk about this more later, but we’re going to have to face the reality that our society is inimical to us and our values. If we want to live the true good life of stable homes that produce children who grow into equally stable adults, we face the necessity — not the choice, but the necessity — of pulling our families and our kids out of the cesspools of modern life.
We can no longer rely on the larger culture to be a safe place for our kids. And we certainly cannot rely on the larger culture to teach either us or them about what matters in life. Following Christ has always been counter-cultural. It was a scandal to the larger society from its beginning. In a very real way, we simply need to go back to our New Testament Gospel roots and live out our faith as the countercultural force it is and always has been.
From Catholic News Agency:
Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2013 / 05:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Recent studies on marriage show that while their rates of divorce are significant, U.S. Catholics are less likely to divorce than people of other religious affiliations.
“Although the Catholic ‘divorce rate’ is lower than the U.S. average it is still a daunting figure,” said the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
In a Sept. 26 blog post, the research group explained that divorce among Catholics “represents more than 11 million individuals,” many of whom “are likely in need of more outreach and ongoing ministry from the Church.”
In its article, the organization explained that different ways of tallying divorce and marriage rates create a range of different divorce figures, including the oft-quoted statistic that “half of all marriages fail.”
Looking at national surveys, “Catholics stand out with only 28 percent of the ever-married having divorced at some point,” the blog post stated, compared to more than 40 percent of those with no religious affiliation, 39 percent of Protestants and 35 percent of those of another religious faith.
Furthermore, Catholics who marry other Catholics are also less likely to divorce than Catholics married to people of other faiths.
A 2007 survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates that only 27 percent of Catholics married to other Catholics have ever experienced divorce, compared to nearly half of Catholics married to Protestants or to spouses with no religious belief.