If You Get Real with God. He Will Get Real with You.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by pcstratman https://www.flickr.com/photos/32495192@N07/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by pcstratman https://www.flickr.com/photos/32495192@N07/

Corrie ten Boom called it dying grace.

St Paul referred to it as “the peace that passes all understanding.”

I have described it as a bell jar that was over me, protecting me.

It is the grace of God, and it comes to us when we need it to do His will.

There are many caveats about this grace, none of which I’ve read in books, but which I’ve learned by walking with Christ.

First, you don’t get this grace when you don’t need it. Dying grace is for the dying. The peace that passes all understanding is for times when you’re in such deep trouble that peace of any sort would confound. The bell jar was for a time when I was being attacked while trying to pass pro life legislation.

The elements I’ve observed about this big-time, empowering grace are that (1) It is not given just because you ask for it, because, say, the hot water tank broke and flooded the floor, (2) It is given when you need it and (3) It is given when you need it to do His will, and (4) You can count on it on those times.

Dying grace comes to the dying; not those who are twenty years from dying and hypering themselves into a panic over what will happen one day.

The peace that passes all understanding comes when you are faced with that which cannot be borne without the grace of God.

The bell jar came to me — unbidden, I might add — when I was gritting my teeth to bull dog my way through doing His will, no matter what.

Dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/the bell jar are a function of the deepest humility there is: When you are on your knees before the cross with the full knowledge of your unworthiness.

If you want to follow Jesus, you need to be ready to find yourself in situations where you need this grace. Because they will come.

How do you get ready for situations where you face anger, gossip, slander, loss of livelihood, even death, attacks, and unfathomable terror as the price of your faithfulness to the Lord?

The Bible tells us quite clearly how we do this. The message is repeated all through it.

You reject burnt offerings, a broken and contrite heart you will accept. King David prayed that when he was lost in sin. We pray the same words every Lent.

But do we “get” what the words are telling us?

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to pray. The Pharisee in the story stands for every holier-than-thou-sure-of-their-own-righteousness person in the world today. The tax collector stands in for the drug dealers, corporatists, rapists, murderers, adulterers, Christian bashers, abortionists, pornographers, bribe-taking officials — the in-your-face sinners among us.

The Pharisee stood before God and pointed to the tax collector. I thank you that I am not like that sinner, he prayed. The tax collector bowed down before God in misery because of his remorse for his sins and prayed Have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Jesus made it clear that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home that day justified before God.

You reject burnt offerings which means, among other things, all the good works we are so proud of and the goodness we see in ourselves. A broken and contrite heart you will accept, meaning, among other things, genuine sorrow for the things we’ve done to hurt other people.

When we get to heaven, I think the biggest surprise may be who else shows up. There is a universal (as in, I do it too) impulse to justify and understand our own sins while condemning without mercy those of other people. But if you stand before God, clothed in the garments of your own self-annointed righteousness, the Scriptures tell us that you will be clothed in filthy rags rather than heavenly garments.

Twenty-one Christians died proclaiming their faith in Christ on a beach in Libya a couple of weeks ago. Christians live the hell of violent persecution throughout that region of the world. Christian girls are sold into sex slavery, which, in my opinion, is a much deeper and more hideous martyrdom than the one those men suffered on the beach. If I had to chose, I would chose the beach over sex slavery any day.

How do they keep their faith? How do they find the grace to proclaim Jesus in those circumstances? How does a parent whose daughter has been taken, whose son has been beheaded, find the grace to continue their walk with Christ?

The answer is, they don’t. That grace comes from God. We don’t create it or deserve it. It is given to us, like eternal life, out of His love for us.

But what of those who stumble? What of those who recant their faith and “convert” to Islam to save their lives? What of those who wet their pants in terror and cry for their mamas? What of those who fall into the alone of being helpless in the hands of human monsters and crack apart, unable to pull themselves back from the horror?

Does God stop loving them?

Are we called to punish them?

The answers are no, and no.

There is another grace that comes to believers, and it is the grace of forgiveness. It isn’t so flashy as dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/bell jar grace. But it is the their forerunner.

If you want grace that will see you through you personal apocalypse, you have to begin by living the graces of ordinary life. Perhaps the first and foremost grace we should consider in this Lenten season is the grace of forgiveness.

Lent is not just about going to confession and getting yourself cleaned up from your sins. It is not just about no meat on Fridays and “doing” the stations of the cross. Lent is also, and most painfully for just about all of us, about forgiving.

Look into your hearts this Lent, and if there is someone who is like a running sore in your life, someone who has wronged you and hurt you and who perhaps continues to hurt you, take a moment and pray for them. Ask God to be merciful to them and take care of them. You will be amazed what this will do for you. You pray for them, and God gives to you, as well.

If you want dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/bell jar grace when you need it, you have to do the little things now. If you cannot do them in love, then do them in obedience.

Practice forgiveness this Lent. Even if you don’t show up for the Stations and you forget and eat chicken salad instead of tuna salad on Friday, remember to pray for those who persecute you and use you unjustly. Ask God to take the beam of resentment, self-righteousness and self-pity out of your eye. Do that instead of obsessing over whether or not you hit your head on the cabinet and took the Lord’s name in vain.

Get real with God. If you do that, believe me, He will get real with you.

 

My Vocation Story by Fr Jason Smith

 

“God our Father, send us holy priests, all for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus all for the Immaculate Heart of Mary in union with St Joseph. Amen.”

Prayers don’t get much more Catholic than that one. With its talk of eucharistic and immaculate hearts, it’s enough to confuse the average protestant for days.

My rosary group prays this particular prayer every time we get together. We also pray by name for all the priests in our archdiocese. We know, as all Catholics do, that our Church is built around the sacrament of Holy Orders. The graces of God rain down on us Catholics in a free and easy way, like a gentle spring shower, when we partake of the sacraments such as the eucharist and confession.

Jesus instituted the priesthood as a mechanism of transmission of these graces. It is meant to be reliable and available. Freely given, freely received. Priests are conduits of God’s grace.

As such, they are an essential component to living the life in Christ in this difficult and challenging age with its destructive secularism and intolerance of genuine Christianity.

We need priests. We need holy priests who are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to give their lives in the service of Christ’s Church.

This is the story of Father Jason Smith’s vocation. Fr Smith blogs at Biltrix. He has given me permission to reproduce his story in full.

My Vocation Story

Fr Jason Smith

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary priest today.As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.

When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go.

That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers. As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called, “True Devotion to Mary”. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short.

I never read beyond the introduction, but the book changed my life. It explained how St Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It was precisely then that I renewed the resolution I had made a two years earlier to pray and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a resonance I will never forget— if there is one thing I should do it’s that. It was the defining moment of my calling. I was taken entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where.

To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then the years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by his grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.

Now only a few days away from priestly ordination, in my conversations with Christ, I continually thank him for the many gifts he has given me: my faith, my wonderful parents and brother, my Legionary vocation, and above all, his presence and friendship throughout my life.

I can hardly believe I have arrived at the foot of the altar. It seems almost a dream; that I’ll wake up, finding myself back in Minnesota, late for a hockey game. But it’s true. God’s plans are far beyond, and far better, then my own.

Princes, Human Beings and Doing the Things We Hate

John Corapi shook people’s faith.

The bishops who repeatedly transferred child-abusing priests shook people’s faith.

I tremble to think of it, but I imagine that if I fell into some deep disgrace, that would shake a few people’s faith.

I can’t speak for other people, but I want everyone who knows me to understand that I fall flat on my spiritual face on a pretty regular basis. Don’t look to me for salvation, or even a good example. If you look to me for anything, it should be proof that God’s love is greater than all our sins and weaknesses, that the only thing we have to fear is living by our own understanding rather than His.

Despite the love and forgiveness God has showered on me, I still sin. I will always sin until I go home to Him.

St Paul said it best: “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.”  

That’s one of the greatest saints talking. If he couldn’t manage to live sinlessly, why should I expect that of myself? How can I expect it of anyone else?

I am not asking anyone to “forgive” these failed priests and bishops. I am offering an admonition, a plea, for people to stop confusing them with Christ the Lord.

“Do not put your faith in princes and human beings, who cannot save.” the Psalmist tells us.

Do not worship your spiritual leaders or expect them to be more than the fallen human beings they are. Priests and bishops are our spiritual leaders. They are our teachers. They are men who have consented to be conduits of God’s grace by way of the sacraments. They bring us Jesus in the Eucharist, which makes them precious to us. God can and does reach through them and into us to deliver healing and help.

But they are also made of dust, just like the rest of us. They can and will betray you and hurt you and, yes, betray and dishonor the vows they’ve taken and the trust people place in them. They can do this. And they will. They will, because that is our common human fate as co-inheritors of original sin. Yes, we are also co-inheritors of eternal life in Christ. Yes, we are forgiven this blight on our souls, washed clean of its eternal smear by the blood of Calvary. But so long as we live in this fallen world and eat of its fruits we will be subject to our own fallen natures.

“I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate.”  

That’s all of us, including these fallen priests and bishops who have betrayed themselves and their own souls along with the great trust that was placed in them. That is why we should never confuse these men with the God they serve.

I try to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church because I know they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. I respect the work that priests do because I know that they, however weak they may be as men, are conduits of grace in the sacraments, and that this grace is freely available to all of us through them. But I do not worship them or expect them to be anything other than the ordinary people they are.

When they fail, I do not doubt Christ because of it for the simple reason that they are not Christ. I know whom I have believed, and He is not them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me,” Jesus told us.

Trust in me,” He said.

Not John Corapi. Not any bishop or priest.

Do not forfeit your eternal salvation over the weaknesses of other fallen human beings, no matter how exalted they have become in your eyes. Trust in Jesus and Him alone and no matter how you fail, or how others fail you, you will never lose your way.

 


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