There are two things you can do about a tornado.
1. Get out of the way.
To join the conversation about The Thorny Grace of It or to order a copy, go here.
“You’ve gotta have a horse to ride.” That’s a saying from politics, meaning you have to have a candidate who can run the race and win. It comes from horse racing, where the meaning is obvious: Horse races are won astride strong, fast horses.
You’ve gotta have a horse to ride.
That is equally true with books, blogs, essays, poetry and such. In this case, the “horse” you must ride is the writer’s ability to string words together in a compelling fashion.
By that criteria, The Thorny Grace of It has a fine horse to ride. Brian Doyle, the author of this book, can write. His book, which is an anthology of essays he’s published previously in various magazines, hangs together on the power of his writing.
There is no single issue or idea in this book. It is not a book of argumentation. There is nothing didactic or issue-oriented about it.
It is, rather, a series of reflections on living life Catholic that are given to us in lyrical prose that can, at times, almost cross over into poetry. As such, the book moves your emotions first, long before it touches your mind. The essays, which range from a beautiful thought poem about a handmade rosary, to a hilarious description of an older brother tutoring his much younger brother (the author) in how to approach his first confession, are glimpses through a window into another person’s life of faith, family and love.
The author comes from a large Catholic family and has lived his life as a Catholic. His essays reflect that cradle Catholic, generational Catholic reality. The book talks about life as a Catholic schoolboy and life as a mature man who faces the loss of a brother to cancer. Much of the book is centered on the mass in a highly personal first-person stream-of-conciousness narrative of experiencing the mass from the pew at the back of the room.
Mr Doyle’s power of description paints word pictures that translate into visual pictures in your mind as you read through these essays. You “see” the light coming through sanctuary windows that land as bars of butter on the church floor. You feel the lesson of the waspy priest who hides his blindness, and you experience the poignance of taking a drive with a dying brother.
I wish I could write like Mr Doyle.
But I can’t.
What I can do is tell you that if you love beautiful writing about living life Catholic, then this small book of essays is for you.
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.
This is one of those heartening stories that can make your day.
More than 750 people gathered October 5 in front to of Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, Long Island to pray the Rosary for religious freedom. This is especially heartening after yesterday’s story about Marymount Loyola.
The event was organized by Catholics for Freedom of Religion. I am not familiar with this group, but it sounds like it might be a good example of leading from the pews.
From The National Catholic Register:
“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.
It’s the last week of session.
What that means to me as a person is that I make arrangements for people to keep my mother entertained, kiss my family goodbye with promises of all the fun we’ll have “when it’s over,” and pack up my Timbuk2 messenger bag in much the same way I pack a carry-on bag for an ocean-crossing flight.
I know and my family knows that I will come home long after they’re asleep and wouldn’t be fit company for civilized people even if they did get to see me. The fights and conflicts I encounter this last week of session keep me so jazzed that I can’t converse or even think about anything else for days after it ends.
The last week of session is every bit of conflict and angst that the entire process has engendered, stuffed into a few days’ time. It beats me up emotionally, physically and spiritually. Not only is the work load overwhelming, but this is the time when all the ugliness comes down.
The last week is when leadership passes the bills with the hidden zingers and out-front corruption. It’s a week when crony capitalism takes over and we do the really big deals for the special interests. It’s a week full of “Swahili moments” when legislators refuse to hear that what they do affects millions of people. This is when we make the laws that make the rich richer, the poor poorer.
After seeing the things I see during the last week of each legislative session, I always feel as if I need to have my mind washed out with soap. Fighting and losing these fights year after year wears at me, leaves me half sick with indignation and anger. It takes a while after the session is done to get over it. I know I’m going to have to go to confession to cleanse myself of the anger I will bring home from my job. I do every year.
So I pack my messenger bag with my personal version of legislative survival gear, including things to use as a distraction when the tension gets so great that I have to pull back from it for a moment. Surviving this job requires that you learn how to take a break in place, sometimes in front of the television cameras. It’s a trick of the mind, of absenting yourself from the fight while still being engaged in the fight. I can’t begin to tell you how to do it. You just learn how, or you don’t make it in this job.
The last week isn’t a fashion show. I wear my most comfortable shoes and least binding clothes that can pass muster as “professional.” I usually start the week in slacks and end it in jeans. The “professional” part comes from the ubiquitous three-button blazer I pull on over the jeans and shirt.
That’s not exactly Vogue photo quality, but this is Oklahoma where most of the male legislators show up for work in cowboy boots and Stetsons. My sandals, shirt, jeans and jacket never cause a ripple in this crowd. We all know the work load in front of us. Besides we spend so much time together that we’re kind of past that.
In addition to packing a messenger bag to the point that its weight makes me walk lop-sided, I always, no matter how long the hours, pray the Rosary each day. I ask God to use me for His purposes and to not let me do anything really stupid. Then, I trust that I am under His protection and head out for battle.
I have no idea if I’ll have time to blog this week. I probably shouldn’t even try since there is no way to predict what I might say in the midst of a week of full-bore legislating.
So, I guess I’ll close off for a few days with the same promise I make to my family: I’ll be back, and we’ll have a lot of fun when it’s over.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.