Archive for the ‘Catholic beliefs’

How to forgive enemies—and loved ones

Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Catholic woman and native of Rwanda, is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. In her book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, she writes about how she hid for 91 days in a 3 ft. x 4 ft. bathroom with seven other women. At one point while hiding, she could hear the killers right outside the door. As she prayed for God’s protection, she realized God wanted her to forgive the men who were hunting her. Why do you expect the impossible from me? I asked God. How can I forgive people who are trying to kill me, people who may have already slaughtered my family and friends? It isn’t logical for me to forgive these killers. Let me pray for the victims instead, for those who’ve been raped and murdered and mutilated”¦let me pray for justice. God, I will ask you to punish those wicked men, but I cannot forgive them—I just can’t. (92-93) Unconditional love Eventually, however, Immaculée began to understand the power of God’s unconditional love. Relying on the strength and power of that love, she finally did forgive all of the killers. She even forgave the men who killed […]

Why do Catholics pray to saints?

“Saints, preserve us!” That’s what one of my school teachers would exclaim when she was exasperated with our fourth-grade antics and lack of academic discipline. Another teacher told us that if we had a really special prayer, we should offer it to Mary, the Mother of God, because Jesus could never refuse a request from his mother—as evidenced by the miracle at Cana. My grandmother, when she was searching for lost car keys, would offer a quick prayer to St. Anthony, who is the patron of lost items. And one of my good friends—a professor of theology and a former Roman Catholic priest—is known to utter this poetic plea for mercy to St. Thérèse when searching in vain for a parking space at the mall during high-shopping season: “Little Flower, in this hour, show your power.” Is all this really “Christian”? If you grew up Catholic, none of this will seem strange to you. If you didn’t grow up Catholic, however, it can all seem a bit odd. The vast roster of saints and the sometimes particular prayers that get floated up to them are curious to some and disconcerting to others. The peculiar petitionary practice of calling upon the […]

Does God always answer our prayers?

There is a story about a man trapped at home during a terrible storm. He soon realizes the house will be flooded, and he climbs to the roof. As the waters rise, he prays to God for salvation. Just then, a neighbor appears in a rowboat. But the man refuses to get in. “I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” he says. A little while later, a sheriff’s deputy arrives in a motorboat. Still the man refuses to get in. “I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” he says again. Then, with the water lapping at his feet, a helicopter descends from the clouds and drops a line to the stranded man. But he still won’t leave the rooftop. “I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” he shouts. Inevitably, the man drowns in the flood waters. When he arrives in heaven, the man asks, “God, why didn’t you answer my prayer?” “Are you crazy?” replied the Lord. “I sent you a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter! Why didn’t you get in?” God answers in unexpected ways You’ve probably heard that story. It’s an old joke. But it meant a lot to me when I first heard it. I’m just […]

Can our prayer be too big?

When I was 26, I got a job as the director of liturgy for a parish in Minneapolis. I was in charge of planning all the liturgies, training ministers, making sure we had musicians, providing scripts for the priests for special events, and many other things. I was also in charge of planning the Easter Vigil. If you have never been to an Easter Vigil liturgy, it is the biggest liturgical event of the year for a parish. It’s like Sunday Mass on steroids. There is a lot that happens and there is a lot to coordinate. If it is done well, it is an amazing experience. My first Easter Vigil My first year on the job, I wanted to make a good impression. I spent months planning and preparing. I lined up scores of volunteers to help. I sweated over the details of the physical environment. I held rehearsals for all the ministers to make sure they knew their parts. I created a detailed script that covered every possible question. When the big night finally came, I was so nervous that I could almost see my heart pounding through my suit jacket. The liturgy began about 8:00 p.m. in […]

Can I pray for my team to win?

I’ve always been a slow riser in the morning, even as a child. But on October 10, 1968, I popped out of bed as soon as I heard the rolled-up St. Louis Post-Dispatch hit the front step. I rushed downstairs to grab the newspaper before my brothers got to it. I found a pair of scissors on my mother’s sewing table and flipped the paper open to the sports page. I cut out the special score sheet that the Post was printing each day of the World Series. Today was the final day of the series, against the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Cardinals had won “Game 7” in every World Series they had ever played. I got ready for school, and Mom drove my brothers and me to St. Gerard Majella, where I was in the third grade. My classmates were as antsy as I was, and there wasn’t much in the way of formal education that was happening that day. After lunch, the good sisters finally gave up and rolled black and white televisions into a few of the classrooms. It wasn’t a big sacrifice for them. They were of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order, and […]

Anybody can pray—even if you don’t know how

This time of year always reminds me of the little boy who was saying his prayers before bedtime as his mother and grandmother looked over him. “Dear God,” the boy prayed, “Please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night’s sleep.” Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for Christmas!” “There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.” “No,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.” Sometimes we fall into a pattern of thinking of God as a spiritual Santa Claus. We may not ask for bicycles. But we tend to ask for a lot of other stuff. If God delivers, we’re happy. If God doesn’t deliver, our prayers “weren’t answered.” For most of my childhood, I thought of prayer pretty much like the little boy in the story. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized prayer is a conversation. And it’s even more than that. Prayer is everything you do to grow your relationship with God. Think of someone you love. All your conversations, hugs, arguments, meals, celebrations, surprises, silences, and so on with that person […]

How I learned to pray

I can’t remember when I learned to pray. It seems like I’ve always known the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Bless Us O Lord prayer before meals. Other Catholics know more prayers by heart, but those are the ones I know. When I was in grade school, the nuns taught me to write JMJ at the top of my papers as a prayer to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. When I was in fourth grade, we had a laywoman for a teacher—Mrs. O’Toole. Mrs. O’Toole had an Irish accent and a passion for teaching. When she was feeling exasperated, she’d shake her head and say, “Saints preserve us.” Which roughly translates to, “Would you kids please settle down and pay attention?” Almost every day, Mrs. O’Toole would ask all us kids to pray for her because, she told us, God listens to the prayers of children. I remember that sometimes after Mass, my mom would take us up to the racks of votive candles and we would light one of them. We would then kneel at the communion rail and she told us to “say a prayer for your father.” I didn’t know a “prayer for my father,” so I […]

Why Jesus was born

I was the first one up. A light dust of snow had fallen during the night. I woke my two brothers, and we tore down the stairs. I slid, knees first, half way across the hardwood living room floor, stopping just inches from the tiny thatched-roof manger scene under the ornamented, blinking Christmas tree. I reached for the biggest present and tried not to show my disappointment. It was tagged for my brother: “To: Greg. From: Santa.” I handed it off and quickly grabbed the next box. It was smaller, but heavier. Yes! This one was marked for me. I remember a lot of Christmas mornings like that. When I was little, it was difficult to keep in mind what Christmas was really about. As a child, I was focused on the gifts. Children still are. Even so, my mother and my Catholic school teachers kept trying to keep at least some of the attention of the season on Jesus. When they were successful, what I heard about was the birth of the Christ child. But the birth is not the whole story. The real story of Christmas Growing up, most of us learned what we think of as the […]

Jesus is love; Jesus is God

I met Alice, the year I turned 14, at the community ice skating rink. After that night, I would beg my mom to take me to the rink every week. I didn’t do much skating that winter though. I spent most of the time in the warming hut, talking with Alice. I remember trying to sound adult and sophisticated. I wanted to say a lot of things, but I couldn’t quite say them the right way. I remember wanting Alice to get me. And somehow, she did. And I wanted to kiss her. I’d never kissed a girl before, but I knew this was the girl I wanted to kiss. When we were together, I’d talk and talk and talk—somehow hoping to talk myself into a kiss. But I was way too nervous and just couldn’t work up the courage. The winter wore on and my fervor for Alice grew. Every time I saw her, I felt like my heart was on fire. I’d begin to sweat even though it was freezing cold at the ice rink. And soon, the skating season was drawing to a close. I resolved that I was going to show my love for Alice. I […]