Ten Ways to Deepen Our Relationship with God

Archbishop Charles Chaput:

Over the years I’ve heard from many good people who want a closer relationship with God.  But they’re stymied by what they perceive as God’s silence.  What they often mean, without knowing it, is that they’d like God to do something dramatic in their lives; something with a hint of Mt. Sinai that proves his credentials.

But God typically doesn’t work that way.  He’s not in the theater business.  God wants to be loved and even in a sense “courted” – which means that we can’t be passive partners in the relationship.  We need to pursue God as we would the persons we love.

So as we make our way through these last weeks of ordinary time before Lent, here a few steps – in no particular order – that can help us draw closer to God.

First, start by listening to him.  Faith isn’t a 12-step action program.  Nor is it an algebra problem that needs to be “solved.”  It’s a love affair.  As with a spouse, the most important thing we can do is to be present and listen.  This requires the investment of time and focus.  If a spirit of impatience or pretending to listen doesn’t work with your spouse, why would it work with God?

Second, cultivate silence.  We can’t listen when our world is filled with noise and toys.  C.S. Lewis often said that noise is the music of hell.  Our toys – those things we choose to distract us – keep us diverted from focusing on the main questions of life:  Why are we here?  What does my life mean?  Is there a God, and if so, who is he, and what does he ask of me?

Third, seek humility.  Humility is to the spirit what material poverty is to the senses: the great purifier.  Humility is the beginning of sanity.  We can’t really see – much less love – anyone or anything else when the self is in the way.  When we finally, really believe in our own sinfulness and unimportance, many other things become possible: repentance; mercy, patience, forgiveness of others.  These virtues are the foundation stones of that other great Christian virtue: justice.  No justice is ever possible in a spider’s web of mutual anger, recrimination and hurt pride.

Fourth, cultivate honesty.  Complete honesty is only possible for a humble person.  The reason is simple.  The most painful but important honesty is telling the truth to ourselves about our own motives and our own actions.  The reason honesty is such a powerful magnet is because it’s so rare.

Modern life is too often built on the marketing of half-truths and lies about who we are and what we deserve.  Many of the lies are well-intentioned and not even very harmful — but they’re still lies.  Scripture praises the honest woman and man because they’re like clean air in a room full of smoke.  Honesty allows the mind to breathe and think clearly.

Fifth, seek to be holy.  Holy does not mean nice or even good, although truly holy people are always good and often – though not always — nice.  Holiness means “other than.”  It’s what Scripture means when it tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  And this doesn’t just miraculously happen.  We need to choose and seek holiness.

God’s ways are not our ways.  Holiness is the habit of seeking to conform all of our thoughts and actions to God’s ways.  There’s no cookie-cutter model of holiness, just as piety can’t be reduced to one particular kind of prayer or posture.  What’s important is to love the world because God loves it and sent his Son to redeem it, but not to be captured by its habits and values, which are not godly.

Sixth, pray.  Prayer is more than just that portion of the day when we advise God about what we need and what he should do.  Real prayer is much closer to listening, and it’s intimately tied to obedience.  God certainly wants to hear what we need and love and fear, because these things are part of our daily lives, and he loves us.  But if we’re doing the talking, we can’t listen.  Note too, that we can’t really pray without humility.  Why?  Because prayer requires us to lift up who we are and everything we experience and possess to God.  Pride is too heavy to lift.

Seventh, read.  Scripture is the living Word of God.  When we read God’s Word, we encounter God himself.  But there’s more: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Georges Bernanos and so many others – these were deeply intelligent and powerful writers whose work nourishes the Christian mind and soul, while also inspiring the imagination.  Reading also serves another, simpler purpose: It shuts out the noise that distracts us from fertile reflection.  We can’t read The Screwtape Letters and take network television seriously at the same time.  And that’s a very good thing.

By the way, if you do nothing else in 2014, read Tolkien’s wonderful short story, Leaf by Niggle.  It will take you less than an hour, but it will stay with you for a lifetime.  And then read C.S. Lewis’ great religious science-fiction trilogy – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  You’ll never look at our world in quite the same way again.

Eighth, believe and act.  Nobody “earns” faith.  It’s a free gift from God.  But we do need to be willing and ready to receive it.  We can discipline ourselves to be prepared.   If we sincerely seek truth; if we desire things greater than this life has to offer; and if we leave our hearts open to the possibility of God — then one day we will believe, just as when we choose to love someone more deeply, and turn our hearts sincerely to the task, then sooner or later we usually will.

Feelings are fickle.  They’re often misleading.  They’re not the substance of our faith.  We need to be grateful for our emotions as God’s gifts, but we also need to judge them in the light of common sense.  Falling in love is only the first taste of love.  Real love is both more beautiful and more demanding than the early days of a romance.

In like manner, a dramatic “road to Damascus” style conversion doesn’t happen to most people, and not even St. Paul stayed on the road very long.  Why?  Because in revealing himself to Paul, Jesus immediately gave him something to do.  We know and more deeply love Jesus Christ by doing what he tells us to do.

In the real world, feelings that endure follow actions that have substance.  The more sincere we are in our discipleship, the closer we will come to Jesus Christ.  This is why the Emmaus disciples only recognized Jesus in “the breaking of the bread.”  Only in acting in and on our faith, does our faith become fully real.

Ninth, nobody makes it to heaven alone.  We all need friendship and community.  A friend of mine who’s been married more than 40 years likes to say that the heart of a good marriage is friendship.  Every successful marriage is finally about a deep and particular kind of friendship that involves honesty, intimacy, fidelity, mutual sacrifice, hope and shared beliefs.

Every successful marriage is also a form of community.  Even Jesus needed these two things: friendship and community.  The Apostles were not simply Christ’s followers; they were also his brothers and friends, people who knew and supported him in an intimate way.  All of us as Christians need the same two things.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re a religious, layperson, deacon or priest, single or married.  Friends are vital.  Community is vital.  Our friends both express and shape who we are.  Good friends sustain us.  Bad friends undermine us.  And that’s why they’re so decisive to the success or failure of a Christian life.

Tenth and finally, nothing is more powerful than the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist in leading us to the God we seek.  God makes himself available to us every week in the confessional, and every day in the sacrifice of the Mass.  It makes little sense to talk about the “silence of God” when our churches are made silent by our own absence and indifference.  We’re the ones with the cold hearts – not God.

He’s never outdone in his generosity.  He waits for us in the quiet of the tabernacle.  And he loves us and wants to be loved wholeheartedly in return.

If we’re willing to give that love, these steps will lead us to him.


Message In The Snow

Cheers up entire hospital:

If only all cancer patients were lucky enough to have a family like this surrounding them.

On Monday, Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center took to their social media accounts with the hope of solving a mystery uncovered by one of their nurses: a message written in the snow covering the top of the hospital’s parking garage over the weekend.

The message reads “HI MOM GOD BLESS U!” with a smiley face inside the “O” of “MOM.”

rush hospital

The hospital presumed the message was intended for a Rush patient and they were correct. The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday afternoon the message had been written out in the freshly fallen snow by the 14-year-old son, brother and husband of Sharon Hart, a Bolingbrook, Ill. woman undergoing chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia that day.

Hart told the Tribune her son had called her after stomping out “HI MOM” and that her husband and brother added the rest later, intending to write “GOD BLESS YOU ALL” but running out of room.

“I’m glad so many people got to see the message and that it touched so many,” she told the paper. “It shows how big God is.”

It brought so many smiles to our doctors and nurses – and patients as well,” Rush spokeswoman Deb Song said, according to ABC News.

One of those nurses was Angela Washek, who first caught a look at the heartwarming message early Sunday and snapped the photo that has since spread throughout the country.

“No matter how cold it gets, there is always a message of warmth if we just open our eyes to see it,” Washek said via the hospital’s Facebook post.

“Sometimes we only see the bad side in healthcare. We don’t get to see the good that we do sometimes,” she tol DNAinfo Chicago.

Church Leader Decries Spread of Prosperity Gospel in South Africa


In the Christian Post:

While South Africa can be called a “churched nation” demographically, prosperity gospel, or a “parallel, post-biblical Christianity,” is spreading throughout the country, warns the rector of a reformed evangelical Anglican church who has ministered in Durban City for 17 years.

A churched nation is not the same thing as a “gospeled” nation, writes Grant Retief, the rector of Christ Church Umhlanga just outside of Durbin, in a blog post. Eighty percent of South Africa is Christian, according to the 2001 census.

When people from well-known bigger churches attend his church for a little while, the rector says, “they tell us they are surprised to regularly hear in the preaching and the liturgy that they are sinners.”

That is because of the prosperity gospel phenomenon, of what Retief calls a “parallel, post-biblical Christianity.” “When you stop to look inside these churches, you hear Christian-like things and you see Christian-like activities … Sermons aren’t built on biblical theology, but employ an occasional verse to springboard toward the preacher’s pre-chosen point,” he laments.

Their meanings of biblical terms are vaguely assumed, or are informed not by theology but psychology, he adds. For example, “sin” might be described as the failure to achieve your goals, not as rebellion against an Almighty God.

“All this produces nice people instead of godly people,” Retief argues.

Of course, prosperity gospel churches vary considerably along the theological and socio-economic spectrum, he says. But the various versions of this kind of Christianity are spreading throughout South Africa. “Superficially, it looks alive because it’s vibrant and growing … The gospel is assumed, personal godliness is optional, and theological education is held in suspicion.”

In middle class suburbs, people are generally suspicious of authority, establishment and tradition, he points out. Formal theological education is seen as unnecessary, even harmful by some.

Therefore, there’s a churchscape dominated by independent charismatic churches, Retief writes. “Their leaders are exceptionally gifted, invariably young and powerful motivators and predictably trendy. Yet I cannot think of one that I know of who has had any formal theological training.”

The rector adds: “It is my conviction that the greatest danger posed by these prosperity gospel churches is not only that they get the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit wrong, which they almost always do; they get the doctrine of the work of the Son wrong.”

As he concludes the blog post, Retief offers a solution. It’s found in the New Testament, he says. “It is not macro-organizations or reformed evangelical denominations, as helpful as those may be. It is gospel-preaching local churches.”

Prayers are needed that God would raise up more churches “where the clear gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ remains front and center – come what may!”

HT:  Fr David MacGregor


Forged in Forgiveness

Oh, wow… Behold the power of forgiveness.

The article behind this video is here.

Congregations Expect to Grow, But Few Parish Members Invite Others to Worship

In the Church Times:Click to enlarge

Only one quarter of Anglicans who responded to a Church Times survey are in the habit of inviting people to church.

Just 27 per cent of laypeople responding to a questionnaire agreed with the proposition: “I often invite other people to come to my church”; 56 per cent disagreed. Six per cent agreed with the proposition: “I would never invite anyone to come to my church.” …

The clergy, naturally enough, came out as more active evangelists. More than half, 53 per cent, often invited people to church, although 33 per cent admitted that they did not.

Four per cent of clergy respondents said that they would never invite anyone to their church (the survey attracted responses from retired clerics as well as incumbents). Half the clergy respondents expected their church to grow in the next 12 months.

They were less sanguine about the experience of newcomers, however. One quarter of the clergy agreed with the proposition: “It is not easy for newcomers in my church”; 52 per cent disagreed. For the laity, the figures were 19 per cent and 57 per cent…

The whole piece can be read here.


Exorcisms Via Skype?

So it would seem:

The age-old practice of exorcism is getting updated thanks to the use of modern technology by a reverend in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Reverend Bob Larson claims he has performed more than 20,000 exorcisms in the past four decades.

Now he is giving possessed people the option of having their demons banished from their bodies via Skype.

A 60-minute Skype exorcism costs $295, and is considered a tax-deductible donation to the International Missions Program.

Skype’s cheap rates allow Larson to connect with allegedly possessed people from all over the world, including one of his most recent clients, a Norwegian man named David, who supposedly had four demons inside him.

During one encounter filmed by ABC15.com, one of the demons mocked Larson by asking, “Are you Bob the Builder,” followed by a maniacal cackle straight out of the “Tales From The Crypt” TV show.

Larson has numerous exorcism videos on YouTube, including this one where he claims to exorcise a gay demon.

Some skeptics think the over-the-top antics by the allegedly possessed souls are a sign that it’s all just a show, but Larson denies those allegations.

“It’s real,” Larson told the station. “There would be no reason to theatrically stage this for any reason. Why would anybody do that? I have no idea.”

However, Larson’s Skype exorcisms are making other religious leaders cross.

Reverend Isaac Kramer, the director of the International Catholic Association of Exorcists, an organization that trains and ordains new exorcists, says exorcisms can’t be done over the Internet.

“If a person is fully possessed, the demon inside of them will not let them sit in front of the computer screen to be exorcised,” Kramer told Vocativ.com. “Chances are, they’re going to throw the computer screen across the room and destroy everything.”

Crazy stuff.


55 Maxims for the Spiritual Life

I saw these in a post, Living In A Strange Land, over at Fr Stephen’s blog, Glory to God For All Things. I simply must share them with you.

Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, wrote 55 maxims for the spiritual life. They have been widely published. I know of nothing comparable as a description for a spiritual life well-lived. I append them here for your use. Print them. Study them. Do them.

1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly.
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheerful.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.


Sole Survivor of a Harrowing Religious Cleansing Operation Has a Message For You

This Sole Survivor Of A Harrowing Religious Cleansing Operation Has A Message For You

Late in the evening of November 28 last year, Habila Adamu was at home with his wife and kids in the Yobe state of Northern Nigeria when visitors stopped by. He opened the door, shocked to find gunmen wearing robes and masks.

They demanded he step outside and they peppered him with questions. What was his name? Habila Adamu. Was he a member of the Nigerian police? No. Was he a soldier? No. Was he a member of the state security service? No. He told them he was a businessman.

“OK, are you a Christian?” they asked.

“I am a Christian,” Habila said.

Initially fearful, Habila came to terms with the realization that it was the day of his death. He began praying for strength, forgiveness and salvation…

Read on here.


Nigeria Bishop Tells of Church ‘Slaughter’

The BBC:

Army patrolling the town of Maiduguri in Borno state (30 April 2013)

A senior cleric has spoken of how suspected Islamist militants “slaughtered” some 30 churchgoers in north-eastern Nigeria on Sunday.

The Bishop of Yola told the BBC the insurgents had locked the church and “cut people’s throats” in Waga Chakawa village, Adamawa state.

On the same day, militants also attacked Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state, killing 52 people.

Both assaults were blamed on the Islamist Boko Haram group.

The organisation – whose name means “Western education is forbidden” – is especially active in the north-east of the country.

Boko Haram wants to impose a severe form of Islamic law, and has been blamed for thousands of deaths…

The Bishop of Yola, Mamza Dami Stephen, said parishioners had told him about what happened on Sunday morning.

They described how the insurgents had arrived on trucks and locked the church “towards the end of the service”.

“Some people tried to escape through the windows and the [attackers] shot at them,” the bishop said.

The militants set off bombs, before burning houses and taking residents hostage during a four-hour siege.

The bishop said locals were gripped by terror.

“Everybody is living in fear,” he explained.

“There is no protection. We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can’t sleep with their eyes closed.”



Battling Cancer… With A Smile



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