Many a time we dwindle into cares and worries, and life gets messy. What’s the way out?
“What a world! What a world!” declared the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” as she melted out of sight after being doused with a bucket of water. How often have we heard people use similar words because the world seems to be going a bit crazy? Problems and world issues can make us feel helpless, lost and drowning in buckets of negativity. We face challenges and a culture that grows messier every day. What a world! What a world!
While it is easy to blame “the world” for our problems, we are the individuals that collectively make up “the world”. Our actions or inactions have a ripple effect within our families and communities that continue rippling outward. Our lives touch the people around us and change them.
They in turn touch others. The global spread of the Covid-19 virus demonstrates how incredibly connected humanity is.
So why are we in such a mess?
Perhaps, it is because we have lost our way. Perhaps we are like the Apostle Peter who stepped out of the boat onto the water, but saw the storm raging and became frightened, and taking his eyes off Jesus began to sink (Matthew 14:30). When we take our eyes off Jesus, it is easy to lose our courage and sink into the problems that engulf us. Life can get messy very fast.
What does it mean to take our eyes off Jesus? I will explain by sharing my story. When my 4 children were young and our family life was extremely busy, my daily routine left little time to spend in prayer with God. However, each morning I invited Him to tag along with me in every activity. In addition to all my daily obligations, I had a strong interest in sewing. My desire to sew developed into a cottage industry that eventually grew so rapidly that I could not keep up.
After a full day caring for my family, I would sew when they slept. But weeks of operating on too little sleep, negatively changed my disposition, and that affected my family. A negative ripple effect was set in motion. One evening, I was exceptionally tired and facing another weary night of sewing, a dam of tears unlocked. Sobbing and full of frustration, I remembered that God tagged along with me all this time, so I thought it a good idea to blame Him for my situation. “Why God?” I asked. “Why did you give me the interest and the talent to sew and not give me the time to sew? WHY?”
It seemed God had been waiting for me to ask that question, because as soon as it flew out of my mouth, He answered back, “Because I gave it to you for pleasure, not profit!” I was so stunned that the tears instantly halted and dried. I had no rebuttal. Suddenly I realized I had not sought God’s guidance or discerned His will before starting my sewing business. I had settled for letting Him “tag along”. I felt so ashamed. I had stepped out on my own and forgotten to pray. I placed Him behind me where I could not see Him. And with my eyes off Jesus I was sinking. My sewing business was having a negative ripple effect on me, my family and my world.
I had forgotten that God, who can and wants to help us, should lead, not follow behind me. But fortunately, there is help for us when we take our eyes off Jesus. Jesus told us, “Come to me, all who are weary and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) We shouldn’t seek comfort or answers from other people, things or the false gods of this world. Our first “go to” should always be to turn in prayer to our merciful God who patiently waits for us to seek Him out. Like with Saint Peter, God wants to extend His hand to us, save us, get in our boats and lead us to safety. And it all starts with “asking”. Jesus said it clearly in the Gospel of Saint Matthew:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…If you who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:7-11)
Like a good parent, God established a few conditions for answering prayer. The Apostle John tells us “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). Our prayers cannot go against the will of God. So we need to know God and pray according to His will. (1 John 5:14)
How do we get to know God’s will? Jesus tells us, “If you remain in Me and My Words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) This means that to understand His will, we have to know Him. To get to know Him we have to pick up our Bibles. In sacred scripture we can hear Him, learn from Him and about Him, and understand His will. And then we must stay close to Him in prayer and through the Sacraments.
Saint Paul also weighs in on the subject of prayer. He tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul is clear that we should not let the worries of the world weigh us down. We need to approach God with a trusting and thankful heart. If we realized we are asking for help from the Creator of the Universe who loves us and can do anything, would we be anxious about anything?
In the Gospel according to Saint Mark, Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (11:24). If we truly believe God will answer our prayers we should be thankful even before it is answered, because we know it will be answered. There is a saying floating around the internet that says, “Don’t tell God how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big God is!” Good advice that can help place our problems into a smaller perspective.
For many of us the idea of prayer is daunting. We want to turn to God in prayer, but we may not know where to begin. Many years ago, my life felt burdensome. I knew I needed to pray, but did not know how. I asked for help and God answered by sending the Holy Spirit to guide me. The following prayer filled my being so quickly that I felt I had merely penned what the Holy Spirit dictated.
Teach me to pray, Lord.
Teach me to pray so that I may know you.
Teach me to pray for the things that please You and lead me into Your perfect will for my life.
Teach me to pray with all of my senses….my eyes, my ears, my nose, my mouth, my touch.
Teach me to pray with my eyes, by only looking at and for things that glorify You.
Teach me to pray with my ears, by hearing only affirming truths that venerate You.
Teach me to pray with my nose. Remind me of Your Breath of Life and Your Holy Spirit that rests within me, as my lungs fill with each breath.
Teach me to pray with my words so that they exalt You and Your precious name.
Teach me to pray with my hands by reaching out in love, to others in Your name.
Teach me to remember to pray.
Teach me to pray by calling to You for guidance in all my needs.
Teach me to pray in and through the turmoils of my life.
Teach me to pray for others and bring to mind their intentions as if they were my own.
Teach me to know Your truth, Your way, Your peace, Your grace and Your protection.
Teach me to pray in thanksgiving for the blessings and graces You generously bestow on me.
Teach me to calm my mind and pray in silence so that I may hear Your words to me.
Teach me to pray that I may be able to hear and know Your Holy Spirit in me, so that I may recognize when the Master is addressing me, His servant.
Teach me to pray that I may love you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength and with all my mind.
Teach me to allow my whole life to be a prayer to You.
Jesus, I ask you to be with me.
Jesus, I invite you to reside in me.
Jesus, I humbly request You to work through me.
Jesus, Teach me to pray. Amen.
I invite you to pray this prayer and remember that though we might be weary of the trials in this world, we certainly are not helpless. We have the power of prayer!
Now for the rest of Peter’s story. When Peter realized he had taken his eyes off Jesus and began to drown, he did not give up. He yelled out, “Lord! Save me!”. And at once Jesus put His hand out and held him! And as they both got into the boat, the wind dropped.
Now for the rest of my story…When I realized I had taken my eyes off Jesus and was drowning in too many activities and lack of sleep, I too asked Jesus to save me. He got into my boat and redirected my life. I completed my obligations and then turned my sewing into a pleasurable, relaxing activity.
Prayer changes things for us and the world around us. If we pray for ourselves and others, we can create a positive ripple effect. My prayer is that someday soon, instead of lamenting “What a world! What a world!”, we will echo Louis Armstrong’s classic song: “What a Wonderful World”.
Teresa Ann Weider serves the Church remarkably through her active involvement in various ministries over the years. She lives with her family in Folsom, California, USA.
Question: I have two young children, and I worry about how to keep them in the Faith. In our world that seems to be growing more secular by the year, is there any way I can instill the Catholic Faith so deeply within them that they will stay Catholic as they grow older? This is indeed a difficult situation for so many parents, as our culture is often openly hostile to our Catholic Faith. How to keep them Catholic when it seems that the deck is stacked against them? Part of the challenge is that God’s grace is a mystery. A hundred people can hear the same talk or homily, and for some it will change their lives and others will find it boring and meaningless. In my own family, I have a brother who identifies himself as an atheist—both a priest and an atheist from the same family, with the same parents and upbringing! So, we must acknowledge that grace is a mystery—but we are also convinced that God loves your children more than you ever could, and He is doing everything possible to win their hearts and lead them to salvation. With that said, there are some things that parents can do to help kids encounter Christ and stay faithful to Him. Although I do not have children, I have worked with thousands of kids and teens over the past seventeen years of youth ministry, and I have seen a few successful strategies that families employ to keep their kids faithful. First, make Sunday Mass a non-negotiable. I remember my parents taking us to Mass on vacation, and they would never allow one of our sports games to interfere with Mass. The Mass-going example of a father on his children is especially critical. There’s an adage that says, “If a mother goes to Mass the children will go to Mass, but if a father goes to Mass the grandchildren will go to Mass.” My dad used to make special trips to our boy scout campouts to take me and my brother to Mass, and then return us back to the campsite when Mass was over! It made a huge impact on me and it taught me that nothing, absolutely nothing, came between us and Sunday Mass. That was the real cornerstone of our family. If you are ever on vacation, you can visit www.masstimes.org which lists all the Masses in the entire world—so whether you are in Paris or Buenos Aires or Disney World, you can still find a Sunday Mass! Second, pray together as a family. My family used to pray the Rosary on the way to Mass, and we had special devotions around the Advent Wreath. We would attend Stations of the Cross together during Lent, and my parents took us to Eucharistic Adoration frequently. Although there were times I complained about being dragged into these things, they also introduced me to a personal relationship with Christ, one that has stayed strong to this day. Also, never forget to pray and fast for your kids—daily! Third, keep sin out of your home. If you allow your kids to have a smartphone, put a filter on it. Make sure the TV shows and movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the books they read are wholesome. Although your kids may complain, parents should be more concerned about their kids’ eternal happiness than a quick temporary pleasure of watching a bad movie! Another good thing to do is to make your home a sanctuary. Fill it with crucifixes, holy pictures, statues of the Saints, and books about the Faith. The old adage is true: “Out of sight, out of mind.” The more we can call to mind eternal realities, the more we will stay faithful to them. Fifth, surround your kids with a good Catholic community, both peers and adults. They need good friends who have similar values, so perhaps have them join a youth group or go to a Catholic summer camp. They also need adult mentors who love the Faith, so befriend other good Catholic families. Invite your parish priest over for dinner. Get together for a party with other parishioners. When I was younger, my father sometimes took me to his men’s group on Saturday mornings, and I will never forget the impact of seeing these men—men I knew and respected and liked, who were plumbers and lawyers and sports coaches—praying and singing and passionate about Jesus. It made me realize that it was cool and normal to have faith in the Lord! A related question is where to send your child to school. The answer is quite simple: who is changing whom? If your child goes to school and brings the light of Christ there, then it is a good environment. But if your child starts to adopt the values of the world, then perhaps it is time to switch schools. Sadly, many Catholic schools do not provide a truly Christ-centered environment, so be careful even if you choose Catholic schools. Finally, the best and most effective way to pass the faith on to children is to be a parent who is seeking the Lord in their own personal life! My father has always prayed the daily Rosary from before I was born, and both my parents comfortably discussed their faith life at home. I could see them studying the Faith on their own, reading books about Saints or spirituality. As the old saying goes, “Faith is more caught than taught”—and our actions speak louder than words. That does not mean we are perfect, but we do have to be sincere in seeking the face of the Lord in our own hearts. None of these are guarantees, of course, as our kids have free will and are able to choose whether or not to follow the Lord. But in doing these things, we are giving them the foundation, and allowing God the opportunity to win their hearts. It is His grace alone that keeps kids Catholic—we are only conduits of that grace! Never forget that as much as you love your children, God loves them infinitely more—and desires their salvation!
As a gentle and kind-hearted woman, Mary Zhu Wu was esteemed for her exemplary faith. She was a mother of four and lived with her husband Zhu Dianxuan, a village leader in Zhujiahe village in the Hebei Province of China towards the middle of the 1800s. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out and Christians and foreign missionaries were massacred, the tiny village took in about 3000 Catholic refugees from neighboring villages. The parish priest, Father Léon Ignace Mangin, and fellow Jesuit, Father Paul Denn, offered daily Mass and heard confessions throughout the day during that troublesome time. On July 17, about 4,500 members of the Boxers and the imperial army attacked the village. Zhu Dianxuan gathered about 1000 men to defend the village and led them in battle. They fought bravely for two days but Zhu died when the cannon they had captured backfired. All those who were able, fled the village in terror. By the third day, the soldiers gained entry into the village and killed hundreds of women and children. Around 1000 Catholics had already taken refuge in the church where the priests gave them general absolution and prepared for a final Mass. Although grieving for her husband, Mary Zhu Wu remained calm and exhorted those gathered to trust God and pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the soldiers finally broke down the church door and started firing randomly, Mary Zhu-Wu rose with amazing courage. She positioned herself with outstretched arms in front of Father Mangin to shield him with her body. Soon, she was struck by a bullet and fell at the altar. The Boxers then surrounded the church and set it on fire to kill the survivors, with Fathers Mangin and Denn burning to death as the church roof finally collapsed. Until her last breath, Mary Zhu Wu had continued to strengthen the faith of fellow believers and bolstered their courage. Her words spurred them to overcome fear and embrace martyrdom. Because of her powerful leadership, only two of the Christians of Zhujiahe apostatized. In 1955, Pope Pius XII declared her Blessed, together with the two Jesuits and several other martyrs. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
Is there a hidden danger in dreaming BIG? Not unless we miss the silent, subtle, and heroic duty of the present moment Often God’s will for us can be disguised by its very ordinary nature. This truth dawned on me again a few weeks ago. I became the primary caregiver for my elderly mother after she moved in with me last year when it became clear that she was unable to live on her own any longer. She is fragile, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Any change in her routine can throw her into an emotional tailspin. To come and live with me, she had to move to a different state, so it took weeks before she finally settled in and felt at home. Some months later, circumstances dictated that we move to a different house. I dreaded telling her this news, knowing that it would cause her anxiety and distress to be uprooted again. I put off telling her for as long as I could, but eventually had to let her know. Not unexpectedly, it threw her for a loop. She was weepy, fearful and anxious. I tried the usual tactics to distract her and raise her spirits, but nothing worked. A few days before the actual move, I took her to see the new house. She liked it, but still felt disconcerted and upset about the change. When we returned home from seeing the new place, I sensed that she needed me to spend time with her for the rest of the day. She loves to watch TV, but we have different tastes in movies, so I usually turn one on and then leave her to watch it alone. But this time I deliberately sat down beside her to watch, knowing that this would comfort her in the midst of her feeling of upheaval. Sure enough, although I found the movie trite and uninteresting, I knew my physical proximity was reassuring to her. There were many other things I needed to do and would rather have done, but I also knew in my heart that sitting with my mom at this moment was the will of God for me. So, I tried to embrace it wholeheartedly, offering it to the Lord in prayer. I prayed for those who were struggling to find God’s will for their lives; for those who felt lonely or abandoned; for those who didn’t know God’s love yet; for the great suffering of so many in our world. Instead of getting impatient and antsy as the movie played on, I was calm and peaceful, knowing I was in the heart of God’s will for me in that moment. Reflecting on this later, I realized, yet again, that much of God’s will for us takes the shape of very ordinary, mundane tasks. Servant of God Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, called it the “duty of the moment.” She said, “All through my childhood and early youth I was instilled with the fact that the duty of the moment was the duty of God…Later, I still believed that the duty of the moment was the duty God gave me. God speaks to us, then, in the duty of every moment. As this duty of the moment is the will of the Father, we must give our whole self to that. When we do so, we can be certain that we are living in the truth, and hence in love, and hence in Christ...” (“Grace in Every Season” by Madonna House Publications, 2001). My mom was comforted and reassured that day as I set aside my busy to-do list and did something she enjoyed. I felt, too, that the Lord was pleased with my little offering. As you face your day and the tasks that lie ahead, even if they seem boring or repetitive, make the decision to unite your heart to God and offer it as a prayer for someone who is in need that day. Then get on with what you are called to do at that moment, knowing that God can take our ordinary tasks of each day and turn them into extraordinary sources of grace and transformation for the world.
Is technology shaping your consciousness? If so, it’s time to re think The recent cyber-attacks in the U.S which led to gas shortages, panic buying, and worries about meat shortages—drove home how dependent we are on technology to function in our modern society. Such dependency has spawned new and unique mental, psychological, and spiritual challenges. Our days are spent on “screen time” seeking out our news, entertainment, and emotional and intellectual stimulation. But as we navigate through life via our digital devices and technology, we do not realize how they are shaping our consciousness. Such dependency raises a basic question: does technology, an extension of reason, form our consciousness; has it become our primary orientation towards life? Many today would unapologetically answer, "Yes". For many, reason and logic are the only way to “see.” But Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians offers a different view through a pithy statement that summarizes the Christian life: “…we walk by Faith, not by sight” (5:7) A Powerful Insight As Christians, we perceive the world through our bodily senses, and we interpret that sensory data. through our rational interpretative lenses just like non-believers do. But our primary orientation is not given to us by the body or reason, it is given by faith. Faith has nothing to do with gullibility, superstition, or naivete. We do not have to put our Chromebooks, iPads, and smartphones, in the closet. Through faith we integrate our sensory perceptions and rational inferences into our relationship with God and others. Through faith we can appreciate Jesuit poet Gerald Manly Hopkins’ powerful insight that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Perception and reason–walking by sight—is good and necessary; indeed, that is where we start. But as Christians we walk primarily by faith. That means we are attentive to God and the movement of God within our ordinary experience. The contemporary spiritual writer Paula D’Arcy put it this way, “God comes to us disguised as our life.” And that cannot be a matter of direct vision or rational insight. To see life charged with God’s grandeur or to grasp that we do not have to look for God because God is in the very fabric of our life can be done only by faith, which goes beyond reason without contradicting it. Missing-in-Action? So, as we furtively emerge from our pandemic exile in which so many have suffered great pain and loss we may ask, where was God in all of this? What is God up to? Usually, the eyes of reason cannot see the answer. But we walk by faith, not just by sight. What God is doing happens slowly and in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. God is always acting! He is never missing-in-action! From the smallest beginnings can come the accomplishment of God’s purposes. We know this from the prophet Ezekiel who sang of Israel’s great universal destiny which was prophesied during the Exile in which they lost everything! Five hundred years after Ezekiel, Jesus makes much the same point. We read in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed in the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how” (4:26-27). Ready for a Surprise God is working, but we cannot see it with our ordinary eyes; we cannot understand it with our ordinary categories; no app is going to give us that access. God is at work and we know not how. That is okay. We walk by faith not by sight. This is why in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus also says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed—the smallest of all the seeds of the earth, but once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants, so that “birds of the sky can dwell in its shade” (4:32). It is not easy for us to enter into this logic of the unforeseeable nature of God and to accept His mysterious presence in our life. But especially during this time of uncertainty, loss, and cultural/political divisiveness God exhorts us to walk by faith which exceeds our plans, calculations, and predictions. God is always at work and He will always surprise us. The parable of the mustard seed invites us to open our hearts to surprises, to God’s plans, both at the personal level and that of the community. In all our relationships—familial, parish, political, economic, and social—it is important that we pay attention to the little and big occasions in which we can live the Great Commandments—loving God and neighbor. That means we disengage from the divisive rhetoric so prevalent on television and social media that causes us to objectify our sister and brothers. Since we walk by faith and not sight we engage in the dynamics of love, of welcoming and showing mercy towards others. Never Give Up The authenticity of the Church’s mission, which is the mission of the Risen and Glorified Christ, does not come through programs or successful outcomes, but from going forth, in and through Christ Jesus, to walk with Him courageously, and to trust that our Father’s will always bear fruit. We go forth professing that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar or his successors. We understand and accept that we are a small mustard seed in the hands of our loving Heavenly Father who can work through us to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Want to be in the loop?
Get the latest updates from Tidings!