Thursday, August 17, 2017

Living the Hard Questions

This author has previously written about Venerable Matt Talbot, which is available at  http://venerablematttalbotresourcecenter.blogspot.com/search?q=Venerable+Matthew+Talbot+Conversion+Story



Living the Hard Questions

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek the answers that cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing,
live along some distant day into the answer.
“Be Patient Toward All That is Unsolved” by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

“God has a plan,” she said nonchalantly, shrugging her shoulders before I left the office. I cringed but forced a smile and a slight nod as I gathered my purse and quickly exited the building.

Why do these words always repulse me? I thought. They’re true. But incomplete, sort of trite and hollow, leaving me feeling the same – trite and hollow. It’s much like when people say, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Things will get better; look at the bright side.” It’s not that these sayings aren’t true in a shallow sense. It’s that they fall short of encompassing life’s mysteries and how God operates in us.

As I left my doctor’s office, I knew she was right – God does have a plan. But what was it? And why is not knowing whether or not I’m following it insufficient for me?

I thought briefly of Thomas Merton’s heart prayer: “Lord, I do not know where I’m going. But the fact that I desire to please you does, in fact, please you.” I guess that’s it – all of the wrestling within, the questions that are never answered and pleas that are met with deafening silence – it’s part of His excruciating plan for me.

It’s excruciating, because I’m left in the dark. He has chosen to withhold knowledge and clarity of His will from me, thus leaving me to grope and grasp for His hand without seeing what He’s doing or where He’s leading.

The grasping feels like drowning to me, but really it’s surrender. I’m letting go – of the need to know, to control, to feel certainty and confidence. This spiritual vulnerability is something new to me, and it’s terrifying. I am left here with a gaping wound in my heart, an unfulfilled longing to do great things for God. Yet His response is to keep me waiting, and I am in agony, not knowing if I should stay or move.

The fact that I desire to please God does, in fact, please Him. These words mean far more to me than “God has a plan” or “You are where you should be right now.” I’m learning that trust is more than repeating someone else’s mantra. It’s more than believing clichés. It’s radical, raw plunging into the abyss of the unknown. It’s clinging to God, cleaving to Him at all costs, pressing into His Sacred Heart.

Even in the unknown, the stark darkness and painful pruning of what I cannot see or determine, I please Him with my yes, renewed every day by my faithfulness to Him. My yes isn’t always straightforward; often, it’s messy and mingled with doubt and frustration. But it is nonetheless a wholehearted and honest renewal of my fidelity and commitment to serve Him in some capacity, however menial I may deem it to be.

And Jesus kneads the knots in my heart, which hurts. My ‘yes’ feels like His ‘no’ as He molds and shapes me into a more perfect and complete image of who I’ve always meant to be.

I left my doctor’s office with no real answers, as often happens in life. There’s nothing satisfactory about hearing the platitude, “God has a plan.” It’s something I intrinsically know yet fail to understand. And it’s because I’m in the midst of this inner tempest that vies for my soul. I cannot see or know or feel the truth of “God has a plan,” but I choose to accept it. And with that acceptance, I walk away.

I keep moving forward, wherever that may lead me. “Always forward,” St. Juniperro Serra claimed as his life’s motto. Indeed. Always forward, never back. To look behind me would be pointless and leave me in the wake of defeat and despair. Now I must accept the not knowing, live the questions themselves, and move ahead of where I am standing in this moment.

Though I want definite solutions, I don’t need them. What I need is to bask in God’s goodness, to throw myself into Him with unbridled trust and to dwell there until He bids me to begin again and again.

The deepening of one’s spiritual growth is not so much succeeding in the possession of unfailing answers to impossible questions. It’s more about living the mystery and becoming Mystery. It’s a way to heaven by obscure faith that is unclear but certain.

I’ve learned enough to know God may or may not make me privy to what He is doing in and with me at any given moment. But it’s enough for me to rest in this hard, messy, disjointed, and jarring place of what is incomplete. Life is incomplete until I journey beyond earth, so I shrug my shoulders in resignation as I look at the emerging twilight and say, “I know You have a plan, and that’s enough for me.”







Friday, August 11, 2017

"No Prayer is Useless"

St. Augustine reminds us that no prayer is useless.

We learn as children that praying doesn’t always “work”: we prayed and still failed that math test, we prayed and still were ignored by our crush, we prayed and our sick grandmother never got better. As adults, our worries increase, as do our disappointments in prayer: we pray and still don’t get hired, we pray and still our spouse wanders, we pray and we ourselves never get better. So, what’s the point? Why pray for things that we want if we don’t always get them? Is God listening? Does God care?

Of course, he does. But not in the way that we might expect. To correct the common notion of God as an invisible granter of wishes, Jesus instructs us in the Sermon on the Mount: “When praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:7–8).
This is a profound statement on the nature of prayer. Jesus teaches that God never learns of our needs. Our prayer reveals nothing to him, for he already knows everything. Thus, we shouldn’t pray like the pagans, who think that their prayers introduce human need to the divine mind. Rather, our prayer should acknowledge the fact of God’s omniscient providence. “Pray then like this,” Jesus says: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. They kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven …” (Mt 6:9–10).
Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father as the all-knowing and all-powerful creator and governor of the universe. In other words, we are to pray knowing that nothing occurs in creation that escapes God’s notice. 

There is no birth nor death, no gain nor loss, no joy nor sorrow of which God remains ignorant. As Jesus says elsewhere: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.” No, not one of them; all unfolds within God’s providence. It can’t be otherwise. 

Consequently, Jesus assures his disciples: “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mt 10:29–31). As creatures, we possess nothing that God fails to count.

This is a consoling truth, but our question still remains: why pray? If God is the all-knowing and all-powerful ruler of the universe—if all unfolds under his watchful eye, and if he knows what we need before we ask—then what good can praying possibly do? 

Well, it depends on what we think prayer should do. If we think that praying should change God, then our prayer is indeed useless. We’d sooner yell the bark off a tree than change God’s mind about something. But if we think that praying should change us, then we pray as Jesus taught.

Centuries ago, St. Augustine explained the mystery of Christian prayer to a noblewoman named Proba. A young widow who fled the Sack of Rome (410 AD), Proba wrote to Augustine and asked how she should pray, her life spiraling into ever greater chaos.

Augustine responded that she should pray for a happy life, which the holy bishop described thus: “He is truly happy who has all that he wishes to have, and wishes to have nothing which he ought not to wish.” 

When we offer to God all of our desires for a happy life, Augustine explained, over time our offering is purified. As we draw closer to God, and as our wills align to his, we wish more for what he wants to give us and less for what we want to give ourselves. Praying does not change God, therefore; it changes us—in our hearts and in our desires. 

“The Lord our God requires us to ask not that thereby our wish may be intimated to Him, for to Him it cannot be unknown,” Augustine explained, “but in order that by prayer there may be exercised in us by supplications that desire by which we may receive what He prepares to bestow.” 

In other words, we pray always and in every situation not to alert God of our needs, but so that we might grow in our desire for the good things that God wants to give us for a happy life, leading up to eternal life.  

The mystery of Christian prayer as Augustine described it unfolds even in situations of great distress. In moments of trouble or trauma, we might not know how to pray as we ought, asking God simply to remove the cause of our trouble. Augustine granted that this prayer is natural and common. But in those moments, Augustine continued, “we ought to exercise such submission to the will of the Lord our God, that if He does not remove those vexations we do not suppose ourselves to be neglected by Him, but rather, in patient endurance of evil, hope to be made partakers of greater good, for so His strength is perfected in our weakness.” 

When troubled, we pray for the removal of our trouble, though acknowledging all the while that the trouble itself may provide a path to some greater good. In order to pray this kind of prayer, we can look to a reliable model: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).

No prayer is useless, therefore. At any given moment, our prayer manifests either a heart aligning to God’s will or a heart already aligned to it. In either case, we pray confidently as creatures of a provident God, who wills that nothing of his ever be lost (Jn 6:39).

Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., serves as senior editor of Aleteia English.


Note:  For some very simply prayers see 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Praying for Ourselves and Others

"Today we pray for ourselves, that we may know our addictions and admit them. We pray that we become detached and free from whatever holds us back and kills our joy that comes from God. We pray that every day, we may attach our spirits in humble prayer to the God who made them and the God for whom they were made. 

We pray for all those whose lives are being destroyed by addiction here and beyond. May this be the time when new hope is born and many souls turn back again to God. Matt Talbot, pray for us."

Sourcehttp://www.staidanscathedral.ie/reflection/sunday-31st-july-2016/

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Venerable Matt Talbot: From Addict to Ascetic

From Addict to Ascetic

One Saturday in 1884, twenty-eight-year-old Matt Talbot stood outside O’Meary’s pub in Dublin, Ireland. He was low on cash. Workers streamed by him, men with whom he had often labored, and he waited for one of them to invite him in for a drink. Work hard; drink hard—this had been his rhythm of life since he was a young man. All his money went to pubs. And when he was out of work and had no money, he found ways to get it—selling his shoes or clothes, or, once, stealing a fiddle from a blind street performer and pawning it. But this Saturday no one stopped to invite him in.

Something inspired Matt to leave his post by the pub door that day and return home to tell his mother that he would make the pledge—a promise to give up alcohol for three months. He went to a nearby seminary for confession. Three months later he renewed the pledge and never had a drink again. After over a decade as an obstinate drunk, Matt dropped the habit.

He lived his remaining years in quiet, hidden penance, growing in the spiritual life through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity. His life was so quiet, in fact, that he probably would be forgotten today except that when he died on the way to church on June 7, 1925, he was discovered to be wearing chains of devotion and penance under his clothes. Though his struggle from alcoholism to asceticism was mostly unknown to others, after his death Matt became recognized by the universal Church as a holy man, a role model and inspiration to those struggling with addiction.

I learned about Matt Talbot’s story this summer, which I have spent in Baltimore working at a soup kitchen with the poor and homeless. This city has been called the U.S. Heroin Capital. Every day I see people stooped over, swaying, stumbling to their seats, unaware of the ground under their feet, and falling asleep in their food. In Baltimore, an estimated one out of every ten citizens is addicted to opioids. And the city is only one hotspot in an epidemic that killed fifty-two thousand Americans in 2015.

Lives consumed by substance abuse make particularly obvious the misery of sin. Sin leads to more sin, and a life of sin leads to destitution and a profound unhappiness on the edge of despair. Those of us who personally know people being destroyed by addiction may begin to wonder how, or if, such darkness can be overcome. But Matt Talbot’s life shines a light into this darkness. He is reported to have said, “Never think harshly of a person because of the drink. It’s easier to get out of hell than to give up the drink. For me it was only possible with the help of God and our Blessed Mother.”

Matt only could address his perverted love of alcohol when he encountered a greater love—the love of the Father who welcomes home a wayward, profligate son; the love of the King who searches out the neglected to come celebrate his son’s wedding feast; the love of the shepherd who seeks the one wandering lamb, who prays that none may be lost. Matt Talbot’s story shows that this love is real and efficacious, able to free us from even the strongest of sinful bonds.