Transcript of a Talk I gave to parents of Confirmation students on November 11, 2018
I want to say welcome to all the Confirmation parents and thank you for being here to guide your children on their journey towards receiving this wonderful Sacrament. Today I wanted to speak to you about how your embracing of prayer and the Sacramental life for yourselves and for your children can be the conduit we need to change the world we live in. The church Fathers referred to this walk of love as the journey from the purgative way, to the illuminative way, to the final stage of the unitive way. That is our goal as Catholics, to walk towards union with the will of God. I could speak about the great Saints and their journey, Saints like Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross that have given us so much insight into prayer and the sacramental life. But then I thought to myself, that instead I would share my own journey and how these things apply in the modern world that we live in.
Some of you already know my story, but some of it is worth repeating as it relates to prayer and the sacraments.
I have grown up Catholic my whole life. I have always attended Mass and volunteered or was part of the church in some way growing up. I knew the prayers of the Mass. My family prayed the Rosary together. Anyone looking at me from the outside would say I was a good Catholic Girl. They would say I was a praying girl. But when I look back on my life now, I would say I was a check box Catholic. My prayer life, though at times could be deeper than others, mostly consisted of praying on Sunday at Mass, reciting memorized prayers, or pleading with God to remove some suffering from me, of which there were many over the years. I had a relationship with God, I believed in Him, but I don’t know if I ever trusted Him.
That all changed for me on August 29 of 2010. That day is the day my life and my prayers changed forever. Let me explain.
On August 28, 2010, my friend Veronica called me and asked if my son could spend the night at her house. Though I had allowed him to dozens of times before, that night for some reason, I was uneasy. I told her no, but that he could come over and play for the afternoon and that I would pick him up before dinner. Around 4 o’clock I drove out to her house to pick him up. I stood in Veronica’s kitchen area and we chatted about our boys. She told me how each of them had a gift and what special children they were. She had taken them to the grocery store to buy their favorite ice cream to eat. My son also wanted cereal which she generously bought for him and gave me to take home for him. I thanked her and I drove away.
The next morning she was murdered. Right there where I stood talking to her. Her soon to be ex-husband had hired a hit man to murder her because they were separated and really who knows why else. I felt like I got punched in the stomach. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying.
In my agony, I laid on my bedroom floor crying, wailing really. Here was a beautiful young mother, 39 years old murdered, leaving her 8 year old son motherless. And for what? I cried out to God in anguish and anger. How could you let this happen? Why Lord? I was crying out to the Lord.
In the midst of my anguish, a thought came over me. God said, “I don’t want this, people choose this.” I asked God, “what, what in the world can I do, in this awful place?” He answered me. He said, “Susan, good in the world starts with you.” I began to think. I thought about how I had seen Veronica and her husband in church together and I wondered, how can a person who would murder sit in church? God answered me again. He told me that her husband did not start out a murderer, but that his sin had grown in his heart and gone unchecked, and had lead down a long dark path. I remembered the bible verse that stated, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”( Matthew 5:28) That was the moment that verse made sense to me. I never had understood it. I had always thought, “how can a thought be a sin?” But after her murder it made sense to me. Sin starts in your heart and takes over until you act on it with your hands. And if we never take the time to examine our conscience, or think about what is right and what is wrong, well then, we can really go down a wrong path.
So Lord, “what can I do?” He told me that the only person I could control was myself. That I can choose to love and spread that love outward. For me this meant examining my own conscience and trying to become a better person. Did I love my enemy? or even my neighbor, for that matter? The answer was a resounding, NO. Oh my, I thought, I have not always spread love and left people better off for knowing me. I was ashamed. I thought about Confession. I had always disliked this Sacrament and dreaded going. But here, in this place, crying on the ground, I found it to be a gift. A gift I was grateful for. My whole outlook on this Sacrament was changed by my conversation with God. I went and had the biggest confession of my life and felt a huge weight lifted off of me.
This experience of this profound conversation with God and encountering Him in Sacrament began to change the way I lived and prayed. I thought about Veronica. And her name. Suddenly the Stations of the Cross came alive for me. In the 6th Station while Jesus is in His Passion, walking His way to Golgotha, bloodied and beaten, He comes across a woman named Veronica. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. A small kindness. This man, this God man, was bloodied, beaten, tired, in agony, and this women, Veronica, provided a brief respite, if you will. A few seconds where the sweat and blood were wiped away, and for a moment, however brief, He felt love from this woman. It did not stop His Passion, His suffering, but in a world that was mocking Him, scourging Him, that woman’s touch with the cloth must have felt glorious. So He imprinted His image on her cloth. Veronica, means “True Image”. He left her the mark of His love. I decided then and there that like Veronica, I needed to wipe the Face of Jesus in every person I saw or came across. I may not be able to stop suffering, but I can provide love and respite to others.
Thus began my journey into deeper prayer. Scriptures and prayer were coming alive for me in a way they never had before. No longer was I only petitioning God for things, but I was talking to a friend. My best friend. My love. One who wanted to be intimately involved in my life. My prayer began to change from, “What can you do for me Lord, to what can I do for you?” I built a peaceful place in my room where I began to pray daily, both mental prayer and devotions like the Rosary. I also sought out a Spiritual Director to help form my prayer life.
It was only after looking back that I could see the Lord progressing me through these stages the Church Fathers spoke of. I still have a ways to go, but I know the path as set forth by the church Fathers and I seek it willingly. I learned that it was when I stopped the pretense of pretending to only present my best self to God, or only petition him when I needed something that I got “real” with God, giving Him all of me, all the broken pieces, that he picked me up and put me back together. It reminded me of when I heard Fr. John Riccardo speak of the passage in John 4:48. The Royal official came to Jesus and asked Jesus to heal his son. Jesus responded, “unless you see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” A strange response from Jesus that I had not previously understood. But here again, the Gospel came alive for me. It’s as if Jesus was sad that the only time people came to Him was for Him to perform a healing miracle, when what He wants most of all is to be intimately involved with us. He wants our friendship. Too often in the past I had sought the healing, and not the Healer. But here I was learning to seek Him first.
Over and over that first couple of years after Veronica’s murder, in addition to the Rosary and other devotions, I would pray for the Lord to show me the humanity in people, to show me what He sees in us. I remember clearly one day gave me the opportunity to have my prayer answered.
My husband and I had gone out for a birthday dinner for me. I was so excited. I thought I was in for a treat as this was a nicer restaurant than what we normally would go to. But when I got there I was disappointed at first. You see, our waitress wasn’t doing a very good job of making me feel special on my birthday. She did not bring us menus. She did not even look at us. She asked us what we wanted to drink, and being that I didn’t have a menu, I asked for a House red wine. Every time she came to the table, she sighed and audible sigh, as if we were putting her out by sitting at the table. We did finally get one menu, to share between the two of us. We placed our order, which elicited another sigh. When our order came, it was wrong. Jason advised her that what she had brought was not a filet, and I pointed out some missing items. A very frustrated waitress left and went to go get the correct order.
In the past, all of this would have made me angry. I would perhaps have thought about not leaving a tip, and reporting her to her manager, seeing to it that she would be reprimanded. After all, we were paying a lot for this meal. We deserved better treatment! It was MY DAY, and I AM THE QUEEN! But God whispered back to me my own prayer, “see the humanity Susan, see how you can love her like I do.” In that moment my anger stopped, and I said a prayer to God to show me what to do.
She came back to the table and she brought the correct order, mumbling a sorry under her breath. I asked her if everything was okay. She said she was fine. I stopped, touched her arm, and said, “no really, is everything okay?” She began to cry. I told her that whatever it was that was bothering her that God loved her and tomorrow would be a better day. Then she began her story. Her husband had just left her. She had a 5 year old, two jobs, and now she thinks she is pregnant, she was exhausted. Through her tears she asked me to cut into my steak so I could see if it was okay. She was trying to do her job still in the midst of her agony. I told her not to worry about my steak. I realized her sighs were not about us being at her table, they were sighs about her own life and situation. I again told her God loved her. I gave her some information and phone numbers for our local pregnancy resource center. I told her to have hope. I wrote her a note and told her to read Psalm 23 when she got home, because I believe the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” is a real place we sometimes walk through and we need to remember that God is with us. That there will be a time when our cup will overflow again. At the end of it all, she hugged me and told me she loved me. I saw her go to the new table that came in, with a smile, and two menus.
I often think about that interaction and how my reaction could have changed the trajectory of things for better or for worse. What if I had complained? What if she had been fired? If I do good deeds like giving money to the poor but show no mercy to the person right in front of me, I am not embracing Christ. For Christ tells us, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” It is precisely in recognizing our own need that we find Jesus. When we humble ourselves and take a deeper look into out own hearts, our sins are revealed to us, along with a burning desire to purify ourselves out of love for Jesus, our friend and our Savior. We have nothing to fear by presenting ourselves to Jesus as a humble servant, with all of our wounds, for His judgement is perfect. Jesus does not condemn the repentant sinner, and neither should we. Jesus says he did not come for the righteous, but for those who are sick. It is when we refuse to look inward and see that we too are sick, that we miss out on the greatest gift of all, God’s MERCY. By humbly remaining on the path of our own purification, which is a lifelong journey, receiving the mercy of God, we are then able to give that authentic mercy which we have received to the world.
And so it was here in my prayer life that I could see clearly that Prayer had CHANGED ME. God was converting me. We sometimes look for the Big Giant miracle and miss the everyday miracle that can occur in our interactions of love with people. This is the path of prayer. It is a path of perfection where we root out sin and become people of love.
God is a good God of intimacy and when we open our hearts to him we start to clearly see this. I remember another time when I first started seeing my Spiritual Director and he told me to go get a journal and start journaling. I had trouble that week getting to the store and I thought I would go to the Saint Philip bookstore to pick up a journal on Sunday. When I got there I was totally bummed they didn’t have any journals. I said a prayer, “Lord, I just wanted to get a journal so I could hear you speak to me more clearly.” I walked down the hall, ran into my friend Allison, she said, “oh, I have something for you”, and she pulled a journal out of her bag and gave it to me. She said “I made this for you about 3 months ago and kept forgetting to bring it to you, but this morning for some reason something stopped me and reminded me to go back and get it.” I just started crying. Imagine a God that loves us so much that he cares about something as simple as a journal. That’s what prayer does.
I also want to another line from the Gospels. A friend and I had recently pondered this Gospel passage together and I feel that I am supposed to share it with you all because it most definitely has to do with prayer and the culture we are living in today. There is a battle going on in the world today, we see this so clearly with all the fighting. What most of us don’t truly understand is that this battle is spiritual. We are actually fighting powers and principalities who came to steal, kill and destroy. We are warriors fighting this spiritual battle and prayer and the sacraments are essential in this battle front. For Christ has already won the Victory, we just have to embrace it.
The Gospel passage the Lord wanted me to speak to you about is Mark 10:18 where Jesus states; Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
It is not by our own merit that we are “good” or are we even able to do truly good deeds. It is only with God acting through us – since He is the source of all goodness. We can consider what we think to be good, based upon our own limited understanding, but how are we to actually know what is truly good?
More often than not, in today’s culture, we form our own individual opinion of what we believe to be good and then we act based upon that opinion. We scream “look at me, see me” as we post selfies on social media and tell people of our good deeds. But how are we forming this opinion and what is our intent for doing good deeds? Almost every one of us wants to be a good person and the best way to prove our goodness, to both others and ourselves, is to do good deeds. The secular culture tells us we can be good without God. But in this passage from the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus tell his apostles that God alone is the source of all goodness. While we scream “Look at me,” God speaks and says, “No, look at me. You’re your eyes on me. And you will become who you were meant to be. Therefore, we do not actually create or earn goodness, nor are we even good of our own accord. Instead we are to give credit to God alone because He alone is the source of all goodness. Thus, we should be continually drawing from this limitless source and not try to create or determine goodness on our own.
So how do we draw from the source of all goodness? Through mental prayer and through our participation in the Sacramental Life of the Church. The combination of living both of these to the fullest are how we bring God’s authentic goodness to the world. And it is up to us… God’s goodness enters the world through each one of us who are each members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Through mental prayer, we tap into the source of goodness who is God himself and we allow ourselves to be nourished with the Living Water. Without prayer, our hearts can easily become dried up and even turn into hearts of stone. It is prayer that brings this personal relationship with Jesus that cultivates in us the Truth of God’s goodness. It creates a place within us where the fount of Living Water, which is a wellspring of never ending nourishment for the soul, may dwell and flourish. Through prayer we allow ourselves access to this fount and are able to draw from this source.
A prayer-filled spirit is one who is continually quenched in the Living Water of God’s Truth and goodness. It is one who truly listens to the Holy Spirit, is open to the response that God is calling them to and is obedient to the Will of God. The Virgin Mary is a great example of this for us. Her FIAT is evidence that she was a prayer-filled person and had a deeply rooted relationship with God the Father.
Mary most fully understood and believed that the source of all goodness is from God. This is what allowed her to trust fully in the Lord and praise and honor Him above all things. Her openness to receiving God’s grace transformed all doubt and fear into loving service of the Father. Although she was not granted immunity to suffering in this world, she was given the tremendous grace to endure all the world’s suffering with peace and perseverance. These are the gifts she received through prayer. These are the graces she tapped into through the prayerful relationship she had with the Father.
A life without prayer can quickly become dry and arid because we cease to draw from the source of all goodness. This can be likened to pouring water into a dry well. The water is quickly absorbed by the dry land or runs out because there is no source of water coming from within the well. God’s grace is the wellspring that we are all called to draw from through prayer. It is ready and available to all of mankind. But many of us are simply too busy, too prideful, too self sufficient, too hurt, or too distracted in order to drink from the well. So we continue on our way in life doing the best we can and relying on ourselves and others in order to live a good life.
In all actuality, in order to truly be a “good” person, we can do nothing without God. Jesus most assuredly tells us that only God Alone is good. When we try to do good on our own accord, we end up only mimicking what is authentically good. This is because we are only doing what we consider good, which has the tendency to be flawed, distorted and sometimes even evil DO you think we see this in our society today? Another passage comes to mind here;
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20
It is only through God’s grace, poured out upon us, accepted and received into our hearts, and then freely given away, are we actually doing true good in the world. When we participate in a prayerful relationship with God, uniting our soul to our creator and allowing Him to transform our hearts, we are in essence tapping into this source of goodness and we are enabled to go out into the world and be God’s presence to the world. This good is not our own, but it belongs to God and with Him as our source, we can work wonders. It is only through great humility that we are able to recognize this and to participate in God’s goodness in this way.
Alongside cultivating a prayer life, is the importance of our regular participation in the Sacraments, which are a great prayer in and of themselves. The Sacraments are strength for the storm. They empower us with the Pentecostal courage to go out and share the good news. Jesus spent three years building a relationship with the apostles, teaching them and revealing to them his mission for the Church. But even then it took the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to give them the courage to go out and be and do and share the goodness they had received.
Pentecost is where we see Confirmation in action, the Holy Spirit, our Advocate coming down upon the Apostles, giving them supernatural power and making them fearless, in a world where they had previously been afraid. The gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord, were poured upon them, and will be poured upon those here who will be confirmed when the Bishop lays hands on them, and anoints their heads with oil. If you truly embrace this and receive all God wants to give, you can become fierce and fearless in the world.
All of the Sacraments are an extension of Pentecost for us today, but most especially those that we are able to daily participate in; the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. Jesus gave us this tremendous gift to be able to be strengthened and fed in the Eucharist and then also healed and forgiven in Confession each and every day. In his dying and rising, Jesus made himself available to us in a real way each and every day. What a tremendous treasure we have access to through the Church. Why are we not living like they did on the day of Pentecost?
Both prayer and the Sacraments are each important in their own ways. But one without the other is only a partial living of God’s goodness. This is why we see so much degradation in today’s society. People have either abandoned the practice of prayer, or they have abandoned the Sacraments all together, or both. The result we see around us, disunity and rage.
When we replace what God gave us with our own version of what we want or what we think is good we get a religion-less spirituality, a pagan spirituality or abandonment of the spirituality all together. Pride and selfishness permeate the air because it is a mere mimicry of the real thing, a twisted truth. And a twisted truth is actually a lie. What do you get in these circumstances, people who speak of unity, but who are actually destroying it.
The devil wants nothing more than to separate you from God. Separation from God separates you from people. We cry unity in the name of tolerance as we label people and put them in boxes where we can hate them. We get a church that lets go of doctrine and embraces evil. In short, we get what has happened in Ireland (and America). The battle cry uniting women as equal includes the killing of her child. Marriage gets twisted to mean only sexual desire in the name of unity. And if you disagree, well, you aren’t for unity, equality and tolerance, therefore we can hate you. And we reject God’s love and mercy creating our own abyss.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.” Romans 1:21-25
When we immerse ourselves in prayer, asking for unity to God’s will and we participate in the Sacramental life, we can become living Sanctuaries. Storms can rage around us. The devil can try to take our authority, but the door is shut because we have become a tabernacle to help light the world. We must, run away from authors and speakers who speak of love and unity but criticize church Doctrine and the authority of the church. Go back to the example of Our Blessed Mother and the Saints.
Immerse yourself in prayer, mental prayer, which is a conversation with the King of Kings. Believe in your heart and truly receive the Sacraments, and receive with a humble contrite heart, not a prideful or scrupulous heart. Examine your conscience daily. Love the person right in front of you. Be a light in the darkness. Go back to God alone as the source of goodness and do what he asked us to do, and draw your source of goodness from the Truth.
This path of union with God, this unitive way involves embracing the cross. It involves offering up our suffering for others. It involves trusting, even in the darkness. When we do this we change things. It is in the pain of the cross and our union with Jesus on the cross that great grace is poured out upon us.
One day while deep in prayer God showed me what prayer does. He showed me how He sees time. Because God is outside of time he sees everything at once. For God everything is Now. What He showed me wasn’t a linear timeline. He showed me time as a ball of light like the Sun. He was outside of it, and in it. Then he showed me what happens when we, The Body of Christ pray together in Unison. I saw a solar flare burst off that image of the sun. The solar flare changed the timeline. In a flash, I could see an event that had been like a solar flare where prayer had changed things. God took me to a point in time back in 1986 when I was in the 8th grade. Ferdinand Marcos and his wife with many shoes and the dictatorship of the Philippine Islands. It was shaping up to become a bloody battle with a few people already dead, including the staunch critic of Marcos, Benigno Aquino, Jr., who had been assassinated. But it didn’t become a bloody battle. Cardinal Sin of Manila had asked the people to pray. The people went out in front of the military praying the Rosary aloud. They stood in front of tanks praying. And then, a miraculous thing happened, the military laid down their arms. Even the secular media reported how the Guns fell to Rosaries. And the revolution was over, and the grace of God was seen. This is what prayer in union with God’s will can do. It can change violence to love.
Many people often ask me how I know God is speaking to me. I will try briefly explain in a simplified way, but first you must understand that the Spiritual World is real. There are two Kingdoms, God’s and Satan’s. Satan’s greatest feat is getting us to think he doesn’t exist. But he does exist, he is actively working to steal, kill and destroy, and we can see it in our society today, God does not will the violence we are seeing, there is an active entity trying to bring destruction, and Jesus Christ came to defeat these works of the devil, we just have to embrace what He taught. For each of us individually it is important to remember the only person we can control is actually ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 10 Saint Paul tells us to “take captive every thought.” Why does he tell us this? If you think of it like this, there are three voices that talk to you. One is your own. One is God’s, one is Satan’s. When you pray, you will have thoughts pop into your head. It is important to ask the question, “where is this thought coming from, and whose Kingdom does it serve?” God’s voice breathes life, and love and does not contradict scripture or the magisterium. Satan’s voice brings death and destruction, but will often try to mimic God at first with a false image of unity or love, that’s why it is important to study your faith and study scripture. If you constantly have a voice telling you that you’re not loved, that is not from God. God loves. If you internalize that voice it becomes your own and you behave and live that false lie as your truth, bringing that voice to others and the culture. It looks like what we’re seeing everywhere today. God’s voice breathes life and love, and lifts you up out of sin, and if you internalize that voice, you bring that love to the culture. It looks like Mother Teresa and Maximilian Kolbe. These thoughts can come in the form of words, images, songs, and stories. Pay attention to them, it is not random. Take captive your thoughts to make sure you are serving the right Kingdom.
I will leave you today with one other image God shows me in prayer. God tells me he wants me in union with His will. He asks me to pray, “not my will be done, but yours,” and to embrace the suffering, even unto death, because it is here in Christ Crucified that we achieve Resurrection. He says he wants my heart beating in unison with His. When he says this I see a very clear image. It is the Sacred Heart beating in unison with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Guardian Heart of Saint Joseph, the Holy Family, all their hearts beating together. But there is one more heart. It is mine. It is yours. He calls it the Beloved Heart. And it is a heart that was broken, but has been repaired and is whole again, beating in unison. Sacred. Immaculate. Guardian. Beloved. This is what God wants for you.
I would like to close with a prayer I wrote recently after seeing this image which I call the prayer of the Beloved to the Holy Family;
Prayer of the Beloved to the Holy Family
O Immaculate Heart of Mary!
How could I ever thank you enough for all you have done for me, a wretched sinner?
Your obedient Yes ushered in My Savior.
You have rescued me with your prayers and supplications.
Your interceding heart, most pure, beating in unison with your Sons, draws me ever closer to him.
O Guardian Heart of Saint Joseph!
Faithful in your devotion to the Most Holy Family,
You took Mary Immaculate into your home.
You carried the Child Jesus in your arms.
You submitted to the Will of the Father.
Your interceding heart beating in unison with the Savior, draws me ever closer to Him.
O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, my Savior, my Lord!
You call me Beloved.
You take away my sins.
You destroy the works of the devil.
You have shown me the Father.
You have given me a family.
May my will conform with yours.
May my heart beat in unison with yours.
A communion of hearts filled with the Spirit, made in the Image and Likeness of God.
May the Holy Family watch over me and my family and may we ever remain in your love.
Sacred. Immaculate. Guardian. Beloved.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.