Prayer and God’s Will

“Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” (Mark 14:36)

We may be familiar with these words of Jesus which he uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was no doubt aware of what he was about to face – total rejection, false accusations, physical beatings and a tortuous death.  Some commentators say he was also feeling the total weight of all of the sin of the world, past and present.

We might take comfort that in his human nature Jesus is asking God to spare him this agony and pain.  He is showing us that there is nothing wrong with asking God to be relieved of pain and suffering, so long as we are willing to trust God for the answer.  Jesus follows up his request with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

He ended up trusting the Father that what he was enduring involved God’s plan for the salvation of the human race.

We all have or will face trials involving either physical or emotional pain.  It may be the debilitating side effects of chemo therapy, watching a child suffer through a terminal disease, or the loss of a job and our economic security.

This past week I attended the funeral of Jim, a friend and brother in Christ who died from ALS, a neurological disease resulting in the eventual loss of all voluntary muscle movement.   While Jim’s family and friends prayed for his healing, Jim submitted his condition to God’s will.  Although ALS diminished what he was able to do, he told everyone he could still pray and invited people to send him their needs for prayer. Over this past year many people sent Jim various requests, which Jim kept track of on a spread sheet as he faithfully and repeatedly prayed for each need.

We asked Jim to pray for a particular need for our adult daughter with Down syndrome. We have seen notable progress in this need both before and since his death.

Jim was Presbyterian.  He had many Catholic friends.  At both his wake and funeral the spirit of Christian unity was absolutely palpable, for what was evident to everyone was that here was a man who had truly fulfilled the prophet Micah’s entreaty, “to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”   (Micah 6:8)

Who can know the mind of God?  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor.2:9)


Acknowledging Our Need of Others

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  (Philippians 2:3)

Our human nature tends to want to give the appearance that we are strong, smart, capable of handling things ourselves and not dependent upon the help of others.  This is true in most areas of life and particularly in the workplace.

After having worked as an attorney for over thirty years for large international oil company, I was asked to take an assignment overseeing policy and governmental compliance for our environmental, health and safety operations.  The staff of this organization was made up entirely of engineers and people with technical and scientific backgrounds, a knowledge base in which I was severely lacking.

Shortly after assuming this assignment, one of our audit teams had discovered several operational deficiencies in one our African affiliates that was responsible for producing a significant percentage of our crude oil production worldwide – over 600 thousand barrels a day, all offshore.   Because of the significance of this affiliate’s operations and its contribution to the overall profitability of the company, the audit findings became quite controversial.

The management of the affiliate attacked both the findings and the competence of our audit team.

Thus, it became my role to defend the audit team and their findings before senior management involving technical engineering issues for which I had little expertise.  Acknowledging my lack of knowledge in this area, I had to ask our staff for help – to literally educate me on each of the technical issues so I could overcome the arguments of the affiliate engineers.

With the staff’s assistance, we were able to persuade management to accept the findings of the audit team and their expertise.

As a result, several changes in this affiliate’s operations were implemented that likely avoided a potential accident costing the company millions of dollars and serious harm to affected employees.  We may remember BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago, killing 11 workers and costing BP billions of dollars to appreciate the potential impact.

Ironically, acknowledging our limitations is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.  We are confessing the truth of who we are and what we are capable of doing and not doing.  As Jesus said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

When we acknowledge we need help, we are humbling ourselves before God and others.  Proverbs tells us that the Lord mocks the proud and gives grace to the humble. (3:34) Jesus says, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”  (Mt. 11:29)

God, the creator of all that exists, performed one of the greatest acts of humility and love of all time when he became an embryo in Mary’s womb to become one of his created in the person of Jesus.   

Shouldn’t we be willing to humble ourselves in acknowledging our needs and seeking the help of others?

Putting Jesus’ Words into Practice

At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he challenges us to put his many words into practice.  We are to love, to forgive, to care for those in need, be generous, reflect the Beatitudes, seek God and his kingdom and trust in God, along with the many other exhortations contained in Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew’s gospel.

When we do these things, Jesus says we are like a man who built his house on a rock. The rains came, the streams rose, the winds blew, but the house remained and did not fall.  The rock is, of course, Jesus.

What kind of foundation is our life built on?  Is it based on the values of the world – wealth, position, pleasure and all of the things that popular culture esteems; or is it built on love and the values Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount? 

My friend Leo has been volunteering as a coach for Special Olympics for over 35 years.  Ironically, he began this work even before one of his daughters was born with Down syndrome.  He is one of the most dedicated advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that I have ever met.

In addition to Special Olympics, he was one of six parents who were instrumental in starting and funding one of the first special education programs in a Catholic high school in the U. S — Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia.  More than a dozen students with intellectual disabilities have enrolled in this program each year since its founding in 1998, including our daughter, Emily.

More than 1500 students from the general student body have volunteered as peer mentors to these students, assisting with their inclusion in various academic courses and school activities.  As a result, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive an education that serves their academic, social and spiritual needs in a loving and nurturing environment.

Approximately, ten years ago, Leo joined with other families to establish Porto Charities, a tax exempt organization to raise funds to support the expansion of these kinds of programs in other Catholic schools in the Arlington, Virginia Diocese.  By the fall of 2019, the Diocese will have inclusion programs in all four of its high schools and a half dozen or more parish schools.  While many others have supported Leo in this effort, he has been the driving force to support a segment of our population that is often neglected.

Leo may not talk about his faith a lot, but Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

On October 1, Leo will receive on behalf of Porto Charities and its many supporters the 2018 Seaton Award of the National Catholic Education Association in recognition for their service to Catholic schools and God’s special children.

Leo, and the many others who have joined with him, are putting Jesus’ words into practice.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)




Small Steps toward God

Sometime after Pentecost, Peter and John were going into the temple and a man crippled since birth asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him and said, “Look at us!”  So the man, expecting to get something from them, gave them his attention.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. (Acts 3:1-10)

Before the man could be healed he had to look at the presence of God in the person of Peter.  He had to be willing to look God’s way before God could act in his life.  It may have been a first step for him, a small step, in moving toward God, but it was a small step that led to him leaping for joy in praise of God.

God in his love, mercy and generosity, will take the smallest movement from us toward him and act on it.  Having been a cripple since birth, this man had probably been begging for many years at the temple gates.  He was likely ignored by most people passing by.  For the few that dropped a coin in his cup, even they may have gone on without acknowledging him.

So here was Peter, who did something hardly anyone ever did.  He stopped, gave the man his full attention, talked to him and offered him God’s presence and healing.

There is a lesson here for people on both ends of this spectrum.  To followers of Christ Jesus, we have the capacity to bring the presence of God through the power of the Holy Spirit to the people and circumstances in our lives.  To those who are lame, in need and impoverished in spirit, the smallest response on their part toward God begets a response from God. 

Once or twice a month I take communion to the residents of a local nursing home.  Sometimes residents afflicted with Alzheimer’s are not able to physically receive the Body of Christ in the host, so I offer to say the Lord’s Prayer with them.  That happened this past Sunday with a gentleman, and while he could not receive communion, as soon as I started to say the Lord’s Prayer with him, he began to try to say it with me.

A small step for both him and me, but one where God was fully present! 

Maintaining the “Wow” of God

the-creation-of-adamIn the midst of the cares of daily life, how do we retain the fervor of our faith in God? 

If you ask someone how they are doing, they will likely tell you how busy they are.  And it’s true.  Most of us are on the go all of the time.  Both parents working demanding jobs, getting kids off to school, attending children sporting events, preparing meals, volunteering for various activities – all contribute to a feverish pace that can crowd out our focus on God’s place in our lives.  Information technology now makes us available 24/7 to bosses, customers, family and friends.

While we may believe that our modern life has become more hectic than prior ages, the erosion of our focus on God is a condition Christians have faced from the very beginning.  In the Book of Revelation we read of Jesus criticizing the Church of Ephesus for forsaking their first love of God.  He chides them for how far they have fallen and tells them to “repent and do the things you did at first.”  (Rev. 2:5)

To the Church of Laodicea, he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  Because you are lukewarm…I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)

My wife and I were blessed to have reconversion experiences during the height of the Catholic charismatic renewal in the 1970’s.  These were exciting spiritual times for millions of Christians who were experiencing the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives in the U. S. and around the world.  There was a certain “wow factor” that seemed to pervade everything.

God seemed so present to us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Prayers at mass took on new life.  Words seemed to leap off the page of scripture with new insight and meaning.  We looked for ways to join with others who had similar experiences of renewal, and engage in ministries of outreach to share Jesus’ good news with others.  We would pray with anyone for any need at any time.

Recently, I got out the Bible I had begun reading back then and was surprised at all the handwritten notes I had made in the margins recording various insights at the time.  I also found a couple of letters from two of our daughters that I had stashed away.  Each of them had commented on the impact they saw that the Lord was having on their mother and me and our family.

Forty years later, I wonder if my zeal and enthusiasm has waned a bit. Yet, I know that God has not changed. Nor has the need changed for us to be his presence in the world today to the people and circumstances in our lives. 

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God.” (Psalm 139:14, 17)

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)


Acknowledging Jesus before Others

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” (Mt.10: 32)

After experiencing a new relationship with Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, I was eager to share about my experience with others.  One of the first persons I shared with was Pete, a colleague who I had worked closely with earlier in our respective careers for a large international oil company.  He seemed quite open to hearing about my experience and its impact on my life.

A few weeks later I was at a company reception and met the executive who headed up our operating division.  I was wearing a dove in my lapel which he noticed, and in his gruff New York accent, asked “What’s the bird?”  Feeling a bit intimidated, I said, “It’s a dove.” I then went on hesitantly to explain that to some people it means peace and to others it stands for the Holy Spirit.  He shot back, “What’s it mean to you?”  I said the Holy Spirit, and he said, “Oh,” and walked off.

I thought, “Well, I didn’t handle that very well.”  I was upset with myself for muffing an opportunity to talk about the Lord with one of our senior people.

A week later I was having lunch with Pete.  He was now on the staff of this executive and when he asked Pete why I was wearing a dove lapel pin, Pete shared my entire experience of meeting Jesus in a new and personal way and how it had impacted my life.

Because of Pete’s relationship with this person he was able to share my testimony in a way that I would never have been able to do myself.  This person later became the CEO of the company.

Jesus was rather emphatic with the importance he placed on us bringing his life, truth and presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.  He warned, “But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 10:33)

When is it appropriate to share our faith and testimony with others?

It is noteworthy that when Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy-two, he instructed them not to go from house to house, but stay in one place, build relationships and serve the people by healing their illnesses and casting out demons.  Only after they had done those things were they to proclaim the gospel and that the kingdom of God was at hand. (Luke 10: 1-24)

This guidance is appropriate for us as well.  While God is able to act in any circumstance, we represent him best when we develop a relationship and seek to serve the needs of the person before we start sharing our own experience with the Lord.  Words have more credibility when preceded by friendship and service.  Missionaries have been following this practice for centuries.

Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

Seeking God’s Will in Moral Choices

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2)

Pat had just completed her master’s degree in Instructional Design and was having difficulty finding work in her field.  Finally she was hired to complete the last six months of work on a three year federal grant at a small college.  The purpose of the grant was to build a media center in the college’s Agricultural Department to create more engaging learning methods using the media center facilities.

Part of Pat’s work was to conduct surveys on the effectiveness of the grant and then write an evaluation which would be sent to the federal agency supplying the grant.  When Pat presented her report to the department chair, he asked her to remove certain negative findings coming out of the surveys relating to the faculty’s lack of use of the media center.

The department chair did not want the college – or himself — to look bad, which led to his request to revise the report.  Pat says, “When I balked at signing a revised report, the department chair reminded me they were seriously considering offering me a permanent position after the grant ended.  He implied if I went along with the request, I could continue to work for the university.  He also implied that my lack of cooperation would make the post-grant job disappear.”

Pat refused to sign the revised report.  The department chair relented and forwarded the report to the federal government as Pat had written it.  But as he had indicated, the subsequent job never materialized.

In seeking God’s will on her choice, Pat reflected, “This was my first professional work after receiving my degree.  If I started my career this way, how could it not have an impact on how I conducted myself later on?”

Pope Francis in his recent book, Our Father, says, “God does not conceal his will; he makes it known to those who seek it.  He does not force those who are not interested in his will, but he is waiting for them.  He is always waiting.”

Referring to the story of Adam’s fall in Genesis, Pope Francis says there are always two symptoms to saying no to God’s will – fear and accusing others for our mistakes.  As soon as Adam ate the fruit from the tree of good and evil, he became fearful and hid himself from God.  When God confronted him with having eaten the forbidden fruit, he sought to blame Eve for his failing.

In Pat’s story she could have acceded to the department chair’s request to eliminate the negative findings in her report out of fear of losing the opportunity for continued employment.  She could have also blamed her choice on the coercive actions of the department chair.

Pat chose to do neither, but instead sought God’s will in making the right moral choice.