The definition of prayer, as found in This is Our Faith by Michael Pennock, is stated as “Conversation with God. Joining one’s thoughts and love to God in adoration and blessings, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving.”
I recently was a member of a team that served others during a 3-day spiritual retreat. All the workers were asked to participate in what is known as the Jericho March. A Jericho March is functionally a prayer walk by a group of people. In Joshua 6, we find the first example of a Jericho March.
As Joshua was leading Israelites to the land God promised them, they crossed the Jordan River they were faced with hardship as they entered the land of Canaan, the first city, Jericho, as it was filled with false Gods and false promises. Joshua 6:2-5 states that “Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark (Ark of the Covenant). On the seventh day, march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse, and people will go up, every man straight in.” From my perspective, I am sure that Joshua struggled to understand what God was going to do, but through prayer and petition, God delivered the land.
That leads me back to the Jericho March that we held at the spiritual retreat. At the beginning of the retreat, we were given the name of a person to pray for throughout the weekend. On Day 2, we were asked to walk around the building in which those on the journey were located, six times praying for the individual we had been assigned. Then on the seventh time around, we were asked to pray their name out loud, not in a shout, but yet in a prayerful petition. After completing the 7th time around the building, we were asked to place our hands on the wall of the building and then continue to pray. We were praying that these individuals would let the “walls” of their hearts open and let the love of God in, with all his grace and forgiveness.
The day was beautiful, clear skies, the silence within the campground, an unmistakable peace that the Holy Spirit was present. Those within the walls of that building had no idea we were outside taking part in this Jericho March, yet at the end of the session, amongst the silence and peace that was present, all of a sudden there was a loud cheer. Those inside let out a shout of praise to God. Everyone on the outside of the building was overjoyed with tears and thanksgiving, as it was a sign the “walls had fallen”. God had heard and answered our prayer! God is good!
Reflecting individually, this is the first time I had spent this lengthy amount of time in prayer. It is hard to spend a long time in prayer with all the distractions of the world. Additionally, the power of this experience can be and was overwhelming. It was the best thing I have experienced in terms of clearing all of my heart and mind of distractions and allowing the Holy Spirit to be present, working through me to serve God’s will. I can’t explain the feeling, goosebumps, a.k.a. God bumps present for no reason, and just the overwhelming joy. I hope everyone gets to experience this type of prayer and movement of God within your life.
During this experience, I think one thing that made it so powerful was a dedication to all the five necessary forms of prayer during the retreat:
Blessing and adoration – Thanking God for all the gifts he has blessed us with. Allowing adoration of God to pour out of our heart and mind to recognize he has given us everything around us.
Petition –Before intercession for others, we need to make sure to clear our own hearts and minds, allowing any sins weighing on our hearts to be released. We can also pray for forgiveness of our past transgressions.
Intercession – Praying for others. Whether this is individually or within a group, praying for others is powerful. “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20) God is with us when we come together in His name!
Thanksgiving – Expressing gratitude! Where blessing and adoration is focused on the beauty of God himself, thanksgiving is praising him for everything he has created. Friends, family, health, and the beauty of the world around us was given to us through the blessing of God.
Isn’t it such a beautiful mental image to know that we can have a direct connection with our one true savior and God? All we have to do is come to him in prayer. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, the apostle Paul wrote, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As we enter into this time of year, we are blessed with Fall; such a beautiful season. If you look around on a cool, crisp morning, a beautiful sunrise peeping over a tree line and the changes in the leaves. It is the perfect atmosphere to remind us to seek the Lord in prayer and give thanks for all the Lord has given to us!
If you do not have any other place to start, you can always begin with this beautiful and powerful prayer:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen” (CCC, 2759).
I am challenging myself to spend more time within prayer. I also offer you this challenge:
What can you identify as areas for growth in prayer, and how can you challenge yourself to gain a closer relationship with God?
Back in the Summer of 2016, on a fine summer’s evening, I was lying in my bed and debating some of the more profound things in life. Some may find spiritual reflection to be a normal thing, but I was musing after the decision to skip mass with the probability of ending my spiritual life as a whole. I had been studying abroad in Ulm, Germany. I was essentially running away from a harsh and challenging year. In the running away, I had completely lost my sense of faith. During the first couple months of my escape in Germany, I approached the secular view of happiness to its fullest degree. I went out every night until early in the morning with friends, traveled to beautiful locations, and primarily lived out what every young adult formed in the world would label as success. Just a few weeks before landing in Germany, I had gone on a retreat. Like many a young, single, Catholic man having been gifted a spiritual encounter with Christ in the sacraments, I played around with thoughts of the priesthood and what it meant to lead a holy life. However, as water bleeds out of a broken bowl, so does a single spiritual encounter when not set on a good foundation. One half of myself was the moral Catholic man I desired to be from childhood, and the other desiring to enjoy the world as it was.
"My failure to nurture my faith, combined with my erroneous lifestyle, was tearing me apart".
Throughout this internal debate, I concluded that there was only one fundamental point on which these two lives hinged upon: Does God exist? No, I did not go through St. Thomas’ proof of God nor Richard Dawkins’ atheistic writings. I debated the instance of what God meant to me at the time and the possibility that there was no God from my scientific background. Long thoughts made short, I could not come to a conclusion that night that God did not exist, no matter how much I desired it to be so. Attempting to reinstitute that I was a man of genuine nature, I decided that I will then live my life as if God was in existence, regardless of what that meant for my current standings. At the time, I did not know God outside of the catholic education system, but I knew that now was the time to grow in it if I was to choose this life. The environments in which we place ourselves as adults really do matter. It is every person’s duty to choose carefully where they put themselves in life and with whom they interact with. At Rose-Hulman, I lived in a fraternity house, which was not conducive to a lively prayer life (sorry fellas). Additionally, while abroad, I did not know a single catholic along with having a small grip on the German language, which did not help my lack of interest at mass. Mostly, I was actively setting myself up for failure with regard to faith, then blaming God for it.
“Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39)
Our faith journey and spiritual life is a long walk of facing the truths of Christ, while prayerfully reflecting on where we are reverses where God wants us to be. These truths can be hard to hear while others may be more common sense. Maybe, you were just never made aware of the truths of the Christian faith, and yet others may sound more like a battle of semantics. However, we, as believers in God, more precisely as Catholics, must rely on that fundamental point of faith in Christ when dealing with these truths. I often found that the revelations of the gospel were in contradiction to a lot of the life that I was “happily” living. It seemed that by choosing the Truth, I would soon lose my friends, my community, and especially my personal comfort. The fundamental parts of Catholic living are simple enough to integrate into anyone’s life. Examples: Worship the Lord at Mass on Sundays. Receive Communion and Confession at least once a year. But what I meant by choosing the Truth is in engaging that depth of spiritual life that entirely consumes us, allowing for nothing else to be placed between God and ourselves. When discerning how to act upon the apparent contradictions in my life, I revert to that question: Do I believe in God? To believe, one does not need to escape the world. Nor does it mean that we must run away from every relationship in our life. We must, however, choose Christ first, and to do so with a humble heart. We need to surrender all we are and do to God. We must comprehend that all gifts come from God, and that He will take care of us even though we may not recognize this in moments of despair. Peace in this life can be found in pursuing a genuinely sacramental life, as outlined by many saints. Everyone is called to be a saint (and can become one). It may seem like a tall order, and that we are being asked too much of our life.
I have found that everything is a personal choice in life. Faith, while it is a gift, is one that can be fostered and grown if we so seek it. We first must desire the gift, then ask for it before we can receive it, following both with endless obedience to our Lord and his will. This seems to stump a lot of people, as it did to me for many years. I simply hope to urge people to stay obedient and continue to choose Christ even if it seems like nothing will come of it. Trust in Jesus. Come to believe in God, trust in that belief (and by extension in the Trinity), then seek it out with a humble heart in the totality of your life.
“I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” (Timothy 1:13-17)
In the above quotation from the Letter to St. Timothy, St. Paul speaks out of humility about the Divine Mercy of God and his transformation in His Mercy. I believe what needs to be focused on, though, is the “deserves full acceptance” part. This “full acceptance” requires entirely giving our lives and accepting this Gift of Faith may require sacrificing anything we find that distracts us from Christ. This can be quite intimidating, but Christ always provides for us. We must continually ask ourselves the question we started with: Do we believe in God?
Every year, for the past five years, I have had the privilege of attending a Mission Trip to the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky with my home parish to serve others for a week. During my first year, I was reluctant to go because I was afraid that I wouldn’t know anyone or what I was going to be doing. I was so nervous about going off on my own for a week by myself that I almost backed out of this spiritual journey. I reflected on it more, and I decided to still attend. It was one of the best decisions that I have ever made because it changed my life and how I perceived the world. Being from an area where there are not many less fortunate people, I felt that I never really knew anything about them and their circumstances. When I would come across less fortunate people, I didn’t know what to say, think, or do because I was not exposed to it that much.
It was from this spiritual journey in Christ that I was able to understand more about them and their living conditions that now it is something that I am very passionate about. I also feel like I am able to grow closer to Christ through this. I say this because when I am on the “Job site,” I can talk to the homeowner and get to know them while refurbishing their homes. This is some very precious time because even while you are working, you get to know more about them and things that have happened in their lives. These are some of the most heartwarming stories that I have ever heard, and I have loved listening to them.
Some of the homeowners that I have talked to over the past couple of years have shared personal stories that were so touching that they almost broke my heart. For example, during my first trip, in 2015, the homeowners we worked for were in need of a ramp to get in and out of their house. We will refer to them as Robert and Mary in our story.
If you have never been to the Appalachian Mountains, let me paint you a picture. The roads become more narrow and windy as you are going up the mountain. Once you get to the spot where there are houses, there is not a lot of room to park, nor space for anything. Since this house was basically on top of a hill, we had to bring the ramp down in a zig-zag layout. For this family, we built over 120 feet of ramp and decking combined so that they could safely get in and out of their house.
The recipients of the ramp and deck were struck with grief in January of 2015 when Robert was diagnosed with Dementia. Robert and Mary only had steps to enter their house in the front, with no way to get out the back door, there was simply just a drop off. The stairs that they had in front were not even in place, more like just sitting there. Robert was getting to the point where he could hardly walk by the time we were there to help them, which was in June of 2015. The difference that only a few months can sometimes make in the health of an individual can be night and day.
"As I am sitting here writing this, I have tears coming to my eyes because of their difficult journey through life together."
By talking to Mary, I learned that in November of 2014, Robert was very healthy, in fact, he was speaking and riding a bike up and down the street with his grandkids. Fast forward, 7 months later, and he can no longer walk without assistance and is wheelchair-bound. He also can no longer speak, so it is difficult to know when he needs something. Mary, or one of their daughters, had to carry him up and down the stairs, if they needed to leave and when they came back home. He was becoming very dependent on them, so it was emotionally draining for them to deal with. Sometimes, they would have someone stay home with Robert while Mary ran a few errands since it was so much work to get him in and out of the house. Remember, the stairs were not sturdy, so it often took several people to move him. It made my heartache to learn about these difficulties and the ways that this beautiful family were enduring said difficulties. Another thing that I learned about this family was how much they helped others in their community. This is another reason why I was so happy that we were there, at their house, to serve them. We were there so we could give them the change that they needed in order to meet their circumstances and enable them to live life to its fullest.
Since this was such a touching story, the other members from my parish had a great idea to make them a bench to enable Robert to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. We learned right away that he loved being able to sit outside for fresh air and sunshine. Ever since he was diagnosed, he was not able to sit outside and enjoy it because of their conditions. We had to get this special surprise approved by the group leaders that we were working through since they have a specific price that they can spend on each job site. Long story short, they approved it, so we got right to the building. We knew we could make the family’s dream come true by the end of the week. We were able to get everything finished, except for the last deck boards on the previous deck box. We had the box in the ground but did not have time to put the deck boards on by the end of the week, so the crew that was in charge of the job site finished it on Friday, while we made the trip back home.
When we revealed the finished product to the family, their facial expressions said it all. I loved being able to see what they thought of their new home, which made it easier for them to maneuver effectively. Robert came outside and sat on his new bench and gave us the biggest smile I have ever seen anyone give in such a tough time. This immediately brought tears to my eyes, and is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Two months later, I learned that Robert had passed, which was difficult for me to take in because I grew so close to their family in a personal and spiritual way.
It was through serving others that I was able to find Christ because I was able to go out and help them. I grew to love God more and more, which made me want to help the less fortunate even more for my passion of Christ. The love I shared then spread to others because I was able to see all of His wonderful deeds. I was able to connect better with Him because he showed me how much it brightens another person's world. I learned how much they appreciate everything others do for them, which led me to this amazing journey.
I encourage you to say “Yes” to the next service opportunity that comes your way, you will not regret it, I promise! I am so glad that I decided to go on a Mission Trip that first year, and have gone every year since. My challenge is for you to go out and serve others in need. What is holding you back from living out the servitude of Christ in your life?
Gregory Dodd Catechumen. preparing for life in the church.
What is God?
It is a question that has itched the back of my mind ever since I was young. What is God? Within the Word of the Lord, we are given the answer to this question quite a few times. One of my favorite responses to this question was prompted by our Lord. The Lord states simply, "I Am." God is more than we can ever fathom. More than the stars and the sky. God just is!
Growing up, I always questioned the nature of our world. There has to be more, right? To this day, science has not been able to explain one of the most potent elements of our existence: consciousness. Knowing this, I also had a pull towards God, as we all do in one way or another. So, early in my life, I tried to understand God. As daunting as a task this was, I obviously failed. My search at this young age was uninformed and misguided. I gave up pretty quickly and turned away from the faith.
I didn't have a bad childhood. My parents were very caring and always pushed me to do my best. But again, I was missing something. I received good grades, praise from my family, and attention from girls, yet here I was, unhappy and unfulfilled. Something was missing.
Throughout the next portion of my life, I distracted myself with literature and friends. I spent a lot of time playing online video games and a lot of the time sacrificing sleep to do so. My grades didn't slip, but my mental health did. I had to distract myself from the existential thoughts I would have daily. I just consumed every form of media I could: games, movies, music, and the majority of my time was being spent reading books. I just found solace in living the lives of the characters in literature rather than living my own life. Friends came and went, but the novels remained.
When new friends came along, my judgment started to falter. I was making decisions in which I was harming my body, my mind, and the people around me. I was getting noticeably irritable regularly. My personality shifted, and I became the lowest version of myself. I became hateful and arrogant. I was full of pride and felt invincible. I thought I was smarter than everyone else, and God was something that I thought only fools believed in.
And yet, there was still this longing inside of me.
Then here it was, the culmination of all of my bad decisions. The conclusion of all the hate I spewed for years and the heartache I brought onto the people who loved and supported me. This vast, disgusting mountain of all of my trespasses and sin led me to this: a meeting with God.
Being in the presence of the Father is like trying to describe him. It is, as I stated previously, something we cannot fathom. It was the most terrifying and beautiful thing I have ever been subjected to, being in the presence of our God. The Father was the epitome of love and the embodiment of everything of goodness, truth, and beauty. He just is.
After the encounter, I was whole. I felt, unlike any way I have ever felt before. God had to literally knock me on my back to get me to see his work in my life. I have had the most loving and supporting girlfriend I could have ever asked for, and I was treating her horribly. I was destroying myself and my relationships for the simple reason of attempting and failing to fill the God-sized hole in my heart.
God led me from the recesses of darkness into his divine light...
Following the meeting, I was always thinking about him, his incredible time spent here on Earth, and his time spent with the Father. It was a no-brainer for me to move onto reading into the Catholic faith. Not only is it the Church that Jesus put into motion himself, but much of the grace in my life came in the form of the people who surrounded me. The people who were my biggest supporters. These people were all Catholic! It had to be a sign.
I spent any available time reading into the thousands of years of tradition. This history, both scripture, and tradition that the Catholic Church simply blew me away. Intellectually, ancient and present theologians alike have all had their fair share of molding my faith into a more solid foundation. This includes people like Thomas Aquinas, J.R.R. Tolkien, and if you know me in person at all, Bishop Robert Barron.
I then started reflecting on Jesus himself, including but not limited to, his ministry, his resurrection, his miracles, his passion, and of course, his words. I started learning more about the sacraments and the saints, and I just could not get enough of it!
At this point in my faith journey, I was pretty secure in my decision: I want to be Catholic. I keep listening to God, I keep praying, and he kept giving me signs and graces. But the darkness still had a minor grasp on me. There was a small portion of anxiety inside of me. Then the most amazing thing happens to me. My girlfriend invites me to Mass. Of course, I wanted to go! It was the next step in my faith journey. It definitely was what God wanted me to do. I could feel him prompting me to participate in the Catholic Church's most beautiful prayer, the Mass.
We had reached the parking lot of Saint Joseph University Parish. I was shaking. My heart was racing. My hands were drenched in sweat. I was paralyzed with fear. I found it hard to walk. I had a hard time getting to the front door. We walk in, I dip my fingers in holy water, I make the sign of the Trinity, and instantly, all of my fear and anxiety were gone. All of a sudden, I was on top of the world. I couldn't get over how beautiful the church was. The congregation begins to sing, and that's when I knew I was where I needed to be. I was home.
We move back to that question, "what is God"? God is the light. God is life. God is everything. God just is.