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Catholic Converts

Post by Dhugz on Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:03 am

A Journey in Prayer

By Randy Hain

I
was recently reflecting on my faith journey over the last few years. I
converted to Catholicism in 2006 with my wife. I was raised in the
Baptist church until I stopped attending as a 15 year old and had no
relationship with God until I experienced a powerful personal conversion
in late 2005 while attending my second mass. My 23 years in the
“spiritual wilderness” were challenging in that my life revolved around
only work and then after my marriage, family and work. God was always
watching over me during these years, but I didn’t have a relationship
with Him and I certainly didn’t pray to Him until after my conversion
and surrender to His will.

Before I began my RCIA classes in the
Fall of 2006, I studied the Catholic faith in earnest. I tend to
intellectualize everything and my first thoughts were to learn
everything I could about our faith. I quickly realized there was more
to our wonderful Faith than knowledge, history and tradition! I then
began to focus on being the best Catholic I could be and started on my
true faith journey, versus simply immersing myself in books. One of the
biggest obstacles for me in those days was my lack of prayer life. I
knew I needed to pray, but I couldn’t ever remember sincerely praying
about anything. I was struggling with the typical male challenge of
asking for help, especially asking God for help! Who was I to bother
Him with my petty problems?

I went to one of our Deacons, shared
my prayer challenges with him and asked for guidance. He looked at me
with some amusement and said I was approaching prayer in the wrong way.
“Don’t worry about asking for help just yet,” he said. Simply go to
the Lord with thanks and be grateful for the blessings in my life.
Eventually, I learned to ask God for help and guidance, but my prayer
life started by offering thanks to Him. The light bulb went off and I
finally got it! I now understood that my faith journey would never grow
unless I had an active prayer life. This was the beginning of my
prayer journey that has continued to unfold and grow with each passing
day. I would like to share with you the stages of my prayer journey as a
Catholic, lessons I have learned and insights into how I pray in hopes
you will find my experiences to be helpful.

Stage One
of my prayer life was learning to thank God and be grateful. Going to
Him in prayer and reflecting on the blessings and burdens in my life
every day is how I learned to appreciate and acknowledge the Lord’s role
in my life. To this day I never start a prayer without thanking Him.

Stage Two
for me was learning to ask for forgiveness. I go to reconciliation
frequently, but it is still important for me to ask the Lord for his
pardon and forgiveness when I commit a sin-which is more frequent than I
care to admit! It has become a daily Examination of Conscience for me
to reflect on where I have failed Him and ask for forgiveness and the
grace to not commit that sin again.

Stage Three
was asking for His help and guidance. This stage of prayer is also
when I also learned to pray for others and their needs. I think men in
general struggle with asking for help and I am no exception. My growing
prayer life and deepening faith journey has given me the humility to
realize that I don’t have all the answers and that Jesus absolutely
wants to help me. Early on I would tentatively ask for help with the
BIG stuff like getting my family into Heaven, blessing our Priests and
Deacons, giving our government leaders wisdom and so on. Now, I am very
comfortable asking for His help and guidance in every facet of my life.
But, first I had to gain the humility to recognize that without our
Lord I am nothing and I need His strength.

Stage Four
in my prayer journey has been learning to completely unburden myself to
the Lord. This has occurred only in the last several months. I have
always been inclined to carry my stress, frustrations, worries and fears
like a secret weight around my neck. As I got better at asking the
Lord for help, I began asking for His help to lighten these mental and
emotional burdens. I am so grateful that I now can go to Him and
absolutely give Him whatever is weighing me down, from work stress, to
concern about my children’s future. Whatever it is, I share it with
Jesus as he asked us to in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who
are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke
upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of
heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden
light.”

I am confident that there will be more and evolving
stages of prayer growth for me if I am humble and focused on deepening
my relationship with Christ. St. Teresa of Avila wrote frequently on
the stages of prayer, especially in her book The Interior Castle. I
hope to reach the contemplative and mystical prayer life she describes
in her works and pray that Jesus will lead me there.

Some important lessons I have learned (and keep learning!) in my prayer life and would like to share include:

* Make time for prayer-just do it!
If you don’t schedule prayer time and stick to it, it will not happen.
Starting the day with prayer is often best and it builds slowly from
there. Ask yourself if you would be willing to spend only 30 minutes a
day with your loved ones. Hopefully the answer is a resounding NO! Ok,
then why do we struggle to give the Lord at least 30 minutes a day in
prayer? How you do it is not nearly as important as the act of doing
it!
* Have the proper disposition before praying.
It is important to have the right attitudes of humility and faith that
God can and will help us before we start praying. Reading scripture or
a book of meditations such as In Conversation With God or Imitation of
Christ every day before prayer will help prepare our heads and hearts to
approach the Lord in a deeper and more meaningful way.
* Work through the “dry patches.”
We all experience dryness in our prayers or have trouble focusing. We
may feel that God is not listening. We may fall into the trap of
asking God to validate what we want instead of submitting to His will. I
am certain that you will experience this, but keep at it! Mother
Teresa’s book revealed decades of dryness and despair in her prayer life
and yet she persevered!
* Eucharistic Adoration is a gift. We
are so fortunate to have perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in our parish.
Going before the Blessed Sacrament and having quiet prayer time in the
presence of Christ often energizes you and becomes a catalyst for
dramatically growing your prayer life.
* Practice more listening and less talking in prayer.
Adoration is the perfect place to listen to the Lord in complete
silence. We are often so busy talking that we fail to hear Him which
detracts from our quality prayer time.
* We can’t grow our Faith Journey without growing our Prayer Life!
We simply will not grow our relationship with Christ unless we do so
through prayer. According to the Catechism (2744): Prayer is the
lifeblood of your faith. Without prayer, your faith will die.

Finally,
I would like to share some insights on how I pray in hopes that it will
inspire you and help you deepen your own prayer lives:

* I
start every day by reading the bible or the Magnificat and the scripture
for the mass that day. I then read In Conversation With God by Francis
Fernandez and reflect on the meditation it contains and how it applies
to my life. I follow with prayer and offer the day up to God.

* I
have been a Eucharistic Guardian since January of 2007 and this is the
best hour of my week. No matter what is happening in my life, I can
come into the True presence of Christ and open up to Him in prayer. It
is absolutely uplifting and energizing and a great way to start my day.

*
I started praying the Rosary just three weeks ago and typically pray it
on my way to work or while on the treadmill. I put praying the Rosary
off for so long, but it is becoming a critical part of my prayer life
and a true blessing. This goes hand in hand with my ever deepening love
and appreciation for Mary and asking for her intercession and prayers.

*
The Daily Examen, developed by the Jesuits, is a critical part of my
daily routine. Basically, we are asked to stop five times throughout
the day for a few minutes of reflection and prayer. Each stopping point
has a specific purpose such as the Prayer of Thanksgiving, Praying for
Insight, Praying that you will find God in all things that day, Praying
for your desires and what you seek from God and finally a Prayer about
the Future and what you will resolve to do tomorrow. It is best to
actually put these 5-minute blocks on your calendar throughout the day
so you will be reminded.

* Pray at every meal-public and private. It is important for us be thankful and acknowledge Christ and ask for His blessing.

*
My wife and I pray with our children every night. It is important for
them to develop their own prayer lives, but they see our example and we
also grow by sharing our prayer lives with them.



Brothers
and sisters, I certainly don’t have all the answers and I am no expert
on prayer. I simply want to share with you as someone who struggles
with the same issues and obstacles, that my prayer life and my faith
journey have grown together. I didn’t have any kind of prayer life just
three years ago and now I couldn’t imagine living a life without one.
To me prayer is anytime that I turn my attention to God and away from
myself alone. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways and acts.
Feeling worthy or inspired is not a great barometer for measuring our
prayer life. Praying for….the desire for prayer is worthwhile and a
good start.

Seeking Lazarus

By Randy Hain

I find this to be a difficult and
complex topic: Being good stewards of God’s blessings and truly helping
those in need. Donating money to good causes is very important, but
actually lifting the burdens of the Lazarus in your life is even more
essential. If you will recall Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31,
Lazarus was the poor man covered with sores lying outside the door of
the Rich Man. Lazarus would have been content with simply the scraps
from his table, but the Rich Man did not take notice of Lazarus until it
was too late-then Lazarus was in Heaven with Abraham while the Rich Man
was tormented in Hell.

Proverbs 21:13 says, “He that stops his ear against the cry of the poor shall also cry himself, and shall not be heard.”
Let’s prayerfully consider how we can return to basic human interaction
with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling and share
not only through charitable giving, but also through love, prayer,
witness, listening or even a warm embrace. Let’s also expand our
definition of Lazarus to include not only the countless poor, sick,
homeless and hungry of the world, but also more locally: the jobless
neighbor, depressed co-worker, sick relative, financially struggling
friend or special needs child that attends school with your own. Lazarus
is everywhere in our lives…if we have the courage to seek him.

Consider
the possibility that in today’s society our problem is not that we
don’t see Lazarus. We see him, accept his plight and either throw money
at him or ignore him. I realize that sounds harsh, especially in light
of these statistics from a 2006 report written by Giving USA on American philanthropy:


  • In
    2006, Americans gave $295.02 billion to their favorite causes, an
    estimated $11.97 billion more than they gave in 2005. This accounts for a
    4.2 percent increase over the previous year.
  • The greatest
    portion of charitable giving, $222.89 billion, was given by individuals
    or household donors. In 2006, gifts from individuals represented 76
    percent of all contributed dollars.

We obviously live
in a financially-generous country. The enormous sums of money that flow
from individuals and corporations to good causes is overwhelming. So,
what is the problem? I recognize that many people generously give their
time, talent and treasure to good causes and they are truly a blessing.
But, many of us may be hiding behind walls of our own creation from
which we only dispense money to address the problems of the world or
worse, we do nothing at all.

As I thought and prayed about this article, I recalled Christ’s words in Matthew 25:35-46: “For
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you
cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will
answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or
thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome
you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and
visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you,
whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for
me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you
accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me
no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me
no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they
will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a
stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of
these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to
eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

This
scripture is the source of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the 7
Corporal Works of Mercy, which have helped me more deeply understand our
obligation, as instructed by Christ, to help the less fortunate. They
are:

To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick
To visit the imprisoned
To bury the dead

Nowhere
in the scripture or this list do I see instructions to “write a check”
or “donate online.” I recently took stock of my own stewardship and was
surprised and disappointed that most of what I do consists of raising
money for charities, writing personal checks and attending non-profit
board meetings. Less than a quarter of my time actually placed me in
front of those who needed me the most. I care very much about the
charities and groups I help, but I have allowed a wall to be formed
around me that keeps me from the personal interaction needed to really
make a difference. I know the money I raise and the influence I wield is
important, but “showing up” and really ministering to the people in
need is what is required. Using our expanded definition of Lazarus, I
have countless opportunities around me on a daily basis to help others,
but I own the responsibility to be more proactive and reach out. “If
a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food, and one of you say
to them: Go in peace, be you warmed and filled, yet give them not those
things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?”
James 2: 15-16.
If
you reflect on the many references to almsgiving in scripture, you must
remember that in biblical times, people were most likely seeing,
touching and talking directly with the people to whom they were giving
alms and showing mercy. Today, however, the size of the world’s
population, the economic segregation within our cities, the distance
between us and advances in technology often reduces our almsgiving and
acts of mercy to a “point and click” exercise on the computer. I know
full well that the counter-argument to this article will be that I am
negating the impact of financial giving and that there is not enough
time to physically be present and reach out to others. I strongly and
respectfully disagree. We are running the risk of losing our basic
humanity if we continue to avoid the personal interaction I am
advocating.

Again, donating money is very important, but showing
up and lifting or sharing the burdens of the Lazarus in your life is
even more important. My friend and fellow St. Peter Chanel parishioner
John Ruane, author of Parish the Thought, An Inspirational Memoir of Growing Up Catholic in the 1960s, gave me his thoughts on the struggles he faces with this issue, “We
are all so busy dealing with our own schedules and problems that it has
become very easy to walk by Lazarus without seeing him. I find it very
easy to recognize and help Lazarus when he or she approaches me on the
street asking for food or money. We get into our own pace in life. We
have our own habits, our priorities and focus. I have got to get a
hundred things done today. I just have to get it done. We are focused on
our mission. Taking time to stop, step outside of our habits, our pace -
to recognize and help Lazarus, is the new habit I am working to
develop.”


How do we reach beyond the cultural,
emotional and spiritual walls we have created to show mercy to Lazarus
as Christ intended? How do we meet our obligations to help our brothers
and sisters in Christ? Are we overwhelmed by the world’s problems or do
we feel that they don’t affect us? Is it uncomfortable to be vulnerable
enough to admit the problem and act on it? Are we afraid that people
will want more from us than we can give? Do we even know where to start?
I struggle with these answers myself, but humbly and prayerfully
encourage everyone to embrace the following actions or ideas to help us
develop the courage and commitment to change our attitude towards
Lazarus and make a difference:

· Pray
Pray
for the clarity of sight to see Lazarus all around you. Pray for the
courage to break free of the silos we have created and help Lazarus.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your actions. I am grateful for this
insight from my friend and fellow Catholic Charlie Douglas, author of Rich Where It Counts and Awaken the American Dream, “Prayer
today is so often about informing God of our wishes and our will. The
truth is, however, that prayer is about conforming our will to God's.
Jesus made this clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when he earnestly
prayed that above all his Father's will be done. And part of our
Father's will is to sacrificially carry our crosses in service to the
homeless, the poor, the despondent and the unloved. To be the hands and
feet of Christ to the Lazarus' all around us is a beautiful prayer.”

· Be Present….and Act Today
Watch,
listen and act. Look daily for the presence of Lazarus in your family,
friends, co-workers and strangers. Someone is struggling at this very
moment with any number of personal ailments or challenges. In fact, we
spend the majority of our adult lives at work, so your best opportunity
to directly help others may be through your work colleagues. Ask the
Holy Spirit to help you discern who needs your help today….don’t wait
until tomorrow. Francis Fernandez shares this insight from In Conversation With God, “We
cannot let a single chance of doing good slip through our hands. Today
does not come round again, ever, and God expects us to fill it with love
and with little acts of service towards others.”

· Love Your Neighbor
God is love. He loves everyone the same without prejudice. From Genesis 5:1-2
we know God created man in his own likeness. We need to remember this
as we regain our humanity through the loving generosity we show our
fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus shares the Great
Commandment in Luke 10:27, "First is to love the
Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your
mind, and with all your strength. Second is to love your neighbor as
yourself."

· Practice and Encourage Generosity
Consider another passage from In Conversation With God, “The
greatness of soul our Lord asks of his own will lead us not only to be
very generous with our own time and economic means, but also to assist
others to feel moved themselves to help, according to their own means,
for the good of their fellow man. Generosity always leads people closer
to God. On countless occasions this is the greatest favor we can do our
friends-encourage and foster their generosity."
Scripture says the
Lord loves a “cheerful giver.” We must let the love for Jesus that we
feel in our hearts be obvious to all we encounter. Forced giving or
obligatory assistance to others is not pleasing to Christ and absolutely
runs counter to His teachings.

· Faith Without Works is Dead
Get
involved by physically being there. There are countless ministries and
charities that need help, not just money. Serving at soup kitchens,
visiting the elderly, participating in prison ministry, volunteering
with the Special Olympics, building homes and schools in Haiti are some
of the countless opportunities available. My friend Glen Jackson, head
of an Atlanta based PR firm and a faithful servant of Christ recently
shared these thoughts with me: “In the Book of James in the New
Testament, we read an often quoted and discussed passage: ‘For just as
the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.’
This scripture reminds us that as the body of Christ, we are to
work-really work- for our Lord. We are to be men and women of action and
joy because the Holy Spirit lives in us.But how should we work? James
gives us the answer in a later passage when he says ‘show by your good
life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.’ It is the
type of work that it’s recipients respect, appreciate and are touched
by because of its unforced sincerity. Now, you simply can't do this by
just sending a check. Our time on earth is a mist that appears for a
little while and vanishes. So make the most of it. A prayer to say to
help us stay focused is: ‘Lord, help me make a difference for you that
is utterly disproportionate to who I am.’ Amen to that and let's press
on and be about our work of advancing the kingdom with our time, talent
and treasure.”

· Practice Detachment
This
may well be the hardest for us to accomplish-detach ourselves from the
pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake and put more time and energy into
our relationship with Christ and helping others. Remember Lazarus and
the Rich Man? The Rich Man’s wealth and abundance blinded him to the
plight of Lazarus and in the end he lost everything while Lazarus was
comforted in Heaven. Pope Benedict XVI says, “According to the
teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of
the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our
exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of
us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. In the
Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses
earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who,
lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the
tone of a ringing rebuke: ‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has
the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses
to help?’ (1 John 3:17). In those countries whose
population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent,
since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and
abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice
even prior to being an act of charity.”

· Serve Quietly
We
can’t honestly provide aid to Lazarus and honor the Lord if the
motivation is recognition and glory for ourselves. As Christ said in Mathew 6:1-4, "(But)
take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see
them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites
do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give
alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that
your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will
repay you.”

My friend Jacqui Welch, VP of Human Resources
for a local Atlanta company and a devout Christian, gave me her thoughts
on this topic: “I've found in my own life that the most frequent
and uncomplicated opportunities to embody Christ are when only you,
Christ and "Lazarus" are watching. Rather than seek opportunities for a
"BIG" impact, what has been most fulfilling for me (fulfilling in terms
of where I've best exemplified what I think Christ teaches us) have been
those quiet moments in the shadows- clasping hands in prayer with a
fellow believer, silently wiping tears and simply bearing witness. The
checks are necessary but they aren't sufficient. To experience what
Christ experienced we have to vigilantly seek those opportunities to
serve quietly, to roll up our sleeves and get in the muck and mire of
humanity.”

It is a sad indictment of our times that the more
perceived gain we see from technology and the pursuit of wealth, the
more distant we are becoming from the less fortunate. I have explored
the scriptural basis and moral imperative for helping Lazarus, but we
are also encouraged to do so through countless scriptural references to
“blessings we will receive” and the “building up of treasure in heaven.”
Consider the simple and compelling scripture references found in Proverbs 14:21, “He that shows mercy to the poor shall be blessed.” and Proverbs 11:24-25, “Some
give freely, yet grow all the richer, others withhold what is due, and
only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched.”
Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not forget to do good and to impart; for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.”

God
will show us the way if we only ask it and His pleasure is clear and
unmistakable when we give freely of ourselves and our treasure to those
in need. Jim Schippers, my close friend and the founder of the St. Peter
Chanel Business Association, recently shared with me a touching story
about his encounter with a homeless person in downtown Atlanta and the
struggles he had leading up to that encounter, “Let us be real with
God… The more we are honest with God the greater our graces will be. I
realize that is such a simple statement, but let me explain what I mean.
I work in downtown Atlanta and as I walk to and from work, and during
my lunch break, I come across a number of homeless people. As I walk by
each and every one of them, conflicts and reasons for not giving rise up
within me. What will this person do with the money? I can’t give to
every “beggar” that comes across my path, right? Or, I have left my
wallet in the office- so no guilt there… I have struggled with this, and
interestingly enough as I pass by each homeless person, I find it
difficult looking them in the eye. Yes, I have these excuses per se, and
after much struggle and stubbornness on my part I asked Christ to help
me – I gave to Him my doubts, the whole lot of my feelings (good and
bad) regarding this situation. A few nights later I was leaving a Braves
game and a homeless person asked me for money. I looked him in the eye
and gave him a dollar. He smiled, I smiled back, and peace entered my
soul. It took awhile for me to get there, but Christ was with me
prodding me along the whole way, all I had to do was be honest with
myself and ask for His graces.”

In
conclusion, I would again ask that we broaden our definition of Lazarus
to include those people you see every day as well as the less fortunate
in our community and around the world. Avoid the trap the Rich Man fell
in, which cost him a life in torment. As my friend Dr. Ron Young
observed, “Most of us are more like the Rich Man than the beggar,
Lazarus. We have abundance, especially when compared to the rest of the
world. There is so much we can do to reach out to those in need in our
everyday lives, but unfortunately we can become so consumed with the
trappings of success and relative prosperity (emotional and financial)
that we fail to see the people who need us most
.” I believe a
majority of us want to help and that most are well intended. Try to
reflect at different points each day on your actions towards others and
examine those missed opportunities to help someone who is struggling, so
you can rectify them later. Expanded horizons and active engagement is
what is required. Let’s evolve our good intentions to a higher standard
where we begin to recognize Lazarus more clearly and frequently and our
first words are “please let me help you.” Also, remember that we all
have the potential to be Lazarus some day-“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”



http://catholic-converts.blogspot.com/
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