How to Pray (for wine at a party)

The following is reprinted from my column in Catechist Magazine, with permission from Catechist.  It is a reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

 Sun., Jan. 17, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 2:1-11

The story of the miracle at the wedding at Cana continues the theme of revealing Jesus that began on the Epiphany and continued at Jesus’ baptism, where he was revealed as God’s beloved and anointed son. In this story, Jesus will be revealed to his disciples and others as one who works great signs.

This story from John’s Gospel also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the faith of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She impresses us with her concern for others, her attention to detail, and her unflinching faith. She is an example we can follow. In fact, she teaches us how to pray.

As we know, the hosts of the wedding celebration were running low on wine. Mary noticed this and wanted to help. So what did Mary do? She did not walk around wringing her hands and worrying. She did not grab her wallet and run to the market to “fix it” herself. Instead she immediately went to Jesus. 

We may be surprised or even amused by Jesus’ response. He doesn’t seem very interested. He even seems to rebuff Mary a bit. But what does Mary do? She doesn’t give up and assume he will not help. She does not lose faith in Jesus. Instead she trusts that he heard her and will respond. She tells the servants to be ready: “Do whatever he tells you.”

What is the result of Mary’s petition? Jesus responds with a miracle, of course. Jugs of water are turned into lots and lots of wine—really good wine! 

Like Mary, we should also walk right up to Jesus and tell him about our needs and concerns. They don’t have to be big things. After all, this whole story is about wine at a party! If Jesus does not seem to respond right away, we can be assured that it is not because he isn’t interested or doesn’t care. We can be patient and hopeful and trust in him like Mary did. And just as he did at Cana, when he does respond, he will respond with power. He will do lots and lots of really good things in our lives. 

Reprinted with permission from Catechist Magazine.  For subscription information visit catechist.com

"Do whatever he tells you."

"Do whatever he tells you."

God's Native Language

“Silence is God’s first language.” 

 -- St. John of the Cross

God enjoys the silence of exploding stars -- and humans who can quiet their minds, hearts and voices.   Image courtesy of NASA.

God enjoys the silence of exploding stars -- and humans who can quiet their minds, hearts and voices.  Image courtesy of NASA.

The Right Gift for a Savior

The iconic image of wise men breaking open their treasure chests before the child Jesus is a powerful one (Mt. 2:11).  The magi travelled a great distance to bring gifts of wealth and luxury, gifts fit for a king.  This is how they paid him homage.

The beautiful story of the magi may lead us to ask what gifts we will bring Jesus.  What does he want from us? 

To understand what Jesus wants, we must first ask why he has come into our hearts and into our world.  The Gospels answer clearly:  “He will save his people” (Mt. 1:21).  This is not just a King but a Savior!  Can the gifts we bring acknowledge this even more magnificent mission? 

Yes, they can and they should.  We must bring him the things a Savior wants most – the things within us that need saving.  We need not travel from east to west but only deep within our own hearts, to bring out the things that lie hidden.  These are the gifts Jesus wants.  This is how we worship a Savior.

Lord Jesus, I lay before you the gold of my sins and weaknesses, the incense of my painful memories and relationships, and the myrrh of my fears and anxieties.  These do not seem like gifts fit for a King, and yet I know they are gifts worthy of a Savior.  I offer them to you from the treasure-chest of my heart, knowing that you can transform and redeem them.  I come to you open, empty and vulnerable; be a quiet, loving, saving presence in me.  Amen.

Image by William McAusland (Outland Arts)

Image by William McAusland (Outland Arts)

The Barrenness of Busyness and the Fruitlessness of Worry

If I asked a room full of contemporary Americans what plagues them most, I imagine many would identify busyness and worry as major culprits.  Demanding schedules and the stress of daily life are common contemporary burdens.  At some point, we all fall victim to their debilitating effects.

Socrates wrote:  “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  Another wise man – Jesus – taught:  “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life?” (Mt. 6:27)

Of course, sometimes it is good to be busy.  We may be helping others, or working to make a living, or busily but happily fulfilling family responsibilities.  But being busy becomes a barren enterprise when our schedules are so full that we lose ourselves, we forget about God, and we miss the whole point of life.  We are totally disoriented but too busy to realize it!  When this happens, our lives become barren because we are running in circles but getting nowhere.  We are checking things off long lists, but deep inside ourselves, we are accomplishing nothing.

Like busyness, worry can have a valid role in our lives.  Sometimes worrying motivates us to care for others or accomplish something.  But worrying becomes fruitless when it paralyzes us, when it becomes all-consuming and prevents us from living, loving and growing.  When this happens, we begin to sink deeper and deeper into fears and “what-ifs.”  We move farther and farther away from the simplicity of the love commands, the comfort of trusting God, and the serenity of the peaceful life we all long for.

It is hard – perhaps impossible – to simply tell ourselves to stop worrying and then do it.  It is almost as hard to just stop being busy.  But if we feel that worry and busyness are getting the upper hand in our lives, perhaps it is time to have a conversation with God.  It is time to ask him:  “Am I too busy?  Is my family too busy?  What are we missing?  How is my worry affecting others?  How is it preventing me from being the person you want me to be?  How are my busyness and worry preventing me from loving you and others?” 

If we take these questions to prayer with open minds and hearts, we may be surprised by how God asks us to change our lives and by the peace he wishes to give us.  We may find ourselves reassessing our priorities and trusting God with our futures a bit more than we have in the past.  We may remember that prayer, in and of itself, is a simple antidote to a hectic, anxious life.

Busyness leads to barrenness, and worry to waste.  Instead, Jesus is always urging us to a fruitful life.  Let’s talk to him about it. 

Post Script:  As is usually the case, I’ve written this more as a reminder to myself than to you!  I always enjoy hearing from you – your own wisdom and experience are a source of learning and growth for me.  You can always leave me a comment on my blog page (click the title of this post and it will take you directly there -- scroll down and you will see a place to "comment") or on facebook.  Or you may reply directly to this email if you prefer that your comment be read only by me and not be published online.

Vincent van Gogh,  Wheatfield under Thunderclouds    “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?      26    Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?      27    And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?      28    And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,      29    yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.      30    But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?      31    Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’      32    For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.      33    But strive first for the kingdom of God     and his     righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.           34    So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt. 6:25-34).

Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield under Thunderclouds

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt. 6:25-34).

A Definition of Prayer

I like to begin classes on Prayer by asking participants:  “What is prayer?”  I don’t do this to trick them into saying the wrong thing or because I’m fishing for a particular answer.  I do it because I want to hear – and I want them to hear – the variety and the depth of one another's answers.  I have never heard a wrong answer to this question, but I have heard some quite beautiful ones.  They are all based on the genuine experience and the spiritual personalities of the "pray-ers" giving the answers.

One of my favorite “definitions” of prayer was written by Servant of God Catherine Doherty in her typical down-to-earth and straight-to-the-heart style.  It captures both the stillness and the movement of prayer, the way prayer can be both vibrant conversation and quiet being.  As Catherine knew very well, sometimes prayer is just being in a meaningful moment with the One you love.  It is a meeting of two loves.

How can you define prayer, except by saying that it is love? It is love expressed in speech, and love expressed in silence. To put it another way, prayer is the meeting of two loves: the love of God and our love. That’s all there is to prayer.
— Catherine Doherty, "Soul of my Soul: Reflections from a Life of Prayer"
This is apparently a photo of Catherine in her nursing uniform.  Catherine served as an army nurse on the front lines during the first World War.

This is apparently a photo of Catherine in her nursing uniform.  Catherine served as an army nurse on the front lines during the first World War.