Prayer and Fellowship: A Powerful Combination

Last evening I was able to be part of the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders for Andrew Sullivan, who is a first year theologian for our diocese and studying at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.  Bishop Walter Nickless of the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa was the presider. As part of his homily he read the instructions for the Rite of Candidacy itself:

“Dear brethren in Christ, our brothers, stand here today in the presence of the Church, recommended to us and to you for admission among the candidates for holy orders.

Christ gave this command: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” Our brothers know the Lord’s concern for his flock, they see the needs of the Church and they feel ready to respond generously to the Lord in the words of the prophet: “Here I am, send me forth.” They put their hope in the Lord, trusting that they may answer his call faithfully.

This call from the Lord should be recognized and understood from the daily signs which reveal God’s will to discerning people. When God chooses people to share in the ordained priesthood of Christ, he moves and helps them by his grace. At the same time, he entrusts us with the task of calling suitable and approved candidates and of consecrating them by a special seal of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of God and of the Church. By the sacrament of holy orders, they will be given part in our ministry of service to the Church, and build up by word and sacrament the Christian communities to which they will be sent.

Our brothers have already begun their preparation so that later they may be called to ordination by the bishop. Day by day, they will learn to live the life of the Gospel and deepen their faith, hope, love, and compassion. In the practice of these virtues, they will gain the spirit of prayer and grow in zeal to win the world to Christ.

Urged by his love and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, they have come here to declare their desire to bind, themselves to the service of God and of humankind.”

I saw theses instructions come alive several times in the last several days as the seminarians prayed as a group, Lectio Divina, on this Sunday’s gospel from Mark (1:40-45, the cleansing of the leper). It was in the spirit of fellowship and trust, that not only the seminarians, but also the priests on staff, including the Rector, Fr. Mason and Vice Rector, Msgr. Mikesch shared the fruits they experienced while praying with this gospel text.

One of the seminarians shared that during his prayer with this gospel passage he asked the Lord to heal the leprosy of his own heart. What he heard from the Lord was, “I choose not to heal this particular part of your leprosy, but instead invite you remain with me in it.” He recalled an experience he had this past summer while working in a parish in Omaha visiting with a woman dying from cancer. They both prayed fervently that the Lord would heal her and restore her completely from cancer. However, this past fall she died. The great grace he received from this experience was that, even though the Lord didn’t heal her of her cancer, she is a woman of such great faith that he witnessed how she was able to remain in and with the Lord in her suffering. This is truly and inspiration and gift to him. Father Mason shared that in his own life he also has begged the Lord to remove the leprosy of his own heart.

This experience of group Lectio Divina, which the seminarians do several times throughout the week, calls to my mind the importance of, not only praying the Word by myself, but also with others. As the Church proclaims in the Rite of Candidacy,  “Day by day, they will learn to live the life of the Gospel and deepen their faith, hope, love, and compassion. In the practice of these virtues they will gain the spirit of prayer and grow in zeal to win the world to Christ.”

As we approach the season of Lent, I encourage you to pray with the Sunday gospel with a group of people, perhaps it’s around your kitchen table with your family, or a group of friends in your neighborhood, or parish.

The Office of Stewardship which promotes and encourages the Catholic way of life, by living a life of generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship can help you with a very simple format that we learned several years ago at Pastoral Ministry Days from Msgr. Richter. I am more than willing to send this simple prayer card to you if it is not already available at your parish. Then all you have to do is to invite your family or others to your house, reserve a room in your parish hall or go to a local coffee house and pull people together to reflect on the Sunday Gospels of Lent.  Let your heart be set on fire this Lent, letting Jesus speak His word to you, as I have seen it speak to the seminarians and faculty at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

“No Bible, No Breakfast; No Bible, No Bed”

As I was preparing for the men’s retreat several weekends ago in Timber Lake, I came across this phrase: “no Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed” by Fr. Larry Richards. Fr. Richards has breathed and lived this saying for over 25 years.

He tells this story of making his priest retreat before his ordination and Msgr. Peterson (then Fr. Peterson) asked him to sit before the Blessed Sacrament. He told him, “Just go before the Blessed Sacrament, ask God to reveal His Word to you. Open the Word of God and whatever comes is God’s Word to you.” Since this time, Father Richards has made this practice a part of his life. Every morning he opens the Bible and reads and when a word, phrase or verse tugs at his heart, he stops and prays with it.  He writes it down and puts it in his pocket and throughout the day he pulls it out and re-reads it. Pondering and reflecting in his heart and connecting the Word of God to his life.

Father Richard encourages others to pray this way as well.  He suggests that before one picks up their Bible, they should pray a fervent prayer to the Holy Spirit asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s word to them. Then open the Bible randomly, letting your finger point to a passage. Then simply read the Scriptures until the word of God tugs at your heart. When something grabs you, stop and pray with God’s word. Realize that one might read a few verses before the Lord tugs at your heart or perhaps even several chapters. The key is to read until the Lord tugs at your heart with a word, words or phrase from the Scripture.

Since the men’s retreat several weeks ago in Timber Lake, I have been using this prayer method outlined by Fr. Larry when I wake up in the morning and before I go to bed, remembering — “no Bible, no breakfast; no Bible no bed.” Sometimes a word tugs at my heart right away and sometimes I read three or four chapters before the Lord really tugs at my heart revealing his word of mercy, love, forgiveness and truth to me. To be honest, it has been a lot of fun reading and praying the Scriptures this way.

If you are looking for another Lenten practice, I encourage you to try praying the Scriptures this Lenten season this way because God indeed wants to reveal his life-giving word to you, to your heart, and to your life.

Pope Francis says about the Bible, “Take it, carry it with you, and read it every day: it is Jesus Himself who is speaking to you… The important thing is to read the Word of God, by any means, but read the Word of God. It is Jesus who speaks to us there. And welcome it with an open heart. Then the good seed will bear fruit!

Fr. Mark’s Musings

“I am a worrywart, Father. I worry all the time.”

Last weekend I was in the parishes in Timber Lake, Isabel and Trail City preaching on stewardship through the lens of lively faith. I also did a parish men’s retreat for them in the afternoon.

I was preaching on prayer using the prayer card Msgr. Richter gave out at last year’s Pastoral Ministry Days, “If I want to spend time with Jesus what would it look like?” As part of my homily, I assigned them some homework which was to use the prayer card with the reading from the gospel for next Sunday (Matthew 6:24–34).

During the men’s retreat, one of the ranchers came up to me and said, “Fr. Mark, I am not sure I have ever heard God speak to me. I did my homework assignment last night but nothing really happened.”

I said to him, “When you were reading and praying through Matthew 6:24-34, what word, words or phrases tugged at your hear?”  

Without hesitation and very boldly he said, “Worrying!”

I said, “What does worrying have to do with your life?”

He responded, “I am a worrywart, Father. I worry all the time.”

I said to him, “What is Jesus trying to tell you about all that worry?”

He responded with a smile, “I guess if Jesus takes care of the flowers and the grass of the fields, he will take care of me too.”

And I said with a smile back, “You just heard the voice of Jesus in your heart.”

Shortly after that he said, “Father, when I was sharing with you, this memory came to mind, but it happened 20 years ago.”

I said, “Tell me about it.”

“In the winter of 1997, Timber Lake had one of the worst winters that I could ever remember. I remember one evening going out to check on my cattle during the blizzard. I got lost two or three times and finally stumbled on some of my cattle and five of them were dead.  I was visibly shaken; thinking that I was going to lose my whole herd. I got lost again, but finally made it back to my home shaking, struggling and shattered. I was not sure what else to do so I ended up sitting down and reading the Bible for 20-25 minutes surrendering it all to the Lord. I thought, ‘Lord I’m not in charge, you are.’ I just felt that I should go to bed because I had turned it over to the Lord. That night I rested as I had never rested before. I slept so well. I got up early the next morning and, to my surprise, no more cattle had died.”

I asked him if he remembered that Scripture passage he read some 20 years earlier. He said he wished he had. I encouraged him to pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to reveal that Scripture passage again to him. I reminded him, “Jesus does speak to you and you do hear his voice. Today has been a great grace for you to hear his voice once again. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. Give him your worries.”

The Collect from last Sunday’s celebration of the Eucharist states:

“Grant we pray, Almighty God,

that, always pondering spiritual things,

we may carry out in both word and deed

that which is pleasing to you.”

This Collect came to life for me because it was in visiting with this rancher, pondering and sharing spiritual things, that our hearts were renewed in Christ and faith came alive again.

Fr. Mark’s Musings

A Generous Saint

On Tuesday we celebrated the memorial for St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  I was struck by how generous Kateri was in her relationship with Jesus. Kateri’s generosity with the Lord manifested itself in many ways, especially in her arduous 200 mile trek across the wilderness, passing through the St. Lawrence River to join the new Christian colony of Indians in Canada. Kateri’s generosity with the Lord was lived out in a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices, and care for the sick and aged. Kateri’s generosity with the Lord could be seen every morning, even in the harshness of winter, when she stood before the chapel door until it opened at 4:00 AM and remained there until after the last Mass.

Just think what would happen to us and the lives of those around us, if we were to show this type of generosity to the Lord that Kateri lived out so profoundly in her life. To me Kateri’s generosity came from a deep and personal encounter with the person of the crucified and risen Christ in her life. We are called to live lives of generous hospitality, but for that to happen we must know firsthand God’s generosity to us. God’s is extremely generous in so many ways. Here are a few Scripture passages that speak of God’s generosity, who truly provides for all of our needs. I encourage you to pray with theses Scripture passages this week that you might be as generous to the Lord as He is to you.

Genesis 1:29-30—“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”

Psalm 65:9-10—“You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it… You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.”

Psalm 136:25—“[The LORD] gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Acts 17:24-25—“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth… gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Fr. Mark’s Musings