In my blog post on God as Infinite Love posted last Thursday, I reflected on praying as an active participation with God as the infinitely loving Father. What it did not address, however, were the practical realities concerning one’s life of prayer. To put it another way, it didn’t mention that such a task was hard to live out! With all the distractions and chaos of everyday life, it is too easy to fall into the trap of forgetting one’s dependence on God for all things. This trap, due to the human condition of sin, is in a way inevitable. So how does one persevere in praying when such distractions and forgetfulness occur?
The easy answer would be “don’t get distracted and don’t forget you depend on God for all things!” But let’s be honest with ourselves. Is that really practical? In a world of social media, can we, as humans, keep our focus on God at all times? I think most people, if sincerely evaluating their own lives, would say no. What do we do, then, to refocus on God and return to encountering His ceaseless love?
I think there is a two-fold answer to this question that has been answered by Pope Francis and Blessed John Paul II. The only way we are even capable of persevering, that is, getting ourselves back on route, is to realize and always remember God as Infinite Mercy. In addition, we must also humbly accept his never-ending forgiveness, for doing such is an act of recognizing that we need Him (and not the other way around!).
Blessed John Paul II dedicates an entire encyclical for reflecting on God’s Mercy. In Dives in Misericordia, he uses the parable of the prodigal son as an analogy (which was the Gospel reading two Sundays ago, if you recall). The son, who received a portion of his father’s inheritance, decided to spend it on a “loose lifestyle.” However, he soon realized what he had done, and how it had left him hungry. He reached such a point of guilt and hunger that he made the decision to go back to his father and say ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of you hired servants.”
But when the son heads back to his father’s house, before he can even finish his prepared statement, the father orders his servants to put the best robe on him and prepare a feast of celebration. This scripture passage shows that God’s mercy is an act of faithful love. God is faithful to his fatherhood and faithful to the Infinite Love He offers us in prayer. This is His Mercy, and it is a reminder to us all that God’s Love will never fail us.
Think how generous this is! Looking back at the parable, the generosity of the father (when the son returns home) is so great, it angers the oldest son. The father responds, saying, “but now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again.” The father’s fidelity to his lost son is totally and completely concentrated on the dignity of the son. This is the same way with God, our Father. The parable reveals that God’s Mercy is, in itself, an act of renewing His gift to us, our humanity.
What does this have to do with our sought-out questions? This understanding of God’s Mercy, that is, as the prodigal son’s father, explains to us why we need God’s Love and Mercy. God’s Love and Mercy give us our human dignity. When we lose sight of God in our life, we lose sight of our human dignity. We lose it to such an extent that, deep down, we realize we are missing something. We realize we need God’s Mercy and Love to renew our human worth.
It makes perseverance in a life of prayer that much easier, because we don’t have to worry about God abandoning us! However, it also makes it that much harder, because acknowledging our need of God requires a deep sense of humility. In his first Angelus, Pope Francis reminds the crowd that God never gets tired of forgiving, but we get tired of asking for His forgiveness. We must strive to come to God with an open and humble heart, as God will be eagerly waiting to offer His Forgiveness.
Pope Francis does not just remind us to never tire of asking for God’s forgiveness, but he is a living testimony to that message. Just look at his interview with America Magazine. Before he talks about the Church needing to be a hospital of mercy, he first answers the question concerning who Pope Francis is. His answer: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Before encouraging others to be merciful, he recognizes that he himself is in need of God’s mercy. He humbly accepts God’s Mercy
Like the prodigal son, we wander off in our lives until a certain point hits us where we realize we are missing something. What do we need to do to ensure that we are able to get back to prayer, that encounter with God’s love? We first need to obtain the virtue of humility, like Pope Francis, to realize that we are lost and in need of God to renew us. To persevere in praying, all we need to do is say the words Pope Francis said in the interview: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Out of that humility, we can accept God’s Infinite Mercy, because we know, that like the prodigal son’s father, He will always be faithful.
For some simple reflection, listen to this song by Matt Maher. It has helped me many times:
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
The story of the Blind Bartimaeus is one of the most telling encounters between Jesus, our Savior, and our broken humanity so critically in need of salvation. The truth is we are all Bartimaeus’; we all deeply desire to receive the sight or “insight” only the Lord can provide.. But what is it that we long so much to see? And, what keeps or blinds us from seeing it?
I believe, as experienced in my own life, we all long to see that which all other sight is meant for, the Way. That is to say, we all long to see the way to our healing, our happiness, our security, but most of all we all truly long to see He who is the Way to our salvation.
So what keeps us from seeing Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6)? My own sight has often been blinded by the fears and anxieties brought on by the brokenness of my own human condition and triggered by the brokenness of a fallen world, itself so desperately in need of seeing the way of salvation. This anxiety that so many of us struggle with can lead to a type of spiritual blindness with, perhaps, more drastic consequences than any Bartimaeus’ physical blindness had caused. This spiritual blindness is the type that can challenge or even cripple the strongest of faiths. Yet, like many of the paradoxes found in scripture, this blindness can, through the Grace of God, serve to open our senses to what we must hear: the footsteps of the One who approaches.
And if, like Bartimaeus, we come to courageously trust our Lord and learn to turn away from the surrounding fear that disables our discernment, what we really come to hear is His voice calling us; giving us our vocation to come and follow him: “On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, he is calling you."(Mark 10:47-49) When I hear the story of the blind Bartimaeus I can’t help but reflect on my own encounter with the living Savior, especially as He passes through my mind and heart amid the pangs of a hostile and blinding crowd of anxious emotions.
Another particularly telling part of the story is how Bartimaeus, the “son of honor” repeatedly calls out to our Lord the, “Son of David”. King David was a man, much like Bartimaeus, who was destined for honor and dignity. Yet, he was blinded by his own brokenness and crippled by the powerlessness he felt against his own humanity. King David, like Bartimaeus, in Psalm 51 cried out to God with an unwavering confidence in God’s Divine Mercy. My own battle with anxiety has led me to cherish a deep sense of humility. I am not in control, I don’t have all the answers, I often cannot endure on my own, I need others, I need communion, I need Christ.
Moreover, we hear the words of the prophet “be not afraid, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). And again, we continue to hear the words of St. Paul and all the martyrs who boasted of their weaknesses which won for them the strength of Christ (c.f. Cor. 12:9-10). So let us cry out! With all humility and confidence and faith in the words of another one of Christ’s redeemed…Domine, si vis, potes me mundare! “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:2)
Bart Zavaletta is a Theology teacher at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, NE.