True Images

The use of imagery in therapy is common. We can use imagination to calm ourselves down or take a mental break. A popular guided meditation goes something like, “Imagine you’re sitting on the beach, the sun on your face, hearing the ocean waves lapping, feeling the warm sand between your toes.” Most people enter into it easily and find it pleasant. Whether it’s sunning on sandy beaches, dangling one’s toes in a forest brook, or snuggling into Grandma’s down comforter, all are comforting images. But they’re not “true images”.

An anxious client can use such images to slow down racing thoughts and a pounding heart. But they know that they’re not on a sandy beach, or by a forest stream, or in Grandma’s cozy home. They’re sitting in my office – or, if practicing the imagery at home, in their living room or bedroom.

When therapy incorporates true images, it can be more than comforting. It’s powerful. Christian therapy can use the power of imagination as a tool to recognize reality, not take a break from it. True images draw from the treasury of Christian belief to make invisible realities more vividly present. Protestants, with their strong emphasis on the Word, are not as likely to use Christian imagery as Catholics do. Nevertheless, my Protestant clients have tended to be open to the use of true images. Although sometimes unfamiliar, it’s usually welcome.

True images can address a variety of issues or wounds. For example, clients with trauma issues may never feel completely safe. I can encourage them to climb into the wound in Jesus’ side and rest in his heart. They can experience total safety there. When I speak about this image, I often cite a vision of St. Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who had a series of dramatic and consoling images of Jesus on the Cross. She was speaking with him about his suffering.

Then with a glad cheer our Lord looked unto His Side and beheld, rejoicing. With His sweet looking He led forth the understanding of His creature by the same wound into His Side within. And then he shewed a fair, delectable place, and large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest in peace and in love. (Showings, Chapter 24).

I have used this image myself in prayer. I imagine being inside Jesus’s heart. I picture it as a huge, warm, golden-red furnace. I rest against the glowing inner wall. I am perfectly safe. I am completely loved.

It is a true image. Believers – and in some mysterious way, all people – are in the heart of Jesus, always. His heart must differ, in reality, from our images of it. But when we imagine being in his heart, we are not creating a castle in the air. We are simply recognizing an always-present reality. We are tapping into truth.

Many clients have issues with one or both parents. They can experience immense healing by imagining sitting in God the Father’s lap, or of letting him hold them to his chest. Catholic clients who are working through father images may at first find God the Father intimidating. It is helpful – and valid – to imagine St. Joseph instead. Just as St. Joseph was the flesh-and-blood image of the Father’s love for Jesus, so he fathers all believers. Clients with cold, critical, absent or abusive mothers can climb into the arms of the Blessed Mother, or hide in her womb, or rest in her heart. As with the heart of Jesus, we truly are in God the Father’s lap. He holds us unceasingly. So does St. Joseph. So does Mary. These are true images.

True images can be useful for the therapist, not just the client. For example, a therapist friend had clients with horrendous personal and family issues. Many cut themselves to ease their emotional pain. They attempted suicide and got psychiatrically hospitalized with alarming frequency. The therapist frequently felt overwhelmed by the sheer burden of his clients’ distress.

The therapist was open to God, although not a Christian. I encouraged him to imagine God’s hand as a filter between him and his clients’ pain. God could allow the therapist to empathize with his clients’ suffering without being overwhelmed by it. The therapist used this strategy frequently from that point on.

True images are meant for all believers in all circumstances, not just for clients and therapists. Not surprisingly, true images based on Scripture have particular power. How many distressed people have found comfort in Psalm 23? A friend of mine who was barely on the threshold of Christian belief came from a severely alcoholic family background. But he found himself reciting the phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd” over and over again, after reading the comfort which that psalm had given a Civil War soldier. Like the soldier, my friend found it deeply consoling.

We know that Jesus isn’t literally a shepherd. Nevertheless, it is a true image. He truly is that close. He truly leads us. He truly calls his people by name, nourishes them, and comforts them. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, and we need fear no evil.

I once had to testify at a rather intimidating hearing. In my anxiety, I remembered a passage from 2 Timothy (4:16-17). St. Paul was writing about his trial before a Roman court. At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!  But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” At the hearing, I could picture Jesus standing right beside me. He was. It was a great comfort. 

Some images are true on a mystical level. That is, they are beyond the power of words to express. How does one delineate how Jesus really does give the living water that satisfies all thirst? How can I describe the hunger for which he truly is the bread of life? In some sense, the Holy Spirit is wind, water, and fire. He gently speaks, like the wind. He washes and refreshes, like water. He burns in my bones and my body, my heart and my mind, like holy fire. These, too, are true images.

God heals and strengthens us through his Word. He also heals and strengthens us through true images. Jesus’s words are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). But he himself is the truest of true images – “the image of the invisible God…full of grace and truth” (Col 1:15; Jn 1:14).

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Practice People

Years ago, I attended a 12 Step meeting for relatives of alcoholics. “Rick” also attended the meeting. At any good 12 Step meeting, you’ll find one or more people like Rick. When people like Rick speak, people listen. His sharings were humble, candid, and insightful. So one meeting, Rick shared what he’d learned about “Practice People”.

Rick talked about people in his life who really rubbed him the wrong way. They were annoying, or overly talkative, or domineering, or self-absorbed, or whiny, or arrogant, or terribly needy. He at first wondered why his Higher Power saw fit to put such people in his life. They were flies in his ointment, bringing out his worst qualities.

Eventually, Rick realized that these difficult individuals were Practice People. Rick saw that the Practice People in his life helped him to practice the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps teach group members to recognize their powerlessness and turn things over to God as they understand him. The Steps emphasize taking personal responsibility. I am not to “take somebody else’s inventory” – that is, figure out how others are supposed to change. I am to take my own inventory instead.

Practice People caused Rick’s faults to boil to the surface so that he couldn’t ignore them. They forced him to look at his own impatience, tendency to judge, difficulty forgiving, and lack of assertiveness. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). Practice People helped rub off rough edges that Rick didn’t realize he had.They pushed him to rely more on his Higher Power to give him the qualities he lacked. Only with God could he could deal with such people gently and generously.

I tend to be a perfectionist and on the high-strung side. For example, I once told a friend one of my pet peeves. He responded affectionately that I seemed to have a whole menagerie of them. So I tend to encounter lots of Practice People in my life. I need lots of practice to rub off lots of rough edges.

I encountered a Practice Person the other day when I was buying a suit for my son’s upcoming wedding. “Julie” was the head salesperson at the clothing store. She had a grating voice and bossy manner. She was the kind of person who answers questions quickly without really listening, and then somehow makes it the other person’s fault when misunderstanding ensues. There was a pleasant male clerk, new to the store, to whom she gave orders – “Do this! Do that!” – without a single “please” or “thank you”. That kind of rudeness scores high in my menagerie of pet peeves.

I so wanted to correct her, or at least to commiserate behind her back with the put-upon clerk. Instead, I found a book for sale on how to raise one’s son as a gentleman. I wandered through the store, perusing it. I tried not to listen while Julie continued to fire orders and overexplain cash register procedures to her mild-mannered subordinate.

I fully realized that this was a situation where the Christian rubber met the road: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Mt 5:46)” It’s so easily to like likeable people, and to love loveable people. I do that all the time. But with this Practice Person, I just had to distance myself. The best I could do was to avoid “setting her straight”or gossiping with the male clerk under the pretext of offering him moral support. I did make a point of thanking Julie and the clerk as we left. She had, in fact, given us a great deal on our purchases and devoted a lot of time to the complex transactions which that had involved.

Meanwhile, my wife Mary had stayed close by Julie to answer questions about the purchase as they came up. Mary later told me that Julie had been grating on her, too. But then Julie shared a few personal stories from her life – Mary is a great listener and tends to evoke that from people – and Mary realized that Julie had had a pretty tough life. As she got to know Julie as a person, she found it easier to look past Julie’s faults.

On the drive home, Mary and I processed the incident. We talked about a number of Practice People that the Lord had at various points put in our lives. Unpleasant as it is at the time, it is always a humbling and enlightening experience. It quickly dispels any illusions of perfection or saintliness one might entertain. Practice People, more than any other factor, help me realize yet again that “I have miles to go before I sleep.”

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s good to know that Jesus takes the trouble to send such people into our lives, to form us as a potter does clay. How else can we learn love and mercy? How else can we grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23)”?

A few days later, we got together with my son and his future father-in-law. Ironically, they had encountered Julie at the same store only a month before. We compared notes. They thought she was great – knew her stuff, directed them well, and got them a great bargain. I wonder who their Practice People are. Not the Julies of this world. Maybe people like me.


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Authentic Accompaniment

Pope Francis is calling the Church to be a field hospital for the wounded rather than simply a sanctuary for the saved. A crucial aspect of his vision is “accompaniment”. I’ve recently reflected on how authentic accompaniment works.

This Sunday’s gospel was about the walk to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). It is a wonderful example of authentic accompaniment. Two disciples are walking towards Emmaus from Jerusalem. It is the first Easter. Jesus was crucified two short days ago. They’ve just heard that some of the women from their group have seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples are bewildered, sad, and almost hopeless. Then Jesus himself joins them, although they are prevented from recognizing him.

Authentic accompaniment first means hearing the other’s story before telling my own. I have to find out where others are, before I can walk with them to where they need to be. Jesus does this. He asks the disciples, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” (24:17). He’s God. He knows their story. But he wants to hear it from their lips.

Authentic accompaniment respects the other’s questions and pain before offering counsel and healing. Jesus listens as the disciples pour out their anguish and shattered hopes. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (24:21).  Only then does Jesus point them toward the Word of Life, the Scriptures. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27). He helps them to see how even their sorrow is meant for joy, in God’s glorious plan. Their hearts burn within them.  He acts as if he’s going farther. But they beg him,“Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (24:29) They crave the hope and reassurance his company brings. They don’t want this time to end.

Years ago, a friend was having serious marriage problems. “Jerry” had had several affairs. I’d had no idea, because his persona with me was more altar boy than adulterer. But things broke open, and he was on the point of divorcing his wife.

The affairs hadn’t come out of nowhere. Jerry and his wife had had a long history of deep disagreements.  His wife’s serious boundary issues had made their lives chaotic. Her helicopter parenting style had greatly hampered their children’s development. She had a number of controlling standards that she insisted he live by. Arguments on these and other issues had led nowhere.

Authentic accompaniment may be uncomfortable. It may stretch me. When the affair became known, Jerry at first avoided my calls. It was awkward for me to keep offering what seemed to be unwanted help. Eventually, however, he agreed to meet with me at a coffee shop. It was a difficult conversation. But once he realized I was coming out of compassion rather than judgment, it got easier.

As I tried to accompany Jerry, it was abundantly clear that Jesus was accompanying me. I began by thanking Jerry for being willing to meet despite his embarrassment. “That took guts.” Jerry openly admitted he had a divided heart – not just about his wife, but about his relationship with Jesus. He was a chameleon, and he knew it. With worldly friends, he was worldly. With Christian friends, he was Christian. He longed to be fully committed to the Lord. But he was afraid of whom and what he’d be giving up.

With God’s leading, I was bold with Jerry. Jerry likes poker and plays it well. I urged him, “Jerry – you know a good hand when you see one. Stop hedging your bets. You’ve admitted that you’re leading this divided life. You know that Jesus is the real thing. BET THE POT on him. Put all the chips in the middle. Hold nothing back. God wants ALL of you. He also wants your marriage to work infinitely more than you do. Give God everything, and give your marriage whatever it takes.”

Jerry listened. He worked things out with his wife. I believe that it was the Lord’s words, not mine, that persuaded him. I was the instrument. Authentic accompaniment has to be done by the Lord’s leading and with his power. We have to love with his heart. He will accompany us as we do so.

Authentic accompaniment accompanies the person in the right direction. It leads people from slavery to freedom, darkness to light, sin to conversion, and despair to hope. The journey on that Easter road wasn’t just from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was from despair to hope. It was from feeling abandoned and lost to recognizing Jesus’ presence. “He was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Likewise, Jerry’s journey was from a divided heart to a whole one, from infidelity to recommitment.

False accompaniment, on the other hand, accompanies the person in the wrong direction. Often, that’s along the path of least resistance. I may act out of misplaced compassion. I may fear offending the person, in cases where authentic accompaniment involves calling a committed Christian to the next level of holiness and sacrifice.

Stanley Hauerwas, Mennonite theologian, talks about such false accompaniment in the contexts of divorce and abortion. In Resident Aliens, he observes how the Christian community is all too likely to say to people divorcing, “We feel so sorry that you two are splitting up. But you know, people grow apart/things get too difficult/there’s no way you can forgive him for that.” We offer sympathy, and not much else. We take sides. We choose which one to accompany through the “necessary evil” of divorcing.

How refreshing it would be, says Hauerwas, if the Christian community instead said, “We are here for you. What do we need to do to help you stay married? Name it.” Or with someone considering abortion, “How can we make it easier for you to keep your baby rather than abort it? We’ll do whatever it takes.” The same could be said of helping the homeless, the imprisoned, those caught in the sex trade, those trapped in the inner-city cycle of violence and poverty, or those without faith.

It’s far easier to throw money or social programs at difficult people and situations. Or church programs. I’ve done it myself. But authentic accompaniment means face-to-face contact. It means getting in the trenches. It means encountering the other when the other may be very different from me. It’s risky. It’s difficult. But it brings hope, and life, and freedom.


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Jesus, I Trust in You

Catholics celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday yesterday. “Jesus, I trust in you” is its simple but profound theme. Divine Mercy Sunday is based on revelations to a Polish nun of the early 20th century, St. Faustina Kowalska. Jesus appeared to her in visions. He urged the world to partake of the streams of mercy flowing from his pierced heart. The portrait based on one vision depicts Jesus with two rays of light radiating from his heart. The rays are red and white, respectively. They signify the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side after his death (see Jn 19:34). At the base of the portrait is the legend, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

This morning as I prayed, I was telling the Lord that not being God isn’t easy. For example, He knows the future, and I don’t. I don’t know the trajectory of the rising hostility to Christianity in the U.S. I don’t how to prepare. I don’t know if preparation is necessary or even possible. On another front, the number of Catholics leaving the Church is growing. On the part of the Church, there are several reasons. These include mediocre preaching, lackluster music, and parishes that often do too little to welcome newcomers or foster any connections at all. On the part of the culture, the reign of relativism and rampant individualism makes any institution claiming absolute truth and demanding obedience and sacrifice deeply suspect. So, is the Western Church on the verge of much-needed renewal and revitalization? Will it take all-out persecution to rouse us Christians from our complacency and stupor? What’s your plan, Lord?

Not being all-powerful is also difficult for me. I know that in my practice, I’m touching some people and making some differences. But my efforts are a drop in an ocean of pain – of broken relationships, difficult marriages, trauma, abuse, and addiction. My wife and I have helped bring some people closer to Jesus, too – through church ministry, hospitality, and simply trying to love people where they’re at. But how many sheep without shepherds there are! We’re barely making a dent. And on the larger scale, it’s easier simply not to watch the news than constantly to face messes on the national and global level that seem unfixable.

Being all-loving would be nice, too. I continue to be surprised at how touchy and petty I can be. The list of people I need to forgive and re-forgive for minor offenses seems to refresh itself relentlessly. I have to do First World forgiveness of First World trespasses. I can’t imagine dealing with real forgiveness – the kind that the Copts and other Christians throughout the Muslim world and in China have to deal with. Or that struggling people with or without faith right here in the U.S. face daily.

It was then that the phrase “Jesus, I trust in you” came to mind. At the same moment, I recalled how Jesus appeared to St. Paul and knocked him flat. Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul…it hurts you to kick against the goads”(Acts 26:14). That is, just as a mule only hurts itself in resisting the mule driver, St. Paul was hurting himself by resisting the reality that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. God is God. I am not. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. I am not. Perhaps instead of kicking against that reality, I could trust and thank Jesus for it.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust you because you are all-knowing. Because you hold my future in your hands, I can stop grasping it so tightly. I thank you that you foresee all ends, so that I don’t have to. I thank you that all I need to do is the next right thing and entrust the rest to your care. I thank you that “all times and seasons obey your laws” (Preface V of Eucharistic Prayer IV for Ordinary Time), so that somehow your plan will be accomplished. I thank you that no matter how things look, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing will be well” (St. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love). I thank you that my job is to stay in the present moment, to praise and bless you for what is, right now. I thank you that it’s okay for me not to know, not to have a solution, not to have wisdom to offer – because you do.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust you because you are all-powerful. You can provide for me, and through me for others. I don’t have to worry about my limited resources, because “where there is God, there is no need” (Leo Tolstoy). I thank you that only in you, infinite power is yoked to infinite goodness – absolute power without corruption. I thank you that “apart from [you, I] can do nothing”(Jn 15:5), but that with you and in you all things are possible. I thank you that whatever situations arise, you are never stymied, stuck, or at a loss. I thank you that your infinite power can bring good out of any situation “for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). I thank you, that in the words of AA’s 12th Promise, you “are doing for us what we could not do for ourselves”. I thank you that I don’t need to be in control, because you are.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust you because you are all-loving. I thank you that your infinite love broke open even this cold heart of mine. I thank you that your never-ending love casts each moment of my life in a new light. I thank you for the beauty that your love brings forth in every heart it touches. I thank you for putting people in my life that I find hard or impossible to love. That way, I learn once again that your grace is sufficient for me, as you give me your love with which to love them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust the mercy radiating from your wounded side. The blood and water flowing from your pierced heart make the desert of my heart a garden where you can dwell. There I – faint of vision, weak of resolve, and cold of heart – can rejoice that all knowledge, power, and love are yours. Jesus, I trust in you.

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This Lonesome Valley

As we begin Holy Week, we remember how “Jesus walked this lonesome valley” to the Cross. The old hymn, “Lonesome Valley”, goes on to say that we, too, will face our trials.

You must walk this lonesome valley

You have to walk it by yourself

Oh, nobody else can walk it for you

You have to walk it by yourself

But do we walk this lonesome valley alone? If God should call us to give our lives, as Jesus did, would He then leave us to our own devices? This question came up just this weekend.

My wife and I participate in a group called “Catholic Classics”. The members are current or former homeschooling parents. We read and discuss articles, books, poems, or movies that are actually Catholic classics, or at least should interest committed Catholics.

This last Saturday, we discussed the account of the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and their companions ( The account is remarkable for several reasons. It is a very early document, from 203 AD. St. Perpetua wrote much of it herself, just before her martyrdom under the Roman emperor. (Eyewitnesses completed the account.) Equally striking are the youth and steadfastness of the two women martyred. Perpetua was 22 years old, Felicity 19. Perpetua was still nursing an infant. Felicity gave birth a day or two before her martyrdom.

Our discussion naturally drifted to how we thought we would hold out if threatened with martyrdom. One person wondered if to deny Jesus under extreme duress was actually sinful. Perhaps to confess Christ under threat of torture or death was an act of heroic virtue not required of all. Another said that if so, denying Christ would be a venial rather than a mortal sin.

A third noted that during the most severe early persecutions of Christians, many denied their faith. The persecuted weren’t required to utter such words as,”I renounce Christianity.” But they had to offer incense to a statue of the Emperor in a public ceremony. This was recognized as an act of worship to a god. After many apostatized (denied Christ), the Church had to deal with whether such a sin could ever be forgiven. It eventually settled on a three-year period of rigorous penance after which apostates could be restored back to communion with the Church. A fourth pointed out that the Church obviously regarded apostasy as very grave, if it was at first seen as unforgivable.

Regarding the question of “heroic virtue”, another person said that sometimes the only choice we have is between a heroic act and a wrong act. He used the example of a soldier abandoning the field of battle. War is frightening and dangerous. Nobody wants to die. But we don’t commend the soldier who runs away. “There but for the grace of God go I”, etc. – but it is an act of cowardice.

We then talked about the distinction between an objectively sinful act and the culpability of the person committing the act. Someone brought up Silence, the recent movie based on the brutal 17th-century persecution of Christians in Japan. In the climactic scene, a number of Christians are being tortured. They will die slow, horrible deaths unless the Jesuit whom the persecutors are harassing denies Christ. The priest hears what he takes to be the voice of Christ. The voice tells the priest to apostatize, in order to save the people’s lives. The priest does.

Should he have? To deny Christ to save my own life may be clearly wrong. But to save another’s? One member made the point that the greater act of faith was to leave those lives in God’s hands. He said that the priest bought into an illusion of control over the torture victims’ earthly and eternal destinies. Suppose they were killed anyway? Suppose they were spared, but lost their faith and their salvation due to the priest’s apostasy? Nobody can see all ends. And to continue living, the priest was required to prove his apostasy over and over again until the end of his life.

I chimed in that apostasy was always gravely evil. Jesus’ words on this are clear: “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:33). If I, known to be a faithful Christian, deny Christ under duress, that may weaken others’ resolve. I may damn myself and lead others to damnation. If I remain faithful instead, it encourages and strengthens others to do so. Wasn’t that why we were still reading about Perpetua and Felicity’s wonderful witness seventeen centuries later?

I pointed out that individual culpability is a separate issue. Only God can read hearts and pass judgment. But when the Evil One tempts me to sin, his strategy is predictable. Before I sin, he tells me, “Oh, God is merciful. It’s not such a big deal. He understands. He’ll forgive you”. This is the temptation toward presumption. After I sin, he tells me, “Look what you’ve done, you lousy sinner! God can never forgive you.” And that’s the temptation toward despair. Sure, God will forgive me if I deny him and then truly repent. But that’s because his mercy is infinite, not because the sin is not grave. How sincere will any subsequent repentance be, if I sin deliberately while presuming on God’s mercy?

One person wondered if God always gives the necessary grace to resist denying Christ. He may have been confusing condemnation of the act of apostasy with condemning the apostate – again, “There but for the grace of God go I”. Someone quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Another added that if I focus on my own strength to face torture and death, I’m probably going to fail. I need to focus on the Lord’s power. Apart from the Lord, I can do nothing. But with Him, all things are possible (cf. Jn 15:5, Mt 19:26).

It all comes down to: Do we indeed walk this lonesome valley by ourselves? Did Jesus walk this lonesome valley by Himself? Just before Gethsemane, knowing all He was to suffer, He told His disciples, “I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32). God never, ever abandons us. What good father would? If He calls us to martyrdom or some lesser sacrifice, He will assuredly give us the grace to persevere. He doesn’t give us the grace now – because we don’t need it now. He will give it at the moment we need it. He will indeed deliver us from every evil.



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Living and Active, Part II

As my last post discussed, the Word of God is living and active. It is “living” because it speaks directly to my experience now, even though some parts of the Bible date back 2500 years or more. It is “active” because it probes my heart. It may convict me of sin or encourage me. It may heal long-held hurts.

In the summer of 1988, the Lord was doing some deep restoration in my heart. Besides drawing me to spend a great deal of time in Eucharistic adoration, He led me to read and reread Isaiah 40-55. One of the issues He addressed was my lifelong sense of feeling insignificant – worse, a burden. The root was that as the 8th of 12 children, I could see that my parents struggle throughout our growing years to provide for us financially.

My parents would have been shocked to hear that I saw myself as a burden. Had I expressed the thought, they would have rushed to reassure me. But I didn’t.

My reasoning, as a child, ran as follows. There are 12 of us. If I weren’t around, wouldn’t it be easier to provide for the rest? Certainly my parents wouldn’t have had so many children, if they’d known the strain it would put on them. Or at least, I didn’t matter much. Out of so many children, I wouldn’t be missed.

I wasn’t in any way suicidal. But I felt that if I just weren’t there, it might make things easier for the family. To compensate, I tried to help my Mom out with her chores. I tried to be very well-behaved, get good grades, and not get into conflicts. I tried – figuratively – not to leave much of a carbon footprint.

I carried this into adult life. If I got up earlier than others, I’d try to be superquiet. I’d try hard not to bother or annoy other people by requiring too much attention. If I was in a group that was boisterous, I’d look nervously around to see if we were bothering others.

In a group conversation, I’d assume that what I had to say didn’t matter much. I remember the shock of the first time I spoke in a group in which they all became silent, looked at me, and waited for me to finish speaking. They actually appeared interested in what I had to say. They were listening. It was unnerving. I felt, “I’d better make this good, if all of these people are paying attention to me.”

Then that 1988 summer, God brought about a crucial healing through His living and active Word. In Isaiah 40-55, often referred to as the Book of Consolation, the Lord addresses the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon. After years of siege, the starving inhabitants of Jerusalem were captured by the enemy. The king and his sons were executed. Their glorious Temple was destroyed, as well as the city walls. The exiles had lost everything, and sometimes everyone, dear to them. They were absolutely desolate. Had God forgotten them? Did He know or care about their suffering?

As I read and reread the Isaiah passages, I fed and fed on those that told the exiles that they were precious and beloved to the Lord. Isaiah 43:1-7 spoke words of great comfort:

But now thus says the Lordhe who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not,  for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom,  Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.  Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.”

What God had said to Israel, I knew He was saying to me. “I am aware of your struggles, and they matter to me. I am with you, always. I will protect you and take care of you. You are not a burden. You are precious to me – honored – and I love you.”

Isaiah 49 spoke even more deeply to me. The chapter is too lengthy to quote in full here. But in it, Israel speaks in its own name about being called by the Lord even from its mother’s womb. The Lord promises, in image after image, that He has created Israel for a glorious, grace-filled purpose and mission. Verses 14-16 directly addressed my sense of being insignificant, a burden.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

I read that chapter over and over. Each time I drew new life and nourishment from it. The living and active truth of God’s word was hammering at the lie that I was not worth anyone’s time, attention, or love.

During one reading, I suddenly had an interior vision. God the Father was pacing back and forth in front of a large crowd. I was in the midst of the crowd, my head down. I was saying to myself, “He doesn’t see me. He will not notice me. He doesn’t know I’m here or that I even exist.” At that moment, He stopped and faced the crowd. He pointed to me and fixed me with His gaze. He spoke, clearly and forcefully.


I see you. 

I know you.

I choose you. 

I love you.

It was overwhelming. I cried and cried. The lie was finally wiped out. The wound was healed. He saw me. He knew me. He chose me. He loved me. From all eternity. Always had, always would. I was not a burden. I made a difference. It was good that I existed. God had planned me for glorious things from all eternity. I would never be the same.

God has a healing, freeing, particular, empowering, glorious word to speak to every one of us. If you haven’t already, give Him the chance to do so. Open His word. Ponder it, chew on it, take it in. It won’t be the same word I needed – or need – to hear. It will be specific to you. Even if it were the same word, it would speak to you in your uniqueness. His word is living and active. It is one of the many ways through which He accomplishes in us “immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine” (Eph 3:20).

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Living and Active, Part I

“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). A client last week shared how he’s discovering the power of the word of God. A cradle Catholic, he’s experiencing new life in the Lord, as well as the death of old habits and ways of thinking. Amidst this rebirth, passages like Romans 6:8, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” are speaking to him as never before.

The word of God is living and active. Do you desire personal renewal? Do you desire renewal in your parish, community, or the Church as a whole? Dive into the word. Study it. Commit it to memory. Treasure it in your heart. As Moses told the children of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land (Deut 6:6-9)

These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Every renewal movement in the history of the Church has begun with a Christian pondering the Scriptures. St. Francis of Assisi heard the gospel passage, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Mk 10:21)”. He leaped up in the church and cried out, “This is what I want to do with my whole heart!” And he did. The Franciscan movement was born, and it transformed the church and all of medieval Europe. St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers, St. Benedict and the birth of Western monasticism, St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century, the Abolition Movement in England and in the U.S., Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal – all began with individuals, and then groups, studying the word of God and taking it to heart.

The word of God is living and active. It is life, food, and breath. Corrie ten Boom and her family hid Jews from the Nazis in occupied Holland. She ended up along with her sister Betsie in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. In the miserable, flea-infested, filthy and overcrowded barrack, they and the other inmates clustered around the word of God. A copy of the New Testament had been miraculously smuggled in despite repeated strip searches and near-discoveries.

Because of the many languages represented in the barrack, each passage had to be translated from Dutch to English, German, French, Italian – whatever. One evening, the passage was read,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).

The inmates huddled around the reader, as campers huddle around a fire on a freezing night. As the passage was translated from language to language, Corrie saw its “flame” leaping from face to face, bunk to bunk. It was a light, all the brighter for burning in so very dark a place. The truth of God’s word smote her: “More than conquerors! We are more than conquerors, no matter how desperate our situation!” She later recalled, “I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were–of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts.”

My earliest experience of the word of God was attending Mass with my family as a very young child. Then in second grade, I was inspired by the movie The Ten Commandments. I decided to read the Bible cover to cover. Once finished, I read it again. And again. I enjoyed the narrative parts – especially the story of the 10 plagues, in Exodus. But in many parts, I had no idea what I was reading. I didn’t know that some parts of the Bible are history, some poetry, some prophecy, some songs (the Psalms), and some proverbs. Trying to read it all as a story was immensely confusing. Add to this the 16th-century phrasing and vocabulary of the Douay-Rheims version we had.

I continued to hear the Scriptures in contemporary language at Mass. We used contemporary translations in the high school seminary as well. I continued to enjoy the “story” portions. Some of the other parts struck me as very dull (1 and 2 Chronicles, Leviticus and most of Numbers, for example). Others struck me as poetic but having nothing that I could relate to (the prophets and the New Testament letters, for example).

In the summer after freshman year, an older seminarian read the following passage to me. It was one he obviously loved and found powerful, St. Paul’s prayer for his Ephesian readers:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3:14-19).

That’s now a favorite passage of mine, amazingly life-giving. But at the time, I didn’t get it. I thought it was pretty. But I had no idea what it was about.

I began to attend a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting in October 1976, my senior year of high school, for two reasons.First, I wanted to learn Spanish better, and the meeting was at a Puerto Rican parish in Chicago. Second, I was dissatisfied. I had a vague sense that there had to be more, though I couldn’t define what that “more” could be. As soon as I walked into the meeting, I was home. The praise, the singing, the enthusiasm, the palpable presence of the Lord, and the way people at the meeting talked about Jesus as if they knew Him all grabbed me. The people there told me that I could have a relationship with Jesus. They told me that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit. Two friends prayed for me on March 17, 1977, and I experienced both.

One of the friends who prayed with me invited me to try re-reading the Gospel of John. I did. I found that John, and the whole Bible, had become – overnight – entirely different. I couldn’t put them down. The words spoke to me as no other words ever had. When reading the Bible alone, I would literally say out loud, “This is true! This is true! This is true!” These were God’s words spoken to me. They were living and active. They were what life is all about. It’s been that way ever since.

My experience had no psychological explanation. I’d read the Bible several times before, and it was nothing like this. The only explanation had to be spiritual. Before, I’d read without the Holy Spirit, the Bible’s author, interpreting and “awakening” the word to me. Now, having opened me more fully to His action in my heart, He was. Many, perhaps most of you reading this have had a similar awakening to the word of God. If you haven’t, earnestly seek that from the Lord. It’s a gift He loves to give.

To be continued…


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St. Joseph, Rock Star

I’ve recently come to realize a fundamental truth. St. Joseph is a Rock Star. He is the powerful icon of solid, grounded masculinity our anemic culture desperately needs.

It’s not that I haven’t seen St. Joseph positively. My childhood parish had a strong Italian presence, and with that came the custom of a “St. Joseph’s Table”. On his feast day, Italian parishioners offered a smorgasbord in which, to paraphrase Tolkien, it “rained lasagna and snowed Italian cookies”. My family’s food budget was very limited, and my sainted mother’s Irish-American “cuisine” was, um, unadventurous. (In Ireland, salt is considered a spice.) So the St. Joseph’s Table was a feast beyond our imaginings.

Otherwise, St. Joseph was a familiar kind of background figure. No nativity scene was complete without him, of course. But he wasn’t very dynamic or striking. Only as I came to know some men who embodied his quiet, courageous, faithful strength did my appreciation of him grow.

This has a lot to do with my own personality. I like to joke. I like to talk. I bristle with opinions and go on rants. I’m all too attached to attention and recognition. So when I see a St. Joseph type, I’m drawn to him. I’d like to be more like that – quiet, brave, faithful, strong, and steady.

But St. Joseph is also, clearly, a man of deep prayer – a mystic. His still waters run deep. He not only knows that God works in mysterious ways, but that all of His ways are trustworthy. Angels come to him in dreams. “Joseph, do not fear to take Mary [to be] your wife…(Mt 1:20).” He does. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…(Mt 2:13). He does. And then again, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel…(Mt 2:20). He wordlessly carries his family to safety again and again, trusting that God has sent His angels to take charge of them, to guard them in all of their ways (cf. Ps 91:11).

My clients and other acquaintances have expressed similar admiration for St. Joseph. “St. Joseph rocks.” “He is completely awesome.” “He is The Bomb.” He is a healing, protecting figure for those whose fathers were not, as one client found. He is a man’s man, another told me. I have myself spent time in prayer, held close in his warm and fatherly embrace.

I’ve known some St. Josephs. “Uncle” Al was our quiet, elderly next-door neighbor in Milwaukee. He was a daily communicant. I’d go to him for wisdom about parenting Michael, since his family was so solid. He and his wife Rosemary, married for 50-plus years, lovingly functioned as Michael’s in-town grandparents. He was unfailingly friendly, with a ready smile that surprisingly lit up his otherwise serious face.

St. Josephs are often handy types, a quality I admire from afar. Uncle Al worked harder in his late 70s than most people do in their 20s. One hot July day, he helped me put up a new fence in our backyard. I’d procrastinated for six months, preferring blog posts to fence posts. A meticulous worker, Uncle Al had the alignment and height of the posts down to the micron. After a few hours of posthole digging, I was ready for a lunch break. I figured we’d take an hour or two. After a half hour, Uncle Al was at the back door. “Well, let’s get going!” I, the young buck, secretly sighed. But we finished by late afternoon.

My spiritual director for thirty years now, Fr. Louis, has been another St. Joseph figure. At first glance, he’s an unlikely candidate. Unlike the simple, probably unlettered St. Joseph, Fr. Louis is highly edu-ma-cated. He is a voracious reader with piles of books still to be read packing his rectory. His first career was as an M.D. running the sports medicine clinic at the University of Illinois at Champaign. He also has a Ph.D. in Anthropology, is credentialed as a psychotherapist, and has the Masters in Divinity required for ordination as a Catholic priest. He is fluent in French and in Spanish.

But Fr. Louis shares St. Joseph’s humility and obedience. When he realized the Lord was calling him to be a priest, his first response was to tell the Lord that all of his medical expertise was at His disposal. The Lord’s response was, “You lay that all down. Your time of being a physician is over now.” And Fr. Louis did. He currently pastors a parish solo in Georgia, far from his brethren in the Camillan order. There is a need, and he’s filling it.

Brilliant as he is, Fr. Louis is entirely down to earth. He has recently had some heart trouble as well as diabetes. His doctors have told him he’s got to get on an exercise and diet program. He’s trying. But he freely admits he’d much rather curl up with a book and a cupcake than run marathons. He pokes gentle fun at himself for his not-perfectly-toned physique. His sharing of his own foibles and trials has helped me with mine.

My buddy Don from Panama City is another St. Joseph kind of guy. Fifteen years ago, he joined a men’s Bible sharing I was co-facilitating. He was the quietest member of our sometimes boisterous group. He said he was taking it all in, “just listening”. He bought and devoured every book I recommended on the spiritual life – and I am a compulsive book-recommender. It was almost intimidating. “Wow! He really trusts my judgment.” I’ve had the pleasure of watching his walk with the Lord grow by leaps and bounds.

Don has a gift for hospitality and setting people at ease. He and his lovely wife Barb started hosting gatherings of the men’s group at their lakeside house. A leadfoot on the Jet Ski, he’d take us for heartstopping innertube rides around the lake. Then we’d feast on barbecue as we watched the sun set.

An orthopedic PA, Don has gone on medical missions to South America and Africa at his own expense. He and those he travels with offer medical services to the desperately poor, free of charge. Some of the needs are quite basic. For example, he and his daughter spent a day washing the hair of some of the thousands of street orphans who roam the streets of Santiago, Chile. When I left Panama City, Don’s compassionate heart made him the obvious choice to continue visiting a double-amputee friend of mine at a local nursing home. Just recently, he graciously visited my friend Kevin at the Panama City jail. Kevin was awaiting release from prison. Kevin was freed, and Don is now helping him to find employment.

St. Joseph is a model for all Christians – male, female, priestly, religious, and lay. However, part of what makes him my rock star is that he, foster-father of Jesus and husband of the Blessed Mother, was also a layman. Not a priest. Not a deacon. Not a brother. Yet Jesus called him “Dad” (Abba). He and Mary called each other “sweetheart” (or its Aramaic equivalent). The holiness, obedience, faithfulness, strength, and courage of St. Joseph are available to every one of us. We need only respond with his generosity to the grace God that gives us.

St. Joseph is a Rock Star. But we can all be more like him, helped by his example and intercession. St. Joseph, pray for us!





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The Power of the Holy Spirit

In a previous post, I mentioned “Alpha”. It’s a kind of “Jesus 101” evangelization course that we’re kicking off at our parish. This weekend was the Alpha retreat, which is devoted to seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We learned more about the power of the Holy Spirit. We experienced it.

I had a few worries going into the weekend. Alpha features video presentations, and I was wondering how well the videos would handle the topic of the Holy Spirit. Too often, such presentations are somewhat vague. The unfortunate result is that the Holy Spirit Himself comes across as vague, insubstantial, or even weak and inconsequential.

But the Alpha videos on the Holy Spirit were anything but. For example, I’d known that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all cooperated in the creation of the universe. But the first video’s presentation of what that actually means was breathtaking. Image after image flashed past in bewildering beauty. Galaxies and supernovas, leopards and apes, waterfalls and rushing rapids, peacocks, rainbows, hurricanes, canyons – all are the work of the Holy Spirit in their stunning array of life and power. It is He who has poured them out on the Earth.

The Holy Spirit’s power to transform human lives also blazed forth in the videos. Samson and Gideon, nobodies in terms of human position, were filled with the power of the Lord to deliver Israel. Isaiah and Ezekiel declared the glory of the coming of Christ and the grace of the New Covenant four centuries before they came to pass. Jesus Himself waged war on the Devil, set captives free, healed the brokenhearted, led prisoners out of slavery, healed the sick, raised the dead, and invited sinners to His Father’s table. All He did was through the power of the Holy Spirit. His disciples, similarly filled with the fire and power of the Holy Spirit, journeyed forth to transform the world.

In other scenes, we saw the power of the Holy Spirit transforming lives today.  Missionary Jackie Pullinger prays with an addict in the notorious Kowloon Walled City of Hong Kong. The Walled City was a densely populated, drug-infested hive of crime and poverty until its demolition in 1992. She went alone into that forsaken place in 1966, and still continues her mission of prayer and peer ministry to addicts and prostitutes today. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, addict after addict has experienced miraculous freedom  by means of a 10-day intensive period of prayer ministry by former addicts. Impossible? Talk to Wayne, my good friend for 35 years who still stays with us on his yearly trips through Omaha. We met at a booming charismatic prayer meeting in Chicago. Wayne was freed of multiple drug addictions instantaneously through the ministry of a television evangelist. On fire for the Lord, he has brought many to Christ and never looked back.

But could that be for us on the Alpha weekend? One passage from the video fired our faith to ask boldly:

And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:9-13)

It was so easy. The facilitator prayed simply for us as a group: “Come, Holy Spirit!” He and my wife each made themselves available to pray for people one-on-one for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit came. Tears flowed as hearts were healed. The bond among us – the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14) – was palpable. Like the trio of apostles on the Mount of the Transfiguration, we didn’t want to leave. My concerns – would we be open enough? Would God really show up? Would this weekend really be the watershed that the Alpha presenters promised? – vanished.

How good the Father is to all who ask Him! Do you desire more of the Holy Spirit? Ask. Do you want the power of the Holy Spirit in your life? Seek. Do you want to know God’s love, poured out in the Holy Spirit, as Jesus knew the Father’s love? Knock. It will be given to you. You will find. The door will be opened to you.


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Community and Freedom, Part II

The relationship between community and freedom is foundational to the Christian worldview. First, we know that nothing happens apart from God’s directly willing it or permitting it (Rom 8:28 and many other passages). It follows that absolutely nothing happens by accident or coincidence.

Second, we believe that “no man is an island”, in John Donne’s immortal words. We cannot become who we are unless we are in community with others. I do not create my “self”. It is a gracious gift, given me by God and by others. Even secular psychology teaches that the self develops primarily in relationship with others, particular our parents and siblings. In Christian terms, the Body of Christ – life in Christian community – is not just one way of becoming who God calls me to be. It is the only way.

If all things ultimately flow from God’s will, then He has willed the presence of every person who affects my life. My boss, co-workers, employees, spouse, children, parents, siblings, fellow parishioners, pastor, President and Vice-President and Congressmen, are precisely the people I need to have in my life to become who God has designed me to be.

Accepting this truth is immensely freeing. It enables me to live in what is without wasting energy on how things could or should be different. It eliminates the “if onlys”. “If only my father hadn’t been alcoholic… If only my mother hadn’t died so young… If only my siblings understood me… If only my boss weren’t such a jerk…If only my husband hadn’t cheated on me…If only my pastor could preach well…If only my co-workers didn’t gossip so much…”

Acceptance doesn’t mean doing nothing to improve relationships and circumstances when I can. It means starting from the messy, flawed reality of my life right now before working on what “should be”. More important, it means that everyone who’s ever been or will be in my life is part of God’s perfect, loving plan. It means that each person in my life, however difficult, is a gift, if I only have the eyes to see it.

Last weekend, I was chatting with my son and his friend Nick at a Bible study we’re in. I told them that as a timid and unathletic boy, I was often excluded in grade school and junior high. At the time, I feared and disliked the classmates who most obviously left me out. I wanted them just to go away. But those experiences gave me a sensitivity to people who aren’t being included. In high school, I decided I’d associate with whomever I wished, whether or not others labeled them as “cool”. Now, if someone’s new to a group, I go out of my way to introduce myself and chat. In a discussion group, I notice who’s been trying to get a word in, and I invite him or her to share. Those bullies – whatever their intentions – taught me the importance of including the excluded. I can be grateful that God allowed them in my life.

The family is our first and most formative experience of community. A helpful psychological exercise to do related to accepting those God has placed in my life is to “choose my parents” and “choose my siblings”. Parents and siblings are givens. But I can say, “Lord, thank you for giving me exactly this father, this mother, this brother, this sister, with all of their faults and virtues.” Such a move is essential to self-acceptance. Each of them has something to teach me. I am who I am because of everyone whose lives have ever touched mine, for good or ill. This is especially true of those who formed me earliest and most powerfully.

My mother and siblings have blessed me, through their example, with an active sense of humor and a lively sense of how to have fun. They have made it impossible for me to take myself too seriously. The lively interest of several of them in travel, culture, and reading has deeply formed my interest in those. My oldest brother, Bill, inspired me with his passion for classical music. I’ve passed this on to my son. My siblings have been quite successful in their careers. But they’ve never forgotten our humble roots. Their down-to-earthness has helped me not get too swell-headed. My parents’ and siblings’ love for their kids has been obvious, helping me to make pro-family choices in my own life. My parents’ solid work ethic has empowered us all. The list goes on.

The Body of Christ is the ultimate community. It transcends time and space. It encompasses all believers past, present, and to come. How this “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) affects me is mysterious but absolutely real. The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, is a meditation on how our lives touch each other. Whether the author views Heaven as real or as a metaphor isn’t clear. But he traces how the main character’s seemingly sad, wasted life has meaningfully and powerfully intersected with others’ lives.

Similarly, we have no idea how the prayers and example of those who’ve died have affected us. My conversion happened on St. Patrick’s Day, 1977 – about 6 months the death of my devout Irish grandmother, Molly Shields. She was intensely prayerful. She lived across the street from our parish church, where she spent every spare moment. I am convinced that her prayers brought about my conversion. A friend of mine, Kevin Sullivan, was just released from the penitentiary yesterday after 18 or so years in prison. He had made a successful appeal of his case. But his mother’s prayers, my prayers, the prayers of many others had just as much to do with it.

I draw a great deal of strength and hope from the lives of the saints. They, of course, had no idea how their lives would touch the Christians who would live after them. Yet they have, powerfully. Stories of the Chinese martyrs – a world and a generation away – help fire my resolve to live unashamedly for Jesus. Similarly, none of us can calculate the ripples our own lives send out – for ill, certainly, but unquestionably for good. Several years ago, a friend I hadn’t seen since high school told me that my love of reading had made him a reader. I’d had no idea. A college professor who, I’m sure, wouldn’t know me from Adam turned me on to poetry, a love I still retain.

In Part I of this topic, I suggested that community and freedom have a kind of purgatorial relationship. Community prepares us for the freedom of Heaven, where all love all in eternal relationship. But really, community can be a kind of foretaste of Heaven right here on Earth. Each person I commune with is a link in a chain that stretches – right up to Heaven.





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