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Changed by Prayer

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:1-11).

Perhaps it is the seemingly rude form of address: Woman. Or the bluntness of the question itself: What have you to do with me? Most likely it is the combination of both that makes this question so shocking. And, granted, a certain shock value is intended. But neither the form of address nor the question should offend. The word “Woman” is used as an honorific, a term of respect — something akin to “my Lady.” The question itself is not a dismissal of His mother’s request, but rather an invitation to consider its implications more deeply.

Changed by Prayer PicAlthough Mary simply states a fact — “They have no wine” — her words carry the weight of a petition. She is clearly interceding, asking Him to do something that only He — not the headwaiter, not the sommelier, not the vintner — can do. This will be the first of His signs, by which He manifests His glory and His disciples believe in Him. This miracle will set into motion His public ministry, lifting the veil from the simple Carpenter of Nazareth and bringing Him to the Cross. And the instigator is His mother and her simple words of intercession.

So Jesus, by His striking but inoffensive question, calls her attention to what this will mean for her personally. Her request will change her, not only the events outside of her. “Woman,” He says, because she will become not only His Mother but also The Woman prophesied in Genesis (cf. Gen 3:15). “What have you to do with me?” He asks, because from this point on she will be not only His mother but also the New Eve to complement Him, the New Adam, in the work of redemption. His miracle will bring her to the foot of the Cross and to hear Him say, “Woman, behold your son.” There she will become not only His mother but Mother of the Church.

Thus, our Lord’s question asks, in effect, Are you willing to be changed? Are you willing to be not just My mother, but also the New Eve, My cooperator in the work of redemption, and  Mother of the Church? She, of course, is undaunted by His question and yields to the work of grace work within her. As always, the Virgin Mary demonstrates in a unique and unrepeatable way what is true for all Christians. In this case, that intercession calls for a personal investment, a willingness to be changed, to be more closely bound to the One to Whom we intercede.

We tend to view intercessory prayer in a mercantile manner: If I spend this amount of time in prayer, say this many rosaries or novenas, then I will get what I ask. Even better, we would like to deposit our request and be on our way. But when we pray for someone, we ourselves have to be invested in that prayer. Otherwise we become like pagans, who “think that they will be heard for their many words” (Mt 6:7). We ourselves have to be willing to be changed, not just the things outside of us. How much of our intercession is blocked or stifled because of our unwillingness to be changed! What an odd prayer of intercession, to beg God’s grace for others, and be unmoved by it ourselves.

Mary intercedes for this nameless couple…and our Lord calls attention to the change to occur in her. What we learn from our Lord’s question is that our prayer of intercession hinges on our union with Him and, even more, on our willingness to be transformed by that union. We cannot pray for a change and then be unwilling to change. As often as we intercede, we — wittingly or not — draw close to the Intercessor, to the one Mediator, Who alone obtains answers to our prayers. And we cannot remain the same in proximity to Him.

This is the last of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.

By: Natalie Plumb

I’ve always considered myself a strong person by nature. I never cry in front of anyone unless it’s a moment appropriate for mourning. I take in all that might happen to me in a given day – literal trauma, or no trauma – and reflect it. I don’t let it penetrate me. I listen to others’ problems or circumstances without judgment or surprise. I project neutrality. More poignantly, I rarely take the caution to “guard my heart,” as our Lord wisely advises in Proverbs 4:23, because I think I’m stronger than what will come my way. I mean…I am, right?

I felt very powerful and right about that. And then tears entered my day at an unexpected moment this week… I wanted to excuse myself for being such a child… I felt like rebuking myself for acting like a baby…

We_Can_Do_It!But why? Is it wrong to cry? Is it wrong to feel perceived as weak (admittedly, an onus we put on ourselves)?

I know that it’s impossible to pretend that everything bounces off of me – that everything is okay, no matter what happens or is said or done, including by myself to myself. But, still, I always try to mitigate that truth. I underestimate the power of emotional stress, which is more powerful than a physical ailment, at times, and is the thing that can quickly drive someone down the path of depression or insanity. Taylor Swift hits the right chord in “Shake It Off,” but only in part. You have to express your pain. You have to release it, acknowledge it, and then let it go.

And so, I ask: What is strength, if it’s not being strong enough to avoid being hurt? What is strength if I can’t desensitize myself to everything hurtful and simply let it “ride”?

I must have the definition of “strength” all backward. Literally.

I was sitting in a chapel, ironically earlier this same week when I unexpectedly found myself in a moment of weakness, flipping through the Bible and various other texts for spiritual inspiration (because I do a terrible job at simply sitting still), when I came across a verse that terrifies me, because it seems so impossible:

“…but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Huh? I thought, unable to fully make sense of what I read. How can I “boast…of my weaknesses”? What’s so “perfect” about “insults” or “constraints”? Instead of desperately skipping on to another passage like I normally would, I thought about it a little longer.

I repeated to myself: “When I am weak, only then am I strong.”

God, what does that mean? I guess I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean everything that I assume when I believe that I can make myself strong, without God’s help, and without trust in His goodness…

It doesn’t mean that we must be hard shells that never let a speck of pain influence us.

It doesn’t mean never to cry.

It doesn’t mean not to be influenced by external forces that may hurt you emotionally, spiritually or physically.

Imagine the kind of strength it takes to boast in your weaknesses… If I’m interpreting correctly, God doesn’t want us to try to do that on our own. God wants us to embrace our weaknesses, and turn them over to Him. He makes them strengths. He is in control. He will make us strong.

Now isn’t that yoke a lot less heavy to bear?

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Thomas O’Neill

How much would you spend to have better communication with your spouse? A few dollars? Maybe a hundred? A coworker of mine once noted that we are often willing to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation, but are hesitant to spend even a small amount of money on improving our relationship with God and with our spouse. Yet, when marriage counselors talk about what makes marriage work, they never tire of banging the same drum — communication, communication, communication. Similarly, when priests counsel us on how to improve our spiritual lives, we hear — pray, pray, pray. Communication is everything.

In a humorous story about this, a wonderful couple I know talked about doing chores together. The husband was putting away the dishes one evening, happily viewing it as a service to his lovely wife.

“Stop!” she said, all of a sudden. “Stop putting the dishes away!”

“Why?” he asked, perplexed.

“I thought you would be happy I was helping out!”

“No, because you hide them all away in the wrong places, and I have to spend double the time just to find the dish I need!”

What sounds like two newlyweds learning the ropes of living together is actually a couple has been married for more than 30 years!

This image of an evening Easter egg hunt searching for dishes is amusing. But it is helpful to note that Retrouvaille – a ministry for troubled marriages looking to improve – makes much the same point. Some of the most poignant exercises during a Retrouvaille weekend ask each spouse to simply write out all of his or her thoughts and feelings, good and bad. When the other spouse reads those secret sentiments, now laid bare, they are often shocked to discover how much they have missed in their own spouse’s life. The beginnings of a marriage “rediscovered” starts with simple communication.

Marriage Communication Workshop flyer

To that end, the Office for Family Life is sponsoring an engaging workshop on communication and prayer on Saturday, November 8 at St. John the Apostle parish in Leesburg. It will feature ever-popular speakers: Art & Laraine Bennett, co-authors of The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse; Sr. Clare Hunter, Director of the Office of Respect Life; and Rev. John Mosimann, pastor of St. John the Apostle parish. The cost is $45 before October 17 and $50 thereafter. Lunch is included. Please visit the website for more information or to register.

What will you invest in your marriage today?

From the Office of Communications

Did you miss the chance to attend Risk Jesus? The first evangelization conference was a wonderful success, attracting 1, 200 people interested in connecting with Christ and our Catholic community here in the Diocese of Arlington. Bishop Paul S. Loverde, Jennifer Fulwiler, Rev. Dwight Longenecker, and Rev. Juan Puigbo were keynote speakers, while Marie Miller performed honest and spiritual music throughout the day.

If you did miss the conference, never fear, we have uploaded a video playlist of the sessions throughout the day. You can hear the conversion experiences of Jennifer and Fr. Longenecker, listen to Fr. Puigbo’s inspiring testimony of perseverance, or hear Bishop Loverde commenting during the Q&A session or leading the prayer during Eucharistic Adoration. Please watch the videos, comment, and share.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

My paternal grandmother converted from Buddhism to Catholicism at the young age of 13. As the story is told, she was passing by St. Theresa’s Church in Honolulu one day and heard the music from within the Church. She walked in, talked to the priest, and was received into the Church after a short period of catechesis. As I think back on my childhood, I have no memory of her ever going to bed without the Sacred Scripture in one hand and a Rosary in the other. She was fiercely loyal to Our Lady and devoured Scripture. Happily, she passed on the fervor of both to me.

Considering October is the Month of the Rosary and October 7 was the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, once known as the feast of Our Lady of Victory, which was erected as a universal feast by Pope Clement XI in The_Battle_of_Lepanto_by_Paolo_Veronesehonor of her miraculous intercession and intervention during the Battle of Lepanto, I think that I wouldn’t be alone in saying that the Rosary is one of the most intriguing and distinctively Catholic sacramentals that non-Catholics notice. The Order of Preachers (Dominicans) has long promoted its recitation and the signal graces one may receive through this time-honored devotion.

The Rosary is also known as the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[1] It is considered one of “the most excellent prayers to the Mother of God.”[2] In fact, we find in the Congregation for Divine Worship:

“The Roman Pontiffs have repeatedly exhorted the faithful to the frequent recitation of this biblically inspired prayer that is centered on contemplation of the salvific events of Christ’s life, and their close association with his Virgin Mother. The value and efficacy of this prayer have often been attested to by saintly Bishops and those advanced in holiness of life…”[3]

Did you know there are 15 promises attributed to St. Dominic Guzman (my patron) and Bl. Alan de la Roche for those who faithfully pray the Rosary?

  1. Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary shall receive signal graces.
  2. I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.
  3. The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.
  4. The Rosary will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire for eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.
  5. The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall not perish.
  6. Whoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying himself to the consideration of its sacred mysteries shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise him in His justice, he shall not perish by an unprovided death; if he be just he shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of eternal life.
  7. Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.
  8. Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenititude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the saints in paradise.
  9. I shall deliver from Purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.
  10. The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in Heaven.
  11. You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.
  12. All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.
  13. I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.
  14. All who recite the Rosary are my sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters of my only Son Jesus Christ.
  15. Devotion of my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.

Let’s be honest, the list is pretty cool and deserves consideration. That being said, I love to pray the Rosary because it transports me into the Gospel narrative and allows me to not only consider the mystery that is being presented, but to “relive” the scene with my Lord and Lady. The recitation causes me to slow down and spent quality time with the scriptural mysteries of our faith.

There have been seasons in my life that have made it difficult to pray the Rosary, but I always come back to it in the end. I have found that if you set aside some time to “waste” with Our Lady and commit yourself to praying this ancient prayer, her intercession never disappoints. We could discuss a lot of techniques to pray the Rosary or how to get the most out of it. But the most important best practice to be successful is to just do it! More prayer, less talk. With that…

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary… ora pro nobis.


[1] “Directory on Popular Piety and The Liturgy: Principals and Guidelines.” par. 197. December 2001. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html.

[2] “Regarding indulgences cf. EI,” Aliae concessiones, 17, p. 62. For a commentary on the Ave maria cf. CCC 2676-2677.

[3] Congregation For Divine Worship, Circular Letter Guidelines and proposals for the celebration of the Marian Year, 62.

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

“Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?'” (Jn 6:5)

Philip and the other Apostles must have been frustrated with the situation — perhaps even with our Lord. They were in “a lonely place” (Mt 14:13). It was because of Him that the crowds had followed them out there, seemingly without a thought about provisions. And He had indulged their lack of planning, allowing them to follow, and responding to their desire for teaching and healing. They were sure to grow hungry and the Apostles, known as our Lord’s closest followers, would feel some responsibility. And now Jesus asks the question that the Apostles must have wanted to ask Him: “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

The Evangelist gives us some insight to the purpose of the Lord’s frustrating question. Jesus asks it “to test [Philip], because He Himself knew what he was going to do” (Jn 6:6). But what exactly is the test in this situation? And…how do we pass it?

Giovanni_Lanfranco_-_Miracle_of_the_Bread_and_Fish

“How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The question brings Philip and, through him, the rest of the Apostles face to face with their own inadequacy. They have no way to answer the need. Philip sees it immediately: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little” (Jn 6:7). Andrew exacerbates the sense of helplessness with good news that is not good enough: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” (Jn 6:9) The Apostles, practical men with jobs, businesses, and responsibilities, were accustomed to getting things done and meeting the needs of the situation. Now they had to acknowledge their powerlessness.

This, then, is the first part of the “test” — to acknowledge our own limits and inadequacy. At the root of all sin is the ultimate “do it yourself” mentality, the desire to be like God on our own terms (cf. Gen 3:4). We echo that same rebellion, thinking we are in control and sufficient. We have delusions of adequacy. Inevitably, however, we encounter a situation — a difficulty in ourselves, in the family, at work, etc. — that brings our inadequacy into stark relief. Then our Lord’s question — “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” — comes to us. Then we realize that we do not have what it takes, that a particular situation is beyond us to address. Then we must recognize our insufficiency and by so doing grow in humility.

But if we stop there, things seem pretty grim. We have to proceed to the second part of our Lord’s test. Our Lord “knew what He was going to do.” In other words, He asks the question in order to reveal not only Philip’s (and our) inadequacy, but also His own power. In response to the apostolic powerlessness, Jesus works a miracle that does more than merely assist them or compensate for their weakness. He takes their insufficiency itself and, with it, creates an abundance.

So also for us, our weakness is only half of the equation. God’s superabundance is the necessary other half. If He, at times, makes our weakness clear, He does so not to discourage us, but to invite us to trust in Him. The recognition of our weakness ought to lead us to greater trust in His power to accomplish more than we can hope or imagine.

“How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This question provides the answer to our frustration and despondence in the face of difficulties. Why has God put this before me? Why does He ask this of me? How can I possibly do what He asks? He allows us to face such challenges not so that we can stoically endure or muscle through. It is, rather, so that we can — by way of our inadequacy — learn to trust Him. It is so that we can hand over what little we have and allow Him to create from it an abundance.

This is the sixth of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.

By: Sr. Clare Hunter

What kind of heretic are you? A new Buzzfeed quiz? Though not intentionally, I know I have given incorrect answers about the faith (heretic) because of my lack of knowledge. To be quite honest, there are many teachings of Jesus that I do not fully understand and make me uncomfortable. Actually, I might go so far as to say that I really don’t like them and believe they are “impossible” to follow and comprehend. I am rather disappointed that the sacrament of Confirmation, or even taking religious vows, does not include some kind of pill, or infusion, that gives one complete theological knowledge — oh, and complete compliance to God’s will. Where are those pills to make me holy, brilliant, and sinless?

P8071310So, which Catholic Church teaching don’t you like? Actually, that is not the right question. It is, which teaching of Jesus don’t you like? Reading and re-reading the Gospels has helped me to face that question. It was easy to disagree with my parents, religion teachers, priests and sisters, but when I realized that the teachings held by the Catholic faith were all from Jesus Christ, as the Word of the Father, I realized that God is the One with whom I had to take up my grievances. And so I do. I am merely following in the footsteps of the disciples and apostles who spent most of their time asking Jesus what He was talking about, rejecting His words and, unfortunately, not following His commandments. Is it a sin to question God and complain about His teachings? No. In fact, for many of us, it is the beginning of prayer.

It has been an “exciting” week for the media reporting on the Synod on marriage at the Vatican. With topics including homosexuality, divorce, contraception, cohabitation, abortion, pre-marital sex, and the Catholic Church — it doesn’t get more controversial and emotional than that! Each one of us has been challenged to reflect on these issues and to grow in our understanding of why and how the Catholic Church believes what it does. It is a tremendous opportunity to mature in faith and knowledge and to assess our own need to grow in our personal relationship with God. These issues touch wounds in each of us, and we should remember that they touched the genealogy and followers of Jesus Christ. Our Lord knew very well what He was doing when speaking about such hard teachings. Why else would He bestow such healing looks of love and pity on those gathered around Him?

imagesJesus is very clear with the disciples when they are astonished, shocked, or flatly reject something He says or teaches. Whether they refuse to accept His suffering and death, His teachings on marriage and divorce, or the radical disposing of one’s possessions and family, Our Lord is unwavering. Despite the mass exodus of followers after He tells them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood for eternal life, He rebukes all and tells them that they cannot do alone what He is teaching. When the disciples question the difficult teachings on discipleship, Jesus declares that “for human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (cf. Mt 19:26, Mk 10:27).

For it to be possible for us to accept the Gospel message, our hearts must be open to God. We know this is not easy. Our fears of sacrifice and suffering, our weaknesses to temptations and plain, old sloth keep us from a disciplined prayer life and moral actions. Yet, in spite of all of this we do desire conversion; it is that little voice in each of us that says “there has to be more than this in life.” We know we are not happy with mediocrity. And on our honest days, we know that, though difficult to live, the teachings of Jesus resonate in our hearts and make sense. How incredible it is that we have a loving God who invites us into a relationship with Him that gives us the happiness we so desire. Yes, this includes obedience to His will and commandments, but we have been promised the abiding presence of His Spirit and the body and blood of the Son to enable us to be faithful sons and daughters. Like any relationship, it takes work and sacrifice on the part of both parties. He has held up to His promise. Now what about our part?

Wouldn’t a conversion, or perfection pill be easier? Yes. But we would probably forget to take it and complain about that, too!

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