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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

“Habemus papam!” I can still hear the cheering from the crowd which eagerly awaited the emergence of the newly elected pope in St. Peter’s Square. On June 21, 1963, I was a seminarian in Rome studying at the North American College and was blessed to be in that crowded square. When Giovanni Cardinal Montini emerged having taken the name Pope Paul VI, I knew that he, too, embraced the evangelical and missionary zeal of our mutual namesake, St. Paul. I would have the privilege of being in the presence of Pope Paul VI — who is being beatified by Pope Francis on October 19 at the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family — two more times: once when he visited us seminarians at our summer villa, and later at a papal audience after my priestly ordination. Though these are fond memories, what has most been impressed upon my mind and heart is Pope Paul VI’s steadfastness in leading the Church through difficult times. For this reason, he has always been a pope for whom I have had a great deal of admiration and respect. His beatification is so timely at this moment in our history!

PaulVIPope Paul VI was elected prior to the second session of the Second Vatican Council, when the Church was experiencing what Pope St. John XIII had called an “aggiornamento,” or an updating. Theologians and clergy at the Council had the task of discerning how the Church could dialogue with the modern world — what aspects of the culture could be embraced by the faithful and which would have to be kept at bay because their integration would threaten the unity of the Faith. As Pope Francis has said, “Faith is ‘one,’ in the first place, because of the oneness of God. Faith is one because it is shared by the whole Church, in which we receive a common gaze. Faith must be professed in all of its purity and integrity,” (“Lumen Fidei,” No. 48).

Much of Pope Paul VI’s pontificate would be directed at answering lingering questions that remained after the Council had ended. Many of those questions had to do with marriage and the family in light of cultural changes that were taking place. Pope Paul VI is undoubtedly most remembered for his forthright teaching about responsible parenthood in his encyclical“Humane Vitae” (1968). Many have read “Humane Vitae” and reduced its message to a “no” from the Church about the licit use of artificial contraception. What they miss, however, is the document’s rich presentation of the biblical understanding of marriage that the Catholic Church has consistently promoted. The characteristics of marriage as designed by God include that it is “fully human,” “a total, personal friendship in which husband and wife share everything,” “faithful and exclusive of all others until death,” and “is ordained toward the procreation and education of children” who are a supreme gift to their parents (No. 9).

To enter into marriage, then, is to enter into a union that God intends to be total, faithful, and fruitful. Responsible parenthood must respect the design that God has for the sexual union which involves openness to life unless there is a grave reason why a couple cannot welcome a child. The Church’s teaching on the sexual union between husband and wife is one that promotes communication, mutual discernment, and a respect for the ability of man and woman together to cooperate in God’s creative work.

Sadly, many people still misunderstand the Church’s presentation of marriage in “Humane Vitae” and characterize it as antiquated and restrictive. The truth, however, is that the Church’s teaching increases a couple’s freedom — freedom to love one another as they have been created by God. In “Lumen Fidei,” Pope Francis explained: “Precisely because all of the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole,” (No. 48). The Church’s teaching on human sexuality, contraception, and marriage are related to all that She professes and teaches. They are a response to the revelation of Jesus Christ about the kind of love for which we are made. For that reason they remain relevant.

I find myself reflecting on the courage of Pope Paul VI these days, as our own culture wrestles with the nature of marriage. Though in our times, the biblical view of marriage may not be understood or popular, it does not for that reason lose its truth or beauty. St. Paul’s bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even in difficult times, inspires me as it inspired Pope Paul VI, to share the teaching on marriage in its fullness. It is not coincidental, then, at the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, an event during which bishops in communion with the pope are discussing how to best strengthen married love and family life, that Pope Francis will beautify a champion of these realities. I hope you join me in thanksgiving for the witness of Pope Paul VI, a man of God who has taught me to teach the faith with patience, love, and zeal! May he intercede for all of us, especially for married couples and families!

Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, and his recent letter on the new evangelization, Go Forth with Hearts on Fire, are available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.

This column first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

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**Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of blog posts addressing mental health issues by Dr. Frank Moncher, a clinical psychologist with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington. We hope that this can help educate you on the circumstances behind mental illness and suicide, and begin that dialogue within the context of the Catholic community.

By: Dr. Frank Moncher

Biochemistry

As explored last week, one’s choices and attitudes toward hardships in life are important to consider in understanding depression and suicide.  Still, it would be erroneous to deny the reality of the impact of brain chemistry in the development of depression and related suicide risk and prevention. Some studies suggest that there are biochemical differences in the brain among those who commit suicide, though these may be either the cause or the consequence of depression.

Melancholy_2Still, for those suffering from clinical depression, medication along with psychotherapy are the best standards of medical practice. Research demonstrates that some people suffering from depression can benefit from a variety of anti-depressant medications that are available through psychiatrists or, at times, one’s family doctor. Other people benefit from differing forms of counseling and psychotherapy, while some require both. Taking medication alone rarely does the entire job, while the suggestions given by well-meaning friends or family that “pushing through it” or “getting over it” will carry the day are erroneous and, for many, unrealistic options. Yet, there is also truth to the understanding that depression is, in the words of one controversial blogger: “deeper and more profound than a simple matter of disproportioned brain chemicals…” which brings us to prayer.

Prayer

Popular media largely covers the natural level aspect of depression and suicide, but often neglects the spiritual aspect. Some religious commentators have provided helpful catechesis, but conversely neglects the natural realities of depression. Suicide and depression, I believe, are issues for which neither the natural nor the supernatural aspects are peripheral. These issues are about life and its meaning. Persons of faith go through periods of dryness and feeling detached from God, but clinical depression is different. As a clinician, I am always relieved to hear a depressed client state their adamant opposition to suicide as an option because of their faith beliefs. At times, this is a good enough place to start. Better, of course, when there is recognition that God’s love is at the center. But, for a depressed person, relationships with visible beings can be difficult enough, let alone one with God.

Yet, this is where people of faith do seem to have an upper hand. In responding to a controversial blog on the topic by Matt Walsh, novelist Daniel McInerny sums up nicely the Christian position on suffering: “I’m not saying that taking this supernatural outlook will cure depression, or that the depressed person should not pursue every available human means of healing. I’m saying that only in the Cross does suffering make ultimate sense. Only in the Cross do we find a lasting hope. Our task as Christians is to bring this message of hope to the world, both through advocating appropriate human means of healing, and by spreading the Good News that depression and other evils never have the final word.”

“We do not believe in a Mental Prosperity Gospel, where God rewards His faithful ones with a sense of well-being and good cheer. A good many of the saints were as close to God as they could come — Mother Teresa comes to mind — and yet they struggled constantly against the darkness. Depression and mental illness are not a sign of personal sin, but one of many signs of the weakness we all inherited when Adam sinned.” -popular blogger, Simcha Fisher

Again, prayer is always appropriate, and is always our duty. Prayer provides not only for the mysterious influence that is Grace, but also can serve as a concrete reminder to the person suffering that their friends and family remain connected and are pleading for their healing.

 

In his next blog post of this Mental Health series, Dr. Moncher will discuss the need for belonging we have, how easily it is to become isolated in the modern world, and what we can do to help those suffering from depression.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?”
cf. Lk 8:43-48

You have to sympathize with Peter in this scene. The crowds surround our Lord, a mixture of the faithful, the curious, and the suspicious. They swarm around this Nazarene celebrity as He journeys through the little towns and villages of Galilee. So when our Lord stops and asks, “Who touched me?” Peter has every reason to be a little confused. Point is, many people had touched Him. Peter responds with a simple observation, perhaps gesturing to the mass of humanity in the crowded little town, “The multitudes surround you and press upon you…”

Luke 8But someone had touched Him differently, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.” Unlike those who bumped into Him accidentally, or who touched Him to be able to say that they did or out of curiosity, someone touched Him in faith. This nameless woman, seeking healing for her illness, provides a profound example and instruction on the personal dimension of faith.

There is, first of all, and before any of us, the ecclesial dimension of faith. The Church believes before we do. We receive our faith from the Church and profess it within the Church. But faith must also be personal. And if we do not invest ourselves personally, if we do not personally make an act of faith, then that gift of the Church profits us nothing. The Church gives us our faith, but She cannot do the believing for us.

The woman with the hemorrhage believed in Jesus personally. She did not know everything about Him. But she entrusted herself to Him by the simple touch of the fringe of His garments. “For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well'” (Mk 5:28). Her touch was different from the others because it was made with faith.

To believe in Jesus Christ means precisely this — to entrust ourselves to Him. We do not believe things merely about Jesus. As Saint James observes, even the demons believe in this way (Ja 2:19). Rather, we believe in Him, which in the Latin has the sense of entrusting or handing ourselves over to Him entirely. That is faith.

Faith touches God. That is what the woman teaches us in this scene. Nor is that a pious thought or a even a metaphor. In his encyclical letter on faith Pope Francis cites Saint Augustine’s summary of the woman’s action: “To touch Him with our hearts: that is what it means to believe.” It is not only the poetic Augustine that makes this observation. The more systematic Saint Thomas speaks similarly about the “spiritual contact” that faith makes with Jesus Christ Himself. To say “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not a wishful statement spoken into the void, but an act of the soul that touches Him and moves His Heart.

But many of us, rather than imitating the woman with the hemorrhage, behave more like the crowds in Galilee. Like them, we are familiar with all the stories about Jesus, have been in the room when He was there, have even been present for His miracles (the Mass, for instance). But we remain accidental Christians, encountering Him and bumping into Him because we happen to be in the same place at the same time — not because we have touched Him in faith. We may have grown up in the atmosphere of our Lord, but never directly believed in Him.

Our Lord’s question to Peter therefore also functions as an invitation. Not only “Who touched me?” but “Who will touch me?” He asks for our faith, for that touch that only the personal belief in Him can accomplish.

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

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By: Kevin Bohli, Director of Youth Ministry

At a recent training, I learned that more than half of the Catholics in our country who were born after 1982 are Hispanic — 54 percent, according to a recent Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) study [1].  The Office of Youth Ministry has been trying to increase our ministry to young Hispanics with some success, but this statistic served as a real wake-up call. We certainly have the goal to host youth events in this diocese and in our parishes that offer a better reflection of the cultural make-up of the Church.

For each of our events, we advertise in both English and Spanish. Mass is typically bilingual, and we attempt to offer speakers and music who are attractive to young Hispanics. We work hard to make sure that youth from all cultures feel welcomed at all of our diocesan gatherings.

Futbol 2 Occasionally, we also offer events that are specifically focused on Hispanic youth, in order to encourage parish Coordinators of Youth Ministry to increase their efforts to invite Hispanic teens from their parish to participate. Two weekends ago, we offered a diocesan Soccer Festival (Festival de Fútbol) for this purpose. This festival allowed youth from throughout the diocese to gather together and compete in a 6-on-6 soccer tournament. Parishes and organizations could enter teams in either the middle or high school division, and families of the teens were encouraged to attend.

FutbolThis year’s theme for our entire calendar of events is “Go Forth and Make Disciples,” or in Spanish “Vayan Adelante y Hagan Discípulos.” Our emphasis is that all adults who work with young people need to take them from a place where they will simply tolerate spiritual growth and move them toward taking their own initiative to grow spiritually. This happens when adults build relationships with young people and walk alongside them in forming them in the faith.

How appropriate that our diocesan Soccer Festival began with a bilingual Mass celebrated by Fr. Mauricio Pineda, a newly ordained priest and parochial vicar at All Saints in Manassas. Fr. Pineda grew up in the Arlington Diocese, and is a living example of what happens when adults provide ministry focus, specifically upon young Hispanics. When adults build relationships with young people, and act as a witness of Christ in their lives, those young people not only take initiative for their own growth, but then take the initiative to lead others in their spiritual growth. As a young Hispanic priest from the Arlington Diocese, Fr. Pineda now is a role model, and a witness of Christ in leading our next generation of young Hispanics to grow in their faith.

Just before His Ascension, Our Lord entrusted the Church with a mission that is still in need of fulfillment today: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” [2] Please continue to pray for our diocesan community — that we continue to bring this message to all young people, from all nations.


[1] USCCB, Hispanic Ministry At A Glance, 2012, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/cultural-diversity/hispanic-latino/demographics/hispanic-ministry-at-a-glance.cfm.

[2] Matthew 29:19, NAB.

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**Editor’s Note: Too often we hear upsetting or shocking news that reminds us just how desperately our country needs to address mental health issues, especially when we see and hear of beloved family members or beloved icons, like Robin Williams, succumb to their illnesses alone and oftentimes without support. This will be the first of a series of blog posts addressing mental health issues by Dr. Frank Moncher, a clinical psychologist with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington. We hope that this can help educate you on the circumstances behind mental illness and suicide, and begin that dialogue within the context of the Catholic community.**

 

By: Dr. Frank Moncher

It is sadly ironic that the man who uttered the famous call of optimism amid tragic circumstances, providing encouragement and a challenge to consider each new day a gift to those depleted, took his own life in August. Robin Williams’ death by suicide has brought attention to the problem of suicide in our culture. Although rates of suicide are relatively stable across the decades overall, it now ranks in the top 10 causes of death, and there is a disturbing trend of rising suicide rates especially among middle-aged men. Bottom line is that there are too many people seeing death as a solution to their pain, suffering, or seemingly unsolvable life circumstances. Each situation is unique and deserving of its own story, yet there are some important commonalities which can provide increased understanding and hopefully prevent future tragedies.

Robin_Williams_2011a_(2)Historically, suicide, depression, and mental illness have been characterized or understood as a personal weakness, a lack of virtue, or lack of self-control. However, suicide is a complicated outcome that is often driven by complex circumstances. As in Williams’ case, depression and substance addiction are often part of the mix. Psychotic disorders and impulse control disorders share their part of the “blame,” as well. Clinically speaking, depression and its features of loneliness, burdensomeness, low mood, helplessness and hopelessness affect problem-solving abilities and distort perception of self-worth. Suicide becomes idealized as an immediate escape (as many as 50 percent of those with depression report having suicidal thoughts during their illness); adding in diminished self-control via substance abuse or loss of touch with reality heightens the risk enormously. It is important to note that while the taking of life is considered a sinful act, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) notes clearly that when the person involved is suffering from mental illness, the culpability for the act may be significantly mitigated (CCC 2282). The Catechism reassures us: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (CCC 2283).

Yet, rather than focus on the multitude of risk factors well documented elsewhere, it seems worth exploring what might be salutary for the 80 to 90 percent of persons suffering from depression, addiction, or other mental and emotional problems who never take their lives.

Virtues

Williams’ call of greeting in the 1980s classic “Good Morning Vietnam” is just one of many preventive attitudes of life that inoculates one against the despair most suicidal persons reach. Others have commented in the wake of the tragedy how gratitude, hope, and finding meaning in suffering can have a life-saving impact on someone experiencing such intense pain. (Add to that the great anger antidote of forgiveness, and much relief is found.) The sad reality of those left behind when anger plays a part in motivating a suicide is daunting, and a number of self-help groups have emerged to answer the call of those who are struggling with the grief from a family member or friend taking their own life (e.g. Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide-LOSS). I am not suggesting that all who are suffering can get beyond it by merely “pulling up one’s bootstraps.” However, there is power and peace to be found in exercising whatever remains in one’s control toward positive relationships, giving to others, and noticing anew what it is that makes life worth living. Although most of us will never experience what it is like to contemplate suicide, the importance of discovering meaning in our lives and growing to act more in accord with this is life-giving to each of us, as well as to our family and friends. It is through coming to know ourselves and connecting with others that we build a strong foundation for living a mentally healthy life.

 

In his next blog of this Mental Health series, Dr. Moncher will discuss the biochemistry behind depression and how important prayer can be for those who are suffering.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:13)

Elijah must have been tempted to frustration, perhaps even anger, with the Lord. Here he was — devout, faithful, zealous. He had witnessed to the Lord against the false prophets and journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb. He stood waiting on the Lord. And yet, he gets no greeting from the Lord.  No kudos, thanks, or congratulations. Only a question: What are you doing here, Elijah?

But…it was a fair question. Mount Horeb was, if not exactly God-forsaken, not quite a destination spot either. The prophet had to pause and think. What was his purpose? What had driven him out to a cave on a remote mountain? What was he doing there?

The entire scene provides a good way to approach prayer. When (if?) we pray, we typically just start saying our prayers, without much reflection as to the purpose. They are pre-programmed and we just hit the play button. But if we hear in our minds the Lord’s question to Elijah — What are you doing here? — then our time of prayer is opened up tremendously. Elijah renewed his purpose as he reflected upon the question. So also for us: What is the purpose of prayer? What am I doing here? Thus, by reflecting on Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at Mount Horeb, we can better understand our prayer, our own encounters with God.

elijah_and_the_angel__image_5_sjpg2146

First, Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, to find refuge in the Lord. He had confronted Israel’s false prophets and punished them severely (cf. 1 Kgs 18). In response Queen Jezebel, their patroness, had promised to murder Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs 19:1-2). So he fled, seeking protection, security, divine assistance. He was there because he needed God.

So also we pray because we need to. Because we are in need of similar refuge and assistance. The most basic meaning of the word “pray” is “plead” or “beg.” We do not come into the Lord’s presence as equals to Him. We do not negotiate with Him from a position of power. Rather, we appeal to Him from a position of weakness. We flee to Him because we are in need. Blessed are the poor in spirit — those who have no delusions about their own strength, those who, like Elijah, fly to the Lord in their weakness and need.

But Elijah was not only fleeing from something. He was also going to something. If he only intended to avoid Jezebel and her minions, he could have gone to many different places. But he intended more than flight. He went to Mount Horeb for a reason — because it is Mount Sinai, the place where Israel first encountered the Lord, the place of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. He, who had witnessed to the Lord’s fidelity to His covenant, went to the place where that covenant was born. He went there for renewal.

Although prayer might begin with begging, it should also seek more. Every time we pray, we should, in effect, go back to the beginning of the covenant, to that first encounter and experience with the Lord, to those original gifts He bestowed on us. For ancient Israel, that meant the covenant on Mount Sinai/Horeb. For us, it means our Baptism. We pray in order to renew our childhood, to rekindle in our minds and hearts the awareness of being children of God. One of our greatest weaknesses is forgetfulness of God — of His love, His mighty deeds, His promises. Prayer is the time to recover our memory, to recall again with grateful hearts all that He has already accomplished for us.

Finally, Elijah went to Mount Horeb for strength. His mission was not over. In the conversation that follows the Lord’s question, it is clear that Elijah is to return to Israel, that land of apostasy and persecution, to continue his witness. Indeed, the Lord instructs him to return and promises him assistance (1 Kgs 19:15-17). His encounter with the Lord at Mount Horeb provided him the strength necessary to live his vocation.

Although a refuge, prayer is not an escape. Certainly, prayer involves a certain detachment from the world. We are of no use to the world if we are no different from it, if we have lost our saltiness (cf. Mt 5:13). But that does not mean a rejection of the world. Yes, we ought to run to prayer for protection and renewal. But we cannot use it to avoid the world and its difficulties. Prayer looks also to the witness we have to give before others. We pray, therefore, to be strengthened, to be rendered more effective witnesses in word and deed. Our time of prayer should always conclude with a request for the strength to be witnesses to the truth of the Faith.

What are you doing here? Imagine our Lord asking you that question the next time you pray. A more deliberate reflection on our reasons for being there helps to deepen our ability to pray. It expresses our weakness and need for Him, it reminds us of our status as His children, and it obtains the strength needed to be His witnesses.

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

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