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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.

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By: Natalie Plumb

Don’t miss Risk Jesus ’14! With hard-hitting talks from speakers, opportunities for confession, a Holy Hour led by Bishop Loverde, and a chance to network with ministry leaders—Risk Jesus will be a leaping first step for those who’ve never heard “Come and see.” Visit: arlingtondiocese.org/riskjesus. Click on the photo below to view my Storify collage of “What people are saying about #RiskJesus!” All for the #NewEvangelization — #RiskShare it!

Larger - What people are saying about #RiskJesus

Click to see me on Storify!

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.

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By: Josephine Balsamo, Staff Spotlight

Everywhere I look these days there is talk about euthanasia. You can’t pick up a paper or look online at the news without hearing about assisted suicide and “mercy” killing – ending a person’s life because we think it’s more humane than letting them suffer. Four states (Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana) have legalized killing persons who are ill in one form or another. Other states, like Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are attempting to overturn current prohibitions. This question becomes even more difficult to answer when someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

IMG_1189When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer, we all were holding out for a miraculous cure through treatment with the latest drugs developed to treat her cancer. After four long weeks of yet another type of chemotherapy, we were told by the doctors that she was not responding to the treatment. We were heartbroken. The doctors came in and offered additional treatments. But in the end, despite our best efforts to talk her into it, my mom refused additional treatment. She said that she was “putting it in God’s hands” and that she “trusted in his will for her.”

Then came the day when the hospital staff entered her room to come up with a discharge plan which included sending her home with Hospice Care. As hard as it was to accept that thought, what happened next was even harder.

We were told that in order to bring her home with Hospice, we would have to bring her home without TPN (the liquid nutrition we had been giving her via IV — the only nutrition she had been given for the last 12 weeks because, due to her cancer, she had been unable to eat or drink, and without it she would have surely starved to death).

I tried to reason with the hospital staff that she was not like most patients with her disease and because of her surgeries she had been unable to eat for quite some time. I literally begged them to reconsider the decision. It hardly seemed right to take her out of the hospital and starve her to death before the cancer actually took her life. I was told this was impossible and if we wanted to continue giving her nutrition, we would have to pay $450 a day for the TPN, and we would not have the help of Hospice to assist with her care.

At this point, I asked to speak with the director of the program, and although he tried to say “No,” I wouldn’t give up.  He finally agreed that she could go home with food, but when she reached the point that a patient would naturally stop eating, the TPN would be stopped and we would let nature take its course. She lived another four months after they discharged her from the hospital and never reached the stage that would have meant taking away hydration and nutrition.

Those four months turned out to be some of the most precious times our family had together, and even though it was hard, God had something to give each of us in the end. For my mother, the gift was time to say goodbye to us and to prepare to go home to heaven. For my father, it was time to say goodbye to the love of his life and the mother of his eight children. For my brothers and sisters, it was time to learn what unconditional love looks like. And for me, it was time to find my faith again after 25 years, through the help of a young priest who brought her Communion.

In our darkest trials, God brings beautiful blessings. Had we listened to the doctors, my mom would have died of dehydration and starvation, which would have been both physically and emotionally painful. Thank goodness we listened to what was in our hearts and gave her a chance to die at home with dignity and at peace surrounded by the family she loved so well.

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.

Josephine Balsamo has been the Program Coordinator for Project Rachel in the Diocese of Arlington’s Family Life Office since 2004. The ministry offers post-abortion healing retreats, monthly holy hours, professional counseling, a confidential phone line, referral to priests for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and multiple other resources.

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By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?”

God begins His plan for our salvation with a question: Where are you? (Gen 3:9). Then, upon entering the world to fulfill this plan, He asks another. At the Jordan, at the beginning of His public life, Jesus turns to the disciples following Him and asks, What do you seek? (Jn 1:38). Thus, one part of salvation is God’s search for us; the second part is our search for Him.

The proclamation of the Gospel begins, not with a doctrinal statement or a moral command, but with a question: What do you seek? It is a question that goes directly to the heart, because the human heart seeks by its very nature. Saint Augustine summarized this most beautifully and famously: You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. We were created to seek Him Who seeks us.

rembrandt-christ-mary-magdalene-tombBut sin has damaged our search for Him. We are created for happiness, and we instinctively seek it. But sin has blinded us to the true happiness for which we are created — the happiness of God Himself. The wounds of sin do not halt our search. They simply derail it, driving it in directions other than His. We seek rest in false gods.

We err in our search for Him, either by excess or by defect. By excess, when we try to satisfy the heart’s longing with the world’s offerings — in effect, attempt to quench a spiritual desire with a physical solution. So we chase after the world’s wealth, power and pleasure, hoping that it will satisfy our inner longing. We think that more will satisfy — more things, more control, more entertainment, etc. This misguided search leads to grave depravities — to abuse of drugs and alcohol, to addictions, to deceit and theft, and so on.

We err by defect when we settle, when we numb ourselves to the heart’s cries for fulfillment. We make ourselves comfortably numb to that longing. We make peace with the world and prefer its mediocre comforts to the agony of a heart that desires more. Rather than suffering the pains of a heart’s longing, we anesthetize ourselves.

What do you seek? Jesus’ question serves as a corrective to the heart wounded by sin. It reminds the tepid and mediocre that we have this longing within us, and we should heed it. The question prompts the misguided to turn aside from false gods and consider what truly satisfies the human heart. Just as hunger and thirst signal that we need food, so the longing of the heart reminds us that we are created for higher things. We have to stir ourselves to pursue them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they have not silenced the heart’s longing. And just as our physical hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by cotton candy and soda, so also the heart’s hunger and thirst cannot be satiated by the world’s offerings. We have to seek true nourishment.

And He leads us still further, revealing that we ultimately seek not a what but a whom. In the Garden of Gethsemane He confronts his persecutors with another question: “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 18:4-5). With this, Jesus reveals that He Himself is the goal of our search — even of those most opposed to Him. And in God’s Providence, His foes proclaim this truth despite themselves. Even as they trample the desires of the human heart, they mysteriously confess that they seek Jesus of Nazareth. The heart longs not for something, but for Someone, for Him. God alone satisfies.

Likewise on Easter morning, in yet another garden, our Lord puts the same fundamental question to Mary Magdalene: Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? (Jn 20:15). Mary represents our human nature wounded by sin and longing for healing. Jesus asks her these questions to stir up the awareness that she, who had sought happiness and peace in so many wrong places, ultimately seeks Him as her Savior.

What do you seek? Whom do you seek? We are the disciples at the Jordan, seeking something more but not knowing what. We are the soldiers in the garden, hostile to our Lord because He has become inconvenient. We are the Magdalene at the tomb, weeping for our sins and seeking a Savior. In each case we need to hear His voice, allow the questions to penetrate, and reply with appropriate zeal, repentance, and hope. Thy face, Lord, do I seek (Ps 27:8).

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By: Sr. Clare Hunter

I was nervous when the SUV pulled over to the side of the road while I was praying outside of an abortion facility in Falls Church with a group of students from Bishop O’Connell High School. The man driving it lowered the passenger side window. I could see his two young children in the back seat as he leaned across the seat and pointed to the building. With great emotion he yelled: “Shut that place down! My wife killed two of my children in there!” We were stunned, nodding our heads as he drove off, silenced by his emotion, pain and the reality of what abortion does to men, women and families. I will never forget that experience and it is one of the reasons I continue to go to pray outside of the abortion facilities.

40DaysforLifePraying outside of an abortion facility is never comfortable. Wearing a habit and veil all the time, I am used to the staring, but it is always heightened while praying outside of an abortion facility, especially when the occasional angry, derogatory shouts come from passing cars. One of the worst was at the end of reciting the rosary with Bishop Loverde and the group that had gathered after a monthly Respect Life Mass: A very angry, young woman walked by and asked if we were protesting. Bishop Loverde answered that we were praying to end abortion, at which point she started to swear and use derogatory terms. We all prayed for her. Usually we are encouraged by “we are with you” car horns, waves and thumbs up; but sometimes, not. It is always sobering to be praying, knowing that behind one of those windows a life is being taken and parents are going against their nature by ending life, rather than protecting it.

Is it worth the discomfort and very public witness of standing outside of a building to pray, and, God willing, help a woman in need to choose life? Absolutely! So many organizations and prayer efforts have moving stories of lives saved and parents helped. That day with the Bishop O’Connell students happened to be during a 40 Days for Life campaign. Founded as a grassroots effort by a handful of people in College Station, Texas, the program has grown in seven years, and with God’s grace have included: 625,000 individual participants, 17,000 churches, 3,039 total campaigns, 539 cities, 24 countries; 101 abortion workers have quit, 54 abortion facilities have closed, and 8,973 children have been saved from abortion!

40 Days for Life is a worldwide pro-life effort which includes prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil outside of abortion facilities and community outreach. For years the parishioners and parishes in the Arlington Diocese have participated in this campaign, and participants have shared wonderful stories of men and women changing their minds. The diocesan pregnancy assistance program Gabriel Project has helped countless women find medical, financial and emotional support. There have also been cases of post-abortive men and women contacting the Project Rachel hotline to begin to heal from the wounds that their abortion has brought into their lives.

This year, there are three locations for the 40 Days for Life campaign in the Arlington Diocese taking place September 24 through November 2. What do you say to joining this year? Do not be afraid! I encourage and invite you to give an hour, even with the potential shouts and stares, to save a life!

1. Amethyst Health Center for Women
9380-B Forestwood Lane
Manassas, Virginia

Contact: Jeanne Ostrich
703-598-7644
40dfl.manassas.scheduler@gmail.com

2. Falls Church Healthcare Center
900 South Washington Street
Falls Church, Virginia

Contact: Ruby Nicdao
703-795-2216
ruby40daysforlife@gmail.com

3. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic

Landmark Towers Apartment Building
101 South Whiting Street, 2nd floor
Alexandria, Virginia

Contact: Sara Dina
571-218-6224
sara.40days@cox.net

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By: Natalie Plumb

In my last post, I discussed decision-making, and the tendency of some Christians to “wait on God’s will” as a safety net — rather than making the hard decision between two positive choices, we fall back on waiting for some explicit sign from God.

falsehopeThis week, I wanted to discuss how, even when we do follow God’s will (I won’t go into details here and risk repeating last week’s post), we tend to start thinking in bargain form. We begin to treat God as if He were a human, expecting Him to “pay us back” with what we want in return. We might be tempted to think: “God, I did this for you. When are you going to pull through for me?”

Rather than writing a whole new piece on this subject, I figured I would just point you readers to “False hopes,” a stunning piece written by Arlington Catholic Herald columnist Mary Beth Bonacci. I was left meditating on my own life, and how I subconsciously face this challenge. Bonacci integrates everything — from C.S. Lewis’ wisdom, to her personal experience and that of others, all while answering the painful question: “But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?”

Read on…

“Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. It is after men have given in to the irremediable, after they have despaired of relief and ceased to think even a half-hour ahead that the dangers of humbled and gentle weariness begin. To produce the best results from the patient’s fatigue, therefore, you must feed him with false hopes.” — C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

For years, I have been thinking of writing a book for single Catholic adults. I’m thinking of calling it “Lies People Tell.”

A few weeks ago, I met with a young woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was, of course, sad and struggling. But she said that her friends were trying to cheer her up by telling her, “I just know that God has really great things in store for you.”

I thought of the line above, from C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters. The book, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to read it, is a fictional collection of instructional letters from a senior devil to his nephew, explaining to him the art of temptation. (Hence the somewhat diabolical-sounding advice.) In this passage, Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew that false hopes are deadly to the spiritual life.

People feed single Catholics this kind of spiritual junk food all the time. “God hasn’t forgotten you.” “God has somebody picked out for you, and He will reveal that person to you when the time is right.” And, my personal favorite, “If you date chastely, God will reward you with a spouse.”

It isn’t just singles. Everybody who has suffered in any way has heard some variation of this. “God will solve this.” “God will give you what you want.” “God will make it right.”

I was once doing a call-in radio show and got a call from “Roy from Boston.” Roy’s question was “So, what do you do when you’re getting into your late 30s, you’re losing your looks, you’ve been living by the rules, but God isn’t holding up His end of the bargain?”

I told Roy to speak for himself on the whole “losing your looks” thing.

I then told him that there is no “bargain” — that there is no Beatitude promising “blessed are the chaste, for they shall have a spouse by their 35th birthday.” God doesn’t work that way.

I think there is a real danger here — for singles, and for anybody else who believes that God is a God who somehow offers us guarantees in this life. We want to believe that’s who God is — the One who smooths the path for us, who grants us our hearts’ desires, who gives us whatever we want or expect or feel that we are owed.

But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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.

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By: Rev. Edward Horkan, Diocese of Arlington priest

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us…run the race that is before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1).

I recalled that line often when I prepared for and ran my first marathon two years ago as part of the Race for Seminarians for the Arlington Diocese. I had been running for 20 years, having initially taken up the sport mostly to keep company with a friend of mine and with the lawyers in the firm that I worked for. Over time, I have found that running, in addition to being good exercise that keeps us more fit, is very relaxing to the mind and even leads to more positive and creative thinking.

Father Edward Horkan (bottom left) racing for seminarians in the 2013 MCM 10K.

Father Edward Horkan (bottom left) racing for seminarians in the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon 10K.

It’s a constant temptation to dwell excessively upon the past, worry too much about the future, or be distracted by the superficial images of popular culture from the reality that God gives us — the real life through which we travel to the greater kingdom. Running requires a concentrated and sustained effort to focus on the present and real challenges on the path before us. This willingness to take on a demanding task, this disciplining of the body and concentration of the mind, makes us more open to the true joy that God offers. While certainly on a lesser plane than prayerful contemplation, this sacrifice and consistent application leads to a peace and exhilaration that reflects the uplifting of one’s heart and mind to the higher kingdom.

In 2011, I joined the Race for Seminarians by running the 10K that is connected to the Marine Corps Marathon to help our generous and enthusiastic seminarians, who sometimes come from modest circumstances, to avoid financial anxieties. After running this 10K, I resolved, with some encouragement from friends, to take on a greater challenge and run the full marathon, asking kind donors to sponsor me in this effort for the diocese and our seminarians. And once again this year, I am running the marathon for our current seminarians, and also to encourage young men to consider joining the noble brotherhood of priests. As with past years, I look forward to the common sacrifice and struggle of fellow runners in this cause, an effort that builds a sense of companionship, sharing with each other and the world the joy and adventure of our faith.

Find out more at the RFS Kickoff on Sept. 4 from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington. The evening will include a taco bar, tips from a trainer, and information on the Race for Seminarians. The deadline to RSVP to the Office of Vocations on Facebook or at vocations@arlingtondiocese.org is Sept. 1. You can sign up for the actual Race for Seminarians here.

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Rev. Edward Horkan is a parochial vicar at St. James Church in Falls Church. An avid runner, he has been participating in the Race for Seminarians since 2011, its inaugural year.

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