With age comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom. I’ve lived long enough to know that my hope lies not in political answers being provided to solve the ills of this world. Indeed I no longer believe man is himself capable of solving them. He simply is not capable of getting out of his own way.
As Msgr. Charles Pope wrote on September 30th:
At the end of the day, government cannot remedy our fallen tendency to be obtuse, rebellious, greedy, and licentious. It is really more the role of culture and the presence of a strong, prophetic, organized, and effective Church that must, by God’s grace, work to remedy the worst of the ills we face. The notion of a large government role in creating a just society is too easily a form of utopianism.
Monsignor Pope goes on to say that
“Fulton Sheen once remarked that we have tried every means to change the world but one: holiness. Government cannot save us; only God can save us. And God works through grace and the transformation of the world—one soul at a time.
As one commenter in that article said: Caesar gives us license; only God grants us liberty. It is in wisdom that my experience has also taught me that I am, in fact, a Catholic first and am American second. I love my country very deeply. But if push comes to shove (and it appears that shoving is an integral part of the political landscape nowadays) I will stand with Christ and not with Caesar, no matter what political party he or she belongs to. I’m in full agreement with Heather King when she wrote:
I’ve hitch-hiked across my country; our country. I’ve driven back and forth across it twice. I’ve camped, hiked, and walked its mountains, deserts and streets. I’ve prayed on its freeways, wept at its beauty, grieved at its struggles. But, bound by the First Commandment, I don’t worship a flag. I don’t kneel before a political system. I don’t adore a military power.
I kneel before the altar in a Catholic church. I worship Christ.
I don’t believe that it’s a reactionary hyperbole to say that what I just wrote above can or will be used against me or my loved ones one day. In this age of endless war, unfettered government surveillance and drones flying over our heads can we honestly say otherwise? When the full force of the government can be used to force otherwise innocuous bakers into the courtroom where they will lose not only their business but their freedom by ordered into “sensitivity training” can we seriously say that there is no longer a risk to hold certain positions in this country and give voice to them? That is a world of “political truth”, which means only that the truth can change depending upon the zeitgeist of the day and whatever political party in power.
There are no political solutions man is capable of to alleviate the ills and injustices of our world. There is only holiness. There is only God. I can’t tell you for certain when I realized this. In fact, it was many years ago. But I didn’t accept it until the last year or two. It was then that my interest landed fully in the school of prayer. It was also then that I came to realize and accept the fact that living and professing a lifestyle of prayer will involve my learning to be more selfless and in a way selling myself out to this end. There is no other way to go but “all in”.
As I’ve written before I’ve been reading many books and articles on prayer for the past year. But I’m also doing it. Not just reading, thinking, understanding, planning or imagining myself praying. I am participating in prayer. In his book Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius Press, 2000) Peter Kreeft warns us to “not be like the theologian who after death was given the choice between going to Heaven or going to a lecture on Heaven and chose the lecture.”
I choose Heaven.
Too often anymore we say to someone who is in pain things such as “sending positive thoughts your way.” Or “sending you positive vibes.” Or “my thoughts and prayers are with you.” Of the three, the last one is the worst in my opinion because the first two are New Ageist poppycock, but if you tell someone you are sending prayers their way you should at least make an attempt to follow up on it. But we cover ourselves in a security blanket by adding “thoughts” to that phrase. We won’t pray for you, but we’ll think of you. Or at least we will until we scroll down to the next headline or social media post.
Then again, perhaps that’s why so many revert to the “positive vibes” nonsense. They don’t want to be held responsible for their actions or to get involved. It’s easier and less incriminating to type a flippant bit of folderol and move on.
The very definition of prayer is a conversation with the Creator of the Universe. If you tell me you are going to have that conversation on my behalf shouldn’t you at least follow through? Besides, every time I see someone is sending out positive vibes I imagine them doing this:
Below are some quotes I underlined in just the first four chapters of Kreeft’s little book. The pictures are from my visit yesterday afternoon to the Holy Family Shrine near Gretna, Nebraska on I-80. As you can see it was a rainy, overcast day. I’ve never been there during a sunrise, but I can tell you from experience that the sunsets can be nothing short of spectacular from that vantage point.
Eating keeps your body alive, and prayer keeps your soul alive. Praying is more important than eating because your soul is more important than your body. Your soul is more important than your body because your soul is you, your personality, your self. You will get a new body after death, in the resurrection at the end of the world. But you will not get a new soul; you will only purify and sanctify your old one, because you are your soul. The “you” that will get a new body is your soul. (p.11)
Why pray? Because only prayer can save the world. … nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer. (p.14)
[Prayers] correspond to our three deepest needs, the fundamental needs of the three powers of our soul: prayer gives truth to our mind, goodness to our will, and beauty to our heart. (p.15-16)
Prayer gives truth to our mind because it puts us in the presence of Truth itself, the divine Mind who designed our minds and our lives and our whole universe. …we need to rehearse now for what we will be doing forever in Heaven, if we want to be utterly practical and realistic. (p.17)
Praying is like gardening: the growing of something alive—in this case, alive for eternity. It is gradual, and it is invisible, but it is the difference between life and death. … Prayer is plant food. This plant—your soul—is going to be transplanted at death into an immortal, eternal garden. (p.18)
Brother Lawrence says, in The Practice of the Presence of God, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it (Letter 5). (p.18)
Prayer is the only way to spiritual progress. (p.21)
We must pray in order to grow, and we must grow because Infinite Love will not, cannot, settle for less than the greatest joy of which his beloved creature is capable. Even good earthly fathers want the very best for their children; why do we expect our Heavenly Father to be any less demanding and leave us alone? That is what uncles do, not fathers. Christ did not teach us to pray, “Our Uncle who art in Heaven.” (p.22-23)
Prayer is necessary because without it we cannot attain the meaning of life, the end and purpose of our existence. Becoming saints is the meaning of life. It is why we exist. It is why God created us. (p.23)
Prayer is our first step in becoming saints. The second step is charity, a life of love, the ecstasy of giving ourselves away over and over again forever, as each of the Persons of the Trinity do. (p.24)
The single most important piece of advice about prayer is one word: Begin! (p. 25)
Life contains many hardships and pains, but prayer is not one of them. (p.26)
Prayer is love. To love anyone is to seek his presence, to seek intimacy and union. (You do not love someone if you do not want to spend time with him). Love is also communication. (You do not love someone if you do not want to talk with him and get to know him better.) (p.26-27)
It is true, as John Bunyan said, that God infinitely prefers a heart without words to words without a heart when we pray. (p.28)
The familiarity of prayer is wonderful because it is familiarity with God. (p.29)
All photos taken by the author with an iPhone 5s.