“Words are cheap,” he said.

This is what my friend replied in response to my suggestion that he write a letter to express his frustration and displeasure about how the church is handling one of its difficult current issues.

He’s an extremely bright, critical thinker and has a particular gift for written expression. I could do nothing to change or effect the issues he was writing to me about — except to pray for our church and its leaders and him, which I already do. He has strong opinions and questions and a desire to engage on the subject. So, I suggested he write and share his thoughts.

“Word are cheap,” he said in reply.

I have not yet responded to his dismissal, Father. But, I feel You are bit by bit giving me the words to say to him. Help me, if it’s Your will, to tell him how powerful our words are — all of them — and how crucial they can be, when they are speaking Your truth.

Words have power. My friend’s not wrong that some words can come cheap: Throw-away lines; thoughtless sarcasm; words that cut and are cruel, mean-spirited and malicious. Words can slander and mislead. They can give aid and comfort to the Father of Lies, who seeks to separate and divide us from one another and Our Lord, Your Word made flesh.

But, Father, You breathed our world into existence. Your words spoke us into creation. You sent Jesus Christ, Your Word made flesh, to us to help our humanity come to understand and develop right relationship with Your divinity.

With a few words You called a little girl back from death; Lazarus, too. And You calmed the storm and the fears of Your disciples when they were at sea.

You calm us, too, whenever we turn to You during the storms of our own lives. With only three words of love from my own angel when she said, “Don’t be afraid,” You calmed my fears and walked with me step by step as I was threatened and assaulted by a (ill-advised) hitchhiker. [Read the whole story here.]

Words are powerful. Words that speak Your truth can be the seeds necessary to speak to souls, to help change lives. We may never understand their influence on others. We may not get to see the changes in them or experience the fruits of words You’ve given us to plant — Thy Will be done in Your Time to Your Purpose.

But even if words speaking Your truth never find a welcome home in others, they nonetheless strengthen our own spirit and understanding. These words are not cheap or hollow or void of meaning and value. They go out, then they come back to us with on-going blessing.

When You call us to be Your own — when You choose us, Father — You promise to give us the right words — Your words — and then You choose how and when to bless them and help them to grow.

You commission us to act here on earth as Your body — ears, eyes, arms, hands, voice. And just as Your voice spoke our world into creation at the beginning, You place the divinity of Your Holy Spirit in us to speak and so to act with You — to plant seeds, to help light a fire for You in others.

Whether the fire takes hold in them or dies is not our concern, only Yours, Father.

So be it. Your will be done.

Answered prayer

A while back, I prayed for Your guidance, Father, on how to share my faith — how to evangelize, even though that seems WAY too big a word for what I think I’m capable of.

Not long after, You answered me through a daily meditation published in Word Among Us magazine. You knew I read the prescribed daily scripture readings there, along with Word Among Us meditations on each day’s readings. Before all the busy-ness of the day takes hold of my attention, these readings — Your Word — help give me focus each day.

On this day Your Word was right on point with an answer to my earlier prayer. How could You be clearer, Lord, about sharing my faith? Thank You.

And to help me remember over and over again going forward, here’s what You said to me in that day’s meditation:

When they came to the town they reported everything. (Matthew 8:33)

Shouting demoniacs, possessed pigs, sprinting swineherds, and terrified townspeople—this has to be one of the most colorful stories in Matthew’s Gospel! But did you know that this is also the first story about Gentiles sharing the good news about Jesus? Imagine you were there when the swineherds raced into the town square to tell their story after they had encountered Jesus:

“You’ll never believe what happened! There we were, tending our pigs away from the tombs because we knew about those two demoniacs. But a group of men speaking Aramaic came ashore and got out of a boat—and the demoniacs charged right at them, screaming something about being tormented! The men didn’t run away. Instead, the man in front started gesturing toward our pigs. The next thing we know, our entire herd went racing toward the cliff and threw themselves into the sea. Every one of them drowned! We were terrified. How could this stranger do that?

“Right after that happened, we could see the demoniacs, but they weren’t violent any more. They seemed peaceful, calm. Even happy. And this man, this foreigner, had something to do with it. We just had to tell everyone! Who could this man be?”

Sometimes evangelism is simply sharing what has happened to you, what you have observed or experienced. The swineherds give us an example of what it looks like to share the good news, but for each one of us, it will be different. That’s because each of our stories is different!

But don’t forget; the townspeople weren’t half as enthusiastic as the swineherds. They ran to Jesus—and begged him to leave! They responded with fear, not faith. These townspeople show us that the response of our audience is not in our control.

You may not see the response you’re hoping for when you try to share your faith. But don’t worry. All you can do—all God asks you to do—is share what you’ve seen and heard. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to inspire a response.

Each one of us has a story. Whatever yours is, share it! (Emphasis added)

Jesus, you are amazing. Give me the chance to tell people what I have seen.”

And yet, I’ve needed continued reassurance and encouragement that this is Your desire for me. I’ve needed continual reminders to get myself and my ego out of the way and let You do the work; let You write the words; let You touch others’ hearts; let You use me to Your purposes.

At times, I’ve needed You to strengthen my faith, even as I feed my own fears.

Thank You, Holy Lord, for not losing patience with me, and for continually reminding me that evangelization may a too big word for what I think I’m capable of, but it’s You — always You, Father — who makes every thing I say or do have meaning and value.

Speak God’s truth. Leave the rest to Him.

Dear Holy Father,

I come to You in this place most often not having any idea what I want to say or what to focus on.

I’m never quite sure how to know if You have something You want to say to me. Eventually, You seem to speak, after I’ve quieted my mind and my heart a bit from the demands of my daily routine.

Yesterday, I began my writing with what I thought was purpose and direction. I was anxious to capture the lessons I’d learned about prayer and, in particular, the message I heard from our priest in his Sunday homily.

But maybe my clue to the problem that unfolded is captured in the word, ‘anxious.’

The words I wrote struggled to do justice to the message or to the feelings I had as I experienced Your message.

Listening to our priest speak felt like I was hearing directly from You.

Now, our priest is a nice guy. He’s young, not particularly polished yet as a speaker or as a homilist. Or at least I’ve never perceived that about him. He’s a bit awkward and seems like he’s reading his words rather than speaking Your truth.

Well, that was what I used to think, until his two most recent Masses. ‘Extraordinary’ isn’t too big a word for my reaction. Maybe not even ‘transcendent.’

I found myself, twice now, transfixed and hanging on his every word.

Thank You, Father. I guess it isn’t necessary to feel those feelings whenever a priest speaks, but to feel them at all — to sense Your presence in real time, at work through our priest speaking directly to me — was sublime. Thank You.

And maybe it demonstrates something more.

I struggle with my words here…working to make them just right. I feel frustrated when I can’t seem to capture in them the transcendent quality that I so often experience when I’m talking with You. If I can’t find words to communicate that most sublime sense of Your presence, I end up not wanting to share anything at all with others.

And yet, it wasn’t our priest or his words that was key, was it?

The fact is, I’ve heard the same lessons he was preaching on from several other priests in different situations, through different media.

Rather, it was Your grace that took his words as he spoke them and somehow, breathed Your own breath of love on them as You delivered them to my open heart.

The lesson? We need to speak Your truth, Holy Father, and leave the rest to You. Just as You gave all the right words in all the right languages to Your disciples at Pentacost, You can work with our words, our heartfelt expressions of Your truths.

So long as we express them out loud to others in love, You can bless them with Your grace and make of them the transcendent, sublime messages other open hearts are waiting to receive.

Sowing (and sacrificing) seeds of Your love and mercy

My Holy Lord,

Bless me, Father, this day, and my words and actions to Your holy purpose.

It’s my sister’s birthday today. And currently she’s upset with me. When that happens, she cuts herself off from me and avoids our conversations. I think I know the most recent cause.

I sent her one of Bishop Barron’s homilies on Spiritual and Religious. She and I had had a conversation in which she had told me she really didn’t believe in Christ and Christianity; that she was “spiritual.”

Bishop Barron’s homily on this precise subject was so gentle and welcoming and clear. We can find God in all things, all places, but only in Christ are we able to enter into a personal relationship with You. Only through Christ do You call us to be You own, heirs to Your kingdom, Your adopted children, part of Your family. When we are chosen by You, all we have to do is say ‘yes,’ and believe and submit our will to Yours.

Well, Bishop Barron said it all better than I have. But the upshot upon hearing his homily was my desire to share it with my sister since it spoke to precisely the issues she and I had been discussing. It felt as though You were encouraging me to act, to evangelize Your truth to her.

Sadly, as has happened before, my words were not only rebuffed, but a rift resulted. So, I’m confused. I don’t seemed to know how to share You with others, without causing relationships to be severed.

I don’t think this is Your desire…and yet…

Maybe You want me to sow these seeds and shake up the worlds of these people You call me to evangelize. Disturb them enough that You’re able to get their attention. Maybe my relationship with each of them is the sacrifice (long or short-term) that is required to save their souls.

I pray that You bless her on her birthday today and help me to let her know that I love her, despite how troubled her feelings may be about me and You.

On evangelization

Dear Holy Father,

I was listening to Bishop Barron on evangelization this morning as I walked at the gym. He emphasized how we are all called to evangelize and went ahead to define some of the parameters of how and when and with whom.

You have tried to lead me on this in the past. I don’t know if I’m just thick or whether You’re not ready for me to venture out in the ways I have attempted, but I continue to feel a fair bit of confusion about the how and when and with whom aspects of it all.

I feel pretty certain that You have taught me that ‘I can’t show what I don’t know.” That I need my own training first before I can speak confidently about Christ.

And I feel like I have tried to demonstrate my love for You by my actions and what it is I spend my time and talent and treasure on, by how I live my life. So far, so good. But it feels there is more that I could do, should do to engage others and encourage their query about how You might fit into their lives.

Several instances come to mind of when I have stepped out with the tiniest of little toes to test the shallowest of waters of others’ receptivity.

Relatives

My sister, in particular, responded to me in a recent conversation saying, ‘I wish you wouldn’t talk that way. I don’t know how to talk with you when you talk like that.’ I don’t remember precisely what we were talking about, but it had something to with my faith experience. That time and a couple of others she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to engage with me on the subject of faith. I haven’t told her yet that by saying this, she’s preempted from our relationship the most important part of my life and who I am. I probably will at some point, but it has so far seemed a hard message to deliver (for me) without seeming accusatory.

I thought about a homily from Bishop Barron that I’ve heard recently on how to speak about our faith. His suggestion is to lead with beauty and that goodness and truth … maybe even unity will follow. I have yet to understand what this means for me or how to apply this in my own speech.

Close Friends and Family

For reasons that You and I have discussed before, Father, I have begun to wear a chapel veil whenever I’m in church in Your presence. It feels right. It has an almost healing effect. It helps me to feel more humble, to act and think with greater humility and charity, to remember to continually put my ego away, to be hidden, to focus all my attention on You, to allow Your word, Your spirit to find a more welcoming home in me.

As would happen, we attended church with friends and I wore my veil. It was noticed. But it quickly became obvious that it was not a topic either of them were comfortable mentioning or asking me about. You intervened and gave me an opportunity to broach the subject with the other wife while our husbands were off somewhere. She was polite, but showed little curiosity about this most important, sweetest part of my life. So there was no further chance to discuss these small ways that I am being drawn closer and closer to You. It often causes me to feel disconnected and detached from people who have been some of my closest friends over the years.

Several months later: Maybe the veil and other ways I demonstrate my love for You are just seeds planted and the rest is up to You. Wanting to continue to not only have a role of some sort in others’ growth in their relationship with You, but to be somehow credited for it, is just my ego getting in the way of Your purpose. If feeling alienated or divided from others is an outcome of sin, then the sin in this case must be my own egotistical need for power and influence. Instead, I should be thankful for the opportunity You gave me to share my faith and leave the rest to You. Thank you, Father.

Others

Several years ago when You first engulfed me with Your overwhelming love for me, I began a blogging website. I practiced it for a couple of years. But my energy for it dried up. I’ve since been certain that I had allowed this work to become more about me and not nearly enough about You in my life.

Now, today, several years hence, I’m still sorting how to You want me to proceed. Starting and stopping doesn’t feel right. One of the lessons I feel You have been trying to teach me, Holy Father, throughout the years is if I’m confused or lack clarity of Your purpose, it’s probably not time yet to venture out.

So, heavenly Father, I pray that You help convict my spirit for how to move forward. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

——————————
Two months later:

Hallelujah. Thank you, Father,

You answered this prayer at last night’s vigil service. Our priest, in persona Christi, spoke of how we are called to evangelize and to spread the good news. It felt as though he was speaking directly to me when he spoke of the new technology You have given to the world. Through the internet we all have an immense opportunity to reach people far flung throughout the world. He said we might not ever know who benefits from our work or our words. Their effect may not even be felt until long after we’re gone from this earth. He said it was a holy calling, just as You have been trying to say to me here. He spoke to me — You spoke to me — loudly and clearly.

And I sat there transfixed. I’ve heard it all before, of course, but this time it clicked. I knew it was You speaking personally, directly to me, answering my prayers for spiritual direction and clarity.

Thank you Father.

Evangelism

Sun thru monkey treeEvangelism has been a difficult concept for me. I’ve never thought I knew enough. I can’t quote Bible verses from memory. I don’t have a complete understanding of church history or teaching. My words can sound sanctimonious and saccharin even to my own ear. In the un-churched community in which I live I fear my witness would do more to offend than to welcome.

Yet, as I have begun to know our Lord better, I’ve at times felt as though I would burst if I didn’t find some way to share His beauty and gentleness and love with others. It’s a natural outcome of His sharing His abundance with me, who has done so little to deserve it.

When we don’t know how to do something that at the same time feels so urgent, it’s often true that our understanding of our purpose is lacking. My concept of evangelism in this case has been faulty and incomplete.

This morning Henri Nouwen addressed “The Fruit of the Spirit” in his book of daily meditations, Bread for the Journey. He says,

Often we think that to witness means to speak up in defense of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious. We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of our conversations and how to convince our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues of God’s presence in their lives.

But this explicit missionary endeavor often comes from an insecure heart and, therefore, easily creates divisions.

Talk about an arrow straight to my heart. “…an insecure heart…creates divisions.” Here’s the nut,

The way God’s Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). These fruit speak for themselves. It is, therefore, always better to raise the question “How can I grow in the Spirit?” than the question “How can I make others believe in the Spirit?”

I’m not sure there are words to express the relief I felt as I read this. My job is to grow myself. I’m increasingly certain I can do that.

Henri continues in the next meditation to discuss “Right Living and Right Speaking” saying that,

To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world. What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking. When we forgive our neighbors from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words. When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words.

Father, I pray Your grace guides my heart and my actions and my words; that they honor You and are acceptable in Your sight; that they bless those You bring into my life.