Archbishop reveals ways to grow in prayer

Nissa LaPoint

The best way for faithful to speak to God is to open their hearts to him, sharing their desires and seeking graces, Archbishop Samuel Aquila said.

“It’s entering into that union and a conversation like we have with one another,” the archbishop said about prayer. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that prayer is really the lifting up of our hearts to God. And it’s, in the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a gaze at God or a movement within our hearts to speak heart-to-heart with the Lord.”

Archbishop Aquila spoke about prayer in a series of podcasts released this month shared by a new local ministry called Ask a Bishop. Anand Bheemarasetti and his wife, Lindsey, of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, launched what they describe as a “digital school of life and faith,” designed to share bishops’ answers to faith queries through multimedia.

In one podcast the archbishop said faithful can learn about prayer from the Gospels.

“We are told in the Gospel that Jesus would often go to a quiet place to pray and to truly be in communion with the Father,” the archbishop said in the podcast titled “Should You Pray to Jesus or God the Father?”

He continued that Christ shows that the will of God was his deepest desire in prayer.

“So, too, are we called in prayer to conform our will to the Father,” he said. “And in teaching us to pray, Jesus reminded us to go into the quiet of our rooms and also taught us the great prayer of Our Father. That immediately teaches us that as his disciples, as we pray, our prayer is to be directed to the Father.”

And there’s more than one way to grow in prayer, he said, such as having gratitude for the beauty of creation.

“I remember when I was in college often times I’d be at the top of a mountain and it’d be a crisp clear day and I’d be getting ready to ski down the mountain,” Archbishop Aquila shared. “And I was just captured by the beauty of creation itself, and I would lift up my heart in gratitude to God for the gift of creation. … Beauty often times puts us in touch with the Lord.”

Reading Scripture and prayerfully considering how God is speaking to a person’s life and heart is key to growing in prayer.

“It’s important prior to that time to pray to the Holy Spirit and really ask the Holy Spirit, ‘Open my heart, help me to listen, grant me a heart that is receptive to your word,” the archbishop explained. “And by doing that and then prayerfully reading the Scripture, we’re more receptive and open to really hear the Lord speaking to us.”

Faithful can also learn to pray by reading the dialogue between Christ and characters in the Gospel.

“Often times we can learn to pray by looking at some of the dialogues of Jesus with others in Gospel. For example, with the apostles, with Peter, with the Samaritan woman,” he said. “It’s a very lengthy dialogue and a very beautiful dialogue and one that gradually leads her to faith. And prayer should always be leading us into a deeper faith, trust and confidence in God.”

 

 

Anand Bheemarasetti and his wife, Lindsey, pictured with their children, started the nonprofit Ask a Bishop that features videos, podcasts and social media posts about the faith. Photo provided

 

 

      Ask a Bishop
      Website: www.askabishop.com

 

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.