Run into God’s arms — he loves you

As I have confessed to you many times before, I do not consider myself a good pray-er. My prayer is often dry. Dry as in, “is anybody listening?” Not that it doesn’t “count” or anything, but I am hardly a mystic.

So when something dramatic happens in prayer, I often take it as a sign that it is not just for me, but to be shared with all of you as well.

It was a few days ago. While praying, I tried to imagine how God was seeing me at that moment. Immediately, I received an image of Jesus Christ, Savior of the Universe, with open arms and a huge smile on his face, welcoming me the way I used to welcome my nieces and nephews when they were little (and still excited to see me), and ran full speed into my arms. He was doing the same, ready to catch me as I ran to him, and delighting in it the same way I used to delight in the joy in their little, miraculous faces.

I know, it could have just been my imagination. But the immediacy and vividness made it feel like something more.

Even it was just my own imagination, it still reflects the truth. It staggers me to think that he could love me as much as I love the five beautiful children he has placed in my life. And yet, my faith tells me that he loves me even more. Infinitely more. That is almost impossible for me to fathom. Still.

As I said, I think this little vision is for you as much as for me. To help you see and maybe begin to grasp his love for you.

We have all heard that “God is love.” Repeatedly. Some of us even affixed the phrase to felt banners in our CCD classes back in the ‘70’s. But, at some point, we hear it so much that it becomes just another meaningless phrase. How many of us really know it? How many of us really base our faith in a relationship with a Father who loves us madly?

I think that, no matter how often we hear that God is Love, it is all too easy to revert to a rules-based mentality. To be “holy”, I just have to do “x” and “y.” Avoid sin. Say the rosary. Try not to have too much fun.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, it is all true. (Except, of course, the fun part.) But on its own, it isn’t going to make you holy. And, without a thriving, active relationship with God, it’s going to be difficult to sustain any merely rules-based program.

My favorite saint, St. John Paul II, said that once we start asking what we are supposed to do, we have left the realm of love and entered the realm of ethics. When somebody is in love, the “rules” come naturally. A man in love doesn’t ask “How many times am I supposed to send flowers? How many buds per delivery?” He wants to show his love, as often and as many ways as possible. It overflows.

When we are in love with God, we want to serve him. We’re looking for ways to serve him more. It gives us joy.

The problem, of course, is that God is generally unseen. It’s easy to have a reciprocal relationship with a flesh-and-blood person. But two-way conversations with the Lord of the Universe are a little harder to come by.

There are two important keys to a real, loving, two-way relationship with God. The first is Scripture. If you’re in love with someone, you want to learn everything you can about them. All the more important when we can’t tangibly see our Beloved. How do we get to know God better? By reading his love story, the Bible. We see God’s first revelations to his people. We see Christ in action, curing the sick and welcoming sinners. We see his sacrifice for us.

If we aren’t studying Scripture, the God we worship might very well be the product of our own imaginations, and not the actual God who has revealed himself to us.

The second key is prayer — the heart of the relationship. It’s where we talk to him. Our prayer shouldn’t just be rote recitation of formulas. It should be true communication, a sharing of the heart. St. Teresa of Avila said that “prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” We pour our hearts out to him. We share our struggles. We thank him for our blessings. We ask for his help.

And, if we can manage to block out the noise of our lives, we will find that God speaks to us, through prayer and through Scripture.

I want you to do a little exercise for me. Close your eyes and ask God to surround you with his peace and protection. And then imagine him, with outstretched arms and a big smile on his face, waiting to catch you as you run to him.

And then pray. Talk to that guy. Pour out your heart to him.

He loves you.

Featured photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA