Freewill does not mean Free Reign
By Pat Miron
How prayer worked in my life
“All Saints were sinners and …All Sinners Can be saints”
But who are you, a man to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me thus?’ ‘Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?’ ” Rom: 9: 20-21 God is the potter, and we are the clay obligated to cooperate with His holy will and permit Him to mold us and use us for His greater glory in what ever manner best serves His purpose.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Mt: 28: I9-20 These words of Christ apply to you and me. We don’t exist on an island in a vacuum; the laws of God bind all of His children. Those expressed by Christ, in the bible, and His teaching authority, the Magisterium, are as valid and binding today as on the date of issue. Catholicism is not a cafeteria style, pick and choose religion. If we are to be fully spiritually nourished, we take it all in, obey all its laws and rules, such is necessary for our salvation.
Christ owned nothing, but possessed everything. We, who live in the most affluent, dispersed wealth economy in the world’s history, have a grave obligation to share with others what God has given us. Whether it is (in our perception) little, or a lot. We are to share all of our gifts, money, time and talents; we are to spend ourselves in the vineyard of our Lord and God.
This is an easier “sermon” to preach, than to live. As I look back on the many challenges that my wife Karen and I have had to face, and continue to face, with a daughter and two grandchildren living with us, it is clearly evident that we are not made to “go it alone.” The Holy Spirit is a necessity, not a luxury.
Thus far we have looked at several kinds and aspects of prayer. As a testimony of the merciful love of God and the power of prayer, I will share the effects of the graces available through prayer evidenced in my life
After we were married, “stereo typical male” that I seem to be at times; I was completely focused on getting ahead, and “daddy practicing” and not at all concerned about God; like a favorite toy, I put religion on a shelf for safekeeping. I was simply too busy to “play” with it at the time. After an affair and the threat of divorce, it would still be awhile before my (thank God!), good religious upbringing would finally take hold.
I was raised in a Catholic orphanage, without the benefit of parental role modeling guidance until my- mid – teen years. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the silly notion that the husband’s primary (as in only) duty was providing for the material welfare of his family and everything else-was the wife’s responsibility. Habits, both good and bad, are difficult to break. I~ ~ was doing my “Catholic duty.” Attended Holy Mass regularly, gave financial support to the Church, and I even sang in the choir. But oh, how I love to work! I’m a workaholic
My conversion experience:
My high regard for selfish, self -focused behavior had to have a negative impact on my marriage. After many job relocation’s, mostly due to promotions, much loneliness for Karen, and having destroyed the walls of the faith in each other so necessary to keep a marriage together, Karen informed me that she “needed more” than I had demonstrated the willingness to give. She filed for an uncontested divorce and received full custody of our two kids. I had come half way; I was now for many years, faithful in our union, but still wrongly focused on getting ahead, and not assuming my God given role as a father and a dad. I really loved Karen and our kids, but labored under the egregious impression that the way to demonstrate that love was to buy them “stuff,” lots of stuff!
The divorce was the most excruciating experience of my life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I found the experience to be humiliating. It shook the core of my soul, my self-confidence was destroyed in a single blow, and I was forced to face my nothingness, old feelings of being unlovable were given new life. Knowing that it was my own doing was of little comfort. I was knocked to my knees physically and spiritually. Seemingly by instinct (the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit), I knew that even though I was unlovable, Jesus still loved me. I attempted to give my pain to Him. In His mercy, and through His Divine Providence, My life – long (over fourty years) friend and mentor Al, with the support of his wife, would not permit me to drown in my own self-pity. At the time they were very active in the Charismatic Movement in the greater Detroit area, and as was God’s will the National Conference would be coming soon to the Michigan State campus, and I should plan on attending. This was not so much a suggestion, as an order.
Like many Catholics of the time, my Catholicism was just that, my (as in private and personal) Catholicism. There was little if any instruction or understanding of being an active member of the Church Militant. Holy Mass was in Latin, and we prayed mostly by ourselves, except for the Holy Rosary, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which was also in Latin, and the Holy Stations of the Cross. These were the legitimate reasons for Vatican II renewal and call for more active participation. I agreed conditionally to attend the two – day conference, even though I knew that I would be extremely uncomfortable by the physical, very vocal, and public display of showing God that we love Him. I have always been able to speak to a group, but strangely this didn’t spill over to a comfort level of mixing with strangers at a party, or sharing my faith beliefs. They promised to leave God and me alone, but didn’t keep their promise. The Conference was held in the Michigan State basketball stadium, which I would estimate, holds about thirty thousand fans. The attendees of the National Charismatic Conference filled about half of the seating.
On the first day I sat by myself near the top of the bleachers. There wasn’t a soul within twenty rows of where I was seated. Shortly before Holy Mass, which was around noon, (the ~conference started at nine a.m.), four very senior citizens came and sat directly behind me. I was amazed that they had the physical ability to climb that high and annoyed that they choose to sit by me when there were oh so many better options. No greetings were exchanged. It was announced that we would sing a few songs prior to the celebration of Holy Mass to get us more in the spirit, and to better prepare our souls for Christ coming. Two of the seniors sang so poorly (and loudly) ~ that I considered moving so I could better meditate and prepare for Holy Mass. The only reason I didn’t do it was to avoid embarrassing both the elders and myself.
Holy Mass began, and we started to sing the entrance song; all of a sudden I became aware that no longer was the singing behind me a distraction, but in fact had become the most beautiful singing that I had ever heard. Clearly all four were joined in this profoundly beautiful praise to God. I stopped singing and listened; it was as though the heavenly host was serenading God and me. Even stranger, right after the song was completed, the four seniors, without a word left for parts unknown. Wow! Suddenly, I felt as though a great burden had been lifted from my soul, and my spirit, was able to better focus on the rite of Holy Mass. The balance of the day went without incident.
Day two began at eight a.m., with a prayer service and praise. Charismatic’s are really big on vocal praise. Soon after the morning prayer and praise their was a break, and my friend Al climbed the bleachers to my perch, and hauled be down to the floor of the stadium, where a special group of nuns and laity were going to pray over me. They seemed to either know or sense my pain, and got me to admit how badly I was hurting. I confessed to wanting more than any other favor from God, to be reunited with Karen and the kids. (Karen allowed me free access to the kids and I saw them several times every week.) They prayed over me, touched me hugged me and somehow (God’s grace) I knew that God was personally very interested in my plight. The highlight of day two was to be a healing Mass, and a blessing time that would allow one to be slain -in -the – Spirit, which is a blessing where one is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and goes unconscious for a short period. A bit similar to passing out, but one does not collapse, but rather falls backwards into the arms of the waiting helper, who lays them gently on the floor, until they come back around.
My friend AI who is well over six feet tall and about two hundred and fifty pounds, was assisted by a person half his build, and who with the grace of God, handled his weight as thought he were but a child. This blessing is too a special gift from God; one must be a firm believer in order for the blessing to take effect.
At the healing Mass were a nun from Africa, and a priest from parts unknown. Both were reported to be blessed with the gift of physical healing. I confess I have never doubted God’s ability or desire to heal us when it was His Holy Will; I had never witnessed any healing before, but was not the least bit skeptical. That day I witnessed multiple healing, through the power of Almighty God, and the hands of these two blessed and faithful people. Crippled were healed and made to walk, sight was restored, cancer was cured and while I prayed for each soul brave enough, and faith filled enough to present themselves healing. I had declined repeatedly the opportunity to present myself for healing as I have suffered all my life from a serious intermittent back condition that was aggravated while I was in the US Air Force, and subsequently I was medically discharged for it. My medical prognosis was that by age forty I could expect to not be unable to walk unaided
While all this was going on, sitting all alone near the top of the stadium, which has a circle of windows near the top, I became aware of a strong light off to my left. At first I paid it little attention, as I thought it might be the sun. What got my attention was that it continued to move slowly but steadily towards me. Suddenly I lost focus of the heading’s, fully aware that I was witnessing real miracles before my very eyes, and prayerfully grateful to God for the blessings. As the light got closer to being directly in front of me, I knew that I was in the presence of God, and I knew mysteriously, that He came to visit me, but why? The answer was immediate! When the light stopped right in front of me (I was only a row or two below the window line) it became so bright that I had to shut my eyes. Suddenly I felt and intense heat in my lower back, in the area of my then constant pain. I knew that I was being healed, and uttered in total amazement, why me Lord? I knew that I was a sinner and that our Lord knew well what I was, what I am. No sooner had I uttered, why me Lord, than the light and the heat disappeared. I felt completely at peace for the first time in a long time. I refocused on what was taking place before me, looked around, sure that someone else had seen the light, but there was no evidence that anyone else had. The day went on, and I just sat there and prayed. I didn’t feel any different physically, but spiritually I was floating on a cloud.
Later that evening when a group of us met to discuss the day’s events, there was a joy that can only be had by an encounter and close union with God. A lively discussion followed, as the intense emotions needed a release valve. I remained quiet, as I knew only two of the people in the group. Suddenly, one of the members noticed that I hadn’t participated, and when Al explained that I was not a Charismatic, but in need of prayer, their curiosity was piqued, and I was asked to give my impressions of the conference. I was as brief as possible in my response, which was highly favorable. Then I was asked, “What did God do for you?” Somewhat embarrassed I explained about the light, the heat on my lower back, my back problems, and then before I could finish, ~Al (who “invited me” to the conference) interrupted me and asked What ~~~:my response was? I told him and the group that, fully aware of what was taking place, I asked, “why me God” and again before I could say anything else, Al told me, “your healing is only partial”, the proper response was to only say ‘thank you Lord. ‘ ” He was right; I’m still walking, but continue occasionally to experience the pain in my lower back. It is a good reminder, and I am most grateful for the blessings of friends that had the courage to practice their faith, and make me go with them.
Not too long after this, Karen contracted “the world’s worse case of poison Ivy.” (God always lets us know His Will, its just that sometime we are too insensitive, or thickheaded to hear the call.) Karen figured it out, and we again exchanged vows in a private Church ceremony a few months later. (A civil divorce doesn’t nullify a proper consummated Catholic marriage. In the eyes of God and the Church we were never divorced.)
It was on the occasion of taking our son to his weekly religious education class, and asking what did you learn, that God gave me my most poignant wake up (you dummy) call. Casually, I asked, what did you learn today? His reply to my question was “nothing.” I pressed for a more specific response, and he said, “Dad, you could teach me more than they do.” Wow! Out of the mouths of babes. Sean was right, I could, and God was telling me clearly that I should, so I finally listened and obeyed. I called the next day and offered to be an assistant teacher. God would have none of it. The regular teacher conveniently quit, and I “substituted” with Karen as my assistant for the next ten years. Finally, I was doing what God expected. I suspect that I learned as much or more than our students did. Certainly my desire to learn, live and really practice my faith was “reborn” from these experiences. God’s will always will be done! We can delay it, but it’s nearly impossible to thwart it.
Finally I really did turn back to God, wife and family; it took me a long time to refocus my lives priorities to God first, Karen and family second, and work third. These events took place over the past thirty years, [We just celebrated our 44th. Wedding Anniversary] and still bring painful memories. Thank God, we are madly and passionately in love with and each other, and God. With Karen’s support God is now my number one priority. Still in retail, I have been unable to find a management position that keeps me home with Karen and the kids, so I accepted employment as a commissioned sales associate, selling major appliances for Sears. This was a double cross, as I am so well qualified to be a manager, (I’m really good at it) but the sales position made me more reliant on the Divine providence of God. He is and must be in charge.
Knowing and accepting the crosses that we are given is a grace and can be a form of catechesis. “Thy will be done.” Amen. Obedient acceptance and change, brought about through prayer has allowed God to work these changes in my life. With God nothing is impossible, prayer is the most powerful tool given to us to over come sin in our lives. One of the most important messages in this book is that we all need to develop a strong and consistent prayer life. God does hear and always responds.
“The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, and to enable all men to share in His saving redemption. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of that goal is called the apostolate. For the Christian vocation by its very nature is a vocation to the Apostolate. In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission.” Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate Of The Laity. (AA)
God places us where we are at for the dual purpose of getting ourselves and others to heaven, and this can only be accomplished by living in union with Christ. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jn: I5: 5 We must continue to make progress in holiness. Just s one cannot forever swim in place, similarly it is not possible to simply maintain ones current position. Prayer is the key to holiness, as evidenced from Christ Himself; Jesus and all saints were people of prayer. Like a burning candle, the evidence is not clear while we watch, but change is taking place. We either grow closer to God, or we move, perhaps, imperceptibility, away from God’s love and grace.
It’s good to recall what Saint Peter tells us about living together. “Put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation, for you has tasted the kindness of the Lord. “ 1Pet: 2: I-3 Nothing good can or will be accomplished without charity and, darn few things without sacrifice, which is something precious to us, to be given up as a willing offering to God.
We, Christ faithful and we, who may not be quite so faithful are called by God and led by the Holy Spirit, to be today’s Apostles, disciples and Saints. To the degree that we succeed or fail in our mission, the Church that Christ founded will grow or wither. Simply put, if we don’t do it, it likely won’t get done. cf. CIC. 225 §I
The most common, and most effective method of evangelization is by our lives example. It is impossible to know how many people we can and do influence within and outside of our family and work communities by the daily repeated decisions we make, and the example we set. Keep always charity and truth in mind, and be ever mindful that by our personal example we are always teaching someone, something. If others know that we are Catholics (and they should), they will judge us more harshly and have greater expatiation’s of us, as does Christ. “All Christ’s faithful, each according to his or her own condition, must make a wholehearted effort to lead a holy life, and to promote the growth of the Church and its continual sanctification.” CIC 2I0
But our live example is just one way that we are to evangelize; we are also to share our God given talents by working in our parish communities, and in the broader world community in which we live. We are also obligated to provide reasonable sustenance to our parish, our pastor, and our Universal Church, and it’s organizations. Far more are called to active participation, than respond to the call. Pray about your call, if the thought occurs more than once that God may be asking you to assist in a parish role, or other matter, it is quite likely that He indeed is calling you for this task. Never ask, “why me Lord,” and give no prolong thought to the personal cost to you. God knows these things, and still God calls.
A form of catechesis often overlooked is making welcome all new members into our Church and our parish. This is extremely important for several reasons including; it is a duty every Christian in charity. New Catholics are very vulnerable to Satan; many of them come from other Christian sects that nearly always are more sociable and less rigid with fewer demands than we Catholics have. That we are commonly less social is a sad commentary on us. Leading by example, demonstrating that faithful Catholicism can be lived in Christ true Church and making them feel truly welcome is a privilege, an opportunity for grace and an not to be ~overlooked. Care needs to be taken to not discredit where they came from only to welcome them home with care and sensitivity to the ONLY Church that Christ Himself founded. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on Love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Col: 3:I2-I4
Just this week I encountered after daily Mass some friends that I had not seen in about twenty years. They have never been members of my parish, but recently their handicapped son had moved out and became a new parish member. He complained to them about not feeling welcomed, and as we are a somewhat stereotypical Catholic parish, of great renown for minding our own business (or at least pretending to) I suspect that he was correct in his analysis. They were visiting in hopes of seeing my pastor to make him aware of the situation, which hopes of getting improvement. We spoke at length about the strange cool indifference (for professed lovers of God, sister and brother) we Catholics seem infamous for.
We Catholics seem to seldom be aware of who ~ is in the pew with us, or around us. Seeming for fear of being struck dead, most of us would NEVER greet a stranger in church. I confess to be occasionally guilty of the same sin. Why is this? My sister left the Catholic Church for “better preaching and more fellowship.” (How damned sad this is!)
This is precisely one of the problems Vatican Council II tried to address, but to date seems to have made little headway in improving. I can think of several reasons why this reality exists, but NOT a single good one. Not one that is as valid as Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I might add that poor preaching, lousy fellowship, or any other reason are ~ inadequate excuses for leaving the only Church founded by Christ, and for (possibly) trading ones soul for a personal preference that may change tomorrow. Let’s alter this perception by our evident love and concern for each other. Look for strangers in Church to say “hi” too. A smile is contagious. Christ’s faithful are “those who, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism, are constituted the people of God. For this reason they participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They are called each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission, which God entrusted to them. CIC: 204.
“Those who are married (both the husband and the wife), are bound by the special obligation, in accordance with their own vocation, to strive for the building up of the people of God through their marriage and family. Because they gave life to their children, parents have the most serious obligation and the right to educate them. It is therefore primarily the responsibility of (both) Christian parents to ensure the Christian education of their children in accordance with the teaching of the Church “CIC 226 §I, §2.
If you have a Catholic school in your parish, make every effort to support it by sending your children, and grandchildren there. If your Catholic school has become too secularized, work to change it, always with charity, and prayerfully consider the call to “home – school” your children.
At times we hear that “today’s youth will be tomorrow’s citizens”; true enough, they will also be the ones who sustain and continue to build Christ’s Church. If we fail to know, live and share our faith, we are potentially putting the roots of our Catholic faith at risk. It is from our families that future priest, religious and Brothers must come. If we don’t promote and pray for vocations we are casting the die for a secularly run and administered Church, which already suffers from excessive feminism. When we reach the point of no Ordained priest, we effectively have “no Catholic Church,” as ONLY an Ordained priest can make the Real Presence of Jesus Christ a reality! Can there be a Catholic Church without Christ? No, I think not.
In fulfilling our grave obligation to educate our children, and thus contribute greatly to building God’s Church, it is necessary to point out that darn few of the Universities in America that call themselves Catholic, really – faithfully are. Take great care in your discernment process, and pay particular attention to the Theology departments. Speak to a priest whom you know to be obedient to Rome for advice. Many of the best known “Catholic Universities” are no longer worthy of the name Catholic.
Simple proclamation and self-identification do not alone make one a true Catholic. Nor does Baptism in and of itself. Practicing Catholics, must know, live, and share all their faith. Practicing Catholics are fully obedient to all the Catholic Magisterium teachings (the official teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church), and to our Supreme Pontiff, our Pope. In the language of our Church, we are in full communion. Practicing Catholics make regular use of the sacraments. Practicing Catholics cannot, must not “pick N’ choose” what they will obey, and what they feel is optional as it cramps their style. There is always but a single truth, to discover and obey.
It is of extreme importance that we understand that a church not in obedience to God, is a church, being offered limited, perhaps even no graces from God. This reality is evident in the current blasphemous scandals recently brought to light, and those still ebbing their way to the light of truth.
We might ask is there enough evidence convicting me of being a “Catholic”?
Here is a short checklist one might consider for a Catholic Faith check-up.
1.Do I attend Holy Mass Every Sunday and Holy day? Do everything I am able to insure that my family members also attend? Do I actively participate, and lead by example?
2. Do I fully accept Christ teaching on the Holy Eucharist? That it is Really Jesus, Glorified Body, Soul and Divinity that we receive in Holy Communion. Do my actions support my belief?
3.Do I go to Confession regularly? Do I encourage my family members to do the same?
4.Am I fully, keenly aware that I am receiving the Very Real Body and Blood of Jesus, my Savior? Do my actions belie my belief or support it?
5.Do I, or could I attend Holy Mass more often? Do I have an active daily prayer life?
6. Do I share my faith with my family and friends? Am I a good Catholic example at home and at work? Do we regularly schedule and plan to eat meals as family?
7. If a stranger came into my home, would they know without words, that this is a Catholic home, would they see a Bible out? (One that’s actually used).
8.Would Jesus approve of what I watch on TV (and allow my family to watch)? Would Jesus approve of my friends, and those of my children?
9.Do I ever share my Catholic Faith with others? With my family?
I0.What do I do to keep learning my faith, too properly form my conscience, to keep me on the right path?
11.Do I obey the Catholic Magisterium teaching on birth control, pre-material sex, abortion, all of which are grievous sins? (This mandate includes not voting or supporting those who do)
I2.As a husband, do I take the proper leadership role in the family?
I3.As a wife do I support my husband’s role as leader of our family?
I4.Do I vote my conscience or my political affiliation? We are obligated to vote for the person and or party that will for example, not support abortion, which is murder. We must vote “Catholic” moral issues, and not support those, who in Catholic name only, scandalize our Church, by their public positions that are clearly in apposition to Christ and His Church.
This is a grave obligation: Would we be found guilty of really being a practicing Catholic? Clearly to be an informed, practicing Catholic requires continued spiritual growth and holiness, and these are only possible with the grace of God and assistance of the Holy Spirit. To be known as a Catholic in today’s secular, anti-Christian, “hate Catholics,” society requires the ~ courage of “the Martyrs” and friend that is exactly what we are called to be.
Here is a suggestion on how to begin? With prayer, lots of prayer, the sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Eucharist, regularly, piously and eagerly received. Start in a small way, and grow with God’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and grace.
You may wish to consider starting with your immediate family, progress to your extended family, proceed to your Work environment, participate in your parish community, and if you feel called, go into the world – proclaiming the Good News, by knowing it, living it and loving it. Always in truth and always with charity. We don’t have to do it all; the Holy Spirit will assist us, and those we are trying to convert and save. Beware that once we start to “preach,” we become even greater targets of Satan, and we will be judged not so much by what we say, but how we live what we preach. “By their fruits you shall know them.”
“Command and teach these things. Let no one have contempt for your youth or inexperience because the Holy Spirit is with you, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Be diligent in these matters; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” Saint Paul Tim: 4: I2-I6
Our goal is perfection, and while that may not be humanly possible, a perfect effort is within our reach and. It requires sacrifice, commitment and effort. It will require prayer, lots of prayer, and a pious, holy life style. God will take the clay we offer Him, and make what is pleasing unto Him. A former pastor used to occasionally ask, “who died and put you in charge of the results committee.” I still find it necessary to ask myself this question at times. Far from perfect, like you, I’m still only a saint in progress that’s the way God made us.
“I have given them the words, which you gave me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you did send me. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, that they may be one, even as we are one. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they – are not of the world. I pray that you will keep them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word. Father, I desire that they, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory.” Jn: I7: 8, 11, I5, I7 -I9, 24
Discussion Questions: Booklet Three
1. What are some of the effects of prayer?
2. What does God call each of us to be?
3. Who is responsible for the education of their children? How is this best exercised? What advice does Saint Paul give about living together?
How often must a Catholic attend Holy Mass. How serious are the consequences for intentionally failing this responsibility?
What might be considered valid justification for one to leave the Catholic Church in favor of another Christian denomination?