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"Have the courage to lose control. Have the courage to feel useless. Have the courage to listen. Have the courage to receive. Have the courage to let your heart be broken. Have the courage to feel. Have the courage to fall in love. Have the courage to get ruined for life. Have the courage to make a friend." ~Dean Brackley.

Gracias, Padre Dean, for the incredible blessing you have been on my life. You are what got me through the really hard times in El Salvador, and your spirit continues to inspire and move me forward. As you said, “sigue adelante.”

Aug. 9, 1946—October 16, 2011.

D ear God, sometimes I get so frustrated with your church.

I know that I am not alone. So many people who love your church feel frustrated with the body of Christ on earth. Priests and deacons, and brothers and sisters, can feel frustrated, too. And I’ll bet that even bishops and popes feel frustrated. We grow worried and concerned and bothered and angry and sometimes scandalized because your divine institution, our home, is filled with human beings who are sinful. Just like me.

But I get frustrated most of all when I feel that there are things that need to be changed and I don’t have the power to change them.

So I need your help, God.

Help me to remember that Jesus promised he would be with us until the end of time and that your church is always guided by the Holy Spirit, even if it’s hard for me to see. Sometimes change happens suddenly, and the Spirit astonishes us, but often in the church it happens slowly. In your time, not mine. Help me know that the seeds that I plant with love in the ground of your church will one day bloom. So give me patience.

Help me to understand that there was never a time when there were not arguments or disputes within your church. Arguments go all the way back to Peter and Paul debating one another. And there was never a time when there wasn’t sin among the members of your church. That kind of sin goes back to Peter denying Jesus during his passion. Why would today’s church be any different than it was for people who knew Jesus on earth? Give me wisdom.

Help me to trust in the Resurrection. The risen Christ reminds us that there is always the hope of something new. Death is never the last word for us. Neither is despair. And help me remember that when the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, he bore the wounds of his crucifixion. Like Christ, the church is always wounded, but always a carrier of grace. Give me hope.

Help me to believe that your Spirit can do anything: raise up saints when we need them most, soften hearts when they seem hardened, open minds when they seem closed, inspire confidence when all seems lost, help us do what had seemed impossible until it was done. This is the same Spirit that converted Paul, inspired Augustine, called Francis of Assisi, emboldened Catherine of Siena, consoled Ignatius of Loyola, comforted Thérèse of Lisieux, enlivened John XXIII, accompanied Teresa of Calcutta, strengthened Dorothy Day and encouraged John Paul II. It is the same Spirit that is with us today, and your Spirit has lost none of its power. Give me faith.

Help me to remember all of your saints. Most of them had it a lot worse than I do. They were frustrated with your church at times, struggled with it and were occasionally persecuted by it. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by church authorities. Ignatius Loyola was thrown into jail by the Inquisition. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated. If they can trust in your church in the midst of those difficulties, so can I. Give me courage.

Help me to be peaceful when people tell me that I don’t belong in the church, that I’m a heretic for trying to make things better or that I’m not a good Catholic. I know that I was baptized. You called me by name to be in your church, God. As long as I draw breath, help me remember how the holy waters of baptism welcomed me into your holy family of sinners and saints. Let the voice that called me into your church be what I hear when other voices tell me that I’m not welcome in the church. Give me peace.

Most of all, help me to place all of my hope in your Son. My faith is in Jesus Christ. Give me only his love and his grace. That’s enough for me.

Help me God, and help your church.

Amen.

Fr. James Martin, S.J.

I am not sure what y’all will think of this, but this video has often helped me be more centered, reflective, and grateful in times of great stress and frustration. It is a great reflection on gratefulness and living with intentionality, from the same Benedictine monk who wrote Deeper Than Words. I hope y’all are well. :-)

Isn’t it surprising to hear the Gospel of John in today’s Gospel tell us that some of Jesus’s disciples “returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him”? It’s almost unbelievable! So many of us would (literally) give our right arms to see and hear what the disciples saw and heard—to witness Jesus’s astonishing miracles, and hear the carpenter from Nazareth spin out his parables, as he did in Galilee and Judea all those years ago. 

How, we wonder, could anyone walk away from Jesus after having walked with him? 

Yet it’s really not that hard to understand. Sometimes, for example, we turn away from the invitation for conversion. Change is frightening. What would it mean for us to change our old ways of doing things, our habitual way of relating to others, our familiar ways of understanding our place in the world? For true conversion is not simply a putting off of bad habits, it is a putting aside of our old selves. And that is pretty scary. Easy to understand people turning away.

We also turn away because the path is a rocky one. Life in the Christian community is hard. At one time or another, everyone wants to “walk away” from religion. The church can be a tough place. We hear things that we don’t like; we see things that we don’t approve of; we are forced to pray with people with whom we don’t agree. And that’s hard. Very hard.

But in these communities often comes our most powerful experiences of God. As the theologian Jane Redmont pointed out to me years ago, that’s one reason why so many of those stories of the Holy Spirit so often happen in groups. We are both naturally religious and naturally social, so we come together to worship. And Jesus understood this. Remember: Jesus didn’t simply call one apostle to be his assistant, he called a whole group of people—apostles and disciples alike—together. At the beginning of his ministry, as he is walking by the Sea of Galilee, he calls Peter and Andrew and James and John—that’s four people at once. And after his Resurrection, he appears to people individually (Mary Magdalene, for example) but much more often to the group. 

The church is the place into which we were born and out of which we will leave this life. We are called through baptism into a distinctive place in the church. That means that we are called not only to enjoy its fruits, but to labor in its vineyards, even when that vineyard is filled with thorns, the day is late, we are exhausted, or the sun is beating down on us, seemingly without mercy. It is in our church that we will work out, difficult as it may be, impossible as it may seem at times, our salvation, among other sinners—sinners just like us. 

“To whom shall we go?” said Peter. The church is not Jesus, but it is his visible body on the earth. So you could also ask: “Where else shall we go?” 

There can be tough times in the church for all of us—from the pope to the people in the pews. But those aren’t the times to leave. Those precisely the time when the church needs you the most, just like Jesus needed the twelve—to stay.

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