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The Perfect Prayer

Prayer is such an essential part of our faith walk.  Not only is this a necessary part of Christianity, but essentially all faiths require it of its followers.  Prayer can take many forms, and doesn’t necessarily require verbalisation, even quietly to oneself.

As a Catholic Christian, I try to refer back to Jesus as my example of living and faith.  For that reason, I look to Him for how to pray.  Fortunately, he was specific about this.  Matthew chapter six spells out how Jesus taught us to pray, in what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.  This is, in my mind, the perfect prayer, because is came from Jesus.  And, it is so rich.  Each part, each word, means so much.

Our Father…

This shows me the value of collective prayer.  “Our”, not “My”, means I’m not actually praying just for myself, but for all of us.  This comes through clearly throughout the prayer.  Referring to God as a Father helps me understand the nature of how he feels about me, about all of us.  I am a father, and the love I have for my children is the most unconditional and altruistic love I have ever experienced in my heart.  Projecting my imperfect fatherly love onto how God’s perfect love is for us helps me grasp the ungraspable.

Who Art in Heaven…

This tells me a lot about Heaven.  First, it tells me it is real.  It exists.  It also tells me it is filled with God.  It is his home, he resides there.

Hallowed be Thy Name…

We know honoring God’s name and not using it in vain is pretty important, because it is already one of the Ten Commandments from the old Jewish law.  Jesus reiterates this, by reminding us to keep the name of God holy.  What happens in our souls when we forget this?  It’s like a ship that loses its rudder, a traveler with no frame of reference by which to judge their position.  The Holiness of God is the framework from which all other values, all other choices, must stem.  And it’s not just his nature that must be revered, but even His name.  The names we use are important, our language matters, because it colors our judgments.

Thy Kingdom come…

So, not only does God live, and lives in Heaven, but he has a kingdom.  He is a King.  Every king has a kingdom, but not all kingdoms are of this time.  His Kingdom, then, must not always be present, at least in some places, as we are to ask for it to come about.

Thy Will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven…

This part really speaks to me.  Now, I see that God’s Will isn’t always done here.  When I was younger, I believed that everything that happened in this world was the direct result of God’s Hand.  That made it difficult to accept when tragedies happened, when children died in accidents or of cancer, when “bad things happened to good people”.  But how can an omnipotent God allow this?  Many a good Christian has had their faith shaken by this quandary.  This part of the Lord’s Prayer holds the answer for me.  I realize that God has turned this world over to other forces, largely ours, but also evil forces with potential for evil choices, because it is a necessary part of our free will.  We are to pray, and act, to bring about God’s Kingdom here, on Earth, in order to complete His Will for us, for mankind.  This is a tall task, but it is our charge.  The best news is that His Will is already done in Heaven, and that is our eternal home.  There is no room for evil in Heaven.  And, as a last point, notice we are to pray for His Will, not ours.  This can be difficult, for sometimes they are not the same.  We must trust that His Will is always what’s best for us, even when we can’t see it.

Give us this day our daily bread…

We are to work, but our work is to be directed at bringing about His Kingdom here on Earth.  As far as our needs, they will take care of themselves, through His Grace.  If our duties here are centered around ourselves, and serving our own needs, they become hollow and meaningless.  If, on the other hand, we trust The Lord to provide us with our needs of the day, and work to complete His Will with our actions, all the rest falls into place and we are blessed beyond our desires.

And forgive us our trespasses…

We need forgiveness.  We are all born broken, with original sin.  It doesn’t say to forgive us if we trespass, or to forgive those of us who do, it is assumed that we all need it.  And it tells us that all forgiveness comes from God.

As we forgive those who trespass against us…

Ah, here is the catch.  Just when we think the forgiveness is free for the asking, we realize we must do our part. No, it isn’t something we can earn, or buy. We are offered forgiveness freely, without restrictions, without merit. But we must also be able to accept that forgiveness. We can only accept forgiveness if we forgive others in our hearts. It doesn’t say we are forgiven only after we have forgiven others, or so that we can forgive others, but as we forgive others.  It tells me our being forgiven is directly connected to our forgiving. They are one and the same.

And lead us not into temptation…

This speaks volumes to me about our nature.  We are not to ask The Lord to help us resist temptation.  It is good to resist when temptation confronts us, and His help is invaluable. But we are weak, we are broken, and it is not realistic that we can withstand the temptations of Satan at every turn.  We are to use our heads and not put ourselves in situations where we can fall, and we are to ask The Lord’s help with this.

But deliver us from evil.

Here, we are reminded that evil is real.  Evil exists, just like God exists, and it can be avoided, with God’s help.  His assistance is required, and without Him, we are helplessly in the throughs of the evil one.

There is one last thing that makes this the perfect prayer for me.  This prayer, with few exceptions, is prayed in the same or very similar form by all Christians.  We all know Jesus prayed that ”we might all be one”.  When we pray this prayer, we are.

 

 

 

God is love… or is love our god?

We all have heard it said that God is love.  Yes, God is the epitome of love.  God is the fount from which love flows, the source of all that is right and good and pure in our hearts.  1John 4:8 says “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”  Later in the same chapter, verse 16 says “…God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”  So, it stands to reason that if one does not know love, one cannot know God.  Furthermore, love, in Sacred Scripture, is extremely important.  We all know what 1Corinthians chapter 13 has to say about this.  Paraphrasing, we can have all the talents and materials in the world, but without love, we gain nothing.

However, I would contend that the definition of love has gotten very loose these days.  Love means different things to different people.  One person’s definition of love may be another’s infatuation, or even lust.  I feel that love is more a commitment to the best interests of another, even when contrary to our own best interests, than it is an emotion.  However, romantic love is definitely a manifestation of divine love, when kept in the proper context.

My point here is more about what “love” has become in our culture.  Love, in the current sense of the word, is worshipped.  It has truly become a god.  It is pursued above all other goals in most people’s lives.  It is held as the perfect state of happiness.  If you are in love, then nothing else matters, right?  If you don’t have love, then all your other accomplishments and goals are somehow unimportant and tainted.  And while I would agree with these sentiments when considering love in the sense of commitment to the best interests of others, as spoken of in Corinthians, that’s not the type of love most worship.

The love that is worshipped today is mostly the selfish pursuit of sexual pleasure.  Listen to current pop music.  Watch a few movies.  Worse yet, watch some evening television.  The majority of themes center on sex, and purely as a pursuit of pleasure and not in the strengthening of a long-term relationship.  God forbid it be done in the context of procreating a family.

Popular culture focusing on love is nothing new.  Music from the 40s and 50s is filled with references to love.  Shakespearean plays, even ancient Roman and Greek writings, have love as a common theme.  But love has changed.  The older concept, though sometimes outside the bonds of marriage, was a long-term romantic devotion, embracing a larger sense of self with a sacrificial devotion to one true mate.  Not so with most of today’s love references.  It’s all about self-gratification, fulfilling one’s physical needs.  If it is a carnal desire, it must be fulfilled, regardless of previous social norms or consequences for others.

Why does this matter?  So what if our definition of love has shifted, and our worship of it deepened?  Because this is who we are.  We are what we worship.  We become what we glorify.  This is why God, in His infinite wisdom, asks us to worship Him.  God doesn’t need our worship, though he desires it, for our good.  We are the ones who need it.  He knows that without it, we fall into worshipping that which is less than holy.  What we value most in ourselves currently is little more than our animalistic nature.  That which sets us apart from all other creation, our ability to reason, and our ability to love in the highest sense of the word, is being exchanged for what makes us feel good.  The “better angels of our nature”, as Abraham Lincoln put it, are rapidly being supplanted by selfish demons we have possessed since the Stone Age, and have worked for millennia to control.

Lord, have mercy.

Servant Blog 10/16

“These people are complainers, disgruntled ones who live by their desires; their mouths utter bombast as they fawn over people to gain advantage.”  Jude 16

I find my mind preoccupied with politics these days.  I know I am not alone in this.  To some degree, this is part of the natural four year political cycle in the U.S., with the impending presidential election demanding our attention.  We are inundated with it, from the news, to social media, to broadcast and print media, and in conversation with friends and family.  But it is different this time.  There is a crescendo of greater magnitude.  I feel this is multifactorial, but principally due to the candidates nominated by the two major parties.

I know many share my view that both of these candidates are unfit for the office of President of the United States.  I don’t intent with this essay to delve into which is better of the two, or “the lesser evil”, as I’ve heard many put it.  Plenty is said, and will be said, along those lines.  Instead, I want to put forth my thoughts on why we have arrived at such a place in American politics.

Many blame the politicians themselves.  Not just Trump and Hillary, but the majority, if not all, of our elected officials. Some blame our system itself.  I don’t exonerate the politicians, and I believe our system needs tweaking, or fine tuning, and will always need so, as intended by our founders.  But these things are not the main problem.  The politicians of our day are symptoms of a greater issue, simply a mirror of a deeper reality.

The problem is us.  You, and me, and all of us, collectively.  We are the main cause of the circumstance we are in.  I contend the scripture quote from Jude noted at the beginning of this essay does not refer to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, any more than the rest of us.  Go back to the top and read it again.  Do you not agree that this epitomizes our society, at least in the way the majority of us act toward each other?

We, as a people, are fast losing the ability to competently govern ourselves.  Abraham Lincoln spoke of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  Inherent in that assertion is that the people constituting the government will embody the characteristics we will project into our leaders.  A portrait can only be as vivid as the image it is portraying.  Whatever truth and integrity exists in a people cannot be exceeded by its leaders.  Certainly, leaders can foster, encourage, and promote positive qualities in their subjects.  But they cannot instill them.  The heart and soul of a people must first yearn for high ideals before any leader can help them be realized.  I fear we, as a people, are losing those high aspirations that helped make this nation great.

We need some serious national introspection.

Let us be reminded of the purpose of government.  In a republic such as ours, government exists for the people, not the reverse.  Specifically, government exists to provide for people what they cannot do themselves.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  I am neither a Socialist nor a Libertarian.  Government is needed to protect those who need protecting.  The Preamble of our Constitution says it best:  “…establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  But let us also remember what government CANNOT do.  It cannot make us better people.  It cannot instill within us the human traits which allow us to build and maintain a greater society.  Of course, government does provide education, and rightly so.  But education and the provision of moral and ethical guidance are two different things, at least as far as public education is concerned.  To provide the latter, it falls to us as a people to better ourselves, both within and (more so) outside the boundaries of a government-funded public education.

It is important that our government not be involved in promoting certain moral or religious choices.  Separation of Church and State is discussed much, and is an important cog in the wheels of our national machinery.  But don’t take this to mean our nation does not need a moral or religious compass.  We do.  In fact, I believe we are lost without it, as certainly as a ship without navigation is lost, aimlessly floating on an open sea.  John Adams put it best:  “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”

A great beauty of the American experiment is this dichotomy, this paradox.  A system which does not mandate by constitution any particular set of religious or moral tenets, yet is wholly dependent upon them being present.  The brilliance lies in the fact the system allows the inclusion of all faiths, the exclusion of none, and includes those without any set of moral or religious values.  But it recognizes that without a prevailing wind of such values, the system cannot last.  Inherent, then, is the conclusion that it falls to the people themselves to provide these values.

This is where government must stop and religion must take over.  Yes, the same religion many feel is obsolete, outdated, and arcane.  I understand that there are some who feel religion is part of the problem, not the solution.  But I disagree.  Religion is not the problem.  Perhaps the effectiveness of religion (or lack thereof) has contributed, but it is not the problem.  Human nature is the problem.  It is our broken selfishness that is at the core of our societal problems, both within and outside religion. 

Of course, I cannot objectify my own religious beliefs.  I am a cradle Catholic Christian, and have been blessed spiritually to be so.  But I also have no illusions as to the primacy of my faith, at least as far as our nation is concerned.  I am grateful for, and very comfortable with, a national brotherhood with all faiths and value systems, as long as they do not go against the values of human freedoms and protections set forth in our Constitution.  I believe the ultimate value of my faith lies in eternal salvation, but that is not the focus of this essay.

Isn’t this brotherhood one of the revolutionary tenets of our American system?  The American experiment was bold.  The concept was a nation without a national faith, a nation which embraced all faiths, including those with no faith.  The only requisite was lawfulness, specifically to the Constitution.  But inherent within the fabric of our nation was a need for a moral populace.  It doesn’t work otherwise.  It can’t.  The loss of moral fiber is not an instantaneous thing, and neither is its effect instantly apparent.  Instead, we have seen a gradual loss of national effectiveness over the last two generations, which we have struggled to explain.  We like to blame others, our leaders in particular.  But it is us, as people, who have changed.

We are fast becoming a course, selfish and rude people.  We are self-promoting.  We are less and less teaching our children the core values of honesty, integrity, and service to others.  We promote rampant individualism, to the exclusion of fostering motivation for the common good.

These are not new traits.  They are within our nature, and always have been.  Unless we find a way to alter our human nature, they always will be.  But they have been somewhat controlled in the past.  The rigid morality of previous centuries is now viewed as restrictive and stifling, but it had a purpose.  Our ancestors recognized the need to control our impulses, that not every desire of our heart was constructive and healthy.  We recognize this fact regarding our physical health quite well.  We know giving in to our carnal appetites for food and drink is destructive, unless channeled in a “healthy” direction.  Why do we now think this is not the case for other desires?

Spiritual and moral guidance is not a luxury, not an esoteric pursuit for those so inclined.  I believe it is a necessary ingredient for a healthy society.  Our humanity is constructed in such a way to demand it.  Our nature is incomplete and lost without it.

J. Michael Servant

Servant Blog

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep still, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her salvation like a burning torch.”  Isaiah 62:1

This verse has been ringing in my mind, like the chiming of a clock on a mantle, gently reminding me that time is passing.  With each new day, I feel more drawn to open a new chapter of my life.  This blog is the initiation of that chapter.  Please understand, I do not consider myself a prophet, nor in any way especially enlightened by my Creator, as compared to anyone else.  However, I do feel lead by the Holy Spirit to speak.  I feel “prepared”, by the events of my life, to share the feelings and observations I have regarding this complex and ever-changing world around us.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  I don’t claim to even know all the problems.  But I do feel an ever-increasing level of frustration over a lack of true problem-solvers as leaders.  I fear we are failing as a nation, as a people, as a society.  I also feel the cycle we are on will spin out of control, leading to the inexorable loss of the greatest civilization the world has ever known.  Many other great civilations have come and gone.  We are not immune to the same forces that felled them, great though they were in their times.  Furthermore, I believe something can be done about this decline.  I do not accept it as inevitable.  Therefore, I will not be silent.  It is not for Zion’s sake, but for the sake of these United States, this shining beacon of freedom, that I will not, and cannot, keep still.

I am not a politician, not an elected leader.  I am an ordinary, law-abiding citizen.  I work hard to support my family, and have been Blessed to do so successfully.  I am well-educated by most standards.  I am deeply spiritual, as will become evident throughout this blog.  I am more conservative than liberal, but I share things in common with both camps.  I also care deeply about this great nation, and I feel connected to the souls who have devoted their lives, often given their lives, for the furtherment of its ideals.  I do not pretend that our nation has a unique prescription for greatness, as there is greatness in many current societies.  I do believe the U.S.A. is the bellwether of freedom and human rights in the world.  We lead, and we must continue to do so.

I don’t know what this blog will achieve, if anything.  I don’t know all the things I will espouse.  I do firmly believe the Holy Spirit is at work in all of us with a heart for service.  It is my prayer that this will be a tool to bring us all closer to God’s Will for this great nation.

J. Michael Servant