All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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Praying in Good Faith
 
By Bishop Robert F. Morneau

“All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24).

St. Monica, the mother of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, was a prayerful woman. She truly believed that what she asked of the Lord would be granted. In his Confessions, Augustine tells of how he deceived his mother in leaving Africa to set sail for Italy.

He wrote: “And what she was praying for, O my God, with all those tears was that You should not allow me to sail! But You saw deeper and granted the essential of her prayer: You did not do what she was at that moment asking, that You might do the thing she was always asking” (The Confessions of St. Augustine).

Here we have a paradox that can be disturbing. Does intercessory prayer work? We ask for healing of cancer, and a dear friend dies. We pray year after year for peace, and wars continue. We implore our Lord for family unity, and alienation divides parents and children.

Are our prayers effective or not? What should our expectations be as we approach our providential Father in heaven?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, once again points the way. Her faith was deep and firm. Her constant refrain was: “Be it done according to your will.” Yes, ask that Grandmother’s cancer be arrested, if it is according to your will, Lord. Yes, grace us with peace and family unity, but in your time, Lord. A radical trust and faith should underlie our every petition.

Let us not limit our prayer life to asking the Lord to meet our needs. As people of faith we are to praise God for God’s majesty and glory; we are to thank God for all the gifts that flood our lives; we are to appeal to God for forgiveness. When we turn to God with our needs we do so in light of a heart filled with praise, thanksgiving and trust. We come to God aware of our own sinfulness and our need for mercy. In the end, it is God’s will that should be the basis of all prayer.

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God’s Will, Not Ours

Jesus said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Luke 10:21). This is the same Jesus who, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The same dynamic that characterized the Virgin Mary’s submission to God’s will is present here in her son. God’s will, not our specific desire, reigns supreme.

Surely when St. Monica realized that her prayer requesting that Augustine remain with her was not granted, she had to deal with discouragement. Quite possibly she even developed serious doubt in a God who proclaims in Jesus that if we ask, we will receive; if we knock, the door will be opened; if we seek, we will find.

Again, what is needed is a radical trust that divine providence is at work and that, as Julian of Norwich says, “All will be well.”

Trusting in God

Every Sunday the community gathers in worship. We praise and thank God, we ask forgiveness and petition the Lord regarding our needs and the needs of our world. In the end we know that we are gifted with God’s love and mercy revealed in Jesus. We are also given the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent of our prayer and ministry. It is the Spirit who empowers us to rejoice when our prayers are “answered” in the way we desire. It is the same Spirit who enables us to trust that God’s will is being worked out even when Grandma is not healed, peace remains elusive and family unity is still wanting.

Alan Paton, the South African writer who helped break the enslaving bonds of apartheid, offers us this prayer: “Pardon, O gracious Lord and Father, whatsoever is amiss in this my prayer, and let Thy will be done, for my will is blind and erring.” Paton knew that God could do so much more than we could ask for or imagine. This humble attitude is the key to all “effective” prayer.

Robert F. Morneau is an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is author of numerous books, including Paths to Prayer (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and two children’s books, The Gift and A Tale from Paleface Creek (Paulist Press).

Next: Beginning in January 2006, Every Day Catholic begins a yearlong series that will explore key beliefs of the Catholic faith. Contributing authors will be Thomas H. Groome, Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., Karen Sue Smith and Phyllis Zagano.

Questions for Reflection:

• What is your favorite prayer? Why is it important to you?

• How has your prayer life changed since your were a child?

FAMILY CORNER
Answered Prayers
By Judith Dunlap

Recently, I heard a child ask why God didn’t answer her prayers. Her parent responded that he did, indeed, answer—that God had said no. I didn’t like that response, but I could empathize with the parent’s obvious desire to end the conversation. I remember how difficult it was when my own children’s prayer requests weren’t met, at least by their standards. I remember my own questions when, after months of daily prayer, my mother died. It wasn’t until I reread the story of Jesus in Gethsemane that I found an answer to the question, “Does God always answer prayer?”

The night before he died, Jesus finished his last meal with his friends and went off to pray. When he was alone in the garden, he began to think about what lay ahead. He knew he had powerful enemies and that he would certainly die. The Gospels tell us that when Jesus went to pray he was greatly agitated. Luke writes that Jesus was so upset he sweated blood. Like any human person, Jesus was afraid. He pleaded with God three times to take away the bitter cup, each time telling God, “not my will, but yours.”

God answered Jesus’ prayers. The man who entered the garden so afraid that he sweated blood, stood up strong and confident, ready to face whatever was to come. God did not remove Jesus’ pain, but he blessed him with all that he needed to face it.

When my children were old enough, I read them this story of Jesus. I shared with them how I had felt when my mother died and how I had believed my prayers weren’t answered. Then I told them how God had blessed me with faith and hope and the love of family and friends who helped me get through my grief. I know from experience that God does answer prayers. He never just says “No.”

For Family Response:

Ask each family member to talk about a time when his or her prayers were answered in an unexpected way.

Media Watch
The Sound of Music
By Frank Frost

From the time the camera, soaring over majestic mountains, finds a high meadow and zooms in on Julie Andrews as she spins with her arms wide and launches into song, The Sound of Music celebrates life, love, courage and family. It transcended generational differences 40 years ago when it was first released, catapulting it to the top of the movie charts for three years running. For a while it was the greatest box office hit of all time. It still has the ability to bridge generations today.

A new 40th-anniversary DVD release offers not only the three-hour film in all its digital wide-screen glory, but also several interesting documentaries looking back at the experience behind the scenes, through the eyes of those who were part of it.

The plot is loosely based on the true story of Maria von Trapp and her family, the Trapp Family Singers, who fled to America to escape the Nazi takeover of Austria before World War II. (Maria von Trapp visited the shooting of the film in Salzburg. Her son Johannes reveals that she could never come to terms with the fact that she had sold the rights to her story and could no longer call the shots.)

A postulant in a cloistered monastery, Maria (Julie Andrews) is not a good fit for the order, and is sent by the abbess to test her vocation by working as a governess for the seven children of a wealthy widower, Baron von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). Free-spirited, she’s not a good fit for the baron either. His regimented treatment of his children brings out the rebel in her. While he is away for a month she infuses the children with her zest for life.

This is dramatized by a simple song she teaches them, built on the building blocks of the tonal scale, “Do, Re, Mi.” The resulting musical number flows seamlessly through a montage of different locations (a stylistic innovation at the time) indicating the passage of time and the gradual liberation of the children.

It’s also the liberation of Maria, who boldly stands up to the baron when he returns. But then, frightened by the love that soon blossoms between her and the baron, she flees back to the abbey and her vocation. There the wise abbess points out that there are many vocations and many ways to find God. Maria and the baron marry, only to have the story take a dark turn. They and the children must flee the country, eluding the Nazis on their trail.

The romantic grandeur of an idealized life in The Sound of Music still appeals to us today—maybe especially today. Its uplifting message is embodied in songs now thoroughly embedded in our culture: joy in God’s gift of nature in “The Sound of Music”; optimism that overcomes fear in “My Favorite Things”; the courage to pursue one’s dreams in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

It’s a timeless coming-of-age story that also demands of the characters choices of integrity and principle.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

If a good friend hadn’t challenged him to turn his life over to Christ, Francis Xavier might have spent his years teaching at a prestigious university in Europe. But the compelling words of that friend, Ignatius of Loyola, touched something deep in Francis. They spurred him to embrace a new life that took him to remote areas of the world, where he experienced great success and joy preaching and living the Good News.

In 1534, Francis Xavier joined Ignatius and several other men in professing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as special apostolic service to the Holy Father. They became the first members of the Society of Jesus.

Ordained a Jesuit in 1537, Francis sailed to the Far East several years later on his first of many mission assignments. For 10 years he labored in India, Malaysia and Japan. He spent his days visiting prisons and hospitals, teaching the faith and baptizing. He had a special devotion to lepers, for whom he celebrated Mass each Sunday. He showed his love for the people by living among the poor, celebrating their joys and sharing in their deepest sorrows.

His successes were almost always among the poor and forgotten of society. The only exception was in Japan, where he made inroads among the more educated.

Francis Xavier’s great dream—bringing Christianity to China—was never realized. He was on his way to the mainland when he died on a nearby island only a few miles short of his destination. His body was returned to India and is buried in the Jesuit church there.

He was canonized in 1622 and, 300 years later, proclaimed a patron of the foreign missions. His feast is December 3.

Jim Sweeney

As a young boy growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Jim Sweeney was all ears when missionaries came to his school to talk about their lives in some far-off, forgotten land. “I always loved their stories, but I never had the guts to be a missionary myself,” Mr. Sweeney, 74, told Every Day Catholic.

But for almost five decades he’s been doing the next best thing as a member of the Daily Worldmissionnaires: praying and sacrificing for those heroic men and women who continue to bring the gospel to the four corners of the world.

The group, affiliated with the St. Louis Archdiocese and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

The combination of prayer and sacrifice “is simple,” said Mr. Sweeney. “Once you’re sold on it, it becomes a part of your life.” While he makes daily prayer his first priority, he also takes seriously the sacrifice he makes each day on behalf of the missions. It might be saying no to a drink at dinner with friends, buying something on sale or just doing without. Whatever money he saves goes into the mite box he keeps in the walk-in closet in his bedroom. Once a month, a group leader collects the money saved by each Daily Worldmissionnaire and passes it along to the Archdiocesan Mission Office.

Jim Sweeney figures he’s gone through up to 20 mite boxes over the years. Now serving as president of the group (his sixth term), he has as much love for the missions today as ever. “How many times did Jesus remind us to care for our poor brothers and sisters? Whatever you give to the missions you get back a hundredfold.”

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