Tag: prayer

Embracing the Three Disciplines of Lent

This post originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ February 2018 newsletter.

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Dear Faithful Friends,

Can you believe it?

Lent is here!

I must admit, for most of my life I’ve had mixed feelings about Lent—understanding it was “good for me,” but not really looking forward to the self-denial. This Lent is a little different, because the Lord has been helping me with self-denial.

It started a few years ago when I realized I wasn’t really responding to all of Mary’s requests at Medjugorje. We aren’t required to adhere to private revelation, but in this case, they really are only the requests of the Gospel and Church Tradition. I was good on prayer, the Eucharist, and daily Bible reading, and reasonable on Confession, but fasting was hard. I’m not a good “faster,” but several years ago, I realized there was no reason for me not to fast—apart from the weakness of my flesh—no medical reasons, health concerns, etc. So I started trying to fast two days a week. For me, fasting on bread and water was too distracting—I was eating way too much bread! And thinking of it too much! So, except for a morning cup of coffee, I only consumed water, from after dinner one day until dinner the next day. There have been some weeks in which I’ve only been able to fast one day a week because of travel circumstances, etc., but most weeks I have been able to fast two days a week. My spiritual director at the seminary, who is an expert on the early Church, told me that all the early Christians fasted two days a week, somewhat similarly to what I do. So what may seem special to us today was actually fairly standard for those in the early Church.

Another factor motivating me to take up fasting again—I had attempted it with varying degrees of success in the past—was my sense that some people I was praying for needed more than my prayer; they needed fasting as well. As Jesus said in Mark 9:29, some things that have a bad grip on people are only released by prayer and fasting. I must say, while I had been praying for some people for years, I saw very visible results after adding fasting to my prayers for them. I don’t know exactly what it is, maybe the Lord wants to see that we have “some skin in the game,” or are willing to pay a little price—virtually nothing compared to the price He was willing to pay—to join our fasting and self-denial to His for the salvation of souls. When I’m fasting, there seems to be a little more depth to my crying out to God for others. Consider giving this a try this Lent!

I know people with medical conditions or other needs may not be able to fast from food and drink, but everybody has something they can renounce to add some intensity to their prayer, whether it be entertainment, desert, some non-essential comfort, etc.

I must also say that my resolve to continue this pattern has been greatly strengthened by my recent “encounter” with the depth of the message of Our Lady of Fatima and the profound response of the three children. (See the November 2017 newsletter for more on this.) And I am not skipping the daily rosary as I once did; if I do miss a day, I make it up the next day by saying two. I want to do my part in responding to Mary’s call to pray the rosary daily for peace for the world, the conversion of sinners, and reparation for sin and offenses against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The three traditional disciplines of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I try to increase my prayer as much as I can during Lent by adding extra prayer times or visits to the Blessed Sacrament. We talk about prayer a lot at Renewal Ministries, and I know my book The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints has helped many thousands to deepen their prayer life, as have many of Sr. Ann’s books and CDs.

Recently, though, I gained an insight into almsgiving that has been pretty inspiring. It began with encountering one of the Mass readings that mentions almsgiving.

“But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you” (Lk 11:41).

Jesus said this to the Pharisees. Sometimes it is translated somewhat differently, but our Renewal Ministries’ consultant, Dr. Mary Healy, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and a colleague at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, says this about it:

“I think Jesus here is referring to literal almsgiving, not an analogy. In the context of the previous verses, the Lord seems to be saying that almsgiving has to come from a heart full of generosity and kindness (as opposed to the extortion and wickedness of the Pharisees).”

I feel that I’m getting a new insight into how these three “disciplines,” which the Church focuses on in a special way during Lent, but which are good practices as a regular part of our life, move us out of a tendency to organize our lives around comfort and convenience. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving require a regular pattern of self-denial, turning to the Lord, and trusting in Him that is really important for “keeping our edge” and remaining alert to the Lord and eager for His kingdom. These disciplines help us not settle down into a pattern of comfort and convenience that dulls our ability to hear His voice.

Anne and I are experiencing a new joy, a new eagerness, and a new freedom in almsgiving and are indeed finding “you can’t outdo God in generosity.”

So let’s continue, in the midst of the normal pain that self-denial brings, picking up our cross with joy this Lent in increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, so that sinners may be converted, mercy may be granted to the world, and reparation may be made for sin—both our sin and the sins of others who may not be aware of their need to do penance.

It’s good to be in this together.

Your companion on the journey,

 

Ralph

Out on a Limb for God

A friend once told me, “Being out on a limb for God is the perfect place to be in ministry.” It is such a simple yet profound thought, and it reminds me of another phrase I often hear: “The way you spell faith is R-I-S-K.” While I can envision those phrases being used as an excuse for lack of preparation or as a license for a foolhardy person to undertake every crazy idea that pops into his or her head, there is still undeniable truth in them. Church history is filled with countless examples of saints and regular modern-day Christians risking everything to follow the Lord, traveling to foreign lands to evangelize, and accomplishing heroic feats up to and including the ultimate sacrifice of giving their life for the Lord in martyrdom. In fact, Jesus himself gave the humanly risky command to his disciples to “take nothing for the journey . . . no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no second tunic” (LK 9:3). He asked them for nothing short of total dependence on Divine Providence and the generosity of others. But what does it mean in my own life and ministry to “go out on a limb” for God?

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It all starts with prayer. Communication with God in prayer fosters a relationship with God that roots us in our identity as his son or daughter, and then overflows into mission. Prayer is the first domino in the chain reaction. Therefore, the first question is not so much, “Am I bold and courageous enough?” But rather, “Am I encountering God every day in prayer?” Through prayer, we become the kind of person that can’t help but speak the name of Jesus. Through encountering the Lord in daily prayer, we gain a “fire in our bones” like Jeremiah that we cannot keep inside (Jer 20:9). Then we can echo the words of St. Paul, “For if I preach the gospel, it gives me no grounds for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). As baptized Christians, we are called to evangelize and embrace the mission of Jesus “to seek and save the lost” (Mat 28:18-20; Lk 19:10). This is our foundation, but it is only when prayer and discernment provide clarity of the specific task or mission God is asking of us that taking a risk for God comes into play. In short, God does not give us a mission without giving us the grace to accomplish it.

Therefore, it is in the response of prayerful obedience that taking a risk for God has its proper context. For example, if you receive a consistent prompting in your personal prayer life which is confirmed by the advice of a spiritual director or by the encouraging prophecies you have received from Christian brothers and sisters, then it is reasonable to conclude that God may indeed be giving you a specific mission that should provoke a response of faith. That response may very well include something out of your comfort zone. If we only trust God when it is easy, then do we really trust God at all? Many times, it is in the step of faith that the Lord will bless you with great graces.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a Charismatic group near Columbus, Ohio, with Peter Herbeck. In preparation, I kept hearing the voice of the enemy say, “Who are you to speak to a group of people who have been moving in the Spirit since before you were even born? Plus, they came to hear Peter Herbeck, not you. You will make a fool of yourself.” But, instead of listening to that voice, I took to heart the words of 1 Timothy 1:18, which says, “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the good fight.” I reflected on and declared all the truths I had received in personal prayer that were consistently confirmed by prophecies from brothers and sisters in Christ. I said, “In the name of Jesus, I believe and I declare that I am a Kingdom Builder. You have given me an apostolic anointing to boldly preach your name and spread your Kingdom not by own ability but by your grace and power. When I keep my eyes fixed on you, I radiate your goodness and compassion, and your lost sons and daughters return to the Father’s house. On my own, I can do nothing. But with you, God, all things are possible.” When God’s truth shattered the enemy’s lies, I had a renewed conviction that God was asking me to speak boldly in his name and leave the results to Him. What followed was one of the most powerful exhortations I have ever given. It had little to do with the content or the preparation, but through my simple words and my act of obedience, the Spirit of God convicted hearts in a way that I rarely see.

You see, the Lord only gives the grace of mission when you take a step of faith into your mission. In the words of C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” It is not enough to believe that we have a mission. We must have the courage to step into that mission for the glory of God and the salvation of others. This is not mere natural courage, but a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember it was the Holy Spirit that gave the courage and conviction for the apostles to preach at Pentecost, which was the spark that spread the gospel message to the ends of the earth. We need to be fearlessly open to the Holy Spirit prompting us to actions that are out of our comfort zone—and perhaps at times beyond what we would have concluded by human reason alone.

Let me pose a question. When St. Peter got out of the boat to walk on water toward Jesus in Matthew 14:28-32, was Peter more safe and secure when he was closer to the boat or closer to Jesus? While the boat is a mere creation of man, Jesus is the Creator who holds all of the universe in the palm of his hand. Ironically, the closer Peter gets to Jesus the more secure he actually is. It is only in taking his eyes off of Jesus that he begins to sink, prompting Jesus to say, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” From a human perspective, Peter had every reason to think it was unreasonable and impossible for him to walk on water. But, from heaven’s perspective, walking on the water with Jesus at his side is even more secure than sitting without Jesus on a boat or even walking on dry land for that matter. When our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, we can see that taking a prayerful and obedient step of faith is really only a risk in earthly terms. Yes, we may fall flat on our face and look foolish. But, as Mother Teresa said, “God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.” Our reward is in the obedience, and the fruit is up to God. In heavenly terms, there is no risk at all. For it is nothing more than a step deeper into God’s hands and into greater dependence on our good Father who delights to give us the Kingdom (Lk 12:32), and who always gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13).

In that sense, the farther we “go out on a limb” in faith and obedience to the promptings of God, and the more we fall into the arms of our heavenly Father in total and radical dependence on Him, the more secure we will be and the more solid the ground beneath us becomes. For indeed, we are standing on the eternal Rock—on Jesus Christ, our firm foundation. Relying more fully on God will look different for each of us according to our state in life and the mission to which God has called us. But all of us must live in the constant faith-filled expectation that God will always supernaturally provide for the life and ministry He has called us to, even in situations that seem hopeless and impossible from a human perspective. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith—trusting more in God’s providence than on our human abilities and plans. When the Lord is our shepherd, we will lack nothing. When we seek first the Kingdom, we truly will have all we need.

Casting Nets: Prayers for Healing in the RCIA

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The following article is the third in a series called “Casting Nets” that will run over the coming weeks. They are written by “John,” a student in one of Ralph Martin’s New Evangelization classes, and document several evangelization opportunities he has performed in his various ministries. He writes, “Each ministry is unique with various situations, circumstances, and needs; but the one constant is broken and injured people. It is my experience that there is no greater potential for miracles to occur than when desperate people meet Jesus. I have been blessed to have seen many people come to Jesus—often in surprising or unexpected ways—and quite often, it is I who is the most surprised.”

By John

I love RCIA, because evangelization is expected. I had two topics that I wanted to get across on this particular night. First, prayer is the most important thing that we need to learn to do, and second, that prayer can seem simple, but it is hard to do it well. I began by challenging the RCIA class that “if prayer didn’t work and if, in fact, we were just speaking words to the sky and God never answered us—then why even bother? Why are we are wasting our time?” It was blunt, but honest.

I then I gave two personal examples of answered prayers in my own life, and a couple of the candidates also shared their stories. I then began to teach about how to pray. I spoke about rote prayer, spontaneous prayer, contemplative prayer, healing prayer, intercessory prayer, meditative prayer, etc.

Then I announced that we needed a prayer practicum. I told them about my ministry (healing and deliverance) and told them about some of the things I’d witnessed. Using Mark 16:17-18 as a spring board, I said that I would teach them what I knew about healing prayer and how to pray with others. I then asked if there was anyone present with any injuries, aches, pains, etc. The first person to step forward was an ex-Detroit police officer. She said she had bad knees and that they hurt mostly after sitting. We gathered around her, and I told her and the others what I was about to do, explaining it slowly and carefully. I told her to relax and just let me know if she felt anything. We prayed. She began to sweat and was feeling heat all throughout her body. I asked her to try her knees out. She walked around and said that they were “a little better.” We prayed again, and on the second try, she said that they were “definitely better.” Praise God!

The five candidates were now paying closer attention, but I detected some skepticism, because this was not something visible. Plausible, perhaps; visible, no.

I asked if anyone else had any aches or pains. A woman who was studying to be a nurse reported hip problems and sciatica. Again, I explained the process, but before we even started praying for healing, she said she was feeling tingling. I pointed out how our good and gracious God was already at work—even before we had asked Him. I pointed out that this was not atypical when the Spirit is stirred up, and we prayed into the feeling. After a minute or so, I had her test her back, and she said she felt about the same, but was “sweating like crazy.” I offered to pray more for her. It was then she said something I’d always wanted to hear someone say. She said, “You can pray if you want, but the reason my back hurts is because I have one leg that is shorter than the other.”

Yes! Thank you, Lord! I had always wanted to see this malady healed and had been praying for the opportunity for some months.

I had her sit and put her feet on my knees, and sure enough, the right leg was about three-quarters of an inch shorter than the left. I lined up her boots so that everyone present could see the difference. I simply prayed “In the name of Jesus Christ, right leg, grow.” She said she felt something tingling in her knee, and after about five seconds, we all watched as the leg began to stretch, and we saw the two heels come together perfectly. Total time—about twenty seconds. I asked the candidates “do you see this?” Needless to say, they were all wildly excited. In fact, they wanted to pray over each other. We spent the rest of the class talking about God’s abundant mercy and love—and yes, all joined the Church the following Easter.

Note: I challenged the class to go and do the same (evangelize and heal), stressing that Mark 16: 17-18 applied to all of us—not just to me. Two weeks later, one of the young ladies in the class told me how she prayed for healing for a college classmate who was a “professed Baptist who hated Catholics.” He received healing for his back and is now reevaluating his view of Catholics.

Meeting Jesus for the First Time

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The following article is the second in a series called “Casting Nets” that will run over the coming weeks. They are written by “John,” a student in one of Ralph Martin’s New Evangelization classes, and document several evangelization opportunities he has performed in his various ministries. He writes, “Each ministry is unique with various situations, circumstances, and needs; but the one constant is broken and injured people. It is my experience that there is no greater potential for miracles to occur than when desperate people meet Jesus. I have been blessed to have seen many people come to Jesus—often in surprising or unexpected ways—and quite often, it is I who is the most surprised.”

The names of the individuals involved have been changed to protect privacy, and the author has been kept anonymous because he would like Jesus to have the credit for this work.

By John

As my wife and I arrived at the crisis pregnancy center, I had word of knowledge (a “nudge”) about someone with an ankle problem. It came and went so quickly and so quietly that I doubted it and initially brushed it away. However, as we were setting up for our Communion service for the seventeen women present, I overheard someone mention having sprained an ankle (perhaps I dismissed that nudge too soon). As my back was turned, I did not know who had said it, but no matter; God provides. My wife and I introduced ourselves and said that we were from the Catholic Church in town.

“Oh! I’m Catholic,” said a young woman who I’d estimate was between sixteen and eighteen years old. I asked, “Oh? Which church do you belong to?”

She hesitated. “I don’t really belong to a church right now.”

“Oh” I said. “Which church do you live near?”

She did not know the name of the church. I asked her, “When was the last time you went to church?”

She couldn’t remember that either. It became apparent that she was living in a non-practicing Catholic household and, in fact, she later admitted that she had not even been baptized. I had prepared a sermon based on the readings for that day, but this young lady didn’t even know the first thing about Jesus, so I abandoned my plan. I felt the Lord wanted me to focus on this young woman, so I asked her, “How is your prayer life”? “Honestly” she said, “I don’t even know how to pray.” “That’s OK,” I said. “I can help.”

I led her in an impromptu prayer that went something like this: “Jesus, I don’t even know if You are real, but people tell me You are, and You sound awesome. I’ve really messed up my life down here, and I can’t fix it anymore. I need some help. If You are really there, I invite You to come into my life and ask You to please help me. Amen.”

“That’s a prayer?” she asked. I laughed, “Yes; it’s a prayer. It’s a very open and honest prayer from the heart.”

We then spoke about the Holy Spirit, and then I led the whole group in a prayer to the Holy Spirit, followed by some quiet time. I told them that I had the sense that someone was feeling peace, another forgiveness, and that there was someone present with an injured ankle. As it turned out, it was the same young woman who I’d just taught to pray. She was surprised that I called out the ailment. I asked if it would be OK if my wife and I prayed over her. “What do I do?” she asked nervously. I smiled and replied, “Nothing at all. You just sit there and receive.” I asked the group to extend their hands in her direction and imagine Jesus fixing her ankle.

I thanked the Lord for her life and told her that I was going to put my hand on her ankle. I asked her to let me know if she felt anything. After a short while, she began to weep and said she had just felt a wave of emotion. She didn’t understand why she felt that way or what was going on, but I told her it was quite common. Someone else in the group told her it was the Holy Spirit. She said she felt a cold feeling on her ankle. She was shaking, crying, and laughing all at the same time, as the Holy Spirit fell upon her. I asked her how her ankle felt. “I don’t know,” she sobbed.

I said, “Well? Stand up and test it!” She began walking around—completely pain free. It was a very beautiful moment, because she didn’t understand what had happened or why she was healed. She was just completely overwhelmed with emotion and God’s love, and she just kept sobbing and saying, “What? Why? How?”

While reflecting on the incident, it struck me that in a scant fifteen minutes, this young woman—who previously had no idea of who Jesus was or if He even existed—met the risen Lord more powerfully than most people will in their entire lifetime. She went away that day knowing two things for certain: there is a God, and He loves her.

A Prayer for Troubled Catholics

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The following prayer was shared with us after the release of Ralph Martin’s letter Dear Troubled Catholics

By Susan Domen

Heavenly Father, we praise you! You are goodness and love, you are holy and perfect!

We come to you, Father, with heavy hearts, looking to You in Your infinite mercy, to console us in our grief, send clarity where there is confusion, repentance where there is sin, obedience where there is obstinance, truth where there is silence, and love where there is indifference.

Help us to fast and pray in reparation for our sins and for those who have led astray and compromised the faith of so many. Have mercy on us, look upon us as harassed and lost, as like sheep without a shepherd.

Father, we beg You, send Your Holy Spirit to breathe upon us, to renew; to make holy, beautiful and most pure, the Church, the bride of your beloved Son, Jesus. Holy Spirit, fall upon the most hardened hearts, as well as those of the faithful and devout. Fill them with the fire of Your love. Grant them holy boldness to speak truth in the face of corruption and intimidation. Let them not be silent, let them stand together in unity, in confidence that truth and goodness will prevail and the gates of Hell will not stand against the pressing in of the Holy Ones, the body of the Church, Christ’s Bride, to be made pure, holy, and undefiled.

Father, we come to You in our littleness, looking for comfort, looking for justice, looking for answers. We know You are most merciful, thank You for hearing our prayer. You are able to bring goodness through even the darkest of days, all in accordance with your divine will. We pray this in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, one with You, through the Holy Spirit.  Amen.