National Day of Prayer

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the ‘National Day of Prayer’.
According to the official website The mission of the National Day of Prayer Task Force is to mobilize prayer in America and to encourage personal repentance and righteousness in the culture.

The believer in me wants to embrace a ‘Day of Prayer’ but the cynic in me just can’t quite get past The National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Their website goes on to say:
(That) like Thanksgiving or Christmas, this day has become a national observance placed on all Hallmark calendars and observed annually across the nation. Really? Hallmark® calendars??? Well I guess that makes it official AND mandatory. After all, everyone knows that Hallmark® must be obeyed – otherwise there would be no Professional Assistants’ Day or Grandparents’ Day or “No, You Didn’t Win But You Were A Great Participant” Day.

I don’t mean to trivialize something that means so much to so many but I believe that they have done that to themselves by invoking Hallmark®.

I guess I felt a little better after I continued to read and found this on their webpage:
The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences, bringing together citizens from all backgrounds.

Which reminds me of a joke –
There was a nun teaching a Kindergarten class. She asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Sister asked the first little girl, “Patty, what would you like to be when you grow up?” Little Patty replied, “Sister when I grow up I want to be a doctor.” Sister replied, “Oh Patty, that’s wonderful. Doctors care for people and help them stay healthy and strong.” Then she asked little Tommy what he would like to be. He replied, “Sister, when I grow up I want to be a fireman.” “Oh Tommy, that’s wonderful, firefighters help save lives and property.” Sister then asked, “Mary, what would you like to be?” Little Mary replied very proudly, “Sister, when I grow up I want to be a prostitute!” With that, Sister grabbed her heart and fell faint to the floor. When she came to she asked, “Mary, WHAT DID YOU SAY that you want to be when you grow up?” Mary responded emphatically, “A prostitute, Sister!” With that, Sister responded, “Oh thank God! I thought you said Protestant!”

Okay, so now I’m the one being trivial.

But my point is this: Let’s pray that we can transcend our differences. Let’s build more bridges and fewer fences. Not just one day a year but everyday. I may be a Catholic but I can pray for Protestants (and not for their conversion). I can ask for their prayers, too. When my son was deployed to Iraq (the first time) my Evangelical friend was the one that held me in her arms and prayed for his protection and God’s mercy. One of my best friends is Jewish but I don’t feel a need to remind him that Jesus is my Savior. He knows what I believe AND he respects it. And I know that God holds him in the palm of His hand, too.

Prayer can be transcendent. But first we must remember that none of us has all the answers. We just need to surrender to God. And then let go…



Praying With Men

On Saturday my son-in-law Travis and I went to a ‘Men’s Day of Recollection’. This has become an annual event for our parish and it is held at a local Catholic high school nearby. I don’t know who named it ‘Day of Recollection’. It could just as easily be called ‘Day of Renovation or Reconstruction or Restoration’ but that’s beside the point. Each year the format is basically the same although the themes vary – but not greatly. This year was not much different from the other years that I’ve attended with one exception – I prayed. Now I know that probably sounds strange but it’s not that strange for me. I have attended many workshops and retreats and not prayed – NOT REALLY PRAYED anyway. I guess I’ve just been sort of programmed to pay polite attention to the presenter and participate in the discussions and attend the obligatory Mass and sing the hymns. And that’s what I usually do – just barely do.

You see I can’t remember when I haven’t been angry at my Church (at the institutional Church). And in fact part of the presentation on Saturday was about how all mainline churches are losing members in droves and how the Catholic Church is no exception – and I thought; well no duh! As the talk continued, we were somehow supposed to take comfort (or shame – not sure here) about the fact we are not alone. The Presbyterians, and The Lutherans, and The Baptists, and The Episcopalians are all in the same boat with us Catholics. I’m not sure if ‘the why’ was explained but I think it has something to do with our secular world not wanting to FOLLOW THE RULES. And that includes our acceptance of abortion, gay marriage, female clergy, and bargaining rights for public-sector employees. (Just kidding about that last one – although I have a feeling some men in attendance were thinking it). Anyway that’s about when I started to fade out. Whenever someone starts throwing around the word ‘secular’ I feel as though I’m blushing because I believe ‘secular’ might be code for ‘Denis Wilhelm and his kind’. After all, I voted for Barack Obama and my favorite nuns are the ones that don’t wear habits.

So while I was (sort of) zoned out. I started praying. I prayed for our pastor (who was our presenter). I prayed for the other men attending the retreat. I prayed for Travis, whose love motivated me to be there in the first place. But mostly I prayed for myself – for patience; for understanding; for guidance. I prayed my granddaughter Anna’s guardian angel prayer: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here; ever this day be at my side; to light, to guard, to rule, to guide. ~ Amen”

It’s funny that a child’s prayer would bring me great comfort at that moment. I realized (once again) that I AM A CATHOLIC – warts and all. I understood more clearly that all of us men who were gathered there on Saturday brought our strengths and weaknesses to God. Some of us were just searching for a way to live in peace. Some of us were mired in the need for ‘black and white’ answers in a world where all the questions are shades of gray. Some of us were holding on to hurt and pain for years or decades that we can’t (or won’t) let go. And some, like me, were carrying all of those things.

And in the strength of those seventy-odd men I was reminded that if God can continue to forgive me for my failings – I can continue to seek the Truth. I will commit myself to living my faith. And I will (try to) follow the rules. But I will also never stop questioning, challenging, hoping for a better world, a better church, a better community.

I know that we are perfected in Christ. For some of us it just takes a little longer. Now if I could just be as patient with myself as God is with me…

Maybe it should be called ‘Men’s Day of Recalibration’.



Prayer (and other questionable activities)

If you’re like me (hopefully you’re not) then you probably wonder sometimes if prayer makes any difference. There are those days when I feel as though my prayers are just empty words (thoughts) and then there are those days when I can’t even get myself to pray – why bother? The problems of the world just seem too overwhelming and my simple requests for peace; for justice; for equality; seem silly and selfish. Who am I to think (believe?) that God has time to listen to me? And what about those days when I’m not sure God exists? That can’t help my cause(s) –  if I’ve just questioned God’s existence only to follow-up with “okay if you do exist; here’s my list of stuff that needs to be your number one priority”.  What’s a struggling believer to do? 

For me – it’s more prayer.  Because I don’t know what else to do. That’s not exactly inspiring is it? And that’s probably because so often I don’t feel particularly inspired. But I pray. And if God does exist then She must have incredible patience. Lately I like to think of God as Maya Angelou or Sister Fidesta (my high school math teacher) – tough but gentle women with hearts of gold. The kind of God that won’t be shocked by my actions (or inactions) and who will take the time to listen (really listen) before showing me the error of my ways.

As I get older I find that I do remember to thank God for all my blessings but still my prayer life seems to be dominated by petitions – “take care of my wife; my kids; grandkids; friends in needs; the sick; the suffering; the dying; etc”.  Then there are the (sort of) secondary prayers – “please help me with work; with our finances; with my diet and exercise”.  Finally, my prayers often fall into the truly mundane or incredibly ridiculous – “please let the Packers make it to the playoffs or please let my favorite pair of jeans be clean” – God must really love those!

But I believe that God has a sense of humor (which would explain why men have nipples).  And God likely laughs at some of my crazy ramblings but still knows my heart and gives me what I truly need.  So I keep praying (and questioning) and hoping that my prayers make a difference. Often I do find that my prayers are answered; just not the way I wanted them to be. God knows best. That’s sometimes a tough thing to remember. And I guess that’s something else to pray for – understanding.

My prayer today is that each of you have a wonderful new year and remember to thank God (or at least your lucky stars) for your blessings.



This song speaks to me…

Jerks and Killers

Years ago my wife told me that all people were either basically good or basically bad.  In her explanation she gave the following examples:  Good = saints and various kind people.  Bad = jerks and killers.  It’s an understatement to say that those are pretty broad categories.  My kids and I have laughed at this pronouncement ever since but I’ve been married to Deborah for over 35 years now and I understand that to her it makes perfect sense.  I suppose that if humans and pigs share 99% of the same DNA then it’s not unreasonable to believe that saints and kind people and jerks and killers belong in the same behavioral categories.  I just hope Deb includes me in the “good” category.

Today I would like to focus on the jerks and killers. 

Lately at work someone has been brewing very weak coffee.  We have a ‘state of the art’ brewing system that a trained chimp could operate and yet EVERY morning I pour a cup of weak-ass coffee because some jerk can’t follow the simple instructions.  Hey stupid – you might as well drink hot water!  I’ve yet to discover who the jerk that can’t make coffee is.  But I have my suspicions.

There is a traffic merge near my office where EVERY night some jerks feel the need to stop.  YOU DON’T NEED TO STOP – IT’S A MERGE!  All these jerks are doing is holding up traffic. This is a daily annoyance.  For the love of God – read the sign.  Keep the traffic moving!  Of course my honking and yelling never seems to positively influence the offenders. 

My next door neighbor’s lawn looks like a cross between a mole farm and a prairie grass preserve.  Hey hillbilly – if you don’t want to take care of your lawn then don’t have one!  Move to an apartment or condo development where they take care of that sort of thing for you.  Look around jerk neighbor – you’re the only one whose lawn looks like a toxic waste dump. 

At the gym I attend there are several jerks but the one that is most offensive is the crazy guy that jumps from machine to machine and then becomes noticeably irritated, muttering curse words under his breath, when someone else decides to use the equipment that he had planned on “jumping to” next.  This guy might be slightly unstable (his appearance would tend to make you think so) but regardless he’s a jerk supreme. 

So when do jerks cross the line and become killers?  Do all jerks have the capacity for murder?  And should I be concerned about the jerk at the gym “snapping” and killing me for using a piece of equipment that he planned on using next?

If the shirt fits - wear it!

Unfortunately Debbie doesn’t have any answers for those questions.  So rather than worry about being killed by some jerk.  I’ve decided to work hard on not becoming a jerk myself and eventually a killer.  I suppose the whole jerk/killer thing could be a slippery slope. 

And now I’m wondering if I am considered a jerk by others?  Someone might be writing about me at this precise moment. 

I’m the jerk that bitches about the coffee EVERY morning.  I’m the jerk that honks at drivers EVERY night.  I’m the jerk that gives my neighbor the ‘cold shoulder’ because of his inferior lawn care ability.  And I’m the jerk at the gym that jumps on a piece of equipment right before someone else was planning on using it.    

Oh no!  I may not be a good person after all.  Don’t tell Debbie.  But please help me before I kill someone!  Your prayers will be appreciated.



Spiritual Desert

Like me, do you ever find yourself in a spiritual desert?  Those times when my prayers seem empty and perfunctory, it feels as if I’m just going through the motions.  And maybe I am.  So I pray: God, please help me!                                   

During those times I will attend Mass and sing and pray along and listen to The Word but I might as well be driving through the Automatic Car Wash.  My experience is completely passive and it barely registers on my psyche.  It almost feels as if I’m watching someone else – it’s not worship; it’s not prayer; it’s just sort of dutiful religious regurgitation.  Not exactly inspiring!

But sometimes maybe just BEING THERE is enough.  Maybe just being in the presence of others that are truly engaged spiritually has its own grace.  Perhaps being part of a community of believers means that sometimes we carry one another along the journey.  Possibly the prayers and singing of the ‘inspired ones’ can lift me up before God when I can barely pull myself into the pew. 

I sure hope so.  Because lately these desert experiences have been coming along more frequently and lasting much longer.  I sometimes fear that this life on earth may make me lose out on eternal life.  Too many times I approach the altar angry or hurt and can’t (or won’t) let go of my outrage.  Too often I have judged others as hypocrites.  And I it find more and more difficult to forgive and yet I expect complete forgiveness for my own shortcomings.

So I trudge along; hoping that maybe just by being at Mass and participating, however vacuous, I might find some grace and be touched by the Holy Spirit.  Witnessing my family’s worship, during these empty times, I wonder why I can’t feel God’s presence as they do.  Sometimes when my spirituality feels particularly bankrupt I find comfort in just holding my granddaughter in church.  She is certainly closer to God and just that simple act brings me a measure of peace (God’s peace?). 

Some days my prayer is just this:  God, please help me!  And there are times when that’s all I’ve got…