Prayer and Climate Change

An old lady in Nebraska once shared with me something interesting. She came from a farming family and told me that when she was young, if it didn’t rain for a long time, the whole family would fall to their knees and ask God for rain. Today, she said, things are different: people look at their smartphones, “Probability of precipitation 10%,” and forget to pray because they assume it won’t rain anyway. If the forecast showed “probability of precipitation 90%”, you wouldn’t pray either, because it was somehow clear that it wouldn’t rain. In any case, people would no longer pray for favorable weather. With modern means of communication, we get the impression that we have everything under control. Is that really the case? Who has more power, God or the meteorologists? I also once heard the joke: I don’t even believe the weather report when it states afterwards what the weather was like.

On a serious note, if we look at climate change, we can say that the majority of scientists are noticing and predicting the change. And many people are doing everything they can to stop it, mitigate it, and prevent the worst of it. Others deny it or do not see it as dramatic. Have we ever thought about the fact that not everything is in our hands? Do we also pray to God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has an influence on human beings and nations, to help us so that our earth remains and becomes a good place to live? Do we trust that He has much more power than we do, that He can work miracles, that He knows things that we do not know? All this does not relieve us of our responsibility in the least. But with all the discussions, the alarming words and the defiant attitudes, it occurred to me that prayer could be something that each of us can do; and that prayer would really help in any case, as Jesus promised us.

Good God and Lord, you created everything. Your wisdom is boundless. You want this world to flourish. You want our life, yes, the fullness of life. We ask that you help us to care for our planet as best we can. We ask you to keep it in a state where we can live out your call. We ask you to prevent us humans from exploiting it so unnecessarily that future generations will not be able to live here. We ask you to take away the hubris that makes us think we have everything under control. Let us search peacefully for ways into the future. You are the Father of each one of us. Take care of us and let the climate be favorable for us.

Every Hour

In my home monastery there was the old tradition of praying every hour. As soon as the bell rang, you had to stop your work and say a prayer. I remember some monks who did this very faithfully, in the garden, in their workshops, wherever they were. Even our abbot would stop in the middle of a conversation, and we would spend a short time in silent prayer. At first, I found this a bit awkward. But today I see this custom differently. Because it is St. Paul who tells us to pray without ceasing:

Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thess. 5:17-19)

How can we pray without ceasing? How should that be possible? Isn’t that just an ideal? Perhaps it is more a matter of adopting an attitude of gratitude, all the time, an attitude of praise, of attachment to the Lord. The psalm says we should pray at least seven times a day (Psalm 119:164), which would cover the whole day symbolically. Most monks pray their Divine Office five times a day. That makes almost 3 hours a day – that’s something! Of course, you can pray at any time. You don’t have to pray by the clock. But I have found that thinking of God at least once an hour helps to lift our hearts.

God does not need our prayer. As a good parent, you don’t need to hear from your children all the time. They can come to you anytime, and that is enough. Similarly, it must be with God. We can come to Him at any time. But it is good for us to be in contact with Him. It is good for us not to lose the connection. The longer we are out of touch, the further we can get away from Him. It becomes more difficult to return, but certainly not impossible. But as I said, once an hour seems to be a good start. Looking at a crucifix, spontaneously thanking God for a grace we have just experienced, asking in prayer for someone who is suffering. Simply a sign of touch. A little “hello, God, here I am”, a thumbs up, a smile, a prayer from the heart.

We don’t have to set our timer for this, although the bells in a monastery can really help, as can the bells in the parishes. In the end, we want this to become our attitude, so that from within there is a desire to be in contact with HIM.

Lord, when I am no longer by myself, bring me back. When I forget you, remind me. When daily work or worries occupy me, knock on the door of my heart and invite me to pray. Let me pause and pray. Amen.

What Is Heaven Like?

Of course, we cannot know for sure what heaven is like. How could we? But the Bible and our faith give us images. I just mention two here. A beautiful image for heaven is the wedding feast, the supper of the Lamb, the banquet.

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” (Is 25:6)

If you are someone who loves to eat, or let’s better say feast; if you love to be with people, to savor every course, to enjoy every detail that the cook has put into a great meal: then you know what heaven could look like. Only better!

Another beautiful image is music: the choirs of angels around the throne of God are singing. With them – we hope, by the way – the monks. “Music in the air”. If you love music, if you love to listen to it; if you love to make music, to sing, to play – then you also know what heaven is like – only better. Many walk the streets with headphones because they want the music with them all the time. When you’re surrounded by music, you see the world differently. It makes things easier, more pleasant. But how is that going to work in heaven? Because there are very different tastes in music…. Okay, everyone has their “apartment”, if we go by Jesus’ words, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) So I could listen to my favorite music without disturbing my neighbors? But is that heaven, sitting in my own room, isolated from others? I want the music to be heard everywhere, in public…. How God does that – I have no idea. That’s why we call it heaven or the Kingdom of God. Because we can’t make it. We can’t even imagine how to do it. God will be in control. But it will be wonderful, for me, for us, for all of us. We wouldn’t interfere with each other, on the contrary.

If you’re not so much into music or food, I’m sure you’ll have something else you love. This will be heaven for you. And much more. Well, are these thoughts too anthropocentric? What makes the difference in heaven? “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3) That’s it: Heaven is where Jesus Christ is, where He is with me and with all His friends, His brothers and sisters. He turns to us, He turns to me as I am, He wants to be with me.

Receive me Lord, as you have promised, that I may live; and disappoint me not in my hope.

I chose the painting by Brueghel only because it contains both music and food. It may not fit with your idea of heaven…. Maybe you immagine rather silence? How do you dream about heaven?

New Skins

In times of change, when we have to decide what to keep and what to let go, we can learn from a word of Jesus. He said:

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”  (Luke 5:37-39)

Jesus speaks of a blessed moment: new wine is available. New possibilities open up in our lives, a new path lies before us. We should not spill this moment. While Jesus honors this situation, he also does not devalue the old: the old wine is good! If we bless both, the future and the past, each in its own way, it will go well.

What could the wineskins stand for? They could represent patterns and expectations. The old wineskins could be our habitual behavior, our typical limitations, our fears, our unhealed wounds, our memories. If we hold on to them, we will not be able to move forward. We will not be open to the new. The new wine will be spilled. We need to frame the new in a completely new way. We must let go of the old skins in order to preserve the new. We may have already made changes, but we have found that we have stumbled over our old patterns. Therefore, we doubt whether we are really able to embrace the new. For example, when we embark into in a new relationship. Jesus encourages us: Yes! New wine. Fill it into new skins!

The old wineskins could also be our own expectations. If we hold on to them, we will end up where we have been before. We are invited to find new ways to evaluate the new differently, to judge it with new standards. Perhaps, after all, the new goes far beyond my expectations. If I constantly compare the new with what I used to expect, I am still carrying the new wine in old wineskins.

Lord, you invite us to convert. You encourage us to true inner renewal. With our baptism, You have opened the door for us: We can enter into a new life, together with You. A life in fullness. You believe in us. People CAN change. I can change. I can be healed. The good remains, the new is truly new. Thank You for the freshness of this good news!

Greedy Communities

Community life means giving and taking. But some members give more, others less. That’s fine, depending on each person’s abilities. It becomes problematic when certain people have to give more all the time. The sociologist Lewis A. Coser speaks of “greedy organizations.” Such organizations depend on “sucking” their employees, their strength and energy. They are greedy; they never get enough.

Sometimes the Church is in danger of being a greedy organization. This is a real temptation, because Christian spirituality is based on self-giving. How could you complain about giving too much when your model is Christ, who gave himself completely? This is a trap.

Here is the great difference: our High Priest Jesus Christ was able and willing to give Himself, even in great pain and sorrow, because He was God. We Christians are called to give ourselves freely; but we are not called to be sucked dry; either by other individual Christians or systematically in a community. The abuse crisis of the Church originates here: it does not begin with sexual abuse. It does not even begin with the abuse of power, which is the root of all sexual abuse. It begins with the exploitation of people, with the “using of people,” in everyday life.

What is the way out? To correct those who exploit. To protect those who have too much on their shoulders. To accept the reality and the limits of the community.

Let’s look at the problem from another angle. Benedictine monks in an African monastery hung a sieve in one of their common rooms. The story they tell about this sieve goes like this: If each member of the community holds a hole shut with one of his fingers, even water can be kept in a sieve. But if one – or even some – pull back their fingers, the water – that is, the power of the community – gradually runs out, even if the others keep their holes closed. For the African monks, this is a symbol of solidarity within a community. The Christian community could be a group of people trying to “keep the water in the sieve”. It is a community task. The finger of each individual is needed.

Lord, strengthen our communities. Grant that we may be of one heart and soul. Let us care for one another. Grant that no one will be overwhelmed. Grant that we have the courage to address problems. Let us set an example of how to live together in love and respect. And lead us all together to eternal life.

Peter denied Jesus, and was one of those who could not “keep the whole shut”. In fact, in the end, everyone withdrew his finger. None of the community of apostles defended Jesus.

Holy Ground

Every church is a blessing. When we enter a sanctuary, we enter holy ground. Because this ground is healing, it wants to heal us. A ground that is free from all harmful things and influences, for we are in God’s house. In every religion there are sacred spaces. And there are traditions that make us notice that we are entering a different space. Jews put on their hats, Muslims take off their shoes, Christians take holy water to remember their baptism. It is good to have such thresholds that remind us not to just stumble into the room as if we were walking on an ordinary street.

“God said to Moses: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

Following God’s command, we humans try to keep holy places clean and intact. However, we do not succeed 100 percent. When we enter, we carry ourselves into the sacred space, bringing with us many things that are not perfect. However, the reason a sacred space is sacred is God alone. It is He, it is His presence that changes everything. The same is true for the liturgy. We celebrate it as beautifully, meaningfully, and reverently as possible, and yet it doesn’t even come close to the heavenly liturgy. Therefore, at the beginning of each liturgy, we open ourselves to God, let Him take away our sins, and “cleanse” us to be fully open to His healing power.

So what can we do when we enter a sanctuary? The threshold is our chance: stop for a moment! Notice how you are, who you are, and acknowledge God’s presence. God is here, God dwells here, he wants to heal you, he wants to do good to you. Do not let this opportunity pass. As you stand in the sacred space, God is constantly trying to draw you closer to Himself and restore your integrity, your joy and your love. As we leave the church, perhaps we can say with Jacob: “Truly, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it! How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16-17)

Lord, I thank you for all who care for sacred spaces: sacristans, those who clean the churches, those who pray in the churches and make sure they are more than mere museums, priests, deacons, all who are committed to worship you. I ask that you help me to pass by often to greet you and enjoy your presence. Amen.

How lovely your dwelling,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines
    for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh cry out
    for the living God.
As the sparrow finds a home
    and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altars,
    Lord of hosts, my king and my God!
Blessed are those who dwell in your house!
    They never cease to praise you.

Psalm 84:2-5

Unfeigned Love To Superiors

Many of us – in one way or another – have superiors, directors, bosses. It’s interesting how St. Benedict wants to see the relationship to superiors from the point of view of subordinates. He says, “To their abbot the monks should have unfeigned and humble love” (RB 72:10).

This makes me think that sometimes we fake our “love” for superiors in our own favor. And we have our reasons for doing so: We expect benefits. Or we want to protect ourselves by not showing what we really think and feel. We have had bad experiences with being honest with them. So Benedict’s recommendation sounds like quite a challenge.

His advice can certainly only be understood in a monastic context. Here there is a community, a spiritual community. Its leader is elected and is to take the place of Christ. It is Christ whom we are to love humbly and sincerely. But we can also learn something from Benedict in the general context. If we are not honest in our relationship with our superiors, they cannot learn, they cannot grow, the company or organization they serve cannot progress. Instead, if we speak our minds humbly and not opinionatedly, humility will protect us. I think this is especially important in the church context. How do we speak to our pastors, to our bishops, to people in a “higher” spiritual position? There are too many yes-men. There are people who cultivate a kind of courtly behavior. One says “yes” to the superior when he says “yes”, one says “no” when he says “no”. You can recognize kippers. They tip over. Their backs are not straight. The Latin word for unfeigned sincera is translated in German as aufrichtig, which means upright.

The first Christians spoke sincerely and frankly, as we often hear in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g., Acts 13:46). They presented themselves with the boldness and courage that the Holy Spirit gave them. “But it is something we cannot understand how these people are so courageous, they have this boldness” (Acts 4:13). When we speak, we should have more respect for God, who really has power over us, than for people who depend on God. Benedict invites us to be genuine and straightforward.

Lord, give me the courage to be frank when I speak. Give me the wisdom to be prudent. Build your Church among us by creating a network of people who are sincere with each other. Give me and all who have leadership roles the humility to truly serve and learn from those for whom we are responsible. Send your Holy Spirit and fill us with his gifts!

Growing Joy

There are different kinds of joy. There is the exuberant jubilation. Like the soccer players at the end of the game, after the victory, jumping, dancing, splashing prosecco. The joy is so great that one does not even know how to express it adequately. I once discovered a different kind of joy in the liturgy, which I later found in reality. This, by the way, is typical and a meaning of liturgy: it opens our eyes, increases our capacity to perceive the immense richness of reality. What millions of forefathers and foremothers have expressed in their songs and rituals, we do not have to invent from scratch, we can learn from them, benefit from them and their experience with God.

I first noticed this while practicing the introit of Easter: “Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum.” The melody is very measured, almost timid. One wonders, “Hey, it’s Easter, rejoice! Why so hesitant?” The answer is, because you have come from a journey. Because you have a story. Jesus came from the experience of exclusion, betrayal, suffering, torture, crucifixion. You don’t just get up and jump. The rising “needed three days.” Communicating the good news also takes time: the disciples didn’t get it right away, the joy of Jesus’ resurrection took time to be understood, time to be celebrated and expressed.

When we go through deep sorrow, when we are confronted with severe problems, and when God finally – unexpectedly – delivers us from this distress, we need a little time; our body needs time, our soul needs time to understand, to let it sink in. The joy comes slowly – but: this is the greatest, most complete, deepest joy of all. This silent joy, which is ready to grow, cannot be stopped. It is like a small flower that begins to grow tenderly and subtly, but becomes large.

Dear God, I look forward to the next experience of joy. I look forward to when you surprise me with either jubilation or quietly growing joy. I pray for all who are in great need, who are suffering, who are grieving, who are sad. Deliver them and let their joy return, slowly but surely. Thank you, dear Lord, for the joy of Easter, for the joy of the risen Lord.

In Temptation: Fight, Flight, Freeze

Animals and humans have learned how to react adequately in a dangerous situation: Fight, flight or freeze. This can also be applied to any temptation. In temptation, something is near that wants to harm our lives and puts our lives in danger. One way is to escape from the temptation. This is the first reaction of the monk, because he “flees the world” (fuga mundi) in order not to be exposed to temptations. We know what he finds in his deserted place: new temptations. So fleeing is a good method, but there are other instruments that can be used. Fighting temptation is also a suitable tool. The monk does this with words, good words, words that he takes from the Holy Scriptures, and he throws them at the demons, trusting that these words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will overcome the evil thoughts and feelings.

Finally, there is a third way to respond to strong temptations. I found it impressively depicted in a painting of Domenico Morelli. It shows St. Anthony the Great, the first Christian monk and hermit, suffering a carnal temptation in the desert. It threatens him from all sides. No escape possible, fight hopeless. Instead, he falls into frozen mode. He seeks the closeness to the Lord, his cross, which overcomes all evil and even death, and keeps still. He goes on “autopilot,” so to speak. Knowing how weak he himself is, he surrenders himself entirely to the Lord, clings only to Him, and leaves to Him the struggle against evil. It is as if Anthony wanted to say: I am no longer here, it is only the Lord.

I don’t know what your typical temptations are. If we are awake enough, we discover things that want to harm our health, our relationships, our lives. God has given us means to respond, to say “no.”

Dear God, surround me with your guardian angels. Let me practice always being attentive to your presence. That way, I don’t have to be afraid. Let temptations become an opportunity to draw closer to you, to surrender my life to you, who protect me and who love me dearly.

From Psalm 91:

Say to the Lord, “My refuge and fortress,
    my God in whom I trust.”
He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
    from the destroying plague,
He will shelter you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you may take refuge;
    his faithfulness is a protecting shield.
  For he commands his angels with regard to you,
    to guard you wherever you go.

“Because he clings to me I will deliver him;
    because he knows my name I will set him on high.
He will call upon me and I will answer;
    I will be with him in distress;
    I will deliver him and give him honor.
With length of days I will satisfy him,
    and fill him with my saving power.”

Giving Compliments

Recently a friend said to me: It is part of a good partnership to give each other compliments. Sometimes to say, “You’re beautiful”. “You’re gorgeous”. “I’m so lucky to have you”. “You’ve done so well.” “What would I do without you?” We don’t always have to use superlatives, a simple compliment is already balm for the other person’s soul and a sign of love. If you never compliment your beloved, something is missing.

I’ve been thinking about how we can do the same with the Lord. To compliment Him. We do it in the Liturgy of the Hours, “You are great” “You do wonderful things” (Psalm 86:10). “How deep are your plans!” (Psalm 92:6). “Wonderful are your works” (Psalm 139:14). In this way we express our love for Him. Does He also compliment us? Yes, He does. In the very beginning, when we were created, God “looked at everything He had made and found it very good.” We also see Jesus complimenting people: “In no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10). “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21). “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah” (Matthew 16:17).

It does us good to hear compliments. It makes us happy, it gives us strength. Even if we already know that the other person loves us, sometimes we want to hear it. God himself doesn’t necessarily need our compliments, as a preface to the Eucharist knows: “You don’t need our praise; it’s a gift of your grace that we give you thanks.” But we do need the compliments. It is a grace to receive them, and it is a grace to give them. We shouldn’t wait to do it. It’s a small thing. It can be done at any time. Not as empty rhetoric, but as a true expression of our friendship and love.

Lord, beloved Son of God. Thank you for showing us the Father’s love. Not only in words. But also by healing us, comforting us, guiding us, protecting us, forgiving us – even suffering for us. Let us never forget your love. Blessed are you.