In need

Recently I talked with a hairdresser who was afraid to lose her job because the income of the salon had decreased dramatically amid the pandemic. Shortly before the crisis, she had moved to a more expensive apartment. Her son had stopped studying at the university because he did not like being a student and now he was working a job that did not pay well. Her second husband works as a waiter… better to say worked because the pandemic caused the restaurant to close.

The woman was desperate and courageous at the same time. She shared with me how much she was praying during the lockdown. Later, when going back to her church, she said her mask was soaked with tears. She was praying and praying and crying for help.

And the words of Jesus came into my mind: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

Yes, how will you not, Lord? The woman was not afraid to show her neediness. And she was not too proud or too afraid to show it to God.

Yes, Lord, often we are in need, often we are even needy. That is ok. We are like children, just needing. Just asking and wanting. This is ok. Because you, Jesus, told us, that God is our Father, our dear Father. We are his children. We are still his children. Sure, as adults, we must stay strong and responsible every day. We cannot let ourselves surrender. However, before YOU, we can. We can become like children and just express our need. In simple words, in simple gestures. It is not immature to do that. It shows our reality. It is ok to be in need. And you will answer us as our good Father. The best Father ever, ever.

Lord, I pray for this dear woman. I pray for so many who are in big need at the moment. Bless us all.

Can I love the Church?

“Can I still love the Church?” I asked myself recently. Having been part of the Church for many years as priest and monk, the honeymoon of the first years is over. I have seen a lot, both good and bad. It probably is similar to any relationship. There are things in the Church I love and things I really do not. There are things that bother me and others that sustain me. There is, over and over again, the moment to forgive and the joy to be forgiven.

However, compared to the first fresh view of the Church with the dreams and vision I had for her; the love, beauty, justice, and protection I expected from her; and after many years and experiences, one can feel disillusioned. I see the need for change. I suffer from her weaknesses, from her habitual problems, in parts from her dysfunctionality. I suffer mostly from the potential for evangelization and charity that she is missing out on. Knowing well that I myself am weak, I wonder: Can I still love the Church?

One could answer with Saint Benedict: love the brothers/sisters – hate the failure. In that sense: Yes, it is possible to love the Church by loving the brothers and sisters. However, what if I cannot stand some of them anymore? What if I have a hard time to love all the Church’s brothers and sisters? Pondering in prayer this question, it came to me: yes, I can still love the Church because I love Christ, because the Church is the body of Christ. It is Christ whom we love in the brothers and sisters. Not their sins certainly, but Christ in them. Christ who is present in them. Christ who constantly looks out for the good in them. Who has promised to stay with us. We love the Church because we love Christ. That is what keeps us.

Perhaps we must go even deeper: Why do we love Christ? It is because he loves us. Because he loved us first. It is his constant loving gaze that draws us in. It is his profound unconditional love and respect for us that binds us. It is his trust in us that makes us follow him.

I found the answer: our love to the Church is a response to Christ’s love for us, for me.

Dear Lord, you promised to be with us always, until the end of the age. We trust your promise. Do not leave us, especially, when we are in difficult times. Your love for us is like a “first love”. It never withers. Continue to love us, Lord, and continue to bless your Church.

Good and meek eyes

We have been in quarantine for four weeks already in our monastery at Sant’Anselmo. The new situation is challenging for us, like for everybody during the Corona pandemic. However, all monks are still healthy, and that makes us grateful and humble.

Every day I learn something new. For example, I noticed that in a crisis like this things surface that we can hide in normal times. Usually, there are many ways of avoiding in a community. Now this is no longer possible. We are – one could say – naked. On one hand, new parts of us appear–new creativity, spontaneity, a sense of responsibility, a readiness to selfless giving and support. On the other hand, our weaknesses that we do not want others to see, lie bare. I believe every relationship has secrets and that does not destroy it. Maybe in contrary. Now, however, we are together continuously, and are left uncovered. We see ourselves as we are, more aware of our bad habits–emotions erupt, perhaps from ancient tensions that were latent, but with which we could deal. In a situation of stress, it becomes more difficult.

What are the remedies? It helps me to remind myself that God is looking at us with his good and mild eyes. This is what I am also supposed to do: be good with myself, good and patient and meek. But also, be good and patient with my neighbors–To not judge them, to be merciful with them, to forgive them for how they are.

In paradise, we were naked in God’s eyes, but we did not notice it. When we let us be looked at by him, in these days, we can discover a new and good way to treat each other.

Lord, look at me. If I don’t like to see myself, look at me. If I don’t like to see the others, look at them. Your heart is so much bigger than ours. Cleanse me during this time, make my heart wider, my eyes milder and my faith deeper. Forgive me as I forgive my neighbors.

Prayer Pushed

There is a kind of prayer that has become very precious to me. In the German language it is called Stoßgebet, which means “pushed prayer.” In English, it is called ejaculatory prayer, an expression that stems from Saint Augustine. Iaculatorium is a “thrown, flung, hurled prayer”.

Unfortunately, it is not taught much anymore. However, it helps me often and a great deal. Its very characteristics are shortness and fastness. It is hearty and powerful; it “erupts”, so to speak, from the heart. It has the same mechanics as cursing, but it is actually its opposite. It is positive and directed to God. It wants to connect us with God. It is a prayer that breaks forth directly from our soul. It can have any simple content such as, “Bless me, Lord.” “Help me.” “Look at me.” “I love you.” “I need you.” “I trust you.” “Protect me.” You just speak it, not knowing what comes forward.

The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. (Romans 8:26)

This kind of prayer is very similar to the “Jesus Prayer” or praying the Rosary, which aims to help us pray constantly. They can go on and on in our heart and we can practice them continuously. Instead, ejaculatory prayer can be used at any time, in any situation. It is a one-shot prayer. You can do it while taking a shower, in the metro, before starting the car, before entering a door, before meeting a person. You have only to actively push it out. It needs a little physical effort, a spiritual-physical one, to get the prayer going. St. Peter invites us to cast the prayer.

Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

I won’t end this post as usual with a prayer. Rather, I invite you to throw out your own prayer. Whatever comes forth will be right. Even “Lord, I don’t know.” Just utter what is on your heart, push it out, towards God.

I Put My Trust In You

In God we trust, I trust in God… how quickly are we ready to say that? Do we really mean it? To be honest, sometimes trust comes naturally to me, but other times, however, I have difficulty trusting. There are often good reasons not to trust–bad experiences, hurts of the past, knowledge of things and people, realism.

Better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mortals. (Psalm 118:18)

Sometimes I find myself weak in trusting God. It is not because of God, it is because I trust rather myself, even more–my own intelligence, my experience, the things that give me security. Only when those things are taken away from me, do I realize what trusting God really means. One day, I came across this Psalm verse:

I put my trust in you. (Psalm 55:24)

The slight difference here is that I put my trust in God, which means, I do something. Trusting becomes an activity. I like that. I can do something for it. I am not condemned either to trust and to believe or to not have that trust at all. It is my decision whether I trust or not.

Well, how can I do it? Putting something somewhere means to give it out of my hands and leaving control to somebody else. I give my trust away, to Him. My trust now lies on Him, with Him. This little move makes trusting more concrete and lively for me. When I am distrustful, I try to take all my confidence and place it into God’s hands. We don’t know if God will do exactly what we want him to do, but He will never disappoint our trust. He will never misuse our trust. He will never fool us.

Lord, let me put my trust in you. You are great. You are merciful. You love me. I know you invite me to trust you, in little daily things as well as in the big things of my life. Strengthen my trust in you.

Silent Cry

It is hard to suffer. It is harder when we cannot express our suffering, when the suffering is so strong that we have not even the strength to cry. I learned in emergency assistance courses that if you come to the scene of an accident, you should not necessarily turn first to those who cry the loudest. You should look for the people who don’t cry anymore. They might need your help the most.

During the period in which we meditate the passion of Christ, I feel encouraged to pray for all who silently suffer. Because Christ experienced the same, when he stood before Pontius Pilate, when he was flagellated, when he was mocked – so much so that the evangelist Luke interpreted the situation with the prophet Isaiah:

“Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Acts 8:32; Isaiah 53:7)

What could he have said? The plot was made. Only his friends could see his suffering. It touches my heart that Jesus could not say anything. How much he must have suffered! All the ignorance and injustice as an “answer” to his healing and consoling! Sometimes the silent cry is the loudest. Days before, he still wept over Jerusalem – now he does not even weep.

No matter if our suffering is caused by others or self-inflicted, or if we just don’t know the cause at all, not being able to express our suffering is the worst. Contemplating the passion of Christ gives us consolation. When Jesus is entering Jerusalem together with his disciples, the Pharisees want him to rebuke and silence them. Jesus replied to the Pharisees:  “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” Jesus encourages us to cry out our suffering. I don’t have to hold back. He invites me to do it in front of him, or in front of a good friend. Jesus hears me. He even hears the silent cry. He sees me. He even sees the smallest tear. And he will answer me.

Lord, I ask you to watch over those who don’t cry anymore, who suffer so deeply that they cannot even cry. And I ask for myself that you help me to express myself, my sufferings and my concerns without fear, with courage, and with hope.

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The Armor of Light

A friend recently shared with me the difficulties he has at work—toxic atmosphere, disrespect of rules, bullying, and filthy relationships—and he was wondering how to deal with it. As we were talking, St. Paul came to mind with his expression “armor of light” (Rom 13:12). In the letter to the Ephesians, he explains:

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (…) So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (6:10-17)

 When we think of weapons, we usually don’t think of truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and the word of God. What different kind of weapons! If we fight with the weapons of darkness, the situation will continue to be dark. Wounds on all sides will increase; grief and wish for revenge will grow. Instead, if we fight back with the weapons of light, light will come onto the scene. We are not supposed to not defend ourselves, because it is evil that we encounter. The question is how we defend ourselves.

“Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Rom 13:12

 This is the other way to respond to difficult situations, a way that really helps us to exit the spiral of negativity and violence. Faith, truth, and the word of God is what make us truly strong. This is what protects us. Faith is powerful.

Lord, let me learn to use the weapons of light. I yearn for light and peace. Let me stick with my faith, especially in difficult situations. Let me meditate your word so as to be ready to respond. Let me not be afraid to follow the truth. Let me pursue righteousness. And let me believe that you are the salvation, that you have saved us, that you have already won the battle! On earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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If You Can!

You seldom see Jesus emotional. There might be some projection on my part when I read this story, however, one little sentence caught my attention recently during the liturgy. In the gospel of Mark, we see Jesus a little annoyed. (Mk 9:14-29) The disciples were not able to drive out a demon and they were discussing why.  “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me, ” Jesus exclaims. We see Jesus often full of patience, tenderness, and mercy, and reminding us not to judge. But, here, he disqualifies the disciples and the whole generation recklessly. He cannot stand them anymore. He is tired of them. Rather, he is tired of their lack of faith.

When he talks with the father about his sick son, the father says: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. Jesus responds: “‘If you can!’” as if to say, what a question. What a stupid question! How can one doubt the power of God and his power to heal? Jesus just does not get it. With these slightly sarcastic words “If you can,” in this terrifying moment for the father, I am reminded of the greatness and power of God. Sometimes we forget how great He is. And, thus, we cannot believe in him. His greatness, instead, is able to trigger our faith. This is what Jesus wants to do here. He does not reply: I am sorry, that you cannot believe yet. I am so sorry, see, faith is a journey, you will get there finally, don’t worry. No, he says: I worry, that you don’t see how great God is. And he adds: “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” With this, he reminds us that we are able to connect with God’s greatness in faith. Then the boy’s father cries out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” This confrontational therapy helped the father to reactivate his strength: Sure, I believe. And if there is anything lacking in my faith, God – you are great enough, complete it! And, well, Jesus heals the boy.

My Lord and my God, let me never think too small of you. Let me admire and acknowledge your greatness and might. Your power will pull me up. Your mercy will take care of my weakness. Let me not further annoy you. Let me trust that you CAN DO IT. How could you not?  Confront me when necessary. Heal me. Heal all those who are entrusted to my care. You can do it. Lord, help my unbelief.

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He rejoices in me—really?

It was a usual Wednesday morning. I was half awake, half asleep while I was saying prayers. All of a sudden, one verse strikes me:

“As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.” Isaiah 62:5

I think how beautiful that is! I have witnessed bridegrooms rejoicing in their brides and brides rejoicing in their grooms. Such freshness of love! How beautiful it is when somebody rejoices in me, when it gives another joy to see me.

Then I am looking at myself, thinking: it was 33 years ago that I entered the monastery with butterflies in my stomach. But now? Not so much. At least while I am praying, I succeed in lifting up this longing to God, although I feel myself far away from this state. I share with God that I would like to be loved this way again, as the prophet Isaiah says: God rejoices in me. I want to feel it, to experience it, while knowing that all spiritual and mystic traditions say that experiencing and feeling it is not as important as believing in it. I end my prayers by starting my daily work and schedule with a new kind of curiosity: Would I see God today, in fact, rejoicing in me, in my being?

I was surprised how my day changed with this simple prayerful question! I felt peace, I felt joy. I saw good things happening around me. I did not pay too much attention to the bad things. It is a truth: God is happy with me and he rejoices in my being—and that changes everything. Often we don’t like ourselves—and for good reasons. Still, God loves each of us, and is happy to see us, to have us around him, to talk with us.

Lord, don’t let me forget how much you love me. “You did not choose me, but I chose you”, I hear you saying (John 15:16). I don’t know how I merit this kind of love—but it just fills my heart with great joy, serenity, and gratitude.

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I Will Wake the Dawn

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“I will sing and chant praise.  Awake, my soul; awake, lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn.” Psalm 57:8-9

This is a bold claim—to wake the dawn. As if the dawn would not get up by itself. As if it would not wake me.

How do I feel in the morning? Sometimes full of joy and looking forward to the day’s events; sometimes worried and concerned, often just tired. For some of us the dawn is a relief because we could not sleep well.

In order to wake the dawn, I have to be up before the dawn. I have to be awake before the sun even wakes me. It is bold because as humans, we are part of nature and mother sun is huge and powerful. To be ahead even of her is an amazing thing.

The Psalm seems to point directly to Jesus Christ. The women discovered His rising from the dead “as the day was dawning.” This discovery, the resurrection of the Lord, brought a new light to their life that changed everything. It was truly a dawn of a new life. But when they discovered the empty tomb and the angel sitting there, the Lord was already risen. That means He had risen before the dawn. It means He is greater than the sun and moon; he is even before the sun. He is the true sun. He is the true light.

When we get up very early in the morning, when we wake the dawn – with our praise, with our joy –  we join the Lord. We can sense something of this new, everlasting, imperishable life. We are filled with joy because Jesus is even stronger than day and night, stronger than life and death. In Him all of this was created and finds its fulfillment.

Dear Lord, when I am tired and not motivated to wake up, let me think of you. You are ahead of me. You are ahead of this day, so I know that everything will be good. Let me be close to you. Let me be with you at the place where you have been even before all life was born. You give me a light and a life that cannot be destroyed, by no one and by nothing. Let my singing and chanting be an expression of this joy. Let me get up early. Let me wake the dawn.