I got lost the other day. I was making my way home from my usual afternoon routine, but trying to avoid unusually heavy traffic when I decided to go off the grid; er, well, without the help of my GPS, and using, what I consider to be a great sense of direction, until I inevitably get lost…which I did.
But this misadventure was not without reward. As I rambled around a peaceful, green, hilly neighborhood I happened to spot a flock of wild turkeys. They were right near the road and hard to miss as they stuck together navigating the front yard of a nearby house. I always thought of turkeys as loners, but I recognized their sense of confidence despite my vehicle, which obviously seemed to be because of their “strength in numbers”. I pulled over and snapped a picture of them, knowing that they represented something meaningful, and rightly enough, this week’s prayer group discussion was on the importance of “sticking together” by relying on Christ and the necessity of faithful friendships.
This week in the church we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, the feast of which is celebrated on a Thursday as a Holy Day of Obligation. Many years back, to make it easier for the Faithful to celebrate this feast, many bishops moved the celebration for the Ascension to the following Sunday. We decided to use this important set of readings to invite the Holy Spirit to reflect upon with us.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
As always, after a moment of silence we share our spiritual lights with the group (comments are sometimes grouped by similarity);
- Confirm the word through accompanying signs
When we steep ourselves in the Word of God first and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit, God is generous with signs and confirmations to lead us in the right decisions on our journey.
- These signs will accompany those who believe
The apostles were able to do incredibly extreme things in the name of Jesus; What stops us from doing equally amazing things, or even small things like speaking about our faith to others in every day life? Fear. Jesus suffered greatly and it is a small price to pay for me to suffer any kind of social disdain from others because I speak of my faith.
We are reminded of our baptismal promises and what we are able to do in driving out evil in the powerful name of Jesus. Our minds doubt things that we can do as humans, but after recently attending a first communion celebration, and contemplating how Christ gave us his flesh to eat (the Eucharist; MT 26:26, John 6:52), how can we doubt the amazing things God can do? The Eucharist empowers us to have courage and faith.
- While the Lord worked with them
When I get fearful it is because I mistakenly believe it is up to me; when I know Christ is with me I have strength. The apostles went on to work knowing that Christ was with them and ALLOWED him to work through them. We must begin with scripture for the Lord to work with us.
A billboard that read “If at first you don’t succeed, do it the way Mom told you.” It seemed to be even more true if we can change it to “If at first you don’t succeed, do it the way GOD TELLS you”.
As an example of trusting in the Lord, we discussed a situation of a friend someone knew who was having horrible problems with her son. He was out of control, making bad decisions and wreaking havoc on the family. His mother was distraught and didn’t know what to do until she got to the point where she got on her knees and handed it all over to God. She relinquished all her concerns and worries and entrusted it all to God. She had not been a prayerful person, but her faith was stirred up by her realization of needing God, and not trying to do it all on her own strength. Shortly after, she experienced a miracle. Her son’s behavior completely turned around and she was in awe of God’s goodness and the beauty of what giving herself over to God had done in her life.
Friendships in Faith
“What a great favor God does to those who He places in the company of good people!” St Teresa of Avila
Having recently moved away from home, a woman was struggling to find friends in her new city. She longed for deep, meaningful friendships and often lamented to her mother over her loneliness. Being far away from her daughter and concerned for her, the mother began to pray for God to lead her daughter to find faith-filled and lasting friendships in her community. The daughter soon met some women at church who invited her to join them in their young mother’s group, and since she was a young mother herself, she joined them and found the friendships for which she had been longing.
Fr Michael Sliney, a Legion of Christ priest who often posts gospel reflection and formation videos, recently posted one about friendship, in which he begins “Iron sharpens iron…” expressing the gospel importance of choosing our company wisely with those who bring out the better in us. There is no mistaking the difference in our lives when we choose to journey through life with those who challenge us to be better and we can look for examples of goodness, dignity and Christ-centered love for others.
“Love everyone with a deep love based on charity; but form friendships only with those who can share virtuous things with you. The higher the virtues you share and exchange with others, the more perfect your friendship will be”. St Frances de Sales
Many of the women in our group had recently relocated and experienced the same sense of longing for deep friendships in their locale. We all had experienced the emptiness of lacking faith-centered friendships, particularly after a relocation or move, and been in an abyss of confusion without those with whom we could share similar desires and hopes, to serve God in our lives not just by serving our family and those around us, but to first be strengthen by sharing God’s word with others. It is important that we remember to ASK GOD for exactly what we need (He knows the deepest desires of our heart but by asking we make an act of faith); one person even said she was told by a spiritual director to BEG GOD for faith-based friends. It is imperative that we are strengthened by sharing the word of God with others in order to fill up and have the strength to be an example for others.
We beautifully shared with each other the gratitude we have for each other and our Thursday mornings together where we come together and reflect on the gospel, share stories of faith and challenge one another to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. We refer to our group as our strength, the place where we fill up for the week, sisters in Christ, and our joy. When we can’t make a Thursday morning, our week is harder, less grace-filled, and emptier. We need the strength of the fellowship in God’s word to fill our “tanks” in order to serve those around us with love.
HOPE and JUSTICE
Anyone who has read the last several weeks recap blogs could have guessed that the Holy Spirit has chosen justice for us again as the virtue to focus on this week. We believe in our spirituality (as did many saints) that the way you combat a sinful pattern or behavior is not by trying to decrease the sin, but by increasing the opposite virtue.
Hope is the over-arching theological virtue this week (FAITH, HOPE and CHARITY/LOVE). Justice is the human virtue under which we find descriptions like “friendship, love of neighbor, affability, authenticity”. We felt the best way to practice Hope and Justice in action this week (what we call our “apostolic” resolution) was to be as present as we can to others, as truly listening and paying attention to someone lends a sense of value and authenticity that faith-filled friendships give. Often others who long for these friendships are needing someone to be truly present to them in conversation to feel appreciated and loved. We discussed ideas for ways to be present such as put our phones away after 6 p.m. to really focus on our family conversations, or ask someone I am having a casual conversation with if I can do anything for them, in particular a prayer intention they may have.
Spiritually we discussed asking God to specifically place faith-filled friendships in the lives of those we love; remember the words of Jesus “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (MT 7:7). Ideas for ways to do this included:
- Praying for my spouse to have faith-filled friendships in the midst of the work place so work is not as burdensome (see resource below)
- Praying for my children to have faith-filled friendships
- Doing a novena for someone I know to be lonely to find a good faith-filled friend
We always leave our meetings enriched with many resources (books, podcasts, videos and other suggestions) so I am including some of these below.
John Abbate (for faith-based relationships in the workplace) Specifically the book below. Follow the link to purchase on amazon.
“Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake. If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven; whereas if you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul.” St. John Bosco