The “Little Things” are Actually “Most Things”

Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” The reality is that most of our lives are made up of seemingly small decisions and yet they do truly matter in how we are to be judged.

Today, Fr. Mike shares how our faithfulness to God in the small daily decisions actually amounts to the sum of our spiritual life and the growth in our holiness.

What does God want this Advent? Simple. He wants you. He wants a personal encounter with you. This year, journey through Advent with “Rejoice! Finding Your Place in the Advent Story,” and learn about the places, people, and events that shaped the story of the very first Advent and shape our own lives today:

Ascension Presents – Why God Allows Us to Learn from Our Mistakes

God is quick to forgive, and he’s given us the gift of confession so we can return to a relationship with him after sin. But this love he has for us is so great that he never wants us to be caught by sin again, which is why he allows our sins to have consequences. Just like your parents would teach you why something is wrong, God helps us build knowledge of sin and its consequences by letting us experience them. Without learning from our mistakes, we would just keep falling into the same sins, separating us from a relationship with God.

Today, Fr. Mike explains why God lets us learn from our mistakes, and how it shows the depth of his mercy.

Ascension Presents – Look! Squirrel!!

Even with four hours a day of prayer, Fr. Malachy still gets distracted.

After his mind would wander off on one tangent after another, he brought this problem to his spiritual director. But, the director told him, God took great joy in seeing Fr. Malachy turn to him over and over again, choosing Jesus tangent after tangent.

A great analogy for distraction in prayer is a baby learning to walk. The baby is going to fall over and over again, but the parents triumph in every step the baby takes because they know how hard it is for the baby to overcome the obstacles and master the challenge of walking. In prayer, we are going to get distracted over and over, but the Lord is overjoyed by every moment where we turn back to him because he knows how hard the world, the flesh, and the devil make it to pray.

When you get distracted, just get up and turn back to Jesus. Eventually focusing on him will become as easy as walking. After a while, you will begin to learn to turn your heart to Jesus naturally and choose him instead of distraction.

Slow down your mind. Instead of fighting distraction after distraction, take each step slowly. An occasional “squirrel” may cross your mind, but you will be able to refocus on Jesus if you take it slow. Then, before you know it, you won’t just be walking to Jesus in your prayer. You’ll be able to run to him and with him.

With that, Fr. Malachy says farewell and offers you his blessing as he travels to Nicaragua to continue his mission with the CFRs there. This may be his last video on Ascension Presents.

Ascension Presents – Prayer Ain’t Easy

Growing up Fr. Mike thought prayer should be like soaking in a hot tub. He didn’t understand why it was so hard when he tried it.

It took him a while to learn that, as the Catechism says, prayer is a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. Prayer always presupposes effort. There’s always some kind of engagement when we properly pray to God. It’s not just about soaking in God’s grace. The required effort in prayer is difficult more often than it is not. Prayer is a battle against ourselves and “the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer” (CCC 2725).

Over time, Fr. Mike discovered that prayer needs to be more than a momentary time where we seek solace and closeness with God. We need to constantly acknowledge our relationship with God throughout the day, just as a husband and wife are constantly thinking of each other. Then when we do set aside time to simply be with God, it happens more naturally.

If you want to improve your prayer life, make the intentional and faithful decision to live the same way outside of prayer as you do within prayer.

Read “The Battle of Prayer” section in the Catechism.

Ascension Presents – When You Don’t Understand the Bible

Have you ever read the Bible and thought to yourself, “wait… what?”

Oftentimes in Christian media we see what Fr. Mike dubs a “Hallmark” version of following Christ. There’s struggle and hardship, but then God’s grace comes in and cures everything, making everything nearly perfect for the characters in the story. While these types of stories make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, they’re not very realistic. And while God’s grace is essential, it’s not a magic wand that makes everything bad go away.

There are some stories in the Bible that at first glance appear dark, difficult, or just don’t make sense. Even some of the things Christ says to his followers can sound harsh or even scandalous at times. But it’s in these moments of confusion and concern that God wants to teach us something.

This was something that St. Augustine struggled with before his conversion. It wasn’t until after he had accepted the faith and began to intentionally practice it that he realized it’s not God’s word that’s wrong, it’s our interpretation of it. He gives us 7 things to do when trying to understand a passage we’re unsure of:

1. Read the text in the original language. Or, if you’re not a scholar of Greek or Latin (more than likely), at least realize that a lot can be lost in translation, like idioms and turns of phrase, or context and foreign references.
2. Try different biblical translations and see how they compare.
3. Weigh what you’re reading with all of scripture (it’s ALL connected!)
4. Be humble and accept that you don’t know everything needed to fully understand God’s word (and that’s okay).
5. Sacred tradition always trumps our own interpretations.
6. Don’t take figurative language literally.
7. Don’t universalize a parable to be relevant for all situations in life.

The Bible wasn’t written by Hallmark. It was inspired by God. Hallmark is meant to help you escape reality. The Bible is meant to help you get back in touch with reality. There’s going to be brokenness, and sin, and unhappy endings, but there will also be real grace that transforms those hardships into strength, and it has the power to change your life.

5 Keys to Discern Anything

How to discern God’s will is one of Fr. Mark-Mary’s favorite topics. He has some principles he uses to guide his discernment. He narrows these principles down to four: needs, responsibilities, desires, and capacities. Needs: We need to be intimate with God’s word. He has already given us his word, but often we haven’t read it before discerning. Have a regular relationship with the Word of God. The primary place we should look to learn his will is in Scripture. Responsibilities: School, your career, or your living situation are examples of responsibilities that you should consider when figuring out God’s will for you. God probably isn’t calling you to travel the world as a missionary if you’re the father of five kids under seven. If you’re a student who needs to study, God probably is not calling you to go on a service trip with friends. Desires: Even though they shouldn’t determine everything, your desires do matter. If a desire doesn’t go against the other principles, then do it. Capacities: If you want to do service and grow in your relationship with God, understand your limitations. If you’re honest about your capacities, God will understand. Maybe you just don’t have the capacity to make that extra commitment. Whether or not you can do something is important, and if you can’t that’s nothing to be ashamed of. God is probably calling you to something else. If you push yourself too much you may end up hurting yourself and others. Lastly, we can all do a better job serving the needs of the poor. When discerning, do not forget what you can do for them. Remember, we are pilgrims. Little by little, we’re going to make it.

Do You Really Trust God?

The question “Do you really trust God?” was right in Father Mark-Mary’s face when a full-grown rhinoceros was running toward him in South Africa. The rangers with him and his group on that walking safari told the group to stop, but then the rhino charged at them. Its big ugly horn came closer and closer, but then the rangers did the most unexpected thing. They ran at the beast, screaming as loud as they could. Then the rhinoceros ran off. The lie that we can’t trust God is like that rhinoceros. Father Mark-Mary challenges us to run straight toward that lie, remembering these words from Christ: “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29)

Struggling to Hear God?

If you’re struggling to hear God’s voice, take heart in Fr. Mark-Mary’s words of hope here. Complementing the advice given by Jackie and Bobby Angel in their new book, Fr. Mark-Mary encourages you to trust in God’s guidance. He recounts the time when he was working as a missionary in Honduras providing for the poorest families there. The decisions he had to make to ensure the most needy families received food from his mission weighed on him tremendously. Only by praying, deciding, and trusting in God’s providence was he able to proceed and provide the help the families needed. Especially in discerning his vocation as a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, Fr. Mark-Mary put God’s will before all else. It seems to have paid off quite well, and that’s why he wants to embolden you to do the same.

Unsure About What to Do?

Mother Clare and Fr. Mark-Mary discuss how to live with uncertainty. Being uncertain about something isn’t entirely problematic, because uncertainty requires that we trust something or someone. Often we put that trust in empirical research, the scientific method, tried and true procedures, and so on. How often do we put our trust in God when we are uncertain about something, though. Sometimes trusting God requires letting go of our trust in ourselves. When Peter was invited by Jesus to walk onto the water, Peter had to let go of his understanding of reality. His uncertainty got the best of him after just a few steps, but perhaps there is a lesson in that as well. We often want God to give us the grace and certainty needed for several steps ahead, but he only gives us certainty in our next step so we have to trust each step we take. God gives you sufficient grace for today, not tomorrow, next week or fifty years from now.

An Essential Part of Christian Life

No time to pray? Then pray more. There’s a reason it’s an essential part of Christian life. That’s Father Mark-Mary’s advice, and he’s in good company, in fact he’s in saintly company. He recounts a story when Fr. Benedict Groeschel told St. Mother Teresa that he didn’t have time for a daily holy hour, and Mother Teresa told him then he should make two holy hours a day. She understood that prayer isn’t just a nice thing, prayer is a necessary thing. This advice points to the reality that if we have a busy day, we need to pray more—not less. We want to build great things for the Lord, but they must be built on a solid foundation of prayer and communication with God. In their daily journey to become more holy, this lesson has become vital to Father Mark-Mary and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.