Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Spontaneous Prayer is Good

Some of the best prayers ever prayed are spontaneous prayers. That’s when people just blurt out whatever it is they need to say to God. 

For Catholics, we’re not very good at spontaneous prayer. As children, we memorized certain prayers, such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and then as adults, when a crisis occurs, we instinctively start reciting those prayers. 
And you know what? That’s a great thing. Those prayers are indeed powerful, and in a crisis situation it’s better to pray something than to be paralyzed with fear or despair and pray nothing.
However, spontaneous prayer is great, too. It’s just that we Catholics have little experience with it. I remember years ago being with an Evangelical Protestant friend. We heard that a guy named Dave was sick, and so my friend said, “Let’s pray for him.”

I assumed we would recite something like the Our Father, since my friend was Protestant, so I figured he was not familiar with the Hail Mary. But then he held out his arms, looked up, and just started talking. “Dear Lord,” he said, “We heard about our friend Dave, and so we lift him up to you. Please heal him and fill him with hope and joy.”

As my friend was praying, I thought to myself, “You can do that? You can just talk to God without reciting something specific you learned in Catechism class in the 2nd grade? That’s wild.”
My friend kept on praying, and it was such a normal conversation, he even said things like, “Umm,” and, “You know,” as he paused to come up with the next words. Can you imagine Catholics saying, “You know,” while reciting the Hail Mary? “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is, you know, with thee.” Of course not. That’s because we’re reciting something we memorized decades ago.

The key, I believe, is the difference between rote recitation and true communication. In the Bible, Jesus warned, “When you pray, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt. 6:7).

I acknowledge that my prayers often turn into rote recitation, just many words being babbled. For example, if I’m praying the Rosary while driving on the highway, sometimes I’ll realize that I’m on the fourth mystery but I haven’t paid attention to anything I said during the previous 10 or 15 minutes.
Other times while praying the Rosary, I’m focused intently on each of the five mysteries, and when I’m finished I can feel that I’ve just had a profound interaction with Almighty God.

So, rote prayers are good, especially if we focus on what the prayer means and Who exactly we’re praying to. But once in a while we should try a little spontaneous prayer. Now, I know for Catholics, this is kind of like asking a classically trained trumpeter with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to start playing some jazz music. For many of us, free-form improvisation just doesn’t come naturally.

(By the way, I have no idea if classically trained trumpet players avoid jazz music. For all I know, they could wail like Maynard Ferguson when not in a tuxedo at Carnegie Hall. I was just trying to come up with an analogy.)
We need to remind ourselves that God is a person — an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful person, yes, but a person nonetheless. (Actually, three persons in one divine Being, but let’s save Trinitarian theology for another day.) This means we can have conversations with God. We can open our arms, look up, and just start talking to the Lord. It doesn’t have to be anything we were taught in Catechism class. It doesn’t have to be anything we’ve memorized. It’s simply good ol’ conversation with a loved one, where one person says what’s on his or her mind, and then listens quietly for the reply.

Both types of prayer can be useful. The prayers we memorized as children are powerful, especially the Rosary. And spontaneous, free-form praying is good, too. And when you’re having a spontaneous conversation with God, don’t worry if you often say, “Umm,” and, “You know,” because God doesn’t mind at all. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Cryptocurrency Is Very Cryptic

Did you hear about the cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, that crashed and burned recently? News reports say FTX was a massive Ponzi scheme, and investors lost billions of dollars. I was planning to comment here on what exactly happened with FTX, but then I discovered the more I tried to understand what cryptocurrency is, the more confused I got. 

As far as I can figure, people invest real money into cryptocurrency, where it is then turned into virtual money. This means a person’s real money has become part of a complex, internet-based video game, and at that point the value of the money can either skyrocket or become worthless. It all depends on, um, apparently no one really knows.

The main thing I know about cryptocurrency is what Matt Damon told me a year ago in his now infamous TV commercials: “Fortune favors the brave.” I guess while Matt was trying to convince people that it’s courageous to invest in cryptocurrency, he forgot to mention that destitution favors the gullible. 
Wouldn’t it be ironic if it turns out Matt insisted on being paid in real dollars from the crypto company he was shilling for? If that’s how he was compensated for making the commercials, it shows he was a lot smarter than the many foolish people who took his advice. (Remember “Good Will Hunting”? See, I knew Matt was a genius.)

So, instead of examining exactly what happened to FTX (because criminal prosecutors and bankruptcy courts will be sifting through that train wreck for the next three decades), let’s talk about something equally as shocking: in this day and age, there are still people named Ponzi. No, I’m not kidding! Can you believe it?

Now, let me say up front that there is nothing wrong with the name Ponzi. I’m sure it’s a fine, traditional name dating back centuries. However, in our modern culture, the name is now synonymous with stealing money. Can you imagine being a youngster, and your parents insist on keeping the Ponzi family name? Starting in about second grade, and for the rest of your life, what do you think your nickname will be? Lefty? Chuckles? Booger Brain? Nope, your nickname for the rest of your life will be Scheme. As in, “Very nice to meet you, Senator. Let me introduce you to my colleague, Dr. David Ponzi, but you can call him ‘Scheme’.”
To avoid a lifetime of ridicule, it would be so much better to change your name to something less larcenous, such as Bernie Madoff. Oh wait, that one might not be so good. If it were me, I’d go with something simple and unassuming, like Camembert McDoodleyboop, Jr.

As we come down the homestretch of this column, I bet you’re wondering how I’m going to tie together the topics of  FTX, Matt Damon, Ponzi Schemes, and McDoodleyboop, and then stick the landing. Well, I’m wondering the same thing, too.

Actually, I’m not going to tie those topics together at all. One of the benefits of adult-onset ADD (caused by too much channel surfing and social media) is that I can change topics in mid-sentence. So, I’d like to conclude this essay by pointing out that our entire modern monetary system is virtual. I mean, when’s the last time you bought anything with real cash (unless you’re a drug dealer or user)? Nowadays, all of our payroll, banking, and credit card transactions are digital, nothing more than a bunch of flickering images on a computer screen. 
Maybe our financial system is just a larger version of FTX. Oh boy, I don’t want to think about that. To paraphrase Matt Damon, “Peace of mind favors the ignorant.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Advent: A Good Time to Examine Priorities

This week is the first Sunday of Advent. Our modern culture tells us the Christmas season kicks into high gear on Thanksgiving afternoon. We are encouraged to go overboard — overboard decorating our homes, overboard eating and drinking, and overboard shopping until we drop.  

The Church takes a slightly different approach. First, on the official Church calendar, the Christmas season doesn’t even begin until sunset on Christmas Eve. Then it continues for the following 12 days until the feast of Epiphany on January 6th.The real Christmas season is still over four weeks away. So relax. Stay away from the mall. Order a few gifts online so you’re not accused of being a total Grinch, and then take a nap.
Starting this Sunday we are officially in the season of Advent. The theme of Advent is anticipation. (Cue the Carly Simon song.) We wait expectantly for the coming of the Lord. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC section 524).

The main message of Advent is fairly basic: get ready, get serious, get excited!

If God is truly God, then the one thing we as believers never should be is complacent. Think about it: the Almighty Creator of the Universe loved us so much He sent His only Son to save us from sin and death and make it possible that we can live in heavenly joy for all eternity.

And how do we often react to this phenomenal reality? With a yawn and a glance at our watches, as we mutter, “When is this Mass gonna be over? Doesn’t Fr. McGuillicuddy know the football pre-game show is about to begin?”

When you stop to think about it, if we really believe God is God, then this type of behavior borders on insanity.
My favorite living Christian writer is Dr. Peter Kreeft, who teaches philosophy at Boston College. In his book, Jesus-Shock, Kreeft discusses sloth, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. He explains sloth “does not necessarily imply any physical laziness.” Instead, sloth “means the passivity…of the will…even in the presence of the true good.”

In other words, sloth can exist even among people who go to church every week and do all the churchy things they’re supposed to do. If they do all these religious activities with an apathetic, half-hearted attitude, then they are guilty of sloth.

During Advent, we should take a personal spiritual inventory. What exactly do we love with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength? Is it football on TV? Is it our new car and our fancy wardrobes? Is it the 50-megawatt Christmas light display adorning our house and yard that can be seen from outer space? Is it getting drunk at office parties? Is it shopping trips to the mall?

We’re not going to be perfect in this life, but maybe during Advent we can pause and evaluate our priorities. Maybe we can redirect some of our enthusiasm, excitement, and dedication toward the God who created us and who loves us. Maybe if we take the time to think about it and pray about it, we will draw into closer communion with the Lord and be better prepared for His second coming, whenever it occurs.

And maybe this year will be a little bit different than previous years. Maybe we'll fill our hearts with joy rather than emptying our bank accounts of money. Maybe we'll fill our souls with peace rather than be consumed with anxiety and stress, which are so prevalent this time of year. Now, wouldn't that be a nice new holiday tradition? 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

‘Are You Ready for Some Futbol?’

Last week I mentioned that I’ve become quite interested in the English Premier League, the top division of football in Great Britain (or as we call it here, soccer). As someone who has been a big fan of American football for decades, and who regularly referred to soccer as “more boring than a PBS pledge drive,” no one is more surprised than I am that I’m actually enjoying futbol games on TV.

And even more surprising, the primary reason I got interested in the Premier League is the TV series “Ted Lasso.” If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s on the Apple TV+ streaming service. Here is the premise, as summarized by Wikipedia: “Ted Lasso, an American college football coach, is unexpectedly recruited to coach an English Premier League soccer team, despite having no experience coaching soccer. The team’s owner, Rebecca Welton, hires Lasso hoping he will fail as a means of exacting revenge on the team’s previous owner, her unfaithful ex-husband. However, Ted’s charm, personality, and humor begin to win over Rebecca, the team, and those who had been skeptical about his appointment.”
So far, there have been two seasons of “Ted Lasso,” with Season 1 being absolutely charming and Season 2 very entertaining but a bit more grim. Season 3 is expected to be released sometime in the next few months.

Actor/comedian Jason Sudeikis plays Ted brilliantly, infusing the character with the innocence of Forrest Gump, the witty repartee of Hawkeye Pierce, and the relentless optimism of SpongeBob SquarePants. 

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the show, but I am firmly ambivalent about recommending “Ted Lasso” to anyone else. You see, since it’s a show on an internet streaming service, all the FCC guidelines about TV profanity do not apply. And the fact is, the dialog on the show, however witty it may be, sounds a lot like some of the crude and rude conversations I’ve heard on construction sites, except with British accents. (Even though certain words have different meanings depending on whether you’re American or British, most cuss words apparently are exactly the same on both sides of the pond.)
It’s a shame the show’s language is so profane, because there are some really important lessons that people of all ages should hear. For example, besides being relentlessly optimistic, Ted always respects other people, no matter how nasty they are to him, and he forgives easily and often. And really, in our current cultural climate, wouldn’t a little dose of tolerance, respect, and forgiveness be a welcomed change?

Anyway, the TV show offers a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional Premier League football club, including the team’s passionate and loyal fans. And that’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed the most about sports: the dedicated fan bases, such as Red Sox Nation, the Cameron Crazies, and the Green Bay Cheeseheads. 

When I came to understand that the football clubs in England have just as much history and are just as big a part of the community’s identity as, say, the Red Sox, Yankees, or Dallas Cowboys, I decided to watch a couple of PL games on TV. I was pleased to discover that it’s not boring at all. Like Ted Lasso, my understanding of the rules is minimal, but it’s kind of fun to learn.

Right now, the Premier League has taken a break because the World Cup is in full swing. (From a global perspective, the World Cup is kind of like the Super Bowl combined with the World Series — times 50.)

I never thought I’d say this, but if the choice is between watching football or futbol, I prefer to watch the most popular sport on planet earth. Cheers, mate. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The King is Dead – Long Live the King

This is the last week of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, begins a new church year. (It also unofficially begins the Christmas season, which means this year has gone by WAY too fast!)

We close out this liturgical year by celebrating the feast of Christ the King.
In the second reading this week, a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it is very clear why we are proclaiming that Christ is king. Paul explains that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth.” Paul continues: “All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Since Jesus is part of the Trinity, He has all of the attributes of God. He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent — which means He is all-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

I’d say those are fairly good qualifications for being a king, wouldn’t you? So, as long as we believe Paul’s theological description of Jesus, as long as we understand that we owe our very existence to Jesus, we have no trouble bowing down in worship and proclaiming that Christ is the king. Then we come to the gospel reading. Do we find our sovereign king sitting on a glorious throne? Is our divine Lord and ruler resplendently attired in His palace as faithful subjects bow before Him? Not quite.
In the gospel reading our King of kings is bloodied and beaten, nailed naked to a cross. The soldiers who drove the nails and the religious leaders who manipulated the death sentence took turns mocking and jeering. At that moment on Calvary, He looked nothing like a king.

It requires eyes of faith to look past the obvious and see the underlying truth of a situation. One of the other criminals being executed that day, siding with the soldiers and religious leaders, did not see a king. Scripture says this criminal “reviled Jesus.”

But another criminal, hanging from his own cross, had eyes of faith. He replied, “Have you no fear of God?” Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

This criminal looked at the bruised, bloodied, and dying man hanging next to him and saw a king. He knew that our natural world is not the only realm of existence.

The faith-filled criminal did not have St. Paul’s theological grasp of Jesus’ cosmic identity. But he knew there is more to existence than just this natural life. He knew death was not the end, but rather a transition to the next life. He had the faith to realize that Jesus had a special connection with that next life.

Jesus rewarded his faith by promising, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We know what happened three days later when Jesus conquered death once and for all and burst forth from the tomb. And we know what happened forty days after that when He ascended into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Knowing this, the irony is not so obvious when we read of Jesus’ utter humiliation during a feast called Christ the King.

But the faithful criminal did not know any of that. He put his trust and hope in Jesus anyway. His natural eyes saw a fellow criminal being put to death. But his supernatural eyes saw a heavenly king. Because of his faith, at this very moment and forevermore, he is in Paradise. We should all be like that faithful criminal and proclaim that Christ is indeed the king. If we do, we can one day join Him in Paradise. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Watching Football from a Different Perspective

Last month I went to a college football game with some friends, one of whom grew up in Europe. This friend, let’s call him Wolfgang, had never seen an American football game in person. He has seen football on TV a few times, and wasn’t terribly impressed. But when he saw it up close, he was startled by the level of violence.

“With our football,” he said (meaning soccer), “when players bang into each other it’s an accident. Here, they do it on purpose!”

Well, yes, Wolfie, they certainly do. As Vince Lombardi famously said, “Football isn't a contact sport, it's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.” 
Personally, I started following football when I was about seven years old. I played in the youth football leagues in town, and then played four years in high school followed by three seasons at college. (OK, it was a small college and I hardly saw any playing time, especially after wrecking my knee.) Since then, I’ve faithfully watched football, mostly on TV and sometimes in person, for the past 40-plus years. I mention this to make it clear that I am a fan; that is, I know the intricacies of the game, its history, its teams, its traditions. 

As I sat there watching that college game, I tried to put myself in Wolfgang’s place. I tried to watch the action on the field, and the spectacle surrounding us, as if it were all new to me.

The image that kept popping into my head was the Roman gladiators. Modern American football and ancient gladiators actually have a lot in common. There are, of course, major differences. Nowadays the losing combatant gets carried off the field by medical professionals, rather than being decapitated by the winning combatant with a large sword. (Although I’ve heard that Alabama and Ohio State have asked the NCAA if they can try this on an experimental basis, since it could increase fan interest. For some odd reason, Northwestern and Vanderbilt expressed reluctance.)

During the game, Wolfie kept muttering the same phrase: “Carnage piles.” I asked him what he meant. “They keep forming a large pile, and then they try to kill each other until the whistle blows,” he explained. “See, just like that!”

It was a running play up the middle, and there was no hole. About six guys from each team were in a big scrum, trying to push the pile, but there was no forward progress and the play ended.

“Actually,” I said, “guys rarely get hurt on plays like that. Wait till they throw a slant pattern to the wide receiver and the middle linebacker drills him just as the ball arrives, or the strong safety dives at his knees. That’s when the carnage happens: torn ligaments, broken bones, major concussions.”

As soon as those words left my mouth, I realized I was explaining the game to a young man from Europe with a twinkle in my eye, as if the moment when a player gets seriously injured is the highlight of the day. And as I spoke, my bad knee started aching from not stretching it out in a while.

I sat back in my seat, somewhat confused. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “from an outsider’s point of view, what we’re doing here is kind of … savage.”

Next week, I’ll discuss a very surprising development. After decades and decades of referring to soccer as “a sissy sport” (which is the description our high school football coach required us to use back in 1974), I have become quite interested in the English Premier League, the top division of football (soccer) in Great Britain. Until then, cheers, mate. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Are Christians Too ‘Heaven-minded’?

Last week I made this comment: “Keep in mind that our entire life on earth is just a pre-season scrimmage, as we get ready for the real game: eternal life in Heaven.”

That reminds me of a common argument against religious faith and the belief in life after death. People claim that religion, especially Christianity, was invented to give poor and sick people false hope for a better life someday. It’s just a big scam to keep people from despairing about how bad they have it. 

Additionally, Christians are accused of being so “heaven-minded” they are “no earthly good.” In other words, Christians are so focused on the “kingdom come,” they don’t really care too much about earthly troubles, like poverty, war, disease, injustice, etc. 
But that’s just not true. What organization does more to serve the needs of the poor in this country, except for the Federal Government? It’s the Catholic Church. And the Church does it with freely-given donations and thousands of hours of volunteer time, rather than mandatory taxes and highly paid bureaucrats.

Why do you think so many hospitals are called St. Francis, Holy Cross, Presbyterian, and Mt. Sinai? It’s because people of faith are compelled to serve the needs of the poor and sick, regardless of their strong belief in life after death.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis (because I can’t find the original quote), a road that leads nowhere is neglected and eventually falls into ruin. But a road that leads to somewhere special is maintained and kept in good working order. 

Our life here on earth is the road that leads to somewhere special: eternal life in Heaven. That’s why people of faith are so concerned about human dignity and charity, education and morality. Those things make our lives better here and now, and they make it more likely that we’ll end up in Heaven later.

On the other hand, if a person is convinced this world is all we have, and no matter what we do here, death and non-existence will be our final destination, then there isn’t much motivation to maintain the road and keep it in good working order. Why? Because it’s a road that leads nowhere.
OK, before someone freaks out, let me be clear: there are plenty of atheists who are moral and altruistic and charitable. I know that’s true because I know many atheists who are way more kind and caring than I’ll ever be. But here’s the thing: when atheists live moral and charitable lives, they are following an ethical code much higher than what their metaphysical worldview requires.

I know firsthand, because I was an atheist for many years. Back then, I truly believed my life was a random accident with no ultimate meaning. There was no transcendent moral code that I, or anyone else, needed to follow. I was convinced we all were free to do whatever we felt like doing. However, I must say, it was a pretty hollow existence. So, to assuage my sense of despair and meaninglessness, I did not turn to religion (at least at first); I instead turned to vodka. It was not a pretty sight.

What exactly am I trying to say? Well, I’m trying to say that even if religious faith and a hope for Heaven is a completely fabricated story, it’s still a much better way to go through life than either despair or vodka. Now, here’s the really good news: religious faith is NOT a fabricated story! God is real. Our souls are real. Heaven is real. And we can spend a joyful eternity in Heaven if we just put our faith in the Almighty Being who created us.

Our life on earth is a pre-season scrimmage. The real game, eternal life in Heaven, is yet to come. But this scrimmage is important. We have to try our best to reach our full potential. (After all, the “head coach” is watching and evaluating us.) So, let’s be the kind of Christians that are so “heaven-minded,” that we do a LOT of earthly good. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Who Is Your Most Influential Influencer?

There’s a new term in use these days: influencer. 

I’ll use it in a sentence so you can better understand: “Sassy Sally is a social media influencer, since she has 4 million Instagram and TikTok followers, and the Vanity Plus cosmetics company pays her hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to promote its products to the gullible throng that hangs on her every word.” 

Well, the Vanity Plus cosmetics company certainly would not use the term “gullible throng” (mostly because the people in their marketing department think the word throng means a tiny pair of underwear). They instead would describe Sassy Sally’s 4 million followers as potential customers, most of whom don’t hesitate to use Daddy’s credit card to make impulsive online purchases, upwards of 12 times each day.
The word influencer is not new. But about 10 years ago the word began to be used to describe people with large social media followings. Corporations started paying these influential people to market their particular products and services.

Back in the olden days, there were not very many influencers. There was Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, and the President of the United States — in that order. There were a few other people who could impact the way citizens thought and behaved, such as John Wayne, Ralph Nader, and the Beatles. 

Generally speaking, the number of influencers was few, because media outlets were limited: three TV networks, local radio stations, and your city or town’s daily newspaper. However, the influential people back then were known by just about everyone. 

Nowadays, there are countless thousands of social media influencers, each with their particular niche. You might think they are spread so thin, how could they possibly influence enough people to make it worthwhile for corporations to pay them big bucks? 
Well, the most recent statistics I could find indicate that 45-percent of the world’s population uses social media on a daily basis. That’s almost three-and-a-half billion people — billion with a “B.” A company only needs to reach a tiny fraction of that number to get enough online credit card purchases to allow the entire marketing department to spend Christmas in the Bahamas.

And some other recent statistics, which I made up, indicate that the average social media user stares at digital devices for at least 27 hours each day. (Twenty-seven? But there are only 24 hours in a day. Yes, I know, but many of these people scroll through their Facebook feed with their smartphone, look at Instagram posts with their iPad, and watch TikTok videos on their laptop computer — all at the same time.)

These days there are multiple categories of influencer. I just read an article that gave a detailed description of the following types: Mega-influencer, Macro-influencer, Micro-influencer, and Nano-influencer. You can look up the definitions, if you’d like. Basically, it boils down to the size of a person’s audience and whether he or she has detailed knowledge or talent about a particular topic. (The most influential influencers have huge audiences and no special knowledge or talent, other than the talent of relentlessly flapping their yaps.)

Back in the olden days, the handful of influencers were important politicians, Hollywood stars, and news industry people. Nowadays, the social media influencers are so numerous and varied, the only characteristic they have in common is a raging case of narcissistic personality disorder. 
Surprisingly, I have been described as an influencer, with a throng of folks who hang on my every word. That is true, as long as you define “throng” as “six people in western Connecticut,” and “hang on my every word” as “read the newspaper once in a while.” At least my throng knows we don’t mean tiny underwear.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

St. Teresa had Chutzpah

A story is told about St. Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582). One night she was walking back to her convent in a driving rain storm. On the way, she slipped down an embankment and landed in a huge mud puddle. Covered in mud from head to toe, she looked up to Heaven and shouted at God: “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

I love this story for many reasons. First, it’s just flat-out funny. I mean, you would never expect a nun to talk to God like that. What St. Teresa exclaimed is so startling, you just have to laugh.
Second, this is a great example of how to react during a very frustrating event: you should acknowledge the reality and frustration of the moment, but you don’t get so consumed with anger or pity that it ruins your frame-of-mind for the next three weeks.

Next, this story brings a smile to my face because it is such a great example of chutzpah. Since a large percentage of our Catholic faith is based on God’s relationship with His Chosen People, our Jewish brethren, we should employ one of their best words more often: chutzpah, which means “self-confident audacity.” Only someone who was really confident in her close relationship with God could speak such audacious words to Him.

Finally, I love this story for what it says about God more than what it says about St. Teresa. As we all know, God is God, and we are not. God is all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing, and perfect. We, on the other hand, aren’t even close. It’s only natural for puny humans to bow down in humble awe and fear before the Almighty Creator of the Universe. (Or as Pastor Steve Brown often says, “If you’ve never stood before God and trembled, then you’ve never stood before God.”)

The difference between God and humanity is so vast, that we really have no right to be flippant or sarcastic when interacting with God. But here is the heart of the Good News: God loves us. His love for us is so intense, we can’t even begin to comprehend it. God loves us in the same way a parent loves his or her precious child – times a billion. But unlike some of the parent-child relationships we may have experienced growing up, God is a perfect parent. He is not so frustrated and stressed-out that He demands silence and obedience from His children. God does not slap us across the mouth if we “talk back” to Him.

God is so loving and forgiving, I’m fairly certain when St. Teresa shook her muddy fist at the sky and yelled her snarky comment, God laughed out loud. Then, just for fun, He probably made it rain a little harder. 

I know this is difficult for some people to understand, but God is playful. How can I say such a sacrilegious thing, you ask? Easy. Because love is playful. People who are in love want to be with each other, and laugh and frolic together. St. Teresa knew this. She loved God so much, and knew He loved her back, that she could freely say exactly what was on her mind at that moment.
At this point, some folks might ask: “If God loves us, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” That’s a very good question. We don’t have time now to dig into that issue (maybe in a future essay), but please keep in mind that our entire life on earth is just a pre-season scrimmage, as we get ready for the real game: eternal life in Heaven. In Heaven, all the injustices and heartaches of this fallen world will be made right.

For the time being, let’s just remember that despite all the trials of life, God loves us and He wants us to be in a close relationship with Him. If we understand that He is the perfect, forgiving parent, and that He really wants to laugh and frolic with us, we can tell Him exactly what’s on our mind. And in the process, we can even display a little chutzpah.