Meet God Halfway {My January column, The Catholic Post}

Following is my January column, that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

You probably know this old chestnut–a man prayed faithfully every day for years: “Lord, please let me win the lottery.”  Finally, after 10 years of petition, God answers the man: “Meet me halfway–buy a ticket.”

I’ll avoid commenting on whether “win the lottery” is a good prayer petition, except to say that the right number of lottery tickets to buy is one, every once in a while.  Even God (well, the God of this joke) agrees.  

The reason that joke has longevity is that it’s so true, especially at this time of year when making resolutions.

We want to eat healthier, but don’t put away the leftover Christmas chocolate.  I’m using the royal “we” here, as I’m currently guilty of that one.

We want to start an exercise routine, but don’t plan out when we’d get to the gym or go for a walk.

We say we’ll get more organized, but spend more time on Pinterest pinning gorgeously organized spaces, than actually cleaning out the closet.  

Even in the spiritual life, we might desire to grow in faith, but don’t take the practical steps needed.  We need to recommit to meeting God “half-way” by doing what we can to cooperate with grace.

There’s a common formula for goal-setting that helps people get more specific—have you heard it? Goals should be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.  

Because I’m a goals and resolutions type of person, I love this approach.  So following is a newly-released book paired with each of the SMART principles. 

First is specific—so let’s tackle a specific, and often controversial, topic: contraception.

Angela Franks, PhD, has written Contraception and Catholicism: What the Church Teaches and Why a helpful, easy-to-read guide that covers the personal, the practical, and the nitty-gritty about openness to life.  Dr. Franks calls herself a “theologian mom,” so she manages to be intellectual and down-to-earth, and funny, as she shares the Catholic Church’s teaching in this area, and what it means for couples and families.

Next is measurable—and what better than a book about science?

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory by Guy Consolmagno, SJ, and Paul Mueller, SJ has a long, potentially intimidating title, but it’s a highly readable and engaging book.

Brother Consolmagno and Father Mueller are both Jesuits who are work at the Vatican Observatory, one of the world’s leading research facilities, and they write about “what its like when science encounters faith on friendly, mutual respectful terms . …for people who want to take (both) science and faith seriously.”

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? points out, “Science isn’t a big book of facts. It’s a conversation.” 

So the two authors have an actual, back-and-forth conversation throughout the book explaining and learning together about various topics, from Galileo to the star of Bethlehem to the end of the world.  The conversation format allows the authors to cover complex topics without overwhelming readers.

As Father Mueller writes, “We don’t claim to be able to teach you, ‘How to’ do it.  Instead, we simply want to share with you the joy and hope—and fun—that we find in doing science and living faith.”

Well said, and well-written.

Next for goal- setting is attainable.  How about working to achieve a real trust in God?

From Fear to Faith: A Worrier’s Guide to Discovering Peace
by Gary Zimak is a sensible, back-to-basics overview of ways to begin the never-ending work of leaving behind our worries and fears, and focus on Jesus and our faith.

Zimak writes from first-person perspective, since he has struggled with anxiety and depression for most of his life. From Fear to Faith is a book-length explanation of the main talk he gives in his work as a Catholic evangelist.

What I love most about the book is that Zimak doesn’t downplay— at all — the importance of getting professional help for mental health issues, whether that includes counseling, medication, or many other ways.  But he’s not providing those in “From Fear to Faith,” but enriching them. by offering simple and effective spiritual strategies—a way one can follow Jesus at His word and “be not afraid.”

Next is relevant — having a goal that is personally meaningful, like sharing the faith with loved ones.

I can hardly believe it, but I’ve never reviewed a book by the excellent and prolific Scott Hahn.  Knowing I will date myself, let me share that I recall listening to a Scott Hahn cassette tape in the late 1980s, and it has always stayed with me.

Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization is Hahn’s exploration, through his usual Scott Hahn style, of how to spread the faith naturally in our lives.

As Hahn writes, “You can’t keep the Faith unless you give it away,” and this book offers personal stories, background of church history of how Catholics have shared the faith, and practical advice about how and why to “do evangelization.” It’s an encouraging read that is informative and inspiring.

Finally, goals should be time-bound.  What better than a daybook, which promotes a small amount of reading each day?

I enjoy and recommend daybooks often, but Peace and Good: Through the Year with Francis of Assisi by Franciscan Fr. Pat McCloskey, stands out.

Each month offers a specific theme, such as peace in January and service to the poor in September.  Each day has a quote from Francis or early writings about him, then “Life as Francis Did” applying it to today, and then “Growing with Francis,” with a very specific, and very do-able, action item.