James Martin, SJ
A prayer for frustrated Catholics
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Dear God, sometimes I get so frustrated with your church.

I know that I am not alone. So many people who love your church feel frustrated with the body of Christ on earth. Priests and deacons, and brothers and sisters, can feel frustrated, too. And I’ll bet that even bishops and popes feel frustrated. We grow worried and concerned and bothered and angry and sometimes scandalized because your divine institution, our home, is filled with human beings who are sinful. Just like me.

But I get frustrated most of all when I feel that there are things that need to be changed and I don’t have the power to change them.

So I need your help, God.

Help me to remember that Jesus promised he would be with us until the end of time and that your church is always guided by the Holy Spirit, even if it’s hard for me to see. Sometimes change happens suddenly, and the Spirit astonishes us, but often in the church it happens slowly. In your time, not mine. Help me know that the seeds that I plant with love in the ground of your church will one day bloom. So give me patience.

Help me to understand that there was never a time when there were not arguments or disputes within your church. Arguments go all the way back to Peter and Paul debating one another. And there was never a time when there wasn’t sin among the members of your church. That kind of sin goes back to Peter denying Jesus during his passion. Why would today’s church be any different than it was for people who knew Jesus on earth? Give me wisdom.

Help me to trust in the Resurrection. The risen Christ reminds us that there is always the hope of something new. Death is never the last word for us. Neither is despair. And help me remember that when the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, he bore the wounds of his crucifixion. Like Christ, the church is always wounded, but always a carrier of grace. Give me hope.

Help me to believe that your Spirit can do anything: raise up saints when we need them most, soften hearts when they seem hardened, open minds when they seem closed, inspire confidence when all seems lost, help us do what had seemed impossible until it was done. This is the same Spirit that converted Paul, inspired Augustine, called Francis of Assisi, emboldened Catherine of Siena, consoled Ignatius of Loyola, comforted Thérèse of Lisieux, enlivened John XXIII, accompanied Teresa of Calcutta, strengthened Dorothy Day and encouraged John Paul II. It is the same Spirit that is with us today, and your Spirit has lost none of its power. Give me faith.

Help me to remember all of your saints. Most of them had it a lot worse than I do. They were frustrated with your church at times, struggled with it and were occasionally persecuted by it. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by church authorities. Ignatius Loyola was thrown into jail by the Inquisition. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated. If they can trust in your church in the midst of those difficulties, so can I. Give me courage.

Help me to be peaceful when people tell me that I don’t belong in the church, that I’m a heretic for trying to make things better or that I’m not a good Catholic. I know that I was baptized. You called me by name to be in your church, God. As long as I draw breath, help me remember how the holy waters of baptism welcomed me into your holy family of sinners and saints. Let the voice that called me into your church be what I hear when other voices tell me that I’m not welcome in the church. Give me peace.

Most of all, help me to place all of my hope in your Son. My faith is in Jesus Christ. Give me only his love and his grace. That’s enough for me.

Help me God, and help your church.

Amen.

James Martin, S.J., is a contributing editor of America.

Comments

ART LOMBARDO | 8/16/2012 - 9:55pm

Father Martin, Your prayer shows that you live in the trenches with other Catholics and are not protected from abuse from within the church.  Thank you for your honesty, especially from one able to see the humor in life.  Peace of Christ be with you.

Carole Belgrade | 8/14/2012 - 3:28pm
A very approprate prayer response to the troubling world we live in.  Martin reminds readers of the Presence of the Body of Christ in all things; that we will in the realm of this New Covanent.  Thank you
Ivo Sefton de Azevedo | 8/8/2012 - 11:53am
Dear Fr. Martin: I liked your Prayer for frustrated Catholics so much that I decided to send it to Fr. Inacio Neutzling, the Director of Instituto Humanitas Unisinos (IHU), a Jesuit institution in São Leopoldo, RS, Brazil. So now a Portuguese translation of your Prayer, as well as the video, are shown here:

http://www.ihu.unisinos.br/noticias/512197-uma-oracao-para-catolicos-frustrados-artigo-de-james-martin

Best wishes.

Ivo Sefton de Azevedo, retired Professor of Public International Law at the Jesuit Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos (UNISINOS)
Iris Heredia Thompson | 8/5/2012 - 8:11pm
Thank you Fr. Martin!  this is a wonderful conversation that I've been trying to have for the longest time.  It gives me reassurance and peace.  The peace that can only come from Our Lord Jesus.  May our Savior continue to shine His Light through your ministry.
6466379 | 8/5/2012 - 8:29am
#2 - Hi Will, There are many ways to the Land of the Living, but according to Revelation the preferred way in through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is that Ivory Tower you told Fr. James Martin to abandon. If you look closely you’ll notice that Fr. Martin is actually holding on to the Cross of Jesus, (the root of the reality of all reality of which you asked Fr. Martin to grasp to "get real") which truly is a Tower of Ivory, the Seat of Wisdom, and the Cause of our Joy! From that vantage point he has spoken well of the frustrations of Catholics and offered solutions to those frustration.


 #4 – Hi Charlie, Simply and plainly to answer your question about “What’s a good Catholic?” to me a good Catholic is one who practices his Faith in good times and bad times because he/she believes that Jesus established the Church long called “Catholic” as a seedling, like an acorn establishes the Oak over time. There are lots of reasons why good Catholics leave the Church and they may remain “good” in other ways but can not be called a good Catholic.


 In short aware that there are cliffs and chasms along the way, nonetheless I think, the historical evidence verifying that the Catholic Church is the original Church of Christ, should be sufficient reason to keep frustrated Catholics from walking away, realizing that there is no such thing as “a perfect Church” or a “perfect anything” on this earth. On the other side of the coin there is sufficient evidence of administrative malfeasance and misfeasance in the true Church of Christ, that makes it reservationally understandable why some would look elsewhere for moral stability. For me, however, its “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life … and I’ve come to believe that YOU are the Christ!” And the Catholic Church images you best!
Roy Van Brunt | 8/4/2012 - 6:37pm
Not sure of what planet Will Atkinson lives on, but....  I had to thank you for helping a tottering lay liturgist who is still staggering from the bishop's imposition on us of this distracting and gramatically flawed, but "literal" translated New Roman Missal.  The entire process, as well as the result itself has left me profoundy frustated.  I cannot get used to NOT wanting to go to Mass - but this prayer helps to restore some of my faith anyway. Glad to have a printed copy in the mag, so I don't have to log onto the video before bed!  Bless you.
Charles McNamee | 8/3/2012 - 8:49pm
Sorry, I meant a "G" instead of a "g" for God should it be a shibboleth.
Charles McNamee | 8/3/2012 - 8:45pm
   I have difficulty feeling compassion for James Martin as I do for many  "good" Catholics because I have a hard time defining what a "good" Catholic is. I have become what I tend to describe as a Christian who doesn't practice my Catholic faith except when the practice evolves from a prayer-life of a kind that many Catholics my age (74) were taught was dangerous and probably involved heretical beliefs. My attraction is to prayer along the lines of Zen and Centering Prayer. From being faithful to believing that god's Kingdom is within each and every one of us, I can pray and act like Jesus demonstrated for us in the NT, especially in the earliest Gospel, Mark.
   Obtaining an adult religious education helps me to understand the NT so much better. Then employing that orientation in one's prayer life does away with the fear and obligatoriness of being a "good" Catholic. Instead, read the gospels, epistles, psalms and practice more silence in your prayer-life than continual thoughts and chatter. Try to be more contemplative in your daily living and the frustrations James Martin is harrassed by will no longer drive you to distraction. 
    Sorry if this seems like preaching but it's meant to be helpful.

  
Vincent Gaitley | 8/3/2012 - 5:48pm
Thanks for the much needed prayer, Fr. Martin.  To paraphrase the words of St. Pogo, patron of set upon Catholics, "We have met the enemy, and it is the bishops."  We'll pray for the worst bunch of bishops ever, and I know those prayers will be heard.  
WILLIAM ATKINSON | 8/3/2012 - 1:47pm
Jim: Its time for you to leave your Ivory Tower and hit the streets and get in touch with reality.
NICHOLAS CLIFFORD | 8/3/2012 - 9:01am
I liked this, both on hearing it on your website and now re-reading it. Very helpful. One comment, however: though we believe that the church is indeed always guided by the Holy Spirit, we must not be misled into believing that all that happens in the church therefore reflects that Spirit. We are, after all, creatures with free will as the church has always taught (and probably only the most dogmatic neuroscientist would entirely remove that free will from us). That means, however, that we are quite capable as humans - lay and clerical alike - of frustrating the work of the Spirit, because of ignorance, ambition, greed, hate, and all those other things.
Though the Holy Spirit guides the church, it would be hard to convince most people that she must therefore be held responsible for, say, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, or for the election of such popes as Alexander VI or Julius II, among others.

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