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Imagine you have an acorn in the palm of your left hand and a stone the same size and shape as an acorn in your right hand. Look at these items: They look similar, feel similar, and weigh almost the same. What’s the difference between them?
If you plant one of them in the right conditions, it will begin to put out shoots and roots and start to grow. And, once again given the right conditions, that growth will continue unabated for perhaps two centuries. A gorgeous oak tree will emerge from the acorn, giving beauty and fruitfulness to the world for hundreds of years.
But if you plant the stone in the same soil, under the same conditions, nothing will happen. The stone will just stay a stone. It will not sprout, or grow, or beautify the landscape, or give food and shelter and shade to people and animals and birds for centuries.
The acorn bears within itself the mysterious force of life. It is a seed—small, vulnerable, but full of magnificent potential. All it needs in order to fulfill this potential are the right conditions: good soil, water, sunlight, and a healthy climate.
The stone, on the other hand, is inanimate. It is dead matter. It has no life, no potential to grow and organically develop into something magnificent and wonderful.
Before we were baptized, our souls were like that stone. Original sin had cut us off from grace, the life of God that alone can lead us to fulfillment as human beings. God created human beings in his own image and likeness; he created us to live in communion with him. That communion of life with God, in whom alone we can find lasting happiness, is what we mean by the word grace.
But, tempted by the devil, our first parents rebelled against God’s plan for their lives. And so they freely cut themselves and all their descendants off from God’s grace. The life, the potential for the spiritual growth and fruitfulness that can only come from living in communion with God, was drained from our spirits. Instead of the spiritual acorns that we were created to be, we became stones, spiritually speaking.
God in his goodness didn’t abandon us there. He reached out to Adam and Eve, and he initiated a plan of salvation that would gradually unfold throughout the entire history of humanity. The central piece in that plan was his Incarnation. God didn’t want to save us from afar. In Jesus Christ, God actually entered this fallen human race, this world of spiritual stones. He became one of us and restored the life of grace. When he shed his own blood by dying on the cross on the first Good Friday, his very own divine life was poured out upon the earth. Grace returned.
Since then, it has been his Church’s mission to spread this grace into every human heart, and to create the right conditions for the seed of divine life that grace brings to put out its shoots and roots, to grow and flourish and bear spiritual fruit for this fallen world. That is what we call redemption, and it is why Jesus Christ is known as the Savior and Redeemer.
As individuals, we begin to experience this redemption when we are baptized. Baptism is the way Jesus invented for restoring the life of grace after original sin. Through this sacrament, the spiritual stone within us is transformed into an acorn. We are brought back into communion with God, and given the hope of growing into the only form of spiritual maturity that can bring us fulfillment.
OUR SPIRITUAL DNA
When grace takes root in a soul and grows to maturity, it produces what the Bible calls the “fruit of the Holy Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22). Just as acorns given the right conditions grow into magnificent oak trees that produce more acorns, so the spiritual seed of grace planted in our hearts and given the right conditions will grow and produce its own fruits. This gives our lives the meaning we were created to find, the meaning we yearn for and search for in so many mistaken places. Since grace is the seed of divine life within us, as it grows, it makes us more and more like God, restoring the image and likeness of God in which we were created, but which was damaged by original sin.
The actual life force at work in grace is mysterious. We can’t understand it completely. But we do know some things. For instance, it brings the presence of God’s own Holy Spirit within us. And the Holy Spirit enriches us with spiritual gifts that open up new levels of experience and a new degree of life intensity.
You have probably heard about some of these gifts: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety, fortitude, fear of the Lord, and counsel. Faith, hope, and Christlike love are also among God’s gifts to a baptized person. They are not just feelings we have or actions we perform; they are spiritual forces present and active within us through grace. All these gifts naturally tend to stimulate the development of our true identity. They impel us, in a sense, toward the amazing dream that God has for each one of our lives.
This is what is so attractive, so mysteriously inspiring, about the lives of the saints. They are our older brothers and sisters in Christ, in whose lives grace truly flourished. They found and fulfilled their most genuine identity by living in communion with God, by living a real, unique, and dynamic relationship with him. They are the spiritual oak trees that fully show forth the magnificence of authentic human greatness and beautify the landscape of human history.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Francis of Assisi, Mary Magdalene, Augustine, Catherine of Siena, John Paul II . . . none of them started out as saints. But God’s grace entered their lives, purified them of their brokenness and sin, and allowed them to flourish. The same grace that worked wonders in them is at work, like a seed waiting to grow and flourish, in every baptized soul—including yours.
GOOD SOIL FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord, fortitude, counsel; faith, hope, Christ-like love—these are the ingredients of lasting happiness. They aren’t meant to be the exclusive property of extraordinary saints. They are meant to enrich and shine out in every single one of us. These are the spiritual qualities that make life worth living, that produce healthy family life, that overflow into the forging of a strong and creative culture. They are what we feel called to live, but constantly find ourselves falling short of living. Why is that?
If the right conditions for an acorn to become an oak tree are good soil, water, sunlight, and a healthy climate, what are the right conditions for the seed of grace to produce spiritual maturity? What makes it possible for this seed to grow, flourish, and yield its marvelous fruit?
One essential element is a life of prayer. In a sense, prayer is the soil in which grace can grow. The other sacraments (the Eucharist, confession, marriage, and so on) are like the water and the sunlight. Moral integrity and virtue are like the good climate. But the soil, the very ground that enables our spiritual potential to quicken, unfold, mature, and thrive, from the beginning of our spiritual journey until its very end, is prayer. If we want to experience in our own lives, ever more abundantly, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and if we want to contribute through them to our loved ones and to the world around us, we simply must develop a life of prayer.
And we can. Really. Every single one of us can become an amazing pray-er. It doesn’t take any special talent or genetic propensity. There is only one requirement,and it’s something not even God can do for us: We simply have to be willing to try.
A GUY IN CHICAGO
I met a man in Chicago a few years ago, a Catholic man, married with two or three children. He had started his own business, and it was doing well. He had maybe a couple hundred employees. We got to talking about prayer and the spiritual life. He was using one of my books for his daily prayer time, and I asked him when he had started the spiritual discipline of praying every day. He paused for a second, then told me what had happened.
During the years when he was starting his business, he put in long hours and struggled to get by. Those were also the years when his children were still young, grade-school age. He wasn’t spending much time with them, or with his wife; his business venture was taking up all his bandwidth. He would still go to Mass on Sundays, but that was the extent of his spiritual life.
After he’d spent years working at that breakneck pace, his business started to thrive. He finally began to find more time for his wife and his kids. But he was surprised when his attempts to reconnect with them came up dry. He kept trying. But somehow it wasn’t working. His wife seemed like a stranger. His kids didn’t seem to want him involved in their world. On the outside, the family was healthy and happy. But on the inside, he felt that his vision of what being a husband and a dad should be was unattainable. He didn’t know what to do.
Gradually he became discouraged, and refocused his energy on his business. He remained on civil and generally pleasant terms with his wife and children, but he found more immediate gratification in his work, where he felt he could really make a difference and see tangible results. He reached a modus vivendi in which he kept providing for his family and loving them as much as they would let him (so it seemed to him). But his creative juices flowed at work, and his heart was more alive there. In the back of his mind he was worried, but he just kept the worry there and focused his attention on what he knew he was good at.
One weekend he was having breakfast with his wife, and out of the blue (so it seemed to him), she told him that she didn’t know if she could continue the way things were. She felt alone and unappreciated. The kids (now adolescents) were having all kinds of issues. And although he provided for the family materially, he wasn’t really present for any of them. That wasn’t what she wanted. That wasn’t what she had hoped for. She didn’t know what to do.
The worry he had stored away in the back of his mind came rushing out like a tidal wave. He tried to defend himself. He tried to offer solutions. He said he had tried to be more present, but they wouldn’t let him. The breakfast conversation didn’t reach any resolution other than both of them agreeing that something had to change.
Later, on his own, he saw clearly that he was what had to change. Something in his life had to change. For some reason—he said he had no idea why—the idea popped into his head that he needed to get right with God. He needed God’s help. He had never stopped going to Mass, and he considered himself a Catholic, but God was far away from his daily life. He needed to do something to get God involved.
And so he committed to a daily God time, to spending some time alone with God every single day. He created his own routine—a prayer journal, a list of people to pray for, a study Bible he would read from. It was nothing complicated—just twenty minutes alone with God at the start of every workday, in his office (he would close the door and instruct his executive assistant not to interrupt him until it was open again).
Almost as soon as he began to spend this short time in prayer every day, things started to change. Nothing on the outside changed—his wife still felt alone and overburdened; the kids still had issues; he still didn’t know how to relate to them. But something inside him began to change. His reactions to those situations were different. He found interior light and the strength not to turn away from those challenges, but to wade right into them and humbly take the risks he needed to take in order to rebuild the most important relationships in his life.
At the time he told me this story, his family was strong and, as he put it, his original vision of what being a husband and father should be had been far surpassed by the reality. While things didn’t change overnight, grace was now growing in his life, and it was showing its fruits.
A life of prayer is the soil in which the seed of grace can quicken, grow, and flourish, bearing the spiritual fruit that we all yearn for, because it’s what we were made for. And every single one of us can develop a life of prayer. All we have to do is decide. Understanding what prayer really is can help make the decision a lot easier.
by Fr. John Bartunek
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If you desire a deeper connection with God or have even the slightest suspicion that something is missing in your spiritual life, then now is the time to enrich and strengthen your faith with A Quiet Place. Whether you pray often or don’t know where to start, Fr. John Bartunek will help you develop a daily habit of prayer. In this small book, he gives you the tools you need to build a relationship with God that leads to lasting joy and peace amidst the constant demands of your everyday life. Get ready to encounter God in a more profound way than ever before—and see for yourself how prayer can change your life forever.
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Alternative Headline How Daily Prayer Can Change Your Life
Product Type Media Books
Author Fr. John Bartunek
Publisher Beacon Publishing
Book Format Paperback
You too can know God
The only way to have a relationship is by being present. God is always waiting for us. He won't push himself on us. He's merciful, loving and kind. I hope you know that God revealed everything! Father Bartunek writes with love and logic and provides practical advice for anyone seeking Him.
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