Praying with Fr. Jeremy Merzweiler

Praying with Fr. Jeremy Merzweiler

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FM: Hi This is Fr. Michael Denk for the next episode of Praying with Priests. I’m very excited to have father Jeremy Merzweiler with me. Fr. Jeremy was ordained in 2015 so some would say he is still a baby priest. (wah) His MA was in actually in imaginative prayer, so Father Jeremy I’m very excited to have you here and to interview you with Praying with Priests.

FJ: Thank you. Thank you.

FM: Tell us a little bit about your MA and why you chose that topic.

FJ: My MA is on the Ignatian imagination and imaginative prayer, through the way of St. Ignatius and how he spells it out. I chose it because the summer before I attended a 30 day nation the spiritual exercises with St. Ignatius at IPF, the Institute Priesthood Formation.

FM: Okay so tell us a little bit about the IPF and the priestly institute and your 30 day retreat

FJ: So with that retreat, it really was an invitation to enter into prayer in a new way that I hadn’t really experienced before. It was really about allowing the Lord to become real in a new way in my prayer. That the imagination wasn’t something fake or an illusion but it was actually the canvas by which God would allow Christ to enter into my life in a new way and allow me to enter, and to encounter the Lord, in a real way. So it was such a gift,

FM: We will talk about that more later, but I want to start –I like to start off– at the very beginning. What was your first memory of God? Or prayer? When did you first experience a feeling of God?

FJ: I remember… I was probably 4 years old. And my mom would take me to daily mass. You kinda would go inside the church and my mom would say, “This is God’s home” and things like that. And I was always awe-struck, like God lives here, that’s pretty cool. But it was kinda just going to mass every morning I experienced something, I didn’t really know what it was, but you experienced some sort of peace.

FM: Peace

FJ: Some sort of like—it was a good thing. It’s what I knew. But I didn’t really know how to articulate it, but my mom would take me every morning to daily mass. And she says I even talked about priesthood back in the day, but I just thought…

FM: You don’t remember that? Or do you?

FJ: I don’t remember it, but I thought like, Well that’s easy, they just light a candle. It was father Corrigan at St. Vincent he would just light a candle and say some prayers. Hey, I can do that.

FM: I just wanted to describe to our listeners right now that Fr. Jeremy has a very difficult time sitting still so right now he’s actually kneeling.

FJ: I’m kneeling down, because if I sit down I like to take a nap. I’ve done that my whole life.

FM: So how did you survive? So how did you make it through mass?

FJ: What as a child?

FM: Yes, like this is a child?

FJ: yeah I got a lot of quiet time in the corner after mass, because I’d go underneath the pew to the other side and things like that. But the saving grace of that was I remember my dad would always pick me up and I kinda stand on the pew. And that was like, “wow, Im as tall as an adult.”

FM: What about your personal experience—did you have any personal experience of prayer? Or God growing up as a child?

FJ: Yeah I think my real encounters with God early on in prayer maybe a couple major ways as a child. I think number one just family praryer. My mom would always take time for us to pray the rosary as a family. We also would, She would also take me to Prayer Cynicals.

FM: What is that for those who don’t know?

FJ: Is like a prayer meeting every week where we would maybe pray a few prayers. And it was also centered on the Mary devotion and share about her experiences in the spiritual life it was very powerful for like 11-year-old.

FM: Would you share? Or would you just go and listen?
FJ: I mostly would listen. But there were times when we could share different experiences. But I mostly listened at that point. AS far as invitation to give your life to Mary, to consecrate, we concecrated our family to Mary at an early age.

FM: What was that like?

FJ: It was beautiful. Oh yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Describe that for our listeners

FJ: You know we had a good friend of the family who was very tied to Mary in his life. And he just invited us to pray that active consecration that John Paul II was very adamant and supported. Its really allowing Mary to take over your life, but ultimately so we can be drawn to Jesus. So, it was very powerful.

FM: What was the moment of consecration with your family?

We did it—I don’t remember the date exactly—but I remember being in the living room and praying it together. Yeah, you almost feel like, very natural because every morning before school we’d always pray the morning offering. You know, “I give you all my prayers, words, joys, everything of this day.” We’d kneel there before the bus would come and pray this prayer. My mom would invite us. It was kind of like a continuation of that. So that everything we did was offered for the Lord. So it kind of helps to frame your day and your life.

FM: Is that Louis Saint Louis de Montfort Total Consecration to Mary?

FJ: It is similar to that. It was father Kolbe, that Mary Movement of Priests. It was like this little blue book. His order was based out of Maine.

FM: For our listeners, I’ll make sure to post that.

FJ: Yes, it is a powerful resource. But also just growing up, I’d say about 8th grade is when I really started to experience the Lord in prayer in a beautiful way. Me and a few buddies of mine would have a little prayer group with this other older guy who was strong in the faith. He’d come by and just kind of teach us. Give us warnings about what to look ahead of in life and things like that. We’d talk about the faith. It was beautiful but I think as far as personal prayer I think I grew the most, as funny as it sounds, on the golf course.

FM: Hmmm.

My sister worked at a pool in the Barberton/Clinton area. And she was kind enough to let me have free golf. And every day I would—pretty much the summer before freshman year of high school, I golfed every day. Probably 18 holes a day. My mom would drop me off and I would –My friends wouldn’t be that dedicated, so they’d come maybe a couple times a week—but every day I’d just be out there by myself amidst nature and that’s when I –you know the silence, that was really a part of the game—was really drawn into God.   Whether just seeing the birds, or the nature, or just the nature of the trees, all that tied in with silence and my own thoughts. I really grew close to who I was and to maybe to my relationship with God just in general. Through creation. It was beautiful.

FM: Yeah, there is something about both of those–silence and creation

FJ: Yeah, it was a great combo. I think that is why I still golf today.

FM: Uh huh

FJ: It’s been a good 20 years.

FM: So that was before your freshman year in high school. Where did you go to grade school?

FJ: I went to grade school at both St. Vincent in Akron and also Sts. Phillip and James in Canal Fulton.

FM: And high school?

FJ: High school was Northwest.

FM: Northwest, so that’s public high school?

FJ: Public.

FM: Ok so, were you involved in any kind of youth group? Or how did your prayer life go through high school? Or was it just through the golf course? What was that like?

FJ: High school, uh my high school prayer life was um… Our youth group maybe was about 4 or 5 kids so I never, I have to say that I—I probably assumed that I knew the faith. All I needed to know by the 8th grade, probably like 90% of Catholics in high school. I don’t know. I just felt like I already knew it, so

FM: So why go?

FJ: Maybe I felt too cool? I don’t know what it was. In all honesty I didn’t really participate in any high school activity. A small parish, but maybe the youth group was like going bowling with like 4 or 5 kids, and I was like too cool for school at that point in my mind. God only knows. But in reality, it was probably… 9:58

FM: Did you continue going to mass and praying throughout high school?

FJ: Yes. So I always went to mass. My mom was very active in the parish. Many different ways. She’d always invite us to different activities, as far as volunteer opportunities and things like that. She also was in charge of adoration, scheduling that. So who would be the one who would fill in one or two hours a week when there would be a need? But yours truly, myself. So I would go and that’s a major way—a real major way—I encounter the Lord. So I was just sitting there with the Lord. And initially, again I was like if I have to be here I might as well bring my chemistry homework and just do it and then everyone’s happy.

FM: So initially you went because you were forced. Your mother needed a replacement and she sent you.

FJ: So I did. I didn’t gripe about it. I just did it. But it is funny how the Lord kinda prepares and guides you in that way. Because he was building a foundation because about half way through high school I kind of fell in a few ways. You know I wasn’t going on the right path and I won’t give you too many details. But life of party and things like that. Just look up St. Augustine’s life and you just kinda you realize this isn’t what I’m made for. I’m not made for this. And it was kinda like, you started to come to the Lord with things on your heart.

FM: So you would naturally do that in high school? You would bring things to the Lord at adoration?

FJ: So what happened—a big moment for adoration with me was—I’d say maybe ½ way through high school we were alwayslike —our family was 10 till 11 o’clock at night we’d go on Thursdays—and then someone would come from 11 to 12 and close. But you know this evening I went, but no one came to close. And I remember my dad saying, “Alright, this is what you do if you have to close and repose the sacrament.” And I was maybe like 16 or 17 at the time. No one came, and so it was aobut 11:55 or 12 and I was like I gotta go. I gotta go to school. So I went up to the Lord and I took the Luna out of the monstrance and it was like right when the luna was in my hands, I just said, “Oh my God! This is God!”   You know I think I’d been taught the real presence. And I knew it intellectually, but it was a moment when I really realized it was God.

FM: Wow. You were holding him.

FJ: Yeah, I was holding God. It was like “what the heck happened?” You know my whole life. So I went to the tabernacle and it was like this moment where I lost track of time. And I remember driving home saying, “I just held God in my hand. I just had God in my hand.” It was like crazy. And it was just like an eye opener or a heart opener. Or whatever you want to call it. And from that, that’s when I really started to—when I’d struggle when I felt like I’d failed God—I’d just come to the Lord with my struggles. I cry, I praise God, I do all things with the Lord in adoration   That’s kinda where this relationship really blossomed. And that’s why I support it today, because-WOW- our Lord wants to be with us. And that’s so true at every mass. (14:03) When we receive the Lord, it’s in our hands! We hold God! Not only in our hands but in our bodies. It’s just this ripple effect of understanding that we just need to be aware of. That sadly our church as a whole isn’t. But that’s what we need to pray about and for. That people realize this awesome reality of God in our lives.

FM: Yeah. So that was in high school?

FJ: That was in high school.

FM: That’s pretty profound.

FJ: Yeah. So praise God.

FM: Where would you say your next development would be? Say you go to college—was your prayer life maintained through that?

FJ: Yeah, my prayer life in college was…I was always praying a lot, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. So I went to four colleges, in like four semesters—my first four semesters. And I was just really not-

FM: Four colleges, in like four semesters?

FJ: Yeah, so I was not at peace about any job, any job aspect, or any degree. You know I’d try something and then there was a very restlessness at the core of my being. So I would always come back to the Lord in prayer and adoration. And just nothing would fulfill my heart. I had a knack for engineering. I loved math. I was practically just at peace doing math. But something at the core of my very being was not fulfill.

FM: And then you went on to work for a couple of years–right?

FJ: So basically long story short, I tried engineering, architecture, engineering and about half way through I started to talk to the diocesan vocation director

FM: Oh ok.

FJ: And I also encountered a spiritual director through the Legionnaires of Christ. And they really just helped me to maybe enter into it like a marathon not like I have to decide today. But it’s like first things first—maybe let’s just get a degree and keep praying about where you want to go. Because I was checking out religious orders and different diocese. I was everywhere. So by that time I just used those last 2 years of college to really figure out where my heart is. So my last couple of years I did fifty-some credit hours and I was personally burnt out of college. So I spent a good year or two just painting. I just wanted to use my hands. I wanted to be normal. Academia was never my longing. But God only know I went back for 6 more years after that!

FM: So the painting—that’s more silence. Was that prayerful for you?

FJ: That was fantastic. So, painting to me is like the rosary. I need to be doing something, so I can enter deeper into thought, prayer, or meditation—things like that. So painting, like the rosary, you are doing something. You are reciting the prayers, you are rolling the paint on the wall, but you’re really in deep thought. You’re really thinking—meditating– on life, your life in relationship with God. It’s a gift.

FM: And when did the call come? It sounds like the call was working throughout that whole time, but when did you know it was time to enter the seminary?

FJ: Time to enter—Well, one thing about myself, one of my middle names could be indecisiveness. So the Lord really need to place a lot of priests, a lot of family, a lot of friends in my life to kind of nudge me—to keep nudging me—I was going to a spiritual director but also talking to our vocation director after college. And it was about year 2 or maybe a year and a half after talking for about a year that the vocation director was like, “Ok, you have to make a decision here.” So I went to my priest friend and asked him. And he did something beautiful. And I’ll share this for anyone out there who is discerning their vocation. I had to make a decision the day after so he invited me into his church and sat me in the pew and said, “Could you see yourself living as a lay person and glorifying the Lord with your work? Things like that?” And I said, “yes, what a gift. I love to use my hands. I love to glorify the Lord with my work.” So then he pulled me up to the base of the altar and he asked me, “Could you see yourself getting married? You know laying down your life for a woman and having children? Having a family?” And immediately I said, “Yes, of course that is where my heart is. I would love and long to be a father.” To be there for family is how I’ve lived my life. So then he saw that he was kinda getting nowhere so he pulled me around to the altar—to the other side of the altar. And he placed the Roman missal, or the sacramentary at that time, he placed it on the altar and invited me to say the Eucharistic Prayer number two. And he said, “You’ll be praying this every day. Can you do this?”   So I started to pray it and really half way through something inside of me said I had to it.

FM: Oh wow.

FJ: I had to do it. I kind of started to cry. It was kind of an invitation from the Lord to surrender. To surrender and say “Here we go.” So the Lord is always working and like for me in my indecisiveness he has to put really big things in my way. Or really people to challenge me to enter in, to make the steps, to make a decision, so that you can move forward in life. 20:58

FM: That’s powerful. So then you went into the seminary. And tell us just a little about your prayer life through the seminary. Some people don’t know what that’s like. They think maybe seminarians are monks. Give us an idea of what it’s like to be in the seminary and to pray. Did that impact your prayer life? Did your prayer life grow? Did it stifle your prayer life? What was that like?

FJ: Oh I think seminary improved my prayer life. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful time. How many people can say the chapel is right down the hall? Not too many people. You know the Lord was there throughout the whole thing and every night I’d go—God only knows what time—9, 10, 11 o’clock at night—and you could just be there with the Lord. Especially after the first year of watching the guys get ordained seeing how they lay prostrate to give their life to the Lord. I would often times just go to the chapel and just lay prostrate underneath the tabernacle and allow the Lord to kind of embrace me. It was very powerful. But you are learning so much in those years. You know they are just packing you in with information and knowledge from different theologians and saints. Prayer was an outlet that allowed us to put things into practice. To put different thoughts to use. So I found that to be very productive. But I did see a change in my prayer. Very conversational the first few number of years with the Lord. But I’d say the last couple of years it was like saying nothing. Like just bringing nothing, just entering into silence, but in a deeper way, where I would kinda release and offer all my thoughts at the altar and just kinda being there. That was key; just being there with the Lord. Not saying anything. Not doing anything. But just being there. Where you have no thought. That was so productive. So peace filling. I don’t know, I would encourage that. But often times these conversations, this way of prayer, meditation, is so productive. But ultimately it’s that moment you can be with the Lord. Not say a word. Not think a word. Not do anything. Sometimes that is where I experience love the most.

FM: Hmm, that is beautiful. And then you made your 30 day Ignatian retreat. For people who don’t know that is the spiritual exercises. St. Ignatius has spiritual exercises which he encouraged all of his disciples to do; however anyone can do that. Lay people can do that. Seminarians can do that. Priests can do that. You did that as a seminarian.

FJ: Yeah, I was entering my last year at the seminary. So thanks be to God that the faculty allowed me to enter into this despite the fact that I had to do a summer internship. So I thank the seminary about that. But I did it because I wanted to really focus my discernment. I wanted to bring everything who I was to the picture. And just lay it all out before I would literally lay my life down as a deacon for the church, receive holy orders. So I just wanted it to be a sacred time that summer before. And it was, it was.

FM: So you went out to Creighton and you spent 30 days in silence and prayer. People always ask me, “What’s that like to be in silence for 30 days?”

FJ: Well it wasn’t all silence. About every 10 days we would take a break for about 8 hours and maybe go to the zoo or talk or something. It was amazing to me. The first 3rd of it was kind of like de-technological—I don’t know how to say it—but just getting rid of technology–being detached from that was beautiful. But then also kind of the silence and the lack of interaction with people opened me up to a lot of my life. My past–everything kind of rose to the surface of my heart and mind. And you are confronted with who you are—good and bad. So it was really a gift to say, “Wow! Wow!” these things must still be going on in me. And you are not alone when you are dealing with them. You are asking the Lord to walk with you in those. And it was beautiful. Through the exercises you do a general confession and you look at your whole life. At how you’ve lived and maybe the good things you’ve accomplished, but also where you need to grow and maybe the root sins in your life you just bring to the Lord. It was after that that I really experienced God’s love in a beautiful way. And I just kept receiving the Lord’s love. But altogether, I think the whole experience made me realize the realness of God. That God is alive. And we can receive from the Lord. I think most of us in our prayers lives, we give and we say things. We shout out to God like he’s from a distance, “God I need this help me, I’m screwing up here help me.” You know my family my friends myself. And then we just go back on our day. But it’s like the Lord has something to share. The Lord is alive. The saints are alive. Mary is alive. The Father is alive and He wants to share something with you. He wants to share his life. This Ignatian way of praying, where we engage our imagination, we engage every aspect of who we are especially with the scriptures is an area that allows our hearts and minds to be open. A way, yes, that opens us up to this real encounter. This real personal encounter that uses our imagination. That uses the gifts that God has given us. So that we can receive. That we can receive the Lord’s life, the Lord’s love, and His will. We can understand His will in our lives. So I got back and I was like, “God is real! God is real! This is amazing.” And while we know God is real, I think it was a deeper knowing. That’s how I can describe it.

FM: And I think that is my deepest desire is to help people to come to know God for real and to experience this personal relationship that we all desire and that God wants to give to us. How did you experience him for real? Can you give us an example or 2 of the moments where he seemed the most real to you in those 30 days?

FJ: Beautiful. Hmm, how did God seem real? I think just using the way of imaginative prayer; Ignatius would invite you to let the scene play out in your life. As you read the scriptures, you picture the Lord, and you picture yourself in these scenes. That is extremely powerful.

FM: Can you give us one?

FJ: Yeah there were many times when the Lord was just real. Ignatius would invite you to do that, with Jesus you would allow the scripture scene to unfold and then it was about asking the Father first, “What do you to share in this?” And then asking Jesus, “What do you want to share in this encounter?” And then you ask Mary. I remember praying with the scriptures with Psalm 51 and it is a beautiful psalm and it is an invitation to allow God’s mercy into your life in a new way. It saying, “Hey I’m a sinner and I need you Lord.” And I remember praying Psalm 51 with the Father and Jesus and they were preparing my heart. But when I got to Mary, it was like Mary was a surgeon. I remember this deep invitation from Mary to just allow her to work on me. To do some open heart surgery on my heart. So it was like this is real. I mean it was so real, it sounds crazy.

FM: So pain the picture. How did you see or experience the Father, the Son, and Mary.

FJ: So I was in one of the chapels on Creighton’s campus. Actually the chapel where the residence was for the Jesuits. In just that experience it was like the Father and Jesus were just kind of inviting me to be open as I prayed that Psalm, but it was Mary–that you know when you are imaging this encounter–it is real. It was just like a deep invitation to allow me to let her handle my heart. I could just feel her taking my heart. And my heart, I could see my heart. And it looked like, you know how you have those sea creatures in the ocean after an oil spill? It just looked like an oily dirty heart. And I could just see her just cleaning it. Just caressing it. And I was overjoyed. It just made me realize we try to do so much on our own, but how easy it is to call on our Mom, to call on our Father, to call on Jesus and allow them to do some surgery. Allow them to take our hearts and make them clean again. And I was overjoyed and felt amazed and energized and very unfair that who Mary was that she could just renew me like that You’re telling me that you can just do this all the time? It’s amazing. So I had to share this with my family; just come to Mary she’s gonna renew you. She wants to get that spiritual Dawn on your hearts. And get rid of all that. On top of that it just seemed like the Lord kept showing to me how real he was. Just praying, Ignatius would invite you to pray with Christ’s life. Even as a teenager. I found myself entering into Christ’s teenage years, seeing him in class as like a class clown, very humorous. It was an angle of Christ that I had never even thought of. How beautiful just to get to know the Lord on all these many levels and it was all through prayer. But it was very intimate, it was like, “Wow this is amazing, the Lord is letting me into his life on so many levels. I could talk all day about that, about every day because you did about 5 holy hours a day and they were all opportunities.

FM: Every holy hour you enter into another mediation or scripture passage?

FJ: Another scene. Most days I would I liken it to a trip to Rome maybe, where you are inundated with beauty. Church after church. You’re like alright this is enough! This is enough! But God was like I want to work on you. I want to enter into your life. But the reality is that it is not just on a 30 day retreat. God wants to do this every day. He wants to enter into your life every day. And I think that is what the mass reminds us of. He doesn’t only carry a 2×4, he is smacking us over the head at every mass saying “Here I am! Here I am! Here’s my word. Here’s my life. My whole body, blood, soul, divinity, everything I want to share with you.” We are not open to how real God is. And we just need to open ourselves up to that reality. And that’s kinda where my thesis was about that we need to enter in to this way of prayer with the scriptures as a way to prepare to enter into the mass. We can use these ways we can sit with scripture every week. Use these ways Ignatius lies out so that we can prepare. Prepare our heart, our minds for that 2×4, in essence.

FM: So talk about that transition from the 30 day retreat, your last year before getting ordained, now your ordination happens, and now you are a priest. You are a year and a half into priesthood-right? Just give us whatever you want to talk about that experience of becoming a priest.

FJ: Yeah that whole transition-wow! That’s amazing. The whole thing is after the 30 day I longed for just that time—that time of just being alone with God. But all of a sudden you give your life and the Lord gives everything to you. And says “here, here are my people.” And you kind of realize you are here to serve to lay it all out for them. And love them. But what I was finding is that if you don’t come to the Lord, if you don’t’ tap into the Lord first, you just run out of things to give. Ultimately it isn’t Jeremy that people want, it’s Jesus. And if I don’t pray, if I don’t at least be with the Lord on a day to day level you can get exhausted. You know you need to be with the Lord. And the Lord is gonna give you, what you need to give them. So that what priesthood has very much been like a teeter-totter. Not a teeter-totter, but maybe a waterfall would be the best image and it really the image of the Christian life. That we come to the Lord. And the Lord fills us with his life and we receive that and then pour that out for others in love. Very much this waterfall effect for the people.

FM: What do you remember from ordination itself? Were there any moments that were powerful for you

FJ: For priesthood or deaconate?

FM: Yeah, priesthood. Or either one. Or both.

FJ: Deaconate, I really saw the whole pascal mystery from deaconate to priesthood But deaconate I felt like I was dying. I was given everything, and my life–it was a death, it was like a death to my life. But priesthood ordination was this life-giving, joyful—I remember when you leave ordination the people start clapping for you and I just had tear of joy. And I was just on fire and I had tears of joy. And it was 180 degree difference from deaconate ordination. Like the whole time I was almost laughing with joy. The whole ordination there was a rising. I was like “Yes, here I am Lord. Here I am!” There is such beauty about that day. You get to be with your family. You’re just ready. Read to give it. Give it all, even though you don’t know anything. I mean you know things; You spent 6 years studying but you really don’t know. But I think not knowing is always an invitation to come back to the Lord. Coming back to the Lord with our short-comings, and saying “Lord I need you! Lord I need you!” it’s always praying that Matt Mar song, “Lord I need you” every day because that’s what my priesthood has been all about. I think I pray that song all of the time. Lord I need you. Every hour I need you because I just can’t do it by myself. But I don’t think I could say that about any other job or vocation the Lord would’ve placed in my life or that I would’ve chosen. That most of all in our lives and in our vocations I think the Lord draws us to these vocations because they are where we are most vulnerable they are where we need the Lord the most.   if I . would’ve seen myself as a construction manager, or running my own company I think I would’ve known it all and I would’ve felt very confident and I could see myself going 40 years. Just practicing the faith buy not entering into the vulnerability in my life where I need the Lord in everything I do.   I’m sure parents fall under that same thing where it’s like “Wow, I need you Lord, this is too much” But that’s what the Lord says, “this is too much.” But he keeps walking. He keeps carrying the cross. We know where the cross leads us–to resurrection. I think that’s where it’s all about. The Lord wants us to be where we need him the most.

FM: Yeah, and then we experience him in our poverty. That’s beautiful. I want to talk about priesthood and your experience of prayer, both communal and private. The church says it is like breathing in and out; we need both. Tell us about praying as a priest with the people for the people. Give us an image of your favorite moments

FJ: Being able to pray—lead the people in prayer—has been such a gift. It is unfair. I use that word because I get to pray for a living-it’s pretty awesome. It’s just unfair. What I find is that I might I might experience difficulty in my day but when it comes to mass, when it comes time to enter into the celebration I tell ya transformation occurs the very first 5 minutes where we sing the opening hymn. Where you walk down the aisle and I just experience the joy of people, the joy of the community and that just sets my heart on fire. It becomes a joy filled experience-fully.  I just get energized. By the time I say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” my spirit is raised up. I’m ready to just give it all like that’s what it’s all about I find myself with that invitation to give it all at every mass sometimes you literally feel exhausted. I could paint 14 hours and feel the same way after just one mass sometimes because it’s like I don’t know if it is your adrenaline or just the spirit inviting you to just lay it all out on the line for the people. It is just amazing. The second lung would be that personal prayer. I think that personal prayer is so necessary so that we can be alive in those public prayers. Really I find that the personal prayer is an invitation to bring these people that I pray with to the Father. I’ll often times when I’m in personal prayer these people come to my mind These people come to my heart. I will surrender them to the Father saying Lord, they need you. Lord, they need you. Lord, they need you. Help them. Help them. Guide them.   I come to the father and it’s just like the core of my prayer is just being with him. Not even saying a word. Just being with him. And you know, that’s where it’s at.

FM: What’s that like?

FJ: I mean you’ve heard it said of an old couple who just sit on a rocker or a porch swing, they don’t say a word, but you know our lives are so busy. Our lives are so stressful—not only ours—but everyone’s. That the time when have nothing on your mind–is a gift. That time when you just say “Here I am Lord.” That when I feel like you can receive. Kind of a construction term you kind of dump everything at the tabernacle of the Lord. You are empty there. You are kind of filled with anticipation of what the Lord wants to give you there at that moment.  So that’s kind of what my prayer has been like. Kind of a dumping and a receiving. In all honesty, I struggle with prayer. Trying to find a steady schedule. Because the priesthood doesn’t’ have a steady schedule. I mean we have mass scheduled, but other than that it’s an open canvas of whatever comes, comes.   It’s always being attentive to ok there is an hour. Maybe there is a snow day cancellation—maybe I should pray right now while I can. That’s what it’s all about—being attentive. That attentiveness is key throughout your whole day. Because the Holy Spirit is always speaking and wanting to speak to your heart. The Holy Spirit is always wanting to inspire you to do something for God’s greater glory. So be open. Allow your mind and heat to be open to that inspiration.   Let you heart and spirit be open to anything the Holy Spirit might share with you. Maybe it’s just an idea to do something. Write it down pray about it. The Holy Spirit is all the time inspiring. So the more we can allow our hearts and minds to be open to that God’s grace can be active in the lives of others through you.

FM: Sometimes I look at the subtitle of this Praying with Priests should be “Father teach us how to pray.” I think people want to learn, they want to know, how pray. And often times they look to their priests. What would be some advice you would give to people who want to grow in their prayer life?

FJ: well first things first. Come to the Eucharist. Come to mass. The Lord is going to give us what we need. He is going to give us the life source that we need to have that sustenance to pray. You can’t expect to go out there and run a marathon without eating—we need the Lord. And coming to these fundamental encounters with the Lord at mass, adoration. Those were the fundamental ways that I encountered the Lord. And the Lord keep speaking in deeper ways. And allow that to be the foundation. And then from that…

FM: I’d imagine too confession.

FJ: Confession is key of course. My whole life my mom would take us. And I never thought in my early years I didn’t really understand it, but she’d keep faithfully bringing us to confession And I remember in my early teens I really experienced and encountered the Lord in confession and that is when I was sold. There was some sort of conviction in my heart that allowed me to see Christ in that action and I was won over. The sacraments first—we all know that answer—I guess, but really entering into it. Brining everything of who you are into that, but that’s kind of the canvas. From that what are we called to do? We are called to go out. And begin to live our lives and encounter people and maybe allow your encounters with people to be a prayer. Where you kind of see the needs of people and allow that to engage your own prayer life on that fundamental level. You know when you intercede for others—wow there are a lot of needs out there, so allow those encounters to feed that prayer. But also it’s always a call to go deeper. I think attentiveness on a day to today moment to moment level is also key. Whether you are at the stop sign in your car and you shut your radio off and start driving for 5 minutes. You know be attentive to the Holy Spirit. Invite the Holy Spirit into your mind your heart. And just ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration. Be attentive to what God wants to give you. He’ll guide you He’ll guide you. And I think all of us are looking for guidance everyday but often times we don’t go there first. We go to crazy places. And we need to go to God.

FM: So how does one go to God? Or where?

FJ: In anticipation. Inviting of the Lord. In that silence. That silence is key. That silence with the Lord. Just be with the Lord. Just sit and just be. You can share your heart. Share you heart. Share your mind, share your soul. That’s prayer. But give yourself the same amount of time to receive from God. Cause our God is such a giver. Our God is a giver. And that’s the key.

FM: Yeah I think people are often—I love the construction image—people are use to dumping before God. But it’s hard for us to then be empty and receive what he wants to give us.

FJ: Be attentive–it can be a feeling, a thought, a desire, inspiration, whatever you name it. It can be going back to some wound that the Lord wants to heal. The Lord is such a healer and a giver. He wants to enter into all those areas of your life. The lord is always going to be active. And our prayer is going to build on our intellect. I invite you to enter into the knowledge and wisdom of church teaching. That is going to change your life. The knowledge and wisdom of the saints. Read about he lives of the saints. You have to exercise that part of the mind. You have to build up the mind. The church always has something to teach. Always has something to say about everything it seems like, and its true. So we need to be all the time feeding ourselves in that aspect. It is not just about our heart. But it is about our mind to learn about the saints. To learn about the catechism. Learn about the beauty of our faith. Cause that often changes the way I relate. Changes the way I see our church, It changes the way I see the Lord on a day to day month to month level. I begin to appreciate the lord more the more i get to know. Just like the more you get to know your life, and the responsibilities of your life you might appreciate your dad or mom more for the struggles they went through. We need to learn. The more we can learn, it’s like a feeder, it trickles down to our heart. We are more open to understanding and living the faith in a deeper way. But it is a day by day thing. We are going to keep screwing up and were keep moving forward. And that’s what holiness is all about. It’s not this wonderful smooth elevator ride. It’s always about striving for holiness, striving for good, but then falling and coming back to the Lord. Examining your mind and heart and striving to better. We are all sinners but we’re all redeemed at the same time because of what the Lord did and who the Lord is for us.

FM: And I think what you said so well, is that it is what the Lord does for us. You know we can’t make ourselves holy. We can’t make prayer happen. But just by bringing ourselves to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit, to Mary… presenting ourselves, they do the work. Mary is the surgeon. So I just want to thank you for your time for this interview. Because I feel my heart is better and cleaner. And I’m sure all of our listeners have benefited from this too. So thank you so much. As always I like to end with a priestly blessing. So if you could just bless me and our listeners

Lord be with you
And with your spirit
And may God bless you
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Go and pray. Thanks be to God.
Thank you Father Jeremy. Peace.

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.