Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interview with author Bert Ghezzi

In my last post I offered a review of Bert Ghezzi's Adventures in Daily Prayer: Experiencing the Power of God's Love.  Here is a chance to hear from the author himself though.

Kapler:  I’ve met so many people who say that they aren’t very good at praying.  Why do you think that is?

Ghezzi: I think many people don’t understand that God is present to them whether they feel His presence or not.  First, they think that because they aren’t experiencing consolations, something emotional, they aren’t praying right; when the fact is, God is really pleased when we pay attention and may not sense His presence at all.  In the book I quote Julian of Norwich a couple of times.  She explains that God is most pleased with our prayer when we pray faithfully at times when we do not experience His presence.

The other thing is, I think many people have never learned to pray.  They have never learned to take time to pray and to talk to God in a conversational way.  Many people just pray casually now and then, but they don’t grow in prayer.  They pray formal prayers but never open their hearts and talk to God, to let Jesus know that they want to be disciples.  Fr. Larry Richards tells his parish, “I hope you’re all praying.  I want you to pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary, but I really want you to be saying, ‘Here I am God.  I open my heart and mind to you.  What are you saying to me today?  What should I do with my life?’  And then listen to Him.”  That’s the kind of praying that has to happen and many people just aren’t doing that.  I wrote the book the way I did to encourage people to discover that prayer is a conversation with God. 

KaplerIf I may ask a follow-up question:  How do we determine when it is God speaking to us in your thoughts and desires, and not just our own wishful thinking?

Ghezzi:  I take time, regular time, to listen to God; and I ask Him questions.  “Am I where you want me to be?”  When I’m doing that kind of listening I write down my thoughts.  I divide a piece of paper in two, and I have a plus side and a negative side.  If I have a sense that the Lord is saying, “You have to add this to your service;” or “Write a book about. . .;” or “You need to do this with your family;” I will make a list of all the positive and negative indications, and I pray about them.  By doing that I get some sense of what God wants of me.

About four months ago I took a Saturday morning to pray several hours.  I was asking the Lord, “Am I where you want me to be?”  And I made a list of things I was considering doing. I had a sense that I wasn’t supposed to make those changes, that I was to continue doing what I was doing – working in some small ways in my parish, with some ministries, enjoying my family, and working for Our Sunday Visitor.  The Lord said, “That’s plenty for you right now.”  Before a big change I think you need a lot of listening, a lot of praying.  You also need to consult people who you respect, people who have a good handle on spirituality.

Kapler:  Before making a big life change, is there a minimum amount of prayer time you would prescribe to people?  Two months, three months?

Ghezzi:  No, it would vary by each individual.  I think about a recent gospel reading, when Matthew heard the Lord say, “Come and follow Me.”  Matthew got up and left his job as a tax collector and threw a big party for his sinner friends to meet Jesus.  So no, I don’t think there is any set length of time.

Kapler:  Excellent point.  You have written extensively on the saints.  Is there one school of spirituality that you recognize as having had the greatest influence upon you – Franciscan, Carmelite, etc.?

Ghezzi:  No, I draw upon the example of many saints in my life.  For example, I have a great deal of affection for Therese of Lisieux.  I avoid calling myself Carmelite, but I try to do lots of little things with love and allow the Lord to lift me up in prayer.  I have great admiration for Pier Giorgio Frassati, an ordinary person who loved the Lord, spent time in Adoration and served the poor.  He enjoyed life and was a real lover of his friends; I try to be encouraging in the way he was.  I could go on for a long time here because I have many favorite saints, each of whom has taught me something. 

I have a book called The Heart of a Saint.  I wrote that book to showcase ten saints, each of who illustrated one way to grow closer to God.  I wrote about Aelred of Reivaulx because he taught me about spiritual friendship, and I wrote about Roque Gonzalez because he inspired me in the area of social justice.  I wrote about others because they taught me something about the spiritual disciplines I employ in my own life.  That book went out of print but is coming out this spring through Loyola Press under the title Saints at Heart.

Shane Kapler:  You have earned the respect of, and are personal friends with, pastors of various denominations.  Have there been moments when doctrinal differences caused tension?  If so, how did you navigate those waters?

Bert Ghezzi:  Well, most of my contact with Christians from different backgrounds, with Evangelicals and Christians from mainline churches occurred when I was working at Servant Publications.  Servant was owned by an ecumenical community, The Word of God.    I was a leader in the community, and had many contacts in the community with men and women from different backgrounds.  We learned, as a community, to have great respect for each other’s differences.  We learned how to understand the differences without trying to change people’s minds about them.  As an editor at Servant I related to many Evangelicals authors and because we shared the common core of Gospel faith – we believed in Jesus as the Lord; His death, resurrection and ascension; and the basics of Christian living – that common ground kept us from having to debate about the other issues.

Servant had two lines.  Charis was the Catholic line, and we did fully Catholic books in that line; and then with Servant we did an Evangelical line called Vine.  We kept the lines separate so that we didn’t have to minimize Catholic teaching, and Evangelicals didn’t have to minimize their teaching either.  
Now some people would not want to publish with Servant because there was a Catholic imprint.  One famous Evangelical pastor started knocking heads with us because he didn’t think Catholics and Evangelicals could work together.  He was challenging his evangelical friends, “How can you work so closely with Catholics?”  I talked with him once or twice; it never got anywhere, but it was a very friendly conversation.

Kapler:  I grew up in the Charismatic Renewal, and it had a very positive effect in my life.  As one of its early leaders, what effect do you believe it has had on the larger Church?  I was also curious if you had any thoughts as to why, at least in the U.S., the size of the movement seems to have decreased?

Ghezzi:  I think that it has had the effect of renewing people spiritually.  They expect the Holy Spirit to act in their lives.   Many of them have moved from the Charismatic Renewal environment into other services in the Church.  In my parish here in Altamonte Springs, Florida, there are a lot of people who grew up in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal but who are now serving in other ways.  There is a couple who works for social justice.  There is a deacon who is preaching and ministering to the sick.  Many people who are “baptized in the Spirit” are using their gifts in different settings.  I think that has happened throughout the Catholic Church in this country. 

The Charismatic Renewal has also contributed to a revival of the healing ministry in the Catholic Church.  Catholics renewed in the Spirit have learned to pray with expectant faith for healing.  They have also learned to pray effectively for deliverance from evil spirits.  These renewals compliment the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation.

Even though the estimate is that in excess of 120 million Catholics are baptized in the Spirit worldwide, the Charismatic Renewal is livelier now in Africa and Latin America than it is in the States.  I think that partly, after forty years, people have gone through the movement and have settled into parish prayer groups; and that tends to take the edge off somewhat.

Kapler:  Your doctorate is in history.  How did the Lord use your study and teaching of that discipline to mold you as a Christian witness?  As a Christian writer, editor, and speaker?

Ghezzi:  There are a couple of things.  I got a Ph.D. in History at Notre Dame and completed my work just as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal began.  So I went to Michigan and took a job at Grand Valley State College.  I was newly baptized in the Spirit and excited.  As a professor of history at a state college, I made some decisions to be very careful about what I would do, but if a student ever asked me about my life; I would tell them.  And so I had many conversations at Grand Valley State College about the Lord and being baptized in the Spirit.  I tell some of those stories about students who I evangelized and whose lives were changed in Adventures In Daily Prayer

People think historians are encyclopedic; they know all the dates, and facts and political relationships.  Some men and women who are historians do; but most of us are trained to do research.  What I’m trained to do is find answers to questions, and I use those research skills to write my books.  I’ve written twenty books by now and many of them I had to research, especially those about saints.  So the skills I learned when I was trained as an historian, I use in my writing.

I also really worked hard to write simply and directly when I was a student.  I strive now to write in such a way that anyone could read what I write and understand it.  That’s part of my training as well.

Kapler:  I would say that you did that very successfully.  I passed along Adventures In Daily Prayer to a dear friend a couple of days ago, and she is already on chapter six.

Ghezzi:  Well, it’s an intentionally easy read because I want people to discover daily prayer as something they really need to be able to do.  I wanted it to be something anybody could read, including those who don’t read very much.

Kapler:  So if there is was only thing a person took away from this book, what would you want it to be?

Ghezzi:  That’s not hard to answer.  The “take away” from the book is God is here with us, trying to communicate; and we need to decide to pray. 

It won’t work just to try.  Trying to pray and deciding to pray are two very different things.  Fr. Larry Richards says to his people, “You don’t try to have breakfast, try to have lunch, and try to have dinner.  You have them every day.  Why do you try to pray?  You need to be praying, and you need to be reading Scripture.  No Bible, no breakfast.  No Bible, no bed.”

In response to God’s loving you and desiring to communicate with you, you need to decide to have a daily prayer time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Review - "Adventures in Daily Prayer"

Anytime I see Bert Ghezzi’s name on the spine of a book, I stop to take a look; so it was a treat to be able to review an advance copy of his newest for Catholic Exchange. As one of the original leaders in the charismatic renewal, long-time editor of New Covenant magazine, the author of numerous books and articles, an international speaker and regular guest on EWTN – all while being a husband and father of seven – he is long on insight. “But,” you might ask, “what more can be written about personal prayer?” Well, prepare yourself to be humbled my friend; I know I was.

In this book, Bert (yes, Bert – with the glimpse these pages give of his interior life, “Dr. Ghezzi” doesn’t feel right) shares the tried and tested principles that have sustained him in prayer for over 45 years, through the highs and lows common to us all. The element that really set this work apart for me was Bert’s conviction that all of us are meant to hear from God – it’s just a matter of making a commitment to remain within earshot of Him.

The rest of the book gives the simple, clear-cut ways to do exactly that. I said that I was humbled by this book, and I meant it. Bert’s wisdom and stories alerted me to the gifts and inner dispositions I have neglected of late. Take Scripture for instance: I say a short prayer before I read the daily Gospel that arrives via email each morning; but I am not stopping to give it the attention Scripture deserves. I have not been chewing over this word the Father sent His Son into the world to give me! At the end of Bert’s chapter on Scripture, as with all of the chapters, he provides several points to Think over – Pray about – and Act on: “What would you have to change to build Scripture study into your daily routine?”; “If you are not already reading Scripture daily, decide to study the Gospel of Mark for fifteen minutes every day for the next month. . .“ His chapter on “Praying with Thanksgiving” would have been reason enough for me to grab this book.

Trust me though, there is no “wagging of the finger.” In fact, it’s just the opposite. Bert is quite transparent regarding shortcomings in his temperament and mistakes he has made, and how God continues to challenge and correct him. It is an exceptional testimony to how prayer is a gift meant for our enrichment, not God’s. Praise, thanksgiving, lectio divina, dryness, intercession – it’s all about taking on the image of Jesus, the image stamped on our souls in baptism.

If you are just setting out on the adventure of daily prayer, then I honestly can’t think of a better book with which to start; I have a friend with whom I can’t wait to share it. And if, like me, you’ve been on this road a few years and need to take stock of where you’re at, then here is your GPS. No dry theory here folks – it’s all tread marks on asphalt.