Jesus’ 3 life stages/phases to reaching the Kingdom

I’m convinced that one can easily find three basic phases or stages in the Gospels that reflect our general spiritual journey to heaven, which are loosely grounded on Jesus’ life. Using Jesus’ mission as our guide and model – that He was sent and willfully came to die, that we might have life in the Kingdom – what are these three missionary stages?

I see them in the following manner: the first stage or phase is Jesus’s hidden life, the second is his public ministry and the third is His passion, death and resurrection.  I believe many but not all of us, will generally follow this same path that Jesus travelled in our journey to the Kingdom. Lets examine each stage of this journey a bit closer.

In the first stage of Jesus’ life– and ours – much is often hidden about our origins and the context surrounding our birth! As literal babes, we have to rely on the stories shared by others to find out about our birth and earliest life.  From these stories, we come to know and understand much about our own hidden parts: like from what kind of relationship we were created, how we were originally perceived and eventually received by our parents, family, the larger world, etc..

Like Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels, our hidden life also contains gaps, missing historical sections and strange memories which are all grafted into an existing family narrative that can paint a very accurate picture outlining what life was really like when we were born.  And just like Jesus’ life, sometimes truths hidden in these narratives will resurface later in our life, giving us a new meaning, truth and mission.   Grappling with these painful memories and hard core truths is tough stuff and may require professional help.

Without getting into those arguments regarding what Jesus definitively did or did not ‘remember’ as a baby – we do know for sure that his parents certainly shared this history – and their reflections on its meaning – with him later!!!  Their sharing of these events certainly shaped and prepared Jesus to first understand and ultimately to face and defeat those same forces of death that initially surfaced at his birth.

Similarly, often the seeds that eventually grow into both the wood of our personal crosses and the contexts of our life missions can be found in these earliest and often hidden parts of our lives. In conjunction with a growing and integrated prayer life, professional help, the prayers of our friends and prayer warriors, etc. we can uncover and learn how deal with and then offer to God these real life crosses in a grace filled manner.

This early hidden life education about our unique crosses and contextual challenges, often yields and becomes the ground from which many of our specific gifts and character traits surface and are developed.

The second phase or stage is Jesus’ life is His public ministry.  This three year period in the Gospels often starts when we leave home through and continues into the period of establishing of our families and vocations – the basic ministries of our lives.  The family is the first church, where both parents exercise an actual and practical spiritual priesthood in the family of modeling and imbuing the family in Christian character. All work and vocations are extra community invitations in which believers are sent out to serve and love, through one’s gifts and in Jesus’ name.

Like Jesus’ second stage of public life and ministry, we too must leave our family to find, build and to live out our unique ‘mission’ in life.  For most of us, the path to our mission is found through the exploration and development of our personal gifts. For others, the path to their mission may come through a unique opportunity to work, to live in a different area, or through the meeting a specific person – all examples of new life possibilities that will deepen our spiritual journey.

Like in the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we too often undergo some kind of baptism – a public declaration of and witnessing to our gifts and/or calling.  This baptism is often coupled with a public acknowledgment of our gifts which correspond to our specific calling.  After finding and initially responding to our call, many experience a kind of ‘forty day fast and preparation in the desert’ – (college, training, mentoring, etc.) – which prepares us to answer God’s call more effectively.  Finally, often successfully passing ‘tests in the desert,’ we are able to break free, going forth to begin our specific ministries of serving and loving with our gifts.

I believe this second missionary stage of our lives,  our public ministry, is by far the most extensive and can be the longest.  It includes the vocational work that we do, the friendships and loves that we build and live commitments to, the families and children that we parent and the greater communities/nation/world better served with our specific gifts.  This period in our lives, which can span from the late teens to our sixties or even later, is analogous to Jesus’ three year ministry of teaching, preaching, healing and saving.

Whereas the challenges of the second phase are often more exterior, public and relationship based as we work to ‘give ourselves away’ in the community as we grow in holiness and love, the third phase reflects a deeper, more interior spiritual challenge and work. It often includes a very real ‘stripping away’ of the very gifts, ministries, families, etc. – all that we have seemingly built – as we return to a simple dependency on the Spirit to make Its final preparations for us to enter the Kingdom

Finally, often in the last stage of our missionary life is that of our passion, death and resurrection.   I could be dead wrong (ok – bad joke), however I have come to believe that for many people, God saves this last stage of passion and suffering for the end of one’s journey.  Why?  Only God knows… but by faith I am certain, that God indeed knows what is best for each of us.  For those like myself who are not yet (as far as we know) on Calvary’s final Road to the Cross, the Gospel narratives about Jesus’ suffering reveals some powerful insights about this final stage.

For instance, a prayerful reading of scriptures will reveal that it was notthe three year ministry that saved us, but it was what Jesus did in this last stage  – suffering His passion and death – which saved us!!! As a chaplain, I have been blessed to witness many holy men and women follow Jesus’ model – after showing others how to live in love, serve and give themselves away, they then go on to stage three showing others how to suffer and die in faith as they hope in God’s Kingdom.  These people are following Jesus’ example, and showing others how to live for God and how to die for Him.

In fact, modeling how to fearlessly confront death in a holy manner is one of the greatest gifts we can leave to our first church and family – how to die in faith and with hope. By following Jesus’ example, our witness of faith and hope to the end can, by grace, empowering others to fearlessly stand on God’s Word until the end.

God also reveals in Jesus’ resurrection, that despite all the very real sin and suffering surrounding each human life and natural death, God can and will continue to proven what is witnessed to in the Gospel: that He will ‘write straight’ with the crookedness of our lives leading us to His Kingdom.  He will teach and save others via our sufferings, while leading all of us to His Kingdom.

In our personal passion and through our unique cross, we are by grace, finally able to imitate Jesus by making a sacrifice and gift of love to the Father which is complete, reflecting Jesus’ total surrender and giving back of His very Self.  Whereas Jesus gave all from the beginning, I believe that through obedience, grace, faith and the Crosses given – we grow via these 3 stages to imitate Jesus’ total sacrifice by the end of our lives.

What the Prodigal Son’s Dad Most Desired for Both Sons

Like any good parent, the Prodigal Son son’s dad wanted what was best for both of his sons.  Despite growing up in the same home, both sons had unique gifts and ultimately chose different paths early on.  Despite their age differences, the wise father understood that both sons still needed him in their lives, but in different ways.

He knew that they still needed his words, presence and touch close by to continue guiding them towards maturation. And since kids often do what parents do rather than what parents say, the wise father also knew that he needed to model that which each son spiritually and morally needed.  Only in this way could they benefit now from his wisdom and also later as they continued to grow and mature into spiritually mature men.

What did each son spiritually lack?  What did the Prodigal son’s dad want most for both sons?  That each would grow to have, the Heart of God.

He for whom the parable was named, seems to be the prototypical youngest (spoiled) sibling: outspoken, demanding and unashamedly immature.  He was blissfully ignorant – about his own ignorance and the great blessings he had received in life – having always benefited from the work and sacrifices of the family. His young pride filled heart failed to realize that it desired to flee from the very source of its blessings: God and family.

It is very possible that the young son’s heart simply became inflated first by his family’s wealth and social power and also by his own youthful ignorance(s) – including an ignorance of what family had sheltered him from as a child: the world’s harshness and evil.

After falling into abject poverty and experiencing “the ‘REAL’ world”  – which takes no prisoners – the prodigal son began to mature as he reflected on his choices in life. Perhaps, Ssmewhere during this process while on the road home, he may have even took some ownership for his decisions…

While journeying home, the prodigal son probably also noticed that his heart was now a bit different! His once hardened heart – which had been kicked and pounded – now found itself much more humble, grateful and truly more open to listening than ever before.

He was now, more prepared for the heart lessons that the father would teach and model for him. Like how to truly win in life’s struggle to live for God and family and how notlose by making false gods like money, power, fame, pleasure, etc. that are offered by the world.

Like how to willingly sacrifice and contribute to the family’s well being…  Like understanding his brother’s anger, honestly acknowledging and accepting it as real, without meeting or returning it in kind but choosing to love him anyway…  Like living with a graced filled heart that is big enough to live in hope and faith as it waits for his brother’s heart to change over time – however long that may be…

The oldest son was obviously more than just a tad bit older than his younger brother, and had displayed throughout his young adult life both disciplined hard work and respect for family and societal norms.  Despite regularly fulfilling every letter of the religious law – attending every religious ritual and meeting all the commandments like not to lie, steal, kill, etc. – somehow his heart still became (or remained) hardened.

Many of us have friends or coworkers like this… They can tax us and sometimes make us ask, “…Now, why am I her/his friend again?”  Even in our families we may be able to find one who seems to fulfill every letter of the law, but who struggles mightily to smile, express and to show love and joy daily – the Spirit of the Law!  Unfortunately, some families with BOTH parents like this rarely experience the true, simple Spirit of Christian love in family life, since from both barrels/parents they are getting the Christian drill Sargent/Judge enforcing the letter of God’s law…

Its tough to say what may prompt one’s heart to become hardened… However, from studying Bowen Family System Theory in residency and seeing its teachings play out in families at the hospital, I do know there is some truth to the reality of the oldest child resenting/hating the youngest in the family – for any number of reasons.  Sometimes this sibling resentment and/or hate is acknowledged, discussed and intentionally acted on as in the Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers, but at other times it can lurk undercover in the background of one’s heart as it influences one’s decisions unconsciously.

Despite being the oldest who had always obediently followed the letter of the law, this son also needed his father’s guidance and modeling like younger son did.  In fact, because of his age, some might argue that his heart actually needed it more and that he was the most immature! Apparently, like a holiday turkey, his heart had been slowly basting with hidden and unspoken resentments over time…  Over the years his quiet, steady self-basting produced a nearly formed and hardened, pride smathered crust that was trying to form a perfect me-myself-and I-shell around his still immature heart. But the father was quietly watching and waiting for this son too…

When the older son used his history to contrast and argue against his brother, the dad knew the depths of his oldest son’s real problems. His comparison did not reflect the natural pride of immaturity like his brother’s did, but that quiet, deep and often unspoken spiritual pride found in many older folks. These kind of people devalue others for struggling or outright failing to ‘make the mark and/or meet expectations’ that they, because of their own giftedness, etc. have been able to meet relatively easily. They elevate themselves and debase others based on their perceptions of one’s personal achievement, success, etc.

At best, the parable leaves unanswered the question as to whether this son’s heart actually changed. However, knowing the father’s great love for his sons and his continued presence in their lives, we can hope and have faith that the oldest son’s heart did eventually change.  Despite going away upset and refusing the invitation to celebrate his brother’s return, there is still hope for the oldest son as long as the father is present.

Why? Because his dad will continue to hope, pray, work and model for the oldest son – even though it may seem hopeless – in the same way he hoped, prayed and awaited the return of the youngest son.  God the Father simply never gives up on us, his children!!!

Whether our heart is young or old, ignorant or hardened, God is present and waiting, inviting and begging for us to ‘come to the shop and get our hearts fixed!”

God the Father, like the Prodigal Son’s Dad, simply wants each of our hearts to become like His: full of love and willing to serve others with our gifts!!!

God sent his Son, Jesus to save us AND modeled for us how to grow and develop a Heart of God. God has also given us the Holy Spirit via baptism to lead, guide and to transform our hearts from within.

May all that you encounter these Spring days – the good/bad, the sun/rain and the common/everyday – by grace, work to transform your life and your heart!!!   May your heart grow to be more like  God’s this Spring, sharing God’s joy through your gifts, and letting His  joy spill forth from your heart both at home and at work.  Amen.

On the Easter Promise we share with those in heaven…

There are many points we share in common with those who are now in heaven…

As we celebrate the Easter season, we who are still journeying to heaven, are celebrating and giving thanks for the gift of faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.   We are also celebrating the gift of hope, first revealed in and by Jesus, of God’s Promise to give his children eternal life in the Kingdom. Our yearly celebration of Easter is joined by those now in heaven, who are endlessly praising and worshipping God in both spirit and in truth.

What are the saints celebrating in heaven?  Well, unlike ourselves, they are now celebrating the experience and reward of eternal life and Glory with the Triune God!!! Yes, they are basking in True Easter Glory each heavenly moment….

Their real experiencing of heavenly joy and its rewards is not the only difference between their celebration in heaven and ours down here… Perhaps the biggest difference between the two celebrations is that here on earth, our Easter celebrations are made possible only by our faith in and hope for God’s grace in the Risen Christ!

Yes, the saints in heaven have shared this common human experience of living by faith and hope during their lives.   However, unlike we who still possess a living faith that is active and growing by grace, those in heaven no longer have any need for either faith or hope!  Their faith and hope has been tested, made pure and is now realized, complete and is made manifest in heaven.

Since all heavenly citizens both walk and stand face to face with God, they have no faith or hope anymore!!! In light of this divine reality that we still hold only by grace and faith, what scriptural Promise can I possibly be talkin’ bout in this essay’s title?

What scriptural Promise awaits both the heaven bound and the saints in heaven?

Perhaps, NOW you get it and you say, WAIT!!!! What ‘kinda foolishness’ did you just read? What could anyone in heaven want for? What can they possibly want for and/or anticipate?  How can one in heaven still await any Promise from God?

Well…

It is an interesting question whose answer ultimately rests in a few key scriptural beliefs, teachings and Promises of God.   First: All that God creates was and is good, however ‘the Fall’ negatively impacted both our humanity and all of creation.   Second: God created us as integrated beings, composed of a unified body and spirit.   Third: Jesus’ Death and Resurrection saves our whole being: body, soul/spirit…

This last scriptural point is so important, that the Gospel’s post resurrection narratives continually drives it home in different ways…  For example Jesus just doesn’t appear once and then leave, he kind of ‘hangs around’ to complete and confirm His teaching as the Christ before his ascending to the Father. He eats with the Apostles, drinks with them and even tells doubting Thomas to put his hands into His side and into nails marks, so he may believe that, it is in fact Jesus in body and Spirit.

Returning to our reflection about those who are now in heaven and the Promise we share with them… What divine Promise can possibly remain unfulfilled for them?  What is it and when will they (and we) FINALLY get it?

All of us in heaven will get it on the Last Day…  And that final Promise is to be like Jesus: fully Resurrected in both body and spirit!

Please note: The Last Day is NOT to be confused with the particular judgment, which is what happens on our particular day of death, when we are individually judged.

Classically, The Last Day is the End of All Time when all the souls that have lived on earth will rise again and receive our resurrected bodies for eternity.  For the literal, scientific and hardcore historically minded, this will be sometime around 5 billion years from now when our sun begins to supernova (assuming we have not destroyed ourselves before then).

But if the futurist in you believes and asks, “… but when we develop sci-fi like tech and can leave our galaxy to escape elsewhere at light years speed as we explore the universe (the movies come true)… when will time ‘end” then? Okaaaaaay! …Only since you force me to, I’ll digress and address that side of you…

Well assuming that you also then believe humans will live for millennia in the universe…   Then as science now reveals, the universe will end eventually one day – perhaps when all galaxies have expanded infinitely far away from each other and every star has burned out –  then, natural time will end.   At that time, there will be no more new  planets to find and inhabit.  In fact, even BBC’s television character and alien Dr. Who would have to die and be judged  at this time, for there will be no more physical bodies   – literally ‘nothing else’ – for even him to change into (lol)!!!  This is my best articulation about the Last Day’s actual historicity. Anyway…

At that time – the end of all time – we will receive the full fruits of Resurrected Life, receiving our risen bodies, like Jesus Himself!!!! This is the Final Promise that we share with all those who are in heaven now.

If I’m correct, then the saints here on earth and those in heaven – and at all points in between – are all still longing for this one scriptural Promise: to experience that eternal reuniting of our then holy souls/spirits with our resurrected bodies. If Jesus’ Resurrection in the Gospels reveals anything, it reveals that we will be as He is and thus, this Promised reunion is as real and grounded in God’s love as is the heavenly community we will already be in.

This ‘Last Day Reunion’ will be infinitely more than just a return to that ‘harmony between the spirit and flesh’ that was experienced and lost by Adam and Eve in Paradise.  Please remember, paradise was just a starting point for the first parents: God’s goal for them was/is the same as it is for us; God has not changed.

God has always desired and planned the same thing from all eternity: that His children will live with Him and each other in love – for all eternity – in body and spirit.

It could be no other way, especially since all that God created is truly good and holy and Jesus’ sacrifice redeemed all of us – body, spirit and soul.  This is the Final Promise that God will fulfill and the only Promise that the saints in heaven still await.

…But their wait is not one of hope or faith as is ours; they know that it is a fact as they now stand before our Lord and King.

Let us – by grace – pray, work, serve and love as God wills us to that we may one day join the Saints in heaven, awaiting God’s final Promise…

From Scribal Understanding to Holy Living

Mk 12: 28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

____________

In this gospel Jesus was approached by a scribe, who inquired, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus responds, “…Love God with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Jesus continues, “…the second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself, there is no other commandment greater than these.”   The gospel story ends with Jesus acknowledging the scribe’s correct understanding of the scriptures, as he encourages him to continue working and growing as He states, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This last point is a very interesting and important to note, that is, how a scribe can understand so much of the Scriptures, and yet – according to Jesus  – still be “…not far from (or outside of) God’s Kingdom.” This profoundly simple point can easily be overlooked and missed!!!

If prayerfully considered in light of one’s life, it has the potential to be one of those “Wait, Jesus said what?” points that can almost make both Catholics and non Catholics briefly rethink, if not to almost hope in, the Church’s teaching about purgatory

Throughout Christian history and especially in the last 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, I believe many Christians have studied themselves into this scribal state – gaining a  great understanding of  God’s law and Word, the Scriptures – but who, for some reason, is still not yet in  (and working towards)  God’s Kingdom.

Why is the classic scribe, still “in route to” and “not yet in” God’s Kingdom?

Well, what some of these scribes fail to understand about God’s Word – is that an academic, intellectual or simple believing sense of the Scriptures – should be just our first step and response to that dynamic and living Word that is the Scriptures.

That first step – accepting, acknowledging and learning more about what is contained and taught in the Scriptures – must be followed by a second and more important step: becoming a doer of God’s Word.

There is a huge difference between being a doer of God’s Word and an understander God’s Word.  The evil one Satan, definitely understands – in the common understanding of what understanding means – more about   scripture than most who have ever lived one may argue, but is he saved?

Let’s be clear: only Jesus as the Living Word made flesh could understand the Scriptures fully, as it is a dynamic and living book that cannot be fully grasped by any living soul.  By grace and faith, we are able to grow and to understand more of what is in the Scriptures, however no one apart from Jesus can or ever will master understanding the Scriptures.

However one can, even without knowing all the mysteries of God, by grace and faith become a faithful, consistent and holy doer of God’s Word.  The history and testimony from the lives of the saints reveals that living out the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Laws of Love in our human relationships is very possible by grace and faith!!!

Their lives also reveal that it is the obedience to and living out of God’s law that actually leads to a true and Spirit filled understanding of the Scriptures, even though many today think, desire and believe that this gift is given freely and frequently to all – with or without holy living. I’ll stick with what the saints have witnessed to myself.

In the New Testament’s Book of James, we are taught that “faith without works is dead.”  And while yes, studying the scriptures is a necessary prayerful work that illuminates the mind, heart and will, only in conjunction with the humble, contrite and prayerful struggle to obey and live out God’s laws daily that the deepest Scriptural knowledge, truths and ultimately relationship with God is given.

Only by prayerfully accepting each day the graced struggle to become a Simon of Cyrene – to willfully and intentionally bear the Cross as given to us – will God infuse the depth and breadth of wisdom that the immature scribe in us all is truly seeking…

Common sense from our natural lives will pound home this point more clearly.  In the same way the doctors become great doctors by doing medicine and great artist become so because of their great depth, commitment and willingness to enter into and to develop the core of their work, so is it also with God’s people – we come to know, love and understand the depths of the scriptures primarily by living it, not solely  by studying about it.

In fact, it is probably best to only know and memorize the Ten Commandment and Jesus’ Laws of Love – if we had only to two things  in the whole Bible to both  memorize  and live out. The OT Law tells us what love actually consists of and how to do it whereas the NT Laws of Love tells us who to love and the depth, breadth and manner that we are called to love them in – in the Loving Spirit and Truth of the OT Law!!!

Simply put, who comes to understand the depths of love – any love – by studying and reading about it alone?  One must take and make a leap of faith to live that love in order to truly know it…

What did that scribe in the Gospel and many contemporary super-scriptured-up-Christians need, in order to actually enter God’s Kingdom? Simply to do more living of the Gospel, than studying of the Gospels…

When the scribe asked Jesus, which commandment was the greatest, I doubt if he expected to hear Jesus’ response linking TWO COMMANDMENTS  together into one great commandment. In doing so, Jesus clarified and simplified the scriptural criteria for what constitutes true knowledge and understanding of God’s Law.

Jesus taught that true knowledge and understanding of God’s Law is revealed in how we live and by our lives, not simply or only by what we claim to intellectually understand and give our accent to.

In contrast to our contemporary intellectualized and psychological understanding of what ‘understanding actually is,’ God’s Word presents and teaches that having Scriptural understanding requires more…

As reflected by the saints, it  requires one to be spiritually integrated and mature, having a  head (understanding/believing) plus heart (feeling and desire ) plus free will (action) that seeks to live daily by faith and in response to God through and in our relationships and communities…

I suspect, that if you are like myself and that scribe in the Gospel, you definitely still have a loooooong way to go before we catch up with the saints in living out God’s Word…

My prayer for us, is that as our inner scribe’s love of learning continues to grow, that God may grant us the grace to begin shifting our focus more on living out that simple ten cents of basic and core scriptural knowledge – the Ten Commandments – rather that seeking to understand (in the contemporary manner) Paul’s theology or some other deep scriptural and theological points…

My prayer is that, like the saints, we may move from primarily seeking to understand the Word in the contemporary and scribal sense, to living it with our lives – by strugglin’ to love, serve and to live justly in the various communities that we minister to daily.

My prayer is that by grace, we may accept the Holy Spirit’s invitation to let go of our youthful, milk based scribal understandings and to willfully accept each day – the mature struggle and food of the Cross – that God serves us daily in the everyday challenge to live the Ten Commandments and to Love our enemies.

May the Holy Spirit lead us in this endeavor, as we move and grow from being scripture and theology spittin’ scribes to simple, holy saints living out the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Laws of Love.

What to Sacrifice in our Prayer Lives this Lent

Once again, it is Lent and many of us are still considering what our Lenten “sacrifice” is going to be for this year…  Recently after listening to friends joke about giving up  “…marriage, eating healthy, children, moderate drinking, certain family members, paying bills, Sunday Mass and yes, of course, prayer– for Lent,” I began reflecting on that last point – prayer. In my half pondering/half self reflection, I considered “…the sacrifices I have tried and now need to continue making in my prayer life…”

Let’s be honest: just attempting to build and trying to keep a daily prayer life is BOTH a time sacrifice and a self sacrifice of discipline and obedience, only made possible by God’s grace!!!   Since prayer is often a sacrifice of praise – in the morning, to work and back home through the music of our hands and hearts – you might be asking, “What or how can one sacrifice in their personal prayer life to improve it?

Prayer is the first and most fundamental of all spiritual exercises.  At its core, prayer is simply communication – the being with, sharing, giving and receiving between God and us, His children.  Prayer can take many different forms, and like human communication we can grow by experimenting with new prayer devotions or practices.

By grace, we can empower and ground our prayer and spirituality more effectively, efficiently and powerfully in the Holy Spirit simply by making a few sacrifices in it.  For example, many of the saints have written about and modeled how almost any prayer can be empowered  with a simple, 24 hour bread and water (if that) food fast linked to it…

In regards to empowering prayer with willful sacrifice, I stand in deference to and witness with  the saint’s testimony.  Since, thank God, we have to eat (can you tell that I love to?), what other ways are there to make a healthy sacrifice in our prayer and spirituality?

Here are four of different sacrifices that I have, by grace, made and need to continue tweaking in my prayer life and spirituality. Please eat this list like fish: savor any meat found and spit out all the bones!!!

I.  Sacrifice, give up and stop praying in monologues and begin to explore a richer Christian prayer grounded in dialogue with God.

We all know that person who talks a mile a minute and never allows others to get a single word or thought in the conversation. I suspect that many people are or can be like myself – ‘that person’ – in my prayer life with God!!!

My prayers can be filled with interceding for others, meditating on various Scriptures, praising the Lord for His many blessings, venting and sharing my feelings with the Lord about different topics, etc.  Despite leaving these prayer times sometimes feeling like “I really got my praise and prayer on…” the reality and truth is actually closer to the opposite, especially if prayer at its core, is an open communication with another, aka a dialogue and not a monologue!

A great Lenten goal aimed at eliminating our monologues is to try giving God equal time every time we pray.   Simply remembering to REGULARLY give God any time to speak can be a great challenge for most, and can  probably take the whole Lenten season to become a normal practice for some. Give God either the first half or the second half of your prayer time – but do seek and try to give God half!!!!  This act of spiritually shutting up is both a great prayer sacrifice and challenge; it will have a  profound impact on your prayer life and also in each human relationship you are in.

II.  Sacrifice and give up your need to always talk during prayer and begin learning how to hear and to listen to God when in prayer.                                                                                    

Since it is hard for most of us to shut up, even in human conversations where others will interrupt us, I know from experience that it’s even harder to shut up and to actively listen to God in our daily prayer lives, especially since God is the ultimate respecter of our freedom!   God won’t force us to shut up or interrupt us; God will simply patiently wait for us to listen….

Since our personal prayer lives can often start with prayerful monologues, many of us have to sometimes retrain ourselves, strugglin’ to  shut up before  finally, by grace, arriving at the one or two moments when we are able to actually hear and listen to God’s responses.

Learning how to first hear God’s responses and then, eventually  how to really listen to God in our heart and mind during prayer takes time.  It’s a unique training in prayer that only the Holy Spirit can give us…and yes it is very humbling.

God will speak to us in a myriad of ways: in remembered images and memories, in scriptures that pop into our minds or hearts, in words or phrases that we must examine to find their true meaning, in pictures and images and of course feelings and emotions.

In your prayer time it will be helpful to have a pen and paper handy, where you can jot down in summary form the ideas and images that God will give you. Briefly record these spiritual gifts and come back to them later in the day to prayerfully reflect on them. However, during your prayer time don’t focus on examining them just yet, simply record them and continue learning how to hear, listen to and to wait on God prayerfully during His time.

III.     Sacrifice and offer your private devotional time – secretly and intentionally –  for another in need, who cannot pay you back.

The goals of this Lenten practice is to both concretize our prayer life by focusing it on a specific person in need and also to bolster our active prayer of service by responding to the needs of others in the community.  In the same way that Jesus both prayed from the heart and in the Spirit as he also prayerfully responded to the concrete needs of others (the corporeal and spiritual works of mercy), we are called to imitate Jesus in our lives.

I personally like choosing a homeless person on the way to or from work whom I can bless regularly and in concrete ways.  Not only do I try to actively respond to their need  by proving for a meal, I respond to their real human need to be loved and respected when I remember their names,   look them directly in their eyes as I talk and truly inquire about their day or their health – as I do with others at work – in that 1 minute at the red light. I have found that often, what is really needed and craved is simply to be treated with simple human respect and dignity!!!

We all have brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces, friends and acquaintances whom we are invited to both regularly pray for and to regularly assist in concrete and practical ways – without judging.  The real sacrifice here is in learning to silence and to ignore the inner critic and Pharisee within each of us, who wants to question, blame or judge others for why they are now in need. Use this Lent to take advantage of these saints, who are most in need of our mercy and try to see them as invitations to grow in holiness by sacrificing your inner critiques when thinking or talking about them…

IV.  Sacrifice your devotional status quo and add or explore a new prayer devotion to possibly add to your spiritual armory, like the Rosary. Choose a devotion or spiritual practice and use this Lenten season to begin exploring and learning about its spiritual benefits and history as you try to  pray it regularly.

Let’s use as an example, simply learning about and struggling to begin praying the Rosary.  Many of us have at least 30 good minutes on our drive to work in the morning and if we are willing, we can use 20 minutes of it as devotional time for spiritual growth.

First, purchase or find a rosary that you can carry on your person: since many of us carry smart phones, we can download the rosary as an app on it (if we are tech savvy enough).  Second, go on Amazon and find a good devotional book which explains the devotion: the history surrounding the Rosary, how to pray it correctly and finally the many blessings    that are associated with it.  Buy this book – or find and read it online for free!!!

Third, begin praying that rosary – one decade daily as you go to or return home from work – and begin prayerfully reading the book that you purchased about it at night. Use the remainder of the Lenten season to experiment praying the Rosary and to spend time learning about it.

Go to YouTube and listen to the testimonies of others who have prayed and experienced miracles using the Rosary – or whatever devotion you are trying, for in listening to the testimony of others we are encouraged and can find many answers to our own specific questions regarding it.  Journal about your new prayer experience/devotion and at the end of Lent, prayerfully reflect on what you have learned about yourself and our Lord from praying it…

__________

Whatever you do this Lent, my prayer is that it will deepen your prayer life and your loving response to those whom you share your world with.

Also please remember that sometimes the greatest sacrifice is not that which we give up, but that which we add to the mix of our lives.  Every Lent intention can be expressed either negatively or positively.  For instance, we can state our Lenten goal as giving up red meat or we can state it as seeking to truly eat balanced, by limiting red meat and adding fruits, vegetables and water daily. I suggest prayerfully framing your Lenten intention in both ways, so you can begin to discern and live out of the deeper and richer spiritual meanings of these choices.

Whatever you do this Lent, be intentional about it. May you have a Blessed & Prayerful Lent!

A Universal 2019 New Year’s Resolution & Proposal

With the shadow of last year now cast, and the New Year’s first day upon us, I sit here prayerfully pondering what could be an American, if not a worldwide, New Year’s resolution for this coming year?

If I’m seeking to be consistent with our previous essays and the stated mission here at Strugglin’Catholic.com, the New Year’s resolution proposed here should be practical, spiritual and easily accessible to all readers, yet prompting a bit of prayerful reflection and or growth in the hearts and minds of readers…

It should be firmly grounded in the Gospel, seeking God’s grace and will for those we love: our selves, families and  the greater communities that we live and work in including the whole world!

Perhaps, and ideally – as a Gospel oriented resolution – it should also be one that can ALSO be understood, because of our human contexts, as one that seeks God’s grace and will ALSO for our enemies or perhaps a stated enemy.

In a perfect worldthat resolution would somehow be able to also impact all of those who are in most need of God’s mercy.  We are now talking about individuals, families and communities caught up in poverty, sub standard housing and employment issues… those living with violence or in/with drug infested communities/issues or with poor schools and inadequate healthcare…

And those of all backgrounds and ages who are living with and in despair, hopelessness, homelessness and in the agony or constant pain, whether of physical or other origin…  Since we all know this is not a perfect world, please forgive me when I fail in my attempt to offer such catch all New Year’s resolution…

Somehow it would also NOT forget the many seniors, veterans, children and the physically or mentally challenged – those who are rarely acknowledged…  … Or those who are willfully forgotten, like the myriads who are ‘enslaved’ in contemporary America’s sex market, illegal business practices, etc.

Hopefully and by God’s grace, it can be one that will positively impact our current world’s social and political developments, just as it can also positively impact our individual prayer and spiritual life, prompting both to grow in accordance with God’s will.

In short, we are talking about a resolution that can bless our lives as it touches American from every background, lifestyle and tradition…

Finally it should also be concrete and focused enough to be able to address current events,  yet also open and having the width and breadth to be able to anticipate even the unprecedented – which always await us each year…

What personal and individual New Year’s resolution can possibly ever fulfill and address all of these realties?  Its kind of funny, even though comedy is not my intent… And being  far from perfect,  please forgive me, despite being very serious

But it is…

To spend three good morning minutes each day – actively, willfully and passionately praying simply, that…

May God’s will be done, regarding President Trump!

Don’t pray for what you want regarding President Trump – whether an impeachment, a second term, etc. – just simply pray that May God’s will be done regarding President Trump!

If I can promise you nothing else, I can promise you this: that by praying this prayer daily as a New year’s resolution, both your prayer and prayer life will be transformed!!!

As a New Year’s spiritual resolution to pray a specific prayer for a whole year, you are dedicating and training yourself, as both a Christian and an American, to bring and extend your specific prayers and prayer life toward focusing on the community as a whole, not just your life and concerns.

This resolution can also train us to hone and direct our prayer and prayer life towards its proper goal, which is God’s will.  I believe this can be especially hard regarding persons or realities for which or whom we have very strong emotions/feelings – and for most, President Trump fits this bill to a tee!!!

On an every-day-change-your-life-in-a-powerful-way manner, regularly praying this emotionally charged, yet concrete and political New Year’s resolution after a month or two, may even lead you – by grace – to begin to creatively ponder and to actively seek, instead of sitting back and passively awaiting, God’s will to manifest in your life…

“Whoa, now!!” you say? “Sounds kinda scary…” I say, “Yea! … but in a scary good kinda way!!!”

Whether you choose to use and add our Strugglin’Catholic’s New Year’s resolution to your other resolutions is up to you…

However, whatever the resolution(s) you finally settle on and choose this year, I simply ask that you prayerfully bring them before God before starting them…

For even in the perennial common sense New Year’s resolutions like beginning to workout, diet, budget and tithe, visit Aunty Jane each month, or to limit drinking, etc., prayer can infuse a grace that can make this year’s attempt different than those in the past, allowing you to -this time – find that illusive success.

Also, I ask that whatever your resolution is, after bringing it to God in prayer, to please end your prayer with the following:  “…that in and with this resolution, may Your will be done. Amen.”

 

Have a Blessed and Grace Filled New Year!!!

 

 

 

On Christmas Peace & Joy

My prayer for every person reading this is that at some point during this Christmas season, you will  ‘find yourself’ experiencing and resting in the joy and peace of Christmas…

Experiencing Christmas peace and joy is a grace that comes from and rests in God alone – there is nothing one can do to earn or acquire it…   It is a divine gift that may or may not be experienced each year, for any number of reasons…

Unfortunately, these ‘reasons’ are because the adages that life ‘happens and takes no prisoners’ are often true: unforeseeable realities do occur which can steal or seemingly make impossible realizing the promises of experiencing Christmas peace and joy in any given year…

Either way, whether graced with Christmas peace and joy or not, all are STILL called to praise and thank God, for He is the Reason for this season…

By God’s grace, I have received and am STILL tasting Christmas peace and joy in my life this year – And in a nuanced manner unlike ever received before…  I know I am not alone…

Overwhelmed by and in gratitude for this gift, my heart now prayerfully ponders – yet already knowing – how this graced peace and joy has come to us this year…

How?

I suspect, simply as a loving response from a God who simply refuses to be out loved by His children… Perhaps, for some each year who’ve accepted Advent’s invitation to somehow and in some way prepare for Christmas, God allows their reservoir of insights and reflections to gracefully build up and fermented during Advent…

Can it be that just sometimes, all the – interior work in love of heart & mind – devotional prayers, reflections, resting and being with His Presence, extra or well prayed rosaries and Masses, etc., may actually move God’s Infinite Heart to sometimes simply love us back?   If only and so as to show us that, God responds to and can not be out loved!!!  

Can it be that sometimes God pours His inebriating gift of fine divine wine into chosen souls as Christmas joy and peace, simply as a “I love you back” gift moment?

How?

I believe many simply have been pregnant with God’s peace and joy this whole year…  Think about your year of Angelic Annunciations and invitations to ‘bear and bring Christ to others’ that you have – sometimes agonizingly and reluctantly said ‘yes’ to by grace – since last Christmastime…  Each tiny ‘yes’ nurtured that timely and holy, natural and spiritual gift that was growing within all year… a gift that was finally born now, during this season…

Like the first Christmas which ended Mary’s nine month pregnancy with the birth of Jesus, for many parents with children Christmas day is the end to an exhaustive year long period of physical, economic, domestic, religious, emotional, academic, etc. preparation and work. Parents, students and children are among those for whom this imagery is especially apt.

Christmastime can give birth to graced periods of rest and peaceful joy to these and for all who have travelled the year long roads of faith, struggle and sacrifice to grow. For many, I believe receiving this anticipated Christmas Peace is simply the holy fruit of their year’s faith filled and obedient labor.

However we may come to prayerfully and in gratitude, come to ascertain why God gifted us with Christmas peace and joy this specific year, one thing is for certain: this gift is not for us to hoard but to share!!

We know from the scriptures, that all of God’s gifts are given for the good of the community…

We also know and see, as revealed in the actual Gospel story of the Annuciation – when the  Angel came to Mary and she accepted God’s invitation to bear Jesus – that when accepting God’s gifts, we are often given opportunities to bringshare and give them to others during the Christmas season.

In Luke’s Gospel, the angel also shared with Mary that her elderly Aunt Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. The Living Gift of Love in her womb, Jesus, prompted Mary by charity – who was in her first trimester – to travel almost 3 days to both spend three months caring for her elderly aunt and also to celebrate the birth of the coming Messiah, Jesus…  We, like Mary,  must also be attentive to opportunities this season to be and to  share our Christmas gifts with others…

In some cases, sharing God’s Christmas gift may mean actively proclaiming and celebrating it with others – as in forcing ourself to go to THAT GOOD holiday party (ha, ha)!!!  In other instances it can and will also mean slowing down to quietly share it peacefully with others…

These are the cases where or when we are called to patiently be with or listen to others who are still seeking or are without Christmas peace and joy this year.  In these instances, we have to learn how to be and bring peace to others in our person/persona/presence and actions, and not always by using our word if we are to truly give them, by grace, a sense of our gifted peace…

I am almost certain that there may be an instance or two, when the Gift of Christmas Peace and Joy will prompt you to an unexpected and unprecedented act of kindness and charity – whooa now, you say!!!! It’s okay, go on, give that homeless person that $5 or $10 dollar bill or step up and give that relative what they DON’T expect but really need and want!!!!

Don’t be surprised if Christmas peace and joy in your soul creates gospel opportunities, like at THAT aforementioned Christmas party, when UNEXPECTEDLY your heart prompts you to converse with, befriend and maybe even mend fences with/offer forgiveness to someone from the past… You may even be so very tempted, to actually accept that 10+ year standing-but-never-acted-on family member’s party invitation this season…

In short, if you have been gifted with God’s Peace and Joy this season, please, please, please pass it on! Share it NOW, with others, while you got it…

Only in this way can…

…Christmas truly become a season for  ALL in our communities…

…God be truly given the glory, as the gift will grow and spread to other’s lives….

…The holy intent of the gift really be met: which is for it to flow freely to and through others before returning back to God its source…

Only in this way, can we authentically proclaim God as our Savior, walking as witnesses and disciples who are testifying to the reality of His Peace & Joy…

Let all receiving Christmas peace and joy this year, step forward to proclaim in word and deed, “…how even in a year like this, when  (fill in the ____________) happened to me… God has still walked with, carried and granted me His Peace…”

And so once again, my prayer for every person reading this is that at some point during this Christmas season, you will  ‘find yourself’ experiencing and resting in the joy and peace of Christmas…  By grace, when and if you do, please don’t hoard it, but be proactive and pass it on!

 

One take on ‘the core’ of Christmas…

Hands Exchanging Wrapped Gift

At its core Christmas – both spiritually and naturally – is about the sharing of holy love among family.

For it was out of Holy Love, that at the first Christmas, God shared His only begotten Son with humanity – inviting us to join God’s family and Kingdom – thereby setting the context for all Christmases to follow as a holiday of graced and holy sharing among family.

Throughout the ages and for over twenty centuries, our broken world of families has paused each year to gather, remember and live out anew God’s Gospel’s and that first Christmas. That Holy Night, God modeled and by grace now empowers the seasonal and sacred acts of giving, receiving and gathering to be family that we continue even today.

“…at the core of  family life and love

are found the sacred acts of

    Giving, Receiving and Gathering in Love…”

Throughout history, just as family life has always been experienced in a myriad of forms, individuals have always lived as members of multiple and different kinds of family units throughout the course of their lives.

My prayer this Christmas, is that in at least one or more of your core human families – your nuclear, extended, work, social, digital or religious/church families, etc. – that you have been gifted with and in love this Christmas season!

It is also, that you have or will be received in and with love at some point during this Christmas season!

Finally, my prayer is that some how and in some way, you have already or will experience the grace and joy of gathering and being accepted as family this Christmas season!

Have a Holy and Merry Christmas season!

By Grace may you share, be, give and receive together with the various families of your life in Holy Love this Christmas Season!