Examining How God Teaches Us His Way in Prayer

 

Year A Cycle 1   Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Responsorial Psalm

PS 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

  1. (11ab) Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

 

The responsorial psalm for today’s readings gives us much hope as we begin our Lenten journey.

Teach me your way” reveals that God’s desire for us is to learn about and to grow in holiness, for God’s ways are always holy. This is what the Lenten journey is all about: growing in and living more like God – living a holier life. If God’s way is holy, then perhaps the most Gospel grounded way of expressing what holiness is in relationship and action, is that God’s way is the Way of Love. Choosing a common challenge for all, lets briefly examine how God teaches us His way and then, how it then leads or causes us to walk in God’s truth – Way of Love, via prayer…

Let’s say one’s goal for Lent is to learn how to speak and communicate more fully in God’s way – to communicate in a holier and more loving manner with others – how can one achieve such a lofty goal? Because one must certainly start with and turn to God for assistance in this matter, the the common Lenten invitation to spend more time in prayer can be applied to this goal. Why prayer? What does focusing on prayer and developing a prayer life have to do with my interpersonal communications with others?

Well, as one struggles to consistently pray and dialogue with God daily, one comes to know intimately, be led by and bathed in God’s Loving Spirit. In the midst of the struggle to pray throughout the day, God slowly teaches the soul His way about what holy communication really is! In that struggle, one comes to know very intimately the God of Love Who saves.

Bathed in that Love through the daily struggle to pray, over time the person is slowly transformed from inside out as old attitudes, perspectives and visions are gradually transformed and, by grace, are replaced with those of God. Somehow, by secretly strugglin’ seek Christ’s Light through prayer daily and integrate prayer into our day, all other relationships and communications become cast in that same Light of Christ and are seen anew.  New Gospel attitudes, perspectives and visions begin to emerge in one’s heart, which  spark with new hope, faith and loving response to the “same old situations and people” making up our lives.

As one’s prayer time monologues are slowly replaced with periods of listening to and dialoguing with God in prayer, one comes to know more clearly how God really communicates with all Creation… Seeing the importance of quietness and stillness in order to truly hear God, by grace, the person begins to cultivate these virtues in their life.   Increasingly bathed in the history of God’s Loving Responses, by grace and out of love, the person begins to imitate God’s quiet, gentle and loving way of expression with others

I suspect this is one major spiritual reason why many older people who have walked decades with God in prayer, are so respectful and kind to others: God has modeled it on the spiritual journey!

Through our prayerful struggle to know and communicate with the God of Love, we learn to love as we are loved, and are transformed by that Love into a saint – a holy reflection of God’s Love – who then spread the Love in community with others!

Communicating in God’s way can mean a lot of different things at many different times: from respectfully being silent to lovingly speaking the truth, from lovingly correcting a friend to pausing to thank or commend that same friend for being a blessing… or just being prayerfully present by another’s side in a time of crisis…   …these are all examples of God’s Loving way of communicating with others that we are called to imitate and live out this Lent….

Our Strugglin’Catholic.com Lenten Challenge going into this first Sunday of Lent is the following: Can you take whatever Lenten sacrifice you have chosen for this year and express it in terms of the Psalm? What are you asking God to teach you how to do in a holy manner this Lent? How and what would you like to walk more in God’s truth about?

By walking, talking and being closer to God in prayer this Lent, may the Holy Spirit teach each that unique lesson needed for right now in our journeys, that we may grow in holiness and walk more fully in God’s truth.

 

 

 

Proceeding when “sick days” are not allowed for our Crosses…

Scripture Reflection: Luke 9: 22-25              Year A   Cycle 1

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

The Lenten season reminds us of – and even makes holy by culminating with – Jesus’ Cross before His Resurrection. In today’s gospel, Jesus clearly uses and presents his own suffering and death in the Paschal mystery as a model for all who would follow after him. Here are three quick points to ponder and imitate regarding Christ’s example…

            We must imitate Jesus’s courage and look squarely at our crosses without sugarcoating them – and then faithfully choose to enter into the pain and suffering they offer by engaging, addressing and experiencing them in the light of Christ.

            We must begin the day with prayer, so that we may clearly see our crosses in the light of God – as challenges and blessings – and to not be blinded by them, which can easily stop us from  seeing, walking with and being used by God throughout the day.

            We must engage our crosses both truthfully and also hopefully, that by faith, we will come to know and experience that somehow, God’s love is being spread through them and also that somehow, our love will be further refined and made holy through them.

May God’s Holy Spirit guide and inspire us as we begin this Lent, gracing us with the willingness to engage and address our Crosses, seeing in them both blessings and challenges on our journey.

When Lent is Boot Camp…

There are many ways to envision the Lenten journey… Over the years, one of the most consistent images I have encountered to describe the Lenten journey is that of something akin to Boot Camp. If the majority of people reading this are like the author, a civilian, then most of us have no real experience of what Boot Camp is really like. Fraternity and sorority members have pledged their fraternities and sororities, yet pledging is a far cry from boot camp. In the face of such ignorance, my best guess is that the goals of Boot Camp are twofold: 1) to learn and become proficient at the basic military skills necessary to be a soldier 2) to learn about and adopt as one’s own, the military life as a soldier. If I’m even close to correct, then I believe the common image of the Lenten journey as Boot Camp is very much correct!!!

As Lenten boot camps go, I guess you can break them down into generally two categories: spiritual boot camps or moral boot camps.

In the standard moral Lenten boot camp, the focus is generally on giving up a specific sin or bad habit – something that we shouldn’t be doing anyway – like eating sweets, cursing or making unnecessary purchases, watching excessive t.v,, etc.. Unfortunately with this Lenten program, it is often too easy to forget to replace our sinful sacrifice with a healthy alternative! Thus, we find ourselves overly focusing on the loss and suffering (which some say is very Catholic ha, ha!) without refocusing that energy into creating a healthy alternative. Without a healthy alternative to build new virtue/character that replaces the old vice, moral Lents can often be in danger of either ending in an eventual failure or with one just “holding out until crossing the Easter finish line,” eagerly ready to return to old ways. However…please, don’t be dismayed if you are attempting this kind of Lent! Consider adding a healthy alternative to balance your sinful sacrifice. By the power of God’s grace coupled with both individual human grit and the prayers of Christians worldwide, people have been miraculously blessed during this holy time of the year!!! Remember, we simply can’t out work God when it comes to our salvation!

In spiritual Lenten boot camps, the focus is generally on things like increasing or integrating prayer throughout the day, reading more Scripture, attending an extra Mass or two throughout the week, daily spiritual reading or journaling, etc. One positive aspect of this kind of boot camp is that is seems to focus more on adding and building virtue/character than on the negative like eradicating bad habits and vices. On the surface this does appears much easier than the moral boot camp, yet upon further reflection I beg to differ…

…Ask anyone who has ever tried to regularly get up forty minutes early to pray daily how easy that was and how long it lasted… Even those who have established the practice for decades and can testify to its benefits, will share how they STILL sometimes find those initial waking moments barraged with arguments about why they should not pray, this morning, or what’s worse, that d e e p anti God feeling… Anyone who has started to consistently, humbly and prayerfully read the Bible knows, or has found out that, they will be changed –it is impossible not be! Grappling with these changes can be very difficult, maybe even life changing… imagine hearing God’s invitation to do the unthinkable like dropping all and going into a ministry?   If you still want to say the spiritual boot camp is easier, okay, let’s just agree to disagree. But at least let us agree that the spiritual boot camp has the potential to be much scarier!

Some Lenten programs can easily fall into both categories, for instance, a Lent focusing specifically on performing concrete acts of charity and service in the community, especially if it is performed in a prayerful spirit and real time and economic sacrifices are required. If we really examine it closely, most Lenten programs will force us to integrate and utilize aspects of both boot camps if we are to really “do Lent right.” Both boot camps have long histories among the saints, whose lives as models reveal to us how God will eventually lead us, by grace, to travel both roads in this journey.

If this year’s Lent will be a boot camp experience for you, may the Saints hold you in their prayers, as we will hear at Strugglin’catholic.com.

Applying the military boot camp’s goals to your present quest, we pray that in your spiritual boot camp… 1) You learn about and become proficient at the basic spiritual skills of prayer, mortification/asceticism, worship, etc. that are necessary for you now to grow in accordance with God’s will and in holiness   2) You will learn anew and/or re-adopt and recommit to life as a Christian disciple and the Jesus’ Cross. As a civilian is transformed into a soldier, may your boot camp continue and jumpstart, by grace, your transformation from a good person into a truly holy saint of God.

What Lent is All About: Goin’ from Ashy to Classy!!!

Last week, at my good friend Ed’s new apartment, the guys had our first dart tournament. After the first four games, Ed found himself consistently in last place with Carl and myself splitting the first four victories with two apiece. Ed, recognizing the situation, paused at the end of the fourth game and took a few moments to regroup. Refocused, he turned around – looked both of us dead in the eyes and boldly declared, “I’m makin’ a change and goin’ from ashy to classy, winning the next game!!” His bold public proclamation was immediately verbally challenged and met with an unholy barrage of words and epithets that could only come from close friends having great fun…. The next game started with Carl and myself confidently talking as Ed quietly backed up his plan with the kind of steady and consistent play that resulted in a thorough butt whuppin’ for us and the first place finish as Ed had predicted. What does this story have to do with Ash Wednesday and our Lenten journey?

Ed’s honest assessment of and active response to the situation at hand – honestly evaluating his game play, reevaluating what changes needs to take place, making a plan and proclaiming it publicly, then quietly setting forth to complete and work that plan – models in the nutshell what Ash Wednesday and our Lenten journey is all about.

Ed’s honest assessment of his dart game was the important starting point for his transformation from ashy to classy. Ashy skin is an unhealthy condition where the tissue, because it lacks or is unable to retain moisture, flakes and scales. On our earthly journeys, we are each afflicted with a variety of physical, moral, social and spiritually unhealthy conditions that we sometimes just learn to accept and live with. Along the spiritual journey, we are invited to recognize and take responsibility for our part in staying ashy, acknowledging not only that we have fallen short and missed that mark set for us by God, but also that there is much we can still do to change in order to become classy, holy and more responsive to God’s call and grace.

Ash Wednesday calls us not only to honestly assess of our spiritual game but also to recognize our role and responsibility to actively grow in holiness and grace. Ed’s active response to his losing situation was initially boldly proclaimed, but then his plan was quietly implemented and carried out in the routine play of the dart game. I believe this is how our Lenten plans are also called to be: publically witnessed to and but quietly lived out in the community. Our Lenten plan will vary and change with age and context…  …but plan we must! Real (graced) plans coupled with (graced) hard work results in real, holy rewards and victories, both here in this life and for eternity!!! Don’t let the recognition of a common skin condition blind you to the real beauty that God beholds in you each day! See it and work to realize it! Don’t miss this year’s Lenten invitation to re-evaluate, change and jump start your spiritual life this year!!!

On the Complaint that the Church Needs to Change…

While sitting in church last Sunday, a fellow parishioner turned to me and, after lamenting the low attendance at Mass, asked what’s going to happen here when we die? I responded, that others will replace us just as we replaced those who came before us…. And just like life triggered in us the need for God and a faith community, the same thing will happen to others and they will fill our seats.

The parishioner then responded, “I just simply think the church needs to change! I think the church needs to change if they’re going to get more people in here.” I whispered back, “…yes the church may need to make some changes and is changing, but I also think it’s the people who need to change too.”

Sitting there thinking about our brief exchange, I had to stop myself, as I began asking questions of this parishioner to myself like: Are you living the faith in a manner that invites others to what you have and experienced in the Church… or are you living a private faith that simply enjoys its treasury of blessings and then goes home to chill? When was the last time you invited someone to come to Mass? What is your active ministry in this Church, or are you like most too busy for an active ministry? Who in and what in this Church needs to change so bad? What have you done to bring more people into the church?

Prideful and feeling like a military person (which I am not) who was listening to civilian complain about America’s woes, but then glibbly slips in how they have never voted or served because of some easily forgettable reason, I had to humbly remind myself that no one knows the heart of another or how they are standing before and serving the Lord! Yes, thanks to the Spirit, I was able to give myself a severe self-check right there in church!! Aware of my bad attitude that accompanied these good questions, I refocused on praying the Mass and didn’t share them with the parishioner. However the questions did stay with me, especially the one about living out an evangelical faith.

The challenge of living the Gospel is always ongoing and difficult for all Christians. It’s easy to hold the faith as a personal spiritual treasury, a place for us to personally be restored and empowered… but it is hard to acknowledge the Gospel’s universal call and mandate (to us in the pews especially) to share and live it always and with all. Sharing the Gospel is not force-feeding it to others; it is simply living the Gospel in our speech and actions in an open and inviting manner.

It is so easy to believe the lie that spreading the Gospel is optional for us in the pews and that it is primarily the job of the clergy, religious and the institutional church. The rush to judge our clergy, religious and institutional church and the willingness to repeatedly gloss over our own gross sins – reflects the universality with which this lie is held by “the faithful.” Even the sweetest believer in the pews – if the right topic is brought up – can unmercifully straight crucify the clergy and/or church in a record time that will have Mr. Guinness knocking at their door about the new world record! [Hmmmm…. what is this topic for you?]

Sharing one’s faith with others – especially when our secular culture holds that it is a private manner and faith discussions are frowned upon in the public sphere – can be daunting. It takes courage, vulnerability and the willingness to be unpopular in doing so. Please believe me – there is a cost – at work and in public – for standing on the faith. I worked in Catholic high schools for over two decades and still found that people were afraid of being ridiculed or worse, when faith discussion surfaced in the teacher’s lounge. It often got very quiet as many were all ears but unwilling to enter into discussions, as they were STILL scared or CONDITIONED not to speak and share – even in a supposedly openly religious context where the open exchange of ideas was suppose to be welcome! Why? Because even today in many Christian institutions – there is still a cost of being too orthodox or not being politically correct on certain issues, etc.

Despite Christians being force fed secularism, consumerism and various other “-isms” 24/7, we Christians are scared to take the initiative and to simply share with another Christian, for fear of being charged with or being confronted by our brothers and sisters with proselytizing or over zealousness! Don’t believe me? When was the last time you said yes to that Jehovah Witness at your door?

Many are often so willing to talk about how the church should change – and yes this is true in many regards – but often these are the very same people who are hesitant to acknowledge that they/we are first and foremost the church, not its buildings and institutional structures! Yes the church has to change, and that change begins with me/us – the person in the mirror (Church) – to quote Michael Jackson.

Later, in the post-communion song the minister of music sung and proclaimed that “the fight is not ours, the fight is the Lord’s.” The priest gave an ending prayer reminding us “to be hopeful, to not be discouraged and to remain strong in the faith.” I nudged the parishioner and we both chuckled.

I agree whole-heartedly! It is the Lord’s fight, but we have to be His hands, feet and voice as we take up the battle in our daily lives. We do have to remain hopeful and seek not to become discouraged; we must also continue to pray for and not judge others if and when they momentarily succumb to it while on this pilgrimage. We must also pray for the Spirit to give us the self-awareness to self-check ourselves when we do!

May Spirit speak through and use each of us this week as we continue fighting the fight and running the race of faith. Amen.

On Scrubbing the Floors of Our Souls

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Please jar your memory and remember, if ever, the last time you got on your hands and knees to scrub a floor.   What was the occasion that forced you to do it? Perhaps it was finding that great apartment – in the right neighborhood and at a great price – that just happened to be really filthy or seem to have an unforgiving odor!?! Maybe it was the need to clean up that unexpected vomit from a small child, etc. If you are like most people today, it took something very bad to force you to get on your hands and knees and to scrub that floor!

In a lot of ways, scrubbing the floor on one’s hands and knees is kind of like going to Reconciliation: unfortunately, often something very bad that has to happen in order to force us to this sacrament! When that very bad something occurs, like floor scrubbing, there is simply no other way to get that “confidently eat your dropped food off the floor” kind of clean soul back, restoring us to that original state – unless one breaks down and goes to the sacrament of Reconciliation. For some sins, there is simply no other way to completely and confidently remove both the sin and its smell from the soul- simple prayer just won’t work!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to new school ways of cleaning: Swiffer mopping, or the more common repeated mopping without ever scrubbing – they have their place and role in our fast paced world! But Swiffering or repeated mopping can never clean as scrubbing a floor can. In fact, repeated use of these methods can actually blind us from seeing and smelling the slow build up of dirt over time.

How is scrubbing the floor like reconciliation? Well, unless you are using a machine, one will have to get on their knees to do both – a humbling physical act in itself. Since both are generally not our first chosen means of cleaning, we generally have to be forced – even if by circumstance – to do so. Both floor scrubbing and reconciliation requires that one’s person gets very close to the dirt – as it were – owing it! Like scrubbing the floor, reconciliation requires that you wet that dirt with tears from reflection, humility and repentance; it also requires that you scrub it clean through an oral confession to another. To claim and confess our sins with our own words is truly an act of scrubbing! I doubt whether those who ridicule or never utilize the sacrament can often acknowledge or confess their sins to significant others in relationships, for where else can they safely practice this essential act to restore relationships? Practice doesn’t often make perfect but often makes permanent; those not practicing may be fracturing their significant relationships by never acknowledging and repenting of their sins before others.

Like reconciliation, scrubbing the floor requires that you wipe up the wet mess made by the tears of humility and the scrubbing of oral confession – by completing the process – with a penance. Finally, just like the sigh and unquestioned knowing of “ah, its now clean” felt deep within after an act of scrubbing the floor, the absolution given by a priest can consistently console and give certainty regarding one’s forgiveness in ways that simply falling down on our knees rarely does – especially regarding serious and repetitive sins! Many non-Catholics and Catholics who dismiss this sacrament are also ignoring and dismissing the VERY REAL psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of healing and restoration that the sacrament can bring to the soul!

Scrubbing a floor is always a very tough and dirty job, just like truly cleaning our soul.

            If the truth be told, repeated mopping of the floor is an incomplete cleaning at best! One should start with a clean mop (and who does?) and also remember that mopping cleans best the uncluttered and open portions of the floors and stairs, but often ignores and simply can not reach all the little nooks, crannies, corners and molding surrounding the floor and staircase. Here, mopping refers to our humble prayers of forgiveness and our contrite praying of the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass.

Like a grand set of stairs in the foyer of a beautiful home, mopping cleans the treads that we step on, which upon a cursory glance, can make the whole staircase appear to be clean. But if you continuously mopped this beautiful set of stairs, which is your mind, heart and soul – over time you would find that that mopping and Swiffering – as the sole means of cleaning – is simply insufficient.

Over time that beautiful set of steps would revealed themselves, with just a cursory glance, to be not just dirty, but in fact, filthy. A visitor to the home would easily notice what the homeowner is often blind to: the grime in each of the once 90° corners that now has become curved and rounded with grimy and embedded dirt. The molding on the steps, once clear and distinct, setting the steps apart and distinguishing them in their unique beauty, now blends in with the treads due to years of encrusted pet hair, dust and dander that has disintegrated those once clean lines and now leaves a mopped clean center tread that is surrounded by imbedded crud.

We have all seen steps like this – once beautiful, but now due to years of mopping – they are a testament to sloth and uncleanliness. The owners who have always mopped and never scrubbed, have become blind to – or worse they simply ignore – the built up dirt!!! In their slothful or willful ignorance, the owner is now also unaware of the subtle smell that emanates from the stairs – a smell that the occasional visitor is confronted with when s/he enters the home!

The years of mopping have transformed that once beautiful staircase; it no longer reflects or appears to be worthy of its once unique beauty and what is worse, it now appears unable to be restored. If new owners moved in, they would certainly tear it up and rebuild the staircase rather than work to reclaim and restore it. Such is often the case of regularly mopping and Swiffering to clean of our souls.

If we only pray for forgiveness and prayerfully enter into the penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass, but never scrub our souls of those great and repetitive sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation, we stand a chance of becoming so encrusted with and blinded by sin, that we too may smell of fifth and appear as a lost cause to the visitor with a keen eye.  It’s sooooooooooo good that our loving God doesn’t rip up our staircases, but grants us until our last breath, the chance to scrub our souls clean and restore them through this sacrament!

My mother, the cleanest woman I have ever known, required that we scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors weekly, but she also allowed us to mop the basement and our bedrooms – except when we Spring Cleaned each year. Yes, we need both: the regular mopping/Swiffering of our private and public prayers for forgiveness plus the Grace and restoration that comes from the scrubbing that the sacrament of Reconciliation provides.

By utilizing all the grace filled methods given to us as Catholics, we can truly be cleaned and purified. We need not just run in place like on a treadmill, but in our running we need to actually get ahead – growing in holiness – to become the Saints that we are called to become!

Follow my mother’s cleaning plan and please, Spring Clean at least once a year… get on your knees and scrub the floors and stairs of your soul!

Martyrdom, Anyone?

A famous quote attributed to Tertullian states that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”   This quote speaks to how the real life sacrifices and martyrdoms that are faithfully suffered by Christians, often breathes new life, hope and charity into the community of believers. It testifies to the transformative power of God’s grace and love to draw others into the faith after witnessing another’s faithful suffering unto death.

Regarding Christian missions and ministry, martyrdom is rarely if ever one’s first or the most popular choice! Martyrdom in the classical and literal sense, leads directly to one’s bodily death and is usually accompanied and associated with much torture and long-suffering. Even after decades of Christian service and sacrifice, who can confidently say they would choose martyrdom, especially if their executioners gave them an opportunity to continue living for simply publically denouncing/renouncing their Christian faith (this is called apostacy)?

As Catholic American, few if any of us will find ourselves confronted with literal martyrdom and the challenge of apostacy, as many of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters often do today.   Even so, as an America Catholic the reality and call to martyrdom may still eventually find its way into our lives as we journey towards the Kingdom of God. In as much as sin, evil and death is an inescapable part of human life, the path of martyrdom – even if not a literal death – will almost always somehow find its way into our lives via some form or another. What are some of the ways that martyrdom can surface in our lives as Americans?

Supporting a holy and just social issue: People actively work for just and holy social issues may find themselves experiencing some form of martyrdom because of their work. It can materialize in the form of quietly discontinued friendships or as a limiting of professional or academic opportunities by those who misunderstand or are outright opposed to their chosen social cause or issue. Some may even find themselves digitally or legally targeted and in the cross hairs of their opponent’s hired guns…

Living with illness: Living with and caring for a loved one with a serious illness or struggling to live with an illness oneself can also result in an experience of martyrdom. Caring for the ill requires a very real time, economic and emotional investment. Some illnesses in themselves – like cancer, mental illness or AIDS – carry the additional burden of misunderstanding and stigmatization, and can result in a very real loss/death in many different ways.

Specific kinds of vocational/work: Specific work choices, especially those service vocations requiring an inordinate amount of time, sacrifice or danger and which can spill over into the personal and family lives of the participants may yield martyrdom – especially in one’s personal and family lives. Common examples include the police officers, firefighters and physicians – people choosing these service vocations often experience a very real martyrdom, often in their personal relationships.

Faithfully living out Christian family and marital lives: Any Christian marriage and family seeking to publically live out and proclaim their faith in our contemporary secular society will undoubtedly experience some form of martyrdom at the hand of those who eschew, misunderstand or feel threatened by the religious and spiritual aspects of life.

Consistent and dedicated work at growing spiritually: Finally, any person who seriously embarks on and consistently undertakes the spiritual journey, seeking to grow in holiness through daily prayer, meditation and service will almost always experience a real personal martyrdom of their ego, as the Holy Spirit works to transform them from simply being good people to eventually becoming holy (and yes there is a difference). Responding to God’s call to grow in holiness will necessarily bring us personally to the Cross, which few, even those on the journey – willingly embrace.

It is easy to see how each of these life choices can result in a very real social martyrdom, martyrdom in personal relationships and even a personal/private martyrdom in one’s person.

Unlike the often short but horrific reality of literal martyrdom, these forms of martyrdom are often experienced over a long period of time and can extend to almost our whole lives.

Yes, the Gospel’s call to love, serve and bear the Cross awaits us daily. Whether immediate or long term, this call and invitation more often results in the martyrdoms of those who are willing to accept it.

Yes, our common call to bear our Cross is a common call to martyrdom.

Martyrdom, Anyone?

Being Single, Religious or Married – Is there and easy way out?

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As a single Catholic man in my early twenties, I remember first hearing God’s call. Up until that call, God was a warm and fuzzy possibility, whom I occasionally praised and worshiped at Mass – when it fit into my schedule (like never) – and to whom I prayed only in my dire need…   Despite a lifetime of random teachers, preachers and ‘old folk’ telling me – often out of the blue – that God had a plan for me, I often ignored this truth and their prophetic words and like most early twenty-something’s, focused on finding and living out my own plan for life.

However, when God busted into my life and unquestionably confirmed both His reality and call to me, I was forced to sit down and reevaluate the plan I had chosen for myself. God didn’t spell out His plan for me at that time; God simply called me to work and prepare my heart and soul for it and to trust that more direction would be given later. This preparation was necessary, for apart from Moses and maybe a few others, God’s plans for us are almost always invitations, which we can freely accept or deny; they are rarely ultimatums eliminating our free choice. As God knew, I had a lot of work to do if I was to accept His plan for me.

As a Catholic man, part of my reevaluation included realistically examining the possibility of entering the religious life and becoming a priest (it’s okay to STOP laughing now for those who know me best). In considering the religious life, the realities of lifetime obedience to the church, becoming a person of prayer, and both living a life of celibacy and the seemingly monotonous and routine life – at least from the outside and as a layperson –of the clerical and religious life, were important factors in quickly discerning that it was DEFINITELY not for me!!! As God’s call clarified itself, I found that it did include the married life for me.

I remember looking back after this process and happily proclaiming to all how ecstatic I was that the religious life was not for me!!! No lifetime of obedience to the church… No having to become a man of prayer… No life of celibacy (I was oblivious to chaste living at this time)… And no monotonous and routine religious life! In retrospect, I bet God was laughing hilariously at my conclusions, as I didn’t have a clue at what really lay ahead of me in pursuing a Catholic marriage and family life! Yes, I was blissfully ignorant about all that the married and family life entails – especially from a Catholic perspective – and yet I was joyously excited at being called to climb this Mount Everest, despite the multitude of less-than-perfect and even outright horrific marriages I witnessed growing up.

Now, looking back over 30 years later and with over 25 years married, I too am laughing hilariously at my conclusions regarding both the married life and the religious life! As an early twenty something-year-old, who can accurately know which vocational choice is truly the most difficult? Who can really know what their capacity is to develop the specific virtues and character that, by grace, is required to successfully live any vocation in accordance with God’s will?

Over 20 years of working in Catholic high schools and worshiping in Catholic parishes has blessed me with the graced acquaintances and friendships of many nuns and priests over the years. In this period, apart from a few stragglers and ne’er-do-well nuns/priests that one occasionally encounters, the overwhelming majority of the religious that I have met and come to know are not only happy about having accepted God’s call in this manner, but notwithstanding all the crazy realities in our church during the last three decades, they will still testify to this day that they would make the same decision again if given a second opportunity.

After 25 years of marriage, I’m unsure if I’d find this same majority in the testimony of those who chose marriage (whether still married or divorced) that I’ve met in this same period.  One thing I can say in retrospect now, is that both vocations require the same things if we are to successfully live them out based on our Catholic faith.

Whether one is called to the single life LIKE JESUS (which is so often disparaged and misunderstood), the married life or the religious life – the requirements are basically the same in order to grow in holiness and fulfill God’s plan. What are these requirements?

Striving to live in obedience to the church’s teaching [Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, Jesus’ Laws of Love]. This struggle reveals our true selves and begins the process of transforming our hearts and very selves, by grace, into the persons God calls us to be. Obedience to God’s Law prepares us to successfully address the very real concerns of this life in a holy manner as it also orients and prepares us for eternal life in God’s Kingdom by creating a holy character in us.

 

Striving to become a person of prayer. Without a real and sustained prayer life, one simply can not truly come to know either oneself or God. Without the real work of developing a prayer life, our faith life and religiosity gets stuck at the level of servile and fearful obedience, never really progressing to experience or live from the very real grace of God’s love.

 

Striving to live a life of chastity and or celibacy.  In disregarding, ignoring or only trying half ass to live out the faith’s core beliefs in the most intimate and fundamental areas of our lives – our sexuality… our economics… our friendships and vocational choices using our unique gifts and talents – one will often ultimately abandon the spiritual journey as meaningless. Why? Because without entering into this personal ethical struggle, many of the faith’s core truths will be misunderstood or not experienced at all (like the fact that God love you right now just because you are you, not because of what you think you are doing for God, etc.)… Furthermore, without entering into that common Christian experience of very real failure, it is difficult to really know and experience what believers talk about when testifying to being saved by Christ!

 

Striving to enter into, endure and progress during the monotonous routines of life! I suspect even the life of an emergency room physician can become routine, especially when the drudgeries of family life – like child rearing [OMG!!! … WOW!! Regarding the constant needs of these crumbsnatchers… And I thought priests had it bad!] – and our own unique set of marital struggles [“…Damn, this @#!$%& again?!?!”] recur again and again, albeit in new ways sometime, as the years pass. If this is not a long, slow carrying of the Cross to Calvary, then I am unsure what else other than Christ’s actual journey, comes close.

 

My, oh my… In retrospect, how very wrong I was about WHAT is really required of any vocation: the single, religious or marriage and family life! Thank God that Our Savior writes beautifully poetry from the often crazy, twisted and immature lines we write for ourselves!

Yes, God’s invitation invites and requires our free response to it. Thank God, that the Blessed Trinity will provide all the graces needed for whatever journey we are called to embark on.

 

If in this reading, you are at one of life’s various crossroads – I pray for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you in your discernment as you go forward… However, please KNOW that the Cross awaits you however you respond to God’s invitation! In our unique Crosses, we are transformed, saved and set free! Yes, God will and can write straight from our crooked lines… Our prayer here at the Strugglin’Catholic.com is that by prayerfully entering into, accepting and being transformed by the various Crosses God has placed in your life, you too will begin to see and proclaim that unique and beautiful poem of love that God is writing through you in the Book of Life!