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.

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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…

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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!

Using Temptations to Our Benefit

Experiencing temptation is not the same as committing sin.

The former, experiencing temptation, is simply our daily spiritual reality as fallen creatures on the road to eternal life. Grace is always given, for the path is beset with temptation. The latter, committing sin, requires both rejecting God’s grace and the exercising of our will against it – and can occur even when there are no apparent temptations present!

Temptation is the common human struggle to NEVER accept or act on the ungodly desires that surface in our minds and hearts.

Lent is the time to attack temptation head on. We are invited to study and reflect on it – not generically but personally! We are challenged to better understand how we are being spiritually attacked, so we can “fight the good fight” like the Apostle Paul in this very real war for our souls.

Each year at this time, we are called to examine our own unique world of temptations – in a healthy and educative kind of manner – to see how the evil one has retooled and rearmed since the last Lenten season…

We are called to prepare and enact a post Lent battle plan, now – that takes into account what we presently know and what we will learn about how we are being tempted! Once our counter attack or anti-temptation plan is formulated, we must go forward living it out right now as part of our 2017 Lenten retooling for the year!

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Over the years, there are many insights I have gained from this Lenten practice of prayerfully studying how I am tempted…  …for instance, over time I began to notice how Satan often uses variations of the same tactic, method or ploy, which in my case, is over magnification, in tempting me to sin.

 

How and where does this over magnification usually manifest itself? Generally as an apparently ‘very strong’ mental argument or, what’s even worse, as a very strong, deep and heartfelt passion, and sometimes as both!!! That which is over magnified can vary also, from the nature of my specific sufferings and struggles to the importance of my very self or my specific gifts and talents!

Over magnification, if left uncheck in me, can easily lead to the kind of sinful arguments and passions that will result in me not just willfully, but also shamelessly rejoicing in breaking God’s laws (Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, Laws of Love)!

Thus, each Lent my temptation battle plan is prayerfully reviewed and tweaked in preparation for the coming post Lenten, Easter and Ordinary times of the year.

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Please take advantage of our common Lenten opportunity to honestly explore the sinful patterns and choices challenging your life. Examine how they function to thwart your personal growth in holiness and how they hinder and thwart you from working more fully in and for God’s kingdom.

Please, do not be afraid to explore and learn about how Satan tempts you! This is very important spiritual knowledge that generally only you can discern through prayerful reflection and time.

Prayerful dialogue with your pastor, close spiritual friend, family members or a spiritual advisor can all be very helpful in exploring – in a respectful and healthy manner – your experience of temptation. As you become more aware of your temptations and how they act like chains, you will also receive the grace to begin learning how to retract and stop them from being pulled by Satan and others!

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Sit, prayerfully and actively reflecting on the nature and scope of your specific temptations this Lent. As much as you can, do not focus on your history of falling into the temptation or the guilt and shame of the sin, but do focus on all the feelings, arguments and trigger points that ‘greases the path’ and makes it easier for you to give in to temptation. Look at your inner patterns and movements, recurring memories, fears or concerns and motivations underlying your choices to sin.

In these prayerful reflections, you will come to better understand the scope and breadth of your specific temptations as you journey towards the kingdom. May God’s Spirit guide you in constructing your personal battle plan against them!!!

Strugglin’ against and temptation is not the same as choosing to sin…

This Lent, let’s learn from the very temptation that causes us angst, arming ourselves with a more complete armor, grounded in Christ.

Few, if any, full blown Shlep Rock days anymore…

I know, those days…

Upon my waking awareness, I know and feel from the very start, that this day has got the potential to be, one of those days…

Everyone has them…

Every person’s those days are unique; each with its own kind of spirit draining funky cloud that surrounds and challenges the person, often magnifying their weaknesses. On those days, our unique funky little attitudes, recurring slanted perspectives on life coupled with whatever challenges our world and Satan can muster for this perfect storm, all appear at once as we seem to be weakened and at best, unprepared for the fight.  Yet, we must somehow go forth amidst the storms and rains into our regular day…

I call those days Shlep Rock days, after the character found in The Flintstones cartoon who was followed by his own personal storm cloud and was noted for saying, “no sense being pessimistic, it probably won’t work anyway.”

I have found only three Strong Winds to be both consistently powerful enough and always available/on call for me to assist in blowing away that personal cloud trying to change what “the Lord has made… (for) us to rejoice and be glad in,” into a Shlep Rock day… 

  • Rising and taking at least ten to fifteen minutes of morning prayer – just sitting with, listening to and being with God – that is, if grace allows, in between the venting prayer sessions (lol)…
  • Listening to the daily Catholic Scriptures – I used to only read the scriptures and sometimes still do… But especially on these days its all I can do to press play and try to listen… I almost always have to do so at least three or four times in a row, with each time separated by a brief “what do I hear or see or get from this reading” silent listening period…                                                                                                              http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings-audio.cfm
  • Praying the Rosary – I have noticed that many Schlep Rock days just happens to occur on those when the church is praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on (Agony in the Garden, Scourging at the Pillar, Crowning with Thorns, Carrying of the Cross and Crucifixion).

For some strange graced reason, after just trying to pray through Jesus’ sufferings with the Rosary, my STILL-VERY-REAL cloud almost NEVER seems to be as close anymore…   …sometimes it even disappears!!!!!!

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These three Strong Winds are always available, inviting me to rise and simply stand in the Holy Spirit’s gentle breeze, allowing It to blow away my stormy clouds… 

Each Strong Wind works in its own gentle holy way to spiritually and naturally ease the anticipated bumpy ride of the coming day. These grace filled breezes are like spiritual double bubbles or happy hours – only, at the beginning of the day to make that coming day smoother, instead of as an aftermath to an unexpected and crazy week…

We here at Strugglin’Catholic.com invite our readers to share with others  the holy Strong Winds they use or have in their spiritual arsenal, by sharing a  comment on this article. Please feel free to briefly share your experiences about how using various spiritual exercises and devotions are of great assistance in blowing away the Schlep Rock clouds of those days on your spiritual journey.

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May the Holy Spirit illuminate our paths this Lenten Season, in the same manner that It walked with and embodied our Savior during His forty day fast after being baptized in the Jordan. By that same Spirit given to us at baptism, may we resist both the daily temptations that beset us and especially those especially hot, dry and thirsty Schlep Rock days we encounter this Lenten season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatz love got to do with it (Lent)?

The first Monday after Ash Wednesday…

Reading 1: LV 19:1-2, 11-18     Gospel: MT 25:31-46

          In today’s first reading, the Lord tells Moses to assemble the children of Israel and to instruct them to, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Then the Lord gives Moses examples of His holiness, which includes living out the 10 Commandments in addition to a number of social laws that focused Israel on living justly as a community. Finally to summarize and seal His teaching, the Lord instructs Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Many are surprised to find Jesus’ Law of Love stated so early – within the first five books of the Bible!

In the Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 25, we find one of the only readings where Jesus specifically addresses what the Last Judgment will be like, when the sheep will be finally separated from the goats on that Last Day. He lists how all those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the ill or those in prison – in short, all those who responded to the needs of others concretely with their gifts and talents – are those who will enter the kingdom. These are they who have met the mark and successfully loved correctly, Gospel Style, in their lives.

The word love gets both over and under used so much in our world today!!!

It is often under used in relationships by those needing to say and/or hear it… and it is clearly overused by the media who applies it to everything: from cartoon characters to candy bars!

There are good loves and bad loves in each of our lives… Whether good or bad, the love that reside in our hearts – must and will be expressed – in some manner, eventually…

Because the world’s great examples of natural love often seems so superficial and flawed, its no surprise that many doubt the existence of love, question its reality and seriously ponder whether it is just a natural and emotional reaction or really, as scripture says, the only lasting reality that grounds us in and with God.

Be not dismayed, nor loose hope about, the reality of love this Lent! Love is real!

Not only (and just as) is it better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all; SPIRITUALLY, it is also better to have sought after and tried to live like Love (GOD) – and to have fallen short, than choosing to never love anyone at all. Note: the former failed attempts to love as God loves can net us heaven, whereas never trying to love anyone at all can only net us hell.

>Real Love, like its Author and Ground, requires and demands a response to the other with our gifts and talents.

>Real Love is, as attentive to the needs of others, as it is to its own needs.

Real love, not the fake or philosophical kind (lol), seeks to reveal and give its self away through words, deeds or some sacrificial manner in response to the other.

What does love have to do with Lent?  It has EVERYTHING to do with Lent!  If Lent is about growing more holy, more God like and more loving – then our Lenten devotions and practices must eventually result in some measurable and demonstrable increase in our love of and for others.

This Lent, identify how you are trying to imitate, grow in the knowledge of and to deepen God’s love through your Lenten sacrifices and devotions. Be specific, i.e. – by giving up/adding xyz I am saving more time to do abc with my family, etc.. Start by listing what your Lenten sacrifices are for this year and then briefly explain how or why it will prompt you to better love both yourself and others in a more holy manner. If you can not explain how your Lenten devotions and sacrifices are going to make you a more loving and holy person, then perhaps your Lenten sacrifice needs some tweaking…

 

P.S. If you are making the same Lenten sacrifice each year, can you now look back and explain how/why it has prompted both real loving acts for others and also real growth in holiness for yourself? If not, who are you foolin’? Whereas Lent should prompt spiritual growth and development in one’s spiritual life, what kind of spiritual character are you really forming by these actions? As Arsenio Hall used to say, this is one of those “Things that make you (spiritually) go, hmmmmmmmm.”

 

 

Satan’s Garden Temptation: Reject being a creature, Yet strive to be like God

 

In the story of the fall, where Adam and Eve gives in to the temptation of Satan, there’s many very deep truths presented by this story which are often easily glossed over or ignored. One simple truth presented by the narrative is that Satan hung that key goodness of “being like God” out like a carrot before the horse (of Adam and Eve).   In seeking to “be like God” by eating the apple (to achieve holiness by some other plan than God’s), they rejected their own innate goodness as creatures  and God’s plans for them to grow in His Love.

We are unsure if Adam and Eve knew about God’s plan for eternal life or not, however, blinded by the evil one’s lies, they came to believe that God had created them in and with anxiety, apprehension, hesitancy and with some concern about the possibility of humanity taking or somehow usurping  God’s power and glory.  But really, how could that ever be?

Buying the lie and now misunderstanding God as the Divine Threat and not as the Divine Love, the prideful first couple followed Satan’s plan in hopes of taking and securing what they now thought was begrudgingly withheld from them: God’s nature.  In doing so, they ALSO disparaged and rejected the giftedness of being a creature, with all of its limitations and realities.

Adam and Eve were like PRIDEFUL, very small children who, aware of their parents’ NATURAL and HEALTHY seemingly endless power and their own limitations as children, mistakenly (and sinfully) can began to undervalue and reject their blessed state as children.

In that child’s mind, sin twists and leads it to misunderstand  that which is healthy and divinely designed to protect and nurture it by nature, the parental-child relationship.  That relationship can now be ALSO experienced as  something that is unhealthy, unequal, unjust and simply a frightening  display of power…

Yet all along, if they had trusted God, they would have eventually found out that God’s plan was to give this gift of Himself to all who completes this earthly journey in faith, hope and love anyway! But how were they suppose to know this? They wasn’t! They were suppose to have faith and trust God, finding out in God’s time and when God wanted them to know about it!

Yet, when Satan tempted them by twisting and lying about Who and What God really is – stressing the differences in His nature, they were woefully unprepared for what that knowledge and experience would do to them! It is like the unfortunate reality of many children nowadays who, via media and internet, acquire the knowledge of human sexuality waaaaaay toooooo early – before they are prepared to utilize it as God intends and in a holy manner. Knowledge, human sexuality, wealth and power, etc., when placed in the hands of unjust, immoral or immature persons, will almost always result in sinful outcomes and more suffering for the greater community.

In their quest to become God like, the first couple God rejected their own goodness of being creatures. They were like our young children pining for the day when they are “grown ups”- an unrealistic day in which they have all the power and no responsibility!   Life just isn’t like that!

Finally, Adam and Eve forgot one of the most important points about our goodness as creatures: we do not have to figure it all out, know it all or get it all right in order to receive our heavenly reward (whatever it is suppose to be)                                                                                             

                         …we simply must to love all as God Loves.

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We are creatures, not gods. By grace, we will become like God, holy in nature, not a god ourselves. Accepting ourselves as creatures means accepting the goodness and messiness that comes along with being human. It means accepting that…

… we are not in control, God is. Period.

… we do not know even half of the answers to our most important questions, but must still press on in this life

… aging and getting old is a good and natural blessing, not a sin

… I must depend on and live in relationship with others, even though often my desire may be otherwise.. and that includes God, too!

… all in life will change and the only thing I can take with me is love

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May this Lent empower each of us to reject Satan’s original temptation in the Garden to reject our creatureliness and to see it as unholy.  By accepting our creation as good, may we also join our struggles with His on the altar of the Holy Cross.  Joined with His eternal Sacrifice, may we – this Lent – experience that true graced freedom and joy of the creature, who lets God be free to be the God Who Loves and governs all creation!

How Our Temptations Mirror Jesus’

 

Jesus did not say, “Thou shalt not be troubled- thou shall not be tempted- thou shall not be distressed.  But He said: Thou shalt not be overcome.”

Julian of Norwich

This Sunday’s Gospel explores Jesus’ three temptations, after his baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus’ temptations mirrors our own daily temptations and also identifies two of the greatest challenges we face in the spiritual life: our bodily challenges and the challenges presented by the world.

Jesus’ and our first temptation, almost always starts with struggles surrounding the body. This temptation, symbolized by turning stones to bread, reflects the challenges we face as natural beings having physical bodies with needs to eat, sleep, touch, love and be in relationship with others, etc. Common struggles rooted in our physical bodies include not only the physical challenge to work and acquire the necessary resources for basic living, but also the moral challenges regarding how we choose to address and fulfill these needs – doing so in morally acceptable ways or not.

This first “test” and “temptation” reflects the initial stage of our prayer lives, when the spiritual journey seems to be comprised primarily of fighting: fighting to eliminate our sinful habits, to accept ourselves as sinners needing God, to build various virtues and to construct a holy character, to be in God’s presence and to develop a prayer life, etc. In this stage of the journey, the spiritual struggle is often felt in one’s very body, as the person now seeks to fast and deny themselves from past illicit sensual pleasures, etc.

Jesus’ second test, where he is tempted to throw himself down from the top of the temple allowing his angels to save him, is a test of the world.   This test reflects the second stage of the prayer life and spiritual journey. Whereas in the first stage of prayer, it seemed as if one was fighting with and in one’s body to break free of past worldly pleasures, practices and lifestyles that enslaved it, in the second stage one finds the fight has now shifted from within their body to against the world.   Now, after experiencing a measure of success in disciplining one’s self for the spiritual life, Satan parades in front of the pilgrim all that he or she has apparently chosen to give up: power, money and wealth, notoriety, being celebrated, etc. In this test, the invitation is for the person to finally, by grace, to abandon all the various worldly rewards and to seek God alone as their sole prize.

As we enter into Lent this year, seek to better understand how the evil one plans on tempting and attacking you this Lent. By understanding the how and why of the evil one’s attacks, you can better prepare to persevere and ‘fight the good fight’ this Lent.  Armed with better preparation and knowledge, our faith is strengthened and we can now stand on the hope that real changes are in store for us the Lent!!!

This Lent, be prepared for and expect the bodily suffering that accompanies the Lenten journey of fasting and prayer. This Lent, be prepared for and expect to be misunderstood and questioned by the world as you retreat from it to your inner garden to prayerfully be with God this Lent. Expect these crosses and more, as you follow Christ to Calvary this Lent. May God’s Holy Spirit lead and guide you through this Lenten Season!

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.