Preparing for Lent 2020

As we approach this year’s Lenten season, hopefully you have been able to steal a few reflective moments in order to prepare for it. No one can do all the million-and-one Lenten activities that Christians are often invited to do: from praying more, to giving more alms, to volunteering more at Church, etc.. It just seems impossible – especially if you have children at home or are caring for parents/grandkids, etc. to make and take the time to ‘slow down and become more prayerful’!!!

Yet, even in the face of our busy lives, we often still hear God’s call each year at this time…  In hearing it and being reminded that Lent approaches, we often feel the need to respond in some manner…   Now that the holidays and New Years has passed, winter’s dog days has reminded us that its once again time to renew and to deepen our faith journey towards the Kingdom…

Often, if there is any preparation for Lent, it generally focuses on identifying what one will ‘give up’ this year… Of course, ideally we should spend some quality time identifying and preparing to make and own our Lenten sacrifice or Lenten addition (i.e. like making 15 MINUTES for prayer each morning)…

Whether you have ultimately decided to sacrifice x or to add y this Lent, please remember to prayerfully name each morning the specific GOAL(S) of your Lenten sacrifices or additions.  By prayerfully naming them daily, you are empowering these potential virtues and character traits to develop and, by grace, to be realized this year during Lent!!!

Goals like…  …like starting a prayer life, working out regularly, eating healthier, orally never cursing but always blessing and commending others, etc..  In prayerfully naming and stating these goals, you will be spiritually holding out your ‘Lenten carrot’ and allowing God’s grace to pull you forward to them this Lent…

Apart from determining exactly ‘what I will give up (or add)’ this Lent,’ is there perhaps, another important decision that one need to consciously make before starting Lent?

Yes, there is one more…

It is to determine and name the attitude and manner that we want to enter into and live out this Lent with!!! Attitude is everything!!!  Often in life, it is the only thing that we can control – if that!!!

Our lives are stamped with recurring realities… They include both repeating weekly realities like work and family duties and those once a year realities like Lent and ‘the holidays.’   Both kinds of realties can and do eventually over time, become routine in their own way, despite having their own uniquely recurring rituals and practices – like BBQing on the 4th of July!!!

When confronted with the real life challenge of entering into yet another boring holiday, liturgical season or family event, etc., our REAL challenge is to not let the small things bother or derail us (like figuring out what we will give up for Lent)…

At these times, what is most important is making sure that we have the right and a healthy attitude to begin these recurring events with…  … This inner work of  ‘havin’ the right ‘tude’ as my mom used to say, can be infinitely harder than making a forty day ‘mindless sacrifice’ of little consequence.  Just ask anyone living in family or community life  – is it easier to give all than to live in grace and walk in ‘the right ‘tude’ each day?

In short, during these busy times let’s NOT fall into that trap and get derailed by focusing on choosing what to do this Lent….    Let’s simply redirect our focus to being in the right heart space each day throughout the Lenten season…

In this Spirit,

May God find you this Lent…

More prayerful…

More open to listening…

More patient with yourself and others…

More humble, penitent and loving –

In your daily words and deeds

As this Lent fades away

And Easter nears…

Amen.

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!

On the Recurring Nature Faith Struggles

“Water runs downhill and follows the path of least resistance, but the Christian follows Christ.”                                      Fr. Elias  O’Brien[1]

The path of faith is truly a hard path that must be repeatedly chosen by the individual over the course of one’s life.  It can not be imposed on another from outside the self.  Most attempts at forcing others to live by faith will rarely result in it being chosen and loved with one’s heart. Forcing another to live by faith can and often does lead to a blind and mechanical religious obedience that is simply meant to appease others.  This is why as parents I believe it is smart to ‘lighten up’ on the strict enforcement of absolute faith observance for late teens as they approach young adulthood.  The ‘strict enforcement’ years of spiritually parenting, from birth to around sixteen, should give way to a simple list of basic expectations – like weekly Mass attendance, tithing etc. until the child departs from the home.

As a parent of an older teen, I believe my spiritual parenting should manifest itself not in forcing obedience, but in myself living, modeling and explaining the faith and its challenges to  my daughter. Since children often wind up doingwhat we do and not what we say, we must model and explain how living the faith can positively impact life – as it also challenges us to grow and change. We can lead others to, model for and teach others about living by faith in Jesus, but ultimately making THAT choice to live it will often comes through an encounter with Him at some ‘critical point’ in one’s life.  That ‘critical point’ more often than not, occurs once our children have left the nest and are out in the world on their own.

What that ‘critical point’ or ‘points’ is/are for each person varies as much as each individual varies from all others. For consistently hardheadedpeople like myself, we often need manyof them before we accept God’s invitation to live by faith!!!   A ‘critical point’ is an instance in life when it takes no prisoners and whips your tail into submission, leaving you in that humbled and often broken down space with no where to go but to God.  It’s the proverbial, ‘atheist in a foxhole’ situation!

Common examples include when we are blind sided by that unexpected relationship breakup with the love-of-my-life, the flunking-out-of-college or unexpected firing from that ‘good job’, the busting-of-my-childhood-dreams-to-be-a-________________(fill in the blank), or the death of a sibling or parent, etc.   These examples of life’s ‘critical points’ reveals the utter fragility of our human life and nature, however, we STILL – like the atheist – have a choice in them. If accepted with, in and through the eyes of faith, they can also becomeinvitationsto ‘walk with God by and in faith.’

For some, they are invitations to begin walking the path of faith, for others, they are invitations to stick to the path of faith previously chosen and to trust – even now, and for others they are invitations to deepen our present walk of faith.  However and whenever a ‘critical point’ is encountered in life, the simple truth still remains: we must make a choice… That choice… And no one can force us to choose any of the paths that lie before us.  That choice can not be forced on us; we must make or remake it anew, in the present moment in the face of the current situation. Often the hardest choice is that of choosing Christ, not the downhill path of least resistance like water.

May God’s grace accompany you in making that choice in accordance with His will, to begin, to continue or to deepen your walk in faith for the first or the next time you encounter a ‘critical point’ in your journey towards the Kingdom.

 

 

[1]6/17/18   From a homily at St. Thomas the Apostle’s  Morning Mass in Chicago, Il.

On Suffering ‘More Than One Can Bear’

When tragedies strike, people often say, “God will not put on you, more on you than you can bear.”

I too, used to say this to others in the face of human tragedies, but since I’ve become a chaplain I’ve come to believe that this is one of the most frequently used statements of bad theology that is spoken by people of all ages and backgrounds.

The simple fact is, that the majority of true human tragedies do not have anything to do with the will of God.  God is not punishing us for past sins or getting back at us for bad attitudes or trying to teach us some subtle message by allowing tragedies to enter our lives. That is simply not how God works! The simple fact really is, that the majority of human tragedy comes from the hands of the world, Satan or people not to unlike ourselves.  How?  Let me briefly explain…

Believe it or not,each nation in the world uses specific tools to influence and guide its citizens into thinking, acting and using (or notusing) their freedom in specific ways.  In any nation these tools are generally or typically its culture, its laws and its media.  The culture of anynation – especially for those who are born into it – is often very difficult to truly critique and acknowledge the truth about.  This difficulty is akin to truly acknowledging and evaluating the very families or/and loved ones we find ourselves in relationship with: we are blinded by both our closeness to and our love for them.

The Old Testament reveals this human reality through the life and struggles of the nation, Israel. Despite having God’s laws revealed and God’s prophets sent to it, Israel still struggled against being blinded and influenced by its surrounding cultures and nations.  Today, many Christians ignore this scriptural truth and simplify the struggle to live God’s law down to an individual ‘free will’ issue.  These people are ignorant of or outright refusing to acknowledge the power of culture to influence human thought and freedom. Many of these same people even think that judgment is solely an individual reality and that God does not judge whole nations anymore…

For decades, the Catholic Church has critiqued American culture as something called, “a culture of death.”  “A culture of death” in the nutshell and simply stated is a culture that teaches, preaches and presents deathas an answer and solution to life’s problems.  In a culture of death, abortion is seen as an answer to a problem of an unplanned birth.  Euthanasia, or as some call it mercy killing, is seen as an answer to the crippling realities of aging, pain and disease.  Violence as the tools of death – physical violence, words of violence, the chemical violence of drugs and the use of all forms of weaponry – are seen and presented as an answer to everything from social inequities and political realities (war) to personal vendettas against private enemies – just look at our top rated games, movies and media programs regarding this last point.

The evil one influences each nation to live against God’s will by warping its culture in unique ways that teaches its citizens both reasons and methods for justifying and living against God’s will – or living out a culture of death.  With such teachings and methods taught by the culture and made legal, individuals of every nation are trained to exercise their free will in ways that are inconsistent with or out right against God’s will.  Because “the wages of sin are death,” death and suffering are spread far and wide around the earth and all people – rich, middle class, poor and people of every race and ethnic background – suffer greatly at the hands of others who are exercising their freedom in unholy and culturally sanctioned ways that are against God’s will.

It should be clear from above that one of the subtle powers of every nation’s specific culture is its ability to shape and form our – supposedly free – will.  It should also be clear that what we call free will it is often not in fact, free at all – but is often a function of the culture that we grew up in or presently ascribe to.  It should finally be also clear, that many are victims and suffer because of our culture, not simply or only because of isolated individuals making ‘free’ but bad choices.

So, in an American culture where illicit drugs are rampant, prevalent and cheap… A culture which teaches and presents a pharmaceutical reality that now, there is a ‘pill available for that’ to answer every problem… A culture in which our ‘war on drugs’ seemingly loses each and every battle…   The horrific tragedies of continuing opioid abuse and overdoses, drug battles ‘over turf’ in our inner cities and people of all ages and backgrounds becoming addicted to pharmaceuticals  in order to do everything from ‘passing a high school test’ to ‘having pornographic like sex’ are a function of our contemporary culture.  In these tragedies, real lives are ruined and there are many victims… And these tragedies are not sent from or find their root in God’s grace and will.  In short, God did not ‘put on or send any parent/loved one’ any death of a loved one by overdose or the death of one’s moral/character/will by becoming addicted to drugs or becoming a drug dealer, etc..

In an American culture and nation that is more armed than some other nation’s whole army… Where gun violence and death in my own city, Chicago, is so bad and common that the majority of it goes unreported by the media…  In a nation where the physical, moral and institutional violence against women and minorities continues often unchecked… These are very real tragedies rooted in our culture that continues to kill victims and victimize families…  …And none of it is or has ever been sent from God.  Nor is it rooted in God’s grace and will.  In short, God did not ‘put on any parent or sibling,’ that senseless murder of their son, daughter, brother or sister…  As God did not put on anyone the deaths that continue from police violence, violence against women and new forms of contemporary slavery, etc..

The simple fact is that the majority of the tragedies encountered in our lives, has everything to do with a warped and human free will that has been blinded and influenced by Satan through each nation’s unique culture of death. If God’s foreknowledge always stopped people from exercising their giftedfree will to participate in evil, we would not truly be free to really love as God loves – who ALWAYS chooses the good and holy! To love,requires human choice; if God stopped us from choosing evil, we would become programmed ‘goody two shoe human robots,’ and truly incapable of loving each other as God does.  The consequences of living in a culture of death, is a warped free will, victims from every walk of life, unchecked human and spiritual suffering, and widespread human tragedy and death – burdens which canbecome too much for many to bear…

No, God is not punishing us for past sins or getting back at us for bad attitudes or trying to teach us some subtle message through suffering and by allowing tragedy to enter our lives.  That is simply not how God works!  God does work to be present with and to carry us through the very real suffering we encounter, like as presented in the commonly read, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ poem. Through it all we are invited to struggle to suffer with faith and by grace.

By strugglin’ in faith to walk by grace through our suffering, God is then able to miraculously and eventually ‘write straight with the crooked human lives’ that we have been dealt.  We find ourselves being somehow, able to forgive those who have hurt us as we are also to somehow break those chains seeking to enslave us in emptiness and suffering. God’s grace is miraculously able to eventually restore and to give us new meaning and purpose in our ‘crooked lives that have been punctuated by real suffering.’   God’s love and Spirit continues its saving work, empowering us who were broken and now healed, to love and help others who have also become victims of the culture of death, who find themselves suffering in similar ways as we have.

On Working with Our Unforgivable Sins…

Eons ago, when I used to teach high school religion to sophomores and juniors, invariably the subject of purgatory would come up since it was a Catholic classroom.  I let my students go back and forth, arguing for a while about almost every post death experience…  Almost always, every post life possibility was vehemently argued for, except for purgatory. We’d have the reincarnation group making their arguments, and of course we’d have both Catholics and non-Catholics passionately arguing for only heaven or hell as afterlife possibilities.  Of course we’d always find or hear one or two novel perspectives that were unique to the persons themselves, etc. After about 15 minutes of discussion and arguing, the students would pause and ask  about my perspectives – especially whether I believed in purgatory or not.

I always answered the question in the following manner: first, I compared myself to all those who’ve taught and tried to live the faith in the past, sharing that I did not believe that I was in a league with most of them – especially the St. Paul’s and Mother Teresa’s of the world, and if these were examples of people who went straight to heaven – I can honestly say, “I’m not there (walking in holiness as they did) yet!!!” However, I quickly added, that by faith and by grace I believe and truly hope that I wouldn’t go to hell either!!!!!  As is the case with theological arguments, despite making good sense, it was unconvincing and didn’t move the hearts of many students.  After briefly stating that argument, I then hit them with a second gut punch, which caught many of them off guard…

I asked my students to take three or four minutes to envision both the worst people they believed who ever lived in history and their own personal worst enemies.  If you know anything about teenagers, this was easy for most… After giving them three or four minutes to silently picture and identify those in both categories, I often saw in the eyes and on the faces of some of my best students, a gleefully hate that could virtually wish death with just a glance!!!  After all my students silently identified their enemies, I had them imagine suddenly dying and finding themselves at the pearly gates.  And then I instructed them to imagine the Archangel Gabriel welcoming them into heaven, opening the gates, only to see their most hated enemies standing right there before them!!!

The sheer look of utter confusion and disbelief on most of my students faces was no surprise to me!  Exactly at this moment, I asked them, “What’s wrong?  What are you feeling?”  Few were able to articulate the confusion that they felt amidst their passionate feelings of hate.  I immediately questioned the class, asking “What do you think the Archangel Gabriel will say to you, precisely at this moment?”  Not a single student would answer the question…   Then I’d say, “He would point his finger away from the pearly gates and say, ‘Go… …you are not ready yet, because you have not yet learned to love your enemies…” Then we would read the Poem of Gerontius together…

As a high school teacher, I used that story to explain the Catholic teaching about purgatory – how we, in fact, can be saved by God’s grace but still not yet ready to enter into eternal life.  Now, as a hospital chaplain and Christian writer, I share it with you my readers to highlight that which few Christians want to contemplate: our personal list of unforgivable sins that each one of us must learn how to forgive, if we are going to make it into heaven.

Taking this example to its very realistic conclusion, who will stun you when the pearly gates are opened?   Will the pearly gates open up and you see a serial rapist? Will the pearly gates open up and you see a murderer or a mass murderer?  Will the pearly gates open up and you see a sexual abuser?  Will the pearly gates open up and you see a lifetime abuser of drugs and/or alcohol?  Will the pearly gates open up and you see a serial adulterer or perhaps a child molester standing inside of them?  I believe that the answer to each of these questions regarding whether those who have committed our specific unforgivable sin will be able to somehow get into heaven, is yes!!!

You/me/we will probably see some of our worst enemies –  people who have committed our specific brand of unforgivable sin(s) but who have then repented – in heaven!!!  Given the story and message of the Good Thief who died on Calvary with Jesus and the Great Love of God that Jesus modeled and shared in His Gospel life, death and resurrection,  the Christian – who is really Christian – must say yes…  …at least to the hope and possibility of forgiveness being given to those we hate the most!

This brings me back to the central question of this essay: what is on your list of unforgivable sins?  …And how can we learn and grow from having them?

Can you and have you even identified what’s on your list?  Have you identified the sinner you  are least ready or willing to love by forgiving?  Or do you think you can die in and with your hatred of your enemies and STILL get into heaven?

Acknowledging and identifying your personal list of unforgivable sins is one possible starting point for learning about how to grapple with, learn about and to eventually live out that Gospel call to love our enemies.

It also can be an important starting point to begin learning about how to grapple with, learn about and to eventually live out the Gospel call to forgive others – as God forgives us.

Loving our Enemies and Learning to Truly Forgive –  is truly, the very hard, heart work which can, by grace and prayer,  lead to the very real healing in and of our hearts.  It is that graced work which can unlock our minds, hearts and will, freeing us to love again and to love in new and greater ways than before.

The Gospel call and spiritual work of loving our enemies and learning to truly forgive, starts with acknowledging our specific challenges regarding these Gospel invitations in our daily prayer lives.   Doing so can lead to both the restoration of important relationships and the loosening of those past shackles that still seek to binds us in our lives…

I invite you to first, sit down…  And to write out your list…

And then – each day – to begin praying over it and, more importantly, to begin praying – by name – for those who have sinned in these unforgivable ways against you and against those whom you love.

Despite realizing that you are not a murderer, serial rapist or adulterer, etc., you too may come to the day when you begin to acknowledge and pray about the probable fact, that, perhaps you too, have done the unforgivable in someone else’s life and are on somebody else’s list…  …And that you too, may need to be forgiven for what another deems as, unforgivable.

 

http://www.newmanreader.org/works/verses/gerontius.html

 

 

 

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.”