On Scrubbing the Floors of Our Souls

dsc_0648c

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?

Seeing & Finding the New Life and Fruits of Our Lenten Journey

God's Handiwork Yields New Life for Easter!
God’s Handiwork Yields New Life for Easter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Lent draws towards an end, we at the Strugglin’Catholic.com wanted to remind our readers to make the time to reflect on this year’s Lenten journey and experiences. Hopefully, between now and Palm Sunday, you will be able to prayerfully reflect on what this year’s Lenten experience has been for you.

Since many of our Lenten journeys often begin with choosing something to give up, one can start -but definitely not end- with an evaluation of whatever one’s specific Lenten sacrifice(s) were for the year. These kinds of evaluations can take a myriad of forms: from what one’s daily struggle has taught or revealed about oneself, to whether or not this year’s Lenten challenges has really touched and changed one’s hearts. One can examine and quantify how one has grown regarding the development of a specific virtue/goal or how one has learned to better fight and control a specific vice/problem. In whatever form one’s review may take, it is very important not to get caught up in trying to identify and label whether this Lent was a success or not, but rather to prayerfully uncover the various ways that one has grown, changed and has been empowered by the Spirit via one’s Lenten journey.

 

The Strugglin’ Catholic.com also suggests an examination of this year’s Lenten journey in light of the three Lenten disciplines: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Because most of us are novices at them, it is important to identify and catalogue any growth we have been gifted with in these three core areas of the spiritual life. Important points to note include how one’s prayer may have changed – length, depth, breadth, form(s), times, etc…. Regarding almsgiving, has God called you to a new ministry, inviting you to give yourself away to a new community or has God made specific requests of your gifts and talents? Finally, do we have a clearer picture of what God desires us to fast from and why? Have we deepened our understanding of what fasting is and how it can empower one’s body, mind and prayer lives, etc.?

 

 

Seeing and understanding the bigger picture of how the Holy Spirit is changing and empowering us can be difficult and elusive, especially when we have been busily strugglin’ on the Lenten path. Here at the Strugglin’Catholic.com, we are encouraging all to slow down a bit more that normal as Holy Week approaches, and to prayerfully reflect on the Lenten journey to date. Our prayer is that in your reflection, the Holy Spirit will lead you past any memories of Lenten failures and struggles and will open your hearts and minds to see and experience the blossoming of God’s handiwork and New Life both in your life and those with whom you live.

What To Do When Easter Comes Early!

wallpaper-crocus-flower-buds-violet-primrose-snow-spring-flowers

Upon entering this second week of Lent, we at the Strugglin’Catholic wanted to slow down a bit to address an uncanny and often rare Lenten challenge that some can attest to: living/doing Lent when Easter has already come for you that year!    Occasionally, as the Strugglin’ Catholic strives to live and do Lent over the years, she may encounter a break from the Lenten routine of suffering and discipline, as God’s grace blesses her with an early Easter and an apparent “holy waiver for Lent” that year… As we enter the dog days winter and Lent, let’s remind ourselves of these rare occasions and also how we can better respond to them in our lives.   What are some ‘common examples’ of an Early Easter event in the lives of our family and friends?

 

Examples abound, including the birth of a new child, being restored to health after years of suffering, getting the financial aid/grants/scholarships to go to school, a new job, getting married, finding one’s first home or the right retirement community, changing a career path, finding new love, celebrating birthday parties, etc.

 

If one prayerfully reviews their life of spring times, most will surely find that a planned or unexpected early Easter Gift has been received at some point in one’s life. The Grace and Joy of these sacred periods can make living out a repentant Lenten spirit all but impossible, as one is all aglow with Resurrected Life!

 

For those who are now strugglin’ with the rare challenge of an Early Easter (lol), the Strugglin’ Catholic suggests the following:

… It is okay!!!!! Even though it is Lent, you can go ahead, celebrate and start living in and out of this Rare Gift and New Life!!! But do so moderately and in a manner so as to not hinder or challenge the ongoing spiritual journeys of others for whom Easter is still far off.

… If you feel this Early Easter Gift was long “over due” and has been accomplished by long suffering and perseverance in prayer, that you now commit yourself to pray and live with the same or even greater humility that colored your journey leading up this year’s Easter Gift!

… That you do not abandon this year’s Lenten discipline’s because of the Early Easter Gift received, but rather, after a brief and moderate celebration, that you press the “reset button” and return to some form of Lenten discipline, but now with a renewed focus, attitude or motivation: i.e. returning to morning prayer or daily psalm reading, but now with a new focus on praising or simply being with God, etc. or finding creative ways to tithe with the time, money or talents received from your Early Easter Gift…

 

For the majority of Catholics, who are still journeying towards Easter and New Life this year, the Strugglin’ Catholic suggests…

… That on our Lenten journey, we allow ourselves to see, attend to and celebrate the Early Easters given to us through the lives of our family and friends! It is often easy, during Lent, to miss common opportunities to taste the Easter New Life awaiting us, like at birthday gatherings or reunions (especially if the weather is bad)! Let us anticipate our Easter New Life by strugglin’ to get up and get out, accepting those invitations to gather in God’s Spirit this Lent! In so doing, we will be opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit and letting Its New Life draw us forward to that Easter New Life that is awaiting us.

Tweaking A Common Lenten Plan of Focusing Only On Our Sins…

shutterstock_170948234How does one plan out a Lenten program and decide what disciplines or sacrifices to undertake? In over two decades of teaching high school religion, most of the students and adults that I encountered generally approached this very personal and touchy topic simply by first identifying their repeated sins and then often plotting a Lenten course of action to tackle them. This method seems both easy and practical, but upon further reflection and when compared to our planning in other important areas of our lives, we may find that it is wanting and can use some tweaking…

For instance, many have constructed and are currently living out some financial plan in their lives: long term for retirement or short term like for getting a new car or for summer travel plans or for paying off an outstanding debt, etc. Whether that financial plan is for a long or a short term financial goal, the important point to take away is that the plan/budget starts with a goal: some positive concrete outcome, item or achievement which guides, give hope and focuses that plan. While this plan should and must take into account our personal financial challenges (sins), it does not start with them or use them as an end and vision to guide our plan!

It is clear from this analogy, that what the aforementioned easy and practical, Western style point-and-shoot-your sin-away Lent plan lacks is a positive, hopeful and motivating Gospel centered goal that can focus us. Don’t get me wrong here – yes, Lent IS about acknowledging and repenting of our sins and bearing our crosses, but this is not ALL that it is about! At its core, Lent is about the vision of what, by grace and sacrifice, we can become here and now – this year, on our journey towards the Kingdom. Lent takes this Kingdom vision and, working backwards, concretizes it like a budget, identifying the areas we must discipline and what we must sacrifice in order to eventually live out that deeper and more authentic Christian life we have prayerfully envisioned. Restating the obvious, your Lenten goal is NOT TO GIVE UP X, Y OR Z, but to become more ________ as a person? To be able to do or be ________________ in a more Gospel centered way?

Trying to “bear the cross” without an appropriate Kingdom centered vision to sustain and support us may result in burnout or failure on the Lenten journey, as it surely can in life. A lack of or poor vision can lead us to loose focus or to give up hope when the going gets tough. With the right vision, we can literally post a picture or simply close our eyes and remember our dreams, imagining the possibilities to come and drawing from that Grace which is their source, to find the where-with-all to keep strugglin’ on the journey. In short, just as baptism invites us into a lifetime of bearing the Cross and continuing Christ’s mission to love via sacrifice by setting before us the vision of the Kingdom as our eternal goal, it is very helpful to also prayerfully envision exactly what our Gospel centered moral/spiritual goals are for Lent each year.

As you finalize your Lenten plans this year, the Strugglin’Catholic asks you to envision what you hope to achieve and who you want to become in and through our shared Lenten journey. Please, put a name on it, whatever it is… …and when the going gets tough, prayerfully let its vision draw you heart forward towards your Easter goal this Lent.

On Old Adages, the Examples of Prayer Warriors and the Lenten Season

planningIt’s almost time… The holidays have passed, the New Year – and its resolutions – has started, and we are now past a month into our shared 2016 journey. Once again, it is almost, time!!! “Time for what,” you may ask? If you guessed, “Tax season?” you are dead wrong but probably not too far off topic according to most American Catholics, for, in our liturgical world, it is the season for “o r d i n a r y t i m e” to end and for the inevitable – like death and taxes – to begin: our yearly observance of Lent. Yes, it IS, almost THAT time again…

Some bemoan, resist and fight this truth, holding on to “ordinary time” through Fat Tuesday until the very last second on Wednesday, when all are marked with the Cross of Ashes and reminded that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return… Still, there are devoted prayer warriors among us, who spiritually plan for and prayerfully await Lent, knowing from experience, that a little graced planning for this season will yield great spiritual graces and blessings, in the same way as planned short periods of intense, financial or health disciplining can often transform, redirect and empower our natural lives.

I’m sure some reading this have found themselves in one camp or the other over the years…and some like myself, have found themselves repeatedly in the moaning and fighting camp and only rarely, in the other camp with the warriors who have planned for and are ready for the yearly challenges of the Catholic spiritual boot camp called Lent. No matter what our past histories regarding the Lenten Season has been or where we may presently find ourselves this year, most can agree with the old adage “that a little planning will go a long way.” If this is true for the natural aspects of our lives like money, taxes and health, how much more true is it for our moral and spiritual lives?

In order to shine a bit of light on this topic, the Strugglin’Catholic is pausing a moment – BEFORE LENT – to briefly identify and list three insights of these secret prayer warriors, who plan for the Lenten Season… What can they reveal or remind us today, as ordinary time wanes and Lent approaches? Why should we follow their lead and really prayerfully try to plan Lent?

They model for and remind us that:

1. We can plan for and achieve, by God’s grace, true moral and spiritual change and growth. It is not achieved accidentally and haphazardly; it is grounded in much struggle, failure and prayer that is linked to living love in the community. Prayerful planning is necessary because at different ages and stages, what one needs to focus on varies and only through prayerful planning and reflection can one come to know how, what and where to discipline oneself. Prayerful spiritual planning is integral to moral/spiritual growth in the same way that it is to academic, health or financial growth and development.

2. Prayerfully planned spiritual disciplines and sacrifices, when integrated into one’s daily life and coupled with prayer, will often yield much better results than unplanned spiritual disciplines and sacrifices. As one prayerfully plans, graced foresight often prepares one for and can limits the adverse effects of being caught unaware or being completely stymied by the common mistakes that catch the unprepared. In short, one is better prepared for both the journey itself and and achieving the moral and or spiritual goal(s) envisioned of their plan.

3. Planning allows one to free the mind from thinking and to completely bring one’s heart into the Lenten journey. With prayerful planning a path is laid and most of the fundamental questions are answered, allowing one to restfully move past the myriad of rational “questions and doubts” about success, etc. and to then enter into the daily task of opening one’s hearts to being led by the Holy Spirit. Planning releases our mind from worrying while allowing our hearts to hear, rest in and be led by the Holy Spirit on our journey. I liken this to the way “something clicks” in a well-prepared rookie athlete that may lead them to stop thinking and to begin playing naturally within the new system, thereby fitting in with the team and sharing their talents at some point during their first professional year.

Here at the Strugglin’Catholic.com, we hope that in this final week before Ash Wednesday, you will make the time to prayerfully plan out this year’s Lenten season. As you prayerfully plan, remember that the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving can be lived out many ways: from adding specific times or increased times of prayer, prayers for others and the world, daily scripture reading or an extra Mass during the week, to fasting from specific language, words, unhealthy ways of thinking, imagining and being entertained with media. We can give our time; even when it is short, as a listening ear and good friend, and we can always give our prayerful hearts to another’s causes when we can’t stop and chat. No person is so ungifted, that they have nothing to offer during Lent, for all can at least pray daily for others. Another old adage comes to mind as we end this reflection on planning for Lent… Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Whatever your Lenten plan and journey turns out to be this year, we pray that as you struggle, it will lead you to a deeper love of the Cross and the Mystery of God’s Love found in It.