On the Military Aspects of Christian Spirituality: A Memorial Day Reflection

On this Memorial Day weekend, when we remember and celebrate the ultimate sacrifices made by the men and women of our Armed Forces, I’d like to briefly reflect on the military aspects of our Christian spiritual journey to God’s Kingdom.  In remembering the myriad of American lives lost this holiday as we live now in general peace and stability, my heart feels much as it does on All Saints Day when the Church remember all those who have spiritually fought by loving and serving until death for the Kingdom of God… …heavy.  In this heart space of grieving the loss of our natural and spiritual soldiers, my simple goal today is to “grieve and mourn in hope and faith,” by highlighting as best as this life-long civilian can, what we as spiritual soldiers, can take and apply spiritually from the military lives of those we remember this weekend.

From the sacrifice of their lives, perhaps the most important point to remember this weekend is that we are in a spiritual war and our daily lives and relationships are the actual battlefield!  Ours is not just a natural war in which our physical lives, land and children can be lost – no, it’s far more than that!  This is a spiritual war in which our individual souls can be lost for all of eternity!  That means there is definitely a Good and a bad side: a holy and an evil side, our God and the evil one… Know also that choosing a side is unavoidable; your life choices and works will ultimately declare and reveal to all which side you chose.

In speaking about an evil one or enemy or adversary, who or what is the enemy and our opposition in this spiritual war?  According to the orthodox Christian spiritual mystical tradition, we have not just one but three adversaries to master in our pilgrimage towards the Kingdom: the world, Satan and ourselves.  Each person is born historically into a specific time and place and within an existing imperfect culture that stamps them with a specific way of thinking and seeing life that can challenge them form ultimately acquiring the gift of salvation: i.e. the selfishness, pride and greed that American capitalism can present as ‘normal and healthy’ to Christians.  Definitely a major challenge to anyone’s spiritual maturation, will be accepting the challenge to investigate, critique and to changes any negative cultural imprintings that they may have uncritically accepted during their formative years. Welcome to just one aspect of mastering ‘the world…’

By faith in revelation, we spiritually acknowledge that there are those in God’s creation that have chosen to militarily align themselves against God’s will and purposes, and that they too have a leader.  Therefore, in our various spiritual missions like family life and at work, we must pray and work so as to not be deceived into working for evil plans or purposes that are veiled as natural or spiritual goods. Be mindful, since God will never use evil methods or means to achieve God’s End, God’s will for us is also to NEVER to kill another, to steal from or lie to another, etc. to achieve a stated good…  Just as we know by faith that our victory in Christ is already won, we also know by faith that not all will be there with us in God’s Kingdom. Therefore, we must do all we can to master these three areas evil in our lives and to not actively participate in evil that we may with the Saints, reach our victory with is heaven.

In reference to the mastering our very selves… Each one of us struggles to love and to be, as God has called us to be,with ourselves and others daily.  We also struggle to be who and what we are called to be for each unique community that we are sent to.  Because of these struggles, none can stand before God and claim to have loved and served Him consistently and in the manner that God has always desired of us… Yes, all have fallen short in loving and serving as we have been called…  As we mature, we can learn how to kill off and/or to distance ourselves from the unhealthy life aspects and relationships that are drawing us towards death. This is that life long process of learning how to `die to self’ that we may live

          As already alluded to, in any war the combatants are defined and can be identified by their commonly share purpose for engaging in the war and also, by the very methods and tools they use to engage the enemy. By the grace of God and the Holy Spirit given through baptism, spiritually active and ‘woke’ Christians use the spiritual tools of love and service in their spiritual ministry of war.  We do so, knowledgeable that one day we may even be invited to sacrifice our lives in this battle. American history reveals that in the natural military theatre, having superior firepower plus military methods coupled with a practical knowledge of the land and enemy are often the deciding factors in winning any battle or war. In applying these military principles to our spiritual war, how can any created being out prepare, maneuver or have more firepower and knowledge than God? Both common sense and simple faith reveals that the victory has already been won!!!

Finally, in remembering these military men and women’s lives, I am forced to acknowledge how their lives reflects one of planning, discipline and preparation like those of the Saints! In both lives we witness a military like need to plan and prepare – often down to nuts and bolts – in order to achieve one’s stated tasks.  Planning, discipline and preparation are virtues that military families live by and that the Saints always bring to their spiritual lives!!!  Their model of commitment to the community, a disciplined life, the willingness to personally study and to adopt a boot camp mentalityfor the long haul are all valuable virtues we can all adopt.  Like military personnel we too must humble ourselves and willfully train consistently in our personal spiritual boot camp, that we may serve – as called and when called – on our journey towards God’s Kingdom! \

Yes, that means building a dedicated prayer life and intimate relationship with God that’s grounded in faith, hope and a charity manifested as daily gratitude for life. Yes, that means starting just where you are now and continuing to read, pray and trying to live out the Scriptures daily. Yes, that means willfully ignoring the secular common sense principles offered culturally and willfully living by the spiritual principles set forth by God and Scripture – like actually tithing, taking a Sabbath rest with family, seeking to forgive in relationships when there appears nothing for us to gain, etc…

This Memorial Day weekend, please recommit – this day – to enlisting in and fighting for Jesus’ Church Militant!!! Amen.

So… What exactly is Jesus’ Narrow Gate?”

Love is that universal language and narrow gate that can be exchanged in truth by strangers from completely different worlds, even if they are meeting for the first time!  Every person reading this has experienced this spiritual and existential truth!

“Someone asked him,

“Lord, will only a few people be saved”?

He answered them,

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,

for many, I tell you, will attempt enter but will not be strong enough.”

Lk 13: 23-24

_____________

What is this narrow gate that Jesus spoke about?

Before reading further, take moment to answer the question for yourself…

______________

            There are some who will or can only answer this question from a denominational or religious perspective like, “it means being a _____” (fill in your denomination or religion) or preferred term like being a ‘Bible Believer, etc..’ YES, I once was,one of these people, who understood that universally narrow gate as the faith that I had settled on – Catholicism.  Even most nondenominationalists subscribing only to the simplest articulations of the faith, have some standard that is ultimately rooted in and traced back to a specific theological or scriptural belief…

Please forgive these people (like that old me), for it is often out of a zealous young love for Christ that we may debate you to the last dying breath about why _______ is the definitive narrow gate (lmao x a mil)!!! One sounds like Love engrossed religious newlywed, who honestly look you in the eye and argue that their spouse is DIFFERENT and definitely the most…  …who has ever lived (ok! Let’s wait a decade…). 

In that first decade after my conversion, if you asked me what was Jesus’ narrow gate, you had better watch out!!!! Suddenly I would ‘switch on you’ and morph into this theological and scriptural monster, parroting Catholic interpretations of scriptures and theology as that narrow gate.

And trust me, NO, you don’t have to have a graduate degree to be a skilled expert at this.  All it takes is the spiritual pride that often accompanies one’s initial decade of real adult spiritual growth in the faith – whether Baptist, Non Denominational, Catholic, C.O.G.I.C., or Jehovah’s Witnesses!!!!  

There will always be peoples at/in the various stages of the spiritual life in the various communities that we live in (1rst = Purgative, 2nd = Illuminative and 3rd = Unitive stage of the spiritual life).  Like many young professionals come to experience vocationally, this initial enthusiasm of this first stages eventually changes…

Today, in a patient and hopeful way that is respectful of each person’s journey, I pray for those I see like this… Asking God to shorten this period before they come to see, experience and share by grace the sheer scope and universality of Jesus’ great love, sacrifice and saving work… Without being locked into or limited by their own scriptural, religious and denominations perspectives and language.

In responding to the question regarding what is Jesus’ narrow gate, some Christians reading this will insist that I must answer this question theologically and scripturally – and yes, I can agree with them in Spirit – but only for myself and not for the universal catholic church, if that Catholic language is an impediment.  This can especially be the case for those who are nonbelievers or who have rejected organized religion because of its history of abuse and sin I their lives.

Perhaps the one scriptural and theological answer that I can readily accept as the narrow gate, and in fact, which I must accept as the answer in order to be Christian, is that Jesus Himself is that narrow gate!  This means that this gate is not a metaphysical and cosmic wormhole, door, principle or truth – but a Divine Person of the Most Holy Trinity!

Truth be told, the Truth – that Jesus Saves!– must often be lived out for years/decades before it can actually be witnessed to and shared with the tongue – from a natural, lived experience and universal manner… and with a language that transcends organized religion. Of course, grace can do for you what has taken decades for me, but then this Taurean was given that special gift of steadfast tenaciousness (translated: hard headedness)!!! Anyways…

I was once a babe in Christ, and that was okay at the time! Decades of marital and family life, work in and outside of the church plus adding fundamental spiritual practices like integrating prayer into my daily life and trying to live out the Ten Commandments, has transformed and simplified all that graduate school theology into a graced life of obedience, sacrifice and applied love of my gifts. 

I am not alone on this journey; there are many of us being transformed in Christ through simple lives honed by grace, obedience and sacrifice.  It’s a quiet, joyful life of ‘prepping for God’s Kingdom’ through love and service that is not Facebook focused and outwardly pretty.

A few decades older and now serving as a hospital chaplain, I meet people from every age and walk of life…  I am, by God’s grace and training, now able to touch, walk with and to serve the human needs – like simply listening to and being with another – of various peoples and backgrounds in a manner that even  sometimes surprises the patient. How?

Trust me, NOT always leading with witnessing to or about ‘the faith’ – that is simply not the way to  approach most people – EVEN OTHER CHRISTIANS!!!  Why? Because, we must always be humbly aware of our own ignorance regarding another’s story, history and spiritual journey – and especially  where they are even at’ because of the day they may be having!

It is for these people and for this reason, that as a chaplain when meeting new people, I now first show my answer to the question about the narrow gate with a joyous smile reflecting God’s love. I follow by simply being present to  their person and listening to them, even if we never touch on anything religious… A simple loving presence is all I often give…

As a chaplain, I am sometimes questioned about my faith affiliation and title.  Some believe my answer will give them a lens into what my core understanding, beliefs – what my narrow gate – is, and they are correct.  I tell ‘em all that first and foremost, I am just “a simple servant of God – not even ordained! Once called to teach, but now called to chaplain and walk with God’s people on our common journey to God’s Kingdom.”

My response and ministry reflects my heartfelt believe that in heaven, there is just God and God’s children (without titles).  I have found, that by the grace of God and the Spirit given through baptism, my  “narrow gate”  is growing more and more to truly and simply be LOVE: in word – theologically and scripturally, but more importantly also in DEED.

LOVE is Jesus’ narrow gate.

Of course, I am agreeing theologically and scripturally with the orthodox Tradition and my heart, as I am also practically applying it via grace and prayer in a manner that touches all relationships and aspects of all lives. In acknowledging that Jesus is Love, I am also acknowledging that He is not only the Standard and Judge, but also the ONLY spiritual lens/door/model through which the truth of our loves will be evaluated, assessed and revealed.

Love is that universal language and narrow gate that can be exchanged in truth by strangers from completely different worlds, even if they are meeting for the first time!  Every person reading this has experienced this spiritual and existential truth! It is one of the revelatory messages found in Jesus’ parable, the Good Samaritan. This radical love for the other that is grounded in God’s Love is that narrow gate Jesus spoke of, modeled and made possible by climbing the Cross for us.

Love as that narrow gate makes it truly universal, because its Source, God, and the ability to live in and by God’s power of love is available to all through faith and grace.

As that gate, love is narrow because as we all know, any true and real love – like those grounded in God like family – will sometimes require and is the source of life’s  most gut wrenching sacrifices and our long term sufferings.

Because “Love cancels out sin,” it really is the only thing that we can take with us to ‘unlock and enter’ through the narrow gate that is Jesus, the Entrance to God’s Kingdom!!!

On John the Baptist & Contemporary American Beheading

speaking-truth-to-power

 

John the Baptist, who was imprisoned by Herod, was executed and martyred after a drunken Herod promised his beautiful stepdaughter anything that she wanted at the conclusion of her seductive dance before his friends at a banquet. In rereading the story (MK 6:14-29), one quickly realizes that Herod did not hate John the Baptist or want him killed – he realized John was a holy man and despite being “very much perplexed, he liked to listen to him.”

 

It was actually his wife, Herodias, who intensely hated and wanted John the Baptist killed because he publicly proclaimed the faith’s truth – that Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife – was immoral! When her daughter shared Herod’s drunken promise and asked for advice, Herodias seized the opportunity to silence her detractor, John the Baptist, with execution.

In this story, a simple but powerful truth is revealed to any who will courageously seek to witness or proclaim the faith publically. John suffered mockery and ridicule, imprisonment and martyrdom – not for being a specific religion or denying another religion, but simply for courageously speaking an unpopular truth of the faith to power.

Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostles were all born into a world very much like ours – where their religious values regarding marriage and human sexuality were not those of the mainstream culture. Multiple ways of understanding and living out human marriage and sexuality were practiced in the Roman world as it is today. Another historical reality shared between then and now is the way that the powerful and ungodly can use their power to ruthlessly punish and destroy those who courageously speak the faith’s counter cultural message of truth regarding marriage and human sexuality. As in the past, those who are courageous enough to speak these truths to the powerful – are often unaware or ignorant of those whom they have really offended and who have really ordered their execution.

Today in our secular and media driven world, these Herods’ and Herodias’ come in many different forms and can be found everywhere – not only outside but also inside of our Catholic Churches and institutions. Their undercover actions to silence and kill those courageously speaking the faith’s truth about marriage and human sexuality to power also takes many forms: from unjust lawsuits, firings and black listings to financially break and hush up the faithful who are poor and middle class, to all out media campaigns and public relation offensives against monied, orthodox and Christian individuals and institutions who publically take counter cultural stands proclaiming Christian truths regarding marriage and human sexuality. This is a fact: all who, by grace, courageously speak truth to power in history will suffer martyrdom – whether rich or poor.

In today’s secular world, there are a lot of John the Baptist walking around…

Since secularism allows all possible dialogue and discussion points in the public arena except those dealing with/grounded in faith, articulating Christian truths and arguments regarding marriage and sexuality – even if allowed Constitutionally – are simply ignored and omitted at best in public– if not openly disparaged, mocked or worse. When the worst parts of secularism surfaces, America’s freedom of speech simply no longer applies to stating Christian truths regarding marriage and human sexuality, which – even when stated simply and lovingly – are often still equated with the language of threats and hate.

For some, to believe in the traditional Christian teaching regarding marriage and human sexuality also means that that person is also completely incapable of living in a loving and respectful relationship with those choosing alternative lifestyles. This is an utter lie and a deceptively unhistorical belief which, in part, rests on highlighting the evil uses of religion historically and framing all possible future religious dialogue soley in terms of this very real but unfortunate lens. Note: we tend to do the very opposite with science and technology, ignoring its role in two World Wars while still proclaiming its ability to help and build humanity…

The reality of religious radicalism, hate and terrorism in our world shakes all of us to the core, yet equating whole religious traditions or any religiously grounded countercultural public dialogue with hate, ignorance and extremism is to choose – consciously or unconsciously- to ignorantly embody these very characteristics out of fear and to run from the real work of true change and growth through respectful dialogue and sacrifice. Such views often also fail to acknowledge that these same religious beliefs have given us the greatest examples – both individually and institutionally – of loving humanity that we have in history.

Yes, there are a lot of John the Baptists around today…

…even in this great country with its legal and historical traditions of free speech… As John the Baptist and many of today’s faithful have found out, courageous and faithful speech is not free – especially when aimed at the powerful. Speaking Gospel Truth comes with a cost, here in America as it did in Jesus’ times.

The downside of secularism for Catholics and Christians today, is that many Christians are willfully bludgeoning their Gospel call to evangelize in America, fearfully unable or unwilling to express the faith’s truths publically because of the very real risks. Like John the Baptist, they realize that there is a cost for courageously speaking Gospel truth to those who are powerful. I’m not sure this is the kind of America that the majority of Americans really wants for anybody…

John the Baptist and all who courageously follow in his steps are examples for us to follow today. Their example prepares and empowers us for that day, when we too will choose martyrdom, risking all by lovingly speaking the Christian truth about marriage and human sexuality in the face of very real power. By the grace we’ve received at baptism and the continuing power that we receive through the Eucharist, my prayer is that we can – in a loving manner – acknowledge, grapple with and publically dialogue about these hard truths regarding marriage and sexuality that God has challenged us with.

Yes, it is difficult and risky for most to speak and proclaim the faith’s truth about marriage and human sexuality publicly in America today…  Until you can do so lovingly in public, I propose starting with  Barry Sanders’ suggestion and accepting that initial challenge of seriously reflecting on, praying about and striving to live the faith’s truths about marriage and human sexuality in one’s own life…

Divine Kisses as God’s Response to our Struggle to Pray

divine kiss

From the day a person not only commits to but actually, by grace, begins strugglin’ to integrate prayer into their life – seeking to live a prayerful lifestyle – many will often begin to see and experience anew God’s Truth and the Spirit’s Fire at unsuspecting times amidst their daily life routines.

These sweet divine kisses can come at any time and place: in the car or shower, in dialogue with the clerk at the gas station, children or significant others, while reading articles or while enjoying an entertaining advertisement… They are often most noticeable in events like those momentary and unexpected smiles, gestures or acts-of-kindness that we may receive or witness while out and about.

These and other very real experiences are powerful reminders of how our God listens and responds to our prayers as witnessed to in Scripture. They also witness to the Gift of the Spirit filled, New Life in Christ that can be nurtured, developed and lived out in part, by committing to live and integrate prayer into one’s life.

Be mindful of the importance of these divine kisses: by their sweetness we can learn how to hear God in our mind and heart. This learning to hear God coupled with our free and open response to it throughout the day (praise, thanks, etc.) is that (inner dialogue which replaces our self dialogue] which becomes a fundamental part of a very real life “relationship with God.” This is the life/relationship believers with an active prayer life may speak so plainly about amongst themselves and others, some who are quietly wondering what they have missed, why they don’t experience this or Is that person crazy?

Of course, God is not content on just revealing God’s Self to us so we can simply sit back and chill with the experience, God also desires that we also learn how to trust, follow and be led by the Holy Spirit, truly “letting go and letting God lead “by these same divine kisses and inspirations…” But that, is a Strugglin’Catholic.com reflection for another day…

The beginning to hear and eventually seeking to always listen to and be led by these divine kisses actually transforms the very way we think, act and live in this world. As the commitment to prayer becomes a habit and eventually part of our character, these divine kisses will continue to illuminate our minds and inflame our hearts while guiding our decision making and lifestyle choices in such a manner that, “they will know you are Christian by Your love” because all you do will increasingly be animated by and grounded in Gospel love.

Pray daily. Struggle to pray throughout the day. Seek to live in an intimate relationship with God.

Praise Him for the divine kisses and learn how to let them lead you in your lives.

 

 

On the Blessings of Ordinary Time

Most of the Liturgical Season is surprisingly "Ordinary!"

And so we start ordinary times…. To come to an appreciation of what ordinary time exactly is, let’s take a moment to look back on the last six months in the Church. Since the beginning of the liturgical year with Advent in December, we have been in some kind of special liturgical season most of the last six months: December and part of January was Advent and Christmas seasons. Counting backwards from now, May and April was Easter season and Lent spanned from the beginning of March. We have had only a little over a month and a half of ordinary time. Gone now are the extra and special longer Masses, the special sacrifices and the periods stressing preparation (Advent) or purification (Lent) or celebration (Easter) with their colorful vestments and unique music.

What is so special about ordinary time?

Well… Each year, the liturgical calendar gives us this long stretch of ordinary time, in part, as a gift to just spiritually be… to spiritually relax and enter into the Spirit’s gifts that have been recently given to us…   Ordinary time is our time to search, explore and integrate that New Gospel Life we have recently received during the last six months with the people and communities of our lives…

What special graces and experiences of holiness can accompany these seemingly quiet and ordinary periods routine?

For me, perhaps it’s how the Spirit can often fill my quiet, semi-disciplined summer routines with a relaxed but Graced, everyday-still-going-about-my-spiritual-business type of attitude – even without all the feasts, celebrations, long-term commitments and spiritual disciplines that are usually necessary to keep me spiritually on track. It is as if the Pentecostal Spirit, built up over the last six months of special seasons, now quietly leads and carries me forward as I journey through the summer and into the fall.

I’m sure you too have experienced the many “special graces” given during ordinary times… Reconnecting with friends and family around barbeques and reunions are invitations to both celebrate shared joys and to forgive past festering wounds… Sharing summer days and festivals with others or taking a summer “art or dance class” can restore or even foster new friendships in our lives. Even becoming a short term couch potato (as students often do) or spending quiet times in the yard gardening can empower, clarify or transform our inner visions and lives, bring us to a fall with a renewed vigor and purpose.

Here at Strugglin’Catholic.com, we are praying that during this summer, the Spirit will continue to lead and guide you in your struggle to live the Gospel. Our prayer is that of the Church: that by grace, we ORDINARY people living in ORDINARY time with REAL LIFE CHALLENGES, can live EXTRAORDINARY lives of love and grace daily.

May the Love of Jesus be on your lips and the motivating love in your heart this summer!