Elevating Human Law and Nullifying God’s Law in Catholicism

Tuesday, the fifth week in ordinary time, we are presented with the Gospel from the seventh chapter of Mark, the first thirteen verses.  In this reading the Pharisees observed and critiqued Jesus and his disciples for not keeping the Jewish purification rituals of washing their hands before meals. Jesus’ initial response to their critique is grounded in an Isaian prophecy, “…this people honors me with their lips, but hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts…”

Jesus’ response respectfully acknowledges them as God’s appointed religious leaders vested with authority, however it also reveals how their unholy leadership has emphasized and modeled the letter of God’s Law to the masses, while willfully refusing to live from, model and to teach about the Spirit of God’s Law. Who are these religious leaders?

These are religious leaders who – whether in a sweet, motherly and moralistic or hard, drill sargent kind of way – will always reference and/or speak in terms of another’s faults, sins and struggles…  Though far from perfect themselves, they seem to be always “…straining out the gnats” in those they lead… For whatever reason – whether consciously Spirit led or not – their encounters with others often leaves those they serve with the sense of being a hopeless sinner who is stuck in one’s sin…

These are the religious leaders who will rarely, if ever, speak a positive word of commendation regarding another’s gifts, talents and history of accomplishments – especially if one’s history and individual expression of it runs counter to Church teaching and practices…  For whatever reason – when speaking to individuals or to communities like these, some religious leaders are incapable, unable and/or unwilling to leave others the Gospel: that is, STAMPED with the sense of being loved by God and living in God blessing as His children!!!

Unfortunately, the history of clerical Catholicism guilting and beating down the laity about sin, while elevating a specific aspect of the Catholic tradition above others, thereby nullifying the full effect of God’s law is legendary.  As an example, examine the Church’s recent history of  elevating ‘ABORTION’ to the sole place of sacred Pro Life primacy, so that now, other equally pressing issues like poverty, corruption, racism, sexism, etc. simply CAN NOT BE championed as a PRO LIFE issues also, despite the obvious reality that they are…

Unfortunately, this history focusing on the letter and ignoring the spirit of the law is ALSO an ongoing, lived reality in the spiritual and sacramental lives of many Catholics today.  Why, you ask? Simply because it is so often modeled by our religious leaders on the local level…

If you disagree, ask many ‘lay’ Catholics who dare to frequent the sacraments regularly… Let’s briefly examine how this reality manifests itself in the lives of practicing Catholics today…

As good an example an any, is the fact that any Catholic who receives Reconciliation outside of their home parish must also know that by doing so they are truly now taking the spiritual risk of playing sacramental ‘Russian roulette (ha, ha)!!!”  Why? Because on any given day, the priest they encounter may be an old-school, hardened and uncaring man who is unfortunately very willing and all to ready to give all entering  a priestly beat down about how radically bad their sins are – before then, begrudgingly giving them an absolution – as if it is HIS to give!!!

As a Eucharistic Minister and Catholic chaplain ministering in hospitals and nursing homes, in the past I have discussed with fellow chaplains who are also priests, the challenges that this reality presents as a Eucharistic minister. For instance, I meet those who, despite being in great pain and are in desperate need of receiving our Lord RIGHT NOW in the Sacrament, will outright refuse to receive Him Whom they desperately need, simply because I am a lay African merican Eucharistic minister, and not a priest…

Still, there are other ‘mature’ cradle Catholics of 70 or 80 years, who are simply unable to spiritually acknowledge how their present (perfect storm) context spiritually allows them to now bypass the standard one hour Eucharistic fast, and to feast on Him Whom they most need!!! In the face of their pride, the rules they were taught, their age compared to mine, their present fight in this their ‘second childhood in life,’etc. some simply can not come to receive Him Whom they need, and I can only offer them a brief period of Adoration and shared prayer…

It is so unfortunate and spiritually heart wrenching to encounter these children of God who suffer out of spiritual ignorance or immaturity, as they are often able see but not receive our Lord for some reason…  That reason often being, having a greater need to be clean, than to receive Him… Or as another soul once said, “…not having a true need to receive HIM, in order to be clean…”  That first desire is a need to address the letter of the law; the second is a desire that reflects both the Spirit of the law and an individual’s true heart felt need for God.

As I pray for these souls, I sometimes wonder who or what was that specific religious person, culture/family life or church community that mercilessly drilled home in this person’s past life, the absolute necessity of living out the letter of God’s law? I pray that their hearts may grow to be open to whomever God sends or however God sends grace now in their lives… I pray that they will meet that person who can model and show them, by God’s grace, how the letter’s true goal is to live out the Spirit of God’s law while still honoring the letter…

Jesus ends his response to the Pharisees in the Gospel by stating how they “…nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.”  This is an important point for Catholics to reflect on now a year into the pandemic, as we prepare for a second Lenten Pandemic Experience.  The past year of pandemic living coupled with the liturgical and sacramental changes that it has forced on our worship, should give us great reflection material to ponder as we prepare for this year’s observance of Lent – as if we have not been living it already!!!

My prayer is that in this second pandemic spring, Catholics and all Christians will begin the hard work of truly considering which traditions we should continue to pass on and those which we should discard and/or discontinue as believers…  May this last make-shift year of liturgical and sacramental life coupled with our ongoing global pandemic  realities, grant us the grace that comes via holy strugglin’ and  suffering, to lead our Catholic and all Churches  – both institutionally and on the ground level in the lives of believers – to begin this necessary work as we seek to truly live and proclaim the Gospel in love.

Why and How Christian Trumpsters can save face and vote for Biden…

Why Conservative Scripture based Christians and Catholics should vote for Biden.

In the face of the two recent political National Conventions, I would like to share my opinion about those ‘practicing’ Christians who are also staunch Trump supporters.  I would also like to make an argument showing how they can spiritually and practically ‘save face’ and switch their vote to Biden.   Most are older white Americans, who also generally claim to be religiously more conservative than most other Americans. I’ve heard and read their claim that their vote for Trump is in concert with God’s will.  Let me examine and refute this claim in light of scripture and then reveal how they can ‘save face’ before God and vote for Biden…

The Scriptures contain multiple examples of both good and bad religious and political leaders.  Sometimes they were ‘at odds’ with each other in the classic “good vs bad” fashion, both competing for the soul of the community (Israel).  In these instances, often one sowed good/God’s word like God’s prophets and the other, often selfish and Godless kings, sowed selfishness/evil…  There are other examples of false prophets leading the king and God’s people astray, just as there are also other stories of God’s people choosing to complicitly follow evil religious and political leaders against God’s chosen leaders.   In these stories, the outcome is almost always the same: a crushing defeat for Israel is the result…  Unfortunately, these are often the stories that our fellow conservative leaders in the faith fail to preach and to talk about…

The Word reveals, from Genesis on, how ‘the weeds and the wheat will be mixed until the harvest’ in each of our human communities – especially in our human institutions and leadership…  The Old Testament also witnesses to how the political and religious complicity, often motivated by greed and the need for power, over time will kill the soul and lead to the death of a community.  It should also be noted that in the scriptures, a  criteria for selecting a Godly leader often centers on whether that person’s life and work is grounded in and reflects Godly virtues.
Their virtues and Godly character must be openly witnessed to by their life, history and others in the community. In scripture, good leaders always reflected the character, disposition, virtues and love that was revealed and found in Jesus Christ. What can you, in good faith, find in Trump’s character, person, personal life or his leadership style that reflects ANYTHING of Jesus Christ?  If we apply this criteria to the presidential candidates, then based on their life’s work, personal character and the community witnesses regarding it, Biden easily trumps forty five…  That’s one scriptural vote for Biden.

Furthermore, arguably the most fundamental theme in scripture other that of God’s love is that of covenant – God offers us a covenant, and not a contract. We are called to love others and God in a covenant manner, not contractually. Contracts are made in suspicion, limits one’s responsibility, exchanges goods, forms business bonds and (claims to) break only the business relationship when they are broken (like a lease).  Simply put, a life that primarily relates to God and others contractually can not be or reflect a mature Christian life and model.

However, one who makes the choice and sacrifice to, by grace, live in their human relationships covenantally can successfully mature into and model Christian leadership.  Why? Because covenants are made with trust and grounded on promises not suspicion.  They are open ended and have unlimited responsibilities – like parents do with their children. Covenant give, exchange and bind people together forming kinship bonds, thus when they are broken often the persons involved are also broken (like in a marriage).

           Why choosing to live in covenant relationships with all is (or should be) obvious to for any Christian who would also like to be considered as a national and world leader… Note: that through His covenants, God is historically fathering a family. We have the opportunity to, by grace, be transformed into a divine brotherhood and sisterhood; a family of God. This is the l-o-n-g story line and the drama of the Bible that is being played out against and within the physical and natural span of individual human histories and communities – like here in America.

Please show me in his life or administration WHERE has Trump reflected Christian covenant living? Please don’t say in his marriage(s)…   Forty five’s life easily provides enough factual history with community support proving exactly the opposite – he lives contractually!!! When compared to Biden, Trump is truly ignorant of and cares nothing  – either personally or as president – for covenant living.  That’s one more for a total of two scriptural vote for Biden.

For orthodox Roman Catholics who proclaim the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of their faith, can we put politics aside for a second? Let me ask you, which presidential candidate’s life – both personally and professionally – most consistently reflects what you might call and understand as one of ‘Eucharistic living and sharing’ – giving oneself away?  What kinda oxygen are you breathin’ that allows you to even argue that Donald Trump lives Eucharistically? You should go to Reconciliation for that one – no joke!

          How in heaven can a practicing Roman Catholic, who truly understands that we are to live and become the personal and unique embodiments of grace in Christ to and for others, like we receive – living sacraments – choose Trump over Biden as the most sacramental candidate available? Really? That, is sacramentally confessable too, I guess… That’s one sacramental vote plus two scriptural votes for Biden compared to 45’s scriptural and sacramental zero.

Historically and scripturally, it was is in this kind of ongoing Trumpian reality – one that is greedy, selfish and is an unholy alliance of leadership in opposition to God’s will – that in part, provided the background and context for God to send and give us His Son Jesus!!! The Scriptures reveal how evil leadership and autocratic use of institutions – an historically reoccurring CULTURE OF DEATH – almost always translates not only into the unholy deaths of oppressed individuals, but also of whole communities and nations… It also reveals how even Mother Earth reals from and is destroyed by the reality human sin, a simple message often forgotten from the story of the Flood that is applicable today in our Ecological Need to Go Green…

As the scriptures reveal, to whatever measure and degree, the wheat is truly mixed with the weeds! Our human history of death is one of people choosing to live out of politically and religiously evil trajectories that willfully use the tools and rhetoric of hate and division in their work.  In Catholic speak, these people have chosen to follow a Culture of Death that reflects and spreads both hate and ignorance.  Today easily forty plus percent of American Christians are choosing and championing this perspective this year in Trump’s re-election bid.… That’s another Catholic speak vote for Biden…

Many of these conservative Christians, who quick to reference and speak from the scriptures in calling out God’s judgment in/on specific individuals for any number of sins, are often very SILENT and IGNORANT about how these same scriptures repeatedly reveal that same God judging whole  nations for their repeated sin of willfully choosing evil leaders…  Trumpsters continiue to support a spiritually and morally bankrupt and unapologetically evil man who continues to willfully use classist, racist and women hating rhetoric and actions to maintain and deepen the historical inequities experienced by poorest of the American masses….

Our current political administration reflects the same evil reality presented in many of the Old Testament stories that eventually led to Israel’s fall and destruction…  Despite Christian Trumpters largely ignoring this truth, Joe Biden has not… This is what I believe he is, in part, in saying that “…America’s soul is at stake in this election”….  YES!!! Our nation has a soul – and yes, it can die and is at stake!!!

So, WHO ARE THESE CHRISTIAN TRUMPTERS?  My guess is that these people fall generally into two camps…

The first and hopefully the largest part,  are those who, simply stated, are truly spiritually immature and/or misled and ignorant – period. Note; if they are truly misled, then they too are victims requiring prayer… These are those spiritually ignorant babes who have been raised up in or were spiritually formed after conversion in this kind of spiritually conservative and closed context (and they still live comfortably in).  Unfortunately for some of these babes, this is all that they have known and experienced – spiritually, socially, academically, vocationally at work and politically in their lives.

They are comfortable, ignorantly prideful in their immaturity unawares that in their immature zeal they are complicit with the very evil they pray to fight against.  These spiritual babes understand and define the spiritual life literally and often in a cut and dry fashion based on strict rules, as they focus on strugglin’ to live out the letter of God’s law or a specific moral lifestyle as prescribed by their religious faith, etc..

You can tell they are spiritually immature because they are so zealously quick to repeatedly highlight the sins of others as they ignore and fail to see or address their own gross and apparent heinous sins – even those evident in their very arguments, attitudes and actions!!!  Despite their Trump loving ways (lol), these people are ‘saved,’ if only because of the true, authentic, zealous nature of their faith and spirituality, despite its immaturity – note, which has NOTHING to do with chronological age or how long one has been living the faith… We must continue to pray for these people because there is truly hope for them, in Christ, to eventually grow to love all who will be in the Kingdom…  These spiritual babes still have difficulty truly accepting and loving in Christ those who lives are radically different from theirs…

As babes, they have difficulty truly understanding and trying to live out in concrete ways both of the ‘as…’ parts in the Our Father (it’s okay, go ahead and say it slowly, lol). They may also know, but as of yet have been unable to unlock and apply daily the spiritual truth that their personal growth in prayer and in Christ is directly linked to their willingness to sacrificially love  A L L others in the community – starting with those most different and challenging to themselves and extending to  their enemies…

A common example found is the zealous convert for whom it takes a decade or two to grow to live the grace that people of other denominations, who praise and worship in different ways, are not either sinful or spiritually immature… It may take decades for them to stop praying for a family member’s conversion and to simply pray for them to be blessed and to live out God’s will. God will continue to challenge and chastise these spiritual babes as God does all the saved…

We must humbly remember that in every age, there will be those who, for reasons that only known to God, will seemingly never mature and blossom in Christ…  The truth actually is, that in fact the evil one will almost always attack and use God’s young children in some manner, especially in their spiritual infancy because an immature Christian is the easiest to break, twist and use, especially with their youthful zeal… The saints attest to it as a fact.  To this end, I believe some Christian Trumpsters are actually victims and I pity them… Some of these Christian Trumpsters are literally in the spiritual fight of their lives – and they can sense it!!!

They are struggling between (falsely) comfortably staying put/safe in their spiritual life or leaping out in faith to radically love those who are different from them. We must continue to pray for these spiritual babes – that we can continue to love them as Christ loved the young and immature Apostles and disciples: with a holy and prayerful patience and kindness that empowers them to, by grace, BREAK THROUGH to see the importance of living part two of Jesus’ Laws of Love – to Love your neighbor as yourself

The second and hopefully the smallest part of these Christian Trumpsters, are those quiet, weathered and gray haired, long serving elders who are the real behind-the-scene movers and shakers in many of our businesses, religious and political institutions and families… They are mothers and fathers, business owners, professionals and civic leaders… These are they who ALSO, spiritually long ago heard God’s call to let go of their selfish desire to judge others and do the hard work of loving others,

They heard God’s call and invitation for them to let go of their pride and false love in the letter of the law as they understand it, and to love as the Father does – all people regardless of race, creed, sexuality, etc..  They have also repeatedly heard God’s call to grow past their personal Pharisaic letter of the law faith that is rooted in their pridefully absolutized, false moral or spiritual criteria and standard (i.e. race, class, sexuality, being of a different religion or nation, how one lives a specific Commandment, one’s Pro Life or Abortion perspective, whether they have committed THAT (my personally) unforgivable sin – because we each at least 1 or 2,  etc.) …

They have also heard God’s repeated invitation to begin living, working and proclaiming the faith in light of the Holy Spirit and the Spiritual works of mercy and the Beatitudes – that is, with the Heart and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ – TO THOSE WHO DO NOT LOOK OR THINK LIKE THEM!!!  But like Pharaoh – despite repeatedly suffering divine plagues, in pride they continue to hardened their hearts…

These are they that have hardened their hearts, turning their eyes blinded by racial hate or greed or fear of real change, toward the gross evil embodied in Trump, even to the very end of their very offspring, family and nation…  They are willfully modelling in word and deed known historical evils, with the intend of both passing them down to a new generation and imbedding them deeper into our American institutions.

Yes, we must pray for these souls also, that their evil does not spread and grow but will continue to die out with each decade.  We must pray for these living cancers who knowingly use the faith to spread evil, that they and their works may go into a permanent remission…

We must pray that their continued work will not lead our nation to ignore the scriptural warnings that our American soul is truly at stake. Though he did not say it, I truly believe that this was and is the very destruction of the American life and nation that President Obama also warned us about in his speech at the recent Democratic National Convention…

And so, on this Labor Day weekend when both conventions are over, I make an urgent appeal to all people of faith to FERVENTLY pray A PRAYER VIGIL UNTIL ELECTION DAY for all Christian Trumpsters. We must must pray daily – in the spiritual fervor of the Old Testament vigil of Nineveh when Job preached – that day by day until November’s vote, God will intervene in the lives of Christian Trumpsters to do the right thing by Jesus…  What is that? To quietly save face before our God.  How?

By prayerfully and privately considering my arguments while you continue to ‘save face’ and support Trump – all the way until you step into the voting booth –  to then vote for Biden – when only God and yourself are present…  You can then exit and still proclaim Trump your as man, without losing any face…

Remember, who will question you, since most of you live in like minded communities? When the numbers begin to come out revealing how soooooo many other republicans had the courage to flip in the booth like you when it really counted, you do not have to say a thing… Just sit back and watch how that cloud of fear you’ve lived under will begin to slowly fade as you begin to feel freer and freer each day – to hope, live have to have faith in an uncharted Gospel American future…

COVID -19 Survival Plan: Prayerfully Accepting Our Nakedness

People everywhere are experiencing how COVID – 19 seemingly just appeared out of nowhere and pulled the plug on our world’s happy little bubble bath…  We were all just relaxing and soakin’ in the miasma of daily life, when all of a sudden, BAM!!!  This pandemic not only pulled out the plug to our world’s warm and cozy bath, but it ALSO widened the drain that it covered!!!  Now as the water is both getting colder and running out faster than we ever anticipated, many are stuck and stunned…   Stunned at the true revelation our common nakedness as human beings – both individually and collectively as a nation…

It was just months ago when some were completely ignorant about the reality of their own nakedness…  There were others who had simply forgotten about it or, had willfully and successfully been able to hide/lock it in some dark hidden corner of their life – complete with a mask to cover and redefine it when it did surface… But now with the world’s plug pulled, our pre-pandemic illusion of ‘being normal and fully clothed’ has been revealed for what it really is… …And somehow, we must all come to grips with the cold, true reality of our utter human nakedness…

Even those on million dollar yachts cannot escape this pandemic caused nakedness…  With no escape, how are we suppose to proceed? What is the best response one can make in grappling with one’s utter nakedness?  As Christians we turn to the Bible for scriptural examples and guidance in this matter because it clearly speaks about the nakedness of human life­ – both its causes and our responses to it. The examples of nakedness I am using can be found at the beginning of the Old and New Testaments – in Genesis with our first parent and in the Gospels with Jesus.

Buying Satan’s Lie: Our Nakedness Reflects Our Nothingness

            Genesis begins the Old Testament with stories of Adam and Eve, where readers can find and reflect on our first parent’s response to the very real, sudden nakedness that is caused when sin/evil and humanity meet.  Whereas I believe COVID -19 is moreso, but not exclusively, a natural evil (aka earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.), there are others who believe without a doubt, that it is a moral and willful evil act that was/is freely chosen and planned… COVID – 19 origins aside, my focus today is on what our scripturally based personal and communal responses to nakedness can be, so lets proceed.

With that said, the Genesis narrative reveals that after encountering an unprecedented evil, it was the first parents’ free willed response to it that resulted in their utter human nakedness. It was their response to the event, not the event itself, which led to the creation and revelation of their own nakedness!!!  Their disobedience created a context in which their innocence was lost and they became painfully aware of their limitations and challenges – like their mortality, their mental and spiritual nakedness, etc. In short, they lost their innocence through disobedience but gained the awareness, through sin, of their real but limited creatureliness before an almighty God.

That’s a lot to handle and deal with – especially when as a ‘youth’ the first couple suddenly realized that their ‘normal’ had been permanently changed – and because of their own actions!   Some of us who boldly and fearlessly messed up in our early lives, know what this feels like… The first couple was now forced to live daily with and in the raw nakedness of their creatureliness their limited power and knowledge, their ignorance of God’s ultimate plans, their inability to have absolute freedom and the utter nakedness of being a dependent creature/child of God who is not God, etc…

By sinning the first couple lost the precious gifts of a trusting faith, real simple hope and an unquestioned love of and for God (and God’s plans etc.).  They now experienced their nakedness in a different manner than before…  That which was originally nothing, all of sudden became recast into a bad and problematic ‘something’ for them! It became something to be ashamed of, to hide and be embarrassed about and to feel bad about… In their radical nakedness, they chose to respond to it– and God – with fear: by hiding, lying, finger pointing, and blaming others, etc.

As youth, they rejected the very nakedness that their choices had created… … They failed to trust, know and have faith that if God created them naked, then God’s also had a plan and reason why they were so … …Instead, they bought Satan’s lie that their creaturely nakedness was proof of BOTH their own ultimate meaninglessness and also that God was an outright liar!!!  The sin blinded them from understanding, accepting and knowing that God is glorified and we are made holy, by freely working with God’s grace through our nakedness!

Following Jesus’ Truth: Our Nakedness Reflects Our Holiness

            The New Testament begins with the opposite example: One who accepted and lived out of  His human nakedness – as a blessing to bless others and as a vehicle to give Glory to God…  In the Gospels, the Apostles share Jesus’ responses to the human nakedness caused by sin, life and death. Like our first parents, Jesus also had a choice in how He could respond to the very real natural, moral and spiritual evils He encountered during His life and ministry. His response to that utter nakedness contrasted greatly with Adam and Eve’s, and stands alone as the human response to nakedness, par excellence!!!

Jesus’ response was to prayerfully acknowledge and to accept his human nakedness in faith and hope each day.  He did so, in belief, that His person, mission and work would not be ultimately stopped or thwarted by the human nakedness He encountered on the journey. He chose to have faith in God’s Promises of His specially created somethingness, instead of buying the lie offered by Satan that his present experience of human nakedness equates to eternal nothingness.

By rising early to ground Himself in prayer,  [COVID SURVIVAL PLAN #1] Jesus began each day by renewing Himself in God’s Spirit of Truth and Love.  This act made it possible for Him to accept his nakedness as a divine gift and also to live a response to it by faith, hope and loving service to others. Each day, he MODELED and lived the “Our Father” for the Apostles, which instructs us to prayerfully come to God for our daily bread.

He spoke aloud and prayed for the daily needs/concerns/bread of God’s people – their nakedness and his own – empowering each as he could towards the Kingdom.  Being renewed each morning, He went forth giving away that which He just received – the grace, faith, hope and love of God – though still poor, broken and naked himself.


What was Jesus’ prayer regarding His nakedness?  My guess is that…

First and foremost, that He would and could – THIS DAY – fully accept it as both God’s will and God’s blessing for Him.  We see and read about this in the Garden of Gethsemane the night He died for us when He says, “…but not my will, but Yours be done…”

Second, surely that somehow and in someway this day, that He would walk with and be used by God’s Spirit to love and serve others as best He could – despite being ‘just’ an utterly naked creature – this day…

Third, that He would continue to model for others a powerful love, trust and hope in the truthfulness of God’s Promises more and more each day.  That in doing so, His life would empower others to reject Satan’s lies about Who and What God really is…  That in doing so, His life would empower others to accept – in faith, hope and love – their call as God’s Children…


Living out this COVID – 19 plan is not for the faint hearted, or for those who are unwilling to wrestle with their nakedness and to bring it truly to God via prayer.

In fact, I suspect that if you are like me, some days you can’t even begin to acknowledge your nakedness until you have been FIRST bathed and lathered in God’s Love… Only then, am I able to go forth courageously accepting the naked truths about my nakedness – once again, to start this very day…

May God Bless you and me as we together, rise each morning offering our nakedness as our tithe, that we may receive that daily grace and bread to go forth nakedly, serving others in God’s Holy Spirit!

On the Special Gifts Given in Morning Prayer For Those Who Serve

Sometimes I wonder if those of us who willfully serve family, friends and the world using our gifts in Christ, spiritually have the word “SUCKER” stenciled across our foreheads!!!  Since it is often stated that God saves both ‘children and fools,’ perhaps the wisest yet apparently foolhardy thing we can do as believers living in this ‘get paid and do me’ culture, is to simply give ourselves away and back to God.   To foolishly, forsake the money, fame and glory while working to love, serve and build the community in faith.

There are many who willfully – perhaps even foolishly – spend their lives serving others with their gifts and talents.  These individuals can be professionals like lawyers, doctors or teachers but also include the masses  of public servants in food service, housekeeping or other industries like communications, landscaping, etc.… What most of these people, by God’s grace, have come to believe and are living out is the following: It is of utmost spiritual importance that we respond to God’s invitation to imitate Christ by using our gifts to serve and build the community. 

The true Christian understanding and lived experience of church and community does not teach that one can freely fish and take from the community without cost, responsibility or consequences (natural or eternal). We have a moral and spiritual responsibility to nurture, sustain and to build up the communities we are a part of.

For graced believers and servants living ‘in God’s Spirit,’ the community is accepted and experienced as part of that Sacred Ground from and in which our very gifts and talent have been developed.  As such, God’s servants eventually come, by prayer and grace, to first acknowledge and then to live God’s law and invitation to freely give back and serve the community with whatever we have been given.

Yet, choosing or accepting (i.e. family) a life of service can itself lead to much sacrifice and great struggles for both oneself and family.

Many entering the path of service, at least professionally, do so from a motivation not entirely based on altruism or love, as some forms of professional service like medicine and law, also provide a level of financial independence and autonomy desired by most.  Even some family situations hold financial motivations alongside those of truly desiring to help another in need.  I suspect most if not all entering any real service path will do so for a variety of reasons, including selfishly good ones – like because we enjoy doing it (whether cleaning, driving, caring for family, etc.) and because it may also pay well (medicine or law)!!!

However one finds oneself living out the Christian path of service, the importance of building and maintaining a consistent and daily morning prayer routine cannot be overstated or underestimated. After briefly sharing the points below with another last week, my heart felt called to share it here also, as there are many other fellow Christian servants out there who are strugglin’ and who simply need to be reminded why starting their day with morning prayer is an absolute necessity!

Please, eat the following spiritual advice like fish – if there is any meat in it, taste and see if it is for you – otherwise, spit out the bones… The following summarizes that conversation last week regarding the Three Special Gifts given through daily morning prayer to most believers who have committed their lives to serving Christ and building His Kingdom…

A.   Morning prayer returns the servant and their gifts back to the Source of All Gifts – God, restoring, renewing and empowering both the person and their gifts to begin again… God’s touch enables the servant to – on this day – serve and love once again, even in the face of the very real emotional/physical/financial and vocational realities that one may awaken to any given day.                                                                                                                       

This sacred time of prayer is the secret to avoiding burning out in a life of service, avoiding serving in a specific capacity to long or not being able to find and respond to the  new ways that God is calling one to service at different stages of life. God’s touch prepares, deepens and unlocks our gifts so they can be shared and used that very day in accordance with God’s plan.

B.     Morning prayer reminds the servant each day, that one’s service is about something much greater than even one’s own very life, goals and happiness….It reminds the servant that his or her gifts, their development and now the placement and ability to serve using them for the community is all – [PRAISE HIM!] – part of God’s greater plan, of which God has kindly let us be a tiny part of and also let us know a small bit about…

C.    Morning prayer links the servant back to the Gospel and Jesus’s life.  In morning prayer, one comes to name and face the sacrifices they have made and are making now in order to serve others as a Christian and servant of God.  Morning prayer roots these real sacrifices and sufferings in Jesus Life and  Cross and simultaneously imbues them (and us carrying them) with God’s grace and hope RIGHT NOW and also in God’s Kingdom at life’s end.                                                                                                      

Morning prayer thereby places one’s daily ministry and life firmly within the Gospel itself and on a Gospel trajectory, giving God’s servant a palpable and graced meaning, purpose and joy that surpasses the real material losses and sacrifices one has experienced in life.

May God continue to infuse into your soul, the Love necessary for you to complete your chosen life of service, praise and sacrifice.  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!!!

Jesus’ 3 life stages/phases to reaching the Kingdom

I’m convinced that one can easily find three basic phases or stages in the Gospels that reflect our general spiritual journey to heaven, which are loosely grounded on Jesus’ life. Using Jesus’ mission as our guide and model – that He was sent and willfully came to die, that we might have life in the Kingdom – what are these three missionary stages?

I see them in the following manner: the first stage or phase is Jesus’s hidden life, the second is his public ministry and the third is His passion, death and resurrection.  I believe many but not all of us, will generally follow this same path that Jesus travelled in our journey to the Kingdom. Lets examine each stage of this journey a bit closer.

In the first stage of Jesus’ life– and ours – much is often hidden about our origins and the context surrounding our birth! As literal babes, we have to rely on the stories shared by others to find out about our birth and earliest life.  From these stories, we come to know and understand much about our own hidden parts: like from what kind of relationship we were created, how we were originally perceived and eventually received by our parents, family, the larger world, etc..

Like Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels, our hidden life also contains gaps, missing historical sections and strange memories which are all grafted into an existing family narrative that can paint a very accurate picture outlining what life was really like when we were born.  And just like Jesus’ life, sometimes truths hidden in these narratives will resurface later in our life, giving us a new meaning, truth and mission.   Grappling with these painful memories and hard core truths is tough stuff and may require professional help.

Without getting into those arguments regarding what Jesus definitively did or did not ‘remember’ as a baby – we do know for sure that his parents certainly shared this history – and their reflections on its meaning – with him later!!!  Their sharing of these events certainly shaped and prepared Jesus to first understand and ultimately to face and defeat those same forces of death that initially surfaced at his birth.

Similarly, often the seeds that eventually grow into both the wood of our personal crosses and the contexts of our life missions can be found in these earliest and often hidden parts of our lives. In conjunction with a growing and integrated prayer life, professional help, the prayers of our friends and prayer warriors, etc. we can uncover and learn how deal with and then offer to God these real life crosses in a grace filled manner.

This early hidden life education about our unique crosses and contextual challenges, often yields and becomes the ground from which many of our specific gifts and character traits surface and are developed.

The second phase or stage is Jesus’ life is His public ministry.  This three year period in the Gospels often starts when we leave home through and continues into the period of establishing of our families and vocations – the basic ministries of our lives.  The family is the first church, where both parents exercise an actual and practical spiritual priesthood in the family of modeling and imbuing the family in Christian character. All work and vocations are extra community invitations in which believers are sent out to serve and love, through one’s gifts and in Jesus’ name.

Like Jesus’ second stage of public life and ministry, we too must leave our family to find, build and to live out our unique ‘mission’ in life.  For most of us, the path to our mission is found through the exploration and development of our personal gifts. For others, the path to their mission may come through a unique opportunity to work, to live in a different area, or through the meeting a specific person – all examples of new life possibilities that will deepen our spiritual journey.

Like in the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, we too often undergo some kind of baptism – a public declaration of and witnessing to our gifts and/or calling.  This baptism is often coupled with a public acknowledgment of our gifts which correspond to our specific calling.  After finding and initially responding to our call, many experience a kind of ‘forty day fast and preparation in the desert’ – (college, training, mentoring, etc.) – which prepares us to answer God’s call more effectively.  Finally, often successfully passing ‘tests in the desert,’ we are able to break free, going forth to begin our specific ministries of serving and loving with our gifts.

I believe this second missionary stage of our lives,  our public ministry, is by far the most extensive and can be the longest.  It includes the vocational work that we do, the friendships and loves that we build and live commitments to, the families and children that we parent and the greater communities/nation/world better served with our specific gifts.  This period in our lives, which can span from the late teens to our sixties or even later, is analogous to Jesus’ three year ministry of teaching, preaching, healing and saving.

Whereas the challenges of the second phase are often more exterior, public and relationship based as we work to ‘give ourselves away’ in the community as we grow in holiness and love, the third phase reflects a deeper, more interior spiritual challenge and work. It often includes a very real ‘stripping away’ of the very gifts, ministries, families, etc. – all that we have seemingly built – as we return to a simple dependency on the Spirit to make Its final preparations for us to enter the Kingdom

Finally, the last stage of our missionary life is that of our passion, death and resurrection.   I could be dead wrong (ok – bad joke), however I have come to believe that for many people, God saves this last stage of suffering for the end of one’s journey.  Why?  Only God knows… but by faith I am certain, that God indeed knows what is best for each of us.  For those like myself who are not yet (as far as we know) on Calvary’s final Road to the Cross, the Gospel narratives about Jesus’ suffering reveals some powerful insights about this final stage…

For instance, a prayerful reading of the Gospel  reveals that it was not the three year ministry that saved us.  It was  what Jesus did on the Cross -the last stage of His suffering,  passion and death – which saved us!!! As a chaplain, I have been blessed to witness many holy men and women follow Jesus’ model…

That is, after showing their family, friends and the world for  x decades how to  live, love and serve  in faith, they finally through stage three show them  how to suffer and die in faith that same faith and hope in God’s Kingdom.  These saints  are following Jesus’ example, and showing others how to live for God and how to die for Him.

In fact, modeling how to fearlessly confront death in a holy manner is one of the greatest gifts we can leave to our first church and family – how to defeat the final enemy in faith and with hope. By following Jesus’ example, our witness of faith and hope can, by grace, empowering others to likewise fearlessly stand on God’s Word and follow Jesus to the end.

God also reveals in Jesus’ resurrection, that despite all the very real sin and suffering surrounding each human life and natural death, God can and will continue to proven what is witnessed to in the Gospel: that He will ‘write straight’ with the crookedness of our lives leading us to His Kingdom.  He will teach and save others via our sufferings, while leading all of us to His Kingdom.

In our personal passion and through our unique cross, we are by grace, finally able to imitate Jesus by making a sacrifice and gift of love to the Father which is complete, reflecting Jesus’ total surrender and giving back of His very Self.  Whereas Jesus gave all from the beginning, I believe that through obedience, grace, faith and the Crosses given – we grow via these 3 stages to imitate Jesus’ total sacrifice by the end of our lives.

What the Prodigal Son’s Dad Most Desired for Both Sons

Like any good parent, the Prodigal Son son’s dad wanted what was best for both of his sons.  Despite growing up in the same home, both sons had unique gifts and ultimately chose different paths early on.  Despite their age differences, the wise father understood that both sons still needed him in their lives, but in different ways.

He knew that they still needed his words, presence and touch close by to continue guiding them towards maturation. And since kids often do what parents do rather than what parents say, the wise father also knew that he needed to model that which each son spiritually and morally needed.  Only in this way could they benefit now from his wisdom and also later as they continued to grow and mature into spiritually mature men.

What did each son spiritually lack?  What did the Prodigal son’s dad want most for both sons?  That each would grow to have, the Heart of God.

He for whom the parable was named, seems to be the prototypical youngest (spoiled) sibling: outspoken, demanding and unashamedly immature.  He was blissfully ignorant – about his own ignorance and the great blessings he had received in life – having always benefited from the work and sacrifices of the family. His young pride filled heart failed to realize that it desired to flee from the very source of its blessings: God and family.

It is very possible that the young son’s heart simply became inflated first by his family’s wealth and social power and also by his own youthful ignorance(s) – including an ignorance of what family had sheltered him from as a child: the world’s harshness and evil.

After falling into abject poverty and experiencing “the ‘REAL’ world”  – which takes no prisoners – the prodigal son began to mature as he reflected on his choices in life. Perhaps, Ssmewhere during this process while on the road home, he may have even took some ownership for his decisions…

While journeying home, the prodigal son probably also noticed that his heart was now a bit different! His once hardened heart – which had been kicked and pounded – now found itself much more humble, grateful and truly more open to listening than ever before.

He was now, more prepared for the heart lessons that the father would teach and model for him. Like how to truly win in life’s struggle to live for God and family and how notlose by making false gods like money, power, fame, pleasure, etc. that are offered by the world.

Like how to willingly sacrifice and contribute to the family’s well being…  Like understanding his brother’s anger, honestly acknowledging and accepting it as real, without meeting or returning it in kind but choosing to love him anyway…  Like living with a graced filled heart that is big enough to live in hope and faith as it waits for his brother’s heart to change over time – however long that may be…

The oldest son was obviously more than just a tad bit older than his younger brother, and had displayed throughout his young adult life both disciplined hard work and respect for family and societal norms.  Despite regularly fulfilling every letter of the religious law – attending every religious ritual and meeting all the commandments like not to lie, steal, kill, etc. – somehow his heart still became (or remained) hardened.

Many of us have friends or coworkers like this… They can tax us and sometimes make us ask, “…Now, why am I her/his friend again?”  Even in our families we may be able to find one who seems to fulfill every letter of the law, but who struggles mightily to smile, express and to show love and joy daily – the Spirit of the Law!  Unfortunately, some families with BOTH parents like this rarely experience the true, simple Spirit of Christian love in family life, since from both barrels/parents they are getting the Christian drill Sargent/Judge enforcing the letter of God’s law…

Its tough to say what may prompt one’s heart to become hardened… However, from studying Bowen Family System Theory in residency and seeing its teachings play out in families at the hospital, I do know there is some truth to the reality of the oldest child resenting/hating the youngest in the family – for any number of reasons.  Sometimes this sibling resentment and/or hate is acknowledged, discussed and intentionally acted on as in the Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers, but at other times it can lurk undercover in the background of one’s heart as it influences one’s decisions unconsciously.

Despite being the oldest who had always obediently followed the letter of the law, this son also needed his father’s guidance and modeling like younger son did.  In fact, because of his age, some might argue that his heart actually needed it more and that he was the most immature! Apparently, like a holiday turkey, his heart had been slowly basting with hidden and unspoken resentments over time…  Over the years his quiet, steady self-basting produced a nearly formed and hardened, pride smathered crust that was trying to form a perfect me-myself-and I-shell around his still immature heart. But the father was quietly watching and waiting for this son too…

When the older son used his history to contrast and argue against his brother, the dad knew the depths of his oldest son’s real problems. His comparison did not reflect the natural pride of immaturity like his brother’s did, but that quiet, deep and often unspoken spiritual pride found in many older folks. These kind of people devalue others for struggling or outright failing to ‘make the mark and/or meet expectations’ that they, because of their own giftedness, etc. have been able to meet relatively easily. They elevate themselves and debase others based on their perceptions of one’s personal achievement, success, etc.

At best, the parable leaves unanswered the question as to whether this son’s heart actually changed. However, knowing the father’s great love for his sons and his continued presence in their lives, we can hope and have faith that the oldest son’s heart did eventually change.  Despite going away upset and refusing the invitation to celebrate his brother’s return, there is still hope for the oldest son as long as the father is present.

Why? Because his dad will continue to hope, pray, work and model for the oldest son – even though it may seem hopeless – in the same way he hoped, prayed and awaited the return of the youngest son.  God the Father simply never gives up on us, his children!!!

Whether our heart is young or old, ignorant or hardened, God is present and waiting, inviting and begging for us to ‘come to the shop and get our hearts fixed!”

God the Father, like the Prodigal Son’s Dad, simply wants each of our hearts to become like His: full of love and willing to serve others with our gifts!!!

God sent his Son, Jesus to save us AND modeled for us how to grow and develop a Heart of God. God has also given us the Holy Spirit via baptism to lead, guide and to transform our hearts from within.

May all that you encounter these Spring days – the good/bad, the sun/rain and the common/everyday – by grace, work to transform your life and your heart!!!   May your heart grow to be more like  God’s this Spring, sharing God’s joy through your gifts, and letting His  joy spill forth from your heart both at home and at work.  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…


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!