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

I know, those days…

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

Everyone has them…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Our Temptations Mirror Jesus’

 

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

Julian of Norwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examining How God Teaches Us His Way in Prayer

 

Year A Cycle 1   Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Responsorial Psalm

PS 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

  1. (11ab) Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

 

The responsorial psalm for today’s readings gives us much hope as we begin our Lenten journey.

Teach me your way” reveals that God’s desire for us is to learn about and to grow in holiness, for God’s ways are always holy. This is what the Lenten journey is all about: growing in and living more like God – living a holier life. If God’s way is holy, then perhaps the most Gospel grounded way of expressing what holiness is in relationship and action, is that God’s way is the Way of Love. Choosing a common challenge for all, lets briefly examine how God teaches us His way and then, how it then leads or causes us to walk in God’s truth – Way of Love, via prayer…

Let’s say one’s goal for Lent is to learn how to speak and communicate more fully in God’s way – to communicate in a holier and more loving manner with others – how can one achieve such a lofty goal? Because one must certainly start with and turn to God for assistance in this matter, the the common Lenten invitation to spend more time in prayer can be applied to this goal. Why prayer? What does focusing on prayer and developing a prayer life have to do with my interpersonal communications with others?

Well, as one struggles to consistently pray and dialogue with God daily, one comes to know intimately, be led by and bathed in God’s Loving Spirit. In the midst of the struggle to pray throughout the day, God slowly teaches the soul His way about what holy communication really is! In that struggle, one comes to know very intimately the God of Love Who saves.

Bathed in that Love through the daily struggle to pray, over time the person is slowly transformed from inside out as old attitudes, perspectives and visions are gradually transformed and, by grace, are replaced with those of God. Somehow, by secretly strugglin’ seek Christ’s Light through prayer daily and integrate prayer into our day, all other relationships and communications become cast in that same Light of Christ and are seen anew.  New Gospel attitudes, perspectives and visions begin to emerge in one’s heart, which  spark with new hope, faith and loving response to the “same old situations and people” making up our lives.

As one’s prayer time monologues are slowly replaced with periods of listening to and dialoguing with God in prayer, one comes to know more clearly how God really communicates with all Creation… Seeing the importance of quietness and stillness in order to truly hear God, by grace, the person begins to cultivate these virtues in their life.   Increasingly bathed in the history of God’s Loving Responses, by grace and out of love, the person begins to imitate God’s quiet, gentle and loving way of expression with others

I suspect this is one major spiritual reason why many older people who have walked decades with God in prayer, are so respectful and kind to others: God has modeled it on the spiritual journey!

Through our prayerful struggle to know and communicate with the God of Love, we learn to love as we are loved, and are transformed by that Love into a saint – a holy reflection of God’s Love – who then spread the Love in community with others!

Communicating in God’s way can mean a lot of different things at many different times: from respectfully being silent to lovingly speaking the truth, from lovingly correcting a friend to pausing to thank or commend that same friend for being a blessing… or just being prayerfully present by another’s side in a time of crisis…   …these are all examples of God’s Loving way of communicating with others that we are called to imitate and live out this Lent….

Our Strugglin’Catholic.com Lenten Challenge going into this first Sunday of Lent is the following: Can you take whatever Lenten sacrifice you have chosen for this year and express it in terms of the Psalm? What are you asking God to teach you how to do in a holy manner this Lent? How and what would you like to walk more in God’s truth about?

By walking, talking and being closer to God in prayer this Lent, may the Holy Spirit teach each that unique lesson needed for right now in our journeys, that we may grow in holiness and walk more fully in God’s truth.

 

 

 

Proceeding when “sick days” are not allowed for our Crosses…

Scripture Reflection: Luke 9: 22-25              Year A   Cycle 1

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

The Lenten season reminds us of – and even makes holy by culminating with – Jesus’ Cross before His Resurrection. In today’s gospel, Jesus clearly uses and presents his own suffering and death in the Paschal mystery as a model for all who would follow after him. Here are three quick points to ponder and imitate regarding Christ’s example…

            We must imitate Jesus’s courage and look squarely at our crosses without sugarcoating them – and then faithfully choose to enter into the pain and suffering they offer by engaging, addressing and experiencing them in the light of Christ.

            We must begin the day with prayer, so that we may clearly see our crosses in the light of God – as challenges and blessings – and to not be blinded by them, which can easily stop us from  seeing, walking with and being used by God throughout the day.

            We must engage our crosses both truthfully and also hopefully, that by faith, we will come to know and experience that somehow, God’s love is being spread through them and also that somehow, our love will be further refined and made holy through them.

May God’s Holy Spirit guide and inspire us as we begin this Lent, gracing us with the willingness to engage and address our Crosses, seeing in them both blessings and challenges on our journey.

When Lent is Boot Camp…

There are many ways to envision the Lenten journey… Over the years, one of the most consistent images I have encountered to describe the Lenten journey is that of something akin to Boot Camp. If the majority of people reading this are like the author, a civilian, then most of us have no real experience of what Boot Camp is really like. Fraternity and sorority members have pledged their fraternities and sororities, yet pledging is a far cry from boot camp. In the face of such ignorance, my best guess is that the goals of Boot Camp are twofold: 1) to learn and become proficient at the basic military skills necessary to be a soldier 2) to learn about and adopt as one’s own, the military life as a soldier. If I’m even close to correct, then I believe the common image of the Lenten journey as Boot Camp is very much correct!!!

As Lenten boot camps go, I guess you can break them down into generally two categories: spiritual boot camps or moral boot camps.

In the standard moral Lenten boot camp, the focus is generally on giving up a specific sin or bad habit – something that we shouldn’t be doing anyway – like eating sweets, cursing or making unnecessary purchases, watching excessive t.v,, etc.. Unfortunately with this Lenten program, it is often too easy to forget to replace our sinful sacrifice with a healthy alternative! Thus, we find ourselves overly focusing on the loss and suffering (which some say is very Catholic ha, ha!) without refocusing that energy into creating a healthy alternative. Without a healthy alternative to build new virtue/character that replaces the old vice, moral Lents can often be in danger of either ending in an eventual failure or with one just “holding out until crossing the Easter finish line,” eagerly ready to return to old ways. However…please, don’t be dismayed if you are attempting this kind of Lent! Consider adding a healthy alternative to balance your sinful sacrifice. By the power of God’s grace coupled with both individual human grit and the prayers of Christians worldwide, people have been miraculously blessed during this holy time of the year!!! Remember, we simply can’t out work God when it comes to our salvation!

In spiritual Lenten boot camps, the focus is generally on things like increasing or integrating prayer throughout the day, reading more Scripture, attending an extra Mass or two throughout the week, daily spiritual reading or journaling, etc. One positive aspect of this kind of boot camp is that is seems to focus more on adding and building virtue/character than on the negative like eradicating bad habits and vices. On the surface this does appears much easier than the moral boot camp, yet upon further reflection I beg to differ…

…Ask anyone who has ever tried to regularly get up forty minutes early to pray daily how easy that was and how long it lasted… Even those who have established the practice for decades and can testify to its benefits, will share how they STILL sometimes find those initial waking moments barraged with arguments about why they should not pray, this morning, or what’s worse, that d e e p anti God feeling… Anyone who has started to consistently, humbly and prayerfully read the Bible knows, or has found out that, they will be changed –it is impossible not be! Grappling with these changes can be very difficult, maybe even life changing… imagine hearing God’s invitation to do the unthinkable like dropping all and going into a ministry?   If you still want to say the spiritual boot camp is easier, okay, let’s just agree to disagree. But at least let us agree that the spiritual boot camp has the potential to be much scarier!

Some Lenten programs can easily fall into both categories, for instance, a Lent focusing specifically on performing concrete acts of charity and service in the community, especially if it is performed in a prayerful spirit and real time and economic sacrifices are required. If we really examine it closely, most Lenten programs will force us to integrate and utilize aspects of both boot camps if we are to really “do Lent right.” Both boot camps have long histories among the saints, whose lives as models reveal to us how God will eventually lead us, by grace, to travel both roads in this journey.

If this year’s Lent will be a boot camp experience for you, may the Saints hold you in their prayers, as we will hear at Strugglin’catholic.com.

Applying the military boot camp’s goals to your present quest, we pray that in your spiritual boot camp… 1) You learn about and become proficient at the basic spiritual skills of prayer, mortification/asceticism, worship, etc. that are necessary for you now to grow in accordance with God’s will and in holiness   2) You will learn anew and/or re-adopt and recommit to life as a Christian disciple and the Jesus’ Cross. As a civilian is transformed into a soldier, may your boot camp continue and jumpstart, by grace, your transformation from a good person into a truly holy saint of God.

Ash Wednesday: Returning Home to Peace and Grace

This weekend my 16 month old puppy, Jay, accidentally got out of the yard and was lost for over 36 hours. During this time my wife and daughter were emotionally upset and noticeably disturbed by his absence. After wandering off, Jay was picked up by a young man and kept overnight at his apartment. The next day he brought Jay outside and allowed him to lead the way back to our home (actually our neighbors house), which is how he was returned. In the immediate 24 – 36 hours after his return, Jay was not quite his “bounce-off-the-wall-with-energy” self…

…He walked and ate his food just a little bit slower and was generally less hi strung, even though still a 16 month old puppy. My wife commented how he did not pull/tug as normal on his walk and happily turned into the drive when returning from it. Initially I thought his lethargy was simply a response to his night away plus an unexpected four hour puppy play date he enjoyed with a neighbor’s dog on the day of his return, but on day two of his return as Jay returned to his normal self, I began to sense that it was not lethargy but something different.

I now believe what was initially thought to be lethargy was actually Jay’s way of slowly and gratefully relishing that peace of finding and returning home…

The deep peace found “in a return home” can be unexpected and surprising, especially if we have taken that peace for granted and left home anticipating greater joys by exercising our freedom abroad. Jay’s 36 hour excursion into the world probably tempered his urge to explore and run free as much as it also helped him appreciate the gifts already present here at home. Jay’s experience is not an isolated one; college students who return home and mature seniors returning to towns left decades ago are often surprised to experience that quiet joy and peace of “returning home.”

For some, this week’s distribution of Ashes and start of Lent will be a kind of “return home” to God, religion, church, faith, prayer, scripture, sacrifice and mortification, etc.. Unbeknownst to some returnees, they will find that it is also accompanied by an unexpected grace and deep peace in their hearts and souls. This gift of Divine peace and grace will often accompany the humble heart as repents and return home from its free willed (and often prodigal) wanderings abroad… For those now in this holy space, we at Strugglin’Catholic.com are inviting you to simply and prayerfully rest with and in this experience of peace and grace as long as you can…

…Try to remember, if ever, when and where you last felt God’s       presence, peace and grace…

… At meal times or at night, briefly examine how and what your mind dwelt on that day in this time of being showered with God’s grace and peace…

…Take note of the feelings that emerge from your heart and also the way that you engage your loved ones when God’s peace and grace is active and present to you.

…Knowing that this gift and experience has a message, receive it in prayer and experience God’s welcome, invitation and “thank you” for coming home to Love again.

 

May the Lord Bless, Keep & Guide us in our return home this Lent. Let us pray together for that day when we will always walk in the grace and peace of God with others.

                                                                                                                                    Amen.

Our Prayer for Your Lenten Preparation

There is a small but very real part of my soul that jumps for joy and also sings praises when Lent approaches. It’s that very small but very real part of my soul that truly acknowledges both my humanity and mortality. It’s from that very same place that, at times, erupts a graced urge effecting all my being to strive after God and to seek His holiness amidst the struggles of this very real and broken journey. That core and deepest recess of my soul – where God resides – is that Source from where these quiet pre-Lenten songs of praises and joy emerge as I approach as this Ash Wednesday.

Every Lenten season, with its unique myriad of sacrifices and challenges, ultimately aims at one real and concrete Lenten goal for each participant: to better know and experience the God, Who rests in the depths of our hearts and souls, as we live more fully like that God in each relationship and community we are apart of.

Lent is a time of spiritual planting, pruning, fertilizing and reseeding our life’s gardens. If this year’s Lenten journey is to truly bear fruit, each of us should spend some prayerful time discerning how best we can utilize this season and its invitations/challenges at this specific point in our journey to heaven.

Spiritually discerning what is best often requires some prayerful dialogue and listening to/with members of one’s church family, loved ones, one’s spiritual advisor and/or perhaps even one’s priest/minister – listening with both our heads and our hearts!

To spiritually discern what God’s plan may be for us this Lent will probably also require some prayer time – with much of it focused on just listening to and being with God, after having asked the Father to guide and reveal it through the Holy Spirit.

Finding, resting in and listening to God in the real, bottomless depths of our hearts and souls – there, we can find out what God plans for each of us and which choices are best as we chart a course across the spiritual seas of Lent once again…

May the Spirit guide you to slow down and to prayerfully plan out your Lenten journey this season. In the same way that your birthdays, vacations and traditional holidays are made more joyous and celebratory with planning, so can your Lenten season become that much more grace filled and spiritually transformative because of a little prayerful planning made in advance.

 

 

 

 

My Post Election Hopes & Prayers for America

 

I hope everyone has a friend like Verlon; I liked him from the very start! The first time we met over twenty years ago, we passionately argued for over an hour about “how to drink correctly” when, after running out of the white alcohol he was drinking, he turned and asked whether he could continue drinking from my bottle of dark. I promptly looked at him, surprised, and proceeded to explain to him that one simply does not mix white alcohol – vodka or gin with dark alcohol like scotch or cognac – when drinking, without the risk of getting both very drunk and sick! After arguing through a number of dart games for over an hour, I noticed that no one else but the two of us was “goin’ at it.” After Verlon left, the remaining guys all chimed in about how k-k-krazy Verlon was and that he’d argue with God about life and never back down if given the chance! I knew at that very moment that we would forever be polar opposites like fire and ice…

Polar opposites seemed like an understatement regarding the two of us. Twenty years ago I was recently married, entering a Masters program for theology and a lifetime rabid Bears fan whereas he was a sworn single man for life, an aggressive and outspoken atheist and, arguably the worst of all, a Green Bay Packer fan!!! The crew that we hung out together with, eventually got to the point of telling us, when the other walked through the door, that “they weren’t gonna have all that fightin’ and arguin’ over the pool table or dart board today.” Little good their warnings did, for like fire and ice when brought too close together, we were always trying to melt, evaporate or put each other out! Though no longer an atheist (Praise the Lord!), he is one of the few native South side African American Chicagoans who have always been a hard core Republican – prompting me to often ask, “Where does one find a person like this at?”

Fast forward to the last few months leading up to this year’s Presidential election. Whereas age, family, work and – maturity- has virtually eliminated the “crew” as it was and also our ability/willingness to drink as in our youth, we still call to talk and fight vehemently over almost everything under the sun. The times we do get together to watch a major championship fight, playoff game, etc., we now do so and enjoy what we have gathered for – even though there is STILL a healthy dose of fire and ever burning emblems present! The love, friendship and respect that we have grown into, despite our radical differences is what I hope materializes for America as President Obama’s presidency ends and President Elect Trump prepares to take over.

I wish that the radical differences between Americans revealed in this election, were only as real as the surface level kind like those found in alcohol preferences and favorite sports teams. I wish also that the media stated primary reasons for these differences, generally presented as American discontent and disillusionment with the political establishment, were equally shared by most non Caucasian, liberal and Democratic Americans. Some Americans believe that these differences are grounded in much deeper reasons that have – more than a little – foundation in the historical evils and ignorances of racism, sexism and classism. Differenceby s and reasons which, when fermented and allowed many jell as one through the language used by President Elect Trump, seems to have a historical basis in hate, especially in light of and after an eight year Presidency the first African American President!

Like drinking differences and differences in professional sport teams, I hope and pray that Americans can come together to love, share and respectfully disagree with each others in the absence of real hate, like on SuperBowl Sunday each year. I hope, that regardless of the polar opposites and differing motivations for championing who and what we do, Americans will somehow work, celebrate and go forward together in love, like that realized by rabid football fans during SuperBowl week or even like alcohol lovers at a party. I hope that the world, which has rioted and protested in an unprecedented manner over the election’s results, will sit back happily stunned at the willingness of Americans to join together in true friendship these next four years – and in President elect Trump’s Presidency. I hope and pray that, despite what “the facts” seem to reveal or how they can be interpreted and presented, that President Elect Trump will govern respectfully for all Americans. My prayer is that all Americans can join as one, “disagreeing but not being disagreeable,” to truly join as one nation in love, respect and true friendship, like me and my friend Verlon. This may seem like a dream to some, but big dreams can become very real realities with prayer and lots of hard work. Lets fall on our knees praying together in hope, working hard in the mean time, to truly realize a ‘greater America and world’ in the language of Trump’s campaign slogan.