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

divine kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

On the Blessings of Ordinary Time

Most of the Liturgical Season is surprisingly "Ordinary!"

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

What is so special about ordinary time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

What To Do When Easter Comes Early!

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They model for and remind us that:

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

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

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

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

On Using Old School Methods for reaching New Year’s Resolutions

digital_resolutions-100019466-largeWhat will be new for you this New Years? New Years Day is the day and week where many begin their chosen New Year’s resolutions for the year. I, like many others, have outlined my resolutions in terms of the goals I hope to achieve this coming year. Irregardless of the form that one’s resolutions may take, each one of us knows in our hearts that the “boot camp” starts this week!!! For this secular equivalent of our Catholic Lent to be successful, we must some how tap into and use those tried and true “old school methods” if we are really gonna, by God’s grace, reach the goals we have set for ourselves this New Year.

 

 

One old school method useful for creating the new you in 2016 is the practice of planning how we are going to meet these goals. Now that you have identified your goals, take this week to research and plan how you will achieve them this year; a week of good planning can help one avoid the potholes and mistakes the other fifty-one week of this year. Planning will break your goals into bite-size chunks that can easily be integrated into and worked on each day. With planning, the vision and hope of our goals becomes piecemeal; our vision is shifted and we can begin to focus on the daily tasks at hand, worrying less about our list goals. Common examples include planning how to save $50 a week on food by couponing, catching sales, shopping multiple store, planning meals for the week, making bag lunches, etc.. The concrete work of implementing the nuts and bolts of our plan creates a new perspective, experience and vision in our lives that somehow and in a sneaky kind of way, replaces what was once there.

 

 

Another old school method applicable for reaching our 2016 New Year’s resolutions is that of making and accepting some willful sacrifice in order to make these dreams a reality. Any intrinsically good and graced goal that we have ever dreamt of, from family and career to our financial goals, has only been achieved when we have willfully crossed that the bridge of sacrifice. Making “the sacrifices” does not guarantee us success; there are many who have made the “worthy sacrifice” but have fallen short… Yet, even most of these will still agree that to hope for true love, a viable career or a loving family – without making and accepting the sacrifices these realities calls for, is simply to truly dream and guarantee its deferment! By taking a week to plan how you will attack your resolutions for this year, you will find that it will clearly identify and uncover exactly what you will have to sacrifice in order to reach your goals for this year. Knowing, having and living with an, “ its time to suck it up and tighten my belt” attitude is necessary if our 2017 goals are going to be different than this year’s.

 

 

A final old school tool useful for creating the new you and reaching your 2016 goals is that of constantly praying over and for your 2016 resolutions. Even though we know that prayer is the most fundamental of all the spiritual exercises, how often do we employ it as a long-term method for reaching our New Year’s resolutions?   If the power of prayer can change the world, what can it do for our resolutions? Over the years, I have found that by consistently praying over my New Year’s resolutions, miracles can happen… By prayer, my selfish, misguided and outright bad resolutions have been identified, changed and/or adjusted in the light of grace… By prayer, many selfish motivations that I have had for good New Year’s resolutions were eventually identified, purified and transformed by God’s grace… In my morning prayer over the years, I have had to both remember and humbly share/bare my failed/ignored/tough New Year’s resolutions to God, Who graciously renewed my faith in, strengthened and restored my fractured hope in and deepened my love in this yearly practice as a Strugglin’Catholic who is prayerfully seeking daily growth in holiness. Yes, prayer can and does make not only a difference, but often it is the difference!

 

 

As we begin 2016 this week, let’s first thank and praise God for the gift of seeing another New Year! As we, in gratitude for this gift, make our final considerations for New Year’s resolutions this week, the Strugglin’Catholic prays that by God’s grace, your resolutions are in accordance with God’s will. Please pray with us, that the Holy Spirit will guide each of us in the choosing, planning, sacrificing for and praying about our specific New Year’s resolutions for this year.