On Christmas Peace & Joy

My prayer for every person reading this is that at some point during this Christmas season, you will  ‘find yourself’ experiencing and resting in the joy and peace of Christmas…

Experiencing Christmas peace and joy is a grace that comes from and rests in God alone – there is nothing one can do to earn or acquire it…   It is a divine gift that may or may not be experienced each year, for any number of reasons…

Unfortunately, these ‘reasons’ are because the adages that life ‘happens and takes no prisoners’ are often true: unforeseeable realities do occur which can steal or seemingly make impossible realizing the promises of experiencing Christmas peace and joy in any given year…

Either way, whether graced with Christmas peace and joy or not, all are STILL called to praise and thank God, for He is the Reason for this season…

By God’s grace, I have received and am STILL tasting Christmas peace and joy in my life this year – And in a nuanced manner unlike ever received before…  I know I am not alone…

Overwhelmed by and in gratitude for this gift, my heart now prayerfully ponders – yet already knowing – how this graced peace and joy has come to us this year…

How?

I suspect, simply as a loving response from a God who simply refuses to be out loved by His children… Perhaps, for some each year who’ve accepted Advent’s invitation to somehow and in some way prepare for Christmas, God allows their reservoir of insights and reflections to gracefully build up and fermented during Advent…

Can it be that just sometimes, all the – interior work in love of heart & mind – devotional prayers, reflections, resting and being with His Presence, extra or well prayed rosaries and Masses, etc., may actually move God’s Infinite Heart to sometimes simply love us back?   If only and so as to show us that, God responds to and can not be out loved!!!  

Can it be that sometimes God pours His inebriating gift of fine divine wine into chosen souls as Christmas joy and peace, simply as a “I love you back” gift moment?

How?

I believe many simply have been pregnant with God’s peace and joy this whole year…  Think about your year of Angelic Annunciations and invitations to ‘bear and bring Christ to others’ that you have – sometimes agonizingly and reluctantly said ‘yes’ to by grace – since last Christmastime…  Each tiny ‘yes’ nurtured that timely and holy, natural and spiritual gift that was growing within all year… a gift that was finally born now, during this season…

Like the first Christmas which ended Mary’s nine month pregnancy with the birth of Jesus, for many parents with children Christmas day is the end to an exhaustive year long period of physical, economic, domestic, religious, emotional, academic, etc. preparation and work. Parents, students and children are among those for whom this imagery is especially apt.

Christmastime can give birth to graced periods of rest and peaceful joy to these and for all who have travelled the year long roads of faith, struggle and sacrifice to grow. For many, I believe receiving this anticipated Christmas Peace is simply the holy fruit of their year’s faith filled and obedient labor.

However we may come to prayerfully and in gratitude, come to ascertain why God gifted us with Christmas peace and joy this specific year, one thing is for certain: this gift is not for us to hoard but to share!!

We know from the scriptures, that all of God’s gifts are given for the good of the community…

We also know and see, as revealed in the actual Gospel story of the Annuciation – when the  Angel came to Mary and she accepted God’s invitation to bear Jesus – that when accepting God’s gifts, we are often given opportunities to bringshare and give them to others during the Christmas season.

In Luke’s Gospel, the angel also shared with Mary that her elderly Aunt Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. The Living Gift of Love in her womb, Jesus, prompted Mary by charity – who was in her first trimester – to travel almost 3 days to both spend three months caring for her elderly aunt and also to celebrate the birth of the coming Messiah, Jesus…  We, like Mary,  must also be attentive to opportunities this season to be and to  share our Christmas gifts with others…

In some cases, sharing God’s Christmas gift may mean actively proclaiming and celebrating it with others – as in forcing ourself to go to THAT GOOD holiday party (ha, ha)!!!  In other instances it can and will also mean slowing down to quietly share it peacefully with others…

These are the cases where or when we are called to patiently be with or listen to others who are still seeking or are without Christmas peace and joy this year.  In these instances, we have to learn how to be and bring peace to others in our person/persona/presence and actions, and not always by using our word if we are to truly give them, by grace, a sense of our gifted peace…

I am almost certain that there may be an instance or two, when the Gift of Christmas Peace and Joy will prompt you to an unexpected and unprecedented act of kindness and charity – whooa now, you say!!!! It’s okay, go on, give that homeless person that $5 or $10 dollar bill or step up and give that relative what they DON’T expect but really need and want!!!!

Don’t be surprised if Christmas peace and joy in your soul creates gospel opportunities, like at THAT aforementioned Christmas party, when UNEXPECTEDLY your heart prompts you to converse with, befriend and maybe even mend fences with/offer forgiveness to someone from the past… You may even be so very tempted, to actually accept that 10+ year standing-but-never-acted-on family member’s party invitation this season…

In short, if you have been gifted with God’s Peace and Joy this season, please, please, please pass it on! Share it NOW, with others, while you got it…

Only in this way can…

…Christmas truly become a season for  ALL in our communities…

…God be truly given the glory, as the gift will grow and spread to other’s lives….

…The holy intent of the gift really be met: which is for it to flow freely to and through others before returning back to God its source…

Only in this way, can we authentically proclaim God as our Savior, walking as witnesses and disciples who are testifying to the reality of His Peace & Joy…

Let all receiving Christmas peace and joy this year, step forward to proclaim in word and deed, “…how even in a year like this, when  (fill in the ____________) happened to me… God has still walked with, carried and granted me His Peace…”

And so once again, my prayer for every person reading this is that at some point during this Christmas season, you will  ‘find yourself’ experiencing and resting in the joy and peace of Christmas…  By grace, when and if you do, please don’t hoard it, but be proactive and pass it on!

 

One take on ‘the core’ of Christmas…

Hands Exchanging Wrapped Gift

At its core Christmas – both spiritually and naturally – is about the sharing of holy love among family.

For it was out of Holy Love, that at the first Christmas, God shared His only begotten Son with humanity – inviting us to join God’s family and Kingdom – thereby setting the context for all Christmases to follow as a holiday of graced and holy sharing among family.

Throughout the ages and for over twenty centuries, our broken world of families has paused each year to gather, remember and live out anew God’s Gospel’s and that first Christmas. That Holy Night, God modeled and by grace now empowers the seasonal and sacred acts of giving, receiving and gathering to be family that we continue even today.

“…at the core of  family life and love

are found the sacred acts of

    Giving, Receiving and Gathering in Love…”

Throughout history, just as family life has always been experienced in a myriad of forms, individuals have always lived as members of multiple and different kinds of family units throughout the course of their lives.

My prayer this Christmas, is that in at least one or more of your core human families – your nuclear, extended, work, social, digital or religious/church families, etc. – that you have been gifted with and in love this Christmas season!

It is also, that you have or will be received in and with love at some point during this Christmas season!

Finally, my prayer is that some how and in some way, you have already or will experience the grace and joy of gathering and being accepted as family this Christmas season!

Have a Holy and Merry Christmas season!

By Grace may you share, be, give and receive together with the various families of your life in Holy Love this Christmas Season!

 

On Getting God’s Special Gift this Christmas!!!

Advent can be a very special time of the year for Catholics.  It is that brief time allocated each December for us to reflect on the past year as we simultaneously prepare ourselves to receive – in some way – God anew!  

Each year, God’s Christmas Gifts will come to us in a myriad of different ways over the course of our lives: from finding new or restoring broken relationships with family and friends, to getting that grade or job that we wanted, etc.   At every age and stage of our journey, whatever  gift God  gives or allows to manifest in our lives, we can truly rest assured that 1) they are the best gifts available for us…  2) they are given to be used in and for the community.

If you think about it, the best gifts are almost always those that will somehow address bothwhat we needand also what we want in life!!!  I believe that God, knowing our hearts and the journeys that we are currently on, seeks to give each one of us just such a gift each year – one that will address boththe desires of our hearts and the needs for our lives… 

Unfortunately, I also believe that each year some of us will fail to receive God’s Gift simply because we did not take or make the time in Advent to prepare for it…  To dream of and to see it… To hope for it…  To name, pray and to ask for it, even with that molecular sized faith of ours…

In Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet found in Matthew Chapter 22, it is at verse 11 where we find out that the one who did not adequately prepare and dress for the Banquet was thrown out!!!  

In the same manner, I believe many Christians are thrown out of God’s Christmas Gift line each year simply because they have refused to adequately prepare to receive it…   

Who knows, maybe they think that they DON’T need to prepare to receive God’s gifts…  Perhaps they are simply spiritually unaware and ignorant of God’s desires to actually give them gifts each year (really?)… Or, can it possibly be, like our own first-world-spoiled kids and grand kids, that they simply believe that they deserve and should be given these gifts, without preparation…

Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! Gobbling Up Gratitude Yearly!

As a high school teacher, I used to invite my students to do an extra credit assignment for Thanksgiving each year – but it was due on the Monday before Thanksgiving!!!   Since this extra credit assignment would elevate an ‘F’ quiz to a ‘B’ or makeup a skipped assignment, almost 95% of the class completed it!  What was the assignment?

Write a five paragraph Thanksgiving Reflection sharing: one paragraph explaining a gift you received in the last calendar year, one explaining an event you attended in the last calendar year, one explaining a new relationship (with a person or group) started in the last calendar year and one sharing a problem (it doesn’t have to be solved yet) that you encountered in the past calendar year.

In each paragraph, state what the event was and why you are grateful for encountering it this year.  End with a paragraph that summarizes, using an image, what this year has been like for you and briefly explain how it reflects your last year of life.

On the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we would spend the class sharing and talking about what we were grateful for. Each class always went the same way: after one student opened up the floodgates, the story sharing would continue until the bell rang…   Each year after Thanksgiving, students would share how doing this reflection and sharing it in class helped to transform their holiday.

Many students often discussed how their reflection on the past year allowed them to actually see their own growth (or their family’s) in the past year – something few teens get the chance to share and talk about openly. Some talked about how it helped them to see how others have helped and loved them throughout the year.

Just hearing others share the why’s they are grateful for the specific gifts they have received or about the new relationships started seemed to magnify our common understanding and appreciation of gratitude as we approached the holiday.  Surprisingly, a few students even remembered and mentioned it in their end of the year evaluations – seven months later!!!

Now as a chaplain, I continue to do as I used to do back then as a teacher: I do this reflection each year, for myself!  In doing so, I to have relearned that I must make and take the time to critically reflect on each holiday’s real meaning – each year – if I want them to remain meaningful as my life changes.  Here are my brief Thanksgiving Reflections for this year…

Gift:   The new Camry Hybrid that I purchased last November… After driving a 2002 Lexus for years, it was very nice to FINALLY move into this century automotively, with things like Bluetooth, a rear view camera, great gas mileage, etc.  I am grateful because this purchase reminded me of the blessings that new technology can bring to everyday activities like driving. The purchase has highlighted the importance of staying technically up to date – if just because of the safety considerations – as I age.

Event:  The six weeks spent caring for my wife as she recovered from a hip replacement surgery this summer.  It was an extremely important event for both of us and we are grateful to God for making it possible for me to attend and care for her. This period gave us insights into and a foretaste of the care we may have to provide for one another as we age.  This time has allowed me to ponder and to prepare for it more realistically now than ever before.

Problem: It surfaced this spring as I had to decide whether I was going to continue and complete the Chaplain Residency program in August – with an extra and unnecessary credit! Or, whether I was going to leave it June after securing my final credit for board eligibility and begin searching to find a job! Almost all, from my wife and colleagues to friends, suggested that I should stay and complete the program for various reasons, but God told me in prayer to leave it and walk by faith! So that is what I did…

…And what did God do?  God showed out and once again proved to me that standing on faith is the only way to go!!!   By the time my resident peers graduated out of the residency program in August, I had already been working for almost a month in the field as a chaplain…

New Relationship/Community: The St. James/Franciscan Health Community that I am serving as a chaplain. Since starting in August, it has been simply a joy to walk with and to serve both my peers and patients in this Catholic healthcare community.  I am soooo graced and also grateful to – once again – be working closely with others who are on firein loving the Lord and in serving His people!

Image: I envision myself as an opened book lying flat on a table – the Book of My Life – with roughly two thirds of the pages turned or read and lying to the left of the book’s spine… The right page of the book is beginning a new chapter in my life that includes aging, empty nesting and how God is now calling me to serve through chaplaincy and writing…

Each year I do this reflection, it always summarizes the year’s memories for me and slathers them with a heavy dose of gratitude…

By God’s grace, I am able to glimpse – a bit clearer in retrospect – just how God’s hand providentially guided me through yet another year. This is by far – one of the greatest blessings of this reflection, especially as we end the liturgical year.

I invite you to review your past year one last time– through the lens of gratitude focusing on specific gifts, events, new/restored relationships and problems…

In it, may you come to see more clearly how God’s Spirit continues to walk with you and has guided you,  protected and/or restored and healed you this past year…

May your holiday celebration flow from and rest in a true Thanksgiving, one nurtured by gratitude and grounded in the graces that undergirds your memories…

Who are the Blessed? Reflecting on Luke 14:15-24

“Who Are the Blessed?”

In Chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel, when a bystander comments that “those who will dine in the Kingdom of God are blessed,” Jesus furthers his insight about ‘the blessed’ by sharing the parabolic image of the Great Feast, in which all are invited.  Using this parabolic image, Jesus reveals a profoundly simple, yet defining characteristic about these ‘blessed people’ who will later be dining together in the Kingdom…

What is this simple, yet defining characteristic of the blessed? 

Well it is definitely not being the smartest, the richest, most articulate or socially connected in the community, that’s for sure…  Based on the parable, I believe it is simply their willingness and readiness to be used by God – right here and now – instead of waiting until later… In this reading, the key characteristic of ‘being blessed’ is having a willing and open heart that is centered on loving and building God’s Kingdom, instead of being focused on acquiring money, power, pleasure, success, etc.

This is why Jesus uses the examples of successful business persons needing to examine products and to complete purchases before coming to the Great Feast…   This is also why He uses the common example of newlyweds needing to attend to their spouse’s concerns before coming to the Great Feast…

…Both are examples of people with hearts that are so focused on, directed towards and consumed by their natural love(s), that these loves can hinder, enslave or even blind them from hearing, seeing and living out the FULLNESS of God’s call in life: to love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

In this parable, we see Augustine’s theology personified which talks about and defines sin as a warped natural loved, in which one inordinately loves the gift and not the Giver of gifts.

What are the take away messages from this Gospel?  

First, that even naturally good loves like successful businesses, families and marriages can possibly enslave and blind us from deepening our love of God and growing in holiness, if they are not loved correctly, that is, in God and through God.   The blessed know this and will guard their hearts choosing wisely what to love & how to love what they do, for they know that the heart is a doorway to the soul.

Second: in acknowledging that sometimes what we love and how we love are opposed to God’s will, we must learn how to let our heart and our loves be openly discussed, critiqued, shared and tried in the fire – of life by others and God.  Our heart open to love + time + relationships + grace =  a life that is purified, transformed and finally reflects God’s image to the world.  The blessed know instinctively that in offering their hearts and selves to the world, they will be broken and run over by many but saved in the end by Christ.

Finally, the last take away message from this parable is that ‘the blessed’ are NOT so because of the eternal reward they will receive in the Kingdom, but because of their willingness and ready hearts to struggle, work and to build God’s Kingdom here and now, each day.

Be Blessed!

How God Graceful Jolted Me From Meditation to Prayer

          In my early twenties I began rising early to spend morning ‘quiet time’ in meditation and prayer before starting my day. In reflecting on these initial years of morning prayer and meditation, I can see now how God led me through a series of H U G E ‘baby steps’ that formed the foundation for and set the table regarding the real prayer and spirituality that was to come later in my life.

Perhaps the first ‘baby step’ that God graced me with was creating the desire to pray daily in my heart! In my early twenties prayer for me was simply a discrete activity that happened only when I was scared, in trouble or very, very ill!!! Of course I also prayed when I went to Church, the problem was that I only went to church on Easter and Christmas at the time!!! The idea that prayer could be a dialogue and become a constant reality in my life was foreign to me.   I knew nothing about the power of prayer, the various kinds of prayers one can offer or of the many blessings that comes with developing an active prayer life, despite growing up with a mother and grandmother who were prayer warriors. Like many other fundamentals in life, gaining a REAL knowledge about what works in this area will only come by committing to and doing it yourself…

When I first started rising early for ‘quiet time,’ my focus was not on prayer at all but actually on meditation.  Believing that I could wrestle spiritual truth and power from heaven by force and hard work [a common Pelagian and heretical belief], my initial early morning spiritual forays were decidedly not Catholic or even Christian! Prayer was simply a twenty – second ‘intro into and exit out of’ my morning meditations, which focused on tapping into latent occult powers rather than getting to know God or growing in holiness. My primary motivations for prayer were Santa Clausian or Big Brotherish at best: to either get what I wanted or to cover and protect my ass! I was blissfully ignorant and completely indifferent to what prayer actually was, and especially what it could do to and for me…

However all this changed after experiencing some initial success in dabbling with the occult.  It was a series of   G R A C E D  events – realizing that my experiences of occult ‘gifts’ were actually ‘demonic contacts and portals to hell,’ beginning to lose control of my newly found ‘inner’ life, seeing what happened when I called out Jesus’ name during an occult meditation or when one had gone awry, etc. – that basically scared me straight back to Jesus and flipped my morning spirituality from meditation to prayer!!!   I immediately dropped those occult/new age meditations and refocused my spirituality – both my spiritual reading and my morning quiet times – back to Catholic practices centered on scripture and prayer.

Back in my early twenties I was like so many in the world today – I knew God existed and atheism was not my problem…   My problem was accepting all that came along with that belief in God – beliefs like…   …I should commit to and work at living morallyinstead of primarily getting paid in life, or that I should serve others with my gifts and talents instead of focusing on constant pleasure or becoming rich, etc..   As a child I had learned of God’s goodness, His expectations for us to love others and, via grace, that each can embody and live out of God’s love through our unique gifts to love and serve others. My problem was accepting as true the consequences rejecting God’s offer….

You see, despite growing up on Chicago’s South Side and accepting as ‘fact’ all forms of violence and evil against myself, people and community, I had somehow bought completely that secular and New Age teaching of universal salvation! This is the belief that God’s love is so great, that in the end it even overcomes God’s justice, effectively eliminating for us any and all moral, spiritual and communal requirements to love as God loves in order to be saved. In acknowledging the world’s evil as real, grace led me to also consider and acknowledge its source – Satan – as real. After dabbling in the occult confirmed both Satan’s existence and that the ongoing war for my soul was real, the reality scared the living #@$%&! out of me!!! Now accepting these spiritual realities as truths, by grace I refocused and flipped my morning spiritual script, elevating prayer to a place of prominence over meditation. From that time on, I have limited all meditations to classic Christian meditations which focuses on Christian themes and the Life of Christ.

I believe many good hearted people today are following the same path and making the same mistakes that I initially made – dabbling in occult meditations to unlock latent spiritual potentials so as to gain success in the natural world, instead of choosing the hard walk of faith.  This hard path of following Jesus and walking by grace and faith, transforms our spirituality and its goals to that of serving, giving oneself away and growing in holiness – by grace and in imitation of Christ.

Unfortunately, many Catholics erroneously believe as I once did: that they can – free of any risks because God is all good and all love – develop their own ‘blended spiritualities, which combine traditional Catholic spirituality and the New Age.’   In doing so, I believe many experience what I have discussed above: a subtle refocusing on what a specific meditation can grant one as a spiritual gift versusthe real growth in one’s understanding of and deepening life of prayer.  Please note how this New Age spirituality almost always focuses on gaining or developing some ‘spiritual gift’ in hopes of doing some future good.  It does not require ‘faith in  God’ or present moral requirements like loving others in our relationships or ‘using our gifts in a holy way’ as prerequisites for receiving these gifts.

In working to develop and created an adult Christian spirituality, please, please, pleeeeeeeease do not be fooled by the empty New Age promises of some special spiritual knowledge or of some special spiritual gift that one can receive via meditation!!!!  Please reject these empty promises of acquiring and using either special spiritual knowledge(s) or special spiritual gifts to gain ‘wordly’ success in exchange for loosing your soul!  In your spiritual reading, please select readings that examine what growth in prayer really looks and feels like instead of how you can ‘unlock and develop’ latent potentials [I suggest the Doctors of the Church].

In your meditations, always keep a scriptural focus and remember that Jesus’ life and the Gospels are unparalleled meditation material for the believer. Finally in your spirituality, please remember that you are NOT ALONE on the path, that you are ACTIVELY IN A WAR and that winning both our daily battles and the war only requires PRAYER! Without a doubt, prayer alone is the greatest spiritual tool in our spiritual toolbox, not meditation. It is prayer, not meditation, which opens, transforms by grace and frees our hearts to love and serve as God’s only Son has modeled for us… So, focus on growing in prayer during your spiritual quiet times and, continue to pray on my fellow Christian soldiers…

On St. Paul’s Invitation to Pray Always

 

In chapter five of the New Testament’s Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul invites the believer to ‘pray without ceasing.’  Have you ever considered taking this invitation seriously? As a Christian adult with an active spirituality and deepening prayer life, has learning how to pray without ceasingever been  – a real spiritual goal for you?   If not, don’t feel too bad or beat yourself up about it, because you are not alone!!! Many – erroneously – believe that it would be easier getting a PH.D in a foreign language than learning how to pray constantly!!!!  When seeing Paul’s invitation, unfortunately many Christians are all too ready to dismiss it as just ‘another one of those scriptural impossibilities,” like loving our enemies.

However, just like that ‘impossible’ commandment’s call ‘to love always,’ this is one of those Gospel invitations that, over time, can pick and nag at one’s soul…  Why is this so?  My belief is that as we spiritually mature, the Holy Spirit empowers and leads each soul to that place where, by faith and grace, the impossible now becomes very plausible, possible, and doable – like loving one’s enemies!!!  While most realize that loving our enemies will not beeasyto achieve or always enjoyable, most also come to understand that it [loving our enemies] is something we can grow in and come to live out by grace!

In the same manner, the Holy Spirit confirms that  – by grace and faith – it is also some how possible for us to comfortably and to constantly ‘walk, talk and live in communion with God.’  The lives of the Saints testify to both God’s willingness andour human ability to, by grace, eventually live and walk in union with God.

Even in acknowledging the power of faith and grace, you may still be asking yourself, “How is thispossible or even achievable? Can I reallyspiritually pull this off – with bills, relationships, school, kids, family-work & health issues plus my money sometimes being funnier than a stand up comic? Where or how do I even start?  How can I grow my present spirituality of sporadic and occasional prayer experiences to that of finding it as the living continuum and background to my daily life?”

I apologize for NOT having a ‘one size fit all’ answer to that question… …I sure wish that I did!!!  However, what I can offer to you now is the onespiritual practice and method that God gave me as I first pondered this question years ago.  God’s response to my question was the following: just repeat – throughout the day– the two fundamental ‘first steps’ of any basic prayer: a) remembering God and then b) being with/sitting in God’s Presence. My response to God’s answer led me to begin linking these two stepsto ‘specific daily activities,’ like eating, using the bathroom, walking to and from the car, etc..

In reality, many ‘do these steps naturally’ when walking into a church, preparing to read scripture or to pray before a meal, etc.. They allow us to ‘slow down and turn off’ to both the world’s exterior and our own, inner noise.   Now, with inner stillness and quietness restored, we are able to turn within and to prepare our hearts and souls to both ‘return to and to receive God’s Presence.’  Most of us start prayer with this ‘returning to and remembering of God’because unfortunately, we generally find ourselves in thatplace where we have forgotten or even outright abandoned God, as we busied ourselves throughout the day.

These steps are arguably, the two most elementary required for any real prayer. As such, despite each being a profoundly simple spiritual exercise, each one can also be astonishingly difficult or even impossible to achieve on any given day. For a variety of reasons, any given day it can be very difficult finding and taking that 3-4 minutes to quiet our minds and to still our hearts. It can also be equally as hard simply to remember and think about God on some days…

Some argue that they are simply too busy at work and in life to even tryintegrating prayer into and throughout their day…  Okay, I get it – kids, work, social life, family, health issues, etc. – your life is very full!!!  So… just use the dead & in-between-times of your day to pray!!!! Link these two basic prayer steps – remembering God and placing yourself in God’s Presence – to a variety of simple activities performed daily.  Over time, the practice will eventually train and make ‘normal to you’ both returning to and remembering God throughout your day…

As you learn how to remember Godand to be with God throughout the day, your ‘discrete acts of prayer’ will gradually morph into a constant dialogue, feeling, turning to and ongoing REAL LIFE experience of God!!!  You will look up one day, to find that somehow, you are now – by grace – living an experience of God, prayer and your spiritual life in/as a living continuum!

What could this practice look like in real life? Well, by linking these two steps to simple activities, [like walking to/from your car at work, before and at the end of every meal, when using the restroom and when walking down a specific corridor/staircase, etc.] your spiritually really begins to adds up!!!   Using these ‘dead times’ to remember God is like throwing spare change into a huge coffee can over the course of decades…  Here’s the math: add 2 (to and from the car just once) + 6 (3 meals a day x 2) + 2 (using the bathroom 2x) = ten + times you will find yourself practicing ‘returning to and placing yourself in God’s Presence’ each day.  Wow!!! For many, I bet that’s a heck of a lot more  ‘turning to and remembering God’ than they are presently doing!!!!!

In the good 2 or 3 month struggle (at the minimum) it will take to transform these dead times into regular ‘periods for prayer,’ you will find out more about yourself and your faith life than even you might reallywant to know!!!!  For instance, you will find out that you have more time than you thought available for prayer…  you will also come to find that your inner world (mind and heart) are actually much so more undisciplined than you E  V  E R  thought they were!!!

You will also come to see and know much better those topics which are most difficult for you to stop ‘thinking about’ or ‘feeling in your heart.’  As you experience the frustration of finding out how undisciplined your mind is you will also come to know – in a new way – the joy of KNOWING that you are soooo much more than just, your mind – as many think today!!!

I have not even begun to mention the insights, feelings, blessings and joys that God will lavish on you – simply because God won’t let you out give or out loveHim!!!!  It is simply impossible to ‘out work’ Jesus in trying to develop and deepen our prayer lives with God…

I am not going to mention the personal benefits and transformations – at work, home and in one’s relationships – that you will begin to experience, simply because nowyour mind and heart is spiritually growing (exponentially) as it becomes so much more disciplined and grounded in God’s love than it E V E R was before!!!

The fact is, that we are often ignorant of just how undisciplinedour minds and hearts actually are – until we try establishing a simple spiritual practice like this – remembering and sitting in God’s Presence seven to ten times daily.  With this practice, we will come to realize the importance of learning how to listen to God and for God in our lives…

…And, as we develop our spiritual ears to hear and to listen to God throughout the day – in nature, strangers, family members, in our feelings and through our random thoughts/ memories – somehow by grace, we slowly begin to believe in and experience that which we once thought, was impossible. Only by taking a leap of faith to hope, believe and work at creating that which St. Paul said was possible by grace – of praying unceasingly – will it become a reality in our lives.  May the Lord grant you the grace to consider making St. Paul’s invitation your spiritual goal for this year.

On the Recurring Nature Faith Struggles

“Water runs downhill and follows the path of least resistance, but the Christian follows Christ.”                                      Fr. Elias  O’Brien[1]

The path of faith is truly a hard path that must be repeatedly chosen by the individual over the course of one’s life.  It can not be imposed on another from outside the self.  Most attempts at forcing others to live by faith will rarely result in it being chosen and loved with one’s heart. Forcing another to live by faith can and often does lead to a blind and mechanical religious obedience that is simply meant to appease others.  This is why as parents I believe it is smart to ‘lighten up’ on the strict enforcement of absolute faith observance for late teens as they approach young adulthood.  The ‘strict enforcement’ years of spiritually parenting, from birth to around sixteen, should give way to a simple list of basic expectations – like weekly Mass attendance, tithing etc. until the child departs from the home.

As a parent of an older teen, I believe my spiritual parenting should manifest itself not in forcing obedience, but in myself living, modeling and explaining the faith and its challenges to  my daughter. Since children often wind up doingwhat we do and not what we say, we must model and explain how living the faith can positively impact life – as it also challenges us to grow and change. We can lead others to, model for and teach others about living by faith in Jesus, but ultimately making THAT choice to live it will often comes through an encounter with Him at some ‘critical point’ in one’s life.  That ‘critical point’ more often than not, occurs once our children have left the nest and are out in the world on their own.

What that ‘critical point’ or ‘points’ is/are for each person varies as much as each individual varies from all others. For consistently hardheadedpeople like myself, we often need manyof them before we accept God’s invitation to live by faith!!!   A ‘critical point’ is an instance in life when it takes no prisoners and whips your tail into submission, leaving you in that humbled and often broken down space with no where to go but to God.  It’s the proverbial, ‘atheist in a foxhole’ situation!

Common examples include when we are blind sided by that unexpected relationship breakup with the love-of-my-life, the flunking-out-of-college or unexpected firing from that ‘good job’, the busting-of-my-childhood-dreams-to-be-a-________________(fill in the blank), or the death of a sibling or parent, etc.   These examples of life’s ‘critical points’ reveals the utter fragility of our human life and nature, however, we STILL – like the atheist – have a choice in them. If accepted with, in and through the eyes of faith, they can also becomeinvitationsto ‘walk with God by and in faith.’

For some, they are invitations to begin walking the path of faith, for others, they are invitations to stick to the path of faith previously chosen and to trust – even now, and for others they are invitations to deepen our present walk of faith.  However and whenever a ‘critical point’ is encountered in life, the simple truth still remains: we must make a choice… That choice… And no one can force us to choose any of the paths that lie before us.  That choice can not be forced on us; we must make or remake it anew, in the present moment in the face of the current situation. Often the hardest choice is that of choosing Christ, not the downhill path of least resistance like water.

May God’s grace accompany you in making that choice in accordance with His will, to begin, to continue or to deepen your walk in faith for the first or the next time you encounter a ‘critical point’ in your journey towards the Kingdom.

 

 

[1]6/17/18   From a homily at St. Thomas the Apostle’s  Morning Mass in Chicago, Il.