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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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 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.