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.

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.