3 Easy Steps to Grow in Holiness

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Christianity in the 21st seems to get more difficult as each day passes. Unfavorable Supreme Court decisions, hostile media reporting, and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse scandal makes the desire to follow the teachings of Christ quite tough. Jesus even promised that the way to Heaven would not be easy. In Matthew 19:24 he declared, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” On average, camels grow to the shoulder height of 6 feet high and the length of about 9-10 feet. Typically, the khaki-colored creatures weigh well over 1,000 pounds. The eye of a needle is quite small, just slightly greater than the width of the thread that goes through it. Certainly, Jesus’ example was only hyperbolic when it comes to entering Heaven! Right?!

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The late Catholic nun Mother Angelica quipped, “Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few – it is the obligation, the call, and the will of God for every Christian.” Holy individuals make it appear easy to live the holy life. However, when we try it ourselves it is quite different. Not to downplay that difficult road toward Heaven, because it truly is difficult, I have learned that in some ways holiness need not be as cumbersome as we may make it to be. I wish to share three tried and true steps to grow in holiness.

1. Pray Daily: You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!” you can be sure you have already begun.’ 10
St. Josemaria Escriva. Praying is plainly described as talking with God. Relationship involves dialogue: speaking and listening. Prayer involves a two-way conversation. If you are unsure what to say to God, maybe begin your prayer simply in silence–waiting for God start. Some people feel more comfortable petitioning God for help. That is also a great way to start prayer. Just be sure to allow time and be open to God’s reply as well.

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2. Learn from Scriptures and Saintly Writings: Another easy step to increase holiness is to open up a Bible or read a spiritual work by a saint. The key to this step is not the length of time, but instead the frequency and consistency by which you acquaint yourself with spiritual writings. Schedules are busy with work and family obligations taking up a large chunk of the day.

Begin with small and reasonable goals with how much time to spend on spiritual reading. Maybe your daily routine allows for an hour, maybe it only allows for a few minutes. Start will just reading for 5 minutes a day. You will be surprised how much your week will improve with insight from those holy men and women!

3. Small Sacrifices: The third thing to incorporate into a daily routine is sacrifice. True love involves giving yourself for the other. It involves sacrifice and reduction of selfish tendencies. Authentic change and orienting your life towards holiness will not happen overnight. In fact, it will take time and likely a lot of time. Be prepared to grow in holiness for the rest of your life!

Because of the long term commitment, I say let’s start small with manageable tiny sacrifices. It may simply involve refraining from a sarcastic comment when your spouse, friend, or neighbor annoy you. St. Josemaria Escriva, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.'” That would be a small, but still sacrificial moment. Once you have the daily routine of sacrifice for your loved ones day pat then you may focus on larger sacrifices.

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Starting, or perhaps restarting, your spiritual journey need not be impossible. Developing a daily habit of prayer, frequent spiritual reading, and looking for the good of the other [and the Ultimate Other] through small sacrifices will help your increase your virtue and transform your life.


“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

“So be holy  just as your heavenly Father is be holy.” –Matthew 5:48

 

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3 Tips to Fend Off the Winter Woes

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Arctic winds blasted much of the Midwest last week. I saw an article that mentioned many cities faced temperatures lower than even Antarctica this time of year–yes you heard me right Antarctica! Along with the frigid weather, having a newborn in the household limits the amount of places we are able to travel. Cabin fever set in.

Cramped quarters, cold temps, and little to no change in daily routine make the perfect recipe for depression to set in. Every year the months of January, February, and March present this challenge. Sadly, I always seem to be surprised when the winter woes arrive. I yearn for warmer days and hope on the horizon. Below are three simple tips to help you fend off the winter woes.

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1. Nothing Lasts Forever: it is important to recognize that all things in life–good or bad– are temporary. If this winter appears extra long it is helpful to remind yourself that winter will NOT last forever.

2. Reflection: The average American is flooded with technology on a regular basis. It is rare for me to see a person without a smart phone or iPad in tote. Heck, I am actually writing this post on my own iPhone! The constant stream of screens and technology provide only increases during the winter when going outside to enjoy is not feasible.

A habit that I have re-started this winter is to make time for silent reflection. Cardinal Sarah wrote in The Power of Silence,

Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness” (80).

Reading the Scriptures for a few minutes to begin the day greatly helped shift my mind off the dreariness of the cold toward the hope found in Christ. Silent prayer need not take up half of your day, but perhaps simply start with only five minutes of silent reflection.

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3. Exercise Your Muscles (and Patience): Along with taking perspective that winter will not last forever and taking a small amount of time for prayer, exercise is another key strategy to fight off depression in during the cold and dark months of the year. If your 2019 resolution was to get healthier, today is no better time to remind yourself of that goal! The great American founder and third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson spoke of exercise in this way, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”  If the cold keep you from walking outside, think of ways you could walk around your home or apartment. Create a circuit between the rooms of your living space. Perhaps, travel to the grocery store and walk up and down the aisles–even the aisles of items not on your list.

In addition to winter being a time to remind yourself to exercise physically, it is equally important to strengthen yourself spiritually. Use the ‘annoyances’ of the season as chances to grow in patience. Allow yourself to pray for patience when bad driving pervades the streets or when your children drive you crazy because of being cramped up indoors. According to the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Ask for the gift of patience from the Holy Spirit. See how the winter doldrums might be transformed into something beautiful!

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Unity Over Division

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News from the past weekend exhibited just how much division and separation exist in the world. A Buzzfeed story about a group of Covington Catholic High School students taunting a Native American leader Nathan Phillips displayed only part of the entire picture. Things taken out of context and contentious headlines incite quick reactions and rash judgments. I am not writing today to provide an opinion on which of the parties involved were right or wrong. I am not a judge–by trade or by ontology. The title of True Judge is resolved for God alone.

What I do know for absolute certainty is that unity is preferred over division. Through dialogue, patience, and perspective taking greater consensus will be reached over arguments both large and small.  Why does discord exist? Why do people of various creeds, nationalities, races, and backgrounds fight? The simple answer is due to fallen human nature. Because of Original Sin, humanity disharmony entered the world. Can society provide unity? Can governments legislate unity? No, granted some bills may help promote unity, but such sinister division, tension, and strife is a matter of the human heart.

Unity begins in the domestic family unit, but not merely the civil family structure. Instead only through the sacrament of marriage is true unity able to be fostered between husbands and wives and between siblings. According to Saint Pope John Paul the Great, “[Speaking of marriage and family] In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery.” In fact, the first miracle in the Public Ministry of Jesus occurred at a wedding feast. Changing the water into wine helped save the newlyweds from a stressful bind, but more importantly Jesus demonstrated the importance of the institution of marriage.

Since the birth of our fourth children in late December, my wife and I experienced both intense unity, but also some division. Although this may come as a newsflash, most likely not, newborn babies tend to not sleep very well at night! Our daughter is not different. Successive days from minimal or less than minimal sleep limits the capacity for my wife and I’s patience.  Without the aid of God, my marriage would be fruitless and joyless. This is not an indictment on my wife, but rather myself. In my natural state, I am not the most gracious or joyous person. However, through the sacramental graces received in matrimony God provides couples the grace to increase in unity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church backs up this point as well,

By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.”147 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children (CCC 1641).

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Authentic unity only can occur if the human heart is healed from the destructive effects of sin. Legislation and social media awareness can only go so far in promoting unity. Baptism is the doorway to the supernatural and unitive life of grace. That is only the beginning holiness begins in the home. Please pray for married couples and their children to be open to receive the graces to love more tenderly, increase their patience, and capacity to forgive!

 


“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” —Saint John Paul the Great

 

3 Thoughts about the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

C.S. Lewis wrote, ““There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” There is no better time to put things into perspective than the present–and especially at the beginning of the New Year. Whether you had a good, bad, or simply indifferent 2018 now is time to focus on bettering your life.

While I certainly could come up with a laundry list of New Year’s resolutions the birth of my fourth child could make that challenging. Late night diaper changes and gazing at my beautiful newborn throughout the day take up a lot of time already. If you are pinched for time like me, then I propose an easy, yet profound resolution for 2019–daily pray and reflect upon the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila.

The Holy Doctor of the Church has held an important role in my life. Her life and writings provide an excellent standard for me to live my life by and now I have a daughter named after St. Teresa! Below is the short prayer I plan on reciting and pondering daily. Additionally, I have included a few thoughts about this brief and mighty prayer.


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.


1. Fear Not: Fear gets in the way of growth. Being afraid causes one to hesitate and question the blessings in your life. Reading the words of the Spanish saint always provides comfort.

2. Power of Patience: St. Teresa’s assertion that “patience obtains all things” prompts me to pause. Patience is a virtue that seems undervalued compared to courage, justice, and faith. However, all problems in my life could either resolve themselves or lessen greatly if exercised patience more. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 736,  By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear “the fruit of the Spirit: . . . love, joy, peace, patience,  By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit.

3. Keep Perspective: The Carmelite sister reminds us that worldly things last only temporarily. Only God is eternal. The stresses of 2018, yesterday, and even an hour ago will appear like a blink amid the gaze of the Beatific Vision.

The wisdom of St. Teresa of Avila will be guaranteed to change your life. Already in the short time of reflecting on her words I have been able to better keep things in perspective. Make 2019 your best year (until 2020 and the years that follow!) yet!


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices

Mother of God Help Us

This past year has included its ups and downs–my grandfather passing away in January 2018 and our pregnancy starting off scary and ending with a beautiful daughter. Through all the changes, stresses, joys, and everything in between my faith life buoyed me. What buoyed my faith life and deepened my relationship with God was my increased reliance and petitioning to Mary, Mother of God for help and intercession.

The Universal Church celebrates the Feast of Mary as Mother of God. It is a feast to remind us that while Jesus is fully God he is fully human as well. The only difference is he never sinned. However, being fully human Jesus endured hunger, thirst, tiredness, and suffering. The closest way to the Son of God is through a frequent petitioning to his mother Mary. St. Louis de Montfort once wrote, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.”

May your new year start off with peace and joy. Below is a short prayer to recite daily as a simple means to grow your Marian devotion.


Mary, our model and mother, by your obedience and patience you have taught us how to be true children of God. Please help us by your powerful assistance to overcome all our weaknesses, and to fulfill perfectly our tasks in life. 


Red Wagon Ruminations

The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you, “What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness?? Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, may still be correct—the answer I was looking for was a red wagon! 

 

Over the past week we celebrated Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. One of the gifts that my father-in-law gave to my kids was a red wagon. I assembled the crimson coach while watching Sunday football. When my two year old woke from his nap his eyes lit up and shouted, “Wheels, wheels!” So far this week, I have taken the kids for a ride at least 5 times.  The following exchange between my 5 year-old daughter and I demonstrates how a simple children’s toy brings happiness.


 Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Daughter: “Freedom means I am happy.”


J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, Little by little, one travels far. His words perfectly summarized our wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times. 

Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainly exceeded expectations and brought joy!