Are You a Salt or Sugar of the World in 2019?

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According to Matthew 7:15, Jesus cautions us by saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” Frankly, I did not realize that adage originated from the Gospels. Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Thinking about this phrase I have come to realize that Jesus is speaking not only to humanity in general, but directly to me! I need to be consistent in my love toward God and my fellow man in order to avoid turning into that same false prophet I am called to be on the look-out for.

Jesus spoke with such clarity and used tangible examples. I am not going to “reinvent the wheel” regarding today’s topic. During his Sermon on the Mount discourse in Matthew 5, the Good Teacher charged his followers to be the salt of the earth. Above there are two pictures: one is salt the other is sugar. At face value both appear to be indistinguishable—similar to a wolf donning lamb’s fleece is camouflaged from its prey. Salt and sugar play a significant part in our life. Both add flavor to otherwise dull food. Excessive amounts of sodium and sugar lead to health problems. What I want to focus on is the dichotomous relationship between salt and sugar? Am I the salt or sugar of the Earth? Let’s see!

To preserve or not to preserve…that is the question

Aside from flavoring bland dishes or enhancing taste in already good meals, the main purpose of salt is to preserve food against deterioration. Salt draws out excess water from foods and dehydrates it. This process allows for increased storage times—especially in cases where food is in abundance and needs to be saved for later periods. Jesus used the example of salt because of its universal application and practical usage in daily living. He calls Christians to act as theological relish and preservative to society.

Sometimes a little salt goes a long way in improving the taste of food. We need not feel defeated if it feels like we are moving against a seeming endless tide of negativity from the world. Holiness is what all Christians are called to—look at the saints and the witness they provided a world in despair.

Deny Yourself and Follow Him

In high school, I took chemistry and became fascinated with the various atomic structures of elements, molecules, and compounds. I found a certain beauty in their ordering and design. Below are picture of the atomic structure of NaCL [sodium chloride- table salt] and C₆H₁₂O₆ [glucose- a common sugar].

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From a microscopic vantage point, a clear distinction may be made between these two common household items. Both are composed of entirely different elements [hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen in Glucose] and [sodium and chloride in salt]. Along with the having different building materials, sugar and salt are fashioned with different types of bonds—covalent and ionic respectively. Covalent bonds are stronger because the shared electron is what keeps the elements held together whereas in an ionic bond one element loses an electron to another causing one element to become positively charged and the other to become negatively charged such as in the case of NaCl or table salt.

In other words, the elements in table salt lose an electron to effect the ionic charge of the sodium or chloride molecule. Initially, losing may be viewing negativity [no pun intended!]. One may think that due to the stronger nature of the covalent bond in sugar that it should be preferred to salt. The New Testament does shed some light on the reality of loss and rejection. Luke 9:23-25 turns this notion on its head when Jesus says,

“Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. 24For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?'”

Christ’s words elicit a sense of paradox, yet allure within my mind. Interesting, I gain life when I serving other’s needs above my selfish desires. In my weakness I am stronger! Through a theological ionic bond, Christians act as holy seasoning to embolden our world.

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Instant Gratification Leads to Decay

Dentists frighten me. Not in The Exorcist or The Shining sort of way. Still, I get apprehensive, anxious, and move toward hypochondriac-like behaviors when the subject of dentists come up. Perhaps, it stemmed from my penchant as a little kid for losing my teeth quickly and easily. Or maybe my periodontal panic happened due to my need for braces– not once, but twice in my elementary school years! Regardless of where this toothy torment began, I recognize that when I limit my sugar intake life is much easier during my semi-annual check-ups.

Thing in Excess Destroys

Excessive sugar proves damaging to both our physical and mental well-being. Unhealthy attraction to sugar is simply a euphemism for the sin of gluttony. Our society suffers from the belief that instant gratification is better than self-denial or self-control. I am as guilty of this vice as anyone. I have made it a point to limit my sugar consumption and practice fasting– to help me both spiritually and physically. Jesus choose not to use sugar as an example to relate to Christians because he understood the appeal and temptation this food item poses for humanity.

While sugar and salt look similar in outward appearance the two are vastly different. How do we distinguish between the two? First, we learn to trust the authority of the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of these products. We trust that the packaging is correct. When a box at the grocery store says “SUGAR” it really is sugar and not salt. A second way to learn is more difficult– through the school of experience. Maybe sugar is housed in a clear container in your home. If you forgot to label it only tasting the substance will you determine if it truly is sugar and not salt.

How Will You Season the World?

The same may be said about temptations and goods sent our way. Oftentimes, Satan dresses up sin as “sugar” to enhance its allure. This makes is easier to fell prey to his trap. Our adversary disguised sin under the costume of a juicy fruit– see Genesis 3 for the story of the Fall. May we continue to rely on the tradition of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scriptures, and testament of the saints for guidance in our journey toward holiness. Let us be the salt of the Earth and preserve society! There is more to you than meets the eye.

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3 Reasons Lent 2019 is a War with Satan

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War, battles, and conflicts have occurred through the entirety of human history. From the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to the religious war of the Reformation era people do not get along. According to Guinness World Records, World War II took the most lives of any war in history!


Note: For more information please refer to the link in the resource section at the end of this post.


While the atrocities of the last century still linger, a large portion of society may not believe it is possible for our new more civilized 21st century to fall into such incivility, cruelty, or violation of human rights on the scale of the Holocaust. Philosopher George Santayana, warned ,”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Without knowledge of previous failing it is quite difficult to equip ourselves sufficiently for the battles that lie ahead. Today Catholics, and Christianity as a whole, around the world  celebrate Ash Wednesday— the beginning of the 40 day Lenten season. Being marked on the forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross, Christians will be reminded, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This phrase actually is a reference to Genesis 3:19. Shortly after Adam and Eve disobey God the side-effects of sin involve an earthly death. Going back to the start human history we get reminded that the Devil, the prime Adversity of both God and humanity, sought conflict and that spiritual war continues into 2019. This post will examine three specific reasons we know war with Satan is guaranteed this Lent!

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  1. For the Bible Tells Us So:  Genesis 3 involves the Fall of humanity from original communion with God into a separated sinful state. Verse 15 specifics points out the divisive between the offspring of the Woman (prefigured to be Mary) and the serpent (symbolic of the Devil). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 497, “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall.304 This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.”

While the victory over Satan is guaranteed through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the war still continues for Christians on an individual level. Salvation history from Abraham to Moses and David to John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. The manual on how to triumph over Satan began with the Bible and continues to be safeguarded by the Church. Next, we will examine how the Catholic Mass demonstrates the war is not over with the Enemy.

 

2. Learning from the Liturgy: While the entire Mass contains spiritual riches including the readings, homily, and reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, a simple prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, known as the collect, is something you may want to pay attention to next Sunday. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) as this to say about the Collect prayer,


54. Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds

time for war.jpg

War, battles, and conflicts have occurred through the entirety of human history. From the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to the religious war of the Reformation era people do not get along. According to Guinness World Records, World War II took the most lives of any war in history!


Note: For more information please refer to the link in the resource section at the end of this post.


While the atrocities of the last century still linger, a large portion of society may not believe it is possible for our new more civilized 21st century to fall into such incivility, cruelty, or violation of human rights on the scale of the Holocaust. Philosopher George Santayana, warned ,”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

gandalf prepare for battle.gif

Without knowledge of previous failing it is quite difficult to equip ourselves sufficiently for the battles that lie ahead. Today Catholics, and Christianity as a whole, around the world  celebrate Ash Wednesday— the beginning of the 40 day Lenten season. Being marked on the forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross, Christians will be reminded, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This phrase actually is a reference to Genesis 3:19. Shortly after Adam and Eve disobey God the side-effects of sin involve an earthly death. Going back to the start human history we get reminded that the Devil, the prime Adversity of both God and humanity, sought conflict and that spiritual war continues into 2019. This post will examine three specific reasons we know war with Satan is guaranteed this Lent!

for-the-bible-tells-me-so-htbnt-mber-blrlin-ibatae-8858900

For the Bible Tells Us So

 Genesis 3 involves the Fall of humanity from original communion with God into a separated sinful state. Verse 15 specifics points out the divisive between the offspring of the Woman (prefigured to be Mary) and the serpent (symbolic of the Devil). According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 497, “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall.304 This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.”

While the victory over Satan is guaranteed through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the war still continues for Christians on an individual level. Salvation history from Abraham to Moses and David to John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. The manual on how to triumph over Satan began with the Bible and continues to be safeguarded by the Church. Next, we will examine how the Catholic Mass demonstrates the war is not over with the Enemy.

Learning from the Liturgy

While the entire Mass contains spiritual riches including the readings, homily, and reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, a simple prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, known as the collect, is something you may want to pay attention to next Sunday. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) as this to say about the Collect prayer,


54. Next the Priest calls upon the people to pray and everybody, together with the Priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions. Then the Priest pronounces the prayer usually called the “Collect” and through which the character of the celebration finds expression. By an ancient tradition of the Church, the Collect prayer is usually addressed to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit,[56] and is concluded with a Trinitarian ending, or longer ending, in the following manner:

• If the prayer is directed to the Father: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever;

• If it is directed to the Father, but the Son is mentioned at the end: Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever;

• If it is directed to the Son: Who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The people, joining in this petition, make the prayer their own by means of the acclamation Amen.

At Mass only a single Collect is ever said.


Read the following Collect from today’s Ash Wednesday Liturgy and pay attention to the theme of war/conflict with evil:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 

I highlighted key words and phrases that stood out to me as the priest recited the Collect. Those of you steeped in video-game culture will recognize the term campaign. Defined as a “series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified type of fighting” to here Lent referred to as a campaign is intriguing. Prior to this year, I never truly would think of fasting as a WEAPON against spiritual evil! I have always known the benefits of fasting for growing in the spiritual life, however, hear phrases such as “may be armed with weapons of self-restraint” really takes the spiritual battle and makes it more tangible and digestible to understand.

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Advice from Saintly Soldiers

 Along with Sacred Scripture and the Mass, the saints throughout history support the notion that Lent is a time of war with the Devil. According to St. Philip Neri, “There is nothing the devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer.” Prayer is listed as the first of the trifecta of weapons to overcome evil during Lent. St. Alphonsus De Ligouri also spoke of the how gluttony (the inverse of fasting) acts as a doorway to other sins, “He that gratifies the taste will readily indulge the other senses; for, having lost the spirit of recollection, he will easily commit faults, by indecent words and by unbecoming gestures. But the greatest evil of intemperance, is that it exposes chastity to great danger.”

St. Teresa of Avila had this  to say about fasting, “Our human nature often asks for more than what it needs, and sometimes the devil helps so as to cause fear about the practice of penance and fasting…My health has been much better since I have ceased to look after my ease and comforts.” For the sake of brevity, I will stop here. As you can see though the saints in unison with the Bible and Sacred Tradition reiterate the importance of fasting and prayer to battle the Evil One! Be careful to not boast of your Lenten sacrifices as Jesus warned in today’s Gospel. Instead, ask the Holy Spirit for the virtue of humility as you don the spiritual armament of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in the War on Satan this Lent!  

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Resources/Related Links:

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/highest-death-toll-from-wars/

https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/06/07/satan-past-present-and-future/

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/general-instruction-of-the-roman-missal/girm-chapter-2.cfm

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/02/28/say-yes-to-the-no-practicing-self-denial

 

 

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Say YES to the NO—Practicing Self-Denial

The Italian mystic St. Paul of the Cross boldly said, “Be as eager to break your own will as the thirsty stag is to drink of the refreshing waters.” I emphasized the phrase break your own will as that imaginary stood out as quite audacious. To break the will seems such a violent thing to do to yourself.  After researching a bit on this saint, I learned that Paul was the founder of the Passionists a religious order dedicated to a penitential life in solitude and poverty. Since, Paul of the Cross lived in isolation from the world do his words hold any meaning for a regular, ‘normal’ people who hold down jobs, have a family? Should not “super-holiness” be reserved for priests and nuns?

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2013, “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We are coming up on the perfect season to increase our holiness— Lent! The Lenten season is modeled after Jesus’ 40 day time in the wilderness. Because Jesus is God, he was able to stave off the allures of the Devil. His witness showed that both praying and fasting disable the weaponry of the Evil One. The practice of self-denial is absolutely essential in growing in virtue! Saying YES to God through prayer allows us to say NO to those unhealthy pleasures of the world—through the practice of fasting.

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I struggle mightily with the pressures of the world, and those self-imposed. Anger, resentment, and impatience come as a result of succumbing to the things of this world instead of first saying YES to God and praying. Self-reflection and renewing a practice for saying YES to pray helps begin a habit of saying NO to the temptations of impatience, pride, greed, envy, power-control, etc. St. Francis de Sales affirms the message of Paul of the Cross, the Catechism and Christ by stating, “The more one mortifies his natural inclinations, the more he renders himself capable of receiving divine inspirations and of progressing in virtue.” Be fast to practice fasting. If you struggle at first remember to say YES to God (pray!) in order to say NO to yourself.

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Fasting from Fast Food

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The idiomatic phrase ‘you are what you eat’ usually comes up at the beginning of each New Year. Health experts, fitness coaches, doctors, and well even your family and friends may have resolved to eat better and more nutritionally in 2019. Last month, my wife gave birth to our fourth child [Yes, the fourth is finally with us!]. Along with the excitement of bringing a new child into the world comes an added responsibility that one more person is dependent on us to learn about the world and grow as a productive, respectful, and loving citizen. the fourth is with us

Our daughter received the Sacrament of Baptism this past Sunday—the entrance into the life of grace as an adopted child of God. Not only do we as parents have the duty to provide for her physical well-being, more importantly, we are charged with the [awesome] obligation to be the first educators of the truth of the Gospel. During the Baptismal Rite the celebrant (priest or deacon) proclaims the following to the parents and godparents of the child,

On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring him (her) up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his (her) heart.

If you are not aware of the Christian Baptismal ceremony than I certainly hope you have learned a bit our the significance of that event. However, you may be reading this through the lens of an already faithful Catholic and this news of Baptism may not be too novel. “We already know the significance of Baptism! What does ordering a juicy cheeseburger have to do with Baptism anyways?!”

Once a person becomes a member of the Church the sacramental life of grace only just truly begins. In order for me to be an effective teacher and protector of the Catholic faith in my household I need to increase in holiness myself. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving” (CCC 1434). 

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Among the seven most poisonous sins includes the vice of gluttony. Gluttony refers to a type of greed, specifically in relation to food and drink. Excessive overindulging in food leads to all kinds of issues—for both the body and soul. Saint Josemaria Escriva plainly describes the ill effects of gluttony by stating, “Overeating is the forerunner of impurity.” Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) if  we cannot take care of ourselves physically what hope do we have for spiritual progress?

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Both my wife and I started an exercise program called The 21 Day Fix. While that title speaks of a fix, a more appropriate moniker would be reorientation. Spending three weeks of portioning our meals, ensuring a balance of all the food groups, and regular fitness regimen will help us re-focus our daily living towards health and wellness. My wife challenged myself and her to give up fast food throughout the week. Parents will children know how easy it is to fall prey to the temptation for the quick and ‘easy option’. This is especially true when schedules get crammed with school and work obligations.

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I implore the Holy Spirit for the virtue of temperance to aid me in staving off the alluring sin of gluttony. I also challenge you to fast from a thing in your life that may have consumed your lifestyle— it need not be fast food, perhaps, you suffer an addiction to social media, gossip, or material possessions. Whatever temptations you face in your life please know that I am with you in this journey of holiness. More importantly, our loving God knows our struggles and desires to help us overcome then. Please feel free to share your particular temptations and/or resolutions to grow in holiness in the comment section. I greatly desire to have a conversation with you and will pray for strength in your situations!

 

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Spiritual Cave Dwelling

According to the American author Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”  The end of October was a period of consolation in my spiritual journey. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same is true for the 11th month of the year.

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November is a tough month for me personally. Three years ago, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage and all the horrifying feelings resurface during this time of the year. Along with the memory of our loss, the dimming of daylight [especially when we turned the clocks back an hour on November 5th!] provides the perfect recipe for despair and desolation. When it comes to spiritual attach by the Evil One there are generally two general methods to combat him: actively fight through prayer, good works, and reception of the sacraments or secondly retreat from the vices that tempts us.

Today I am going to reflect on the latter strategy. I feel like am called to retreat to my spiritual cave to try to eliminate opportunities for future temptation as to help me avoid further sliding into despair.

Throughout the Bible God calls individuals to experience a conversion in solitude and reflection before granting them power and authority to lead others to Him. For the purpose of eliciting imagery [as I am a visual learner and tend to like symbols] I will refer to such an experience as my “spiritual cave dwelling”!

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  1. Exodus: Throughout the Book of Exodus God calls individuals and His people as a whole to conversation during a trip in the wilderness. Exodus 2-3 details Moses flight from Egypt to the rural land of Midian and his eventually encounter with the Divine presence under the form of the burning bush. God also utilizes a period of spiritual “dryness” to help transform the idol worship of the newly freed Israelites to trust in His Divine Providence. Over a period of forty years, the Israelites had to wander the wildness as reparation for violating the first commandment.

Perhaps, November is my own personal “time in the wilderness” to help me grow in virtue and eliminate bad habits.

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  1. Jesus’ Fasting in the Wilderness: The Gospels placed Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert at the start of his public ministry. Along with calling to mind Moses’ and the Israelites period of conversion, Jesus fasts not because he needs it [because he is without sin!], but rather to be a model of the Christian spiritual life. Sometimes we need to practice self-denial to grow in holiness. While I usually associate fasting relating to physical items such as food or drink, I recently had a thought. What if God allows for consolation to be rescinded from us in order to permit authentic spiritual growth and trust in Him? In my youth I experienced growing pains. Why should be not be different when I grow in my spiritual life? St. Ignatius of Loyala addresses the same point in the Seventh Rule for Discernment of Spirits. He says,

Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it [my emphasis]: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.

November 2017 could be a spiritual schooling from the Holy Spirit allowing me to wean off the need and desire for God’s spiritual candy of consolation that I too quickly “gobbled up” [along with physical candy 🙂 ] in October!

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  1. Athanasius the Bold: During the 4th century A.D., the Catholic Church faced arguably its worst and most pervasive heresy in history—Arianism. Stemming from the false beliefs of the priest Arius, proponents of this belief denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. According to Arius, “There was a time when He [Jesus Christ] was not.” Confusion was so rampant that the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea was convened at 325 A.D. which pronounced Arianism as official heresy. While officially the matter was theologically solved, Arian agents still remained throughout the magisterial network for the remainder of the century.

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To combat this heinous heresy, God sent St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, to champion authentic truth of the Holy Trinity.  However, testifying to the truth came with a price—a bounty on Athanasius’ life not once but five times! As a result he went into hiding each time. He led his diocese clandestinely through the protections of monks.  St. Athanasius stands as an exemplary model of obedience to God. He could have despaired and lamented his situation, but instead he remained steadfast to the truth!

The easier path this month would be for me to languish in my despair. Job promotion denials, stress at work, and daily anxiety abound.  How did Athanasius prevail with his life on the line? Reading his work On the Incarnation provided me clarity. Athanasius states, “Anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”

Periods of desolation are unavoidable on this side of eternity. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an actual cave to escape the entrapments laid out before me by the Devil. While going away on a sudden sabbatical would be irresponsible to my family duties as husband and father. Warding off vice through removing myself from opportunities to sin is not the same as skirting my vocational calling. Fasting and prayer will be powerful weapons for me the remainder of the month as I strive in my pursuit towards holiness.

Thank you for sharing!