How Fasting in Lent Will Help You Climb a Spiritual Mountain

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The half way point of  Lent is a time period when  many people begin to cave into their Lenten promises. I know for me it is a struggle. I gave up negativity and fast food. Though in giving it up I find myself with a lot of extra time. I have spent more time in prayer with God during these forty days.

The Latin word for Lent, quadragesima, literally means forty days! However, this number does not mean much to the average person unless they understand the significance of the number forty in Scripture.  

God and Geography 

The number forty is  also attached to particular geography: mountains and deserts. When one thinks of these places words such as desolate, barren, alone, and harsh might come to mind.

God seems to have a close presence to individuals in the Bible in these settings. Take Moses for instance, in Exodus 24:18 when he stays on the peak of Mount Sinai for forty days and nights. It was here that Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments.

Elijah and Mountain

Elijah also met God upon a mountain, after traveling for forty days and nights. On the mountain, Elijah faced strong winds and an intense earthquake. But he continued to hold steadfast in faith and met God in a quite whisper.

How often do we let the “noises” of daily life distract us from God?

In this modern world, people hate the quite and constantly surround themselves with “things” (cellphones, internet, television, etc) to keep from silence. 

Importance of Fasting

During Lent we are called to a life of fasting. While Christians should always be fasting in some degree throughout the year, the Church urges us to reflect upon it more deeply.

The first thing Jesus does after His Baptism is to fast in the desert for forty days and nights. Probably weak from hunger, He is tempted by the devil. But Jesus fails to give into worldly pleasures. It is this example that all Christians are called to in Lent. By giving up things from this world, we can center our life back onto Christ.  
Mount Sinai 

Though it may feel like you are on a mountaintop or in a desert thirsting, know that Lent is not a time for punishing yourself with guilt. In fasting one learns to give up unnecessary and sometimes harmful objects or habits and grow into a closer relationship with Jesus.

Hopefully at the end of Lent, we can all say that we truly experienced God in an deeper way, like Moses and Elijah did on the mountaintop! 

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St. Francis de Sales on Gratitude

This Lent I am revisiting the great spiritual treatise of St. Francis de Sales’— Introduction to the Devout Life. Reading a couple meditations each day provides me ample time to reflect on the wisdom of the timeless truths of the Gospels as given to the world by God through St. Francis.

During the height of a stressful work day, I gazed at this book on my desk and resolved to take 5 minutes of my break to read the third meditation.

Everyday is a gift form God

 

 

 

 

 

 

The theme for that meditation was titled: On Gifts of God. Below is an excerpted section from this third meditation:

Considerations:

  1. Consider the material gifts God has given you—your body, and the means for its preservation;
    your health, and all that maintains it; your friends and many helps. Consider too how many persons
    more deserving than you are without these gifts; some suffering in health or limb, others exposed
    to injury, contempt and trouble, or sunk in poverty, while God has willed you to be better off.
    2. Consider the mental gifts He has given you. Why are you not stupid, idiotic, insane like many
    you wot of? Again, God has favoured you with a decent and suitable education, while many have
    grown up in utter ignorance.
    3. Further, consider His spiritual gifts. You are a child of His Church, God has taught you to
    know Himself from your youth. How often has He given you His Sacraments? what inspirations
    and interior light, what reproofs, He has given to lead you aright; how often He has forgiven you,
    how often delivered you from occasions of falling; what opportunities He has granted for your
    soul’s progress! Dwell somewhat on the detail, see how Loving and Gracious God has been to you

Affections and Resolutions:

1. Marvel at God’s Goodness. How good He has been to me, how abundant in mercy and
plenteous in loving-kindness! O my soul, be thou ever telling of the great things the Lord has done
for thee!

2. Marvel at your own ingratitude. What am I, Lord, that Thou rememberest me? How unworthy am I! I have trodden Thy Mercies under root, I have abused Thy Grace, turning it against Thy very
Self; I have set the depth of my ingratitude against the deep of Thy Grace and Favour.
3. Kindle your gratitude. O my soul, be no more so faithless and disloyal to thy mighty
Benefactor! How should not my whole soul serve the Lord, Who has done such great things in me
and for me?

Reflection

What probably gave me most pause from the above except was St. Francis’ second resolution he charges: Marvel at your own ingratitude. Wait, what? Marvel at my epic fail of thanksgiving this week?! Yes, you read St. Francis’ words correctly. Pondering your own failure to be thankful for the gifts God bestowed upon you is a necessary step towards improvement of an attitude of gratitude.

It did not take me long reflecting about my own spiritual ineptitude. Most of my suffering and negativity this week stemmed from failure to simply thank God. Thank Him for the gifts— however big or small— He already provided me.

Gratitude helps to stave off greed and pride. I am thankful that I decided to spend a small amount of break-time in prayer. I am grateful for the example of holiness St. Francis de Sales. Finally, I am thankful for the gifts of my faith, family, and friends that God grants me daily!

Related Links

Gratitude is Our Oxygen

St. Francis de Sales: Franciscan Media

Introduction to the Devout Life


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Ash Wednesday: Why Christians Wear Dirt on their Foreheads

Ash Wednesday

Death. Self-sacrifice. Fasting. Self-denial. These are the dominant words  and phrases for the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday begins the 40 day period before Easter Sunday. Our consumption culture goes against the practice of denying the self of earthly pleasures.

According to Thomas Merton, “Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and , the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.” Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. This article will examine a couple reasons for why Christians wear ashes upon their foreheads.

Memento Mori

Latin for “remember that you must die” memento mori is the motto for Lent. Christians are called to die to selfish tendencies—sin. Before receiving ashes we hear the priest tell us, “Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.” This is a reference to Genesis 3:19.

God reminds Adam and Eve that they will eventually die. That reminder is extended to us every Ash Wednesday. Thinking about our death should not lead to morbidity. Death is a transition from this life to the next. St. Rose of Viterbo said it well, “Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious.”

Call to repentance

Along with reminding us of our mortality, ashes point to the need for conversion. Throughout the Bible ashes were used as an outward sign for the need for interior repentance.  In the book of Job, the main character refers to ashes several times. Job 2:8 states, “Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.” To close the book, Job calls to mind his need for renewal by uttering, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Another example from the Old Testament comes from the Book of Esther. Learning of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews, Mordecai, chief adviser to the king, performed acts of penance including tearing at his clothing, donning a sackcloth, and wearing ashes.

The prophet Daniel also used ashes in similar fashion. In Daniel 9:3 the prophet proclaimed, “I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.”

Free and No Obligation

While Ash Wednesday is among the more popular days of the liturgical year it is actually not a Holy Day of Obligation. People pack churches lack sardines in a can. Why? Probably because you get free ashes. People love free stuff.

The temptation of Ash Wednesday is to parade yourself for the rest of the day as a holy individual. Certainly holiness is a goal for everyone, but we have to be careful of displaying piety for the sake of publicity. Jesus touched on this topic in Matthew 6:5: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.” The key is mindset. Keep God first and yourself last.

Ash Wednesday meme

Be witnesses to the faith. Don’t be afraid to wear the sign of the cross on your forehead.  Ash Wednesday is a great tradition in the Church. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit to guide you deeper in prayer. Fast and give alms to increase in virtue. May you have a blessed Lent!

Related Links

About Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday: Catholic Answers

Reflections on Blessed John Henry Newman’s Lenten Sermon


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Wish you great blessing during this Lenten season!

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Book Review—Finding God in the Mess

Wintertime is the perfect time for beginning the Lenten season. Cold blustery winds remind us of the harsh tactics of the Devil. Barrenness across the land  represents an outward appearance of humanity’s destiny without Christ in our lives.

Lent is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Time to draw closer to the Mystery of the Cross. One great way to help draw yourself closer into conversation with God is through meditation on the daily events in your life. How do God work in the ordinary? The book Finding God in the Mess: Meditations for Mindful Living is a great simple book to prepare your heart and mind for God. Co-authored by Jim Deeds and Brendan McManus S.J., this published by Loyola Press focuses on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spirituality.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

The book is divided into four themes: process of life, pain, struggle, and growth. Each section begins with a quote by St. Ignatius. Meditations are concise which are great for daily reading and reflection questions follow each reading.

Scattered throughout the book are meditations that implement lectio divina (divine reading)—a traditional Catholic way of reading scripture to draw closer to God. Passages of the Bible are referenced or quoted and the reader is asked to ponder the characters, actions, and scenes.

No matter your mindset this book will be an invaluable resource this Lent. According to Deeds and McManus, “Wounds are important sources of our stories” (p. 70).  Lent is a time to prepare for the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Sin separates us from God and others. But this is hope. We can always repent. Ask for forgiveness.

Finding God in the Mess provides short meditations based on Ignatian spirituality. Reflection questions coupled with  beautiful pictures  help to draw the reader deeper into the mediation. I suggest getting this little book for yourself or as a Confirmation gift

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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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