How to Navigate through Spiritual Deserts You are Guaranteed to Encounter

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Saint Pope Pius V once declared, “All the evil in the world is due to lukewarm Catholics.”  Definitely a strong statement made by a leader of the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation Pius V’s reflect his historical context. The 16th century includes fiery religious debates and heresies running amok. Although Pius V lived over 500 years ago, his claim that lukewarmness is connected to evil remain ever relevant.

Arguably no more climate on earth is more deadly than a desert. Dictionaries define a desert as “arid land with usually sparse vegetation especially such land having a very warm climate and receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of sporadic rainfall annually”. While technically cold deserts exist in the Arctic and Antarctic, the commonality for all deserts is the existence of little rainfall. I got the inspiration for writing on the topic of deserts and spiritual dryness during Sunday Mass. In his homily, the priest spoke of the need to trust in the Lord always. He referred to the intense cold temperatures and lack of hope in the season of winter and that while Easter will come that we have to go through the season of Lent first. 

Just as a physical desert lacks the comforts of water so too a depletion of spiritual consolation exists during periods of spiritual aridity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2728,

Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have “great possessions,”15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.

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Being stuck in a spiritual “rut” feels hopeless. The monotony of the spiritual desert presents problems that the Enemy utilizes to trap humans. Dryness in the spiritual life is still a blessing from God. However, how you react to existing in a spiritual dry spell may be a greater blessing or lead to great decay. I wish to expand on the three “travel tips” presented by the Catechism and how to traverse the metaphysical monotony.

  1. Humility: According to St. Vincent de Paul, “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.” Satan knows well that prayer leads to a deeper connection with God and that when spiritual comforts cease [for a period of time] that is the prime time for him to sow and later reap doubts in us. Along with humility being able to fend off the Devil, it is a vital virtue that allows us to recognize that we do not have all the answers [or the complete set of directions] in life. Be humble enough to continue to ask God for help during spiritual dryness!

2. Trust: The Catechism wisely listed trust after humility as a means to overcome spiritual aridity. Without the gift of the virtue of humility trust in someone other than ourselves would not be possible. Being stuck in a particular stage in life, especially the spiritual life, appears to be hopeless. It is easy to rely solely on emotions and feel like you want to give up prayer, sacrifice, good works, etc. Surfing my Facebook newsfeed I came across the following meme that relates to self-doubt amid trials:

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While this refers specifically to the most “difficult” days, I would add to be mindful to remind yourself that even on the most ‘boring, mundane, and uninteresting’ of days, weeks, or months to keep the faith and trust “that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

3. Perseverance: The third way to combat monotony in the spiritual desert is to persist. Keep up your daily prayers even when you do not feel any comfort, presence, or joy from God. According to St. John of the Cross, “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” Sojourning through the dryness of the spiritual may seem like you lack the ability to gain any insight about God, but realize persisting when all seems ordinary and arid will only serve to guide you through that spiritual desolation.

St. Padre Pio famously quipped, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” Be humble enough to trust that the Lord will guide your through times of current and future spiritual deserts.

3 Reasons Humility is Practical and Reliable

Opening my email inbox I noticed a correspondence from a resume-building website titled Your Resume Review is Complete. Quickly, I clicked on the email to see how I compared to other job seekers. Needless to say, my feedback shows that I have much room for improvement. My initial reaction to the review included feelings of dejection, inadequacies, and defeat. On top of these negative feelings my toddler son began a 10 minute tantrum. “Today is going to be one of those days,” I thought.

Author Erwin McManus wrote, “Attitude is an accurate monitor of where we fall on the spectrum of pride and humility.” Normally, my virtue-vice needle points closer to the pride side. Today was different though. Although my natural reaction tended toward despair which is a product of pride, that soon dissipated towards a desire to learn and improve on my resume — I realized I’m not the smartest when it comes to professional resume building!

According to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” The old me would tend toward despair with any type of constructive criticism. My primary focus has been to improve my spiritual life– I need to limit my impatience, pride, and anger when things get outside of my control. Reading St. Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosaryenhanced my devotion to Mary. Aside from Jesus, no other person exhibits humility as much as the Queen of Humility. Along with spiritual benefits of humility this virtue provides practicality and reliability to daily life.

1. Time-saver: Ralph Waldo Emerson plainly wrote, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” The times I most often get angry is when something does not go MY way. Whenever I have the prideful audacity to believe that I am in 100% total and utter control of my day is usually the day that nothing I want gets done. Humility is the antidote to pride. Patience is also a cousin of the virtue of humility. During the more stressful parts of parenting, I noticed that whenever I exercise patience I actually end up saving time in the long-run.

2. Improves relationships: Along with saving time, the virtue of humility helps and strengthens relationships. One does not need to look far to see how the virtue of humility helps. The department for the company that I work for holds a monthly meeting to detail the progress over the past 30 days. Together with the business achievements, managers recognize employers who excelled that particular month. Without exception, the workers who receive Team Member of the Month have been dutiful and humbly going about their work without the promise for recognize. Such individuals have strong relationships with their peers.

Not only does the virtue of humility apply to healthy and successful profession relationship, but it is essential for family life as well. St. Teresa of Avila declared, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” All the books on marriage preparation or counseling will strengthen your marriage as much as your willingness to humble yourself before your spouse. St. Paul details the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. While he does not specifically use the word humility it is clear that exercising that virtue will only benefit spouses.

3. Buoy during Life’s Storms: Together with helping you move on from stressful situations easier and fostering relationships, the virtue of humility acts as a benevolent beacon to guide you through all of life’s storms. A common reaction toward the pressures, woes, and calamities of life is to flee. Developing the strength to withstand the maelstroms of misery takes time and patience. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote, “Humility is the foundation of all virtues.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux recognized the importance of humility as well as he famously declared, “The three most important virtues are humility, humility, and humility!”

From my own experience the instances where I weathered the storms best occurred whenever my wife and I were both on the same page–sharing the same goal and purpose. Through humbling myself to recognize the merits of her insight was I able to lift her up [and she lifted up me] during the tumultuous times.

No matter what stage or circumstance you are at in life the virtue of humility will always be reliable and practical–on a daily basis! A trusted resource I use whenever the tentacles of pride try to take over my life is the Litany of Humility. Be prepared for this powerful prayer to change your life!


O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
 provided that I may become as holy as I should…

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

 

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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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!