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 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 quiet 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.
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 a deeper way, like Moses and Elijah did on the mountaintop!
Editor’s note: Article originally published on March 17, 2017.
My wife and I completed an intense bout of pre-spring cleaning this past weekend. Spring is a time of renewal of body and soul. A clean start.
Spring Cleaning for the Soul
I am a neat freak. One of the three tenets my blog is based on is organization. I am passionate about decluttering, sorting, and cleaning dusty crevices in my house. Why do I lack the same fervor when it comes to my spiritual life?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 797, states,
“What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.”243 “To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members.”244 The Holy Spirit makes the Church “the temple of the living God”.
Teresa of Avila on Cleaning the Soul
This imagery of the Holy Spirt being housed in the church is not new. St. Paul clearly states this in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:16 to name just a couple verses. However, it was through the intercession of St. Teresa of Avila’s writing that I especially encountered this truth recently. She begins her greatest work, Interior Castle, with the following divinely inspired words, “ I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions.”
Teresa’s description of the soul is easy for me to understand. Yet at the same time her writing illustrates the complexity of our human condition.
Throughout the Interior Castle the doctor of the Church takes readers on a spiritual journey by examining how in navigating through the castle of our soul we are able to grow in closer union with God.
Without a thorough examination of oneself and spiritual guidance we are not able to recognize the graces God grants us daily. God can clean out the “dustiness” of our souls. Just like how my home needs frequent seasonal cleanings, the Church in Her wisdom has seasonal cleanings as well for us to grow in holiness.
My goal is to take a few minutes each remaining week in Lent to reflect on St. Teresa of Avila’s words in Interior Castle. I hope you all prayerfully consider to join me in this journey and cleanse your own soul of the “dustiness” of sin and temptation.
According to the English Catholic priest-cardinal John Henry Newman, “Growth is the only evidence of life.” Life is then most apparent in the springtime with the bursting and budding of flowers, trees, and whistling of birds. Winter precedes this era of new life. Is it not interesting that within nature newness of life springs forth from the cold, dark, dreariness of the death of winter?
Currently, we live in a time of transition—March, the chimeric month whereby it begins calmly like a lamb and ends ferociously like a lion or vice versa!
A Transitional Season
The Holy Spirit guided the Early Church in placing Lent during the lowest point (CLIMATICALLY SPEAKING) of the calendar year.
Lent is a time of wandering in the hope it leads to the wonderment of Easter Sunday. Saint John Henry Newman began his Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent with this key reminder, “The season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts forty days, in memory of our Lord’s long fast in the wilderness.” When you actually think about it, wintertime can be a source of humiliation as well.
Tired from the lack of sunlight and seemingly endless shoveling you may oversleep your alarm clock and rush out the door to work. In that panic of celerity, you may have slipped on a patch of ice and fell quickly on your butt— all the while your careful neighbors gaze at you! Well, this actually happened to me, except instead it happened in the busy parking lot of a grocery store! I felt quite foolish and embarrassed. Our 40-day sojourn in the “desert” is a call to unite ourselves in prayer and fasting to Christ’s ultimate humiliation—His violent death on the Cross.
Excerpt from Newman’s Lenten Homily:
For what we know, Christ’s temptation is but the fulness of that which, in its degree, and according to our infirmities and corruptions, takes place in all His servants who seek Him. And if so, this surely was a strong reason for the Church’s associating our season of humiliation with Christ’s sojourn in the wilderness, that we might not be left to our own thoughts, and, as it were, “with the wild beasts.”
Humble Yourself this Lent
Again, the holy priest guides us to focus on Lent as a time to link our personal embarrassment with Jesus’ humble time in the desert. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son Jesus. Jesus endured human things like hunger, thirst, and temptation. Fully human. But fully divine too. Christ never succumbed to the wiles of the Devil. Saint Newman reminds us to humble ourselves before the foot of the Cross.
May we endure the harsh realities of this wintery world through the refreshing oases of the sacraments this Lenten season. Read the Saint John Henry Newman’s entire sermon here: John Henry Newman’s Lenten Sermon.
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on November 28, 2017.
“The soul’s true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud,” St. Maria Faustina wrote in Divine Mercy in My Soul. I am a proud man. Proud in the sense that I strive for greatness daily. I’m proud of my accomplishments and growth as a writer.
There are periods in my life when pride is healthy—I am confident in the gifts and blessings God gave me to lead others to Christ. Lately, I have been veering closely to the sin of pride. I look inward at my accomplishments as if I am the sole reason for my successes. I need to be constantly reminded through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Mass that humility of heart and mind leads to true success. My best writing does not stem from my intellect.
From my experiences I have learned that listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit along with relying on the wisdom of Mother Church and Her saints provides the greatest fruits in my writing and personal satisfaction. I want to share three ways that one can remain relevant as a Catholic blogger [or really a Catholic evangelizer in general!]
Testify to the Truth
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2465-2466,
The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”255 Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.256
In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.257
This seems like an obvious statement. Of course, any Catholic needs to testify to the truth. It should go without saying…right!? Perhaps, testifying to the truth is a self-evident statement. Regardless of whether it is obvious or not, it is always good to be clear with our mission as followers of Christ. I am as guilty as anyone of preaching the Word of God, but not living it to its fullest extent. I struggle with anger, pride, gluttony, greed, doubt, and sloth daily. I need to renew my mission as an evangelizer of the Good News, and it starts with me being reminded to remain steadfast to the truth that has been safeguarded and passed down by the Catholic Church.
My former self used to fall into theological rabbit-holes of speculating random questions about Catholicism that did not truly lead me to an authentic love of the Triune God. I removed myself from occasions to unhealthy theological speculation by leaving groups on social media that did not lead me to greater love of the Catholic faith!
Trust in the Truth
Along with testifying to the truth professed by Jesus Christ and passed on down through Apostolic succession, I need to TRUST in that truth. My penchant toward rationalism and analysis sometimes leads me to scrupulosity in matters of challenging Catholic doctrine. I desire to know all. That is quite prideful! The desire for knowledge about God and Catholicism is not bad in and of itself. When I fall into the extreme of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge that it becomes problematic. Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman’s famous quip helps give me perspective. He stated, “Regarding Christianity, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”
I do not have all the answers. In fact, the Catholic Church does not have all the answers either! Some things are left to ponder. God is ultimately a mystery beyond our total comprehension. However, the Catholic Church does have answers to all the most important questions like: what is the purpose of this life? Can we know God? How can we grow in relationship with God and our neighbors?
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us one of the most important things Catholics should ponder daily: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Truth housed within and safeguarded by the Catholic Church is universal. It applies to everyone across the globe—and across time. Different approaches need to be made to teach the truth to different audiences. I have learned that people are at different stages of belief. Even in my own life I need to read various passages of Scripture and diverse writings of saints to help me growth in my spiritual life. Variation in teaching and communication applies to writing as well. I have developed my tone of writing to be less severe.
When I become a father and learning that our children have special needs opened my eyes to the message of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Our youngest son has cognitive delays and requires weekly special education. This challenged my previous waying of looking at the world in black and white.
You Gather What You Sow
So was my Catholic faith. I believe the Holy Spirit provided me these difficulties to plant—and later harvest—a creative spark in my writing! The Good News is akin to an acorn that develops from a small seed to a magnificent and beautiful oak tree. The Church wants the world to realize that truth is able to develop, and we are still in the process of learning about how to fully describe God’s revelation.
According to Dei Verbum 8 the Council Fathers declared,
The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
Change is inevitable. Since I started blogging several months ago, my writing and approach to publicizing my message has changed. Saint John Henry Newman wrote, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” I have to constantly shift my gaze upward to God. My successes come through the power of the Holy Spirit not my own power.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 13, 2020.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori proclaimed, “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.” Sitting before the Eucharist in awe and wonder is something faithful Catholics have been doing for centuries.
Whether you are a faithful or lapsed Catholic, here are seven reasons why you need to be going to Eucharistic adoration today. Don’t worry you still have time to go now (either before or after reading this post).
Unites You to the Sacrament of the Eucharist
According to St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” Now. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. His body, blood, soul, and divinity under the appearance of a simple host. Sitting in Eucharistic adoration lets you draw closer to the Mystery of the Eucharist. How easy is it for us to dismiss this reality? But by driving to a local church, you are making a sacrifice. A sacrifice of time. The same sacrifice you make on Sunday.
Increase in Holiness by Bathing in the Light of the Son
People enjoy tanning in the sunlight during summer or visit tanning salons. Going to Eucharistic Adoration does for your soul what a tanning salon does for your skin— it transforms it. Too much physical light burns. If you stay before the light of the Son too long your sins will be identified and destroyed.
Eucharistic adoration is a precursor to confession. St. Clare of Assisi proclaimed, “Gaze upon him, consider him, contemplate him, as you desire to imitate him.” Standing in the “Sonlight” will lead to you think like the Son. You will be more patient. Kinder. Gentler. More obedient to your parents, spouse, priests, bishop or other spiritual authorities in your life. Bath in the light of Son and be prepared for noticeable results.
Removes You from Temptations
Along with leading you notice your sins; frequent attendance of Eucharistic adoration will remove you from tempting situations. Think about it. Simply being before the Blessed Sacrament takes you away from the worldly things. Occasions of sin. My parish’s deacon, who is currently in seminary to become a priest, said there is always a choice between God and the world. Christ or the cell phone. In the times of greatest temptation seek our Lord! The Good Thief on the Cross gazed loving at Jesus during his greatest temptation. He could have easily fallen prey to despair. Why didn’t he? Because he looked to Jesus to take away his temptations and limitations.
Helps You to Examine Your Conscience
The longer you remain in the presence of God the more you will reflect on your failings—your sins. Remember being in the light of Christ will make your sins more recognizable.
Provides a Reboot to Your Spiritual Life
We all need a reset. Our lives get busy. Busy lives lead to tiredness. And tiredness causes us to give into temptation and sin. Think of sin as a virus that corrodes our soul. Without a proper defense the virus (of sin) will attack us more often and successfully cripple us spiritually. Eucharistic adoration acts as a kind of system reboot to our spiritual lives. Praying in the light of Christ brings us countless graces that will be effective in repairing us and warding off sin. Take time to rest. Rest in the pew. Sit (or kneel) before the Lord and ask for renewed strength and energy to reach the big spiritual reset— the Mass!
Prepares You for Sunday Mass
Adoration gets you into the right frame of mind for celebrating the Mass. Spend your time reading the upcoming Sunday Mass readings. Investing time into learning about the theme and reading of the Mass is helpful later on especially when you have younger children who can cause distractions on Sunday. Praying before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic adoration reminds you of the primary focus of the Mass—Jesus. The readings, rituals, and liturgical garments are all a means to point us closer to the Son. Gazing upon the Blessed Sacrament reminds us of Jesus’ words in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. ”
Because the Church Recommends It
A seventh reason to attend Eucharistic adoration is simple. The Catholic Church tells us to go. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1380,
The Church and the world have great need of Eucharistic adoration. Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and contemplation full of faith. And let us be ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease.
That reference is actually a quote from Saint Pope John Paul II in Dominicae Cenae: Letter to Priest, Holy Thursday, 1980. I am a big fan of John Paul II. He is amazing because of his close connection to God through the sacraments. I trust in the wisdom of the late Polish pope. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith (CCC 1324). Jesus is truly the Bread of Life. Like the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph, and other New Testament figures, we too see Jesus on a consistent basis. No, he will not be donning sandals or his mighty epic beard during Eucharistic Adoration, but we will still experience the same love. Try to find at least 15 minutes this week and visit our Lord at a local church. Better yet invite a friend or family member to go with you!
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Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 20, 2018.
To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.
Over the course of the past week, I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children. I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month―and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.
I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure, I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.
Suffering Bears Fruit
Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,
43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.
When Suffering Redeems
The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said,
“Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.”
I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on June 16, 2017.
Emotions ran high in my family yesterday. I struggled with a stressful situation at work and my son fell off his bike and scrapes his knee—a meltdown ensued. Feelings are part of the fabric of what it means to be human. I am not proud to admit this, but I have greatly failed in keeping my feeling in check during the past couple weeks.
On my drove to work this morning, words from a Christian song over the radio jogged a thought I had about prayer and our communication of God. I pondered how natural it is for humanity to complain when things do not go your way. How do we overcome the sin of complaining? Listening to the song lyrics I realized the answer is incredibly simple—cry out to God!
Using examples from the Scriptures, excerpts from Saint John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, and my own personal experiences I give 4 reasons why “crying out to God” is not complaining but rather an essential part of the spiritual life.
Lesson from Lamentations
Latent within the Old Testament, Lamentations is not among the first books that pop into my mind for having spiritual insight. I usually think of Proverbs or the Book of Wisdom. Lamentations is a collection of five poems that act as a woeful reply to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Both individual and communal prayers of sorrow are found in this book. For my purposes today I will only focus on Lamentations 3:19-31 (click on link to see the full Bible passage) which contains an individual lament.
The inspired writer of Lamentations speaks directly to me in this passage. His words, “Over and over, my soul is downcast,” calls to mind my state of mind and relationship with God over the past several weeks. I was downtrodden and I frequently wanted to give up. Interestingly enough, I actually pondered the fact that there is a glimmer of hope in my situation. The writer of Lamentations is prophetic again when he states, “I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him. 25The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; 26It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance.”
Crying Out to God in Psalm 22
According to Mark 15:34, Jesus cries out to the Father in similar fashion as the book of Lamentations and myself when I encounter the stresses of life. The evangelist writes, “And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”* which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
These words used to befuddle me.
I have since learned that Jesus was invoking the psalmist’s lamenting words in Psalm 22. The psalm begins as a sorrowful prayer to God but similar to Lamentations 3 it ends with hope [see Psalm 22:23-32]. Reading these words, the Holy Spirit connected the dots for me on this subject. Verse 30 references homage toward God on bended knee and I already was planning on talking about how lament leads to kneeling before God even before I read Psalm 22!! The movement of the Holy Spirit is mysterious yet true.
Dark Night of a Soul
Saint John of the Cross was a great mystic of the Catholic Church during the 16th century. His spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul is as relevant today as it was when it was originally written. I will only focus on the dark night of the purgation of our senses and tie it to the theme of crying out towards God. The major characteristic of this dark night is the soul finding no pleasure or consolation in the things of God. I find myself occasionally in a “spiritual rut” where I do not receive consolation or experience direct joy from God.
St. John tells us to not worry,
“It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love” (Chapter X no 3).
Like the writer of Lamentations, John of the Cross, reminds us purgation is necessary to increase our holiness and awareness of God.
Skinned Up Knees Leads to On Bended Knee
This week my wife and I added training wheels to our son’s first bicycle. We taught him the fundamentals of pedaling and coaxing him when he got frustrated because they were “too heavy”.
Things were going well. He gained momentum and cruised on our neighbor sidewalk for about 50 feet.
Suddenly he hit a raised section of the sidewalk and toppled off his bike. Tears immediately streamed down his face. My wife added a Band-Aid and after a few minutes of reassurance had him get back on the bike to try again.
How does this common childhood experience relate to the spiritual life? Oftentimes we get metaphorical “skinned up knees”. Gossip in the workplace or stressful family events damage our relationship with God. True growth is not without pain—both in learning to ride a bike and deepening our spiritual life. Having undergone lots of skinned up knees in learning to ride my bike it makes it easier for me to be on bended knee in prayer to thank God for going through the school of trials to learn more about Him.
The difference between complaining and lamenting is the former lacks the virtue of hope. Complaining is more self-centered in orientations whereas prayers of lament focus communication with our Divine Creator. Do not be ashamed to cry out to God but remember that while it is a necessary step in the spiritual process– it is only the beginning. May we always ask the Holy Spirit to lead us toward prayers of thanksgiving after a season of lament!