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Archive for February, 2013

Power of Fasting

Lent is the 40 day period before Easter in which Catholics fast and try to become more aware of the areas of sin in their lives.  In this way we imitate Jesus, who spent 40 days in the desert without food; Jesus knew Satan would appear to tempt him, so he strengthened himself first by fasting. At the end of the 40 days, the tempter came and promised Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence” Matthew 4.  Weakened as he was by the heat and lack of nourishment, Jesus carelessly admonished Satan to “get away”, reminding him “The Lord, your God shall you worship, and him alone shall you serve”.

(And we Catholics think it’s really hard to simply fast from meat on Fridays)!  During Lent we’re supposed to have one main meal, with two smaller, simpler ones.  The tradition in the Byzantine Rite is even more severe, as many give up both meat and dairy the entire 40 days of Lent.

We all face temptations to sin; we may be tempted to lie about our mistakes, we may be tempted to spend too much time and money shopping, some drink too much wine. And with the internet and lewd images on TV, it’s hard to fight the temptation to peek at tantalizing images on the screen.   So fasting helps us fight those temptations that lead us astray.  And remember God’s promise in 1 Corin. 10:13 “No trial has come to you but what is human.  God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it”.

Why should we fast?  Our motivation shouldn’t be to lose weight.  Instead, our purpose should be more self-sacrificing; we should offer up our fasting as a means to become more loving and compassionate, to grow in holiness, and for the benefit of the poor, the oppressed, and for the conversion of friends and family.  Self-denial increases the virtue of self-control, and aids us in detaching from the allurements of the world.

Our passions can overtake us, but by fasting we are giving God a bigger place in our heart, and allowing him to perform Cheeseburger French Friesmiracles and extraordinary wonders. Fasting empowers us, allowing the Holy Spirit to operate more fully within us, helping us to grow in holiness, making our prayers more effective.  By drawing away temporarily from the pleasures of the world, such as a juicy cheeseburger and crisp french fries, and eating more simply, we draw closer to Christ, and deepen our intimacy with him.

We all have people in our lives in need of God’s healing and deliverance; you may have a loved one who struggles daily with a drug addiction or alcoholism.  Or perhaps you have a friend who was abused as a child and tries to cope with depression and anxiety. You might know a woman who had an abortion, and simply can’t accept God’s all encompassing mercy and compassion. I’m sure we’re all aware of the evil surrounding us in every facet of our lives; fasting is a mighty weapon in our arsenal to fight greed, arrogance, selfishness and violence.

During Lent we are called to do penance, and try to atone for our sins.  Instead of simply abstaining from chocolate or coffee, it is more beneficial to forgo anger or pride.  Also popular in deciding what to “give up” for Lent, many refrain from television, video games, or Facebook, and instead devote more time to prayer, such as daily mass, or praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  Another way to do penance is by volunteering at your local homeless shelter or offering to babysit your neighbor’s children.

Related articles:

Offering Up Our Suffering
http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/05/offering-it-up

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Are you basking contentedly in God’s embrace, floating on angel’s wings?  Or are you in the deepest, darkest depths of despair, wandering in the desert?  Perhaps you are simply somewhat dry – you slog through your daily prayer from sheer diligence, but don’t really get anything out of it.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was “deeply attuned to the spiritual movements of his heart, sensitive to these stirrings and careful to distinguish in them what is and what is not of God. For Ignatius, this spiritual awareness was critically important, and he was vigilant to maintain it throughout the hours of the day; it was at the heart of Click to zoomhis entire spiritual life and writings. ” {All excerpts are from the book “Discernment of Spirits” by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV}  Developing awareness of “spiritual movements of the heart”, and learning to “understand and respond wisely to them, is known as the discernment of spirits“. Discernment is crucial to grow spiritually and enhance your relationship with God.  The biggest blocks we face in these efforts are discouragement, fear, hopelessness and despair.

The word “spirits” refers to different thoughts that enter or rise in our hearts; in this context it concerns the “stirrings in the heart of joy, sadness, hope, fear, peace, anxiety and similar feelings-with their related thought, that influence our life of faith…”.  Being able to distinguish between “different kinds of spiritual stirrings in our hearts, identifying those that are of God, and those that are not”  gives us the ability to accept those stirrings that lead us to God, and reject those that lead us away from God.

What is spiritual consolation?  St. Ignatius describes consolation as “something happy, uplifting, which instills joy and gives peace”.  Stunning artwork, exquisite music, time with beloved friends and family all bring joy; exercising or cleaning house can give us a sense of well-being, but these are non-spiritual experiences, as they don’t affect our faith.   But, the resulting buoyancy can certainly act as a springboard, moving us to spiritual consolation.

Every year we spend a week at the beach, and I love to wake up to see the sunrise.  Watching the dolphins dance in the waves and admiring the vivid kaleidoscope fills me with exhilaration. This experience is non-spiritual consolation.  But then, my thoughts turn to God, and I am filled with a profound awareness of God’s magnificence and omnipotence, touching my heart with gratitude and joy.  If God made the sun and the ocean, he can certainly solve my piddly little problems!  This experience affects my faith by broadening my trust in God, leading to spiritual consolation.

Consolation is a gift from God, and can’t be earned.  The main reason we are given consolation is to deepen our faith, expand the love in our hearts, and to be strengthened and sustained during difficult or dry times.

In contrast, in spiritual desolation we experience discouragement, feeling distant from God, hopelessness, sadness and confusion.  If you are experiencing anxiety because you lost your job and you are behind in your bills, this experience is non-spiritual desolation.  This can lead you into spiritual desolation, feeling hopeless about your circumstances, that God doesn’t care about you or your problems.  In desolation we feel our problems are overwhelming and can NEVER be fixed.  For those who suffer from depression, according to theologian Ralph Martin, depression itself is non-spiritual desolation, but it can certain accompany spiritual desolation.

Once you identify the movements in your heart, you can then make the decision to accept, or reject these emotions.  When we are in desolation, we feel troubled and unsettled, and prayer tends to be dry and unfulfilling.  Unfortunately, during these times we might abandon our prayer, feeling it to be useless and unproductive, and we spiral downward into darkness.  But in fact we should be more disciplined in prayer, asking God to help us resist the hopelessness and darkness.  As St. Ignatius tells us we can be lifted OUT of desolation through much “prayer, meditation, and upon much examination”.  We have to make a conscious, deliberate effort to turn toward God, countering the sense of separation from God, fighting against disheartening thoughts.

God permits desolation to teach us humility, and for us to understand in a concrete way our helplessness, and our great need for God’s strength.  Even if you are living a sacramental life, if you spend little time in prayer, you may suffer from dryness in your faith.  After all, prayer and the sacraments are the means to nourish your faith and stay connected to God.  By developing an awareness of the movements in our heart, we can fight against those stirrings of gloom and darkness, which are trying to pull us away from God, and into desolation.

We have to train our mind away from the darkness, away from discouragement and dejection.  Instead of wallowing in despair, we should meditate on the opposite virtue; if we are experiencing anxiety, meditate on verses about trusting God. If experiencing rage, meditate on God’s love.  One of my favorite verses regarding trusting in God’s providence is Matthew 7:9 “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”

Excerpts are from “The Discernment of Spirits” by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV

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Martha or Mary?

Is your life frenetic and fast-paced, filled with a whirlwind of activities?  Or do you go at a slower pace, taking your time?  Do you remember the bible story about Mary and Martha?  “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38

Poor Martha was just trying to be hospitable and was frantically trying to care for their visitors, while Mary was blissfully lounging at Jesus’ feet,  entranced by his mesmerizing stories.  Yet our Lord chastises Martha, while commending Mary for her actions. There was nothing wrong with Martha’s diligence; her problem was her attitude. She was exasperated and irritated and missed hearing the teacher’s profound words.

Several years ago I read a wonderful book called “The Temperament God Gave You”, which describes the different personality traits, or temperaments.  Once you identify your own temperament, you can closely examine your strengths and weaknesses.  The four main temperaments are Melancholy, Sanguine, Choleric Temperament God Gave Youand Phlegmatic, although most people are a blend of two traits.

The four temperaments are described as follows:  Melancholics tend to be idealistic and sensitive, introverted and drawn to solitude.  Gatherings with large numbers of strangers can be torture.  They love order and can be perfectionists, causing them to be overly critical, judgmental and self-absorbed.  In contrast, the Choleric is energetic, enthusiastic, extroverted, decisive and extremely capable.  Unfortunately the intense personality of a Choleric can make them impatient, insensitive and domineering, steamrolling over others to achieve their goals.

The fun-loving Sanguine enjoys other people and is always looking for a new adventure.  They are warm-hearted and impulsive, and if not careful can tend to be undisciplined and superficial.  Phlegmatics are laid back, agreeable, dependable, great listeners and peace makers. Though they can appear dispassionate and since they dislike conflict so much, they can become too wishy-washy.

My temperament is Melancholy/Phlegmatic, and I tend to be overly critical of myself, comparing my actions to others.  When I used to see the huge list of daily accomplishments of friends who are Choleric, I thought something was lacking in me.  I’m sure you can recognize Cholerics easily; on Facebook they will proudly list their schedule for the day:  exercise in the morning, grocery shopping for the entire month, cooking three meals at the same time, cutting the grass and pruning the bushes, going kayaking and then spending the night at the homeless shelter.  I get exhausted just reading their list!

Once I learned about the Four Temperaments, I realized that God created us all differently, and we have to take the time to discover who we truly are as God’s beloved children.  Sometimes it can be a long process to discover your true temperament; for years because of the necessity of running my own business, I worked long hours, 6 and 7 days a week.  Eventually I reached a point in my life where my schedule slowed down, and I discovered I actually preferred a slower pace.  Now I love waking up at 6:00 am, spending the next two hours meditating, then having coffee on the deck lazily gazing at the colorful array of cardinals, bluebirds, and finches, listening to their serenade.  I enjoy the bunnies and chipmunks cavorting on the lawn, and admire my backyard oasis of Lenten Roses, daffodils, dogwoods and azaleas.

Now when I see others frenetically running here and there, I no longer compare myself to them.  I know I was created with a different temperament, and I’m quite comfortable with the person that God created me to be.  Since my life is slower paced, I have become more contemplative, and I know God’s desire for me is to become a woman of intense prayer.  All of God’s children resemble a field of flowers; some of us are daisies, some are roses, some are sunflowers.  We each have our own gifts and talents; examining your temperament is an effective tool in discovering your own gifts.

On the flip side, identifying our weaknesses gives us the opportunity to strengthen our character; since I am Melancholic, I suffer from depression.  Becoming more aware of this trait, I can work on being less absorbed and endeavor to come outside of myself and focus more on others.  If you are Choleric, you may strive to become more sensitive and less headstrong.

Lent begins today, and is a great time for a spiritual checkup. So take the test below to discover your own temperament; but be honest!  Allow God to reveal your own personal virtues.  Don’t be afraid to see yourself as others perceive; have courage to look at your imperfections, and strive to improve your strengths.  If you are a “Martha”, make sure you take time to pray; if you are a “Mary”, motivate yourself  physically to exercise and quit procrastinating cleaning those windows in your house!

Test for the Four Temperaments

http://neoxenos.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/temperaments/temperament_test.htm

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Ever since I first saw Hans Solo and Princess Leia on the enormous movie screen back in 1977, I have been an ardent Star Wars fan.  If you have never heard Darth Vader utter those infamous words to Luke Skywalker “Luke, I am your father…”, or seen any of the other Star Wars’ movies, you have been severely deprived!  The story lines always center on the age old battle between good and evil.  The “good guys”, the Jedi warriors, use the supernatural power source called “the Force” to fight the evil Emperor and his minions.

I have taught confirmation for several decades, and my favorite topic is the Holy Spirit, which is a difficult doctrine for adults, much for less teens to grasp.  So I compare the “Force” from Star Wars to the incredible power of the Holy Spirit to explain the doctrine surrounding this third person of the Trinity.  Basic Christianity teaches there is only one God, but mystically he is made up of three people; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Since Jesus came as a human and lived among us, we have many writings and stories to give us insight into the Son; God the Father is fairly easy to figure out.  But the Holy Spirit?  Symbolized many times as a dove, or a flame?  Much tougher to understand.  Some other names of the Spirit are Counselor, Advocate, and Paraclete; Wikipedia defines these names as “one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court”.

St. Patrick used a shamrock to illustrate the Trinity; I also use the sun to depict this tenant of our faith; the sun is God the Father, the sunlight is Jesus, and the heat from the sun is the Holy Spirit.  When I joined the Church in 1987 I really struggled to comprehend the doctrine surrounding this rarely mentioned third person of the Trinity; my husband explained that he was “God’s love poured out”.  His explanation did little to dispel my confusion, and it wasn’t until years later that this teaching became clear.

The gospel reading for July 11, 1993 was about the parable of the seed “some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where is had little soil.  It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  but some seed fell on rich oil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold…The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.  But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, and indeed bears fruit…”. This verse hit me like a ton of bricks! Up until that point in my life, my faith had been a roller coaster; sometimes it was up and strong, sometimes it was way down on the bottom of my priorities.  Hearing this verse I made a conscious decision to keep my faith foremost in my life, and to get off the roller coaster once and for all.

I started attending daily mass; I went to confession for the first time, and started praying an hour a day.  My life changed drastically!  Shortly after that, I was sitting in mass and suddenly felt God’s presence so powerfully I thought I would be literally knocked off my feet.  I was dumbfounded and uncertain about the sensations I had just experienced.  Then a week or so later at mass we were singing the song “Amazing Grace”, and a light bulb went off in my head.  The earth shattering experience was simply the Holy Spirit pouring out God’s incredible mercy and grace.  The theological term for this is “consolation”.  We don’t “earn” consolation; it is pure gift.  However, sometimes God withholds consolation to test and strengthen our faith.

We all received the Holy Spirit at our baptism, but it doesn’t come to full power until we are confirmed.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to help our faith grow stronger, convict us of our sins, and console us in the process.  When the bishop anoints us at confirmation, he is imitating the apostles in 2nd Tim. 1:6, who would “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands”.   All who are baptized have that spark, and at confirmation the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are enkindled into a raging fire.

The seven gifts are Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Fortitude, Piety (or reverence) for God, Fear of the Lord, and Counsel.  These gifts help us to combat the seven deadly sins and to live holy lives.  Then by vanquishing the seven deadly sins, we can bear the fruit of the spirit listed in Gal. 5:22: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The Holy Spirit enlightens us, brings light into our doubts and confusion, revealing God’s will for us and his solutions to our problems.  Fear paralyzes us, but God sent the Holy Spirit to heal us and empower us.  Some blocks to receiving more of this wonderful supernatural power are selfishness and other areas of sin; as long as our passions dominate us, we are unable to respond freely to the Spirit’s inspiration.

The Holy Spirit enhances our ability to know and understand God, and reveals his mysteries to our limited human minds. He shows us the truth of God’s Word, and leads us to follow God’s will.  John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”.

Many experience the presence of the Holy Spirit as a warm glow, but remember, the Holy Spirit is not an emotion – whether we feel his presence or not, the power of God is always at work in our lives.  The Holy Spirit emboldens us and equips us to perform the work God is bidding us to do.

Right before Pentecost the apostles were frightened, confused; their hearts and minds were closed.  After Pentecost they were strong, unafraid and eager to go forth; they were open to the promptings and gifts of the Holy Spirit.  After Pentecost they witnessed so boldly many were martyred!  The miraculous power of the “Paraclete” is available to all baptized Christians and will bring insight, healing and confidence to our lives.  Just imagine a pipeline between you and God; through sin the pipeline gets dirty and clogged, blocking his grace and mercy.  But the more we avail ourselves of the sacraments, mass and confession, the more we pray and follow God’s will, the stronger the outpouring of the REAL “Force”.

As St. Paul tells us “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that He may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self.” Eph. 3

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