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Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

I started gardening around twelve years ago, and now spend most of my free time weeding, planting, pruning and tending my many gardens.  I am a huge environmentalist and constantly pester my husband to quit using weed killer on the weeds ruining the beauty of his lawn.  The weed killer flows into the creek and enters our water supply.  Many scientists link weed killer and pesticides to cancer, parkinsons disease, and other disease, and believe it to be part of the reason bees and frogs are disappearing.

Usually when I find weeds I can easily dig them up.  But wild onions and dandelions are a different matter altogether.  When I see the long tail of the onions waving in the wind, or the pretty yellow flower blooming from the dandelion, I grab my shovel and start digging.  Those two plants embed deep into the soil, and don’t come up easily.

Last week while laboriously digging up the tough roots and bulbs of these noxious weeds, I started thinking about my sin.  You know, those deeply rooted bad habits that we just can’t seem to break.  For some it is the compulsion to turn to tasty treats for comfort when stressed; hot buttered popcorn and root beer is my absolute favorite!  For you it may be jalapeno chips, or strawberry ice cream, or maybe your downfall is chocolate chip cookies.

Perhaps your sin is feeling resentful and complaining a lot because your life didn’t turn out the way you planned.  Maybe you are controlling or judgmental, greedy or jealous.  It could be you have a serious addiction to pornography or alcohol, or severe anger management issues.  Usually deep seated sin has its bitter roots in our past.  You may have grown up feeling unloved or unwanted, or that you didn’t matter, especially if your parents had their own demons of addiction.  Perhaps your father ranted or raged, and you take after him.

The bible warns about the “bitter roots” in Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled…”.  Stubborn weeds like wild onions can’t simply be pulled up; if you try pulling them from their stems, the bulbs break off and remain in the ground, and the onions grow back again in a few weeks.

Getting rid of annoying, tenacious weeds takes preparation.  The best time is just after it rains, when the soil is softer.  You have a to have the right tools; my favorite is a funny shaped one that has a fork on the end, and an arch on the side to give it leverage.  You have to be careful to get all the bulbs, since if you miss one, the obnoxious weed will grow right back.

Similarly, areas of deeply rooted sin such as gossip, bursts of rage and envy will take time and lots of patience to dislodge.  You need to be equipped with your tools of fasting and confession, daily mass, lots of prayer and spiritual direction.  (If your trauma is severe, you will probably need counseling as well).  Fasting from your favorite food, or perhaps the computer, helps you to learn discipline and self-control.  Confession and daily mass give you a greater abundance of God’s supernatural grace, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit:  wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord.

Time spent in prayer softens the heart and allows God to pull out the sin from the root.  The Examen Prayer from St. The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom For Our Lives Today  -     By: Timothy M. Gallagher<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Igantius is extremely valuable in pinpointing our selfishness, resentment and other baggage that we have lugged around for so many years.  The best time to do the Examen is at night, right before bedtime.  But if you are like me, I prefer morning when I can think more clearly.  It should take around 15 minutes to review your day asking yourself

  • How willing was I to reveal myself openly and fully to God?
  • Were there resistances within me to such self-revelation before God?
  • If so, did I know what they were?

Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. outlines these questions in his book The Examen Prayer with the explanation “I knew that these were key questions and that if I desired growth in relationship with God, I needed answers to them.”  Fr. Gallagher further explains that it is a “way of praying” that gives us greater clarity; the greater the clarity, the greater our “freedom to respond and so to progress in our relationship with God”.

The outline of the Examen laid out by Fr. Gallagher is as follows:

  • Transition:  I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.
  • Step One – Gratitude:  I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.
  • Step Two – Petition:  I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this examen prayer a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.
  • Step Three – Review: With my God I review the day.  I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day.  I also look for those that are not of God.  I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
  • Step Four – Forgiveness:  I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.
  • Step Five – Renewal:  I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
  • Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.

In the examen basically you would review your day, giving thanks specifically for the blessings you received.  It could be you were given a nudge to stop for a minute and listen to your teenager voice worries about an upcoming test, instead of rushing out the door because you were running late.  Perhaps a stressful situation was resolved, or some other prayer was answered.

Then  think of those times when you were harsh or impatient, when you were stressed and yelled at your husband.  Or perhaps you felt moved to send an impromptu gift to a friend who was in a bad place, and it gave you a warm feeling that you brought joy to someone else.  At these times did you feel close to God, or far away from Him?  Make a resolve for the next day to work on being more patient, loving and kind and thoughtful.  Look at your prayer time; were you faithful, or did you slack off?  Do you need to be more disciplined and not stay up so late surfing the web?

Daily self examination gives you greater awareness of your faults, giving you the ability to zero in and make the proper adjustments.  Some bad habits can be deadly, ruining relationships and hurting yourselves and others.  Some people turn to alcohol to drown out their pain, which can be just as destructive for our world, as weed killer is for the environment.  Working to improve yourself  helps you to grow in holiness and draw closer to God.  So get out your tools today and get to work!

 

Related articles:

  • Touching the Hem of His Garment http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/08/12/touching-the-hem-of-his-garment/
  • Consolation or Desolation http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/02/21/consolation-or-desolation/

 

 

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Several weeks ago the devotional “The Word Among Us” had a beautiful meditation comparing our faith to a foundation on a building.  “When an architect draws up the plans for a new building, he or she must Construction of an industrial building foundation pit -calculate how deep to dig the foundation, based on the weight that the foundation must bear.”  It asked the question “do you feel your foundation is strong enough to bear the weight of the challenges you are currently facing?  If your foundation is Jesus, the answer is a resounding yes!”  That particular day I was facing some challenges, and was experiencing some anxiety.  So the question resonated in my soul, and I realized my foundation needed to be strengthened.

1st John 5:4 reminds us “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  The study notes reveal that our ‘secret weapon’ is acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior, and obedience to God’s Commandments.  This is the power source that overcomes addictions, greed, violence and lust. The evil one tries to deceive us and make us believe that our loved one will NEVER be healed, that our finances will NEVER improve, and that our problems will NEVER get better.  But when we read the Word of God, he reveals the truth that he CAN change any circumstance, and that in a heartbeat our problems CAN be solved.

At times we think we have a solid foundation, but suddenly cracks appear.  In concrete foundations, cracks can occur for a myriad of reasons.  Sometimes the concrete contains too much moisture, or the foundation is poured on poorly compacted or else frozen soil.  In our spiritual lives, the crack in our foundation could be one of unforgiveness; someone may have hurt you terribly, and the pain and resentment just festers.  Did someone disparage you behind your back?  Did someone cheat you or a family member?  We know Jesus calls us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’, not just once.  Remember that forgiving another doesn’t remove the consequences of the sin, but it frees you to surrender your anger and allow God to dispense judgment.

What if your crack is insecurity; your boss criticized your work, and now you doubt your abilities or skills.  Or perhaps you sometimes make silly, but important mistakes.  You blame yourself and think that you are the worst idiot, forgetting that God is omnipotent and nothing can happen without his knowledge or will.  Your crack could be self-reliance; if the sales for your business have tanked, and you just don’t know if you can survive another year, you may be experiencing severe anxiety.

If a foundation for a building has cracks, the cracks  have to be repaired; repairing cracks in concrete consists of filling them with fresh concrete.  So too the cracks in our faith have to be repaired.  Jesus fixes these cracks with infusions of the Holy Spirit and his grace; he fills the cracks of pride with patches of trust; he fills the cracks of simmering resentment with patches of love and mercy.

And of course the only way our foundation can be fixed, is by spending time daily in prayer and meditation.Praying_people : Christian human praying with rosary in hands  Unfortunately, most Christians struggle to maintain a committed, daily interval with God.  The article below “Ten Tips to Help Your Prayer Life” has great suggestions to improve your prayer life; first and foremost is to pick the same time every day, and consistently set aside this time for prayer.  This helps you stay disciplined and to be able to pray on a regular basis.

Related Articles:

The Word Among Us http://wau.org/meditations/current/

Cracks in our foundation http://rpwlm.tripod.com/id266.html

Ten Tips to Help Your Prayer Life
http://www.str.org/articles/ten-tips-to-help-your-prayer-life#.UtQmevslg6A

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Can you imagine if Jesus Christ knocked at your door this afternoon and asked to come in?  In the book “My Heart, Christ’s Home”, author Robert B. Munger describes a young man entertaining Jesus in the home of his heart.  The first room Jesus visits is the study; as Jesus looked around and gazed at the graphic novels in the bookcase and the suggestive pictures on the wall, the young man became noticeably uncomfortable.  He became embarrassed seeing the room through Jesus’ eyes, and asked for help to dispose of the inappropriate items.

Jesus was glad to help and together they packed up the books that were impure, and instead replaced them with the bible and inspirational books and books about saints and other role models.  The pictures on the wall made it too easy for one’s mind to Christ at Heart's Doorwander into dangerous areas, so they trashed them and instead hung a large image of Christ drawn by Salman on the wall.  Jesus instructed him to “hang this centrally, on the wall of the mind”.

Next they entered the living room, which was intimate and cozy, with a fireplace and comfortable couch.  Jesus was pleased with the room and promised to meet with his host  every morning to start the day together.  So every morning the two would meditate on different bible verses.  The young man’s heart “sang and Jesus shared His love and grace, and unfolded the wonder of God’s savings truths.  They were wonderful times”.

Then the pressures of life took over, and the meditation time was shortened, and sometimes skipped altogether.  One day the young man was rushing out the door and saw his guest on the couch waiting for him as usual.  He apologized to Jesus for ignoring him and asked if Jesus had been there every morning. His guest replied “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.  Remember, I love you.  I have redeemed you at a great cost.  I value your friendship.  Even if you cannot keep the quiet time for your own sake, do it for mine.”

The workroom was next; Jesus looked around at the workbench and tools, and then glanced at the few little gadgets his host had produced.  The young man explained that he really wanted to do more to help others and share his faith, but he felt as though he didn’t have the skills or strength.  Jesus took his hands and said “relax in me and let my Spirit work through you.  I know that you are unskilled, clumsy and awkward, but the Holy Spirit is the Master Workman, and if He controls your hands and your heart, He will work through you”.  Jesus placed the tools in the young man’s hands, held both in his own hands and went to work.  “The more the young man relaxed and trusted him, the more He was able to do with his life.”

They visited the dining room next, the “room of appetites and desires”.  The young man spent a lot of time there trying to satisfy his wants.  Dinner was served and the menu was the host’s favorite dishes: money, power, important positions, stocks, fame and fortune.”  The guest noticed his host did not partake and asked if something was wrong.  Jesus replied “I have food to eat that you do not know of.  If you want food that really satisfies you, do the will of the Father.  Stop seeking your own pleasures, desires and satisfaction.  Seek to please Him.  That food will satisfy you.” (John 4:34)  The young man was thrilled to “taste the joy of doing God’s will.”

The last room was the hall closet.  The young man found Jesus standing by the door complaining of a rotten odor that smelled like something had died.  The young man knew exactly what Christ was talking about; he had stored some personal things in that closet that he didn’t want anyone else to see.  They were left over from his old life, and he didn’t want to admit they were there.  The young man became angry; he had given his host access to every other single room in his house – wasn’t that enough?  There was no way he was going to let Jesus into that nasty closet.  His guest told him that he wouldn’t stay where there was such a horrific stench, and turned to leave.

The young man felt immediate remorse and told Jesus that he simply didn’t have the strength or courage to clean out the closet himself.  Jesus took the key, “walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting in there, and threw it away.  Then he cleaned the closet and painted it.  It was all done in moment’s time.  Oh what victory and release to have that dead thing out of his life!”

The young man was so thrilled he asked his guest to take over the management and operation of his home.  He asked “Would you take the responsibility to keep my life what it ought to be ?”  Jesus replied “I’d love to!  You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength.  Let me do it through you and for you.”  The young man’s life was forever changed when Jesus Christ made His home in his heart.

Ephesians 3:16 “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth…

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Today is the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but don’t let the archaic name fool you into thinking this day isn’t important; devotion to the Sacred Heart is ancient, dating back to St. Bernard and Anselm in the 12th century. sacred heart of jesus photo: sacred heart of Jesus sacred_heart_of_jesus.jpg This devotion became quite popular in 1673 when Jesus appeared to a nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, with a series of messages lamenting the indifference and ingratitude of many Christians. Jesus emphasized his desire for a closer, more intimate relationship with his children.

In the meditation for today from the Word Among Us, the ‘heart’ is described as the core and “as the essence of a person, the place where someone’s deepest desires, longings, and fears reside”. Today at mass Fr. Josh Allen described Jesus stretched out on the cross at calvary, with his heart being in the center as an intersection where our hearts collide.  The heart is the most important organ, supplying vital nourishment to the rest of the body. When our hearts are united with his, grace pours through his heart to our own, moving aside our “self”, and filling us with his mercy, forgiveness and peace.

I have many Baptist friends and family who rightly claim we should foster a more ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, but I don’t think they realize the apathy of many Christians is nothing new under the sun.  From the early days when Jesus walked this earth many turned their back and walked away from his ‘good news’.  From the rich young man in Matthew 19, who simply couldn’t give up his wealth, and turned away, to his own townsmen who tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff in Luke 4; to Princess Diana who was drawn to Catholicism as a result of her relationship with Mother Teresa, and would often visit Catholic churches to light a candle, then sadly turned her Princess Diana and Mother Teresa met for 40 minutesback and dove headlong into the ‘New Age’.  From her teens the Princess was fascinated with the occult, and had patronized various psychics, astrologers, and fortune tellers.  She had her own personal astrologer, believed in the power of crystals, and dabbled in feng shui and t’ai chi.  The allure of the paranormal overcame the tiny spark of faith.

The list is endless of those who reject Christ; Zorastian Shapur II in 309 not only rejected Christianity, he tried to stamp it out by massacring all Christians in Syria.  For 2,000 years many simply have been unable to accept Jesus’ message of self-denial and detachment from the world.  Communist leaders from the Soviet Union, to Cuba, to North Korea have consistently persecuted Christians by imprisonment or death, because these leaders are well aware people are much easier to control when they lack faith, and almost impossible to control when they have a “Savior”.

Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been particularly ferocious in their persecution of Christians by raping, killing and burning churches. Joseph Fadelle is from Baghdad and is a Muslim convert to Christianity.  He relates the imprisonment, torture and attempted murder by his own uncle he experienced for daring to become Christian, in his book “The Price to Pay”.

But I’m sure the most troubling to Jesus are those who ‘profess’ him with their lips, but not by their actions, as Jesus warns in Matthew 7  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Too many Christians are nominal Christians and possibly go to church only at Easter or Christmas, or not at all.  They rarely think about their faith, and if they have a list of priorities, God is at the bottom.  Some Christians are ‘bench-warmers’; they go to church every week, but rarely consider God the rest of the week, and certainly don’t follow the first Commandment to “have no other Gods before me”.

I can relate to this imbalance, because until 1993, God wasn’t even on my list of priorities!  He was crowded out by my job, my family and the relentless pursuit of helping my husband squeeze out a living from our little restaurant.  Some protestants bash Catholics for idolatry, claiming we ‘worship’ Mary.  I try to set the record straight and explain that most Catholics don’t worship Mary; instead, like most Christians their gods are their jobs, or exercise, or pleasure, or their investments, or their family, television, video games, the internet, or facebook!

Jesus wants you to have a lively, active faith, and is deeply saddened by the lukewarm, as he tells us in Revelations 3:16 “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. ”  Quite a strongly worded warning!  So today’s feast day is a great opportunity to do a spiritual checkup; are you putting God first in your life?  Do you worry incessantly, or do you need to work on surrendering and trusting him more?  Are you praying daily?  Are you giving to the Church and to charities?  Is God first in your life?  Look at your calendar and list where most of your time, energy and money is spent; there your treasure lies.

If you had to measure your faith on a scale of one to ten, what would it be?  If it’s a one, then you need to make some major changes!  If it is a five, there is definitely room for improvement; if you think your faith is a ten, then I think you need to work on your humility, because a ten is perfect, and according to St. Paul, our entire life is spent “striving for spiritual perfection”.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

For more information on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Twelve Promises to those who honor his Sacred Heart, click on link below:

http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2013/06/deacon-bickerstaff-devotion-to-the-sacred-heart/

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Antidote to Evil

It seemed an ordinary, older home in a slightly run-down neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio.  Who could ever have guessed this unassuming house hid such horrendous, terrifying secrets.  Three women were chained, tied up, held captive and regularly beaten and assaulted on a regular basis for a decade by a depraved man named Ariel Castro.

In the same week Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor, was on trial for the grisly murder of newborn babies who had somehow managed to survive their mother’s abortion.  The details of their horrific deaths are too appalling and gruesome to list… Last month two Muslim terrorists (two brothers named Tsarnaev) displayed their hatred by setting off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, senselessly killing 3 people and severely injuring hundreds.  One family lost their 8 year old son that ghastly day; tragically the same family’s beautiful little Irish dancing 7 year old daughter lost her leg in the explosion.

Hearing of the experiences of these innocent women, babies and children has literally left me heartsick.  But evil is not isolated to areas far from my quiet little suburb of Atlanta. We recently found out that at the end of my tranquil, picturesque street, appropriately named Maple Lane, a single mom had a boyfriend who it turns out was running a dangerous meth lab in her house.

On my friendly street where we ladies gather for bunco once a month and chat with each other over our fences, one emotionally troubled neighbor simply exploded last fall, and kidnapped his wife with the intent to end her life.  Miraculously she escaped, but her husband then committed suicide. Evil lurks everywhere and rears it’s ugly head in the most expensive neighborhoods, the ritziest schools and in the most prominent businesses.

I have spent time pondering the hearts of  these monsters, Gosnell, Castro and Tsarnaev, and I simply can’t grasp the depths of such depravity.  Torture is so prevalent in South America that there are clinics here in America to help survivors heal and somehow find a measure of peace.  The sex slave trade of children and women is enormous, both here in the US and around the world, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  Sin and evil flourish in the ghettos of New York City, and in the most sacred churches in Rome.  How can such hatred and violence exist in souls designed to dwell in God’s covenant?  I simply have no answer to the existence of such evil.

Through sleepless nights praying for the countless victims who suffer terrible anguish on a daily basis, the only answer I receive is to pray more and to strive to keep growing spiritually.  As Mother Teresa tells us, we must become like “a pencil in God’s hand”.  The more we strive for holiness, the more filled we are with God’s grace.  The more we lose our selfishness and pride, the more God can use us to soothe wounded souls, and in the words of St. Francis, use us to bring light to darkness, hope to the despairing, and faith to the doubting.  We’re more able to share God’s forgiveness and mercy with a world held captive by lust and shame.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” 2nd Corin. 10:4.  Our prayer can tap into God’s mighty army of angels and disable the dark forces arrayed against us.  In 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan, a small community of eight Jesuit priests and their buildings completely escaped harm, even though they were located just blocks from ground zero. Everything else within a radius of 1.5 kilometres from ground zero was obliterated.  One of the surviving priests, Fr. Hubert Schiffer,  told the Eucharistic Congress of Philadelphia in 1976, that 200 scientists could find no scientific explanation for the sparing of his community. Fr. Schiffer believed the rosary they recited daily wrapped them under the protection of Mary’s mantle, shielding them from the atomic blast.

Prayer can convert the most perverted child molester, or the most heinous serial murderer.  Serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy, who was responsible for the horrific deaths of hundreds of young women, had a conversion experience shortly before his execution. He was lead to Christ by Attorney John Tanner, who met and prayed with Bundy at least 50 times.

Are you praying 30 minutes a day?  Good…perhaps you can increase your prayer time to an hour a day.  Are you trying to live a holy and sacramental life?  Or are you part of the problem?  Do you look at pornography, or graphic romance novels?  Or perhaps you think the violent and sexually charged movies you watch, or those graphic video games you play don’t matter.  Or that God doesn’t really care if you and your boyfriend are intimate before marriage.  But it DOES matter – my sin affects you, and your holiness affects me, since we are linked as the body of Christ.  God is calling us ALL to holiness, to become as Matthew Kelly describes in his books, the “best version of yourself”.

The bible is clear about the best way to fight evil.  We’re instructed to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). But don’t make the mistake of thinking Christians are doormats.  We have to stand firm against abuse and corruption every chance we get; to make a stand to help the downtrodden and those who are treated unjustly.  When possible we must calmly confront those who are taking advantage or cheating others.  I’m sure you have heard the cliche “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’“. But as any whistle-blower can tell you, when you expose those who are stealing or embezzling, or reveal the actions of a pervert, prepare yourself for all hell to break loose.  Prepare to be shunned by family and friends; be prepared to lose your job.

When confronting evil, the bible instructs us  “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  When you encounter pure evil, anger is useless; it simply fuels the fire, stealing your peace.  Romans 12 also tells us “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Scam artists, corrupt politicians, apathy, alcoholism, racism, drug addiction, senseless murders…life can be grim.  When faced with the worst life can bring, the above verse has brought me enormous comfort.  We all desire for justice to prevail; for right to outweigh wrong; too often evil appears to triumph.  But remember, on the last day “everyone will be held accountable for every word spoken” (Matthew 12:36.)  Gosnell, Castro and so many other degenerates will have their day of judgment; they will meet their maker and be held accountable for every single action.  Instead of harboring bitterness, I can relax and let go of my anger, remembering God’s promise in Psalm 37:

 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.”

So when you feel overwhelmed by the crushing weight of misery and sorrow in the world, remember in the final analysis that God’s peace and love will be victorious – the light of Christ will overcome the darkness of the world, as Christ himself said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16

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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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Mary Did You Know?

During advent I try to spend time meditating on the Christmas story, and try to imagine what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary as they awaited the birth of their baby.  Sometimes I can be somewhat cerebral and have Millennium Personalized Prayer Card (Priced Per Card)difficulty contemplating the reality of the mixed emotions they would have experienced.   It’s hard for me to understand the confusion Joseph must have felt when he found out Mary was pregnant, and whether Mary was shocked when the angel asked her to be the mother of God.  Music has always helped me to take detached facts, and turn them into tangible realities deep within my heart. This time of year I particularly enjoy listening to the song “Breath of Heaven”, by Amy Grant, as she describes in Mary’s words the wonder of being chosen from all women by God to carry his son.  When I listen to this song, I can imagine Mary questioning why she was entrusted with this enormous responsibility; why not someone wiser or older?

Mary was pregnant, and Joseph, her betrothed, was not the father.  This was a shocking crime punishable by death!  How alone and abandoned she must have felt when Joseph found out she was pregnant with a child that was not his. Every time Mary felt the baby move under her ribs, she must have reflected on the tremendous task of carrying the redeemer of the world.  She must have mused during those long nights about the pending birth; knowing she would give birth to the word made flesh.

The bible doesn’t say a word about what Joseph thought, it only tells us “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  Matthew 1.  That’s it?  Nothing about how horrified he must have felt to discover that his beloved was pregnant with some other man’s baby?  Not a word about how betrayed and angry he must have been?  I’m sure he indulged in speculation about the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy; was she in love with another man?  How could she have betrayed him; didn’t she care about him?  She was his betrothed!   In spite of what Joseph must have felt, his main concern was for Mary.  He decided to divorce her quietly, so no one would find out, and so she wouldn’t suffer the hideous punishment of being stoned to death.

Thankfully God was merciful and appeared to Joseph in a dream “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Seriously, that’s the entire explanation Joseph gets?  No wonder Joseph is called “St. Joseph”!  How scary to realize that God’s child would be entrusted into his humble care to protect, guide and nurture.  Quite a daunting enterprise! Did Joseph puzzle over the manner in which the Holy Spirit was able to miraculously transform the essence of an omnipotent and magnificent God, into a fragile, helpless baby boy in Mary’s womb?

Another song that moves me to breathless anticipation of the arrival of Christ are the moving lyrics to “Mary Did You Know”.  For nine months Mary pondered the coming birth of the long awaited messiah.  She was Jewish, and was well versed in the promises in scripture which referred to the messiah, which means “the anointed one” in  Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

How could Mary wrap her mind around her child being divine; how did she come to terms with the knowledge that he would have the ability to perform miracles?  Did she know that he would one day walk on water?  That one day he would overcome the sting of death, and bring the dead back to life?  Bring sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf?  She must have spent long hours in prayer, pouring out her heart to God, asking for wisdom and strength for the days ahead.  Can you imagine her excitement and longing for the day when her cherished child would finally come?  But not just ANY child; her child would bring hope to a weary world, light to our darkness, an end to oppression and hunger, and truth to a world lost in error.

The Holy Spirit ‘overshadowed her”; incomprehensible words to describe such an incredible, earth shattering event!  Mary is the only one in the history of mankind to have the Holy Spirit dwell within her, and leave the Incarnate Word.   Did she really truly understand the significance of her yes to Gabriel’s request when she answered “be it done to me according to your word”? Luke 1:38   She must have spent hours simply daydreaming about what it would be like to kiss the face of God, knowing his coming would redeem the entire world, including herself!  How could she grasp the knowledge that he would heal the lame, cast out demons and become the Lord of all creation and the ruler of all nations.

What a tumultuous roller coaster those nine months must have been for the holy couple.  And just when they were able to come to terms with being the future parents of the “Prince of Peace” and await the blessed birth of their divine son, God sends another zinger!  Caesar Augustus decrees a census must be taken of the entire Roman world; so Joseph would have to take Mary to his home town of Bethlehem, the town of David, as Joseph belonged to the line of David, to register them both.  They would be undertaking a long journey of many days while Mary was nine months pregnant and due to deliver at any time.  Joseph must have been frantic trying to keep Mary comfortable and safe on such a hazardous trip over difficult roads when she was so cumbersome in her advanced pregnancy.

Throughout their lives, Mary and Joseph were exemplary models of a childlike trust and steadfast faith even in the most distressful or frightening situations, and their example can certainly help us in the trials and difficulties in our own lives.  Pondering the life of the Holy Family helps you to come to know Christ in a deeper and more intimate way, making our faith more relevant and meaningful; the more you ‘know’ Jesus, the stronger your faith. God can often feel distant and far removed.  Meditating on the incarnation gives you insight into the mystery of salvation, making the life of Christ concrete and real, and drawing you closer to God.   So find your method which works best, and try to spend time delving into advent with an expectant hope of the long awaited birth of the messiah!

“Breath of Heaven”, by Amy Grant

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