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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Growth’ Category

Sometimes life can be prickly and hard, but we have God’s promise that “In place of the thornbush, the cypress shall grow, instead of nettles, the myrtle.” (Isaiah 55:13)  The study note in the New American Bible for this verse suggests the image of being in the desert, “symbolic of suffering and hardship”, since thorns cause pain, while the cypress and myrtle suggest fertile land, representing “joy and strength”.

We once had a thorny tree in our back yard, and when we cut it down it was an absolute nightmare to transport.  We used big, heavy gloves, and still got pricked by the pointy ends; the pain was excruciating as it pierced deep into our tender skin!  Throughout our lives we are ‘stung’ by traumatic events, whether we had divorced or alcoholic parents, or suffered physical or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment.

The thorns are different for everyone; many today are struggling financially to make ends meet; some are grappling with health issues, either chronic arthritis or some other auto immune disease.  Others are grieving for the loss of a loved one, while some are going through strenuous and grueling rounds of chemo and radiation.  Perhaps you have a child fighting an addiction, or experiencing severe anxiety.

Thorns show up in the Old Testament after Adam and Eve disobeyed God; they were kicked out of the luscious Garden of Eden and consigned to find food “by the sweat of your brow”, tilling “cursed ground” filled with “thorns and thistles”  (Genesis 3:17).  Adam and Eve left us a legacy of hard work, pain and sorrow, but the new Adam, Jesus, “ransomed us from the curse”, taking the curse upon himself.  Unknowingly the Romans mocked their ‘king’, smashing a crown of thorns deep into his skull, piercing his flesh.  Through his crucifixion and death, Jesus ransomed us, restoring us into God’s covenant and giving us our full inheritance as sons and daughters (Gal. 3:13).  The ‘good news’ is that Jesus received the crown of thorns to take away our pain and shame, and instead fill us with his peace and joy, to take us out of the desert of suffering.

I went on my first retreat back in 1993 with several other adult leaders of the teen group.  Since then I have probably helped present forty retreats for both teens and adults, and I have both experienced and witnessed over and over the transformation as Jesus delivers his children from the chains binding them.

I was meditating one day and I heard God whisper tenderly into my heart the promise of a new life in him.  His promise to all those suffering from depression, loneliness, and abandonment “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and power.  Through these He has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.” (2nd Peter 1:1)

No matter how many ‘nettles and thorns’ seem to be in your path, remember God’s extraordinary grace and power.  One day I felt as though I would never get past my grief and sadness, and then I received this tender prophecy based on Isaiah 35 “The desert and parched land will exult, they will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.  The desert of shame and unforgiveness will turn into streams bursting with love and joy; the burning sands of loneliness and despair will be turned into pools of refreshing warmth and tenderness.  The thirsty ground yearning for love, will spring into wells overflowing with mercy and compassion.  The place where the jackals of darkness and depression roam, will be turned into a rich marsh, where hope and happiness flourish.  We will be met with goodness and gladness, and grief and sorrow will flee.  A highway will be readied for those striving for holiness, where we will be safe and secure, free from harm, crowned with his glory.”

During this Advent take time to prepare for the coming of Christ; take time to let him soften your heart and remove the thorns.  Let Jesus whisper words of encouragement and inspiration and rest in his embrace, pondering his immense grace and unconditional mercy.  Let the flowers of virtue bloom in your heart and rejoice in being set free!

Related Articles:

What is the Meaning of the Crown of Thorns
 http://www.gotquestions.org/crown-of-thorns.html#ixzz3K0gnDhNH

Touching the Hem of His Garment
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/08/12/touching-the-hem-of-his-garment/

Adopted By God
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/11/08/adopted-by-god/

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Jesus had harsh words for the hypocrites of his time in Matthew 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites…You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”  He soundly condemned teachers of the law and religious leaders for performing good works only to impress others, coveting places of honor, and for appearing clean on the outside, but “inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence…and every kind of filth.”  Ouch!

Some Christians are confused about this verse, and think that Jesus condemned ‘religion’. To clarify, Jesus actually condemned hypocrisy in religious leaders; He never condemned religion. The definition of ‘religion’ from Dictonary.com is “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects”.  So baptizing babies or even adults, the sacrament of marriage, belief in the Trinity and basically every doctrine of Christianity is considered ‘religion’.  Since Jesus Himself established the Church in Matthew 16:18, He certainly did not condemn ‘religion’.

Some of the most blatant cases of hypocrisy today are from politicians, who will say anything, and do whatever it takes to get votes. The more successful they become, the more their arrogance and blindness grows. John Edwards claimed to be a paragon of virtue and small town family values.  But it turns out he fathered a child by his mistress, and callously carried on his affair for years, even during his wife’s agonizing battle and eventual death from breast cancer. When the web of lies he was spinning was finally ripped open and the truth was revealed, Edwards explained “I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.” (From article 10 of the Most Hypocritical Statements From Politicians We Have Come Across).

Edwards also proclaimed himself as an advocate for the poor, but Business Week magazine reported that he opened a poverty center and combined it with his political action committee when he was running for President. “The nonprofit center spent a staggering 70% of the money it raised on a speaking tour for Edwards and on salaries for staffers who in short order just happened to join his presidential campaign.”  This powerful politician is basically a sleazy scam artist stealing from funds targeted for the poor.  But Edwards isn’t alone among politicians for his private jets, magnificent mansions, and $400 haircuts.  Opulent lifestyles in Washington DC seem to be prevalent in both parties, but it is especially painful to witness by those who profess to be the strongest advocates for the poverty stricken.

Have you ever wondered why so many Congressmen are all filthy rich? A dirty little secret called ‘insider trading’ has been legal for decades; when these politicians obtain knowledge ahead of an important sale or change to a company, our esteemed Congressmen could legally use this information to make a fortune from trading stock.  The moral laws that apply to the rest of Americans seemingly escape the moral compass of our esteemed politicians.  After public outrage about this ‘perk’ of politicians, the law was changed to curtail these activities in 2012, but was again quietly modified in 2013 to give greater leeway.

Spiritual leaders can also be hypocritical when it comes to guiding their flock; author and speaker Joyce Meyer owns a private jet, luxury cars and five magnificent mansions.  Televangelist Benny Hinn tops that with a 10 million dollar home near the ocean.  Outspending them all is German Catholic Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, who stole a whopping 40 million dollars from the Church to renovate his private residence.

One prime example of hypocrisy is shown by politicians and others who fiercely criticize Americans for wasting valuable resources and harming the environment by driving SUVs, but then in their arrogance travel on their own private jets to accommodate their ‘important’ schedule, or use gas hog limousines for transportation.  There is even a term for these hypocrites called “Limousine Liberal”; the Urban Dictionary describes these individuals as one “who considers themself a champion of the poor and downtrodden, but live a lifestyle of wealth and luxury”.

But hypocrisy is not limited to politicians and spiritual leaders, or even a particular political party.  Jesus’ own apostle, Judas, was outraged in John 12 when Mary “anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil” and complained that instead this perfume could have been sold and the money “given to the poor”.  Claiming to be so concerned about the poor, Judas was secretly a “thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.” He was greedily coveting the money for himself!

Ordinary Christians can be just as hypocritical; take some time and take a long, hard look at yourself.  Do you criticize and judge others, while missing the “wooden beam” in your own eye?  Are you puffed up with pride and conceit, but look down on others because they aren’t as educated or wealthy?  Do you ask God for forgiveness for your sin, but hold a grudge and refuse to forgive those that have hurt you?  Are you the ‘pillar of your church’, but rant and rage at your wife and children?  Are you two-faced and pretend to like someone, but gossip about them behind their back?  Are you out ‘saving the world’, but neglecting your own family?

Another prime example of hypocrisy are those who loudly condemn Muslim extremists for their barbaric actions in beheading, persecuting, kidnapping and killing Christian men, women and children, but then either support infanticide, or support politicians who are aligned and financed by Planned Parenthood, an organization that performs over 300,000 abortions annually.  No matter how much a politician ‘claims’ to care about the poor, can you really lend support if he or she publicly promotes the heinous dismemberment and burning of precious babies in their mother’s wombs, thousands of whom are viable and perfectly fully formed?  Even if this politician is expanding food stamps to help the poor, isn’t it hypocritical to support such atrocities, but then condemn Middle Eastern barbarism?

What are factors that lead devout, committed Christians to become two-faced hypocrites?  First, the more power a person has over others, or the wealthier one becomes, the more likely they are to abuse that power and justify their actions.  The old expression “power goes to your head” is appropriate, since the more powerful and famous politicians, CEO’s, spiritual leaders and other individuals become, the more narcissistic and arrogant they seem to be.  Those who are ultra educated with multiple higher degrees, need to be careful not to become puffed up with conceit over their ‘superior’ knowledge.

If you are deliberately rejecting 2,000 years of wisdom proclaimed by the  Catholic Church handed directly from the apostles to our present day bishops as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘out-of-touch’, and you search for a denomination that tickles your ears, you may want to carefully examine your heart for any pride.   It was the “wise and learned”, the arrogant scribes and pharisees who rejected Jesus’ profound word; and it was the “childlike” and humble that were open to His wise teachings.  Remember St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome and the first Pope, was a simple, ignorant fisherman.   “At that time Jesus said in reply, ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Matthew 11:25)

Some of the symptoms of narcissism described by The Mayo Clinic are:

  • Believing that you’re better than others
  • Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
  • Taking advantage of others
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
  • Being jealous of others
  • Believing that others are jealous of you
  • Having a fragile self-esteem

Just look at Martin Luther King, Jr., icon for his speech “I have a Dream”, and for the courageous role he played in the Selma, Alabama march; facing angry armed policemen, sprayed with powerful fire houses, and jailed for his work to smash discrimination and wrest equality from a racist culture.  Yet this beacon of morality, revered by millions, violated every vow he made as a husband and pastor, repeatedly committing adultery throughout his entire marriage.  King felt he was above the moral rules that bind most Christians.  If you have achieved a high level of success in your career, be extremely cautious to guard against being pompous and full of your own importance.   St. Robert Bellarmine warned against seeking wealth and fame if they become a block to your spiritual growth, and to seek them only “if they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness”.

Interestingly enough the sin of hypocrisy often springs from success and fame; is it any wonder some of the most intelligent, ‘intellectual elite’ can be so blinded that they believe falsehoods as blatant as the denial of Hitler’s holocaust?  Are you honest enough to search your heart for any conceit or condescension toward others?  Spend time meditating on the above verses about the “wise and learned” and ask God to reveal those dead and barren areas in your heart.   It takes humbleness and courage to let God peel away the layers and carefully examine any proud or arrogant tendencies.  But you sure don’t want to reach the Pearly Gates and have Jesus say to you “Woe to you vipers and hypocrites”!

Related Articles:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20025568

John Edwards’ Poor Scam
http://www.latimes.com/la-oe-goldberg29may29-column.html

Pride Goes Before a Fall
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/08/16/pride-goes-before-a-fall/

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archdukeferdinand.jpg

Archduke Ferdinand

A seemingly insignificant assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo wound up triggering a catastrophic world war.  On June 28, 1914,  Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were  assassinated in Sarajevo by the Black Hand, a radical Serbian group.  The ringleader, Princip, most likely supplied information from Colonel Dimitrijevic-Apis, head of Serbian intelligence, who feared the Archduke would empower the Empire and block Serbian ambition to expand into Bosnia and Croatia.   Believing the Serbian government to be responsible for the assassination attempt, the Austrian council issued a 10-point ultimatum demanding the suppression of anti-Austrian newspapers, organizations, teachers and officers.  Serbia, with Russian support, rejected the ultimatum.

Outraged at a personal attack against a member of the royal family, and backed by Germany, on July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia.  On August 1 Germany declared war on Russia, followed by the domino effect of Russia’s ally, France, declaring war on Germany, and vice versa, on August 3.  Germany’s planned invasion of Belgium on August 4, caused Britain to declare war on Germany.  In a few short days most of the major powers in the Western World were involved in cataclysmic World War I.  Eventually Italy and the United States of America were dragged into the fray.

One hundred years later almost to the day, the world still seems to be on the precarious brink of another world war.  Russia, now the Soviet Union, recently invaded and dominated the Ukraine, and a Malayasian jet was shot down a few weeks ago over the Ukraine, with both the Soviet Union and the Ukraine claiming it was the fault of the other.  Israelis and Palestinians, lead by the group known as Hamas, have been firing rockets at each other for three weeks; each claim the other broke the cease-fire.  We seem on the verge of World War III.

Every day we face crossroads; some small, some huge.  Recently there was a severe outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, and the CDC decided to fly two infected Americans to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.    The CDC assures us the Ebola virus will be contained, and there won’t be any ‘significant’ outbreaks.  This particular virus is especially contagious, and over 1,300 Africans have been infected; roughly half have died.  Did the CDC make the right decision?  Many Americans believe the patients should have been treated in Africa, rather than bringing them to the United States, as the deadly virus has the possibility of spreading rapidly in the United States.  Only time will tell if the decision will have disastrous consequences.

King Henry VIII

Granted, the political scene in Europe before World War I was volatile and complex; however, the Austrians and Serbs had no idea their declaration of war would have such far reaching repercussions.  Throughout history minor circumstances has affected millions.  Catherine of Aragon was married to King Henry VIII, and even though they had six children, only one, Queen Mary I, survived.  The King was desperate for a son to succeed him, and in 1527 Henry became enamored of Anne Boleyn, one of the ladies attending Queen Catherine.  He spent the next five years petitioning the Roman Catholic Church for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine, simultaneously romancing Anne Boleyn.  After resisting his overtures for years, Anne finally succumbed and became pregnant in 1532.   The Roman Catholic Church continued to refuse Henry his annulment, so in January, 1533 he married Anne Boleyn.

The Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed the marriage to Anne to be invalid, and the Church still refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine.  Until then, Henry had been devoutly Catholic, but his lust for his mistress and desire for a son became overpowering, and eventually he broke off from the Catholic Church, declaring himself to be head of the new Church of England.  One man’s lust lead to the fracturing of Christianity and the resulting division of millions of Christians.

Throughout our lives we have times when we face a ‘fork in the road’, when we have to make decisions that could be life-changing, or eve world changing.  Walt Disney was fired by his editor at the Kansas City Star, because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.  If that editor had even a smidgen of vision, Disney could have had an exciting career as a journalist.  Instead the inventor used his energy to create the Disney Empire.  It is almost impossible to imagine a world without quirky Mickey Mouse, adorable Thumper and Bambi, mischievous Tinkerbell and Peter Pan, the irrepressible Mary Poppins and the host of other charming  characters.  The world would be a sad place without the beguiling Disney songs  Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, or I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, or the  mesmerizing new song  Let it Go, from Frozen, which has touched the hearts of millions of children.

At those decisive moments in our life we have two roads to choose. Sometimes the choice should be easy, but sin rears its ugly head, making a mockery of our integrity.  King Henry VIII surely knew as a devout Catholic to honor his marriage vows.  Yet he chose the “broad road that leads to destruction” described in Matthew 7:13 by having an affair with Anne Boleyn.  He compounded that bad decision with greed when he declared himself head of the Church of England, giving himself freedom to marry his mistress, as well as improving his coffers, since he no longer paid  taxes to the Roman Catholic Church.

Sometimes the fork comes in the form of temptation and we have to decide if we will take the  “narrow gate” and make good moral decisions, choosing not to cheat on our taxes, or lie to our boss.  Sometimes the fork in the road is a course of action, such as taking a chance on a new job with better pay, or instead staying with your current employer and comfortable working conditions.  The fork could be the decision to attend a retreat, or it could be financial, such as the decision to keep your older, high mileage vehicle that you own free and clear, or trade it in on a brand spanking new candy apple red convertible with a hefty loan!

The fork in the road may concern your faith; perhaps you have fallen away and you feel a pull to return to the faith of your childhood.  It may concern your health and the decision to take time to eat more nutritiously and exercise.  You may be at the crossroads with a family member or friend caught up in an addiction, trying to decide whether or not to end the destructive relationship.

You may have cancer and are facing the agonizing decision to have surgery, or radiation, or both.  My mother developed lung cancer and agreed to surgery to have the lung removed.  Unfortunately it was a deadly decision, as the cancer had already spread microscopically to the brain.  When the primary tumor in the lung was removed, the brain tumor grew ferociously, and even with radiation she died eight months later.  She probably would have lived several more years if she had chosen not to have surgery.

But it is impossible to know if your decision is the right one or not, and there is no point in fretting over it, like a dog with a bone.  When faced with difficult decisions, St. Faustina would try to discern whether her pride was influencing her, and which decision gave God the most glory.  Even then she would still be faced with indecision, so she would follow the strongest nudge, and ask God to change the course Himself, if she happened to be going in the wrong direction.  She had peace because by surrendering, she practiced humility and allowed God to act more freely in her soul.

No decision is foolproof, and we will fail or make mistakes.  But we can’t let our fear of failure cripple us by making us too cautious.  Remember His promise in Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”   Even if we discerned badly and tragedy results, we can trust that God will bring something good out of the mess we find ourself in, knowing that He can solve any crisis or problem.

When facing tough choices I pray for the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and guidance; I discuss the situation with my family and spiritual director, and then follow the path I believe is God’s will.  But since I can never fully know if my decision is the best one, I ask God to ‘hit me over the head with a two by four’ if I happen to be going in the wrong direction!

So when you face the ‘fork in the road’, pray for discernment with Proverbs 3:5 “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.”

 

 

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Guilt is a problem many of us grapple with.  As George Michael sang in his eighty’s song, Careless Whisper, ‘the guilt that time can never mend’  prevented him from ever dancing again.  My brother, Elbert, was a Viet Nam veteran and his  guilt from his experiences there was a yoke around his neck until the day he died from a drug overdose when he was 42 years old.

My brother was a machine gunner on the helicopters and one day he had severe bronchitis and was unable to fly, so his best friend went up in his place.  Unfortunately his friend’s helicopter was shot down and he was killed, leaving a heavy burden of ‘survivor’s guilt’ on my brother which he was simply unable to shake.  Elbert believed in God, but his experiences left him a broken shell of a man.  On one mission his superior instructed him to aim the machine gun on an area he knew was filled with our men and he refused to fire.  The officer was outraged and swearing furiously, grabbed the machine gun out of my brother’s hands and commenced shooting himself.  Unfortunately my brother was right, and it was ‘friendly fire’, and our own men were killed that day.

When Elbert came home in 1971 there was no transition; he simply left the battlefield one day, hopped on a plane, and came home to a jeering public who spit on him calling him names such as ‘baby killer’.  It was all too much for this sensitive soul, and one night he simply snapped.  His visit to the Veterans Administration Hospital triggered life-long mental illness and an endless round of visits to the hospital accompanied by a stream of prescription drugs to help numb his emotional pain and stabilize his post-traumatic stress.

The guilt and horrible images haunted my brother so much that finally he inadvertently or intentionally overdosed and ended his tortured life.  Sadly he never understood the good news of the bible that Jesus came to set the captives free and save us from our sin.

Guilt weighs us down in so many ways.  As parents we let past mistakes dominate our parenting styles and let our children run out of control; they become disrespectful and demanding.  As my friend Heather wrote in her blog Guilty Parenting, “Parenting should be love based, never guilt based.”

Like cancer, guilt can destroy us from within.  I knew of a woman whose husband ran over their two year old little boy and tragically killed him by accident.  The wife was so overcome with guilt for not watching over their son, that like my brother, she became mentally unhinged and spent the rest of her life in a mental hospital.

Some other tragic consequences of guilt:

  • Loss of self esteem and self-confidence
  • Creates a negative self-image and can lead to self-hatred
  • Paralyzes you from making decisions
  • Triggers severe anxiety, panic and depression
  • Causes feelings of worthlessness and shame
  • Loss of physical health

But in John 14:27 Jesus tells us “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  So how do you get rid of your guilt?  The first step is quit running away from it and sit down and either journal the source, or discuss it with a friend or counselor.  Let God’s healing light into those murky, shameful places; the sacrament of confession is an outstanding way to allow God’s overwhelming mercy and grace to penetrate and heal your agony.  If you aren’t Catholic, make an appointment to talk to your minister; after all in James 5:16 we’re told to “confess our sins to one another“.

Another way is to meditate on Christ’s passion.  One day while meditating before the massive crucifix at our Christ Carrying Crosschurch, I heard Jesus gently explain that if I couldn’t forgive myself and quit wallowing in my guilt, then he died on the cross for nothing.  So when guilt rears its ugly head I pull out my cross and visualize him being nailed to the cross to take away my guilt and shame.  “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.” 1st Peter 2:24

After King David committed adultery with stunning Bathsheba, he confounded his sin by arranging to have her husband, Uriah, killed in battle.  When the prophet Nathan pointed out David’s sin, the king was overcome with remorse and wrote Psalm 51, The Miserere: Prayer of Repentence.  “Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me…wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…A clean heart create for me God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.”

Only God’s power can cleanse our hearts of the boulders embedded deep within.  Only the saving power of Christ can set us free to live the “abundant life” Jesus promised in John 10:10.  Only through grace can we lose our shame and become a better parent, spouse or friend, and experience the “peace which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

So if guilt is an issue, repeat The Miserere and ask God to give you a squeaky, clean heart, and trust in his overflowing, never-ending mercy!

Related Articles:

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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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Everyone has their own faith journey; sometimes slow, sometimes extremely fast, but personal none the less.  The main goal in spiritual progress is moving toward God, and away from world, but it isn’t always a straight path.  Sometimes we take one step sideways and stay on a plateau for a while; the pursuit of a promotion at work might sidetrack our desire for a deeper intimacy with God.  Other times our faith grows by leaps and bounds, such as when we experience the presence of God in a mighty way.

Some people have faith in God, they attend church every week, and give to charity, but have no interest in deepening their faith.  They are quite comfortable with the status quo. Unfortunately, in Rev. 3 Jesus had harsh words for the lukewarm, those who were “neither hot nor cold”.  Instead he wants us to take the spark of faith in our heart, and allow God to turn it into a raging, passionate fire. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6-7).

The Greek word for turning from the world, and to Jesus Christ is “metanoia” which means transformation.  In Matthew 9:17 “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”  In other words, it is all about the change in our hearts, becoming a new creation.

A few years ago Steven Curtis Chapman came out with a song called “The Change”

Well I got myself a T-shirt that says what I believe
I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID
I got the necklace and the key chain
And almost everything a good Christian needs, yeah

I got the little Bible magnets on my refrigerator door
And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor
I got a Jesus bumper sticker
And the outline of a fish stuck on my car
And even though this stuff’s all well and good, yeah
I cannot help but ask myself–

What about the change
What about the difference
What about the grace

As Chapman states in his song, these are all great signs of your faith, but more importantly, what is the state of your heart.  Are you growing in holiness?  Closer to Christ?  Are you losing your anger and pride?  Becoming more patient and kind, and less judgmental?  Less self-centered and more concerned about your fellow man?

We are the wine, and the Holy Spirit is the wineskin;  unless we become a new creation, the power of the Holy Spirit is useless, wasted.  Imagine the Holy Spirit as a raging river; some of us are little stones that get movedRaging River and shaped the way God desires.  Others are ten foot boulders that don’t move one inch…Take a long, hard look at yourself today, and compare it to five years, or ten years ago.  If there has been no substantial change, then you may be on a nice, comfortable plateau.

It might be time to shake up your prayer time, go on a retreat, or start getting spiritual direction.  It might be time to evaluate the books you read, and the television shows you watch.  Do they bring you closer to Christ, or do they take you farther away from him?  Are you too busy to pray?  If so, you are too busy!  You may desire to grow spiritually, but seem stuck.  After my father died I ‘wallowed” in grief for several years. Finally on a retreat I was advised by my prayer team to let go of my grief.  In prayer I asked Jesus for healing, and was able to relinquish my pain.

It’s important to have a prayer partner or spiritual director, who can help you recognize the “dead and barren” areas which need to be pruned (John 15).  If you have been betrayed, cheated or abused, then anger or unforgivness may be an issue for you.  You definitely have a problem if you frequently fly off the handle or rage at others.  Or perhaps you worry incessantly about every detail of your life;  if so, it’s time to work on your pride and self-reliance.  Are you resentful because of the disappointments in life?

These stones in your heart block the power of the Holy Spirit and can put up a wall between you and God.  Complacency or apathy are also deadly to spiritual growth.  Ask God to use a flashlight and reveal the areas which need to be transformed. Remember, in John 15 Jesus warns “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither”, but “if we remain in him, we will be pruned, so that we may bear more fruit”.  And what is the fruit of the spirit?”  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5)  I think we could all bear some pruning to be more fruitful!

Song “The Change” by Steven Curtis Chapman

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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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