Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scripture Short - Church is Catholic and Perpetual

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:15-16)

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16)

“…The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ...” (Acts 10 [the whole chapter])

“For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Is 9:6-7)

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever;” (Dan 2:44)

“To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:14)

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Mt 7:24)

“He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” “ (Mt 13:24-30)

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (Jn 14:16)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Deeper Relationship with Christ

God has given me a most wonderful experience in growing closer to Him, and I simply must tell you about it.

I had been feeling dull for some time, as though the world was honing away at my steel faster than God was sharpening it. I knew that it wasn’t a problem of God not keeping up, that it was with me; that I was becoming lazy in my faith life. Ever so gradually I had allowed myself to skip out on a prayer here, a prayer there, a mindful presence of the Lord from time to time. I was allowing myself to become too lax, too comfortable. It was nothing immediately noticeable, but looking back over the past couple years it was clear. I tried to get back into prayerful habits and exercises of piety, but continued to fail time after time. What I needed was a retreat. Just like the armies of man-made warfare who are too worn to continue, I was worn from spiritual warfare and needed to back off from the front lines and take time to heal, to rest, to revive, and to rekindle that deep personal relationship with God. I needed to relearn how to listen to Him intently and allow Him to love me and heal me and guide my life.

I’ve been on several retreats in my life, of various formats and focuses. I’ve even staffed several, and spoken at a couple. I’ve been a group leader, a “table parent”, “prayer staff”, participant…you name it. All of these retreats were aimed at realizing God’s love for us, His Will that we ultimately join His Heavenly Kingdom, His desire for us to do His Holy Will here on earth and in Heaven, and at understanding the wonderful tools given us to help us on our journey. But from all of these, this particular retreat stood out as being more deep and unique, in a profound way.

This retreat is one based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Order that put on the retreat is Miles Christi (Soldiers of Christ) aptly named in light of St. Ignatius' desire to convert his military service to Christ after suffering wounds in battle in the 16th century. Other groups also put on the retreat and the Exercises have been receiving accolades since the 16th century, by no less than nine Popes. While the traditional form is a 30-day retreat, the one I went on was just less than three days.

The Exercises focus on the interior life, on the state and condition of the soul. Meditation on Christ, in His presence while contemplating His Holy Will for us, is the key used to identify specific sins in our lives, root them out, and grow closer to Christ and form a stronger bond with our Lord in our resolve to avoid those sins. A series of short talks are given to introduce the respective topic, and these are followed by prayerful meditation in the Lord’s presence in the manner recommended by St. Ignatius.

Another key aspect of the retreat is the silence. A silent retreat (where the retreatants do not speak to one another and separate themselves from the outside world, their cell phones, computers, etc.) forces us to go to our interiors and focus on Christ within us. It also places our focus on where Christ is drawing our attention, especially those areas we need to work on. It is precisely these areas of growth that we so easily ignore in our day-to-day lives by distracting ourselves with other things. The Spiritual Exercises exclude those “other things” and we are then faced with dealing with the issues that God wants us to deal with and following His guidance for our healing. While it seems scary at first, it is a truly healing experience by the time the Exercises are completed.

I cannot begin to tell you in full detail how wonderful and powerful and beneficial this retreat was for me. Christ drew me to evaluate my life, both past and present, and showed me several sins that seemed to stem from a common core…sharing a common root. From there I accepted God’s healing grace of forgiveness and resolved to cut the ties to the vices which had led me into sin. I resolved to stop repeating those sins against Him. By putting my resolutions in writing, Christ gave me a way to hold myself accountable for either avoiding sin, or slipping back into sinful ways. He also guided me to choose acts of piety that would strengthen the virtues I was lacking in and combat the vices I had been steeped in. He showed me in an examination of my conscience that spiritual fitness is very important, more so than physical fitness, since our souls are eternal. The Lord gave me, through the Spiritual Exercises, the tools, motivation, and resolve I needed to serve Him in a fuller way and to live the life He has called me to live, in the manner in which He has called me to live it.

Whether you are just a regular Catholic living your faith for God, or you have been searching for ways to deepen your relationship with Christ, or whatever, this retreat is for YOU! I hope you will all consider going on this retreat, or at least some other form of retreat, to refocus your life on Christ and reaffirm your commitment to live for Him and avoid the sins that pull us, however slowly, away from our Lord.

For more information on the Spiritual Exercises, please visit:
Ignatian Spirituality - http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/
Catholic Retreats - http://www.catholicretreats.net/the-spiritual-exercises
Loyola Press - http://loyolapress.com/ignatian-spiritual-exercises-and-retreats.htm
Miles Christi - http://www.mileschristi.org/about-miles-christi/


Image courtesy of JesusPictures-photos.blogspot.com/

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why 'Giving it to God' May Not be Working for You

Have you ever had a problem that was really wrecking your life, or maybe even just a small problem that was causing you grief, and you felt a need to “fix” it? I’m sure most of us have. I know I have.

Now, have you ever been told to “give it to God”? I would guess that many of the people reading this have, or they already knew to do this from their youth (in which case you owe your parents a debt of gratitude). If you have never been told this, consider this “Lesson One: Give it to God”. (But that’s only the beginning.)

For those who knew to do this, did you notice how, after giving it to Him, that particular problem never, ever, EVER resurfaced again to come back and haunt you?
 Me neither. In fact, in my own little world of experience, it's those very problems I have given to the Lord that come back to me, sometimes with the most vengeance, requiring more self-discipline to even want to give it back to God again. Why is that?

I'm going to have to tell on myself a little bit, but for the sake of the few who can relate and really want to know why “giving it to God” isn't working how you expected, I'm willing.

I like to eat. And I don't just mean that I enjoy eating meals. I like to EAT. I eat for sustenance. I eat for fun. I eat when I'm stressed. I eat when I am depressed. I eat to celebrate. I eat when I'm bored. I eat things that taste delicious. I eat things that taste curious. And don’t you dare think that a little thing like “being reasonably full” is enough to keep me from dessert or a second helping!  I think you get the idea. 

So, let's say that I have decided that eating too much is a problem for me. It’s fairly obvious, right? So, here I go: “Lord, I am an overeater and I use food for something above and beyond (or below and beneath) what you have created it for. I have a food problem and I am giving to you. I want to honor you with my body, and with the things I put into it. I want to treat your gift of sustenance with respect, and not abuse it. Please, Lord, heal me of this eating problem.

Problem solved, right? Sure, for about two days. Then, after dinner one night, one of the kids drops a glass bowl on the tile floor. He's barefoot, and the barefoot baby is toddling into that same area just as glass is scattering across the floor at 100 miles per hour. Stress. Not cool. Now I'm anxious and angry. Throwing an adult hissy fit about the broken glass everywhere as I clean, I manage to get it all swept up...with a toddler in one hand, a broom in the other, and a scared five-year-old frozen in his tracks, too afraid to move a muscle.

Now I'm stressed out and guess what I do. As soon as the kids are in bed and I can finally relax, I go straight for the pantry to get some “comfort food” to calm my nerves. I'm not hungry because we just ate dinner, but I need something “to help me relax”. Is any of this sounding familiar to anyone? You could replace “eating” with “having a smoke”, or “having a drink”, or “avoiding my family for the rest of the night because seeing or hearing them will toss me over the edge”, or any other number of things that we call “coping mechanisms”.

Looking back at this scenario, is eating too much really my problem? In that prayer I said two days ago, did I “give my problems to the Lord”?
 No! All I gave God was a coping device, and that coping device was only superficially treating a symptom, and He knew it, and that's where the glorious part comes in. God doesn’t want to just remove my coping device, and He doesn’t want to just heal a superficial symptom. Coping devices aren’t all bad (unless we abuse them) and symptoms aren’t bad either. In fact, those symptoms can be really helpful signals to us sometimes.
No, He wants to heal my *problem*. He wants me to get to the root of the issue and address it, deal with it, work through it, and then give Him my trust that He will help me through the core issue.

God knows our needs before we tell Him. The Bible says so. He knows what my real problem is, even if I don't. And He knows in my heart that I really want to “give it to the Lord”, even if I don't know what I'm supposed to be giving Him. So what does He do? He gives me the opportunity to discover what my real problem is. As I place myself in His presence and go to Him with my struggles, asking Him why I fail in dealing with them and why I go back to munching on snacks for comfort (or whatever it is that I do to cope), He speaks to me in my reflection of the event.

I over-reacted. I lost my temper and self-control. I self-soothed with food (or whatever). Eating was not my problem; it was my crutch. Why did I need that crutch? I needed it because I was injured/wounded somewhere. Where? OR maybe I just like “comfort” too much and it has made me lazy…too lazy to actually deal with problems. Do I have a disordered attachment to always wanting to be comfortable? Do I have suppressed anger about something? What might it be and where might it have come from? Do I need to work on being less lazy and less attached to (addicted to?) comfort?

Maybe it's an anger issue from a stressed childhood. Maybe it's insecurity from being rejected at a crucial developmental milestone. Maybe it's past abuse of one form or another. Maybe it's something hidden deep down that you need help seeing (professional help, I mean). Or maybe it really is just a disordered attachment to wanting constant comfort. Whatever it is, THAT is what you should be taking to the Lord.
 If all you give to Him are your coping mechanisms, or even just the symptoms, you will never see an end to those problems. Sure, you may deal with them in healthier ways and work at avoiding your specific crutch. But my bet is that you will see similar and related issues pop up again and again, and you will find other crutches to lean on as those same symptoms resurface time and again. And if you spend any decent amount of time really reflecting on your past and present, you will start to see trends.
But once you start seeing trends, it gets easier to identify the root of the problem. And once you have identified the root of the problem, you are NOW ready to “give it to the Lord” and allow Him to help you work through it.  (Notice I said, "help you work through it", and not "fix it for you".  God expects us to participate and use our free will in this.  He forces nothing on us, even if it's for our good.)

By walking us through all these questions and helping us reflect on our reactions, how we felt in certain situations, how we feel now, etc...God helps us get to the root of the problem. He shows us what to give to Him. And if we don’t figure it out at that time, He doesn’t give up on us. In fact, he allows us to continue to suffer the symptoms of the problem, which lead us to find other crutches, which *should* be a big red flag waving at us that we have still have not gotten to the root of it, and *should* encourage us to continue searching for that issue which we need to bring to our Lord. And to top it all off, God doesn’t mind if we use HIM as our crutch instead of those cookies. And if we do use Him instead of the snacks (or whatever else), He is all the more willing to gently lead us to a real solution by pointing us to the real root of the issues. That’s really magnificent, isn’t it?

In my next article, I’m going to tell you all about a retreat I recently returned from that has been life-changing for me. One of the reasons it was so powerful for me was exactly what I just talked about. Christ showed me how to find the root of my problems and He has begun freeing me from the havoc that they were causing in my spiritual life.

If “giving it to God” has not been working the way you expected, take some time to reflect on why that might be, and whether you are really bringing the root of the issue to Him.



Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, November 3, 2014

Scripture Short - Church is Holy

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

“ ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.’ ” (Jn 14:16-26)

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (Jn 16:13)

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18)

“As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1Cor 12:20-27)

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1Cor 6:15)

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:22-32)

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Rom12:4-5)