This year, LENT starts on Ash Wednesday, February 17th. We may come to this penitential season with mixed thoughts and feelings, such as anticipation to tackle an issue the LORD has spotlighted, with dread because of a historical failure to keep resolutions, or a simple desire to grow in friendship with Christ. A faithful friend doesn’t leave when the going gets rough, but enters into, walks with, is present to, and gives real assistance. In this case, it’s Jesus who invites deeper intimacy throughout these 40 days, reminiscent of the Israelites' journey through the desert from the slavery of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, and of His own confrontation with the enemy in the desert following His baptism.
Traditionally, the Church encourages prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. If this seems stale and we are stuck along the way, reconsider Lent’s “Triple A” roadside insurance for the journey:
Abide. To pray is to abide in the Lord who wishes to abide in us (Jn 15: 4). How are we, specifically, called to grow in prayer? Some are good at setting aside time to pray but fail to communicate with Him always…and visa versa. “Abide” in Scripture means to dwell together, to rest in, to remain connected, to attend and wait upon. It is likely that we are called to practice the presence of God in the moment and with the person in front of us, or that we are called to set aside some time for a more meditative or contemplative prayer, rather than rote prayers. We may consider spiritual reading or just sitting in silence. Abiding doesn’t allow hiding: be real with the LORD. Abide in the vine by receiving His life-giving grace.
2021 is here and under the patronage of St. Joseph according to Pope Francis, who desires that “every member of the faithful, following his example, may strengthen their life of faith daily in the complete fulfillment of God’s will.” St. Joseph, guide our discernment and obedience to the Word spoken over our lives, show us the way when life seems confusing, strengthen us for the ordinary and extraordinary tasks ahead, and make our hidden lives holy.
This new year, please consider a few spiritual podcasts to nourish your soul. Typically, I do not make at-large recommendations because people often need such different things, but I believe these short podcasts may be particularly helpful:
Finally, let us remember that remaining in His peace is a primary obligation (Fr. Jacques Philippe). We live in turbulent times, but our hearts can still be anchored in the loving presence of God and fundamentals of our faith. Please beware of the various news sources (Catholic and otherwise) that you are taking in and how much time you give to these. There are situations that we must confront, but in the Spirit of Christ, not the spirit of fear, confusion, or anger. We ask to be under His Wise and Mighty Lordship and make space for Him through heartfelt prayer, weekly adoration and the sacraments (where available), charity and truth in every interaction, and trustful surrender.
God bless you!
One morning, as we carried out our morning lectio divina before school, the topic of repentance came up. We had been reading the Scripture of Luke 7: 36-50 called “The Pardon of the Sinful Woman.” Unlike the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner, the unwanted, unworthy, and unexpected woman lavished Jesus with love. She cried all over his feet, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with perfume. Criticized by the Pharisee, Jesus told a parable that focused on the degree of love in proportion to the amount forgiven.
Frequent, sacramental confession is essential for those who desire to grow in holiness and is necessary for salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church” (§1497). Yet, what if one honestly can’t get to confession because of COVID restrictions and the priest shortage (creating impossible confession times and long lines in which one may not get in at all)?
As a family we discussed that in this case, we should express contrition for our sin directly to the Lord and trust in His merciful forgiveness even as we plan to get to sacramental confession ASAP. “Kinda like a spiritual communion but a spiritual confession, instead?,” queried one of the kids. What a brilliant analogy! (If a spiritual communion is new to you, this is a prayer expressing desire to receive sacramental communion while trusting in similar graces since that wasn’t possible. Here are several versions of a spiritual communion.) This mirrors Pope Francis’ recommendation this past spring.
If necessary, consider writing your own spiritual confession until you get to sacramental confession. Unite yourself with others throughout the world who don’t have regular access to the sacraments and trust in His divine mercy and abundant grace right where you are right now! Here's one option:
While only a tool, journaling is an important one that may offer significant spiritual breakthrough and development. You may want to sit with and ponder the following Scripture: “I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart, I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision; Make it plain on tablets, so that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be too late” (Habakkuk 2: 1-3). While there are many schools of thought on prayer journaling, such the Ignatian concept of journaling only after prayer so as not to interrupt what is happening between you and the Lord, you may want to remember that prayer is a sacred conversation with the living, mysterious, and relational God.
The Examen is differs from the examination of conscience (inventory of sins before confession). The Ignatian Examen (SpEx #43) was renewed with the contribution of the “Consciousness Examen” by George Aschenbrenner, SJ in 2007. He explained how to connect the Examen to discernment of spirits through examining consciousness of inner movements of soul because: “What is happing in our consciousness is prior to…our actions.” The Examen targets the root of sin and sanctity by forming a “discerning heart.” It’s important to consider the “interior feelings, moods, and slightest urges” rather than avoid them. The goal is not to follow every prompting, but to enter deeper and deeper levels of the soul to be drawn by God alone in the still point of the heart. This Examen includes the 5 Keys of Unbound by Neil Lozano since the 5 Keys offers practical tools to assist conversion and entrustment as you see below. Remember, the name of Jesus invokes His Presence and His Power. Finally, the acronym of G.R.A.C.E. helps you remember the 5 steps of the Ignatian Examen, which takes roughly 10 -15 minutes. Consider journaling important findings.
Gratitude: Count your blessings. Gratitude wards off discouragement and honors God’s goodness, in good times and bad, because everything is grace.
Request: Request light to see your day from God's perspective since His vision is true and penetrating. There is primacy to the spiritual life: God starts, you respond.
Account: Take account of your day by seeing what God brings to your attention (either positive or negative). This is not an inventory, but a revelation of one or two things to focus on with the Lord. Revisit what the Lord shows you, not just the event (thought, word, or deed – omission or commission) but the underlying feeling which is linked to a (true or false) belief. What patterns do you see?
Conversion: Return to the Lord. For those positive responses, give Him glory and praise. For those negative responses, and as needed, it may be helpful to utilize Keys 1-3 of Unbound because you want to break all fellowship with sin, unforgiveness, and other bondages of the enemy:
(1) Repent by saying out loud, “In the name of Jesus, I am sorry for ________.”
(2) Forgive by saying out loud, “In the name of Jesus, I forgive ___name___ for ___ describe it___.”
(3) Renounce by saying out loud, “In the name of Jesus, I renounce the spirit of ___ label it ___ (Ex. gluttony, powerlessness, lust, worthlessness, etc.)
Entrust: Ask for the grace to improve tomorrow and proactively consider a plan of amendment. Entrust all this to the Lord, which is coming back into right relationship with Him. Savor His love for you! Perhaps, utilize Keys 4-5 here:
(4) Reclaim the dignity and power that belongs to you as His adoptive son / daughter, that is a priest, prophet, and king. Take authority in His name. Say out loud, “In the name of Jesus, I reclaim authority _________.”
(5) Accept His blessing. God is Good all the time. Allow Him to bless you by receiving and accepting it. Live in His love. Say out loud, “In the name of Jesus, I accept the Father’s blessing of _________________.”
The Power of Silence: Against the Dictorship of Noise by Robert Cardinal Sarah
is excellent for meditation and spiritual reading. It can be applicable for everyone and is divided into short numbered paragraphs.
2. At the heart of man there is an innate silence, for God abides in the innermost part of every person. God is silence, and this divine silence dwells in man. In God we are inseparably bound up with silence. The Church can affirm that mankind is the daughter of a silent God; for men are the sons of silence.
Are you paying attention? It’s key to the spiritual life." By Sr. Aletheia Noble at Aletia.org on August 8, 2017. Thank you!
For a long time, I had believed and even took pride in the idea that I was a good listener. Recently, however, I learned that I am not as good of a listener as I had thought. I was sharing something personal with a friend, something I wouldn’t normally share with others, and she abruptly interrupted me to talk to another person. I felt shocked and hurt, but just as soon as I felt anger surging within me, I also realized that I had just seen myself in her distracted face. My friend’s inability to focus on what I was saying helped me to realize that my attention on others is often unfocused, too. This incident helped me to see in a very concrete way the connection between my undisciplined attention and my failure to love others and God.
I recently read an essay by French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil in which she writes, “Prayer consists of attention.” After I read that sentence, I felt a shiver of shock run through me. If prayer is truly connected to our ability to pay attention, the implications are startling and immense, especially in today’s multi-tasking, fast moving, digital culture. Without learning how to pay attention, our lives become more and more fractured and distracted. And lack of focus in our everyday lives can translate to less fruitful prayer time, and ultimately prevent us from living a more contemplative life of union with God.
First in a Series on Reclaiming the Ten Commandments for Our Times
by Fr. Roberty McTeigue, SJ on July 19, 2017 at Aletia.org. Thank you!
There is an altar in the center of the human heart, and we can't bear for it to be empty. How do you know what your priorities are? One answer: Look at what has the first claim on your time, energy and money. How do you know what your priorities should be? That’s a different, harder, and more important question.
I’ve been thinking about priorities since I recently saw a child, no more than 10, stop what she was doing, take out a small kit, and test her blood sugar. She has a robust form of diabetes and has to monitor herself to stay healthy. I was struck that this little girl, very calmly, unselfconsciously and matter-of-factly stopped what she preferred to be doing (playing with other children) to do what she knew she needed to do and must do. She’d been taught well a clear sense of priorities, to the degree that she could understand, and it seemed to me that she was taught in a way that would allow her to understand better when she was older.
What if we taught our children (and ourselves!) about God that way?
Each Lent, we accompany Christ on the way of the cross via prayer, fasting, and almsgiving but still skim the surface. Why not go deep and get real with the Lord? Sometimes, we just don’t know how. So, let’s learn from Jesus crucified how to be vulnerable before the Lord, which gives Him access to our hearts for our transformation and His glory. Neither a Scripture study nor a theological treatise, this simple reflection may facilitate a deeper relationship with the Lord. Since Jesus was like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15), He models prayer that is spiritually and psychologically healthy. In His darkest moment, when He is near death on the cross, He cries to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). Here, Jesus teaches four elements of “honest prayer.”
1. He Articulates. Jesus says what He thinks, which beats dancing around an issue as if the Lord can’t handle our honesty. In fact, Jesus confronted His Father with His perception of reality. Transparency is safe because what happens in our lives really matters to the Lord. The Lord eagerly waits for us to accept and articulate our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances. While it can be difficult to figure out what is going on inside of us, the Lord loves it when we pray the truth of our lives. Facing our sin, fears, pain, and brokenness allows Him to meet us where we are at in order to lift us up. Isn’t this exactly where the enemy would like believers to be – in a shallow, pseudo relationship as if the Lord doesn’t care, listen, or respond? Yes, Jesus bothers His Father with what is on His mind and in His heart, without trying to impress Him.
2. He Feels. Jesus recognizes what He feels and includes this in His prayer.
Parenting is a paradox. While we will need to give an account for what we have been entrusted with, the final product is not fully in our control. We are called to be good stewards, making a return on our children by putting our best foot forward. At the same time, there is freedom in releasing ultimate responsibility for our children into the hands of the Lord, who loves them more than we do. Even in the best of parenting situations, there are some inevitable and humbling gaps that God alone can fill.
The first gap is our own brokenness.