This September, let's spin off of Theology of the Body to look at labor and then dive into the anchor of our souls. We might adapt TOB terms to unpack the meaning of labor...
Can you believe we are rounding out the summer of 2021? I hope that despite the heat waves, smoke screens, and COVID uptake, this was restful time. Following the graduation of my 18 year old and 22 year old in May, as well as teaching a 400 class on discernment and assisting with a 300 residency for those seeking certification in spiritual direction, I spent June/July focused on family and several dear friends whom I accompany in the nineteenth annotation. Moving into fall, I want to share a few resources with this caveat: linking does not mean that I support the author or organization in entirety, but these resources on (1) Things I Learned in Spiritual Direction, (2) Being Devoted to One Another in Marriage, and how Current Events Invite (3) Trust, and (4) Simplicity may be pertinent and helpful.
Ten years ago, I sat in the back of a Florida conference room waiting for Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, to talk on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in relation to St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. When he spoke his first three words, “The Holy Spirit…,” grace surprisingly and tangibly fell over me, and I started sobbing. My life had already been given over to the Lord. Yet, there was MORE! Something or Someone essential had been absent in my spiritual life…now, I knew it! Since then, I have pondered what this all meant, especially upon learning that some theologians see the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten Person of the Trinity.”
May you have blessed Holy Week. Considering the timing, let’s imagine the forgiving heart of Jesus from his passion through his ascension. As he hung on the cross, the very people he created, loved, and saved tortured him: either directly by their insults, spit, and physical violence (the soldiers), or indirectly, by their failure to accompany him in his worst moments (the apostles). Jesus cried, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Lk 23: 24, NABRE). On Easter morning, he miraculously entered the locked room, where the disciples huddled in fear and confusion, and said, "Peace be with you" (Jn 20: 19). Jesus' forgiveness prompted an impartation of peace followed by a challenge. The three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him are "redue" opportunities for his three betrayals (Jn 21: 17). Jesus sets the stage for our understanding of authentic forgiveness, which means knowing what forgiveness is and isn't.
I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
Do I honor God? Do I pray to God every day? Have I thanked God for His gifts to me? Has God and the pursuit of sanctity in Christ been the goal of my life? Have I made something else in my life more important than God: money, work, alcohol, smoking, drugs, my phone, online gaming, or vacation? Do I place myself above God? Have I tried to use magic or divination or other occult practices and tools?
Because the question of “how to pray” comes up so often in spiritual direction, I want to offer my own explainer on beginning interior prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of three types of prayer: vocal (memorized prayers, typically prayed out loud), meditative (called discursive or mental, as it prioritizes active thinking), and contemplative (a word with many definitions, though generally passive and heart based) (#2699). Notice the progression. This instruction is for beginners or those moving into meditative prayer since those advanced in prayer need different advice. The word “interior” is preferable to “mental” because it facilitates the transition from head to heart as St. Theresa of Avila’s indicated with her treatise on prayer, The Interior Castle. Prayer is paying attention to God and intentionally spending time with Him. It is a dialogue, or mutual listening and speaking about what matters most. Try 7Rs to begin interior prayer:
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.