Are You Feeding Your Soul Junk Food?

Summer is here which means it’s county fair season. For me the county fair bring two treats — watching my son see farm animals that he has only seen in picture books and indulging in some fattening foods. This year I tried a fried Twinkie for the first time. For those who don’t know, it’s a Twinkie (actually, an off-brand imitation since Hostess has not restarted production yet) dipped in batter, fried, and then covered in powdered sugar. It was like eating a freshly made donut with warm cream filling only it’s the size of a corndog. And as good as it tasted at the time, my body paid for it later. First, it sat like a brick in my stomach and I just felt sluggish and tired.  Later I experienced a total sugar crash followed by the guilt that I really didn’t do my body any favors partaking in that temporary culinary indulgence.

A Real Deep-fried Twinkie
Fried Twinkies… so bad and yet soooo good.

My fried Twinkie experience reminded me that God designed the human body to expect a certain type of food for energy. He didn’t design the body to gracefully process mountains of fat, sugar, and chemicals that is certainly present in foods like my fried Twinkie. Eating unhealthy food is actually a double-whammy health-wise because you are not only dealing with the insurgence of fat and sugar, but you’re also missing an opportunity to give your body something beneficial. When you treat your body in a way contrary to how God intended for you to use it, you (sugar) crash and burn.

Much like how our physical bodies are designed to act a certain way, so are our souls. And when we move outside the limits of a healthy spiritual diet we also crash and burn by losing God’s grace. First of all, what is a healthy spiritual diet? I see it as a life centered around living key virtues such as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. We find the strength to live those virtues by centering our lives around prayer and meditation because those are the times we dialogue with God and learn His will. A healthy soul is one that lives according to the golden rule and is motivated to do good works out of a love for God and others.  A healthy soul needs periodic feeding through prayer and attending Mass.

Unfortunately, similar to how much of society suffers from a physical health epidemic, we also have a societal spiritual decay. Vices such as lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride fuel this spiritual decay. And we see these vices everywhere in society as we’ve normalized pre-marital sex, single parent households, pornography, cheating, stealing, killing, abortion, euthanasia, illegal drug use, excessive drinking, and just a general disregard for treating others respectfully and the dignity of the human person. Much like a donut occupying space that could otherwise be filled with vegetables, all these vices occupy space in our souls and leave no room for God’s grace. Many of us are consuming spiritual junk food that is destroying our soul’s health. And we aren’t eating our spiritual “vegetables” that keep our souls strong and healthy. Just look at the empty pews at Mass, the short lines at the confessional, and society’s general apathy and hostility towards anything spiritual. Like how fast food has replaced a balanced meal, vices have replaced virtues as a normal way of life for an increasing number of people.

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I have a feeling fighting the spiritual obesity epidemic will need prayer and meditation on all 20 mysteries of the rosary. The rosary walks through the Gospel and the Gospel is Jesus and Jesus’ love is what our souls crave. Praying any mystery and taking its message to heart is a step towards God’s grace and a step away from sin. You can’t be both sinning and living virtuously at the same time. So the more time you spend doing things that are virtuous, the less opportunity you have to sin. And what could be more virtuous than praying relentlessly and then letting those prayers manifest into good works?

Medjugorje : Confession as it should be.

But for those who really need a specific mystery to meditate on, try the First Luminous Mystery, Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan. We should remember two important aspects about the Sacrament of Baptism. First we should remember our baptismal vows that we periodically renew during Mass — to reject sin and to believe in the Holy Trinity. Acting virtuously and spiritually isn’t something reserved for priests and nuns, but something all Catholics profess and promise to live by. Secondly, baptism is about renewal and getting a clean start. No matter how badly and often we sin, we can always get a second chance through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Using the diet analogy, we sometimes fail to eat healthy foods and give into moments of weakness. After all, who can resist picking up a little treat at the market or a fried Twinkie at the fair? But just because you have those moments of weakness doesn’t lock you into a lifetime of eating nothing but junk food. You can always reset and refocus to live and eat healthier. The same goes for our faith. We may have moments of weakness and sin, but that doesn’t prevent us from confessing them, getting a clean slate, and trying to live more virtuously in the future.

So pray vigorously, avoid sin, and for Heaven’s sake share fried Twinkies with friends because they are just too much for any single person. Your soul and your body will thank you.

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Tale of Two Atheists Part 2

Previously I talked about Richard Dawkins calling for the open mockery of Catholic beliefs.  And while his type of atheism has grown more militant over the years, it still fails to move people the same way God can through the power of the Holy Spirit.  To show you the power of faith, here’s a story of another atheist, actually a former atheist — Father Carlos Martins.  Like many Catholics, he was “Catholic in name only” and later fell under the influence of intellectual atheism — the type promoted by Dawkins.  But it was through Eucharistic Adoration that he came to know the very real presence of Christ and not only found his faith, but took up a priestly vocation.  He now leads people in the veneration of sacred relics.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Euchar...

Father Carlos Martins proves the power and joy that comes from a life of faith.  Faith can’t be quantified, measured, or adequately explained.  It certainly can’t be summarized in a few sentences if confronted by an “intellectual” atheist.  But faith’s power cannot be denied.  After all, it has turned many non-believers, like Father Carlos Martins, into staunch defenders of God’s presence in our world.  It has provided strength to millions of saints, martyrs, and believers throughout the centuries.  Those are real changes to real people and not just some intellectual exercise on how the world might be better by throwing off the shackles of religion as atheists would have us believe.

Let’s compare faith vs. intellectual atheism.  New atheists like Dawkins believe that an atheistic world will be happier because people aren’t restricted by the silly bonds of religion.  But can we truly have a happier world without faith?  Were the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea happy places when they tried to build a society without religion?  I think that’s a pretty obvious “no.”  But why are these faithless societies generally unhappy?  Without acknowledging the consequences of sin or the comforting power of grace that comes through faith, society just wonders aimlessly without any purpose.  It doesn’t matter whether your life revolves around helping people or hurting them.  The motivation for doing anything good or productive comes from the coercive nature of government and the laws and penalties they enforce.  In this void, people tend to create false faiths out of political causes like environmentalism, global warming, contraception, identity politics, etc.  But these false faiths don’t truly satisfy our spiritual needs similar to how eating only candy will not sustain physical health.  A world without God will never sustain society because deep down, people need faith to be a complete person.  This is what Father Carlos Martins realized — atheism is ultimately a dead-end because it denies someone a crucial factor for living a fulfilling and happy life.

Now look at the faithful, religious people.  People who live the faith (and not just give it lip service) have a deep sense of happiness and peace through God’s grace.  They realize that life won’t always be easy and there might be some suffering, but they find the confidence and energy to live according to a higher will.  They help the less fortunate, set up shelters, charities, and hospitals, and do any number of good deeds, not because they are coerced by the government, but because they want to share God’s love.  Because they don’t deny faith as a crucial part of their humanity, that faith develops, strengthens, and motivates them to lead a more fulfilling life and help others to do the same.  You can’t deny that religious institutions, either through parishes, charities, or hospitals, make a real difference in people’s lives.

So here we have the reality of happiness through faith vs. the faith of hopelessness through atheism.  I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with the side that already has the proven track record of generating real change for the better — the life of faith.  When I pray the rosary, I pray for the conversion of heart, mind, and soul to be truly aligned with God’s will as Jesus asks of us in the Third Luminous Mystery.  God is present in this world and He calls you to a life of conversion.  Will you be like Father Carlos Martins, the saints, and the millions of faithful Catholics and accept this calling?

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Gospel for May 8, 2011 — Awareness

Man and woman (holding her child) walking by t...
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The Gospel for Sunday, May 8 is from Luke 24:13-35 where some disciples of Jesus met Him on the road to Jerusalem but did not recognize Him.  They did not realize Jesus was with them until He ate with them and broke bread similar to what He did at the Last Supper.  Only then did they realize how foolish they were that they did not recognize Jesus in their presence.  Likewise, when we pray the rosary Jesus is in our presence both listening to us and trying to guide us to His kingdom of Heaven.  But often we do not recognize Jesus’ presence in our prayers or in our lives.

This Sunday’s Gospel follows the same theme as last week’s in that it shows that all too often we look for God in our lives in all the wrong places.  Last week Thomas the apostle had so little faith he would not recognize Jesus’ resurrection until he saw Jesus face to face.  And now in this week’s Gospel two of Jesus’ disciples did not recognize Jesus although they were walking and talking with Him.  They did not see Jesus despite the fact that He explained all the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets explaining His death and resurrection.  And yet they still did not recognize Him.  We too often fail to recognize Jesus in our lives although His truth is all around us.

I touched on this briefly when discussing Doubting Thomas and how we do not always take those telling the truth seriously.  In this case I mean the truth of Jesus Christ as taught through the Catholic Church.  We hear this truth all the time whether it be during Mass, in the Catechism or Bible, Papal decrees, or simply the Church’s traditions that have been practiced for centuries.  We hear them and yet we so often do not follow them because we do not think of them as Jesus’ teachings.  We hear them as the thoughts and opinions of fellow humans much like the disciples in the Gospel thought that Jesus was just some normal traveler.  And so we do not give the Church’s teachings the consideration they deserve and go about living counter to its teachings.  Would you argue about abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, contraception, and human cloning if you stood face to face with Jesus?  Probably not.  So why do we so readily argue with His Church and disobey His teachings?  Are we like the disciples in the Gospel who discovered how foolish they were for not recognizing Jesus in their presence?

We should remember this Gospel reading when we pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary and remember Jesus’ proclamation of Heaven and His call to conversion.  Really meditate this week on the areas in your life where you do not hear Jesus through the Church’s teachings and challenge yourself to learn what Jesus is trying to tell you through His Church.  You will probably not be converted in some of your beliefs overnight.  But just researching what the Church really believes and teaches and humbling yourself to the possibility that there might be areas of your life where you have not let the Holy Spirit guide you is a huge step in the right direction.  There is no doubt that questioning your deeply held beliefs is hard especially if Jesus leads you in a direction that runs counter to popular opinion.  But the Third Luminous Mystery points out that we need to choose whether to live for God’s kingdom or our earthly kingdom.  Do you see that Jesus walks beside you every day and is trying to lead you down the right path or are you too wrapped up in living solely for what this world has to offer?

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Rosary Meditation: The Fourth Luminous Mystery

This rosary meditation is on the Fourth Luminous Mystery — The Transfiguration. In this mystery, Jesus took his apostles, Peter, John, and James up to a mountain to pray. There His clothes turned dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. Then a voice came from the clouds saying, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.”

The upper part of the Transfiguration (1520) b...
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This rosary meditation is on the Fourth Luminous Mystery — The Transfiguration.  In this mystery, Jesus took his apostles, Peter, John, and James up to a mountain to pray.  There His clothes turned dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him.  Then a voice came from the clouds saying, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.”

In this mystery, Jesus reveals himself as being God made man.  This instance separates Jesus from the prophets of the Old Testament.  Yes, He performed miracles and preached God’s word, but so did the prophets.  The Old Testament is full of stories of people using the grace of God to perform miracles such as Moses parting the Red Sea.  But in the Transfiguration, Jesus shows that He is no mere prophet following God’s will, but He IS God’s will, God’s word, and God’s truth in human form.  I think this is why Moses and Elijah appeared next to Jesus; as if God was contrasting Himself with the prophets that came before Him.

God, Creator of all that exists and ever will exist, the ultimate truth, our final judge, the alpha and the omega, humbled Himself and came down to earth in a human form so that we may know Him personally.  God desires all of us to live in His grace and love and so He became man through Jesus Christ so that we may better understand His ways.  Our human minds cannot possibly understand God’s infinite complexity and He knows that.  So like an adult trying to explain a complex idea to a child, God revealed Himself in a very simple and direct way — by taking a form which people could see, hear, and touch.

God gave the apostles a very direct command to listen to Jesus.  And yet, after all they had seen and heard, they abandoned Jesus at His crucifixion.  Unfortunately, we continue to imitate the apostles’ behavior whenever we disobey God’s will and sin.  Imagine our arrogance to have received the word of God directly from Jesus and then deliberately disregard it because it conflicts with how we want to live or it seem too difficult.  We say we are followers of Christ, but when it comes time to humble ourselves to God’s will and accept Jesus’ teachings we often tell Him, “thanks, but no thanks.”  In the Transfiguration, God gave us very simple and direct order on how we are to obtain grace and that is to listen to His son, Jesus Christ.  And yet, each one of us can probably think of an instance where we refuse God’s grace through our words, thoughts, or actions.

So let us take a moment to remember the awesome gift God gave us through His son, Jesus Christ.  We should remember the gift of the Catholic Church starting with the first pope, St. Peter, who was there at the Transfiguration and later personally appointed by Jesus to lead His people.  God told us to listen to Jesus which means we should learn what the Church teaches so that we may know Him, follow Him, and love Him.  God gave us a tremendous gift by making Himself more accessible through Jesus.  We should pray for all of those who are wasting this precious gift by not following God’s will.  We must pray for a world that seems to have gone out of its way NOT to listen to God’s message.

God made Himself available to all of us through Jesus Christ.  The question is, do we make ourselves available to God by listening to Him?


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Rosary Meditation: The Third Luminous Mystery

Today’s rosary meditation focuses on the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God with a call to conversion. We should remember that Jesus is the Word made Flesh who brought the power and glory of Heaven into this world. However, in order to celebrate in God’s graces we must first approach Jesus with a humble heart open to conversion. By conversion, Jesus asks us to put away our worldly and sinful ways and truly embrace His teachings of goodness and mercy.

Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator ...
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Today’s rosary meditation focuses on the Third Luminous Mystery — Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God with a call to conversion. We should remember that Jesus is the Word made Flesh who brought the power and glory of Heaven into this world.  However, in order to celebrate in God’s graces we must first approach Jesus with a humble heart open to conversion.   By conversion, Jesus asks us to put away our worldly and sinful ways and truly embrace His teachings of goodness and mercy.

Early in His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the Word had been fulfilled through Him.  In a synagogue, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah how “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.”  He followed up the reading saying how that passage was now fulfilled.  As Christians who already believe in the Jesus’ divinity, this passage reads more as a statement of fact rather than a radical proclamation.  However, this would have been difficult to hear for those gathered in the synagogue at that time.  Instead of accepting Jesus as the Word made Flesh, they chased Him out of town.  This reminds me of the times when God calls me to follow His ways, but instead of accepting God’s call, I reject it.  Often we tell ourselves that what God asks of us doesn’t make any sense, is difficult, or impossible. It is always easier to find excuses and justifications rather than accept God’s Word. After all, the people who chased Jesus out of the temple reasoned that He was just the son of Joseph the carpenter and couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.  We must ask ourselves, how often do we try to reason away God’s Word, transform it, or revise it in order to suit our notions of how to live?

Jesus’ ministry of healing and miracles showed the power and glory of God’s kingdom.  He gave sight to the blind, healed the sick, and restored movement to the paralyzed.  Through his acts people came to believe and follow Him.  Jesus did indeed bring the kingdom of Heaven to the world for wherever He traveled people felt the true presence of God.  But I find it amazing how quickly the people who followed Jesus abandoned Him.  They praised Him one day only to call for His crucifixion the next.  For many, Jesus was just a man who made their lives easier through physical healing.  But when confronted with the difficult reality of following a man who was condemned by the ruling Roman authorities and Jewish leaders, people quickly, as they say in politics, “threw Him under the bus.”  Unfortunately, today we carry on that legacy of human weakness of praising God when life is good and abandoning Him when life becomes difficult.  How often have we become angry with God because something bad happened to us or we didn’t receive an outcome that we expected?  Life is not always easy or fair but those with strong faith know that God is present when we need Him the most.  Those other moments when we abandon God amongst hardship should serve as a reminder on just how much more work we need to do in order to prepare our souls to receive God’s kingdom in our lives.

How do we prepare ourselves to fully receive God’s graces?  Jesus asks us to convert.  There are two aspects to conversion.  First, we need to have a humble spirit.  Too often, we let our pride get in the way of really living as God asks us.  We naively say that God needs to change since we cannot possibly change our lives.  We proclaim that the Church and Her rules need to “get with the times” and be more progressive.  Our pride leads us to believe that our ways are perfect and God’s ways need reformation.  However, it is not God who needs conversion, but us.  As I wrote previously, God’s laws are not subject to a straw poll.  We are the ones who needs to show humility, take a hard look at ourselves, and find those aspects of our lives that need to change.

The other aspect of conversion is reconciliation.  If we really want to receive God’s kingdom we need to wash away our sins through the Sacrament of Confession.  I like the term “washing away” because it implies cleaning something that is dirty.  That “dirt” is sin and by the power of the Holy Spirit we cleanse our souls of all those things that prevent us from fully embracing God.  Very few of us like to live in dirtiness.  We spend huge amounts of time, money, and energy cleaning our clothes, homes, cars, and bodies.  And yet, we do not take the time to clean what is most important — our eternal souls.  The Sacrament of Confession is free and requires very little time and energy.  All it takes is an open heart to truly examine our conscience to make a good confession.  After all, we want to make sure we clean every nook and cranny.

I want to end with a challenge.  Every day ask yourself, “How can I be a better person today than I was yesterday?”  Find those aspects of your life that prevent you from truly embracing God’s kingdom and change them.  Conversion is not a one-shot deal.  It takes time and patience through small steps.  The road of conversion is one of triumphs as well as defeats.  But we’ll never make any progress if our pride prevents us from admitting that we can do better.  The kingdom of God is here with us now and the doors are wide open.  God invites all of us to celebrate in His grace.  The obligation is on us to prepare ourselves in order to fully embrace the power and glory that can only come through God.

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The Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist

This rosary meditation focuses on The Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist. This mystery goes to the core of the Catholic faith; that the bread and wine at Mass actually are TRANSFORMED into the Body and Blood of Christ. For Catholics, the Eucharist is not just a symbol, but is actually the very real presence of Jesus. The consecration of the bread and wine is no different than if Jesus, in human form, came walking through the doors of the church. And yet many of us receive Jesus regularly during Communion without appreciating the enormity of this gift.

The Last Supper

This rosary meditation focuses on The Fifth Luminous Mystery — The Institution of the Eucharist.  This mystery goes to the core of the Catholic faith; that the bread and wine at Mass actually are TRANSFORMED into the Body and Blood of Christ.  For Catholics, the Eucharist is not just a symbol, but is actually the very real presence of Jesus.  The consecration of the bread and wine is no different than if Jesus, in human form, came walking through the doors of the church.  And yet many of us receive Jesus regularly during Communion without appreciating the enormity of this gift.

The consecration requires one of the largest acts of faith of believing Catholics.  After all, it is hard to believe that a small wafer and some wine actually is Jesus Christ.  There are many times when we receive the Eucharist on auto-pilot.  Most of us probably wait in line, look around at other people and enjoy the music as if we were waiting for food in a cafeteria.  But if Jesus, in His human form, walked through the door and spoke to us, He would have our complete attention.  We would be reverent and attentive to everything He said.  And yet, do we show that same reverence to His Body and Blood in the Eucharist?  For most of us, no matter how hard we try, the answer would probably be no.  If we really had even the faintest idea of the true nature of the Eucharist, we would not receive it so casually.

Since the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, we physically embrace Jesus as He becomes part of us and we become part of Him every time we partake in the great, spiritual feast.  We embrace Jesus by becoming sacred vessels of His Body and Blood.  Think of the Eucharist as the fuel that empowers us to do God’s will and face life’s challenges.  Like any living creature, we need energy to survive and flourish.  Without it, we are like a car with an empty tank — unable to do anything or going anywhere.  The Eucharist is spiritual energy that we need in order to continue on the road to Heaven.

How do we become part of Jesus every time we receive Communion?  The word “communion” implies “community.”  When we receive the Eucharist we are coming together as a community of believers in Jesus Christ.  Receiving the Eucharist is an affirmation in our belief and faith in Jesus’ teachings and a public commitment that we will follow His will.  Since the Church is the Lord’s instrument on earth, following Jesus and accepting His will means following the Church and Her teachings.  As a community of believers, we each do our small part in carrying out His will and bringing His peace to the world.

When we pray this mystery, let us reflect and meditate that:

  • We have the faith and belief that we really do receive Jesus Christ through the Eucharist.  Let us show the Eucharist the same reverence and respect that we would show Jesus if He came to us in human form.  May we also rejoice in the great gift of the Eucharist since through it Jesus reveals His presence in our lives.  May we take advantage of the invitation to be part of Jesus’ community.
  • We treat our bodies, minds, and souls as sacred vessels that carry Jesus throughout the world.  Let us not block and mask His presence through the “dirt” of sin.  Let us pray for all of those who cannot see Jesus in their lives or let His light shine fourth due to the “dirtiness” of their souls.  May we always have the faith and courage to seek forgiveness and clean ourselves through Confession.
  • We accept the obligation of being part of the Catholic community when we participate in Communion.  We are all called to be members of His one Church.  We are called to learn, accept, promote, and defend Her teachings.  Let us pray that we have the peace of mind and patience to listen to God either through the Church’s teachers or in the stillness of prayer and do whatever He asks of us.
  • We pray for all those making their first Holy Communion.  My nephew is making his soon (yeah!).  May this serve as an important step in their faith journey as they are introduced to another one of God’s great sacraments.
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