Pace Your Prayer Life

One of the main themes of my website is that prayer can be likened to exercise. Any good fitness instructor will tell you that you need to rest periodically so you can regain energy and avoid injury. Likewise, make sure your prayer routine includes time to rest so that you don’t experience spiritual burnout.

brush drawing on blue primed paper

One of the main themes of my website is that prayer can be likened to exercise.  Like physical exercise, prayer requires an earnest and consistent effort for noticeable results.  In physical exercise, you will never get into good shape if you only do one push-up.  Likewise, throwing out a “Hail Mary” once a month really won’t get you very connected to your faith.  However, you also want to be careful not to go to the other extreme and wear yourself out.  Any good fitness instructor will tell you that you need to rest periodically so you can regain energy and avoid injury.  Likewise, make sure your prayer routine includes time to rest so that you don’t experience spiritual burnout.

When I say you should take prayer rests that does not mean that you can go and sin your heart out or stop prayer entirely.  Much like how an athlete shouldn’t devour an entire cheesecake on a rest day, taking a break from your usual prayer routine does not give you license to sin.  When I say rest, I mean changing or lightening your prayer routine in order to restore spiritual energy and gain new perspective.  There are many ways to add variety to your prayers to break you out of your routine.  For example, try reading the Bible, praying the rosary,  listening to Catholic radio, saying different prayers, or just setting aside some personal “quiet” time for reflection and meditation.  Maybe there is a friend or family member who is going through a hard time whom you should call or visit.

My aim is to pray two rosary mysteries every day during my commute to and from work.  I started out trying to pray all four mysteries, but I found that I just do not have the focus and attention for that at this point in my life.  Instead of praying earnestly, I ended up just repeating words while think about other things.  Even two mysteries can be a stretch at times as my mind has a tendency to wonder.  When I’m not up to giving the rosary a 100% effort, I turn my attention to other activities like listening to ETWN or reading Catholic news websites.  Often, when I resume my usual routine after a one-day break I’m more focused and can meditate on each mystery from a new perspective.  Maybe I read or heard something on my rest day that I then integrate into my meditations.  By taking a little rest, I get much more out of subsequent prayers.

Let’s remember that life is a long journey and we should pace ourselves in all aspects of our lives.  You can’t win a marathon by trying to sprint 26 miles.  Doing so would lead to exhaustion, injury, and discouragement.  Not only would you not win, chances are you won’t even cross the finish line.  Likewise, you should pace your spiritual life and build up your spiritual “muscle.”  There are times for intense prayer and meditation and there are times for lighter reflection and learning.  How do you know the appropriate mix?  Just listen to your spiritual fitness instructors — Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the saints, and the choir of angels in Heaven.  They will let you know when it is time to step up your efforts or take a breather.

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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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Random Thought: Call Your Mother

Remember to call your mother today. But do not forget Mary, our heavenly mother. Honor her by praying the rosary and moving closer to her son, Jesus Christ. That would make her so proud.

In honor of Mother’s Day:

Remember to call your mother today.  But do not forget Mary, our heavenly mother.  Honor her by praying the rosary and moving closer to her son, Jesus Christ.  That would make her so proud.

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Daily Thoughts

I’ve been trying to stay on a “one post per week” schedule, but that has been difficult to maintain. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, but writing a thoughtful article takes time. I often spend days writing and editing a single article in my spare time. However, between rosary meditations and my thoughts on spirituality, I want to throw in some daily (or almost daily) random thoughts, quotations, and other ideas. Hopefully these will be little sparks of inspiration that you can think about when praying.

I’ve been trying to stay on a “one post per week” schedule, but that has been difficult to maintain.  It’s not that I don’t have any ideas, but writing a thoughtful article takes time.  I often spend days writing and editing a single article in my spare time.  However, between rosary meditations and my thoughts on spirituality, I want to throw in some daily (or almost daily) random thoughts, quotations, and other ideas.  Hopefully these will be little sparks of inspiration that you can think about when praying.

The devil hates to see you happy.  So laughter is one of your greatest weapons against Satan and evil.  Use it.

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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.
It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Living Catholic

There was an interesting article on ETWN discussing the results of a Gallup poll of Catholics on various moral issues. The article breaks down the opinions between churchgoing and non-churchgoing Catholics. The results are as you would expect — churchgoing Catholics agree more with Catholic dogma than their non-churchgoing counterparts. However, I wasn’t so much interested in the results as I was in the notion of a non-churchgoing Catholic.

Church

There was an interesting article on ETWN discussing the results of a Gallup poll of Catholics on various moral issues.  The article breaks down the opinions between churchgoing and non-churchgoing Catholics.  The results are as you would expect — churchgoing Catholics agree more with Catholic teaching than their non-churchgoing counterparts.  However, I wasn’t so much interested in the results as I was in the notion of a non-churchgoing Catholic.

To me, a non-churchgoing Catholic is a contradiction in terms.  It is like saying you are a non-cooking chef.  Would you want to go to a doctor who was self-taught because he or she did not feel that medical school was necessary for his or her profession?  Do you think an athlete who never takes time to practice will make it into the Olympics?

Like sports, hobbies, or a vocation, one’s faith requires time and dedication to have a greater meaning.  To get the most from your Catholic faith, you have to listen to what the Church teaches either by reading Her official documents, listening to your parish priest, or listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer.  In all cases, being a member of the Church requires active participation.  Participation is so important that Mass attendance is a precept of the Catholic faith.  A precept means that it is one of the minimum requirements of being Catholic.  Other precepts can be found here.  Note that a precept is something that is actionable, not a belief.  The reason why actions and participation are so important to the Catholic faith is because they allow you to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ whose life’s work was publicly spreading the Word of God.  Thinking of it another way, no one ever became a saint by hiding their faith.  Being Catholic means living it publicly in our words, thoughts, and actions.

Our faith is rooted in celebrating Mass dating back to the secret meetings of early Christians during the rule of the Roman Empire.  The Catholic faith was always meant to be something lived instead of a mere thought exercise.  This is evidenced by people who have risked their lives throughout history by actively displaying their Catholic faith.  While I’m not saying we should all become martyrs, the fact that so many people have risked their freedom and lives should put in perspective our flimsy excuses for not praying, fasting, or attending Mass.

Ask yourself, what do you DO that makes you a Catholic as opposed to someone of another faith or no faith at all?  To me, that is a very difficult question to answer because 99.9% of my life is spent no differently than anyone else.  While I believe in the major truths of the Catholic Church, do I live out these beliefs daily or are they merely phrases I recite mindlessly in prayers?  Do my actions reflect my Catholic faith or defy them?

As we enter Holy Week, all Catholics, churchgoing and non-churchgoing, should take inventory of their faith.  I know that I mentioned this in earlier posts about making room for God in our hearts and learning about the Catholic faith.  Sometimes we have to be honest with ourselves and reflect on whether we are doing all we can to imitate Jesus.  What positions of the Catholic Church do you agree with and which ones do you not?  Regardless of what side you fall on, do you understand the reasoning and logic behind the Church’s position on many moral issues?  After all, we don’t want to be blind followers of Church doctrine nor mindless detractors of issues we have not approached from all sides.  On the issues where you and the Church disagree, do you stick to your beliefs because you have a fully-informed conscience or is it because it makes your life easier or you more popular?

It is no wonder why that Gallup poll shows that churchgoing Catholics are more in tune with the Church’s teachings.  To look at it from the other end, it is not surprising that people who do not dedicate time to practice their faith stray from the Church’s teachings.  It’s not that one side is brainwashed or the other side is more “progressive” and open to new ideas.  It’s not that one group is good and the other is bad.  We all have our shortcomings and sins that we need to correct.  Looking at the precepts, I’m sure all of us have occasionally failed to live up to them.  This is why we need the Mass so we can orient our “moral compass” and imitate the path of Jesus Christ.  In addition to the graces given in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Mass provides us an opportunity to reflect on our Catholic faith.  While technically we can reflect on our faith anywhere, the Mass sets aside time in our chaotic lives to really focus and listen to how God calls us to live.

Let us pray that we make time in our lives for God.  We should pray for those who have rejected God’s Word either outright through their actions or have just lost hope because practicing their faith didn’t produce the results they hoped it would.  Let us pray that we all have the courage and endurance to follow God’s truths even when they seem counter to our lifestyle or more difficult than we would like.  Let us pray that in the holiest week of the year, as we accept many new people to the Catholic faith, that we remember just what a gift it is to have Jesus Christ in our lives.

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Medjugorje Message: March 25, 2009

A message from the Virgin Mary from Medjugorje. She asks us to awaken our souls for Easter and be open to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Medjugorje Mary Statue

Here is another message from Our Lady at Medjugorje.  Like the earlier message, I ask that you read it with an open mind even if you are highly skeptical of the events surrounding Medjugorje.  If you don’t think that these messages come from Mary then please think of them as coming from a priest or prayer book.  It does not make the message any less truthful.

Dear children! In this time of spring, when everything is awakening from the winter sleep, you also awaken your souls with prayer so that they may be ready to receive the light of the risen Jesus. Little children, may He draw you closer to His Heart so that you may become open to eternal life. I pray for you and intercede before the Most High for your sincere conversion. Thank you for having responded to my call.

I like Mary’s call for a renewed effort or “awakening” of prayer.  I have to admit, lately it has been difficult for me to pray earnestly.  For some reason I feel distracted and my prayer time has felt more burdensome than meditative.  This message is a great relief that I’m not alone in feeling weary on my spiritual journey.  Jesus knows that for many of us prayer does not come naturally and easily.  But he urges us, through His Mother, to dig deep down and make that extra effort to pray and do His will because ultimately it is good for us.

This message reminds me of a doctor telling the patient that, although the recovery from an injury or illness may be difficult, he has to persevere and stay on his regiment to be healed.  Similarly, we are prescribed a spiritual regiment of prayer and fasting to bring us into God’s grace.  Many of us (myself included) sometimes don’t want to take our spiritual medicine.  Maybe we refuse to take it because we do not see immediate results and get discouraged.  Or maybe we make our own “adjustments” to our prayer life instead of following the doctor’s orders.  I know I skimp on prayers all the time telling myself, “I’ll be extra good about it tomorrow.”  Only, tomorrow comes and I fall into the same pattern of putting off prayer, fasting, or acts of charity for another day.

In the remaining days of Lent, let us make an earnest effort to listen to God and what He asks of us.  Mary tells us that it is time to wake up from our “winter sleep.”  As we all know, waking up in the morning can be difficult but we also know that we can’t stay in bed all day because we have obligations to our family, friends, and jobs.  Mary asks us to wake up spiritually because everyone ultimately has an obligation to God.  So now is the time to stop hitting that spiritual “snooze” button, wake up, and live our lives for God.  Let me be the first to say, “Good morning and have a great day!”

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What’s Your Prayer Score?

I discuss how you can improve your prayer life by measuring how often your pray and do other spirit-building activities.

I recently acquired a Garmin Nuvi 265wt GPS unit.  Along with the usual GPS features, this one includes something called an “EcoScore.”  This is your “economy score.”  The GPS monitors your speed and how smoothly the car starts and stops.   It rates your driving on a scale of 0-100.  The better you drive (no jack rabbit starts and stops, not spending time idle, not driving at excessive speeds, etc.), the higher your score.  This feature turns my daily commute into a little game where I’m trying to change my driving habits to reach a higher score.  Unfortunately I have not broken the 80 barrier for my average EcoScore on my daily commute.  I’m hoping that one of these days, if I can catch a lot of green lights, I will hit an 85 average score.

So what does this new, shiny gadget have to do with your prayer life?  OK, I would be lying if I didn’t put that into my post to brag about my new GPS device a little.  But it got me thinking about how much more effort I put into various tasks when I know I’m being measured or rated in some way.  I play hard in sports because I want to win.  I work out hard at the gym because I want to keep a trim waistline or be able to do more push ups over time.  I’m focused at work in order to get projects done ahead of schedule.  In general, competition makes people perform at their best.

I think part of the reason why many people are turning away from their faith and prayer is because they do not rate their prayer life.  Because they do not see some sort of tangible, measurable result from their prayers they turn to activities where they can see more visible results (like the accumulation of money or possessions).  I think that if people started rating their prayer life the same way they measure their bank accounts you would see a run on rosaries.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am in no way comparing prayer and faith to sports and work.  I don’t want to trivialize prayer by turning it into a competition with others.  Just to put things in the proper perspective, on a scale of 1-100 I bet most of us are a two or three at best when compared to the example set by Jesus.

Instead of prayer being a competition with others, I want to challenge you to make prayer a competition with yourself.  Ask yourself, how often do you pray earnestly?  How often do you go to church, pray the rosary, attend adoration, and go to confession?  Do you contribute time and/or money to charity?  I’m sure no matter where you are in your faith journey, there are ways you can improve.  Especially during Lent, we should rate our prayer life and compare that to where we want to be.  Let us look to the Lord and the Catholic Church as our coach in this competition.

Here are a few things to get you started on rating your spiritual life.  Remember, this is used to measure your current habits against where you want to be, not measure yourself against others.  If you are rating yourself against others you might as well knock off some points for pride.  Look at this list, or create your own, and see if you can improve each week.  It’s time to evaluate your Prayer Score!

  • Go to Sunday Mass: +1
  • Go to Mass on a weekday: +2
  • Pray the rosary: +2
  • Go to confession: +5 (+10 if it has been more than five years since your last confession)
  • Go to adoration: +5 (+20 if you stay all night)
  • Fast for a day: +4 (+7 if you fast on bread and water only)
  • Say grace before each meal: +1
  • Read a chapter in the Bible: +2
  • Donate money to charity: +3
  • Donate time for a charitable cause: +5
  • Learn something from the Catechism: +3
  • Commit a venial sin: -2
  • Commit a mortal sin: -10
  • Do not defend the Church or the faith when others mock it: -5

Good luck!

It’s always a good time to visit and shop in the RosaryMeds Store.

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Rosary Meditation: The Second Sorrowful Mystery

My rosary meditation on the Second Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus’ Scourging. I reflect on how, through suffering, we mimic the ways of Jesus Christ.

This week’s rosary meditation focuses on The Second Sorrowful Mystery — The Scourging.  Before being condemning Jesus to death, the Roman authorities brutally whipped Him as was the sentence for various crimes at that time.  While innocent of any wrongdoing, Jesus suffered greatly for preaching God’s truth which undermined any human authority, particularly the Roman’s.  Scourging, like other forms of corporal punishment, helped cement Roman dominion over their territories and deter anyone who dared to speak out against them.

Jesus’ suffering is one of the harder aspects of His ministry to understand.  It is easy to think of Jesus as the great teacher or the miracle worker.  It is much more difficult to picture Him, God made man, as someone battered and bruised like any one of us.  So why does He choose this time of great suffering and hardship to be the most human instead of showing His divine nature?  After all, would not more people come to believe in Him and His way if He miraculously stopped His torturers from harming Him?  Wouldn’t a legion of angels descending from Heaven to defend Jesus turn the most skeptical into believers?

Jesus’ suffering and death mimic His ministry.  While I often wish that Jesus’ message was, “follow me and you will be on easy street for the rest of your life,” I know that He doesn’t let us off that easy.  He did not teach that no harm will ever come to those who believe in Him.  In fact, He taught repeatedly that following His way would be fraught with inconveniences, hardship, and suffering.  It is an unfortunate that our earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom are largely incompatible and you can only live for one of them.  But Jesus repeated that those who kept the faith, despite any suffering, would find their reward in Heaven.  Like His parables, His message through the scourging was that those who endure great hardship by living for His kingdom will be the first to inherit it.

When I think about those who suffer I break them down into three main groups.  There are those who are actively persecuted, suffer, and even face martyrdom for their unrelenting faith in Jesus’ word.  In many places such as Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, being Catholic is incredibly dangerous.  But these people are our greatest example of living Jesus’ way since they face physical suffering and even death because they keep the promise of one day coming into the kingdom of Heaven.  While many of us will never face such extreme hardship we should pray that we can learn from their example of faith and commitment.

The second group is lot larger, but I fear that its membership numbers are dwindling.  These are the people who suffer small hardships in their daily lives in order to live their Catholic faith.  These hardships include small sacrifices such as not eating meet on Fridays, taking time out for Mass, and fasting.  However, in more extreme cases they risk losing friends, quitting jobs, or moving away because they find themselves in situations that are in direct opposition to their faith.  While I would like to say that giving to charity and praying should always be moments of great comfort and happiness, in reality those can be times of small difficulty and hardship.  Sometimes turning off the television to pray or putting some more money in the collection basket at church are incredible challenges.  After all, those who do not live by any faith do not have these obligations and can watch as much television as they want or spend their money on themselves.  But we should pray that we live the truth of Jesus Christ always despite the perceived hardships it puts on us.  We must remain strong to His message despite the increasing volume of society’s message that faith in God is not important and is just silly superstition.

I fear this last group grows by leaps and bounds daily.  These are the people who suffer because they have lost their faith.  They suffer because they make bad decisions that, while marketed as making life better, actually make their lives worse.  Sure, many of them have nice homes, plenty of money, and fancy clothes.  While they laugh at the rules and regulations of organized religion and seem to be perfectly content with life, they are often the most unhappy.  Basically, the message of a better world to come is drowned out by the message of “do whatever you want whenever you want.”  You only have to look at their faces or hear the anger or despair in their voices to know that their lifestyle has only brought them nothing but anguish and misery.  And because sometimes our pride is greater than our faith, we do not admit that our decisions are wrong, ask Jesus for forgiveness, and try to find the correct path of His truth.  For obvious reasons, these people need the most prayers.  Let us pray that they find the courage towards taking that first step in reconnecting to their faith and filling that void with Jesus’ love instead of easy choices and material possessions.

Let us remember that life involves suffering in some way or another.  Jesus did not come into this world to eliminate suffering as seen in His own suffering through His scourging.  We should pray that we gather the strength to follow Jesus’ example whether that means enduring life’s small hardships of living the faith or reconnecting with the Church after following a more worldly path.  Remember, we do not suffer alone but are called to a life where we share these burdens together along with Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, and the saints and angels.  Have no fear; you have a great support group!

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Lent: A Time for Spiritual Fitness

Lent is a time to get spiritually fit and our souls in shape for God. I’ve outlined some activities you can do during Lent to prepare your soul for Easter.

The season of Lent is already here.  This means that it is time to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for Easter.  Think of this as your spiritual equivalent of a New Year’s resolution.  It is time to get our souls in shape so that we can fully embrace our faith and Jesus’ love.

In the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days in the desert before starting His public ministry.  In that time, He prayed and fasted.  But He was also repeatedly tempted by the devil.  In a similar way, Lent poses many temptations and challenges for the modern Catholic.  We live in a world that no longer values self-sacrifice.  The idea that someone would deliberately deny himself something is a very alien concept in a society where you can get anything you want whenever you want.  But the point of fasting, sacrifice, and preparation during Lent is to clear out our hearts and minds of all these material goods and make room for God.  Like a diet, Lent is a time to clear our souls of all that “junk” we accumulate in our daily lives (work, money, politics, wealth, power, etc.) and really focus on our faith and relationship with God.  While it is so easy to treat a day in Lent as just another, normal day, let us really make an effort to make these days extraordinary by taking more time to examine, prepare, clean, and mend our hearts for God.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, prayer is our spiritual exercise. So below I have prepared a Lenten spiritual fitness checklist.  And like any exercise program, I’ve divided it into different levels so you can go at your own pace.  The clock is ticking folks so lets get moving!

Beginner:

  • Give up something you enjoy (chocolate, cookies, coffee, television, video games, etc.).  Whenever you have a craving, fill it by saying a prayer.
  • Arrive early or stay after mass on Sunday and say an extra prayer.
  • Actually sing the hymns and speak up during responses at mass.  Participate!
  • Find an annoying habit or sinful behavior that you do.  Make an earnest effort not to do it.
  • Go to confession at least once.
  • Do not eat meat on Friday.  But that does not mean you should go out and have a lobster dinner either.  Remember, this is a time of sacrifice.
  • Pray daily.

Intermediate:

  • All the beginner tasks.
  • Meditate on a mystery of the of the rosary daily.
  • Read scripture daily.
  • Go to the Stations of the Cross at least once.
  • Go to adoration at least once.
  • Fast once a week.
  • Learn something new about the Catholic faith by reading the Catechism.

Expert:

  • All of the intermediate tasks.
  • Pray all four mysteries of the rosary daily.
  • Fast twice a week.
  • Refrain from having or going to large, boisterous parties.  Instead, use that time to pray.
  • Make plans to meet with your parish priest in a non-religious setting.  Get to know your priest outside of Church.  Remember, they are human beings and like social events too.

And here is a little motivation from the ultimate spiritual fitness guru, Pope Benedict XVI:

Lent, A Time for More Intense Prayer and Penance

Pope Urges Fight To Do Good This Lent

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