Fasting During Lent

One of the harder aspects of Lent is fasting. We all love our food in whatever form it comes in — a sweet apple, a well-prepared steak, a crunchy carrot, or a square of chocolate. Eating is so engrained in our day that it’s hard to go without it, even for a few hours. But going without food is what God asks of us during Lent.

How the Saints Fasted

I read this article on Catholic Exchange that talks about the physiology of fasting and maybe how the saints of old may have known something that modern medicine is only now able to explain. Humans are built to fast but it’s something we no longer exercise regularly.

When you fast well, it starts to make sense that the Saints fasted in order to achieve closer communion with God — as we might say, to “supercharge” their prayer. It’s hard to imagine St. Anthony of the Desert felt as many people say they do when they fast — cranky and tired. It seems much more likely that he experienced both mental and physical benefits from fasting.

Suzan Sammons in Modern Insights on an Old Lenten Practice

We already know that throughout history people consumed fewer calories than we do today. Their bodies were trained for fasting. That may account for many of the fasting claims in the bible. The story of John the Baptist surviving off of locusts and honey or Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert may not be that far-fetched. In the modern era, with a restaurant on every block, a fully stocked pantry, and a GrubHub app on our phones, we haven’t trained our bodies for fasting. But through much of human history, going through periods of fasting was a normal occurrence.

Does that mean that the saints’ fasts didn’t really count because they were used to it? On the contrary, fasting supercharged their prayers. Once the body moves from the digestive state to a fasting state, food is no longer in the equation. The body then starts to go into a conservative state which is conducive to meditation and deeper prayer. That’s what you want during Lent, right?

Rediscovering God through Fasting

Lent is a perfect time to retrain our bodies to fast. Now, this isn’t medical advice so please don’t go starving yourself or do anything dangerous. Just know that if you’re a healthy adult your body is capable of going without food longer than you may think. Like fighting the temptation to sin, you have to fight that urge to eat when you feel just the least bit hungry. And while eating because you’re hungry isn’t sinful, the whole idea of fasting is that you are showing God how much you love Him by forsaking a mild earthly pleasure and put yourself in a meditative state.

How does fasting bring us closer to God? Face it, many of us can become slaves to food. Think about how little control you feel when you are hungry. All you can think about is food. And when you’re in that state, food can become a sort of false idol consuming all your thoughts. But hunger can also become a reminder to ask God for help. If God can help you fight hunger pains, think of all the other dimensions of your life He can help you with. You just have to remember to take the time to acknowledge your dependence on God and earnestly ask for His help. And there lies much of the spiritual value of fasting.

When you feel tempted to dive into the bag of cookies or a box of crackers, try reaching for your Rosary instead. Ask God for help in keeping a good Lenten fast. Take the time to ask God for help with other challenges in your life. Thank Him for the fact that you do have food to eat when you’re done fasting. Thank Him that fasting is a choice; a choice many people around the world do not have. Meditate on Jesus in the desert. It was through fasting, not feasting, that Jesus was able to resist Satan’s temptations.

Want to learn more about the science of fasting? Here’s an interesting documentary on it: Fasting (2017) – IMDb

Owning Lent

I’m always telling my kids that they need to show responsibility and ownership or someone else will. For example, owning their toys and games means not breaking them, putting them away, and not losing pieces. If they don’t take responsibility for keeping them functional, they will get lost or break. Or I may accidentally throw out a random, loose piece or someone will step on and break something carelessly left on the floor. The lesson being taught is that one way or another, something is going to happen to those toys and games. It’s better to be the one in control rather than leave it up to others.

Similarly to responsible ownership of things, we also have to own our faith. What I mean by that is that we need to actively manage or participate in it. But it’s something we often fail at. We sort of float through life, going to Mass on Sundays and saying a few prayers but not much else. When we go to Mass, we go into autopilot with the responses and listen to the priest the same way we listen to someone giving a lecture or presentation. We’re there physically but absent spiritually. And many times, we don’t go out of our way to attend Adoration or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Basically, we don’t give our faith a lot of thought.

Don’t be a Simon

We are often like Simon of Cyrene. He was forced into helping Jesus carry the cross. I like to think of him as someone who was there because he was curious about what was going on. He wanted to see who Jesus was and what was this big deal about him. I think he had no other plan than to passively watch the day’s events unfold. And the next thing he knew, the soldiers picked him out of the crowd and made him shoulder the weight of the cross. That was probably something unexpected and unwelcome.

Jesus said that we all must carry our crosses. But we have a choice. We can either choose our crosses or someone else will thrust one on us. In this season of Lent, we have many “crosses” to choose from. We can fast, abstain, and increase our prayers and charity. But the key is to actively invest in these practices to more fully embrace our faith and increase our love for Jesus. Otherwise, we become like Simon where hardships are thrust upon us.

In not embracing the faith, we may avoid the relatively minor crosses of Mass, prayer, fasting, etc. But we give up so much more. We lose the joy that comes from celebrations like Easter and Christmas and even Sunday Mass. Without the lows of fasting and the highs of celebration, we live in a flat desert of spirituality. We don’t feel connected to God or protected by Him. We are left to our own devices to face our often harsh world and the snares of the devil.

Active Faith in the Rosary

Compare Simon to Mary in the Second Joyful Mystery. She made a conscious decision to travel while pregnant and help her cousin Elizabeth. She wasn’t passive after the Annunciation but actively decided to serve others. It was probably an uncomfortable journey and a lot of hard work. But it was an active choice. It was a “cross” Mary wanted to carry.

Don’t let this Lent pass by. Own it. There’s still time to make a plan on how you want to make this time different and special. If you don’t already pray the Rosary daily, resolve to do it for the remainder of Lent. Make a plan to read Scripture daily, or fast, or visit a church and sit silently in prayer. Don’t be a Simon and think you can just observe Jesus at a distance. Be like Mary and the saints and actively embrace him.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus is with Us in Turmoil

People are understandably anxious and stressed out over the covid19 pandemic. People are getting sick, store shelves are empty, and many of us (myself included) are on lockdown in our homes. Besides their health, many people are worried about their jobs and finances as the world economy has tanked. In these times, it’s natural to ask, “Where’s God and why doesn’t He do something?”

In these times of uncertainty, I choose to meditate on the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus’ Crucifixion. Instead of seeing Jesus as someone detached and unconcerned with the world’s suffering, I see Him as someone suffering along with us. Although He was God made man and sinless, Jesus suffered and died on the Cross. He died in the same way as the two criminals next to Him.

Jesus remains among us through our suffering today. The question to meditate on when we pray the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery is whether we choose to see Him in our lives or not. So many people at the crucifixion refused to see Jesus as the Son of God unless He performed some sort of miracle. Similarly, many people today might not see Jesus in their lives unless He performs a miracle like making this pandemic magically disappear.

But then there’s the other group that knows that Jesus is here with us even in the absence of signs and miracles. The good criminal on the cross saw that Jesus was the Son of God suffering alongside him. He used that opportunity to ask Jesus simply to remember him. And we can use this opportunity of being locked down, quarantined, sheltered in place, etc. to acknowledge that Jesus is with us through the turmoil. We can turn to Him in prayer and ask Him to remember us. Because Jesus isn’t a distant, uncaring deity. He’s here with us and ready to comfort us if we just ask.

In this time when many of us are cooped up in our homes, let’s take the time to pray more than usual. It is still Lent after all. Pray hard so that you may see that Jesus is present in this world. He understands us because He’s with us. Pray and meditate on that when you’re feeling anxious.

Jesus’ Crucifixion: A Message of Hope

Being a parent forces you to look at your role in life different ways. On one hand, there are the day-to-day challenges — getting kids ready for school, packing lunches, taking them to their various activities, and resolving disputes. It’s a grind. It’s tiring. And yes, at times it feels hopeless. Maybe you got called into yet another teacher’s conference over your kid’s behavior at school. Maybe your kids are fighting over toys or otherwise creating needless conflict. In these times, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is what parenting feels like sometimes

And then there are those times when everything comes together. Your kid does or says something sweet. Or they are playing nicely with each other; laughing and having fun. Maybe they passed that big test they studied hard for. It’s those times that can make you feel like the parent of the year and fills you with a sense of hope that you can not only handle but excel as a parent.

It’s this dichotomy between despair and hope that surround Jesus’ crucifixion. When I pray the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, I try to focus on the hopeful theme of the mystery.  Wait, what?  How does Jesus’ death send a hopeful message?  Jesus died, an apostle betrayed Him, His disciples abandoned Him.  Where’s the hope in this low point?

Jesus’ crucifixion delivers a message of hope because it all transpired the way He said it would.  Jesus said He was going to be betrayed and that He was going to die.  But He also said that He was going to rise again in glory.  And that’s the hope-filled part of this rosary mystery. Jesus always spoke the truth. So when Jesus said that God loves us and we are meant to spend eternity in Heaven with Him, he meant it.  Jesus asks us to look beyond the current situation, no matter how dire and hopeless it may seem, and focus on His message of hope.

We all have our challenges in life and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by them.  We sometimes feel like giving up whether that be in the form of giving into sinful temptations, stop practice our faith, or just stop believing that God hears us and helps us through our challenges.  We see things getting worse and think there is no hope for a better outcome.  But remember, things also got worse for Jesus — He was scourged, crowned with thorns, carried a cross, nailed to it, and basically suffocated to death.  When things couldn’t get any worse, they did.  And yet, Jesus endured because He knew this was God’s plan which would not end in death and despair but in the glory of the resurrection.

Similar to how Jesus knew that God would see Him through the darkest moments of His life, we know that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the saints will see us through the darkest moments of ours.  I remember what a priest once said about suffering and despair.  He said look at the Bible.  Who wins?  Is it Satan and suffering or God and eternal joy?  SPOILER!  It’s God’s vision that ultimately wins out in the end.  Any suffering in our lives is temporary and ultimately ends in glory if you have faith in God’s plan.

Holiness Is Possible

There’s a saying in the creative world that the artist is his own worst critic. Many people, when seeing the results of their efforts, focus on the flaws. A painter only sees a shade of color that is slightly off. An actor remembers that one line that didn’t quite deliver the emotional impact he wanted. A musician dwells on that missed note that no one else noticed. A software developer, see a working computer program, instead dwells on a few lines of code that feel hacked together. We all have our faults that gnaw away at us leading us to doubt our abilities.

What about our spirituality? How accurately do we see our ability to live in holiness? Do we think we have the ability to live holy lives? Or do we only see the challenges and limitations and think holiness isn’t possible? This is the exact question Matthew Kelly asks in his book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler since he clearly states it in the first chapter. The biggest lie in Christianity is that holiness isn’t something we can achieve. And that lie has had a negative cascading effect on the world.

Buy it now on Amazon

Buying into the lie that we cannot be holy has prevented many of us from even trying. We look at the lives of the saints and think, “I can’t be like that.” And so we skip Mass, skip prayers, and go along with the secular crowd. Why choose a challenge that can only end in failure? And that’s the type of thinking Satan wants us to fall in to. If we give up on holiness we become susceptible to his influence.

Now, of course, the book (which is an easy read by the way) goes into detail on exposing the lie that we cannot achieve holiness. Holiness is possible. Matthew Kelly explains that we need to practice what he calls holy moments — small instances when we act holy. We can start small with one or two holy moments per day — saying prayers, making a sacrifice, doing something nice, etc. We can then expand the number of holy moments. And guess what happens when you chain together enough holy moments? You have a holy day! Then a holy week, holy month, and guess what? You now have a holy life! And what happens when multiple people live in holiness? A holy world!

Holy Moments in the Rosary

When I think of holy moments when I pray the Rosary, I think of Veronica in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus carrying His cross. Veronica is the woman who wiped the face of Jesus during His passion. I consider it a pure holy moment. It was something small and mostly ineffective in relieving Jesus’ suffering. But she showed courage standing out from the crowd and possibly incurring the wrath of both the Roman soldiers and Jewish authorities to help someone in need the best she could. We may scoff and criticize the futility of Veronica’s actions. But who knows how many people she converted in that single action. Perhaps her example eased the fear others in the crowd may have been feeling at the time. And maybe many of those people went on to become one of the many of disciples that formed the early Church.

Matthew Kelly wants us to understand that there is no act of holiness too small. They all can have an impact, especially when combined. And there is no challenge too great that we can’t overcome if we leave ourselves open to God’s influence. When you pray the Rosary and meditate on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, remember that we can all act like Veronica and stick out from the crowd. But first, we have to want to stick out from the crowd. It’s not easy to break out of our routines but that is exactly what God calls us to do. And that is why we pray the Rosary — asking Mary for her help to follow God’s plan. When we have as powerful of an intercessor as Mary, holiness is not only possible, it’s inevitable.

The Transfiguration and Selective Listening

Last Sunday, my parish priest gave a great homily on the Transfiguration. We pray and meditate on this event in the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary. He focused on what God told the apostles, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” I’m going to focus on that last part about listening to Jesus. Or rather, all the ways we often don’t listen to Him. My priest classified people’s attention to Jesus’ message into three groups — those who are half deaf, half listening, and fully deaf.

Half Deaf

The first group are those who are “half deaf” or spiritually hearing impaired. These people hear God’s message but only process the “easy” parts. They hear that God loves them and will forgive them. But they don’t hear how they must take up their cross and follow Jesus. They don’t hear that they need to lead a life of conversion and can’t just live according to their own conscience if it’s not well formed. The half deaf sort of hear Jesus’ teachings but not all of it. They hear that Jesus loves them and think that’s enough to live however they want.

Half listening

This group picks and chooses the teachings they like or agree with. These people are similar to the spiritually hearing impaired. They hear Jesus’ teachings and may even be passionate about a few of them. They will even put in the hard work and bear their crosses if they need to. But they may completely disregard certain Church teachings they don’t like. You usually see this in so-called “social justice” Catholics who work hard helping the poor or persecuted but then support pro-abortion politicians and policies. And just to be fair, many pro-life Catholics will march every January to end abortion but then close their wallets to support social programs to help those in need.

Fully deaf

This group doesn’t hear Jesus’ message at all because the world drowns it out. Instead, they are completely tuned into the world as presented by popular media, late night talk shows, TV, movies, and politicians. They hear about Jesus’ message through various mediums that filter and distort His teachings. They don’t hear the authentic message of the Catholic Church but a fictional, stereotypical account of it.

Are you listening to Jesus or are you too busy capturing Pokémon?

Where do you fit in? Most of us fall into these categories at different points in our life. I know I probably lived days where I fell into all three of these groups. Lent is a great time to think about how well we are listening to God. Are we making an effort to truly hear Jesus’ message or filtering and distorting it? Now is a good time to read the Bible, encyclicals, and the Catechism and listen to how Jesus truly wants us to live. Approach Jesus’ teachings with an open mind and heart so that the Holy Spirit may work wonders in you. Finally, pray for everyone who experiences some sort of spiritual hearing impairment.

God’s Time is not Our Time

Lent is a great time to contemplate about the time scale God operates on. As I said in my previous post, our time frame isn’t God’s time frame. The way we look at time vastly differs from how God looks at time. What seems long to us — a day, a year, a decade, a lifetime, and even multiple generations is a passing instant compared to God’s eternal view of time. The entire age of the universe is but a grain of sand in God’s hourglass.

Lenten Challenges

I think back to fasting on Ash Wednesday. To me, it felt like a long day because I had small meals with no snacks in between. Throughout the day I kept looking at my watch. Was it lunch yet? Was it dinner? When can I eat again? Should I go to bed so this day will end? When you’re hungry, time seems to slow down to an almost unbearable pace. But you know what? The day of fasting eventually came to an end. I woke up the next day and was fortunate enough to eat a satisfying breakfast.

I gave up alcohol for Lent. I’m not a big drinker but I do enjoy an ice cold beer on the weekend or a glass of red wine with dinner. So 40 days without a social cocktail seems like a long time. The wine bottles in my house will be taunting me until April 21. But I have to remember that it’s only 40 days. Much like fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Lent will pass and I’ll be able to enjoy my weekend bottle of beer again.

Can’t have any of that sweet, sweet Duff.

Throughout Lent, we can begin to understand the finite time frame we live in and the infinite one of God’s. Much like our Lenten sacrifices and fasts, this life will come to an end as well. And all our suffering, both minor and major, will be over. And then hopefully we’ll enter into eternity in Heaven. Our lives may seem like a long time to many of us especially if we want God to immediately answer our prayers or perform a miracle. But God does answer our prayers, even if the answer for many of us is, “wait until Heaven; you don’t have to wait long.”

The Rosary

Let’s look at the Rosary, particularly the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery. Picture Jesus carrying His cross. It must have seemed like an eternity of pain and suffering as He was whipped, beaten, and fell multiple times. The human side of Him must have wanted all that suffering to end instantly. But Jesus also understood that to God and His divine plan, Jesus’ suffering was ending instantly compared to the eternal majesty He would obtain in His resurrection and ascension into Heaven.

We may find ourselves feeling like we’re in a similar situation as Jesus carrying His cross. We may have challenges with our health, family, money, faith, or addictions. Relief never seems to come despite how hard we try and how much we pray. But God assures us that it will come to an end, even if it’s not in this life. We must remember that a lifetime of suffering is an instant compared to the eternal joy of Heaven. Like Jesus carrying His cross, we have to get back up and continue doing God’s will in this relatively short time we have in this life.

The 40 days of Lent may seem like a long time, especially if we’ve given up something that we really enjoy or taken up a practice that is hard to do. But let’s treat it as an opportunity to better understand how God works. Lent comes to an end in the joy of Easter. Just how joyful Easter feels depends on how hard we work on focusing on our faith during Lent. Think of Lent and Easter as a microcosm of life and eternity. Much like Lent, our lives will end. And it’s really not that long of a time we have so we must make the most of it. And when we do, we can enjoy living in God’s grace, both during Easter and in Heaven to come.

What Jesus’ Arrest Tells us About Those Critical of the Church

One of the aspects of the Passion narrative that initially confused me was Judas’ betrayal with a kiss. Why was the kiss to identify Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane necessary? Wouldn’t the soldiers sent to arrest Jesus know what he looks like? After all, they arrested Jesus because of the threat He supposed posed. This was the man who had been preaching and healing throughout the region and the authorities had wanted to arrest for some time. Jesus was basically public enemy #1 on the Pharisees‘ “most wanted” list. Why then, did the Jewish authorities need Judas to pick him out in the small group gathered in the garden?

To me, the answer to this question is yet another question — did the Pharisees really know Jesus?  The Pharisees knew that there was this person traveling around the region criticizing their authority.  He was a person the people loved despite not following the Mosaic law.  And that’s all the Pharisees bothered to learn about Jesus.  Did they actually listen to His teachings and think about what He was saying?  It looks like the Pharasis dismissed Jesus’ teachings outright without even thinking about them.

Since the Pharisees and their followers never took the time to really understand Jesus, they didn’t know who to look for to arrest.  To them, Jesus was a faceless agitator.  Those who arrested and ultimately crucified Jesus didn’t really know Him and that is why they needed one of His disciples to identify Him.

When we read about Jesus’ arrest or meditate on His agony in the garden when we pray the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, we should ask ourselves whether we are making the time to try to understand Jesus.  Are we praying daily and trying to know His Will and ask for the strength to follow His teachings?  Or are we like the Pharisees and see Jesus’ teachings as an impediment or inconvenience in our lives?  Do we dismiss Jesus because we aren’t taking the time to understand what He is trying to teach us?

When I read articles that are critical of the Catholic Church or make fun of Her teachings, I think about the Pharisees that Jesus encountered.  Popular media criticizes the Church because they do not understand the Church nor do they want to make an effort to learn.  In their minds, the Church is some arbitrary and controlling patriarchy telling people what they can and cannot do.  They don’t see the centuries of reason and logic that go all the way back to Jesus who taught what He taught out of love.

The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Again...
The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, the Joyful Mysteries also have a lot to say about not dismissing God’s Church without understanding Her.  Like Mary and Joseph in the Annunciation, we need to have a willingness to trust God’s plan even when it runs contrary to our plans.  Or jump to the Fourth Joyful Mystery and look at Saint Simeon and his devotion to God.  When we pray the Rosary, remember to pray for those who act like the Pharisees — those who criticize the Church without the desire to understand Her.  I honestly believe that with enough prayer, the most critical of the Church can become Her most fervent supporter.  Don’t believe me?  Look up “Blessed Bartolo Longo.”

Be at Peace Even Without a Full Understanding of God

Have you ever tried to explain a complex topic to a small child?  How does a bird fly?  How does a television work?  Why does that factory produce so much smoke?  Trying to explain these realities can be difficult to distill into something a child can understand.  And often, despite our best efforts, they still come away with a wrong understanding.  Last Sunday’s Gospel reveals how we often misunderstand God because we try to box Him into our limited understanding of the reality He created.

In the Gospel, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well where He talks about living water.  She asks, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?” (John 4:11).  She is taking Jesus’ words literally; that the living water is something that is down in the well and can be fetched.  She doesn’t understand that Jesus is not talking about physical water you find in a well but the living water of the Holy Spirit.

The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and ...
The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17-18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We probably laugh at the woman’s naivete talking to Jesus.  But are we really any different from her?  We often take what the Church teaches and try to place it within the confines our physical reality.  We want to know how exactly the Eucharist is transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood.  Where is our soul?  What is it made of?  Where is Heaven?  What temperature is Hell?  When will the Apocolypse take place?  The questions that people have trying to define the physical realities of God are nearly endless.

For many, the lack of concrete answers that obey the laws of science and physics causes them to lose faith in the Catholic Church.  Because the pieces don’t fit exactly like the steps of a mathematical proof, they reason that something must be wrong or at least incomplete about the Church.  In a way, this attitude falls into the sin of pride.  We think that God can only exist within the confines of space and time as we know it.  Instead of realizing that we aren’t capable of fully understanding God, we tell ourselves that there must be something incomplete with Him and His Church.

The Rosary Connection

We can look at the Mary in the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary where she asks, “How can this be?”  upon learning that she will immaculately conceive a son.  The initial reaction is one of surprise because God is not following the rules of science and human physiology.  Likewise, when Mary’s story defies everything known about how conception works, Joseph tries to quietly divorce her.  He takes the skeptical approach to what he does not understand while Mary takes the faithful approach when she said, “May it be done according to His Will.”  Who are you more like, Mary or Joseph, when God acts in ways you cannot explain?

The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation,...
The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation, by Philippe de Champaigne, 1644 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can also see this theme of disbelief in the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary where Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven.  Many people had a hard time believing Jesus because he was a carpenter’s son.  They could not make Jesus’ teaching fit with their understanding of how God would manifest Himself as the Christ.  Those with pride, such as the Pharisees, dismissed Jesus because He did not conform to their understanding of God’s law.  Ironically, it was the poor, sick, and outcasts who showed the humility to believe in Jesus even if they couldn’t completely understand His true nature.  Who are you?  Are you dismissing Jesus’ presence in your life because He is someone you can’t fully explain and understand?

This Lent we should strive to take our faith seriously even when we don’t fully understand it.  God, as the creator, is not limited to the confines of His creation.  Therefore, God exists outside of our ability to understand Him.  But instead of losing faith, we should work hard at showing patience and understanding in accepting God’s wisdom and divine plan even when the pieces don’t seem to add up.

Ask God for Strength, Not an Outcome

I usually visit LifeHacker to read up on new technology and browse daily deals. It’s not the sort of place I would expect to find advice on prayer and spirituality. Whenever they discuss social issues they are usually advocating positions counter to the Catholic Church. That is why I did a double take when I saw an article titled Don’t Pray for Outcomes, Ask for Strength. For a second I thought I had my browser tab open to Catholic Exchange.

The LifeHacker article quotes Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

Try praying differently, and see what happens: Instead of asking for ‘a way to sleep with her,’ try asking for ‘a way to stop desiring to sleep with her.’ Instead of ‘a way to get rid of him,’ try asking for ‘a way to not crave his demise.’ Instead of ‘a way to not lose my child,’ try asking for ‘a way to lose my fear of it.’

One way to summarize Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts is that we should look at changing ourselves before changing our circumstances.  Sometimes, we can’t change our circumstances.  The world will always be a nasty place full of dangers and vices.  We can’t change large things like countries going to war with each other or even small things like the refrigerator going dead and needing to be replaced.  But we can change how we approach our circumstances and try to put them in perspective.

Portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a boy. ...
Portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a boy. Roman artwork. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Rosary Connection

Look at Jesus at the Garden of Gestheme which we meditate on in the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary.  First, He prays for a very specific outcome — for God to spare Him the suffering of the Crucifixion and bring about salvation some other way.  Jesus shows that there is nothing intrinsically wrong making a specific request in prayer.  For us, thinking about the situation helps us gain different perspectives on it and helps us better understand how God answers us.  We can start to understand that there may be multiple ways we can handle our circumstances besides wanting them to just disappear.  What we want to avoid is focusing solely on a specific outcome and closing our heart and mind to how God actually answers us.

Jesus entrusts His life to God’s Will.  Keep in mind that while the scripture verses of the agony in the garden are quite short, Jesus prayed for hours; long enough for the apostles to repeatedly fall asleep.  I think he probably did spend a good deal of that time asking God for the strength to do His Will.  Jesus was focused not on changing his situation but on preparing Himself for whatever was coming His way.

Jesus in Pray
Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that brings us back to Lent.  This is our time to focus on changing ourselves, not expecting God to change our circumstances to fit our desires.  This is why we fast, abstain, and make small sacrifices — to make us stronger to carry out God’s Will for when life doesn’t go as expected.  By voluntarily making things harder for ourselves and enduring, we prepare ourselves for the involuntary hardships that will come our way.  Last Sunday’s Gospel talked about how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying so that he was prepared for His ministry.  Likewise, we too should spend the 40 days of Lent preparing our bodies, minds, and hearts for living out our Catholic faith in whatever form God plans for us.