Why You’re Not Fully Yourself and How You Can Become More

Are you who you think you should be?

Perhaps you’re restless and unfulfilled, searching for your place in the world?

Imagine the perfect you. That vision of yourself minus all those annoying faults that drive you crazy.

If you want to be more yourself, get closer to God.
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For Those Who Doubt the Church

I know what it is to doubt.

I wasn’t taught to trust Church teaching. In fact, I grew up doubting the Church’s intentions on everything.

As a young adult, I was skeptical of the control the Church sought over my choices. Consequently, I rebelled against the Church’s teaching and her authority.

Have you ever doubted that the Church didn’t have your best interests in mind? Perhaps all the rules and regulations seem heavy handed? Maybe you’ve been tempted to leave because of that. I know have.

The true intentions of the Church

So, here’s a quote for those who have a hard time trusting. In the prologue of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 25, there’s a message that sums up the Church’s motive for everything:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.

This itself is a quote from the preface of the catechism written after the Council of Trent in 1566, the Roman Catechism. It’s over 500 years old and yet the message is still fresh and exciting today. Everything the Church does, all that she teaches, all that she seeks to be is oriented to this–the love that never ends!

Sometimes all we see are the externals

If you understand this one thing, you understand a TON. The purpose of the Church is to grow  and nurture the presence of God within us.

When we think of the Church, we tend to think of the externals–the Pope, bishops, priests, rules and regulations. This “exterior life” of the Church is important. It supports and protects the “interior life.”

The exterior life is to the Church what the skeleton is to the body. The skeleton protects the body and gives it structure. Our lives are maintained by our internal organs. But without the skeleton, vital organs are left unprotected. They have no framework to be maintained.

But it’s all about the internal

But the real mission of the Church is in the interior life. Jesus is present and active through the sacraments, liturgy, teachings and relationships. He is pouring his divine life out into those who are united to him through Baptism and the Eucharist.

In this way, the effects of original sin are gradually undone. Our lost relationship with God is restored and all of creation is once again infused with God through us.

Through doctrine, the mysteries of God’s life transform our thinking. The grace to believe and live these truths is transmitted to us through the liturgy and the sacraments. The commandments and moral laws reshape our character and conduct to be more in union with God. And, our hearts and minds are reoriented to God through prayer.

Catechetical Takeaway

St. Augustine said it even earlier. In his youth he had serious doubts about the Church as well. However, in opening his heart and mind to Catholic Truth, he found the love and fulfillment he searched for all his life. In the year 405, speaking to catechists he wrote:

“With this love, then, set before you as an end to which you may refer all that you say, so give all your instructions that he to whom you speak by hearing may believe, and by believing may hope, and by hoping may love” (The First Catechetical Instruction, pg. 24).

The Church is not out to limit freedom, spoil fun, make life miserable, overpopulate the world or control you. The Church is out to make the divine life of God understandable and accessible to everyone. Everything is oriented toward that goal–the love that never ends.

When you doubt the Church, try to understand the deeper reality. It may open up a whole new reality as it did for me.

What do you think? Disagree? Have more to add? Let me know in the comments!

How to Follow God When You Don’t Understand

God is big!

Sometimes he’s just too big…and too difficult to understand.

Isaiah said God’s ways are not our ways–well that’s the truth. However, even if we don’t understand him, we have to follow him–and that can be difficult.

How do you follow God when you can’t understand him?

The Spiritual Sight of the Saints

I talked about Padre Pio in the youth group the other day. They were pretty blown away by the stigmata. To them, it looked like punishment.

I explained how his wounds were a share in Christ’s sufferings. Really, it was a great honor. Padre Pio understood this.

The Saints, I told them, understand things differently than we do. When you get that advanced in the spiritual life, you see more like God sees. From the divine perspective, Padre Pio’s self-sacrificing generosity is the ultimate gift. It shows his deep love and trust. From the human perspective, it just looks like it hurts.

The Man Born Blind

In John 9:1-40, Jesus heals a man who’s blind from birth. Jesus, the Light of the World, “enlightens” him.

Not only does this “Man Born Blind” receive physical sight, he gets a sort of spiritual sight as well. He understands things in a different way and has no problem trusting what he sees in Jesus. He tells the Pharisees that Jesus is a prophet. When he finds out Jesus is the Messiah, he believes and worships him.

The Pharisees can see physically, but they’re blind to who Jesus is. They don’t want to see because it means they must change. They don’t want to give up their own agendas for power, prestige and wealth. So, they refuse to let in his Light! They refuse to see or accept the Truth.

Baptism, the “Enlightening”

The aspect of Baptism most emphasized in the Early Church was the photizmoi, or enlightening. In Baptism, our minds are opened to the divine. We see things in a new way. That’s why, in the first few centuries of the Church, they waited to do in depth catechesis until after Baptism. They knew you couldn’t truly understand the things of God until the Holy Spirit disposed you to understand.

Actually, this is something that continues to happen for us throughout our Christian lives. Our response of faith and generosity with God gives us a deeper share of the Holy Spirit. The more you trust, the more you are enlightened. The more you’re enlightened, the more you understand.

Spirituality Takeaway

Have you ever understood something, some concept in a class perhaps, but a friend didnt? You tell them the answer, they look at you funny and you say, “Just trust me.” It’s like that with God.

How do you follow God when you don’t understand him? Sometimes it comes down to trust and generosity with God.

There is a continual enlightening that must take place in our spiritual lives. When it does, our minds are opened to new and different possibilities. Until then, you have to go on trust. And the more you trust and give, the more you understand.

I’ve questioned many things over the years. When I really researched it, I’ve always found answers in the Church. Now, I don’t question–I trust. I may not understand right away, but that’s just because I don’t know everything.

  • Do you have trouble trusting God sometimes?
  • You have to trust and give of yourself first before you understand more–does this seem backwards?
  • Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Image: Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can We Trust God To Give Us What We Desire?

What is your deepest desire?

Do you think God wants you to have it?

I think many people believe being holy means being miserable. That God doesn’t give us what we want the most because it’s selfish.

So we run from him to pursue our dreams.

Is that really necessary? Is God’s will found only in what we least desire?

St. Therese of Lisieux paints a different picture of desire. One that resonates to the core for me.
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Why We Need Lent | What You Don’t Know About Sin Can Hurt You


Why do you need Lent?

Suppose you get angry at your friend, punch him in the face and break your hand. Then, after you’ve calmed down, you feel awful and give him a sincere apology. He accepts and you’re friends again.

So, is your hand still broken? Yes! That’s the reason we all need Lent and why we do penance.

What in the world am I talking about? Temporal punishment! We’ve heard the word but often we don’t know what it’s about.

Two aspects of sin

Temporal punishment is the after effect of sin.

There’s really two aspects to consider with sin:

  1. The guilt incurred from offending God. When you confess your sin, the guilt is removed. God forgives you and doesn’t give it a second thought.
  2. Temporal punishment, the consequences of sin. Even after you are forgiven and your guilt is removed, there are remnants of that sin left in you.

It’s like the broken hand. Everything is over but the damage remains. The remnants of sin left over in our personalities move us to want to sin more. These are those weaknesses and faults that you can never seem to get rid of.

Think about it, sin is kind of addicting. It’s like eating only one potato chip when the whole bag is in front of you –you can’t do it! Sin is like that. Once you sin, your temperament is inclined to sin more.

Is this really punishment?

Now some might say that doesn’t sound like punishment–that’s the fun part! Exactly right! We tend to think of the punishment as things like getting caught. But in reality, that’s often God’s mercy at work.

What’s the worst thing possible from a divine perspective? Being separated from God. If we persist in sin, we move further and further away from him. If God allows us to enjoy and continue sinning, that’s actually the punishment. Things like a DUI, getting sick or losing a loved one might be the life-altering event that turn a person from sin and toward God.

Here’s where penance comes in

The remnants of sin are like seeds sown in our souls. They incline us to more sin and keep us farther from God. We can’t simply moderate them, they have to be put to death–mortified!

We should practice mortifications to attack our dominant faults, those deeply ingrained habits that keep us confessing the same sins over and over again. Making war on those habits, or vices that lead us to sin and putting them to death lessens their effect on us. It makes it easier to do the good and follow God.

Catechetical Takeaway

This is why you do penance after confession and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not complete without it. Your sin is forgiven and the guilt erased, but the temporal punishment, the remnants of the sin, remain. Only you can take care of this by doing penance and fighting those weaknesses and tendencies to sin!

This is where Purgatory comes in as well. If you don’t take care of these remnants in this life, you’ll have to do it in the next–before you get to heaven.

So, that’s why Lent is so important. Every year, we set aside a season to do penance, attack our faults and renew our spiritual lives. The purification of Lent then prepares us to fully experience a resurrection with Christ at Easter!

Now it’s your turn!

  • Does this make sense to you?
  • Have you ever thought about punishment this way?
  • Do you have another way of explaining temporal punishment?

How Lenten Penance Can Springboard Your Spiritual Growth

Mortification–the Catholic Lenten treat.

Every year, on Ash Wednesday, Catholics gear up for the annual torture fest…Lent! What will you give up this year? Chocolate…again? Coffee? Ooh, that’s gonna hurt!

Why do we enter into this pain every year? Do Catholics just love to suffer? Or, is it really true that the Church doesn’t want us to have too much fun? (Hint: that’s not the answer!)

Well, there is an aspect of sorrow and reparation for sin that is expressed in giving up the stuff you enjoy, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a science to spiritual growth and Lenten mortification can serve as a springboard for renewal.

What is mortification anyway?

Mortification is one of those great Catholic words that people “in the know” throw around.

Mortifications are penances that involve some form of self-denial. Fasting is one of the primary forms. In Latin, mortis means death. Mortification “puts to death” sinful tendencies and desires that are sometimes hard to control.

Saying no to destructive desires can be a very good thing.

Matthew Kelly on Lenten fasting

In Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly says,

“The Lenten experience is a perfect example of the Church’s intimate understanding of the nature of the human person. The forty days of Lent are an ideal period for renewal. Lent is the perfect span of time to form new life-giving habits and abandon old self-destructive habits. But most of us just give up chocolate and when Easter arrives we are not much further advanced spiritually than we were at the beginning of Lent” (p. 259).

The springboard for spiritual growth

It takes about 30 days to form a habit. So, like Matthew Kelly suggests, why not put the 40 days of Lent to good use?

What is your biggest vice? Figure that out and start doing things to defeat it! Make a concentrated effort during Lent and you can slack off later but it will be easier to continue.

  • Get angry easily? Give up arguing back. Stay silent when someone is mean to you (and you thought giving up chocolate was hard?).
  • Insanely jealous of that coworker? Go out of your way to congratulate them or wish them well.
  • Do you spend too much on stuff you don’t need? Give up shopping for whatever you buy too much of…clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets, etc.
  • Never make time to pray? Set up a schedule of daily prayer and make it a priority.
  • Have a problem with lust? Fast from looking at beautiful women the wrong way or from viewing porn.

Choose only one. That’s not so hard right? Besides, that’s all you’ll have energy for.

In Catholic spirituality, this is called working against your predominant fault. You have one vice that’s worse than any other. If you work on that one, the others will follow. That’s because good habits are all connected.

Catechetical Takeaway

Self-denial is important in the spiritual life.

Since the Fall, we don’t have complete control over our emotions. Passions like love, anger, hatred and pride can lead us to do stupid things. Our desires for food, sex, wealth and success enslave us. They can become overwhelming and lead to unhealthy attitudes.

Mortifications work to “put to death” these often unruly passions and desires. Once you kill them, you can control them. Control of your actions leads to freedom. So, ironically, mortification brings fullness of life–not death.

Your turn:

  • Can you think of other creative ways to mortify the more “popular” vices? The comment box is open!

What You Learn About Yourself in the Desert

YOU thought Lent was tough? Look what happened to St. Anthony!

Have you ever been pushed to the limits of your abilities? Tested beyond your reserves? That’s what happened to Jesus in the desert!

The readings on that First Sunday of Lent are always on the temptation of Jesus. In the desert, Jesus confronts Satan after 40 days of fasting. He’s weak, he’s at his limit and he’s tested.

Why do we read this every year before Lent? What’s the Church trying to teach us?

What’s up with the desert?

In the Bible, the desert is a place of testing. Moses and the Israelites were tested there for 40 years. There were pushed to their limits–taken to the edge.

Survival was hard. There was no food or water except what God gave them.

They learned about themselves in the desert–what they were made of. How strong they were. How weak they were…mostly weak!

God needed them to have this knowledge of themselves. They were haughty and self-sufficient. They needed to learn to rely on him. That was the only way they could physically survive in the desert and spiritually survive in life.

St. Anthony and the demons

In the year 385, St. Anthony went into the desert and did battle with demons. The painting above shows him being tormented and beaten by them.

No doubt some of these demons were real. But some were internal.

In the desert, Anthony confronted himself. The demons that tormented him were his own weaknesses and temptations to turn from God. How devoted, how loving, how disciplined, how strong was he at his weakest, when he was pushed to the limits?

The testing God gives in the desert is not for himself. He knows what you’re made of. It’s for you! You need to know about yourself.

My Desert Experience

I had my own desert experience in the Navy. In the high desert of California, I went through SERE. That stands for Search Evasion Rescue and Escape. Military pilots and aircrew go through this training. It teaches how to avoid capture after being shot down and how to survive being a prisoner of war.

For days I was in a survival situation with no food or shelter, evading capture. Eventually I was put in the prison camp. This was a total immersion experience. Everything was very real and there was no joking around.

Cold, tired, hungry, mistreated and stuffed in a tiny cell, I was taken to the edge. That’s where you really come to know and understand yourself–at the edge.

I learned learned exactly what I was made of–how brave I was, how well I could handle interrogation, how much I was willing to risk mistreatment to stand up for what was right. Sometimes I did well. Other times, not so well.

Most importantly, I became aware of my strengths and my weaknesses, and with that knowledge, I was much better prepared if the real thing came along.

What the Church teaches us during Lent

During Lent, you enter into the desert with Jesus to be tested. In denying yourself with a Lenten penance, you’re taken a little closer to the edge. You learn about yourself there–what you’re made of.

How strong or weak is your devotion? Are you able to carry out your penance or do you cut corners? Do you avoid temptation or easily give and rationalize your decisions.

Most importantly, what do you learn about yourself?

Catechetical Takeaway

Lent is like the entire Christian life in miniature. To live as a Christian, you’ll have to deny yourself some things. You will be tempted. You will confront your weaknesses. How will you handle them?

During Lent, we take up small sacrifices and deny ourselves in little ways  so we can be prepared when the big things come.

To grow in the interior life, you have to be aware of what’s going on inside. You have to learn about and understand yourself. In learning we’re able to grow. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.

Don’t think badly about yourself if you fail. You’re human! You’re going to fail! What counts is that you fix it and move on, knowing you’re prepared for bigger trails down the road.

  • Have you ever been taken to the edge?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What have you learned about yourself in the past by doing penance?

St. Peter Canisius and the Secret of Great Catechists

St. Peter Canisius

What does it take to be a great catechist?

You might say intimate knowledge of the Catechism, the ability to whip up craft projects for any feast day at the drop of a hat, or a command of the classroom environment that rivals a Marine Corps drill instructor.

While these are obviously impressive skills, there’s something else that turns up consistently in the lives of great catechetical Saints…devotion to prayer.

St. Peter Canisius: Catechetical Saint

In his Wednesday Audience of Feb. 9, Benedict XVI highlighted the life and work of the Jesuit St. Peter Canisius. A leader in the Catholic Reformation, he was instrumental in renewing the Catholic Faith in Germanic speaking countries just after the rise of Protestantism.

Canisius wrote three catechisms based on the Catechism of the Council of Trent between 1555 and 1558; all for different audiences. These catechisms were so popular, they were used in Germany until the 1900’s.

The Pope recalled that “still in my father’s generation, people called the catechism simply the Canisius: He is really the catechist of the centuries; he formed people’s faith for centuries” (emphasis added). Now that’s a catechetical legacy!

Fruitful Instrument United to Jesus and the Church

However, accompanying all this, there was prayer! Benedict said, “Characteristic of St. Canisius’ spirituality was a profound personal friendship with Jesus.”

Along with devotion to the Scriptures, the Eucharist and the Church Fathers, the Pope said “this friendship was clearly united to the awareness of being a continuer of the mission of the Apostles in the Church. And this reminds us that every genuine evangelizer is always a united instrument with Jesus and the Church and, because of this, fruitful.”

Canisius had a “profound conviction” that “there is no soul solicitous of its own perfection that does not practice mental prayer every day, an ordinary means that permits the disciple of Jesus to live in intimacy with the divine Master,” the Pope said (emphasis added).

Where Real Greatness Comes From

What does it take to be a great catechist? For all my writing about technique and strategy, I have to remind myself the most successful and deeply penetrating catechists in history were all great lovers of God first. Their fruitfulness flowed from their union and intimacy with Christ!

Of course, he was no slouch; he had a doctorate in theology. We have to do as much as we humanly can to prepare ourselves to be great catechists. However, our greatness and impact will not lay primarily in technique, but in devotion.

St. Peter Canisius, pray for us!

The Critical Bible Skill for Catholics

Do you read the Bible to change your life?

Most Catholics don’t do this. They read the Bible to get done.

Catholics don’t talk much about the power of the Bible to change lives. Even Catholic Bible studies are more academic.

I think Catholics lack a critical skill–reading the Bible to hear what God has to say.

Transformed and guided by Scripture

Check out this “Catholics Come Home” commercial. There’s one line in it that says, “We [the Catholic family] are transformed by Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which have consistently guided us for two thousand years.”

That is exactly it! We Catholics are transformed and guided by the Scriptures. We always have been!

But if it’s such a part of our spiritual heritage, why don’t we see it emphasized more at the practical level?

It makes you wonder if it is a priority of the Church.

Scripture Is The Fundamental Priority

Well, after Verbum Domini came out, there’s no doubt in my mind that Pope Benedict feels Catholics should be Bible-reading, Bible-praying Christians!

He wrote, “With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus” (Verbum Domini, paragraph 72).

Pope Benedict continually highlights the benefits of lectio divina. Since the beginning of his pontificate, it’s been his mission of sorts to see this devotion established among the faithful.

According to Michael Barber the Pope’s “fundamental priority” is “leading people to ‘the God who speaks in the Bible.’

Barber quotes from Verbum Domini, “With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus” (Verbum Domini, paragraph 72; emphasis mine).”

What’s My Point? Listen to God Through the Bible

Catholics have always read and prayed with the Sacred Scriptures. However, this is not emphasized much today.

The consequence? We’re in a biblical deficit and only slowly digging out! This is a critical skill for spiritual maturity; most Catholics lack it.

Pope Benedict wants all the Catholic faithful to understand the power of the Bible first hand. He’s convinced it will bring a new springtime to the Church.

It’s time the Bible became an active part of the spirituality of the Catholic laity. It’s time to teach, talk about and study the life-changing power of the Scriptures.

It’s time for Catholics to become Bible-reading Christians and make the Bible a fundamental priority.

It’s your turn:

  • Do you read the Bible regularly to deepen your relationship with Jesus and to change your life?
  • Why or why not? Do you want to?

I would love to know!

God is Talking, Do You Know How to Listen?

Do you want to have a more intimate prayer life? Do you want a relationship with God but you don’t know how? You should learn to practice lectio divina.

I began lectio divina in 2005 shortly after Pope Benedict’s election. Almost immediately, he started speaking about the great benefits of lectio and recommending it to all the faithful. One quote in particular caught my eye and never gave it back. He said, “I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of lectio divina…If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church—I am convinced of it—a new spiritual springtime.” When someone like Pope Benedict says he’s convinced…I listen!

That’s why I was excited when Verbum Domini came out last week and I saw the section on lectio divina. I want to quote a few selections from Verbum Domini on lectio divina and add some commentary along the way. I hope this helps you grasp a little of the mechanics of this awesome prayer form.

Benedict writes, “It [lectio divina] opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself?” It’s very important for us to first understand what the human author is trying to convey to his audience. The literal interpretation is the basis for what the Holy Spirit is specifically trying to say to you.

He continues, “Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged.”

The object of prayer is not to change God’s mind, but to align our minds and our will with God’s thought and will. In meditation, we go deeper into the text to understand the theological and ecclesial meaning of the text. How has the Church traditionally interpreted this passage? What is God saying to me about my life? Do I need to change something to be in conformity with his will?

“Following this,” the pope said, “comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word?” Prayer is an honest conversation where with God we relate what stirred in us during the meditation and receive what God has to tell us. Listening is a necessary part of prayer.

“Finally,” he remarks, “lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us?”

Again, the object of lectio is to have our hearts and minds transformed and brought into union with God’s thought and way of being. In contemplation, we rest with the Lord and soak in the message received from our reading, meditation and prayer.

Benedict concludes by saying, “We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.” Transformed by prayer, the Christian must act on this great gift. The goal of prayer is share the fruits of Christ with others, not to keep it hidden within.

God is talking. Do you know how to listen?  Consider practicing lectio divina and transform a stale prayer life into a dynamic conversation with God.