Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Holy Week Invitation

Calling all Christians- and any other person interested in self-improvement.  Please read this post and let me know if you are willing to accept my invitation.  If you are "non-religious," I contend that you can still benefit greatly from it... in fact, I would bet on it.

Palm Sunday is here!  Thus begins the very height of the Christian calendar year.  As the deep purple curtain of Lent begins to open to the Light that is coming with Easter, we have an amazing opportunity before us.  For forty days, we are called to fasting, to alms-giving, and to prayer.  Many of us, myself included, have been guilty in the past (and maybe the present) of not living up to all three of those during Lent.  But even if we did live up to them, once Lent is lost in the bright wake of Easter Sunday, how easy has it been to slip right back into "old ways?"  Far too easy.

I've always been deeply interested in the lives of the saints-- and of late, even more so.  I have made it an official habit to read the "saint of the day" every morning- and also to read quotes and acts from saints each day.  This has been one of my extra-special Lenten objectives, and I have succeeded at it.  I can report to you that it has made a noticeable difference in the way I feel and in the way I see things.

In Romans and 1st Corinthians, among many other books of the bible, we are called to be saints.  It is why we are on this Earth.  The chief aspect of a saint is, of course, holiness.  That sanctification should be our goal, because just reading and believing our faith is not enough.  We are called to live our lives in the way that pleases God and in a way that helps others please God (thereby "dragging one another to heaven," as my daughter says).  Consider the opening of Ephesians (1: 3-6):

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.  In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved."

There it is.  He "chose us... to be holy and without blemish before him..."  If you take His Word seriously, how can you ignore that?  I can't... not anymore.  I can no longer just say and think that I am "trying" to be good, while still slipping back into the same vices and faults that are, literally, leading me to hell.  I have to work harder to get there... I want to be able to answer that call to sainthood; and I want to invite any and all of you who read this to join me.  That's right, I want to be a saint!   Come on!  Are you in?

Since I've never been a saint before, I'm not exactly sure of the road-map; but fortunately, we have some fantastic advice and examples to follow.  By simple observation, we can see that there are certain things all of the saints have in common.  As we look at these, let's see if we think we can do them.  The first attribute that we should start with is that saints are not perfect.  They are humans who are people of their times, and often subject to the problems associated with those times.  No one is perfect... and we will not be, no matter how hard we try.  Okay, I can definitely do that one!  Here are some more things we know about saints:

  1. They truly follow the Commandments, especially the greatest one, loving God with all their heart and might.  It has been rightly said that everything is vanity, except to love God and to serve Him alone.
  2. They spend a lot of time reading His Word and other virtuous things.  In other words: they take time to learn all they can about God and God's plans and work.
  3. They work very hard to love all other people, just as each of us is told to do.  Every living human being is a child of God and will live eternally (one way or another).  We have to feel the same deep and abiding love for one another that Jesus showed to us.
  4. They shunned the "worldly" things that would take their eyes off the prize, so to speak.  "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"  (Mark, 8: 36)
  5. They exercise true humility, giving all praise and honor where it belongs: to Almighty God.  Every time we think we are better than someone else, or are supremely pleased with ourselves, we must remember to slap our own face, so to speak, until that prideful flare is extinguished.
  6. They pray.  A lot.  A whole lot.  How can I be a true friend to God if I do not speak to Him regularly.  We are busy and it is so easy to fall into a habit of only praying at certain times (nighttime, church, dinner, etc.).  That is the road to making prayer just "something that we do," instead of a regular, on-going dialogue with the Holy Trinity (I have started to speak to all three regularly).
  7. They take risks-- often fearlessly-- because they trust in God.  From father Abraham to modern saints in the Middle East, China, and other hostile areas, saints do what it takes to achieve God's Will "on Earth, as it is in Heaven."  If He tells me to do something, I want to have the courage to do it. 

I've been reading "The Imitation of Christ," by Thomas à Kempis (HIGHLY recommend it).  I want to share a passage that gets right at the heart of our quest for sainthood.  From chapter eleven:

--How came it to pass that many of the Saints were so perfectly
contemplative of Divine things?  Because they steadfastly
sought to mortify themselves from all worldly desires, and so
were enabled to cling with their whole heart to God, and be free
and at leisure for the thought of Him.  We are too much occupied
with our own affections, and too anxious about transitory things.
Seldom, too, do we entirely conquer even a single fault, nor are
we zealous for daily growth in grace.  And so we remain lukewarm
and unspiritual.
--Were we fully watchful of ourselves, and not bound in spirit
to outward things, then might we be wise unto salvation, and make
progress in Divine contemplation.  Our great and grievous
stumbling-block is that, not being freed from our affections and
desires, we strive not to enter into the perfect way of the
Saints.  And when even a little trouble befalleth us, too quickly
are we cast down, and fly to the world to give us comfort.
--If we would quit ourselves, and strive to stand firm in the 
battle, then would we see the Lord helping us from Heaven.
For He Himself is always ready to help those who strive and who
trust in Him; yea, He provideth for us occasions of striving, to
the end that we may win the victory.  If we look upon our
progress in religion as a progress only in outward observances
and forms, then our devoutness will soon come to an end.  But let us
lay the axe to the very root of our life, that, being cleansed
from affections, we may possess our souls in peace.
--If each year should see even one fault rooted out from us, we
would go quickly on toward perfection.  But on the contrary, we
often feel that we were better and holier in the beginning of our
conversion than after many years of profession.  Zeal and
progress ought to increase day by day; yet now it seemeth a great
thing if one is able to retain some portion of his first ardour.
If we would put some slight stress on ourselves at the beginning,
then afterwards we should be able to do all things with ease and
--It is a hard thing to break through a habit, and a yet harder
thing to go contrary to our own will.  Yet if thou do not overcome 
small and easy obstacles, how shalt thou overcome greater ones?
Withstand thy will at the beginning, and unlearn an evil habit,
lest it lead thee little by little into worse difficulties.  Oh,
if thou knewest what peace to thyself thy holy life would bring
to thyself, and what joy to others, methinketh thou wouldst be
more zealous for spiritual profit.

So, now what...?  Well, in the spirit of taking things one day at a time (which is how I've been trying to live for the past year), I plan to add to each of my days a little more study, prayer, and contemplation.  I figure that if I can keep my mind on His word and the true faith, then I will be breaking bad habits and ingraining good ones.  As I said, I've managed to add a few good habits, including making my first waking act a sign of thanks and devotion to God.  Now, I want to expand... so, here is my plan; and again, I invite you to join me.

Between now and Easter, 2015, I plan to:

  • Read the entire bible (again).  This time, I intend to read it with my Faith in full swing.  In other words, I'm not going to try to be "scholarly" or "learned" in reading it... I'm just going to read it as I would any book, and let His revelation come to me.  I've heard that is the best thing to do, by the way.  The bible has only 73 books (66 for the King James), so that is not too much more than one per week (some of the books are very short and take only minutes to read).  There are all sorts of options here for the modern reader: online sources (here is the one I usually use on my computer:  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) online bible. ), smart phone/tablet apps (there is a FANTASTIC app called "Laudate" that I use several times a day for the bible and much more), or an actual hard copy of the bible.  Whichever you choose, I recommend a "study bible," that is, one with good footnotes- those really help.
  • Read through the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I strongly recommend this-- maybe especially for my non-Catholic brethren out there.  (The great Fulton Sheen famously said: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be").  The Catechism is a fantastic way to get straight to the source of the Church's teachings.  It is laid out very well and is very readable.  You can find free copies of it, but the easiest is an online version, like this one from the USCCB
  • Pray even more.  Regular, little talks with God injected throughout my day.  
  • Continue to read about the saints.  The Laudate app I mentioned has a great "Saint of the Day" feature, plus there are many more sources.

By doing all of this "learning," I will be keeping my mind and energy pointed in a positive direction.  It sounds like a lot, but in the scheme of a 24 hour day, I can make time for an hour or less for something this incredibly important.  If you feel a bit squeamish about trying to undertake what may seem a daunting challenge, please remember that Jesus promised us that if we knock, the door will open; and if we seek, we will find.  Then consider that the mighty Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the very smartest people ever to live, explained that we can't know all and truly understand everything immediately.  He, the great master of rational thinking, taught that Faith has to be in there at all times, especially at the beginning.  Then, we will work on the learning part.

“We can't have full knowledge all at once. We must start by believing; then afterwards we may be led on to master the evidence for ourselves.”  --Saint Thomas Aquinas

If you join me, we can help one another along.  Like those contests where teams get together to see who can lose the most weight, we can be a team working together to lose faults and gain virtue.  We can monitor one another's progress and discuss difficulties we encounter.  There is great power in such teamwork.  I know that I will reach out to others during this challenge-- and I stand ready to respond to anyone who reaches out to me.

Patrick Coffin, the host of the wildly popular "Catholic Answers Live" show, often ends his broadcast by saying "Be a saint-- what else is there?"  I really do hope and pray that you will join me, in as much capacity as you can.  Please pass this post along to anyone and everyone you know.  We can help each other so much, and we can make a difference in not just our own lives, but in the "greater good" of this very troubled society.

Guided by Faith and a firm desire to be closer to Him and to do His work, we will go from merely reading and learning and praying to actually LIVING THE FAITH.

"Because it is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy."  1 Peter, 1: 16

God bless!!


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