The Need for Fasting

Earlier this week, the Ignatian spiritual exercises I’ve been doing had me contemplate the events immediately following the Baptism of Christ: his retreat into the desert to fast, and then be tempted by Satan. A few things struck me while I was praying and I just wanted to share them with you.

I thought it was interesting that in the accounts of all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this event is placed immediately following the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus went immediately from the waters of the Jordan into the desert and fasted. Scripture subtly, but strongly, links fasting to baptism. For us, baptism is the beginning of the Christian life (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-6, Galatians 3:27, 1 Peter 3:20-22), and so it follows by the example that is set by Christ by his going immediately from baptism into fasting, that fasting flows directly from the heart of what it is to be a Christian.

But why is fasting important? If we look at Jesus’ example as told by Matthew, it was after fasting that Jesus, in his human will, was engaged by the devil and able to resist the temptations. In following Christ’s example, we will find in our own fasting the strength to enter into spiritual battle and win. In our own denial of our sensual passions in prayer and fasting we meet Christ and grow strong against evil.

And so while I will refrain from using words like obligation and requirement in regards to fasting which goes beyond what the Church obliges us to (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Communion Fast), we really ought to employ fasting as one of our regular spiritual practices if we are serious about conquering sin and cultivating holiness. We may choose to fast on a certain day(s) of the week or we may choose to fast before making particularly important decisions, but in any case, it is important for each of us to consider the significance of fasting, and following Jesus into the practice, and to fast well when we do (Matthew 6:16-18).

If you would like to read more on fasting, check out this Lenten message (I know, wrong liturgical season) from Fr. Benedict (Pope Benedict XVI) in 2008.

 

 

Cleaning House

About this time of year, many Catholic parishes have Penance services. A Penance service is typically an opportunity presented for the faithful to go to Confession outside of the normal times offered for Confession. Usually all of the parishes in an area will collaborate and have all of their priests together in one parish each night so that there can be multiple Confessions being heard at the same time.

Last night I went to the first one being offered in town over the next week. After confessing my sins and listening to the spiritual direction of the priest, I began to pray the Act of Contrition:

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I detest all of my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they have offended Thee, my God, who art all Good and deserving of all of my love. I firmly resolve with the Help of thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

After receiving absolution I continue to mull over the last words in the prayer: to amend my life.

Advent is the season of amending our lives. Advent is the season of making the crooked path straight as the great prophet cried out. Advent is a time of actually changing our lives. It is a time to break our current habits, to rid our lives of the things that distract and detract from God. It is a time for us to rid ourselves of the unholy things that we allow to persist in our lives, things which we have quite often invited and continue to invite even though they provide no spiritual benefit, and may actually dull our senses to sin.

As an example, looking at my habits over the last few months, and contemplating some of the discussions that some of my friends have been having, it is clear that as Americans we allow alot of smut into our lives through tv, movies, Netflix, etc. I’ve been bingeing on Cheers and Frasier over the last few months. I’ve seen every episode of The Office and Arrested Development more than once. I used to watch That 70’s Show religiously, I will sometimes sit down and watch a few hours of Family Guy or devote hours of my week playing the Family Guy: Quest for Stuff game on my iphone. I guess that my point is that ALL of this stuff provides no actual benefit to my life. In fact, each of these things detracts quite a bit from God. They promote/glorify/condone/normalize all sorts of sin: adultery, excessive alcohol use, fornication, greed, sacrilege, homosexuality, abortion, promiscuity, decadence, disrespect for parents, contraception, etc., etc.

Even in “moderation” what real purpose do these shows, and the many shows that are simply clones of these ones, provide to the Christian soul? None. And in fact, they dull our senses to sin. We might want to say that we can compartmentalize our lives and be unaffected morally by the things we feed our minds, but is it really true? Will we really be as disgusted at sin  if we are constantly are feeding our minds on this garbage? Even if it were true, should we want to waste time on such things? Again, what is the point? To unwind? To laugh? Aren’t there ways to do this with God?

I guess what I’m offering is a challenge, which is just as much for myself, to rid ourselves of these things. Let’s truly make straight the path, a highway for the Lord. Cancel that Netflix, sell those boxed sets, give away those Eminem cd’s.

We must watch and pray. We are to be a people that never ceases to pray. That is the difference between us and the pagan, but that difference grows smaller when we allow ourselves to be attached to material things that are the antithesis to Christian virtue. Let us abandon all of that to more fully focus our love and devotion on the Lord in a true and profound act of repentance.

What Do You Want For Christmas?

Thanks to Father Jared for asking this question this morning.

What do you want for Christmas?

I’m 27 now, and this question becomes harder and harder to answer each year. It was so easy to answer as a child. I had a litany of toys that I could rattle off….

For a Red Ryder BB Gun, Santa grant my wish.
For Tinker Toys, Santa grant my wish.
For a football, Santa grant my wish.

Etc, etc.

Even as a young-er adult, I had an easier time answering the question. But now, as a late twenty-something who is trying to take a relationship with God seriously, the question is far more difficult to answer. I don’t really need things. I don’t need anymore books. I don’t need anymore clothes. I don’t need any fun gadgets and electronics. I don’t need kitchen stuff. I just don’t need anything. But I guess the question isn’t want do I need, but what do I want.

What I want is God. What I want is a divine joy. What I want is deep communion with him. What I want is to spend my day in prayer free from distractions from God. What I want is the gift that no man can give to me, but can only be received from the divine mercy of God. No other gifts matter.

But I guess if I had to put my gift into some semi-tangible, semi-specific form, it would be this:

I want to know the vocation that God is calling me to, and to receive the graces and the circumstances to enter into it.

That’s it. I want to know what God is calling me to and to go. I want to know for what purpose the divine has called me into existence, and then I want to fulfill that purpose.

I just hope that all of us can come to realize that Christmas is not about giving and receiving gifts and tokens of affection. It isn’t about the warm fuzzies. It isn’t about cocoa and sleigh rides. It isn’t even about family or friends. Christmas is about God becoming man because mankind had strayed from its purpose. It is about God breaking into our lives in a profound and surprising way in order to reconcile us, and restore us to friendship with him. It is about a dynamic recreation of the universe so that we can know God and love God and obey God and be enabled to accomplish the tasks for which our very bodies and souls were created.

Our Christmas lists need to be much shorter, and they need to be much more on that point. They need to above all else express our desire to be with God, as he has expressed his desire to be with us in the Incarnation. All else is superfluous.

What do you want for Christmas?

 

 

40 Days

40 days ago I decided to go to daily Mass on a Monday morning to celebrate the feast of St. Hubert, who’s conversion story inspired me to go as the Saint to an All Saints Day party.

That one decision to go to Mass ended up blossoming into going to Mass every day between then and today, making today the 40th consecutive day I have attended Mass. Now I don’t say this as some kind of pat on the back, and the only reason I am even bringing this up is because the experience and the commitment has been full of great blessings.

The greatest blessing that I’ve received is the daily reception of Holy Communion. When one makes a habit of receiving Jesus daily in the Eucharist, the act quickly starts to entrench itself deep in the desire of the heart. I knew that when I started going to bed longing for 6:45am Mass so that I could receive Jesus that God was working in my heart through the Mass.

Another blessing that has been spurred on is a greater commitment to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. From the Eucharist flows the grace of all of the Sacraments, and so from the desire to the receive the Eucharist, flows the desire to receive absolution in Reconciliation. The love for Jesus absolutely crushes any fear or apprehension that we might have about going to Confession or being seen standing in the line.

About half-way through these 40 days, a greater increase in the desire to pray outside of the Mass occurred. The grace of the Mass began to overflow into other times of the day. I desired to be alone and to pray.

And the funny thing about the desire to be alone, I’ve noticed a substantial increase in my desire to be social and to be around others. Some of my friends have seemed wondrous at the amount of social activity I’ve been participating in, an amount that is unprecedented since college. But it flows from Communion and the desire for communion with his other members.

I could go on and on about how AWESOME the last 40 days of Mass have been, how when I look at the state of my heart 40, 30, 20, 10, 5 days ago, I can see great change that can only be attributed to the flow of mercy from Jesus’ Eucharistic heart.

I Sure Did Enjoy Worshiping Mary Today

Obviously I’m kidding.

Catholics don’t worship Mary.

Of course some non-Catholic/non-Orthodox/non-Anglican/non-Lutheran Christians just look at us incredulously when we say “we don’t worship Mary”.

I used to be one of them. I simply could not understand why anybody would think its ok to worship Mary. I still don’t understand why anyone would think that. I do however, understand the difference between dulia and latria. The former is honor due to men, and the latter is honor due to God. Catholic devotion to Mary falls under dulia or hyperdulia. There is nothing in the Catholic Church’s teachings that says Mary is equal to God. There is nothing in the Catholic Church’s teachings that say that Mary is not saved by God or did not need God for salvation. There is nothing in the Catholic Church’s teachings that say we must worship her. There is nothing in the Catholic Church’s teachings that say any of these things.

Quite simply, the Church teaches a few basic things about Mary.

  1. By simple logic, we can conclude that Mary needed to be conceived without original sin. The reason is obvious: Christ took his flesh from Mary. In order for the humanity of Christ to not be tainted he would either need to take his flesh from an untainted woman or he would have to be saved directly himself from contracting original sin from Mary. Obviously Christ does not need to be saved, the latter makes no sense. This in no way states that Mary needed no Savior. On the contrary, it shows that God is her savior in an extraordinary way, and that the merits of what Christ would accomplish were so powerful that they worked in Mary, by God’s will, before Christ himself accomplished the redemptive work of the Cross.
  2. We conclude by simple logic that Mary was ever-virgin. The opposing camps of Christendom can talk past each other until they are blue in the face about “the brothers and sisters of Christ” mentioned in the Gospels, but one only needs to look to the confusion and astonishment of Mary in the Anunciation scene of Luke’s Gospel. Why would a girl who is betrothed to a man be confused at how she is to have a child? The angel says nothing of this event taking place immediately. Wouldn’t a woman who was going to marry and have relations with a man assume that this would be how this child would come to be? Yes. So why was Mary confused? Most likely because she had taken a vow of virginity. Call me crazy. Or call Mary crazy. Your choice.
  3. The Church believes that Mary was assumed into Heaven when the course of her earthly life was finished. What in the world does this mean? It means that whether Mary died or not, her body and soul was assumed into Heaven. This is not the same as the Ascension, in which Jesus, in his own power ascended from earth to Heaven. Here, the power of God takes the powerless Mary to his abode. You know what is crazy, Mary isn’t even the first person to be assumed to be with God. Ever wonder what happened to Enoch? Why did he do this? I don’t know, Scripture prophecies this in the Psalms when it speaks of the Ark of the Covenant (which Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant).
  4. We believe that Mary is Queen of Heaven and Earth, that wherever Jesus is King, Mary is Queen. The reasons are simple: in Israel, the Queen is never the wife of the King, but is the King’s own mother. Look to Solomon as a prime example of this truth. Jesus is the King of Kings. He is the King of Israel. And his mother is his Queen. And as a queen, Mary fulfills the same roles, namely, that she intercedes for the subjects of the King. Look to Solomon again. The Queen is an advocate before the King. Mary fulfills this role for us.
  5. We believe that Mary has intercessory abilities, as do all of the Saints. We don’t believe that the Saints are dead. We don’t believe that the Saints are blind and deaf to what is happening on earth. In fact, numerous parts of the Gospels illustrate the dead heroes of the faith being spiritually alive in Christ. Look at the story of the rich man and the poor man in the Bosom of Abraham. Or look at the Transfiguration. Or the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews. We know that when the faithful die, they are with Christ, even before the Resurrection of their bodies. We know that they are perfected in all virtue, including charity. We know that they will all that Christ wills. And that means that they will our salvation. They desire it as much as Jesus. So why wouldn’t they intercede for us? We know that there are creatures in Heaven through whom our prayers pass on their way to God, just look at Revelation 5.

For me, Mary was a very heavy stone when I became Catholic. Of all the things about Catholicism that were peculiar, all of them fell away easily but this one aspect. But each day it becomes less so, because as I become closer to Mary I grow closer to Christ. Because like any good disciple Mary points away from herself and to Christ. By contemplating Mary we know more about Jesus. We become better brothers of Christ when we honor his mother, who by the spirit of adoption is also our mother.

So please, if you are not Catholic, don’t simply dismiss Mary because you’ve always been taught to do so. Don’t assume that you have nothing to learn from Mary, or that by honoring Mary in any way you detract from Christ. And if you become brave enough, simply say “hi” to Mary when you wake up in the morning and maybe say “will you ask Jesus to give me the grace to be a better disciple?” I mean, don’t you ask your friends to do the same? Why not ask the woman who carried Jesus for nine months, gave birth to him, was with him the day he started his public ministry, and followed him to the Cross when all but one of the twelve had abandoned him, to do the same?

May the Peace of Christ, and the motherly protection of Mary, keep you.

Nativity

 

Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

When I was home for Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to stop into the local Catholic bookstore. I had been looking for a book with which I could make an informal spiritual retreat. Well I found exactly what I was looking for in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I began on Sunday, and let me tell you:

It’s stinking amazing.

Right from the get-go, it shows you just how delusional you are if you think you are living a holy life. I just wanted to swallowed up into a deep hole after the daily examens on the first day. The other exercises, of which, I have been doing one each day, have all been focusing on the effects of sins and of the reality of hell. It really cultivates a sense of shame.

Wait, a minute, isn’t that kind of depressing? Actually not! At first glance it might seem contrary to the Gospel, but understanding the utter rottenness of sin only serves to stir up repentance, contrition, and utter gratitude for the rich and abundant mercy of Christ! I can’t think of a week when I have experienced the mercy and patience of God more than I have this week, a week when I’ve daily contemplated sin. I’ve never been more motivated to seek Jesus in the Eucharist than I have this week, and I long each night for morning to come so that I may experience his love in the daily Mass.

If you’re still looking for some kind of spiritual practice for this penitential season of Advent to prepare your heart for the coming of Christmas and for the second coming of our Lord, its not too late to begin practicing the exercises of the St. Ignatius. You can find the full texts here, just keep in mind that they were intended to be lead by a retreat leader for a group of persons on a long retreat, so adapt them to fit into your life.

 

Alas It Is Here

Today marks the beginning of Advent. It marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. It marks the anticipation of the return of Christ, the anticipation of the Resurrection.

It also marks one year now since I last saw my mother alive. One year ago today I packed up my suitcase, walked down the stairs, looked at her one last time as she sat in her chair, and I walked out the door for the drive back to North Dakota. But the anniversary of her death is still a few weeks away, and so I’m kind of in this weird place. For right now I’m doing ok, but I know that as that day approaches its going to get tougher.

Its going to take a lot of prayer to get through the next few weeks.

Open Letter to Rhianna LaValla

DN:

A year ago today I did the ballsiest thing in my life.

Originally posted on Deus Nobiscum:

On November 19, a staff writer at the NDSU Spectrum published an article which wrongly accused the Catholic Church as teaching that members of the LGBT community are not humans. The article can be found here.

The article is an offensive misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine, and thus, I was asked to respond with a letter to the editor. The editor told me that my letter would be published today. It was not. And so I share the letter that was supposed to be published here for you.

Update (11/26/13): The editor of the Spectrum contacted me and apologized for the oversight and the letter will be published in the next issue of the paper.

I am writing this letter in response to Rhianna LaValla’s Atheist Perspective from November 19. As a Bison alum, a Catholic, and a gay man, I am deeply appalled that the Spectrum would publish an…

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