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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Entitlement

In our current times it seems as though a great many people of all Christian faiths including some Catholics possess the notion of  “entitlement” when it comes to the practice of faith and a sincere relationship with Jesus Christ; entitlement in the sense that one deserves salvation or has already been handed it without any obligation to live according to His teachings. That if we pray other than during Sunday Mass it is a credit to our future failed attempts and if we stop by a Church or attend Mass during the week it allows us to disregard attending Mass on Sunday because we “did our part this week”. We may compliment ourselves at being intelligent beyond any other past civilization possessing advanced knowledge that somehow leaves us believing all we had been taught in the past is “old school”. Sin doesn’t exist, hell is all but out of business and heaven is just waiting for us to knock on the door. Purgatory doesn’t exist because we are pure of soul and God just waves us in when we come before Him. Is this what we believe? Does it make sense? Knowledge has no value without logic. But then, perhaps we have disregarded the value of logic in such matters as well. A library possesses an overabundant wealth of knowledge that is worthless if we do not access it. By the same token, our own knowledge remains worthless if not utilized with common sense.

In reality, there have been many past civilizations that have fed from this wellspring of delusion and many have fallen to collapse as a result. We are not far from it. Today for instance, we find so many people of heterosexual tendencies often who hold no value in marriage for themselves, promoting same sex marriage and even cheerful when they hear of some state that legalizes such a union. At the same time they become so frustrated and puzzled when others oppose it. They stand perplexed at this opposition proudly expressing their supportive position suggesting it is only fair that same sex marriage be legalized and to oppose it is a denial of someone’s “rights”. They refer to the opposition as "homophobic" not realizing it is they who have no sense of what marriage as a covenant truly represents while belittling those who do respect the covenant, its purpose and the sincere commitment that is required to live up to it. Much worse, our court system has become so perverted that it is not uncommon to hear some judge defend same sex marriage or even suggest heterosexual marriage is discriminatory in itself. By what standard of nature, science or God do these people justify their positions? Or is it one more example of “its all good” as long as it doesn’t directly affect the person supporting it? How can we expect other nations to continue to have any respect for us when we no longer exhibit it for ourselves?
When a society goes so far beyond truth that even the standard dictionary publishers have to consider changing the meaning of a definition to fit what society’s devaluation of morality exhibits, serious reflection of “self” has past the point of necessity. What should be questioned is what “right” is being denied? Two people regardless of sexual involvement can enter into numerous forms of contracts legally without sexual preference being an issue. Marriage, regardless of the spin someone may put on it, is only legitimate by God, nature and science, between two members of the opposite sex. The marital commitment has been a loving commitment specific to the union between a man and women often recognized as finalized only after the consummation of the marriage through sexual intimacy. By its standard it has commonly been entered into with consideration to the possibility of procreation and has for thousands of years been acknowledged as a union sealed by God. Anyone can suggest otherwise but this is fact. But for those who boastfully voice their permissiveness by such permissive notions such as same sex marriage and insist such liberal ideas should be recognized as legitimate, I would have to ask by what principle?

Is it natural according to the historic state of the marital union? No! It is incomparable!
Is it natural according to God? No!
Is it legitimate according to the laws of nature? No!
Is it supported in any field of science? No!

In fact, it is a perversion of nature and every other legitimate form of truth. it would be rational for us as the most intelligent form of life on earth to keep in mind that regardless of faith beliefs, virtually every lower form of animal on the planet possesses the basic instinct to know that sexual interchange is intended between male and female within their species.

We have by our own permissiveness developed a society that virtually mirrors the society of Caligula in the first century. Should we be proud of that? History has always referred to the Caligula society as perverted and for 2000 years has labeled Caligula himself a mad man, perverted and insane. By our majority we are a Christian nation in a country built upon moral virtues founded in our belief in God but we no longer fit this description any longer. By our majority we have shown ourselves to be a culture morally deprived and indifferent when it comes to the kind of society we would want history to reflect in us.

By the majority we have abandoned God, self respect and respect toward others yet we are entitled to salvation because Jesus was crucified for the forgiveness of our sins and sin no longer exists. Really? Who among us has the righteousness to determine our having reached a definitive level of salvation? Wasn’t it Paul himself who told us neither he nor we are to determine our own righteousness and God alone can judge our hearts? Does it seem logical that Jesus would succumb to His passion, death, and resurrection to forgive us our past sins so we could become more sinful and perverted than ever before and yet retain our salvation? Or does that sound more like the notion of a defiant child who takes for granted the parent’s expression of loving forgiveness with that firm and final warning to amend our ways? No one is exempt from working out their salvation day by day.

Let us look in the mirror and determine for ourselves exactly who we are trying to convince and what it is we are attempt to justify in our lives. Then let us consider who we are kidding. Then let us pray.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Holy Trinity

In contemplation, allow me to make it clear that this reflection on the Holy Trinity is a personal reflection based on one man’s limited human pondering and not intended to be considered a claim of fact or Divine revelation that others must or should accept by any means. It is merely a reflection based on personal human limits of comprehension offered in an analogy to help others consider the reality of what is supernatural and Godly.

As our Heavenly Father promised in His Covenant to His chosen people, Jesus, by way of His human life fulfilled the foretellings of the Old Testament Prophets in the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus established His Church on earth through the Apostles to teach the Gospel to all nations, to “every living creature”, baptizing man in the name of “The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.

Realizing this, man has been trying to relate with some degree of understanding to the essence of the “Holy Trinity” and how there could possibly be only One God yet consist of three Divine Entities; that being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because such understanding is far beyond our grasp, some have at times turned away from the true Christian faith in the Holy Trinity completely, adopting their own beliefs supported by nothing more than what they could accept based only on their human comprehension. What this means is, they conformed their faith to follow what they could understand rather than holding fast to the faith required in God as the supernatural Spiritual Being He is, thus reducing God to a level acceptable to Human understanding.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Discerning the Spirits

A wonderful revelation presented itself to me recently and it was quite by accident when it occurred. I had been watching on EWTN a retreat on Ignatian Spirituality. Being fairly new into the faith after many years, I had no idea what this meant but I watched with growing enthusiasm as the priest began to describe the discernment of the spirits within the framework of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.

Fr. Brian O’Leary explains in the website CatholicIreland.net: “Decision making is often a process marked by fluctuation of mood and even by struggle. Change and new commitments stir up feelings – both of anxiety and self-doubt as well as enthusiasm and energy. These feelings lead self-awareness and can be the way God indicates where he wants to lead me.” He then goes on to say: “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are often described as offering a way of coming to a good decision on a major issue in a person’s life”.

As I viewed the program on EWTN and subsequently read a couple of on-line articles pertaining to these Spiritual Exercises, I began to realize over the past year that much of what had occurred in me when making the “journey back home” to the Catholic Faith, were exactly what these feelings that Fr. O’Leary was referring to. I had experienced those spirits within me causing me at times emotional “highs” and other times a very deep dark “low”. Interestingly enough, the lows would almost always occur within a week or so after I had felt the “highs”. I absolutely could not understand where these feelings of what I called depression were coming from because in my personal life things were quite fine. I had no illusions that my spiritual life needed work but I focused daily on prayer, the study of scripture and reading all I could about the Catholic Church.

A little background on St. Ignatius from Wikipedia might help in understanding where these Spiritual Exercises came from:

Ignatius of Loyola (Basque:Ignazio Loiolakoa, Spanish: Ignacio de Loyola) (1491 - July 31, 1556) was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus(Jesuits) and was its first Superior General. Ignatius emerged as a religious leader during the Counter-Reformation. Loyola's devotion to the Catholic Church was characterized by unquestioning obedience to the Catholic Church's authority and hierarchy.


After being seriously wounded at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521, he underwent a spiritual conversion while in recovery. De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony inspired Loyola to abandon his previous military life and devote himself to labour for God, following the example of spiritual leaders such as Francis of Assisi. He experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus while at the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in March 1522. Thereafter he went to Manresa where he began praying for seven hours a day, often in a nearby cave, while formulating the fundamentals of the Spiritual Exercises. In September 1523, Loyola reached the Holy Land to settle there, but was sent back to Europe by the Franciscans.


Between 1524 and 1537, Ignatius studied theology and Latin in Spain and then in Paris. In 1534, he arrived in the latter city during a period of anti-Protestant turmoil which forced John Calvin to flee France. Ignatius and a few followers bound themselves by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In 1539, they formed the Society of Jesus, approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III, as well as his Spiritual Exercises approved in 1548. Loyola also composed the Constitutions of the Society. He died in July 1556, was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609, canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, and declared patron of all spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI in 1922. Ignatius' feast day is celebrated on July 31. Ignatius is a foremost patron saint of soldiers, the Society of Jesus, the Basque Country, and the provinces of Guip├║zcoa and Biscay.

As noted above, Ignatius during his time of recovery in Manresa, began to have “discernment of the spirits” in his readings of Christ and the saints and out of this came the Spiritual Exercises and his ultimate conversion to the Catholic faith.

As I began my return to the Catholic faith, I remember specifically how the Holy Spirit began to work within me causing me to realize I was beginning on a journey that would ultimately change the course of my life forever. As one article I read said: “The good spirit disturbs and shakes up. It stirs up feelings of remorse and discontent”. I had begun some years before to feel something just was not quite right within me and my spiritual life. It was an ever nagging feeling at times worse than others but I would somehow push it to the back of my mind and continue on. It was definitely stirring up “feelings of remorse and discontent”. It became so bad at one point during the year before my reconciliation with the church that I would pray for it to go away. The feeling was very strong and I subsequently became quite angry and distraught. I remember crying uncontrollably on many an occasion and was totally out of control emotionally and physically so much so I lied my way out of comments from my husband as to “what was wrong” and “why was I so unhappy”. At the same time the “evil” spirit was causing me much confusion and I began to question if this was indeed the Holy Spirit working through me or just some passing fancy about perhaps returning to the church of my childhood.

Once I became closer to making the final step into the church, I then began to feel the good spirit or Holy Spirit giving me the strength and courage to move on and take control of my life and I felt an immense sense of relief that this indeed was what God had in His plan for me. As another article on discernment of the spirits I read said: “For people who are trying to live a life pleasing to God, the good spirit strengthens, encourages, consoles, removes obstacles, and gives peace.” “The evil spirit tries to derail them by stirring up anxiety, false sadness, needless confusion, frustration, and other obstacles.”

I can certainly attest to the fact I have experienced both of these and as I mentioned above I would experience one then about a week later the other spirit usually the “evil” would kick in. As I read, “discernment of spirits is a challenging task.” If I had known then what I know now, I could have probably handled my feelings much better than I did and perhaps would not have experienced such a roller coaster of a ride. But then I also feel this may have been God’s will for me in order to bring me more fully into His grace and eventual peace through reflection and discernment of these spirits.

Interestingly enough, these “spirits” will continue to expose themselves to us during our whole life. It is not a once in a lifetime experience. As one becomes in tune with discernment of spirits then the whole idea of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius in the understanding of God’s grace, sin and the root of sin becomes more apparent. I began to ask the hard questions of myself. Am I living the life God wants me to live? Am I doing His will in everything I do? Am I admitting my sinful nature and working on sanctification in order to become more holy and acceptable to Him?

About a month ago I again experienced the “evil” spirit. I had a day in which everything was dark and despairing. I was immensely sad and could not figure out why as things had been going very well for me in my spiritual life. I asked for and received prayers from a spiritual guide through Seeking Divine Mercy website affiliated with this blog. Within a few hours this “evil” spirit had lifted and once again I had overcome those feelings of complete despair. So even though I had at this point in my life reconciled with the church, I was still “under attack” from those spirits who want nothing better than to “derail” my sense of peace. It is an ongoing struggle at times but since I have now found out what has caused this I am in a better place to be able to confront it when it occurs again and it will. Of this I am certain.

In conclusion, I feel as Catholics, it is important we look a little deeper at what keeps us from the fullness of God’s graces. Part of Ignatius Spiritual Exercises includes “the way to be happy and fulfilled is to accept God’s offer of friendship and to live in accordance with that friendship. If we are trying to do this, according to Ignatius, ‘consolation’ is the order of the day. This does not mean that life will be without pain and suffering; it means that God wants to be a consoling presence to us even in the inevitable pains and suffering of life.” Consolation is that desire for God and a moving away from sin. When faced with any important decisions in life whether they are spiritual or secular, discernment of spirits can be an essential part of knowing God’s will for us. When we are able to make a decision that is pleasing to Him, understanding through self-awareness and self- knowledge what His plan for us is, these decisions become clearer to us and ultimately we will be at peace in whatever we decide in our secular as well as our spiritual lives.

Written by a follower of SDM

Monday, February 6, 2012

Conversion

A person who returns to the Catholic Church after having been away for any number of years is considered to be a “revert. A person who becomes a Catholic having been from another faith tradition is commonly referred to as a “convert”. Those who have been Catholics all their lives are called “cradle Catholics”. All three of these; revert, convert and cradle Catholic, will continue to be on a path of conversion because it is a continual process of Christ working through us to bring us in closer relationship to Him.

In the life of the church, we recently celebrated the conversion of St. Paul in Acts 22:3-16. This story continues to offer to many the hope of salvation through such a conversion as experienced by St. Paul. Being blinded by a light, having Christ speak to us, saving us from our sinful ways by following him and having our lives completely changed by this conversion experience has been told over and over again down through the ages by individuals seeking a closer relationship with God. There have been many paintings of Paul’s experience but one I viewed with interest was in the January edition of the Magnificat, a spiritual guide for each day of the year. This painting is by a renowned 16 century artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It is called “The Conversion of Saint Paul” (above photo) and is in the Odescalchi Balbi Collection in Rome, Italy. Having recently viewed a Caravaggio art display in our home town, I have come to appreciate the magnificent way in which this artist was able to paint many of the famous gospel stories. His paintings reflect the “dramatic use of light and shadow that leaves a deep impression on the viewer” and this is definitely apparent in this particular painting of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. The author of this article about the painting goes on to say “for the play of light and darkness is a visual meditation on the forces of sin and grace in the human heart”. (Jem Sullivan, Ph.D, author and contributor to the Magnificat).

My own “conversion” story took many years. I had been raised Catholic by parents who they themselves went through a conversion from a Protestant faith to the Catholic faith when I was very young. It would be through my own conversion back into the church 45 years later that would make me fully appreciate how it is one comes to be converted. Mr. Sullivan goes on to say “Conversion, as a work of God’s grace in the human heart, is a radical reorientation of the whole of life, a turning away from all that keeps us from God.” I did not feel as if I had turned away from God but probably more importantly I had turned away from Him in having left the faith of my childhood. I had left the Catholic faith to marry into the Methodist tradition through my husband. For many years I was quite happy in this faith and we raised two lovely children in this church as well. But as most of us who revert, come to realize something is missing and choose to return to the wonderful faith that for some reason has lain dormant and reemerges once we realize “God’s grace is in our human heart” and the Holy Spirit begins to bring us back “home”.

As I read recently, the Catechism of the Church (CCC 1432) says “The Human Heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him.” I had never really thought of conversion as an ongoing process. I always felt that once one was converted, then the rest was the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within a person perfecting them in that grace of God until at which time they would be sanctified with him in heaven, which is true. But as depicted in the Caravaggio painting and as Mr. Sullivan points out: “Christian conversion is always a living encounter with the person of Jesus Christ”. I view this painting and so enjoy the “source of light” which is none other than Christ himself and is as the writer says “…coming into history and into our lives (to) dispel the darkness of human sin, alienation, and loneliness apart from God.”

I always view stories of converts and reverts as refreshing reminders of all that is good about the Catholic Church. It is unfortunate that some “cradle Catholics” have a diminished view of their faith maybe because they are not continually challenged as to what they really believe. I recently read in a meditation about how we tend to package Jesus into our preconceived notion of how he really is when in reality, “the real Jesus, through the community of the Church, and its scripture, tradition, and teaching will correct me in love and truth.” If he calls me to continual conversion, he must be Jesus”. In my recent experience in returning to the church, I have been amazed at how much “cradle Catholics” do not really understand or fully appreciate all that the church offers. Perhaps this is where the church has somehow failed in encouraging the ongoing call to “continual conversion” through the rediscovery of just how beautiful this faith tradition of ours is and continues to be.

St. Paul’s conversion story continues to resonate with me as a reminder of where I have been and where I am going. In true Caravaggio form, I have learned to appreciate the “light” and understand the “dark”. It is out of this I have come to an understanding of the “person of Jesus Christ” and the continued fullness of all the Catholic faith has to offer.

Written by a follower of SDM