Category Archives: Christian Spirituality

Asceticism as Spiritual Dicipline

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Is there a case  to be made for the continuing relevance of the “monastic-generated” tradition of asceticism (“spiritual training or exercise”) in Christianity beyond monastery walls to all members of the churches, particularly when it is understood comprehensively as “spiritual discipline(s)” and not narrowly as “a life of exceeding self-denial” ?

When considered amidst the everyday realities of life, I happen to believe that the practices of asceticism or spiritual disciplines take on a particular relevance for our time. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us, “Elizabeth, child of God”. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!
It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. For me, I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out a visible sigh of thankfulness!
As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time, why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?
This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world. These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is for the kingdom of God. How can we say, “Put me in Coach!” if we haven’t shown up for practice?

 What do you think?  Is asceticism still relevant in our time?  Why?  Why not?

Peace,

Signature

1st Things First.

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“To believe in Jesus’ divinity today is to make him and what he stands for your God” Albert Nolan

It is to understand Christ as the supreme power in your life, your source of meaning and strength. This approach moves away from a very metaphysical discussion of Jesus regarding the full divinity and humanity found in early church theology to a very practical understanding on the priority we place on Jesus in our own lives and an emphasis is on the lived reality of Christian discipleship. If Jesus is to truly be understood as divine, then there should be a corresponding commitment that places the message of Jesus and his mission toward fulfilling the kingdom of God first in their lives. Indeed it is the very definition of praxis which involves both critical reflection and also concrete steps or choices to the belief.

Therefore, in considering whether Jesus is God for us today..

perhaps that is exactly how we need to look at it, in each and every day. Some days the answer for us will be a yes, and it is then we realize the meaning and strength he provides for our lives and what is being asked of us as well. A couple of days ago a friend came to my door, quite unexpectedly I note because we were to meet later to have coffee. Yet, her family concern could not wait and I realized very quickly that God was asking me to make her concern, and therein God’s concern, my first priority. After we had spoken, we prayed together, and she left at peace. No matter what else I had planned that day, this was where I was meant to be. Putting Jesus in first place, doesn’t have to be accepting a mission in the Congo, although that is a very beautiful choice. It is saying yes Lord, to these opportunities to discover him through those we encounter.

We also begin to see very clearly the recognition of the grace that we receive when we do put God first in our lives. Especially, when the things of this world that we have placed on that high glass shelf for display comes crashing down upon us. It is so often in those moments that we truly realize that those things which we held dear or prioritized cannot give us the power, meaning, or strength when we need it most. Here, I believe, is when we tend to reevaluate that first place position, and recommit to God: recognizing that he is the only one deserving of that place.

This very compelling argument holds that our understanding of Jesus as divine encompasses the formulated creeds and theological concepts that have been worked out but goes even further.  What we witness in the life of Jesus, and through his choices we first come to know the Divine. Yet, Jesus’ divinity is not limited to a particular time but is actively present and experienced whenever we seek to place him first, and wherever there is an inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Therefore, others are given the opportunity to see the divinity of Jesus in the lives that we lead, and the choices that we make. However, if we make other things our “divine”, then our words are merely that..words and not faith in action or revealing of the divine. In this, I am reminded of one of the most memorable quotes of Karl Rahner that says,

“The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.”  So powerful.

Early on in my involvement in ministry, I was told that you could often tell within a few conversations where people placed their priorities. Although, I still find it difficult to use the word idols, it does appropriately describe placing anything above God. The call to discipleship to me speaks to a commitment that goes beyond a faith of convenience- it is a passion of compassion that seeks to actively work even in small ways to bring hope to those with none, and speak for those who have no voice. It means making family mass a priority, and service a part of our everyday lives. So, if we take this understanding to heart, we do have a need to redirect our hearts, minds, and lives to truly placing God first in our lives.

Reflect:

Can I truly say that I see and trust Christ to be the the supreme power in my life today? What things do I place above God in my daily walk of discipleship?

Peace,

Signature

Through the Lens: Theology & Sprituality

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Sandra Schneiders, defines spirituality as the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”  “Religion and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals, or Partners?” Santa Clara Lectures v.6. no. 2, Feb 6, 2000.

In Schneiders discussion of spirituality, she begins with a very narrow understanding and use of the term in regards to the intensification of an interior prayer life, and communally within a guided retreat setting. As described, it seems limited in its effect where its participants seek to leave the everyday world to experience the Holy Spirit in a contained setting. This level is then expanded somewhat in a second approach to be a transformative experience intended to affect not just one’s prayer life but a lived increase of an everyday life of faith and service. The third approach encompasses both of these but redefines our prior catholic understanding of the body and emotions as something outside the realm of spirituality to include these in lived spirituality. Lastly, we have the broadest approach which also considers how one’s spirituality and life experience can and has impacted the world both politically and socially. Even to reflect that one’s own worldview, and life experience itself is a product of and affected by the historical social contexts of the world around us. In moving concentrically outward in depth of experience of spirituality, we also move from a narrow understanding given to a chosen pious group of believers to that which can be shared by all, and essential in a holistic life in the world.

For the majority of my life, I would say that I have understood spirituality primarily within the second approach. Growing up I had been given a wonderful role model of spirituality in my grandmother, whose prayer and faith life radiated not just within her own life but in all those who journeyed with her. Like her, I have desired and seek to live my faith both in prayer and within the entirety of my everyday experience. Therefore, when I attended the Cursillo retreat several years ago, it wasn’t novel- but first of all a re-commitment to give all aspects of my life to God and seek greater discernment in my path of discipleship.

It is in this discernment journey that I have begun to understand the tie of spirituality to that of the body and emotions. How can I better impart the gift of being a woman, wife, mother, and friend in the realities of life and share fruitfully the gift of love wholly? In my studies at Loyola, I recognize this approach to a lived spirituality calling me to broaden my horizons again from the microcosm of my immediate community to that of the world at large. As a hopeful “awakener” of the faith, I understand that the questions of those I encounter are ones that have the potential to allow each to find meaning and purpose in their lives and in the world.

Yet what is the dialogical relationship between spirituality and theology, and how do they impact one another? 

Very broadly, spirituality and theology appear as seekers in trying to understand the mystery of and our relationship with the Other, and in a perfect dialogical relationship can add support, understanding and indeed life to the journey. Visually, I see this as one’s left hand and right hand, which are both needed together in prayer, supporting the other in receiving communion (i.e. the Eucharist), and in reaching out and serving as communion to others. While one can perform these actions one-handed, or allowing one hand to dominate, it is in the partnership that one can embrace the fullness of the opportunity set before us. Thus, we look to the unique contributions that both spirituality and theology can provide to understand the breadth of the human experience and relationship with God.

According to Schneiders, Christian spirituality is both a lived awareness and experience of seeking God, which involves our whole self but goes beyond our finite selves, and which is enabled by the Holy Spirit. [1] This is compatible with how I also understand spirituality as a conscious commitment to seek God in all things that is dependent on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Likewise, I would agree that although Christian spirituality is a personal experience, it also involves a community of believers.[2] This is clearly visible in the experience of the disciples and early church but is also true in the contemporary experience of spirituality.

Yet, today we can benefit from centuries of faith understandings to fully appreciate our own experience of spirituality. This is where theology can inform, inspire, “criticize”, and “challenge”[3] this lifetime journey by providing a degree of structure, points of reflection, and others’ experiences for the believer to consider. Without a backdrop or context in which to place one’s experience, how could one interpret the similarity or uniqueness of it at all?  Conversely, theology without adequate spirituality provides theoretical truths and boundaries, but lacks the witness to the Spirit continually at work in the unique experience of the individual. The role of theology should therefore be to guide and not “control” the field or “subordinate” experience of spirituality.[4] Rather, in partnering with spirituality, theology is enlivened, dynamic and transformative reflecting also the contemporary lived experience of its believers.

Peace,

Signature


[1] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[2] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[3] Schneiders, pgs. 270-271. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[4] Schneiders, p. 273. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”

Worth Revisiting:The Case for Asceticism

Today humanity has  “enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes)

This begs the question, could there be a modern role for the practice of the spiritual discipline of asceticism found through fasting, prayer, spiritual direction, almsgiving, corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our lives today?

To this I would answer yes, most definitely!  The traditional practices of asceticism are relevant for our time, especially when taken out of a monastic framework and considered within the broader context of our everyday life. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us as his own beloved children. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!

It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that the place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out an audible sigh of thankfulness! Taking time to experience a retreat even further allows for the opportunity to tune out the noise and discover a way to live a more conscious spiritual life.

As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time,

Why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?

This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world.

These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is working for the kingdom of God.

How can we say, “Put me in Coach!”  if we haven’t even shown up for practice?

Peace,Signature


¹Definition of asceticism taken from The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company

An Engaging Faith: 9/21-9/25

You are invited to join me this week for An Engaging Faith on Breadbox Media daily at 4pm EST.

Enter To Win a Copy of Love Will Steer Me True  by
Jane and Ellen Knuth (Courtesy Of Loyola Press) , and Conversations with a Guardian Angel by Bob Wicks (Franciscan Media) 
Drawing runs 9/20-9/27 Click to enter..

This week invites us to delve into our own spiritual journeys-

With Jane and Ellen Knuth of Love will Steer Me True,  Robert J. Wicks of Conversations with a Guardian Angel, an Encore of Colette Lafia’s Seeking Surrender, an engaging discussion of theologian Karl Rahner with Paula Kowalkowski

And good friend Tony Agnesi, who is Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life.


Monday
: Jane and Ellen Knuth,
will be joining us to discuss Love will Steer Me True. Jane has been volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the last 15 years. She is also an eighth-grade math teacher. Jane and her husband, Dean, live in Portage, Michigan. Ellen recently returned to the USA after 5 years in Japan. Having already been an English teacher, a singer in a rock band, a dairy princess, a MC, and a newspaper columnist, Ellen now works as a university relations manager for a study and intern abroad company. Settled (for now) in Clinton Twp, MI, she travels extensively, writes occasionally, and sings constantly.

 

Tuesday: Robert J. Wicks has published more than 50 books for professionals and the general public, including Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm and the novel Conversations with a Guardian Angel which we will be discussing on the show. Bob has his doctorate in psychology from Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital and is on the faculty of Loyola University, Maryland. He has received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the American Counseling Association’s Division on Spirituality, Ethics, and Values and in 2006 was recipient of the first annual Alumni Award for Excellence in Professional Psychology from Widener University.

 

Wednesday: Tony Agnesi, who is Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life is the Senior Vice President of Rubber City Radio Group, WQMX, WONE, and WAKR in Akron and WNWV in Cleveland and member of Radio and Television Hall of Fame. A relentless storyteller, his Sunday blog and Wednesday podcast have an International audience in over 70 counties and has been translated in over 40 languages. Tony and his wife Diane have two adult sons and are members of the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Wadsworth, Ohio.

 Thursday: Loyola classmate, Paula Kowalkowski joins us again to help answer the questions , Who was Karl Rahner (1904-1984)and what does his life’s work mean for us today? Considered one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, Karl Rahner was greatly influential in the workings of the Vatican II Council. Appointed by Pope John XXIII as an advisor to the Council he worked with then Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Koenig on topics of scripture, tradition, and a number of pastoral concerns facing the church in the modern world.

Friday: Colette Lafia, is a San Francisco–based blogger, spiritual director, workshop and retreat facilitator, and part-time school librarian. She is an adjunct faculty member at Mercy Center Burlingame, where she also earned two certificates in spiritual direction. Lafia has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and English from San Francisco State University and a master of library information science from San Jose State University. She is the author of Comfort and Joy: Simple Ways to Care for Ourselves and Others and Seeking Surrender.

Poetic Resonances: A Spirituality Glimpsed

Every now and then, we are given those moments where we glimpse an aspect of ourselves embodied distinctively in the rather small bodies of our children. We are reckoned with the fact that for better or worse, they have assumed a bit of our personality, abilities, perspective or approach to life. Today, I stood in wonder and amazement, as I held the pages of my ten year old Thomas’ personal poetry anthology in my own hands. Amidst the collection of poems centered on the theme of buildings was this one which caught me completely by surprise and left me speechless.

              “Church”         by Thomas Reardon (age 10)

Today the outside is my church
As I watch the falcons perch.

I look at all of God’s creation
I remember the world’s revelation.

The sun shone bright,
It’s such a wonderful sight.

As I watch the morning sun,
I remember what God has done.

How did he, the boy fearful of writing finally find his voice in the rhythm and rhyme of poetic stanzas?

How did he articulate that deep resonance that I feel when I look out upon creation and see God’s beauty, suddenly aware that God is ever present and close to me?

My grandfather, a poet himself, had published in small circulation a collection of his poems, each speaking too of this experience of God in nature. And since I was quite young, I had followed in these steps finding that poetry combined my love of words with music, expressing my deepest longings. Now, to see my son discover this within himself…was one of the best gifts this mom could have ever received.

What is it that moves or nudges you closer to God, to recognize Him in your day? How do you express this best? Do you notice these gifts in your own children?

Peace,

Signature

“I Found It!”

During my undergraduate years at Mt. Holyoke College, I was to take the first course of what was to become my life’s work. Yet, at this very secular college, Philosophy of Religion had not been framed as articulate reasoning to believe. Rather, it was most often presented as confounding belief despite the fallacies, heresies, and multitude of reasons stacked up against it.  Yet the more I listened to the Harvard trained divinity professor reinforce his opinion in lengthy lectures, I wondered if he was actually a believer at all.

Extremely interested in grade point averages, students at this ivy leagued college scribbled feverishly with aching hands every word spoken…myself included.  Despite this, something beautiful happened- though I saw the difficulties to belief I became more and more enthralled with the moments of conversion. In seeing that in all the muck and mire, with the many mountains humanity creates, God is there working through every single one of us.

Midterms for this class were a nightmare, with 5 pages of insane but cleverly crafted questions to confuse the student to the point that one wasn’t sure of any answer. To his delight he announced that no one had passed, but since he graded on a curve that many of us were safe. As one of the best of the worst, I now took a deep breath and could only imagine what finals would be like.

That morning in a heavily proctored lecture room I took my envelope and found a seat near a window. As I stared at the words and images on the single page exam, my heart stopped as I realized God had given me the perfect essay prompt to vocalize all that was within my heart. Out of all the choices, one just leapt out at me. A Peanuts cartoon with Charlie Brown desperately searching for a ball hit into a field of tall grass..with a 3 word exclamation at the end. “I found it!”

This was for me what we describe in teaching as an “Aha” moment- that instant when a student suddenly grasps or acquires deeper meaning in the material presented. I wrote for what seemed to be only minutes, but filled an hour and a total of 8 pages.  Weaving in centuries of historical arguments with the personal conversion stories of those like Augustine and Dostoevsky, my soul soared.  As I put down my pencil and placed the exam in the folder, I knew that whatever grade transpired I had put my whole heart on paper that day.

Interestingly too, I began to look closer at the work of artists, cartoonists, architects, popular authors and musicians as expressions of belief in a very secular world. Very relatable yet quite frequently going theologically unnoticed, these works speak profoundly to the Divine. In seeking to evangelize, we must not look only to the theologians and doctors of the Church, but to these everyday believers and would be saints who put their faith and soul out for the world to see and believe.

Do you have an “ah-ha!” moment? How have you found God evidenced in the world around you today? Have you also shown God to others in what you say and do?

Peace,

Signature

Praying: Kataphatic or Apophatic?

How do you pray? Do you find your prayer overflowing with images, thoughts and conversations or instead find yourself wrapped in silence surrounded by God’s awe inspiring presence? While at various times we may find ourselves practicing both of these, understanding the shape your prayer takes helps us to simply understand how we personally connect with God.

The first form of prayer, kataphatic, is my own prevailing mode of prayer. At times our prayer begins in seeking God, in a desire to feel the immanence and closeness of God when our mind seems busied with the affairs of this world. In these moments, as I reflect on the presence, ministry and Passion of Jesus, as Word revealed, I recognize that I am being beckoned closer. In an instant, behind closed eyes, I am enveloped by the sights, sounds and scripture intended to speak to my heart. Aware of my own transgressions and surrendering, I find myself humbled by the love and grace so undeservedly but gratuitously given. A beautiful intimate conversation ensues, an exchange of wills- that of mine for His and a resolve to change.

While other times our prayer can be an exercise of self emptying and centering (apophatic), as Christ in the desert, in a desire to rest solely in God’s presence. Using a simple centering prayer, perhaps one word only, we can become immediately aware that there is no need to seek God for he is already here beside, within, and all around. Here, in this moment, we feel that images are incomplete for the magnificence of God simply transcends everything that we have ever known! Not an end but a beginning, in our seeking to understand God further, we realize that whatever our perceptions of God are that the Divine Other is so much more! Here we find a quiet contemplative aspect of our prayer whereby we are drawn into indescribable amazement at the mystery of God. When words are few, “How great Thou art!” sums it up pretty well.

On a very personal note, growing up without an earthly father figure in my life, I have often visualized Jesus welcoming me as a child to come and just “be” near to him. Amidst fields of tall grass, on a warm summer day and a light stirring breeze there is peace and joy. More than anything I could have ever asked for, this relationship has taken away the painful loss that I believe otherwise would’ve felt incapacitating. As an adult, I still experience this joyful purely childlike prayer, most often in those moments when God understands that I am most in need of a Father. And yet I find that as I have grown older so too have my conversations with Christ. In the desire for greater understanding, and the fullness of the gift that God has given through Christ, our responsibilities as a disciple continue to grow.

In a beautiful affective way, our experience of God’s love from both modes of prayer can be felt so strongly, that it seemingly overflows out from our prayer to praise for God and others. For through our daily activities, we are continuously invited to recognize God’s creative handiwork in the world around us, and celebrate its discovery in those we encounter. It’s a visible joy that sparks others to notice and ask, “So, what made you so smiley today?” It’s a deep sense of compassion that calls us to extend that love and mercy to those most in need. Be careful though, you’ll find its authenticity contagious and truly the best witness of faith that you can ever hope to give!

 Peace,

Signature

The Case for Asceticism

Today humanity has  “enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes)

This begs the question, could there be a modern role for the practice of the spiritual discipline of asceticism found through fasting, prayer, spiritual direction, almsgiving, corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our lives today?

To this I would answer yes, most definitely!  The traditional practices of asceticism are relevant for our time, especially when taken out of a monastic framework and considered within the broader context of our everyday life. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us as his own beloved children. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!

It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that the place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out an audible sigh of thankfulness! Taking time to experience a retreat even further allows for the opportunity to tune out the noise and discover a way to live a more conscious spiritual life.

As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time,

Why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?

This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world.

These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is working for the kingdom of God.

How can we say, “Put me in Coach!”  if we haven’t even shown up for practice?

Peace,

Signature


¹Definition of asceticism taken from The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company