An Idea For Lent: Treat People Better

If you look at the life of Jesus, he reserved his indignation for a few particular types of people, mainly the Pharisees. The Pharisees, chief interpreters of the Mosaic law during the period, made people’s lives more difficult and burdensome, by emphasizing little rules that the Pharisees themselves didn’t even bother to follow.

I think many of us Christians forget this. Jesus made people’s lives better. He healed them, fed them, and spiritually liberated them from oppressive rules that hindered them. A great example is when his disciples ate grain on the Sabbath. Jesus reminded his accusers that the Sabbath rest was made for us, not us for it. In other words, following all sorts of crazy rules about the Sabbath pretty much gets rid of its original point: to provide mankind with a day without work.

I worry that sometimes Lent can become a time for all of us to get a little crabbier and meaner. After all, we are denying ourselves things, and going without food in some cases. The great saints recognized that Lent is not about diet or even food, but about leading us to love God – and neighbor – more perfectly. If our Lenten disciplines do not lead us to become more loving, and more like Christ, then they are a waste of time, no different than trying out Slim-Fast or any other restrictive diet.

I suggest remembering the person of Jesus this Lent, particularly he genuine humanity. Yes, he was fully God as well, but let’s not forget that as a true human, Jesus treated people right. He celebrated with them, and wept with them. He met people where they were, and aside from his dealings with Pharisees, he always recognized that people are more sick than lost, in need in compassion, not judgment.

I am not suggesting that I have everything figured out, and this is just as much a call for me to improve as it is to our readers. May everyone continue to have a blessed Lenten season 2013.

Pray For The Future Pope

Pope Leo the GreatRight now there is a lot of speculation about which cardinal will  become pope. Honestly, I haven’t really been following the whole thing. I am left to trust the Holy Spirit at this point. I am not trying to sound holier-than-thou, by suggesting this.

The reason is that I honestly feel the Church needs a special kind of leader right now, and as a human, I would have difficulty choosing the right man for the job! The Church is plagued with scandals, and the morale of the laity is pretty low. I think Benedict has tried hard and implemented some good reforms, but one man cannot effectively get rid of the rot, at least not immediately.

I love the Church and am not suggesting God has abandoned us! I am suggesting that the Holy Spirit will choose the right man for the job. Whatever we do, we must pray for the new pope, and the cardinals as they choose him. This is especially important during this Lenten season. Please check out our prayer for a new pope.

Renew Your Lenten Discipline

A statue of JesusMany people get really excited about their Lenten discipline on Ash Wednesday and it continues through the first week or so of Lent. But, by the second week or a little later, perhaps the original excitement has faded. Then, your plan to give up sweets or to do an act of charity each day has pretty much fallen by the wayside. Basically, for many people in Lent, goal ideas meet reality. And, reality isn’t as exciting. But, just because you get off the track early, doesn’t mean you can’t recover. Here are a few tips to renew your Lenten discipline.

First, don’t beat yourself up. A lot of people I talk to tell me that they start by cheating on their goals a little bit, then just stop doing it altogether. In many cases, that is a result of guilt or shame over failing to follow through. However, remember that the purpose of Lent is to grow spiritually stronger. Think of it as training. Sometimes we fail while  we train. Remember the purpose of Lent and don’t let the guilt make you give up. Which brings us to the second tip…

If you give up the discipline, even for days (or weeks), it’s perfectly fine to start over. Just because you’ve eaten five giant snickers bars doesn’t mean you can’t spend the rest of Lent following your chosen fast. While forty days of fasting is ideal, it’s still better to follow your goals for twenty five days than five (or none). So, get back on the wagon and finish your fast, even if you’ve not been terribly successful since the beginning.

Third, remember that prayer is the foundation for all spiritual disciplines. We can’t lose track of that during our Lenten fast. So, if you haven’t made prayer your foundation throughout Lent, you’ll be much more likely to fail at the other things you’re attempting. If you haven’t, add prayer to your list of disciplines. Try the liturgy of the hours, a great resource, especially morning and evening prayer.

So, best of luck keeping your Lenten discipline, even if you have to start over. It’s worth it to renew your spiritual discipline because you are training to create a better relationship with God and to live a more spiritually satisfying life.

Lent is Not A Diet

cup of coffeeA good Orthodox friend of mine always reminds people “Lent is not a diet.” And he is right.

For many, Lent is about making fairly small dietary changes. All Catholics are expected to give up meat on Fridays (the flesh of warm blooded animals), and others make their own changes, like giving up sweets or coffee. And there is nothing wrong with this. But it isn’t about going on a diet. While consuming Omega-3 fats from fish is healthy, we don’t avoid meat on Fridays simply to boost our brain power.

Lent is about becoming more like Christ, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit. So, if you are not eating meat, but a total unloving jerk, then you are missing the point. I know some Catholics that go “all out” during Lent, and the result is that they are messes by the end of Lent, which is to say, they get the “diet” part down, but not the “become more like Christ” part.

Lent is not a diet. Lent is a time to become more like Christ. If your Lenten disciplines are about calories, animal flesh, etc, and don’t go beyond that, I suggest doing some introspection and change your plans.

Breaking News: The Pope To Resign

I was shocked to read this a few minutes ago!

Pope Benedict XVI, elected in 2005, has resigned as pope. His resignation will take effect on February 28th. He has done so because of weakening health and strength. This rarely happens, and hasn’t happened since 1415. I can’t help but wonder if there is something else going on here. I am Catholic and not a conspiracy theorist at all, but I am just curious if we won’t know more in the coming weeks.

We pray for the continued health of Benedict XVI and for the election of the next pope in the coming weeks.

Finding God In The Winter

shed in winterIt’s a hard time of year, emotionally, for many people, especially those in the Northern hemisphere. The weather is cold, the world seems dead, and seasonal depression can be a problem. However, for Christians, the winter can be a good time to reflect on the nature of God and life (and find great meaning and joy).

First, while the winter is “dead” it’s not really. There is a lot of life within the winter months, but we may have to look for it. It’s not all around us like during the summer months. Finding a green leaf, a roaming animal, or a sign of life is a challenge. It’s just like finding God’s presence in our everyday lives. Sometimes it’s very obvious. But, during the other moments (especially the difficult ones), we may have to look. But, like winter life, God is always there.

Second, Christianity has always recognized the role of death in leading to life. Just as we can’t appreciate and understand the resurrection without the crucifixion, so the joy of spring cannot be understood without the winter.

Third, the winter is actually a great time to get outside and meditate on the wonders of God. It’s typically quiet and empty. The distractions are gone and it’s a great season to communicate with God outdoors. I challenge you to get out in nature and make an effort to pray in the silence of winter.

Lent comes as winter ends and spring begins, which is very appropriate too. We sometimes have to force ourselves to do penance, but, in time, that penance can become natural and even joyful. This too is like the transition from winter into spring.

God bless you this winter. Don’t just hope for spring, but enjoy what winter has to offer (and appreciate the amazing symbolism built into God’s creation).

Creating A Good Day

summer landscapeIf there’s one thing the world needs more of it’s joyful and faithful people. Yet, how often do we provide that kind of witness to the rest of the world? Sadly, it’s considered unusual when a person lives his or her Christian faith consistently in places like work and social activities. However, it shouldn’t be!

Sometimes, I think we set ourselves up to fail. We wake up in a bad mood, rush through the morning, curse our luck, and trudge through a job we either can’t stand or feel neutral about. Still, no matter our calling, we can share our faith through our deeds. And, we can find meaning in our lives, no matter how mundane. Remember Brother Lawrence? He lived his faith by washing the dishes!

Here are a few ways you can great a good day (and one that is joyful and faithful)

Begin and Continue With Prayer

Morning and Evening Prayer are the most popular types of prayer (and before food). And, the importance of starting and ending the day with prayer can’t be understated (as well as blessing our meals). But, it’s also important to continue in prayer throughout the entire day, especially if that day is a bad one. Pray for patience, love, and especially for those in your life who annoy you.

Make Time For Corporate Worship

If you can steal time for a morning or noon mass, then go for it. Be nourished by Christ through worship. If you don’t have time in your work schedule, then gather your family together for prayer in the evening.

While any type of prayer is valuable, gathering with other human beings is not only spiritually edifying, but also emotionally satisfying. Make an effort to add some type of corporate worship to your schedule everyday, not just on Sundays.

Immerse Yourself In Nature

St. Francis and other holy ones throughout church history have recognized the value of finding God while immersed in nature. Being outdoors is calming and conducive to prayer. Take a hike, walk at a bike path, take up kayaking. Find a way to get outdoors and be present with God in his creation. You’d be amazed how it will help you be more balanced, faithful, and joyful. Although you have to bundle up, being outside in the winter can be especially calming, quiet, and meditative.

God bless you on your Christian journey. Hopefully you can create a joyful, faithful, and good day each day of the year.

Attributes of God

holy trinity iconWhile it’s not necessarily related to the Church year, today I want to get a little theological. I’m going to list and discuss a few of the attributes of God. Keep in mind these are not complete, but general traits. They aren’t simply restricted to Catholic theology, but would apply to most other Christian groups (and even Judaism). With that in mind, here are the Christian attributes of God.

Omniscient

This means that God is all knowing. He knows the entire past, present, and future events. He knows our thoughts and feelings. He has complete knowledge of the very structure of the entire universe.

Omnipotent

God is all powerful. He is in complete control of the universe. While God gives room for freewill, he nonetheless makes sure all in the universe works together for his plan and his glory. There is nothing outside of the realm of possibility for God.

Omnipresent

This term refers to the fact that God is present everywhere. No matter where we are in the universe, God can be found. However, being omnipresent doesn’t mean God is everything or in everything.

Transcendent

God is above and beyond our understanding and our experience. We will never be able to fully understand his ways or fully connect to his divine majesty. In Christianity, God the Father is the person in the Trinity who represents God’s transcendence.

Immanent

Note the spelling. This term means that God is also present with humanity in a unique way. In other words, while awesome and fully unknowable, God reveals himself and reaches down to get to know us too. God the Son becoming human in Jesus is the immanent side of God in Christian teaching. The Holy Spirit is immanent as well.

Holy

God is perfect and just and has no sin within him. God’s total holiness is one reason for the Christian teaching of Jesus Christ as a mediator and sacrifice for sin. It’s also the basis for the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which states that souls are cleansed of unholiness to be in God’s perfect presence.

So, hopefully you found this little primer on the attributes of God helpful. Once again, there are many more. But, this list includes most of the key attributes of God.