Building Up…Not Tearing Down…

orchestra

Here in Canada we get a lot of snow!  I remember making “snow forts” as a child growing up in our backyard.  That was hard work!  There was one year where we made the best “snow-fort” of all time!  It was made out of little snow-balls and we built it so high that it looked like a castle!  Putting one snow-ball on after the other, trying not to tear it down was the biggest challenge!

This concept of building up and not tearing down can also apply to our relationships with others as well.  In our relationships with others, we need to desire to build people up and not tear them down.  When we tear people down we commit a greater tragedy then tearing down a building or a snow-fort!

What do I mean by building people up?  It begins with being grateful for the gifts and joys that each person possesses.  It also means striving not to be super critical of the other.  I was reading an article lately by a sister entitled Experts in Communion by Sr. Marie Laetitia Youchtchenko OP.  She described our relationships with one another as a beautiful symphony where Christ is both the composer and the director.

Sister writes, “Christ is both the composer and the director-even more He is Music personified; each of us plays one’s partition (at His place which belongs to Him); the quality of the ensemble is not only the result of an individual effort but of the love we all have for music, of the desire to follow our Director, aiming at achieving symphonic beauty.”

Sister further writes, “If a musician wants to play louder, or does not listen to the other, if a triangle envies the role of an oboe, if a piano spends more time in criticizing the others instead of playing or if the first violin is convinced to be the director…there is no hope for a successful symphony.”

Keeping this image in mind of a symphony, where Christ is the director and we are the musicians, we can see that it is easy to lose sight of who we are and what a gift we are.  It is easy to look at others and wish that we were just like them.  We see the gifts of that person, we make the mistake of believing that certain persons have more value then we do.  This is a lie!  And what happens…we start to envy.

You might recall in the Gospel when the apostles are arguing with who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  What does Jesus say, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 4).  Jesus is calling us to be humble…like a little child.

Envy according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “refers to sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly” (CCC 2539).  Envy is a refusal of charity, a form of sadness at the good of another (c.f. CCC 2540).  St. John of the Cross also speaks about a type of spiritual envy which is feeling sad because of the spiritual good you see in another.  An example of spiritual envy would be something like sadness over the fact that another person shows more charitable works, they have a more generous disposition, they pray more etc…  The sin of envy happens when you have sadness at seeing the good of another and try to rob him of that good.

There may be times that we feel sad that another person has something that we do not have.  What do we do in those moments?  We need to raise our eyes to God and thank God that this person has such a wonderful gift.  Then we can pray to have that virtue ourselves!  If we see a person being very generous, we can say, “Lord help me to be more generous” or if we see a person who is spending a lot of time in prayer with the Lord and we notice that we are not spending as much time with the Lord as we should we can say, “Lord, help me to spend more time with you…help me to pray better.”

The remedy for spiritual envy is charity.  With charity, we see the power of love in others, and that is something to rejoice about.  We need to always wish each other well.  Even providing an encouraging word to that person can make a huge difference: “That was a really generous thing you did for her!”  or “I was really edified by the fact that you were so patient and gentle with her.”  Giving words of encouragement can really be helpful in taking the eyes off of self and putting our eyes back on God and loving and serving others.

So let’s try to build each other up today!  And always remember to just be you!  Also, be grateful for the gifts and talents you see in others and offer a word of encouragement often.  Be grateful for your gifts and strive as best as you can to put your gifts in service out of love for God and the Church.

In the Center of Your Heart…

woman caught in adultery

She is full of pain and regret…  They found her, they know what she did…what she has been doing for a long time.  They think they know her…but they don’t.  They blow her with accusations and condemnations…she is alone…  They drag her through the streets…a monster…a wretched woman… “a terrible woman this is!…”  They drag her…drag her through the sand and dust…she is full of scratches and bruises…her mind goes to thoughts of her childhood…whatever happened to that innocent child?  Where did she go?   She is now on her way to death…bleeding…embarrassed…condemned.  “I was only looking for someone to love me,” cries that inner child within her… “I just wanted someone to love me!”  She hears the jeering crowd…”Stone her!  Stone the adulteress!”  Her heart beating…sweat pouring down her face…struggles for breath…and then the question: “Master…this woman was caught in adultery…she ought to be stoned according to the law!”  This woman…this woman…they don’t even know her name…a sinner…nameless.

Then, she turns her head to get a glimpse of the man…this man they call “Master”…he bends down…he is writing something…what is he writing?  She listens through her tears and guilt…”will he also condemn me?”  With a voice too beautiful for words…but at the same time with authority, she hears “He who is without sin, cast the first stone!”  “What?  What did He just say?  Is he trying to help me?”  All of a sudden, with thuds almost like thunder, the stones hit the ground…she feels faint…her body is shaking now…she hears the footsteps of the men moving further away…she hears the man walk step by step toward her…tears fall down her face…”why did he help me?  Why didn’t he condemn me, like all the others?”  Then He spoke…and his words were like a sword to her heart: “Where are your accusers?  Has anyone condemned you?”  With tears running down her cheeks…she knew they had all gone…she finds her courage turns her head to look at this man’s face…through a parched throat and barely being able to bring the words to her lips: “No, no one…” then, all at once, she sees her life flash before her eyes…she thought of all her sins, imperfections, mistakes…and she felt the guilt…the shame.  Then, almost as if to stop her from her running thoughts, the man says, “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more…”  His words cut her to the heart…inside the core of her being…like a gentle breeze she hears…”Daughter.”

Jesus…He knows us through and through.  We have all at some point felt like this woman: condemned, abandoned and alone.  We have all at some point given in to temptation of some kind…have we allowed ourselves to look into the eyes of the Saviour and hear the words: “Neither do I condemn you…go and sin no more?”

I am always fascinated by the fact that Jesus was able to see into the hearts of all people…He knew the weakness there…He knew their goodness.  He saw the desires of those he met: the desire for knowledge and understanding in Nicodemus, the desire for consolation in Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the desire for companionship in His Apostles.  But there is one character in the Gospels that I would like to focus on and that is the woman caught in adultery.  What was her desire?  What was she looking for when she looked into the eyes of the Saviour?  She was looking for love.  Sometimes we look for love in the wrong places…in the wrong ways.  But God in his mercy knows our weakness and our needs and offers us the love that we are looking for…but we need to have the courage to turn our head and look into the eyes of the Saviour… just like the woman caught in adultery did.

Now…we have been talking about the seven deadly sins and how they can appear in our spiritual life.  We have talked about spiritual pride, and spiritual avarice so far…now we are going to take the very delicate topic of spiritual lust.  Keep in mind that we are going through the passive purgations…basically God is taking our weakness at the root…and so he is allowing a purgation to happen…painful but necessary.

When we think of lust…we often think of a person trying to gratify, or satisfy their sexual desires and drives but in a way that goes totally against God’s will and God’s purposes.  St. John of the Cross points out that it is possible for people growing in the spiritual life to experience a type of spiritual lust in the midst of prayer because “there is a close link between the spiritual and the sensory, joy and delight in the spiritual can trigger sensory activity.” (The Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin pg. 340).

St. John of the Cross says, “It happens frequently that in a person’s spiritual exercises themselves, without the person being able to avoid it, impure movements will be experienced in the sensory part of the soul, and even sometimes when the spirit is deep in prayer, or when receiving the sacraments of Penance or the Eucharist…while in deep prayer, it will conversely passively experience sensual rebellions, movements and acts in the senses, not without its own great displeasure…Once the sensory part is reformed through the purgation of the dark night, it no longer has these infirmities…” (St. John of the Cross. Dark Night bk 1. Chapter 4 no.1 pg 367).

Basically, St. John of the Cross is saying that it is possible for someone to experience a physical arousal in the midst of spiritual activity.  This is a very painful and difficult purgation which can have three causes:

  • The body and soul has a unity that is so complete that the spirit is delighted and overflows into the sensory part of the soul and thus the individual experiences sexual arousal.
  • The devil puts impure images in the person’s mind in order to arouse the passions in order to disturb the soul and draw them away from prayer…this is when we need to pray that Our Lady steps on the evil serpent! Remember the evil one wants you to stop praying…Don’t stop praying…this is a time for battle!
  • Fear of such temptations can often stir them up due to a repressed sexuality. Someone can actually fear union with another person…or even fear temptations to impurity.

When going through temptations, it is easy to blame ourselves and condemn ourselves and maybe even feel condemned by others just like the woman caught in adultery.  Throw yourself into the arms of the merciful Saviour who loves you more then you know.  When this temptation of spiritual lust happens, God is wanting to elevate the virtue of chastity in the person.  Once the person experiencing these temptations takes the necessary steps toward healing, there will be major transformation in their life!  Relationships and friendships will be more generous and self-giving rather than selfish and greedy.

St. John of the Cross also points out that when people are going through the purgation of spiritual lust, “attractions” to other people, may be a form of lust, not necessarily romantic, or sexual…but “possessive” in nature.  He says, “This lustful origin will be recognized if, on recalling that affection, there is remorse of conscience, not an increase in the remembrance and love of God…The affection is purely spiritual if the love of God grows, when it grows, or if the love of God is remembered as often as the affection is remembered…” St. John of the Cross. Dark night. bk 1. ch. 4 no. 7 pg 369.

It is good to have relationships and friendships.  Some of the greatest saints of all time had great friendships: Francis and Clare, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila…their friendships brought them closer to Christ.  They wanted each other to attain heaven!  And so they helped each other on the way to heaven…that is a good friendship when we can help each other get to heaven.  We must turn to the saints in simplicity and ask for their help.

Sexual temptations and trials such as Spiritual lust are not uncommon in the lives of the saints.  For example, St. Catherine of Sienna comes to mind, who experienced extreme lustful temptations.  She asked our Lord: “Lord where were you when my heart was so tormented?”  He responded: “I was in the center of your heart.”  All people who suffer from lustful temptations, remember that Jesus is in your heart fighting the battle.  He is right there!  Don’t lose heart!  Just keep turning to Jesus and everything will be okay.  I also think of the great St. Augustine who struggled a long time with temptations against purity and chastity.

What can be done if someone finds themselves struggling with spiritual lust:

  • Keep praying! DO NOT stop praying, especially to Mary, St. Joseph and the Saints.
  • Stay close to the Sacraments…bring this temptation to Confession as painful and embarrassing as it feels. It is good to have a frequent Confessor who knows the pain that you are undergoing…and who can provide some wise counsel and advice.
  • Having good and frequent Spiritual Direction can also help assist you through this. Keep in mind that you are worth the time to heal!
  • The worse thing to do is to be afraid. Keep your focus on Jesus in prayer and ignore the arousal.
  • Prayer and fasting go together! With the help of your spiritual director/confessor you can come up with a plan for fasting (what is possible for you keeping in mind your physical, emotional and mental health) from things you desire and crave.  Fasting is an excellent way to let go of the instant desire to satisfy our senses and embrace sacrifice.  Fasting will make you stronger in times of temptation.

There is so much that can be said about living a chaste life that I am really only scratching the surface.  I really hope to have posts in the future taking this topic further.  Expert, I am not (wow I sound like Yoda) but I would like to address topics in the future related to chastity that hopefully will help you in your journey!  Just let me know what you think in the comments box!

So overall…we turn to Mary, the chaste, pure Mother of God and St. Joseph who is the guardian of virgins and guardian of those who are chaste to pray for all people that we will keep our bodies and souls pure as temples of the Holy Spirit.

God bless you for reading such a long post!

 

Blessed are the Pure in Heart…and Mind…and Body

twinhug

“God who created man out of love, also calls him to love-the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.  For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1604).

Love.  Jesus is love….Jesus is mercy.  One of the most beautiful lines in the prophet Isaiah is: “Thus says the Lord, he who created you…he who formed you…Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isaiah 43: 1).  The love we are seeking is in God.  The fulfillment and unity we are seeking is in God.  We belong to God.

If we look around us, there is always signs of God’s love for us.  As I was sorting through our holy cards, I found the above picture in our holy cards bin.  I wondered what their story was.  I learned that the above photo taken is of Kyrie and Brielle Jackson who are twins and were born on October 17th, 1995, a full 12 weeks ahead of their due date.  Kyrie weighed about 2lbs 3 oz and was doing well, while her tiny sister Brielle had breathing and heart rate problems, little weight gain and her oxygen level was low.  In order to reduce the risk of infection, the babies were placed in separate incubators.  A nurse decided to try a new approach!  She put Kyrie in the same incubator as Brielle!  Kyrie put her left arm around her little sister which medical professionals call the “Rescue Hug” and within minutes Brielle’s condition improved drastically!  Her blood oxygen levels improved, her heart rate stabilized, and her temperature rose to normal!  What a miracle!  I read the full article on the Life Institute website:

https://thelifeinstitute.net/learning-centre/life/premature-birth/brielle-kyrie#

This true story reminds me that God is embracing us with His love.  When we allow the Lord to embrace us and love us, we are healed!

There is also the embrace that occurs in the Sacrament of Matrimony.  When man and woman come together in Marriage they “become on flesh” and the result of that loving embrace is a great gift… another human being with a soul, body and purpose.  The result of the love is another human being, known and loved by God from all eternity!  This is indeed a great gift, that man and woman when they cooperate with the grace of God in love are able to bring life into the world.

The life of chastity is a call to great intimacy and union.  You may ask, how?  When people hear the word “chastity” they think “no intimacy.”  This mindset is not true.  Chastity is intimacy to a very high degree, for it is an embrace that surpasses a physical relationship.  A life of chastity is a life of universal love.  It is a love like the love of Jesus which is warm, intense and universal.  It is a love that embraces all people.  A chaste person has such a big heart which needs to pour itself out in self-less love for God and for others.  Please note that chastity is not a call of a few people…it is the call of all people proper to whatever vocation we are called to.  Since we are temples of the Holy Spirit and God dwells within us, God desires us to have purity and innocence of life.  St. Paul tells us: “Know that you are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?  But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy.  For the temple of God is holy, which you are.” (1 Cor 3:16, 17).  So we are temples of God…and God’s Spirit dwells within us.  We want our bodies and our souls to be beautiful for God to dwell in.

The world speaks the false lie that a life of chastity is a horrible life.  The world says, “How can you live your life without having sex?  That must be a horrible life!”  As a woman who has made the vow of chastity, I know that this is indeed a sacrifice.  What a beautiful gift it is to be married and have children!  What a beautiful gift for a woman to have a life inside of her!  In making this sacrifice, in choosing to live a life of chastity, it strengthens our love all the more.  Love is not a feeling…it is not a physical pleasure…Love is more than words.  Pope Benedict XVI says in His encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love becomes concern and care for the other…it seeks the good of the beloved.” Deus Caritas Est 6.  What is the ultimate good that we want for the other?  Heaven.

Adam and Eve were so pure in the beginning.  Yet because of original sin, man and woman suffer temptations of all kinds.  Jesus said, “The things that come forth from the heart…defile a man.  From the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, and adulteries.” (Matthew 15, 18:19)  Jesus further says, “The light of the body is the eye.  If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness…”(Matthew 6:22-23).  What is Jesus challenging us too?  He is challenging us to be prudent and virtuous when it comes to the use of our senses so that we will be chaste in mind, heart, and body.

So basically…we are in a battle.  Our senses are all over the place.  Our passions are at times raging like a storm on the sea…but guess what…we are ALL in a battle!  It is very hard sometimes to keep the senses pure.  Due to fallen human nature, it is easy to fall into sin by looking at images, watching movies, or listening to music that leads soul far away from God!  What do people need to do in order to be pure?  A few things to keep in mind in order to live a chaste life no matter what vocation you are called too:

  • Pray the Rosary everyday!
  • Pray to St. Joseph, who is most chaste! He will protect you and shield you!
  • Pray to your Guardian Angel to defend you when the temptations are strong!
  • Be careful not to look at images that are impure. Ask yourself, “is this bringing me closer to God or further away?”
  • Find relationships that are God-centered, pure and modest.
  • Dress modestly! Cover up!  Remember you are a temple of the Holy Spirit!
  • Peacefully and patiently turn away from impure images in your mind. You cannot stop birds from flying over, but you can stop them from building a nest!  Thoughts are just thoughts.  If you fight them, they might get more intense and severe.  Let them pass, even say a prayer calmly: “Jesus have mercy, Mary help!”
  • Treat each other with respect and honor, for we are all images of God. Ladies, ask yourself, “How would the Blessed Virgin Mary treat this man?”  Or if you are a man ask yourself, “How would St. Joseph treat this woman?”  Keeping this in mind will help you make good decisions on how to act and what to say.

Now…we have been talking about the seven deadly sins and how they can appear in our spiritual life.  We have talked about spiritual pride, and spiritual avarice so far…now we are going to take the very delicate topic of spiritual lust…next week…