Small Success Thursday: Lent and School

image

Today I am going to take a break from my series on sinful anger to participate in CatholicMom.com’s Small Success Thursdays.  I will say that beginning my Lenten series on sinful anger is a small success for this week.  For those of you who have struggled with anger at different periods of your life, I suggest reading my first two posts.  Anger is usually coupled with tremendous pain whether from childhood or other periods in our lifetime.  Sinful anger is toxic for ourselves and all the people around us.  If you struggle, join me on the journey to overcome this sinful inclination.  I have made great strides, by God’s grace, over the years, but it is still a battle for me.  Join me in giving this struggle to Christ.  You can read the first two posts here and here.

Another small success for this week is that my daughter and I unofficially started preschool.  I will be homeschooling her and will not start a formal curriculum until she turns 4 years old, but we started using the Catholic Icing curriculum to get us started.  We have worked on the letters A and B, as well as discussed Lent.  She loves school and asks me to do it all of the time. She is so bright and full of energy.  She is absorbing the material and likes to work on her whiteboard on her own.  She now knows St. Anne and St. Bernadette and the liturgical color for Lent happens to be her favorite color.  She was quite excited to see our priest dressed in purple (violet) at Mass.

10987683_1572018669711047_8461138906899011448_o

I also consider my daughter’s potty training to be a small success this week.  She has been in pull-ups and using the potty for over a year now, but she was having a lot of accidents.  With the help of a timer and more focus, she has done really well this week in “big girl panties”.  We started with a couple of accidents, but now she is paying more attention to her body and avoiding accidents.  I am so proud of her.

I spent all of last week studying for my Fundamental Theology mid-term (I am in a MA in Theology program full-time).  My studying paid off and I got an A on the test.  This weekend I have to write a succinct paper on the Scholastic understanding of the Sacraments of Initiation: Eucharist, Baptism, and Confirmation.  The material is amazing and fascinating.  Pray that I am able to be clear and direct in my answers.  I can be a bit wordy and the paper is limited to 3 pages.  Three Sacraments in 3 pages while expounding on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa?!

It’s been a busy week and I am glad to take a moment to celebrate the successes that I have experienced.  How has your week been?  What small successes have you had?  Join the conversation at CatholicMom.com.

Lenten Journey: Anger and Control Part II

Now that we have worked to identify what triggers we have that cause us anger, let’s look at the fact that these are all tied to some form of control.  Usually anger arises out of a desire to control someone’s feelings i.e. we want them to be sorry for what they did to us.  The other type of control stems from our own personal desire to control other people in order to bend them to our will.  If we can be honest with ourselves about our desire for control, then we can work to overcome that irrational need on our part.  It isn’t a need at all.  It is a disordered (theological term for not ordered to God) desire within us. The world is not ordered to you or me, it is ordered to God.

Let’s examine the first type of control, the desire to control the contrition of other people.  All of us have been hurt at one point or another.  We live in a Fallen world of sinful people, including ourselves.  There are times when people intentionally hurt us and there are times when people have no idea that they have caused pain or offense.  In the case of close relationships, you and I need to be willing to discuss what is going on with our loved ones.  If we feel anger, then we need to be able to control that emotion so that we can carry on a conversation in love.  If we do not tell people that we are hurt, then they may never know how we feel.  Step one is to try to talk to the one who caused offense.  If we are going to have that conversation, though, we need to accept that they may not apologize.  They may not agree with us and we have no control over that outcome. WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE ACTIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE.

Part of living the Christian path is to forgive others even when they do not apologize or do not care that they have hurt us.  We have all experienced this type of pain.  What we have to realize is that the only person’s actions we have control over is our own.  If a person refuses to apologize, then we still need to pray and work to forgive them.  Christ forgives us each time that we lose our temper, and let’s face it, how many times have we not apologized our my lifetime?!  We must accept that person where they are.  That does not mean that we agree, but it means that we will work to forgive them anyway.  PRAY!  Forgiveness is not something that comes naturally to us.  We need grace to forgive those who hurt us, and that is especially true for the apologies we never get.  This is why prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments is crucial for our path to holiness.

I want to briefly discuss a certain personality type that people like you or me, who struggle with sinful anger, need to keep a distance from: that is the passive-aggressive type.  As I said above, part of working through our anger is being able to carry on a conversation in love with someone who has hurt us .  That is almost impossible to do with a passive-aggressive type.  Passive-aggressive people typically have no desire to change, do not see anything wrong with their behavior, will undermine you behind your back, tend to act cowardly when confronted, and do not accept blame for most or any of their behavior.  This type of person needs serious prayer.  Serve them when you can, but do so from a distance until you have a better grip on your struggle with anger.  Engaging in battle with this personality type will only hurt you.  I recently had to stop a situation like this for my own spiritual and mental well-being.  I was getting angrier and angrier.  These people do not understand the virtues other than in their own disordered fashion.  This is especially damaging in a Christian setting.  Engaging in a reasoned discussion with this type of person will get you nowhere but sitting in the confessional telling the priest that you got angry again.  Some day you and I will be better equipped through prayer and grace to engage this type of person.  For now, pray for them, they really need our prayers.

So, we cannot will an apology.  We must relinquish that control, the desire to force an apology out of someone.  Our forcing an apology is a form of vengeance.  We want to overtake their free will, in order to appease our own desire to be heard.  Who doesn’t want to be heard?!  Nobody likes to be hurt, but our pain will not go away by forcing others to feel something that they do not.  We can pray for them, pray for the desire to forgive, and move on.  We must relinquish our desire for control.  We must be willing to be vulnerable.  When we hurt and have not received an apology, then we need to take that the Christ.  Mankind nailed him to a Cross.  He gets the pain of betrayal.  Take that pain to He who is the only one who can heal you and make you whole.

The next type of control comes from our desire for other people to do what WE want.  This is tied to a desire for an apology, but typically this type of control is used with manipulation.  Anger, especially within close relationships, can be a powerful tool, at least for bludgeoning people.  It is a way to force another person’s hand in order to get we want.  No one deserves this kind of manipulation.  When you or I sense that we are trying to manipulate our spouse or our children, we need to pray and work to stop it.  It will take practice, but all new habits require serious practice.  Try to stop and think about why you are angry in a given moment.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Is there something you want?  Manipulation is the antithesis of love.  Love is selfless.  That means accepting “no” from people.  Once again we need to identify our causes for anger and our motivators.  Once we see them, we need to wage the battle to stop our sinful behavior.  We will fail at times.  That is part of the journey.  Pick yourself back up, march yourself to the confessional, pray, and keep going by the grace of God.

If you or I want to progress on the spiritual journey, then we must relinquish our desire to control other people.  We will never be free until we understand that the only person’s behavior we can control is our own.  If I want to be holy, then I must stop allowing anger to run my life.  I must live in love.  I must tell myself repeatedly that I love the people God has placed in my life.  They deserve my love and respect.  They do not deserve my wrath.  I must ‘will the good of the other.’  I must place others before myself.  When I begin to understand this Christian truth and focus on living in love, then I can loosen my grip.

What are areas of your life where you need to relinquish control?  How can you forgive past hurts?  What are some steps you can take when you are angry to stop the cycle?

Lenten Journey: Dealing with Sinful Anger Part I

I have a confession to make:  I really struggle with sinful anger.  I don’t just mean that I get angry in the sense of the passion.  I mean that I struggle with rage and the desire for vengeance at certain times.  It is one of the reasons that you will find me in the confessional every week or every two weeks at most.  My anger has been a decades old problem.  Yes, I am 33 and yes some of that anger is from my childhood; however, you are not going to see me justify my anger as my family’s fault.  Yes, some of my anger is learned and habitual, but regardless of what post-modern psychology says, I am responsible for how I respond when the passion of anger rears its ugly head and progresses to sin.  This is something that has been brought to the forefront of my psyche because I have been angry and struggling after an injustice that I experienced recently, as well as a clear sense of my own failings.  God is telling me that in order for me to progress on the path to holiness, I must start to seriously overcome my sinful anger under His guidance.  So how do I do that?

I happened to “accidentally” stumble on a book that deals with sinful anger by Fr. T.G. Morrow called Overcoming Sinful Anger.  When I saw the book staring at me on my computer screen my immediate thought was: “Okay, Lord!  I get it.” I then proceeded to order the book. I have only begun reading the book, but one thing that stood out to me immediately is that I must identify those things that cause me anger.  What inside of me leads me to serious anger in specific moments?

index

One of the things that I have known for a while is that my anger is usually caused by a very serious struggle with self-hatred.  When I fail or mess up, I begin a cycle of destructive behaviors (stress eating, depression, self-loathing) that lead me further into sin.  I give up and then that giving up (because it is not in my true nature) turns inward into a deep hatred towards myself.  This came out in Confession a while back.  The priest asked me why I was there and I said, “I am tired of hating myself.”  His response was, “Yes!  Exactly!”  Yes, some of this anger is learned, but I have identified it, so it is time to move past blaming and focus on overcoming it.  That means the first task in overcoming sinful anger is to identify what causes anger.

What causes me to go into self-hatred mode and project it on others?  As I said above, my own failings are one of the causes.  Next is selfishness.  When things are not as I want them to be, I can immediately fall into a selfish angry mess.  This occurs most often with my husband or daughter. This is hard to admit, but my desire (by the grace of God) is to be a saint.  So I must descend into those dark places within myself (Dante’s Inferno anyone?) in order to come out into the light.

The other main reason for my anger is pain and injustice.  I have a healthy and unhealthy understanding of justice and righteous anger.  I have witnessed horrors in my life, (I was a 9-11 relief worker) and I have experienced pain. That means that I empathize with the suffering of others easily.  It also means that when I get hurt, I tend to internalize, especially when I am unable to respond to an injustice, and eventually it turns to anger or rage. There have been hard periods in my life when I have had to silently take the injustices of others.  We all have those times, but for me I internalize it and that is a dangerous thing for me to do.

So I have before me my primary motivators for my sinful anger: failure, selfishness, and injustice.  This is the beginning of my journey.  Now I must learn to identify these triggers in a moment when anger arises.  This will be the next difficult step.  I have to be willing to overcome that driving passion and take a moment to be introspective about what is going on inside of me.  For someone who analyzes complex theology and philosophy, this is difficult for me.  Part of that is because we have little control of the passions until we learn to tame them.  That is a major part of the spiritual journey. I must train myself to take a step back when the heat of anger rears its ugly head within me.

The most important component is Jesus Christ.  I cannot possibly overcome my inclination towards sinful anger on my own.  Nope.  Not going to happen.  I’ve tried.  To my utter shame, I still try.  I have to let God do it.  I have to be willing to fall to the foot of the Cross and say: “Lord, please help me to overcome this anger.”  One of the ways that I need to do this is to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s life that coincide with my own pain and anger.

As I was going to sleep last night, I meditated on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  There in the heat of the day and alone she went to the well.  She was an outcast.  I have spent a good deal of time feeling like an outcast for a variety of reasons.  While my sins are not the same as hers, they still coincide with the sense of not belonging and being unloved.  So there came Jesus in the heat of the day.  The blinding sun (both physically and metaphorically) who asked this outcast for a drink.  He met her in her brokenness and then proceeded to draw her into the reality of the Holy Trinity.  He filled her parched emptiness with the living water that can only flow from Him.  How can I possibly remain angry when He desires to fill me up?  See the necessity of meditating upon Scripture and finding those stories that will heal?

womanatthewell

This is just the beginning.  I have identified the reasons, now I must go deep into that hurt, guided by Christ so that He can fill me up.  So this is the first step: Identify what leads you to sinful anger.  Sinful anger desires vengeance and can become rage.  Not all anger is sinful.  Contemplate what drives you to sinful anger.  Perhaps order the book above.  Let’s spend this Lent identifying those triggers and then work to overcome them.  I will continue to post about my journey and insights that God gives me in prayer.  I pray for you too, who like me, struggles with pain and anger.  Please, pray for me. What are some things that have helped you overcome anger?  Have you identified your triggers?

Recommended Reading:

Overcoming Sinful Anger by Fr. T. G. Morrow
The Gospels

Why Baptism during Lent?

This past Sunday’s readings were a strange connection of Baptism and the desert (for the Western Church).  We heard about the flood when God wiped out the evil of the world and saved eight righteous people.  Yes, the narrative is a pre-figurement of Baptism.  The waters of the flood cleanse the earth. We also see that the penalty for sin is death.  After hearing about Noah, we then hear that Christ was driven by the Spirit out into the desert for 40 days (notice 40 in both Scripture passages) to be tempted.  The reading did not include the fact that this occurred after Jesus’ own baptism.  So the question is, why is the Church talking about Baptism alongside Jesus’ temptation in the desert?  After all, isn’t Lent about being in the desert?  To answer these questions we need to take a look at what Baptism does to the believer.

Noahs+Arkcrop

Baptism is a renunciation of sin that is caused by God. God infuses us with the supernatural virtue of faith so that we may desire to abandon sin and follow him.  He moves us to change and we choose that change.  We must choose to conform our lives to Christ and be so united in the mysteries of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  God gives us the grace to do so.  We cannot act until he acts. What is Christ doing in the desert?  He is showing us how to turn away from sin so that we may follow him.  The three sins Christ is tempted by are related to his three divine offices of priest, prophet, and king.  These are the very same offices that we share in when we become members of the Mystical Body (I will write posts about this in the future). Jesus is the High Priest who offers the pure sacrifice to the Father of his body and his obedience. He is the High Prophet who comes to share and reveal the Father.  Finally, he is the King of the Universe.  He reigns over all.  By our Baptism we are called to share in these offices of Christ our king, prophet, and priest.  In order to do so, we must do battle with sin.  We must reject Satan, just as Christ has done in the desert and through the Cross. Christ does battle with Satan after the Baptism in the Jordan.  We must battle Satan in this life after our own Baptism.  So Christ is showing us how to follow Him.  The sanctifying grace of Baptism allows us to begin that journey.

jesustemptedinthedesert

Lent is a reminder of our spiritual struggle.  In that wrestling we are reminded of our Baptismal promises and the promises given to us by Christ.  We already possess living water within us, even as we wander in the dry heat of the desert.  At Easter we will renew our baptismal promises and once again renounce Satan, just as Jesus does in the desert.  That means that our Lenten journey is inextricably linked to our Baptism.  Lent is a time for us to renew our battle stance against Satan and to enter more fully into the mysteries of Christ’s life, namely his temptation and then his eventual Paschal Mystery.  I will focus on Baptism and the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week.

What I want us to keep in mind is that Lent is not just about giving up something.  It is about going into the desert and doing battle, just as Our Lord did.  It is to constantly say “no” to Satan, just as we did (or our parents did) at our Baptism.  When we entered into the Mystical Body of Christ, we were saying “yes” to Christ.  That “yes” also includes entering into His death.  For now, we need to once again focus on our death to sin.  We have chosen life over death. This side of the veil is a desert of sorts, but Christ has torn open that veil and conquered sin and death.  We must persevere.

figure-walking-in-the-desert

Throughout this Lenten season, the Church is reminding us that Satan has been conquered.  Through our Baptism we are united to Christ.  The desert of this life is flowing in abundant springs through our Baptism.  Even though we are in the desert of this life, we always proclaim love and hope.  The battle is won.  Let us remember as we do penance, pray, give alms, and fast that this is a time of renewal.  It is a time for us to be strengthened against Satan.  Through the grace of our Baptism, we are able to reach the ultimate goal, which is Heaven.  On first glance the desert and the flood seem at odds, but in actuality they reflect the deepest reality of the Christian life.

Some recommended reading:
Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Life of Christ by Ven. Fulton Sheen

Finding Quiet During Lent

Our world is noisy.  Even when we are sitting in silence in front our computers (as I am doing right now), it is still noisy.  I don’t mean the keys on the keyboard or the gentle hum of the fan.  I mean the pictures, articles, debates, violence, etc.  It is never ending.  It is a distraction and one of the great Satanic ploys of our age.  I struggle with it just as much as the next person.  I find that most days I can’t even sit and wait in my car without pulling out my cell phone to check email, the news, or social media.  Technology is not evil, but our addiction to it can be.  It can keep us from prayer and from our families.  Temperance in all things and that includes our cell phones.

Lent is a time of quiet and penance.  We are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  All three of these point to a form of quiet.  Prayer, while words may be used, should draw us into silence.  Fasting is our quiet self-denial as we overcome ourselves and offer a sacrifice to Christ.  Almsgiving is our silent “yes” to the poor.  It is when we take from our abundance and freely give to another.  So here are a few of my suggestions to help you and me draw into the silence of Lent.

Prayer:

The first thing we have to do is pray.  I struggle with this one just as much as the next person.  I try to start every day with Lauds.  This morning that didn’t happen.  So the first thing we have to do is pray (myself included).  It doesn’t have to be eloquent and no we are probably not going to fall into contemplative prayer, but we need to just do it.

I find that my brain is always racing a million miles a minute with many thoughts, most of them are useless.  So I have found that listening to sacred music helps draw me into a prayerful countenance.  In Lent we tend to pray with a focus on Good Friday.  We pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays.  The hymn we sing called the Stabat Mater, is a very prayerful and beautiful hymn.  Here is an example you can use for your prayer time:

Pange Lingua by St. Thomas Aquinas is chanted every year on Holy Thursday. It brings me to tears and gives me chills every time I hear it.

I also love this joyful hymn from BlackFriars media:

Another form of stimulation that I use is sacred art.  I have sacred art all over my house.  A lot of it I just printed off of the internet and taped up along bookshelves or walls.  It might help you to pull some pictures of sacred art up on your computer, order a book of sacred art, or print some out.  Here are a few of my favorite sacred pieces that are perfect for Lent:

carry.cross.christ.jesusMatthias Grunewald, Crucifixion,

image

image

image Annibale Carracci, Christ Wearing the Crown of Thorns, Supported by Angels, 1585-87

image

pietaMichelangelo’s Pieta

785px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectRembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son

These are a few images that can help you begin a period of prayer.  I was unable to find the artist for some of the images, so if anyone knows who they are, please share them in the comments. Meditating on a painting or sculpture is a way to be drawn into the invisible realities of eternity.  Meditating on Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son can draw us closer into seeking Christ’s love and forgiveness during this Lenten season.

Of course the best guide for prayer is Scripture, so once you are ready to pray, you can’t go wrong with the Bible.  The Gospels are a good place to start, or the daily Mass readings.  I also mentioned Lauds above, which is from the Liturgy of the Hours.  It is a guided prayer of the Psalms and is the prayer of the Church. The greatest prayer of the Church is also the great sacrifice of our Faith and that is the Mass.  Daily Mass is a sure way to grow in holiness.  I know it is hard with young children or work.  I have been waiting for my daughter to get a bit older, but we are going to start going once or twice a week now until we work up to every day.  Even if you can’t make Mass, our parishes are open during the day.  Bring you child or children and just sit at the Tabernacle.  I do this with my daughter.

The most important thing is to just pray each day and to step into silence.  Music and art guide me into silence.  So you may have to start with noise and work to interior silence.  If you struggle with focus, then try using a some form of beauty to draw you in.  If music or art don’t work, try going for a walk and focus on God’s creation.  As a friend of mine likes to say, “God woos us through beauty”, so find something to marvel at.

Fasting:

Most people associate Lent with fasting.  We are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and we are told to give something up as a form of penance.  What you decide to give up is up to you.  The thing that we all need to keep in mind is that we all struggle with certain sins.  In order to make Lent fruitful, we need to give up something that will help us grow in holiness.  Examine you life and make sure what you have chosen will be fruitful.  This will vary from person to person.  Do not compare yourself to your spouse, children, friends, or fellow parishioners.  Through prayer, you must discern what you need to work on.  Making frequent Confession can also help you to see what you really struggle with.  If it has been a while, be sure to get to Confession.

Almsgiving:

As Christians we should be helping the poor whenever possible, but the Church asks us to make a concerted effort during Lent.  As our parish priest suggested, go through your things and then give the excess to charity.  Go through clothes, books, DVDs, and other areas of your house that have become cluttered with stuff.  Most of us have way too much and can easily give to charity.

Set aside a box where you can place change, cash, or checks throughout the Lenten season that will go to charity.  As Christians, we have an obligation to the poor.  Lent is the perfect time to remind us of our duty throughout the year.  We give out of love for Christ and our neighbor.  As Catholics we are in communion with one another and united together.  We understand how God has tied each person to the next by his gratuitous love.

These are just a few ideas to help you on your Lenten journey.  There are a lot of other blog posts and articles on Lent that you can find.  Let’s make this Lent a time when we truly focus on Christ and serving him.  In doing so, we will be able to grow deeper in our love of Him and our neighbor.  I have also found the more that I focus during Lent, the deeper I am able to enter into the Paschal Mystery during Holy Week.  I pray you have a blessed Lent!

What are some suggestions you have for growing in holiness this Lent?

Me in a Metaphor-New Blog

I love to write.  I just lack the discipline and time to write every single day.  I am a Catholic, wife, mom, and full-time graduate student.  I am also slowly learning how to be a disciple of Our Lord’s.  I have tried my hand at various blogs.  They never seem to really reflect who I am.  I am not crafty and I am still trying to figure out motherhood, so I am not a “mommy blogger”.  I am very intellectual and I love theology, philosophy, poetry, literature, art, architecture, etc.  Those are things that I can share.  I am homeschooling my daughter.  We just started an unofficial pre-school program, so I can share my triumphs and failures as a teacher and a mother, but I wouldn’t want to call this a mommy blog.  I am also a wife and I can share my insights as I work to be the wife my husband deserves.  I guess I am figuring out my call to marriage and the theological gifts that Jesus has given me.  This blog is the unification of those two callings in my life.

So this blog and its rather metaphorical title seem to represent who I am as a writer.  I am slowly, and with much fear and trembling, trying to swim the depths of my vocation and theological study.  The things that give me the most joy in this life are the Blessed Sacrament, the Church, my husband, my daughter, and studying theology and philosophy.  Studying the Blessed Trinity, the Church, and all that that encompasses (eternity) is like having the libraries of Heaven opened to me.  It is awe-inspiring and lifts me to inexpressive heights.  I will do my best to share.  With God’s guidance I am figuring out my place within my vocation and the Mystical Body.

I do not want this blog to stifle in polemics.  I am concerned that the Catholic blogosphere has become too divided, angry, ignorant, and noisy.  Yes, there are issues that matter, but they are only a small portion of what it means to be Catholic.  In order to do battle in the secular world, we must be growing in holiness.  That means we must be sharing holiness first and then we can be prepared for the spiritual and physical battles that await us.  So I hope that this blog will bring some quiet.  Occasionally, I might wade into polemics, but for the most part I want to focus on holiness first.

So, welcome to my journey.  We can be sojourners together as we attempt to grow in holiness, in order to reach our ultimate end: Sainthood and Heaven.