Guest Post: 3 Tactics to Overcome Spiritual Sloth

**Today’s guest post is from fellow Catholic Exchange contributor Matthew Chicoine.

American founding father Benjamin Franklin said, “Diligence overcomes difficulties; sloth makes them.” Laziness not only creates problems, but also worsens them. Procrastination, a cousin of laziness, is the particular type of sloth that haunts me. I make excuses to explain and justify my laziness. “I am too tired.” or “The kids drove me crazy. I just need to de-stress by watching T.V.” or “I exercised yesterday so I can take the day off today!” The list goes on and on. 

Fatigue definitely leads to sloth. Another cause is pride. My hubris leads me to believe I don’t need to take action as promptly as possible. Oftentimes, this is the case when my wife asks me to accomplish a task or schedule an important appointment. Connected closely with physical laziness is spiritual sloth. After the intensity of Lent and the joy of the Easter season wears off, I always seem to be lagging behind my prayer life around the feast of Pentecost. This article will focus on three strategies to overcome spiritual sloth and renew your prayer life. 

Exercise

According to Proverbs 12:24, “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.” Exercise helps bring me out of a sluggish slump. Simply, holding myself accountable by going for a 3 mile run or bike ride provides me energy. The same is true with our spiritual life.

 A simple way to break out of your spiritual slump is to pray. Prayer is just a two-way conservation with God. If you don’t know how to start don’t worry! Communication with God need not be complicated. Just ask for strength. Tell Him your struggles. If you are still need direction on how to start praying look to St. Josemaria Esciva. The Spanish priest wrote, “The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.” Another creative method to pray would be to pray while exercising! Ask the Holy Spirit for the mettle to make it that next mile or rep.  

Seek Guidance

Another tactic to dispel spiritual sloth is seeking guidance from the saints and/or a spiritual director. Because of the busyness of my schedule, I personally don’t have time for a formal spiritual director. I enjoy reading the Bible or spiritual writing of a saint. St. Vincent de Paul puts it plainly, “Read some chapter of a devout book….It is very easy and most necessary, for just as you speak to God when at prayer, God speaks to you when you read.” Reading only a few pages a day will definitely prove fruitful—the key is consistency. Digest this guidance daily bit by bit.

Frequent the Sacraments

A third way to defeat spiritual sloth is something Catholic already are supposed to partake in—the sacraments. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1210, 

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life:1 they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

At a bare minimum Catholics attend Mass weekly. There the faithful receives the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ as nourishment to sustain them for the week. During our journey on earth we fall into sin—marring our soul. Both physical and spiritual damage requires proper healing in order to avoid future decay. The sacrament of Confession restores us back into communion with God and our neighbors. 

St. John Paul II declares in his Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, “To acknowledge one’s sin, indeed-penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one’s own personhood-to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God” (no. 13). Being forgiven from your sins elicits a freedom. We become freer to choose God’s will over our selfish desires after receiving the sacramental graces of Penance.

If you are struggling with spiritual sloth do not despair. Ask God for help and aid will be given to you. Frequent prayer leads to greater stamina during the dry times of our spiritual journey. Look to the writing of the saints for guidance and receive the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Confession. These three tactics are simple ways to defend against and defeat spiritual sloth. The most difficult part of any exercise is to start. Take that first step and begin renew your spiritual journey today!

**You can read more of Matthew’s writing at Catholic Exchange and at his blog The Simple Catholic.


People Do Change, We Must

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Image: Wiki Commons

There is an adage in our culture that is prevalent in movies, books, even daily conversations. It is: “People never change.” It is even quite common for Catholics to make this statement. If this is true, then we are all in trouble. Scripture and our Faith tell us otherwise. People deeply attached to sin and disorder are made new in Christ. Individuals who have been discarded, abused, hurt, sick, lost, and committed great evils do indeed change. We underestimate how much seasons of illness impact a person. We also forget that people carry very deep wounds that only the Divine Physician can heal. It is much easier to live in our assumptions and presumptions about people and constantly compare them to their failures or weaknesses, but this is wholly unjust and is a sin against charity. Authentic love is constant regardless of these failings. It does not accept them, but love is not revoked in the face of failures either.

Anyone who makes frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession/Reconciliation) comes to realize how weak they truly are and how much they need Christ. It is true that we tend to fail in the same ways over and over again until God provides the grace and we need to develop the habit of the virtue necessary to overcome a certain vice or character flaw. This means that change is slow and on-going. Very few of us have radical conversion stories. Even St. Augustine’s Confessions demonstrates the struggle each person has with particular sins. It is easy to forget that our progression in holiness is dependent on God’s working within us on His timeline, not our own.

There are indeed times when changes must happen rapidly. This takes place when tragedy strikes or an unexpected and life-altering diagnosis occurs. In those moments we are faced with monumental decisions about ourselves, our loved ones, the people around us, and the future. These times tend to reveal the best and the worst in us and we have to fight for the best to win. Our self-centered Fallen nature will rear its ugly head when what we wanted is either impossible or irrelevant. We must pray for the strength to persevere when we would like to give up and to embrace God’s will over our own. Very few people go through their entire lives without wanting to give up in the face of tremendous adversity at least once or twice or a hundred times.

Change is actually inevitable. I am not the same person I was even three years ago. There are aspects of my personality that do not change, but a fog I walked in for 3 years lifted and I could finally see myself again. I came out of that fog higher up on the path and stronger for it despite the misery I endured. We walk in valleys and up to, and on, mountain tops in this life. We become different depending on what we face, but the deepest reality of who we are as created imago Dei does not change. Our unique incommunicable and unique personhood is not lost in the face of tragedy, illness, mental illness, abandonment, and suffering; rather, we are refined and the unique person we are is made more beautiful in God’s furnace of love.

This refinement only works if we desire joy and if we learn to embrace the hardships and sufferings that will come our way. It is a process and we will fail to accomplish at times and struggle with self-pity, anger, and frustration. We must fix our eyes on Heaven and remember that this is temporary. Each moment of every single day we are moving towards Heaven or hell. We know intuitively when we have made the wrong choice, unless we have completely deadened our conscience. Every step in either direction changes us into the person we will be in the next life. If we choose not to change in either direction that is also a choice and the wrong one.

Our purpose in this life is to be a saint. We are made for goodness, truth, beauty, and happiness, but we can only attain those gifts from God if we relinquish ourselves and allow Him to dwell within us. We must choose each day to change for the better. When we fail–which is inevitable–then we ask God to pick us back up and march ourselves back to the Confessional. Change only occurs if we never give up. The Enemy wants us to stay face down in the mud sobbing about our failures or our lost dreams. We have to say “no” and get back up. Thankfully, God gave me a rather stubborn personality. This is good and bad, but I am thankful that it makes me less likely to stay down for long.

I love to hike and I love mountains. I grew up in Montana so the Rockies are deeply embedded in my psyche. I love living in the Appalachians, but there is a rugged, strange, dangerous, awe-inspiring, and compelling quality to the Rockies. The idea of the holy mountain we are climbing in this life is an old image. It’s found in the Old Testament since God was understood in relation to specific mountains i.e. Moses. Purgatory has also been called a holy mountain. Anyone who has hiked on granite peaks like the Rockies knows that there are long ascents, slippery shale crossings, snow, run off, mud, sudden afternoon thunderstorms, not-so-friendly wildlife, random summer snow storms, and winds. The views are phenomenal and they provide strength to continue onward when the climb becomes steep. Those who climb mountains like Mount Everest know that as you go higher the more treacherous the trip becomes.

The spiritual life seems to be similar to these treacherous climbs. The attacks, temptations, and reality of our weaknesses come to the forefront the more we climb. The Enemy changes tactics on us and at times we can mistake light that is really darkness (St. Ignatius of Loyola). The hidden places of darkness within us that we didn’t know about or never wanted to confront come out into the light. They have to so that God may shed His healing light and wipe away every darkness within us. Many of the saints experienced greater attacks from the Devil and struggled mightily with interior darkness as they continued the ascent. They relied solely on God amidst profound desolation.

The higher we climb, the more God reveals to us that we must give our entire selves to Him alone. The path becomes more difficult as we are asked to detach from more and more in this life, so that it is Christ who dwells fully within us. This takes a lifetime to accomplish since we are attached to much, some of which we don’t realize until we are faced with it at certain points on the journey. In our sinfulness, we do not realize that this detachment is the path to joy.

To be Catholic is to change. To be human is to change. There are relationships that may never fully heal and some people may choose the wrong path, but they are changing as they age. It is impossible not to. The deep changes, the necessary changes require God’s grace in our lives. The pruning away at the dead branches weighing us down becomes greater and greater as time goes on. In the end we may feel like a rose bush cut to the root, but any gardener knows the rose will come back in greater glory after an intense pruning. The same is true of us. With each new pruning, we change for either good or bad. It is up to us to rely on God in leading us to the good as we battle our selfishness and our own plans that are not united to His will for our lives.

We must also remember that people are not required to change in the manner we desire. We cannot force our will upon other people and make them into something in our own image. We must pray for others who have hurt us or who we may not agree with at times, but we cannot turn them into something they are not. God has plans for each individual based on the gifts and personality that He has bestowed upon us. Not everyone in the world is meant to be like us. Thank God for that! The last thing we need are carbon copies of me all over the world. In humility, we should recognize why people are meant to be different from one another. Oftentimes people will be upset when we make changes for the better, when we progress in holiness. Christ promised this too! Not everyone will understand, but we must continue on the path that He has laid out for us.

A very blessed last week of Advent to you as we wait in hope for the celebration of the coming of Our Savior at Christmas and while we wait ever watchful for the day He returns at the end of time.

Catholic Exchange: Healing the Wounds of Rejection

It happens to every penitent who frequently seeks forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. We trudge, once more, to the confessional door and upon our entry, lament to the priest that we are once again confessing the same sins. It’s been a week, a month, a year, and it’s the same sins. We are tired of confessing the same sins over and over again with little or no perceived progress. Those of us who write a list down during our examination of conscience, fight the temptation to keep it for next week or the following week’s Confession, since we know the sins will be the same. This would be wrong, however, since we are absolved of those sins and forgiven by Our Lord. Rip that piece of paper up or throw it in the fireplace! Progress in the spiritual life is slow going and it can feel more like back-sliding than steps up the mountain.

One of the great struggles in the spiritual life is coming to understand why we commit certain sins over and over again. There are the theological answers: pride, we are Fallen, we flee from God, we don’t trust in God’s goodness and love, we violate our own nature, weakness, etc. These are all true, but one of the greatest struggles we face as human beings is the reality that we do not truly know or understand ourselves. We are great at self-deception. We do not fully understand our motives. Many of us have been deeply wounded since childhood, which means we’ve developed habitual sins in the face of suffering. A good many of us never make the effort to try to understand why we sin in certain ways.

There are certain sins we tend to commit when we are suffering, hurt, or are under tremendous stress. Psychology is filled with explanations for why some people eat and drink to excess, turn to pornography, lose themselves in video games or social media, watch copious amounts of television, or recklessly spend money. Many of the points made by modern psychology are helpful, but what are some of the spiritual answers for why we engage in these behaviors when we hurt?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Leaving Bland Catholicism Behind

Anyone who has spent serious time in their parish in ministry, catechesis, other activities knows the state of catechesis within the Church. It is abysmal. The same is true for anyone who is brave, or crazy enough, to read comboxes on orthodox articles and blogs. This state of affairs is sad and frustrating at the same time. The currents of relativism and subjectivism have overtaken most of us. We all battle it, whether we realize it or not. These predominant philosophies of Western culture, connected with nihilism, are responsible for great confusion, ignorance, heresy, and disobedience so prevalent within the Mystical Body and without. We can largely thank the Enlightenment for not being so enlightening in many areas.

Yes, the issue produces anger and frustration for those who desire to share the authentic Christian life. Some of that anger is properly channeled towards the good and at other times it erupts into sinful tirades towards one another, especially in social media. I have participated in both types of anger, which is why I crawl back to the Confessional bi-weekly. In reality the worst part about the situation is that the Church herself has hidden her Light from her members. Through the darkness of certain corners of the hierarchical priesthood all the way down to the laity, relativism has distorted, twisted, and made the Faith largely meaningless for so many souls.

Conscience, which is relativism’s rallying cry, is the argument given by leaders and laity alike. This betrays a complete lack of understanding as to what conscience is on an ontological level and subjective level. It also demonstrates far too many people’s attachment to the world over Christ. I wrote an article for Catholic Exchange a little while ago on topic of conscience. We are still doing what we have done since the Fall, making ourselves into gods. This, of course, is untenable. We are creatures, not the Absolute. When we make ourselves gods we destroy ourselves, the people around us, and cut ourselves off from the Author of our very lives.

I sat at a Confirmation Mass for the high school students in my area last night. A good many of the kids very seldom, if ever, come to Mass. They are strangers to most of the parish community. They never came to Religious Education class, not that these are required if parents are properly forming their children in the Faith. Weekly Mass attendance is a basic tenant of the Catholic Faith, however. And, yet, they were presented for this Sacrament. The exact same thing happens with Baptism and Holy Communion. The Sacraments have been turned into a conveyor belt type system, with no real attachment to the vows made. At least in the Latin Church, will is a part of receiving Confirmation. If we do not open our wills to God’s grace, He will not force it into us. We are like a faucet, we have to open it so that God’s grace can pour into our souls. How many people know this? How about those in mortal sin who are dead to grace, but approach Sacraments anyway, every Sacrament except Confession?

As I sat there contemplating and watching these kids and families, I was saddened. Many actually strutted up to Monsignor for reception of the Sacrament. This is our stance now before God. We no longer understand the awesome power of Heaven and earth meeting in the Mass. Rather, we strut and swagger our way before God. How many of us, including myself, do this daily? How many of us live the danger of presumption that everyone goes to Heaven? That is not what the Church teaches. We must die in a state of grace.

The saddest part of it all, and I know because I have been there, is that far too many Catholics know little if anything about the depth, beauty, transcendence, glory, peace, power, and call of the Faith. We have domesticated our faith. We sit in bland buildings, singing bland songs, speaking platitudes that hardly resemble the real Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of Catholics, up to 70% of Catholics deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Words actually spoken by Our Lord in John 6 are completely ignored because heresy and materialism have become a norm in this area. The majority of Catholics have no idea what actually goes on during Mass. Heaven and earth meet. We participate in the Heavenly Liturgy through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I was discussing this topic with some friends of mine recently. One of them looked at me and said: “Most of us don’t know any better.” I was talking about the transcendent, Heaven on earth experience of Mass. He had never experienced the lifting of the veil to see the glory of the Liturgy with the eyes of Faith. He had never heard the soul lifting, heart-breaking, beauty of chant or truly sacred music. I realized in that moment, even with my moments of wandering from the path, I had been given the gift of seeing the Liturgy as it is meant to be seen. From wandering the great cathedrals of Europe, to my first Sacred Triduum in England, to the Sacred Triduum that brought me completely back to the Church for good at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, I had experienced transcendent Catholicism as so many through the ages had done. My childhood of bland had been peeled away and there before me was real beauty. A beauty that draws you in and takes you into ever deeper waters of the Faith. It was the Liturgy that taught me how to accept the rest of Church teaching. It was Christ’s Real Presence who helped me abandon my own desire to be god, a desire which I still struggle with daily, as a we all do.

So it saddens me to see the bland continue, the ignorance continue, and the apathy of many involved. It’s the same thing I grew up with in the 80s and 90s. In fact, we wage nasty fights with one another as we try to cling to what is comfortable, what we know. How dare we upset the apple cart? Why would we use those things from ages prior to ours, we are superior? Are we? Really? In this age of subjectivism it never occurs to people that there is actually an objective type of beauty, which the Church has preserved since her beginning. It’s harder to find these days, but it it’s there if you look. We are content to stay the same. Something very foreign to the Christian journey to holiness, which is one of development and peeling away.

All of this will still take decades to sort out. It is working itself out as new priests are ordained in my generation and the generation behind me. They see the bland and distortions just as I do. We crave more than just status quo and comfort. We desire the dangerous beauty of our Faith and the heart-ache of Home. We desire the authentic and true Faith as it has been lived and proclaimed before us. In the case of Confirmation, parents must learn that they teach the Faith to their children by their example, words, and formal teaching. If we do not teach the Faith and live the Faith our children will leave the Church in adulthood. Based on statistics over the last few decades, the number of kids Confirmed last night who will leave the Faith is stifling. We must pray for Christ to send shepherds to tend to His flock. Shepherds who can reawaken the beauty, depth, mystery, and gift of Catholicism. We too must have the courage to cast out into the deep in our own lives and to live the Faith and witness to our children and those around us.

Catholic Exchange: Christ and Marriage in a Time of War

I have been watching the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere for a while now. About a year ago, some friends and I organized a grassroots campaign to raise awareness for their plight, as well as raise money for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). We called the project Help Nasara in honor of the Arabic ن (pronounced “noon”) painted on people’s houses in Syria and Iraq to identify them as Christian so that they could be forcibly converted, live in dhimmitude, or face martyrdom.

It can be difficult for those of us who live quiet and comfortable lives in the West to comprehend or even ponder the unspeakable terror and violence these people live with every single day. It is not something we have experienced and we can easy fall into an “it’s over there” mentality. For Christians, however, this is not a correct understanding of the Mystical Body. These Christians are not a “them” they are in fact “us” in a very real way. We are all united in communion with Christ as our head. They are our brothers and sisters in a way that runs deeper than blood, but that is also bound in the blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our blindness to them is a great dishonor to the Church and to them. While most of us cannot run to Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the Ukraine, or other regions; we can pray, fast, raise awareness, and give alms within our means. We can also pay close attention to their witness because they are teaching us, and the world, something truly profound.

Last Friday I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when a posting of three pictures caught my attention. They were photographs of a wedding at St. George’s Church in Homs, Syria. The church was completely bombed out. There was no roof, no windows, no altar; there were only bare stone walls still standing. One of the pictures showed the surrounding buildings which were also bombed out and reduced to rubble in areas. What caught my attention was the picture of the couple standing before the priest to be joined in Holy Matrimony.

There is no doubt that all in attendance have lost much during the Syrian Civil War that continues to rage on today. Many have lost family, friends, homes, churches, and nearly everything. The couple themselves have probably lost much, and yet, there they stood in hope. Rather than despair and focus on what has been lost, they have chosen to stand up and come together in conjugal communion, even if it is only for one day. I could see the face of Christ clearly in their witness. It is truly an awe-inspiring witness to the true definition of marriage, to the Blessed Trinity, the love Christ has for the Church, and the power of the Cross.

God has constantly referred to His love for His people in marital language. The Jewish people were His Bride and often they were “adulterous” when they gave into sin and idolatry. The covenant God has established between His people and Himself is the basis for the theological understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage and the reason the Church teaches as she does about the nature of marriage. A man and woman coming together is to mirror the communion God has established with His Church and the communion that is in Him through the Blessed Trinity.
Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Sharing in the Priesthood of Christ

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One of the ways to grown in faith and understanding of the mysteries of Jesus Christ is to meditate on the Divine Offices that he fulfills by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. These offices are understood within the framework of the covenant God established through the People of God in the Old Testament. The offices of priest, prophet, and king were figures of Christ to come because they were forms of mediation God used through human beings in the Old Covenant. Some examples of these offices would be Melchizedek in his priestly offering of bread and wine, Isaiah as a prophet, and David as king. All of the offices reach their fulfillment and transcendence in the life of Jesus Christ in that he became the ultimate mediator while also dwelling as God with us. The theology behind these offices of Christ is complex, so I only want to focus on one major aspect of the Priesthood of Christ and our participation.

What exactly do we mean by priest in this context? In a most basic sense and one that would conform to a Levitical understanding, a priest offers sacrifice. This is clearly seen and understood by Catholics in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is offered by the ordained priesthood with the participation of the laity. Jesus Christ himself was the ultimate sacrifice in offering up himself on the Cross for our sake. Christ’s sacrifice was two-fold. First, he paid the ultimate price for our sin through his acceptance and conquering of death by virtue of His own death. This is very important, but his deeper sacrifice was an offering of obedience to the Father’s will internally. In doing so he ushered in a new era of internal obedience to the Father that allowed the reception of the Holy Spirit among his people.

That means Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in obedience to the Father’s will is the very same sacrifice that you and I are called to by virtue of our Baptism. In our Baptism, we agree (or our parents agree) to enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we may be conformed (to be like) to the life of the Blessed Trinity. In entering into the mysteries of Christ, we agree to become living sacrifices to the Father. This is one of the ways that we baptized members of the Church participate in the common priesthood of Christ. This is not to be confused with the ordained priesthood of Christ which helps form the hierarchical, sacramental, and sacrificial structure of the Church in which the laity are members. We participate in the common priesthood because we offer sacrifices in love to others in our daily lives as Christians.

Christ’s entire life was a sacrifice to the will of the Father. You and I are called to do the same in our actions of self-emptying love that we perform daily. We are called to be a living-sacrifice within our own vocations whether it is serving our children, spouses, neighbors, or co-workers. In doing so we are sharing the common priesthood of Christ with the world. All of our actions and sacrifices point ultimately to the High Priest of Jesus Christ, not ourselves. Throughout Scripture, Christ constantly pointed to the Father and in our own lives, we must point to the Blessed Trinity as the loving God who guides us through grace and the communion of His Mystical Body.

In John 37-38 Jesus says: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.” And so it is the very same call that you and I have by virtue of our Baptism. We are not only members of Christ’s Church, we also share in his mission and priesthood. Every time we choose to sacrifice in love, we are offering as Christ has called us to do through the mysteries of his life and glorious resurrection. We offer ourselves to our glorified Lord who is High Priest of Heaven and earth.

The purpose of our lives as Christians is holiness. It is for us to become saints. When someone asks us what the meaning of life is, we can reply with: “To be a saint”. It is as simple and as difficult as that. One of the ways we grow in holiness, besides frequent reception of the Sacraments and prayer, is to offer sacrifice in our lives to God and others. Our example is the love of the Blessed Trinity. It is within the Blessed Trinity that the Father gave over His Son in love, the Son obediently accepted death, and the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Church for the sanctification of the world. All of these actions are self-emptying and in obedience to love who is God. As we go about our days, let us keep the common priesthood and our High Priest in mind that we may live our lives in self-emptying, sacrificial love to the Trinity and our neighbor.