Category Archives: Spiritual Warfare

Creating Ourselves Through Our Actions

The Gospel of John says the following:

 
(John 3:16-21) For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

Note the action verbs. “He who does what is true COMES to the light.” It doesn’t say “He who believes does what is true.” The light is Christ, and doing what is true – that is doing good rather than evil – brings us to Christ. In other words, our actions dictate who we become, not the other way around.
We have a certain amount of control over our destiny. We can choose, through our actions, whether to walk toward Christ or to walk away from him. This is true in the aspects of our life other than spiritual. We can become good spouses by acting like good spouses. We can become good parents by acting like good parents. We can become happy people by acting like happy people. If I despair that I am not the person I wish I was or that other people wish I were, then I am being disingenous unless I decide at that moment to start acting like that person I want to be. If I act that way, then eventually – and it takes time because “coming to the light” is not a sudden switch but a gradual and oftentimes painful transformation – I will BE that way.
Modern psychology glimpses this through CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. They teach people with emotional issues to change their thought patterns, and the feelings will follow. More importantly, we change our actions, and the nature of the person will change to adjust to those actions.
This highlights one of the dangers of allowing ourselves to be immersed in the corrosive culture in which we are currently living. If I act the way our culture dictates – by enjoying the same hedonistic entertainments and pursuing the same self-centered goals – then I will become the kind of person that the culture celebrates, a secular moral relativist with no love for God. I have to reject the culture and live a counter-cultural life not BECAUSE I have achieved some level of holiness, but because I WANTto achieve some level of holiness.
If I want Christ, I have to act like it first.

Avoiding a Post-Easter Spiritual Letdown

Easter Letdown

Easter night I was tucking my boys in, and we were having a discussion about Easter, comparing it to Christmas, and I was making the point that though Christmas has more decorations and gifts, Easter is still the most important Holiday of the year. One of them summed up the discussion with the question:

“Why isn’t New Year’s at Easter?”

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Teach Your Child to be a Prayer Warrior!`

Today our six-year-old son Elijah earned his Prayer Warrior trophy. He’s been looking forward to this moment all summer, working hard toward the goal, and today he accomplished it.
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What is a Prayer Warrior? When we moved to our new parish, we wanted to instill in our younger kids a more reverent attitude toward Mass and toward daily prayers. Our son Elijah is an accomplishment-oriented child. He loves competing in sports and games, and he loves earning trophies and medals. Even the medals from the summer reading program at the library are special to him. We thought that a trophy would be a suitable motivation for him to learn to really pay attention and participate at Mass, so we set up a Prayer Warrior program, taking advantage of the fact that the whole “spiritual warfare” concept would be appealing to a six-year-old boy.

We set up on the refrigerator a paper with ten blocks. Each day, if he paid attention and prayed out loud during our nightly prayers, he would get a star in the block for that week. Then on Sunday, if he had achieved six stars, and if he did a good job of sitting still and paying attention at Mass, he would earn a sticker for the block. As the weeks progressed, our expectations for his behavior at Mass and during prayers increased gradually. He knew that once he received ten stickers, we would send away for his Prayer Warrior trophy.

He did a great job, and his behavior at Mass has been transformed. It was never particularly bad behavior, not distracting to those around us, but he fidgeted and didn’t really pay attention as well as he should. Now he sits like an angel, faces forward, and participates as well as he can. It is inspiring our four-year-old as well, who can’t wait until she is old enough to be eligible for the Prayer Warrior program.

We’re thinking about extending his Prayer Warrior program further. Perhaps having medals akin to those achieved in Boy Scouts, perhaps having an “advanced level” trophy. He could achieve these levels through memorization of prayers, regular reading and/or memorization of scripture, saying the rosary on his own, and so forth. The biggest benefit is that he sees that prayer life is important to us, both our own prayer life and his prayer life. These little motivations help to instill a sense of that importance within him.

It was really easy to put together the “program”. All it took was a quick printout formatted in MSWord, and a trip to the local trophy shop for a $4 trophy. But it will be something that he remembers for a very long time.

Lost In The Fog

The fog was amazingly thick this morning on the way to work. So thick that my headlights could penetrate 30 feet at most. So thick that streetlights and oncoming cars were invisible if more than 100 yards away.

There were moments where I felt that the entire universe had been reduced to me, my car, and a thirty foot sphere of existence. I was alone in the universe, an eerie and frightening feeling that was somehow exhilarating at the same time.

It is easy to live that way, in such a fog that all I can see is my own existence. Especially (and unfortunately) as a husband and father, it is easy to ensconce myself in my own little world of responsibilities and worries. People, even loved ones, can become objects, providers of my inputs and receivers of my outputs. When they have needs (or I have needs of them), they enter my little sphere of light. When I have met their needs or they have met mine, they depart, and it is as if they are no more.

If I shine, however, with Christ’s light, the fog is dispersed, and I can truly begin to see and love those around me as they really are. No longer do I love someone for what they can do for me or how they make me feel. I love them for one simple fact: that they are images of God.

But I have to keep my guard up. That fog keeps trying to roll in.

Lessons in Spiritual Warfare from a Broken Garage Door

I spent time recently repairing my garage door. On Saturday, one of the pulley cables snapped. Simple, I thought. I purchased a new cable and made the repair. The door worked for about a day and then jammed. A hinge had broken. I repaired the hinge, but still no go. The door would not close all the way. I finally determined that a pulley had lost a bearing and would not turn.

Of course, this was not some grand coincidence or case of really bad luck. The cable, hinge, and pulley were all related. One of them, probably the pulley, had begun to fail first. This put additional stress on the other parts. The cable turned out to be the first to fail completely. The other parts quickly followed suit. In engineering, we call this a cascading failure. It is a feature of any interconnected system.

Our spiritual lives can be like that. When we neglect part of our spiritual life – for instance when we sin – we can quickly find the rest of our life falling apart in short order, and soon we wonder why we feel so empty inside. One sin predisposes us to another and then another, until sinful behavior has become a habit and we start justifying ourselves, saying that such-and-such a sin really isn’t so bad. Sin becomes a part of every aspect of our life.

Now that my garage door is working again, I notice that it is remarkably quiet. I hadn’t even realized it was getting noisy. The pulley must have been getting a little noisier every day, the noise increasing so slightly that, like the frog in the boiling water, I was oblivious to the relentless creeping change.

Again, sin is like that. It can start with such seeming innocence that we barely realize we are sinning. It might start out as too much TV watching. Then watching shows that are morally questionable, that titillate and excite. Then turning to programs not just questionable but objectionable. This is how men get sucked into pornography, bit by bit. When we open the door to sin, it can grow throughout our lives without our even realizing it. And then it comes, cascading failure.

The sin has permeated us. We drift away from our loved ones. We drift away from the faith. Our lives become chaotic. We obsess about appearance, status, money, possessions. Eventually, we don’t even know who God is.

How do we prevent this? When designing a complex system, we first design to avoid cascading failures. We choose parts less likely to fail. We design in backups. We minimize dependencies between parts. And we do preventive maintenance, to catch small failures before they have a chance to cascade. This is why the mechanic, when he changes the oil in your car, always checks the air filter.

In our spiritual life we do the same thing. We design our life to avoid the failures. We call this avoiding the near occasion of sin. In our family, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. In business I have a personal rule not to have lunch or even coffee alone with a woman, no matter how innocent.

We also do preventive maintenance. We pray the morning offering and the rosary. We do a daily examination of conscience. We read the scriptures and frequent the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.

In short, we can prevent the kind of breakdown suffered by my garage door, but it takes diligence and planning.

Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

This Friday is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and as such, it is a great day to perform an Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home.

What is the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

From a practical perspective, the enthronement is a ceremony in the home in which a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is placed in a position of honor and certain prayers are made. The enthronement can either be done with the assistance of a priest or by the parents themselves.

From a spiritual perspective, the enthronement is an acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is our King, and He reigns over our household. Of course, He is King and reigns regardless of whether we acknowledge it, but the enthronement does two things:

First, it reminds us of Christ’s kingship in an ongoing way, so that we might remember to act in accordance with this truth.

Second, it consecrates our home and our family to Jesus’ Sacred Heart. In consecration, we are separated from the common, dedicated to sacred use. This sanctifies our living space, making our home a more holy place and giving us additional graces so that we might have strength to live our day-to-day discipleship as we rededicate our family to Christ’s service.

The enthronement, as a devotion, helps us to ensure that we are Christians in every part of our lives, not just on Sunday mornings.

Below are two websites with slightly different formulas for the enthronement.

Enthronement Link 1

Enthronement Link 2

Both sides have a wealth of information about the Sacred Heart of Jesus and about Enthronement.

The Devil, Purgatory, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Embracing the Cross

The Daily Spiritual Battle

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

Satan works against us every day of our lives. His “tricks” can be as mundane as distraction in prayer or a traffic jam on the way to Mass The saints comment frequently on this ongoing spiritual battle with the devil.

The devil strains every nerve to secure the souls which belong to Christ. We should not grudge our toil in wresting them from Satan and giving them back to God.
St. Sebastian

Our imagination, which is hardly still a minute, makes our task harder and then of course there is the devil who never tires of trying to distract us and keep us from praying. To what end does not the evil one go against us while we are engaged in saying our Rosary against him.
St. Louis de Montfort

The Omnipotence of God
It is difficult to make sense of the workings of the devil in a world created by a loving and omnipotent God. Sin is one thing; it arises from our free will. But why the temptations? Why does this omnipotent and loving God allow an independent actor on the scene to tempt us, to distract us, and otherwise to make our spiritual journey more difficult?
God does this on purpose. All things are allowed according to His will.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

But how can that be if these things could potentially keep us from going to heaven?

The Teaching on Purgatory
The church’s teaching on purgatory provides some insight.

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030 and 1031

So we must be pure before we enter heaven, and if we are not pure when we die (but we are in a state of grace, meaning we haven’t separated ourselves from God), then we have the opportunity to become pure in Purgatory.
Many people think that Purgatory is pretty much required for everyone, but St. Thérèse says we don’t have to go there.

Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please Him in all things, if you have the unshakable confidence that He will purify you at every instant in His love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

God is purifying us “at every instant”. That means right now we are being purified. How?

The Way of the Cross
Christ demands that we pick up our cross and follow him. Why does He say that? Why didn’t he say, “Just try to be nice and a generally good person doing the best you can, and I’ll make sure you get to heaven where you can have your favorite flavor of ice cream and be reunited with your childhood dog.”?

Why is the cross the way to Heaven? And what is my cross anyway?

The cross is the way to heaven, because it is what God uses to purify us. It is the altar on which the sacrifice of purification is made. We must take up our crosses, because on our crosses is the only place where we can sacrifice our old self, our worldly self, and purify our souls for Heaven. That is why God allows Satan into our lives. The devil is the unwitting instrument of our purification. Just as Christ HAD to be tempted by the devil in the desert of Judea, we HAVE to be tempted by the devil in the desert of our hearts.

Our cross is not just the big challenges in our life – the handicap, the disease, the difficult family member, the addiction – it is every little distraction, every little obstacle we find in our spiritual life. When our alarm clock fails and we oversleep and don’t have time for full morning prayers, that is Satan and that is our cross. When we get lost trying to find a new church for daily Mass, that is Satan and that is our cross. When the dog wants out in the middle of the Rosary – well, the dog is not Satan, but that is our cross.

Embrace It
So the answer, then, to the distractions and difficulties is to embrace them, fight through them, and most of all thank God for them. These are our means of purification. If we embrace them and use them to grow in our love of God, we just might do as St. Thérèse suggests, and avoid the pains of purgatory altogether. We are, after all, meant to be saints. Each and every one of us.

The Seven Spiritual Weapons of St. Catherine of Bologna

Today is the feast of St. Catherine of Bologna. Here is a good summary of her seven spiritual weapons to be used against temptation. Given the amount of temptation the 21st century has to offer, I think we need these weapons!