St Patrick

For Catholics, Episcopalians, and some Lutherans, March 17 is the Feast Day of St. Patrick. For the rest of us, it’s St. Patrick’s Day — a midweek excuse to party until we’re green in the face.

But who was Patrick? Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland or use the shamrock to explain the Trinity? Why should this 5th-century priest be remembered on this day?

Q: Was St. Patrick a real guy, and would he approve of green beer?

A: Yes, Patrick was a real person, but not much is known of his life. He was born in the late 300s when the Roman Empire extended to England, so he was not “really” Irish — much like the vast majority of people who celebrate his day.

In his “Confessio,” one of only two surviving documents attributed to him, Patrick wrote that even though his father was a Christian deacon, he was not devout.

At age 16, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders, carried across the Irish Sea, and enslaved. He spent six years alone in the wilderness tending his master’s sheep, praying constantly. “It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was,” he wrote.


He began to have visions and hear voices that told him: “Look, your ship is ready.” So Patrick left his first flock and walked 200 miles to the coast. It’s a pretty safe bet he would have loved a beer, green or otherwise, as he stepped onto a boat bound for England.

Q: If Patrick was really British, how did he become so closely associated with the Irish?

A: Back in England, Patrick had a dream in which he heard the voice of the Irish he left behind say, “We beg you to come and walk among us once more.” Patrick took this as a sign and set out for a monastery in Gaul — that’s France today — where he began his religious education.

He became a priest, a deacon, and finally a bishop and returned to Ireland by his mid-40s. He created convents, monasteries, and bishoprics all over Ireland, confronted tyrannical kings, and converted hundreds of thousands of people. He was so popular that when he died on March 17 the late 400s — scholars aren’t sure exactly when — his followers waged a war for custody of his body.

Q: But what about the snakes? And the shamrock? And he wrote the prayer “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” right?

A: No to all of the above. Patrick did not chase the snakes out of Ireland. As an island, Ireland never had snakes. But the story is probably a metaphor for Patrick’s driving out Druids and other forms of Irish paganism.


The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, floodlit green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day on Tuesday. Landmark buildings across Ireland and the world have been floodlit green as global celebrations of the Emerald Isle’s patron saint are culminating in parades and celebrations in Dublin and other cities, particularly in the U.S., on St. Patrick’s Day. (AP Photo/Sarto Roberto, Tourism Ireland)
Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, talked with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas, Sunday. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ricardo B. Brazziell)
Talks to save Belfast power-sharing overshadow St. Pat’s Day
COMING THURSDAY: The Crux ‘Saints Madness’ brackets
And there’s no way of knowing whether Patrick picked up a three-leafed shamrock and used it to explain the Christian doctrine of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But it’s a nice story. And as for the prayer, it probably dates to the 7th or 8th century.

And here’s a fun fact: Patrick was sainted by a local bishop shortly after his death, not by the official saint-making mechanism of the Catholic Church, which was not yet in place. So no miracles were required for his sainthood. He was kind of grandfathered in.

Q: If he didn’t do any of those things, what did he do that would make him worthy of getting a whole day dedicated to him (plus a bunch of parades)?

A: Short answer: Patrick was a maverick, an iconoclast, a trailblazer. And though he was high born, he never forgot the naked shepherd boy, cold and hungry and huddling on an Irish hillside.

“The imagined Patrick to me is interesting as a cultural phenomenon, but not as a breathing man of faith,” said Philip Freeman, author of “St. Patrick of Ireland.” “He suffered terribly, was tormented by self-doubt, yet he always pressed forward to spread the Gospel.”

He was also the first Church father to speak out against the abuse of women, especially slaves. And at a time when Christian biggies like the Apostle Paul and St. Augustine never left the boundaries of the Roman Empire, Patrick was the first missionary to people considered barbarians.

In the words of Thomas Cahill, “The step he took was, in its way, as bold as Columbus’s, and a thousand times more humane.”

With thanks to

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  Are Sexual Sins the Worst Ones?


In 24 years I’ve seen a lot of clients, mostly Catholic and Christian. And because I am a specifically Catholic therapist (i.e. I integrate the faith into the process and follow the teachings of the Church), many of the clients I see will discuss their troubles not only from a psychological point of view but from a spiritual perspective as well. Many seek therapy because they are troubled by past sins and in some cases, present sins from which they cannot seem to break free.

I think the overall consensus among my clients (and other Catholics that I know) when it comes to the idea of sin is that sins of a sexual nature are the worst, and most sinful, type of sin. I think to some extent it’s connected to upbringing, with parents or teachers often communicating their own fears, misinformation and discomfort in this area.
Why do sexual sins seem to occupy the spotlight when it comes to any discussion of sin? Is it because they are truly the worst sins you can commit, or is it because they’re so common and something with which a very large percentage of individuals struggle?

For those struggling with past sexual sins, let me state this very clearly. Sin is sin. Period. Sexual or of another nature, sin is sin. God doesn’t grade the other sins on a curve and reserve His worst punishments for the sexual sins. It just doesn’t make sense and it certainly does not square with scripture.

Think of the many encounters that Jesus had in the gospels. The woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well who had had five husbands jumps to mind. Then there’s Mary Magdalene, traditionally believed to have been a prostitute, and the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Now, if sexual sins were truly the worst and most unforgivable of all sins, you would think He would have been rather harsh with them. He wasn’t. As a matter of fact, the very first person to whom He appeared after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene. This to me speaks volumes about how Jesus feels about those who once were caught up in sexual sin.

The truth is that the only people Jesus seemed to be harsh with were the Pharisees. Their pride seemed to be the greater obstacle to holiness. In fact, Jesus told them that prostitutes and tax collectors would get into heaven before them.

So why such emphasis among educators and parents on these sexual sins? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, I think the nature of sexual sin cuts deeply against the grain of who we are. We are created in the image of God- male and female He created us. Our sexuality is an integral part of who we are, unlike our hair or eye color or what we happen to do for a living. Our femininity and masculinity are part of the very fabric of who we are.

That being said, when we commit serious sexual sins (mortal ones) they impact us at a deep level of our being. Also, the effects of such sins can be far-reaching. A new life can be created and if or when that happens, it has eternal consequences for all parties involved. A woman becomes a mother, a man a father and a new life begins that will live for all eternity, even if not allowed to see the light of day. Clearly a high stakes game.

Another reason there is so much emphasis on sexual sins, it seems to me, is that for most people, due to a combination of hormones and original sin, they are harder to avoid than other sins. Our sexual energy is a powerful force, designed that way by God. But like a powerful horse, it needs to be tamed and guided. Not always an easy endeavor. Sadly, fear too often has been used in a misguided attempt to help young people to live chaste lives. And fear never frees us, but instead can lead us to repress this important energy, making it harder to train and guide a feeling that we’re not aware of feeling.

I think it’s crucial to keep this in mind. When you’ve committed sexual sins, or any other mortal sins for that matter, once you repent, confess them and receive absolution, they are completely forgiven. Period. No exceptions. No qualifications. No loopholes.   Too many people live in torment and regret over their sexual past and even though they’ve confessed and turned away from those sins, seem to believe that somehow, because they were so bad, or that they committed “the big sins”, that God is still holding it against them…and therefore they should too. No. Sin is sin. Absolution is absolution.

Now, I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking, “Yes, God can forgive sexual sins, but I committed them knowing they were wrong. I did it anyway.”. Well, this may come as news to you, but that is exactly what sin is! If we don’t know something is wrong, it may remain a moral evil, but we cannot be held accountable for sin. The very fact that we do what we know to be wrong is what makes it a sin. And sin is precisely that which Jesus took upon Himself on the cross and set us free from. He didn’t die for those who don’t know better. He died for sinners. His forgiveness is not reserved only for those who are ignorant and hence fall into sin. His forgiveness is for those of us who do wrong things…even horrifically wrong things, and then repent and confess them.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not attempting to make light of the sins of the flesh. We need to ask for grace and do our best to avoid them. But we should do our best to avoid all sin. And once forgiven, we should focus our thoughts and attention on the Savior who already paid for those sins. Ask every day for the grace to grow in holiness. When tempted to despair because of a sordid past, recognize it for the temptation that it is and state boldly that Jesus already paid and in Him you are free.

If you find that you’re still struggling with regrets from past sins, it could indicate that there are unhealed wounds attached to them that need some attention in therapy. Talk to a Catholic therapist to help you sort it all out.

Know that God wants you to be happy and that even if your sins are as scarlet He will make them as white as snow. Don’t stand in His way by holding onto wrong ideas.

Art:  A Young Couple Sit on a Couch While She Coyly Holds a Fan, Rud. Rössler, December 1894, Wellcome Images Iconographic Collections, CC, Wikimedia Commmons.

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About Allison Ricciardi

Allison Ricciardi is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in New York. In 2001 she founded in response to a growing demand for counseling that is faithful to the Magisterium and includes prayer and spirituality. She is also Founder and Director of The Raphael Remedy, which offers counseling and life coaching from a Catholic perspective. Allison’s core belief is that God has a great plan for each of His children…and that by combining sound psychology with solid faith, clients can find real healing and lasting happiness. Visit Allison’s blog at

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Teach Children by Example not words – Pope

In his homily at Casa Santa Marta, the Pope spoke on the importance of leading by example when transmitting the faith to children. Appropriately, a group of boys and girls from a Roman parish were present at the Mass.
“We all have a responsibility to give our very best and the very best that we have is our faith: teach it to them, but teach it by example! Words are pointless… Today, words are pointless. In today’s world obsessed with images, where everyone has these cell phones, words are pointless … Example! Example!”
Lastly, the Pope encouraged Christians to embrace an attitude of fraternity and to leave indifference behind.
(Source: Vatican Radio)
“Do we teach them what we heard in the First Reading: to walk in love and truth? Or do we teach them with words, and then allow our lives to go in another direction? But it is our responsibility to look out for these children! A Christian has to take care of children, little ones and pass on the faith, pass on what he lives, what is in his heart. We cannot ignore the little plants that grow”.
“We all have a responsibility to give our very best and the very best that we have is our faith: give it to them, but give it by example! Words are pointless… Today, words are pointless. In today’s world obsessed with images, where everyone has these cell phones, words are pointless … Example! Example!”
“In these Sacraments – let me ask you a question – is prayer a sacrament? … Out loud now! … No!
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St Therese of Lisieux – Our Vocation to Love

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of St. Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the 12th and 13th chapters of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: “Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will show you the way which surpasses all others.” For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.

When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which St. Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favourably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realised that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.

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The Devil Has One Goal – Pope Francis

Pope’s Mass: The devil hates mankind and wants to destroy it

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Pope: the plight of persecuted Christians should make everybody think twice before complaining.

During his daily morning Mass, Pope Francis talked about suffering. He said that the plight of   persecuted Christians should make everybody think twice before complaining.


“Our life is too easy, our complaints are overdramatized. Faced with the complaints of so many people, of so many brothers and sisters who are in the dark, who have almost lost all memory, almost lost all hope – who are experiencing this exile from themselves, who are exiled, even from themselves – nothing!

Pope Francis compared persecuted Christians to Job, who stayed loyal to God despite the difficulties.

He also explained that every Christian faces moments of darkness, and that they should pray for those who are going through hard times.

SUMMARY OF THE POPE’S HOMILY  (Source: Vatican Radio)

“Is it blasphemy when Jesus complains – ‘Father, why have You forsaken me’? This is the mystery. I have often listened to people who are experiencing difficult and painful situations, who have lost a great deal or feel lonely and abandoned and they come to complain and ask these questions: Why? Why? They rebel against God. And I say, ‘Continue to pray just like this, because this is a prayer’. It was a prayer when Jesus said to his father: ‘Why  have You forsaken me!'”.

“And so many people, so many today, are in the same situation as Job. So many good people, just like Job, do not understand what has happened to them, or why. Many brothers and sisters who have no hope. Just think of the tragedies, the great tragedies, for example, of these brothers and sisters of ours who because they are Christians were driven out of their homes and left with nothing: ‘But, Lord, I have believed in you. Why? Is believing in you a curse, Lord? ‘”.

“We all go through this situation, we experience this situation. There are so many people who think it all ends in nothing.  Yet Saint Teresa, prayed and asked for strength to persevere in the dark. This is called entering into patience. Our life is too easy, our complaints are overdramatized. Faced with the complaints of so many people, of so many brothers and sisters who are in the dark, who have almost lost all memory, almost lost all hope – who are experiencing this exile from themselves, who are exiled, even from themselves – nothing! Jesus walked this path: from sunset on the Mount of Olives to the last word from the Cross: ‘Father, why have you forsaken me!”

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Do We Sometimes Judge Others?

The psalmist today recognises that as a sinner he sees things differently to God.  He pleads: “Lord make me know your ways, teach me your paths.”   We can have the tendency to judge others without knowing the full picture.  This is why only God can judge.

In the first reading we see that God forgives all who repent.  We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.  Our Heavenly Father looks at each person through His loving and compassionate eyes.  We however can be quick to see the faults of others.  We can jump to judgement without trying to understand why someone may have acted in a particular way.  When we are conscious of our own faults we are more sympathetic towards others.  Things are never black and white.  There is often more to a person’s actions than meets the eye.

There once was a business man who worked very long hours in NYC.  Sunday morning was the highlight of his week.  Each Sunday, he took the Subway train to Central Park, where he relaxed, read the papers and drank coffee.  Most people taking the train with him seemed to have the same desire and the train was always nice and peaceful.  One Sunday morning a man entered the train with his four children.  The man sat whilst his children ran around shouting and banging into everyone.  The business man tried to give the father an angry stare, but the father seemed to not notice.  The business man grew more and more angry, as he thought to himself, how selfish the father was.  His anger grew as he considered how hard he worked and how he had the right to some peace on a Sunday morning.  Eventually he elbowed the father and said “you selfish and irresponsible man, will you please take control of your children.”  The father apologised asking for forgiveness.  He said “we have just come from the hospital where my wife has just died.  I think this is the children’s way of trying to cope.  The businessman’s jaw dropped, and he said “oh I am sorry, I did not realise!

In today’s parable of the 2 sons, the Chief Priests attached importance solely to the completion of the task by the first son.  He eventually went to work in the vineyard but he had initially refused stating “I will not go.”  I must admit that I too chose the first son.  Did you?  For the Chief Priests, and us too, the important thing can often be what you do, how you look.  This leads to judgement of others, like the tax collectors and prostitutes.  We can consider ourselves righteous.  Jesus, however, shows us that it was the second son, who replied “certainly sir”, who was most pleasing to God, because he desired to do God’s will.  In other words, his heart was disposed towards the good.  We can often fail after that, for many different reasons, but the important thing is what we wanted to do.

St Paul, in today’s second reading, advises us on how to not judge others.  He says “always consider the other to be better than ourselves.”  We are to “think of their interests first.”  In other words we are to be like Christ, who wasn’t judging those crucifying Him, but praying for them.  This of course is not easy, and we will sometimes fail, but if we desire to do this, like the second son in the parable, and if we ask for God’s help, then all things are possible.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary help us to see our own need for constant repentance, and help us to try and understand others, rather than judge them.  AMEN.

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How Do We Overcome Our Difficulties?

Although courage is needed to face or to undertake hard tasks, it is even more necessary in order to persevere in them, above all when they are unpleasant or of long duration, and it is impossible to avoid or change them. In this sense, St. Thomas teaches that the principal act of fortitude is not to attack but to stand firm in the midst of dangers, and to endure struggles, opposition, privations, and persecutions with a virile spirit.

In the spiritual life we meet not only difficulties which can be surmounted and overcome once and for all by a strong act of courage, but we encounter—and this much more frequently—difficult, painful situations from which it is impossible to escape, and which willingly or unwillingly we must face. There are physical ailments which exhaust us, and prevent us from extending our activity as we would wish; there are moral sufferings caused by our own temperamental deficiencies or by contact with persons who are opposed to us or do not understand us; or again, there is the pain of seeing our loved ones suffer without our being able to relieve them; there is the experience of separation from our friends, and loneliness of heart. There are also spiritual troubles due to aridity, interior darkness, weariness of mind, temptations, and scruples. In addition to these, there are all the problems, fatigue, and difficulties inherent in our everyday duties. We know that all these things are planned by God for our sanctification and our good; nevertheless, that does not prevent us from feeling the weight of them; suffering is never pleasant, and though we will to accept all for the love of God, we are sometimes tempted to react, to give up, to shake off the yoke, or we are weighed down by sadness and discouragement. What remedy is there? There is the one which Jesus suggested to the Apostles after telling them of the persecutions they would have to endure: “In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras,” in your patience you shall possess your souls (Lk 21:19). Patience is the virtue which permits us to live in a state of suffering, hardship and privation without losing our serenity. It enables us to remain firm amid storms, contradictions, and dangers, without becoming irritated or despondent, without being deterred by them.


TeresaofAvila“O Jesus, the duty of souls admitted to Your intimacy is to suffer with You, to raise the Cross on high, not to allow it to leave their hands, whatever the perils in which they find themselves, and not to let themselves be found wanting in suffering.

“Now that You have shown me what a signal blessing it is to suffer trials and persecutions for Your sake, I find I cannot cease from desiring trials; for those who follow You must take the way which You took, unless they want to be lost. Blessed are their labors which, even here in this life, have such abundant recompense!

“O Jesus, what greater proof of Your love could You give me than to choose for me all that You willed for Yourself? To die or to suffer: this is what I should desire” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 18 ~ Life, 33-11).

“O Christ crucified, You are sufficient for me; with You I wish to suffer and to take my rest! Grant that I may be crucified with You inwardly and outwardly, and may live in this life in the fullness and satisfaction of my soul, possessing it in patience.

“Teach me to love trials and repute them of small account to attain Your favor, O Lord, who hesitated not to die for me. O my Beloved, all that is rough and toilsome I desire for myself, and all that is sweet and delectable I desire for You” (John of the Cross. Spiritual Maxims: Points of Love 13,8,15,52).

Note from Dan: These posts are provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contain one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.

Art:  Teresa of Avila [mirror], Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons.  Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

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Why Does God Allow the Devil to Hang Around?


Dear Father John, I’ve heard that talking about the devil is just a way to talk about bad things that happen.  On the other hand, there are some people that claim there really is a devil.  Is the devil for real?  If so, why does God let him hang around when our purpose is to get to heaven?  It seems so contradictory.

THE DEVIL, OUR ancient enemy, really exists. Jesus talked about him a lot. The Catechism emphasizes the reality of this fallen angel, who is interested in interfering with the adventure of love we are called to live:

Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ. (CCC, 2851)

And the devil knows the truth…that God is faithful, that divine grace will never fail us. The devil knows that he cannot obstruct the flow of God’s grace at its source. He can, however, clog up the channels by which we normally receive that grace. He can confuse and distract the minds and hearts to which God’s grace is directed, turning us into bad receivers, bad cooperators, irresponsible partners. This is his strategy.

Enemies of Our Spiritual Growth

And our ancient enemy has powerful allies: the fallen world (all the corrupting and wounding influences that come from the proliferation of sin in human society and culture) and our fallen human nature (our own internal divisions and insecurities that make us vulnerable to temptation). Because of these, we have built-in tendencies that continually nudge us away from God’s grace and disturb the spiritual docility needed for that grace to be fruitful in our lives. St. John refers to these negative influences when he warns the early Christians:

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15–16)

The fallen world in which we live—though good in its essence because it was created by God—can be a snare for us fallen human beings. This is why the Church has never ceased to remind us that the spiritual life is, at least in part, also a spiritual combat:

Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness… The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battle- field man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.*

An Interior Battle

This spiritual combat doesn’t happen with guns and swords and tanks and missiles. It takes place much more subtly, often invisibly, in the intimate arena of human freedom. It has to do with our daily choices, whether large or small. It has to do with how we use the gift of free will that we have received.

God, as well as our better self, wants us to use that freedom to choose, step after step, the path of union and friendship with Christ, the path of abundant life, the path of obedience to his wise and loving plan for the human family: “I came sp that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd” (John 10:10–11).

Our enemy and our fallen nature, on the other hand, want us to use our free will in order to choose a different path, a path strewn with false promises (that we can somehow be fulfilled without God, for instance) and false ideas about God and ourselves (we are unloveable, God is untrustworthy, holiness is beyond our reach, it’s not worth trying anymore, etc.).

This path often appears to offer easier and quicker access to happiness, but in fact it leads to interior disintegration and emptiness, because the devil is “a murderer…a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, RSV) and because sin always has evil consequences: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, RSV).

Spiritual combat is the ongoing battle between these contrary forces: Which will we choose to follow? St. Peter sums it up vividly in his first letter.

  • First, he points out our need to be watchful:

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith…

  • And then he reminds us that our vigilance should never be harsh and desperate, but calm and joyful, even when it’s hard, because God is with us:

The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. (1 Peter 5:8–10)

Sometimes our choices are stark and obvious, as when the Israelites abandoned God in the wilderness by worshipping the golden calf, or when David laid his life on the line by going out to face Goliath.

Yet, although some individual choices may be stark, the process by which we make those choices is complex. We arrive at big-decision moments with a predisposition for self-giving or self-centeredness, for docility or resistance to God’s action in our lives. The gradual formation of that pre-disposition is the real, day-to-day spiritual battleground. The predisposition is built up from many little, seemingly insignificant choices that gradually fill in our spiritual profile: choices about how we spend our time; whom we befriend; what we say and how we say it; and how we react to unforeseen opportunities, difficulties, or temptations.

Through the exercise of our free will in the little choices we make, we are either furthering Christ’s kingdom and growing in spiritual maturity, or we are inhibiting that kingdom and stunting our spiritual growth. As Jesus put it:

The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trust- worthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. (Luke 16:10)

Small Battles Prepare Us for Bigger Battles

Jesus illustrated the relationship between the many small choices that pre- pare us for bigger decisions by using a construction image. He likened the spiritual life to the construction of a house. We build gradually, through choices in or out of harmony with his wisdom. Then comes a storm, a stark choice, a big decision, a decisive temptation. Our response to the storm is conditioned by all the small choices that went into building up our spiritual edifice:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who lis- tens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. (Matthew 7:24–27)

Spiritual Responsibility

Before he became bishop and then pope, St. John Paul II was known for his wise advice in the confessional. But he was also known for the delicate respect he showed to those who came to confession. After helping them sort through their confusion and their trouble, and after identifying some possible next steps, he would always say, “But now it is up to you; you must choose.”

This is the battlefield of the spiritual combat: the intimate and mysterious arena of human freedom. Every day we enter that arena anew. There, through our decisions, we make ourselves more into one of two kinds of people—
  1. either the kind of person who stays faithful to what is true, good, and beautiful,
  2. or the kind of person who prefers an easier path, namely, the wide gate and the broad road that lead to destruction (see Matthew 7:13).

* Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 13, 27. 23

Editor’s Note:  This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”.

Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.

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Love Leads Us Forward in the Divine Mystery

Although the Almighty is beyond the power of human understanding to grasp, Christians believe that knowing God’s Will is possible because Jesus, in his humanity offered for our sakes, has given us real access to God.

The kind of knowledge the Risen Lord gives us is different than the merely factual kind of knowing. Such factual knowledge is all about simply knowing what to do – how to make or fix something. There is nothing to be gained in approaching the Mystery of the Living God like a service manual.

ZurbaranStJohnoftheCrossKnowing God and his Holy Will is, instead, deeply personal. In this loving knowledge, St. John of the Cross explains, love (not naked reasoning) leads us forward into the Divine Mystery. What the intellect understands follows behind our love for the One who discloses Himself. The loving will knows the Loving Will of God and a union of wills, each given to the other, becomes possible. This love is a friendship love – it sees the goodness and beauty of God because it has loved Him and been loved by Him first. St. Paul calls this the Wisdom of God (see 1 Cor 6-13). Some theologians call this experimental or experiential knowledge of God. There really are not words to describe this kind of knowledge – yet those who know the Lord in this way really have something to say, something the world needs to hear, something we need in our lives.

With this kind of loving knowledge, a joy, peace and a dynamic self-possession grows in the heart. Every time someone acts in accord with this loving knowledge of God, these fruits increase — sometimes exponentially. This fruit, which St. Paul enumerates in his letter to the Galatians, is produced by the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). When we choose to act in accord with the loving knowledge the Lord shares with us, it frees the Holy Spirit to be fruitful in our hearts.

It is possible to act against this knowledge, to act as if we were ignorant of God. St. Paul warns against living with our minds conformed to this age or like those whose minds are darkened (Rom 12:2, Eph 4:18). It is possible for those who believe in Christ to choose to live in the flesh – to allow the unconscious hidden drives of our nature to make our decisions for us, not only in big things, but especially in the little things we think no one knows and no one will be hurt by. This living in intentional ignorance is what keeps us immature spiritually – acting against what we know in our hearts.Teresa of Avila 22

There is no reason for discouragement if we suddenly realize that most of our lives we have chosen to live in ignorance. Teresa of Avila lived like this until she was almost forty years old. The Lord however would not let her continue – and when she was off her guard, He pierced her to the heart with His Love. Just as He touched her to the core, He can touch any one of us – it is something worth asking for, something worth enduring every kind of trial to obtain.

So the spiritual life really begins when we take up the struggle to make room in our lives for the loving knowledge of God that only Jesus gives. This is why Christians must make silent prayer a priority in their lives. It is a knowledge that comes from the Cross and doing all we can to gain this knowledge is worth it.

Art:  St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656; St. TeresaTransverberación, Josefa de Óbidos, 1672; both PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note:  For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other.  Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer.  Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.

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