Soul Train: Gettin’ it back on track for Lent

Soul_Train

I used to be on a show called Catholic Weekend, where the running joke is that every episode’s a train wreck.

Well, that’s pretty funny for a podcast, but it’s nowhere near funny when the train wreck is your prayer life.

Yikes!  That’s me.

So, when I met with my spiritual director on Saturday, we had a powwow about what I should A.) let go & B.) take up for Lent.

Side note: I highly recommend this!  Imagine a personal trainer for your soul.  It’s encouraging to get advice from a spiritual director; someone who sees you and your spiritual state in a more objective position, and can offer expert advice about the areas in which you need improvement — and guidance on how to improve.

Our decision was that I need to…

  1. Quit my awful habit of spending my first 15 minutes awake in bed checking social media accounts.  That’s going to be (sadly) a hilariously-challenging fast.
  2. Give God my first waking minutes by diving into the Scriptures.
  3. Use the Scriptures as a journal prompt.

I’ve written previously about my struggle with writing and art, so keeping a journal for 40 days straight is somewhat daunting.  However, I am looking forward to a stricter prayer practice.  Here’s hoping that all you who’ve been experiencing spiritual train wrecks can get your prayer train back on track, too.  It will definitely benefit the rest of your life & the people with whom you interact.

Lent is a blessed opportunity.

You are loved by beautiful, divine love.

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On St. Valentine’s Day, one of my favorite old hymns…and a favorite new one.

You are loved every moment!

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” – Mormon Tabernacle Choir

 

“You Are The Beauty” – Gungor

Love, love, love of mine
You have caused the sun to shine on us
Music fills our ears
Flavors kiss our lips
with love divine

You are the beauty
You are the light
You are the love, love of mine

Breath and sex and sight
All things made for good
in love divine

You are the love
Love of mine
Are the love
The love of mine

————————-

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Why does St. Paul say married people are less likely to be devout?

"Marriage of the Virgin" by Pietro Perugino, 1504.

Lord, have mercy, I’m ’bout to rant against Paul the Apostle.

On Friday, my spiritual director sends me a text message… a warning:

“The verse” is our second reading this weekend.

As our merciful Lord would have it, I’m the lucky lector who gets to read (UPDATE: staying home thanks to a food allergy) this delightful passage, 1 Cor. 7:s2-35:

Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Listen here, Saint Paul: I know that you thought the world was ending pretty soon, but your words are still ringing in our ears almost 2,000 years later. For about 10 years of my life, I’ve wrestled with this passage of Holy Scripture.

When I was a teenager discerning whether religious sisterhood was my calling, I would sit on the floor in my bedroom, my back leaning against the dresser, staring at this passage in my open Bible.  Even before this passage entered my life, I had plans to stay single.  (Am I the only girl who never planned a wedding or dreamed of a handsome prince?)  After reading this particular passage, I felt that I was evidence for a vocation to religious life.  After all: How could I, a God-fearing young woman, possibly want to get married and risk becoming distracted from the Lord?

Since those contemplative sessions at my dresser, God has proven that His plan rules; I’m married.  I couldn’t possibly imagine being my utmost self without being married to my husband.  Yet, this Scripture seems to stand at the gates of Heaven and wag its finger at me: “All the single ladies (are more devout)!”

St. Paul, there’s no doubt that you’re a great man of God.  You said you wanted your spiritual children to live without anxiety.  I get that; I’ve got anxieties.  But the thing is: I’ve got anxieties about the things of the world AND the things of God.

There are clear reasons why I would be more anxious about worldly things vs. an unmarried virgin, who shares material things with her community.  I get that.

But I wish your words didn’t seem to say that I am LESS likely to seek the path to Heaven.  I wish your words didn’t seem to scoff at my ability to live a holy life.  (It’s tough already!)  As a matter of fact, my husband and our marriage pour graces on me that draw me closer and closer to salvation…

…and I don’t see that happening as quickly, or as tenderly, in an alternate universe wherein I’m single.

I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

I feel like this is a cop-out, St. Paul.  You’re saying that I should take your advice and be aware that I’m going to be anxious about material things whilst married?  How is this breaking news?  Instead, I feel like you’re telling me that I’m more likely to fail at life.  I respectfully disagree.  Marriage is absurdly helpful to my spiritual life.

A couple of months ago, I stopped wrestling with this passage, because I realized that it was not going to change, or suddenly fly off the pages of Bibles internationally.  I try to give St. Paul the benefit of the doubt, and keep climbing the stairway to Heaven.

(Did you like that last reference? Yes, irony. Stay classy, my friends.)

"Marriage of the Virgin" by Pietro Perugino, 1504.
“Marriage of the Virgin” by Pietro Perugino, 1504.

The Frightening Reality for Modern Christians

It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty.

These “signs of the times” should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud — but always forcefully — we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life  has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim.

– Blessed Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 76

On the Importance of Coaches and Grace in Our Spiritual Lives

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“How was your Advent?” asked my spiritual director during our recent meeting.

The answer explains why I didn’t blog much. I’ve also submitted it as evidence in the case Insanely Frantic Culture vs. Sealana:

A. Busy. I spent Advent flying from one task to another. I watched House Hunters International while cooking and hand-washing our dishes (dishwasher’s been broken for months), cleaned like a maniac, spent breaks looking for a new apartment, bathed my hands in gallons of lotion, and flew through Dr. Edward Sri’s Dawn of the Messiah (papercuts to prove it), which was supposed to be my spiritual reading but may be more accurately described as a Soul-Stirring Hurricane of New Testament Exegesis.

B. Zombielike. I spent most of my time consuming — Netflix, real estate listings, holiday meals, etc. — and made little to no time for reflecting or creating.  This is what Emily Stimpson considers zombie behavior; when we fail to live the Theology of the Body and deny our being made in God’s image, isolating and obsessively amusing ourselves.  My daily Rosaries were miracles in the midst of this chaos, but they also suffered from my severe distraction.

C. A Learning Experience. Speaking of Mary, this Advent was my first, long, post-Marian Consecration period. I learned that Marian Consecration doesn’t seem to make my life magically easier, but I have also sensed extraordinary graces. Example: I have trust issues; my best friends know this well.  Yet, as a result of my Marian Consecration, I have not dedicated a single Rosary to any specific intentions. I’ve trusted Mary to intercede for me in the distribution of graces. “How seemingly insane!” I remarked to my spiritual director, “Not long ago, I had no relationship with Mary, and now she’s the first one I trust!”

That’s how things have been.

Pop_SidelinesThanks be to God for spiritual directors. Like Gregg Popovich knows his basketball players, Father quickly described what would happen if I tried un-zombifying myself:

1. You will attempt to master all the necessary virtues at once.
2. You will fail miserably.
3. You will become intensely frustrated with yourself.

Bingo!

I strongly re-iterate my previous recommendation: If you don’t already have one, pray about finding a spiritual director. He or she needn’t be a clergy or religious, but having someone competent enough to help you take appropriate time-outs and tweak your game plan for sainthood is extremely beneficial.

 

A good coach will have the God-given ability to pick up on your strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and potential.  You will train and work knowing that Coach is on the sidelines, rooting for you, and observing your play.  Coach will know when and how to teach you humility.  Coach will also know how to explain the game plan to you in a way that you’ll understand; speak your language:

 

Now that I’ve come away from the huddle, I’ve learned that God offers everyone sufficient graces to become a saint.  (Some of us need more help to recognize and accept them.) Matt Maher and Saint Paul are right.

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

– 2 Corinthians 12:8

How the Virgin Mary Taught Me: Seek Water, Receive Wine

medals

Wow, it’s been quiet around here….

Since the last blog post, I did – indeed, miracle of miracles – consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary on November 21.

“SO HOW WAS IT???” you ask.

You know what? It was very ordinary.

I’d had all these dreams (literally) about my Consecration Day: I’d be wearing something beautiful, and I’d stand a few feet from where I’d been baptized, in front of some beautiful depiction of Mary, and my husband would be there to witness it, and I’d maybe cry a little, and get “ALL THE FEELS” when it was done.

Photo I took of the church facade while running to the car after Mass.
Photo I took of the church facade while running to the car after Mass.

Here’s how it actually happened: That morning, I did indeed make a pilgrimage to the church where I was baptized. The church, however, was locked. It was super-humid and raining. My husband and I scurried around the church perimeter looking for Mass, and we found it in a tiny, virtually unadorned Adoration Chapel that I’d never visited.  Then, we ran some errands, and I went to work.

After clocking out for the day, I walked down the hall from my office, entered the familiar chapel, and read the consecration that I had written on a plain piece of copy paper. Not a tear was shed.  I experienced neither apparitions nor music of angelic choirs.

My thirty-three days of preparation were ordinary.

To top it off: After nearly a week of ‘consecrated life’ (ha), I can confidently say that I feel no additional ‘fuzzy feelings’ toward the Blessed Mother.

I’m extremely grateful for it.

My Marian Consecration was completely driven by my will.  In fact, people would ask me, “How’s your consecration [preparation] going?” and I’d answer, “Ehhh… pretty rough.”

Then they’d give me a puzzled look, like, “Aren’t you supposed to be gushing about how great Mary is, and how she’s leading you SO much closer to Jesus, and your whole life is changing for the better, and you WISH you would’ve done this years ago???”

Obedience: Plopping myself down with this book every day.
Obedience: Plopping myself down with this book every day.

My rough preparation and ‘ordinary’ consecration taught me an important lesson: Emotions are meant to be like the wine of our spiritual lives.  I have a hunch that, if my consecration prep / day / aftermath had been a GRAND + exciting!!! + eMoTioNaaal experience — I might’ve lived differently for a good period, and then maybe had a spiritual hangover… and moved on to the next thing.

On the flip side: Uniting our will with God’s will is the water of our spiritual lives; it is essential for growth, nourishment, and development.  Obedience is simple and unadorned.  It is not fancy or glam.  It is very necessary.

True enough: just as at Cana, our Lord can choose to turn our water into wine when we’re in need of it.

But we can’t live on all wine. If we do, we’ll get sick.

When I was just a few days away from Consecration Day, I wrote to my spiritual director.  I was genuinely concerned that I had not felt a gazillion warm fuzzies — well, not even ONE.  What about — I wondered — all the people I know who’ve done this Marian Consecration already?  They seem to speak about it with so much enthusiasm, and they glow when they speak about Mary.  I didn’t see any of that happening in myself, in the least.

Father wrote back late at night with these words: “Don’t seek consolation.”

Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.  They reminded me of our Lord’s words:

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. – Matthew 6:33

Maximilian Kolbe’s words also reassured me:

Never worry that you do not feel this love. If you have the will to love, you already give a proof that you love. What counts is the will to love.

So, if your spiritual life is feeling a little bland, don’t fret. Mary taught me that we should first seek water; seek to unite our will to God’s will.  At the right time, he will transform the water we provide for Him into the gift of wine; graces of consolation.

Seek first to provide a willing heart; He cannot work miracles without it.

Forgive me for not having written in two weeks.  I didn’t forget you.  I just needed time to ponder, like Mary, the gift of my consecration.

12 Days to Morning Glory

No, it’s not getting any easier.

nope

Remember my Day 1 on Paul VI’s beatification day? I’m sure his prayers have kept me going. Most days I wonder how I can possibly make such an intense promise to God and his Mother.

My desire to please them and obey them is pretty high, yet the doubting creeps in constantly. I am terrified of disappointing them (…any more than I already do).

So, if I make it to Morning Glory, you people have witnessed a miracle.

How the Blessed Mother has been treating me

mother-of-god-full-iconI’m on Day 13 of my preparation for Consecration to Jesus through Mary. As you may recall, my last blog post was on Day 1. I laugh at the naive lady I was on Day 1.

She had no clue what was coming to her.

Monday, I had a minor operation on my foot. The doctor needed so much anesthesia to get my foot to sleep, I’m truly surprised I can still feel it.  Since then, my very unprofessional footwear has been announcing my impending presence at work by an obnoxious slap slide, slap slide.

I can just see our Mother going down a To-Do list for Jesus…

Healthy dose of physical pain – check.
Minor humiliation – check.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough for our Dear Mother to have me begin praying a nightly Rosary (which I consider a miracle already), but for the past two weeks that Rosary has been accompanied by the cleaning and bandaging of my ugly wound. It’s almost uncanny, how she timed all this to last nearly the entire length of my preparation.

Affront to her vanity – check.

Now, if it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. Promise! But I truly had no idea what was coming to me 12 days ago. The foot situation has been the least of my problems. The past two weeks have been physically and emotionally exhausting.

Reasons to keep her from being lazy – check, check, check.
Testing her patience – check.
Extraordinary trials – check.

This school of Mary is no kindergarten. Quite honestly, though, I’m in awe of her. I’ve never seen her signature as clearly as I’ve seen it over the last 12 days.

I feel like I am slightly more than myself. Life hasn’t been easy on me, but Mary has sweetened everything with graces.

That’s a mother, alright.

P.S. Does anyone know who wrote this gorgeous icon?

How Paul VI is already pulling strings in Heaven

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Pope Paul VI was beatified today.

As you may know, a person is proclaimed “Blessed” (beatified) after a lengthy process which includes a thorough examination of his life and of a scientifically unexplained miracle attributed to his intercessory prayers. With another such miracle, Blessed Paul VI would be canonized as a saint.

I have a story that may not get him canonized, but has testified to his recent intercession in my life.

First, you have to know: I have never had a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary. She has always been a lovely figure, a distant figure, a mystery, in my life. Too pure, too good, too unlike myself. Sure, I’ve prayed the Rosary. I sometimes wear a Miraculous Medal. I appreciate the approved Marian apparitions from around the world – at Fatima, Guadalupe, Lourdes, Kibeho, etc.

But for whatever reason, Mary has never seemed close to me.

For the past few months, I’ve complained about this to my Spiritual Director. (Poor guy.) My spiritual director suggested the book 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley. 33 Days is a modernized version of the original Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary by St. Louis de Montfort.

  1. On my spiritual director’s initial suggestion, I resisted.
  2. He suggested again…this time more of a recommendation than a suggestion. My excuse was our strictly-segmented family budget. It would have to wait for another paycheck.
  3. Had to use the paycheck for other things.
  4. Next paycheck. Ordered the book online.

In mid-September, the book arrived. I psyched myself up, sat down, and read the Introduction. It was all sounding good. I was thinking, “Yeah…I can do this.” Then, Fr. Gaitley includes a chart to determine when one should begin the Preparation process, so as to make one’s Consecration on a Marian feast day.

“WHAT?!” I exclaimed, reading by a nightlight while my husband slept soundly. “I HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE MONTH??”

Yeah, I had gotten psyched up for – apparently – nothing. I complained, “Lord, I’ve waited all this time, and now you’re making me wait a whole month for this??”

Well, I soon regretted my complaint.

At a staff retreat a couple Thursdays ago, my colleagues and I were reading through Rosarium Virginis Mariae by Pope St. John Paul II. I was not exactly excited about this.

As we read the Introduction, John Paul II says,

Among the more recent Popes who, from the time of the Second Vatican Council, have distinguished themselves in promoting the Rosary I would mention Blessed John XXIII and above all Pope Paul VI, who in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus emphasized, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, the Rosary’s evangelical character and its Christocentric inspiration.

My boss took this opportunity to mention that Paul VI would be beatified soon. She couldn’t remember the date of the beatification, so I jumped in, “…on October 19.”

We continued reading. Suddenly, two and two came together:

October 19 would be the first day of my 33 days. I would begin my preparation for Marian Consecration on the same day that Paul VI, an exemplary son of Mary, was to be beatified.

Stunned, I shared this with my fellow staff.

“Wow! You’re going to begin with Paul VI!” they exclaimed. We laughed.

I asked the Lord to forgive me. All this time, He had a plan. (Clearly, I have issues trusting in that divine promise.)

So, today I begin walking a Marian road with Blessed Pope Paul VI – a man who was already instrumental in my study and promotion of evangelization & media. I already loved him. Now, he reciprocates that affection from Heaven.

P.S. Did you all catch this special moment? Right at the conclusion of today’s Beatification Mass, Pope Francis looked up at the image of Paul VI and made the Sign of the Cross. As camera pulled away from the image of our newly-beatified Holy Father, a single white dove flew right across the shot. Watch it here.

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