Tag Archives: spirituality

Let’s Get Small

1 Oct

st. thereseBack when I was in college, the premier stand-up comic was Steve Martin, who produced the iconic, Grammy Award-winning album (yes, those were still the days of vinyl!) entitled “Let’s Get Small.”

As popular as Steve Martin’s work would become, it pales in comparison to what we might call the “let’s get small” spirituality developed 100 years earlier by an obscure Carmelite, known as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. In fact, Sr. Therese’s “let’s get small” spirituality is now known to millions, and Saint Therese of Lisieux, the beloved “Little Flower,” whose feast we celebrate today, is commonly recognized as one of the greatest saints of modern times.

Let’s back up a minute and look at a very challenging statement of Our Lord from His Sermon on the Mount:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

One way of reading this passage is to conclude that it’s easier to go to hell than to heaven, and surely it’s a lot easier than people who are generally oblivious to this possibility are willing to admit. Certainly Our Lord’s sobering words should call us back to the “straight and narrow” journey of discipleship.

But St. Therese’s spirituality gives us another, complementary way of looking at this passage. St. Therese understood at a profound level the call to become childlike before God (cf, Matthew 18:2-4), confidently trusting in Him for everything. We must decrease so the Lord can increase in us (John 3:30). Making ourselves humble and childlike before the Lord–making ourselves small!–in a real sense is the key to being able to enter by the narrow gate.

Remember too that St. Therese was all about love. She sought to love the Lord minute by minute, doing even the littlest or perhaps even most disagreeable or mundane tasks with great love. We know that real love is not “puffed up” or “inflated” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Interestingly those images for pride suggest an artificial wideness that, to continue our analogy, hinder our efforts to enter the narrow gate–the entryway for living in the fullness of divine love. Being big in the world’s eyes or even in our own estimation does not help us squeeze through the narrow gate or the eye of a needle!

There’s a lot to love about St. Therese. She is not some heady theologian but rather someone who simply shows us that holiness is for everybody, and that true love and humility–the pathway to holiness–is eminently possible for all of us.

But we have to get small!

The Time Is Now

11 Feb

High Definition SportsCenter Graphic - 2004While getting some exercise I often get my “sports fix” by watching ESPN’s Sports Center. As I do, sometimes I wonder about how “unreal” it is.

I’m not talking here about sports’ inflated significance in our culture. After all, in the shopping mall of life, sports is the toy store, or maybe Aunt Annie’s Pretzels–surely not the end-all we make it out to be.

Rather, what I’m getting at is that while I’m watching Sports Center, there is no sporting event going on at all. Rather, we keep moving back and forth from the past (statistics, rankings, scores of previous games, etc.) to the future (upcoming games, fantasy drafts, predictions, etc.). Sure, those things have a place, but it′s interesting how caught up we can get in the past (What was their record last year?) and future (Will the Chiefs draft a quarterback in the first round?), almost to the exclusion of the present.

The same is true in all areas of life. How often do we dwell on past glory or setbacks, or on future worries that may never materialize? All the while, life happens in real time. And what is real time? It’s the present moment. And because it’s the only time that’s completely real, it’s where we encounter God, where we receive actual grace, and where we respond in Christ-like fashion to others.

A little story from my young adult years will illustrate this point: Continue reading

Introducing the Devout Life

24 Jan

St. Francis de SalesToday the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis de Sales, a 17th-century bishop and doctor of the Church. St. Francis de Sales is known as one of the true masters of the spiritual life. Through his spiritual masterpieces, such as Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God, he continues to guide many men and women on the road to holiness.

I especially recommend Ralph Martin’s recent bestseller, The Fulfillment of All Desire, which synthesizes the insights of St. Francis de Sales and other spiritual giants into a single volume for contemporary readers.

In the Office of Readings for today, we are given the following excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life, which exhorts all of us to strive for sanctity in our daily lives:

“When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

“I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular. Continue reading

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

25 Sep

I think all of us have had the experience of praying for something or someone and not getting what we asked for. In those instances, did God “hear” our prayer? If He did, why did He say no? After all, Our Lord encouraged us to ask for things in His name and He would come through for us (e.g, Mt. 7:7-8; 18:19; Jn. 15:7). So, we might be inclined to ask, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

Let’s start by providing some context. There are basically four types of prayer: (1) adoration or praise; (2) thanksgiving; (3) contrition (asking for forgiveness); and (4) supplication or petition.

For the first three categories of prayer mentioned above, we seldom trouble ourselves with the question of whether God heard our prayer. However, when it comes to prayers of supplication or petition–in other words, when we ask God for specific things–we naturally wonder about the efficacy of our prayer when we don’t get “results.”

Three things should be kept in mind when this happens.

First, we should reflect on our own motivation in seeking divine assistance. Are we praying to the Holy Trinity as the center of our lives, as the source and goal of our earthly existence? Or are we merely seeking to “use” God just to get what we want? God is our heavenly Father; He is not a “vending machine.”

Second, are we asking for something that is truly good for us? If what we’re seeking is not good, or if our hearts are divided, then we shouldn’t expect God to give it to us. After all, He desires our well-being, even when we don’t. As we heard at Mass this past Sunday, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas. 4:3).

Third, we must become truly convinced that we don’t know how to pray as we ought (Rom. 8:26). We turn to God in our need, not always realizing that what we truly desire is much greater and deeper than our feeble requests. Further, our Father already knows what we need before we even attempt to ask (Mt. 6:8), yet awaits our prayers out of respect for our dignity as His sons and daughters, eager to grant us His blessings.

Spiritual guides often remind us that prayer is meant to change us, not God. God does answer our prayers, but often in ways we don’t expect, as His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9). As we grow in our relationship with God in prayer, we come to understand more intimately that God richly provides for all our needs.

The following quote from the early Christian writer Evagrius Ponticus (c. 345-99 A.D.) sums it up well:

“Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.”

The Family That Overtook Christ

20 Aug

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, and his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

My wife, children, and I really enjoyed reading together as a family The Family That Overtook Christ. It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ!

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. He is one of only 34 saints to have been declared a “doctor of the Church,” whose exceptional, timeless teaching is a sure guide for all of us in our own journey to God.

Now maybe some of us have heard of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and a few of us may even have known about the Memorare. But how many of us have bothered to pick up one of St. Bernard’s classic works, such as his Treatise on the Love of God or his commentary on the Song of Songs?

fulfillment3d.gifI realize that these spiritual classics aren’t as readily available in bookstores as the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Gray. And even if we found them, we might find them a bit daunting or intimidating. That’s why I’m so grateful to Ralph Martin for writing The Fulfillment of All Desire. In Fulfillment, he takes the writings of seven great doctors of the Western Church, including St. Bernard, and presents them in a systematic, easy-to-read way. Heck, even Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s personal preacher and retreat master, has heartily endorsed this book for all who want to grow in the spiritual life.

So, in gratitude to God for lifting up holy teachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I’d like to conclude with the collect for today’s Mass:

O God, who made the Abbot Saint Bernard a man consumed with zeal for your house and a light shining and burning in your Church, grant, through his intercession, that we may be on fire with the same spirit and walk always as children of light. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.