United by the Spirit of Christ

My family and I are getting ready to go on a long flight back to the U.S.  In case God decides to call us home, I wanted to say “I love you” even if I’ve never met you.  We will meet each other, some day.  I am praying for you, and I hope you will pray for me, too.  This is one of the many beauties of our faith: we are united in Christ’s One Body.  When we receive Communion, know that there, in that moment, we are like the hundreds of millions of cells that make up your body, but animated and unified by your soul.  As your cells are united in will by your spirit, so you and I are united by the Spirit of Christ.

Oh, how I love our faith!  How I wish I can share my excitement with you!  There is so much treasure kept within the Church, and I hope you will be inspired to go and explore.  Read “Rediscover Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly, or “Life of Christ” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Read anything written by Scott Hahn.  Subscribe to Lighthouse Catholic Media.  Buy the Lighthouse Catholic Media app and purchase the Ignatius Study Bible in the app.  Pray the Scriptural Rosary that is explained by Dr. Edward Sri.  Go to one of the Steubenville Conferences.  Pick up Dan Burke’s “Navigating the Interior Life” and join the book club at his website.  Above all, go to Confession.  If there is one thing that has helped me grow the most spiritually, it is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I try to go weekly.  The supernatural grace that is bestowed on one’s soul is indescribable.  Imagine having the power to consistently resist mortal and venial sins.  Imagine the freedom of your soul to do what is good.  Imagine the possibility to become, really truly become, the best-version-of-yourself.  It’s possible.

Oh, how I wish I can share this love with you!  In a few short months after weekly Confession, don’t be surprised to find yourself praying more often.  Don’t be surprised with finding yourself thinking about God in every spare moment.  Wealth, pleasure, power, fame… those drugs that were once so addictive, so alluring, finally lose their hold.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t think about them very much anymore.  You will be so hungry for God.  And you will likely feel like you’re alone.  Even if you are surrounded by people you love and who love you in return.  Even when you meet another pilgrim who is on the same path, your own journey is made in solitude.

If you sin, don’t worry.  It’s like falling into a ditch.  The more you try to escape, the deeper the hole seems to get.  The best thing to do while waiting for temptation to pass is to pray ceaselessly in the midst of it.  Go to Confession.  The Holy Spirit will lift you out of the ditch Himself.  He will comfort you.  Do penance.  It works.  Do penance and don’t stop praying.  Find more time to pray.  Quit Netflix.  Quit video games.  Cut back on Facebook.  Find more time to pray.  Pray while you’re on the toilet, while you’re taking a shower, while you’re on your commute.

There is so much more I want to say, but I will have other opportunities.  Just know that you are loved by God more than it is possible for us to understand.  A single soul is worth more than the whole universe in the eyes of God.  Do you believe that?  Believe it: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)

Natural Good Used for Evil

The same weekend that I posted “Wanted: Spiritual Director” I went to Confession on Saturday to get spiritual direction.  I figured, “I have the priest’s attention, already.  Why not ask him a few questions?  There’s usually hardly anyone waiting in line.”  Sure enough, I had Fr. O’Brien for as long as I wanted.  God bless Fr. O’Brien.  He was the answer to my prayer.

As I had written earlier, I was trying to discern whether to get more involved in the Church, to volunteer as a catechist in addition to being in the choir.  If I was called to be a catechist, should I get an advanced degree so I could do a better job?  I felt obsessed about this question, especially the last one.  It got to a point where I was wondering whether I should leave the Foreign Service to serve God full-time.  Serving God equals loving God, right?

The priest’s answer surprised me.  After he confirmed that I was married and with children, he told me that I should focus on my family.  Being involved in various apostolates could be a danger because it would take me away from my wife and children, who deserve all my energy.  These apostolates have a way appearing more important than the humble services I give as a husband and father (i.e., going out on a date with my wife vs. attending RCIA to catechize eager souls; helping my wife bathe the children vs. preparing for a talk on the spiritual disciplines of the Church, taking my children to play in the park vs. counseling a young man from suicide, etc.)

These were the same words that my wife told me many times before: “You need to focus on the family.  You will become too involved; it will take you away from the family.”  And, it’s not like I did not believe my wife.  I still obeyed her and refrained from being more involved.  What she asked me to do was not a sin.  But, this desire to serve the Church persisted in my thoughts.  Am I disobeying God by obeying my wife?

So, the priest’s answer was Christ’s answer.  While it is good to serve the Church, it is not good to be motivated by spiritual pride.  My confessor helped me see my spiritual blind spot.  The moment he told me “you should focus on your family”, the Holy Spirit helped me exercise my Gift of Understanding to see that it was spiritual pride all along that motivated me.  It would be the devil’s irony that my own family would be weakened — even destroyed — because I would be so focused on “unselfishly” serving the Church.

"All is Vanity" by C. Allan Gilbert
“All is Vanity” by C. Allan Gilbert

God bless Fr. O’Brien.  God bless confessors and spiritual directors everywhere.  May they lead more souls to holiness.

Wanted: Spiritual Director

I need a spiritual director.  It’s not safe to develop my spiritual life alone.  I need a spiritual fitness coach like my body needs a fitness coach.  Where do I begin?  How do I know he’s the right one?  What can I expect in spiritual direction?  Basic questions that are surprisingly hard to answer.  Fortunately, God did not abandon me.  I see the light.  And, I’d like to share, in case others might be facing the same problem.

There was an Advent Penance Service on Monday.  My wife and I went, and as I was doing my examination of conscience, I recognized the threat my spiritual life was facing: I was on fire for God, but I am constantly being led astray.  I would lose spiritual battles either from the devil’s tricks, the world’s seduction, or the weakness of my flesh.  There was a pattern of failure: the more in love I am with God, the more vicious the spiritual struggle.  It’s especially difficult after Confession, or on Sundays after Communion.

So, during Confession on Monday, I asked my priest where I could get spiritual direction.  He was open to the task, but I suspected he might be too busy.  I didn’t want to put him more on the spot than I already was at the moment.  I mean, he just absolved me from my sins.  It seemed ungrateful to guilt him into such a commitment.  Although I left feeling the sublime joy of reconciliation, the question of finding a spiritual director stayed with me.

The need for a director is becoming more pressing because of other decisions I’m considering.  I’m afraid of going down the wrong path.  I’ve been discerning whether I should volunteer as a catechist, for example, in addition to singing in the choir.  Should I get a MA in Theology or just get continuing education courses as a catechism instructor?  Long-term, like when my daughters are older, I am discerning whether God is calling me to the permanent diaconate.  These are some big decisions.  I still have a full-time job as a diplomat, another full-time job as a husband & father.  There’s so much room for pride to sneak in, temptations for shortcuts, and distractions in worldly pursuits.  A spiritual director, I hope, will help me see my blind spots.  Like an athletic coach, he would see where I need training and give me an idea (a direction) on how to win the championship title: a faithful child of God.  Sainthood.  Eternal life with my Creator.

God bless Dan Burke and Fr. John Bartunek!  They created a wonderful website about spiritual direction, and I found many comments highly recommending their book, “Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.”  I quickly got my questions answered:  What is spiritual direction?  It’s “a relationship through which we come to better know, love, and follow Christ through the help of a kind of spiritual coach.”  He lists what spiritual direction is not:

  • It is not a boss/employee relationship: just as with a coach in any sport, the athlete is the one that is ultimately in control.
  • It is not confession: while one’s confessor also used to be spiritual directors, that is no longer necessarily the case.
  • It is not spiritual friendship: like a coach, the directee needs to be firmly challenged, pushed, and encouraged toward concrete progress.
  • It is not a Catholic self-help program: it’s not just a quick pep talk and then we go about on our own again.  There’s a relationship that’s needed for the director to see one’s blind spots.
  • It’s not psychological counseling: one needs to seek specially-trained professionals for serious emotional/psychological issues.
  • It is not a one-time emergency-room event
  • It is not wandering around with a spiritual companion

The main focus of spiritual direction is union with God.  The central aim of spiritual direction is to help guide the directee to purposefully, consistently, and substantively grow in their relationship with God and neighbor.  It’s about developing a love relationship with God that inevitably spills into all other areas of our lives.

God has yet to provide me a spiritual director, but He’s letting me know that I’m not alone.  He’s sending help.  I just need to be patient, pray for additional guidance, and be persistent about this goal.  It’s a good thing.  Our Father loves giving us good things.  It’s all about timing.

My 4th Advent Season

I haven’t blogged in a long time.  Ideas for blog posts have been piling up.  Normally, this isn’t a bad thing.  But, when there’s a huge backlog, inertia keeps me from chipping away at it.  I feel like there’s a formidable mountain of content that I can’t articulate in just a few posts.  So, I don’t even try.  And the ideas keep on piling up.  I blame my inertia on my Netflix addiction, on family visiting, on work.  The truth is… I simply have writer’s block and I wasn’t disciplined enough to keep going.  I didn’t follow through.  Like my prayer life.  I get prayer’s block and don’t feel like praying.  I tell myself that I’ll pray when I feel like it, but a month — half a year goes by, and then I find myself lost in a spiritual desert.

Fortunately, I have people praying for me; so, half a year hasn’t gone by since my last post.  The men’s small group that I attend every week was aware of this problem and I asked for their prayers.  I’m writing this now partly because the Holy Spirit is working through them.  I also went to Confession two weeks ago.  That helped clean off the dirty rags that have been clinging to my soul.  I must credit the small group, too, for the grace to seek the Sacrament of Confession.  We’ve been reading Richard Foster’s, “Celebration of Discipline.”  The homework assignment that week was the spiritual discipline of confession.

I wish I could claim that I was a saint during my absence from blogging, but I would be lying.  Personal sin notwithstanding, I still managed to make progress in my spiritual life.  I enlisted my wife to help me develop the Virtue of Temperance.  Even though I could kick my Netflix addiction cold-turkey for Lent, I found it nearly impossible to stop watching after just one or two episodes.  So, now, I need to ask my wife for permission every time I want to watch a show on Netflix.  Hey, if it works for my daughters, it’ll work for me.

Thanks be to God, my prayer life bore fruit: a couple is on their way healing from infidelity, a young woman who got in a horrible car crashed came out unscathed, another young woman finds a good prospect for a husband, a Novena of rosary prayers for St. Therese to intercede for a couple trying to conceive, and then 30-days of rosary prayer for that same couple.  I’m coming up to one year of partial fasting for couples who are trying to conceive.  As a matter of fact, many couples on that list either had their child or are now expecting.  I need to update that post, but these answered prayers are powerful evidence for me that prayer works.  They motivate me to make prayer a more regular part of spiritual journey and, like Foster said in his book, to experiment with different ways of praying to see what’s effective.

One of the things I love about the liturgical season is that it always repeats itself.  So, if I screwed up last time, I get a chance to observe it more faithfully this time.  This will be my fourth Advent season.  Will I be overtaken by consumerism?  Or, will I cultivate hopeful expectation for the Incarnation of Our Lord?  These next few weeks would be a good time to reflect on the importance of this season for the Catholic Church.  I should try to discover what my mother, the Church, is trying to teach me by repeating this season every year.

It’s easy to remember how many years I’ve been a Catholic because I converted the same year I got married.  Just like my marriage, I can’t believe I’ve been a Catholic for just four years; it feels like 40 years!  And, I don’t mean that in a bad way.  I have difficulty remembering what it was like to be an atheist just like I have difficulty remembering what it was like to be a bachelor.  I also don’t want to return to either of them.  I’m so young in the faith… I have so much to learn.  How wonderful it is for my daughters to grow up in the faith!  They will have a father and a mother who will nurture them in the richness of the Catholic faith.  There are tiger moms who wish to teach their children all sorts of earthly skills.  I’m a Catholic tiger dad who wishes to teach my children all sorts of heavenly skills.  A part of me wishes I had parents who could’ve raise me this way.  Then again, that would be ungrateful to the story that God and I have written about my life, so far.  I may have had imperfect parents when it comes to faith, but I now have Our Father in Heaven and Our Holy Mother Church here on earth.  My infancy in the faith should mark my humility when discussing matters of faith with others.

So, it’s my fourth Advent.  Just like it’s my fourth year of marriage.  I’ve fallen away from blogging, but this is a good season to come back.  My wife was right: I need this… a channel to express how much I love God.  Sometimes I think I’m bursting at the seams with nowhere to shout: How. Much. I. Love. God.  This Twitter post will have to substitute for my reflection on the First Week of Advent.  I hope to write an actual reflection for the second week, instead of plagiarizing Archbishop Sheen.  If you’re reading this, pray for me.  God bless you.


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