Ash Wednesday 2014

I’m excited about Lent this year.  This is unusual since Lent is a season of penance.  But, I’m excited because it will be the fifth year I’m a Catholic, and I finally feel like I’m on fire for God, again.

Where I Was

I don’t mean to blame it on my marriage, but being married did distract me for a while.  I also had a demanding assignment in Shanghai.  And, I became a father.  The daily prayer life that I had going during RCIA was disrupted.  I went from praying the rosary two to three times a day to just one decade a day to barely an “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” before going to sleep at night.  My Catholic identity became a mere backdrop to marriage, family and work.

The work-life balance in Seoul has been a blessing.  I have been able to take a deeper look at the spiritual state of my soul these past two years.  Old sins had come back to haunt me.  I was fighting old battles and losing.  It became real clear that if I didn’t do something about my spiritual life, I would lose that burning love I felt when I first entered the Church.

It started with joining a small men’s group.  What brought us together was our love for Christ.  We all came from different Christian traditions (I was the only Catholic) and have different jobs in the Embassy community.  The spectrum of our spiritual states were expansive, too.  We were a motley group, but we all had one thing in common: we wanted to love God more.  Through them, the Holy Spirit held me accountable.  We were sheep coming together as a flock, and I was hearing my Shepherd’s voice.

Where I am Now

My prayer life is stronger and deeper than it ever was before, but still fragile, like a plant sapling.  I’ve knocked back my intellectual and spiritual pride a little bit, and can see that there is still a lot that I don’t know.  I know that as clean as I may appear on the outside, there are layers upon layers of unfertile and contaminated dirt buried in the field of my soul.  My prayer life is like the Armillaria Ostoyae fungus that stretches out beneath the soil’s top layer, building a lattice structure for my virtues to take root and grow.  Just as the Douglas-fir gives way to a diverse growth of pines, red cedars, alders and spruce, my worldly attachments and inordinate passions that once dominated the acres of my soul will decompose. My Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance will grow in their place.

Weekly confession and a deeper awareness of Christ when receiving the Eucharist have accelerated my spiritual growth.  I feel the love of God, now.  I can see the Holy Spirit using me as an instrument in the lives of my family, my work, and my immediate community.  My desire to love others have grown.  I feel more joy and peace in my life.  I am more patient with my wife and children, with difficulties at work and with difficult people.  I am more generous with my time and money, even with complete strangers.  My girls are so used to my gentleness that even using a firm tone of voice would make them cry, “Stop yelling at me!”  I feel more faithful to God.  I catch myself being immodest, now, whereas before I would find opportunities to boast.  I have more self-control over my impulses.  Amazingly, I know the meaning of chaste sex and still feel joy — and no resentment — when we are abstinent.

These fruits are only possible because of God’s grace.  Something good has taken root and I need to be vigilant in tending my garden.  It’s supernatural because no normal human being in the 21st century behaves this way.  I’m nobody special.  The only thing I do differently is pray to a Living God.

Where I Hope to Go

Where I go, other’s have gone before me.  I rest easy knowing that I can follow a map given by God Himself.  There is no need for me to reinvent the wheel.  I still have to walk the spiritual road myself, but the narrow road is well-worn.  I pray to find other pilgrims along the way.

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