Have you been feeling distant from the Lord? Can you think of a reason? Remember it is always possible that God is giving you this feeling for a purpose.
In my divine love story I have felt a whole range of emotions: bliss, peace, anger, desire, confusion, hope and the list goes on and on and on. One feeling I have never experienced is that of being comfortable, at least not for very long. I do not think there is any place in the spiritual life for "comfort". Of course there have been times when I have experienced the comfort of the Lord but I have never really been comfortable with the status of our relationship. If I get near the feeling of being comfortable it is almost a sure sign that I am on the wrong path and that once again I have let Pride grow deep within my heart.
Why is this? Ive pondered this during many a prayer time and my best guess is a very simple principle: God wants to pursue us... and ...God wants to be pursued. When I start to get comfortable with my relationship I stay there. Its kind of like a truce. The Lord doesn't want a truce. He wants a total and complete surrender.
It seems every time I feel close to Him my heart gets comfortable and because the Lord wants to pursue and be pursued He puts that sweet wound deep within my heart again and I feel that distance. Once I feel that distance I can do nothing but cry out for Him to come get me and run freely toward Him.
There are many reasons we sometimes feel distant from the Lord but that distance should always remind us of the need to pursue and to be pursued. Run to Him. He is running to you!
Oh my soul, take nothing as your own. For you there is God and God alone...
The interior life is both simple and very complicated with much need for direction. The following are 10 books that are amazing guides for growing in
The Spiritual Life by Adolphe Tanquerrey: The Spiritual Life is an exhaustive treatise on spiritual and ascetical theology. This book has taken the place of a spiritual director in my life many many times when I had no one to take that role. It was very prevalent in seminary curriculums until about 70 years ago.
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis DeSales: This book is meant to be exhaustive but the great aspect of this work is the order to the exercises he gives. Most people will read and practice the levels of the book in a year but that would not be the original intention of the author. It is a program of life particularly directed at lay people.
Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli: This book also offer a pretty complete program for the spiritual life but it definitely is not for the beginner. This is a great bookto pick up if have gotten slack or slothful in your prayer life. It also is ideal for those who are in a deliberate fight with sin. (which should be all of us. If you have read it already and would like a fresh perspective try the Orthodox edition called “Unseen Warfare”. It is almost the same with some great additions.
One Heart Full of Love by Mother Teresa: As I stated before the interior life is both simple and very complicated. This book will remind us that when it comes down to it the interior life is just about prayer, silence, humility, simplicity and
The Way of the Disciple by Erasmo Leiva Merikakis: This is my very favorite spiritual book. Merikakis has a keen understanding of the essence of discipleship. Give it a chance and you will not regret it.
Omnibus of Sources by many authors: This is a collection of writings by and about St. Francis of Assisi. If the interior life is just about loving Jesus then Francis is the person to learn from. After Mary I believe Francis was the greatest lover ofJesus to walk the earth. After reading the Omnibus you will think the same thing.
The Philokalia by many authors: The Philokalia is the collection of the Desert and Eastern Church Fathers writings on prayer and asceticism. It is phenomenal. (If you like it but need something more simple pick up The Way of a pilgrim)
Anything by St. John of the Cross: I recommend the collected works of John of the Cross but anything by him is amazing. He is the product of a long an arduous interior life. Reading John of the Cross can be tricky but well worth
Anything by Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle is mystical and can be confusing but it also is very well organized and laid out. It is the kind of book that you read where there is a lot you don’t really understand and then years later it makes sense to you. (At least that’s what I experienced.)
Every book by Fr. Jacques Philippe: They can be read in under an hour but they are profound and highly practical. He is a living spiritual master and he is still writing so we have much more to watch out for from him.
Books and study do not make you holy. That being said you will need guidance along the way of your interior journey. These books all played a substantial role in my interior life and they may help you as well.
Lazarus is one my two favorite stories from the Gospels. This story is the first scripture I deliberately memorized. The first time I read the Raising of Lazarus it was as if I was reading the story of my life.
Time and time again I have found myself dead, bound, rotting and in a tomb behind a stone that I couldn't move even if I tried. Sometimes I didn't even realize it until I have one of those moments that we all have from time to time. One of those moments where in the darkness of our distance from the Lord we hear him weeping and all of a sudden we see our wretched state. We know where we are and we hope and pray that God will role away this stone, unbind us and restore us to the life of relationship with Him.
We all find ourselves in the tomb from time to time. It could be from sin, it could be from indifference, doubt or any manner of darkness. You will find yourself in that tomb and you will see the stone roll away. My prayer is that when the Lord says, "Come forth!" you will rise and come out and embrace the wonderful life our Lord has called you to.
I am the resurrection and the life...
The souls fight against sin can seem complicated. A basic look at our conscience will usually reveal a multitude of sins. It can seem daunting. Where do we start? How can we possibly navigate the path to freedom and deeper union with the Lord? The Lord can break through our mess of sin and put it all in perspective so His mercy can take root in our lives and save us. So how does it happen? Well the fastest route is the route of Frequent confession. By frequent I mean weekly, or biweekly.
Here are some more tips for getting the most out of the School of perfection:
1. Take the advice as deliberate and from the Lord. So many times I have left the confessional disappointed in the counsel I recieved from the priest. Often times the Priest will focus on one particular thing you said. It may not seem like the most important thing you mentioned or it may not be the one issue you are experiencing the most emotional distress about but take the words as having come from the Lord. If the Priest focuses on something in particular then make it a focus for your life. Let that experience narrow down and prioritize your battle with sin.
2. Pray for tears. Contrition can be something intellectual. You can understand that sin in wrong and regret it without feeling a certain amount of shame or even emotion. Though an intellectual contrition is valid for confession it is not the best way to be. It would be best if we mourned each and every sin we commit. Some sins we have confessed hundreds of times and we just don't feel the emotional anguish we did when we first committed those sins. We should pray to God to bring back that emotional response into our hearts. The Desert Fathers often prayed that the Lord would bring them to tears over the even the smallest of sins. Lord, break our hearts for love of You!
3. Take notes! Confession is one of the primary ways God speaks to us. Add a section to your prayer journal for confession. After a while you will see a pattern of the Lord's mercy in your life. You will see a slow conquering of the "little sins" and this will give you confidence and faith that God will help you with the "bigger" sins.
We heartily recommend, the pious custom introduced by the Church, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of frequent confession. It gives us a morethorough knowledge of ourselves, stimulates Christian humility, helps us to uproot our evil habits, wages war on spiritual negligence and tepidity, purifies our consciences, strengthens our wills, encourages spiritual direction and by virtue of the Sacrament itself, increases grace.
Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis
Last night the parish I work for was blessed to host Ivan Dragicevic who for 27 years has been receiving messages from the Blessed Mother. The apparition happened around 6:40pm and after that he spoke for over an hour about Our Lady of Medjugorje and Her important mission here on earth.
I was blown away by the simplicity of the messages. He highlighted, conversion, prayer of the heart, reading scripture, the eucharist, confession, adoration, rosary, fasting, prayer in the family and a few other things I can’t remember but they too were just simple ways to live the radical catholic life and grow closer to the heart of Jesus. These messages are nothing but the heart of the Gospel presented in a simple and compelling way.
One particular part of Her message is that she wishes for Catholics to pray for 3 hours a day. The 3 hours would include all the prayer and meditation you do throughout the day but it is certainly a radical challenge.
I believe that if even a few Catholics from every parish would live the Medjugorje message the world would change greatly. She has come as the Queen of Peace and Her desire is to bring peace to the hearts of all. I was convicted to enter more deeply into the spiritual life and after the apparition I felt the strength try and live Her message. I pray that Her mission and message will continue to spread throughout the earth.
Our Lady of Medjugorje…Pray for us.
Queen of Peace…Bring peace to our hearts.
I had a brief discussion with my 8th grade CCD class on whether God could forgive people who have committed heinous sins. They brought up the usual questions. They mentioned Hitler and the Nazi’s, an abortionist and a murderer. To all the circumstances I replied as I always have, “God’s mercy is bigger than any sin, no matter how heinous and if a person truly repents they will receive that mercy.”
It’s the same message I gave to the Abortionists I met as a sidewalk counselor. It’s the same message I have given to countless people at retreats or talks and when I say it there is great conviction in my heart that it is true.
Many of you probably have the same conviction about the deep mercy of God. But many of you may also struggle, like I do, in understanding how God’s mercy can apply to us personally. For some reason it is much easier for me to understand how God can be merciful to a heinous sinner than to understand that God could have mercy for me.
You see I know my soul all too well. I know how many times I have turned away from the one who I love. I know how many promises and vows I have made to my Lord only to break them within hours. I know that it must hurt my Lord for me to be constantly unfaithful to Him. Just when I think He could never forgive me and take me back I am reminded of His promises and remember that He will always take me back.
His mercy for the repentant heinous sinner is great and blows me away…but His constant mercy to me, His constant willingness to take me back, His constant searching for me when I run away, His deep mercy in my life is all but unfathomable.
But it is real; therefore let us throw ourselves continually into the mercy of God until we sink so deep into that wonderful ocean we cannot leave.
Lord, we thank you for your great, unfathomable, mercy.
Most Gently, the finger of your Justice, in love and compassion, touches the wounds of him who is to be healed.
St. Ephrem the Syrian
When the prodigal son returns and his father holds a feast the brother complains to Him. Many of us can understand where he is coming from in his complaint. The Father’s response tells us an amazing lesson about the spiritual life.
The Father responds: “all that is mine is yours…” In this simple statement he sums up why true Christians are so joyful.
When I worked at a high school for a year it seemed like the common notion among the students (even the really mature ones) was that Christianity limits freedom and doesn’t contribute to happiness. At best they hoped for some sort of a compromise with the pleasures of the world and Christian living. At the same time many of them couldn’t figure out why the Campus minister, Sr. Julie, was so happy. Sometimes I would try to engage them and help appease their curiosity. My answer was always simple: Holy Joy.
Holy Joy is the only thing that can explain why someone who abstains from the pleasures of the world, seemingly limits their own freedom, and lives for things entirely foreign to the popular culture can be so happy. Holy Joy comes from recognizing that all that is God’s is for us. What the brother of the Prodigal son and most people in this world do not understand is that the reward is Christian living. When we live for Christ we are given access to peace, joy, adventure and yes even pleasure that world could never have. That is what fills a true and Radical Christian with Joy.
Holy Joy comes from a relationship that finally satisfies us. The world could ever understand Holy Joy because the world cannot figure out how to be in a relationship where we give of ourselves completely. Holy joy is the mark of the truly free and intense Christian.
Give yourself to Christ today. Experience true freedom. All that God has is for us! You will be filled with Holy Joy!
Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. Mother Teresa
For the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Sometimes the spiritual life can seem like spring cleaning. We take a look into our soul and we look into the corners and under the rugs and we don’t like what we see. Our first reaction is to turn away, turn off the lights, or put the rug back down and leave the filth in secret. This usually happens with the sins that we consider less serious or those sins that no one else can see. They happen in our mind when we react to what another person says or when in anger or envy we think certain things about people. Sometimes we can think that those sins are safe because no one will ever know about them. We keep them in the dark wrapped up inside of us. We may think they are safe there in the secret.
Unfortunately any sin left to itself will fester. A small sin like envy, arrogance or anger can tear you apart inside and leave your soul a dry desert where no spiritual growth can happen. Its hard for me to admit but there was a time in my life where I had terrible thoughts about other people when I would see them pray. I would entertain thoughts of envy, judgment, and unbelievable arrogance. These sins were my secret. I was embarrassed to share them even in confession. I would rationalize saying to myself, “well, they are just venial sins” or “they are just thoughts not sins”. So I wouldn’t confess them or even do anything to try and stop them. They were ravaging my soul leaving me prideful, selfish, and ugly on the inside. Those thoughts were my “secrets with the evil one.” It wasn’t until I took a long look at what I was on the inside that I started to realize how awful these sins can get.
Take a look at yourself on the inside. Ask yourself if you are keeping any secrets with the devil. The first step to fighting these sins is to expose them. First expose them to Jesus. ( of course H already knows but He wants us to acknowledge our sin to Him) Then we need to tell them to our confessor and we need to be brutally honest about how far we have let this particular sin go. Finally we should share them with a spiritual advisor or someone who we look to for advice.
The bottom line is that we need to expose our secret sins and clean them out. We can’t keep secrets with the devil. He is not our friend and he always works in darkness. Lets step into the light and expose ourselves as we really are. Resist the devil and he will flee! Expose him!
Below is a qoute from St. Ignatius of Loyola about our adversary. Know your enemy.
The enemy also behaves like a false lover who wishes to remain hidden and does not want to be revealed. For when this deceitful man pays court, with evil intent, to the daughter of some good father or the wife of a good husband, he wants his words and suggestions to be kept secret. He is greatly displeased if the girl reveals to her father, or the wife to her husband, his deceitful words and depraved intentions, for he then clearly sees that his plans cannot succeed. In like manner, when the enemy of our human nature tempts a just soul with his wiles and deceits, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret. When they are revealed to a confessor or some other spiritual person who understands his deceits and evil designs, the enemy is greatly displeased for he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil design once his obvious deceits have been discovered.” (Rules for Discernment of Spirits, First Week, # 13)
Jesus is the Reason. Sainthood is the goal. The following is the offical questionnaire the Holy Catholic Church uses to determine sanctity of life for those up for Sainthood. They provide a overview of the tenacity and determination we need become like Christ. Keep in mind: LOVE IS THE GOAL!
Did he pray often for the conversion of sinners?
I had a close friend who on several occasions told me about once a month, on average, he misses Sunday mass. His wife would get really upset about it and he would just tell her that because he went the other 3 Sundays out of the month he would be “okay.” I hate the word “okay” when it comes to the spiritual life. I am always fighting the desire to be “just okay” in my heart. As Catholics we aren’t called to be “just okay.” We are called to strive for perfection. This might not be apparent from walking into your average Catholic Church. Most people think that they are fulfilling an obligation not striving for perfection.
Each and every person is called to strive for sainthood and sainthood is the opposite of being “just okay.” This means you need to live deliberately and take an active role in your spiritual life. You need to actively strive for sainthood.
Start fighting the temptation to be “just okay” and begin cultivating a Radical Catholic Life. Here are some very simple ideas that may help:
You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with al your might. Deuteronomy 6:5
Dave VanVickle is a Catholic speaker and writer focusing on the Universal Call to Holiness and Authentic Catholic Spirituality. He is currently employed as the Director of Evangelization for the parishes of the Catholic Community of Wexford, PA.