A Meditation on the Virtue of Acceptance

On the great virtues to cultivate in life is acceptance. And while it is true that not everything ought to be accepted, it is often a virtue and a step toward serenity to understand that not everything can be changed, and that unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.

Acceptance, which is not the same as approval, is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, wherein we come to recognize a situation (often a negative or uncomfortable) for what it is, without attempting to change it, protest, or leave it.  The word is derived from the Latin roots ac (to) + ceptus (take or receive). The concept is also close in meaning to ‘acquiescence’, which is derived from the Latin ‘acquiēscere‘ (to find rest in). [1]

Again, note that acceptance does not connote approval. In fact it usually connotes that there is something in the situation that is less than appealing, less than ideal. Yet, for wider reasons, such as the overall value of a relationship, or situation, we tolerate or assent to the imperfection.

While perfection and improvement are surely ideals for which to strive, inordinately demanding them in every situation or instantly is usually a recipe for resentment, frustration, disappointment, and even strife.

Last week on the blog we meditated on the value and virtue of stability, one of the four vows taken by the Benedictines. We do well to recall the following insights from the manual of a Benedictine community:

We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behavior, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving [2].

For it frequently happens that when one seeks that which is ideal, if there is any ordeal, they seek for a new deal. And the process tends to repeat and repeat, such that a person like this never attains true and deeper relations with real people in a real world, but is ever off seeking that which is unreal, which does not exist. In effect they miss real life, in search of fantasy.

In the Gospel from this past Sunday Jesus counsels:

Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. (Mk 6:10)

In other words, stay put, don’t looking for a better meal, better lodgings, better company. Work with what you’ve got rather than waste time constantly looking for a better deal.

Acceptance is the capacity, to work with what is, and thereby make modest improvements. It is the resourcefulness to discover gifts in the present, and imperfect moment, and use them lovingly and skillfully. It is   the ability to rejoice and delight in the quirkiness, even the inconsistency of the people we know, and to realize that many of the struggles they have are strongly related to their strengths.

For, yes, competent and organized people are often anxious and controlling, artistic people are often moody, intellectual people are overly analytical, and kind people may make too many compromises. But acceptance rests in the insight that we are all mixed bags and that strength and struggles are often intertwined. Thus, search and destroy missions regarding negative traits are usually less effective than identifying the nearby gift and helping to refine and clarify it.

Acceptance also means working your own stuff. For while we often demand perfection or the ideal outside of ourselves, we easily forget how difficult we can be to live with. Too easily we fulfill the old saying: Faults in others I can see, but praise the Lord, there are none in me.

Beyond this we also go to the other end of the spectrum and unrealistically demand perfection of our selves. We can be our own worst critic. It’s all just a strange twist on pride wherein we implicitly presume to be above imperfection. The fact is we’re a mixed bag just like everyone else.

I can hear some of the objectors now: “Are you saying we should just settle for the mediocre?!” No, there is an important place and time in life to strive for improvement and increasing perfection. But along the way, accepting what is, right here and now, is a very important virtue. For if I cannot bear to live in what is now, I cannot ultimately inherit what could be better. If I will not stay put to improve and grow what is how can I reap what might be better? What can be better later, must be built on what is now. Acceptance helps me stay put and work with what is, rather than endlessly wait for something better to come, something which almost never comes.

A couple of sayings from the Desert Fathers (I know not who) :

To a disciple who was forever complaining about others the Master said, “If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.”

(For acceptance and serenity are deeply interior gifts. And when I get better, other people get better too).

A disciple once said to the Master, “How can I be a great man like you?” “Why be a great man?” said the Master. “Being a man is a great enough achievement.”

(For it sometimes happens that, in seeking what is great, we neglect what is most real and essential, our very selves. Greatness is not so much achieved as it is received when we come to accept ourselves as we really are, from the hand of God. Simply becoming the man or woman God made us to be is great enough. To compare is to despair and no matter how tall your father is, you have to do your own growing).

Here is a silly video that illustrates a woman who simply cannot accept her family as it is, so she creates a virtual family instead.

Woe to the Solitary Man – A Brief Meditation on our Need for the Church

There is a line from the Book of Hebrews that says this: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25). The teaching is clear, we must come together each week for Mass and learn to live in deep communion with one another. We are not meant to make this journey alone. We need encouragement and exhortation, food for the journey,  company and protection.

In the days of Jesus its was almost unthinkable for a person to make a lengthy journey alone. Once a person left the relative safety of the town the journey got dangerous. There were robbers lying in wait along the roads just looking for vulnerable targets. For this reason people almost always made journeys in groups.

This is a good image for the spiritual journey we must all make. Alone we are easy targets. We are vulnerable and without help when spiritual demons attack.

The Bible says: Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:11) Belonging to the Church and faithfully attending and being formed by her in a deep and meaningful way, has a powerful and protective influence.

There are many dangerous influences lying in wait for us on our journey. Frankly, without the teaching of the the Church and her Scriptures I would have made some pretty dumb mistakes and been mightily confused. As it is, I have communion not only with the current members of the Church, but I make the journey mystically with billions who have gone before, with Apostles, saints, and preachers and teachers of old who have handed on a glorious and wise Tradition, the Scriptures, and teaching; the cumulative and God-given wisdom of centuries and millennia. I do not walk alone, I walk with those who have made this journey before me and know the pitfalls as well as the good paths, the true and the good from the false and fraudulent.

The Words of an old hymn speaking of the Church come to mind:

Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee

And I also make this walk in deep communion with those here present. Yes, in my twenty-three years as a priest I have taught the people of God the Word of God, but I have learned far more from them than I ever taught them. Yes, I have learned from the people I serve what it means to have faith, to persevere. I have experienced correction when necessary, and encouragement in the struggle. And I will say that it is impossible to fully recount how my membership in the Church has blessed me. I could not begin to count the ways. I know my parishioners have prayed for me and that their prayer and example has put a hedge of protection around me. I pray for them too, and who knows what power my prayers have been for them?

Ah, but what of the sins of the Church? Even here I will say we have learned from our failures and struggles. Yes, in the Church, if we are faithful,  we learn not only from good example, but even from the difficulties that inevitably arise in any community. We learn to be more patient and forgiving. We learn from the mistakes others make as well as from their gifts.

Don’t journey alone, it is dangerous. Find a parish, get involved and live in real communion with others who can lift you up if you fall, encourage you when you are faint of heart, instruct you when you wonder, and complete in you what is lacking. Alone, I am lacking, but together and with the Lord, we have all the gifts we need to get to the Promised Land of Heaven: Companionship for the Journey! And what a companionship: those here present, and mystically but very truly, those who have gone on before, all one in Christ Jesus.

To Love God is a Gift that is Received, not Acheived

More often than not, the average Catholic thinks of the Commandments and the Christian moral life, as well as the spiritual life as a task, or list of tasks they must accomplish out of their own flesh power, or else they will face some negative consequence. Hence the moral life is seen by many as a drudgery and is carried out with little enthusiasm. Hence many will hear that they must be less angry, more generous, less vengeful, more chaste etc., and they think rules, and rules though necessary are uninspiring.

Few see the moral life as a magnificent vision of transformation in Christ and a portrait of a soul set on fire with love. More see the moral and spiritual life as a painful prescription more than a delightful description of what happens to the human person when Jesus Christ begins to live his life in them. Most see the most life as something thy must achieve rather than receive.

Of course “achievement” is neither grace, nor the gospel. And if salvation, transformation and perfection can be achieved, then who needs Christ?

Therefore, we must come to see the moral vision of the New Testament, with all its lofty and seemingly impossible demands as a description of what God will do for us, rather than a prescription of what we must do by our unaided flesh.

Consider the first and greatest commandment that we should Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut 6:5). Frankly most people, (in their flesh), have a hard time loving God. They find prayer tedious, and are lukewarm at best in their affection for God. Mass, Scripture, prayer and so forth seem boring endeavors to them and, though they find time for everything else, God often gets no time, or, at best, the leftovers of the day.

On hearing that they should love God, some will attempt to rouse themselves to “do better.” But the results are usually pretty discouraging, since they are usually attempts made out of the flesh which is inimical to God (cf Rom 8:7).

How then shall we get there? How does the human person attain to the normal Christian life which is to have a tender and intense love for God?

Consider the following passage from one of the lesser known Eastern Fathers of the Church:

Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God. In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him. When this awareness is keen it makes whoever possesses it long to be enlightened by the divine light, and this longing is so intense that it seems to penetrate his very bones. He loses all consciousness of himself and is entirely transformed by the love of God.

Such a man lives in this life and at the same time does not live in it, for although he still inhabits his body, he is constantly leaving it in spirit because of the love that draws him toward God. Once the love of God has released him from self-love, the flame of divine love never ceases to burn in his heart and he remains united to God by an irresistible longing.

From the treatise On Spiritual Perfection by St. Diadochus of Photice, bishop
(Cap. 12. 13. 14: PG 65, 1171-1172)

What St. Diadochus is describing here is the normal Christian life. Here the word “normal” is not used in the numerary sense that “most people attain this,” but in the sense of “what is to be expected.” How could it be that if Jesus Christ is living his life in us we would have anything less than a tender and longing love for God?

And note how Diadochus says this love begins in our experience of God’s love for us. Experience here means more than intellectual assent to the statement that “God loves me.” Rather, experience means just that, experience, to actually know, in a first hand way, and to witness the power and tenderness of God’s love for me. As it finally begins to dawn on us that the Son of God died for us, our hearts are steeped in God’s love. Yes, it finally begins to dawn on us that the Father’s providential love for us is unlimited and magnificent. Being filled with that love we now gain a joy, an affection, a serenity and an tender love of growing intensity for God.

More and more we delight to think of him, speak with him and simply sit quietly in contemplative union with God. And thus we journey, by stages to the normal Christian life, which is to have a deep affection and tender love and abiding desire for God.

Go to the Cross of Christ and ask this gift. Ask for the desire for this gift, if you don’t even have that. But ask, seek, knock. Our love for God is not, and cannot be our work. It is God’s work in us. And all He needs to get started is your “yes.” The door to your heart must be opened from the inside. Let God enter, and let him go to work filling you with his love.

When God Seems Distant: A Meditation on the Omnipresence of God

We have all experienced times in our life when God seems distant, quite far from our heart and mind. Perhaps we been influenced in this experience by disappointment, loss, grief, depression or boredom. Praying seems hard, and God seems to hide his face.

Some years ago, I was given a prayer card of sorts; really more of a spiritual “bookmark” that said the following

How can I find God when he seems so far?




Ah, careful, the harder you look, the more distance you create between Him and you.”




So what can I do about the distance?”



Understand that it isn’t there.”



Does that mean that God and I are one?”



No, not one. Yet, not two.



How is that possible?




The sun and its light,
the ocean and the wave,
the singer and his song
–not one….not two.

One of the great mysteries and balances of theology is to grasp that God is transcendent and “other,” not to be equated with the sum total of his creation (pantheism). For he transcends, is above, beyond and greater than all he has made. And yet, he is also present to everything he has made and sustains every fiber of being in this universe, and every atom, molecule and cell of my being. He is closer to me than I am to myself.

Colossians 1:17 says of Jesus: All things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Yes, this world is created by the will and love of God and held together by him and in him.

A letter was addressed to one Jane Crofut by her minister in the Thornton Wilder play “Our Town” and the address went like this

Jane Crofut
The Crofut Farm
Grover’s Corners
Sutton County
New Hampshire
United States of America
Continent of North America
Western Hemisphere
The Earth
The Solar System
The Universe
The mind of God

Yes, we caught up in the heart and mind of God, and Christ holds all creation together in himself. We are the result of his love, and not just at our conception, at every moment, every beat of our heart, every thought of our mind, every movement of our body, every stirring of our soul, all sustained by him, and rooted in him as first cause.

He is not far, just feel the beating of your heart, the breeze on your cheek, the warmth of the sun, and behold the color purple behold those you love, even those you struggle to love. Even the thoughts we sometimes have that God seems distant would not be possible unless he were close, very close and sustaining every fiber of our being. He is closer to me than the sun is to its light, the ocean is to its wave, the singer is to his song. He is closer to me than I am to myself.

Where is God, when he seems so distant? Not far. Not far at all.

It Takes Guts to Be Healed: A Meditation on the Difference Between Healing and Relief

I recently came across the following dialogue. I do not know the source, though it is in the form of the sayings of the desert Fathers:

To a distressed person who came to him for help the Abbot said, “Do you really want a cure?” And the man replied, “If I did not, would I bother to come to you?” “Oh yes” said the Abbot, “Most people do.” “If not for a cure, then for what do they come?” asked the distressed man. And the Abbot said, “They come not for a cure, that’s painful. They come for for relief.”

Yes, real cures, and substantial healing are not easy. Often true healing comes only after lengthy surgery, whether physical or spiritual. And those who have sought true healing know, and have come to experience, that it takes guts to be healed.

True spiritual and moral healing requires that we accept significant change and be willing to have our thinking and habitual practices challenged and replaced. In confronting what ails us, we often come to discover that its cause is far deeper than we thought, and that its remedies are far more sweeping and paradoxical than we had imagined.

Once, in the aftermath of a nervous breakdown, that saw me hospitalized for a week and ordered to take a month off to recuperate, I went to a priest and spiritual director who specialized in the care of priests in need of psycho-therapeutic counseling. I explained to him that I had frozen in fear, and panic, and I felt my life had gone out of control. “I never want my life to go out of control again,” I said. He said, “Until you let go of your need to be in control, you will never be well.”

Paradoxical indeed, and scary too. But I have discovered through the years how right he was. My only way “out” of my anxiety was to journey deeper toward its center and find the Lord waiting for me there. Yes, it took guts to be healed. And I’m glad the Lord didn’t let me run somewhere else for mere relief. Healing was harder than relief, but better and lasting.

The Lord Jesus was journeying one day through Jericho (cf Luke 18:35ff) and a certain blind man kept calling out, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!” Finally the Lord stopped and asked this blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” A strange question, perhaps, to ask of a blind man. But consider that this man’s life will be totally changed if Jesus heals him. More will be expected of him and it will no longer be tolerated that he should sit and beg of others. All that he has known will vanish as a new world, and new expectations dawns on him. So Jesus asks what he really wants, healing or relief? “Lord I want to see!” And he not only saw, but proceeded to follow Jesus up the road. A new vision, a new path, a new destination, a new life. It takes guts to be healed.

And so Jesus asks you and me too, “What do you want me to do for you?” Careful how you answer. Remember, it takes guts to be healed. Too many want mere relief and not real healing. They want comfort rather than true change.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

As you view this video, I ask your prayers for a young man (in his late 20s) who visited the parish this week. He came back to the church of his childhood, remembering a more innocent and simple time in his life. And now that his life has become hell though drugs and other bad choices, he has a decision to make. Pray that he has the guts to accept the long healing he will need to come forth from his hell on earth. As I heard his story I thought of this song:

What are Attachments, and What Are They Not? Learning from a Fine Spiritual Teacher.

On Sunday we heard a Gospel about two men, who finding a treasure and a pearl, went and sold all that they had to have those treasure. Of course the treasure and the pearl were images for the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus selling all they had was a sign of radical freedom from attachments to this world. For most of us, attachments are THE struggle that most hinders our spiritual growth.

But what are attachments, and what are they not? Are there ways we can distinguish attachments from ordinary and proper desires? What are the signs they we are too attached to some one or something? To address questions like these, I want to turn to a great teacher of mine in matters spiritual, Fr. Thomas Dubay. Father died a little over a year ago, but he left us a great legacy of teaching through his books, audio recordings and programs at EWTN. In addressing these questions I would like to summarize what he teaches in his spiritual classic Fire Within in which he expounds on the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Here then are some excerpts (pages 133-135). Father’s  teaching is in bold, black italics. My own poor remarks are in plain text red. You may wish to read only Fr. Dubay’s text to begin with, and only read my additions it you think you want elaboration.

I. WHAT ATTACHMENT IS NOT  – for sometimes it is easier to say what a thing is not prior to saying what it is. In this Fr. Dubay disabuses us of wrongful and sometimes puritanical notions that are neither biblical nor Catholic since they reject as bad what God has made as good, and as a blessing. Scripture says,  God created [things] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:3-4).

1. First of all, attachment is not the experiencing of pleasure in things, not even keen, intense pleasure. The complete avoidance of pleasure is neither possible nor advisable in human life…..There is no doubt that the pleasures of the five senses easily lead to a selfish clinging to them for their own sakes, but nonetheless, the pleasures themselves are not blameworthy. God made them, and they are good.

The remarks here are very balanced. Of itself, taking pleasure in what God has made is a kind of thanksgiving and surely an appreciation of what God has created and given.

Yet, due to our fallen nature, we must be sober that our experience of pleasure, like all our passions, can become unruly, improperly directed and take on a life of its own. Pleasures can divert our attention from the giver to the gift alone, if we are not mindful to look beyond the gift to the giver and the purpose He intends.

Consider that a husband properly enjoys intense pleasure in his intimate experiences with his wife. Properly understood, there is little way he can NOT enjoy this, other things being equal. But these intimate moments have a meaning beyond themselves. They summon him to greater intimacy, appreciation and love for his wife, and ultimately, for the God who created her. Further these moments draw him to share his love and appreciation through an openness to the fruit this love will bear in his children.

Hence the gift of intimacy is wonderful and to be enjoyed to the top, but it is not an end in itself. When it becomes its own end, and exists in our mind only for its own sake, we are on the way to attachment and idolatry.

2. Nor is possessing or using things an attachment to them. We must all make use of things in this world to accomplish what God has given us to do. God is surely pleased to equip us with what we need to do his will, to build the Kingdom, and to be of help to others.

3. Nor is being attracted, even mightily attracted, to a beautiful object or person an unhealthy attachment. As a matter of fact, we should be drawn to the splendors of creation, for that is a compliment to the supreme Artist. Saints were and are strongly attracted to the glories of the divine handiwork and especially to holy men and women, the pinnacles of visible creation.

A gift to pray for is the gift of wonder and awe, wherein we appreciate and are joyful in God’s glory displayed in the smallest and hidden things, as well as the greatest and most visible things. We are also summoned to a deep love, appreciation and attraction to the beauty, humor and even quirkiness displayed in one another.

But here too these things are meant to point to God, they are not ends in themselves. And it sometimes happens that we fail to connect the dots, as St. Augustine classically describes:  Late have I love you, O Beauty, so ancient, and yet so new! Too late did I love You! For behold, You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You; I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things kept me far from You, which, unless they were in You, would not exist. (Confessions 10.27)

So, once again, to be attracted by beauty is, of itself, good. But it is not an end. It is a sign pointing to the even greater beauty of God and his higher gifts.

II. WHAT ATTACHMENT IS – St  John of the Cross [observes] that if anyone is serious about loving God totally, he must willingly entertain no self-centered pursuit of finite things sought for themselves, that is, devoid of honest direction to God, our sole end and purpose. St. Paul makes exactly the same point when he tells the Corinthians that whatever they eat or drink, or whatever else they do they are to do all for the glory of God….. (1 Cor 10:31)

St John of the Cross explicitly states that he is speaking of voluntary desires and not natural ones‚ for the latter are, little or no hindrance‚ to advanced prayer as long as the will does not intervene with a selfish clinging. By natural desires the saint has in mind, for example, a felt need for water when we are thirsty, for food when hungry, for rest when fatigued. There is no necessary disorder in experiencing these needs….to eradicate these natural inclinations and, to mortify them entirely is impossible in this life.

Of course even natural desires can become unruly and exaggerated wherein we seek to overly satisfy them and they become ends in themselves. Fr. Dubay makes this point later. St. Paul also had to lament that there were some whose god was their belly and who had their mind set only on worldly things (cf Phil 3:19)

[More problematic and] especially damaging to normal development are what John calls, “habitual appetites,” that is, repeated and willed clingings to things less than God for their own sake. And here we come to some critical distinctions.

[W]e may ask when a desire becomes inordinate and therefore harmful. I would offer three clear signs.

1. The first is that the activity or thing is diverted from the purpose God intends for it. And this is very common today with sex and with many matters related to the body.

2. The second sign is excess in use. As soon as we go too far in eating, drinking, recreating, speaking or working, we show that there is something disordered in our activity. We cannot honestly direct to the glory of God what is in excess of what He wills. Hence, a person who buys more clothes than needed is attached to clothing. One who overeats is clinging selfishly to food.

Yes, beer, for example, is a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy. A couple of beers is gratitude, ten beers is a betrayal. God gives in abundance to be sure, but more so that we can share with the needy and the poor, than that we should selfishly cling to it our self as though it existed as its own end.

Sharing spreads God’s glory, as St Paul says, All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Cor 4:15) And again, You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Cor 9:11). Thus the abundance of God is directed to the spreading of his glory and to the widening of thanksgiving, NOT as an end itself, that we should hoard it. God’s gifts point back to Him not to themselves.

3. The third sign of attachment is making means into ends. We have one sole purpose in life: the ultimate, enthralling vision of the Trinity in glory, in our risen body. Everything else is meant in the divine plan to bring us and others to this final embrace with Beauty and Love. …As soon as honesty requires us to admit that this eating or that travel, this television viewing or that purchase is not directly or indirectly aimed at Father, Son and Spirit, we have made ourselves into an idol. We are clearly clinging to something created for our own self-centered sake.

This is often the hardest of the three to discern but I think the heart of the difference between a thing becoming an end rather than a means, is the question of gratitude. How consciously grateful are we to God for the things and pleasures we enjoy? Do they intensify our gratitude or do they merely distract us from thinking about God?

Further, do they help me in my journey upward to God or do they merely root me more deeply in this passing world?

Another (scary) question is, “How easily could I give this up if I discovered that it was hindering me from God or that God no longer wanted it in my life?” This is hard, because we really enjoy certain things. But the key question is not that we enjoy them, but whether they honestly lead us to God. And we must be honest about this, avoiding puritanical notions, but also avoiding self justifying ones.

Here too, an important thing to seek from God is not that we merely give up things with a sour face and bad attitude, but that we actually start to prefer good things in moderation over distracting things in excess. If we let God go to work, the good begins to crowd out the bad in an incremental, growing way.

[Therefore:] an attachment is a willed seeking of something finite for its own sake. It is an unreal pursuit, an illusory desire. Nothing exists except for the sake of God who made all things for Himself. Any other use is a distortion.

Here’s a short excerpt by Fr. Dubay. Please be careful with this clip. It is not a critique of liturgy (new or old) per se. It is about interiority and integrity in the spiritual life.

Father Thomas Dubay-What Jesus Hates (My Title) from RSAofYAP on Vimeo.

The Normal Christian Life – Coming to Appreciate The Life That The Risen Christ Offers

At the Great Easter Vigil, after a lengthy series of Old Testament readings, The lights come on full, the Gloria is intoned and the opening prayer is sung. Then all are seated for the first reading from the New Testament proclaimed in the new light of Easter glory. It is Romans 6, the opening text from the New Testament proclaimed by the Church as Christ steps forth from the tomb! It would seem the Church considers this an important reading for our consideration, given it’s placement.

Romans 6 is a kind of mini-Gospel where in the fact of our new status as redeemed transformed Children of God is declared. And within these lines is contained “Standing Order # 1” for the Christian who is a new creation: “No longer let sin continue to reign in your death directed bodies.”

Perhaps we can take a look at this central passage from the New Testament. Here it is in total and them some verse by verse commentary:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)

1. THE PRINCIPLE We have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? – Here is a powerful and uncompromising statement. Paul is setting forth  the most fundamental principle for the Christian life. Namely that sin is not to have any power over us. This is the NORMAL (i.e. normative, to be expected) Christian life, a life that is victorious and that is seeing sin put to death and the blessings of grace come alive. Paul says, quite clearly, we have died to sin.

Before returning to this concept it might be important to consider what the word “sin” means here. The Greek word is ἁμαρτίᾳ (hamartia). In its root sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) means “missing the mark” or falling short of a designated goal. In the Greek tragedies the hero often had a “fatal flaw” wherein he misses the mark, or fails to obtain what he sought due to a moral failing or error in judgment. In Scripture the word ἁμαρτίᾳ usually means something closer to what we mean by sin today, namely “a moral failing.” But we should not completely leave behind the notion that sin is a missing of the mark. It is not untrue to say that sin is not so much a reality unto itself as it is a “privation,” a lack of something that should be there. In every sin, something is missing that should be there.

Now St. Paul often describes sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) at two levels: the personal experience with sin, but also as a “climate” in which we live. So we might distinguish between Sin (upper case) and sin (lower case). Hence, Sin is the climate in which we live that is hostile to God, that has values in direct opposition to what God values. It is materialistic, worldly in its preoccupations, carnal and not spiritual, lustful, greedy, self-centered, and alienated from the truth. It will not submit to God and seeks either to deny Him or to marginalize him. This is Sin. (We need to understand this distinction for in verse 10 of this passage Paul says Christ “died to Sin.” But clearly Christ had no personal sin. But he DID live in a world dominated by Sin and it was to THAT which he died).

As for sin (lower case), it is our personal appropriation of Sin. It is our internalization and acceptance of the overall climate of sin. For example, a Bosnian child is not born hating a Croat or Serbian child. That hatred is “in the air” and the child often (usually) internalizes and then acts upon it. Hence Sin becomes sin.

Now Paul says, we have DIED to all of this. That is to say the overall climate of Sin cannot any longer influence us, neither can the deep drives of our own sin continue to affect us.

But how can this be, most of us feel very strongly influenced by Sin and sin? Consider for a moment a corpse. You cannot humiliate or tempt, win an argument with or in anyway personally affect a corpse. The corpse is dead and you and I can no longer have any influence over it. Paul is saying that this is to be the case with us. We are dead to the world and its Sin. It’s influence on us is broken. Because of this, our personal sins and drives of sin are also broken in terms of their influence.

Ah but you say, “This does not seem true.” Nevertheless, it IS the principle of the Christian life. It is what is normative for us and what we should increasingly expect because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is true, death for us is a process, more than an event. But to the degree that the old Adam has been put to death in us, then his vital signs are diminishing. He is assuming room temperature and Christ Jesus is coming alive in us.

And here is the central question Is Jesus becoming more alive in you? It is a remarkable thing how little most Christians expect from their relationship with Jesus Christ. The best that most people hope for is to muddle through this life and just make it (barely) over the finish line to heaven. Mediocrity seems what most people expect. But this is not the normal Christian life! The normal Christian life is to be increasingly victorious over sin, to be experiencing the power of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in our lives. We have died to sin. It’s influence on us is waning, is diminishing. Increasingly the world and its values seem ludicrous to us and God’s vision becomes precious.

So here is the principle – have died and are dying to sin, it is increasingly impossible for us to live in it or experience it’s influence.

2. THE POWER Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

When Paul (and Scripture) use the word “know” it always means more that grasping something intellectually. To “know” in the Bible means to personally experience something and to have grasped it as true. Thus, what Paul is really saying here, “Or is it possible that you have not experienced that we died with Christ and risen with him to new life?” In effect he is saying, grab hold of yourself and come to experience that you have died to your old life and now received a completely new life. Start to personally experience this.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17). This is the normal Christian life and we ought to be experiencing it more and more.

But here again, we have to fight the sloth of low expectations. Do you think that Jesus Christ died for you so that you would continue to be in bondage to anger, or lust, or hatred? Surely he died to free us from this!

To see your life transformed is NOT your work, it is the work of the Lord Jesus. Since it is his power at work we ought to expect a lot. But low expectations yield poor results. So Paul is saying, come to know, come to personally experience and grasp his power at work in you. Have high expectations! How can we have anything less when the death and resurrection of Jesus are the cause of this?

3. THE PERSONAL WITNESS – For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. –

Once again Paul says we “know” this. This is the normal Christian life: to experience that our old self was crucified and has died and that increasingly we are no longer slaves to sin.

In my own life I have experienced just this. Have you? I have seen many sins and sinful attitudes put to death in me. My mind has become so much clearer in the light of Christian faith and I now see and experience how silly and insubstantial are many claims of this world. So, my mind and my heart are being transformed. I have died to many of my former and negative attitudes and drives.

I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be, praise God. A wonderful change has come over me.

How about you? Do you have a testimony? Do you “know” (experience) that your old self has been crucified and that you are being freed from sin?

4. THE PROCLAMATION – in various ways then in the verses that follow, Paul sets forth the essential proclamation of the Normal (normative) Christian life:

  1. count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
  2. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…..
  3. [you] have been brought from death to life….
  4. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Some final questions:

  • Do you believe this?
  • Do you know (experience) this?
  • What do you expect from your relationship with Jesus Christ?
  • How are you different from some one who lived under the Old Covenant?
  • How are you different from the unbelievers in this world?
  • Are you living the normal Christian life of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ, or are you just muddling through?

Icon above is 18th Century Russian, and is available at most Icon Distributor. In this vision, is the Harrowing of Hades where Christ pulls Adam and Even from their tombs and summons them to new life.

This song says, Victory is mine, I told Satan, “Get thee behind” for victory today is mine.

How To Organize Your Prayer Time According to Jesus

One of the struggles people often have in praying is that they are not sure what to “do” when they pray. This is especially true for those who want to pray for more than a few moments at a time. Perhaps they have taken up the laudable custom of making a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, or of devoting themselves to a half hour of mental prayer each day. It is often helpful to have a structure, for prayer of this sort, and Jesus himself actually gives us one in the Our Father.

I want to recommend for your consideration that the Our Father gives us more than words to say. It also gives us a structure for our prayer life, a basic plan for our spiritual life. It makes sense that when one goes to pray, understanding the basic structure and elements of prayer will be helpful. And the Lord does not disappoint us or leave us unschooled in the basic shape of prayer.

Lord teach us to pray – Consider that, according to Luke, the Lord gave the Our Father, he was responding to a request of the apostles who said, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples (Luke 11:1). They did not ask to be given words to say, but to taught how to pray. Thus, while the words of the Our Father are precious, it is also important to look at the underlying structure implicit in the prayer so as to learn “how to pray.” The insight is that Jesus, more than giving words is illustrating by these words what ought to be going on in us interiorly, in our mind and heart as we pray: Here is what the mind and heart of a person of prayer is like.

Let’s consider then, five basic disciplines, taught by Jesus in the Our Father that form a kind of structure for prayer:

1. RELATEOur Father who art in heaven – Here begins true spirituality: Relate to the Father! Relate to him with family intimacy, affection, reverence and love. We are not praying the “the Deity” or the “Godhead.” We are praying to our Father who loves us, who provides for us and, who sent his only Son to die for us and save us. When Jesus lives his life in us and His Spirit dwells in us we begin to experience God as our Abba, (Father).

As developed in other New Testament texts, the deeper Christian word Abba underlies the prayer. Abba is the family word for the more generic and formal word “father.” When my Father was alive I did not call him “Father” I called him “Dad.” This is really what the word Abba is getting at. It is the family word for Father. It indicates family ties, intimacy, close bonds. Why the word Abba is not used here in the Our Father is uncertain. St. Paul develops the theme here: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15 ) and here: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”(Gal 4:6 ).

Ask God for the gift to experience him as Abba. At the heart of our worship and prayer is a deep and personal experience of God’s love and fatherly care for us. The first discipline or practice of the Spiritual life is to RELATE to God as to a Father who loves us and to experience him as Abba.

2. REJOICEhallowed by thy name! The praise and love of God is the essential discipline and element of our spiritual lives. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift and to Him our praise is due. Praise and thanksgiving make us people of hope and joy. It is for this that we were made. God created us, so that we…might live for his praise and glory (Eph 1:12).

Our prayer life should feature much joyful praise. Take a psalm of praise and pray it joyfully. Take the Gloria of the Mass and pray it with gusto! Rejoice in God, praise his name. Give glory to him who rides above the clouds.

There may be times when, due to some sadness or difficulty, we do not feel emotionally  like praising God. Praise the anyhow! Scripture says, I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1). Praise is to be a regular discipline of prayer, rooted even more in the will, than just the feelings. God is worthy our praise.

Ultimately praise is a refreshing way to pray, since we were made to praise God, and when we do what we were made to do, we experience a kind of satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. The second element and discipline of the spiritual life is a life of vigorous praise: REJOICE!

3. RECEIVEthy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – At the heart of this petition is an openness to God’s will, to his word of instruction, to his plan for us and for this world. When Jesus lives in us we hunger for God’s word and strive to know his will and have it operative in our life.

A basic component and discipline of the prayer and the spiritual life,  is to receive the Word and instruction of God,  so that his will might be manifest to us, and we can obey. We ought to pray the Scriptures (lectio divina). We ought to study the faith through the Catechism or other means. These are ways that we become open to God’s will that his Kingdom might be manifest in our lives.

The Third element and discipline of prayer and the spiritual life is an openness to to God’s teachings through the Church and Scriptures: RECEIVE!

4. REQUESTGive us today our daily bread – Intercessory prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. Allow “bread,” in this case, to be a symbol of all our needs. Our greatest need of course is to be fed by God, and thus bread also points to the faithful reception of the Eucharist.

Intercessory prayer is the prayer of asking for God’s help in every need. Take every opportunity to pray for others. When watching the news or reading the newspaper, pray the news. Much of the news contains many things for which to pray: victims of crime, disaster or war, the jobless, homeless and afflicted. Many are locked in sin and bad behavior, corruption, confusion, bad priorities and the like. Many are away from the sacraments and no longer seek their Eucharistic bread who is Christ. Pray, pray, pray.

There are also good things we hear of and we should be grateful and ask that solutions be lasting. This intercessory prayer flows from our love and solidarity with others. We see the world with the compassion of Christ and pray. The fourth element and discipline of prayer and the spiritual life is to INTERCEDE for ourselves and others.

5. REPENTand forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. – Sin is understood at two levels here: 1: sin – (lowercase) our personal sins and trespasses, also referred to as our “trespasses.” 2. Sin (upper case) – referring to the whole climate of sin, the structures of sin that reinforce and underlie our own sins. Referred to here as “evil.”

An essential element of our spiritual life is that we come to recognize the sins, and deep drives of sins, in our own life, to beg deliverance from them as well as mercy. It is also true that we live in a sin soaked world were the powers and principalities of evil have great influence. We cannot fail to recognize this and pray that it’s power will be curbed.

Then too, we must also pray for the grace to show mercy to others. For it often happens that sin escalates through resentments, and retribution rooted in unforgiving attitudes.  We must pray to be delivered from these hurts and resentments so as to be able to break the cycle of violence and revenge that keeps sin multiplying.

But in the end we must pray for the Lord’s grace and mercy to end evil in our own lives and that the whole world. The Fifth element and discipline of prayer and the spiritual life is to REPENT of evil.

So here then is a structure for our prayer and spiritual life contained in the Our Father. Jesus teaches us to pray, and gives us a basic structure for prayer. Note:

  1. Some may use this an actual structure for daily prayer. Hence,  if they are going to spend 25 minutes praying, they spend about five minutes on each aspect.
  2. Others may use this structure for an over all reference for their spiritual life in general. Hence, one might ask if these aspects and disciplines are reflected well in their overall prayer life.
  3. It does not follow that all five need to be done every day without fail, but the Lord teaches here the  basic elements that ought to be present in our spiritual life in a regular sort of way.
  4. For those whose personal prayer time is more contemplative (rather than meditative) #s 3,4 & 5 would likely be accomplished at times other than personal prayer time. These are usually accomplished in or by attending Mass, reading the Liturgy of the Hours, or other spiritual reading. Aspirations and sighs through the day are often a good way to accomplish intercessory prayer as well. Repentance too is can be accomplished by a daily examination of conscience before bed and of course by regular confession.

Photo Credit above from Randy OHC via Creative Commons

Here is the Our Father sung in Aramaic, the Language of Jesus: