“Everyone Is Looking for You” – A Meditation on a Short Sentence from Scripture

There is a brief line in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel that simply and completely sums up what we all are doing, even if we’re not aware of it. The setting of the passage is the outskirts of Capernaum in the early morning.

The prior day Jesus had healed a great many people at the house of Simon Peter. As the new day dawned there was already a multitude gathered in hopes of seeing this healer. Word must have spread quickly about Jesus.

But where was He? The text says that Jesus had slipped away to a deserted place to pray.

In seeming irritation, Peter and the others went looking for Him. When they found Jesus, Peter uttered a line that well describes and decodes all human hearts. Peter said, likely in an exasperated tone,

“Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37).

Indeed, they are. Everyone is looking for Jesus. There are no exceptions here. Even those who insist that they are not looking for Jesus, and that He is the last one they would ever seek, are looking for Jesus.

Yes, Lord Jesus, everyone is looking for you.

There is in all of our hearts a “God-size” hole. Only God can fill it. There is a yearning, a longing that is infinite. The world could not have given this to us. Our nature alone could not have caused it; finite realities cannot give anything infinite. Nemo dat quod non habet (No one can give what he does not have).

Only the One who is infinite could have put this infinite longing there.

Frankly our deepest awareness is so deep and pervasive that we barely notice it is there; Our depest awareness is that we have an infinite longing. 

Yes, Lord Jesus, everyone is looking for you; even those of us who forever run after worldly things to satisfy our infinite longing. Yes, we are all looking for you even if many of us do not know it.

    • The consumer who looks for the latest thing, the most recent upgrade, the bigger car, or the fancier house is really seeking you and the wealth that is you.
    • The sports fan or hobbyist who spends enormous amounts of time and money on such pursuits is really seeking fulfillment and thrill in you.
    • The discouraged or angry divorced person looking for the perfect marriage and the priest who wants a “better” parish are really seeking you and your perfection.
    • The young girl applying her makeup and the actor seeking applause and fame are really seeking you and the warm embrace of your love and acceptance.
    • The alcoholic or addict who tries to find relief at the bottom of a glass of wine or the end of a joint is really seeking the peace that only you can give.
    • Even the atheist who denies you because he cannot see you and the atheist who is angry at suffering and evil in the world are actually confessing their desire for your justice and solace.

Yes, Lord Jesus, everyone is looking for you.

Even creation yearns for you, though less consciously. Your own scriptures call you the desire of the everlasting hills (Gen 49:29). And you inspired St. Paul to say that creation is groaning in all its parts waiting to be restored and set free by you (Rom 8:22).

Yes, Lord Jesus, everyone and everything is looking for you. I am looking for you. The one who reads your Scripture is looking for you. My loved ones and enemies alike are looking for you. Help us to find you; show us your face.

Everyone is looking for you!

Nothing truer has ever been said.

On the Gift of Doing Just One Thing

One of the great lies of the world is that we “can have it all!” We live in the age of great and seemingly endless possibilities and the fact is we want too many conflicting things. We want to be popular but we want to stand for something. We want our kids to be raised well but we want double incomes. We want good health but we want to eat rich foods and avoid exercise. We want God but we want the world too.

The fact is we cannot have everything and we must make choices. In choosing certain things we preclude other things.

But the real key in life is to learn to do just one thing, to want just one thing. This theme of unicity, of doing and wanting one thing is a consistent theme of Scripture. Lets look at some passages and see what they have to tell us.

  1. This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, be thus minded…(Phil 3:13)
  2. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41)
  3. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. ( Ps 27:4)
  4. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8 )
  5. Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the regin of God (Lk 9:62)
  6. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24)
  7. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing (1 Kings 18:21)
  8. O adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4)
  9. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

Well, you get the point. We have a decision to make. We are to choose God and thereby forsake the world. But the problem is that most of us want both. And if most are honest there will be an admission that the world is actually desired more than God.

But true serenity can only be found by seeking God, alone and above every desire. Our hearts were made for God. He has written his name on our heart and He alone can fulfill us.  Yet, we waver, we want everything. And, frankly these endless desires torture us. They are in conflict with each other and ultimately they are never satisfied anyway.

The grace for which to pray is to be single-hearted, to want only one thing, to want only God. The beatitude for which to pray is:  Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8) Most people miss the inner meaning of this beatitude.  The Greek word in this passage,  καθαροὶ (katharoi) is usually and properly translated as clean or pure in the usual sense. But a more extended meaning refers to something that is pure in the sense of being  unmixed with anything foreign, unalloyed. Hence there is the concept here of being single-hearted, having a pure and single motive, the desire to see God.  This is a very great blessing and God can give it to us.  Psalm 86:11 says,  Give me an undivided heart O Lord, that I may fear your name. The Latin Vulgate renders this verse as simplex fac cor meum. This is a great gift for which to pray: a simple, undivided heart. A heart that desires only God and what would lead me to him.

And by this one desire every other decision and desire is subsumed. This is what Paul means when he says, this one thing I do. He does not mean that he does not go here and there, or eat, or sleep. He simply means that everything he does is focused on, and supports the one thing: his goal to be with God forever.

A man journeying from Washington to New York would be on a fool’s errand if he took a road heading south. His destination is north. He may pull aside to get gas, or rest his eyes, but these things are only done to help him toward his goal.

A marathon runner does not stop to talk with friends, or step into a local bookstore to browse. He does one thing, he runs, he pursues the goal. Perhaps he will accept water offered. He might stop for brief moment to tie his shoe, but he only does these things because they help him to his goal.

But too many Christians who say heaven is their goal are heading south and stepping out of the race on fool’s errands.

The gift to be sought from the Lord is to be single-hearted, to have an undivided heart, the gift to do just one thing. Otherwise we are compromised, double-minded and just plain tired.

Impossible you say? With God, nothing is impossible.

OK, here’s one of the stranger videos I have posted to illustrate a point. But consider it. Its object is wrong, but its message is right. In the video there is a man who is so focused on just one thing that nothing else matters. He doesn’t even notice anything else. It’s just the one thing, that’s all he sees, that’s all that matters. Again, the object is wrong, but the idea is right, it’s all about one thing.

UPDATE – Thanks to a couple of readers who called my attention also to this movie clip from City Slickers (a movie I saw years ago but had forogtten). Please note there is one bad word in the clip but it “helps” make the point –

The Cross is the Tuning Fork of the True Faith

A Cross, not a cushion – Some argue that religion, faith, is a man made fiction, meant to soothe our difficult life with stories about ultimate victory in a heaven somewhere. I believe is was Karl Marx who thought of religion as an opiate of the masses in that it blunted the difficult reality of life in the same way that opium dulled the minds of drug users. But a charge like this cannot apply to the true Christian and Catholic Faith. There are consolations, to be sure,  from faith. Yet at the center of the true faith is a cross, not a cushion and this is an important corrective to those who think of religion merely as something to soothe us.

The cross also goes a long way to speak to the Divine origin of our Holy Faith. If the faith were an invention of man what is the cross doing there? I don’t just mean Jesus’ cross, I mean ours. Jesus did not just carry his own cross, he told us we’d have to carry ours. And this teaching on the cross is not just an incidental sidebar, the cross is absolutely central. Now it seems to me that if our Holy Faith were man-made, there would not be a cross as the central tenant, but rather a pillow, a giant fluffy pillow.

Man made religion would exult pleasure, prosperity, consolation, affirmation and so forth. But true religion, God’s Holy Faith, holds up the cross, the cross of repentance, self-denial, self-discipline, sacrifice, living for others, and so on. This hardly seems to be something that we human beings would devise, given as we are to selfishness. And what’s even more amazing, and surely something no human being would think up on his own, is that the cross truly brings life. It is in losing our life that we find it and gain it (cf  Matt 6:25). No human wisdom is this….it must be from God!

The Cross is like a tuning fork –  It’s what you use to be sure that the preacher is “in tune” with the true faith of God or to discover that he is just preaching a false version of the faith, one not of God. There are false preachers out there today and one way to tell that they are false is that they seldom or never mention the cross. They talk about prosperity and blessings, rewards and gain. Nothing intrinsically wrong with those to be sure. But do they mention the cross? Do they mention self-denial, self-discipline, repentance and the fact that we are all called to share in the sufferings of Christ? If they do not, they are not of God. Beware the preachers of the “prosperity gospel.” Beware of a cross-less Christianity. There is joy in faith to be sure, but there must also be the cross. God does not only affirm, He also disciplines, matures and quickens the Christian, always with love.

St. Augustine rebuked the false shepherds of his day in these words:

“The Apostle says, ‘All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution.’ But you say instead…’All things will be yours in abundance!’ Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. [But] The rains will come….! [Rather,] put him on the rock. Let him be in Christ. Let him consider Scripture which says to him: God chastises every son who he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son. (sermo 46:10-11)

The video below from a very strange little comedy called “Dogma.”  The scene here depicts a mixed up bishop who wants to refashion the Catholic Faith and make it a more “pleasant affair.”  It’s a pretty silly scene but there is a serious point: The cross is like a tuning fork. Without the “A 440” of the Cross the whole symphony is out of tune. With that in mind, watch this video of a false teacher (comically portrayed) who wants to substitute a pillow for the cross, a false Jesus for the real one a false teacher who  exults affirmation in the place of transformation.

Wonder and Awe File: Our Perfect Planet: Happenstance or Hand of God?

MIRACLE EARTH?! The earth on which we live and which, by God’s grace,  sustains our life is surely miraculous. Consider the following facts.

  1. The life support system we call the solar system has just the correct distribution of large and medium sized planets to have swept clean most of the space through which Earth must travel. There are thus few asteroids anywhere near our path!
  2. Further, large gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, “catch” comets in their gravitational fields and keep these comets from targeting earth.
  3. Our star, the Sun, is just the right size to consume its supply of hydrogen and produce energy at a rate that provided the time and conditions for life to form.
  4. Our orbit through space, at 93 million miles from the Sun, departs from a true circle by only 3 percent. Were it as elliptical as is the orbit of Mars, the next planet out, we would alternate between baking when closer to the Sun and freezing when distant.
  5. Earth contains just enough internal radioactivity to maintain its iron core in a molten state. This produces the magnetic umbrella that deflects an otherwise lethal doses of the harmful aspects of solar radiation.
  6. The volcanic activity driven by this internal heating is just adequate to have released previously stored subterranean waters into our biosphere, making them available for life processes, but not so much volcanism as to shroud our planet in dust.
  7. Earth’s gravity is strong enough to hold the needed gases of our atmosphere but weak enough to allow lighter more noxious gases to escape into space.
  8. All this is balanced at just the correct distance from our star so that our biosphere is warm enough to maintain water in its liquid, life-supporting, state, but not so warm that it evaporates away into space.

A just-right Earth with just the needed gravity, radioactivity, magnetic field, and volcanic activity to support life is located at just the correct distance from the Sun in a properly shaped orbit to nurture the inception and development of life…all the ingredients come together in just the right way…Just a nice coincidence? Or Maybe it’s God!  You decide.

Here is a wonderful video on the magnificence of this Earth.

What is Eternal Life?

I often think  we haven’t done a very good job in setting forth the doctrine of Eternal Life. For most people the concept seems a rather flat one, namely, that we shall live for ever and ever and ever…. And frankly for many such a concept seems rather unappealing even if the place of it is heaven. Heaven too is often poorly understood. It is reduced to a rather egocentric notion of a place where I will be happy. I’ll have a mansion, I’ll see my mother again, I won’t suffer…. But most moderns in their description never get around to mentioning God. If God is mentioned at all he’s down on the list somewhere, not at the top where he belongs. This is sad for the heart of heaven is to be with God!

Pope Benedict in his Encyclical Spe Salvi also ponders the problem of the poor understanding of eternal life:

Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable….The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. (Spe Salvi, 10, 12).

My own pondering and experience of the concept of eternal life is that ultimately eternal life is not about the length of life, it is about the fullness of life. To enter eternal life mean to become fully alive. For now we are not fully alive. We experience much of death in these lowly bodies of ours. However, most of us do get glimpses of eternal life and can experience aspects of it even now. For example, have you ever had a day when you had all the energy in the world. Not only did you feel energetic but your mind was sharp and your day was efficient and effective. Everything seemed to click and there was joy and contentment. Most of us have days like that from time to time but they don’t last. 🙁  But it is a glimpse of what eternal life might be like multiplied by a factor of 10 Trillion.

Another experience I have of eternal life I hope you share too. At age 48 my body is not in prime condition. It is aging to be sure and death will one day come to it. But my soul is more alive than ever. I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, more prayerful, more content. Many sins that used to plague me are gone or greatly diminished. In effect, I am more alive at 48 than I was at 28. And wait to you see me at 68 and 88! As I get older I become more alive. What I am saying is that eternal life doesn’t just begin after we die. It begins now and should grow in us more and more. It’s fulfillment will only be heaven but I am witness (and hope you are too) that eternal life has already set deep roots in me.

So again, the main point here is that with eternal life the word “eternal” refers not so much to the length of life as to the fullness of life. To enter eternal life is to become fully alive with God forever, to experience untold joy, serenity and peace in an eternal embrace with God forever. And having our communion with God perfected we will also have our communion with one another perfected. Who really needs a mansion when you can live in the heart of God? That is our true dwelling place that the Father is preparing. It’s not about houses and seats of honor its about a place in the heart of the God who made us and loves us. It is to become fully alive and perfect as the Father is perfect.

Pope Benedict also has a very beautiful image of eternal life in Spe Salvi:

To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John’s Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). (Spe Salvi, 12)

In the following video Fr. Robert Barron makes an interesting point, one that I have made elsewhere in these pages, namely, that when the Church fails to teach her doctrine well or casts aside her traditions, the world often picks them up but distorts them. In this rather Halloweenesque video Fr. Barron notes that as we have struggled to present well the concept of eternal life the world has taken up the notion of those “who can never die” in the vampire craze. Obviously the fact that they live forever is a horrible curse to them and any biblical notion of eternal life is absent. They are merely the “un-dead.” When the Church drops the ball the world pick it up but flattens and distorts it.


Music to Long By: A Brief Meditation on Palestrina’s”Sicut Cervus”

Last week I pondered the highly spiritual and almost charismatic quality of Gregorian Chant, which, in its fully developed elaborations and melismas captures a deep sighing and yearning for God. It is a kind of singing in tongues which draws the worshipper into deep worship of a contemplative kind. The “long”  elaborations express a “longing” of the soul for deep union with God. 

The great tradition of Renaissance Polyphony also shows forth a lot of this longing. Some have traced the origins of the polyphony to a kind of musical representation of an ancient philosophy known as the “music of the spheres.” The Ancient Greek Philosophy of Plato, Pythagoras  and many others had been “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages. Among the cosmological theories they advanced was that as the planets swept through the solar system they each made a perfect tone that together created a wonderful and perfect celestial harmony. In the 16th Century Kepler and others reintroduced this ancient cosmology. This may have been one of factors that influenced the sound of Renaissance Polyphony which captured the sounds of heaven and brought them to earth for the faithful to contemplate and pray with. Much of it is highly mystical and can assist deep prayer and express great longing for God.

One of the great musical masterpieces of the Church is Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus (Like the deer that yearns). The song beautifully depicts a musical “sigh” As the notes soar the longing builds and you can hear the choir giving an almost perfect expression of the human yearning for God . The song comes to a peaceful end on a note of hope that one day we shall see God. The text of this song is from Psalm 42:1. Here is the text and then the translation: 

Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

As the deer longs for running water, so longs my soul for you, O God. 

 Enjoy this musical masterpiece that so beautifully captures our longing and sigh along with the choir which is The Cathedral Singers Directed by Richard Proulx (RIP).

Developing the Desire For All that Really Matters

We live in an age where our comforts are many: air conditioning, electricity, running water, cars,  many of us have large house compared to fifty years ago, consumer products are abundant, cheap and easy to find, medical advances have staved off many diseases and improved the quality of life.

But comfort can confuse us and rob from us the one thing most necessary, the desire for God and to be with Him in heaven. This desire is our most essential desire and should be the focus of our whole life. It is to direct us to our proper end which is God and the things waiting for us in heaven. Jesus rebuked Martha for her focus on worldly concerns and told her that Mary, who preferred communion with him had “chosen the better part” and the “one thing necessary.” (cf Luke 10:38-42)

Creature comforts, when available to us in abundance as they are here and now have a way of misdirecting us. We are fooled into thinking that they are the source of our happiness and so we are always looking for the next worldly trinket or charm instead of God.

Even the way Church going Catholics and other Christians pray is alarming. Very often verbal prayers are heavily steeped in requests for better health, better finances, a new and more lucrative job, a more cooperative spouse, the success of some project and so forth. It is not wrong to pray for these things but when they so dominate our prayer it is almost as though we were saying to God, “Make this world a better place for me. Give me enough health, friends, and creature comforts and I’ll just stay here forever.”  Pretty sad really, but even our prayers can become too focused on this world and manifest that we have become forgetful that the greatest gift is God himself.

Our more recent fore-bearers saw things differently. A little as the 1oo years ago, most people in this world experienced life as brutal and short. Long hard days of physical labor, food supplies that were less sure, disease and poor medicine all led to lives that were  far less comfortable and more suddenly brief that what we in the west usually experience today. Some of the prayers of that time expressed that life was a vale (or valley) of tears and longing for heaven was a more common focus of  prayer.

We understandably have a natural fear of death, but as Christians we should increasingly long to be with God. With strong faith we can come to see our approaching death not as something to loathe but as the fulfillment of all our longings, for death opens the door toward God. The early Christians had an expression as recorded in the Didache Let grace come and this world pass away. Maranatha (Lord come). Amen (Did, 10)

Getting There – There’s an old Gospel Song that says, “I heard my mother say, ‘Give me Jesus. You may have all this world; just give me Jesus.’”  In my own life I heard people get to the mature point in their life when they could really say those words without any simulation or exaggeration. In particular I have in mind those I’ve been privileged to accompany toward death. For many of them these words become very real. My own mother died suddenly so I did not have the privilege of making that journey with her along the way. But My Father died after a year-long illness and my Grandmother too. I was able to walk with them in their final stages and I heard them say these words. And I knew it was time because only God can get you ready to say those words in a true and authentic way. I knew they really meant it and God was getting them ready for the great journey over to the other shore.

In the end, we have to desire heaven more  than this world and only God can cause this change and purge us from the many attachments we have to this world. It usually takes the dying process to get us there, though I suppose it shouldn’t have to. But, painful though it is to see, there is something quite beautiful about the  approach to death. I often see a letting go in those who approach death;  perhaps it is of worldly glories, old grudges, preoccupations and many worries. Little by little these things fall away and the “one thing necessary” replaces them. It is merely this:  that we sit at the feet of Jesus and wait for him to bring us over. There comes a moment when those who are dying with faith can truly saying the words of Psalm 27 : There is only one thing I ask of the LORD; this alone I seek: That I  may dwell in the LORD’S house all the days of my life and gaze upon his  beauty.

What do you want? What do you long for? Maybe it’s God! I know, its probably a lot of other things too. But if you’re faithful God can get you to the point where you can truly say: Give me Jesus. You may have all this world. Just Give me Jesus.

Pray to desire God above every thing and everyone. Pray along with this beautiful rendition of the Old Song: Give Me Jesus

Preparing for Lent

Maybe, like me, you had to do a little shoveling this weekend! My neighbors were out of town and because I actually like to shovel snow, I shoveled their steps and walk, wondering if I could bank this little work of mercy for Lent!  Are you like me, often approaching the spiritual life like it is an account with God the banker to which you make withdrawals and deposits? Pondering all of this, I remembered a story that changed the way I think about Lent.

When I was in graduate school, I returned to class after Easter break and my professor shared with us the Easter Sunday homily he heard in an Orthodox parish. Following the Opening Prayer, The priest greeted people by saying “For those of you who have kept the Lenten fast, who have been faithful in prayer, who are prepared to enter into the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, rejoice, this is the day the Lord has made.” The priest continued, “for those of you who are here and wish that you had been better about keeping the fast, about praying, about works of mercy, fear not and rejoice, this is the day the Lord has made.” And the priest continued, “for those of you who let Lent pass you by, for those who may not have thought much about our Lord since last Easter and are here today—and here there was a pregnant pause—rejoice and be glad for this is the day the Lord has made for you!” Father said you could almost here a gasp in the congregation—is this for real?

He was, as the Brits like to say “spot on.”  Salvation cannot be earned, it is pure self-gift. The lesson for me is that a well-spent Lent does not gain us points. A perfect fast or 100% attendance at daily Mass, or perfect record of an act of kindness a day is not the point. Teresa of Avila had an insight that sets a good tone for Lent. She writes of sitting in a chapel, gaze fixed on the crucifix and being overwhelmed by the realization of how much she took for granted having been saved by our Lord. How utterly oblivious she was to the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 Make a Plan

These two stories present a challenge. They challenge us to decide that we are going to spend Lent exploring the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, opening ourselves up to the awesome mercy and love of God. What, this Lent, will help us to enter more fully and completely into the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection? The Church suggests prayer, fasting and almsgiving as focal points for consideration. These disciplines open up some interesting possibilities. I want to offer a few suggestions:

Prayer: More is better

Carve out more time for prayer. The Archdiocese of Washington is asking every parish on every Wednesday night (beginning February 24) in Lent to have a Holy Hour and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Consider blocking out some time on Wednesday evenings to enjoy the quiet of contemplation in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Not sure how to pray in a contemplative way? Click here for some help www.adw.org.

 The Wuerl Plan

In a homily, Archbishop Wuerl told the story of a parishioner he met who desired to make daily Mass a part of his daily routine. He was having a hard time keeping his commitment because his days were full and busy and it just wasn’t working. Rather than giving up, the man decided that he would make the commitment to go to Mass one day a week for a year and in the second year, add a second day and so on, so that in seven years, he would be attending daily Mass. The Archbishop commented on how reasonable that plan seem to be for a busy lay person. If it is good enough for Archbishop Wuerl, it may be good enough for you!


I do believe we have lost the art of fasting. I use to convince myself that I really couldn’t fast for 12 or 24 hours and not feel ill, light-headed, or cranky.  To be sure many people are not able to do this but I have learned to test my limits and found if I put my mind to it and make it prayerful, I am able to fast.  Fasting is one of the oldest practices of the Judeo-Christian tradition. One author speaks of it as a “response to a sacred moment, not a way to get what we want from God.” Fasting is linked to Lent because Lent is a period in which we recognize our sinfulness and how unaware we are of God’s enormous capacity for forgiveness and mercy. Fasting is a form of prayer that allows us to focus our minds on the reality that ultimately only God can satisfy our hunger and thirst. A traditional fast is to consume nothing but water (and for some not even water) for 12 or 24 hours. If this is not a healthy choice for you, a more common fast is smaller and/or fewer meals. Choose a fast and keep it.


The kind of self-giving love that Jesus so perfected in his death was the culmination of a life in which he chose at every turn to be generous, loving, kind, to freely give more and more of himself so that when his Father asked to give his very life, he could say  “yes,” as did his mother before him, and Moses before her and Abraham before him. Almsgiving is the practice of freely giving of our time, talent and treasure. In many cases, it does not even require that we leave home to do it.

And One More…

I suggest one more practice—spiritual reading. There are so many Catholic classics that can enrich and nourish our spiritual life and bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord. I want to suggest three classics and one contemporary book that is tailor made for Lent.

 Augustine: The Confessions

The Confessions is readable and timeless as Augustine writes honestly about desiring to love God with his whole mind and heart, but just not ready to make the changes in his daily life that this requires.

Francis De Sales: The Devout Life

The Devout Life, written in the early 17th century, is one of the first books that looks at the spiritual life of the lay person as something distinct from the spiritual life of priests and religious. It is Francis, the Bishop’s attempt to reflect on the call to holiness in the midst of the world.

Teresa of Avila: The Way of Perfection

Though The Interior Castle is Teresa’s greatest work, it is not so easy to read. The Way of Perfection was written for her sisters in the style of a teaching manual and so it is straightforward as it breaks open the discipline of the spiritual life

Mary Margaret Funk: Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life

Sister Mary Margaret is a Benedictine Sister who has been a teacher and prioress. In this book she examines fasting, The Jesus Prayer and Ceaseless Prayer—all good Lenten practices.