Strength in the Face of Temptation

I have found that one of the enemy’s key strategies in my life is to seek to tempt me when I am least on my guard. It may be while I am searching for a topic on the computer or when I am casually walking in a store. Temptations such as anger, acedia, pride, and arrogance can seemingly come out of nowhere.

St. Ignatius speaks much about discernment, however, the ability of discernment requires awareness and the skill of awareness must be developed. The tool Ignatius used to help develop an awareness leading to a more discerning way of life was to practice the prayer of examen.

Ignatius believed we should practice the prayer of examen at least twice a day, once at noon time and the other at night. By taking the time to engage in this prayer (10-15 minutes) a person can become more aware of the times of temptation as well as the times in which God was drawing close to us in our daily lives.

The prayer of examen involves five (5) steps:

1. Stop and take the time to do something to remind you God is always present.
2. Think of the things you should show God gratitude during your morning or day.
3. Pay attention to the times you felt you were acting in God’s will and times in which you were moving away.
4. Confess you times of failure and ask God to help you depend on him in the hours, minutes, time ahead.
5. Look toward honoring God as you continue your day (specifically plan to do something you can do to honor God).

You will be amazed at how this simple act of prayer can strengthen you against the enemy’s actions.

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Don’t Let the Enemy Win

St. Ignatius gave the church a powerful tool to use against our enemy in spiritual warfare and in spiritual direction. The tool is a set of rules to follow while living with the understanding we have an enemy bent on the destruction of our soul and the limitation of our spiritual growth.

Eighth Rule. The eighth: let the one who is in desolation work to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him, and let him think that he will soon be consoled, diligently using the means against such desolation, as is said in the sixth rule.

What this means is simply, don’t give in. In times of spiritual desolation, we will find it hard to pray. The answer to this is to pray even more. In times of spiritual desolation, we will find it harder to focus on spiritual matters. The answer is to focus even more on spiritual matters.

Spiritual desolation and non-spiritual desolation are very difficult to deal with. It can be a major struggle when things are not going well in one’s life. When you have been betrayed, slandered, discarded without regard, and then stepped on by a world that sees no value in you at all, desolation can be a crushing weight and continual searing emotional pain that seems hopeless.

When in such a state, it is time to reflect upon the last days of Jesus. It is time to rejoice that you have been given the opportunity to feel. It is time to put things in a perspective beyond the moment and let yourself be present with the one who is with you, the one who feels everything you feel. The one who has been there and rose from the grave to show us the day of consolation will come.

Amen!

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Danger, Seeker, Danger

I was asked to review a new book that is soon to be released that could easily have been titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Contemplation in Five Easy Steps.” This book is one of many trying to jump on the “hot new” trend in post-modern Christianity of engaging in a type of pseudo-contemplative life.

My feedback on the book was direct and critical. I feel what the author was offering could be simply feeding a fad at the least and spiritual dangerous at the worst. The reason I say this because of the manner in which the spiritual disciplines dealt with in the book are presented. The author encourages individuals to “experiment” with the differing means of developing more contemplative disciplines in a manner of going to a Golden Corral and trying all the different dishes to see what one likes.

This type of consumer-driven pursuit of what is pleasurable might be okay for trying new foods or fashions, but in the spiritual life, it can lead one down a path of deception and misdirection or lead to disillusionment and frustration.

I know this to be true from personal experience. Spiritual disciplines are relational instruments given to us through the traditions of the church, connected solidly to correct doctrine, and evaluated by commitment and divine consolation. It is a very difficult path to try to travel alone, much less with a shallow, broad based workbook. The disciplines deepen our life of prayer and communion with God, others, and ourselves. The type of help needed with this process that can take forty years rather than the simple forty days pitched in the book.

Now I will give the author this, she does understand the shallowness of our current consumer-driven Christianity. I do believe she is sincere in her desire to see people engaging in these disciplines in hope of deepening their prayer lives and trust in the mystery that is our loving God who desires this depth of relationship with us. I am afraid, however, because of her own unique situation, she is calling others toward a spiritual path filled with deceptions, let downs, and possibly even spiritual harm.

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Awakening to the Presence of God in the midst of a Spiritual War

Last year, I faced one of the most frightening events of my life. I had unwittingly entangled myself in a domestic dispute between a boy and his girl friend. I had met the girl several times at church and thought her to be a strong Christian.

However, on this day, when the young man called and asked me to give him a ride home from work, I received the surprise of my life. When I brought the young man to the house where he and the girl lived, a fight broke out between the girl and the boy. I did my best to get in between the two, but eventually I felt the need to call for law enforcement intevention before someone was seriously hurt.

Then, the young girl, who was not herself, jumped in her car. She looked at me, but the being looking at me was not the young girl. A voice, an angry, masculine, harse voice yelled at me, “The next time you see her she will be a corpse!”

The young girl then pushed the accelerator to the floor and drove around 300 feet into an large old oak tree. The front of the car crumpled, but the air bags deployed (This particular car had been in two front end collisions and the air bags had not deployed). The girl was injured but not seriously hurt. Had the airbags not deployed she would have been killed. She had no idea she had driven the car into a tree.

I had an encounter with a demon.

I was not ready for this encounter, nor was I ready for the aftermath of spiritual desolation and darkness that stayed with me for the next eight months after this event. Everything went wrong. One of the churhes I served turn completely against me and manufactured lies in order to get me removed from my office. I face family crisis and had no support from the denomination I was serving, in fact, the person who was supposed to be supportive of me did her best either consciously or subconsciously to destroy me even more. The depression became so bad, like Dante before Virgil took him on a tour of hell, I considered ending my life.

But then came the opportunity for a morning prayer group. With this prayer group came support and nurture. As Ignatius instructs, in time of desolation do the opposite. I spent more time in silence. I refocused on more spiritual reading. I engaged in a more active

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discernment of the spirits, and with God’s grace and drawing presence, I have moved back into a state of life in which consolation is more frequent than desolation.

I am not yet over the wounds of this battle, but I have forgiven the human elements involved and am more aware of the enemy that is likely still close by. I am better prepared now should this entity come close again. I know greater his He that is in me that he that is in the world.

I am afraid too many of us do not take the challenge of spiritual warfare seriously. I know I do and will.

1 Peter 5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8 NRS)

Beatrice and Mary

The poet Dante, in his Paradiso, is guided by the Lady Beatrice, a woman whom he carried a love for his entire life into the realm of Paradise.  Now Dante had only met Beatrice twice in his whole life. They were never “together” in the modern sense of the term, yet for Dante, it was his love for her that he idolizes as the saving grace the rescued him from the despair of planning his own death to the vision which eventually leads him to experience the ultimate meaning of life in the love of God.

 

For years I strove to work out my salvation in a religious orientation that was at best oblivious too and at its worst hostile to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I was told the Catholics “worshipped” Mary and that anyone who paid her more attention than recognizing her as the submissive maid of the nativity story was in danger of engaging in idolatry.

Now, I have learned so much more about this amazing woman whom the generations have called blessed. Now, I join with others for morning prayer in which the “Angelus” is prayed. I have learned from the Scripture, Jewish history and customs, and through the experience of the church that Mary is worthy of our attention, worthy of our love, and one who, I believe, interdicts for the church from her place in heaven.

Reexamining the person and character of Mary, for me,  opens one to a deeper understanding of the love of God. It opens to all who desire a closer walk with God a new opportunity for reflection and to a deeper understanding of opportunities others who have preceded us in the faith discovered when they were open to Mary’s contemplative and relational realities in their lives.

I am so glad I have discovered the Angelus. And, as Dante was appreciative of Beatrice, I am more and more appreciative of Mary, the mother of God.

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Always Present

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
While prevenient grace is all around
I once was lost, but not to grace
For God always knows my place
This grace draws me to understand
That my salvation is God’s plan
No matter what I do or say
My God loves me, anyway!                    

DM

In his new book, Ocean of Light, Martin Laird writes the following,

God does not know how to be absent. That is to say, it would go against God’s nature for God to come and go. But we can be ignorant of this intimate presence and build a lifestyle that maintains this ignorance. (page 18)

This is an important fact to always be conscious. God is present. If we feel like God has left, the problem is with our perception, not God’s presence.  Nothing reveals this more than our developing a contemplative relationship with our creator. God’s still small voice is always speaking. There are just times we need to get quiet enough emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually to hear.

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Happy Five Weeks after New Year

And thus a new year begins! Well, for those who use the church calendar, not really. If you use the church year as your reference, your year started with the first Sunday of Advent.

I decided, some time ago, to seek to live my life on the basis of the church year. Why would I want to do this? First, by starting with Advent, my focus is upon perhaps the most important event in human history, God becoming one of us. And while the death and resurrection of Jesus are at the center of human history, the profound truth of one of the most beloved truths of the Bible found in John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16 ESV)

is made real in the coming of Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the ever-virgin Mary, God incarnate, Emmanuel, into our world as one of us.

The other reason for my deciding to live life on the basis of the church year is to remind me that God rules this world. I find it more rewarding to measure time, duration, on the basis of the events of the life of my Lord, the historic actions of God in history and those who have lived exceptional lives of faith.

I believe it is a good thing to have days of celebration that are inclusive of all faiths and philosophies. However, in a world in which too many have made faith simply an option of life rather than the center of life, I want to do all I can to maintain an active awareness for the reason I am alive and why.

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