Year In Review – A Yearly Examen

Catholic blogger Philip Kosloski wrote a cool little article about making a Yearly Examen. Most people are familiar with the Daily Examen which is a part of Ignatian Spirituality.  I try to make an effort to do a nightly examen but I admit, I fail a lot at this.

But a Yearly Examen – Brilliant and doable. As much as we are inclined to make New Years Resolutions, how often do we actually review the year that was in order to learn how we can improve ourselves for the coming year?

Here’s Kosloski’s adaptation for his Yearly Examen:

  1. First, give thanks to God for all the many blessings received over the past year. Go through each month, dwelling upon the good and thanking God for it.
  2. Second, ask for the grace to know your sins and failings and renounce them. Go through each month and do this. 
  3. Third, review your year again, month-by-month, and recognize your feelings, thoughts and movements of the heart. There will be certain people and events that strike a chord (for good or for ill). Bring those people or events to God and ask Him why they stand out. Ask God for the grace to see His providence in all things. Nothing happens by chance.
  4. Fourth, ask pardon of God for any sins. Also, do not only ask God for forgiveness, but also ask God for the grace to forgive yourself.
  5. Fifth, look forward to the next year and ask God for the grace to amend your life.

While 2015 is still fresh in your mind, you should make a point to do your own yearly examen. It looks a little daunting but it shouldn’t take you too long.  In the meantime, here are my own little thoughts on this exercise:

As for me, personally, Step number 1 is the easiest part. I made a point this past year to try and remain positive and always be grateful for the littlest things. Someone got me a “Grateful Journal”  where you write something every day that you’re thankful for/something good that happened to you. or an answered prayer for someone else. When you read that every day, it’s hard to remain bitter and depressed.

The second step – A little difficult, I mean who wants to face their sins and failings head on like that? But, I understand why it’s a necessary step. We aren’t perfect, as much as we try to be.

The third step – By far my favorite step. Certain events that “struck a chord” for good were plentiful this year. Pretty sure TOB is at the top of the list. But there were a few that still make me feel sick to my stomach every time I think about them (friendships ending, death of loved ones, betrayal of people I trusted).

The most difficult step though, for me, has to be the 4th. The grace to forgive yourself is far more difficult, I think, than asking God for forgiveness.  Pretty sure this has a lot to do with my self-deprecating humor I adopted a few years ago. It’s easier to make fun of yourself and downplay your successes than to actually believe you’re good at something or are a good person. And when that happens you tend to dwell on your faults a lot more than give yourself some credit for your improvements. Sigh…

The fifth step – Hallelujah!  I AM looking forward to a new year, especially since I have thing for even numbers. 2015 always sounded strange to me. Twenty-sixeteen has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? 😉

Rules to Live By

My wonderful Spiritual Director suggested something recently to me that I thought must be shared.

“Make some rules for yourself.”

Rules? I suppose I asked for it. I had said I felt disorganized and scattered in my prayer life (okay so I’m completely scattered in my real life, not just prayer) but I mentioned the need for some “structure.”

He mentioned St. Benedict and his book called “The Rule” which was a set of…rules. Duh.

So, if I wanna be a Saint I suppose I should try and learn from these guys and gals, right?

The task was to come up with 3 rules for myself that could be anything, not necessarily prayer related.

Example: I will answer all my emails within 24 hours.

The thought is that they should be simple and reasonable rules. And I couldn’t help but think, “This could actually be useful in my other life as a personal trainer with my clients as well as myself!”

That part is coming up…but I digress.

So I have this bad habit of purchasing books/checking out books from the library and just starting them without finishing them. I have about half a dozen books sitting on my shelf that I haven’t cracked open. Which led me to come up with Rule #1.

Rule #1: Don’t check out/purchase another book until I have completed the books currently on my shelf. And I will not read more than one book at a time. I have tried, to no avail, to read 3 books at once. Terrible idea. Never works for me. So back to just one at a time.

Rule #2. I won’t attempt to multi-task while listening to commentary/homilies on scripture. I can’t help but have a slight obsession with learning everything I possibly can about my faith and so I think at last count I subscribe to about 6 different pages/accounts that send out reflections/commentary. You’d think this would be fantastic and a great way to learn but turns out it’s awful for someone like me because I cannot seem to pay attention for more than 30 seconds at a time before I’m clicking the next one. Or I get up and start making breakfast thinking “I’ll just have it on in the background, I can still hear it!” It’s a prime example of why multi-tasking is terrible, for EVERYONE.  So my rule is to force me to focus on one message at a time, hence, structure.

Rule #3.  Think of a Rule #3. 🙂  I haven’t thought of one.  Although I’m considering “Don’t go to Adoration with more than one journal.”  I mean. is it my fault that I love to write and I have 3 different journals for 3 different writing formats? 1 is for blog ideas, 1 is for spiritual direction thoughts and 1 is for free thinking. Actually, that’s pretty organized for someone as scattered as me.

As for my “Other Life” as a Personal Trainer – I thought the Rules could be applied to myself and my own clients in their efforts to be healthy and in shape, especially for those who make those lovely “Resolutions.”

  • Skip dessert (or wine or whatever your biggest indulgence is) every other day. For me, I’m not a big dessert person but I do love cheese. And Peanut butter. So one of those has to get reduced.
  • Get up 15 minutes early 3 days a week in order to make breakfast instead of eating “on-the go.”
  • Save the fast food meals for payday only (Limits yourself to just twice a month at the most)
  • Don’t purchase a “treat” for yourself until you reach a certain health goal first (lowered blood pressure, loss of an inch in the waistline, held a plank for a minute, etc)
  • Walk at least a mile before hitting the “Stop” button on the treadmill/quitting to do something else. I find that the times I really don’t want to workout, if I just say “Okay, just 10 minutes of something then I can stop,” usually works.

There’s plenty more out there but these are just a few to get you thinking…In the meantime, I found this on Facebook and thought it was a great little image to share.  (I’m a big fan of anything food AND faith-related.)

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In the words of Mother Angelica…

From the book “Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality:”

Called by God

You are called by God at this time in history to be so holy that this whole world will be sanctified. And you’re going to do that only by being yourself and changing that self into Jesus – cooperating with the Spirit to be transformed into the object of your love.

 

That last part is my favorite – transformed into the object of your love. YES!!!

How often I pray to be transformed. How often all of us should be praying this same thing. Imagine the possibilities if we all aimed for this. To change ourselves into Jesus. I don’t know how often we think in those terms but after reading Mother’s words, I think it might be time we start.

 

 

 

The Single Dilemma

Ahhh, the single life. Ain’t it grand?

I was recently a bridesmaid at a wedding and it was probably the first time I was GLAD to be at a wedding without a date. Why? Because recently I discovered my calling, my vocation, my purpose in life.

I know what you’re thinking: Whoa. You discovered the purpose in your life? That’s kind of a big deal.

And I would say to you, yes, it’s a very big deal. Hence, my dilemma. (And Yes, that IS how you spell dilemma. I know, I thought it was with an “N” too! There’s even an entire website dedicated to this comical error!)

Getting back to this wedding I was in. Since it was across the country, it wasn’t ever expected for me to bring a date. So I managed to avoid any and all questions of “Who are you here with?” “You’re here alone? Oh…You know I have a cousin who is single…”

Isn’t that usually how the conversations go? Our attached/married friends so badly want to set us up with someone who they assume is single and looking. Or, you get a slew of some form of the following questions:

Are you dating anyone right now?

Are you seeing anyone?

Are you interested in anyone lately?

Have you met anyone?

But see, I’m not looking anymore. And that’s really difficult for people to comprehend. Especially since I’m a female of child-bearing age.

What’s even more difficult to understand is that I’m HAPPY to be single. And not because I think dating is difficult (which it is) or that marriage can be extremely hard (which it could be). No, I’m not saying YES to being single because I want to AVOID dating and marriage. I’m saying YES to being in communion with God, and in the communion of saints – that is, with Christ and the Church.

Again, a very difficult concept for even the most super of super Catholics to comprehend, not to mention non-believers.

How can anyone be single and celibate and be thrilled about it? I attempted to explain this in a post recently. And I also explained a little bit about the freedom of lust here.

But here’s more of how this single life looks:

Celibacy emphasizes that man is called to be a “Partner of the Absolute” – that his deepest yearning is not for the marriage of earth, but for the marriage of heaven. When viewed in light of “the kingdom,” the celibate person loses nothing and gains everything! The joyful celibate testifies that heaven is real. And it is worth sacrificing everything to possess. – Christopher West – Theology of the Body Explained

The joyful celibate. My gosh, how perfect is that?! I think that might need to be the name of my book, if I ever get finished with it.

If you know that being single is your vocation, how do you even begin to tell people and expect them to understand?

I never viewed being single as being a vocation. And technically, it’s not a vocation in the truest sense of the word according to the USCCB. It’s a state in life.

Being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself. — Dr. Theresa Notare, USCCB

BUT, technicalities aside, it doesn’t matter. If anything, this reassures me that I AM meant for something else, that my life is meant to be steered in a different direction.

According to Mary Beth Bonacci of CatholicMatch.com, being single means that God is asking you to follow a different path, one that is uniquely your own.

“God writes straight with crooked lines. He meets us where we are. When we turn our lives over to Him, he creates something beautiful — beyond our wildest expectations,” she says. “As singles, we’re more aware that real fulfillment comes from giving. The absence of built-in gifts in our lives motivates us to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us.”

I’ve felt this inner voice also steering me to GIVE of my time more. Since, as someone who does not have children or a spouse, I DO have the time! I might not have the money that some singles might have that’s needed to make a huge difference in someone’s life, but donating my time is something that I CAN afford to give.

But how do you know singlehood is your lot in life?

Excellent question. I wish I had a solid answer to this.

All I know is the Holy Spirit is definitely speaking to me. After many months of asking and praying about it, the Holy Spirit has put me on the right path. And that path seems to be pointing towards “a voice for the single’s.”  We are commonly referred to as the “leftovers” because no one knows what to do with us. And because being single covers a wide variety of ages, there’s quite a few of us that need some direction and purpose in the church besides clean-up crew.

What does this ministry or group look like? No idea. I’m working on it though!

There’s hope for us in the singlehood. I found my hope and my enthusiasm for the single life through Theology of the Body. But it might happen for you or others thru a different avenue or a different ministry or an entirely different and unique experience. And that’s all good!

If there was one message to my single friends I would want relayed, it would be this:

Don’t become frustrated if you keep getting those questions about seeing someone and dating someone. If you feel it is your vocation to be married, I believe if it’s part of God’s plan for you, it will happen. But in the meantime, why not be a joyful celibate? Be happy to be in a season of waiting for that final union with God. Because in the end, you’re seeking Him, not him or her.

 

Living In The Ache

The mystic is the one who allows himself to feel the deepest depths of human desire and chooses to “stay in the pain” of wanting more than this life has to offer. For the mystic, the true pleasures of the world are a welcome but only dim foreshadowing of the ecstasy that awaits him in the life to come. He can live within that “ache” (what the mystical tradition calls “the wound of love”) because of his living hope that his “soul shall be satisfied as with a banquet” (Ps 63:5), a banquet that lasts forever and will fulfill his every desire beyond all earthly imaginings.

The truth is, we’re all called to be “mystics.”  – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

I guess I’m a little crazy because, I for one, am longing to live in the ache. As soon as I heard it and read about it, I decided “This is ME! This is for me. This is what I am called to do.”

I didn’t always feel this way of course. I never even believed we are all called to holiness. I thought that sounded like a bunch of garbage and just something “really holy people” say to us sinners to trick us into going to confession. So when my buddy Dan got up to speak in front of bunch of us at a retreat and said that God calls us all to holiness, I started to think, “But how? How are you people attaining all this holiness?! What makes you so special?”

Turns out, most people don’t know this truth because they were raised as either stoics or addicts. Probably not 100% true stoics or true addicts in the sense that you’re probably thinking. But stoics as people who were told that their desires or urges were bad and they should be repressed and shoved down into the depths and never spoke about or felt. Addicts were taught that you only live once so you might as well act on those urges and desires as much as you can. But by the way, this doesn’t guarantee happiness. It rarely does, actually.

So where’s the middle ground? Mystics. We need to aim to be more like them. The mystics directed their desires to God. Away from earthly things and towards the heavens. It may seem impossible, but I would offer myself as living proof that the power of prayer makes all things possible.

Desire is the faculty that not only pines after the divine gift, but also receives it when it is given, so the wider our desire, the more capable we are of receiving. Christ wants us to be as wide open to his gift as possible, stretched in our desire unto infinity, because that’s what he has to offer us: the wild ecstasy of infinite bliss. – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

Wild ecstasy of infinite bliss? Now that’s some good news.

Start A Fire: How Song Lyrics Can Spark a Blaze

A couple weeks ago I posted how we are all called to holiness.

How many people actually believe that? Apparently, not many. I have heard from friends/others that to live a chaste life, to live a holy life is “too hard, too difficult. Save that holy talk for the priests and the nuns, and the saints. That’s not for me!”

If you truly believe that all of us aren’t called to a life of holiness and chastity, (yes married people are called to a chaste life too!), then what are you called to be? Just an average person going through life?

Aren’t you feeling called to do a little more with this one life that you have been given?

Because I’m passionate about music, I thought others could relate and so I found some song lyrics that might help start a fire within you to help you see things differently. I put them into some categories.

You Are Not Called to Live a Mediocre Life:

“I don’t wanna go through the motions,

I don’t wanna go one more day,

without your all-consuming, passion inside of me.

 I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,

“What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?”

– Matthew West, from his song “The Motions”

I hear this song and I automatically want to change how I live my daily life. I feel compelled to pray daily, I feel driven to spread the Word, I get excited about how I can stand up for my beliefs. I think about the “motions” I go through everyday when I’m not feeling too inspired and how I feel like it’s a waste to sit on my butt and do nothing that brings me closer to God. So I do my best to “give everything” to Him. He gets all the glory, all the praise.

Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I’m only just a memory
When I’m home where my soul belongs

Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song

I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

If love is who I am
Then this is where I’ll stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back

I want to live like that
-Sidewalk Prophets, “Live Like That”

The message I get from this song is in one of the last verses in this chorus: Never Holding Back. Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak often. Don’t be afraid to tell people you love them. Don’t be afraid to call someone out on something that you don’t think is right or good. Don’t censor yourself. As long as it’s done in an educational and loving way, there’s no way we can’t have a genuine conversation about “hot button topics” and maybe make some changes in this world.

Sometimes the day won’t ever end…some days you just throw up your hands.

It’s the little things sometimes.

Sometimes the world has just gone dark, sometimes you’re praying for a spark.

It’s the little things sometimes.

But if you lift your eyes, see it in a different light, just a cloud up in the open sky, let the rain fall away because today is beautiful!

If you see more than what’s in front of you
You might see more of heaven’s view

– David Dunn, from his song “Today is Beautiful”

I don’t see how ANYONE could NOT feel happy after hearing this song. Talk about powerful lyrics! Don’t we all have days when we want to see things in a different light? It could be the most dreary, dreadful, grayest day. But if we look at things differently, we can see that it’s a new day, we are alive, we have breath.  So let’s be grateful for this new and beautiful day. Look at your problem in a different light, pray about it, and you might get an answer from God that surprises you. Because, as we know, even when we think God doesn’t hear our prayers, He does.

Forgive and Be Forgiven:

I can’t believe what she said
I can’t believe what he did
Oh, don’t they know it’s wrong
Don’t they know it’s wrong

Well maybe there’s something I missed
But how could they treat me like this
It’s wearing out my heart
The way they disregard
This is love or this is hate…
We all have a choice to make

Oh, Father wont You forgive them
They don’t know what they’ve been doin’ (oh no)

Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’

– Tenth Avenue North “Losing”

Forgiveness is probably one of the toughest things that we as Christians struggle with. We desire forgiveness from God through confession. But we also ask for forgiveness from friends and family when we mess up. But the biggest struggle might be when we observe others sinning with no apologies, with no regard for what they are doing to themselves and to their community. We pray to God to please, please, forgive them because they just don’t know. They don’t know that what they are doing is wrong. They believe in their heart that they are doing the right thing because maybe it’s what society told them to do. Maybe since “Everyone else is doing it, I can too!” Maybe it’s even LEGAL but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Is this action going to bring you/them closer to God? If the answer is no, then we need to forgive them anyways, as difficult as it may be. But do so lovingly, not with hate. As the lyrics mention in another part of the song:

Why do we think that hate’s gonna change their heart?
We’re up in arms over wars that don’t need to be fought
But pride won’t let us lay our weapons on the ground
We build our bridges up but just to burn them down
We think pain is owed apologies and then it’ll stop
But truth be told it doesn’t matter if they’re sorry or not
Freedom comes when we surrender to the sound
Of mercy and Your grace, Father, send Your angels down

Take Action:

Here they come, we are surrounded
We’re outnumbered with no place to run
So we’re staying here, lifting up a prayer
Deliver us

Hear that voice there “You shall not fear
You shall not fight watch me there.”
Can we really stand fast while the enemies advance
We swore to believe so no matter the chance we sing

Raise the banner high march with I and I
Lift your voices up loud and high
Strength and unity, faith and victory
Let the battle rage on we cry

Whom shall we fear, no one, no one
We put our weapons down
Whom shall we fear, no one, no one
We raise up worship now

– Audio Adrenaline, “20:17 Raise the Banner”

This is obviously a battle cry. Stand together, stay strong. It’s a constant battle within ourselves and with each other isn’t it? We so badly want our voices heard, but if we are together with other Christians, our voice comes across as one loud voice, and that will get our message out more clearly than just complaining and or just a faint whisper. Be proud of who you are and what you believe in. Pray for God to help make our voices heard.

This world can be cold and bitter
Feels like we’re in the dead of winter
Waiting on something better
But am I really gonna hide forever?

Over and over again
I hear Your voice in my head
Let Your light shine, let Your light shine for all to see

[Chorus:]
Start a fire in my soul
Fan the flame and make it grow
So there’s no doubt or denying
Let it burn so brightly
That everyone around can see
That it’s You, that it’s You that we need
Start a fire in me

You only need a spark to start a whole blaze
It only takes a little faith
Let it start right here in this city
So these old walls will never be the same

Over and over again
I hear Your voice in my head
They need to know
I need to go
Spirit won’t You fall on my heart now

-Unspoken “Start a Fire”

By far one of the best songs to start your own fire. Let it start with YOU. Too many times we listen to that negative voice or negative external voices that say, “That can’t be done, you’re shooting for the sky, that’s unrealistic!” or “You’re just not smart enough to pull this off.”  You ARE enough. If something is important to you, even if you know it’s going to be difficult or challenging or even costly and great sacrifices will need to be made, seek a way to get it done anyways. No one, not even God, said our lives were supposed to be easy or fair. There will always be a struggle. There will always be despair and setbacks and sadness. But what’s the opposite of all of these? Happiness, joy, love, courage, redemption, peace.

Fit In Your Faith Today:  Find a song and let it speak to you! Sometimes songs speak to us moreso than scripture, although it’s funny because most of these songs contain scripture passages. 🙂 There are countless songs out there than start your spark. Here are a few more that you can listen to today!

Switchfoot – Dare You To Move

Redeemed – Big Daddy Weave

Do Something – Matthew West

Where I Belong – Building 429

Hope in Front of Me – Danny Gokey

Revelation Song – Phillips, Craig & Dean

Day One – Matthew West

 

 

 

The Four Nonnegotiable Pillars of the Spiritual Life

Excerpt from The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality

Four essential pillars undergird any healthy Christian spirituality. These are universally prescribed spiritual challenges and are revealed by Christ as being nonnegotiable elements within Christian discipleship. What are they?

We see that Jesus was prescribing four things as an essential praxis for a healthy spiritual life: 

a) Private prayer and private morality

b) social justice

c) mellowness of heart and spirit

d) community as a constitutive element of true worship 

These are not elements we may choose or not choose to incorporate within our spiritual lives. They comprise the essence of the spiritual life. They also supply its balance. Only when all four of these are present in our lives are we healthy, as Christians and as human beings.

We can spend our whole life trying to live out all 4 of these pillars without 100% success. But the point of this section of the book is to understand that if we call ourselves Christians, THIS is what Jesus wants us to strive for. The Christian who has all 4 of these things present in their spirituality, they are the living the ideal Christian life. Chances are, though, that we are lacking in at least one of the 4 areas.  I know I certainly am, especially the part about social justice. But there’s hope! We can identify this absence and work on incorporating it into our lives.

For example, let’s say you’re like me and you do everything listed above except you do not have a passion for social justice. You aren’t the type to sign petitions or stand in front of a courthouse holding a sign or perhaps you don’t feel you are outgoing enough to take a stand. You can fix that by joining a group at your church that holds vigils outside abortion clinics or a group that helps the homeless by taking them meals at local shelters. You don’t have to be on the “front lines” to still take part in social justice. Personally, I was always pro-life in my mind but I never vocalized this opinion to too many people. Recently, and especially after reading Theology of the Body, I am very adamant and quite passionate about preventing abortions in society today. I also look at issues like human trafficking and capital punishment in a different light. Understanding that Jesus wants us to stand up for what He believed and what we as Christians believe has ignited a fire in me to take action.

You might recognize that you are passionate about social justice issues, you have mellowness of heart and spirit, and you pray everyday privately and you obey the commandments. However, you might be the kind of person that doesn’t actually go to church. (Letter D above). You might not “believe” in it. Some people think, “I don’t want to be among all those hypocrites,” or “I prefer to worship in private.”  Here are the authors thoughts on this:

The grounding, earthiness, and necessary pain that only real involvement within a concrete, parish-type family can give you [is what is missing from the life of a person who does not attend a church]. In parishes, we do not get to pick who we will be standing beside as we worship and celebrate various things together. A parish-type family is a hand of cards that is randomly dealt to us, and precisely to the extent that it is truly inclusive, will include persons of every temperament, ideology, virtue, and fault. Also, church involvement, when understood properly, does not leave us the option to walk away whenever something happens that we do not like. It is a covenant commitment, like a marriage, and binds us for better and worse. 

Fit in Your Faith Today: Examine these 4 Pillars  and ask yourself where you are lacking.  Pick up a copy of the book if this peaks your interest and you want to learn more! This exercise isn’t meant to make you feel inadequate or guilty. It’s meant to enhance your relationship with God and examine your spirituality as a Christian. It’s changing my life for the better; think about what it can do for you and for others!