Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Desert, Sin, and the "Great Mirage"

It does not take long for us to realize that we are hungry and thirsty after entering the desert. For some it is a few hours, for others it may be a few days.

The absence of the comforts we have grown accustomed to become noticeable. We are no longer receiving any consolation, we no longer experience any sense of peace, we can no longer find solace in the things we usually could.

Once in the desert for more than a few days, perhaps a week even, we become focused on the hunger and thirst, upon the pain of emptiness, and the seeming absence of God. It is impossible to listen, to hear what is happening around us due to our discomfort. The pain can be overwhelming in its intensity.

At some point we will need to make a decision: do we step away from the pain and discomfort and begin journeying deeper into the desert, or do we stay in our current place and then seek to go back to where we were comfortable?

Acceptance of where God has placed us, or rejection of that place? Realize that our pain and suffering is redemptive, or try and repress it, stuff it back down, and run away from it?

If we decide for acceptance and taking the next steps to journey deeper, then we must be prepared to face the coming challenges. If we decide to reject that place and God's call then we must accept the coming weight of responsibility for our action if not in this life then in the next.

When we have accepted the call to journey deeper into the desert, we may face a challenge that can be called the "Great Mirage".

We all have a tendency to place God into what can be termed a "box". That is, He must do, think, and act according to our vision, philosophy, theology, what have you of life. Whether we are conscious that this is our way of being/thinking/praying or not. Another way of putting it is, "my will be done because that is what God's will is".

The Mirage is the distortion of what life is truly about. We permit it to be established in our life by our refusing to open ourselves to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in honesty and integrity. It then becomes our "vision" of what we think life is, however we are the ones in full control.

When the reality of the desert and its challenge given to us by the Father broaches into our vision - into our Mirage, and the Father's challenge is contrary to that vision, we might try and pass it off, brush it off, explain it away, or use whatever excuse we can in order to not face that challenge.

Sin is an act of our will against the will of God. It is to turn away from what God wants and to do what we want.

When we embrace the Mirage and refuse to accept the challenge that comes to us deeper in the desert, we are turning our will against the will of God. The Mirage will lead us no where, with the distinct possibility of us dying in that same spot we stayed in for much our life after having embraced it.

The Mirage is closely tied to comfort. And, in the spiritual life, comfort is spiritual suicide.

A practical example of one who was placed into the desert, and faced his own Mirage challenges, was St. Thomas More. His good friend, King Henry VIII demanded that he essentially renounce his faith and swear his allegiance to the king and the Church of England. St. Thomas More's struggles to maintain his position based on his faith were great. His staying firm was met with his eventual imprisonment and then execution when he patently refused to sign Henry VIII's Oath of Supremecy.

He could have accepted to sign that Oath. He could have worked with King Henry and his machinations to bring about an heir for his throne. He could have embraced the Mirage. But he did not and thus offered the supreme sacrifice of his life for Jesus Christ and His Church.

The Mirage begs of us these questions: Are we willing to go the distance, no matter what the cost? Are we willing to venture deeper into the desert, stepping beyond the Mirage, and the many more that will appear, to accept the aridity given to us by the Father? Are we willing to allow ourselves to have our complacency challenged? Are we willing to allow for the possibility that our preconceived notions may be wrong?

Prayer: Loving Father, You have placed us in the desert of Lent to challenge us to discover the depths of Your Love that can be found there. Help us to discover how to move our will into synch with Yours. Help us to offer up our pain and suffering while in the desert to You. Help us to discover the true gifts that we can find in the desert. Father, instill in us a deep sense of gratitude for the many gifts You have given us.

Thank You Father for the desert beauty. Thank You Father for sending Your Angels to support us and sooth us. I love You!

Pax vobis,


Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Desert, Sin, and the PPP Temptations

Continuing our meditation on the Desert, today we will take a closer look at what happens while we are there willingly or not.

When the Holy Spirit has called us out into the desert and we have responded, or in His Wisdom has placed us in there, it is a time for brutal honesty.

This type of honesty is a necessity in the desert. Why, you may ask? Because, while in the desert there are some very specific rules that one needs to follow in order to not only survive the experience, but to grow as a result of the experience.
  • The desert is a brutal place to be. It is stark, with only a very highly adapted way of life allowing one to survive there. Look to St. Anthony of the Desert, the founding Desert Father and the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
  • The only way to survive while in the desert is to be completely dependent on God for all forms of sustenance. Look to Jesus.
  • One must trust that God has a purpose for placing us in such a brutal environment. The Father truly loves us.
  • If we try and hide from God and what He is trying to work in us, the only "place" we have to go is essentially to bury ourselves in the sand.
  • The "oasis" of attachment to places, things, or people will not sustain us for very long.
  • Satan will try very hard to take advantage of our wounds and weaknesses as well as distract us from the goal of the Holy Spirit.
  • And finally, one must give the Holy Spirit one's will completely while in the desert.
The Scriptures tell us very specifically that Jesus was lead out into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be put to the test by the devil! (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1)

Three very specific temptations are described to us in detail:
  1. Turn the stone to bread (Possessions)
  2. The offer of the kingdoms of the earth (Prestige)
  3. The request to jump from the Temple height and have the angels save Him (Power)
We are also given an insight into the fact that the devil will manipulate the Scriptures to say what he wants them to when in the third temptation he quotes Psalm 91:11-12:
... he has given his angels orders about you to guard you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone.
A key to learning to survive the desert experience is to not concern ourselves with the, "why am I experiencing this temptation or that temptation", or, "where or who is this temptation coming from", but to focus on how we are going to deal with the temptation and then follow through on doing it.

If we focus on the why or try and discover where the temptation is coming from we are then sufficiently distracted from praying our way into discovering how we are going to deal with it.

Jesus shows us this method clearly in how He deals with each of the three temptations in the Scriptures. He focuses in on the temptation itself, not where it is coming from nor why it may be there, but He constructively takes the temptation apart to examine the best method of dealing with it, and then He follows through on turning it away.

The Father knows what He is doing. He draws us into the desert through the inspirations of the Holy Spirit to deal with something that is in between Him and us. He wants us to realize what it is that is holding our relationship back, and then He gives us the tools and the Grace to let it go.

The Father has given us the gift of Jesus heading out into the desert before us. He has given us in His Son a textbook example of how we are to live our desert experiences and also face and deal with our own temptations.

We can see that Jesus was indeed tempted with the big three: Power, Prestige, and Possessions. Had He succumbed to any of those temptations, He would have placed something in between Him and His relationship with His Father. The same is true of us if we too succumb to them.

Prayer: Father, we thank You and praise You for the gift of the Desert. We thank You for the shining example of Your Son's experiences while there before us. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit Father, help us to remain steadfast in giving our will completely to You. Help us to let go of everything that is interfering in our relationship with You!

Thank You Father, thank You Jesus, thank You Holy Spirit for the gift of Lent and the call to enter into the desert with Jesus!

Pax vobis,


Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Desert, Sin, and the Tangible Loss of Grace

In the desert we are faced with ourselves and with our God.

If we are honest with ourselves and in our response to the Holy Spirit when He beckons us to enter the desert, we will experience what could be a rude awakening.

In the desert, where the Light of Christ pierces our souls as the desert sun, all those areas within us that are in shadow and darkness will begin to stand out.

For, as the desert sun grows higher in the sky, so too the shadows and darkness no longer will have a place to hide.

The shadows are those little areas where we remain selfish, from cutting someone off in traffic, to saying no to the beggar, or doing something for self at the expense of our families, friends, and others. These little selfish things, these shadows, can grow into great rooms of darkness.
Sin "hates the light". (p. 889 New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality)
The Light, the desert sun, belongs to Jesus Christ, and how we react to His Light, the desert sun, is a very real indicator of where we stand in our relationship, or lack of one, with Him.

If immersed in our own selfish world with no regard for the inspirations of the Holy Spirit to open ourselves to the Light, to the sun, we are in grave danger. A very real method of cutting off the Light is throwing up interior walls, barriers, curtains to prevent the Light from penetrating our shadows. Or, we may try and hide ourselves behind some form of induced constant busyness, obsession with some thing or someone, or perhaps we are completely focused on doing as opposed to being.
What? You want me to let go of what? Why should I do that? I don't want to! I like where I am, I am comfortable, leave me alone!
And therein lies the crux of the Holy Spirit's call to put out into the desert. It is a call to stand with our God and face our wounds, weaknesses, failures, our sin.

There is a point, and it is different for each of us, where we completely sever our relationship with God. We allow ourselves to grow in our selfishness, our sin, to the point where we completely push God out of our lives. This can happen gradually as we start down the slippery slope of entertaining our temptations to the point of gratifying them, or it can be a situation or event where we act or refuse to act according to God's Will in a very serious matter.

This point where we have turned our back on God completely is called Mortal, or Serious, Sin. Mortal meaning death, or a complete severing of our Life Line of Grace.

There are three conditions that must be met for us to completely sever our relationship with God, that is enter into a state of Mortal Sin:
  1. We must have a clear understanding that the act, or lack of action, is contrary to the Law of Love and the 10 Commandments.
  2. We must give our will completely to that act or inaction without any reservation or coercion.
  3. The act or inaction must be very grave in nature and consequences.
We need only look to the 10 Commandments for a baseline of the kinds of actions or inactions that can constitute Mortal Sin.

Along with this baseline of the 10 Commandments there is:
  • the Holy Scriptures
  • the writings of the Saints
  • a constant prayer to the Holy Spirit, Our Lady, the Angels, and the Saints
They will also help us develop our sensitivity to the sin in our lives. We will begin to see the contrast between the Light of Jesus Christ as it begins to shine within us, and the shadows and darkness that is our sin.

The desert gives us an opportunity to embrace the realization that we have in some way, shape, or form either turned our eyes away from or turned our backs completely on Jesus.

For us Catholics, we are given the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the means to bring ourselves back into right relationship with God. If Reconciliation is not available, there is also, hopefully, the opportunity for one to truly repent of one's Mortal Sin before death. Ultimately, one's state of grace in life and before death, that is relationship with God, can only be determined between that person and God.

It is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where the Precious Blood of Jesus pours out upon our wounds and sin to cleanse our wounds and remove the stain of sin.

There are times where the loss of grace can be tangible. This is especially true for those who convert from a life lived willingly in darkness and are now working with the Holy Spirit to allow the Light of Christ to reside within. The loss of grace eliminates our share in the Lord's divinity; it reduces us to something less than we truly are; it places our soul in peril of hell. It essentially turns out the Light!

And on the flip side of that tangible loss of grace, during the Sacrament of Reconciliation there are times where one can tangibly experience the Blood of Jesus pouring into the wounds caused by the sins committed earlier. One can experience one's person being buoyed up by the infusion of His grace!

It is truly the person of Jesus Christ within the priest with us there in the confessional, laying His hands upon our head to rain His Divine Mercy down upon us. When one leaves the confessional, one knows that one is in right relationship with Jesus the Lord! One does not need to have tangible experiences to know this.

The Church in Her Wisdom realizes our need to make our relationship right with the Lord. Thus, we are encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the season of Lent.
We must allow the Holy Spirit to work within us during the Lenten Season. We must allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit's drawing our attention to the areas within our lives where sin dominates. We must allow ourselves to be drawn into the desert to sit with ourselves and our God.

If we do not, our relationship with God runs the risk of death.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, inspire us to accept Your call to enter into the desert. Fill us with a spirit of honesty to deal rightly with those areas in our lives that You point out to us as needing work. Help us to work up the courage to bring our sin before Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Help us to embrace our Cross.

Thank You Holy Spirit for the gifts of Your inspiration! Thank You Jesus for the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

Pax vobis,