Lent is an excellent time for Christians to find a spiritual retreat. A retreat from the loud and noisy material world. Lent allows the Christian the time to self reflect and re prioritize things in life. Many utilize Lent as a time to give something up but learning to rediscover one’s Christian life is the primary point of Lent. Lent gives one the opportunity to rediscover one’s cross and to follow Christ to Calvary and later rise with him.
Silent prayer can play a large role in helping Christians find their spiritual nature. Silent prayer can help one hear the voice of God and help the soul find a deeper connection. Silent prayer removes one from the noise of materialism and realigns the soul properly to its primary end which is God.
The article, “Lent: Silent prayer in a noisy digital world” b y Sr Nancy Ussellmann looks at the value of silent prayer and its place during Lent. She states,
“Lent offers us a time to take stock of our lives, question our motivations, examine our relationships and pray more attentively, opening ourselves to God’s actions in our lives. The ashes on our face remind us that we are not gods, we will not live forever and this life has a purpose.”
Lent is a critical time for sacrifice but also self reflection and spiritual growth. Silent prayer and Christian meditation can play a large role in helping one grow one’s faith and re-connection with God. It allows one to rediscover their Christian vocation and refocus on what matters most in life.
The sanctify of life has always been championed by the Christianity. Stemming from the 5th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, or more properly interpreted, murder, Christianity and the Church has taught it is sinful to take a life without serious applications. There is a big difference between killing and murdering obviously. The fact that this distinction is made, in no way lessens the Church or Christianity’s teaching on the sanctify of life, but only saddens the Church when killing becomes necessary. This brings one to very complicated situations that needs addressed.
First and foremost, revenge killing, murder, abortion and euthanasia are always morally wrong. It is murder to willingly without sufficient cause to take another human life. All Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church, has made numerous condemnations against abortion and euthanasia. Numerous documents exist that condemn these atrocities. Pope John Paul II himself referred to today’s culture as the culture of death in which the value of human life has been removed.
Human life through abortion has been commercialized and human beings have been reduced to objects. Human life through euthanasia has reduced life to a choice instead of a gift. These social movements have eroded the moral sense of right and wrong in regards to life. While society hopes to cloud the moral objectivity of murder, Christianity has stood strong in condemning these actions.
Yet, despite the Church’s condemnation of murder, Christian social teaching does not forbid necessary killing. There is a large difference between justified killing and murder. Let us first look at war itself.
The Church, especially in the West through St Thomas Aquinas, has taught Just War Theory. This theory does not praise war but laments the unfortunate necessity of it when evil forces arise. Aquinas pointed out that war can only be justified when defensive in nature. Furthermore, certain codes of conduct were necessary. These codes are reflected today in how civilized nations conduct war. Use of extraordinary weapons without sufficient cause are forbidden, as well as weapons that can cause massive death and torture. Furthermore, attacks on civilians, as well as unarmed soldiers and prisoners of war are regulated. It no longer becomes killing, but murder when the enemy is captured or disarmed and then killed. This is reflected in Aquinas but also again in modern law regarding war crimes.
Self defense of a nation justifies killing in war, but only to the extent of defense and destruction of evil. The same ideal is applied to individual self defense. One who uses deadly force because it is the only alternative in preserving one’s life does not break the 5th Commandment, but instead preserves one’s own life. Again, this is because the 5th Commandment forbids murder not killing!
Sometimes, one can look to the Old Testament and see the many sanctions of God being very warlike. These motifs are human words describing the divine in the sacred texts. It does not mean to interpret a God who has blood lust. God as the author of life and death can strike down an evil king, for God’s vengeance is justice. Yet, we see God very much involved in Israel’s history, helping Israel strike down her enemies in war. We also see in the books of laws, many codes that demanded death for certain offenses.
Interpretation of spiritual or physical death can always be argued, but it is without a doubt, that before Christ, the world was indeed more dark. God did not magically become different after the coming of Christ, transferring an eye for an eye to turn the other cheek, but God was always the same. It was the time and the interpretation that differed.
In fact, an eye for an eye mentality found in scripture was actually utilized to minimize violence not condone it. It looked to prevent excessive revenge and only justice. Yet, those before the time of Christ, during the fallen era of Satan, were more inclined to sin without the abundance of available grace through Christ’s death. This does not mean barbaric actions ceased to happen after Christ, but it does point that Satan had a greater grasp on more souls than he does now. God, before the coming of Christ, through the commandments hoped to guide fallen humanity through the prophets as best he could, but until the coming of Christ, without grace, humanity was at a greater risk of evil influence. Attempting to curb Israel’s inclinations was the best the prophets could do during these times. In fact, Christ even pointed out regarding marriage laws, that Moses permitted certain evils only because of the stubborn nature of the people. This applied to all cases in morality. It would be through Christ that the fullness of law could understood and enacted.
Hence when we review many of the old ways regarding killing in the Old Testament, it must be understood under those lights. God never sought the death of innocence, but in fact, like with Abraham and Isaac, rejected human sacrifice or death. Yet, when we see God push forward just punishment upon the wicked, as in the case of the plagues upon Egypt, we cannot associate His justice, as the author of life and death, as wrong. We cannot apply justification in war and defense towards our own actions, the way God did in the Bible.
Yet, we see many Christian extremists misuse Scripture, especially the Old Testament, to justify killing, when in reality they are committing murder. One classic example of this is the Book of Leviticus and its condemnation of homosexuality and the proposed punishment of death. These old laws are not justification for Christians to murder homosexuals, but with misuse and wrongful interpretation of ancient laws can lead to evil outcomes.
Hence, defense that is appropriate to the action is the only time the taking of another life is justified. This may appear on a larger scale such as a battlefield, or in individual self defense. These issues again are only a last resort.
The final social issue that clouds the morality of killing and murder is capital punishment. The idea as whether the state has the right to deny a person of life is debated in Christianity. While there does exist a historical tradition for the state’s right to execute, these ideas need to be understood in the context of the time period it was developed in. The largest concern in regards to capital punishment is the right of the state to defend society from harm. When this is taken into account, in the past, did sufficient prisons exist to defend individuals from dangerous criminals? Also, was the person a persistent threat? For self defense to exist, there must exist immediate threat or potential for that threat to continue.
In today’s prisons, the chance of escape is very low. The idea of an immediate threat is also almost none existent in a modern system. The only possible situation may be if the criminal is a mobster who can order hits from within prison. Yet, if the person is imprisoned, no longer a threat to society, can that person be morally executed by the state?
Whether the action was heinous or not is not the question. The question is does the person pose an immediate threat to society.
Some would contend this is not an issue and that the state has legitimate authority to execute dangerous criminals who commit the most heinous crimes. Unlike vengeance which is carried out with emotion from the party injured, the state is a legitimate authority that presents justice. Does the state hence represent God in someway in carrying out sentences? This was definitely a medieval ideal where kings and queens were ordained by God to rule. Yet, many states are far from pure and just. Communist nations murder its own citizens everyday in the name of justice.
Yet if a state has legitimate authority and is utilizing its authority in a just way for the protection of society, does it have an authority from God to execute a dangerous criminal? Is the sentence of death, even if the person can no longer hurt anyone, justified? Whether revenge or justice, is it condoned?
Ultimately it comes down to whether one believes the state has authority from God to execute criminals. This is somewhat still a debated issue, especially since in the modern era, incarcerated criminals are usually no longer a threat to society. I would contend that, while the state is a neutral and just authority void of vengeance, it still cannot in good conscience take a life within the modern ability to confine criminals. Of course culpability is lessened for those involved in the legal process than a street mob, but the ultimate price of taking a life is forbidden by anyone.
If the state cannot show proof that the execution is for the defense of society, then it truly has no grounds to execute from a Christian perspective. The only authority to execute for the sake of execution is God. God alone is the author of life and death not the state.
Again, this is taking into account, modern prisons and the ability of the state to protect the people through the prison system itself.
When the state does execute for the sake of execution, it takes the role of God. Furthermore, this removes the chance of a person to live a life of repentance while in prison.
Many Christians dismiss this type of murder by the state as not important because the individuals are criminals and evil. They would rather focus on abortion and the innocents who die. Both issues are important because both involve murder. Life must be preserved at all stages and situations. Also bear in mind, many times, innocent men and women can also be executed.
So while state execution does have a history and may be justified even in the past, it is very hard to foster a Christian defense of its application today. Still be it, the state, as a neutral voice of justice, must ensure that the execution is humane and without torture. Of course this is after the fact that it remains an immoral action regardless of circumstance surrounding it.
It is indeed difficult to defend the wicked, but the value of life must be protected for all. God is author of life alone. Only in cases of self defense is killing permitted in Christianity and that applies to everyone.
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A strong spiritual life involves prayer, detachment from the world and union with God. The world attempts to block this union through illusions and distractions. Grace from the Holy Spirit helps produce virtue within our lives that lead towards better habits in developing union with God.
Virtue is a good quality, or internal disposition towards good. It is habitual in nature and becomes part of one’s character. It guides one’s actions and leads one to a closer spiritual life with God. Virtue rejects the vices of the world and focuses on the good. In many cases, virtue are supernatural in nature or moral. Some virtues deal with one’s relationship with God while others direct one in proper relationship with others. (1)
The three theological virtues are faith, hope and love and direct one to God. The four moral virtues are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. While virtue can exist naturally in humanity, grace alone infuses them at a supernaturally level and allows one to utilize virtue towards the action of good. Without grace, one cannot earn virtuous merit. So while, one may cultivate virtue in one’s daily lives, it is only through co-operation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, that such endeavors can ever produce the fruit of a healthy spiritual life. (2)
Hence, it is critical to in spiritual life to cultivate virtue. Virtue and its natural disposition and habitual nature, allows the person to maintain a constant relationship with God and a healthy relationship with one’s neighbor. Grace is essential in feeding virtue. In this, one must cooperate with grace and indulge in spiritual practices that allow virtue to grow. One’s spiritual garden can become neglected without the Word of God, the sacramental life, and daily prayer.
The devil and the world have a way of eroding one’s spiritual garden with a variety of weeds and drought when one does not cooperate with grace and feed the soul the many graces the Holy Spirit affords the soul. Too many times, individuals become distracted from what matters most and the temporal illusions of this world and their false promises of happiness, lead good Christians away from God.
St Teresa of Avila refers to this in and out of one’s spiritual life as the first mansion with God. In this mansion, the individual discovers God and realizes there is more to this world than temporal things. While this is only an invitation to spiritual life, it is an essential mindset. In this mindset, the individual begins to seek out God. So many individuals walk and in and out of this mansion, regaining fervor only to lose it months later. Many spiritually are in this mud of the temporal world, escaping, only again to fall. (3)
This constant tug of the war of the soul between the world and God is a natural state of humanity’s broken nature. The scars of Original Sin, lead one to one’s lower flesh. The will identifies lesser goods as superior and in some cases, bad consciences identify evil ends as good. Without prayer, virtue and grace, the soul sputters into bad habits, or vices. The soul falls to the seven capital sins, of pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, and sloth. (4)
In some cases, the spiritual war that leaves individuals in between the first and second mansions of spiritual union is a back and forth conflict, until one master emerges victorious over dominion of the soul. In this struggle, the soul eventually chooses a life of virtue or vice, God or the world, good or evil.
While Christ the Good Shepherd, will always run after the stray lamb, the lamb still must wish to be found. In this, Christian Counselors, pastors, spiritual advisers and confessors find the most common soul. This type of soul is neither truly saintly or evil, but is inherently good, but lost. These souls wish entrance into the first mansion of spiritual life, but falter. Virtue is far from a habit, prayer life is inconsistent, and the love of the world is still too high of a priority. Yet, the desire to be saved remains.
It is important in developing spiritual development in one’s spiritual children to help direct these souls to sources of grace and better habits. A confessor or spiritual mentor must be patient with the conflict. Habits, especially bad habits are difficult to break and one must gradually move from them and seek God. More frequent prayer, scripture and for Catholics, sacramental participation are essential to opening oneself to the graces needed to convert to a more spiritual orientated life.
As a spiritual mentor, one does not merely direct the soul to better choices and habits, but also teaches the soul how to better discern. Forming a good conscience that is based on the absolute moral law of God. One’s conscience must reflect the Ten Commandments and mirror virtue. It cannot be subjective, or worldly, but must be aligned firmly with God’s law. Only through this can a conscience be of any service to a soul and help it find a more healthy and balanced spiritual life.
What spiritual directors, mentors and pastors must also present is the image of God as a loving father. In this, God’s love is so intense, so passionate, that he seeks out the soul. Even beyond this analogy, God’s love is so strong, it even bypasses any of our most intense relationships. God is so passionate, He awaits our call, our time. It pleases Him so greatly to receive even the smallest token of our love or even our smallest effort to do good. As Christ taught, the Father rewards ten fold for even the soul’s smallest endeavors.
However, there is a very thin line a spiritual director must walk with a troubled soul when preaching God’s mercy and love. While it is infinite, one cannot over emphasize it at the expense of God’s justice. God demands change from the soul. Christ Himself forgave the sinners but also instructed them to sin no more. While the soul may falter, it still must look towards perfection. It must try despite the struggle and understand that change is necessary for union and salvation. Only a spiritual director who knows the soul in question can truly discern if mercy or justice needs to be emphasized at a given time.
In conclusion, spiritual life and union with God is a conscious decision. It is habitual and its ultimate end is God for the sake of loving Him. Grace fuels the soul’s broken ability to enter into this union. Prayer is the language and virtue is the map. The soul is fed through the Word of God and the sacraments in maintaining a healthy relationship. Through these tools given to the soul by God and the direction of a spiritual adviser, a soul is able to enter beyond the initial mansions and begin to enter into true union with God in the later stages of spiritual life.
I find the First Mansions St. Teresa talks about interesting because I believe they are the most difficult to enter as one begins a spiritual life, with all the distractions in the world that keep us from fully entering into a life with God. St. Teresa describes snakes, vipers and poisonous creatures, which could be analogous with technology, secularism, and the constant barrage of noise created by television and radio.
It is heartening to know that God has created within us, this beautiful castle that is ours to explore if we make the conscious choice to do so. It does not come without being vigilant to our own failures and constantly striving to do good so as not to offend God. He created us in his image and so we have the ability, love and support we need to become One with Him. Why then, do we not do what we need to do in order to obey him?
We have fallen short of the task God has set before us – to know ourselves through Him. We don’t take the time to understand and know God, so we do not understand ourselves. We are like zombies walking through life – without life. We don’t understand that God is an ever-lasting river flowing through us. We thirst for Him, but through our own ineptness, we don’t know that we thirst and we wouldn’t know how to quench that thirst even if we did. Only through Him can we hope to have life.
In our darkness we cannot see the beauty that lies within us. We look outside of ourselves to satisfy the need that resides within us, but it cannot be filled by outside influences, people or things. Only God can feed our souls and nourish us. The food of which I am speaking is in Scripture and in praising God for his goodness, for the blessings He grants us, and for the mercy He shows us.
By understanding ourselves, through God’s eyes, we see where we fall short and are able to enter the Mansion with hope and a will to succeed. Through prayer and meditation and an understanding of who we are praying to, we come to know God’s will for us and we strive to release ourselves from the ways of the world in order to please Him. This is not a one-time event. We must continually come into communion with Him so we are prepared as we move through the First Mansion and into the other mansions.
Unless we have the understanding that our soul belongs to God, and we always strive to please Him, we can, through our ignorance, fall into the darkness of mortal sin. We believe we are separated from God and because we are distant from Him, it gives the devil pleasure to do evil works through us. We must be constantly vigilant and discerning that our thoughts and actions are pleasing to God, and in all humility realize that He is our one and only source of good.
Through self-knowledge and our desire to know God, we realize our true nature and strive more every day to be in alignment with that. We put aside worldly concerns, even for just a little while, and commune with God. We come back to our true source and we live better lives in accordance with God’s will for us.
By Teresa Martens
“It is necessary in every state of life for our help to come from God.
May His Majesty grant us this through His mercy. Amen.”
~ St. Teresa of Avila ~
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The Holy Spirit is an essential part of Christian Life. This is why Christ sent Him to the apostles. The Holy Spirit sanctifies what Christ has redeemed. He is the fountain of graces that Christ has earned on the cross and the fuel of all sacramental life.
The article, “Pope Francis on Pentecost: ‘Christian life unravels’ without the Holy Spirit” by Hannah Brockaus states,
“Without the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Christians lack that which animates them and gives them internal life and harmony, Pope Francis said on Pentecost. “Without the Spirit, our Christian life unravels, lacking the love that brings everything together,” Pope Francis said at Mass in St Peter’s Square on June 9.”
The Holy Spirit is indeed the source of grace and infuser of virtue. To read the entire article, please click here
Ministry presents a multitude of challenges. Pastoral care from caring for the sick, dying, as well as the grieving can strain any minister. The time and energy it also takes to spiritually guide a flock can be demanding.
The article, “10 common pastoral care challenges” by Thom Rainer explores ten common challenges in pastoral care and ministry. He states,
“So, for the most part, the challenges are not the members themselves, but the capacity to meet all the pastoral needs members have. Here are how the pastors expressed ten of their greatest pastoral care challenges.”
Suicide for the longest time was considered only to be a sin of despair. It was a stigma and received more condemnation than care. Today, individuals who attempt suicide are treated more like victims fortunately. Family is also given the care and love they deserve from a pastoral perspective.
The article, “SUICIDE: MOVING BEYOND CONDEMNATION TO CARE” by Elizabeth Evans states,
“Numerous faith traditions have a history of criticising suicide as a sin – and one that leads to damnation. But some faith leaders are now working not only to offer those facing despair help in addressing the root causes of suicide but to remove the stigma that keeps so many suffering families quiet after the death of a loved one.”
Discipline and a good Christian upbringing for children is difficult in this secular society. Christian parents must work hard to preserve the faith and also raise good, moral, and respectful children. Discipline is important
The article, “Christian parents, you’re not alone in discipling your kids” by Lyndsey Koh states,
“In America’s post-Christian society, it can be daunting to make sure your kids have a strong foundation of faith. Today’s Generation Z kids tend to be less religious and more relativistic than the generations before them.”
Suicide is a very stigmatizing act. Fortunately, it is being more and more seen from a pastoral way than a condemning way. While it can contain elements of the sin of despair, modern psychology is showing more than not, it is a mental issue revolving around a deep depression. In essence, it is a sickness.
The article, “What does the Bible say about suicide?” by Jim Denison takes a closer and theological look at the sinful history and nature it can have but also its inherent relation to pathological state of mind. In this, Christianity is less harsh on this “unforgivable” sin as maybe in the past. This is not only good news for the deceased but also for the state of the mind of the family who endures this horrible cross. The article states,
“More people die from suicide than from homicide in America. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those aged fifteen to twenty-four and is most common among those aged sixty-five and older. Suicide rates among the elderly are highest for those who are divorced or widowed. In the last half-century, the suicide rate among adolescents and young adults has nearly tripled.”
Hence a theological as well as a pastoral standard are needed when dealing with suicide and the family. Grief Counseling, Crisis Counseling, as well as Christian Counseling are all important disciplines in helping those facing suicide or families who have been hurt by the act itself
Lent is a time of renewal and rebirth. We enter into the desert with Christ for forty days and hope to re-emerge stronger and ready. We die with Christ in hopes of resurrecting with him.
Part of this rebirth is fasting and prayer. Prayer is the first step because it directs our fasting and begs for the graces to fulfill the tasks of Lent. We commit acts of goodness and self sacrifice during Lent to strengthen our souls in our reshaping of our spiritual lives.
Fasting helps one to curb inclinations and passions. Fasting that is self imposed has benefits in this but the greatest fasting is from above. This is why the Church provides general fasting and days of abstinence. The first day of Lent is a full day of fasting, while Friday, in the West, and Wednesday and Friday in the East are days of abstinence throughout the Lenten calendar.
It is critical when targeting vices in our spiritual life to utilize prayer and fasting as a way to overcome our human weaknesses. Prayer and fasting strengthens the soul against the inclinations of the flesh and reinforces spiritual discipline. Both personal and social fasting is key. This is why we not only observe the Church’s Lenten rules, but also offer our own small sacrifices during Lent.
Ultimately our sacrifices are not just for the sole purpose of spiritual rebirth but also as an offering to Christ. Christ gave us his life as an example of how to live the good life in a fallen world. Lent helps us to show Christ our love and thankfulness in emulating and imitating his ways. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit through prayer, we are able to fulfill our Lenten goals. We must remember, our own works are fruitless before the Lord, unless done in His name and through His grace.
Please have a blessed Lent and find strength and growth in Christ through the Holy Spirit. May this Lent also bring us not only closer to Christ, but also to our other Christian brothers and sisters through the variety of Lenten services.
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