Phil 4: 4-8

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Whose Fault Is It?

Recently we headed up to the Mother Cabrini shrine outside of Golden for some quiet prayer time at a holy place.  Beautiful, unseasonably warm weather ensued—and with it, hordes of others getting away from it all, many with high-energy youngsters.  Dozens of adults and rambunctious children were enjoying the shrine that day.  It was a weekend, after all! 

Before we left home for the shrine, after a brief prayer about what spiritual reading material to take along—Magnificat, Bible, The Imitation of Christ, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, or all of the above—The Imitation of Christ is what seemed most appropriate.  After finding some quiet space for a brief period of time in the shrine’s chapel, it became pretty obvious why the answer to my prayer was The Imitation of Christ.  From Book One, Chapter 16:

"Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.  If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves."

I literally did a double-take at this passage.  To borrow a line made famous by a then very young Robert DeNiro, I asked, “You talkin’ ta me?”  And, of course, He was talking to me—directly and clearly.  Let that be a lesson for us all: be careful what we’re wishing for when we pray that the Lord speak to us in clear, unambiguous terms that we can understand!  He’s more than happy to oblige, as in this case—“Don’t worry about others’ faults, you’ve got more than enough to go around.”

This reminded me of the quote I’d seen attributed to St. Ephrem to the effect that we should “Be kind to all you meet for everyone is fighting a great battle.”  As is the case with many such pithy quotes, this one or some version of it seems to be attributed to numerous individuals, from ancient Greeks to modern-day personalities, as well as the saint.  Regardless of who said it first, it rings true, doesn’t it?  Consider all of the people we know pretty well, and just some of the problems each is facing right now.  It should make us stop and think before we react the next time to another person’s lack of empathy or charity towards us.  We don’t know what else they have going on in their lives at any particular moment:
  • Maybe the reason why she’s rude to you today is because she or a family member received some bad news from a biopsy or other medical test;
  • Maybe she’s having some problems at home with her spouse or children;
  • Perhaps he seems less concerned about your needs than you’d like because his adult son or daughter is having marital problems of their own;
  • Or it could be that he just took the undeserved blame for some problem at work;
  • Perhaps there’s been a death in the family; or
  • [You fill in the blank…]

The list of reasons for someone’s apparently bad behavior can be endless.  As well, what I’ve found in working with a variety of people in business over the years is that sometimes the person simply doesn’t know how to act any more appropriately when under stress.  They simply may not have yet developed the emotional intelligence to respond in a more fitting manner, or haven’t learned more suitable behaviors to deploy.  Some problem behaviors come from deep-seated personal problems—poor self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, inferiority complexes, medical disorders, etc.

Now do these examples of personal challenges justify someone treating us rudely?  No, they don’t.  And we are not required to put up with patterns of abusive behavior, verbal or otherwise.  But we also do not need to respond in kind. 

Consider also that sometimes, based on the kind of day we ourselves are having, for example, we may take something in the wrong way, even if the person we’re interacting with didn’t mean it that way.  As a result, we get worked up and then create behavioral problems of our own that spill over into our interactions with others. 

So what should we do about all of this, if we’re interested in making some improvements in our own lives?  The Imitation tells us:

"If all were perfect, what should we have to suffer from others for God’s sake? But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another’s burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself nor wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man’s virtue is best revealed in time of adversity—adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is."

But just how might we implement that advice?  Perhaps by:
  • Spending more time in prayer generally, and specifically in relational prayer, in dialogue with God.  Talking to Him and then letting Him talk to us
  • Asking the Lord what He’s trying to tell us through the interaction we’ve just had with someone—what lesson is He teaching us?
  • Praying to Our Lady to obtain for us the grace we need to respond appropriately to all with whom we come into contact, showing them the peace and merciful love of Our Lord in our interactions with them
  • Giving thanks to God when we encounter inappropriate behavior from others for the opportunity to practice building virtues such as obedience, humility, patience and courage.  (Yes, at first blush this sounds odd, but try it, and see if it doesn’t almost immediately lower your blood pressure.)

There probably are many more tactics we might consider as well, but the point is that we need to take it to prayer and continually be open to our personal transformation through His graces.  Let’s follow the lead of two great Saints:

St. Paul: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thes 5:16-18

St. Teresa of Avila: “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Focus for Lent

So how is Lent starting off this year?  We’re three days into it, so we still have time to get focused or refocused at this early stage and to create as, Matthew Kelly calls it, “The Best Lent Ever” even if we’ve been slow on the draw.  But really—how has it been going so far? 
  • Have we taken some quiet time away from the day-to-day madness for relational prayer with Our Lord?
  • Have we identified, through prayer, what He suggests we do for mortification over the next six weeks?
  • Have we begun actually implementing whatever it is that the Holy Spirit has placed on our hearts?

Or, are we still thinking about getting “around to it?”  Have we been just a little too busy to engage in some prayerful discernment and to take those first steps on the way to creating some permanent spiritual improvements in our lives?  Spiritual directors will caution us against becoming so busy that our prayer life suffers, or what a friend refers to as the “heresy of busy-ness.”  Keep in mind that the evil one will set us up for failure in the most subtle ways.  As our men’s group heard from Fr. Larry Richards a couple of years ago, the father of lies will create attractive situations for us to draw us away from God.  Certain of these attractions can lead to sin of the worst kind, of course. 

But there’s more at risk.  We can be distracted from our relationship with Our Lord—from our prayer life—by the evil one when he appeals to what are arguably our higher, more pure motives.  For example, if we need approbation and like being in the spotlight, he’ll encourage us to work harder for the accolades.  If we pride ourselves on being self-reliant and over-achievers, he’ll entice us to go out and get more involved in daily busy-work to prove just how “good” we are in doing our jobs, carrying out volunteer activities (even at church), increasing our intellectual prowess, and more.  It’s a cunning trick he’s always trying to play on us.  And it leads to an incremental build up, so we’re not even aware of what’s going on until we stop, if we ever take time to do so, and reflect on where we’re going and realize how over-committed we are.

It’s easy to be over-committed in these times, especially for families with children at home—between making a living, spending some time at home as a family, engaging in school activities, extra-curricular activities and shuttling to and from them, we’re often near maximum capacity with only a minimal amount of time left to devote to spiritual activities.  This also can be true for people who are empty nesters and grandparents as well—at the end of the day, it’s not uncommon to sit down exhausted, wondering where the day went.  The evil one will present us with many, many opportunities to distract us from growing in our relationship with the Lord and getting to know Him better—and some of these opportunities will be for potentially good causes.  Only by prayerful discernment, at times augmented with some candid discussion with a spiritual director and/or a confessor, can we make the decisions that God wants us to, for His Greater Glory.

Which leads me to the main point of this post:  This Lent, we ought to consider the maxim that “Less Is Better.”  No, that does not mean that we should minimize our prayer, penance and almsgiving practices this Lent!  Rather, we might benefit from a tighter focus on just what we ought to do.  In my coaching of executives and managers, one of the things I’ve found that stacks the odds in favor of success is to focus on a few key objectives with clearly identified metrics for success (metrics for success answer the question, “How are we going to know it’s working?”).  This is more of a rifle shot approach than a shotgun approach.  Make some progress on the initial, key goals, and then and only then, add in another goal or two.  We all have only 24 hours in the day, and we all have limits to the energy we can devote to any and all matters we need to address.  So what one or two things is God calling each of us to really work on this Lent?

As well, what approach to prayer and meditation will we use this Lent?  Keep in mind that, at Lent, the Catholic book publishers and video producers come out of the woodwork with offerings to help us have a better (or “the best”) Lent, in addition to standard favorites such as the Divine Office and Magnificat, etc.  Any one of the many available Lenten prayer products could be of help to us.  Consider, for example, the Little Black Books, Dynamic Catholic’s “The Best Lent Ever,” Bishop Barron’s Lenten reflections, “40 Days to Mercy” from the MIC group, and we could go on and on. 

But—getting back to the point of this post—we can be overwhelmed with Lenten prayer approaches and reading materials if we aren’t selective.  We actually could end up spending more time reading multiple Lenten prayer pamphlets or e-mails than we do talking with, and listening to, the Lord.  The bottom line: we each might benefit from finding one approach we like and sticking with it, leaving adequate time for relational prayer this Lent.

Don’t let the evil one throw you off your spiritual game.  Get focused—stay focused—and have your best Lent ever!