Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Ah, those demons love to distract, don’t they?

Just make a resolution to apply yourself more diligently and ardently to prayer, and there will certainly arise distractions.

My distractions this past week have included problems with our hot water heater, followed closely by a problem with the washing machine. Both required visits from repairmen, of course, and I’m sure you know that visits from repairmen require waiting…and waiting…for them to arrive. And they you wait around while the work on the problem. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to excuse myself for the Divine Office at those times, and I find it difficult to concentrate on reading anything. So, time goes by, and I am distracted.

In being distracted from prayer, I become distracted in the other areas of my life.  I have been learning to struggle through it, to try to maintain some equanimity, but this week harder than usual because of financial issues. In addition to the cost of the repairs, we discovered that repairing our 10-year-old washing machine was practically throwing money away. Purchasing a new one is a stressor, as our family finances are simply an atrocious mess of debt. That is definitely distracting.

So now, a new washing machine will arrive tomorrow…more distractions!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Prayer to the Saints

I like this prayer to the saints for intercession. It’s from St. Ephraim the Syrian:

Come to my aid, O saints and righteous ones, who have performed good deeds unto salvation, and lament for me as for one deceased, or take pity on me as one who is among the living but half-dead. For I am full of shame and lack boldness because of the sins I have knowingly committed.

Pour out on me your kindness as you would for a prisoner or for one covered with festering sores. Be kind to me, O initiates of the merciful God, our Savior, and pray that He might freely convert me, and that in the hour of His coming I might not be found unworthy and not hear the terrible condemnation: “get away from Me, O worker of deceit. I tell you that I know you not.”

This is from a book called A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God, and is “excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse. I have read some excellent words from Theophan, as well.

Why do we not hear these kinds of prayers in our Novus Ordo Church these days? That’s a rhetorical question, actually. The point is, so many Catholics no longer think about death in this way; they simply have not been taught to do so. That makes me very sad. Souls are being lost, I’m afraid.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Different Sort of Retreat

As I mentioned, I was on retreat for a few days this past week. Usually that means a few days of peace and quiet in a pine forest setting, in what my spiritual director calls a “rustic” cabin. (It’s got electricity, running water, a shower, and a flush toilet; how “rustic” is that?!?)

This time, one could not describe the scene as quiet. By virtue of a government grant, a crew of fire prevention workers was diligently cutting down trees, bucking them into firewood size pieces, and then chipping the remaining debris. Buzzing, roaring, whirring noise throughout the day…

It was a little distracting, but at the same time, it didn’t bother me much. Don’t ask me why; I am pretty sensitive to noise!

Another “distraction” during this retreat was the sudden, unannounced appearance of a man seeking solace and counseling from the priest. This sort of thing doesn’t usually happen when I’m there; I’m usually alone, and any visitors have made prior arrangements, and I am informed ahead of time. In addition, this man was in such a state of turmoil that it was practically palpable.

Two evenings in a row he showed up right about Vespers time. The second evening, I was alone in the main building when he arrived. As I talked with him, he exhibited some rather odd stress-related behaviors (intense stuttering, for instance), and I wondered briefly about my own safety!

I knew, however, that reinforcements (the priest) would arrive shortly, so I did my best to abandon myself to the moment and the task at hand, and simply tried to listen and respond appropriately to the man, hoping I could be of some help to him. (I do have some experience with this, having done some work with troubled men and women in a drug and alcohol rehab program run by the Pentecostal church I was attending at that time.)

At any rate, the retreat seemed to be God simply showing me that He is, after all, in control, and that if I abandon myself to His Divine Providence, a noisy retreat can be as fruitful as a quiet one. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t resist more, but…by God’s grace, I didn’t. I accepted it as it came. I was left with a sense of having rested in God’s will – even though that “rest” was peppered with exterior noises!

 Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Maternity of Mary

I was praying the office of matins for the feast of the Maternity of Mary last night, and had one of those “moments”…it left me lost in thought for a minute. It was simply an image, really, but there was a concept, too.

You know how we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit “overshadowing” Mary; well, I saw that in my mind’s eye, only differently than I have pictured it before. I saw it in connection with God’s will for Mary, and in connection with the Son of God passing through the walls of His Mother’s womb into the world, without causing any rupture of pain to her. It was all of a piece – God’s essence surrounding and engulfing Mary’s essence, and then Jesus, in essence and in physical “reality” appearing in human form as a newborn baby.

Well, it’s hard to explain.

I guess the change in my personal imagery of it comes from that idea of Jesus passing through the wall of Mary’s virginity in a miraculous way that caused her no physical pain and no rupture or distortion of her virginity. I never thought about that before, or knew what the Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught about it until I read in on the blog of a priest, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush (“The New Theological Movement”).

That description of the nativity of Jesus just astounds me. It makes so much sense. Fr. Erlenbush related it to the later appearance of the resurrected Jesus in the Upper Room, when all the doors were locked. I think it is just simply awe-inspiring. Which I guess is what it’s supposed to be!

But the miraculous nature of the Nativity of Jesus was extended, for me, to my image of the miraculous conception. I just saw it differently; I can’t really say it any differently than I did above. It was a merging, a uniting, an engulfing…but it was so much more than that.

I thank God for moments like that. Generally, I can’t explain them very articulately to others, but somewhere in my soul, I know that God has given me some new insight (new to me, I mean), and that I am changed by it.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prayer is Warfare the Demons Detest

A reading from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

The brethren also asked [Abba Agathon], “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?”

He answered, “Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in in, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.”

Ah, those demons. How is it that they are so clever, anyway? They have ambushed me twice in the last week, and neither time did I see it coming, nor recognize the attack for what it was until they had the upper hand. They managed to disrupt my praying of the Divine Office a couple of times.

Of course, the Lord and the saints come to my aid. Still, sometimes it’s hard to take back the ground that is lost – something that requires, I think, absolute trust in God’s mercy, and reliance on our saintly defenders in Heaven.

Always, the demons leave me with a lingering sense of depression. It’s a struggle to overcome that vestige of their attack, and I am trying to learn ways to cope with it. It does help to “offer it up”; sometimes the thought that I can offer my suffering for the salvation of souls even makes me happy to be depressed!

Other times, I simply remind myself that it’s just the demons manipulating my emotions, and that how I “feel” doesn’t matter – what matters is what one knows to be the truth about God, about His great mercy, about our Faith.

And then there’s always chocolate. ;-)

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bodily Ascetism Protects the Spirit

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Someone asked Abba Agathon, “Which is better, bodily asceticism or interior vigilance?”

The old man replied, “Man is like a tree, bodily asceticism is the foliage, interior vigilance is the fruit. According to that which is written, ‘Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire’ (Matt 3:10) it is clear that all our care should be directed towards the fruit, that is to say, guard of the spirit, but it needs protection and the embellishment of the foliage, which is bodily asceticism."

I like this analogy very much. And isn’t it true? Doesn’t filling our stomachs with food, and making our physical lives as comfortable as possible, lead to complacency and sloth? It is hard to pray on a full stomach, I have found (too often!).

It seems to me that we are so much weaker, physically, in modern times than our Desert Fathers were. They took physical hardship almost for granted. For us, we have to intentionally put a pebble in our shoe to induce some physical trial into our lives! For them, and for many people before our times of electronic gadgets and labor-saving devices, there were many physical hardships that were just a part of daily living.

Hmmm…This leads my thoughts off on a tangent. The priest whose homily I heard at Sunday Mass gave an amusing example that reflects this somewhat. He said he was in his kitchen in the rectory, admiring how beautiful it was, with the lovely fridge, the big microwave, and the beautiful cooking utensils his associate priest had recently purchased. “Fr. M cooked something, and it was good, and I was meditating on our beautiful kitchen,” he said.

But then he said he realized that none of those beautiful appliances were worth much without electricity. He is from Africa, and he told us that “in Africa, we don’t always have electricity, so we know how to cook with firewood.” He was amused that someone had recently told him a story about camping with some children who found cooking over a campfire to be novel and sort of magical.

And he added that our spiritual life is like this, too; without Jesus as the “power” behind our spiritual life, all of our “utensils” are worthless.

So… two good thoughts: bodily asceticism protects the spirit; and our prayers are not worth much without faith in Our Lord.

Friday, October 4, 2013

On the Road

I was on the road for a couple of days. Really, I do not like going away from home, away from the environment and the schedule I have here that is so conducive to prayer.

But I do enjoy driving through beautiful scenery, and of course one can give thanks for God's wondrous creation.

Here are some photos:

The view in the mirror! You can see my fingers in the clouds...