Lent: A Time of Listening

“There are days when you just don’t think you can go on. You’re exhausted but there’s no end to what you have to do. Each day is like a treadmill that’s running on high speed and it’s all you can do to keep up. If you could only have some time to rest, to recover, and to catch your breath. You don’t think you can make it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You feel so bad that it had happened–that you had done it. What had you been thinking? It makes you feel so guilty and you hate remembering it. Who could ever love you if they knew about it? You hate yourself for it. There’s nothing you could do to make things right again. It’s like a terrible weight that you’re forced to carry all by yourself.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

“She’s one of your closest friends, so you have to help her out with this. She needs your support. She says it would wreck her career right now. After all, it won’t be her first one. The whole thing will be over in just a few hours. You can drive her to her appointment and be home in time for dinner. It’s her body. And, after all, everyone says it’s just a clump of cells.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“You just can’t stand to listen to him anymore. He stands for everything you can’t and won’t tolerate. He believes his opinions are the only correct ones. This past election season was horrible because he disagreed with everything you said to him. How can anybody be that stupid? This friendship just isn’t worth it anymore.” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“What a sexist pig! He must think that the only reason women exist in the world is for his pleasure. He could never view a woman as his intellectual equal. He won’t even have dinner alone with a woman, except for his wife. What a disrespectful attitude to women!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.

“She’s there every day on the sidewalk outside. Filthy, dirty, and smelling so bad it’s almost unbearable. There are shelters for people like her, so why won’t she go to one? You never put any money in her old coffee can. She’d probably just use it to buy a cheap bottle of wine. You wish she’d move to a different spot so you wouldn’t have to see her every day. What a waste!” This is what the world says to you. But don’t listen to the world.  

How often do we listen to the voice of the world rather than to the words of our loving Savior? Perhaps because we allow the world to drone in through television and social media. We run from the silence in which we need to dwell in order to hear the whisper of God. But the Lord is always near us, longing to be heard and to listen; longing to reassure us of His love and forgiveness. There’s nothing we can do to make Him love us less; nothing we need fear from going to Him in repentance. He invites us to forgive others, to see and to support the poor among us, to stand up for life and for marriage. Only God can give us the peace and the rest that we’re looking for. Easter is the promise of His love fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The sound of the stone rolling away from the tomb can silence the clamor and noise of the world, if we allow it. Listen for the His voice especially during these days of Lent ahead of us. He is peace. He is love.  

“…in the world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have conquered the world.”

          —John 16:33 

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Can A Christian Be Depressed?

Some nights you don’t sleep at all. And on other days, you can’t get out of bed. You don’t feel like eating anything, or maybe you eat everything in the house. The things that you used to enjoy seem lifeless to you now. You can’t focus, you can’t get started, you’ve lost all your energy to do anything at all. Sometimes you cry and other times you yell. Little things can set you off. So you stay in your room with the curtains drawn. It feels like hell. It’s depression.

This is more than “the blues” that all of us experience from time to time. Depression is a chronic physical and emotional disease that can lead to job loss, family dissolution, substance abuse, and suicide. Yet even now, after decades of study and treatment, many people remain ashamed of having depression. They try their best to hide it from their family and friends for as long as they can. They don’t want to admit that they need help. And sometimes Christians can be the worst at this. We think our faith should somehow protect us from psychological problems. Like the rest of our culture, we don’t want to seek help for depression. If we’re filled with the joy of our faith, how can we depressed? Well, I’ve got news for you, Christians are just as susceptible to depression as anyone else. Does our faith protect us from cancer or diabetes or heart disease? Then why should we believe that Christians can’t be depressed? The Bible gives us plenty of examples of folks who struggled with it. Moses, Elijah, David, Job, and Naomi all suffered emotional pain and depression, for a variety of reasons. Psalm 42 is a great example of someone struggling mightily with his faith and feelings of desolation, loneliness, abandonment, and despair.  

Among the great saints, several were plagued by depression throughout some or most of their lives. These are people like us who were able to persevere through trials and sufferings with heroic faith and virtue. Yet some also had to fight depression every day. One of my favorites is St. Noel Chabanel who worked with the Huron Indians in Ontario, Canada during the 16th century. As a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Chabanel worked closely with the Hurons each day in the school and village. And he hated it. He disliked the natives, their culture, and their habits. He struggled just to be around them. He became very depressed. But he renewed his promise to stay with them for the rest of his life. He kept his vow and persevered until he died at the hands at one of the Huron men when he was just 36 years old. He offered the Lord his life of suffering and sadness and, in return, God gave him a martyr’s crown.  

Depression can be a kind of martyrdom. Just as any affliction can aid in our holiness if we give to our Savior. God never wastes any opportunity to draw us closer to Himself. Even in the midst of a dark depression, Christians can be assured that our Lord is with them. There’s nothing shameful about being depressed and nothing “un-Christian” about seeking help for it when you need it. Also, be aware of the people in your life and help them if they show signs of serious, lasting depression. Your concern could be exactly what they need but might not be able to ask for. We’re in this life together and we owe one another our kindness and compassion. We haven’t yet become so divided that we don’t still know how to care for one another. Suffering and sadness are both a part of life in this broken world, but we are all members of one body and when one of us hurts, we all do. Be kind.  

“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”

            —–Colossians 1:24

You’re Right: You Can’t Do It

You can never be good enough. You can never be kind enough. You can try as hard as you can, but you’ll never be humble enough or generous enough or merciful enough. You can strive every day to be patient and long-suffering, but it won’t work. You’ll never make it, no matter how virtuous and “good” you are and how hard and tirelessly you try.

You see, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.

Unlike all other religions, from Islam to Buddhism to animism, Christianity teaches its followers that God loves them totally and completely, just as they are. His love for you and for me is dependent on NOTHING that we can ever do or say. His love is His Nature and is contingent on nothing else.

Accepting this fact is life-changing. This is pure, unconditional love and most of us find it a radically-new experience. Only the love of parents can mirror in a human way the perfect love of God for His children. Far too many of us believe that we’re not worthy of this kind of overwhelming love. Somewhere deep inside of us is a list of stuff we think we have to do in order to MAKE God love us. I have to read the Bible more often. I have to tithe. I have to volunteer for more ministry work. Nope. To repeat: there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. He already loves you perfectly. All you have to do is to accept that love.

There’s more good news, too. God is not impressed when you think you aren’t worthy of His love. In fact, there’s NOTHING you can do that will make God love you any less. Think about that for a minute. Probably you’ve always believed that when you do bad things, what we call “sin,” it makes God love you less. But it doesn’t. God IS love—–it’s His very Nature. He can’t not love you, no matter what you do or what you think of yourself.

Does your sin disappoint the Lord? Sure it does. It offends Him and it distances you from Him when you choose to sin. If it’s a serious sin, it can cut you off from a relationship with Him and endanger your immortal soul. It’s serious. But even in the middle of your worst possible sin—–God loves you just the same. One of my favorite Scripture verses promises us this: “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8). Before we even knew Him, He suffered and died for us on the Cross. That’s incredible love. It’s beyond our human imagination. And I think that’s part of why we can’t consider ourselves worthy of His love.

We please God when we take Him up on that love. When we turn away from our sin (repent) we find Him already there, already and always there, waiting to welcome us into His friendship. He’s never been anywhere else.

His love calls us into loving each other. This means loving even most the unlovable among us. That means loving sinners. Just like you and me. And it means forgiving people who have wronged us, even if they don’t apologize and even if we’re still angry or hurting. Forgiving others is being like Jesus, and when we love and forgive one another, it pleases Him.

Sometimes it’s tempting to make our faith really complicated. But the heart of it is pretty simple: to love and forgive others as Christ loves and forgives us. He wants to have an intimate relationship with us. We believe that Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning. He wants to raise you from the dead, too. He wants you to know that you ARE good enough and kind enough—that none of your sins have changed how much He loves you. He wants you to know that you belong to Him, and you always will.

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

—-St. Augustine (354-430 AD)

Getting Ready for Lent

It’s almost time for Lent which is that 40+ day period in which we prepare ourselves for Easter. These days many Christians other than Catholics observe Lenten practices, such as the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. The practice of “giving something up for Lent” is well-known. Many of us wait until the last minutes to choose our penitential practice, so it’s pretty common to hear that folks might give up chocolate or doughnuts for Lent. I’m not saying those are necessarily bad choices, just that I think we could be a bit more thoughtful in how we embrace Lent. We could pray and ask the Lord to lead us to do what we need to do to become closer to Him. Lent is a gift from God, a time to do some spiritual housecleaning and to make our hearts ready for His Passion and Resurrection.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been jotting down ideas for Lenten sacrifices as I’ve thought of them or come across them on social media. There’s nothing much new in this motley collection. And, as a friend says, we should be doing all these things anyway. We should be praying each day and being charitable to one another. We should answer hatred with love. Mercy should direct our steps and our words. And everything we do and say should give glory and honor to God. Lent reminds us every day that God wants to be near to us, and our response should be to want to give Him the best “us” that we can be. I hope these ideas can help you make your Lent more meaningful.  

Go ahead and give up chocolate or meat or fast food. You’ll gain control over your body and self-denial is the foundation of spiritual growth. In the same spirit, don’t eat the last bite of food on your plate. Leave out the salt and pepper. Give up those energy drinks you love. Don’t buy anything at Starbucks. If you drink coffee, leave out the sugar and cream. Don’t snack between meals. Don’t talk about your diet to get attention. Watch what you wear so that your clothes don’t draw attention to yourself. Skip the massages and mani-pedis. Don’t use technology during meals or anytime after dinner (phone, television, computer, gaming, etc.). Give up your Instagram filters. Stop trolling other folks online. Don’t Google yourself. Don’t post on social media or check your phone more than twice a day. Stop being a backseat driver. Don’t listen to music in the car. Start using your turn signal. Don’t tailgate. Don’t curse at other drivers. Stop angry driving. Stop complaining. Pray for humility. Pray to go through each day, unnoticed. Give something away each day during Lent (one of my personal favorites). Stop putting things off. Don’t gossip. Stop playing the victim card. Stop trying to be an expert—on anything. Be honest about your limitations. Don’t pray only when you need something. Don’t use “God” or “Jesus” as an exclamation. If you find yourself judging someone, stop, and say a prayer for them instead. End every day by asking God to show you how you sinned that day. Stop pretending that you don’t have the time to pray.

I hope these few ideas can help you to discover those parts of your life that you feel led to change during Lent. Developing good habits take daily practice and the weeks of Lent will help you to make those changes. Pray for guidance and enlightenment. Be open to being surprised at where God may lead you this Lent. Let the Holy Spirit change you. Let every day be a new way to love and serve the Lord.  

Lent is a time of grace, a time to convert and live out our Baptism fully.”

                —-Pope Francis