Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps To Holiness

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By: Marylin Flores

Step 8: Obedience

“If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful?…. No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.” Pope Emeritus Benedict

What is obedience? Is there a conflict between obedience and freedom? How can we reconcile freedom with obedience to God?

In a very simple way, we can say that obedience means doing what someone tells you to do. Now, the question then becomes: And why would I want to do that? Who is this Someone? Why is He commanding me to do something? Is there really a conflict between my will and His?

God, in His infinite love, created us, died for us, and only wants what is best for us. He is our loving Father. We are very precious in His sight.

Obedience does not mean losing ourselves, but rather enabling what is best, most beautiful, and most good in us to emerge. If God want us to do something, that is because it is truly good for us. If it is not truly good, God would not want us to do it. Like sin. It could appear good, but not truly good for us.

“If we submit to God’s will, it will certainly be opposed to part of ourselves. But this part is the negative part of us that limits us and from which God is gradually delivering us…God’s will is never opposed to what is good in us: our aspiration to truth, life, happiness, and fullness of love. Submission to God prunes things is us but never gets rid of the best part in us: our deep, positive aspirations. Just the opposite: it awakens and strengthens them, orients them, and frees them from obstacles to their fulfillment.” (Fr. Jacques Philippe)

Also, God holds the future in His hands. As the song goes: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” If He asks me to do something, does it make sense for me not to obey my loving Father who sees the past, present, and future? As you can see, it is not only fitting to obey, it is not even logical not to.

Obedience is simply man’s response to Love, which never fails. (1 Cor 13:8)

“ If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, . . . we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands . . . we are in the position of children.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1828

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Marylin Flores is a graduate student Majoring in Catechetic and Evangelization at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. She was raised in the Philippines, and worked in the field of Information Technology prior to becoming a student.

 

Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

31qhltwevnl-_sx300_ql70_Step 7: Chastity

“Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8)

Before the post goes any further, for all non priests or religious brothers or sisters I suggest you disregard the following. This reflection will not be of any help to your advancement in sanctity . . .

WAIIITT COMMMEEEE BACKKKK!!! Wow! What an epic lie.

Let us focus on chastity of heart which will inevitably encompass all other purities in life. What is chastity? while it may be taken as a physical renunciation of sexual acts as do those who take the vow and choose to live for God alone it also calls out the married couple, the bachelor and bachelorette, the independent business man and woman. All who were created by the One True Lover must heed this call to holiness before all else. Why???

“O holy purity, thou art the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit” (St. Athanasius). In heaven and on the earth there has ever only existed One Love. One! One Lover. One! All other ordered loves sensual or otherwise are mere manifestation of that one love. And should be ordered to return to Him. God is it! “God so loved the world . . . ” He desires to dwell in our heart and reign over all of its affections, those that we share and those we receive. Should we not allow him? He is, after all, the author and source of it all. The things of this world, pleasure, passions, delights “do not satisfy us because they were not made to, we long for more because we were made for more and the longing that we have is a sign of God’s love for us and this leads us to His very self” (Sr. Mariam).

“Our body is the most powerful weapon the devil possesses” (St. Alphonsus,92). Because he knows that it retains the capacity of wishful thinking, physical inclinations, and most importantly a deep longing for love. He is able to manipulate but he is not able to conquer. Temptation is his tool and the will is his target. He makes it seem impossible to remain chaste! But remember while he can manipulate; he can NEVER possess without consent. St. Francis de Sales reminds us, “when a thief is trying to break into a door, it is a sign he is not yet in the house.”, “So too, when the devil continues to tempt a soul it is a sign that soul is still in the grace of God” (St. Alphonsus, 94).

Humility!!!! We cannot overcome temptations of impurity if we do not acknowledge our weakness toward them. Run to him during these moments, do not settle for a lesser love than that which Jesus can provide. Receive the Sacraments, His mercy awaits in the confessional and his sustenance in the Holy Eucharist. Invoke the pure ones, the saints who have won victory over the flesh and enjoy the fulfillment of that deep longing for love.

Let us wear our interior outwardly. “Our interior should glow with divine love” and the outward expression or virtue of this love is modesty. Therefore, “Let our modesty be know to all men” (St. Alphonsus, 99). There are those who were chosen among the rest to manifest a heavenly witness of the love of Jesus in their own lives. Consecration espouses these souls to Jesus Christ and makes them prime examples of what our fulfillment in heaven may look like if we run the race and keep our gaze upward not downward on earth. It is this virtue and vow that makes religious men and women ” mirrors of their heavenly Spouse” (St. Alphonsus, 102).

The love that belongs within the sacramental bond of marriage, the sexual expression of love that unites a husband and wife to bear the fruit of the covenant; new life, is good. But even in marriage it is not the end goal. God desires to expose humanity to an even greater love, a universal love that only He can give. “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:38) If I order my loves in Christ Jesus, nothing can separate me from the source of all love.

Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3)

Step 6: Poverty and Detachment

Have you ever run into a sister “nun”, and found yourself complementing her beautiful earrings, nice bracelet, and pearly necklace? How about her gorgeous “outfit” and classy purse? If this seems absurd to you, congratulations! you have just passed Poverty 101.

Women who have responded to the call of consecration also responded to the challenge of three evangelical counsels; Poverty Chastity, and Obedience. Note carefully the usage of the word “Counsels” and not the word “precepts”. They have freely chosen to go beyond the call of duty for love of their Spouse, their Bridegroom; they are in love! Of course it makes sense that they would rid themselves of all earthly and material distractions for the gratifying possession of immaterial Joy. They seek to detach in order to attach. A unity and bond is sought between the bridegroom and his bride and this unity bears the fruit of love; a love that can then be given to others. This is why when we encounter a sister we do not bother to seek material beauty, their eschatological witness impels us to desire something more, something greater. We seek the fruits of a loving relationship with Jesus Christ!

This should be an empowering example for the rest of us because we too are called to live a life of detachment and poverty if we seek to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). As we can imagine, the way in which we manifest these virtues will look different from that of consecrated life. But their example should be considered and valued because our call to spiritual poverty is one in the same; it is the embodiment that differs. St. Alphonsus provides a two fold understanding of spiritual poverty: The first is, “detachment of the heart from earthly possessions”; second, “detachment from everything earthy, no matter what it may be.” (Alphonsus, 73). We either love God or we love creatures but our heart is not big enough to equally love both.

Now, what does this look like?- Well, we first take out everything we own and possess (yes, everything!) and we invite friends and family over for a ceremonial flaunt. We rid ourselves of it all, without excluding a single thing, and endure the burden of living without it. That is what I call success!! would St. Teresa of Avila agree with this method? . . .  Well, she seems to have a different opinion “They who appear to be externally  poor without being so in spirit deceive both the world and themselves.”

Here is a more genuine guide on how to live poor in spirit. St. Alphonsus further shares: “The truly virtuous poor desire nothing but God, and for that very reason they are immensely rich.” (Alphonsus, 74) God is aware of our NEED for material goods, He does not despise those who help themselves with what they need. There is a deeper meaning of detachment here and it lies within the heart. For example, if we come to suffer a temporal or financial loss that seems almost devastating we could respond in two ways. Resentment for the undeserved injustice and a hardened heart. Or we could consider the virtue at hand: Poverty whose expression is most commonly seen as detachment. Will we praise God or will we curse God? Will we say “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away” like Job. (Job 1:21) ? Or will we say, the Lord gave and the Lord dares to take it away?

God does not in any way desire or will that we experience sorrows and loss but we must realize that He allows them including sin to afford us the grace of practicing true detachment and spiritual poverty. Will we draw toward Him or away from Him? When we die and our soul soars, will it soar downward toward its material riches or upward toward its eternal treasure? When handling possessions therefore we must use them so as to fulfill their purpose not ours; God will take care of our fulfillment if we allow him.

Jesus has already set an example for us while on earth and “frequent meditation on the poverty of Jesus Christ and the esteem he had for this holy virtue” will strengthen our resolve. (Alphonsus, 78). Poverty therefore is simply a bridge of virtuous detachment that leads to a life of loving praise.

If we are honored: Praise God! If we are despised: Praise God! If we are prosperous: Praise God! If we are destitute: Praise God! This is attainment of virtue! To be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God requires a pure heart and a humble spirit. A holy indifference to the ambitions of this world. A desirous striving against inordinate attachments. “Both nature and religion impose upon us the obligation of loving our parents, relatives and benefactors. But this love becomes inordinate and bad when it leads us to offend God, and impedes our progress in a virtuous life.” (St. Alphonsus, 82) This applies to all of our earthly loves.

Let us resign to God’s Will in all things and carefully discern if the things that seem “good” and useful in our lives are aiding or hindering our relationship with him. HOLY INDIFFERENCE; this is our discerning tool and detachment is its virtue.

Finally, we end with one reminder when seeking a life of perfection, from the Word of God: “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself!” (Matt 16:24).

Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

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By: Carrell Jamilano

Step 5: Prayer

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

The exhortation to “pray without ceasing” has always been a daunting one for me. Whenever I hear it at mass, I find myself pondering, “Does God really want us to be on our knees in prayer at every moment of the day? What about when I’m hungry and need to eat?! What if I’m at school and needing to pay attention to my professor? What if I’m at work? Am I not allowed to sleep?! Good gracious! What an impractical command!” Have you ever thought similarly?

When our idea of prayer is repeating a bunch of words in a mind numbing sort of way, “praying without ceasing” is a practice that no one could ever fulfill. However, this is not what prayer is. Prayer is simply spending time with God. What do you do when you are with your friends? Talk, listen, go to the movies, eat, and the list goes on.

To pray without ceasing, then, can be best expressed as allowing God to be a part of every moment of our lives. Why? Because God desires to take part in it all. Yes, every moment. God wants to be with you. He wants to love you. He wants to talk to you. He wants to know about your day. He wants to laugh with you. He wants to cry with you. He wants to be at work with you. He wants to be where you are, because He loves you that much!

How do we respond to such a love like this? How do we allow God to take part in every moment of our lives? How do we “pray without ceasing?” It is easier than we think! God, the Holy Spirit, is already dwelling within each heart by merit of our Baptism. So, it becomes a matter of calling upon Him and sharing each moment of our lives with Him.

When you wake up, ask Him to be with you and help you throughout the day. When you eat, thank Him for the blessing of having food to sustain you. When you drive to work, ask God to bless all those who are traveling a long distance especially refugees and immigrants. When you are exercising, call to mind that your body is truly sacred and made in His image. When you are with friends or with others, ask God to allow His love and mercy to shine through you. When you are at work, observe how God may be speaking to you through your co-workers, clients, and supervisors. Each moment of the day is an opportunity for you to invite God to take part in your life, and more importantly, for you to encounter Him in the people you are with and the experiences you have throughout the day.

So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and pray without ceasing!! May God be with you now and forever!

“Carrell Jamilano, Spiritual Director and Youth Minister, feels privileged to have the opportunity to accompany others in their spiritual journey towards God whether it be through writing, song, speaking, or Spiritual Direction. She blogs at http://www.CatholicSpiritualDirector.com

Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

imagesh8e8u457Step 4: Love for our Neighbor

“If you wish to know how much a person loves his God, see how much he loves his neighbor.” – St. Catherine of Genoa

Wow! Bold statement. Does that mean someone can know how genuine my love for God is by simply observing my interactions with those around me? Do you realize the weight of this comment?! It implies a level of transparency! an exposition of the heart. Surely this cannot be true.

Truth is….”It is impossible to love the Lord our God without at the same time loving our neighbor.” Do you believe this? If we recall the previous post we will see that our true happiness lies in entering into the fullness of Love, who is God. John the Beloved , as he reflected on the delight of being in the presence of Jesus, recalls these words: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you!” John 15:12.

We cannot for a second forget that love is a virtue and as a virtue it requires we embrace it entirely if we want to perfect it; both love of God and love of neighbor. But, what exactly is virtue? We can see it as habitually choosing to do the good; a moral inclination of the heart, if daily conditioned can become a life of genuine Charity. Grace will inevitably follow us all along the way and will ultimately be what adorns our virtuous efforts with a fragrant delight. It is up to us to let it become our companion.

As we begin to build up the virtue of charity we quickly realize its difficulty. Simultaneously, we realize its possibility. First, as might seem reasonable and obvious, we seek those closes to us; family. Those who will make our initial efforts comforting. God places them in our life because He in his Omniscience sees the benefit of allowing us to initiate our practice of virtue using the love of storge. They are our bread and butter, our cherry on top. Then come friends, the ones who tickle our joy from time to time and enter steadily into our loving heart. We come to share special moments with them and become fond of our new-found philia love. We must not forget, nonetheless, that the love we share is the love we’ve been given. God supplies it and in His goodness allows us to lay hold of it for our personal distribution.

Now, what of those whom find their way into our life? Those who God places in our lives involuntarily? Coworkers, roommates, peers, in-laws, strangers, _______, fill in the blank. Those who we do not naturally gravitate towards and yet God draws them toward us. “if you are desirous of practicing the beautiful virtue of charity, strive in the first place to reject every rash judgment, every distrust, and unfounded suspicion of your neighbor.”(St. Alphonsus Ligouri) Suddenly, virtue is no longer a pleasant undertaking.

If that seems unpleasant though, then the next step might seem undesirable. What was before a smooth incline in virtue has become a steep battle. Now placed before us are those we dislike, look down upon, hate, and desire to avoid at all cost. These are the people who incite strong emotions in us and along with those often lie words, thoughts, or deeds that are beneath our dignity as sons and daughters of the Father. Almost consciously, we begin to consider a justification for our new and lesser love. “Can I possibly give of myself to this person who I am in no way inclined to?” “the love that is directed to the spiritual welfare of your neighbor is doubtless the best love . . . in the eyes of God, says St. Bernard, a soul is worth more than the whole world.”  (St. Alphonsus) 

In our fallen nature lies a finite capacity to love, yet, it is precisely this finite reality that the Infinite God longs to enter. He desires to abide in us and most importantly He desires to Love through us. He never asked us to rely on our own efforts! All he asked was permission to use our hearts as channels of HIS Love! We eventually reach a point when we exhaust our love and turn our gaze toward Christ. He takes advantage of our gesture to intoxicate us with his love thus giving birth to a pure and undivided heart. Grace of this nature turns our bias, judgment, hate, fear, and resistance into an irrelevant and dissipating passion of the heart. Our experience of Christ’s Agape; unchanging perfection of Love, transforms all our encounters into a true virtuous achievement.

Returning to the continued mission of our soul, we recall our purpose in striving for the perfection of  Charity and all other virtues as the salvation of souls and the glory of God. In vain would we love our neighbor if it were not done with the sole purpose of drawing him nearer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“If you truly love God, you will do all in your power to make others love Him. . . If you truly love yourself, you will make every possible effort to win souls to God, for he who converts a sinner saves not only the sinner, but himself.” (St. Augustine).