Saturday, January 28, 2012

Devotion for today: the beach at my back

The Beach At My Back

This is an excerpt from the book “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Pantheon Books, 1955.

Perhaps we never appreciate the here and now until it is challenged, as it is beginning to be today even in America. And have we not also been awakened to a new sense of the dignity of the individual because of the threats and temptations to him, in our time, to surrender his individuality to the mass – whether it be industry or war or standardization of thought and action? We are now ready for a true appreciation of the value of the here and the now and the individual.

 The here, the now, and the individual, have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet, and – from time immemorial - the woman. In the small circle of the home she has never quite forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family; the spontaneity of each member of the family; the spontaneity of now; the vividness of here.

This is the basic substance of life. These are the individual elements that form the bigger entities like mass, future, world. We may neglect these elements, but we cannot dispense with them. They are the drops that make up the stream. They are the essence of life itself.

 It may be our special function to emphasize again these neglected realities, not as a retreat from greater responsibilities but as a first real step toward a deeper understanding and solution of them. When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The waves echo behind me. Patience – Faith – Openness is what the sea has to teach. Simplicity – Solitude – Intermittency… But there are other beaches to explore. There are more shells to find. This is only a beginning.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Devotion for today: fighting desolation pt. II: listen, do you want to know a secret?

Scripture for meditation: Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another.

Christ tells us: Matthew 18:19, 20
Again I tell you, if two of you join your voices on earth to pray for anything whatever, it shall be granted you by my Father in heaven. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.”

Fr. Michael Gaitley, in his book Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Marian Press, 2010, emphasizes St. Ignatius’s very important rule in desolation: Don’t Listen!  We’ve heard a couple of times now that deep desolation can be like dark clouds. Well, there’s something else. While it’s true that during the cloudiest periods of desolation we can’t see a thing, we often do hear a great deal, and what we hear during such times is rarely the consoling sweetness of God’s voice. Instead, we get barraged by the dark words and sinister suggestions of the enemy…. The enemy’s voice that comes to us in desolation isn’t creepy like a villain’s voice in some movie. Rather, his voice takes the form of interior words and ideas similar in “sound” to those we hear during times of consolation. In fact, we don’t recognize them so much by their sound as by the content of what’s communicated. For instance, if our minds fill with thoughts of accusation and judgment against someone with whom we live, this may very well be the bad spirit’s voice. In themselves, such thoughts don’t sound very different form our normal, everyday thoughts, but we know where they come from because of where they lead, namely, to sin and loss of our peace and joy…. What’s his (the bad spirit’s) secret weapon? It’s the words, “Keep it a secret.”  Keep what a secret? His many little temptations, especially those that might embarrass us and that we don’t want to reveal. The enemy’s secret temptations are like little wounds he inflicts on us that we easily ignore. Because they’re so little, we may think, “Ah, what’s the big deal?”  The big deal is that even the littlest wound, if left uncared for and dirty, quickly gets infected, festers and can eventually kill. So it is with the bad spirit’s hidden, little temptations. When we’re not attentive to them, and bury them under the soil of silence, they can get infected, fester, and eventually lead to spiritual sickness and death. Little wounds…should be shown to a doctor….By a doctor, I mean a priest in the Sacrament of Confession, a spiritual director, or a trusted friend. It’s amazing how the simple act of revealing temptations and difficulties to such doctors is often enough to bring total health and an end to the enemy’s little tricks.

St. Faustina’s Courageous prayer:
I know I am under your special gaze, O Lord. I do not examine with fear Your plans regarding me; my task is to accept everything from Your hand. I do not fear anything, although the storm is raging, and frightful bolts strike all around me, and I then feel quite alone. Yet, my heart senses You, and my trust grows, and I see all Your omnipotence, which upholds me. With You, Jesus, I go through life, amid storms and rainbows, with a cry of joy, singing the song of Your mercy. I will not stop singing my song of love until the choir of Angels picks it up. There is no power that can stop me in my flight toward God.

My thoughts: Let’s review: in times of Consolation when we feel like saints, we should thoroughly enjoy this state, while remaining humble and listening to the Holy Spirit. Maybe we could keep a journal to record these good times. In desolation, when we feel, well, nothing, we should ask ourselves, “Why did this happen?” Then we should fight it by clinging to hope, practicing patience and perseverance, and repeating over and over, “Jesus I trust in You.” Next we should stop listening to the little voice in our head that is trying to bring us down, and finally, we need to find a good confessor or trusted friend with whom to share our temptations.  Fr. Gaitley states, “If, with eyes wide open, we stay in the battle for spiritual joy and fight with these weapons, we’ll win battle after battle. In fact, if we firmly resolve not to give up the fight no matter what, then we can confidently and joyfully declare victory as we make St. Faustina’s courageous prayer our own.” Onward, spiritual warriors; victory is ours!

Our prayer to God: Let’s remember the part of Psalm 22 which follows “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Psalm 22: 4-6 Yet you are enthroned in the holy place, O glory of Israel! In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and they escaped; in you they trusted, and they were not put to shame.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Devotion for today: fighting desolation

Now that we have defined desolation and discovered what causes it, it is time to arm ourselves and fight!

Scripture meditation: Philippians 1:6
 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Christ tells us: Mark 10:51-52
Then Jesus spoke, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbuni,” the blind man said to him, “Master, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has saved you.” And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

Continuing with Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, (Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Marian Press, 2010): 
Again, apart from being a wake-up call regarding sin in our lives, God may allow desolation to help us grow in humility or help us become better soldiers. I say “better soldiers” because engaging in the battle for spiritual joy trains us in the soldier-like virtues of patience, perseverance, and especially trust…. In order to grow in patience and perseverance as we fight desolation, we need to be anchored in hope…. Without hope, all is lost. Yet, with hope, we’re strong, and as hope grows, so does our ability to be patient and persevering in the midst of battle…. To help us fortify our hope against the enemy’s attacks, St. Ignatius gives three important instructions before battle begins. First, he says, we should consider that God never allows more than we can take. In other words, even though we don’t feel it, God’s grace upholds us during times of desolation…. Ignatius’s second instruction for helping us to fortify our hope is as follows: During desolation we should be patient, knowing that the time of consolation will return soon. This is great hope…. To prevent the birth of such renewed hope, the bad spirit tries to hide from us the fact that reinforcements are racing toward us. In other words, he makes us think our desolation will never end…. What a tragedy it would be to give up right on the verge of winning the battle. To prevent such a terrible mistake, we need to keep a look out for consolation. Curiously, we do this primarily by looking back, which is Ignatius’s third instruction for helping us to fortify our hope. Thinking back to times of consolation, as we fight desolation not only aids our hope but sometimes even wins the battle right then and there. Because of the effectiveness of this tactic, many people find it helpful to write in a journal during times of particularly strong consolation….one can then read from his journal as an aid to jogging his memory to recall past times of consolation. Such recalling of consolation in one’s life often increases hope….This is one truth we can always cling to: God’s mercy; that God is Mercy, and that no one who trusts in his mercy has ever been disappointed.

Prayer: Psalm 22:20-22
But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me. Rescue my soul from the sword, my loneliness from the grip of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: from the horns of the wild bulls, my wretched life.

My thoughts: By using St. Ignatius’s three points, Fr. Gaitley reminds us that God never gives us more than we can handle. So even though we may feel like the psalmist, God is never very far away. Of course, we have to choose to hold onto hope and believe that God will send reinforcements of grace to pull us out of this desolation. If we don’t have the faith of the blind man in our gospel passage, and if we don’t cling to hope, and trust in God’s mercy, then we can be defeated by this desolate state. We now know what it is, how it comes, and how we can fight it. What is left? Read tomorrow and find out!

(Please remember that I am reducing a large amount of very valuable information into a paragraph, which is why I recommend reading the book Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley.)

Our prayer to God: Fr. Gaitley recommends writing a journal when we are in consolation. To me, it is the same as looking at a photo album when I miss my grown children. Seeing all we did in the fun times when they were home with me brings me great joy and consolation!  Tonight, take pen in hand or keyboard to fingertips, and make a list of the times you felt close to God: the day you heard you got the job; the time you were in desperate need of a friend and one showed up; anything that really, truly felt like the answer to your prayer. Then, thank God for relieving your desolation, even if it isn’t already gone. By thanking him, you are acknowledging that you know he will be faithful to his promises. “Jesus, I trust in You.”­

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Devotion for today: here I am, Lord, but where are you, pt. II

 Now that we know what desolation is, let’s find out what causes it.

Scripture for meditation: Psalm 63:1
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Christ tells us: Matthew 7:7
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Continuing with Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, in his book Consoling the Heart of Jesus (Marian Press, 2010)
Three main response rules should direct us during times of desolation. In other words, we should strive to do three things when we have little or no peace and joy, when praise and thanks are far from our lips, and when it seems we’re in a dark dry desert far from God: (1) Ask “Why?” (2) Fight. (3) Don’t listen. (1) Ask “Why?” After identifying that we are in a time of desolation, our first move for winning the battle for spiritual joy is to try to discover why the desolation happened. A good starting point is to ask ourselves, “When did this desolation begin?” Often we can think of a specific moment or period when the fountain of our peace and joy began to dry up….While desolation is a spiritual reality, it’s closely linked to our natural feelings and moods….Factors such as an unhealthy diet, extraordinary or prolonged stress, disappointments…can contribute to emotional lows that, in turn, can easily lead to spiritual desolation…. Supernatural causes of desolation are not as easy to discover as the natural causes of emotional lows. Still, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can get light on them. One cause of desolation might be our sins, especially neglect of prayer, lack of humility during times of consolation, and being uncharitable to our neighbor. Another cause might be that God wants to train us in virtues such as patience, perseverance and trust. A third cause might be that God wants to give us the valuable (humbling) self-knowledge of who we are without his grace…. To receive training in virtues is not a punishment…. If God didn’t allow desolation because of our sins, that would be punishment, for then he’d be “giving us up” to sin in our lives…. If it becomes clear that there’s some specific thing you’ve done to bring on the desolation, then deal with it…. However, if it’s not clear to you that there’s some specific thing you did to bring on the desolation, don’t torture yourself trying to figure it out…. As for any lingering fears…give them to our merciful Lord, and trust that he’ll reveal to you what you need to see when you need to see it.

Prayer: Jesus, I accept everything that You wish to send me; I trust in your goodness. (The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 190)

My thoughts: Don’t you long to know what I had to cut out of this section to reduce it to a paragraph? That is why I highly recommend Fr. Gaitley’s book. Desolation need not get us down or cause us to give up the spiritual resolutions we worked so hard to make just a few short weeks ago. We know we can overcome this. So we begin by trying to find the source. If that dead-ends, then we turn it over to God, and get ready for step two: we fight!!! (tomorrow’s blog)

Our prayer to God: Tonight is a good night to examine our consciences and ask ourselves if we have, in any way, sinned against our neighbor, suffered pride, or neglected prayer. Then let us pray, “I love you Jesus, my love. I love you with all my heart. I repent of ever having offended you. Grant that I may love you always, and then do with me as you will.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Devotion for today: here I am, Lord, but where are You?

After the highs of the holidays, we tend to sink into the lows of winter. Our spiritual life parallels that roller coaster ride in what St. Ignatius of Loyola calls “Consolation and Desolation.” Today we will take a cursory look at desolation.

Scripture for meditation: Psalm 22:2-3
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, far from my prayer, from the words of my cry? O my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; by night, and there is no relief for me.

Christ tells us: Luke 6: 20-21
“Blessed are you who hunger; you shall be filled.”

Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, in his book “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” (Marian Press, 2011) explains:
A big part of the battle for spiritual joy is won simply when we become aware that we’re in a battle – and that the battle takes place on a roller coaster. The spiritual life (as well as the emotional life, to which it’s closely tied) is a series of ups, downs and somewheres-in-between. Saint Ignatius calls the ups “consolation” and the downs “desolation.” The ups are basically when we feel, well, like saints. In other words, it’s when we eagerly run to prayer, overflow with empathy and compassion for all, practice virtues with the greatest of ease, and seem to walk hand-in-hand with God himself. At some point, however, our high-riding roller coaster comes to the “big drop”, and down we go to the depths of desolation. Desolation is basically when prayer feels like eating dust, people easily irritate us, God seems light-years away, and we wonder, “Why the heck was I wasting my time with all that religious stuff?” Throw in nagging regret, self-loathing, sadness, fear, lack of energy for anything “spiritual”, and a burning urge for whatever distracts the mind, feeds the belly or arouses the senses, and we’ve got ourselves a good dose of desolation. Again, the first step to victory in the battle for spiritual joy is to become aware that the spiritual life is a roller coaster, rolling on through the ups and downs of consolation and desolation….”Keep your eyes open on the roller coaster of life!”

Prayer: Oh my Jesus, despite the deep night that is all around me and the dark clouds which hide the horizon, I know that the sun never goes out.” Saint Faustina in “The Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska” pg. 73.

My thoughts: If you are like me, it always helps to have a definition of the crummy state in which I sometimes find myself. I think Father Gaitley has done a superb job of translating St. Ignatius’s definitions into words with which all of us, at some time or another, can identify. No matter how hard we try, we are going to fall into desolation at some point. All the great saints did, so we need not despair. If they made it, we will as well. Now that we know what is wrong with us, tomorrow we will look at ways to help ourselves get back into the sun. I would like to urge everyone, if you have not already done so, to purchase the book “Consoling the Heart of Jesus, A Do-It Yourself Retreat Inspired by The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius” by Fr. Gaitley. I have just finished the self-guided retreat and cannot tell you how helpful it is in understanding how we “little souls” can keep ourselves close to Jesus all day long. It is beautiful.

Our prayer to God: Since desolation makes it difficult to pray, the best one we can say, all day, is “Jesus I trust in you” over and over and over. Keep an old penny in your pocket, and when the clouds seem to hide the sun, take it out and read the words this way, “In God I trust.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Devotion for today: courage + prayer = change

Today our focus is on the protection of life in the womb. Let’s look at our role from two different angles.

Scripture for meditation: Psalm 119:28
My soul weeps for sorrow; strengthen me according to your words.

Christ tells us: Mark 9:17-18, 22-23, 28-29
“Teacher,” a man in the crowd replied, “I have brought my son to you because he is possessed by a mute spirit. Just now I asked your disciples to expel him, but they were unable to do so. If, out of the kindness of your heart, you can do anything to help us, please do!” Jesus said, “‘If you can?’ Everything is possible to a man who trusts.” The boy’s father immediately exclaimed, “I do believe! Help my lack of trust!” Jesus…reprimanded the unclean spirit by saying to him, “Get out of him and never enter him again!” When Jesus arrived at the house his disciples began to ask him privately, “Why is it that we could not expel it?” He told them, “This kind you can drive out only by prayer.”

Victor Parachin tells us in his book, Daily Strength (Liguori Press, 1995): When the first locomotive was invented, several “experts” agreed that if a train went at the frightful speed of fifteen miles an hour, the passengers would suffer from nosebleed. They also cautioned that people could suffocate when the train went through a tunnel. In 1881 the New York YWCA announced typing lessons for women. Protests were made on the grounds that the female constitution would break down under the strain. Shortly after the telephone was invented, Joshua Coppersmith was arrested in Boston for trying to sell stock in the company that would produce telephones. Authorities said that all well-informed people knew it was impossible to transmit the human voice over a wire. If you are struggling over an impossible–looking task, don’t give up just because others say it cannot be done. Continue on. Act on your convictions. Exercise courage and persistence in the face of resistance and opposition. Ask God to deepen your determination. Remember that almost every great idea or invention faced fierce resistance from authorities and experts, who said it couldn’t be done.

Prayer: Prayer for Trust in Jesus (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
O Christ Jesus,
when all is darkness
and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence,
Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
in Your protecting love
and strengthening power,

so that nothing may frighten or worry us,
for, living close to You,
we shall see Your hand,
Your purpose, Your will through all things.


 My thoughts: The late John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, was very pro-life. He believed that, just like the demon in our Bible passage today, abortion could only end in this country through trust and prayer. He also had the courage to believe that change was possible. He marched in the National March for Life; he spoke often on the subject and was much criticized in the New York papers; he always wore a pro-life lapel pin; he started the Sisters of Life, and he himself counseled many pregnant women in need of help, offering to them the innumerable services he made available through Catholic Charities in his city. But he firmly believed that, above all, the only way to end abortion was to back all action with prayer. Victor Parachin shows us that people resist change; they do not want to believe new ways can be better. We can show society today that a world which loves life and offers mothers and fathers all the help they need to bring their children to life outside the womb is a world which is a far better place than one that supports death. Let us have the courage to work for that change, and the trust Christ tells us is necessary for a miracle to happen.  Remember, “Everything is possible to a man who trusts.”

Our prayer to God: There are so many ways to support life today. We can contribute and volunteer to Project Rachel and Project Gabriel ( (, found in every Catholic Diocese in America, to the Sisters of Life, based in Manhattan (, to the Paul Stefan Foundation, headquartered in Northern Virginia, which provides homes for mothers in crisis pregnancies ( We can write to legislators (NCHLA, begging them to support pro-life laws and programs.  We should subscribe to and Priests for Life ( to stay informed on the issues concerning life. We can volunteer at pregnancy crisis centers. We can pray, pray, pray for the unborn and their parents, that they may see the light. As many Americans gather today in Washington, DC to march for life on this, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let us have the courage to say, “I believe in life.”