To help heal from sin this Lent, call on the Divine Physician

This is Part 3 of my ongoing series exploring what it means to “be pastoral.” Each Lent, we’re asked to repent of our sins. But what does it really mean to be a sinner? And what does it take to stop? The answers might surprise you.

Sin vs. the call to love

In my last column, I noted that the main job for every Christian disciple is recognizing that, because of the Fall, our human understanding of love is hopelessly flawed and woefully deficient. We all want to love and be loved, but even when we try our best, we still end up hurting each other, using each other, demeaning each other and worse. In spite of our deepest wishes to love well and be loved deeply, we really can’t figure out how to do it. Being a true Christian disciple begins with acknowledging that only Christ and his Church can teach us how to give and receive the deep, godly love we were created to enjoy. To love as God does, we’ve got to learn how to:

  • Respect the divine dignity of each person, no matter what they look like, where they come from or what they’ve done.
  • Defend the life and promote the health of each person.
  • Live and love in a manner that respects God’s design of our bodies.
  • Actively encourage the full growth and flourishing of each person.

Each of us has the God-given right to expect to be treated in this manner and the God-given responsibility to treat others in the same way. This is the love Jesus commanded his disciples to share when he told them to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39).

Sin, then, is what happens when we choose to accept less than this love from others or give less than this love to others. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it” (No. 1850).

Convict or patient?

There are two traditional ways to think about our relationship to sin. The first is to compare committing a sin to breaking the law. The second is to compare being a sinner to contracting an illness. Both are legitimate views with long theological pedigrees. But as a pastoral counselor, I find the second view to be more useful, more effective and, in general, less fraught. Why?

Imagine contracting some life-threatening illness or being in a car accident that breaks every bone in your body. Could you guilt yourself into a full recovery? Could you shame yourself into walking again? Could you hate yourself enough to make the cancer leave? Of course not. We can’t take this approach to healing from sin either.

We can’t heal ourselves of the disease of sin. In fact, believing we can is both a heresy (Pelagianism) and, ironically, a sin — namely, pride. Every single one of us is infected with the spiritual disease that prevents us both from expecting others to love us as we deserve to be loved as children of God and loving others as they deserve to be loved as God’s children, in turn. This disease is sin.

As patients (or disciples), our journey cannot begin until we stop playing around with all the home remedies we use to try to mask the symptoms and finally admit that we’re powerless to cure ourselves. Our healing begins when we turn to God, the Divine Physician, to find the cure for what ails us. Likewise, we only get in the Divine Physician’s way when we insist on trying to “help” him by insulting ourselves (or others), shaming ourselves (or others) or beating up on ourselves (or others) for being sick — for being sinners — in the first place.

How can we heal?

Read the full article here at Our Sunday Visitor.

Preparing for Lent In A Catholic HOM (Household On Mission)

As we prepare for Lent, we often rely on old habits or patterns. We give up the same thing for Lent or we engage in the same practices each year. Our rituals can become a little too habitual. Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up a bit, especially with regard to how we celebrate lent as a CatholicHOM (Household On Mission).

Specifically, the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life can help connect with the grace of lent to help each family member become a fully formed person—a whole and healthy child of God.

In Pastores Dabo Vobis, (I Will Give You Shepherds) St John Paul described four essential areas requiring special attention in the formation of priests (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) but his recommendations don’t just apply to seminaries.  They apply to our homes too! Christian households are meant to help each of us live out the common priesthood we inherit through baptism. Lent gives all of us “common priests” a special opportunity to use the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, to discover new ways to consecrate the world to Christ by living out Christ’s sacrificial love in all we do.

So how do we use John Paul II’s guidance for priestly formation in our family?

Human Formation – Human formation refers to the lessons we need to learn to be the kind of healthy, holy people whose lives lead others to Christ. Christian families encourage good human formation by mindfully and intentionally practicing specific virtues, working to be more empathic with each other, being good listeners and respectful communicators, being generously affection and affirming, and cultivating the kind of relationships that lead them into deeper communion with each other and  God.  This Lent how will you and your family focus on human formation?

One simple way your family can practice living Christ’s sacrificial love at home is by using the Family Team Exercise – Each morning ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and lunch?” At lunch, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and dinner?” Then, at dinner, ask, “What do we need to do to make each other feel taken care of between now and bedtime?” This exercise is a simple way to live out the third practice in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life’s Rite of Christian Relationship: Offering prompt, generous, consistent and cheerful attention to each other’s needs. It challenges you all to be more thoughtful and generous than you otherwise might be, and shows how generous service leads to a happier, healthier home.

Spiritual Formation – Spiritual formation is all about learning to have a close relationship with God and be a faithful disciple. One of the practices we recommend in the Rite of Family Rituals is a strong family prayer life. By having strong family prayer rituals, families invite  God to be the most important member of their household.

As a family, keep God close all day long through both formal and informal family prayer times. For instance, in addition to regular morning, meal-time, and bedtime prayers, you could pray over our child before a test, game, or important event. You could thank God out loud for the little blessings you experience.  You could ask God’s help before cooking a meal, or helping a child with homework, or having an important conversation with your spouse or child. Likewise, assuming your child is used to receiving blessing from you, don’t forget to ask your child to pray over you when you’re having a tough day. Give your kids the chance to exercise their muscles as budding spiritual warriors!

Using this lent to cultivate stronger family prayer rituals will help you do more to encourage the spiritual formation of the common priests in your household.

Intellectual Formation – Intellectual formation refers to the habits we develop that enable us to  know God better so that we can love him better. In the Rite of Family Rituals, we recommend regular family talk time as one important ritual that can help us achieve this goal at home. By carving out a little time during the day to have meaningful conversations about how our faith and life connect, how God is showing up for us, or how we think he is asking us to respond to the challenges we face, we can foster our family’s ability to grow in our knowledge of God and both the understanding and application of our faith.

Other good Talk Rituals include family reading time, where we can read stories from the bible, or the lives of the saints, or just good books that give us a chance to discuss our values and share how we can live them. Lent is a great time to make time to talk about why we have Stations of the Cross, or what the parts of our celebration of Holy Week mean and how all of our Lenten practices can help us draw closer to God and each other.

Pastoral/Apostolic Formation – Pastoral formation refers to our ability to cultivate compassionate hearts of service to others. The third rite in Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, the Rite of Reaching Out, helps us do this by encouraging us to look for more ways families can serve each other—both at home and in the world. The Rite of Reaching Out is all about reminding us of the importance of leaving people better off than we found them.

This Lent, think about ways your family can do more to serve each other and your community. How can you be more generous to each other at home?  How can you and your family reach out to others in your life and be a witness of God’s love? Perhaps your family could work together to create small care packages for with cards, baked goods, or little gifts and share them with your neighbors/friends. Maybe make one care package each week in Lent for a different friend, relative, or neighbor.

However you choose to develop your relationship with God this Lent, it may be helpful to reflect on these four pillars and how they apply to your family. What areas are your strengths? What areas could use growth? What is one tangible practice you and your family could partake in this Lent to strengthen your Catholic HOM?

Join the discussion on Facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship

How to Make The Most Out of Lent

Lent is upon us and many of us are still praying and thinking about what Lenten sacrifice or practice we should implement over the next forty days. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what we should do for Lent. Of course there are the popular ideas of giving up social media or giving up chocolate, and while these can absolutely be helpful to our personal growth and relationship with God, these and other popular Lenten ideas can often be chosen with no particular personal meaning behind them. 

Lent is not simply a time where we deprive ourselves of joy for a few weeks—just because. It is a time where we are supposed to focus on our own personal relationship with God, developing our mental, personal, and spiritual health—so that we can make more room for God in our every day lives. As Christopher West describes, Lent and fasting is “never an end in itself, it’s a means to the joy of the feast.” Lenten practices are meant to reveal to us the full and true joy of the Easter Season and God’s love for us every day of our lives. 

So what are some ways for us to achieve the fullness of Lent and the gain the most out of our Lenten practices? Here are a few ideas…

Give up trying to do everything by yourself – Self-sufficiency and independence can be great qualities to have, but there is true beauty and humility in acknowledging when we need help from others. Asking others for help can foster fruit in a variety of areas. We can develop our relationships with others when we let them into our lives in ways that allow them to take care of us in some way. Likewise, when we are always trying to do everything by ourselves, and we’re constantly taking care of others without letting them take care of us, resentment often grows without us even realizing. This resentment can creep up on us and damage our relationships with others and with God. So this Lent, take a step back, give up stubbornness, embrace humility, and reach out to others when help is needed. Or simply allow others to help if and when they offer. 

Give up overthinking and jumping to conclusions – This can be a hard one, but wow it makes a huge impact. When something small occurs, it can be all too easy—even automatic—to ruminate on the situation, overthink, and come to negative and often unrealistic conclusions. Not only can this ruin our day in about five seconds, it can also heavily impact our relationships. We may treat others differently because of a conclusion that we developed in our heads, and the other person will have no idea why we are acting the way we are acting. But how do we stop this habit of overthinking? First, take interactions and situations at face value. Don’t add ideas, put words in others’ mouths, or create outcomes that aren’t based in facts. Second, when these negative thoughts or overthinking spirals begin, instead of thinking of the most negative conclusion, intentionally think of the best possible outcome. At this point, we often begin to question, “What’s the point of thinking of the best possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Now, when this question arises, ask the same question about the negative outcome. “What’s the point of thinking of the worst possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Exactly. The difference, however, is that thinking of the best possible outcome gives us hope, while thinking of the worst outcome makes us want to give up. Hope gives us joy and helps us grow closer to God. Because of this, thinking of the positive scenarios is the more Godly practice. 

Give up over-scheduling and overworking – We live in a society that is extremely focused on achievement. Especially because of social media, we constantly feel the need to be doing something and to be able to say, “I’m so busy!” Sometimes it almost becomes a competition to see who has the busiest schedule. Being this busy leaves very little time for fun, for enjoyment, for relaxation. We lose touch with who we are as individuals, as a couple, or as a family because we are so focused on getting to the next activity or working on the next project. Give up this over-scheduling and overworking habit this Lent by setting aside time to do something that gives you joy. Make time to relax and spend time together as a family. Instead of scheduling an event or a project for work, schedule time for a date night. Whether you just hang out at home and enjoy the peace and quiet or you take a day trip to one of your favorite spots, regularly make time this Lent to step back, relax, and prioritize time to do something that brings you—or you and your family—joy.

These are just a few ideas to bring us closer to God this Lent. We don’t have to choose one of these ideas, and we certainly don’t have to practice them all. Maybe choose just one thing to work on this Lent. But as we decide what it is we will practice, let us start by asking God, “What barriers need to be removed in my life for me to be able to love You and love others the way You want me to?”  

For more on developing a deeper relationship with God, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and find more resources by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

Ash Wednesday: When Mercy Rains Down

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

It’s raining here, today. Hard.

When I first woke up this morning and my eyes blinked open, I heard the rain pounding on my roof and the winds slapping against my window. My first thought was, “So gloomy.  What perfect Lenten weather.”

My second thought was, “With how hard it’s raining, those ashes won’t stay on my forehead very long.  What a shame.”

But my groggy, gloomy, lenten mood was immediately punctuated by yet another thought that could only have been the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear. “No.  How perfect.   We bring our shame to God and cover ourselves in ashes.  And immediately the winds of grace and the rains of mercy wash the stain away.”

Today’s rain isn’t depressing.  It isn’t gloomy.  God isn’t weeping tears of sadness.  He is crying tears of joy that wash away our sins and celebrate his children coming home.

This Lent, celebrate the fact that we are not defined by our sinfulness, but by the depth of his love and mercy.  For more ways to connect how much God wants to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip-of-the Day for Tues 3/19: Celebrate St. Joseph’s Feast

Today is the feast of St Joseph who, among other things, is the Patron of Workers.  Today celebrate his feast in your marriage by surprising your spouse and doing one of the jobs around the house you usually leave for your spouse.  Change that lightbulb.  Clean up the kitchen.  Bathe the baby.   Give the gift of service to your spouse by doing something you wouldn’t usually consider “your job.”  It’s a great way to both serve each other a little better and understand each other a little better too!

For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day–Get Marriage-Building Resources

Couples who are marriage masters know that you can’t build a great marriage without great tools.  Today, think about the tools you might need to take you marriage to the next level.  Check out the the library or your local bookstore for a great new relationship book (you don’t even have to agree with everything the author says.  Its about starting a conversation!), reserve your spot on a Marriage Encounter Weekend, check out the cool resources at ForYourMarriage.org.  Do something today that helps you discover some new tools to help make your marriage everything God wants it to be!

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Wed 3/13: Remember Your Spouse!

We are busy with so many things.  Too often, we lack what psychologists call,  “object permanence.”  We walk out the door and our loved ones “disappear.”  We forget our spouse and kids (and they forget us) until we see each other again later that evening, but sometimes we are still to distracted to really connect.  Today, remember your spouse while you are apart.  Do something thoughtful to reach across the chasm.    Pick up some flowers.  Write a little note.  Do that thoughtful task that would make your spouse’s day a little easier.  Give your mate a call to say, “I love you.”  Just because.  Remember your spouse and remind each other that you matter–even when you’re apart.

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Tuesday 3/12: Make a Decision to Love

We’ve all heard that love is a decision.  Today put that notion into practice.  Imagine the day ahead and the time you will spend with your spouse.  Identify two things that you can do all on your own (i.e., don’t require your spouse’s cooperation or input) that would set the tone for a more loving day.  Will you give her the TV remote?  Make him a nicer-than-usual dinner? Do the dishes without being asked?  Wear that outfit he likes?  Be more patient with those mildly annoying habits?  How will you make a decision to love…today?

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Day to A Better Marriage, Monday 3/11: 4 Steps to Becoming a Mindful Spouse

A good marriage is a mindful marriage.  Today, I’m encouraging you to do something small to cultivate a spirit of mindfulness  in your marriage.  Step one?  Read this Faith on the Couch post on what mindfulness is and how it can be a blessing to you life. 

Step Two:  Think about the way you react to your spouse.  Choose one of those less pleasant reactions and ask yourself how you would like to respond instead.  Assume that you would feel just as irritated, annoyed, or frustrated as ever, but you could choose to channel that negative emotion into a healthier, more compassionate response.  What would that response be.

Step Three:  Imagine yourself successfully doing this new thing.  Ask God for the grace to follow through.

Step Four:  Keep practicing.  Mastering your reactions takes time, but the effort will result in a better you and a better marriage.  Keep trying and refining your effort in prayer.

It’s ok to get irritated with your spouse sometimes, but being mindful about how we respond when we’re irritated can spell the difference between being a marriage master…or a marriage disaster.

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Wed. 3/8–Cultivate a Spirit of Understanding

Couples need to make a million decisions every day.  Most decisions can be made fairly easily, but some decisions require more thought and reflection, especially when husbands and wives don’t see eye-to-eye.  In those times, it can be easy to try to push through the disagreement, to force a conclusion before you really understand where each other is coming from.  But decisions made this way rarely work.  When one spouse feels shut down, it tends to cultivate resentment at best or causes that spouse to undermine the solution at worst, creating a spirit of mutual hostility and distrust.

Today, cultivate a spirit of understanding.  Go out of your way to communicate that your spouse is more important than your agenda.  Before you push your plan or try to press for a decision, take the time to ask questions that help you really understand where your spouse is coming from.  Don’t criticize what they say.  Don’t try to talk them out of it.  Ask questions to help you truly understand what your mate wants and why.  Then, and only then, can you ask your mate to help you think of ways you could address their concerns while considering yours as well.  Chances are, your generosity and commitment to understanding will be rewarded in kind.

Here’s a great reflection by theologian, Romano Guardini, on the virtue of understanding

——For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And Check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.