Tag Archives: living

Dying to Self

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
—John 12:24

IMG_7355Dying to self means letting go of all the attachments that keep us from God; it is a purging of all that is not love. This means loosening our grip on our own plans, our desire for comfort and convenience, our tendencies toward selfishness and sin.

We can try to be the boss of our own lives, or we can give Jesus permission to call the shots. If we let Jesus take control, we will face the Cross, but we will also begin to see everything in our lives through His radiant Light.

Only when we throw ourselves upon God’s providence will we find ourselves—our true selves, who God created us to be. Dying to self is not an act of self-abasement but rather an act of faith—that when we cut away all the clutter we will find goodness underneath, that in the core of our being we will find the presence of God. Indeed, this dying to self is the seed of our salvation.

By abandoning our own agenda, we open our hands to receive the truest desires of our hearts. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He will give us gifts greater than any of the earthly attachments we cling to.

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.
Featured image: PD-US

Tackling the “Summer Problem”

When I was in college, I found that those long-awaited, blissful days of summer, however enjoyable, always caused a certain amount of spiritual angst for me. Thrown out of my rhythm established at school, my spiritual life would take a beating during the 3 months I was home and leave me back at square one just in time for my return to school in August. I would then spend 9 months re-instilling those hard fought-for habits and be at my spiritual happy place in time for summer.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

The pattern continued.

The most frustrating part of all of this was that I tried. I went to daily Mass, said rosaries, you name it, but for some reason being away from the infrastructure I had made for myself at school always hurt my spiritual fitness.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts for those college and high-school students struggling without the structure of academia to keep us all honest!

1. Play Offense, Not Defense

When I would go home, knowing that my routine was changing and worried about the harm it would cause my spiritual habits, I would switch into defense mode, which probably made the situation worse.

Let me give an example.

Instead of praying at Mass like I usually do – offering up prayers of thanksgiving, intentions, meditations and the like – I would go to Mass with the sole purpose of “remaining spiritually fit.” All this accomplished was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I would be so distracted in Mass wondering the whole time about whether or not I was praying well that I wasn’t praying at all. In fact, I was getting distracted and setting myself up to feel alienated from Our Lord.

summerprayerThe same is true for my times of contemplation, rosaries, etc. I would worry too much about maintaining my spiritual health.

However, what do the greatest saints say? If you are not moving forward, you’re moving backward. I shouldn’t have been focused on maintaining my spiritual life at all. I should have been focused on growing in intimacy with Christ. That’s what we should all do, regardless of the situation or change in routine. That’s what my focus was at school, and should have continued to be at home. My loss of focus on that disrupted my routine even more!

2. Spiritual Fitness is Like Physical Fitness

By that I mean that when people work out, often they find that they reach a plateau. They continue to lift, run, tone, and eat well, but they find that they don’t move forward or get stronger in their training. This usually means that they need to mix it up. Doing the same exercises over and over again only results in your muscles becoming incredibly good at that one exercise, and not growing in strength all the way around. If you mix it up and change exercises, often you’ll find that your strength increases dramatically.

The same can be said for our spiritual lives. I would spend 9 months getting to my spiritual fitness peak and then our Lord would give me an opportunity that I squandered every single time: to change my routine and grow even more. Think of summer as that change in exercise regimen that will not only prevent you from falling backward, but launch you forward into unprecedented intimacy with God! Think of prayers, books, or spiritual habits you’ve been interested in or wanting to form and take those 3 months to do it!

3. Create an Infrastructure

As I said above, the main reason I struggled so during the summer months was that I didn’t have the normal people around to keep me honest and I didn’t have a routine of spiritual events to go to or keep myself on track with. In short, I lost my infrastructure.

My last summer home, it finally clicked. If structure and accountability buddies are what I need, then make it and find them! Find a friend you can go to Mass with a couple of times a week. Get some of your college buddies to form a Facebook group where you can all post about your spiritual habits, things you’ve tried, new prayers you’ve learned. Make Skype dates with your Catholic besties in college and pray the rosary with them! Set something in stone and you’ll find you’re less likely to fall.

4. Trust God

Finally, relax! Focus your thoughts on God. Periodically throughout the day, just say “Hi, Jesus” or “I love you” to Our Lord. If something happens during your day that makes you smile, laugh, feel good, or makes you happy, say a quick Hail Mary of thanksgiving for that moment. Likewise for those things that may be negative.

In everything, offer Him your concerns and trust that you are His beloved child! He will not abandon, nor forsake you. Make this summer a living loaves and fishes: take to Him what you have and He will bless it abundantly. Let Him know you love Him and you’re trying your best and He will take care of the rest!

The Secrets to Happiness

The Funeral of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
The Funeral of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

How happy really are we today? How do we define that we have really ‘lived’?

We live in a marketing led world – a place of big dreams and bucket lists. Generally we have a high standard of living, yet we are constantly on the hunt to get more out of life.

We have everything we could possibly need, but still feel that our lives are incomplete. According to what comes across from the media this isn’t until we’ve taken selfies on the latest iPhone while flying over Europe wearing a size 0 designer dress and eating a sugar/grain/dairy free cronut. First world problems huh?

We are left feeling that our life is lacking because it is filled with impossible dreams that mean you haven’t lived. Impossible because they aren’t real. They are scripted, photoshopped, or we are unable to access them without personal trainers, dietitians, stylists, nannies, freebies and finances. All of them center on us as the individual and turn us into narcissists.

Unfortunately, most days of our lives are filled with what could be the mundane. Living every day can be hard.  Social media puts a glamorous face on everyday life, but underneath lurks despondency and depression.

The best secrets to everyday happiness (nay, joy) have been tried and tested by some wise people who went before us. People who lived not only through the trials of everyday life, but through true hardships – adversities like illness, wrongful imprisonment and concentration camps.

Their secrets?

“I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.”
Servant of God Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan is a great source of wisdom about living happily everyday. This is coming from a man who spent many years of his life imprisoned, including nine years in solitary confinement in a small dark room. Yet to live the present moment to the fullest was the decision he made when he was first imprisoned to counter his feeling of sadness, abandonment and exhaustion. He decided not to live his life waiting for freedom.

“If I spend my time waiting, maybe the things I look forward to will never arrive. The only thing certain to arrive is death.”

If you focus on the present moment and doing it well, you can’t be too hung up on the past or the future. There can be no regrets that you didn’t live moments well in the past if you were focusing on them in the present.

“Do the Little Things with Love
St Therese of Lisieux was all about doing the little things with love. Hence, she was called the ‘Little Flower’. St Therese lived a relatively plain and basic life as a nun, though she often was ill. But what makes her a saint, famous worldwide was her resolve to “miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

Don’t seek all your satisfaction in earthly things
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati had it all. He was a handsome, fun-loving, athletic, courageous man born into a prominent Italian family. Yet instead of living the “good life” he spent much of his life giving to others: growing in spiritual life and prayer; serving the sick, needy orphans and veterans; being involved in political activism; giving constantly to charity; leading his friends in apostolic works and focusing on others. His wisdom was that we “must not squander the best years of our lives as so many unhappy young people do, who worry about enjoying the good things in life, things that do not in fact bring any good, but rather the fruit of immorality in today’s world.” Instead we need constant prayer, organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right moment and to sacrifice ourselves.

Through this he constantly gave himself with joy and called sadness a disease:

“A Catholic cannot help but be happy; sadness should be banished from their souls. Suffering is not sadness, which is the worst disease. This disease is almost always caused by atheism, but the end for which we are created guides us along life’s pathway, which may be strewn with thorns, but is not sad. It is happy even through suffering.”

He died at the young age of 24 and to the surprise of his family, who didn’t know the work he had done in secret, his funeral was attended by thousands of people lining the streets.

Remember, all the little things make a great life
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, once explained it this way:

“A mother . . . goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. Her life is literally reduced to crumbs, but what she does is no little thing: It is Eucharist with Jesus! A religious sister . . . goes to her daily work among the old, the sick, the children. Her life too might seem split by many small things that leave no trace at night—another day wasted. But her life too is Eucharist. . . . No one should say, ‘What use is my life? What am I doing in this world?’ You are in the world for the most sublime of reasons, to be a living sacrifice. To be Eucharist with Jesus.”

The “crumbs” of our lives are gathered together and bring hope to other people. Each one of us is a treasure.

Most of these ‘secrets’ involve seizing the opportunities that we are given on a daily basis. Enjoying each moment, offering what we have to others and putting away worry, in exchange for hope.

With that, we can weather whatever comes, with joy.

And that is what makes a good life.