Wednesday, February 24, 2010


As you may know from the beads you hopefully amassed during Mardi Gras, it is now the Lenten season. Traditionally, Mardi Gras is the celebration on the eve of Ash Wednesday when everyone gets crazy before Lent begins. Lent is the season of forty days leading up to Good Friday, the day on which Jesus died around 33 AD. For these forty days, Jesus meditated in the desert alone to find his true spirit and reflect on his purpose on Earth. (His sacrifice of comfort began the tradition of Catholics giving up a comfort of their own for Lent). Of course, Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God. But you don’t have to be Christian to appreciate what historians know to be true about Jesus, a real man who lived and died in first-century Judea. This season is the perfect opportunity to allow ourselves to reflect on our own true spirit and purpose on Earth.

I stumbled across a related article called “A Journey Into the Inner Self”. I didn’t really expect that the text would speak so directly to me. I have already found it really helpful in calming my mind and strengthening my heart, which for me translates into fortifying my ability to deal with career and relationship struggles. I think that often times, we feel we should be able to handle everything on our own. We see the grave distress of the rest of the world, like the countless tragedies caused by the Haitian earthquake, and we think that our comparatively small stresses are not deserving of attention. But even if we are fortunate enough to be well-fed and have a roof over our heads, we may be more starving and unprotected in a spiritual sense than those affected by an earthquake. In such a state it is difficult, if not impossible, to be living in our optimum state both professionally and personally. So by giving ourselves attention by reflecting on our inner spirit, we can move toward peace and clarity. For me, the article was helpful on the practical ways to do this, so perhaps it will be for you, as well!

by Alfred McBride, O. Praem.
One year the woman gave up sugar. The next year she gave up reading. The third year she gave up shopping. She said she saw Lent as a time of personal change. Her identity depended too much on what she wore and what she did. She felt the need of stepping away from superficial concerns. to find out who she really was. She said she enjoyed Lent. The giving up was really a receiving. Lenten self-scrutiny breathed new life into an important part of herself that was otherwise overwhelmed by worldly matters. Penance meant positive personal change for her.
The poet Yeats wrote that the journey into the inner self is not just the important one, “It is the only one.” We need to listen to the sound beyond the silence. Lent is the perfect time to take the journey within. The word for penance means “personal conversion”. In contemporary language, penance is a means to powerful personal transformation.
The following principles for personal change offer a Lenten program for inner renewal. In this program we confront the causes of out anxieties and our lack of purpose. We also discover the gifts that Christ has given us to become the people we have always wanted to be.
Our inner journey takes us into “rooms” inside ourselves where we can visualize the challenges that await us.
The first “room” we find within ourselves is the room filled with our fears. We have so many fears– the fear of failure, the fear of others’ opinions, the fear of being disliked, misunderstood, or rejected, the fear of disease, injury, or death. Fear hides from us our potential for love. Fear restricts us and makes feel small and excessively cautious. It poisons our relationships. Driven by fear, we seek to prove other people wrong. We justify revenge. We make other people fear inferior to ourselves. Fear causes us to see the world only in terms of division, separateness, and fractured relationships.
In John’s gospel (3:1-21), Nicodemus exemplifies the curse of fear. He comes to Jesus in night, in the secrecy of darkness. His caution frightens him from being seen particularly with the Lord. Jesus does not  criticize his behavior, rather he probes the habits of fear that ties Nicodemus in a knot. Jesus invites Nicodemus to see the world in a new and exciting way.
We receive the same invitation. Our first step is to let go of our fear. Drop it in the nearest imaginary stream and let the water take it away to the sea. The water washes away the fear. The Spirit breathes new life into us. To hug one’s fear is to diminish the self. To let it go is to be like a fresh, newborn person. In Lent we may fast from fats and sugars. A superb Lenten fast is “fasting” from the darkness of fear.
Here are some exercises for banishing fear. Try one each day:
- List your fears, both physical and emotional. Each time, drop that specific fear into an imaginary stream that washes it away.
- Recall that each person we meet also struggles with fears. That person deserves our compassion.
- At the beginning of each hour, say Christ’s heart-warming invitation, “Be not afraid”.

Our journey brings us next into the room of love. St. Augustine says that God gave each of us a love drive. We all experience a sex drive, but often we are less aware of our love drive. Yes, we hunger for affection from others. Are we as alert to our own inner dynamic to push to love others? In our room of love we can discover this love energy– this power of love– and release it. When we activate our love drive we feel free. We then perceive our world as a potential unity in God. This perception causes us to bring harmony to ourselves, our family, and our world.
We then realize that each person we meet deserves our love right now. The person’s past and future does not distract us. We stop worrying and love directly, simply, and without guile. We enjoy heart-to-heart communication with others.
Each day we will remove blocks to love awareness. How can we do this? We have already taken the first step when we let go of fear. St. Augustine says that prayer is an excellent way to discover our love capacity. When prayer becomes a friendly conversation with God, the dialogue uncovers our dynamic love drive. It awakens our hunger for nothing less than God. That hunger is our love energy.
When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman, he helped her shed her fear and discover her deepest love drive. He dug a well in her self-awareness. When she sensed her gift, a divine spring burst through her inner self. It was a “spring of water welling up” (Jn 4:14).
This Lent we will look for the love drive in our hearts. We praise God for this most valued of all divine gifts. We will take this love and pour it into each action of our day. Great genius and art pay attention to the smallest detail. Spiritual art is putting love into the smallest act as well as the greatest one. It is meeting each person every day withaffection, ease, and love.
These practices will help find our love drive:
- At the end of each day look at how we related to people. Were we too shy to show love? Did we love until it hurt? What caused us to refuse love? What will we do tomorrow?
- Look at St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. His meditation on love has 13 verses. Take one verse every morning and let it influence our thoughts and relations to others. Review the results in the evening.
- Each evening reflect on the love we received from people that day. Praise God for the gifts.

The giving room greets us at the next stage of our inner journey. Everyone loves getting something. The best way to get is to give. St. Francis says, “It is in giving that we receive”. We naturally want to be strong. Our best method for finding strength is to make others strong, to be there for them, to give them support.
We want to overcome confusion and scattered energies. The day we offer stability to others, that moment we receive the gift of stability. Giving is like a boomerang. We send out a spiritual value and it comes back to us. We wish we had peace. As soon as we help another to be peaceful, our own hearts find rest. The day we treat another person with love and expect none in return, love floods our hearts.
We pledge then to concentrate of giving ourselves to others. Lent calls on us to concentrate on giving as a powerful means of self-transformation with God’s help. These applications will improve our capacity to give:
- Name three values you wish you had in your life. For example: personal responsibility, a sense of purpose, a positive outlook. Develop ways to impart these gifts, quietly and sensitively, to each person you meet.
- Lent invites you to give alms. You see the world’s needs: the homeless, hungry children, AIDS victims, poverty, chemical dependency programs. Practice charitable giving either with money or time or both.
- The Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” contains ten petitions. Adopt one petition a day as a spiritual guideline for behavior. Each evening evaluate your progress.

Now we arrive at the peace room. Our hearts want peace, but our heads won’t leave us alone. Our heads are like a 24-hour movie. The show never stops. The tapes keep playing. Upsets, troubles, and tragedies cling to our minds like arthritic deposits. These rough commanders of out attention trouble us and destroy our hope for inner tranquility. If we want inner peace, we must release our minds from mental deposits.
As in the case of our fear, the first step we might take to rid ourselves of these disturbers of out peace is to drop them into an imaginary stream that carries them away to the sea. We may be too fond of our anxieties. Holding onto them heals nothing. Letting them go begins the process of gaining inner peace.
Secondly, we should treat ourselves to some quiet time each day. Stop the world and get off for a while. People burn out because they forget this simple advice. The modern craze for efficiency has resulted in putting a lot of energy into little things. The truly efficient person expends small energy for small acts and has enough left over for the big challenge. Quiet time restores energy.
Thirdly, discover an old truth that peace does not follow good behavior. If this were so, why do many people with correct behavior complain they have no peace in their hearts? Instead, good behavior follows peace.
At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to give us inner peace. To receive that, we will need to bind ourselves to him as intimately as a branch to a vine. When peace flows from Christ to us, we produce loving behavior and create an environment of joy.
One of the great themes of Lent is Reconciliation. Another is the powerful moments for transforming the self. Strengthened by this sacrament, we can better share with others our inner peace. What we celebrate in the sacrament affects our relationship skills.
These additional activities will help us share inner peace:
- Visualize the room where the apostles gathered on Easter night (Jn 20:19-23). Feel the fear. Listen to Christ say, “Peace be with you”. Hear Jesus say those words to us. Quietly repeat the words until they envelope us.
- Each time you hear people talking of war or fomenting discord, think of ways to draw people to desire peace and do something about it.
- Take ten minutes a day to be quiet and still. Ask for peace.

Finally, we come to our internal meditation room. This room is very deep inside us and close to God’s presence. It is in the center of the self. Why meditate? Meditation increases our capacity to love. It fills us with enthusiasm (a word that means “God within”) by putting us in touch with God. Meditation makes us feel at ease with ourselves. It reduces anxiety levels, our hostility to others, and our suspicions of other people. Doctors claim that meditation is good for our heart, reducing our heart rate, increasing the depth of our breathing, and improving our body chemistry, which affects our level of emotional anxiety.
Meditation gives us a new outlook on life. Most days we are turtles, quietly plodding along the earth’s surface. Important as this is, we only have an earth’s eye view of life. Meditation helps us also to be eagles, to see all life from a fresh perspective. The turtle in us functions better when we soar as high as an eagle. 
Meditation time differs from the rest of our lives because in it we only do one thing at a time. We learn to concentrate and open ourselves up to hearing our inner voice. We can lovingly gaze at a flower, a star, a mountain, a scene from the Gospels. We can say a brief prayer in rhythm with our breathing.
Though exercises like the following may seem strange or beside the point, they are meant to put you in touch with your prayerful self within so often blotted out by our hectic schedules. Try one of the following as a starter.
In your imagination, sit by the bank of a river. Watch a log roll by. Let it pass from your attention and let the next one come into view. Let it go and repeat the process. Another technique is breath counting. Do nothing about it. At the exhalation of a breath say, “one”. Do this to the count of four and no more. Repeat the process. Other images will attract your attention from the log or the breath counting. Calmly let them go and concentrate on the technique.


Look again at five principles of our proposed Lenten inner journey:
1. Let go of our fear
2. Find the love that is within us
3. Concentrate on giving
4. Share inner peace
5. Practice the art of meditation

Jesus told us, "The kingdom of God is wihtin you" (Lk 17:21). As we practice these principles we become more aware of our gifts. We get in touch with the drive to love that banishes fear. We discover a center of peace that releases from us the control of anxiety. The more we die to our fears, our selfishness and the anxieties that block our awareness of God, the more we rise to new life.

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