Archive for the ‘Discernment’ Category

Temptation Traps

July 16, 2016
The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

We human beings are creatures of habit. For better or worse, we find it easier to think and act in the ways that we are accustomed to. Without self-awareness, it can feel natural to follow established modes of thinking into sinful action. However, once we examine and challenge these temptations we can recognize them as the distortions of truth and reality that they are. Then, with God’s ever-present grace, we can choose and act to reject them.

We experience temptations as the thoughts, feelings, and desires that, if not resisted, would lead us away from God’s will and our greatest human fulfillment. And from where do our temptations flow? They come, as the classic saying goes, from “the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.” The World, our culture and the people around us, can suggest sinful paths. Likewise our Flesh, our passions and psychological wounds, can give rise to temptation. Finally, the Devil, with the fallen angels allied with him, can prompt ideas and moods within us in order to lead us towards sin. If we are to resist temptations we must first detect them amidst our thoughts, feelings, and desires.

The distorted thinking of our temptations comes to us in many forms. Do you fall for any of these common temptation traps? Study these and enter your next battle prepared, forewarned and forearmed!

 

Overgeneralization reaches a general conclusion based upon a single incident or piece of evidence:

I just got dumped. I’ll never find love!

God didn’t grant my prayer. He doesn’t care.”

I never hire those people, one stole from me once.

 

All-or-Nothing Thinking has no tolerance or mercy for imperfection in ourselves or others:

I broke my Lenten penance, so I’ve given it up.”

I sinned, so my hours of resisting mean nothing.

I’ve never spoken to him since he was rude to me.”

 

Mental Filtering focuses on a situation’s negative details while dismissing all of the positive aspects:

Yes, Son, but what about this B- in Science?

When I look back on my day, all I see are sins.

They said they liked it, but what she said irks me.”

 

Labeling generalizes from a couple of traits or events to declare a universal negative judgment:

I need to lose some weight. I’m ugly.

I never do anything right; I’m worthless.

I’m taking more naps as I get older. I’m so lazy.”

 

Mind Reading presumes to know (without asking) how others feel or why they act as they do:

I know I promised, but the kids won’t mind.”

He’s late. He must not care about this team.”

Her eyes are closed. She’s not listening to me.”

 

Magnifying exaggerates the significance of problems or events:

I’ll never finish this paper by next week!

I did bad things in a dream. I’m so ashamed.

I prayed an hour, but I kept getting distracted!

 

Minimizing downplays serious concerns to insignificance:

A little peek at this website is no big deal.

This habit is a venial sin, so it’s OK if I do it.

Why are you complaining? My drinking is fine.”

 

Catastrophizing assumes the worst about the present and the future:

What if I lose my job, get sick, and die?

I’ll never conquer this sin—why even try?

He’s moody tonight. Is our marriage in trouble?

 

Personalization believes everything that happens is caused by, or is a reaction to, oneself:

I jinxed the team, I didn’t wear my hat.”

This happened because God is punishing me.”

I saw my two friends; why didn’t they invite me?”

 

False Shoulds condemn us for weaknesses or choices that are not actually sins:

I should always keep my family happy.”

I sinned by missing Mass when I had the flu.”

It still hurts, so I must not be forgiving them.”

 

Emotional Reasoning concludes that how we presently feel must be the true reflection of reality:

I feel so sad, I must be failing.”

This feels so good, how could it be wrong?”

I feel guilty; God must be unhappy with me.”

 

If this topic interests you, check out Cognitive Behavior Therapy and “cognitive distortions.” CBT is the most widely-used technique for the treatment of many psychological issues (such as depression and anxiety) and is proven to be often effective.

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Seek As To Find — Monday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 18, 2011

When I was a kid, I was neither hot nor cold. I was a cradle-Catholic and wouldn’t renounce Christ, but I wasn’t much of a disciple of Christ either. I would have pseudo-philosophical religious conversations with friends, asking questions like, “How do we know that God is real? How do we know the Bible is really true? Couldn’t the Apostles have been hallucinating on Easter? Doesn’t science contradict religion?” And other objections of that type.

One day, when I was about 12-13 years old, I imagined myself  standing before the judgement seat of God after my death. He looked disappointed and annoyed like I had promised to meet Him somewhere and never showed up. He asked, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it?” (At the time I thought, “Whether this idea is coming by God or just from my own imagination, I have to honestly address this question. What would I say in this situation?”) “God,” I said, “I wasn’t even sure that you were really real. How could I commit my one life to you while I was still uncertain? Who would stand out on a cliff-ledge unless they knew that it could bear their weight?”  He promptly replied, “Well, did you ever really try to find out [if I was real?] I mean, did you even read my book?” When I heard this, I had two reactions. I laughed (because it was funny) and I said, “Oh crud,” (though I didn’t say “crud.”) God had called me out. If I had really been searching for the truth, I would’ve been searching differently. Instead of just asking questions I’d be looking for answers. After that, I began praying more, reading the Bible, and exploring my Catholicism more deeply. Because of this, I stand here today.

Jesus refused to give the Pharisees a sign because they weren’t really looking for the truth but excuses.  If you meet someone who doubts God and says they would believe in Him if He gave them a sign, perhaps ask them if they are really searching for the truth or just raising doubts about God in order to be free from the demands of the Gospel. Whoever truly seeks, finds. As a corrolary for our own lives, for we who believe in God, don’t expect the Lord to explicitly reveal His will for you, unless you are willing to accept His will.

Rules of Spiritual Discernment

July 17, 2011

In just a few pages, St. Ignatius’ famous Rules for Discernment can teach us about:

  • Spiritual consolation, spiritual desolation, and how to act in the midst of them.
  • How the enemy of our souls attacks us and how we are to defend ourselves.
  • How to recognize the activity of the good spirit or the bad spirit within us.

Pushing Boulders — 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

July 1, 2010

Once upon a time, there was a hermit who lived in a cabin in the woods.  Each day, he would spend a good deal of time in prayer. One day at prayer he quieted himself, opened himself receptively to God, and heard Jesus speak to him. It’s wasn’t that he heard Jesus externally, speaking from across the room, but within his own thoughts. The hermit knew from experience that the Lord sometimes sends us an image, a memory, a song, or words in times of prayer to communicate with us.

The Lord said, “Go outside to the large boulder in your yard.” The man got up and went. Then the Lord said, “I want you to push this boulder for at least 30 minutes every day.” The man went about pushing the boulder every day, exerting his body in every way, but even months later he could not discern having moved the stone a single inch.

The man thought to himself, “Am I doing something wrong? Am I failing because of my sins or my lack of faith? The Gospels say that if I had faith the size of a mustard seed I could move mountains, but I can’t even move this stupid boulder.  Am I failing because this isn’t really God’s will? Did the Lord really tell me to do this, or did I just imagine it myself? No I heard Him, as surely as the other times when I heard Him speak. But why does He give me a task that He knows I can’t do? Does He want me to fail?” At this the man became very angry and (wisely) took his frustration to God. 

The man heard the Lord speak to Him, “Do you have reason to be angry? I told you to push the boulder, but I never told you to move it. Look at your arms, look at your legs, you have become strong because of your faithfulness and now you are ready for my next mission for you. You thought you were failing, but you succeeded in doing my will.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus turns resolutely toward His final journey to Jerusalem. He sends out advance teams to visit the towns ahead of Him and prepare His way. One of these villages is a Samaritan town and when they learn that Jesus’ destination is Jerusalem they refuse to welcome Him. James and John see this and ask, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them, like Elijah did back in the day?” Jesus turns and rebukes them; the fire of the Holy Spirit is meant for the salvation of people, not their destruction.

Why did Jesus send His disciples to that Samaritan town, instead of just instructing them to pass it by? Jesus knew what was going to happen when they went to that village–He knew by His divine insight that they wouldn’t accept Him. Remember when Jesus needed a donkey to ride on into Jerusalem? He sends two disciples to find and untie a donkey who had never been ridden before and He tells them what to say if anyone asks what they are doing. They go into the city and find everything as Jesus had described. Remember when Jesus needed a place to celebrate the Last Supper? He tells Peter and John to go into the city and to follow a man they will see carrying a jar of water, when they come to the house he leads them to, they are to ask if there is a place for the master to celebrate the Passover. They go and find everything a Jesus described, including an upper room already prepared for a Passover. Jesus knew that the Samaritan town would not welcome Him, so why did He send disciples there?

The mission may have seemed like a failure, but Jesus’ plan succeeded. Jesus knew that His Apostles would soon be preaching the Gospel to the whole world and He knew that not everyone would welcome them or their message. Jesus wanted to give them some experience in rejection to teach them how to respond; not with anger and violence, but with patience and peace. James and John learn a lesson about divine mercy. They may have thought their mission to the Samaritan town was a total failure, but the Lord was successfully achieving His goals in them.

So what does all this have to do with us? In our lives we often experience weakness, setbacks and apparent failures. In response, we often blame ourselves, even when we are innocent, or we conclude that we must not have been doing God’s will, or we get angry with God for frustrating or not helping our efforts. Yet, as long as we are faithfully following Christ, nothing we attempt is ever truly a failure.

The only true failure in the Christian life is sin, but if we repent of our past sins even these can be used to benefit God’s great plan. Scripture says, “God works all things for the good of those who love Him,” this even includes our repented sins. We are obsessed with success, but as Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us, “God does not ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful.”

Sometimes you will feel like you are failing, or that your efforts have been useless, but by your faithfulness you will be succeeding in doing God’s will. Let us remember that at the center of our faith is a man nailed to a cross; an appearent failure who was actually succeeding in saving the world. Jesus rolls away stones in ways we wouldn’t expect.

Hearing Him — Friday, 3rd Week of Easter

April 23, 2010

Jesus says, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood,” as we are about to do in at this Mass, “remains in me and I in him.” After we receive Him, He remains with us and we with Him.  And He stays with us, provided we do not cast Him out through committing serious sin, until we receive Him again.

Jesus remains close to us throughout our day. Wouldn’t it make sense, that time to time, He would occasionally have something to tell us? Maybe we don’t hear Him because He knows we would refuse to listen. Perhaps He knows we would dismiss hearing Him speak to us out of hand, or maybe He knows we don’t trust Him enough to go out on a limb. For example, if you got the feeling that the Lord wanted you to relay to a message, a message you didn’t really understand, to particular person what would you do?

In the first reading, the Lord speaks to Ananias and Ananias answers, “Here I am.” Then the Lord gives Him an entirely wholesome, but very counter-intuitive task: lay your hands on Saul and heal him. Ananias hesitates a little. Ananias might be wondering if this is really coming from the Lord, or maybe he’s not sure he wants to risk this much for the Lord. But in the end, Ananias listens, and because of it, Saul became St. Paul.

If we would like the Lord to do such things with us let us be faithful in little things, faithful to the commands of our consciences and to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout our daily lives. If we are willing to trust Him, Jesus will ask us to be His chosen instrument in greater matters too. So let’s listen, let’s be docile, and see what He does with us.

A Weird Passage — Wednesday, 3rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

January 28, 2010

“Focus on the weird.”  That’s advice I heard that a homiletics professor once gave. “Focusing on the weird part of the readings in preparing one’s homily leads to the unlocking of mysteries. Besides, it’s what the people are most likely to be distracted thinking about during your homily anyways.” (This is a good rule of thumb for one’s personal Bible studies too.) So what’s the weird part about today’s readings? It comes in Jesus’ private answer to the disciples about His parables:

“The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Does Jesus really teach in parables so that the crowd will not understand?  Why teach them if you don’t want them to learn? And why would Jesus want to be misunderstood by people “in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven”? Doesn’t He want all to be saved?

Jesus spoke in parables because it allowed those with open minds and hearts to understand Him, while serving as a defense against his hostile critics (who had appeared in Mark’s Gospel just before this scene.) Those who were open to the truth would patiently ponder His imagery and come to understand.  Those who chose to be closed off to Jesus would dismissively discard His stories without comprehending. Jesus did not want to be too clear too soon with His enemies, for if He had spoken to them plainly about Himself and His mission they might have moved to kill Him too early for God’s plan to unfold fully.

Did Jesus speak in parables with His enemies “in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” Surely not, for Jesus wills the salvation of all. The choice not to be converted and forgiven lays at their own feet. They themselves choose not to be open, not to understand, “in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

Are we open to Jesus’ message and will for us? We sometimes say that we wish that Jesus would be more clear about His will for our lives. Could it be that the reason Jesus doesn’t lay out His will for us plainly is that He knows we would simply answer “No” to His wishes? If we want to understand and respond to Jesus’ will for us in big things, we need to practice responding to His will for us in small, everyday things.

We need to turn off the TV or internet when He tells us we’re wasting our time. We need to respond to His invitations to prayer. We need to show patience and kindness with all the people He has placed in our day-to-day lives. If we are faithful in small matters then He will trust us to be faithful in big ones; we will hear His words, receive them with joy, and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.