Lent is fast approaching. Ash Wednesday will arrive with the usual crowds to mark its beginning. Even though it is not a holy day of obligation, many Catholics feel the need to participate in a Mass or service and have ashes imparted upon them. Several of the same, even if they do not go to Mass on a regular basis, will take up the various Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but particularly fasting in the form of “giving up” something. It is important to consider that there is something stirring spiritually within these brothers and sisters. Those who are very active in the life of faith can either dismiss them or accompany them into deeper life in Christ, in and through his Church.
How? By using well the tools of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – as ways in which we can witness Christ more authentically to our brothers and sisters and deepen our encounter with him. In his Lenten message last year, Pope Francis made this invitation once again,
“Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.” (2018 Lenten Message)
The “enthusiasm” that comes from prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is not of our own making. It is the work of God and one in which we cooperate. The disciplines of Lent are not ends in themselves. They are means to an end, greater communion with Jesus Christ. We are challenged by these practices to focus our attention not on ourselves, but more fully on God and neighbor.
A focus on our neighbor returns us to those who are spiritually searching and arrive on Ash Wednesday or “give something up” for Lent. It means less attention on ourselves and more prayer for them, uniting our fasting with and for them, and giving of our time to them, especially to listen and accompany them back into living more deeply the life of faith. Not an easy task, but a sacrifice that, if lived well and authentically, could assist others in coming to Easter joy!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For resources to accompany you throughout the Lenten season, please click here.
January, as the first month of the new calendar year, is for many people a time to start fresh. And January 2019 in particular seemed to be the month of intense home decluttering. This is probably due to the advent of the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” I have friends and relatives who had never heard of Kondo’s bestselling book before the streaming show debuted, and yet I have watched them become KonMari method adherents, filling my social media feeds with success stories about the household clutter they are donating or dumping.
Amid all this physical decluttering, I find myself wondering how often we take time to do some spiritual decluttering as well. Especially for myself—I strive to maintain a ruthless-but-not-obsessive attitude about household clutter. But do I regularly declutter my soul outside of going to confession every month or two? And when I do attempt spiritual decluttering, do I approach it with the same kind of enthusiasm about ridding my soul of the things that are holding me back from God?
In this new year’s spirit of decluttering and simplifying, we tend to think about the kinds of things in our homes that we no longer need: toys missing essential pieces, gifts we will never use but feel too guilty to donate, soccer participation trophies from third grade. But we should also think about the kinds of things that make up ‘spiritual clutter’: useless smartphone games that waste hours of our time, social media accounts that just fuel jealousy and resentment toward our peers, junk food binges that disrespect our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. What are the things that our minds, our bodies, or our souls cling to that do not bring us closer to God?
In Luke’s Gospel, Simon, James, and John “leave everything” to follow Christ. We also are called to leave everything and follow Christ. But what does everything mean when we live in the twenty-first century with all of its modern conveniences? We are not all called to join a mendicant order, to become cloistered nuns, or to become missionaries in the far-flung corners of the world. We still need shelter, food, clothing, and dignified work. But along with striving to make our homes oases of calm in a chaotic life, so too should we strive to make our souls oases of peace in a fallen world.
If we really stop to think about it, spiritual clutter is as ubiquitous as and more detrimental than physical clutter. Everywhere we turn, there are bad habits and ill-formed attachments that keep us from deepening our relationship with God. And just like physical clutter, spiritual clutter is a deeply personal thing. We can choose to ignore it, but—like its physical counterpart—spiritual clutter will eventually take over our lives until we dread even peeking into those areas that are the messiest and need the most work. But we must look inward in order to grapple with the things that keep us from following Christ—especially if we dread what we will discover about ourselves.
When the metaphorical pile of spiritual clutter seems insurmountable, it is good for us to remember that we are not alone in our endeavors: God is there beside us, calling us to engage with him in the sacrament of Penance, which itself is spiritual decluttering. With its thorough examination of conscience and its outpouring of God’s grace, going to confession not only absolves us of the sins that clutter our hearts, but it also bolsters us to overcome those temptations in the future. And, with God’s grace, the spiritual clutter that accumulates in our hearts will slowly begin to seem more manageable and less insurmountable, until one day we realize that the things that had once seemed to control our lives are no longer more than a passing temptation.
As the new year continues on and we declutter more of our physical homes, let us remember to give equal attention to our spiritual homes.
Question for Reflection: What are some things that are cluttering your spiritual life?
You may have heard this phrase or a deviation of it before: while St. Ignatius referred to, “Seeking God in all things,” St. Vincent Pallotti taught, “Seek God in all things, and you will find God in all things.” Both convey the same message. While this message can be an easy one to remember, putting it into practice is a different story—even Jesus’ disciples had trouble with this! If we look at the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it was only after Jesus had traveled along the road with them, sat down, and broke the bread that they recognized Him (cf Luke 24:13-32). If the disciples could struggle to recognize Christ, how many times in our lives have we also failed to recognize Him in a person, place, or event?
This past summer, I undertook the great challenge of attempting to recognize Christ in my everyday life. Having been blessed with the opportunity to attend World Youth Day in Poland, I, for the first time, felt like I was truly experiencing a culture that was authentically Catholic. Everywhere I went, I found myself able to identify Christ present in my surroundings. Throughout the trip, I worried that the enthusiasm with which I found it easy, even second nature, to exhibit my faith would go out like a lamp when I landed and departed from my group in the US. I knew it did not have to, nor should be that way, but in the back of my mind this was how I felt. I was compelled to not make this happen. I knew I needed a community in which I could sustain and share the joy of seeking Christ in all things.
Enter the Knights of Columbus Council of Catholic University. Having been recently elected Grand Knight of the Council, I knew I had many decisions to make, one of which included coming up with a theme for the upcoming fraternal year. While flying home from Poland, it dawned on me: what better theme than what I had just experienced? After making my suggestion to the chaplain and a few others, the theme of “Seeking Christ in All Things” was announced to the Council during our first business meeting in the fall semester.
Following this announcement, the Council sought to incorporate the new theme into its fraternal programs, beginning with the reflection shared by the Council’s Lecturer and continuing with our Chaplain’s reflections. There was much discussion about our theme, “Seeking Christ in All Things.” Discussion is important, but as Knights, we must also give witness to our faith. The Knights at The Catholic University of America have sought Christ in our lives and invited others into this encounter with Him in various ways.
Some examples that come to mind center around our weekly “Knights Mass” where, together with our campus community, we attend daily Mass once a week together. Afterwards, we pray the rosary together and invite others to join us.
Knights from our Council also lead and are involved in numerous activities through our university’s campus ministry. These programs include a weekly homeless food run, tutoring at a local after-school program, and countless liturgies on campus and in our neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In addition, several members of our Council will be doing international and domestic mission trips during our spring break.
You do not need to be a Knight of Columbus to encounter Christ or bring people closer to Him. As we begin Lent, I invite you to take the time to look for Christ in your life. Strive to pray wherever you are, not just in church on Sundays. Go volunteer and recognize Christ in those whom you serve. Look for the unconventional places that Christ may in your life. Find the beauty that is there and never let it leave your sight.
Daniel Hackenjos serves as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Council of Catholic University where he studies elementary education as an undergraduate.
Some of the extensive spiritual formation programming of the CUA Knights is in the March 2017 edition of Columbia, the official magazine of the Knights of Columbus.
As we draw nearer to the end of the celebration of the Year of Faith I think it is important that we not lose site of the crucial call of the New Evangelization. In effort to sustain the energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration we all drew from the Year of Faith, we should not forget what it is that we’re up against. The enemy can only reach a vantage point if he is ignored and therefore permitted to advance his position and plan of attack. This is what I hear the Bishops warning against in the following excerpt in which they discuss the obstacles to the transmission of the faith.
“The principal obstacles to the transmission of the faith are the same everywhere and arise from within the Church and the Christian life, namely, a faith which is lived in a private and passive manner; a person's not feeling the need to be instructed in the faith; and a separation of faith from life. The responses also mention obstacles from outside the Christian life, especially from culture, that make it difficult and perilous to live and transmit the faith: consumerism and hedonism, cultural nihilism; and a closure on transcendence which extinguishes any need for salvation.”
The response from the Bishops is two-fold: 1) Obstacles from within and 2) Obstacles from without. I don’t know which to fear more? Perhaps, the obstacles that exist from within are more detrimental to the life and mission of the Church than the obstacles that arise from the outside. Nevertheless, we can be sure that a combination of the two can be deadly to the spiritual life. I know in my personal life there are many times in which I have chosen a “private and passive” manner of living out my faith that was certainly influenced by the culture. I don’t need to go to Mass, I don’t need to confess my sins to a priest, I don’t need to visit the sick, I don’t need to donate or give my money for the benefit of the Church or others, I don’t need to stand out on a public sidewalk with a sign that causes people to reflect on how abortion hurts everyone. And so on, and so forth. My faith, so I thought was fine the way it was: “personal and passive.”
Except that’s not the way Faith was meant to be lived. Faith, like life, is not meant to be lived in isolation! We are social beings with a need for communion! We can’t allow an individualized, “what’s in it for me” type of culture to get us to think sharing and living out our faith in communion doesn’t matter! I am fully aware of this now and my vocation to teach reminds me every day that I am not called to be a passive receiver of the Gospel but an active “re-gifter”!
Bart Zalvetta is a member of the Theology Department of Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska