Stop, Look and Listen

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Back in the day when railroads first came onto the scene, the railroads would post signs at crossings that read “Stop, Look and Listen.” The idea was to get a person to stop at the crossing, look both ways and then listen as an extra precaution. Why? Because it just might stop you from walking in front of a train, the results of which are never good.

Every morning I try to read the daily Mass readings and a reflection on them. If I don’t have time to read them I try to listen to a podcast of them (Great app here). I noticed the other day that many times when I do this, I am not really paying full attention, I am usually doing at least one other thing at the same time. Maybe checking email, listening to the news (on Catholic radio of course). (Yes I sometimes listen to other radio but honestly I really do get fed up with the mainstream media, but that is for another post on another day.) I notice when I am done, I hardly remember what I read, sometimes I cant even remember what the reading was.

In today’s world we spend all day “multitasking”, distracted by all the gadgets we just have to have. We have been sold on the fact that our lives are so much easier and better now that we have cell phones, laptops, notebooks, iPhones, and on and one. Do all these things really make out lives better? I say no, they only make our lives more stressful. Is that email really that important? The text? The tweet? The Facebook post?

As C.S. Lewis writes in “The Screwtape Letters
” talking about Hell:

“…no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to…(music and silence) We will make the whole universe a noise in the end.” – C.S. Lewis “Screwtape Letters, Chapter 22

Satan wants to fill our world with noise, noise so we can’t hear God talking to us, noise so we don’t have time to think about Him, noise so we don’t have time to reflect. Noise and distraction is what Satan wants. He wants to keep us from God. Which brings us back to the railroad sign.

We need to Stop, Look and Listen. We need to take time to stop everything and look around us, listen to the quiet, and try to find God. Look around at all He has giving us. Here in New England our leaves have completed their annual color change from green, to oranges, yellows and reds, how many noticed? Did any of us stop to take the time to look at them and appreciate this miraculous change or did you only think “I don’t have time to rake all these up”? Have you shut everything down and just listened? Do you hear God talking to you or only Satan and his minions?

We need to take time to “Stop. Look and Listen” every day. Look around and be thankful for what you have, believe me there are plenty of people out there who have more problems than you do or who are struggling more than you are. Take the time to listen to God, He speaks to us in very many ways, but we won’t hear unless we listen.

Stop, Look and Listen or you just might get hit by a train.

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The Last Should be First

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Lately I have been struggling with a tough decision. The first thing I did was to ask God for some help and guidance. After I did this I started thinking about how for so long this would have been the last (if I ever asked God at all) thing I would do.

I think sometimes we have our lives backwards. When we need help, we use God as a last resort. After everything else we try doesn’t work, we finally throw up our hands and say “Okay, God, here is the mess I got myself into, now fix it!” Then when God doesn’t pick up the pieces we get angry at Him and ask “Why aren’t you helping me?” or “You never answer my prayers, so why should I bother?” Come on you know you do it. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to ask God first? Maybe see what He has to say about it, then make the decision?

What about this whole “God doesn’t answer my prayer thing?” Are you sure God isn’t answering your prayers? Do you think He isn’t because you aren’t getting the answer you want? God will only give us what is good for us. Not that we won’t get what isn’t good for us, but if isn’t from Him. We need to “listen” to God and He will tell us what is the right thing to do. The trick to the whole thing is simple: We need to listen. I know in previous posts I have mentioned this, but I will mention it again, I truly believe God does talk to us, gives us signs and shows us the way. We just don’t take the time to listen. We surround ourselves with noise and distractions and never hear.

We also expect God to answer us right away. He might not, it might take some time, after all God is patient and has plenty of time. Maybe by His taking His time He is telling us to wait and think a little more about what we are asking of Him. Maybe He knows something we don’t. I know in my case I am very impatient, proven by the many bad choices I have made. I tend to be one who wants  answers right now so I can get started, doing whatever it is I want to do. Asking God for help has always been the last thing I do.

One more point to consider. I always talk a lot about doors. Doors have played a major role in my spiritual life, as I have written about often. Sometimes God will open doors for us and sometimes He won’t. The thing is, we need to know that if He doesn’t open one for us, maybe we shouldn’t force it. Trust God, He really does know what is best for us.

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Time to Clean the House

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I have a confession to make, I hate cleaning. There I said it and now the whole world knows it. But even though I hate it, it still has to be done. Furthermore, after it is done once, that isn’t the end of it, you have to do it again and again, because if you don’t, soon it will be just as bad (if not worse) than it was. The same goes for our souls, we have to clean them of sin and then keep up with the cleaning.

I have written about my past problems and how God never let me fall so far that I couldn’t come back. But the same thing would happen every time. I would be good, stop drinking, pay attention to my life, but sooner or later I would fall back to my not so good ways. It was like I was cleaning the house and then just letting it go. Each time the house was dirtier than the last. I didn’t keep up with the dusting, so each time I had to clean it was harder than the last.

In Friday’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses this:

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order.  Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” – Luke 11:24 – 26

Jesus is talking about an evil spirit being expelled from a person and not being able to find another home to lay its evil head. It decides to head back to the original person it was in and finds that the “house” has been cleaned, but he also finds that the cleaning isn’t being kept up. He decides to reenter but this time he brings seven of his friends, “more evil than the first.” As Jesus says, “The last state of the man is worse than the first.” As the more evil spirits enter, they are harder to expel. For example if you are a drinker, you will find it harder to give up the second, third or fourth time.

There is one thing common about all sins, and this is how the Evil One gets us hooked into them, they are all pleasurable in some way. They all make you feel good in some way. Yes, I know something like drinking to excess can make you sick, but when you first start, you enjoy it at first, and then as you go along it might not feel quite as good, but you are hooked. Adultery, self-pleasure, gambling, are all the same. Some you may not get sick with, but they are all hard to break because they all feel good.

This is why you need to keep your inner house clean, and continue doing it before it gets worse. As a Catholic, we have the Sacrament of Confession, where we confess our sins to a priest and are absolved from our sins. While there is no set rule as to how often you should go, other than at least once a year, I find that it is best to go often rather than seldom. I still recall the first time I went to confession after 35 years or so and how good it felt. It’s funny, when I was younger and knew more than God, I could never understand why I had to go tell the priest my sins, after all God knows everything I do, He knew when I screwed up and as long as I confessed to Him, all was good. Even now I have a hard time explaining why Catholics believe in this, I am far from an apologist. Fortunately there are people much,  much better at it than I who can.

And one more thing I have learned is each time I go to confession, it is easier and it is also easier not to sin. After all, I still don’t want to tell the priest my sins!

Here are a couple of links to other blogs you just might like:

Being Catholic … Really

It’s Only Write

It’s Your Choice

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Every once in awhile you hear or read something so profound you say to yourself “How can I steal that?” No, wait, I mean, “I wish I had said that.” Something will just hit you in the head like a two by four, and just make all kinds of sense, not that getting hit by a two by four makes any kind of sense, well at least not if you do it on purpose. Unlike most of what I write which makes absolutely no sense at all, here is what I heard today.

I was listening to one of my favorite Catholic radio shows, “Father Simon Says”on Relevant Radio, and he made the following statement (and this may not be exact because I was unable to write at the time):

“God doesn’t send us to Hell, He rescues us and brings us to Heaven.” Fr. Richard Simon

Sometimes we will hear people say things like “God will send you to Hell for that” but what really happens is we send ourselves to Hell by the choices we make.  We are the ones who decides where we will go, not God, not even Satan. We can choose to do right, or we can choose to do wrong, it is as simple as that. Satan will tempt us, but it is we who make the choice to follow through on the temptation. Read the following scripture passage:

Blessed is the man who endures the trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. – James 1: 12 – 15

God does not tempt us, instead we are tempted by our own desire. Have you ever wondered why sins feel so good? It is because Satan wants to make them pleasurable so we will desire them. If any of you have committed adultery you will understand this. No matter how good your sex life with your wife may be, there is something about forbidden fruit that makes it taste so much better. Unfortunately, that pleasurable taste only lasts for a short time, but by then, the sin has been committed. Satan will tempt you again and again, and if you are weak (like a certain blog writer was) you will succumb to the temptation again. If you are strong, with faith and trust in God (like a certain blog author now) then you will be able to overcome the temptation.

Either way, you make the choice. God doesn’t, Satan doesn’t, you do.

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God and Temptation

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I have a tendency to waffle, at least with some things. I go back and forth as to what my favorite restaurant is (right now between a great BBQ joint or the brick oven pizza place with great Italian food), or my favorite musical, blues performer, etc. I do the same with trying to decide what book of the Bible is my favorite and what verse. I have learned my favorite is quite often the last one I have read.

Yesterday it was this:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. – James 1:13 – 14

This is one of the verses that appeared before me on one of my random openings of the Bible. When I began my journey back, I started each night having a conversation with God asking Him to clear some things up for me. I had a lot of questions for which I needed answers  before I could fully commit myself to coming back. At the same time I had begun reading the Bible both on a schedule and randomly.

The question I had asked this time pertained to the saying we all have probably have heard at one time or another, “God is testing me.” We use this in times of trouble, maybe we lose our jobs, have some health problems or lose a loved one. Many of us, okay maybe only me, would rather blame God for our sins, claiming He is testing us to see how we do and really wanting us to fail, instead of putting the blame where it needs to be. That blames needs to be on us, not God, not even the Evil One, but us.

Yes, Satan tempts us, but we have the choice to either reject this temptation or follow it. God gave us free will and He will let us make own decisions. With each decision there is a consequence, whether it is good or bad, whether it brings us closer to God or further away. As James says we are tempted when “lured and enticed” by our own desire. We make the choice to sin or not. And the funny thing about sin is it gets easier and easier to do it as time goes on. Believe me, I know. Why do you think Satan makes sin so pleasurable?

But here is the good news, just as it gets easier to sin after the first time, it also gets easier to resist after the first time.

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1: 2 – 4

And each time you resist you will be brought closer to God. As I said in a post a few days ago, each journey begins with a single step, this goes for  resisting temptation, and therefore sin, as well.

Trust in the Lord.

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Training Happy Hearts

The Peaceful Place

A Little Bit of a Ramble

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In my last post, I referred briefly how I began my journey back to the Catholic faith after a rather long absence. It began when I fell off the back of a truck, and a heavy piece of equipment that came behind me narrowly missed me. Someday I will write about the incident in more detail. After this happened I figured I was lucky this did miss me, even though it was coming right for me. A miracle? Luck? Divine intervention? I don’t know, but it sure got me thinking. More

Every Journey Begins With One Step

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firewoodweb

As anyone who has a house to take care of knows, there are some chores that you just dread each year. I had to begin one of those yesterday, stacking cord wood. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my wood stove, there is nothing better than sitting in my den on a cold, snowy winter day, with the warmth from the fire soaking into me. But I hate stacking it, moving one wheelbarrow load at a time from one side of the house to the other. However, it needs to be done, or else I have to trek it through the ice and snow whenever I need it.

Three things occurred to me while doing this dirty deed yesterday. One kind of led to the other. First, as muscles I don’t normally use began to ache, I compared this to the spiritual life. When we don’t exercise our muscles they get soft and we know they are going to hurt when we are done. This causes us to not want to exercise, to get out there and move that wood. That’s how I felt yesterday, I was dreading it all day. Once the muscles loosened as they warmed up, it was easier.

It is the same when we don’t exercise our spiritual muscles. They become soft and we know they are going to hurt when we use them, so we avoid using them. Some of us, like me, didn’t use them for a long time, and it took awhile for them to loosen and there was, and still is, both stiffness and aching in them. But each day it gets easier and easier to use them. When we make our spiritual muscles stronger we are better able to resist temptation. It is harder for the Evil One to lead us into sin. When I fell away from the church, I never used these muscles and on the rare occasions I thought about using them, I knew they would hurt so I avoided it. It was very easy for me to succumb to temptation and therefore to sin. If only I had exercised…

The second thing I thought about was like bringing the wood from one side of the house to the other, the only way it is going to get done is by picking up each piece, putting it in the wheelbarrow, walking to the other side of the house and stacking it. In other words, you need to pick up that first log, you have to take that first step. It is the same with our spiritual journey, it starts with taking that first step. In my case it was falling off a truck that began me thinking about God, if He was real, what happens after we die, do we really have a guardian angel who watches over us, etc. The first step was to begin asking God all of these questions and finding the answers. I needed to take this first step to begin the journey.

The third thing I thought of was how interesting it was that as I was working I was actually thinking about these things. I have noticed as I travel along the road of my spiritual life, I spend more time thinking about God, his Word, what He has giving me and what I can do for Him. I won’t say I spend 100% of my time thinking about Him, but certainly a lot of it. I find myself asking the question “What would Jesus do?” more and more.

I have come a long way in my journey, but I also know I have a long way to go. But, like when I sit in front of the wood stove I know my effort was worth it, so it will be at the end of my spiritual journey.

Speaking of which, time to go stack some more wood.

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