Tag Archives: Spiritual Growth

Knights of Columbus

One year ago, I became a first-degree Knight of Columbus.  This past Saturday (12/06), right before the Vigil Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I entered the fourth-degree.  I’ve come to learn a lot more about the organization, and I plan to make a series of posts on my Facebook Page to share what I now know.  For this post, I want to share some thoughts on how God is leading me to grow within His Church.

We cannot become holy — the best-version-of-ourselves — in isolation.  Holiness is achieved in community; it is achieved through the Church.  I was reading the early chapters of Cardinal Ratzinger’s (a.k.a. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, when this truth about holiness resonated in me.  I felt like God was leading me more into the Church, to see the mystery of Christ’s Body.  Imperfect people make up the divine, holy Mystical Body of Christ.  The source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist.  Prayer is the foundation of all my Christian movement – I cannot hope to dance with the Holy Spirit without growing in prayer.  And, as my prayer life grows (a solitary activity), I am led to be more active in the Church (a very social activity).

Knights of Columbus Logo
Knights of Columbus Logo

My involvement in Church itself is a form of prayer.  This is what is different, now.  Before, I saw my Church commitments as, well… commitments.  Was it a burden?  No.  But, commitments are something you keep regardless of how you might feel about it.  I happen to feel good about my commitment to the Church, but still….  Now, the feeling is different.  Being involved with the Church is now infused with a different meaning.  It’s like a red blood cell that suddenly gained individual awareness.  I’m a tiny, tiny thing in the scheme of the whole body, but I play a role in bringing oxygen to the various body parts.  I return to the heart for communion and rejuvenation, and then go out again to fulfill my duties.  Whereas before, it’s what I did as a red blood cell, now I see that I’m part of a very special body.  It’s not just any body.  It’s Jesus Christ.  And to be a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ is an incredible privilege.  This is what it means to be active in the Church: I’m a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ.  By virtue of our Baptism, we all are.

So, the Knights of Columbus has a special charism that attracts certain types of people.  I never gave it much thought until now, but I guess its charism appeals to me.  God knows I’ve been trying to find a group (an organ) within His Church where I could attach myself and grow.  I looked into Opus Dei.  I thought about the various Third Orders.  Maybe my Good Shepherd has led me to this particular pasture, where I can fatten up and be a fragrant offering when the time comes?

Oh, Lord, I love you.  It is always such an adventure with you.  I trust in you and I know you won’t lead me where I ought not go.  May I persist in prayer, and may I have greater fervor for your Body & Blood with every Communion.  Help me grow in charity; help me bring my family along with me.  Show me my weaknesses so that I can offer them to you, and depend more on you.  Shame me so I can strengthen the bedrock of humility, and build a temple worthy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t let me slip in my prayer, but help me make everything I do a form of prayer.  As my daughters desire me to be ever-present in their daily lives, so I desire you to be ever-present, watching me, teaching me, smiling at me, and awaken my spiritual imagination.  God, you are my Father; Christ, you are my Lord and brother; Holy Spirit, you are my love.

My 5th Advent Season

“How is your prayer life?” is a question I often ask my spiritual friends.  The answer to that question is a good measure of how one has grown in the Christian life.  The quality and quantity of my prayer life is tied to my growth in the virtues, and I can measure my growth in the virtues from the twelve spiritual fruits I see in my interior life, my family life and my professional life.  This Sunday, November 30th, marks the first day of Advent.  It’s a time of waiting.  It’s also a good time to ask myself, how is my prayer life compared to last Advent?

It has improved.  Dramatically.  I pray the Rosary almost daily.  I go to the Sacrament of Confession almost weekly.  I no longer confess mortal or venial sins, but work with God in the confessional to address deep-rooted imperfections.  Although I’ve slipped away from praying the Liturgy of the Hours, my wife has taken the habit to pray the Morning Office, daily.  I’m more at ease in doing spontaneous prayers.  I find myself speaking to God in the morning when I wake up, and thinking about God and His teachings as I fall asleep.  I recently started praying for my Korean co-workers, and I find this a good way to integrate my professional life with my interior life with God.  I may never be U.S. Ambassador, but I can be God’s ambassador right now where I work, where I live.

Last Advent, I discovered my need for a spiritual director.  I’ve been using the same confessor since then.  I haven’t really asked him for spiritual direction since I was primarily trying to get rid of the boulders and rocks in the field of my soul.  Since these have been cleared away, I can see the True Vine of Christ growing in my field.  The tree of virtue is bearing fruit.

This is only my fifth Advent Season.  Oh, the fruits that come from dying to self!  Help me, Lord Jesus… strengthen me for the greater trials to come.  Lead me to die more for You, to die more deeply.  My dear Saints: St. Therese, St. Joseph, St. Thomas More, St. Jose Maria Escrivá, and my Guardian Angel, thank you for not giving up on me.  Thank you for your prayers and all that you’ve done to bring me to where I am, today.  It’s far from over, I know.  There is still so much to do.  You know my weaknesses, dear Saints.  Pray for me.  Help me grow in Charity.  Help me do God’s will.  Dear Holy Spirit, lead me deeper into the life of the Church.  Help me bring my family along with me.  Don’t let me be led astray by the Tempter, the Accuser.  Dear Blessed Mother Mary, help me persist in prayer.  Teach me through the Holy Mysteries of the Rosary how to conform more of my life to Christ.

United by the Spirit of Christ

My family and I are getting ready to go on a long flight back to the U.S.  In case God decides to call us home, I wanted to say “I love you” even if I’ve never met you.  We will meet each other, some day.  I am praying for you, and I hope you will pray for me, too.  This is one of the many beauties of our faith: we are united in Christ’s One Body.  When we receive Communion, know that there, in that moment, we are like the hundreds of millions of cells that make up your body, but animated and unified by your soul.  As your cells are united in will by your spirit, so you and I are united by the Spirit of Christ.

Oh, how I love our faith!  How I wish I can share my excitement with you!  There is so much treasure kept within the Church, and I hope you will be inspired to go and explore.  Read “Rediscover Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly, or “Life of Christ” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Read anything written by Scott Hahn.  Subscribe to Lighthouse Catholic Media.  Buy the Lighthouse Catholic Media app and purchase the Ignatius Study Bible in the app.  Pray the Scriptural Rosary that is explained by Dr. Edward Sri.  Go to one of the Steubenville Conferences.  Pick up Dan Burke’s “Navigating the Interior Life” and join the book club at his website.  Above all, go to Confession.  If there is one thing that has helped me grow the most spiritually, it is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I try to go weekly.  The supernatural grace that is bestowed on one’s soul is indescribable.  Imagine having the power to consistently resist mortal and venial sins.  Imagine the freedom of your soul to do what is good.  Imagine the possibility to become, really truly become, the best-version-of-yourself.  It’s possible.

Oh, how I wish I can share this love with you!  In a few short months after weekly Confession, don’t be surprised to find yourself praying more often.  Don’t be surprised with finding yourself thinking about God in every spare moment.  Wealth, pleasure, power, fame… those drugs that were once so addictive, so alluring, finally lose their hold.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t think about them very much anymore.  You will be so hungry for God.  And you will likely feel like you’re alone.  Even if you are surrounded by people you love and who love you in return.  Even when you meet another pilgrim who is on the same path, your own journey is made in solitude.

If you sin, don’t worry.  It’s like falling into a ditch.  The more you try to escape, the deeper the hole seems to get.  The best thing to do while waiting for temptation to pass is to pray ceaselessly in the midst of it.  Go to Confession.  The Holy Spirit will lift you out of the ditch Himself.  He will comfort you.  Do penance.  It works.  Do penance and don’t stop praying.  Find more time to pray.  Quit Netflix.  Quit video games.  Cut back on Facebook.  Find more time to pray.  Pray while you’re on the toilet, while you’re taking a shower, while you’re on your commute.

There is so much more I want to say, but I will have other opportunities.  Just know that you are loved by God more than it is possible for us to understand.  A single soul is worth more than the whole universe in the eyes of God.  Do you believe that?  Believe it: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)

Happy Easter 2014

My dear brothers & sisters in Christ, Happy Easter!  What a wonderful time to be alive!  How can I share my joy with you?

For the next 40 days, we will be celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord.  On June 8th, Pentecost Sunday, we will remember how the Holy Spirit descended and gave power to the first apostles to proclaim the Good News.  Isn’t it amazing, my brethren, how the past 40 days of praying & fasting is now balanced with 40 days of thanksgiving & celebration?

Please share with me how the way you spent Lent is affecting how you will celebrate the next 40 days of Eastertide.  I think how we observe Lent is directly correlated to how we experience Easter.  Let’s see if my suspicion is true!

I can tell you, I will enjoy a nice glass or two of Scotch whisky, tonight.  There were many moments when I felt the temptation to break my resolution not to drink alcohol.  While I did drink a glass of beer on two social occasions, I trust I will have enough grace to be a better witness next time.  I didn’t really need to drink; people would have understood and respected my Lenten resolution.  I gave up coffee for Lent, but intend on not drinking it again.  I will enjoy coffee ice cream, though.  While I will try my best not to watch Netflix, again, at least I can look up documentary or shows that I can watch together with my wife.

Most importantly, I’ll get to pray the other Christian mysteries.  For the 40 days during Lent, I only mediated on the Sorrowful Mysteries (the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging, the Crowning of Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion).  Now, I get to reflect on Christ’s Joyful, Luminous and Glorious Mysteries.  I look forward to seeing how the Holy Spirit will speak to me as I meditate on these other mysteries.

Oh, my soul, I love the Lord so much I feel like bursting.  This, I know, is due to grace.  There is so much horror and tragedy in the world, right now.  I read a headline today of a man who raped a baby and videotaped it on his cell phone.  I prayed an Act of Contrition for the man, but that will not be enough to help him.  The poor baby, the poor parents… God give them solace.  That’s just one tragedy.  Christ saw all the horrors he was atoning for in the Garden.  He probably saw the human error and incompetency that led to the hundreds of high school deaths in South Korea when a ferry that was taking the children on a field trip capsized.  This accident happened right before Easter, too.  The school vice principal already committed suicide (which sounds a lot like the despair that led Judas to his own suicide).  I’m sure the devil is having a field day harvesting souls for Hell.

There are so many other tragedies and reasons to be sorrowful, but I’m shielded for a time to enjoy the Lord’s Resurrection.  For this, I’m grateful.  It’s good for me to remember that only the living can praise God.  Although I did not see the Risen Christ in the flesh as the first disciples did, I do feel Him in my heart and can see with my eyes of faith how He has worked (and continue to work) in my life.

My brothers & sisters in Christ, I pray and hope you are doing well and have much to be thankful for.  If you are suffering or have experienced tragedy recently, I will pray for you this evening.  I’m praying for you, right now.  God bless you.

O God, I love you with my whole heart above all things because you are infinitely good; for your sake I will love my neighbor as myself.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday 2014

I’m excited about Lent this year.  This is unusual since Lent is a season of penance.  But, I’m excited because it will be the fifth year I’m a Catholic, and I finally feel like I’m on fire for God, again.

Where I Was

I don’t mean to blame it on my marriage, but being married did distract me for a while.  I also had a demanding assignment in Shanghai.  And, I became a father.  The daily prayer life that I had going during RCIA was disrupted.  I went from praying the rosary two to three times a day to just one decade a day to barely an “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” before going to sleep at night.  My Catholic identity became a mere backdrop to marriage, family and work.

The work-life balance in Seoul has been a blessing.  I have been able to take a deeper look at the spiritual state of my soul these past two years.  Old sins had come back to haunt me.  I was fighting old battles and losing.  It became real clear that if I didn’t do something about my spiritual life, I would lose that burning love I felt when I first entered the Church.

It started with joining a small men’s group.  What brought us together was our love for Christ.  We all came from different Christian traditions (I was the only Catholic) and have different jobs in the Embassy community.  The spectrum of our spiritual states were expansive, too.  We were a motley group, but we all had one thing in common: we wanted to love God more.  Through them, the Holy Spirit held me accountable.  We were sheep coming together as a flock, and I was hearing my Shepherd’s voice.

Where I am Now

My prayer life is stronger and deeper than it ever was before, but still fragile, like a plant sapling.  I’ve knocked back my intellectual and spiritual pride a little bit, and can see that there is still a lot that I don’t know.  I know that as clean as I may appear on the outside, there are layers upon layers of unfertile and contaminated dirt buried in the field of my soul.  My prayer life is like the Armillaria Ostoyae fungus that stretches out beneath the soil’s top layer, building a lattice structure for my virtues to take root and grow.  Just as the Douglas-fir gives way to a diverse growth of pines, red cedars, alders and spruce, my worldly attachments and inordinate passions that once dominated the acres of my soul will decompose. My Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance will grow in their place.

Weekly confession and a deeper awareness of Christ when receiving the Eucharist have accelerated my spiritual growth.  I feel the love of God, now.  I can see the Holy Spirit using me as an instrument in the lives of my family, my work, and my immediate community.  My desire to love others have grown.  I feel more joy and peace in my life.  I am more patient with my wife and children, with difficulties at work and with difficult people.  I am more generous with my time and money, even with complete strangers.  My girls are so used to my gentleness that even using a firm tone of voice would make them cry, “Stop yelling at me!”  I feel more faithful to God.  I catch myself being immodest, now, whereas before I would find opportunities to boast.  I have more self-control over my impulses.  Amazingly, I know the meaning of chaste sex and still feel joy — and no resentment — when we are abstinent.

These fruits are only possible because of God’s grace.  Something good has taken root and I need to be vigilant in tending my garden.  It’s supernatural because no normal human being in the 21st century behaves this way.  I’m nobody special.  The only thing I do differently is pray to a Living God.

Where I Hope to Go

Where I go, other’s have gone before me.  I rest easy knowing that I can follow a map given by God Himself.  There is no need for me to reinvent the wheel.  I still have to walk the spiritual road myself, but the narrow road is well-worn.  I pray to find other pilgrims along the way.

My Intellectual and Spiritual Pride

As I go through Chapter 28 of Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s book on the interior life, I find myself horribly exposed to my intellectual and spiritual pride.  I was aware that pride was my root sin, but I did not realize how badly I suffered from it.  It’s odd: I’m disappointed with myself, but I’m also filled with joy to discover this flaw.  I want to be perfect, as Jesus is perfect; but, I know I’m not, yet.  By His grace, I was able to remove the big rocks on the field of my soul.  My intellectual and spiritual pride is hidden, like garden cutworms, potato tuberworms and other soil-dwelling pests.  Now, with the light of the Holy Spirit shining on my wounded soul, I can see how these hidden types of pride have infested the garden of my soul and blinded me from seeing these truths about myself:

  • I believe that I have through my own efforts what I have received from God
  • I believe that I have merited what I have gratuitously received
  • I attribute to myself goods I lack, (i.e. great learning, strong faith, heroic charity), when I do not possess it
  • I wish to be preferred to others and depreciate them

I felt the loving finger of God pointing at me when I read this passage:

Some finally, who are theoretically in the truth, are so satisfied to be right, so filled with their learning which has cost them so much, that their souls are, as it were, saturated with it and no longer humbly open to receive the superior light that would come from God in prayer.  Intellectual pride, even in those who are theoretically right, is a formidable obstacle to the grace of contemplation and to union with God.

I thank the Holy Spirit for the grace and consolation in knowing this fatal flaw in my soul.  How can I grow in Christian perfection with these soul-dwelling pests eating the crops planted by the Holy Spirit?  So, while I am truly disappointed with myself, I am also happy to experience this grace.  What a mercy to know that I’m still a sinner!

St. John of the Cross, pray for me.  Your words have brought me to shame:

When beginners become aware of their own fervor and diligence in their spiritual works and devotional exercises, this prosperity of theirs gives rise to secret pride — though holy things tend of their own nature to humility — because of their imperfections; and the issue is that they conceive a certain satisfaction in the contemplation of their works and of themselves.

From the same source, too, proceeds that empty eagerness which they display in speaking of the spiritual life before others, and sometimes as teachers rather than learners.  They condemn others in their heart when they see that they are not devout in their way.  Sometimes also they say it in words, showing themselves herein to be like the Pharisee, who in the act of prayer boasted of his own works and despised the publican (Luke 18:11)….  They see the mote in the eye of their brother, but not the beam which is in their own.

If you are reading this, pray for me.  Pray that I do not imitate Christ in the wrong way.  Pray that I bear with the equality of our fellow men & women, that I do no wish to impose my domination on them.  Pray that I live with them in humble submission to the divine law.

The Field of Our Soul

I came across a wonderfully analogy for the pursuit of the interior life in Dan Burke’s book, “Navigating the Interior Life.”  He also maintains a website promoting the themes in his book.  I highly recommend the book to anyone whose prayer has led them to an awareness that a spiritual director is needed.  While you’re still searching for one, this book is a godsend.

When we begin the work of a serious commitment to holiness, we will discover that the field (the soul) that we desire to plow and plant is riddled with rocks (sins) that need to be removed in order to make progress.  At this point of discovery, the faithful farmer begins to remove these big obvious rocks (usually mortal sins).  At some point the farmer becomes satisfied with this effort, pulls the plow out of the shed and sets out to prepare the soil, but then is startled at a disconcerting discovery: Though all the big rocks are gone, there are many more rocks that are smaller (venial sins) that had not been seen before.  The big rocks had properly drawn all of the attention.  Now that the big rocks are clear, a more detailed and sometimes more rigorous effort is then needed to further prepare the field.  The same is true with the progressive nature of root sin identification and clarification as we grow in spiritual maturity.

Notes to “From Wild Man to Wise Man” (Chapters 1 to 9)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the writing style and narrative choices Richard Rohr makes in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” can easily cause us to miss the main message of his book.  I hope to draw out the main points in this summary for the first nine chapters:

“From Wild Man to Wise Man,” by Richard Rohr
  1. Just as both man and woman are images of God, the human spiritual journey can be described as both male and female.  In general, women are more in touch with their spiritual side, a spirituality that can be described as “feminine.”  Men, in general, have not developed a “male” spirituality that would help them on their unique journey.
  2. Part of the reason why men have not developed their own spirituality is because we live in a broken world.  In general, this broken world is an addictive system created by men, initially, to keep men in worldly power.  However, as power democratized, the very measures of success that keep men prisoners of the system are also keeping “successful” women and minorities prisoners.
  3. A unique quality of male spirituality is initiation: “Male initiation always has to do with hardness, limit situations, difficulty, struggle and usually a respectful confrontation with the non-rational, the unconscious or, if you will, the wild.  It prepares the young man to deal with life in other ways than logic, managing, controlling and problem solving.  Frankly, it prepares him for the confrontation with the Spirit.”  This has a biblical tie to Gen 32:24-26 where Jacob wrestles with the Angel and gets a wounded hip.
  4. The male spiritual journey “feels too much like dying in its early stages, and most people are not well trained in dying.  Initiation is always training in dying.”  In the male spiritual journey, the young man goes from simple to complex consciousness and then through a door to enlightenment.  “That door is usually some form of suffering — physical, relational, emotional, intellectual, structural…  Initiation always taught the young men to die before he died, and then he would begin to live.”  Once there, enlightenment deceptively appears a lot like simple consciousness.  “If you have once faced the great death, the second death can do you no harm.” — Saint Francis of Assisi
  5. A man typically needs an elder man who can lead him through his journey.  The male initiator “was never your biological father because that relationship was both too complex and had to be maintained as nurturing.”  John the Baptist, for example, was the initiator for Christ’s public ministry.  Saint Paul is a good example of how to be a master teacher, male initiator.  He shows young men how to face the great death.  We need more elder men to help initiate young men through their spiritual journey.