When, Not If.

From today's Mass readings (emphasis mine):
Responsorial Psalm
Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Reading this today, I had a small epiphany -- it says "when." Not "if." We will be in distress. We will suffer. We will get into trouble (often of our own making!). That's life on this rock. But God will deliver us, God will be with us, all we need to do is cling to Him and we will survive.

We are not God, we are not in control, and we can't stop every bad thing from happening through prayer, maximum effort, or anything else. Bad things are coming. We don't know what they are. We don't know when they'll happen. But rest assured, they will -- one need only to look at history (no matter how recent or ancient), let alone prophecy, to see evidence of that. And WHEN (not if!) the bad stuff happens, the handbook for survival is found right here in this Psalm.

In the Gospel today, Jesus gave us another concise "survival guide" -- the survival guide for temptation:
Lk 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

When Jesus said, "One does not live on bread alone," He referenced Deuteronomy 8:2-3:
"Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.

He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD."

Afflictions and temptations are not just part of life on Earth -- they're part of God's plan for us. The "silver bullet" to conquer both is found in a single, simple, simultaneously joyful (because we know it will work) and terrifying (because we're afraid we can't do it) concept: Obedience. Cling to the Lord. Love Him. Obey His commandments. Keep the faith. By doing this, we can and will survive anything the Lord, the adversary, or everyday life throws our way.

"It is written ... it is written ... it is written." Jesus faces each temptation the exact same way, with obedience to the Word of God. My old pastor at the megachurch gave a great sermon on this several years ago -- the main concept being that when the devil tempts you, you go to the Word and find an irrefutable reason not to give in. Just say "It is written ... !" It's kind of a "Don't shoot the messenger" thing -- like saying, "Hey, these aren't my rules, they're God's. I'm just following orders. Take it up with Him." And we all know Who comes out on top whenever the devil attempts to "take it up" with God.

So our answer to every temptation should be, "It is written ... !" And as Catholics, we have a lot more writing to use to back us up -- seven more books of Holy Scripture, plus two thousand years (give or take a few) of written teaching and exposition by the Fathers and Doctors and great Saints of the Church. That means we should have absolutely no trouble finding ample justification for our obedience to God if we just take a moment to look for it.

And on those occasions when despite our best effort (or even due to a complete lack of effort), we fail to engage the enemy with our most lethal weapon (our obedience to God) and we are broken, weary and afraid of the battles to come, then we can head to the great Hospital for the walking wounded throughout the Church Militant, the Confessional. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will heal us, restore our soul and make us stronger and better equipped for the next battle. Losing one battle doesn't have to mean losing the war, so be encouraged and grateful for the opportunity to try once more to get it right. And be always armed with the most effective weapon against evil: Obedience.

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Lent by the Numbers, days 2-5


Alcohol: 0
Rosary Decades: 1, plus thirty minutes' Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament (more on that later)
Clothing put in donation box: -1 (bought a new dress)


Alcohol: 0
Rosary Decades: 5
Clothing put in donation box: net 1 (3 in the box, but I went shopping again and got 2 things)


Alcohol: 1 beer with dinner, after sundown, because that counts as Sunday Vigil and I am totally on Team "Sundays Don't Count Toward the 40 Days of Lent."
Rosary Decades: 1
Clothing in donation box: 0


Alcohol: 0
Rosary Decades: 1
Clothing in donation box: I didn't count items, but it was two large shopping bags packed full. I feel lighter and more unencumbered/unattached already!

I don't know how long I'm going to keep track of this on the blog; I know it's tedious reading. But it helps me to see how I'm doing as I get started on my first real Lent.

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Yesterday's Stats

Lent by the Numbers:
Alcohol: 0.
Rosary: 5 Decades.
Items put in the donation box: 0.

Aside from all that, I've been reading the Lent/Easter volume of "In Conversation with God" by Francis Fernandez. I have been terribly convicted on quite a few habits of mine in just two days of reading, but also inspired to grow past those things and get closer to Christ, especially since this is the season for it, being Lent and all. I'll have more to say as I process my thoughts on this (so far) amazing little book.

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Oh, this is perfect!

I love this. Just go see for yourself.

(Hat tip: Anne.)

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It's Lent.

Lenten Resolutions:

1. Give up alcoholic drinks until Easter.
2. Pray at least one decade of the Rosary daily.
3. Clean out my closet and dresser and give away everything I'm not using to the House of Mercy free clothing shop.

With regard to drinking, it's something I enjoy that I could give up without forcing my family to do it with me (like if I gave up red meat or something -- since I'm the one who does all the cooking, and would not cook separate meals, that wouldn't work without a lot of extra planning). I love a glass of wine with dinner, a relaxing cocktail after a particulary tough day, or an after dinner drink with neighborhood friends after the kids have gone to bed. It will be a sacrifice to give these things up for a season, but I gladly do it for the love of my Savior and as a mortification of my spoiled flesh. The fact that I am blessed with such abundance and leisure as to be able to partake of the things I mentioned above (along with the good food and idle chatter that inevitably go with them) on a fairly regular basis is a good reason to quit them for a time and get some needed perspective.

As far as the Rosary, I say "at least one" decade because I have to start somewhere. I don't pray the Rosary at all currently (at least not on any kind of regular basis), so one decade is all I can commit to without feeling like I'm dooming myself to certain failure. That said, a friend of mine who lives four doors down from me wants to pray the Rosary daily with me during Lent, so it is entirely possible that more than one decade will get done more often than not. Accountability is nice, but unfortunately, it can also cut both ways, and I can see us cutting each other way too much slack since we're both busy moms. So I wanted to make my own solid commitment to at least one decade, with or without my friend.

And concerning the clothing donation .... this is going to be something else. I think I'll feel better when it is over. I have a walk in closet and several storage tubs jam packed with designer clothes, shoes and handbags from my life before kids when I was quite a bit thinner and definitely richer and more career-and-status-oriented. I have held onto these things for years now hoping to have reason to wear them again, either through dramatic weight loss or career progress or both. I have got to let it go. The weight loss may or may not happen, but really, I'd like to get pregnant, so hopefully not. And if my writing and speaking career picks up again, then I can buy a few new things if I need to. There is no reason to have the majoriity of my closet space filled with things I am not using and may NEVER use again. But boy, is it going to hurt to see those things go .... knowing exactly how much money they represent (that could have been put in savings or given to the Church or the poor) is the worst part. Oh, well, I trust that it will all be put to good use by the Missionaries of Our Lady of Divine Mercy.

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Happy Mardi Gras . . .

. . . and Happy Birthday to me. I'm twenty-six tomorrow.

Twenty-five was so mind-blowing in terms of growth and joy both in faith and daily life that I'm a little nervous about the year to come (either not living up to the past year in growth or surpassing it in terms of life upheaval!), but I need to get over it. Superstition is bad!

After my birthday comes Lent. I'm really glad Ash Wednesday is the day afer my birthday because the prospect of not being able to eat my way through an upset tummy in the morning will be a powerful incentive not to overdo it with the celebratory toasting and/or feasting tomorrow night.

I'll be posting my Lenten resolutions tomorrow, and blogging should be a bit more regular after that because I'm going to have plenty of Lenten reading to dissect here. I hope not too many of my blogging buddies will be fasting from the computer, because I will need all the support I can get during this season of self-denial. I'm terrible at self-denial. I could blame eleven years of fundamentalist protestantism and the fact that no one ever mentioned Lent or sacrifice or mortification of the flesh during that time, but I think the blame really rests with my own wretched self. Surely if I had been the scholar of Holy Scripture I believed myself to be, I would have noticed a theme . . . .

Anyway, have a wonderful Mardi Gras and stay safe. Then come back and walk through Lent with me!

Oh, one more thing before bed: Check out Jimmy Akin's Annual Lent Fight. It's like the Ultimate Guide to Lent.

You've got questions ... Jimmy's got answers. (Hat tip: Shellie.)

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Apparently, £250 (or $487.61 USD), is the going rate for a human soul these days.

Obviously, I mean that in more ways than one.

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Good Monsters

I bought the new Jars of Clay CD as a Valentine's Day gift for my husband. He's been wanting some good Christian music to listen to on the way to and from work, and as the senior audiophile in this family, I'm happy to help him out.

I've been a Jars of Clay fan since 1994, when they were still opening for PFR and circulating their demo tape (yes, TAPE, you kids stop snickering!) in hopes of getting noticed. Back then, I loved their edgy sound and they way they combined catchy pop hooks with ancient-sounding chants, a driving rock beat and a message that was real, not sappy or contrived.

Then they hit it big. "Flood" was played not just on K-LOVE and Z-TV but on the big rock stations and MTV, as well. The innovative studio sound they were known for didn't translate well onstage. Concerts were lackluster. The record label took over. In the thirteen intervening years I remember exactly one song that Jars of Clay wrote, "I Need You," and that's because we sang it at the Megachurch. Don't get me wrong, it's a great tune. But there's nothing edgy, thoughtful or unique about it.

Fast forward to 2007. "Good Monsters" is the CD I would have expected from that edgy, talented young band thirteen years ago once they had some maturity under their belts. Somehow, during the mediocre middle of all this, they grew musically and spiritually, and the new CD, while dark, is dark in a real and gratifying way. It's not broody for the sake of being broody. The music is driving rock crossed with a fun 80s beat that lightens the surprisingly heavy subject matter enough to be listenable. It's the sound of mature Christians wrestling real problems, like how to reconcile the problems of starving, thirsty children, abandoned mothers, and racial hatred with a God who claims to love us all ("Oh My God," track 7). It's the sound of pampered rock stars coming to terms with their mortality and the futility of the things of this world ("Dead Man (Carry Me)," track 2). And they bring the Jars of Clay Experience full circle with "Take Me Higher," which echoes "Liquid" off their debut album:

Arms nailed down,
Are you telling me something?
Eyes turned out,
Are you looking for someone?

This is the one thing,
The one thing that I know.

Blood-stained brow,
Are you dying for nothing?
Flesh and blood,
Is it so elemental?

Take Me Higher:
It took a lot to turn away
Blood and water from one side
It took your eyes to stare me down
It took the truth to set me free, to set me free

Looking for place to hide
Waiting for the wind to rise
My soul is waiting
Looking for a place to hide
I need a little peace tonight

Anyway, Jars of Clay is back and better than ever. I'm loving the new CD and I hope those of you who, like me, fell away from the band after their debut album, will run out and buy this CD and reward them for their incredible growth.

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