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Cleaning Our Spiritual Closets View Comments
By Jeanne Hunt

DECLARE A FAST with abstinence, add a little almsgiving and don’t forget prayer. But wait! “Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” God asks in Isaiah 58:5b.

You mean all those years of salmon patties, fish sticks and scrambled eggs for supper don’t count? What’s wrong with Lent as 40 days of endurance without any real change in our hearts? How can we change course and find a deeper faith this Lent?

We Catholics and other Christians have long put on spiritual ashes to renew our faith and turn back to God wholeheartedly. Yet, our traditional pillars of Lenten practice need to be regularly revisited and tweaked. We may need to leave our comfort zone and make them a genuine spiritual workout. For Lent to really matter, we must take a hard look at the state of our spirits. Then we can respond in a way that establishes deeper connections with God, our families—and even our selves. Lent is not enduring a virtual board game, that is, arriving at Easter with our “giveup” list intact. Lent means moving closer to the holy way.

Statements such as “I always give up candy for Lent” or “I never miss daily Mass during Lent” are a great beginning. The same practices that we have used for 20 years, however, may no longer serve their original purpose. Comfortable with the routine, we may fashion a fairly cozy desert trip. Don’t we need a Lent with more personal bite?

God invites us to look at all our relationships with a willingness to make changes. Giving up things that mean little to us, such as candy, soda, etc., are respectable, safe gestures that cannot impact the state of our souls. However, when we look critically at how little time we spend in prayer, what we worship in the secular world or how we spend our money, now we are talking!

Control is the basic issue. If we allow God into our lives more, that might challenge a spiritual closet arranged too neatly. We may even discover a painful skeleton that we have successfully ignored.

Deep within that closet, God is ready to help us sort out years of fears, assumptions, refusals to forgive and everything that keeps us from his real kingdom. This is not necessarily our version of what life with God is all about. So, how do we begin to clean our spiritual closets so that they reflect God’s version of “neat and tidy”?

A word of warning: Before we enter our spiritual closets, we must allow the Holy Spirit to do the sorting. As painful as it may be, the Holy Spirit’s housecleaning means that everything must come out. Then the Spiritus Santus scrubs it down with a strong solution of honesty. God’s hands are very thorough. Be ready and willing to be stripped.

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Jeanne Hunt, mother, grandmother and writer, is adviser for catechesis and evangelization at Franciscan Media. She also preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.

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Peter and Paul: 
		<strong>Peter (d. 64?)</strong>. St. Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter's life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus. 
<p>The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus' death. His name is first on every list of apostles. </p><p>And to Peter only did Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17b-19). </p><p>But the Gospels prove their own trustworthiness by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus. </p><p>He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?" (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:23b). </p><p>Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep (John 21:15-17). </p><p><strong>Paul (d. 64?)</strong>. If the most well-known preacher today suddenly began preaching that the United States should adopt Marxism and not rely on the Constitution, the angry reaction would help us understand Paul's life when he started preaching that Christ alone can save us. He had been the most Pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. Now he suddenly appears to other Jews as a heretical welcomer of Gentiles, a traitor and apostate. </p><p>Paul's central conviction was simple and absolute: Only God can save humanity. No human effort—even the most scrupulous observance of law—can create a human good which we can bring to God as reparation for sin and payment for grace. To be saved from itself, from sin, from the devil and from death, humanity must open itself completely to the saving power of Jesus. </p><p>Paul never lost his love for his Jewish family, though he carried on a lifelong debate with them about the uselessness of the Law without Christ. He reminded the Gentiles that they were grafted on the parent stock of the Jews, who were still God's chosen people, the children of the promise. </p><p>In light of his preaching and teaching skills, Paul's name has surfaced (among others) as a possible patron of the Internet.</p> American Catholic Blog The way of the cross is unavoidably uphill. Christians don’t get to carry their cross downhill. Suffering has always been inextricably linked with Christianity, but those who carry their cross willingly in these times can serve as an example and inspiration to all of us.

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