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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus

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