Giving more in the bedroom – Catholic style :)

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Luke 21:1-4

21 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

This wonderful piece of scripture illustrated perfectly how I teach people how to fast. Often people approach fasting as a rule bound endurance test in which discipline reigns supreme and we all feel awful and end up just hating fasting – or simply give up.

The way I approach fasting is to encourage people to give up just 1 cup of coffee in the morning, but to do it out of pure love for God, in conjunction with a short prayer. You see, fasting is all about love. It is about how much we are willing to give. How much we are willing to joyfully suffer is the measure of our love (God never enjoys a grumpy faster! 😀 ).

Love and suffering go hand in hand and can never be separated. This is such a fundamental truth of Christianity, illustrated perfectly by Christ on the cross, that it can very quickly become overwhelming. My approach is very much based on the spirituality of St Therese of Lisieux: little things done with great love. If we can understand the concept of the indissolubility of love and suffering in the smallest thing, then we can begin to apply it to bigger things in our lives.

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The absolute key element is that we must be very honest with ourselves about how much we are able to give at this point in our lives. If we are holding back, then we are holding back our love and we will never grow closer to God. If we are giving too much, then we are going to burnout and become resentful about giving any more. Both of these polarised stances are as harmful as each other. Balance is the key. Honesty, patience and compassion towards ourselves, and support from a faithful and experienced spiritual director who knows us and how much we can cope with.

The poor widow got this exactly right. She un-begrudgingly gave all she could give, and it was the right amount. Of course we don’t know this woman’s circumstances outside of this story. She may have had family or friends supporting her. She may have been relying entirely on God to provide for her needs. I very much doubt Jesus would have approved so strongly of her generosity if it meant she was going to make herself ill, or cause her not to be able to cope. She realistically gave all she could at that time in her life.

Some of my friends and family know that I fast. They don’t get why! I try explaining but their hearts are just not in the right place to understand about how I want to reciprocate the enormous love shown to me by Jesus on the Cross, with little acts of self sacrifice – and I respect that. Everyone is at a different stage. I’m sure they are stronger in other areas where I am very weak.

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It struck me this morning that this story, and the way it relates to fasting can also be applied perfectly to the Catholic Churches teaching on married couples being open to life.

Of course the norm in our secular society is to use artificial contraception. We used artificial contraception for the first 5 years of our marriage. But the Church teaches that this way of having sex causes us to hold back our love. Love, in a Catholic marriage is about the entire self giving of ones self to the other – and to God. This is probably one of the hardest teachings we will ever face because it cuts down to the very core of who we are as people and our need to love and to be loved. Also, artificial contraception gives the impression that sex is something that we have the right to control and use as we please. This view is so normalised now within our secular society that being open to life and having a large family is sadly regarded as odd.

What I find so sad is that people using artificial contraception just don’t know what they are missing out on. Having lived both lifestyles, I can absolutely attest to the fact that being open to life is so, so much better. It is healthier, more natural, teaches you and your husband respect for your body and your fertility, empowers you to be able to discuss marriage, sex and babies in a much more open and giving way with God as the boss. But that is not to say that it is easy. It took me about 6 years to get to the stage where I could peacefully and happily be open to life.

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Just like with fasting, I was struggling with how much I was willing to give – how much I could give at that point in my life. This is why I say it really is a lifestyle, rather than just a part of ones life. As I prayed about being open to life, I found myself beginning to prioritise different things in my life, giving things up, re-ordering things. I found myself deciding that at this point in my life, remaining open to life was more important to me than having a career. That is not to say that I gave up my job – but only that it now ranked less important on my list of priorities. Of course at this time in our lives my husband had a good job and there was not real need for me to work – so I was in a position to be able to give that up. I was also lucky enough to have a husband who was also keen to be open to life. Many people don’t have this. We were both in good health and had support from my parents. Many people don’t have this either. But most crucially, I wanted to give more – just like I wanted to fast. I was at that stage in my spiritual life where I could feel God calling me to do this.

The rewards that came to the marriage from us both giving more came as a complete surprise to both of us. Rather than “What am I getting out of this marriage?” it changed to “What more can I give to this marriage?”. All 3 of our children were planned. In fact our second and third child were conceived quickly using NFP to determine when I was at peak ovulation. Our first child took over a year because we hadn’t learned about my cycle at that point and obviously didn’t know what the heck we were doing! 😀

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But it wasn’t always easy to get into the giving mindset. I don’t have easy pregnancies. I get very sick and very big and very tired. I really do not like being pregnant very much at all. My first experience of birth was very traumatising and I swore blind after that that I could never have another child because I could just never go through that again. The day after our first child was born my Father in law died, and my husband started a new job. We grieved all through our first days of becoming parents. It was awful. My husband was not able to get into the Father role emotionally for over a year. I had to do it on my own.

After my first two children I had crushing post natal depression. After my second I got 9 months of 24/7 tinnitus. We went through the most horrendous time as a couple. I really felt overwhelmed a lot of the time and that I wasn’t really coping or doing a good job as a Mum. I got mastitis after all 3 and couldn’t breastfeed – and I know that if I have another baby I will get it again because that is just how my body is made. And through all these times I struggled agonisingly with being open to life.

We often failed to stick to the teaching, not out of pure selfishness or greed or lust, but out of not being able to cope with the stress and the pressure of normal life, and the need to be loved and comforted by each other. I often felt like a terrible failure at these times – which was the totally wrong outlook. We are only human. Just as in fasting – you can only give your all. Any more than that and you start to make yourself ill, or resentful about giving more. And lets not underestimate for a second the damage that is caused by unchecked resentment in the bedroom, or the rest of the marriage. For some people, even giving up one cup of coffee is a struggle, and you simply cannot ask anymore of them at that stage in their life if they are truly giving their all. We are all at different stages.

IT IS OK TO STRUGGLE! Struggling means that the desire to live the teaching is there, even if you are not quite able to do it yet. My advice to this would be exactly what I would say about fasting: be patient and compassionate with yourself, take it to confession and let it go, and keep going 🙂 What would make it easier for you to be open to life? What would make it possible for you to be able to give more? Have you ever tried the Little Way Of Fasting?

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There is one last thing…

The Catholic church teaches that “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness” CCC 2368

It is possible to use NFP with an artificial contraception mindset. That is to say that there is no good reason why you should be avoiding having another child right now. Reasons for this would be based upon a couple preferring a smaller family and a more comfortable lifestyle. This totally goes against the philosophy of being open to life and certainly is not giving your all. In terms of fasting this would be like giving up your cup of coffee in the morning, but having a cup of tea instead – you really arn’t giving anything.

Of course that is not to say that people do have very real reasons to avoid pregnancy. The mothers life might be at risk from another pregnancy for example. In my case, my husband is sick and unable to work which has put me in the position of breadwinner. I can honestly say that I am at the limit of what I can give right now. And that’s ok 🙂

It is all about love. How much are we willing to love? How much are we willing to give? Be it fasting or being open to life, the same rule applies: We must never give begrudgingly, and just like the poor widow, God does not expect me to give anymore than my absolute all. We are all a work in progress 🙂

Keep giving! 🙂

Surviving Advent as a Sinner.

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Cute little baby Jesus, Christmas trees and family gatherings are all the kind of things that give us the warm fuzzies around Advent and Christmas.

The over sentimentality and uber perfectness of TV adverts, and watching your own beautiful children in the school nativity play is enough to make even the most hardened of us cower at the fearful power of purity and innocence.

It is this purity, innocence and stillness of the nativity that, as a sinner, I can find very difficult to deal with. I am aware of my own sin – all too well this year. I am aware of my human weaknesses and can only bury my head in my hands during prayer right now and beg for God’s mercy.

Who the heck can possibly be expected to celebrate the Incarnation when they are suffering from porn addiction, having an affair, a same sex relationship or recovering from an abortion? Well, I’ll tell you who – all of us. We are all sinners. We are all in desperate need of a saviour. And if you think for some reason you do not need to fall on your face at the foot of the manger and beg for mercy from that tiny baby boy, then you have a serious pride problem.

During Advent we are all called to pray and fast to prepare our hearts for the coming of our saviour. I would suggest giving up something like 1 cup of coffee or 1 cigarette per day. No more than that. Tiny steps. It is not about willpower and it is not about discipline – it is about love. Offer it with the entirety of your heart. Give it to Jesus out of pure love and gratitude for His love.

If you can give up one tiny thing per day, and give it with your whole heart, I guarantee this will be the most life transforming Advent you will ever have.

Prayer, tiny fasting, and of course confession. This is the way for a sinner not just to to survive Advent, but to emerge out the other side as a new creature in Christ.

Let’s do this together.

 

 

Fr Aidan Kieran: Why I find fasting so darn hard!

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Following my Little Way of Fasting article, Clare asked me if I would write a follow-up, to give an update on my progress, and all the graces that have poured into my life because of my fidelity to fasting.

Oh dear!

When I read the request, my face went the colour of Palm Sunday vestments!

The things is, I found it a struggle to do any fasting for a few months. My first reaction to the request was that it would be hypocritical of me to write such an article, having become a bit lax on the fasting front. But, for better or for worse, here is my reflection on my recent experience (or lack thereof) of fasting.

So what stopped me fasting? I can answer the question with one word: stress. I’ve been facing a couple of stressful situations in my life over the last few months. It became more difficult to pray, and it felt as if it was impossible to consider fasting. I just wanted to distract myself from the pain inside. The internet, sports on TV and food were my favourite distractions. In the middle of all this, I certainly had no appetite for depriving myself of even a cup of tea in the morning and offering it up to the Lord. I was being deprived of a large part of my sense of self-worth, so He wasn’t getting any more sacrifices from me. It was almost as if I was empty inside, and so had nothing to offer.

One thing I was managing to do, occasionally, was to expose the Blessed Sacrament in the church for a while after Mass and spend time with parishioners in adoration. However, when Lent drew near, I realised I had to make some effort to get back onto the wagon from which I had fallen. It was time to try fasting again.

And the truly amazing thing is that fasting began to work (little) miracles almost immediately. Almost as soon as I began doing without my morning cup of tea, I felt a little spiritual strength come back. I began to get a new perspective on the trials I was experiencing. I began to pray a little better, and I was a little stronger in the face of temptation to sin. It was as if even the minuscule sacrifice I was making was creating just enough room in my soul for the Holy Spirit to get to work. Remarkable! It was a most generous payback on what felt like such a small effort. It’s as if I had deposited some money in the bank, and received a lot of interest almost immediately.

It illustrates for me how generous Our Lord is to me, and to us all. Sometimes it feels like he asks to work long hours in the vineyard. But He rewards us so generously for the efforts we make for Him, even if they seem small to us. He can even use our half-hearted attempts as occasions of grace.

What I have learned in the last while is how we must draw from all the channels of grace in the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Reading the Word of God, Receiving and Adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Praying the Rosary, Going to Confession and Fasting are important channels through which grace can gush into our souls.

The Church encourages us to fast during Advent and Lent, and on Fridays throughout the year. What I have learned recently is that even the smallest effort of fasting, done with love and with prayer, is enough to open the endless channel of God’s grace into our lives. However many times I fail or give up, it doesn’t matter. Jesus is never going to give up on me, so I guess I will just keep joyfully trying in my little sacrifices, to show my love and gratitude for the big sacrifice He made for me on the cross.

We have just 1 week left before lent ends, so lets summon up all our strength and offer that one cup of tea, that one cigarette, that one biscuit. And lets offer it to God as little imperfect children would to a loving Father – with all the love we can find in our hearts.

The Little Way of Fasting – A Mothers Perspective.

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My 3 beautiful kids often draw me pictures.

Alex 8, does some pretty good stuff now. He is Mr Logic, and doesn’t care much for creativity (bless him!) but he is pretty good at technical drawing and copying cartoon characters.

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Annabel 5, is the complete opposite and loves to draw emotional things like friendships and love and butterflies and princesses.

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Angelica 1, likes to do stuff like this:

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Now the thing is that when they come to show me their drawings their little faces all beam in exactly the same way! They draw stuff with great effort. And then they give it to me because they love me! My little darlings! I’m not sure what moves my heart more – seeing how hard they have tried, or their beautiful beaming faces as they give me all their hard work.

Now here’s a question:  Which picture do I value the most? I suppose that is as silly as asking which child do I love the most? I love them all the same, and all 3 pictures will be going up on the wall because each one of them is my favourite! Even though Angelica’s lovely scribble is just a mess on a page – I can see that she has put everything into that scribble, and at this point in her development I would not expect any more of her. She has given her all, and it is perfect.

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Isn’t this the exact same way our Mother Mary looks at us with our fasting and prayer?

Some of us are like Alex and can give a pretty good, neat, logical effort. Some of us are like Annabel and pray and fast emotionally and randomly. And some of us – most of us, are like little Angelica: doing our very best with the little skill we have. We are just babies in our spiritual development and we can’t manage too much just yet! But our Mother knows this and she delights in our messy, scribbley, prayerful fasting efforts! Whether we are fasting on bread and water for 40 days, or only giving up 1 cup of tea each day, she loves all our efforts the same, and is incredibly proud of each one of us.

I’m not sure what moves her heart more:  seeing how hard we have tried, or our beautiful beaming faces as we give her all our hard work. But I know this… A mother who loves her children, will cherish all these little things in her heart forever.

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The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

Fr Aidan Kieran

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

The season of Lent is almost upon us, it begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we are asked to take on three traditional Christian disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Today I want to share with you a new insight into fasting which I gained recently.

I’ve generally always dreaded the idea of fasting during Lent. It always seemed to me like a test of endurance, and I never thought I had all that much endurance. Typically I would decide to, say, give up biscuits for the whole of Lent. It would last about ten days, I would have a biscuit and Lent would be over for me. And no matter what people would say about ‘beginning again’ it would never feel the same once failure had set in.

Now, I have learned a new approach to fasting, and it has become a much more appealing prospect.

St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

I can describe this new approach to fasting – the little way of fasting – with an example. Here is a fast I recently undertook:

At breakfast time I didn’t have my normal cup of tea. I had a cup of hot water instead. It’s not much of a sacrifice is it? But this is the important part: fasting must always be accompanied by prayer. You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. Fasting must always be accompanied by prayer, and must be done as an act of love for the Lord.

Perhaps you would prefer to go through Our Lady. While fasting, we can also pray through the intercession of Mary, our blessed Mother. I can tell her I am offering my fast as an act of love for her, and ask her to bring me closer to her son Jesus. We give Mary the title ‘mediatrix of all graces’ so we can of course pray through her intercession.

With this approach, fasting has become a wonderfully joyful act. Rather than a miserable endurance test, it becomes a joyful act of offering a sacrifice for the good of others, the good of the Church and above all the good of my own soul. I can have a smile on my face, knowing that the small sacrifice I have made has had a powerful effect in the spiritual life. Since I started this little way of fasting, I have prayed better and I feel I have drawn closer to Christ.

It’s just 1 cup of tea. A little thing, done with great love.

During Lent, I won’t totally deprive myself of other drinks, because I know I would find that too burdensome. My aim is to give up my first cup of tea each morning. On some days I may give up my second cup of tea too! – a definite sacrifice, but one I can realistically sustain.  And each time I am conscious of foregoing a drink I would like, I will pray. I will offer my sacrifice to the Lord with a joyful heart and a smile on my face.

I will offer my Lenten fasting for your intentions, for the people who read this blog. In particular I will pray that those of you who need to do so will make a good confession in preparation for Easter, because confession is so important.

And if any of you would like me to pray for a particular intention of yours, please contact me through this blog in the comments section below. I’d be happy to offer my fasting on a particular day for your personal intention.

I hope you will find these words about fasting helpful during the coming season of Lent.

Fr Aidan.

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