Taking a Spiritual Journey

Last week, I took a quick trip down to the Baltimore area to spend time with some of my cousins.

We are very close and always have a blast together, but due to geography, we rarely get to see each other.

So, with a pretty open weekend and my wife’s blessing, I hopped on a plane Saturday morning and flew home Sunday in time to get a decent night’s sleep before school resumed the next morning.

Passport 1Crossing the border both ways, I knew I had to bring my passport. A tiny souvenir of my trip, my passport received stamps from the American and Canadian border agents, signifying yet another journey in my life.

When I think back, my passport has now been marked with stamps from several other countries besides Canada and the United States, namely Aruba, Chile, England, France, Greece, Italy and Mexico.

As my passport stampings symbolize travels over the course of my life, it is interesting to note how in many religions, there are similar markers representing one’s spiritual voyage.

As a teacher of a high school World Religions course, we study in my classes such milestones as the naming and welcoming of a child (aqiqah) in Islam, a bar- and bat- mitzvah in Judaism, the sacred thread ceremony (upanayana) in Hinduism and the becoming of a monk in Buddhism.

It’s no different in Christianity, as various denominations have their own rituals signaling rites of passage for their members from birth to death.

For instance, just like the seven countries I have visited outside of North America, the Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments to present the distinct steps of one’s faithfulness to God and practice of belief.

Sacraments 1In addition to Baptism, Reconciliation (confession), Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, Roman Catholics may also celebrate the sacraments of Marriage, Holy Orders (priesthood) and Anointing of the Sick.

Similar to the collection of countries in a continent, these seven sacraments can be grouped as rites of initiation (Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation), healing (Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick) and service (Marriage and Holy Orders).

Sacraments 2And just as a passport can afford someone great opportunity for travel, the sacraments can offer a person a fuller experience of God’s blessings and presence.

But, just as a passport is only good if it is kept updated, the sacraments can only bring us to holiness if they are practiced regularly.

Much like a passport, we are called to live a faith of renewal and to be active in living out our beliefs, and that includes traditions and rituals.

For example, while we are baptized once (typically as a baby), we renew our baptismal identity each time we attend Mass, receiving a blessing when we dip our finger or hand into holy water upon entry into the church. Furthermore, how we carry ourselves each day of the week following a Sunday service should also reflect our baptismal identity.

Making our first confession of sins at a young age of approximately seven years old, we will surely commit sins well past that stage in our lives. Thus, reconciling with God and receiving His forgiveness through the sacrament of penance at least a few times each year can ensure absolution of our faults and a regular reminder of God’s grace and unconditional love for us.

As I remind my students when we discuss the sacraments, Holy Eucharist received as kids is intended to be our “First Communion” and not our last. Therefore, by honoring the Sabbath and attending church service regularly (ideally weekly), we are offered a chance to be fully and frequently united with our Lord Jesus Christ.

When it comes to Confirmation, I can remember being confirmed at the age of 13, while in Grade 7. I believe I was old enough to appreciate with relative maturity the significance of the sacrament. Today, I am challenged and called to display that appreciation by continuing my practice of faith in attending Mass weekly, reciting the Apostles’ Creed and living out my beliefs in God through actions each and every day.

While my wife Catherine and I married nearly five years ago, I know I am tasked with carrying out our sacramental and matrimonial vows daily for the rest of our life. This can come in many forms, including regular reminders of how much I love her – both through words and deeds. My remaining loyal to her, supporting her wishes and dreams, providing for her needs and those of our children, and honoring her by my living each day – these are all ways I can embody the meaning of the sacrament of marriage.

Sacraments 3Certainly, the remaining two sacraments will not necessarily apply to everyone in the Roman Catholic faith, much like each milestone may not take place for everyone in any given denomination or religion.

Just the same, a sincere display within the sacraments can help express one’s true devotion in his or her relationship with God.

Regardless, much like a passport must be renewed in order to always be effective, it is important to stay current in our faith through the sacraments, allowing us to enjoy the fullest experience possible with God in our lives.

Passport 2Doing this, then, we can not only enjoy great spiritual travels here on earth, but also stamp ourselves a trip to eternal salvation in Heaven.

Making Time for God

With a new year having just begun, many of us have made resolutions to help transition into 2018.

Some are driven to lose weight, either by dieting or through increased exercise.

Others may resolve to break a bad habit, such as smoking or procrastination.

Resolutions 1Still others may decide to scale back on their multitasking or aim to say no to an overwhelming number of commitments, striving for a healthier balance in life.

With each day passing, before we know it, the calendar pages will have flipped and we’ll see in a few months where we’re at with respect to our personal objectives.

Yes, hard to believe, the months of a year can pass by quickly.

In our household, we have a calendar on the wall in our kitchen, used to identify and organize all the many commitments involving our family.

Family Calendar 1Covering swimming lessons, birthday parties, doctor appointments, family dinners at my in-laws’ house, outings with my wife, catch-up nights with friends, out-of-town visitors coming to stay with us or a bunch of other items, it seems our calendar always seems to fill up faster than you can blink.

Indeed, the days get busy, the weeks turn crazy and the months pass along.

But in all of the hectic living many of us may go through, are we setting aside enough time?

Absolutely, we should set aside time for others – our spouse, our kids, our parents and siblings, our circle of poker mates or book club members, colleagues and everyone else.

Surely we need to set aside time for ourselves, too – a good book, a bubble bath soak in the tub, a workout, a coffee date with a friend, or anything else we need.

But what about God – will we make enough time for Him in 2018?

Life will always be busy, but are we resolving this year to include God in our days, weeks and months?

Let’s start with the obvious – there is the Sabbath Day to honor and visit God in His house.

For some more than others, attending a church service can be challenging or difficult for various reasons, but that is a perfect opportunity to involve God more in our lives this year.

Listening to Scriptural readings, taking part in communal prayer, participating in various traditions and meeting new people – all of this could be quite beneficial.

But let’s not forget a week has seven days and not just one.

Outside of attending a Mass or worship celebration for about an hour each week, where will God be the rest of the time for us?

Resolutions God 3This new year offers a chance to invite God into our homes through morning and bedtime prayers – whether we live alone, with our spouse, with children or friends.

Each meal we eat, we will have an opportunity to experience God’s presence and thank Him for His many blessings through even a tiny but reverent sharing of grace.

But prayer is not the only way we can feel and honor God this coming year.

Anytime we open the door for someone, or dust the snow off a person’s windshield in a parking lot this winter, or donate items to a local charity instead of seeking profit through a personal online sale – these are just some ways we can make time for God in 2018, whether that is daily, weekly or monthly.

A former student of mine once made a very clever project for her semester-end evaluation, creating a month-long calendar with all of the dates filled in.

Calendar 1On each of the calendar boxes was a sticky note indicating some sort of event or reminder. While this may seem normal and unimpressive, interestingly, the student tied everything back to the Lord.

There was a highlight for St. Valentine’s Day and a reminder to tell her family, friends and boyfriend she loved and appreciated them unconditionally.

The Sundays were circled for church and volunteer work at a local community center, encouraging underprivileged youth so they could be hopeful in their lives despite unfortunate circumstances.

She had identified the importance of studying for some upcoming tests, in order to excel and attain her fullest potential, helping her realize her post-secondary school goals and God’s vocations for her.

There was a note for her grounding, displaying accountability for breaking house rules and disrespecting her parents.

Other items marked included time set aside each night for Bible reading, as well as a road trip with friends – with a reminder to make prudent decisions while away from home, so as to continue living a chaste lifestyle.

As you can possibly relate, this student’s calendar was filled with many activities and commitments.

Yet, she reinforced the point that God can be included at the center of all of them, allowing our days, weeks and months to be filled with joy and prosperity.

Resolutions God 1So whatever the outcome of our resolutions, may all of us this year resolve to invite and include God in our lives every step of the way.

Doing so can certainly help us ensure that 2018 is, indeed, a happy new year.