Advent Reflection

Unlike many of my articles, which are research-based and sound almost “impersonal” most of the time, I’m going to be very candid and “open” in this reflection. I’m ashamed to acknowledge my sins (and even mention some of them on the Internet), but I do realize that this is a very good (albeit difficult) lesson in humility, which, as we’ll see, is going to be a central theme in this reflection.

These past few weeks can be considered annoying in a sense – since the beginning of Advent, it’s like all my faults and imperfections have been placed straight in front of me. I officially entered the Catholic Church last June (by Christmas it will be exactly six months!), but God didn’t reveal everything to me straight from the beginning. He knew I wasn’t ready. But these past few weeks have been, in a way, chaotic, yet very enlightening at the same time. God is revealing to me, one by one, everything I’ve been doing incorrectly. These things weren’t sins before, since I didn’t have sufficient knowledge that what I’d been doing was wrong, but now they are sins because I do have full knowledge now.

God knew I wasn’t ready before to acknowledge how much pride I have. I would have denied it, as I used to do so. But once I realized my error, I decided to make the commitment to change. And how did I realize? It was through keeping a “spiritual diary” – in ways which I cannot explain adequately using mere human words, writing helps me sort out my though my thoughts. It also subconsciously starts an examination of conscience as well! I’ve kept journals in the past, but I never made the commitment to persevere in writing and would give up after a while.

Various times in my life, I have tried to keep a journal or diary, but I have continuously given up with it. Sometimes I didn’t have the inclination to write. Sometimes I was too upset and too miserable to write. Sometimes I was too lazy to write. The main reason, however, was that I never liked to admit my faults when I was a child. Considering how many things we do wrong every day, and the fact that I didn’t want to write about these things… There wasn’t much else to write about. One needs to be honest with oneself. I am a terrible sinner, as we all are, but blessed is a sin if it teaches us a lesson.

Blessed is a sin if it teaches us a lesson. Sometimes, while reflecting, I come across a particularly terrible sin and think, I wish I’d never done that! But then I realize – while a sin is never good, God mysteriously finds ways to bring good out of something that is not inherently good on its own. And then I think, Well, if I didn’t do that, how would I ever learn from my mistakes?

I apologize if throughout this reflection I constantly change topics abruptly. This is simply how my mind works. I think more quickly than I write, and sometimes it is overwhelming when all my ideas come to me at once and I cannot figure out how to organize it all. (This is why we all want our minds to be “quick” but capable of thorough contemplation!) I am acutely aware that my merely human words cannot come near to adequately explaining God’s mysteries!

Now, I digress. And I’m wondering, how did God know I was ready to learn more about the truth now rather than six months ago? I believe it’s because stress and lack of sleep are finally catching up with me, and I’ve decided that I simply cannot continue living like this. In regard to self-conflict, who wouldn’t want to have a singular focus – God – in their life, yet also have diversity in their life at the same time? I have realized that when these two – unity and diversity – are out of balance, so to speak, I feel overwhelmed, like my life is a chaotic mess. I want to find rest somewhere, and that can only be found in God. I finally turned to God in this way during this Advent season, and now I’ve finally realized that by taking up too many projects at the same time and thus creating too muchdiversity, I have neglected my singular focus – I have neglected my relationship with God!

That is painful to admit, of course, and I was initially afraid to admit my sins publicly like this – what if my friends, upon reading this reflection, begin seeing me differently? But perhaps it is better that they know the true me… It is hypocritical to appear to be devout but actually suffer from spiritual dryness – like I was. Through re-evaluating my lifestyle, I realized that my problem was that God felt so distant from me all the time… Yet that cannot be right, because we can even dare to call him “Our Father.”

How could I have forgotten that God loves me so much that he sees all the small details of my daily life? For quite a while, I have been separating my “normal, daily life” with my “spiritual” life, the “secular” from the “sacred”. Yet – the same God who created the visible also created the invisible, and thus all things are essentially related to each other in a beautiful way that often times we cannot see while we are still on earth. But back to my point. “Behind every blessing and even every annoyance, God is there for us – in good times and yes, even in bad,” I wrote on November 23rd. “What God has willed will always produce good fruit when we act in cooperation with divine grace. What we might see as useless may actually be useful, and vice versa. God’s ways are so much higher than our own that sometimes we don’t understand. But once we die to ourselves and abandon ourselves entirely to Divine Providence, what can hurt us? Once we encounter God in our everyday lives and realize He is with us, we are praying without ceasing.”

But the real question is: how can we even begin to realize how close God is to us? I often feel like He is so much higher above me. He is, and I know I am unworthy to even approach Him. But I also know I can call Him my “Father” while saying the Lord’s Prayer because, Jesus came down from heaven and humbled Himself by becoming one of us. And this is what Christmas – the season we’ve been preparing for these past few weeks, is about!

Another barrier I was facing, which prevented me from truly having a relationship with God, was my tendency toward scrupulosity. While it is important to be repentant and acknowledge our sinfulness, we must remember that we turn to a merciful, compassionate, loving, and forgiving God!

Scrupulosity is a hidden pride, because the scrupulous person sometimes – albeit unintentionally – tries to rely on their own righteousness instead of trusting God. Over the summer, I constantly had this irritating fear that I was going to commit a mortal sin. But I can I commit a mortal sin if I am trusting God and accepting His grace, the grace He gives each of us so that we can turn away from sin? I have no righteousness of my own without God.

The barrier was finally lifted when I started being less scrupulous (only with God’s grace could this have happened!) and realized that I do not have to constantly worry about scheduling and planning out what I’m going to do for the next week. Surprising things always happen, and many times it’s God’s will. It is more important that I “go with the flow” and do His will than do what I want – or what I’d planned – to do, for often times what I want to do is not what He wants me to do! I’m going to trust Him and stop worrying about worldly affairs too much!

The world is truly full of distractions; by worrying too much about scheduling my worldly affairs, I had neglected my relationship with God, whom I should love above all things. He should be first in my life, not all the work I have to do. As soon as I realized this fact, God began revealing my faults to me. And my conscience matured.

First, let me digress for a moment. Why is it important to properly form our consciences, anyway? Before this Advent season, I wasn’t exactly living a sinful lifestyle, since I didn’t have the knowledge to know what I was doing wrong. And I was happy…wasn’t I? Little did I know that this “happiness” was only superficial!

Examining one’s conscience can be painful. Admitting our sins and realizing that we are imperfect is difficult. But after repenting, we feel so much better, and we know that God is loving and merciful. True joy comes not from ignoring the painful side of things, but finding a beautiful relationship between pain and pleasure in the world. Optimism comes not from being frivolous and ignoring serious things; it comes from contemplating about painful things and yet still being able to see the bright side of things. While it is difficult for me to acknowledge my sinfulness, I soon would realize how merciful and loving God is. To truly see and follow the light means to be aware of darkness.

Going back to what I was saying earlier, God used other people to reveal to me just how much pride I actually have. In my usual analytical way, I began to think: What is humility?

Pride is difficult to overcome; it isn’t as simple and easy as “just think less about yourself.” True humility is not underestimating yourself and your talents, for that would be underestimating God’s creation and the gifts He gives to us. As I wrote on December 18th:

“True humility is seeing yourself…from an honest perspective. [I mean that we acknowledge who really are, and that we are only a tiny, tiny part of everything.] We all have gifts and talents, including spiritual ones (1 Corinthians 12). God wants us to glorify Him [not ourselves!] and to share them with others – but not in such a way that it would be prideful, like we’re trying to exalt ourselves. Humility means to acknowledge that God gave us our gifts to glorify Him, not ourselves – without Him, we couldn’t have what we do, and nor would we have life, either.”

I wrote last year: “God gave me the gift of music not for my selfish intentions of personal glory, but to glorify Him who is holy. I love church music, and I’ve sung in various settings of the Mass in Latin. I write articles and post them on the Internet to spread the love of God, as well as to help others seek truth and realize how much Jesus loves them.”

When I read that I thought, I wrote that a year ago? I, of all people? How could I have done that? I feel like they’re not my own words… It must be the Holy Spirit!

In any case, I know that although I was aware of all this a year ago, it is – to be completely honest – only recently that I’ve realized how often I fail to put this into practice.

But enough about that! Spiritual growth takes time, and it all starts with humility and surrendering one’s own will to God. I’m going to still have to wait until I gradually start getting better at this!

Recently, on December 20th, I believe I made my first Act of Perfect Contrition. I think I should quote my entry from that day in its (near) entirety:

“True happiness can only be found when one dies to oneself and relies on God completely. With out own human will out of the way, we can actually start doing God’s will. And there is no greater peace than His peace.

“Perfect Contrition is difficult, and a very agonizing process. Often, due to our own weakened human nature, we try in vain to justify our sins… But repentance – true repentance – requires that we be honest with ourselves and with God. And we should not be afraid to confess our sins to Him. Unlike people, God will not condemn, but is always willing to forgive. But only if we come to Him with a repentant heart!

“Making an Act of Perfect Contrition is extremely difficult. Many times, I am encouraged to go to Confession out of fear of God’s just punishments. But should my relationship with the Lord be based on fear rather than love? Of course not! (Note that ‘Fear of the Lord’ means awe and reverence, and most likely not literally being afraid of Him who is loving and merciful.) Imperfect Contrition is much easier, and likely more common, than Perfect Contrition…

“Perfect Contrition is never impossible, however, when one surrenders oneself to God, trusting in His love and mercy.

“I was trying to pray, but ended up crying for I-don’t-know-how-long. But the tears were like purification. I could feel, almost, sin being washed away. I believe I did make an Act of Perfect Contrition, and I trust that if I die before I can get to Confession, the Lord will be merciful. All we have to do is repent and trust Him. Worrying that your repentance wasn’t sincere is [simply] scrupulosity. Remember that the Holy Spirit works through Imperfect Contrition, even if [Imperfect Contrition] alone cannot obtain forgiveness of all sins.”

At that point, midnight came, so I started another entry under the heading “21st December”:

“I could actually jump for joy right now. No mere human words are adequate to describe the peace I feel when I realize that God is right there, with me, not as distant from me as I foolishly think at times. I am acutely aware that my words fail to do justice to [describing] God’s miracles. In any case, praise the Lord!”

As I indicated earlier, praying without ceasing is to constantly be in a “spirit of prayer”. And it requires that we see God in all things, even our humdrum daily lives which seem so far removed from our spiritual life. The important thing to realize is that the “sacred” and “secular” should not be separated, and nor should our “regular” lives and “spiritual” lives. My spiritual life is my life; it’s that simple, and it took me six months to realize this!

I have reached the end of my reflection. Forgive me if this was disorienting, or if I changed from topic to topic too quickly. In fact, although I have many, many more things to say, I should stop now, or I’ll go on forever. As I wrote in my first journal entry on November 22nd:

“Conversion is a lifelong process. No matter how sincere or powerful one experience could have been, no matter how intensely you felt God’s presence at that time, it cannot replace the long, difficult journey of faith. If all things were that easy, why should I carry my cross?”