Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2000
You can conquer the lions
Lent is time to challenge 'inner lions' with prayer and honesty
By By JOHN CONNELLY
Special to the WCR
Have you ever thought deeply about your heart? Not merely your physical heart but the heart we speak of when we say things like, "We had a heart to heart conversation," or "I made a heart-felt decision." It is this "heart" that I want to examine.
In Scripture, the heart is the place of encounter with God. It is the real me, the inner person beyond all the masks I may wear. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it beautifully: "The heart is the dwelling place where I am, where I live. . . . The heart is the hidden centre, . . . the place of decision. It is the place of truth where we choose life or death" (no. 2562).
This statement is worth deep reflection. The heart "is the place of truth where we choose life or death." Imagine for a moment this "heart" of yours. Are you in touch with your heart? Is it peaceful or in turmoil? Is it surrendered or afraid? Is it choosing the path of life or death?
Entering the lion's den
Daniel was a man of prayer and virtue. He was a captive in Babylon who made a name for himself with the king. People got jealous. They plotted against Daniel. They tricked the king into throwing him into a den of hungry lions.
Imagine yourself in a den of lions. It is dark and damp. You can hear the lions growling. Smell their breath.
What state would you be in? Calm exhilaration? Joyful expectation? Let's be real. Most of us would be trembling in fear! (Hungry lions have a way of creating some serious inner tension.)
When we truly examine our hearts we will see the "lions" within us. "Lions" with names like anger, unforgiveness, fear, worry, pride, hatred, doubt, loneliness, etc. These inner lions are scary. There are times we simply want to flee them or deny their existence.
What did Daniel do in the lion's den? He faced the lions with prayer. When we face our inner lions with prayer and radical honesty, a miracle takes place. Peace prevails. The lions become powerless. We find Jesus is with us in the lion's den. Jesus is the great lion tamer.
Growing in self-knowledge
St. Teresa of Avila was a true master of the interior life of prayer. She taught that there is no growth in prayer and spirituality without growth in self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is an ever-growing awareness of our hearts.
We become aware of our attachments. We see our unloving thoughts, words and actions. We learn to gain and keep a clear conscience. In short, self-knowledge grows as we practice a daily habit of examining and opening our heart to the Spirit of Jesus.
In his book Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales recommends a thorough examination of conscience. In this action we review our entire life asking the Holy Spirit to help us see our specific sinful patterns and shortcomings.
The next step is to make a general confession and receive forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconciliation is a powerful gift to the Church. It is a healing encounter with Jesus working through the ministry of the priest. During this year of jubilee the Church encourages us to make use of this amazing sacrament of healing and renewal.
Many people throughout the world are learning to face their inner lions with radical honesty and prayerful surrender. Millions have experienced new freedom and healing by using 12-step recovery programs. The "searching and fearless moral inventory" of step four and the act of "admitting of God, ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs" (step 5) - closely mirror Catholic tradition.
At the Catholic Bible school where I work, we combine Christian 12 Steps with the sacrament of Reconciliation. Students share about new-found freedom from guilt, fear, and shame. When lions are conquered, it is a miracle to behold.
In my own marriage, my wife and I have begun the practice of examining our hearts and sharing our shortcomings with each other. It is leading us to a deeper intimacy and depth in our relationship. We try to listen deeply to each other and prayerfully journey together towards wholeness and unity in Christ.
Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, help us to examine and open our hearts each day. Teach us to conquer the "lions" within and fully enter the new springtime. Amen.
- Examine your heart and open to the Spirit of Jesus each day in prayer.
- Do a general examination of your life and go to the sacrament of Reconciliation. (Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1440-1498.) Find a confessor and use him often.
- The Christian 12 steps can provide an opportunity for growing in self-knowledge, freedom and healing. Try the book, A Hunger for Healing : The 12 Steps as a Classical Model for Christian Spiritual Growth by J. Keith Miller (Harper Sanfrancisco books). There is also a workbook available.
- Practise being honest, open-hearted and forgiving in all your relationships.