This Advent, go from self-accusation to self-affirmation

Rather than joyful people who radiate a unique light and bring flavor to a salt-less world, many times Catholics get lost in the wave of unfamiliar faces that reflect worry and stress — or worse: guilt. True, not all guilt is bad — it can lead us to true repentance. Yet, without realizing it, many of us live accusing ourselves in the bad way, retaining a negative self-perception that, far from leading us closer to Christ, closes us off to receiving his love and mercy.

This Advent, however, may just be the time that God has set aside to shine light on the lies you have been telling yourself all along, to help you see yourself how he truly sees you. Shining light on those thoughts is one of the many signs Christ brings, as Simeon prophesied: “That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” with his coming (Lk 2:34-35).

“Advent is mainly a time of joyful transformation, to prepare the way of the Lord,” said Chris Stefanick, internationally-acclaimed speaker, TV show host and founder of Real Life Catholic and author of several books, including I AM_: REWRITE Your Name-REROUTE Your Life. “When we prepare the way of the Lord, the primary way we do it is [interiorly] and, what better way to do it than to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to reveal the thoughts of our hearts to God and to take them captive to Christ and make them obedient to him?”

The difficulty is that the thoughts which shape our self-perception often come either from our woundedness or from the Devil himself, instead of coming from the truth of God’s Word, he said. What we can’t do, however, is remain indifferent toward these negative thoughts because they keep us from flourishing and becoming who we are meant to be.

“Inside the realm of thought there is a war, and the frontline is between our ears, and we have to choose sides,” he pointed out. “The Devil, which Scripture calls ‘the Accuser’ wants to see you in chains, and the Holy Spirit, called ‘the Advocate,’ wants to set you free. We have to decide the side of the Advocate in order to align the way we think about ourselves with the Word of God.”

How do we rewire the way we perceive ourselves? It takes work and repetition, but it is possible, Stefanick assured.

“We have to jump into that war in ourselves and stop being passive recipients of our thinking and start doing the hard work of rewiring how we talk to ourselves and aligning the word we use to describe ourselves with the Word of God,” he continued. “And instead of thinking words like: ‘I’m dirty,’ ‘I’m violated’ or ‘I’m not enough’; we have to think things like: ‘I’m blessed,’ ‘I’m beautiful,’ ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ ‘I’m a son of God, the Maker of the universe.’

“If you disagree with God’s Word about your worth, your dignity, your identity and your value, you are the one who is wrong,” he affirmed. “So, [the rewiring process is] about correcting that wrong thinking, and preaching the Word to yourself, so you can believe it, so you can live life with a powerful new identity rooted in the reality that God reveals to us by becoming man, by dying for us, by rising and by destining us to eternal glory.”

Rewrite your name, reroute your life

Stefanick knew that simply telling people to do something wouldn’t do, so he set out to make an accessible and practical roadmap to help people see themselves according to the truth of Scripture. It can be a great resource this Advent Season to prepare our minds and hearts for the coming of Jesus, who brings all things to light to heal and mold to perfection.

“I was tired of seeing the people of God walk around with their head down, beating themselves up,” Stefanick said. “If we believe that we were created for a purpose by a loving God that died for us… that we are worth dying for, that should change everything about us.”

His book I AM_: REWRITE Your Name-REROUTE Your Life contains short and simple meditations that help bring people into a daily habit of speaking truth to themselves about their worth from the Word of God.

“My goal is that the reader will look at the mirror and say these truths out loud. The book has hard-hitting, but practical exercises that help you discern the primary lie that you tell yourself and replace that with the truth that you most need to hear, so you can start saying that truth to yourself every day,” he said. “And it also helps you contemplate how God is calling you to be a blessing and to serve.”

Stefanick has already started seeing the great fruits this practice can have in people. Such is the case of a woman he met at a conference.

“[This woman] had tears in her eyes. She’d had 12 miscarriages. She told me: ‘For years I’d told myself I’m cursed. But I didn’t even realize I was telling myself that, and now I know the truth, that I’m a beloved daughter of God,’” he recounted. “It’s striking that she didn’t even realize she was telling herself something horrible, and most of us don’t realize that we’re telling ourselves horrific things. But we do it anyway.

“Imagine how that shaped her entire everyday life, her approach to relationships, her approach to conflict and crisis in her life, with the mindset that she was cursed. But when you change that mindset to, ‘I’m a beloved daughter of God no matter what happens to me,’ that changes everything because it changes you.”

In this time in which people proclaim from the rooftops that “you are a cosmic accident, [that] you’re nothing more than a lump of molecules and your destiny is to become nothing,” Stefanick invites all people to “align themselves and how they see themselves with God’s Word instead of the dominant culture.

“God is a great mystery. He can see something worth dying for [in us]. At every Mass we say, ‘I’m not worthy that you should enter under my roof,’ but within three minutes he gives us an answer to that, and we receive him on our tongue — not because we have it all together, but because he is love and declares us worthy, declares us his children. And this is why the Gospel has the best news ever.”

COMING UP: How St. John of the Cross can save your Advent season

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Waiting is never easy. Time slows down and the mind tends to run uncontrollably. Yet, the Church teaches the art of waiting and uncovers its meaning and importance. Advent is that time to await the coming of Jesus. What does that mean? St. John of the Cross has the answer.

Advent is a time of hope, of faith, of expansion of the heart’s desire to receive Christ: A time of waiting for and in love.

St. John of the Cross lived for the “adventus” (the coming) of his greatest love, Jesus, and sought him tirelessly, knowing his limitations and letting himself be molded.

“During Advent, the Church invites us to reflect on the coming of Christ, and that’s what St. John of the Cross focuses on,” said Sister Rita Therese of the Sacred Heart, local superior of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles in Denver. “We prepare for him by seeking, with our whole lives… to become more like him.”

Nonetheless, in this process, what the Christian can do through acts of penance and self-denial is limited, she explained.

God, in his mercy, steps in and purifies what man alone can’t cleanse, to lift him up to perfect union with himself. This purification is what St. John calls “the dark night of the soul.”

St. John systematically describes two different “nights,” or stages, of this purification to reach such union with God: the night of the senses and the night of the spirit, explained Father David J. Centner, expert on St. John of the Cross and Discalced Carmelite friar of the province of Washington, D.C.

The Christian’s job is then mainly to let God work in him, growing in desire and love for him, he added.

“In the night of the senses nothing satisfies,” Centner said. God’s love is at work, cleansing man of all sensory desires to help him see and love more.

During the night of the spirit, other challenges arise. Freed from all sensory desires, man can see more clearly, yet still struggles with his ego and truly loving God before himself, Centner continued. God steps in again to purify to perfection, taking away all gratification, even in religious practices.

“[It seems that people in these nights] no longer have anything to live for,” Centner declared. “In fact, they might die in a reactive depression if God did not draw them on from time to time through consolations that give them hope… until their desires are satisfied with nothing less than God.”

Advent and the Night

The relationship between this journey and the Advent season does not mean that Advent has to be painful.

The Dark Night is primarily about love, Centner said, “We often obsess over the darkness and miss the point entirely.”

What they hold in common is that Advent teaches the meaning of waiting in love for the loved one. An anticipation that is active but also passive: Allowing God to work in the heart, in the daily tasks man can’t control.

“Advent means awaiting, but it’s an awaiting that gives hope,” said Sister Juanita of Jesus and Mary, member of the Carmelite Sisters in Denver. “St. John of the Cross teaches us that even though [the night or our many difficulties] may feel terrible and painful, we always keep the hope that God is at work.”

“This hope and awaiting dilates our heart into the silence and quietness of Advent, so that our hearts are more able to receive God’s love when he comes at Christmas,” added Sister Faustina of Merciful Love, also a Carmelite and principal of St.’s Peter and Paul School in Denver.

God molds man’s heart when he awaits, when he prepares, when he lets himself be shaped. While the Christian is called to seek to love him actively, ultimately, God will have to come in and purify his love.

Advent is a time to hope and let the heart be transformed by the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome.

In the many situations that a person can’t control, God wishes to work in him, so like St. John, he learns to desire God above all else, and desire everything else in him – as he expressed it in his “Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love:”

“The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me.

“What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less.”