Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 15, 2017.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic I admire the witness of the saints. From a theological and cerebral perspective Ignatius makes sense, but to a person in the midst of trials his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now than during a low point in my life.
What I have found to be interesting during the past few months that I have been writing is that my more popular and greater trafficked posts relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Today I believe there are three specific reasons why writing about my own limitations appeal to others.
Suffering is Universal
J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the objective reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work The Lord of the Rings. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words, I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence.
Is that true of yourself?
Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is definitely true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.
Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face.
Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe my writing on my personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.
Sometimes quotes from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we are able to life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!
Honesty is the best policy
To continue on the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. Each writer admits their failings. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.
In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Half of the times, I am not even aware of what I am going to write about on a particular day or even how I am going to finish a post. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!
Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle
My battle against personal vices [anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc] is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles.
In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil of the ring tempts him:
Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.
Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!
The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need. It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ [making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend] that true fellowship happens.
Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure the fellowship around me [wife, family, faith, and friends] is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 16, 2018.
Benjamin Franklin once declared, “The only guarantee in this life is taxes and death.” References to our mortality is oftentimes an uncomfortable topic for humanity in modern Western civilization. We do not want to hear, nor discuss, that all things eventually die. Decay of our bodies and deterioration of our minds is a sinister notion. Because of the fall, death [and sin] entered the world. God’s original plan for His greatest creation—mankind— did not involve dying and eventually being buried six feet under.
Bleakness, death, and despair hounded me over the few months. My wife and I suffered another miscarriage in December and my grandfather suffered a heart attack at the end of 2017—he passed on from this life on January 15th.
Along with my personal encounters with suffering, I attended a funeral Mass for a stranger—my first such event! Our parish priest during the close of the Sunday liturgy told the congregation of a tragic story about a young military mother who died of brain cancer. He notified us of the funeral time to see if anyone wanted to attend to support her family.
The School of Suffering
Such macabre normally causes me pause—and even fright—however, the school of suffering taught me that death is not the greatest fear in this world. Grounded in my faith combined with the teacher of experience, I learned that death is not the end! While moments of despair linger daily, hope persists. Earlier in 2017, I read Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book ‘You Did it to Me’: Divine Mercy in Action. In hindsight, picking up his work at the Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk in my church’s atrium was a turning point in my spiritual life. For those that have not heard of this title, the premise of the book involves providing practical ways to infuse divine mercy into our daily living.
Chapter Two of Divine Mercy in Action focused on the corporeal works of mercy of paying our respects to the deceased and welcoming strangers. Fr. Gaitley provided pages at the end of each chapter for practical tips to grow in holiness. Attending a stranger’s funeral—one of the suggestions— piqued my interest. I thought I would have to wait until my children were grown-up in order to actualize the corporeal work of “burying the dead” in my own life.
The Curious Work of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit works a mysterious and curious manner. Heeding my priest’s words, I scarified my time, something of myself. In a sense, I died—died to my fear—fear of showing up to an event where I knew no one aside from the presiding priests at the funeral. One caveat on this point, I actually did not stay for the entire Mass, and I never was able to enter the church! Instead, I roamed the church vestibules as I brought my two young children with me. Frequently chasing my runaway two-year old eventually got the better of me. Mother Teresa once said, “God doesn’t require you to succeed, he only requires that you try.”
Death is Not the End
The saint of Calcutta’s wisdom provides us hope. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that death is not the end. The sainted nun stated, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” Hearing those words always helps to re-orient my gaze toward hope and aids me in trusting the Lord. Jesus urged his apostles [and us today] in Matthew 16:24-26 to plunge headlong into the suffering of the Cross in order to fully follow Him.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides all believers the hope that death is not the end! My grandfather was a humble man of steadfast faith. I confidently hope and pray for the repose of his soul that he is able to experience the joy of the Beatific Vision. I prayer for the souls of my unborn daughter and the young military mother whose funeral I attended as well.
“Eternal rest grant unto them [these three beautiful souls], O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 20, 2018.
To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.
Over the course of the past week, I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children. I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month―and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.
I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure, I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.
Suffering Bears Fruit
Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,
43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.
When Suffering Redeems
The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said,
“Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.”
I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 13, 2019.
The legendary Italian artist Michelangelo once purported, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” I once traveled overseas on a college trip around Europe. One of the stops our tour group was in Rome. Seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel certainly allowed me to encounter the mysterious and awesome presence of God. My sublime experience in Rome lasted only a few minutes and occurred over a decade ago. I am extremely grateful to have seen with my own eyes one of the greatest and most beautiful works of art in all of human history.
Fast-forward ten years and a lot has changed in my life: I am married with four children, and in the workforce. While life brought me many struggles since that moment in Italy, my Catholic faith is stronger and more real because of those trials. Throughout much of 2018 I wrote frequently about my wife and I’s struggle with despair, loneliness, and sadness at the loss of our unborn children. Losing a child, you never could hold takes an indescribable toll on a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
A Christmas Miracle Child
This Christmas season our family was blessed with the healthy birth of our daughter. From the onset of the pregnancy complications developed. God interceded and saved our daughter from being miscarried. He accomplished it through the power of prayer and healing graces of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Our parish priest administered this sacrament to my wife. In my post, Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms – The Simple Catholic, I talk about the struggle be joyous throughout the pregnancy. Hope always permeated our thoughts, but we tempered our joy just in case our daughter did not make it to term.
God’s Peace in the Pain
After my wife’s contractions got frequent enough for the delivery doctor and nurses to arrive, a calming presence overcame me as I gazed into my wife’s eyes between her painful contractions. An otherworldly peace entered that delivery room. Joy, peace, and confidence radiated from my wife’s eyes in the moments before our daughter was born.
Skeptics may doubt Divine Providence had anything to do with our experience in the delivery room. All I can speak of is my experience and that was an encounter with a reality, call it what you will, whose origin is not of this earthly existence. Long anticipation of seeing, hearing, and holding our daughter seemed to have time at a standstill those short minutes before the arrival of Avila.
Bishop Robert Barron once stated, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Our joy-filled yet anxious laden pregnancy delivery began with the beautiful―the news of the conception of our daughter. That beautiful news led to the good. Good through the form of good friends, family, and priests praying for us on this 9-month journey.
Finally, the good of fellowship and prayer led my wife and I to the truth― this reality is not the sole mode of existence. The God who is above humanity’s total and complete comprehension decided to reveal himself in the material world. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in Bethlehem, and I had the privilege of encountering the peace of the Holy Spirit that early morn in the hospital room before and during the birth of my daughter!
“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”