Why St. Martha is the Perfect Saint for My Birthday!

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July 29th was my 30th birthday! More importantly it is the Feast Day of St. Martha the friend of Jesus Christ and brother to St. Lazarus and St. Mary. I have always shared a special connection to this ancient Christian role model. My own personal journey to overcome anxiety, worry, OCD, and constant movement in both my daily and spiritual life. Here I want to share a couple ways by which Martha is a perfect person to share July 29th.

  1. Action, Action, Action: Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, I remember always being in motion as a kid. I know that sounds cliche to talk about children move around, wiggling, and lacking focus, but for me that was and still is some days true. I struggled with sitting still. I seen this trait passed on to my own children as well. Both my son and daughter rarely are able to sit down for a complete meal. In fact they have a tough time sitting still for more than a couple minutes at a time. Needless to say, the action and constant movement of St. Martha appeals to me on a personal level. busyness.jpg
  2. “Martha [Matt], Martha [Matt], you are anxious and worried about many things”:  Another reason the patron saint of homemakers is a perfect person to share my birthday with is due to her anxiety. Martha complains directly to Jesus about her sister Mary in Luke 10:40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The hospitality of Martha was negated by the tactless manner upon which she communicated her frustrations about her sister to Jesus. Jesus calmly replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” How often do I experience similar frustrations when I think I am doing more to prepare for guests than my wife or other members of my family. Preparation and hospitality are good in and of themselves. Where the trouble lies in Martha’s situation is she worried about something fleeting [the itinerary of the feast]  instead of cleaving to the eternal [sitting at the feet of Christ].
  3. Initial doubt, then Trust: Along with both the personal limitations Martha struggled with constantly and the focus on the minutiae of daily life, her initial doubt of Jesus’ ability to help Lazarus reminds me of my own frequent self-doubt. According to John 11, Jesus heard news of the Lazarus– the brother of Mary and Martha– being ill.

    I always found these two sentences in this story interesting and bewildering: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (John 11: 5-6). Wait. If Jesus really loved his friends, why in the world did he procrastinate the equivalent of a weekend’s worth of time? Basically his response is no different that if I heard that my parents were severely ignored and instead of rushing to the hospital immediately I stayed at my house for the weekend. To be honest, this passage was a difficulty for myself. It is reading the entirely of the chapter– and reading it in light of the Resurrected Christ– that I realized John is preparing us for a tremendous miracle– the raising of Lazarus.

    Martha’s reply to Jesus entering the city of Bethany is similar to something I would say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!”  (John 11: 21). I often lament to God saying, “If only you answered my prayers timely would I not be suffering at this moment!”

    St. Paul reassures us that even in the face of suffering, doubt, and strife, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This was actually the first line in the second reading of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30th). I actually planned to write this post on Saturday. I am grateful that my friend took me to see the newest Spiderman movie in theaters for my birthday because I would not have  made the connection to Paul’s message and the anxiety that both St. Martha and I share. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This timeless message also reminds me of this Lauren Daigle song I heard on the radio this weekend as week. The song is titled Trust in You  and here are the lyrics:


    Letting go of every single dream

    I lay each one down at Your feet
    Every moment of my wandering
    Never changes what You see
    I try to win this war
    I confess, my hands are weary, I need Your rest
    Mighty warrior, king of the fight
    No matter what I face You’re by my side
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
    There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
    So let all things be my life and breath
    I want what You want Lord and nothing less
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    You are my strength and comfort
    You are my steady hand
    You are my firm foundation
    The rock on which I stand
    Your ways are always higher
    Your plans are always good
    There’s not a place where I’ll go
    You’ve not already stood
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
  4. Cleanliness is next to Godliness: Martha is known as the patron saint of housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers, and servants. While I am not a great cook, I am a clean-freak. As a result of my OCD, I tend to do the majority of the household cleaning chores [I have control issues that I am currently working on]. I also helped my mom with her cleaning business as a kid and I worked in the fast food industry cooking and serving food for almost seven years during high school and college. Little did I know God was using my experiences with menial jobs to forge a relationship with one of the New Testament saints.

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Going into writing this post, I had some anxiety about how I would finish it properly. What I have learned is that God will transform the ordinary– in this case my anxiety and work experiences and raise it to a newness of creation. Sharing my birthday with the feast day of St. Martha of Bethany is an honor and a privilege. While I can wait to get another year older I cannot wait to celebrate this wonderful saint’s feast day again next year!

 

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Thank you for sharing!

How to Roundhouse Kick My Daily Precipitation of Precipitateness

Joseph Pieper, a 20th century German Catholic philosopher, once stated in Happiness and Contemplation,“Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not [fully] happy. And what of contemplation? Its very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness.” I think every person needs to be daily reminded of this message. It seems that lately I have been encountering a flood of fleetingness. Craziness abounds in both my work and home—demands piles up both from company leadership and my children.

Instead of me thriving and managing the stresses of daily routine, life has become a panicked response to these hurried stimuli. I wish there is some why for me to fight this raining of rashness. I really mean to fight it. I wish I this precipitation of precipitateness could manifest itself in a physical form so I could perform an epic beat down on it. My wife recently started kick-boxing for her morning exercise routine—so please do not think I am always a violent person! Would it not be nice to pull a Chuck Norris and roundhouse kick stress, busyness, and hurriedness into oblivion? Although it may be a pipe-dream to pull that off this donnybrook on stress literally, there are a few tips I have learned from my Catholic faith, my counseling sessions, and through my own life experience that help me stave off the burdens of busyness.

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1. Present Before the Greatest Presence: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1323, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Oftentimes I fall into the trap of citing official church documents in hopes of slamming the door on any possible counter-argument to the truth. I have recently learned the errors in my line of thought. Great, I cited the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of the Eucharist. But what exactly does this mean for me on an individual level. Do I experience any sort of change or transformation through my encounter with this divine presence?

I wish that I could provide you an answer to all possible questions on this topic. But to be honest, I would only be kidding myself and I would fall short. I would be an inadequate emissary for the Catholic Church. For more information on rational arguments for belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist please refer to my post What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?. What I can provide is my perspective, despite the fact that it is limited. I am actually most at peace in this life when I sit quiet before the sacrament of the Eucharist in Adoration. As a Catholic, I truly believe that during the Mass the bread and wine is transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Communicating with God through the form of the Blessed Sacrament is where I am most at peace. Sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality.

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The second place I am most at peace is when I make myself vulnerable to my wife and share my dreams, fears, and worries to her. In the sacrament of marriage the love of God is made manifest in the exchange of a husband and wife [I rely on this type of presence of God more frequently than the Eucharist simply because it is more readily available].

Jesus never stressed about the busyness of this world. Even when he heard the terrible news of his close friend’s Lazarus dying Jesus never hurried. In reply to the concerned words of Lazarus’ sisters Christ calmly states in John 11:4, “This illness is not to end in death,* but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Perhaps the worries and stresses God allows in my life was a preparation for his glory and display of mastery of them later in time. Through the sacraments I acquire calmness of mind and heart.

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2. Cudgeling through Communication: How do you handle stressful situations? This was an interview question a prospective employer once asked me. I paused for a couple moments to collect my thoughts. I then provided two simple ways: communication and patience. As I stated above, I increase my patience through the graces I receive in the sacraments. Regarding communication, I have worked to consciously improve the manner and tone by which I rely information both at work and home.

What I have found out is that clearly and concisely conveying information is a surefire way to mitigate or defeat stressful situations. My counselor at my appointment today advised me to take a different perspective [i.e. try to see things from my manager’s vantage point] before I react and communicate something in a stressful event.

3. Perfectionists are not Perfect: Something I struggle with frequently is my tendency toward perfection. I have always been a perfectionist and an idealist. A large part of this may be due to my OCD inclinations and strong desire to have things in an straightforwardly organized manner. I want things to be predictable. There is an internal conflict within myself over desiring control over situations. I am blessed to have my wife in my life to provide an alternative approach to life. Through her example, I have slowly [hopefully surely!] worked toward a balanced approach to the stressful situations in life. Perfectionists are not perfect. We seek to attain it daily, but we will always fall short.

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Does that mean I need to lower my expectations or my standards? There is a question that I may have an answer to later in my life. What I do know is that I need to come to grips with the reality that humanity is fallen. Perfection is not to be fully attained in this life—it is hinted at through the holy witness of the saints and the life of Jesus Christ!

Thank you for sharing!

An Oasis of Joy- My Office-Theme Birthday Party!

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Words cannot describe my gratitude and joy I experienced when my wife threw an Office-themed birthday party celebrating my 30th birthday [I will be joining the three decade club at the end of July]. I found the above picture of Michael Scott [main character of The Office] to best display my admiration and thankfulness to her.

Even though words will be inadequate to fully thank my wife for setting up the party and for my family and friends who participated in the festivities I am not one to shy away from a daunting task such as this. I will put forth my best effort to compose a thank you post that hopefully will equate to a drop of thanksgiving into the ocean of love that my wife pours out to me daily!

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Dear Jenny [family and friends as well!],

I was humbled by the tremendous amount of time, effort, and meticulous coordination to planning and hosting my birthday party. I enjoyed all of the pranks that you pulled on me and I will cherish those memories forever. I especially enjoy the clandestine prank you pulled off with the help of our friend—he came dressed as ME to begin the party! It was fun to play the various games associated with our favorite T.V. show. I especially liked the paper airplane tournament [even though I did not win it J].

For my readers who are not familiar with The Office, there is an awards, similar to the Oscars, Emmys, of Golden Globes, that Michael Scott [played by actor Steve Carrell] hosted each year. He made unique, funny, and sometimes inappropriate awards to give to his employees. I thank you again Jenny for my Dundie Award of Best Weird Song Creator [I make up weird songs to sing to our kids]. My only regret for the party is I did not get you the Best, Awesome, Amazing, Fantastic, Unbelievable, Incredible, Marvolous, Stunning, Creative, Fascinating, Surprising, Wonderful, Greatest, Splendid, Thoughtful, Intelligent, Determined, Worker, Intense, Good Worker, Hard Worker, Terrific, Unselfish, Caring, Loving, Forgiving, Perfect Wife Dundie Award!

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I could go on and go as I have my trusty Thesaurus feed me adjectives. However, I need to thank my family and friends [plus my O.C.D. could only handle under 70 words in a sentence J]

Thank you to my incredible family and friends. I am always humbled by the support you have shown me throughout my life. This weekend was fun and joyful. It would not be as exciting or memorable if you all went not present. Thank you again!

I will close this thank-you post in a similar manner as I begin it—a reference to my favorite fictional manager Michael Scott. The Dunder Mifflin regional manager sums up my gratitude toward my wife Jenny best,

People I respect, heroes of mine, would be Bob Hope… Abraham Lincoln, definitely. Bono [Jenny as well for myself!]. And probably God would be the fourth one. And I just think all those people really helped the world in so many ways that it’s really beyond words. It’s really incalculable.

Love Matt

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Thank you for sharing!

Pilgrimage toward Patience: A Progress Report

Depression, a short temper, and negativity have haunted me for a large part of my life. This summer has been a season of change and improvement for my family. We have been actively working to obtain academic and early childhood services for our kids. My wife and I are exercising more regularly and eating healthier as well. Together with the physical aspect of self-improvement, I have focused on my mental health as well. I started seeing a counselor to assist me with my anxiety. I want to provide you—my readers—with a progress report of how I am doing in the realm of mental well-being. Furthermore, I am writing on my progress for two specific reasons: to journal my journey and help me maintain my commitment and to provide tips for others who struggle with similar vices. I want to be a beacon of hope for you and my family!

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1. Help is Healthy: The old me used to shudder at the thought of asking for help. Resulting from a combination of my hubris and a misconception of counseling by our culture, I used to believe that people who went to counseling sessions failed at life. I dragged my feet at the idea of seeking professional counseling to help me deal with my daily anxiety. Through the fervor of my wife and my mother I finally scheduled—and kept—a counseling appointment! I actually felt relief after our session. In the following weeks, I have incorporated the tactics provided by the counselor.

Needing help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, accepting authentic help to remedy an illness or vice indicates a person’s strength of character. It shows humility and trust- both virtues I need to continue to learn and master daily!

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2. Learning Opportunities instead of Failures: A former manager of mine had a poster outside his cubicle that add an euphemistic acronym for the word F.A.I.L.—First attempt in learning. This simple, but profound message has always stuck in the back of my mind.

To be honest, living out the poster’s lesson is a constant challenge for me. However, during these last couple of weeks, my patience level among my failures improved. Re-orienting my negative thoughts on failure, I have moved toward seeing situations that did not go my way at work and home more in a neutral light [tip I got from counselingJ]. Putting a positive, or at least neutral, spin on a tough circumstance allowed my patience to grow.

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3. Stockpiling Strategies: Along with acknowledgment help as healthy and donning my positivity glasses, I have collected a sundry of tools to aid me in the battle against anxiety and impatience. I am grateful for the fidget cube craze is coinciding with my oldest son’s

current obsession over Legos. I use the various stress relievers on my generic fidget cub and comic book caricatures of my favorite DC superhero Lego mini-figures to center myself during a stressful situation at work. An added bonus if I get to think about comic books during my break and lunch times!

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4. Fleeing My Fortress of Solitude?: Superheroes tend to house their headquarters in locations away access to the general populace. The Bat Cave is underneath Gotham City. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is away from civilization on a frozen environment. These heroes are strong individually but combining their talents and experiences led to the development of the Justice League.

Living in a detached manner from others leads to despair and lack of patience. During these past few weeks I have moved out of my figurative fortress of solitude and found a Watchtower [HQ of the Justice League!] through increased communication with my wife. Together we have leaned on each other for support and help during our summer busyness. I am more relaxed and patient as I work toward teaming up with my wife [and the Holy Spirit!] in the sacrament of marriage.

My pilgrimage toward patience is fresh with excitement that I have not hit any speed bumps or roadblocks. But hardship, difficulty, and strife will happen. I sense it coming soon on the horizon. I ask for your continued thoughts and prayers for me to keep steadfast to me helpmates and strategies as I continue the long and joyous path of holiness.

Thank you for sharing!

Bonding over Backgammon

I am a board game super-fan. I own over 50 board games, 15 card games, and I am even in the process of completing a board game. I hope to have it published by my son’s next birthday! I am grateful I found a wife who shares my enthusiasm for board game as well. Over the past years, we have moved toward playing cooperative-based games such as Pandemic, Flashpoint, Police Precinct, and The Oregon Trail Card Game. The driving force toward this shift away from competitive play is that it is easier to adjust two-player cooperative games than creating a two-player version of Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. Despite our focus on cooperative gaming, my wife and I have made it a habit to continue our summer tradition of playing backgammon. This summer we are playing a 100 point match that will last throughout the season. I wish to share my thoughts and excitement on this endeavor.

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1. Simple, Yet Complex: Backgammon is one the oldest board games in history. Dating as far back as 5,000 years archaeologists have found a board race game similar to backgammon in ancient Mesopotamia! The game’s simplicity is a major reason for its enduring success and popularity throughout history. Another reason I enjoy the game is that although it is a relatively simple game there exists some complexity in the various strategies a player may employ. Relatively recently, a doubling cube has been added to backgammon [mostly for gambling purposes] that enhances and adds depth to each individual game.

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2. Continuous Date Night: Starting in late June, my wife and I started a backgammon match that will conclude once the score of 100 is attained. Each individual game is valued at 1 or more points [depending on the circumstances, the severity of the winner’s victory, or whether the doubling die was used]. A benefit to us playing a game that contains miniature individual games over a long span of time is that our date nights have a feel of being one continuous date night. We have also grown closer as a couple through this leisure activity.

3. Variety: Along with creating continuity between date nights, our marathon summer backgammon match infuses some variety into each of our dates. Some games are quick and one-sided [like this week’s game where my wife backgammoned me and gained triple points for the win!] while other sessions are longer and suspenseful until the final dice roll. I am grateful I took up an interest in this traditional board game in 2009 and my spouse developed a similar fervor toward backgammon as well.

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An important thing I learned over my seven years of marriage is that couples need to set aside quality time together to bond and relax from the stresses of daily routine. We have found our own routine of playing board games after we put our children to sleep. I urge all marriage couples that read this post to reflect on the shared interests you have with your spouse and make it a priority to schedule time to engage in that unique activity. Sometimes grace and help come to us in interesting and fun forms—in my situation it is backgammon!

Thank you for sharing!

3 Childhood Experiences that Taught Me about Purgatory

Over the past several years, I find myself frequently reflecting on the implications the teaching of purgatory as on my daily life. To cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

Wait! Hold it. Why would God need to postpone our union with Him for people who die in grace? Also, the word purgatory does not even make an appearance in the New Testament. I know that the teachings of the Catholic Church are based on both Scripture and Tradition, but how do we reconcile a major teaching with a collection of books [the Bible] that barely mentions purgatory?

Although I never really despaired about this seeming lack of evidence for purgatory, my inquisitorial nature still longed for answers in case my non-Catholic friends pushed me on this matter. Below I want to share three examples from my childhood that helped me better reconcile the apparent lack of evidence in the Bible for purgatory. I will also briefly highlight New Testament evidence I learned about that hint at and point toward the doctrine of purgatory.

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1. Please use soap and water: The dictionary defines purgatory as “having the quality of cleansing or purifying”. Going back to what the Catechism tells us about this teaching, we are to undergo a final cleansing or purification before we enter the joy of Heaven. Thinking about a hygiene example as a kid helped me better understand the need for purgatory.

My parents developed a good habit of having our family sit down for dinner on a daily basis. One of the conditions before I could join the table was that I needed to wash my hands.

I needed to be clean before I could participate in the joy of our family meal. In an analogous way, our heavenly Father desires His children to be completely cleansed before we participate in the joy of Heaven. I was never going to be denied eating my food as a kid if I had dirt under my fingernails. I simply needed to undergo a purification process at the bathroom sink to clean my hands. Likewise, at death people who are overall good and holy people will not be denied Heaven. Rather, they will undergo a purification process to eliminate all stain of sin.

2. Do you Round the Bases if a Window is Broken?:

“Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack, I don’t care if I never get back, Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don’t win it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out, At the old ball game.”

Summertime will forever be linked to baseball. Despite being terrible at playing the actual sport in an official setting, I loved watching, studying, and playing backyard versions of baseball. Along with my love of the analytics of the game, my younger brother played. He was a fantastic ballplayer. I will always cherish the memories we made playing a pick-up game with the neighbor kids.

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During a warm June afternoon my brother and neighbor friends played a game at a nearby elementary baseball field. Things were going great. We had a blast playing and kept our stomachs full with snacks. I do not remember who actually hit this particular home-run, but shortly after it soared over the fence a crash ensued. We paused. The window of the house next to the field broke. I do not remember the exact details of how the window was eventually fixed. What I do know is that the baseball game was interrupted until we resolved the broken window issue [i.e. telling the homeowner the news, offering to pay for the window, etc].

Celebration of the home-run hit could only happen once our crew mended things with the owner of the broken window. Similarly, our celebration in Heaven cannot fully occur until we are fully purified completely through the process of purgatory. Purgatory once again is not to be viewed as a roadblock to Heaven but rather a process to ensure our complete union with God.

3. Finder Keepers, Losers Weepers: In the spring of my 5th grade year, my classmates and I had a weekend long lock-in event hosted by our municipal police department to talk about the dangers of smoking and drugs. On my way to the registration booth, I noticed a twenty dollar bill. I picked it up and immediately notified the event staff that someone lost money. I am grateful that my parents raised me right to listen to my conscience as I was not tempted to obey the adage “Finders keepers, losers weepers”. Ironically, listening to my conscience paid off—literally—no one claimed the twenty dollars by the end of the weekend so the staff gave the bill to me.

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This memory taught me that purgatory is a necessary process. If I did not listen to my conscience and simply pilfered the money that the person lost that I would need to confess the sin of stealing. Even if the individual forgave me of taking his twenty dollar bill the relationship would not be fully restored until I paid him back. Now imagine if the individual passed away before I could repay him. Here is where the doctrine of purgatory comes into play. God allows for purgation of the temporal effects of sin [i.e. not paying back someone you stole from] through purgative suffering after death.

Along with my experiences as a child, I discovered a passage from St. Paul’s epistles that hint at the doctrine of purgatory. The Apostle of the Gentile writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15,

According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, 11for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. 12If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13the work of each will come to light, for the Day- will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work 14If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.

The Catechism actually cites this same passage in paragraph 1031 in its reference to a cleansing fire. St. Paul’s words tell us that although the purification experience is painful it is ultimately a cleansing experience and aimed at a higher aim—complete and full union with God! Having a deeper understanding on the purgatory increased my understanding the purpose of suffering and strengthened my fervor for God’s love. I am far from an expert in matters on purgatory, but I have learned a lot in the past few years. I will continue to learn and pray for knowledge on this subject from the Holy Spirit. If your window(s) get shattered by a baseball maybe your own perspective will change!

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Thank you for sharing!