Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

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.

sleep-deprivation-gif.gif

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.

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.

indictment

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.

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.

deny-mysefl

St. 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!

 

Hope-Slider

Dear Lord,
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

 

Ruminations of a Simple Catholic

Charlies-Brown-Rumination.jpg

This week Satan sent a slew of his tricks and attacks to get me to stumble and lose ground in my spiritual journey. Combining sick young children with the possibility of despair at the loss of my grandfather, and icy tempests of Midwest winter weather seemed like a perfect recipe for chaos to brew and bubble forth into my family’s life.

Over the course of my life, I discovered that the Devil enjoys wearing me down with a combined assault of disparaging events and situations. God’s consoling Love appears distant or completely absent altogether during such periods. The great mystic doctor of the Church St. John if the Cross refers to such times as a Dark Night.

St-John-of-the-Cross-Dark-Night.jpg

In the first chapter of his spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul, the Spanish saint compares The grace of God to the love of a mother to a child. During our early stages of being a child of God, we experience consoling graces to feed our spiritual growth– akin to a Mother breastfeeding an infant. As we progress in the spiritual life, God allows us to grow by limiting the consoling graces that originally aided us. St. John of the Cross tells us,

It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitively converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God…(Dark Night of the Soul, 4).

whining gif arnold.gif

Constantly challenged by whiny requests from my sick children, I struggled at the beginning of this week to act with patience and grace of a loving father. The good news is that God granted me several days [opportunities] to renew my commitment of selflessness that I promised on my wedding day and reaffirmed by being open to becoming a parent.

Prayer and the hope of the Sacrament of Confession provided stability to my feeble will over the course of this week. I started praying a decade of the rosary as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. Inserting that brief time of prayer instead of surfing social media on my iPhone helped bring back perspective to my day. I am a family man and need to lead by example. The sins of sloth and despair gained a foothold in my spiritual life earlier this week. Asking the Blessed Virgin and humbling confessing my shortcomings by week’s end provide shield against those sins.

gameplan.jpg

Communication with God and humbly asking for forgiveness will renew my commitment to being the best possible husband and father I am called to be! I am thankful God granted me a period of reprieve during my children’s afternoon nap to ruminate on the state of my spiritual life and to help me game plan for next week. I ask for continued strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit as I continue on my pilgrim pursuit of a joyous life.

The Legacy of the Gospel

strike_me_down_by_myersbastard-d3w6nxq.jpg

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi warned the evil Darth Vader moments before his death via  the crimson blade of the Sith lord. I got to admit I thought this line seemed pretty lame as the audience does not get to witness the resurrection or return of Obi-wan in his physical form. I felt a sense of disappointment as I loved this Star Wars character. Years have passed since my first binge watching of the cinematic intergalactic series. New educational experiences, life events, and spiritual moments shaped me into the person that I am currently. Re-watching Episode IV: A New Hope allowed me to view Obi-Wan’s final words in a different perspective—through the lens of hope [no pun intended]!

According to G.K. Chesterton, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead (Chapter 4 Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy). What the great English journalist means is that death does not disqualify a person from impacting the present. The weight of tradition should be pondered and analyzed whenever present life’s realities are discussed. I found the joy of Chesterton’s seminal work Orthodoxy in early 2017. I am convinced my discovery of Chesterton did not simply occur by random chance—Divine Providence directed this seeming coincidence. Fast-forwarding to the beginning of 2018, the words of Obi-Wan and Chesterton, fiction and fact intersected in the event of my grandfather’s death in mid-January. Having been able to process his passing a single word remains steadfast in my mind with I ponder his life—legacy.

Passing-the-key-to-business-1

The dictionary defines the word legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. Legacies pervade nearly all topics and discussions. NFL players always strive to leave a good and lasting legacy—they especially ponder this during the sunset of their careers. Politicians seek legacy that extends beyond their time in elected office. The mark of a great legacy is the ability for it to stand the test of time. Assuming this is the gold standard upon which all legacies are judged, I wager that the legacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest and most permanent of all legacies!

Matthew 28:19-20 details the great commission of Jesus to his Apostles, “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Through the force, power, inspiration, and protection of the Holy Spirit the Good News of the Gospel is able to be passed on from generation to generation without fear of distortion or corruption of Jesus’ message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes this sentiment in paragraph 74,

God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”:29 that is, of Christ Jesus.30 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:

God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.31

NotTheEnd.jpg

Death is not a finale for people with believe in and love truth. Instead, authentic love and obedience to the truth of the Gospel leads to an encore of life—life in eternity. A prime example of an “Obi-Wan instance” is the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the face of his impending death by stoning, confident in Divine Providence he declared, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Similar to Obi-Wan, Stephen did not seek vengeance for his murderers—rather he asked God to forgive them (Acts 7:60). The Early Church Father Tertullian famously said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church“.  St. Stephen’s death acted as a catalyst to God performing arguably one of His greatest miracles—the conversion of Saul [great killer of Christians] to Paul [great evangelizer of Jesus Christ].

Reflecting on the death of my grandfather gave rise to several emotions: sadness, joy, sorrow, and hope. My grandfather left a legacy of a wife of 67 years, eleven children, and a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The greatest legacy he left—was continuing the legacy of the Gospel. Started by Jesus and kindled by the saints through the ages, I am confident my grandfather lived a life worthy to be called a child of God.

Warning.png

Us to death: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine [as long as we continue to hope in the Lord]!

 

Examples of a [Grand]Father

Early this week, my grandfather passed away at the age of 95. He left 11 children my grandmother in an abundance of Grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. It is with more sadness and joy that I write today. My family – and the world – lost a holy man. His passing provided me an opportunity to pause to reflect on my own life. Sometimes it is important to stop and assess our spiritual life. Reflecting on my own path of holiness I need to take stock of whether I am living as God intended of me. Am I the best possible husband my wife deserves? What virtues may I improve on to become the best version of myself for my children? How am I doing as a Catholic man in today’s world?

best version of you.jpg

Saint Joseph is the Standard upon which all fathers should be measured on their greatness. St Josemaria Escriva said this about the foster father of Jesus, “St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. ”  I am convinced my grandfather model his life after St. Joseph. As a farmer, husband, and father, himself my grandfather diligently and humbly worked to provide for his family and lived in obedience of God.

combine.jpg

Obviously, we become biased toward our family members and especially hold them in higher regard after their passage from this life into the next. However, I have evidence that my grandfather modeled his life after the greatest male saint of all–Joseph. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 7:16-20,

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.k16l By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.20So by their fruits you will know them.

good tree

I see the holiness in my own father. I see my dad‘s humble witness to truth and to love for both my mother myself my siblings and the Catholic teaching. While my dad is a holy man in his own right, I believe his path towards holiness was forged in the days all his youth by my grandfather. I see loving examples of husbands and fathers in my uncles as well.

The example of a holy father figure carries a lot of weight. Its effects are tangible and stand the test of time.  “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessNothing is so gentle as real strength,” proclaimed Saint Francis de Sales. The gentle, patient, and humble example upon which my grandfather lived his life will not fade with his death. Instead, the legacy of strong father figures is continued in my father and uncles. Ultimately, I am faced with an important question: which kind of father do I want to exemplify to my own children? I hope to live up to the gold standard example of my grandfather’s [and St. Joseph’s] humble life. I continue ask God to give me grace to become the best version of myself on my pilgrim pursuit toward a joyous life!

st_joseph_betrothed_500fLYER2.jpg

 

 

Death is not the End

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.

this is not the end

 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.

casket

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.

lord is testing me.gif

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.”

try succeed.jpg

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.

candle.jpg

“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.” 

A Prayer to the Lord in Difficult Times

Lord help me to realize that the obstacles that have been placed my way today are not a stumbling block for my daily living. Help diminish any anger I hold inside when I face such difficulties. I ask for the grace to view these hindrances and obstacles as opportunities to grow in holiness and patience.

Amen.

A Plea to the Lord in Time of Need

holy-protection-icon-562
Lord I hate sin and death. I loath injustice in the world. I despise my inequities, my feelings of doubt nearly every day of my life. I want this depression to leave me. I am weary from the fight against myself, my fears, and the constant barrage of assaults against the devil. Death seems to surround us at all times. Wars, natural disasters, political strife dominate the news climate. Darkness lurks over me in recent times. My grandfather is nearing the completion of his earthly life and  there is a great chasm in my soul left by the wound remaining from the loss of my unborn daughter Lucia.
The only suitable response in the face of this suffering and overwhelming despair is to petition you Lord God the Almighty to send me strength and consolation in my moments of weakness. I plea for the support of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with her Holy cache of saints to protect me from the prowess and threats of the Evil One.

Amen.