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This Lent I am revisiting the great spiritual treatise of St. Francis de Sales’– Introduction to the Devout Life. Reading a couple meditations each day provides me ample time to reflect on the wisdom of the timeless truths of the Gospels as given to the world by God through St. Francis. During the height of a stressful work day, I gazed at this book on my desk and resolved to take 5 minutes of my break to read the third meditation.
The theme for that meditation was titled: On Gifts of God. Below is an excerpted section from this third meditation:
- Consider the material gifts God has given you—your body, and the means for its preservation;
your health, and all that maintains it; your friends and many helps. Consider too how many persons
more deserving than you are without these gifts; some suffering in health or limb, others exposed
to injury, contempt and trouble, or sunk in poverty, while God has willed you to be better off.
2. Consider the mental gifts He has given you. Why are you not stupid, idiotic, insane like many
you wot of? Again, God has favoured you with a decent and suitable education, while many have
grown up in utter ignorance.
3. Further, consider His spiritual gifts. You are a child of His Church, God has taught you to
know Himself from your youth. How often has He given you His Sacraments? what inspirations
and interior light, what reproofs, He has given to lead you aright; how often He has forgiven you,
how often delivered you from occasions of falling; what opportunities He has granted for your
soul’s progress! Dwell somewhat on the detail, see how Loving and Gracious God has been to you
Affections and Resolutions:
1. Marvel at God’s Goodness. How good He has been to me, how abundant in mercy and
plenteous in loving-kindness! O my soul, be thou ever telling of the great things the Lord has done
2. Marvel at your own ingratitude. What am I, Lord, that Thou rememberest me? How unworthy am I! I have trodden Thy Mercies under root, I have abused Thy Grace, turning it against Thy very
Self; I have set the depth of my ingratitude against the deep of Thy Grace and Favour.
3. Kindle your gratitude. O my soul, be no more so faithless and disloyal to thy mighty
Benefactor! How should not my whole soul serve the Lord, Who has done such great things in me
and for me?
What probably gave me most pause from the above except was St. Francis’ second resolution he charges: Marvel at your own ingratitude. Wait, what? Marvel at my epic fail of thanksgiving this week?! Yes, you [and I] read St. Francis’ words correctly. Pondering my own failure to be thankful for the gifts God bestowed upon me is a necessary step towards improvement of an attitude of gratitude. It did not take me long reflecting about my own spiritual ineptitude on this issue to realize most of my suffering and negativity this week stemmed from failure to simply thank God for the gifts–however big or small– He already provided me.
Gratitude helps to stave off greed and pride. I am thankful that I decided to spend a small amount of break-time in prayer. I am grateful for the example of holiness St. Francis de Sales. Finally, I am thankful for the gifts of my faith, family, and friends that God grants me daily!
At 7:47 A.M. I pulled into the school parking lot, in a frenzied state I threw off my seat belt, leaped out of the car, and continued to hurry my children out of the vehicle towards the school entrance. “Come on, come on! Hurry now!” I exclaim to my dawdling four year-old daughter. After getting her and my oldest son to their classroom with backpacks and winter clothing hung-up, I quickly walked down the corridor towards my car. It was now 7:53 A.M. when I restarted my car to drive to work. Speeding down the highway I weaved around the bustle of traffic. I arrived at my employer’s parking lot at 8:20 A.M., but my journey is not quite complete—I still needed to transverse the long employee lot and cross the street before entering the building. Time seemed to be running out on me…
If the above paragraph caused slight exhaustion, you are not alone. I want to point out that the busyness of life—especially in the morning seems to haunt me on a daily basis. This hurried existence appears to be inescapable, at least in my foreseeable future. On top of the daily morning grind, we took my youngest son into urgent care again. The doctor gave me news that brought tears to my wife and elicited a stoic response in myself, “He tested positive for influenza type A.” Life is beating us down—not just figuratively, but literally! Sleep deprivation is overtaking both my wife and I, my oldest son is running a fever, and my daughter refuses to go to bed on time–as usual! Taking a snapshot of my life now does not promote much hope on the horizon. Suddenly I came across an appropriate quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori that provided a bit of easement to my situation. According to the great doctor of the Church,
Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.
Prayer should be a constant for the Christian, especially during the Lenten season. Sadly, I allowed the busyness of life to be an excuse to develop my relationship with God. After reflecting on St. Alphonsus’ words I discovered three reasons why the rat race of life is a terrible excuse to delay communication with the Author of Creation.
- Little Opportunities: Blessed Paul VI states in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio, “If you have lost the taste for prayer, you will regain the desire for it by returning humbly to its practice.” This seems like a paradoxically statement. How can you gain something you lost by returning to it. Herein lies the secret power of prayer, it is not something contingent or limited whereby a cap is placed on its source. Prayer is communication–a two-way communication– with the Divine, God who is eternal and everlasting.
What helped me gain back reliance on prayer is taking advantage of little opportunities throughout the day to insert a petition for God’s assistance or a prayer of thanksgiving for a simple joy in my life. Dialoguing with God while waiting at a stoplight or praying a decade of the Rosary as I rock my son to sleep allowed for me to slowly (real slowly, as I am still improving!) to develop my prayer life.
- Prayer Sustains Hope: Oftentimes in the great shuffle and strife of daily living hopelessness and despair become implanted in my heart. Watered by the false notion that activity of the world sustains hope the fruit of fear and doubt arise. Filling my day with a billion activities–checking of social media sites for notifications, following new bloggers, or constant publication on my WordPress account does not bring lasting hope. Slowing down–even if it is simply one notch– allows for God to enter into my heart through prayer. I am reminded of the wisdom of Saint Charles Borromeo who said, “God wishes us not to rest upon anything but His infinite goodness; do not let us expect anything, hope anything, or desire anything but from Him, and let us put our trust and confidence in Him alone.”
True hope is grown–and sustained– through prayer.
- Parable of the Talents: The third example of why busyness should never be an excuse to cease praying may seem like it is coming out of left field. Please hear out my thought process. The idea of this post actually came to me during my hurried car drive to work this morning. Immediately, I thought of Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30. I associate most with the worker with the single talent. Instead of investing his God-given talent to grow it, that worker miserly held onto it out of fear. Sometimes I fear failure amid the bustle of the work day so I fail to step out in faith to rely on my God-given abilities to grow my confidence and to share my gifts to bring others to Christ.
However, this morning I stalled that mindset by asking God for assistance to help in during the onslaught of the rushed work day and busyness at home. Through the power of prayer, God provided me the gifts of patience and gratitude to finish out this busy day on a positive note!
“Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you.” Listening to the wisdom of St. Alphonsus reinvigorated my spirit–instead of being worn down by the busyness of the day I looked forward to the opportunity to rely on God for comfort when life challenged me. I pray for continual strength to withstand the storm of busyness– and I pray you may find strength and perseverance in the Lord during the hectic parts of your life as well.
Today my family celebrates my youngest son’s two-year old birthday. Since his breakthrough into this world, he provided my life with light, levity, and laughter. Being our rainbow baby—a child born after suffering a marriage—his name seemed to be apropos, Josiah. The name Josiah actually means “healer”. Truly, the Holy Spirit guided my wife and I toward this name. In a gridlock over boy names, suddenly the name Josiah entered my mind as an option. Upon telling my wife of this idea she fell instantly in love with the name. Only after settling on this matter did we discover his healing nature.
According to Psalm 147:3, “[God] heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” The Divine Physician sends healing graces in a myriad of ways—the ordinary and prime method is through the gifts of the seven sacraments. Children are a natural fruit of the procreative sexual acts. God elevates these fruits in the sacrament of Matrimony to provide husband and wife opportunities to growth in holiness and strength to remain steadfast and calm in difficult family times. Paragraph 1641 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states,
By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.147 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.’
As previously stated, the ordinary means of growing in holiness is through participation of the sacramental life. Within the sacrament of Matrimony I have learned that laughter is a strong defense against the prowess of pride. No other person [aside from my wife] is able to consistently cause me to laugh or smile, and I mean genuinely grin until my mouth hurts or laugh until my side hurts, than my son Josiah! Recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder he poses an array of daily challenges, but his [apparent] disability gives him the unique ability to provide levity to stressful situations throughout the week.
A major trait for people with autism spectrum disorder is that they normally become obsessed with a particular interest that encompasses nearly every facet of life. Toy cars emerged as my son’s particular obsession–several months ago– and he needs to carry at least one car in hand at all times. Toy cars provide comfort to him during stressful and changing situations. Allowing him to carry toy cars helps minimize meltdowns and tantrums. Seeing my son’s enthusiasm and joy whenever he wakes up in the morning and runs over to the toy-chest to dump over his box of cars and trucks gives me a smile. His routine is the same each day.
Consulting the King of Paradox
The joy of autism in my son reminds me of the words of G.K. Chesterton,
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we (Orthodoxy).
Monotony does not exist in our household. Autism spectrum disorder is challenging to deal with as a parent. I would be a liar if I said otherwise. However, going into marriage and thinking parenting, of any kind, would be easy is a fallacious lie the Evil One sows into the minds individuals entering marriage. Admittedly, I am prone to the sin of laziness and I too fell, and recently fell, into the trap of believing that parenthood should be easy. The benefit of writing this tribute is that it has allowed me time to ponder the ups and the downs of fatherhood.
Mary’s Perfect Motherhood–a pathway to a more perfect fatherhood
Recently, I renewed my dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary through praying the Rosary as I rocked Josiah to bed. Starting with a couple Hail Marys I worked my way up to a decade before he started chucking his toy cars onto the floor–this is a sign he usually is ready for me to lay him down in the crib. The simple petition to my spiritual Mother actually allowed me to grow in the virtue of patience–vitally important for my journey toward being a better father. St. Josemaria Escriva advocated of the Rosary by saying, “Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!”
My experience can attest to the truth value of his statement. Bedtime is the perfect time for the Devil to swoop in and allow for sins of impatience and anger explode. Children often arise from bed, even now as I write, my daughter is getting out of her room to try to escape nap time [thus interrupting the flow of my writing!] “Dad! I dropped my golden boogers (jar of gold flakes that she somehow found from my childhood trip to Yellowstone) behind the dresser!” This was the reason my children were up. I cannot make up this stuff. Truly the fruits of marriage provide unique opportunities and challenges for parents to ferment in holiness.
Thank you God for the gifts of my children–challenging as they may be to raise. I am grateful to celebrate my son Josiah’s birthday– the creator of laughter, smiles, and curator of toy cars in our household. May God bless you and I pray the Holy Spirit is able to open your hearts to the joy of laughter just as my son frequently does for my family!