Sacraments: Theological Rest Stops for Our Pilgrim Journey

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are considered the only mammal that willingly delays sleeps. For more interesting facts about sleep here is a link: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/25-random-facts-about-sleep. Sleep is an issue that pervades all of human life. As a parent of young children, I oftentimes determine the success [or failure] of a day over whether my children successfully or unsuccessfully take their scheduled nap! Because of the stresses of life, intense busyness at work, dealing with sick family members, and sheer lack of sunlight [wintertime is my least favorite season] drain me on a daily basis. The exhaustion last week became so overwhelming that I almost gave up hope. But the thing about tiredness is that is oftentimes causes people to forgot and lose strength to continue.

On the verge of wallowing in a lake of lassitude, I suddenly remembered the words of Bishop Paul Swain that he said at a confirmation Mass. Specifically referring to the sacrament of confirmation, but I believe his words apply to the rest of the sacraments as well, the successor of St. Peter said, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.” In the past, I associated the sacraments as offensive weapons against sin, however, recently I have come to view the sacramental system as a means to shield and sustain oneness from the endless assault of the Enemy’s attacks. Below I wish to explore my experience with how the sacraments of confession, Eucharist, and marriage help provide spiritual rest for my pilgrim journey.

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  1. Confession: Growing up I remembered the summer vacations my family and I went on involved a ton of driving. If the rambunctious nature of sons is any indication of what I was like as a kid, I imagine my parents looked forward to taking a pause in the long drive to allow my siblings and I to run out our energy. As a parent now, I learned that a periodic rest stop sometimes solves a fussy situation in the car. Pope Francis once declared, “Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus. At the end, and forever. A journey in which we do not encounter Jesus is not a Christian journey.” Too many times I forget that life is more of a pilgrimage—toward Heaven—not simply a tourist attraction for me to amass as much pleasurable and exciting experiences as possible.

Without Jesus as the focus of my journey I lean toward being a tourist of the world instead of a pilgrim in the world. Confession is the sacrament that provides me an opportunity to rest and receive God’s graces. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it” (CCC 1469. Recently, I received the sacramental graces of the medicine box. I felt a large burden lifted from me and have the strength to be able to encounter the busyness of life with a calm assurance that God will sustain me even during tough situations.

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  1. Eucharist: While Confession heals the wounds of my sins, the sacrament of the Eucharist provides me nourishment and strength for the journey for the rest of the week. In the book of Exodus, God listened to the plea of his people, traveling in the wilderness, a plea for food to sustain them during the tumultuous journey. As amazing and unmerited the gift of manna in the Old Testament, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist as a fulfillment of this prefiguration in Exodus. Jesus decisively teaches us in John 6,

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

After receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ every Sunday Mass, I gain the strength to make it through the trials of this world. According to the Catechism paragraph 1391, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” Reading this passage makes me reflect on the popular adage, “you are what you eat”—receiving Jesus in this sacraments helps transform us into the best [i.e. most Christ-like] versions of ourselves!

  1. Matrimony: K. Chesterton is considered a king of wit and satire—especially among Catholics. His quotes on marriage frequent social media. Ironically, I actually shared the below memes on Instagram recently!

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Wait! “I thought this article was about theological REST STOPS for our pilgrim journey—not holy hand grenades,” one might say. I agree with Chesterton, oftentimes marriage is like going to war—sins of pride, impatience, anger, lust, greed, and sloth [to name just a few]—become casualties. However, war does not always involve active or constant movement. Rather, a large part of war entails strategizing against the enemy—and that involves resting and planning. The sacrament of marriage is a gift from God that allows spouses to acquire the graces of rest and perseverance.

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Marriage as a sacrament involves total commitment towards one’s spouse. Husband and wife do not split responsibilities as in a 50/50 contract. Instead, marriage is a covenant—an oath that involves 100/100 dedication of the husband toward the wife and vice versa. Honestly, I sometimes struggle to view marriage this way. Throughout periods in my wife and I’s marriage either she or I would have to “more time and effort” than the other “put in”. Keeping a tally sheet and IOUs does not lead to a fruitful marriage. Only by donning a servant mentality did I truly receive the sacramental graces of matrimony to acquire true peace and rest.

To close, I wish to again ponder the words of Bishop Paul Swain, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.” Do you take advantage God’s oasis’ for holiness? If you are married do you take time to see God work in your spouse? Is there any ways you may be able to deepen your participation in the sacrifice of the Mass? Let us use the rest of Lent as a time to grow in holiness and thank God for the gifts of the sacraments—theological rest stops for our pilgrim journey!

Meditation on St. Francis de Sales’ Intro to the Devout Life

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.

Everyday is a gift form God

The theme for that meditation was titled: On Gifts of God. Below is an excerpted section from this third meditation:

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Considerations:

  1. 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
for thee!

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?

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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!

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3 Reasons Busyness is Never an Excuse to Stop Praying

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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…

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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.

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  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

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  1. 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!

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“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.