Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

Apostolic Analogies—Similarities with my Namesake Saint

According to Rick Riordan, author of the acclaimed young adult series Percy Jackson, “Names had power!”  Among the first questions people ask parents upon the birthday of a child is “which name did you choose? Names also possess a meaning. Now you may or may not be aware of the meaning or purpose of the name your parents choose for you. If you are not aware, it would be an interesting conversation to discover why they choose a particular name? If there was no particular reason, it would still be interesting to look up the history of your namesake or the literal meaning of it! The general reason for my name selection is due to my parents being Catholic had myself and my siblings to be named after a holy person who espoused the truths of the Gospels. While I am not entirely sure why my parents, specifically picked Matthew out of the myriad of Catholic saint names available. Celebrating the feast day of the St. Matthew is something that I regrettable not truly did until last year. Along with eating a special dinner with my wife, reading today’s Gospel, and playing a fun board game, I am going to also celebrate by recognizing a few similarities I share with my personal patron!

1. You Owe Me:  Within the past year, I took on a new position in the company as a student loan debt collector. Although the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and modern technology certainly has softened collection practices in recent year, debt collectors still do not have a positive connotation in today’s society. Back in the time of 1st century Palestine, the stigma against debt collectors was especially prevalent. In fact, tax collectors were especially hated by the Jews as they were viewed as sell-outs who worked for the “evil” Roman Empire.

My new association with debt collections brings the challenges of dealing with angry, concerned, confused, and desolate customers. However, my new job comes with a hidden joy of being more closely linked with St. Matthew.

2. Lover of Theology: Along with sharing similar occupations with St. Matthew, I possess a thirst for discovering knowledge about God just like the Gospel writer. Theology refers to faith seeking understanding. Among the saints Matthew possessed a privileged opportunity of being selected as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. What is more, Matthew together with St. John are the only individuals able to claim being both an Evangelist and Apostle! Laden with parables and the incredible Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Gospel shows Jesus as the Good Teacher always willing to shed light on the truth of God’s love. I am always emboldened by the following words of Christ proclaims to conclude Matthew’s gospel, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20, emphasis added mine).

3. Called by God: While the saint whose moniker I bear did not always believe in Jesus, he experienced a profound conversation. The significance of Matthew’s calling is so significant that all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) include this episode as important in the public life and ministry of Jesus. Being a cradle Catholic myself, I lack that momentous public conversion that St. Matthew experienced. However, this does not mean that I never underwent a conversion. Actually, my Catholic faith and reliance has slowly deepened over the course of my college years, and nascent parenting years.

A couple years ago I took an assessment on the various charisms that would most likely be my natural God-given gift. My two highest [according to the questions I answered] included the charism of writing and evangelization. Looking back in hindsight, I cannot help but wonder if St. Matthew is interceding in my life to help foster my talents that he too shared with the early Christian community—and today as well!

The craziness of wrangling three overtired kids and bustle of the workday delayed my celebration of Matthew the Evangelist’s Feast Day. Tonight, I plan on celebrating my patron saint and fellow writer’s gift of the Good News. I am encouraged that Jesus desired to choose a man from such a hated profession to be part of His Divine Plan of Salvation. If God can choose sinners and tax collectors, certainly we are called by Him to follow in the footsteps of the saints who came before us.


Collect [From the Liturgy of the Feast of St. Matthew] O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen

Saint Matthew Prayer for Us!

Choosing Beautiful Joy Over Ugly Fear

Department stores across America and the film industry anticipate Halloween well before the start of October. Being in mid-September, it is likely you already watched [or at least heard the chatter about] the cinematic horror film The Nun. Fear, horror, and terror possesses an allure that is sometimes difficult to move away from.

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Scrolling through social media feeds, pushing the cart throughout the store, or even watching television we are bombarded with screams and frights! Increasing new words seem to be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary related to newly discovered fears. Sesquipedalophobia refers to the fear of long words [this would be awful if you had this phobia and were married to a pharmacist, doctor, or writer!]. Another bizarre phobia is dextrophobia–the fear of having objects to your right. For more information on these two fears and other intriguing phobia please click on this link: https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/strange-phobias/

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In today’s political climate, much discussion centers on whether a border wall should be built around the United States. While concerns about national security certainly are valid, equally valid a question would be how much of this fear of open borders is due to the fearful rhetoric and unknown about other cultures.  Maya Angelou perhaps said it best, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Succumbing to fear we tend to build up walls that section us from fruitful interactions with others.

From my own perspective, fear normally enters my life through uncertainty in my life. As a rationally oriented individual, I tend to dress up my illogical fears in the wrappings of “security” or “control”. Visiting the New Testament on the subject of being afraid, I discovered a better explanation. An increase in fear is directly linked to a decrease in my trust and obedience in God. According to 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Fear drives all negative decisions. Fear of the unknown leads to doubt and anxiety.

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I am most nervous and afraid when I fail to take proper perspective of the trials that God allows to happen to me. American author Ralph Waldo Emerson pithily purported, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  That certainly is true from my own experiences. The greatest fears, usually revolving around fear of failing at work, home, and school, involved a lack of complete information about the situation. I tend to stumble through the tangled branches and dark shadows cast by the specific ‘trees’ of my problems instead of raising my gaze to notice the beauty of the forest of my foibles.

French dramatist Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh  declared, “An ugly sight, a man who is afraid.” Fear prevents man from confidently standing up to gaze at the beauty around him even in the midst of suffering. Instead, paralyzed by fear, man turns towards selfish tendency in a twisted effort to flee from fear, confusion, and the unknown. Ultimately, this leads to an ugliness and seemingly endless pit that we are unable to climb out of our own power. Only by turning back to our Divine Father will we be able to be graced with a chance to overcome our fears and failings.

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Thanksgiving and wonder at the simple things in life equip us in the battle against fear. First, show gratitude to God by praying and perform a simple act of kindness to someone else. Second, repeat the first step as often as you can throughout the day. Third, take notice of the beauty around you–whether that be leaves falling from a tree, an airplane in the sky, animals in your neighborhood, or the smile of a person you meet. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Trusting in the truth–the truth of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior– will cast out the doubts and fears from your life.


“Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid….And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (cf Matthew 28:10, 20)

St. Catherine of Sienna declared, “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear”