The Power Of Forgiveness
Christmastime always holds a special place in my life. As a life-long Catholic, I grew up with the understanding that the celebration of Christ’s birth does not end on December 25th, instead it is actually the beginning of a twelve daylong celebration that goes until the Feast of the Epiphany, the arrival of the Wise men. Over the course of the past week, I noticed a ton of memes, gifs, and posts from my fellow Catholic friends about keeping up Christmas decorations and not tearing them down immediately the day after. I am guilty of that liturgical bravado as well!
This year the season of celebrating Christ’s birth contains extra expectation as my wife and I are waiting for the arrival of the birth of our fourth child!
Being both uber-planners and type-A personalities we have actually been prepped for our daughter’s big arrival for months. To be honest, I really have been ready for another baby to hold, cuddle, and love since our miscarriage last December 2017.
The beginning of this pregnancy started off rocky and scary. Frequent OBYGN appointments, progesterone shots, and nightly petitioning to our Lord through the Blessed Virgin Mary and saints Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Gerard became daily routines over the course of the past 9 months. I came across this quote from Indian filmmaker and director Anurag Prakash Ray that applies directly to my attitude about waiting hold my daughter. He wrote, “True love is worth waiting for even if it takes a lifetime. Then in return, a lifetime of love will be waiting for you.” Waiting for our rainbow baby truly does feel like it has been a lifetime—I am certain in the case of my wife she may feel like it has been several lifetimes!
If a person has a negative mindset, waiting, and especially waiting for something with much anticipation, is quite painful and burdensome. However, shifting the focus away from negativity and instead towards hope, that burden of being agog will be bearable. Saint John Paul the Great lived a long life filled with suffering and waiting. Whenever I get anxious I look to him for advice. The great Polish pope declared, “From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her Son and the Son of God!”
Throughout this season of expectation(s) be sure to always petition the Lord for help. This may be directly or through the effective intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven. I welcome any and all prayers for the safe delivery of my daughter whenever she decides to arrive!
Ten years ago I have a grandiose dream: to be married, with four kids, and to teach the Catholic faith in an academic setting. It is weird how a mere decade one’s dreams shift, but remain the same. I am married to my best friend: a woman who is enthusiastic about her faith, geekiness, and fandom of the T.V. Show The Office. The Christmas she demonstrated her propensity for epic spousehood yet again by gifting me with a collector’s set of The Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth!!!
Along with my wonderful wife, God blessed me with children– and we are expecting the birth of our fourth child (and second daughter). Children are always a blessing, but in our family’s history of miscarriages those blessings that make it to full term term on a whole new meaning. Sudden bursts of joy interrupt my day where I have to send an excited text to my wife: “We are having another baby!!” Parenting is by far the most stressful and time-consuming job, yet it is the job where a person encounters the most joy–expected and unexpected!
My third and final dream of teaching the Catholic faith has kind of been a mixed bag, a zig-zagging path where I have to shift and broaden my horizons. I used to have horse-blinders on when it came to teaching: the plan was to get my Ph.D. in theology or biblical studies and teach at the university level. Quickly this goal had to shift after the birth of my first child. Sleepless nights and increased expenses stymied that dream of following along the path of St. Thomas Aquinas and lecturing about dogmatic theology throughout the week. After this window closed another opened in the form of teaching high school theology. While I thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter, the extra work (lesson planning, classroom management, and outside prep work) soon exhausted me and placed strain on my home life.
St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose.” In other words, God was preparing for a path to educate the Catholic faithful (and perhaps those that may have strayed away from the Gospel) in a way not expected–through the written word. In hindsight, being a writer makes perfect sense as I had a penchant for reading and creativity dating back to my days of youth. As an elementary student, I remember visiting the library weekly and renting no less than 20 books! My passion for learning continues and my personal library would make my 20 year old version of myself quite envious: from Fulton Sheen to J.R.R. Tolkien and Percy Walker to C.S. Lewis I seem to acquire a new title weekly for my collection.
Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ always brings peace and joy, but this year I gained a deeper sense of gratitude. All the blessings I received this past decade (and technically my hold life) are truly a bonus. Being an adopted son of God through the sacrament of Baptism the reception of the graces from the other sacraments is enough. I am thankful for the gift of the Mystery of the Incarnation–God becoming man to bridge the gap between God and man caused by sin. Everything is a bonus from God!
The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you, “What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness?? Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, may still be correct—the answer I was looking for was a red wagon!
Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”
Me: “What does that mean?”
J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Little by little, one travels far.” His words perfectly summarized our wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times.
Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainly exceeded expectations and brought joy!
Oftentimes parents look at their children and find the exact same characteristics, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies. I am not exception to this rule. While I have frequently written about how my sons acquired the gifts and struggles of mine, I have not given similar treatment on how my daughter received my interests. Growing up I enjoyed learning about rocks. Perhaps it began when my aunt gifted me with a rock-set for my birthday or maybe it was do to playing The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth—my siblings and I played this 1996 PC game for hours and hours!—but regardless of the reason, I see an early penchant for pebbles from my daughter and maybe early roots to a geology career. No less than a dozen rocks appear throughout our house on a given day.
Fascination with geology, I believe starts with the fact that rocks usually are associated with strength and stability. Another alluring facet about rocks involve the process by which they are formed. Looking at a diagram of the rock cycle below, it reminds of myself being transformed under the pressures of a stressful situation. Depending upon whether I take suffering as a learning opportunity or not, I am changed, transformed and meet the future challenges differently. Founding Father of the United States and 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
Tested through trials the character of a person is galvanized and strengthened. Taking shortcuts is easy in the short-term, but without moral consistency—it is easy to fall apart during the storms of life. According to Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus preached on the importance of building a solid foundation:
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.r 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.s But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.
One year ago, my wife and I lost our unborn child to a miscarriage—despite not being our first loss it nevertheless struck our hearts the same as the others. Spiraling into depression seemed almost second nature, however, previous suffering schooled me and my stable foundation started by my parents teaching me the Catholic faith as a child helped to keep me even-keeled—as much as possible. While building my moral foundations like a sandcastle would be much more “fun and easier” than clinging to the rock of truth, I am grateful for being tested by the pressures of suffering and toil.
According to Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” This road of success and truth is narrow, but not impossible to travel. Keeping your eyes toward the horizon of your goal will help keep you on the right path. When times get tough, be sure to cling to the Rock of Truth—found in the Person of Jesus Christ and whose teaching are most fully safeguarded in the Catholic Church. Only build sandcastles when you are at the beach, on the other hand, rock-wall climbing sounds more adventurous!
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
Circle of Authority
A few years ago, I discovered a “secret weapon” the Devil utilizes to lull Christians into a false security of security—the snooze button (see related links at end of article for more information!). Along with the cloudy weather, and antics of my children, I am confident that a clandestine onslaught against me by the Adversary planted the seeds of spiritual sloth and gluttony. This weekend so a resurgence of another spiritual attack on my soul, this time with arguably the most sinister weapon of all—despair. Ironically, this attack landed on the Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—a time of joy in anticipation for the birth of the Christ-Child.
What happened? I believed to be on track, spiritually, to grow closer to Jesus. My wife and I made a concerted focus to pray before the Advent wreath and read the Gospel reading for the day. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” Focusing on myself, shifted the focus away from God. The effects have been quite devastating. Despair compounds quicker than a pay-day lender loan’s interest.
What is the defense against Satan’s sinister weapon? The answer is as old as time itself, but never more relevant—trust in God always. St. Maria Faustina always provides me uplifting words. In her diary she wrote, “I will not allow myself to be so absorbed in the whirlwind of work as to forget about God. I will spend all my free moments at the feet of the Master hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.” While, I failed miserably earlier today about lamenting too much and dwelling too much on the failures and stresses of work, the good news is that it is never too late to hit the re-set—so long as it is not the re-set for the snooze button J!].
Together with reading about the saints of Divine Mercy like St. Faustina, the singular best weapon to combat despair is hope. We are led our Hope of Hopes most easily through following the witness of Jesus’ Mother. St. Louis de Montfort declared, “The Rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who loves His Mother.”
Hope dispels despairs. Hope in Christ hold eternal consequences. Think about the two thieves crucified next to Jesus. Luke 23:39-43 details out an end of life exchange between the two criminals and Jesus. The unrepentant thief ridiculed Jesus. While his fate is ultimately not specifically given, the good thief, or the penitent thief we are told was forgiven and allowed into Heaven.
40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving [c]what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come [d]in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Although the Adversary utilizes the primary spiritual weapons of the seven deadly sins, a sinister side effect, and weapon in an of itself is despair. Frequenting the sacraments, praying the Rosary daily [or at the very least petitioning the Blessed Virgin for aid], and asking spiritual guidance from the saints will galvanize you in the spiritual battle.
A Prayer for Hope
Heavenly father, I am your humble servant,
I come before you today in need of hope.
There are times when I fell helpless,
There are times when I feel weak.
I pray for hope.
I need hope for a better future.
I need hope for a better life.
I need hope for love and kindness.
Some say that the sky is at it’s
darkest just before the light.
I pray that this is true, for all seems dark.
I need your light, Lord, in every way.
I pray to be filled with your light from
head to toe. To bask in your glory.
To know that all is right in the world,
as you have planned, and as you want
it to be.
Help me to walk in your light, and live
my life in faith and glory.
In your name I pray, Amen.