To be honest, I never really thought much about my Polish heritage until a couple of years ago. Two momentous events sparked my interested: the reading of a biography of John Paul II and discovering my favorite lawn game Polish horseshoes. I have now come to realize that the game’s namesake is a misnomer and has no origin from Poland at all. I unknowingly created the poles to mirror Poland’s flag—white on the top half and red on the bottom half! Fun fact: Can you name the two nations whose flag is the inverse of Poland’s flag [red on top and white on the bottom]? If not that is alright, I will provide the answer at the end of today’s post!
John Paul the Great!
The second reason I got intrigued more and more about Poland is after reading Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. After finishing this biography I felt a closer connection to the great saint. In fact, the grace I experienced in reading this book and through the intercession of St. John Paul II were instrumental in helping me get through one of my darkest valleys of desolation I ever experienced. I highly recommend this biography and any of the Polish pope’s writings for summer reading.
According to Accordions
Finally, I will describe my connection to third “possibly Polish thing”—accordions. My mother actually owns an accordion. She occasionally playing when I was growing up. Now that I have children of my own, I am blessed to see her lug out the dusty accordion box and play a quick tune for my kids. It is on my mom’s side of the family where I have Polish ancestry. I hope to one day have both the time and the energy to do some genealogical research and create a family tree especially in relation to my Polish descent.
Until then, I urge you all to learn more about the sanctity housed in the great nation of Poland over the course of the last century. Both St. Maria Faustina and St. John Paul II were born in this Eastern European country. And I almost forgot the answer to today’s trivia question above is Indonesia and Monaco!
Saint Pope John Paul II declared, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” The Enemy utilizes despair in an attempt to disable hope. Good Friday’s horror is not negated by Easter, but rather suffering is transformed. Transformation occurs when we take up our cross.
Among the biggest news stories this Easter was the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka. Deaths of nearly 300 Christians cause the Body of Christ deep pain. I cannot even begin to image the sadness, anger, confusion, doubts, and despair the victims’ families have to endure. Hope certainly would be the last thing on my mind. Death appears to have the final say. This suffering in South Asia may seem to supersede the joy of Easter. Words cannot do justice to describe their suffering. I can simply provide my prayers for peace and understanding.
Christ’s victory over death on Easter brings purpose to pain. As Christians, we are called to unite our suffering with Christ’s in atonement for the world. According to St. Maria Faustina, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” Only on the OTHER SIDE of suffering does her claim make sense.
During our suffering, we experience all sorts of doubts. We may question our purpose in life. I certainly did during my greatest period of despair—on the heels of losing unborn children due to miscarriage. I questioned God’s goodness about why would he allow a baby to die. The people in Sri Lanka I am sure ask God why their loved ones died in a senseless attack!
Suffering tested and later transformed my faith—from belief I took for granted to a faith of strong conviction. My capacity to suffer deepened. Because I lost my children, I have a greater ability to emphasize with others who lost loved ones. Far from being an expert in suffering, I became a student of Christ via my tribulations. While I aim to pick up my cross daily, I fail often. The true remedy is frequent reception of the Sacraments.
I hope the Sri Lankans find the strength to rely on God in their time of need. Hope is the greatest defense against despair and doubt. Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When you do not feel hope please do not despair. Trudge forward daily and keep asking God for hope. Hope in Jesus’ Resurrection transforms us. If you are experiencing doubts, fears, or despair please ask for help. Post prayer requests in the comment section.
“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones.” –Ephesians 6:18
“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.g 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.h
14Now the body is not a single part, but many. 15If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 16Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” 22Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, 23and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, 24whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, 25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. 26If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” –1 Corinthians 12: 12-26
For several years of my life, the final words of Jesus before his death on the Cross puzzled me. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). The word forsaken has many synonyms.The two that stand out to me are quit and desert. Let’s insert these words into the previous quote and read it again. On the Cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my God why have you quit on me and deserted me?” I think that everyone relate to Christ’s words. Within my own life I feel God has quit on me too many times to count and I believe I may be experiencing a period of abandonment and loneliness currently.
Why am I telling you this? Is my accusation of God’s commitment to me a grave danger to my Catholic faith? Is my feeling of abandonment caused by outside factors such as my work, stress, the winter weather? Perhaps. However, I felt compelled to journal about my inner struggles as a Catholic man as a type of prayer to God Himself.
A few years ago, I took graduate theology courses. There was a particular class where I was required to read St. John of the Cross’s A Dark Night of the Soul– a spiritual grace that flowed from his period of spiritual loneliness. During this time of my life, I starting reading the Diary of St. Maria Faustina and she expressed similar sentiment. The Polish saint writes, “O Jesus, today my soul is as though darkened by suffering. Not a single ray of light” (Diary 195), Her words express my exact thoughts today.
When I read Faustina’s words, I felt provoked to learn more about the words of the dying Christ: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It turns out that the Gospels writers were making an allusion to Psalm 22- a prayer the psalmist wrote as a lament to God. I believe that the Holy Spirit was teaching me by fusing my theological background of the Scriptures with my current life experience.
Maybe God is allowing me to suffer loneliness because He knows that this will direct me on the path of prayer again. See I have not been the best Catholic. I have been impatient at work and home. I allow doubt to creep into my life. Perhaps this spiritual abandonment is the greatest gift God can grant to me now. Perhaps God is doing the same thing in your life now. Let’s embrace this loneliness together and continue to hope in God’s Providence. Amen.
Holy Week began with the incredible and devastating news of Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed inflames. In 2008, I had the privilege to see the beautiful church on a college trip to Europe. I checked social media for updates throughout the day. As a Catholic and lover of history, this disaster hit me particularly hard. Thankfully, the Blessed Sacrament and all occupants of the cathedral where safely evacuated. Additionally, precious relics, such as the crown of thorns, were saved as well.
Church in Chaos?
The fire consuming Notre Dame certainly symbolizes the havoc of the Catholic Church’s current state of affairs. Sometimes tragedy in the long-run acts as a impetus for change— change for the better. Pessimism pervades our 21st century culture. Sex abuse scandals, ‘mass’ exoduses of Catholics away from the Mass, and indifference cause despair to set in. Despair, though, is the most sinister weapon of the Enemy. Prowling about the world, he plants seeds of doubts and waters them with the seven deadly sins. How can we stop the flames of the Devil? The antidote is to douse those flames with an ocean of gratitude.
Gratitude is the defining hallmark of Catholicism. The Sacrament of the Eucharist actually means thanksgiving. According to St. Pope John Paul II in his General Audience on October 11th, 2000, “As the term itself originally says in Greek, Eucharist means “thanksgiving”; in it the Son of God unites redeemed humanity to himself in a hymn of thanksgiving and praise.” Literally, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, (cf CCC 13747) the Eucharist is a most best remedy against the poison of despair. Together with the celebration of thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus during the Mass, I am going to discuss three additional reasons why gratitude is the best attitude for our world in 2019.
Its Free and Freeing
The days that I am most at peace and feel a sense of liberation directly coincide with the days I focus on being thankful. Some things in life cannot be controlled by us. This is a fact I struggle with mightily! This power struggle with reality often causes a callous and unappreciative mentality. Because of ingratitude, I get locked in a self-imposed prison of bitterness and despair. Limitations set in. Engagement with others diminishes.
The key to unlocking this prison is thankfulness. American author Maya Angelou wrote, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” Gratitude provides us the ability to see the world not as “you vs. them”. Gratitude provides the equation for true freedom— “you +them=us. Humility and thankfulness lead to unity. Freedom results and best of all gratitude is absolutely free— you just have to ask God for the gift to be humble enough to receive gratitude!
Closely connected with the freeing quality of gratitude is the ability of thankfulness in defending against negativity. According to Mabel Yiu in the article Overcoming negativity by practicing gratitude, “Practicing gratitude—while a learned practice—can help us pivot from our brain’s hardwiring for negativity, and help us to see the positive things we often overlook.” Ingratitude shortens our gaze and limits it downward. Thankfulness extends our purview and allows us to better recognize situations in their context. Gratitude allows us to defend properly against negativity in the present and future!
I have learned that the times I put on the armor of a “grateful mindset” that negativity bounces off me with little effect. After receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist, I am the most equipped to fend off the negativity during the week.
Infuses You with Energy
When asked about where he mentality and physical stamina originate from, Belarusian American entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, plainly declared, “My energy, every single ounce of it, comes from gratitude.” He goes on to discuss his upbringing and living in Communist Russia as primary factors for shaping his attitude of gratitude. Viewing everything as a pure gift, simply being thankful for existence transforms a person—energy flows through you. I know this because I have experienced days where I ask the Holy Spirit for gratitude and focusing on the gifts in my life, a weight is lifted off.
Without the weight of entitlement, self-imposed unrealistic expectations weighing me down I experience pure energy to live life purely. Admitting, these days are in the vast minority of my life. Sadly, I have caved into the pressures of the world too often—allowing ingratitude and spite to rule my days. Those days of gratitude, flickers of hope-infused energy point to a higher reality. Gratitude for the gift of life and hope for eternal life ultimately will win out. St. Gianna Beretta Molla said, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” Terrible tragedies will always occur in this world. You will suffer throughout this life, but what will always help you in 2019 (and beyond!) will adopting an attitude of gratitude.
The great American founding father Benjamin Franklin once said, “To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Well, I re-discovered a life-altering opportunity that I want to share with others—the joy of jump-roping!
Yes, you heard me right—my rediscovery of jump-roping infused joy into my weekend unexpectedly. Along with the clear health benefits and incredible low-cost to purchase this classic children’s toy, I found five reasons how jump-roping benefitted me [and can benefit you!]. In case you are interested in the various cardiovascular and other fitness provided by regular jump-roping please check out the following link: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/benefits-jumping-rope-you-probably-dont-know.html
Jump to Save Time
After only 7 minutes of jump-roping, I felt as if I ran a few miles. Frequent exercise through jump-roping for 3-4 twelve minutes sessions a week will be the equivalent to running several miles. Plus, you may enjoy the workout from the comfort of your living room, basement, or outside on the patio/lawn.
Jump for Nostalgia
The second reason why I found jump-roping profoundly jubilant and uplifting is due to the sentimental memories it stirred up. In elementary school, our third-fifth grade classes annually completed Jump Rope for Heart. Not only was this a good charity to raise donations and awareness for cardiovascular health, but I made amazing memories. Jumping rope in the gym with friends and playing games became an event I looked forward to and cherish those memories.
Jump for Versatility
Besides swimming, I cannot think of a more flexible exercise than jump-roping. Using the standard speed jump-rope promotes cardio-vascular health and increases one’s endurance for running. Along with excellent aerobic benefits, utilizing a weighted jump-rope helps to strength multiple muscle groups—legs, arms, and core. Finally, the portability of the jump-rope makes it an easy exercise tool to use at home or on the go!
The last point I wish to share with my re-discovery of the joy of jump-roping is that this can be an easy and simple summer activity to enjoy with your family and friends. I cannot wait until my children get to the age where I am able to share in this joy, count our jumps, try various jumping styles, and create joyful memories to last a lifetime!