Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 1, 2015.
I will begin today’s post by comparing the structure of the Catholic Church to a somewhat “elementary” thing. Let me give you some word clues. Hopscotch. Foursquare. Kickball. Red Rover. Before I confuse you anymore please let me briefly explain the context to why I am talking about children’s playground games and religion in the same paragraph.
During this past year I worked at a Catholic high school and taught Old and New Testament. On the day we discussed the epic first century saints Peter and Paul, I gave my students a simple analogy. A healthy Catholic Church is likened to a game of tetherball. To better help you understand what I mean precisely with that example please let us first discuss why Peter and Paul are important to Christianity.
Stability of the Rock
Matthew 16:16-19 has Peter clearly stating the identity of Jesus Christ and thereafter he is entrusted with the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”. Catholics interpret this passage as hard and fast proof for the papacy. To cite Fr. Robert Barron in his book Catholicism [referring to Peter’s special insight], “And this knowledge did not come from Peter’s native intelligence or from an extraordinary education…It came as a gift from God, a special charism of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 121). Thus, God chose a pope from the very beginning to be that stability upon we, as Catholics, can rely on. If the Church had multiple heads its teachings would devolve into something ugly–like the multi-head monster in Greek myth– the hydra. In a similar way, the center-post in a tetherball game provides stability for the game to happen.
Creativity of a Theologian
Now let’s turn our attention to St. Paul. While the popes enjoy the office of St. Peter and provide stability to the Catholic Church, having this Petrine element alone would make Her teachings dry and rocky. Thus, to balance out the papacy there is a need for theology to make the Church healthy.
After Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 until the end of the book, the saint is literally always on the move. As I told my students, “Paul does not have biblical ADD, but rather he was the spark of life that started the early Christian churches”. Citing from Fr. Barron again, “Paul stands for mission, the engagement of the culture and proclamation. Every missionary, teacher, preacher, and theologian, is, in this sense, a son or daughter of Paul.” (p. 141). Paul represents an archetype within the Catholic Church to adapt to different times and cultures. He represents the spunk that enlivens the Church. Going back to the tetherball analogy the rope and ball provide the excitement for the playground game.
Structure + Flexibility= Healthy Church
A healthy Church needs both structure (papacy) and flexibility (theology). So too does a tetherball game needs the center-post= [representing the papacy/Petrine element] and the rope and ball= [representing theology/Pauline element].
The schoolyard game would be pointless if a center-post did not exist to keep the ball close for the players to bat around. At the same time a game consisting of only a metal pole would be stagnant and boring. Similarly, the Catholic Church without the dynamic element St. Paul brought in the first century and whose memory represents today.
Which playground game is God’s favorite? I would imagine that God has all the time in the world to try them all and find them equally enjoyable, but if I had to venture a guess I would pick tetherball! 🙂
Editor’s Notes: Originally published September 22nd, 2017
Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.
Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit
Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.
Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.
A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.
Happy Holiness Day
Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job?
Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?
While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).
September of Sacraments
Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month.
During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful humility:
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being extolled … From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others… From the desire of being consulted … From the desire of being approved … From the fear of being humiliated … From the fear of being despised… From the fear of suffering rebukes … From the fear of being calumniated … From the fear of being forgotten … From the fear of being ridiculed … From the fear of being wronged … From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I … That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease … That others may be chosen and I set aside … That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
Be on the Lookout for Your Unexpected Journey
Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day: will you follow me?
Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:
Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.
Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back
Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on June 13, 2015.
Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.
Encountering God through Exercise
After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God?
Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.
Discovering the Creativity of God in Books
Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified.
God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.
Finding Joy in a Lawn Game
My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].
To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on August 25, 2017.
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them,” the great Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileio Galilei once said. Earlier this week, I received confirmation about a truth I was on the path of discovering for several years now—that Wednesday it a high point of the week for me! Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, I mentored an elementary student on the midpoint of the work week. Additionally, I have noticed my children tend to fall asleep easier and more naturally on Wednesday nights.
This past Wednesday I had another encounter with wonder in a surprising place—a local pizza joint. Coming home from a fun-filled, yet busy first day of school [my wife started a new teaching job], my wife was a little worn out from her day and was not able to get supper prepared.
Our 18-month-old son also recently started a learning explosion earlier in the week. He waved good-bye and started playing properly with his toy cars. I felt that we needed to celebrate this achievement (as his early childhood development intervention plan was bearing fruits!). We decided to pick up pizza for dinner.
I went to a close-by pizzeria with our youngest son [the 18-month-old]. Hauling his sister’s Sophia the First stuffed doll in his right arm while being clothed in a Green Bay Packer onesie, my son showed off his inherent whimsical nature. Entering the dinner dive, a tall middle-aged fellow held the door for us. Other customers awaiting their orders included a couple in their twenties, an elderly lady, and another middle-aged man with a grizzled face—a motley crew indeed. I completed my order and the cashier advised there was going to be a 5-minute wait on the pepperoni pizza.
The Wonderment of a Child
My son meandered up and down the lobby area. First, he went to gaze and touch the sign at the front counter. Less than a few seconds later, he moved toward the door noticed the doormat and bent down to feel the texture. Finally, he walked up to the customers and stared sheepishly at them. All the customers smiled back at him and me. “How old is he?” the tall gentleman asked me. I answered him and he replied with, “These are the best time of your life…haha…you are just a busy little fellow aren’t you.” He continued genteelly smile at us. When our order was completed, he held the door and told me in a jovial tone, “Now you have fun with that little one and take care!”
This exchange lasted 5 minutes—maybe 6 or 7 if I was truly timing it. Yet, I am still thinking about this wondrous encounter nearly a day later. Why? Aside from that fact that this event occurred on a Wednesday, I cannot provide a definite answer at this time. I did feel a movement of the Holy Spirit at the pizzeria.
Is there nothing more typically American, and normal, than a father picking up pizza for his family during the middle of a hectic week? 😊🍕
The Holy Spirit Works is Mysterious and Delicious Ways
I did not have high expectations, or really any expectations at all, nor did I thought I would acquire anything else from my errand to the local pizzeria besides delicious pepperoni and cheese pizza. Will I meet this kind and cheerful middle-aged man or the other customers ever again in this life? Does he even realize the positive spark he provided me? I may never discover the answer to those questions.
What I think it important to share with this experience is that any event is a chance to rendezvous with the love of the Holy Spirit— a playful, whimsical, powerful, and awe-filled love. I usually see God’s love being experienced in either the lows or highs of my life. Is it possible that God wanted me to experience His profound love in a plainer, simpler way this Wednesday—through the plains and levelness of daily ordinary life?
-All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.