An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Life

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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.

The hobbit book

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.

St. Matthew

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).

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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…

spiritual path

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

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3 Incredibly Simple Tactics Guaranteed to Defeat Stress Daily

“Ow, ow. My pants are wet! My pants are wet!” I woke up to this sound of my three year old crying in the basement. Remembering the constant thunder and lightning that boomed and flashed throughout the night, I jumped up and rushed down the stairs. Immediately, my fears were confirmed. Water. Pouring. Through. The. Window.

 

I wish I was more composed initially. I want to say I remained calm and did not curse. Sadly, that is not true. Frustration seared through my veins. I quickly brought my son upstairs and had my wife attend to him. Next, I zoomed outside to start vacuuming up the raising water with the wet-dry vacuum. A full moon +a teething baby +flash flood= a bad start to the day!

According to author Margaret J. Wheatley, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way.” If I did not reflection on my situation, I would have meandered aimlessly for the rest of the day. I want to share three incredibly simple words to remember when stress slams you down.

Pause

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Stop. Wait. Halt. Either way you describe it does not matter. Just make sure you pause. Stressful situations keep us moving and moving. Faster and faster until our emotions blow up! Pausing to stop the seething sea of stress coursing through my body and mind definitely helped. I took a short break to compose myself.

Perspective

The second key word to think about during stressful times is perspective. According to American psychologist William James, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Perspective allows us to pick a different thought over the

negative ones that flood your mind during stressful times. The natural result from pausing during a stressful situation is the ability to develop a perspective. Perspective actually derives from the Latin perspectus meaning “of sight, optical” or perspectiva, “science of optics.”

Perspective

Perspective also relates to being able to view things from a different point of view. Setting a moment or even a couple minutes of time aside to take a break or simply closing your eyes to reset your mind helps in developing perspective. For instance, I started to develop negativity at work today. When I sensed negativity gnawing at me, I left my desk and took a short bathroom and water break. That small break gave me the opportunity to reset my attitude—shifting my perspective.

Plan

The third simple word to remember to help overcome stressful situations is plan. Unlike pausing and taking time for changing your perspective, planning does not always occur instantly or at the same time anxiety hits you. Pause and perspective are offensive tactics to fight stress. Planning is more of a long-term and defensive in nature.

Be Flexible with Plan

Planning takes time  a bit on effort on your part. There is no one size fits all shield of a plan to combat anxiety. I am reminded of Captain Cold’s quip in the CW’s The Flash, “Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan!” Now obvious you cannot through away every plan— that would defeat the purpose of this third tactic against stress. The parka clothed anti-hero words do point to the importance of being flexible and having a backup plan in case Plans A or B fail. Here is an article https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/04/10/7-ways-to-shield-yourself-against-anxiety/ on a variety of effective safeguards to ward off stress.

Pause. Perspective. Plan. Two weapons and a guard to battle anxiety. While these are incredibly simple tools you need to utilize these daily. Life does not take a day off. Neither can you! I guarantee that if you consistently use these tactics your mentality will change. You will gain more stamina to stave off negativity. You will be more hopeful, confident, and grateful. I hope you found value in this article. If you have any additional thoughts, tips, or tactics to battle stress please share in the comments section!

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Fixing Our Gaze on Golgotha

Jesus on the Cross

A Prayer Before the Cross

Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today. In keeping with the words of the great Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Sienna, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.

While my sins wound me and damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity, I petition for intercession from the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze from the gutters of the troubles of my life to gaze upward to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.

Focus on God

Mary Intercede for Us

I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.

Mary at Foot of Cross

Despite the failings, trials, and doubts that surround us, be assured that peace and joy can be found in uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times

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3 Reasons Humility is Practical and Reliable

Opening my email inbox I noticed a correspondence from a resume-building website titled Your Resume Review is Complete. Quickly, I clicked on the email to see how I compared to other job seekers. Needless to say, my feedback shows that I have much room for improvement. My initial reaction to the review included feelings of dejection, inadequacies, and defeat. On top of these negative feelings my toddler son began a 10 minute tantrum. “Today is going to be one of those days,” I thought.

Author Erwin McManus wrote, “Attitude is an accurate monitor of where we fall on the spectrum of pride and humility.” Normally, my virtue-vice needle points closer to the pride side. Today was different though. Although my natural reaction tended toward despair which is a product of pride, that soon dissipated towards a desire to learn and improve on my resume — I realized I’m not the smartest when it comes to professional resume building!cs lewis humility

According to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” The old me would tend toward despair with any type of constructive criticism. My primary focus has been to improve my spiritual life– I need to limit my impatience, pride, and anger when things get outside of my control. Reading St. Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosaryenhanced my devotion to Mary. Aside from Jesus, no other person exhibits humility as much as the Queen of Humility. Along with spiritual benefits of humility this virtue provides practicality and reliability to daily life.

Time-saver

Ralph Waldo Emerson plainly wrote, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” The times I most often get angry is when something does not go MY way. Whenever I have the prideful audacity to believe that I am in 100% total and utter control of my day is usually the day that nothing I want gets done. Humility is the antidote to pride. Patience is also a cousin of the virtue of humility. During the more stressful parts of parenting, I noticed that whenever I exercise patience I actually end up saving time in the long-run.

Improves relationships

Along with saving time, the virtue of humility helps and strengthens relationships. One does not need to look far to see how the virtue of humility helps. The department for the company that I work for holds a monthly meeting to detail the progress over the past 30 days. Together with the business achievements, managers recognize employers who excelled that particular month. Without exception, the workers who receive Team Member of the Month have been dutiful and humbly going about their work without the promise for recognize. Such individuals have strong relationships with their peers.

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Not only does the virtue of humility apply to healthy and successful profession relationship, but it is essential for family life as well. St. Teresa of Avila declared, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” All the books on marriage preparation or counseling will strengthen your marriage as much as your willingness to humble yourself before your spouse. St. Paul details the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. While he does not specifically use the word humility it is clear that exercising that virtue will only benefit spouses.

Buoy during Life’s Storms

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Together with helping you move on from stressful situations easier and fostering relationships, the virtue of humility acts as a benevolent beacon to guide you through all of life’s storms. A common reaction toward the pressures, woes, and calamities of life is to flee. Developing the strength to withstand the maelstroms of misery takes time and patience. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote, “Humility is the foundation of all virtues.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux recognized the importance of humility as well as he famously declared, “The three most important virtues are humility, humility, and humility!”

From my own experience the instances where I weathered the storms best occurred whenever my wife and I were both on the same page–sharing the same goal and purpose. Through humbling myself to recognize the merits of her insight was I able to lift her up [and she lifted up me] during the tumultuous times.

No matter what stage or circumstance you are at in life the virtue of humility will always be reliable and practical–on a daily basis! A trusted resource I use whenever the tentacles of pride try to take over my life is the Litany of Humility. Be prepared for this powerful prayer to change your life!


Prayer of 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…

Thank you for sharing!

7 Ways to Shield Yourself against Anxiety!

Captain America Shield

Every day we have a choice. We either give into the pressures of daily living or to crumble upon the weight of stress. The constant flux of life makes stress inevitable. Despite, the fact that stress will always surround me in some way, shape, or form I should not despair. Instead, I have learned to shield myself against the pressures of this world and the snares the Devil lays out to try to entrapment. Here are seven ways to arm you against anxiety:

***NOTE: These are only suggestions. Some of the strategies may not be applicable to your situation at this time in your life. Please use these shields against anxiety as it suits your needs/situation.***

Prayer

1 Peter 5:7 states, “Cast all your worries upon Him because he cares for you.” The Holy Spirit truly does work in mysterious ways. I am currently in a training class for my new position and the title of the session is A.R.E. in the Workplace. Perhaps it was a coincidence; I rather see it as perfect divine timing. Prayer is communication with the Divine Creator of the Entire Universe. It involves a dialogue not a monologue. Much of my spiritual journey had me focus on my end of communication—asking God for my wants. I did not always listen. Something I have done to open communication is to be more deliberate in my gratitude.

michael scott tears of joy

Music

 Along with prayer, song safeguards me from anxiety. I used to listen to rock music; however, four years ago I made a shift in the type of music that played in my car. Because the words we hear impact our daily living, my shift to living to positive and uplifting Christian music protects me from the chaos life throws my way.

Counseling

 Together with prayer and encouraging music, monthly counseling appointment defends myself from the foray caused by the foibles of myself and my fellow neighbors. Counselor is a title given to the Holy Spirit as well. Between my professional counseling sessions, I can rely on the aid of the Holy Spirit to console me against daily anxiety.

Reading

 A fourth shield in my armory against anxiety is frequent reading of good books. According to Frederick Douglas, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” While this quote is not necessarily an absolute truth, I will attest to that reading can be a doorway to freedom. As I journey into the literary universes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a couple of my favorite authors, I am afforded respite from the toils of work. Through the written word I am also able to travel—in a sense – back in time to meet holy men and women and learn about they existed in a world that was not their home.

2 Timothy 4:7

Exercise

St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 provided a timeless example of the spiritual life, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” I joined cross country in high school and my passion for running continues today. During a stressful week I defend myself from the snares of anxiety by taking my children out in the jogging stroller for a short run. During my neighbor circuits, I was able to reflect on how my day went and how I may be able to improve on my shortcomings.

Medicine

Anxiety medicine does not work for anyone so feel free to disregard this point. However, pharmaceuticals for stress help me to limit the anxieties I impose on myself. Consistent usage of doctor prescribed anxiety medication is beneficial to my unique situation. It took me a long time to acknowledge that outside help was necessary to relief intense stress.

Sacraments

God loves humanity so much that he implemented a support system for his adopted children to utilize to shield against the prowess of the Devil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1436,

Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. “It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.35

The Holy Spirit absolves me of my sins when I have an authentic contrition. Along with forgiveness, I receive grace to stave off future temptations. When I face despair and doubt in Divine Providence often the sacrament of Confession is the only thing that bring me back to the life of faith!

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Whether I am in the shadows of a desolation or experiencing consolation, I found these seven shields an effective defense against the constant assault of anxiety. I will continue to fight the good fight to become the best version of myself and not succumb to impatience, anger, or doubt. I pray that you take up this challenge daily as well!

Thank you for sharing!

Tsunami of Tiredness—Tips to Stay Afloat During Storms of Life

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Both a blessing and a curse, water exists as a life-giving resource or a potential deadly force—in the form of floods, monsoons, and hurricanes. The universality of hydrogen dioxide always is a great example to compare the stresses and storms of life against. Summer vacation does not always seem like a retreat especially as a father of three young children. Over the past week, my family traveled to a local state park and camped in a cabin, visited our municipal zoo, and went to a children’s museum. While on paper that seems a recipe for a smooth, carefree, and memorable family experience, the reality with having children with special needs do not necessarily match this ideal.

Power Struggles

The power-struggle of putting our four-year old toddler to bed each night combined with daily challenges adapting to two sons on the autism spectrum needs to be frequently prepared for change led to lassitude. Mere fatigue does not adequately capture my wife and I’s emotional, physical, and mental state. In fact, my energy was zapped from me and it felt like we withstood—ONLY by a great miracle—a tsunami of tiredness!

Precisely how did I live through the most recent storm of life?  Reflecting on the course of the past week, I realized some important ways to survive, or stay afloat, maelstroms of life.

Lord is my rock and refuge

The Rock We May Cling To

According to Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Old Testament also speaks of entrusting your concerns, weariness, and anxieties with the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 describes this, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Moreover, the Psalmist describes God as a bastion to remain safe: “But the LORD is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide” (Psalm 94:22).

What I find interesting is the description of God as a mighty rock as a place for us to hide. Amid stressful situations it may seem like a copout to go into hiding while the storm passes. However, hiding is not the same as fleeing.

As a parent, I go into brief periods of hiding [into another room or even outside] when the noise, raucous, and whining of my children compound on each other. Taking a five minute break in the form of “hiding” into another room or at least seeking “hiding” through prayer is actually a healthy thing that makes the difference to me parental mindset. Frankly, I need to utilize opportunities to “hide” or cling to the rock of Our Lord much more often that I do currently!

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Mary—Model to Mirror

Along with the stalwart strength God affords us during the stormy seas of life, looking to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a role model to emulate is another way that I stay afloat during bouts of exhaustion. My family’s favorite appellation for Mary is Star of the Sea. In fact, through this devotion of Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] that my wife’s faith as. Convert to Catholicism deepened!

A nautical theme exists in our living room and bedroom with the walls decorated with anchors. These aquatic ballasts symbolize the ability to be anchored in the Lord and experience security continual turmoil of daily stresses. As the supreme role model for humanity, the Blessed Mother of God shows us that obedience to God is possible.

Guided back to Shore

My personal favorite quote about Mary’s guidance comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the Doctor of the Church, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary” Another sainted doctor, Francis de Sales, provides incredibly powerful words to describe Mary’s intercessory influence, “Let us run to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”

ron swanson ready

Ready, Set, and Prepare for the Next Storm

Together with reliance on God and looking to Mary as a human role model, being prepared is absolutely essential for withstanding a current maelstrom you may be experiencing and for weathering future flurries.  According to St. Josemaria Escriva, “Discouragement is the enemy of your perseverance. If you don’t fight against discouragement, you will become pessimistic first and lukewarm afterward. Be an optimist (The Way, no. 988

Prepare yourself with seeing trials that come into your life as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of being a burden drown you in a sea of depression. I honestly did not realize that the Spanish saint’s feast day was today until I noticed a post from in a Catholic group I follow on Facebook.

Even as I am writing now I struggle with physical stamina and mental mettle to complete this post. Suddenly, looking at an underlined passage that begins the chapter entitled Perseverance—I pause and realize that preparation does pay off! St. Josemaria reminded me, “To begin is for everyone, to persevere is for saints” (The Way, no. 983).

Without God’s previous preparation and my cooperation in that through my learning about the wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva, there conclusion to this post would be a little rocky [no pun intended!]. I am always willing to seek the advice of the spiritual giants who came before me. I always desire to seek an opportunity to better myself.

Go Out to Sea of the World with God’s Grace

While I failed to exit the most recent life-storm unscathed and with grace  [both my wife and kids know that I lost my patience many times and pledge to be a better husband and father], my  reliance on God as a rock of strength, Mary as a guide, and the rest of the saints as models to emulate I will be better provided to stay afloat with the next  tsunami of tiredness hits. I pray that you find this read helpful and stay afloat with me using these tips during your storm(s) of life as well!

Staying-Afloat

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