The Curious Case for St. Thorlak’s Patron Sainthood

St. Thorlak

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my oldest son was diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum a couple years ago. This journey toward an answer to helping our son has been filled with both joys and struggles. One of the fruits of this process is my wife has discovered her calling as a special education teacher. Another benefit of her knowledge is that it helps my cousin who is experiencing similar trials as my son. Recently, my mom was doing research on saints who assist with people on the autism spectrum. She came across St. Thorlak who is currently being considered as a patron saint for people with autism spectrum disorder.

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Born in 1133 A.D. Thorlak received the sacrament of Holy Orders at a young age. He was ordained a deacon at age 15 and became a priest when he was 18 years old! Eventually founding a monastery based on the rule of St. Augustine, Thorlak lived a monastic way of life for a several years. Thorlak was ordained a bishop of the Icelandic diocese of Skalholt. He continued to carry out the reforms instituted by Pope Gregory VII. St. Thorlak die in 1193 at the age of 60.

Relatively little information is known about Thorlak compared to other Catholic saints, such as Augustine, John Paul II, Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, etc. Despite this, my review of the website that is championing his cause for patron sainthood provides some insight as to how Thorlak could be a relieving guide in both my son’s life and our family in general.

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Rigidity in manner

Being unbending in his moral expectations, St. Thorlak demonstrates a parallel to children with autism that commonly sees the world in terms of black/white dichotomy. My son for example, is a “rules kid” and will follow our household law to the letter.

Failure to Initiate or Reply to Social Interactions

According to http://mission-of-saint-thorlak.weebly.com/patron-of-asd.html, the Icelandic saint said little during the discernment process for him to become bishop.  St. Thorlak displayed reticence in social situations as well. Many times children with autism spectrum disorder are non-verbal when it comes to communication.

Ritualized routine

Although a lot of Catholic tradition relies on daily routine, St. Thorlak adhered to a strict routine of fasting and prayer—especially in his time of founding and living in the monastic community. Similarly, my son thrives on a strict and regular routine.

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To be clear asking saints for help is not an easy solution to daily turmoil that medicine or therapy fails to soothe. Rather, I look to saints for guidance and relief for my personal trials or family strife. In regards to St. Thorlak, I believe based on the information I learned about his life that he would be a great role model for my son to look to when it comes to the challenges a child with autism faces on a daily basis. I found this concise prayer [see below] that I printed off and taped to my car dashboard to prayer on my morning commute to work. I am grateful for the witness of St. Thorlak and I hope his life gives insight, joy, and relief to individuals and families of those with autism spectrum disorder!

“Holy Thorlak,

Cut with the scythe of your workings

the thorns casting shadows

in my unclear mind!”

Related Links

https://www.mission-of-saint-thorlak.com/patron-of-asd.html

http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/THORLAK.htm

 

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Toddlers: An Adorable Trace of the Trinity!

Toddlers playing

Note: This was originally posted in 2015. My family has since grown and we have been blessed with four beautiful children: Noah Matthew, Amelia Bernadette, Josiah Fabian, and Avila Catherine Geraldine!


We are nearing the Solemnity of Trinity [my favorite feast day in the Church’s liturgical year]. Instead of talking about shamrocks to explain this wonderful mystery of our faith I am going to use my kids as a way the Trinity is present in my life. In fact generally speaking many early Church Fathers spoke of the family as a “mirror of the Trinitarian life”. The love between the Father and Son is so great that a third person [the Holy Spirit] proceeded from that love. So too, the love shared between the husband and wife in the marital act transmits a person(s).

Fruits of Marriage (and the Holy Spirit!)

Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Keeping on this example that the family is a shadow of the Trinity I will focus exclusively on the gifts that children can provide the parents to grow in holiness, because the point of any sacrament is to manifest God’s grace and to help people grow in holiness. Now, I am very grateful that God has sent me three advocates (my wife and children: Noah and Amelia). Because I am a fallen sinful man, I am prideful and often lack patience. I also suffer from greed, anger, and am a control freak! But God in his infinite mercy and wisdom sent me my family to help whittle away at those sins and build up virtues.

A concrete example is in order to further illustrate my point: even as I am writing this post I am interrupted by Amelia as she is having an irritable night’s sleep. Note: Anyone who has children knows that this situation is not unique to me! 🙂

Receiving the Gift of Patience

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Many days are a struggle for my wife and I as we try to pacify our son’s meltdown situations in a calm and loving way. It took two years for my son to sleep through the night without waking up. AND I AM GRATEFUL FOR THAT EXPERIENCE! Why you may ask? It is because I have grown immensely in the virtue of patience.

I tend to think of the sacraments as divine weapons that Jesus gives the Catholic Church to ward off the devil and his temptations.  If I view my children’s meltdowns with the eyes of faith I will see them as opportunities. Opportunities to grow in holiness. Their tantrums will act as a theological sandblaster smoothing out my rough edges and  polishing me in the virtue of patience.

A fruit of the sacrament of marriage is children. The family life is a great arena by which a sinful man like me may be tested and tried daily. Such testing will hopefully result in an increase in holiness. I think of my children as the best gift that our Trinitarian God has given me personally to grow in virtue daily.

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Rocks, Monkey Socks, and Toy Cars—Joy Found on a Summer Morning!

Simple Joys

“I love the simple things in life. They tend to get overlooked.” This anonymous quote captured the entire theme of a morning at my home last week. Waking up early, my children itched for an opportunity to play outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun before the humidity set in.  Almost immediately, they rushed to the edges of my backyard to collect and play with rocks.

My son and daughter definitely received their geological glee from me—for a period I seriously considered majoring in geology! Noticing the different colors, sizes, textures, and hardness of the stones captivate their attention. If left to their own devices my oldest children would remain outside for hours and bring inside cartons of rocks.

Joy of a child

Joy of a Child

Along with my children’s joyful “jewel” collecting, their imagination was in full force as well. Albert Einstein once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I most certainly need to pay more attention to my kids’ imaginative play as my thirst for knowledge has been stymieing my joy lately. The creative juices flowed greatly in the mind of my daughter. “Look dad!” she exclaimed, “Look at this. Taken aback at what I saw I asked, “What are you doing?” Proudly she exclaimed, “I am a monkey! Look at my monkey-socks!” Covering her feet were a pair of garden gloves I bought for her at the local home improvement store. Immediately, a grin spread across my face. Next, I just laughed—not a forced chuckle, but a natural, healthy and joyful guffaw!

Treasuring Toy Cars

Toys Cars

The final thing that brought joy to me that summer morn was my youngest son’s continual love and obsession over his toy cars. Being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in late 2017, we discovered that his obsession and impulsive playing with toy cars is part of what makes him unique. Carrying a plastic vehicle at all the time provides him relief amidst daily stresses of toddler life and living with rambunctious siblings. No less than a couple hundred times do we hear our two-year old say, “A car, a toy car! Look a car!” His enthusiasm and unbridled joy at the simplicity of a toy car reminds me of a spectacular point G.K. Chesterton made in his masterpiece Orthodoxy. He stated,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  

Joy of Daily Work

Meaningful Work

Repetition, work, and habits do not infringe on our ability to grow. On the contrary, finding joy in the simple matters of life and completing “monotonous” tasks regularly with joy instill true life in us. Days where I focus on my vocation as a husband and father with love are the days where my vocation does not turn into drudgery. The same is true when it comes to my daily work.

My dad displays this simplicity and adherence to his vocation as husband and father in an exceptional way. Rarely, did I hear him complain about his family duties. Weariness of parenting did not seen to wear on his face—at least from what I remember! In terms of spiritually living, my father is “younger” than myself in the sense that his obedience and joy in his vocation is anchored in the Pre-Existent God more deeply than my spiritual life is at currently!

I will leave you today with a few simple and profound quotes that I hope with awaken or sustain your spiritual life. I hope you discover the simple joy that children seem to naturally possess.


“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

As St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.” —C.S. Lewis

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” —Greg Anderson, American author

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How the Unchanged One Changed Me

“Everything changes and nothing stands still,” the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once claimed. I first heard these words as a sophomore in college during an Intro to Philosophy class. Years later, this truth resurfaced under the guise of different words in a response to a question I posed to my interviewing manager for the job I am at today. I asked, “What is the single greatest piece of advice you have been given to succeed at this company?” The interviewer paused and pensively stated, “Be prepared to deal with change and learn to embrace change!”

Is Change Good?

Ever since that 2015 summer afternoon I have frequently pondered the meaning of these words and what exactly they mean for other aspects of my life. Today I want to share my experiences and knowledge that I have learned about the importance changing for the better meant, and still means, for my daily life.

Malachi 3:6

In the post Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer? I talked about how I am on the autism spectrum. Change always posed a challenge to me. Growing up as a cradle Catholic I benefited from the guidelines of the Catholic Church teachings through which I developed a black/white dichotomous view of morality. Either you are holy or you are not. That was my though process and my coping mechanism to reconcile differences I noticed in the world.

Suffering Transforms

Not until suffering found me on a personal level did my judgmental and simple morality start to transform. Losing my job and suffering a nightmarish miscarriage led me to the end of my rope. Left with nothing in the aftermath of this change-filled maelstrom I turned to God.

To be frank, I did not feel His presence at all but through the urging of my mom and wife I went to Eucharistic adoration on a weekly basis. Here I sought out the Unchanged One for stability and support.

Fast forward to the present and I am more at peace and learning to realize the importance of changing my mindset from negative to positive. My son’s official autism diagnosis in 2016 helped provide some clarity for my situation as well. I am not defined by my inherent inner struggle with change. Although I have moved toward the right direction I still have a long ways to go in embracing change on a daily basis.

Encountering God as the Unchanged One through Eucharistic adoration and through Matt Maher’s song Deliverer gave me hope and perspective to change for the better. I learned that suffering is redemptive and clinging to the Unchanged One changes a person. I am not the same person that I was in 2015. The Unchanged One transformed me!

Eucharistic Adoration

If you are struggling with life’s changes in little and grand ways please consider relying on the Unchanged One to transform you. If I could go back in time, I would tell Heraclitus that he was half-right. I would change to his maxim “Everything changes and nothing stands still” to “Everything changes and nothing stands still. Only meeting the Unchanged One and standing still in His presence will let us authentically change.”

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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!

Thank you for sharing!