Preparation [for the King] is King

Blustery winds, icy streets, and bustle of the holiday happenings form the recipe for the perfect storm. The best way to combat the crazy I discovered is through preparation for the storm. Recently my family’s home-life has been strained: my wife’s workload keeps getting increased, my job assignments, and testing this month for our two-year old as he gets re-evaluated to see if he would qualify for early childhood special education services still. The crazy keep hitting us before my mind is able to register the previous crazy event or antic that hit me.

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Finding fleeting moments, but still at least some MOMENTS of reprieve as I drive to and from work—after dropping off the kids off at daycare and school of course!—I prepare for the list of all of things or chores, writing topics I hope to write about, and our family’s schedule. Listening to Christian music in the radio, the song What Child is This? came on over the airwaves. No matter the setting that I hear this hymn, I always get choked up—most especially during the refrain:

This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Specifically, the words haste stands out for me. Synonyms for haste include: swiftness, rapidity, acceleration, and quickness. I always find it intriguing to talk of birth of Jesus in this hustle and bustle manner. Really, I should not find that too fascinating as expectancy and preparation for the Son of God is a common theme throughout the Bible. Among the more famous Old Testament examples common from Isaiah 7:14, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign;* the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.” Over centuries and centuries God gathered a people together under the nation of Israel and promised the birth of a Savior to reunite humanity with God. While preparation takes a long time and patience, it is essential to combat the storms one encounters in life. No greater preparation exists than preparing your soul to receive the King of Kings.

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1. Daily Drudgery: A primary side effect of the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 included pain and toil in daily living. Just because something is painful and boring, or in the case of many jobs, painfully boring, it should not be avoided. Instead, good, authentic, and true work brings a sort of dignity and fulfillment in humanity. According to St. John Paul II in Laborem Exercens, Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being” (no. 9).

2. Constant Constancy: Work turns into daily drudgery when not viewed as an opportunity to growth in virtue and love of neighbor. St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, says it best, “You cannot forget that any worthy, noble and honest work at the human level can — and should! — be raised to the supernatural level, becoming a divine task” (The Forge, no. 687). The only way for this to occur is continual reliance on God. Ask the Holy Spirit for the graces to sustain you in the tough times and the stamina to prepare for the less tough times. As an adopted child of God through the sacrament of Baptism, I too often forget the gifts at my disposal from my Divine Father. I need only to graciously ask for help on the way of my day.

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American Christian televangelist Robert Schuller, declared, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” Preparation goes unnoticed. All the behind the scenes work do not receive any accolades. Oftentimes, the mundane and dryness of preparation for the storms of life wear us down. I pray you may have the patience, fortitude, and mettle to weather the changing tides of life. The most important duty is to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings. Make the most of the reminder of this Advent season to kindle the flame of expectation for Jesus Christ!


“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”— Luke 21:36

3 Reasons Busyness is Never an Excuse to Stop Praying

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At 7:47 A.M. I pulled into the school parking lot, in a frenzied state I threw off my seat belt, leaped out of the car, and continued to hurry my children out of the vehicle towards the school entrance. “Come on, come on! Hurry now!” I exclaim to my dawdling four year-old daughter. After getting her and my oldest son to their classroom with backpacks and winter clothing hung-up, I quickly walked down the corridor towards my car. It was now 7:53 A.M. when I restarted my car to drive to work.  Speeding down the highway I weaved around the bustle of traffic. I arrived at my employer’s parking lot at 8:20 A.M., but my journey is not quite complete—I still needed to transverse the long employee lot and cross the street before entering the building. Time seemed to be running out on me…

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If the above paragraph caused slight exhaustion, you are not alone. I want to point out that the busyness of life—especially in the morning seems to haunt me on a daily basis. This hurried existence appears to be inescapable, at least in my foreseeable future. On top of the daily morning grind, we took my youngest son into urgent care again. The doctor gave me news that brought tears to my wife and elicited a stoic response in myself, “He tested positive for influenza type A.” Life is beating us down—not just figuratively, but literally! Sleep deprivation is overtaking both my wife and I, my oldest son is running a fever, and my daughter refuses to go to bed on time–as usual! Taking a snapshot of my life now does not promote much hope on the horizon. Suddenly I came across an appropriate quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori that provided a bit of easement to my situation. According to the great doctor of the Church,

Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him. 

Prayer should be a constant for the Christian, especially during the Lenten season. Sadly, I allowed the busyness of life to be an excuse to develop my relationship with God. After reflecting on St. Alphonsus’ words I discovered three reasons why the rat race of life is a terrible excuse to delay communication with the Author of Creation.

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  1. Little Opportunities: Blessed Paul VI states in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio, “If you have lost the taste for prayer, you will regain the desire for it by returning humbly to its practice.” This seems like a paradoxically statement. How can you gain something you lost by returning to it. Herein lies the secret power of prayer, it is not something contingent or limited whereby a cap is placed on its source. Prayer is communication–a two-way communication– with the Divine, God who is eternal and everlasting.

What helped me gain back reliance on prayer is taking advantage of little opportunities throughout the day to insert a petition for God’s assistance or a prayer of thanksgiving for a simple joy in my life. Dialoguing with God while waiting at a stoplight or praying a decade of the Rosary as I rock my son to sleep allowed for me to slowly (real slowly, as I am still improving!) to develop my prayer life.

 

  1. Prayer Sustains Hope: Oftentimes in the great shuffle and strife of daily living hopelessness and despair become implanted in my heart. Watered by the false notion that activity of the world sustains hope the fruit of fear and doubt arise. Filling my day with a billion activities–checking of social media sites for notifications, following new bloggers, or constant publication on my WordPress account does not bring lasting hope. Slowing down–even if it is simply one notch– allows for God to enter into my heart through prayer. I am reminded of the wisdom of  Saint Charles Borromeo who said, “God wishes us not to rest upon anything but His infinite goodness; do not let us expect anything, hope anything, or desire anything but from Him, and let us put our trust and confidence in Him alone.”
    True hope is grown–and sustained– through prayer.

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  1. Parable of the Talents: The third example of why busyness should never be an excuse to cease praying may seem like it is coming out of left field. Please hear out my thought process. The idea of this post actually came to me during my hurried car drive to work this morning. Immediately, I thought of Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30. I associate most with the worker with the single talent.  Instead of investing his God-given talent to grow it, that worker miserly held onto it out of fear. Sometimes I fear failure amid the bustle of the work day so I fail to step out in faith to rely on my God-given abilities to grow my confidence and to share my gifts to bring others to Christ.

However, this morning I stalled that mindset by asking God for assistance to help in during the onslaught of the rushed work day and busyness at home. Through the power of prayer, God provided me the gifts of patience and gratitude to finish out this busy day on a positive note!

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“Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you.” Listening to the wisdom of St. Alphonsus reinvigorated my spirit–instead of being worn down by the busyness of the day I looked forward to the opportunity to rely on God for comfort when life challenged me. I  pray for continual strength to withstand the storm of busyness– and I pray you may find strength and perseverance in the Lord during the hectic parts of your life as well.

Ruminations of a Simple Catholic

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This week Satan sent a slew of his tricks and attacks to get me to stumble and lose ground in my spiritual journey. Combining sick young children with the possibility of despair at the loss of my grandfather, and icy tempests of Midwest winter weather seemed like a perfect recipe for chaos to brew and bubble forth into my family’s life.

Over the course of my life, I discovered that the Devil enjoys wearing me down with a combined assault of disparaging events and situations. God’s consoling Love appears distant or completely absent altogether during such periods. The great mystic doctor of the Church St. John if the Cross refers to such times as a Dark Night.

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In the first chapter of his spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul, the Spanish saint compares The grace of God to the love of a mother to a child. During our early stages of being a child of God, we experience consoling graces to feed our spiritual growth– akin to a Mother breastfeeding an infant. As we progress in the spiritual life, God allows us to grow by limiting the consoling graces that originally aided us. St. John of the Cross tells us,

It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitively converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God…(Dark Night of the Soul, 4).

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Constantly challenged by whiny requests from my sick children, I struggled at the beginning of this week to act with patience and grace of a loving father. The good news is that God granted me several days [opportunities] to renew my commitment of selflessness that I promised on my wedding day and reaffirmed by being open to becoming a parent.

Prayer and the hope of the Sacrament of Confession provided stability to my feeble will over the course of this week. I started praying a decade of the rosary as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. Inserting that brief time of prayer instead of surfing social media on my iPhone helped bring back perspective to my day. I am a family man and need to lead by example. The sins of sloth and despair gained a foothold in my spiritual life earlier this week. Asking the Blessed Virgin and humbling confessing my shortcomings by week’s end provide shield against those sins.

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Communication with God and humbly asking for forgiveness will renew my commitment to being the best possible husband and father I am called to be! I am thankful God granted me a period of reprieve during my children’s afternoon nap to ruminate on the state of my spiritual life and to help me game plan for next week. I ask for continued strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit as I continue on my pilgrim pursuit of a joyous life.

How St. Josemaria Escriva Saved Me from Being a Workaholic

According to a recent Gallup study, the average American adult employed full-time reported to work an average of 47 hours a week. While I attended college and before I had children, I worked 60 or more hours a week for months on end. The United States is sort of an outlier when it comes to finding a work/life balance. Even though I no longer log the insane amount of hours, I still struggle with finding time to relax and separating work from home life. This battle seemed futile until I stumbled upon the writings and witness of a Spanish priest—St. Josemaria Escriva! I am not entirely sure how I came across this gem of a saint, but his writing provides such practical wisdom that I am going to request for some of his books as gifts this Christmas [my local library did not have any of his works L] Today, I want to share three practical tips I learned from Fr. Escriva’s The Way that saved me from being a workaholic.

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  1. Perspective is Key: Josemaria mentions the need to broaden our perspective in the first chapter. “Get rid of that ‘small-town’ outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, ‘catholic’,” he says. Lately, I struggled with having a narrow gaze when it comes to my job. I see things from my perspective alone. I resist the Holy Spirit’s promptings in daily events whereby I am given chances to widen my limited purview. For example, my manager challenges me to think beyond my cubicle walls. I need to daily heed the Spanish saint’s wisdom.

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  1. Pardon my Excuses?!: Along with possessing a narrow outlook I tend to fight constant urges to make up excuses for my failings. “The computer system was slow”; “No one told me the new update”; “Things are too busy”: these are just some of the various excuses I tell myself throughout the week. According to Father Escriva, “Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won’t offend God.”

Perhaps such excuses may be admissible, but I need to be cognizant of my tone and frequency of complaints. “Let those very obstacles give you strength. God’s grace will not fail you,” St. Josemaria states. Stumbling blocks need not be hindrances. Maybe the apparent blocks in my path are actually building blocks for my character. Relying on Jesus as my cornerstone, I will be able to pick up the stumbling blocks [i.e. excuses] and use them to build up the kingdom of God!

  1. Work with Character and Substance: A third major theme within the initial chapter of The Way focuses on developing your character through work. St. Josemaria deliberately states, “Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character’. It’s your lack of character: Be a man [or woman].” In other words, do not allow your past and your genetics define your being.

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I am guilty as anyone when it comes to blaming my woes and defects on my chemistry make-up.  I tell my wife whenever I say something stupid or fail to listen to her needs, “This is who I am at my core! I struggle with focusing because of my ADHD diagnosis” Father Escriva’s states in the next line, “Get used to saying No. Turn your back on the tempter when he whispers in your ear: ‘Why make life difficult for yourself?’”  Character is built on resisting the Tempter. I need to work on refusing to fall into the sins of gluttony and sloth [daily I fight the urge to eat fast food and lack motivation to play with my children after work].

Canonized on October 6, 2002, St. Josemaria Escriva is a perfect role model for people living in the 21st century. The bustle of life is only going to increase, especially in an age of instant communication via social media and the internet! The Spanish saint provides a humble witness as to how to incorporate God into my work through real, tangible, and practical means.

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O God, through the mediation of Mar y our

Mother, you granted your priest St. Josemaría countless

graces, choosing him as a most faithful instrument

to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in

daily work and in the fulfillment of the Christian’s

ordinary duties. Grant that I too may learn to turn all

the circumstances and events of my life into occasions

of loving You and serving the Church, the Pope

and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the

pathways of this earth with faith and love.

Deign to grant me, through the intercession of St.

Josemaría, the favor of … (make your request). Amen.