Editor’s note: Article originally published on April 11, 2017.
I mentioned this analogy a few weeks ago when referring to the spiritual life, but I like the tangibility of it so I will mention it again. Saint Teresa of Avila likened the soul and its journey in the spiritual life to the navigation through a large a castle whereby our soul consists of several mansions. When I talked about this image with my parish’s discipleship group, I half-joked that I not only have mansions I need to order but also lots of “cellars of my soul” I need to examine and clean out.
Save the Best Wine
On a serious note, I firmly believe there are many cellars within my soul I need to discover and maintain. A common definition of cellar means “of the lowest rank or grade”. Another usage of the word cellar is in relation to place where wine is stored. I have never actually lived in or owned a home with a cellar. However, I have tasted wine and I have experienced years where my favorite sports team resided in the cellar of the league standings.
Inside the Cellar
Going back to the image of our Christian spiritual life as exploring the recesses of our interior castle, I have pondered how I might be able to reach the depths of my soul. I think one practical way for me to start this journey is to begin working with a spiritual director. According to St. John of the Cross, a director [spiritual] should be learned, prudent, and experienced.
Try as I might, I have yet to get past a certain threshold in my spiritual life. I am hoping that by adding a spiritual director and going on a silent retreat later this year that I will be graced with the help to access my spiritual wine cellar. Here I hope to share my spiritual gifts with others and give greater thanksgiving to God. But first, I need send that simple email. I will keep you updated on my journey through future posts. I humbly ask for your prayers as I begin this journey to explore the cellars of my soul.
These past few months have been frustrating, annoying, difficult, and bat-*** crazy (no pun intended), but I need to remind myself that not everything was bad.
My kids do listen. I need to exercise more patience. The good news we get a chance to take the test again the next day.
I will be keeping this memory for the rest of my life. 👇
Jenny: “Noah, what day do you want to pick to have your First Communion on?”
Noah: “June 14th! Because it’s close to my birthday and the Eucharist is the best present I can ever receive. Not even parents can give a better present than God can.”
Source and Summit
Nothing is more precious and valuable than the Blessed Sacrament. My parents taught me this truth first through how they lived out their faith. Sunday Mass was important. I don’t recall hearing any lectures about why we need to go. We just went every Sunday (or Saturday night).
Experiences in college and my twenties confirmed that truth— that at the end of the day Jesus is everything. Love. Sacrifice. Obedience. Hope. Suffering. Sadness. Grief. Triumph. Joy. Truth. The Eucharist embodies all those qualities.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1407,
The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church.
Jesus told his followers in the Bread of Life Discourse, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). This is a scandalous claim. Eat his flesh?! Come on! Certaintly, Jesus misspoke. Or the Apostles misunderstood. Many left him because of this teaching.
Truth is not always Popular
Jesus wanted to provide us access to him after his return to the Father. His institution of the sacraments, specifically the Eucharist and Holy Orders, is a gift. We can technically live without knowing God. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. But we can’t thrive without God’s graces.
Truth is scandalous. At least to those unaware of the Good News of Christ or those living in sin. Witnessing events first hand leaves an impression on us. Saint John the Apostle followed and learned from Jesus for three years and from Mary, the Mother of God for the remainder of her earthly life. He definitely had an inside scoop on Jesus’ teachings and what they meant. The evangelist tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Longing for Jesus
We all are suffering the pains of disconnect from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. The Good News is God is always with us. Continue to find joy in viewing the Mass via television or streaming. Call your parish priest to schedule a time to receive Confession. Read the Scriptures or spiritual works by the saints. St. Anthony of Padua would be an excellent choice. Not only is he the saint who helps you find lost items, but he is a Doctor of the Church. My son Noah loves Anthony because his feast day lands on his birthday. 😊 May God bless you today and always!
On the first Sunday of Advent, our parish priest gave a homily about how during this season the world tends to speed up and get “busier,” but the Church is actually calling us to slow down and spend more time in prayer. My wife and I both left Mass that Sunday with a high resolve to “slow down” this season and not let the usual culprits get the best of us.
First Part of Advent
We got off to a great start. I joined an Advent Meditation group that I was invited to. I committed to some new service opportunities. My wife, Kate, took up extra prayer devotions and made a commitment to go to Confession regularly throughout the season. She went on a retreat. We both decided not to get too crazy with parties, and shopping, and all the usual suspects. We got our kids involved in some new Advent traditions. Things were looking fantastic.
The first week went really well. We worked everything into our already existing routine. We held each other accountable. It seemed like this was going to be the best Advent ever for our family spiritually. However, once Kate left for her retreat, we got a series of unexpected circumstances that through us way off track.
Our Series of Curveballs (or Snowballs)
Once Kate left for retreat, our two year old son got sick with a fever. He couldn’t go to daycare. The illness was prolonged by an ear infection. This was quickly passed to his older and younger brothers and the illness took a week and a half for our family to recover from.
My ability to work during this time was severely limited. Fortunately, my wife and I are both self-employed so it was somewhat manageable. However, ironically during this time I began to generate some new leads and was getting into the thick of a re-vamped marketing plan that I was trying to pick up some steam on before Christmas break.
Nobody was getting a good night’s sleep in our house for about two weeks. Finally, once we thought it was over, then came the stomach virus that afflicted everyone in our family including myself. Suddenly, I found myself stressing out over the season because I was backed up on work and we weren’t ready for Christmas. My prayer routine had gone out the window as I was just trying to stay above water.
God Has a Plan
Despite my best plans, my ideal Advent had been de-railed. I had to accept that my prayer life was not going to be perfect, and that I needed to focus on my top priorities for work and possibly save the other tasks until after the New Year.
I’m called in my vocation to love my wife and children. Sometimes that means I cannot commit to a regular routine prayer life and fruitful time of deep contemplation. Sometimes it means holding my five year old while he watches Star Wars until he feels better, or making sure the house is in order because our six month old is sick and just wants to be held by his mom.
The Advent Meditation Group that I joined is looking at Advent through the eyes of St. Joseph. My two biggest takeaways from this group so far in how I am preparing during Advent are:
St. Joseph lived his life in humble service to his Creator
St. Joseph had a prayer life that was organic.
The Best Prayer is a Humble Prayer
Although I am having trouble getting out my prayer materials at the same time everyday to find fruitful prayer in my routine, I have been seeking God in humble service (to my family) and trying to live a more organic prayer life.
My prayer life has not included things like regular Adoration and Scripture study like it usually does, but I have been taking time regularly throughout my day to thank God for my wife, my kids, the ability to work from home, and the people that have helped me in different facets of my life. It has left me with a more grateful, and simpler attitude.
My marriage has blossomed this Advent as Kate and I both practice gratitude, and I am learning to see God in everyday moments in a special way.
Wherever you are spiritually this Advent, whether your Advent hasn’t gone as planned, you didn’t plan anything special, or it is going better that you thought, I encourage you to stop and consider what God is calling you to in this next week.
Our individual call is just as unique as our set of circumstances. There is always a way to “roll with the punches” and discover our infinite God in new and exciting ways. God meets us where we are. Right in our glorious messes!
The Nativity story is the perfect example of finding God’s will and rolling with the punches. If you are finding that there is “no room at the Inn,” I challenge you to look around you and find your manger where you can slow down and sleep in heavenly peace.
Jonathan Hicks is a husband and father of 3 boys, ages 5, 3 and 6 months. He works as a grant writing consultant and has a passion for Catholic causes, particularly those that serve the poor. Originally from Scranton, PA, he currently resides in Grand Rapids, MI.