Saint Patrick lived in the 5th century and was a Christian missionary. He was instrumental in converting Ireland to Christianity. Known most for his usage of the shamrock to help explain the Trinity, Patrick’s successfully converted the pagans.
Several posts on this feast day focus on “little known facts” or about whether Saint Patrick was actually Irish. I’m going to on something a bit different. Saint Patrick’s Breastplate prayeralways provided me a great comfort. This article will examine the various aspects to his prayer.
Here’s the short version of the prayer (for the long version check out the link in the related resources at the end of this article):
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Put on the Armor of God
Immediately, I think of Saint Paul’s description in Ephesians 6:10-18. The Bible acts as a defense against the temptations of the devil and the world. Reading and listening to the Word of God shields one with truth. The Devil enjoys sowing discord and twisting truth to fit his desire― draw people away from God.
Christ is always with us but sometimes it can be easy to forget. Sometimes we push God away or turn our back on Him. Saint Patrick’s breastplate prayer uses directional words to help remind one the closeness of Jesus. Jesus is beside you. He is with you. On the right and left. Christ’s presence envelops you as a protection like how armor surrounds a soldier in battle.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
In Matthew 22:39 Jesus tells the Pharisees, “The second (greatest commandment) is like it (the first): You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Saint Patrick loved God first, but he followed the second great commandment too. He served the Irish peoples by leading them out of the errors of paganism and towards the truth of the Gospel.
In praying Saint Patrick’s Breastplate prayer, one is reminded to see God in others. It’s easy to get frustrated at strangers who commit a wrong: cutting you off in traffic, providing less than helpful advice at a call center, or even those who annoy you at church. Patrick was a foreigner in Ireland (contrary to popular views he wasn’t Irish!). But he accepted God’s call to spread the message of Jesus Christ as Savior. And you and I are called to do the same in our words and deeds.
Drive Out the Serpent(s)
The above image is a p(f)unny way to describe how Saint Patrick drove out the snakes from Ireland. Joking aside, it was because of his cooperation with God’s will Patrick had the ability to perform such as miracle (herpetologists might disagree). Christ with me. Those opening words to the Breastplate prayer can give us hope. The battle and journey through life doesn’t have to be done alone. God is with us. He was (and still is in Heaven) with Saint Patrick during his early years when he was captured as a slave. And God was with Patrick as he drove the snakes (and the pagan ideologies) out of Ireland.
Saint Patrick pray for us to put on the armor of God, to love God and fellow men, and to relay on Jesus to help us drive out the spiritual serpents in our lives. Amen.
According to Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” It is no coincidence that the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, traditionally occurs a week after the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Throughout Church history the reformed murderer and the simple fisherman frequently are portrayed in art and sacred liturgy together as exemplars for Christians to follow.
In fact, Peter and Paul share a feast day together on June 29th. The celebration of Paul’s conversion marks the conclusion of the Octave (Week) of Prayer for Christian Unity — a feast of international Christian ecumenical observance that began in 1908.
While celebrating a saint as legendary as the Apostle of the Gentiles may appear out of touch with the ordinary lay person, that cannot be further from the truth. Recalling the great witness of conversion of Saul to Paul provides great hope and a remedy for the division that the Enemy sows in this world.
Conversion — Call for All
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Sacrament of Confession as the sacrament of conversion because “It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin,” (CCC 1423).
No matter the stage, circumstance, or mindset a person is at in life transformation is possible. St. John Paul the Great talked about conversion in Dives In Misericordia, “Conversion is the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence of mercy in the human world” (no. 6).
The colloquial phrase ‘knocked off your high horse’ certainly calls to mind strong image of Saul falling off (perhaps a horse!) after witnessing a blinding light in Acts 22:6-7. Vatican II reminded the world that all the faithful are called to holiness. The Council Fathers put it this way in Lumen Gentium,
“Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.”
Despite our failures, the first step in our relationship with God is conversion. St. Paul is a perfect example that shows that even the worst sinners can convert.
Along with that initial conversion, Saul encountered a brief period of blindness. Acts 22:11 details that Saul had to be led by hand to the city of Damascus by his traveling partners.
While I have never experienced blindness myself and cannot speak about any physical pain involved, I can provide experience as a newbie or novice in a work situation or as a new parent where it felt like I had to have my ‘hands held’ until I could grasp a better understanding of my situation. As the premier Jewish leader in rounding up the ‘blasphemous’ early followers of Christ, Saul probably heard frequent praise and had a strong ego. Lowering or limiting oneself to relying on others may not be physically painful, but it definitely hurts the ego!
True growth cannot happen without at least some painful transformation. The Catholic Church teaches that while conversion is a good first step in order for effective change to take place, penance needs to occur. According to the Catechism,
Conversion is accomplished in daily life by the following:
Gestures of reconciliation
Concern for the poor,
Exercise and defense of justice and right,
By the admission of faults to one’s brethren
Revision of life
Examination of conscience
Acceptance of suffering
Endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness
Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.(CCC 1430).
Hope for Humanity
The pandemic along with negative coverage national politics provide ample opportunities for despair to seep into our lives. The Enemy’s most sinister weapon to prevent a relationship with Jesus Christ is the voice of despair.
What is the antidote to such a spiritual attack? St. Paul provides the answer in 2 Corinthians 1:10—hope in Jesus Christ. The saint writes, “He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope [that] he will also rescue us again” Hope dispels despair.
Whatever trial or tribulation hits you, large or small, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul is a great reminder that hope exists even in the seemingly impossible situations. As a killer of Christians, and even of St. Stephen, Paul’s story of transformation reminds us of all that good can still come out of the most sinister of events. Hope exists for humanity, and I am grateful for this feast as an opportunity to ponder the infinite mercy of God!
January 3rd celebrates two important events: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and the anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a Catholic obvious the former has to take precedence, I mean Jesus is the center of the Catholic faith. However, I think it is ironic, maybe even providential, of the placement of the great English literary figure’s birthday within the season of Christmastide.
Creation Leads to the Creator
The famed creator of Middle Earth himself was a devout Catholic and belief in Jesus Christ permeated his entire life. I admire Tolkien because of his creativity, devotion, and ability to invoke joy into my life simply by reading his works or striking up a conversation with a random stranger about his life!
According to the Baltimore Catechism paragraph 215, Catholics honor saints because
“We honor the saints in heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God we honor God Himself.”
The excitement, peace, and joy I receive when reading, researching, or talking about Middle Earth ultimately is aimed at a higher reality. A deeper reality of full communion with God in Heaven! Tolkien once wrote, “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’.”
All of creation act as signposts pointing to God’s existence.
The same is true for the hidden or not so hidden Easter-eggs contained in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The date of the formation of the Fellowship—that is, the group of representatives of Middle Earth races—actually is December 25th!
The Little Way of the Hobbit
Much of Tolkien’s theology, whether he would have wanted to admit it or not, reminds me of the spirituality of The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her path towards holiness consisted of relying on God’s mercy and forgiveness while seeking ordinary daily actions to show love of God and neighbor.
The French saint wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Whenever I read and reflect upon that quote I am also reminded of the following words of Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Fantasy and Tolkien geeks now well that the bearer of the One Ring [the embodiment of temptation] was a hobbit. If only one word would suffice to describe a hobbit to individuals not too aware of this fictional Middle Earth race it would be diminutive. Littleness, at least in appearance, is the chief trait of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings.
Even the smallest person can impact the future
Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Tolkien recognizes that the smallest person can have a great impact on human history. The greatest event in human history is the Incarnation—God being man in the person of Jesus Christ in the form of a little baby.
I honor J.R.R. Tolkien today because his “complex”, extensive, and intricate sub-creation of Middle Earth provokes a sense of joy in the little acts done in great love and sacrifice. Ultimately, after reading any of his works, I am reminded to be grateful for creative genius not as a worship of the fantasy author. Instead, I honor him as he points me to the Real and Truth Author of All of Reality!
“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11
Since 2008, no other superhero has commanded as much attention or authority as Iron Man. Portrayed by Robert Downey Jr, the Armored Avenger has been the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning. What is most fascinating about Tony Stark is his character development. He goes from a selfish and greedy business man to a selfless hero.
In Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron Tony Stark almost makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. It was fitting that Iron Man was the superhero made the final snap of the new technological Infinity gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame. His death may have come as a surprise, but it was appropriate and necessary for the Golden Avenger to be the one to save everyone in the end. Iron Man’s completely noble deed completed the 180 degree transformation of his character.
Unfortunately, not every Iron Man storyline shows Tony Stark as a hero and leader. The Superior Iron Man (2014) series has an egomaniacal character thinking he is greater than the rest of humanity. This article will discuss the potential dangerous effects immoral use of technology would have on humanity, examine the Christian understanding of being the “best version of yourself”, and how Jesus is still the way in the age of superheroes.
The New Man vs. The Man of the Future
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 452, “The name of Jesus means ‘God saves.’” Jesus did not enter our world as a political or military messiah to usher in a worldly power of dominion. Instead, he entered into our world and became one of us to show us the true path—the road of true love and obedience to God. He gave us the blueprint to overcome sin—the sacraments. St. Augustine described sacraments best by calling them, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” As the New Man, Jesus gave us access to become new and better versions of ourselves, free from sin and death.
In Marvel comics, Tony Stark stands at the vanguard of human advancement. He is often referred to as the Man of the Future. The future ignites excitement. Possibility. Promise. Fulfillment. We all hope for a better future. Issue #1 of Superior Iron Man opened with that excitement. In San Francisco, Stark delivered a free app to all citizens to access and download Exetremis 3.0 This was a techno-virus created to turn people into the best version of themselves. Iron Man was a messiah figure!
Upgrading the Exterior
All promises for a better future are enticing at first. Superior Iron Man’s plan for the future was no different. However, Extremis 3.0 only solved physical defects. Tony Stark’s altruism quickly faded as he cut off free access to the techno-virus. He made the cost so expensive it caused people to turn to robbery. Bodily perfection became addictive.
Acting as one of the moral compasses in this series, Pepper Potts expresses concerns about Stark’s use of technology. “You created a master race across the city, but you’ve also created an instant underclass. Extremis may have made people more beautiful on the outside but you know as well as I do that, for some it will only enhance all of the ugliness within,” Potts warns Tony (Issue # 1).
Similar to technology there is an allure, an attraction to the exterior—to the mere outside. We can only see outward appearances. It is difficult to sense the underlying beauty at times. Iron Man’s various suits of armor are both attractive aesthetically and technologically. Whenever I watched the Iron Man or Avengers film I dreamed a day where similar technology could be created and implemented in our world. Fighting off evil with the flick of a wrist or voice command would be incredible. If given the chance to overcome a physical limitation would you have it cured?
Playing God Not Man’s Destiny
Iron Man gave Daredevil his eyesight back temporarily. Infused with a dose of the Extremis virus, Matt Murdock regained his vision. In response to receiving the virus without consent Murdock asks Stark, “What gives you the right to play God?” (Issue #3). Stark quips back, “Being a God can’t be too hard. I mean if Thor can do it…I’m the most intelligent, capable person on the planet. I’m not playing God. All this time…I’ve been playing human.”
This world is definitely imperfect. Human beings are selfish. Manipulative. Greedy. Prideful. We long for control of our situation. Control over suffering—eventually the eradication of all suffering.
God Values His Creation
Another important theme in Superior Iron Man is the creator versus creation. Tony Stark prior to his personality becoming infected with pride and egomania implemented a contingency plan to keep himself in check if he ever got out of control. Pepper works with a mysterious “new” Iron Man to combat the Superior Iron Man (Issue #6 In His Own Image). Later it is revealed that the “new” Iron Man is actually an artificial intelligence (the consciousness of Tony Stark before he turned evil) in an earlier version of the Iron Man armor.
As creator of his advanced superhero armor and artificial intelligences, Tony Stark is like God because he creates. That is as far as the similarities go. God respects human freedom. He did not create humanity to blindly obey 100% of the time. We are not automaton. Mere robots. Fighting his creations across San Francisco, Tony takes a brief moment to inform the artificial intelligence Tony, “Do you know what’s left when you take away everything that was holding us back? Freedom” (Issue # 8 Bio-Mark-One). He goes on to boast in Issue #9, “I made you. All of you. And I can tell you: each and every one of you is inferior.”
Danger of Man’s Pride
This is definitely the mentality of a prideful man. According to St. Teresa of Avila, “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.”
The Superior Iron Man certainly possessed superiority, but dominance in worldly things alone. Tony Stark had a genius level intelligent, grand ambitions, and creativity second to none. His inability to account for human freedom and the need for morality would be his downfall. Stark failed to depend on others’ for help. Potts, Murdock, and their allies united together in humility to fight the selfish Stark.
Next Steps for Humanity?
Technological advancements such as advanced prosthetics, improving medical procedures, and renewable energy sources provide hope for the future. We can learn from the Superior Iron Man that true perfection is not skin (or armor) deep. Pride initially causes us to experience invincibility—and superiority. Experience shows us otherwise.
Jesus as the New Man—and True Man of the Future—teaches us the importance of the virtue of humility. His humble obedience to the Father led to suffering on the Cross, but it also led to the Resurrection—True life! We can experience authentic power when we follow Jesus, the Avenger of Sin. There is still value (and entertainment) in watching and reading about the adventures of Iron Man. Be a superhero. A superhero of virtue! St. Paul wrote, “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” Suit up. Not with arc reactor technology, but with the “ark technology” of the sacraments instituted by Christ and safeguarded by the Catholic Church.
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C.S. Lewis wrote, ““There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”There is no better time to put things into perspective than the present–and especially at the beginning of the New Year. Whether you had a good, bad, or simply indifferent 2018 now is time to focus on bettering your life.
While I certainly could come up with a laundry list of New Year’s resolutions the birth of my fourth child could make that challenging. Late night diaper changes and gazing at my beautiful newborn throughout the day take up a lot of time already. If you are pinched for time like me, then I propose an easy, yet profound resolution for 2021–daily pray and reflect upon the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila.
The Holy Doctor of the Church has held an important role in my life. Her life and writings provide an excellent standard for me to live my life by and now I have a daughter named after St. Teresa! Below is the short prayer I plan on reciting and pondering daily. Additionally, I have included a few thoughts about this brief and mighty prayer.
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
Fear gets in the way of growth. Being afraid causes one to hesitate and question the blessings in your life. Reading the words of the Spanish saint always provides comfort.
The Power of Patience
St. Teresa’s assertion that “patience obtains all things” prompts me to pause. Patience is a virtue that seems undervalued compared to courage, justice, and faith. However, all problems in my life could either resolve themselves or lessen greatly if exercised patience more. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 736, “By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience (emphasis mine).”
The Carmelite nun reminds us worldly things last only temporarily. Only God is eternal. The stresses of 2018, yesterday, and even an hour ago will appear like a blink amid the gaze of the Beatific Vision.
The wisdom of St. Teresa of Avila will be guaranteed to change your life. Already in the short time of reflecting on her words I have been able to better keep things in perspective. Make 2021 your best year (until the next year) yet!
Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices
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.
It’s no secret 2020 has been a less than perfect year. You might have had great expectations. New year equals a new start—new opportunities to kick bad habits. But soon you realized 2020 was not going to be a fairy tale. World basketball phenom Kobe Bryant died in January. Following this sudden tragedy was the COVID19 pandemic (with no end seemingly in sight). Race riots emerged afterward. Lockdowns. Quarantines. Masks. Masks. And more masks. The buzzwords of the year.
What the h***’s going on?! Seriously, why all this suffering? This isn’t the way life is meant to be. No sports or music concerts or church services. Those things stabilize us and give meaning to the topsy-turvies of life. You want things to go back to being normal (I want the craziness to stop—I can’t play real-life Jumanji anymore).
Did normalcy ever exist?
Life has never been normal. What exactly is normal? The dictionary defines ‘normal’ as conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. 2020 was unexpected! Who expected a microscopic virus to cripple the world economy and upturn people’s lives in unimaginable ways?
In April, I contracted the COVID19 virus. It was a horrendous experience. A high fever persisted for almost two weeks straight. It zapped me of energy, taste, smell, and gave me intense full body aches. This virus would have killed me had it not been due to the persistent prayers of my family and friends along with my wife making me drink water every hour and use a rescue inhaler for the first time in my life. In the beginning, I was angry with God for allowing me to get infected. I took every single precaution: washed my hands twice an hour, socially distanced, and consumed Vitamin C daily.
But in the heart of my suffering I recalled how God saved me from an intense depression and loss in 2014—losing an unborn child to miscarriage. Hindsight is 2020 (no pun intended). I experienced a lack of consolation in prayer. At first, I thought it was due to me not having enough faith. But learning more about the prayer life as detailed by Saint John of the Cross, I found out I was going through a Dark Night of the Soul. It is through that lens I view the trials the Church (and world) face in 2020.
Seeds of Faith Grow in the Soil of Suffering
Ever since I endured the suffering of having to bury unborn children, Jesus’ words in John 12:24 has become easier to understand. Christ said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Suffering is a means to kill the self (selfish desires and tendency towards sin). My suffering in 2014 caused me to be buried in a spiritual darkness. Out of the shroud of suffering I emerged renewed and more trusting in God’s Providence.
The greatest of saints grew into faithful witness for the Gospel through being buried in a soil of suffering. Saint John Paul II lived in Poland during Nazi and Communist occupation. He lost all of his immediate family members before his 22nd birthday. Such loss could have easily driven Karol Wojtyła into callousness and resentment. He looked to the Cross as a way to survive his unimaginable suffering.
10,000 Difficulties Don’t Equal a Single Doubt
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman famously wrote, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. (unequal).” The English cardinal’s words seem appropriate for Catholics to hear in 2020. How many times do you read on Catholic social media posts about people not trusting in God because of COVID19 precautionary measure? I was once accused of worshipping a “mask deity” because of my stance on wearing a facemask to public masses.
The current pandemic has presented too many difficulties to count for the Catholic. Earlier this year, the United States Catholic bishops decided to suspend all public Masses and the weekly obligation to attend. This led to an outpouring of confusion, concern, and frustration on the part of the laity. People began to blame the bishop and label them cowards for giving into the secular stance on the coronavirus situation.
Soon after Catholic social media lit up into tribalistic squabbles. Catholics began calling out their spiritual brother and sister’s faith into question. But a difficulty doesn’t equate to a doubt. Last time I checked, I don’t possess the ability to read a person’s heart and I am fairly confident most other Catholics lack that ability too. Instead of questioning a person’s faith would it not be more prudent and effective to ask the Holy Spirit for unity, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and generosity in online discussions?
All Things Work for the Good
Saint Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.” In pop culture, the NBC drama Manifest (an amazing show about passengers on a plane who mysteriously reappears five years after disappearing) has increased the popularity of this verse. Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite Bible quotes. It has increased in relevance since enduring my Dark Night of the Soul in 2014.
All things work for the good even when you’re in a spiritual dark night.
Fear over the unknown may be the most common fear (even more widespread than fear of death). So much misinformation exists on the COVID19 pandemic. Was the lockdown needed or not? Was the virus naturally occurring or lab-generated? Are facemasks effective or not? Will the pandemic miraculously end the day after the election because a particular political party created the virus? (I don’t subscribe to any conspiracy theory but simply wanted to detail out the variance in thought about COVID19).
All things work for the good for those who love God.
God uses bad things and evil things for good. God is so good that even evil is transformed as a means to be drawn in closer to Him. For example my wife and I lost children to miscarriage. Out of that horror we grew in faith.
Whoever wins the United States election or whatever craziness left for the rest of 2020 only matters in the short-term. In the long-term (or more precisely in the perspective of eternity), all things work for the good of those who love God.
How Can Catholics Finish out 2020
Fear, animosity, blame-gaming, and judging others’ hearts has been the norm of social media. I believe the world is in a ‘Dark Night’. Suffering is not something to shy away from but should be viewed as an offering to God in prayer. It’s okay to have difficulties with how this year is going.
Don’t be afraid to completely break down in tears and shoot salvos of laments to the Holy Trinity. Ten thousand, ten million or ten billion difficulties don’t equal a doubt in God’s Providence. And etch this verse in your heart, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”