3 Way to Help Christians[Really Anyone] Avoid Wandering and to Start Wondering in the Desert of Life

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The Catechism tells us, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540). This year I already experienced time in the wilderness not only in the spiritual sense, but in a tangible way as well. As a child, I used to think that the desert only referred to geographic areas with intense heat and little rainfall. However, reflecting on the information I learned from high school geography class and confirmed by Dictionary.com, a desert technically speaking is defined as: “any area in which few forms of life can exist because of lack of water, permanent frost, or absence of soil.” Winter 2018 certainly calls into question about whether the United Stated Midwest could be argued to be categorized as a deserted place!

Along with experiencing a physical harshness of climate and barrenness of life during the wintertime, I undergo periods, especially the last couple weeks, of dryness or barrenness in my spiritual life. Spiritual aridity is a topic that I related started to learn about. Saint including, but not limited to, Teresa of Calcutta, Sister Maria Faustina, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross guided me toward a more mature spirituality and to realize that dryness in prayer is not necessary an indictment on a person instead souls undergo periods of purgation to deepen one’s relationship with God. St. John of the Cross, (whose feast day is actually today!) most recently helped avoid me wandering and oriented me toward a mindset that marvels at the Providence of God despite sojourning in the desert of life. Below I wish to share three specific ways Christians will be able to avoid wandering and to start wondering in the desert of life.

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  1. Omnipotent Oases: The great founding father of America Benjamin Franklin once said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” Traveling in the desert this insight goes without saying. Quenching of thirst quickly becomes of utmost importance. In a desert certain fertile areas exist that surround a water source—oases. Venturing to an oasis is akin to the 1849 gold rush as water is an invaluable resource in a barren land. I am reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He promises her the possibility of living water. While it is not speaking of physical water, because humanity still needs that to survive the Christ is referring to the sacraments as being sources of God’s graces.

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These omnipotent oases never dry up. We need only be willing to travel to the wellsprings to receive God’s grace. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1210,

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life:1 they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.

 I wish to share an example of a recent encounter at a well of God’s grace–the Sacrament of Confession. At the conclusion of a long and particular tough week, both physically and spiritually, I realized I needed to do something about my anger issues and lack of patience at home. Traveling to a nearby local Catholic Church I confessed my sins to the priest. Standing in Personi Christi [standing in the Person of Christ] the priest had the authority to forgive my sins through the sacrament of Holy Orders. In the New Testament, Jesus conferred this power to his Apostles–the first Catholic priest– in John 20:22-23. After receiving the healing graces from this sacrament, I returned home with a greater defense and ability to encounter the temptation of anger and impatience head-on.

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2. Follow the Caravan: A second tip that I discovered that helped me withstand the sandstorms [no pun intended] and desolation of life is to unite myself with others in community to not only discuss my struggles but to celebrate the joys of life. Sojourning with others assists me in the journey of life. It is not a coincidence that the source and summit of the Christian life involves communal worship in the sacrament of the Eucharist within the Mass. The Church reminds us in CCC number 1369, “The whole Church is united with the offering and intercession of Christ.”

Along with weekly attendance of  the Mass, smaller forms of community sustain me during periods of desert-like desolation in my spiritual life. A friend of mine actually reached out to me unsolicited to see if I needed assistance. “I know that you are going through a tough time now Matt, I was wondering if you wanted to get together for dinner or a drink sometime. Know that I am hear for you if you need to talk about things.” This was a text message that I received a few days ago. Truly, the Holy Spirit worked in my friend’s heart to reach out to me to seek an opportunity to console me.

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 3. Marian Moonlight in the Dark Night: The third means I learned that helped me learn to marvel at God’s majesty instead of aimlessly wander in the desert of life is turn more to the Mother of God for support and comfort. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, the moon has be a symbol associated with Mary. Oftentimes she is a guide to pilgrims in this earthly existence during a dark night of the soul. Venerable Fulton Sheen spoke this once, “God who made the sun, also made the moon.  The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun.  All its light is reflected from the sun.  The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing.  With Him, she is the Mother of men.”  

Mary reflects or shines the light of Christ during the darkest of nights. During particularly frustrating nights when my children struggle with going to sleep–I ask the Blessed Virgin for assistance in my time of need. Recently, I started to pray a decade of the rosary when rocking my youngest child to bed. Looking to Mary for help is in no way a circumvention around God. I still worship Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, however, the humanity of Mary appeals to me and her maternal mediation always works on our behalf to bring our prayers to God.

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I will close with a quote from the J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: During a particularly desolate part of the journey to destroy the ring [which represents sin and corruption] the hobbit-companion to Frodo [the ring-bearer] is Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee. He confidently told Frod, “I made a promise, Mr Frodo. A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.” Do we possess similar resolve when times get tough? If we are married, do we remember our marital commitment to fidelity in the good times and bad? Do we have the courage and empathy to reach out to friends in need? Let us reflect on the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 

My Personal Litany of Saints

November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).

In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet. Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared, “A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.”

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Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity. Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.

***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***

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  1. Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
  2. Joseph
  3. Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
  4. Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
  5. Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
  6. Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
  7. Augustine: Confessions
  8. Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
  9. Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
  10. John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
  11. Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
  12. Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
  13. Josemaria Escriva: The Way
  14. Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
  15. James: The Letter of St. James
  16. Maximilian Koble
  17. Bernadette
  18. Pope Pius IX
  19. Pope Leo XIII
  20. Thorlak
  21. Francis of Assisi
  22. Ignatius of Loyala
  23. Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
  24. Jerome: Homilies
  25. John Chrysostom
  26. Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica

Suggested Reading:

  1. K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
  2. S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
  3. Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
  4. Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Ringsmass not boring.jpg

Now of this readings are a replacement for the best possible way we can celebrate All Saints Day–the best way is to go to Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!

Planetary Peregrination- Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ Science Fiction

Growing up I had those glow-in-the-dark planet decals attached to the ceiling of my bedroom. Space exploration and the study of astronomy always fascinated me and still grips my attention. As a kid, I even made sure my planet decals were proportionately spaced from the sun [the light in the center of my bedroom ceiling] as the real planets’ orbit around the sun!

I have maintained a love of space through my reading of both scientifically based works like Stephen Hawkings’ A History of Time and Space to sci-fi works like Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. About five years ago, my cousin introduced me to another sci-fi series related to space—one by Clives Staples Lewis! You heard me right, the same C.S. Lewis who wrote great Christian apologetic works of The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity along with his endearing children’s series Chronicles of Narnia. Penned by the motivation of a literary challenge to delve into the genre of science fiction posed by his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis branched out and wrote three tales in The Space Trilogy. Because I want to share this amazing work, here is a brief review of the first book— Out of the Silent Planet.

The basic theme of the book centers around the idea of what life would look like in an unfallen [without Original Sin] world. Out of the Silent Planet opens with the main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom, being kidnapped by the antagonists—Devine and Weston.  The kidnappers’ aim is to find another planet to colonize in hopes to perpetuate the human race. Ransom, Devine, and Weston end up on a mysterious planet known as Malacandra [more commonly known as Mars!].

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Most of the book focuses on Dr. Ransom’s interactions with the planet’s hnau [a word used to describe rationale beings]. Ransom learns that the inhabiants of Malacandra do not suffer from the effects of Original Sin like humans from Earth do. A mutual respect between the species and self-less obedience to Maeldil [Jesus Christ] exist. Furthermore, he finds out that each planet in the solar system is guided by an angelic being known as an Oyarsa. What is different about Earth’s [called the Silent Planet] guardian is that our Oyarsa became Bent and led humanity toward a path of selfishness and destruction.

The remainder of Out of the Silent Planet explores the relationship between the various Malacandrian species and juxtaposes this harmony against the strife daily seen on Earth.  What I really enjoy about this book is Lewis’ ability to imagine an unfallen world and ponder how that would concretely exist. His portrayal of the various species on Malacandra assumes that being a hnau [person] is not limited to a particular species. The best analogy I can think of is to image a world where humans, dolphins, dogs, and chimps all are viewed as rationale beings who mutually respect each other and worship the same God!

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Reading Lewis’ tale is both a fantastical and metaphysical experience. The language of the hrossa, the first species Ransom encounters, is fun to learn and the idea of an unfallen world definitely puts a new spin on space travel for me. While the end of the book gets somewhat ethereal and philosophical there is a certain wit about it that is quintessentially Lewis. Without giving too much of the ending away I want to share a small quote from Out of the Silent Planet. The chief Oyarsa [angel] in charge of Malacandra tells Weston, “The weakest of my people do not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace” (p. 138-1389).

Overall, I would give Out of the Silent Planet four out of five stars. My only real concern was initially the style of writing at the beginning of the book took a little getting used to. Nevertheless, I loved the theme and the relationship between Ransom and the three alien species. Having re-read this book multiple times I encourage you to check out your local library or search for this book online. This is a must have work for any ardent C.S. Lewis fan!

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