Daring Not Staring: Our Charge to Live Boldly

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Nelson Mandela declared, “Sometimes, I feel like one who is on the sidelines, who has missed life itself.” Do you ever feel like life is go going by without your being engaged with reality? Are you in a stupor or continual state of lethargy? Is it easier to sit on the sidelines and stare in judgment at the characters in your life that wronged you than it is to actively seek opportunities to change your life?

Do you worry if you answered yes to any of these questions—I myself often reflect on these issues and frequently I feel like a static character in the story of my life! Humans desire fulfillment in life. Yet, there is a tension between the ideal we strive for—embracing challenges with resolve— and the reality that life sometimes bogs us down and weariness set in.

C.S. Lewis purported, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” As a perfectionist, an internal struggle exists within my heart and mind over action versus inaction in daily situations. Oftentimes, when I make a great mistake, whether it be at work or home, I freeze—I regulate myself to the sidelines of life. Failure can either sow fruit or decay. Your attitude toward adversity is key as to whether disappointments lead to opportunity to a continued cycle of idleness on the sideline.

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My Catholic faith strongly colors how I approach strife and difficulty in life. However, I continually need to be reminded that transformation occurs through daring to live authentically instead of simply staring, remaining still and being pessimistic when sins of others affect my life. In his general audience on Holy Wednesday, April 16, 2014 Pope Francis urged Catholics [and the entire world],

We expect that God, in his omnipotence, will defeat injustice, evil, sin and suffering with a triumphant divine victory. Instead, God shows us a humble victory that in human terms seems to be a failure. And we can say this: God wins in failure. Indeed, the Son of God on the Cross appears to be a defeated man. He suffers, He is betrayed, He is vilified, and finally dies. But Jesus allows evil to set upon Him, He takes it all upon Him in order to vanquish it. His Passion is not incidental; his death — that death — was ‘foretold.’ It is an unsettling mystery, but we know the secret of this mystery, of this extraordinary humility: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.’ [Emphasis mine]

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I came across a person who questioned the goodness of this life. Rejecting the notion that our earthly existence is a gift, she emphatically declared, “Eternal life is the gift, Earthly life is an insane asylum, and all the patients run free!” A bold claim—this lady was half-right. While the fullness of truth, joy, and beauty is founded in complete relationship with God in Heaven, goodness can still be discovered in the created order. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 34 contains this truth,

The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality ‘that everyone calls God’.

Along with the inherent goodness of creation, the Catholic Church clearly teaches the dignity of all life, “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God” (CCC 2319). I challenged that individual I encountered to seek the joy within this reality—even in the midst of apparent [and oftentimes real] suffering! Some people may desire to flee from suffering or difficulty.

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Rushing to the sidelines in the middle of the game-of-life is the easy option. Is it truly the best strategy in life? Maybe in the short-term. In the long-run, in the end-game, daring to engage in life—both the high and lows—as opposed to staring from the sidelines is the preferred method.

St. Cyprian of Carthage boldly proclaimed the value of mettle in face of trials, “This, in short, is the difference between us and others who know not God, that in misfortune they complain and murmur, while the adversity does not call us away from the truth of virtue and faith, but strengthens us by its suffering.” Put another way, the hockey legend Wayne Gretzsky succinctly said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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Do not miss an opportunity to live life to the fullest. Seize the chance to put others before yourself. Be bold in picking up your cross and follow Christ’s command in Mark 12:31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The joy found in selfless and bold living will be immeasurable. Follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to better your life. I dare you!

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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.”

 

Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.

Over the course of the past week I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children.  I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month–and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.

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I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,

43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

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My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.

The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.

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St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.” I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!

 

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Dear Lord,
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen