3 Ways Mary Undoes the Knots of Desolation in my Life

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Does your life seem confusing? Are you currently in a situation where there is no apparent solution? Sir Isaac Newton once said, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” If that is the case it seems that life is lacking truth lately. Confusion, frustration, anxiety, and anger engulfed me over the course of the past couple weeks. Anyone who has experienced that over a period of time will start to feel like you may be trapped in an endless loop of the daily grind. The image that immediately comes to mind during confusing times is the lithograph print Relativity [see above] by Dutch artist M.C. Escher.

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When life starts to cycle into a twisted journey of never-ending [and never beginning] staircases, the seeds of desolation become sown. Every time doubt and despair grow in my heart I turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for assistance. According to the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium 56 stated, “”The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.”  While the devotion to Mary Undoer of Knots is founded in the ancient Church, I recently discovered this special appellation for Mary from Pope Francis. I learned that the pope’s favorite devotion to Mary is to view her as our mother who unties the knots in our spiritual life. I came up with three reasons why I believe this to be true as well.

  1. True model of Obedience to God:As an adopted child of God I often struggle with being obedient to the will of my Heavenly Father. It is easy to embrace a “my way of the highway!” type of mentality. Due to original sin humanity suffers from a detachment from God. Mary is a bridge to Jesus—who is the ultimate bridge to God the Father! The Blessed Virgin’s intrepid, but faithful statement of obedience in Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” always give me pause. Her statement she compel you to stop and ponder as well. How often do you attempt to push for your will to be done? Do you notice subtle, or maybe overt, signs pointing to God’s will, yet still ignore them? What things could you do differently to unite your will to the Father’s will?

Mary, Mother of God is the true and perfect standard-bearer for what obedience to God’s will looks like.

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  1. Silent Suffering: As a parent, the worst possibly suffering I could ever imagine would involve something happening to my children that was outside of my control and ability to comfort/aid them. Venerable Fulton Sheen always talks of Mary with both charity and clarity. In Mary and the Sword he speaks of the importance for Mary’s suffering before Calvary, “An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna. Who is there who loves, who does not want to share the sorrows of the beloved? Since Christ loved mankind so much as to want to die to expiate their guilt, then He should also will that His Mother, who lived only to do His will, should also be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His griefs.”

Having experienced an unimaginable suffering of seeing her only son agonize on the Cross, Mary is the perfect mother for me to seek her aid as another son suffering from desolation and doubts at times.

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  1.  Mother to all God’s Children: Jesus in John 19 entrusted Mary to be the spiritual mother for John — and not only for John but for all of God’s children. According to the catechism paragraph 963,

Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”502 “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”503

Oftentimes when I experienced confusion, sadness, anger, and doubt growing up [and even today] I usually reach out first to my mom in seeking consolation and clarity. The same is true for my spiritual mother—Mary. Her close unity with Jesus Christ combined with her full humanity allows her to be both a trusted and approachable figure to find refuge in.

St. Thomas Aquinas declared, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” Catholics honor Mary, not because she is divine, but because she points us to her Divine Son Jesus! We may relate directly to Mary due to her full humanity. During the stresses of life, reciting of a Hail Mary calms my angst and orients the storm in my soul toward God’s will. Let us close with the prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots in hopes that she guides us away from the knotty snares of the Devil:

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Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots.
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me

3 Tactics to Depress Your Depression

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The beginning of this week continued my struggle with depression. Over the past several weeks, I lacked both the physical, mental, and emotional mettle to write. Journaling and blogging used to come more natural to me, however, lately I ran into a seemingly impenetrable mental wall of writer’s block. During periods of depression, you may feel utterly helpless and lack the motivation to implement means to overcome this vile force. Trust me this feeling is real and appears to be inescapable. I felt the same way to start the week. Please know that hope is always on the horizon—the problem is that you may need to remind yourself of this fact!

Hope arrived on the scene in a unique manner this week—through reading the classic children’s bedtime book Goodnight Moon to my youngest son. Currently he is going through a language explosion—he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder—he development was delayed but through frequent therapies we are seeing the fruit of his hard work. The story involves saying goodnight to an array of items and characters in a bedroom. Upon getting to the page about the red balloon, my son shouted “Ah a balloon!” This image of a fully inflated balloon stuck with me throughout the night and into the morning. I viewed my current emotional state as a metaphorical depressed balloon unable to lift off the ground due to lack of the energy, gratitude, and hope.

It took a simple image of a balloon to jumpstart my creative juices about what to write about today. I wish to provide three tactics to take the wind out of the storm of depression you may be facing now—or will be facing in the future!

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  1. Shield Yourself with Thanksgiving: Before going into battle, a solider needs to wear armor and acquire the appropriate defensive tool. Just like physical war, fighting depression involves taking the necessary steps to defend against the continued barrage of negative self-depreciating thoughts. The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once stated, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” Adopting this mindset today defended me against depression’s attack.

Start this defensive tactic to keep depression at bay. For example, at lunch I made a mental list of three specific things I was thankful for today. Strawberries, my comic books, and the ability to write freely immediately popped into my mind as things I feel blessed to possess. Try this simple exercise as a way to easily remind yourself of the various blessings in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised that things may not be as bad as you would think!

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  1. Miniature Victories Win the War: A second tactic to weaken depression’s grip is to focus on minor victories throughout the day. Recognizing that the battle against depression is not necessarily achieved through a once-size-fits-all solution became an important step in my battle. Viewing any positive thing that occurred to me over the course of a day as a win is essential. Fitness trainers tell us the importance of focusing on small incremental goals and the same and spiritual directors remind of the importance of praying consistently in short periods of time first before proceeding to long sessions of meditation—why would it be any different for people who suffer from bouts of depression?

 The relief that arrives when I realize that small triumphs over depression are just as successful and valid as large victories.  According to Andrew Carnegie, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Naming your goal and setting forth a plan is a concrete tactic to combat depression. However, in implementing any plan towards your ultimate goal keep in mind that it is important to celebrate the little victories along with the end result. 

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  1. Fellowship not Forlornness: The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov stated,  “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” When I strive away from a purposeful life that is when depression seems to infiltrate. Sure life has its natural ups and downs. However, for someone with chronic depression it is vital to journey throughout life in fellowship rather than tackle your struggles alone.

The best literary example that comes to mind when thinking about the importance of communion to fight off despair and depression is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. His first installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy involves the formation of a Middle Earth menagerie composed of four hobbits, two humans, an elf, a dwarf, and the wizard Gandalf. Similar to depression, the power of the One Ring involved the ability to gain control of its bearer over the course of time. The Fellowship’s singular purpose was to provide aid and companionship to aid Frodo in his journey to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. I found this excerpt that exhibits the importance of friendship during moments of doubt,

But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. 

Are you experiencing moments of doubt now? Does it appear that there is no one around you to trust? Please know that this is a false belief—there is always someone who is willing to help. During times of deep depression I too struggle immensely with doubt. I doubt that I am worthy of friendship. I sometimes even doubt that my beloved Father in Heaven care for me.

Surrounding myself with good and holy people help pull myself out of this tendency to self-doubt. Last week, my manager at work provided much needed words of consolation when I struggled with depression in the workplace. Each week I attend the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where I am united in communion with other fellow Catholics. Through reception of the Eucharist I am nourished by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ to journey out into the world for the next week. Thanksgiving, recognizing the small achievements, and seeking fellowship with others allow you to gain an upper hand in your daily battle against depression. Thank you all for reading my articles and continue to fight the good fight!

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Mathematics of Living a Joyful Life

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Disclaimer: All my readers who hated math in elementary and high school please bear with me as I promise the mathematics I am proposing today is less confusing than long division and solving a geometric proof! For math aficionados hopefully you enjoy this post as much as you enjoy the following math jokes:

  1. How do you stay warm in an empty room? Go into the corner where it is always 90 degrees.

2. There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.

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“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves,” John Paul II declared in his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor. I reflect on this quote more than any other from the Polish pope’s papal writings. Throughout my life I felt a pendulum swing between the scientific and spiritual sides of my being. Instead of embracing unity between this two sides, I fall into the error of viewing faith and reason as unnatural mule-like state.

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Imbalance leads to lack of joy, despair, and doubt. Today, I allowed a one-sidedness to creep up on my and grasp my being. Being a perfectionist, my rational pursuit for excellence at work sowed the seeds to restlessness and anxiety. Any little mistake I made remained with me for some time. I struggled with healthy self-esteem during my periods of pure rationalism.

The danger of reducing all knowledge to reason is that a loss of wonder occurs. During the periods where I exhibit control over all areas of my life [work, home, leisure time, etc] ironically instead of acquiring long-term control and freedom, I only gain a fleeting control that seems to escape my grasp as soon as it arrived.

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I stumbled upon the apropos wisdom of G.K. Chesterton on my dilemma. Instead of reflecting inward the great Englishmen declared, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought.” When I am grateful I am happier. I find this to be true in my life experiences. Oftentimes, after a difficult day at work, home, or both I try to take a short inventory at the end of the day of where I typically failed and how I could succeed. Only through the addition of gratitude to my attitude am I able to subtract the worries of the world from the next day. Strangely enough, I discovered that the mathematics of thanksgiving does not necessarily follow the standard rules of elementary arithmetic.

The rest of the Chesterton quote from above goes as such, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” My conscience [and rational] effort to focus on being more thankful is not sufficient to a happy and joyful life. Thanksgiving needs to be multiplied with wonder. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 1299, “The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words:

‘All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.
Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.113′”

Notice that the final gift of the Holy Spirit conferred is wonder and awe. Amazement at the splendor of God’s being and even his created works is a grace. As a child seeing the world through the lens of wonder was easy. I had the dependence on my parents [and God] that things would work out. Jesus spoke of the importance of child-like faith in Matthew 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples* approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”2He called a child over, placed it in their midst,3b and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,* you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.4c Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5* And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

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The Son of God is not meaning that we should don a gullible faith in God–that is an immature understanding of his words. What Jesus means is that our relationship with God should be that of a father-son/daughter bond.As an adopted son of God I am called to ask for and freely choose to rely on God for dependence during trying times in my life. As previously stated, there is a balance that needs to be struck between human reason and faith in Our Heavenly Father.

Aristotle wrote, “The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry, and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful.” There is a true beauty in the overall structure of the created universe. I also believe that God allowed human freedom and intellect to possess the ability to develop and discover math and science to uncover the mysteries of the world. More authentic usage of our rational capabilities along with recognizing our limitations allows for a person to be both grateful for the created order and marvel at God’s majestic masterpiece. I will leave you with a homework problem below: [DON’T WORRY IT WILL BE AN OPEN NOTE QUIZ I ONLY ASK YOU SEEK TO TRY TO IMPLEMENT THIS EQUATION IN YOUR LIFE!!]

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***Gratitude +Wonder= Subtraction of Worry and Multiplication of Joy*** 

 

Death is not the End

Benjamin Franklin once declared, “The only guarantee in this life is taxes and death.” References to our mortality is oftentimes an uncomfortable topic for humanity in modern Western civilization. We do not want to hear, nor discuss, that all things eventually die. Decay of our bodies and deterioration of our minds is a sinister notion. Because of the fall, death [and sin] entered the world. God’s original plan for His greatest creation—mankind— did not involve dying and eventually being buried six feet under.

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 Bleakness, death, and despair hounded me over the few months. My wife and I suffered another miscarriage in December and my grandfather suffered a heart attack at the end of 2017—he passed on from this life on January 15th. Along with my personal encounters with suffering, I attended a funeral Mass for a stranger—my first such event! Our parish priest during the close of the Sunday liturgy told the congregation of a tragic story about a young military mother who died of brain cancer. He notified us of the funeral time to see if anyone wanted to attend to support her family.

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Such macabre normally causes me pause—and even fright—however, the school of suffering taught me that death is not the greatest fear in this world. Grounded in my faith combined with the teacher of experience, I learned that death is not the end! While moments of despair linger daily, hope persists. Earlier in 2017, I read Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book ‘You Did it to Me’: Divine Mercy in Action. In hindsight, picking up his work at the Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk in my church’s atrium was a turning point in my spiritual life. For those that have not heard of this title, the premise of the book involves providing practical ways to infuse divine mercy into our daily living.

Chapter Two of Divine Mercy in Action focused on the corporeal works of mercy of paying our respects to the deceased and welcoming strangers. Fr. Gaitley provided pages at the end of each chapter for practical tips to grow in holiness. Attending a stranger’s funeral—one of the suggestions— piqued my interest. I thought I would have to wait until my children were grown-up in order to actualize the corporeal work of “burying the dead” in my own life.

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The Holy Spirit works a mysterious and curious manner. Heeding my priest’s words, I scarified my time, something of myself. In a sense, I died—died to my fear—fear of showing up to an event where I knew no one aside from the presiding priests at the funeral. One caveat on this point, I actually did not stay for the entire Mass and I never was able to enter the church! Instead, I roamed the church vestibules as I brought my two young children with me. Frequently chasing my runaway two-year old eventually got the better of me. Mother Teresa once said, “God doesn’t require you to succeed, he only requires that you try.”

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The saint of Calcutta’s wisdom provides us hope. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that death is not the end.  The sainted nun stated, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” Hearing those words always helps to re-orient my gaze toward hope and aids me in trusting the Lord. Jesus urged his apostles [and us today] in Matthew 16:24-26 to plunge headlong into the suffering of the Cross in order to fully follow Him. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides all believers the hope that death is not the end! My grandfather was a humble man of steadfast faith. I confidently hope and pray for the repose of his soul that he is able to experience the joy of the Beatific Vision. I prayer for the souls of my unborn daughter and the young military mother whose funeral I attended as well.

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“Eternal rest grant unto them [these three beautiful souls], O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” 

A Plea to the Lord in Time of Need

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Lord I hate sin and death. I loath injustice in the world. I despise my inequities, my feelings of doubt nearly every day of my life. I want this depression to leave me. I am weary from the fight against myself, my fears, and the constant barrage of assaults against the devil. Death seems to surround us at all times. Wars, natural disasters, political strife dominate the news climate. Darkness lurks over me in recent times. My grandfather is nearing the completion of his earthly life and  there is a great chasm in my soul left by the wound remaining from the loss of my unborn daughter Lucia.
The only suitable response in the face of this suffering and overwhelming despair is to petition you Lord God the Almighty to send me strength and consolation in my moments of weakness. I plea for the support of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with her Holy cache of saints to protect me from the prowess and threats of the Evil One.

Amen.

Spiritual Cave Dwelling

According to the American author Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”  The end of October was a period of consolation in my spiritual journey. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same is true for the 11th month of the year.

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November is a tough month for me personally. Three years ago, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage and all the horrifying feelings resurface during this time of the year. Along with the memory of our loss, the dimming of daylight [especially when we turned the clocks back an hour on November 5th!] provides the perfect recipe for despair and desolation. When it comes to spiritual attach by the Evil One there are generally two general methods to combat him: actively fight through prayer, good works, and reception of the sacraments or secondly retreat from the vices that tempts us.

Today I am going to reflect on the latter strategy. I feel like am called to retreat to my spiritual cave to try to eliminate opportunities for future temptation as to help me avoid further sliding into despair.

Throughout the Bible God calls individuals to experience a conversion in solitude and reflection before granting them power and authority to lead others to Him. For the purpose of eliciting imagery [as I am a visual learner and tend to like symbols] I will refer to such an experience as my “spiritual cave dwelling”!

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  1. Exodus: Throughout the Book of Exodus God calls individuals and His people as a whole to conversation during a trip in the wilderness. Exodus 2-3 details Moses flight from Egypt to the rural land of Midian and his eventually encounter with the Divine presence under the form of the burning bush. God also utilizes a period of spiritual “dryness” to help transform the idol worship of the newly freed Israelites to trust in His Divine Providence. Over a period of forty years, the Israelites had to wander the wildness as reparation for violating the first commandment.

Perhaps, November is my own personal “time in the wilderness” to help me grow in virtue and eliminate bad habits.

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  1. Jesus’ Fasting in the Wilderness: The Gospels placed Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert at the start of his public ministry. Along with calling to mind Moses’ and the Israelites period of conversion, Jesus fasts not because he needs it [because he is without sin!], but rather to be a model of the Christian spiritual life. Sometimes we need to practice self-denial to grow in holiness. While I usually associate fasting relating to physical items such as food or drink, I recently had a thought. What if God allows for consolation to be rescinded from us in order to permit authentic spiritual growth and trust in Him? In my youth I experienced growing pains. Why should be not be different when I grow in my spiritual life? St. Ignatius of Loyala addresses the same point in the Seventh Rule for Discernment of Spirits. He says,

Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it [my emphasis]: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.

November 2017 could be a spiritual schooling from the Holy Spirit allowing me to wean off the need and desire for God’s spiritual candy of consolation that I too quickly “gobbled up” [along with physical candy 🙂 ] in October!

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  1. Athanasius the Bold: During the 4th century A.D., the Catholic Church faced arguably its worst and most pervasive heresy in history—Arianism. Stemming from the false beliefs of the priest Arius, proponents of this belief denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. According to Arius, “There was a time when He [Jesus Christ] was not.” Confusion was so rampant that the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea was convened at 325 A.D. which pronounced Arianism as official heresy. While officially the matter was theologically solved, Arian agents still remained throughout the magisterial network for the remainder of the century.

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To combat this heinous heresy, God sent St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, to champion authentic truth of the Holy Trinity.  However, testifying to the truth came with a price—a bounty on Athanasius’ life not once but five times! As a result he went into hiding each time. He led his diocese clandestinely through the protections of monks.  St. Athanasius stands as an exemplary model of obedience to God. He could have despaired and lamented his situation, but instead he remained steadfast to the truth!

The easier path this month would be for me to languish in my despair. Job promotion denials, stress at work, and daily anxiety abound.  How did Athanasius prevail with his life on the line? Reading his work On the Incarnation provided me clarity. Athanasius states, “Anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”

Periods of desolation are unavoidable on this side of eternity. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an actual cave to escape the entrapments laid out before me by the Devil. While going away on a sudden sabbatical would be irresponsible to my family duties as husband and father. Warding off vice through removing myself from opportunities to sin is not the same as skirting my vocational calling. Fasting and prayer will be powerful weapons for me the remainder of the month as I strive in my pursuit towards holiness.