Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 20, 2019.
According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness.
Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.
Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.
Larger Piece of the Puzzle
Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope in solving the puzzle!
Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle. Without borders and helpers it’s easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.
Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism
Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. Mike Pacer writes, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope isn’t the same as wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not produce a placebo effect like false-optimism.
God gives us the gift of hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”
Heaven—the Final Frontier
Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!
St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mary guides us to Her Son
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 because she points us to her Divine Son Jesus!
We 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.17
Prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots
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
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:
- How do you stay warm in an empty room? Go into the corner where it is always 90 degrees.
- There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.
“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 in an unnatural mule-like state.
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.
It’s Not Rocket Science!
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′”
Power of Amazement
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.
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.
Orderly Wonder of Joy
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!!]
Your Daily Challenge
***Gratitude +Wonder= Subtraction of Worry and Multiplication of Joy***
Saint Pope John Paul II declared, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” The Enemy utilizes despair in an attempt to disable hope. Good Friday’s horror is not negated by Easter, but rather suffering is transformed. Transformation occurs when we take up our cross.
Among the biggest news stories this Easter was the terrorist attack in Sri Lanka. Deaths of nearly 300 Christians cause the Body of Christ deep pain. I cannot even begin to image the sadness, anger, confusion, doubts, and despair the victims’ families have to endure. Hope certainly would be the last thing on my mind. Death appears to have the final say. This suffering in South Asia may seem to supersede the joy of Easter. Words cannot do justice to describe their suffering. I can simply provide my prayers for peace and understanding.
Christ’s victory over death on Easter brings purpose to pain. As Christians, we are called to unite our suffering with Christ’s in atonement for the world. According to St. Maria Faustina, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” Only on the OTHER SIDE of suffering does her claim make sense.
During our suffering, we experience all sorts of doubts. We may question our purpose in life. I certainly did during my greatest period of despair—on the heels of losing unborn children due to miscarriage. I questioned God’s goodness about why would he allow a baby to die. The people in Sri Lanka I am sure ask God why their loved ones died in a senseless attack!
Suffering tested and later transformed my faith—from belief I took for granted to a faith of strong conviction. My capacity to suffer deepened. Because I lost my children, I have a greater ability to emphasize with others who lost loved ones. Far from being an expert in suffering, I became a student of Christ via my tribulations. While I aim to pick up my cross daily, I fail often. The true remedy is frequent reception of the Sacraments.
I hope the Sri Lankans find the strength to rely on God in their time of need. Hope is the greatest defense against despair and doubt. Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When you do not feel hope please do not despair. Trudge forward daily and keep asking God for hope. Hope in Jesus’ Resurrection transforms us. If you are experiencing doubts, fears, or despair please ask for help. Post prayer requests in the comment section.
“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones.” –Ephesians 6:18
“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.g 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.h
14Now the body is not a single part, but many. 15If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 16Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” 22Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, 23and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, 24whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, 25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. 26If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” –1 Corinthians 12: 12-26
A few years ago, I discovered a “secret weapon” the Devil utilizes to lull Christians into a false security of security—the snooze button (see related links at end of article for more information!). Along with the cloudy weather, and antics of my children, I am confident that a clandestine onslaught against me by the Adversary planted the seeds of spiritual sloth and gluttony. This weekend so a resurgence of another spiritual attack on my soul, this time with arguably the most sinister weapon of all—despair. Ironically, this attack landed on the Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—a time of joy in anticipation for the birth of the Christ-Child.
What happened? I believed to be on track, spiritually, to grow closer to Jesus. My wife and I made a concerted focus to pray before the Advent wreath and read the Gospel reading for the day. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” Focusing on myself, shifted the focus away from God. The effects have been quite devastating. Despair compounds quicker than a pay-day lender loan’s interest.
What is the defense against Satan’s sinister weapon? The answer is as old as time itself, but never more relevant—trust in God always. St. Maria Faustina always provides me uplifting words. In her diary she wrote, “I will not allow myself to be so absorbed in the whirlwind of work as to forget about God. I will spend all my free moments at the feet of the Master hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.” While, I failed miserably earlier today about lamenting too much and dwelling too much on the failures and stresses of work, the good news is that it is never too late to hit the re-set—so long as it is not the re-set for the snooze button J!].
Together with reading about the saints of Divine Mercy like St. Faustina, the singular best weapon to combat despair is hope. We are led our Hope of Hopes most easily through following the witness of Jesus’ Mother. St. Louis de Montfort declared, “The Rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who loves His Mother.”
Hope dispels despairs. Hope in Christ hold eternal consequences. Think about the two thieves crucified next to Jesus. Luke 23:39-43 details out an end of life exchange between the two criminals and Jesus. The unrepentant thief ridiculed Jesus. While his fate is ultimately not specifically given, the good thief, or the penitent thief we are told was forgiven and allowed into Heaven.
40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving [c]what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come [d]in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Although the Adversary utilizes the primary spiritual weapons of the seven deadly sins, a sinister side effect, and weapon in an of itself is despair. Frequenting the sacraments, praying the Rosary daily [or at the very least petitioning the Blessed Virgin for aid], and asking spiritual guidance from the saints will galvanize you in the spiritual battle.
A Prayer for Hope
Heavenly father, I am your humble servant,
I come before you today in need of hope.
There are times when I fell helpless,
There are times when I feel weak.
I pray for hope.
I need hope for a better future.
I need hope for a better life.
I need hope for love and kindness.
Some say that the sky is at it’s
darkest just before the light.
I pray that this is true, for all seems dark.
I need your light, Lord, in every way.
I pray to be filled with your light from
head to toe. To bask in your glory.
To know that all is right in the world,
as you have planned, and as you want
it to be.
Help me to walk in your light, and live
my life in faith and glory.
In your name I pray, Amen.
Confusion, misunderstanding, strife, and conflict pervade our modern world. “Fake-news” recently become a moniker attached to popular United States media outlets. The human race seems to be more splintered and fractured now more than ever! Ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles declared this timeless truth, “Despair often breeds disease.” Viewing life from the singular optic of the self-perspective also leads to despair. I am most troubled and experienced hopelessness especially when my daily living is self-centered.
According to the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” In high school I used to listen to Green Day [not sure if this is a good thing to admit or not! :P] when I ran for cross country practice. The song Boulevard of Broken Dreams had a catchy beat and was always on the top of my playlist. Not fully reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics, in hindsight the words hint at a forlornness that is sadly all too familiar in the modern world:
I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me, and I walk alone
I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one, and I walk alone
Last week, I previously wrote about how hope fends off despair. Because of the incessant onslaught from our Adversary despair creeps into life each and every day! Being aware of our daily battle as humans and knowing our ultimate aim in this journey in life are excellent ways to help ward off despair.
Along with hope, being thankful daily is essential to combat devilish despair and pessimism. St. Gianna Beretta Molla spoke of gratitude in this way, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” The days where I experience greater peace, joy, and contentment are the same days where I make a point to be thankful for the simple blessings. As a Catholic my faith life centers on the Eucharist. A few years ago, I discovered that the word Eucharist comes from the Latin Eucharisiai which translates as thanksgiving. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324).
Despair, worry, and anxiety sprung up on me suddenly several times this week. Usually it stems from hearing news that I perceived as bad, viewing it solely from my perspective, or possessing an entitled mindset. Giving myself a small five or ten minute break allowed me to reframe my mindset.
Reminding yourself to be thankful throughout the day is absolutely key to fending off despair and anguish. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Times where I am angry or frustrated with my children or wife usually is not indicative of their behavior. Rather, it is an indictment on my attitude of ingratitude for the blessings that God bestowed on my daily. As a father, I need to be more thankful—promoting this mentality will flow to the rest of my family and create a culture of love and compassion.
We all come from different backgrounds, past, and family make-ups, but holds humanity together is our ability to be thankful daily! Let us start anew and don a thankful attitude to combat despair and loneliness.
“Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” –Ven. Solanus Casey