Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

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Siphoning Sanctity? Reconciling Mark 5:21-43’s Peculiar Passage with Reality

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Having taught high school Old and New Testament in the past and being a cradle Catholic, the newness of the Good News found in the Bible sometimes gets taken for granted. During the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday’s Mass, the Gospel reading actually penetrated my theological torpor and liturgical listlessness. Mark 5:21-43 details two healing stories in one gospel proclamation. The evangelist began with a synagogue official named Jarius pleading to Jesus to save his daughter near death. On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a seemingly tangential telling of the woman afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years! Jesus heals this poor woman and the passage concludes with Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead.

Reflecting on this passage the following questions invaded my mind:

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1. Why does Mark insert a seemingly random story within a healing story? Could he not simply detail the healing of the hemorrhaging woman after completing the passage on the healing of Jarius’ daughter?

2. Does this Gospel reading contain the strangest sentence uttered by Jesus: Who has touched my clothes? Is he not omniscient and all-knowing as God?

3. Power flowing from Jesus…what a peculiar way to describe the healing incident?

These questions initially perplexed me, however, when I had time to think about the passage and re-read the evangelist’s words, and interpret in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church I learned of the deeper more spiritual meaning hidden within Mark 5:21-43 and how it relates to my life today.

Christ Willing to Save All—Social Status does not matter

Sandwiched between the beginning and the end of the healing of Jarius’ daughter, Mark inserted Jesus’ encountered a woman suffering from a blood disorder. After careful review, I noticed the juxtaposition between the two individuals. Below is a chart that showing the differences in how Jarius’ daughter and the unnamed woman came to learn about Jesus.

 

Jarius’ Daughter Woman Suffering Hemorrhage
Young Older
Prestigious Family Poor
Father’s Intercedes Actively Passive Request for Healing
Saw Jesus Heard Jesus

John Paul II declared, “[O]nly in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ.” Certainly, Mark 5 demonstrates people who recognize the importance and power of Jesus.

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According the evangelist, “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” Obsessed with superheroes, I recently received Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game from my wife for Father’s Day. Along with my passion for this geeky deck-building game, I have rented a slew of comic books from the library as well. While my fandom seems random to the discussion of Mark’s Gospel I need to provide a little backdrop to my thought process after hearing the priest read Mark 5:30, the first thought that popped into my head, “I did not know that Rogue made an appearance. Sapping or draining of power is the hallmark of that X-Men character. Marvelously [no pun intended], merely grazing the cloak of Jesus provided the woman healing that eluded doctors many years.

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Joking aside, the healing power of Jesus is quite amazing. Previous consultation with doctors failed to ease the woman’s suffering. The passage that may be interrupted as a “power loss” of Jesus is not meant to infringe on his divine nature. On the contrary, Mark, like the other Synoptic Gospels, never dispute the divinity of Christ, he was utilizing language that his audience would be able to understand.

Jesus—Hope in Face of Despair:

Along with Jesus’ desire to save all humanity, regardless of social standing, Mark 5:21-43 focuses on hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. After healing the woman with a hemorrhage, Jesus arrived too late—at least that was what the crowd thought! Urging Jarius to accept his daughter’s fate the onlookers declared, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Men of little faith and tenacity would have resigned themselves to start the grieving process, yet Jesus urged the synagogue official to not be afraid.

According to Saint Pope John XXII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” From the onset of this Gospel reading Jarius actively sought the aid of Jesus and pleaded for the return of his daughter to life when all looked hopeless as she appeared to linger in the shadow of death. Below is a link to a story about Jesus providing miraculous healing to another young daughter—prematurely born!

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Uniqueness of the Individual:

A final thought that crossed my mind when reflecting on Mark 5:21-43 was that Jesus focuses on the present moment with grace, love, and resolve. Even on the way toward healing a prominent religious official’s child, Christ paused to listen to the needs of an ordinary, poor woman. Saint Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Do not worry about the past nor the future only concern about the need of God’s children in front of you.

This is exactly what Jesus did in Mark 5:25-34—noticing the presence of the sickly woman Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment. As a father of three young children, my focus is frequently divided between juggling the various needs and adventures of my kids growing up. What I learned to devote my attention and time to the present moment and act with love instead of worrying about the various needs and whether it will be adequate or not. The genius of the Gospel message centers on the individual first. Siphoning sanctity cannot occur as love multiplies not divides when more and more individuals come into your life.

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Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms

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Life events such wedding your best friend, celebrating an anniversary, graduating school, overcoming major illnesses, and learning to overcome addictions normally lead a person to joy. Usually such cathartic experiences bring incredible joy—joy that cannot be contained! However, I am currently struggling to bring myself to seize the joy of the anticipate birth of my fourth child. Let me provide a little background to clarify my hesitancy.

Dating back to late 2017 and beginning of 2018, my wife and I lost two children due to miscarriage. Because of the previous loss, and the insane amount of pain associated with it, I conditioned my heart, mind, and soul to be cautious. In fact, I guarded my expectations to prevent possible pain of future loss so much that I am neutral, stoic, non-responsive to the current joy in my life!

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Sifting through writings, thoughts, and quotes about miscarriage I came across profound wisdom from the great C.S. Lewis,

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

While I am not a mother, the Christian apologist’s words still pertain to me and my fatherhood [really any father who suffered the misfortune of having a child not survive pregnancy. A lot of my writings over the course of the year relate to my suffering, pain, distress, worry, and ultimate purgative experiences with miscarriage. Along with the pain and memory of hope dashed, I struggled mightily with letting my guard down to feel joy, to reacquaint myself with happiness of a birth announcement, and to re-orient myself toward hope.

According to Bishop Robert Barron in his book Catholicism, “We say something is beautiful—a face, a painting, a golf swing—when it hangs together as one (it has wholeness), when all of its parts work together in consonance (it has harmony), and when it shines forth as an archetype of what such a thing should be (it has radiance).” A family missing a member(s) cannot reflect the truth and power of the Holy Trinity. I sense that same is true for my family now.

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Gazing at my three children playing at the park and helping each other go up the various climbing apparatuses or going down the slides, I imagined a fourth playing. Difficult to describe this scene it occurred more in the inner recesses of my heart that actually a physical vision or daydream.   During my wife and I’s engagement we talked about being open to life, raising a larger family, and we both seemed to desire [at least open to the desire] for at least four children. I cannot quite fully articulate this desire into words expect that I believe God’s Providential plan is at work in my life.

I pray for continued support, strength, and opportunities to unleash the joy of the Gospel during our family’s time of anticipation and cautious yearning for a safe birth and delivery of our child!

 

Tsunami of Tiredness—Tips to Stay Afloat During Storms of Life

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Both a blessing and a curse, water exists as a life-giving resource or a potential deadly force—in the form of floods, monsoons, and hurricanes. The universality of hydrogen dioxide always is a great example to compare the stresses and storms of life against. Summer vacation does not always seem like a retreat especially as a father of three young children. Over the past week, my family traveled to a local state park and camped in a cabin, visited our municipal zoo, and went to a children’s museum. While on paper that seems a recipe for a smooth, carefree, and memorable family experience, the reality with having children with special needs do not necessarily match this ideal.

The power-struggle of putting our four-year old toddler to bed each night combined with daily challenges adapting to two sons on the autism spectrum needs to be frequently prepared for change led to lassitude. Actually, mere fatigue does not adequately capture my wife and I’s emotional, physical, and mental state. In fact, my energy was zapped from me and it felt like we withstood—ONLY by a great miracle—a tsunami of tiredness!

Precisely how did I live through the most recent storm of life?  Reflecting on the course of the past week, I realized some important ways to survive, or stay afloat, maelstroms of life.

Lord is my rock and refuge

The Rock We May Cling To:

According to Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The Old Testament also speaks of entrusting your concerns, weariness, and anxieties with the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 describes this, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Moreover, the Psalmist describes God as a bastion to remain safe: “But the LORD is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide” (Psalm 94:22).

What I find interesting is the description of God as a mighty rock as a place for us to hide. Amid stressful situations it may seem like a copout to go into hiding while the storm passes. However, hiding is not the same as fleeing.

As a parent, I go into brief periods of hiding [into another room or even outside] when the noise, raucous, and whining of my children compound on each other. Taking a five minute break in the form of “hiding” into another room or at least seeking “hiding” through prayer is actually a healthy thing that makes the difference to me parental mindset. Frankly, I need to utilize opportunities to “hide” or cling to the rock of Our Lord much more often that I do currently!

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Mary—Model to Mirror:

Along with the stalwart strength God affords us during the stormy seas of life, looking to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a role model to emulate is another way that I stay afloat during bouts of exhaustion. My family’s favorite appellation for Mary is Star of the Sea. In fact, through this devotion of Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] that my wife’s faith as. Convert to Catholicism deepened!

A nautical theme exist in our living room and bedroom with the walls decorated with anchors. These aquatic ballasts symbolize the ability to be anchored in the Lord and experience security continual turmoil of daily stresses. As the supreme role model for humanity, the Blessed Mother of God shows us that obedience to God is possible. My personal favorite quote about Mary’s guidance comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the Doctor of the Church, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary” Another sainted doctor, Francis de Sales, provides incredibly powerful words to describe Mary’s intercessory influence, “Let us run to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”

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Ready, Set, and Prepare for the Next Storm:

Together with reliance on God and looking to Mary as a human role model, being prepared is absolutely essential for withstanding a current maelstrom you may be experiencing and for weathering future flurries.  According to St. Josemaria Escriva, “Discouragement is the enemy of your perseverance. If you don’t fight against discouragement, you will become pessimistic first and lukewarm afterward. Be an optimist (The Way, no. 988

Prepare yourself with seeing trials that come into your life as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of being a burden drown you in a sea of depression. I honestly did not realize that the Spanish saint’s feast day was today until I noticed a post from in a Catholic group I follow on Facebook. Even as I am writing now I struggle with physical stamina and mental mettle to complete this post. Suddenly, looking at an underlined passage that begins the chapter entitled Perseverance—I pause and realize that preparation does pay off! St. Josemaria reminded me, “To begin is for everyone, to persevere is for saints” (The Way, no. 983).

Without God’s previous preparation and my cooperation in that through my learning about the wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva, there conclusion to this post would be a little rocky [no pun intended!]. That being said, I am always willing to seek the advice of the spiritual giants who came before me. I always desire to seek an opportunity to better myself. While I failed to exit the most recent life-storm unscathed and with grace [both my wife and kids know that I lost my patience many times and pledge to be a better husband and father], my  reliance on God as a rock of strength, Mary as a guide, and the rest of the saints as models to emulate I will be better provided to stay afloat with the next  tsunami of tiredness hits. I pray that you find this read helpful and stay afloat with me using these tips during your storm(s) of life as well!

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Praying with Paper Football

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Albert Einstein once stated, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Simplicity is an attractive quality. I experienced simplicity in a unique and seemingly ordinary way—through a game of paper football with my 4 year-old daughter! Too often I strive for the complexities in life—whether that be in solving difficult problems or seeking joy in extraordinary things. Technology is also a double-edged sword, its purpose is to simplify human life, however, because of the explosion of technology in the 21st century we face a digital deluge—I feel the daily pressure [that I impose on myself] to constantly check my social media and blogging sites.

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Why do I inflict such frivolous constraints upon myself? What do I need to prove by keeping up with the trending blogger scene and marketing on various social media platforms? Will my family love me any less if I fail to hit my target goals for views and monthly posts? Certainly not! My struggle is that I tend to implement false activity to mask my slothful tendency.

Raising children—especially children who recently suffered continual fevers—takes a toll on a person. The daily grind of parenting wears on a father, mentally, physically, and spiritually. While I strive to live a virtuous life, I fail, and fail often as a father. Love for my children is replaced by a mindset of viewing children being burdensome. When that occurs the seed of sloth blossoms into a tree of acedia!

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The Holy Spirit conferred graces to help me withstand and eliminate my slothful nature through the simplicity of a paper football game. Triangular paper footballs are becoming common in our home. I recently renewed interest in the classic middle school table-top game. Football is my favorite sport to watch and with the Green Bay Packers out of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2009 I felt left wanting more football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.

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Having to stay home [YET AGAIN—at this rate I may be burned completely out of my PTO before spring 😦 ) with my children because of low-grade fevers, unbeknownst to me a fantastic, yet simple encounter with love. After dishing out a bowl of cereal for my daughter, I sat at the kitchen table with her. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the paper football and flicked the triangular toy across the table. This simple gesture turned into several minutes of laughter and great fun!

St. Mother Teresa speaks of joy in this way, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” While I cannot guarantee my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper—although I certainly hope she will learn to cherish this time—I am confident that the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of playtime with my daughter will stay with me forever. Both the Holy Spirit and my daughter taught me that play and prayer do not have to be mutually exclusive, instead God intends to use all types of interactions to draw us closer knowledge and love of Him.

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Ruminations of a Simple Catholic

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This week Satan sent a slew of his tricks and attacks to get me to stumble and lose ground in my spiritual journey. Combining sick young children with the possibility of despair at the loss of my grandfather, and icy tempests of Midwest winter weather seemed like a perfect recipe for chaos to brew and bubble forth into my family’s life.

Over the course of my life, I discovered that the Devil enjoys wearing me down with a combined assault of disparaging events and situations. God’s consoling Love appears distant or completely absent altogether during such periods. The great mystic doctor of the Church St. John if the Cross refers to such times as a Dark Night.

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In the first chapter of his spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul, the Spanish saint compares The grace of God to the love of a mother to a child. During our early stages of being a child of God, we experience consoling graces to feed our spiritual growth– akin to a Mother breastfeeding an infant. As we progress in the spiritual life, God allows us to grow by limiting the consoling graces that originally aided us. St. John of the Cross tells us,

It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitively converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God…(Dark Night of the Soul, 4).

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Constantly challenged by whiny requests from my sick children, I struggled at the beginning of this week to act with patience and grace of a loving father. The good news is that God granted me several days [opportunities] to renew my commitment of selflessness that I promised on my wedding day and reaffirmed by being open to becoming a parent.

Prayer and the hope of the Sacrament of Confession provided stability to my feeble will over the course of this week. I started praying a decade of the rosary as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. Inserting that brief time of prayer instead of surfing social media on my iPhone helped bring back perspective to my day. I am a family man and need to lead by example. The sins of sloth and despair gained a foothold in my spiritual life earlier this week. Asking the Blessed Virgin and humbling confessing my shortcomings by week’s end provide shield against those sins.

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Communication with God and humbly asking for forgiveness will renew my commitment to being the best possible husband and father I am called to be! I am thankful God granted me a period of reprieve during my children’s afternoon nap to ruminate on the state of my spiritual life and to help me game plan for next week. I ask for continued strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit as I continue on my pilgrim pursuit of a joyous life.

Examples of a [Grand]Father

Early this week, my grandfather passed away at the age of 95. He left 11 children my grandmother in an abundance of Grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. It is with more sadness and joy that I write today. My family – and the world – lost a holy man. His passing provided me an opportunity to pause to reflect on my own life. Sometimes it is important to stop and assess our spiritual life. Reflecting on my own path of holiness I need to take stock of whether I am living as God intended of me. Am I the best possible husband my wife deserves? What virtues may I improve on to become the best version of myself for my children? How am I doing as a Catholic man in today’s world?

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Saint Joseph is the Standard upon which all fathers should be measured on their greatness. St Josemaria Escriva said this about the foster father of Jesus, “St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. ”  I am convinced my grandfather model his life after St. Joseph. As a farmer, husband, and father, himself my grandfather diligently and humbly worked to provide for his family and lived in obedience of God.

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Obviously, we become biased toward our family members and especially hold them in higher regard after their passage from this life into the next. However, I have evidence that my grandfather modeled his life after the greatest male saint of all–Joseph. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 7:16-20,

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.k16l By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.20So by their fruits you will know them.

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I see the holiness in my own father. I see my dad‘s humble witness to truth and to love for both my mother myself my siblings and the Catholic teaching. While my dad is a holy man in his own right, I believe his path towards holiness was forged in the days all his youth by my grandfather. I see loving examples of husbands and fathers in my uncles as well.

The example of a holy father figure carries a lot of weight. Its effects are tangible and stand the test of time.  “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessNothing is so gentle as real strength,” proclaimed Saint Francis de Sales. The gentle, patient, and humble example upon which my grandfather lived his life will not fade with his death. Instead, the legacy of strong father figures is continued in my father and uncles. Ultimately, I am faced with an important question: which kind of father do I want to exemplify to my own children? I hope to live up to the gold standard example of my grandfather’s [and St. Joseph’s] humble life. I continue ask God to give me grace to become the best version of myself on my pilgrim pursuit toward a joyous life!

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