Preoccupations

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I finished my lunch that consisted of 3 day old pepperoni pizza and a crisp red apple. Having already read several pages of my book and wanting to preserve data on my phone my eyes started to wonder. Peering from left to right the panoramic view of the partially-filled lunchroom involved fellow company employees staring at their iPhones. My eyes suddenly shifted to the half-eaten fruit in my hand. “Apples are interesting,” I told myself. I went on to reflect on the amazing fact that apples exist and the differences on the crispness and sweetness each variety contains.

G.K. Chesterton once stated, “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” This quote did not make sense to me until recently. Not until despair entered into my life again. See when I am succeeding [at least according to worldly standards] I do not stop to “smell the roses”—or to look at the wonder of the world. Rather, I am on to the next project, the next goal, the next challenge to overcome!

When I go through long periods of consolation I tend to take the blessing in my life for granted. Only through the school of suffering do I learn to focus my worldly preoccupations on God. Suffering does not discriminate. It does not recognize differences in age, race, financial background, or religious belief. Recently, my wife and I suffered another miscarriage. I struggle with reason for why God allows these horrific events to continue to hound us.

Both my wife and I went to the sacrament of Confession to help us heal from our doubting in God’s Providence. Did this completely eradicate my feelings of desolation? No, however, through recognizing suffering as a learning opportunity and trusting in God’s ultimate providence helps me start the healing process—albeit may be a long path for us.

I notice the greatness of God in the moments of suffering. Oftentimes during my mountain climb toward success I succumb to pride and lose sight of my reliance of Him. Because God is love, he allows things to happen to me. Saint John Paul II summed it up best, “Freedom exists for the sake of love.” This will be a constant struggle for me as I deal with the aftermath of our miscarriage. While I may not always feel the embrace of God’s consolation, I have learned from my past suffering that I will always be able to trust in His total Providence!

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10 Reasons I am Thankful for my Catholic Faith

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G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage,  I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!

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  1. Eucharist: The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!

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  1. Holy Trinity: God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!

 

  1. Incarnation: The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.

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  1. Confession: I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.

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  1. Divine Mercy: While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!

 

  1. Mary: My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.

 

  1. Saints: Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.

 

  1. Hope: I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”

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  1. Sacred Tradition: I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God. The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97, What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.

  1. Beauty: The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.

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  Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.

We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.

R: Amen.

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Crossroads

“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. I came across this quote earlier this week as I read Orthodoxy. Immediately, I picked up my mechanical pencil off the living room floor and underlined this concise, but brilliant message. As a former cross country runner, street intersections always remind me of the choice I had as a runner. Which path should I take? Do I take the easy and high trafficked path [normally I feel motivated by an audience of automobile drivers on the busier streets to help me continue to run] or do I take the road less traveled? Little did I realize how Chesterton’s statement would be actualized in my life. Less than a day after reading that passage, I arrived at a junction.

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Some brief background is needed as I believe God has prepared me for this moment for a while now. My youngest child was evaluated by early childhood developmental professionals and diagnosed with some learning and cognitive disabilities. Along with this challenge my wife started a new teaching job. Bills seem to continually pile up with little end in sight [at least immediate end]. Over the past few months I struggled with anxiety and my vocation in this world. I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father, but sometimes I felt like I needed to do more, to be something more, and to provide more light to this world.

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Counseling sessions and anxiety medication help me cope with the daily stresses of this ever-changing and chaotic world. Thankfully, my son was approved to receive weekly special education services to assist him in limiting his incredible tantrums and frustration levels [he was at a point where he started banging his head against the ground and hurt himself!] and increasing his ability to socialize and communicate. Small gains are being made, yet he has a long road ahead.

Together with counseling and medicine, listening to Christian music daily and reading literary Catholic giants like Chesterton and Tolkien provide me with relief when self-doubt and despair assault me. In the weeks preceding  my crossroads experience I had yesterday.  “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.”

Talking with my manager during our weekly meeting, I looked for feedback on a new company position I was interested in. “Why did you apply for this position?” he asked. I replied, “The creative aspect and the possibility to increase my writing skills.” He continued to press on as to why exactly I enjoyed writing and advised that my career is what I choose to make of it. As a person who struggled [I guess still struggles] with OCD, I tend to like to view the world as black and white; either/or; through an if/then lens. I tried to get my manager to make the choice for me on my next path. “Where do you see yourself [career wise] in the next few years?” he asked.

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There are a few moments in life where you experience a profound clarity. Almost eerily clear. The best example I remember is when I started dating my [then future] wife in college. A mere month into dating I got a sense that I was meant to marry this girl. I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Matt you are going to marry her!” Yesterday’s conversation with my manager produced a similar lucidity of thought. “What do you want to do with your career Matt?” I responded [in my head] almost immediately, “A writer, I want to be a writer and spread the Catholic faith!!” Outside of my mind, I replied to my manager, “Well, you know I am not completely sure…” I continued to make general statements about how I enjoyed writing and about becoming a stay-at-home father to assist with my son with special needs.

Why do we shy away from God’s clear direction at a “crossroad moment” of our life? Personally, I struggle with the notion that such clear moments exist. Clarity in this chaotic world is bold. Truth is daring. As Chesterton put it, “Life [according to the faith] is very much like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with a promise (or menace)…But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will” (Orthodoxy p. 128).  Sometimes I wish there was a pre-determined path laid out for me. In some ways, lacking freedom is less stressful. But such mentality stems from the Evil One and leads to doubt in God’s providential plan for us. It seems crazy that I am so sure that I am called to be a Catholic writer. Looking back on my life, I had the exact same doubt when I dated my wife. I thought, “It is not possible to be so certain about marrying so short in the dating process!” Marrying my wife, my best helpmate toward Heaven, was [and is] in God’s plan.

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“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.” I sincerely hope that I am able be an instrument of God help bring peace and clarity to people who suffer periods of doubt and confusion. Thank you for reading and continue to pray for me to follow God’s path!

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The Magic of Living

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What am I doing here? Is this all to life? Sitting in my work cubicle these thoughts occasionally cross my mind. Struggling with the daily routine of work and family life, my mind tends to wander off toward fantasy. I think part it is it due to a desire to escape my mundane situation. Reading fantasy allows me to attain that escapism while remaining in the comfort of my living room. After putting my children to bed and waiting for my wife to return from errand-running, I had some free time to read. Picking up Chesterton’s Orthodoxy I spent about twenty minutes navigating his semi-autobiographical work. Suddenly, I stopped at a passage from his fourth chapter entitled The Ethics of Elfland. The great English wordsmith writes, “I have said that stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege” (Orthodoxy p. 54).

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In other words, life is not something to be merely enjoyed via self-gratification, but rather my existence on this earth should be viewed through the lens of privilege—life is a free gift. My children point to this reality, often lost as we reach adulthood, that life should be joyful. The strangeness and idiosyncrasies of the universe should be something to revel in, not quake at the seeming despair when we encounter things and events that do not fit our controlled world. On the other end of the adult’s worldview is perceiving re-occurrence as a bad thing or something to be avoided. Chesterton put it this way,

All towering materialism which dominates the modern world rest ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation known to fact…A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue…For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon (Orthodoxy pp. 50-51).

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Wonder and awe stems from the ability be amazed at creation even if it is the hundredth or thousandth time viewing a starry night or noticing a bird gathering straw for her nest. Children possess the magic of living—the ability to love life despite doing the same activity over and over again. Monotony, dullness, and lethargy did not enter the vocabulary of the youth. Chesterton reminded me that I need to return to my youth. I need to jettison the false assumption that repetition is inherently bad and variety alone leads to life!

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I need not enter the Pevensie’s wardrobe, or a supernatural rabbit hole, or even run headfirst toward a brick-wall on an English train station between platforms 9 and 10 [although I did visit this fictional landmark during my trip to Europe!! 🙂 ]. Instead, I am able to encounter magic in this life by visiting my children’s closet as I gaze at the array of Lego men and women scattered in an apparent random order on top of, within, and under the closet shelves. What adventures are they going on today? I can also lower myself to the level of my youngest son as his eyes open with joy at the sound of the door opening. He enjoys leaving in the morning as he gets to meander outside and gaze at the wheels of my car. How incredibly simple, yet fulfilling would life be if I approached every day as a magical experience? The life of children is akin to that of our Divine Creator—they do not get bogged down by the monotony [apparent monotony that is] in this world. I ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven my soul to view any dullness and routine in my life as a gift!

***Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon”***

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Finding the Creative Spirit of God in Play!

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According to G.K. Chesterton, “It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground” (From the essay Oxford from Without). There is so much theology packed into this quote. What stands out most to me in Chesterton’s thought is the word true. I think that while earthly life consists of toil and repeated work, God planted the seeds for true life to flourish in our earthly lives and hopefully culminating in the heavenly playground if we achieve sainthood. Let me explain.

The opening chapter in Genesis charts out the creation of the world by God. Creation occurred in six days [periods of time] and God rested on the seventh day. Why does God need rest? Is he not outside of time and space—thus He would never tire? The real purpose of the institution of the Sabbath rest on Sunday is because God knows that humanity needs time for rest and recreation! True joy and creativity oftentimes comes from our resting and recreational activities. Last summer I read a biography about St. John Paul II and it talked at length about the saint’s love of skiing. This playful activity was a unique way for the late pope to encounter God and to be recharged to continue his papal duties.

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Going back to the notion of God’s creative genius instituting the holiness of resting on the Sabbath, the Catholic Mass is considered the perfection and fulfillment of the Jewish Sabbath. The retired pope Benedict XVI says it best in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, “It is a ‘playful thing’ in which those gathered for the liturgy can be said to be at play— homo ludens—in the presence of God; it is like children’s play—it is ‘not there to achieve an end’ but is an end in and of itself (p. 2). To expand on this point, whenever I play with my children or friends it is out of love! It ultimately does not matter which game we play—board game, lawn game, basketball, football, or soccer. Within the creative activity of play, a joy arises similar to the joy I experience during a Catholic liturgy where I receive the gift of the Eucharist every week.

While work and toil certainly has its place in our earthly lives—and even is a means to holiness—we should not forget the importance of play as a means to holiness as well. As a person who tends to be more on the serious side, Chesterton’s words are a shot of theological medicine that thaw my impatient heart. This week my challenge to myself is to look for God’s creative Holy Spirit in playing with my young children!

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The Test of Happiness is Gratitude!

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This week I was researching for an article I am writing about G.K. Chesterton and I came across this gem of a quote from Chapter 4 of his work Orthodoxy. He states, “The test of happiness is gratitude.” There are few phrases that make me pause when I am reading and this was one of them. I have thought about this quote a lot today and figured it would be a good message to pass along.

Gratitude is defined as the quality of feeling or being thankful. Why a feeling may be arbitrary and susceptible to change “being” thankful has a more lasting feature to it. Because of this, I want to make this slight change to Chesterton’s quote– the test of happiness is [being] thankful!

According to a recent article I read online about the success of the restaurant chain Chik-fil-a, the power of saying “thank you” is quite tangible. The main thrust of the article states that Chik-fil-a’s leadership stresses the importance of manners and expressing gratitude towards customers in their employee training. As an occasional customer of Chik-fil-a, I can attest to the superb customer service and appreciation among workers when I visit their establishment.

On a more profound level, the Catholic Church has been proclaiming Chesterton’s message “The Test of Happiness is Gratitude” for over 2,000 years. In fact the most important thing Catholics participate in on a weekly or daily basis– the Mass– is centered on thanksgiving! The sacrament of the Eucharist, housed within the Mass, along with being the source and summit of the Catholic faith, actually is a transliteration of the Greek word eucharistia which means “thanksgiving”. I always come out of Mass being happier than when I came in. It is nice to have a reminder of thankfulness to re-orient myself if I stray away from this mindset during the week.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that the Catholic Mass and the success of Chik-fil-a are both connected to being thankful. God knows that mankind can only be truly happy when experiencing life as a gift. So to conclude, I want to thank all that have read my posts and for anyone who is reading my writing for the first time. I thank God for my faith, family, and friends. I hope you find at least three things to be thankful of today after reading this. Thank you again!

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