God of Surprises—Turning the Greatest Murderer of His People into His Greatest Evangelizer

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According to Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” From the onset of Jesus’ ministry the followers of Jesus become astonished at his works. As a perfectionist and control-freak, my natural inclination is to seek regularity and pattern in daily living. While I enjoy reading about sudden plot twists from the comfort of my armchair, I did not handle tons of surprises in my life well.

Most choices I make only occur after being carefully calculated and thought out. Today started no differently. Always planning ahead, I woke up quickly going over the list of my agenda for the day: get breakfast ready for the wife and kids, take my son to school, exercise, take younger kids to library, get more cereal—this perhaps was the most important as to avoid a meltdown from my 4 year old tomorrow morning—  and finally drop the kids off at daycare before going to work. WHEW! If I was not already tired I am now after writing that sentence! Hopefully, you have not grown weary yet. My daily routine planted its grip on me which grants me stability, but the downside is I am not as open to wonder and awe as easily.

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The paradox with seeking complete control of your life is that anxiety seems to follow close behind. Although I had a productive day errand-wise when it came to writing this article I initially hit a roadblock. Anxiety set in. What to write about? How would I be able to compose engaging material that without being forceful in my thought? The words of St. Paul came to assuage my concerns. He proclaimed, “”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7). Paul of Tarsus’ conversion story always appealed to me.

Throughout this week I thought a lot about the surprising [and questionable] reasoning of God to select a former mass murderer to serve as his primary evangelizer in the early Church. See the thing about God’s will and plan is that it goes above man’s mere superficial gaze. The God of Paul, the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a being of great surprises. God surprised me today When I looked up the daily Mass reading for April 17th,[today!] I almost stood up from my desk in awe! The first reading for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter comes from Acts 7:51-8:1A—the stoning of Stephen. Stephen’s murder represented the height of Saul’s sin. I truly do not believe my ponderings on St. Paul were mere coincidence. God planted a desire in my heart—the same day that the Mass readings were about his past failures!—to look to Paul’s journey toward conversion as a testament of Divine Mercy.

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Among the most sinister characters in the New Testament, Saul led the assault against Christians. However, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles the same individual goes by the name Paul, became a household name in the early Church, and preaches through the ancient world the Good News of Jesus Christ. How is that possible? Answer: The God of the Universe loves to surprise. The plot twist involving the former persecutor of Christians is just one example of God’s mysterious, yet amazing plan of salvation.

The pride and self-righteousness of Saul prior to his conversion speaks directly to my own struggles with hubris and judgmental attitude towards others of different backgrounds. Acts 9 contains the conversion story of Saul. Traveling to Damascus, a bright light from the sky blinds him and Saul falls to the ground. Receiving temporary blindness for three days, the Lord moves in the heart of Saul during his period of darkness. After being healed from his blindness, Saul is baptized and takes the new Christian name of Paul—and the rest of the story is history.

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Does your own pride cause myopia in your spiritual life? Are you in a place in your life where it would not be a bad thing to be knocked off the high horse of hubris? Have past actions caused innocent people to suffer? These are questions I reflect on today— and need to regularly ponder—as I sojourn through life. Am I currently Paul? Or have I acted like a Saul lately?

St. Maria Faustina detailed this truth about God’s mercy in Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul“A soul does not benefit as it should from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery” (113, page 63). I would not be surprised if the memory of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 acted as a seed planted by the Holy Spirit as the Polish saint wrote these words. God’s write a perfect story with imperfect story. St. Paul is a testament to this fact. I am given hope by learning to trust in God’s surprising and unexpected details in his plan of salvation!  

God writes straight

 

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Thank you for sharing!

Another Thankful Thursday!

G.K. Chesterton stated, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” His words ring true today and will continue for all ages. The most joyful days in my life happened when gratitude was on the forefront of mind. I wish to share with you my appreciation for all support I have received over the course of this past year. I started to consistently post for The Simple Catholic blog exactly one year ago–March 2017. Since then,  viewership, followers, likes, and comments have increased and remained stable. Thank you for all that visit The Simple Catholic–whether you are a new follower or a frequent visitor of the site I am grateful for all your engagement.

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My hope is that I may be able be a beacon of hope to those struggling with doubt, depression, and general anxiety in the face of life situations. I am confident that through the aid of God, first and foremost, and also your continued prayers that I am granted fortitude and peace to continue writing consistently.

During this Lenten season I made it a goal to re-read St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. So far I am maintaining my pledge and I wish to share some of the wisdom found in this spiritual work that helps me on a daily basis. The doctor of the Church declares in his third meditation On the Gifts of God, “Consider the material gifts God has given you– yourbody, and the means for its preservation; your health, and all that maintains it; your friends and many helps.” He goes on reiterate the importance of recalling things God gifted you throughout the day. Reflecting on three specific things I am thankful for each day greatly shifted my mindset from anxiety and negativity toward joy and peace. Below are three things I am grateful for this Thursday. I challenge you to compile a list for things you are thankful for as well!

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  1. T-25 workout program: Lord I am glad for the ability to exercise with this fun and challenging program created by Shawn T. Only being 25 minutes per segment, I am afforded more time to spend with my family.
  2. Warmer weather: I am glad that this week presented better weather and a nature is showing hints of spring on the horizon. I hope to be able to take my children for a walk with weekend!
  3. My supervisor at work: I am blessed to have an understanding and caring manager who is flexible and attune to the needs of unique situation. I am grateful that he is able to find an excellent balance between fostering my work goals while also caring about me as an individual and knowing the proper work-life balance.

 

Thank you for sharing!

3 Ways I Encountered God on a Playful Thursday!

Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.

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After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God? Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.

Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified. I mean God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. To briefly quote the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.

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My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].

To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.

Thank you for sharing!