Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 5, 2018.
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.
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!
Paper Football and Prayer
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 I always enjoy football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.
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!
Find Joy in Play
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.” I’m not sure if my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper. I’m confident this memory 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.
In the Catholic world, January 6th, 2021 was primarily to be the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 528, “The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world.” God became man in a humble stable. He used the language of science to appeal to the Eastern wisemen. They noticed a brightness in the night sky (the crossing of Jupiter and Saturn) of a “star”.
The events at the United States Capitol plunged social media and news networks into a darkness. Chaos. Confusion. Hurt. Division. Strife. Call it what you want. It’s the result of humanity’s fallen nature.
Jesus Christ became man to save humanity from sins. The God-man acts as a bridge for the human race to reconcile with the Holy Trinity. Saint Pope John XXIII wrote, “It is impossible to be joined to God except through Jesus Christ; it is impossible to be united to Christ except in and through the Church which is His Mystical Body.” Last century, that claim certainly seemed commonplace and it was abnormal to reject. Unfortunately, we live in a time in history where the greatest threats to the Church come from within.
What is the truth?
It’s a question philosophers throughout history pondered. Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Descrates, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and all in between. But it’s a question people ask on a daily basis.
Fake news has become a staple in Catholics’ everyday conversation. Cynicism, doubt, fear, worry, and anger result from the confusion. I’ve been silent far too long on the behavior I see by prominent Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum.
What is truth? That’s the wrong question to ask. Truth isn’t a what but a who.
Who is truth?
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
It shouldn’t be a surprise to know that the answer to the question is Jesus. Saint John the Apostle tells us in John 14:6, “I am theway and thetruthandthelife. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus ascended to God the Father forty days after his Resurrection so how exactly can we come to Jesus? It is through the sacraments. Christ gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sins and ability to be channels of grace for the other sacraments.
The Catholic Church is meant to be a light to the nations. One, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic are the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Church. Navigating the rabbit holes that are social media comments section on political topics you won’t think of those qualities at all!
False claims on both sides and vitriol dominate many online Catholic conversations. Trump. Biden. Republican. Democrat. Those aren’t the four marks of the Catholic Church. Too many times American Catholics put country and politics above the Creator of the Universe. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for decades because of worshipping false gods.
People maybe aren’t worshipping golden statues. But they certainly give the impression that it’s okay to idolize “golden” personalities.
How Does the Church Get Back on Track
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my priest gave an amazing homily on the ark of the covenant. In the Old Testament, the ark was a sacred vessel that housed the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and the manna from the desert. The main point of the homily was the Israelites’ success in battle when carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Troubles came when they failed to travel with it.
The Ark of the Covenant carried the presence of God. His laws and food for the journey. Catholics refer to Mary was the New Ark of the Covenant. Why? Because she housed God during her pregnancy with Jesus. The Catholic Answers website has an informative and detailed article for more reasons why Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.
Our Theological GPS
Mary is the perfect guide to Jesus.
Where Mary is present so too her Son is. How does the Church get back on track? The theological GPS back to Jesus is Mary. And the most effective prayer is the Most Holy Rosary. Anytime I fall away from the faith or lapse in my duty to love God and neighbor I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for guidance. Saint Louis de Montfort said, ““For never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil. This is a statement which I would sign with my blood.”
Wow! The French saint’s words may sound like hyperbole but they’re true. Mary is the connection to Christ. Mothers have an intimacy with their children. Why should it be any different for the Mother of God? Plus, through my direct experience I have learned about the efficacy of the Rosary. The goal of prayer is to get closer to God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prayer isn’t simply a recitation of words. The amount of times you pray the Rosary doesn’t increase or decrease your holiness level. Vocal prayer is a starting basis and important. But it shouldn’t be the end destination. God desires us to draw us into deeper communion with him. Vocal prayer should be followed (eventually) with mental prayer. Allowing our thoughts, wishes, desires, worries, fear, anxieties, doubts, joys, and everything be an offering to God.
I have struggled with thinking I was holier than others because of how I followed certain Catholic traditions. This is rooted in my selfishness, pride, and lack of fully trusting in God.
Evidence for Spiritual Growth?
One of the things I learned growing up was the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. But lately, that information remained merely a factoid in my memory bank. Inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart and soul increases your knowledge of God but more importantly your actions are transformed. Spiritual growth is determined by the fruits you notice. Here are a list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit:
Are you displaying these traits in your online (and offline) interactions? Does disagreements make you impatient or cause a rush to judgment? Do you currently lack self-control? Or faith in God’s Divine Plan?
These questions should be pondered often. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, knowledge, understanding, reverence, awe/wonderment, courage, and counsel.
These times are confusing. Uncertainty appears to be the new standard. Don’t fear! Our Common Enemy wants us to be afraid because this leads to movement away from God. Know Jesus is Truth, look to Mary to help point you to Him, and ask the Holy Spirit for the gift to live intentional and follow the will of God. The Catholic Church in America is in trouble but if you seek personal holiness you will be a salt to renew the joy of the Gospel.
Below is a letter I dedicate to our Lord Jesus Christ in celebration of his birth, December 25, 2020 Anno Domini.
Dear Baby Jesus,
In a stable, 2000 years ago, a seemingly ordinary infant was born. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shepherds and kings from afar learned about His incredible presence. God uses the most common of circumstances to work the greatest of all miracles–the Incarnation. God so loved the world He sent you–His only Son– to bridge the great gulf, the separation caused by sin.
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, you my king took the form of mankind. I have heard the Nativity story dozens of times. This Advent I feared I would took your origin story for granted. Instead, I am grateful for the opportunity to gaze on the Nativity scene through new eyes–not merely of a follower, but also as a father.
My children are a reminder of your goodness, truth, and beauty. Seeing the twinkle in their eyes when they gaze at the Nativity Scene at home or church is priceless. The smiles on my kids faces as they color “presents” pictures for my wife and I remind me the true reason for the season!
People are born everyday on this earth, but only once a year do we remember the greatest birth of all.
Jesus my servant king, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, God-hero, I adore you and celebrate with my family and friends the anniversary of your birth. I pray that my heart is enlarged to make room within the inn of my soul for you, my family, friends, and people I meet daily!
Praise we to God in the Highest and Alleluia for our Savior’s arrival.
With great love and gratitude,
Your adopted son,
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2017.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally.
Who are the Saints?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet.
The Saints Point Us to God
Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared,
A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity.
Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
November Nourishment for the Soul
Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
Josemaria Escriva: The Way
Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
James: The Letter of St. James
Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
Francis of Assisi
Ignatius of Loyala
Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now these readings aren’t replacement for the Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. The Catholic Church’s sacramental life centers on memorializing events from the Gospels. For example, during the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.”
When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,
I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.
Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”
Persistence pays off
Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Luke 19:4).
Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.
Jesus Chooses the Imperfect
Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Zacchaeus struggled to physically see Jesus among the crowd. he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen. He was a tax collector!
According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)”
Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,” Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).
Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Christ welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness.
Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future!
Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.
I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien