An Incarnational—and Infectious—Start to My Advent

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The weeks preceding Christmas—Advent—usually have the perception of being a magical, jovial, and anticipatory of the birth of the Christ-child. While certainly, my Advent began with an anticipation, it lacked marvel and apparent joy. Instead of initially thinking about preparing my heart and mind for the Lord, I juggled the infectious side effects of projectile vomit and diaper explosions. Both of my sons came down with the stomach flu over the weekend.

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Nothing tests a parent’s patience, will-power or love of their children quite like a continual cleaning of bodily fluids. On top of the symptoms of the stomach flu, my youngest son is also recovering from an adenoidectomy (see below diagram if you never heard of that organ before–as I never did prior to this surgery!) Because the flesh is healing behind his nasal cavity, my two year old’s breath has smelled like death since the surgery and apparently it may take up to three weeks for his rotting-breath odor to be gone!  What a start to the New Liturgical year!

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Too often society places pressure for the perfect “holiday” season: all the gifts must be precisely wrapped and laden under the Christmas tree in a tidy order, the Christmas meal has to be cooked to the exact temperature and paired with the appropriate side dishes depending on the main dish, and family members need to behave–especially your “estranged/weird” uncle [or aunt or other unique relative you may have]. Honestly, I fall into this fallacy almost every year myself. This year was no different. I hoped to be able to take my entire family to Mass to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. I wanted to show my kids the beautiful Advent wreath and talk about the particular reasons the priest wears purple, or “FATHER IS DRESSED IN PURPLE” as my daughter would shout with glee. Sadly, none of that happened. Because of my priority as a parent, I had to miss this Mass to care for my ailing family.

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After taking some time to reflect on the apparent failures of the weekends, I realized maybe God was preparing me for something greater—Advent really is all about preparation for the coming of Christ. Revisiting the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, showed me that the arrival of Jesus did not occur in the ideal standards, at least according to the world’s standards. Luke 2:7 details how Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem “too late” and the innkeeper denied them a room at the inn. Instead, of giving birth in the amenities of indoor comfort, Mary had to give birth to Jesus in a humble way—in a simple stable. American novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote the following about the Incarnation,

Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.

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By becoming a human Jesus was able to encounter the entirely of the human condition save for sin. In my children’s pain, suffering, tiredness, and thirstiness this past weekend, Christ was with them in a unique way as he already suffering all those things during his 33 years on Earth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 463, “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” The season of Advent is not about preparing for the “perfect” Christmas where Mary and Joseph get a room at the inn. Rather, Advent is about preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth took place in the messiness of the stable, his Passion and Death took place on the messiness of the Cross. While not everything in my life will be neatly fit in my control, after this incarnational and infectious start to Advent, I had the privilege to be graced with the gift of perspective and opportunity to serve my children as Christ served the world!

Re-Gaining a Sense of Voyage in Life

As a child I had a fascination with maps, geography, and the idea of being on a quest. My favorite books to read as a kid included the famous Greek epic The Odyssey and the Redwall Series by English author Brian Jacques. Both included a sense of adventure whereby the main character(s) trekked across dangerous terrain and met obstacles to overcome (external and internal struggles) before eventually arriving at their destination at the end of the story. The word odyssey actually means journey, pilgrimage, or trek.

As a father of four [one is in utero!], I am able to reacquaint myself with the sense of life as a voyage. Frequently, I lose sight of reality as the flood of daily temptations, confusion, and struggles assail me. My 5 year old daughter definitely got her penchant for atlases from me. Almost every day, she asks me, “Daddy! Can you please get me paper and markers for me to make a map?!”  Cartography reigns supreme in my household—especially on rainy days!

The other day I read an article online that referenced the importance of returning to a sense of voyage. A quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux stuck in my mind after I went on with the rest of my day. The Doctor of the Church wrote, “The symbol of a ship always delights me and helps me to bear the exile of this life.” Her words convey a truth that I always wanted to communicate but was not able to fully articulate—something about sea travel points to a higher reality. Perhaps it is because we named our child Noah, named after the Old Testament figure who crafted the ark, that I tend to have boats on the mind—at least subconsciously. Or maybe, there is something innate in each of us that desires the continual movement that travel affords us. St. Augustine famously declared, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you [God].”

Here is a well-written and easy to understand article on the connection between Noah’s Ark and its prefiguring of the Catholic Church: https://catholicexchange.com/ten-ways-noahs-ark-prefigured-church. Some highlights include that just as the giant boat housed the holy individuals of Noah and his family, so too, does the Catholic Church safeguard individuals striving for holiness against the dangers of the deluge of temptations!

Another important point that stands out regarding the maritime theme is that life is bearable when we look to the Promised Land—Heaven—as our destination. When times get tough, during the turbulence of life we look beyond our vehicle, and outside of ourselves toward the horizon—toward the rising of the Sun [Son]!

Every quest involves dead-ends, treacherous terrain, and wild beasts [physical and/or spiritual]. Fellowship is essential for any journey—just ask Frodo the Hobbit!

Reacquainting myself with the fact that life is truly a voyage helps to remind me that I am not only in the journey. God provided helpmates along the way, namely my wife, children, and the saints such as St. Thérèse. When life gets your down and despair sets in please be reminded that you still have a road ahead. You have the ability to pick the road on this pilgrimage of life—make life more joyful by following the witness of the holy ones before us!

Join Together—the Message of Jolly Pope John XXIII

According to the Nicene Creed, the first of the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Church is unity. Without unity things tend to fall apart: societies collapse, families fight, and friendships evaporate. Over the course of history the Church has undergone a multitudes of developments and faced its share of difficulties threatening union. Jesus Christ promised that in spite of the conflicts unity still would persist through the office of the papacy. Guided by the power of the Holy Spirit all successors to the original “rock” of the Church, the Apostle St. Peter, provide stability and direction to the faithful. While I have been blessed with to live witness the tail end of the prominent papacy of St. John Paul II [the Great], I recently made an effort to acquaint myself with former pontiffs from the 20th century. Most recently, I learned more about the wondrous, albeit brief, papacy of the St. John XXIII.

Two words immediately come to mind with I think of John XXIII—jolliness and unity! He was a joyfully jolly individual whose papacy promoted greater unity for all mankind.  The Italian pope declared, “The whole world is my family.” While at face value, this appears to be a simple and unimpressive statement, looking at the human conflicts currently existing in the world today and throughout history, we suddenly realize that disunity is part and parcel of human nature. Opening the world to the Catholic Church via the initiation of the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII opened the supernatural ark and invited humanity a chance assess the spiritual graces housed in the Catholic Church.

I am grateful to have discovered the positivity, and harmonious message of the pope of the Second Vatican Council. Below are several insightful and uplifting words from St. John XXII we can reflect on for the rest of the week!


“I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”

What unites us, is much greater than what divides us.

See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.

“Before everything else, fidelity to the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Jesus did not found several churches, but one single Church.”

“O Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I would like to be filled with love for You; keep me closely united with You, may my heart be near to Yours. I want to be to You like the apostle John. O Mary of the Rosary, keep me recollected when I say these prayers of yours; bind me forever, with your rosary, to Jesus of the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed be Jesus, my love.”

Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.

Don’t Judge, Be Happy!

Over the course of the past month, the word judge has become a hot-button term. The allegations against newly confirmed Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh dominated the news cycle. Everyone seems to have their own opinion about the matter. Ironically, people formed a judgment on his character before analysis of the entire facts. Now, this post is not aimed at dissecting that judicial confirmation process or whether it was right or wrong that he was appointed to the Supreme Court. There are plenty of other articles, sites, and media avenues that address this issue. What I wish to highlight is that judgments form quickly, and sometimes even unconsciously.

Going to the New Testament, Jesus makes his case about judging clear in Matthew 7:1-5,

1*a “Stop judging,* that you may not be judged.b 2For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.c 3Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? 5You hypocrite,* remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Because of our fallen human nature, avoidance of judgment is much easier said than done. St. Maria Faustina, wonderful saint and mystic who provided the world with the Divine Mercy Image, declared, “Let our judgment of souls cease, for God’s mercy upon them is extraordinary.” As a mere creation of the Creator, I cannot possible fathom the depths of the ocean of his mercy. Speaking with my brother about trials and negativity I face at work on a daily basis, he told me the following advice that lines up perfectly with the truth proclaimed by Jesus and echoed by Sister Faustina. My brother simply said, “Do not judge people ever. Just eliminate judging someone as “bad” at all times. If you stop judging, I guarantee you will be happy!”

How exactly do you begin to stop judging others? The easy answer is the following—just start! Fill your mind with something else when judgmental thoughts start to creep in. Pray the Hail Mary, place a holy icon of a saint or Jesus at your desk, or read the daily Mass readings throughout the day. These are a few small, but concrete examples of things that I did to slowly work to replace, but judgmental attitude. When all other means fail, I look to the official teaching of the Catholic Church for ways to show mercy to others.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447,”The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”

Free yourself from the shackles of judgment, but filling your life with holy words, thoughts, actions, and works. Remember this will be a continual battle, but by relying on the guidance of the Jesus Our Savior, Mary our Comforter, and guides of the saints you are not in this journey alone. Be happy today. Don’t judge others!

Fixing Our Gaze on Golgotha

Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today. In keeping with the words of the great Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Sienna, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.

While my sins wound me and damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity, I petition for intercession from the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze from the gutters of the troubles of my life to gaze upward to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.

I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother* and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”n 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.

Despite the failings, trials, and doubts that surround us, be assured that peace and joy canbe found in uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times

Facts about the Assumption of Mary that We Should Assume

Catholics around the world [and throughout time] celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th. Along with the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Motherhood of Mary this feast day is a holy day of obligation for Mass attendance. The reason for this is due to the veneration—NOT WORSHIP—Catholics hold for the Mother of God. Marian doctrines closely relate and point us to the even greater truth of the Incarnation—God becoming Man. While specifically, the feasts of Mary, Mother of God and Immaculate Conception point to the teaching of the Incarnation, the feast of the Assumption orients us to look toward the Resurrection of Jesus.

1. Assumption—Logically Flows from Being Immaculately Conceived: When I taught high school theology one of my favorite lessons involved the subject of the teachings on Mary. I enjoyed showing the interconnectedness between the various Marian dogmas. Because she was preserved free from the stain of original sin, Mary would not suffer the same type of bodily decay and separation of body and soul the rest of mankind—born into original sin—suffered/would suffer. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 966, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”

Along with the clear connection made in the catechism, Divine Providence inspired the office of the papacy to proclaim the infallible teaching pertaining to Mary to be viewed in unity with one another. Pope Pius IX in 1854 infallibly defined Mary as being immaculately conceived and nearly a century later his successor bearing the same appellation—Pius XII—formerly declared the infallible dogma of Mary being taken into Heaven Body and Soul.

2. Assumption Hinting at the Resurrection and Destination of Heaven: Again, I will defer to the Catechism for the best explanation of the Assumption of Mary pointing to the Resurrection, “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. [Emphasis added mine] (CCC966).

According to Saint Pope John Paul II, “In her, assumed into heaven, we are shown the eternal destiny that awaits us beyond the mystery of death: a destiny of total happiness in divine glory. This supernatural vision sustains our daily pilgrimage. Mary teaches about life. By looking at her, we understand better the relative value of earthly greatness and the full sense of our Christian vocation.” Saint Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus articulated the fact that Mary orients us to Heaven even more clearly, “it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.” Because the entirely of Mary’s earthly life centered on obedience and love of God, she is the perfect guide to the Son and union with God in Heavenly bliss. Marian titles such as Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea] and Morning Star point to the reality as well.

Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, gives Christians hope that the promise of the Resurrection and eternal life is a gift that may be attained through the merciful gift of grace poured out through the Sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross and via our cooperation with this divine grace by obeying God’s Word. I am grateful for the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Advocate in times of darkness. Please pray for us in our time of need!


“Mary shines on earth “until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God” (Lumen gentiumn. 68).

Resources: http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus.html

Transfiguring Humanity—Reflections on the Transfiguration of Christ

Among the most bizarre, mysterious, and interesting accounts in the New Testament is the event of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The dictionary defines the word transfiguration as “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. Common synonyms for transfiguration include:  metamorphosis, changeover, transformation, development, adjustment, and even mutation!! Growing up Catholic I have listened to the Gospel telling of this mysterious occurrence a myriad of times, however, I will provide Matthew’s version in case it has been a why since you have read and/or Mass for the Feast Day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord!

The Transfiguration of Jesus.* 1a After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.* 2*b And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3* And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5c While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,* then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6* When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” 8And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

1. Foretaste of Heavenly Reality: The primary purpose of the glory of Jesus shown [shone] to Peter, James, and John was meant as a means to prepare them for the glorification of God after the Resurrection and to hint at the beauty of transfigured humanity. According to Saint Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1999 homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration, “In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

2. Humanity’s Home in Heaven: Similar to the previous point is that fact that man is on a pilgrim journey, a sojourner on Earth—whose ultimate destination is union with God in Heaven. John Paul II echoed this truth as well, “We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries. But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith. On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers.”

I imagine the incredible letdown the Apostles must have felt in the moments after the dazzling and inexplicable event of the Transfiguration. Going back to following Jesus in an ordinary way, traveling from town to town, learning from him, and assisting the poor certainly did not compare to the splendor they witnessed on Mount Tabor. It definitely would have been challenging to transition back into that routine! Heck, Peter even desired to stay in the holy place when he declared, “If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Coming out of Sunday liturgy, I leave with a similar wonder and awe as the inner circle of Jesus received on that original Transfiguration event. Housing the Real Presence of Lord after reception of the Eucharist provides me incredible peace and patient strength. In a way, we all undergo a momentary transfiguration—a foretaste of Heavenly reality in the Mass. Going back to our worldly affairs, we quickly lose sight and memory of our close encounter with God. May we continue to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us with clarity and strength on our pilgrimage toward Heaven!