Mother of God Help Us

This past year has included its ups and downs–my grandfather passing away in January 2018 and our pregnancy starting off scary and ending with a beautiful daughter. Through all the changes, stresses, joys, and everything in between my faith life buoyed me. What buoyed my faith life and deepened my relationship with God was my increased reliance and petitioning to Mary, Mother of God for help and intercession.

The Universal Church celebrates the Feast of Mary as Mother of God. It is a feast to remind us that while Jesus is fully God he is fully human as well. The only difference is he never sinned. However, being fully human Jesus endured hunger, thirst, tiredness, and suffering. The closest way to the Son of God is through a frequent petitioning to his mother Mary. St. Louis de Montfort once wrote, “[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.”

May your new year start off with peace and joy. Below is a short prayer to recite daily as a simple means to grow your Marian devotion.


Mary, our model and mother, by your obedience and patience you have taught us how to be true children of God. Please help us by your powerful assistance to overcome all our weaknesses, and to fulfill perfectly our tasks in life. 


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Season of Expectancy

Christmastime always holds a special place in my life. As a life-long Catholic, I grew up with the understanding that the celebration of Christ’s birth does not end on December 25th, instead it is actually the beginning of a twelve daylong celebration that goes until the Feast of the Epiphany, the arrival of the Wise men. Over the course of the past week, I noticed a ton of memes, gifs, and posts from my fellow Catholic friends about keeping up Christmas decorations and not tearing them down immediately the day after. I am guilty of that liturgical bravado as well!

This year the season of celebrating Christ’s birth contains extra expectation as my wife and I are waiting for the arrival of the birth of our fourth child! 

Being both uber-planners and type-A personalities we have actually been prepped for our daughter’s big arrival for months. To be honest, I really have been ready for another baby to hold, cuddle, and love since our miscarriage last December 2017.

The beginning of this pregnancy started off rocky and scary. Frequent OBYGN appointments, progesterone shots, and nightly petitioning to our Lord through the Blessed Virgin Mary and saints Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Gerard became daily routines over the course of the past 9 months. I came across this quote from Indian filmmaker and director Anurag Prakash Ray that applies directly to my attitude about waiting hold my daughter. He wrote, True love is worth waiting for even if it takes a lifetime. Then in return, a lifetime of love will be waiting for you.” Waiting for our rainbow baby truly does feel like it has been a lifetime—I am certain in the case of my wife she may feel like it has been several lifetimes! 

If a person has a negative mindset, waiting, and especially waiting for something with much anticipation, is quite painful and burdensome. However, shifting the focus away from negativity and instead towards hope, that burden of being agog will be bearable. Saint John Paul the Great lived a long life filled with suffering and waiting. Whenever I get anxious I look to him for advice. The great Polish pope declared, “From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her Son and the Son of God!

Throughout this season of expectation(s) be sure to always petition the Lord for help. This may be directly or through the effective intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven. I welcome any and all prayers for the safe delivery of my daughter whenever she decides to arrive! 


Shifting Sands Versus the Rock of Truth

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Oftentimes parents look at their children and find the exact same characteristics, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies. I am not exception to this rule. While I have frequently written about how my sons acquired the gifts and struggles of mine, I have not given similar treatment on how my daughter received my interests. Growing up I enjoyed learning about rocks. Perhaps it began when my aunt gifted me with a rock-set for my birthday or maybe it was do to playing The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth—my siblings and I played this 1996 PC game for hours and hours!—but regardless of the reason, I see an early penchant for pebbles from my daughter and maybe early roots to a geology career.  No less than a dozen rocks appear throughout our house on a given day.

geology meme

Fascination with geology, I believe starts with the fact that rocks usually are associated with strength and stability.  Another alluring facet about rocks involve the process by which they are formed. Looking at a diagram of the rock cycle below, it reminds of myself being transformed under the pressures of a stressful situation. Depending upon whether I take suffering as a learning opportunity or not, I am changed, transformed and meet the future challenges differently. Founding Father of the United States and 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

 

life not easier you get stronger

Tested through trials the character of a person is galvanized and strengthened. Taking shortcuts is easy in the short-term, but without moral consistency—it is easy to fall apart during the storms of life. According to Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus preached on the importance of building a solid foundation:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.r 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.s But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.

One year ago, my wife and I lost our unborn child to a miscarriage—despite not being our first loss it nevertheless struck our hearts the same as the others. Spiraling into depression seemed almost second nature, however, previous suffering schooled me and my stable foundation started by my parents teaching me the Catholic faith as a child helped to keep me even-keeled—as much as possible. While building my moral foundations like a sandcastle would be much more “fun and easier” than clinging to the rock of truth, I am grateful for being tested by the pressures of suffering and toil.

According to Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” This road of success and truth is narrow, but not impossible to travel. Keeping your eyes toward the horizon of your goal will help keep you on the right path. When times get tough, be sure to cling to the Rock of Truth—found in the Person of Jesus Christ and whose teaching are most fully safeguarded in the Catholic Church. Only build sandcastles when you are at the beach, on the other hand, rock-wall climbing sounds more adventurous!


“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

Satan’s Sinister Weapon—Dosage of Despair


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A few years ago, I discovered a “secret weapon” the Devil utilizes to lull Christians into a false security of security—the snooze button (see related links at end of article for more information!). Along with the cloudy weather, and antics of my children, I am confident that a clandestine onslaught against me by the Adversary planted the seeds of spiritual sloth and gluttony. This weekend so a resurgence of another spiritual attack on my soul, this time with arguably the most sinister weapon of all—despair. Ironically, this attack landed on the Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—a time of joy in anticipation for the birth of the Christ-Child.

despair in face of joy

What happened? I believed to be on track, spiritually, to grow closer to Jesus. My wife and I made a concerted focus to pray before the Advent wreath and read the Gospel reading for the day. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” Focusing on myself, shifted the focus away from God. The effects have been quite devastating. Despair compounds quicker than a pay-day lender loan’s interest.

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What is the defense against Satan’s sinister weapon? The answer is as old as time itself, but never more relevant—trust in God always. St. Maria Faustina always provides me uplifting words. In her diary she wrote, “I will not allow myself to be so absorbed in the whirlwind of work as to forget about God.  I will spend all my free moments at the feet of the Master hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.” While, I failed miserably earlier today about lamenting too much and dwelling too much on the failures and stresses of work, the good news is that it is never too late to hit the re-set—so long as it is not the re-set for the snooze button J!].

Together with reading about the saints of Divine Mercy like St. Faustina, the singular best weapon to combat despair is hope. We are led our Hope of Hopes most easily through following the witness of Jesus’ Mother. St. Louis de Montfort declared, “The Rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who loves His Mother.”

Hope dispels despairs. Hope in Christ hold eternal consequences. Think about the two thieves crucified next to Jesus. Luke 23:39-43 details out an end of life exchange between the two criminals and Jesus. The unrepentant thief ridiculed Jesus. While his fate is ultimately not specifically given, the good thief, or the penitent thief we are told was forgiven and allowed into Heaven.


40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving [c]what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come [d]in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”


Although the Adversary utilizes the primary spiritual weapons of the seven deadly sins, a sinister side effect, and weapon in an of itself is despair. Frequenting the sacraments, praying the Rosary daily [or at the very least petitioning the Blessed Virgin for aid], and asking spiritual guidance from the saints will galvanize you in the spiritual battle.

Pope Benedict XVI on hope

 A Prayer for Hope

Heavenly father, I am your humble servant,
I come before you today in need of hope.
There are times when I fell helpless,
There are times when I feel weak.
I pray for hope.
I need hope for a better future.
I need hope for a better life.
I need hope for love and kindness.
Some say that the sky is at it’s
darkest just before the light.
I pray that this is true, for all seems dark.
I need your light, Lord, in every way.
I pray to be filled with your light from
head to toe. To bask in your glory.
To know that all is right in the world,
as you have planned, and as you want
it to be. 
Help me to walk in your light, and live
my life in faith and glory.
In your name I pray, Amen.

Related Links: https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2015/06/09/satans-secret-weapon-the-snooze-button/

Preparation [for the King] is King

Blustery winds, icy streets, and bustle of the holiday happenings form the recipe for the perfect storm. The best way to combat the crazy I discovered is through preparation for the storm. Recently my family’s home-life has been strained: my wife’s workload keeps getting increased, my job assignments, and testing this month for our two-year old as he gets re-evaluated to see if he would qualify for early childhood special education services still. The crazy keep hitting us before my mind is able to register the previous crazy event or antic that hit me.

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Finding fleeting moments, but still at least some MOMENTS of reprieve as I drive to and from work—after dropping off the kids off at daycare and school of course!—I prepare for the list of all of things or chores, writing topics I hope to write about, and our family’s schedule. Listening to Christian music in the radio, the song What Child is This? came on over the airwaves. No matter the setting that I hear this hymn, I always get choked up—most especially during the refrain:

This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Specifically, the words haste stands out for me. Synonyms for haste include: swiftness, rapidity, acceleration, and quickness. I always find it intriguing to talk of birth of Jesus in this hustle and bustle manner. Really, I should not find that too fascinating as expectancy and preparation for the Son of God is a common theme throughout the Bible. Among the more famous Old Testament examples common from Isaiah 7:14, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign;* the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.” Over centuries and centuries God gathered a people together under the nation of Israel and promised the birth of a Savior to reunite humanity with God. While preparation takes a long time and patience, it is essential to combat the storms one encounters in life. No greater preparation exists than preparing your soul to receive the King of Kings.

menial-existence

1. Daily Drudgery: A primary side effect of the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 included pain and toil in daily living. Just because something is painful and boring, or in the case of many jobs, painfully boring, it should not be avoided. Instead, good, authentic, and true work brings a sort of dignity and fulfillment in humanity. According to St. John Paul II in Laborem Exercens, Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being” (no. 9).

2. Constant Constancy: Work turns into daily drudgery when not viewed as an opportunity to growth in virtue and love of neighbor. St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, says it best, “You cannot forget that any worthy, noble and honest work at the human level can — and should! — be raised to the supernatural level, becoming a divine task” (The Forge, no. 687). The only way for this to occur is continual reliance on God. Ask the Holy Spirit for the graces to sustain you in the tough times and the stamina to prepare for the less tough times. As an adopted child of God through the sacrament of Baptism, I too often forget the gifts at my disposal from my Divine Father. I need only to graciously ask for help on the way of my day.

be prepared

American Christian televangelist Robert Schuller, declared, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” Preparation goes unnoticed. All the behind the scenes work do not receive any accolades. Oftentimes, the mundane and dryness of preparation for the storms of life wear us down. I pray you may have the patience, fortitude, and mettle to weather the changing tides of life. The most important duty is to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings. Make the most of the reminder of this Advent season to kindle the flame of expectation for Jesus Christ!


“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”— Luke 21:36

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!

Adenoid

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!