What Lessons Can We Learn from Grief?

By: Megan Naumovski

The voice of the navigation system calls out:

Caution ahead. Construction zone on Grief Highway, slow down ahead. Exit now with caution or stay to the left to take the outer belt around the city, avoiding depressing content at all costs. Alternate route suggestion: binge-watch stupid sitcoms on Netflix until you have numbed yourself to sleep.

I want to talk about grief.  This isn’t going be easy! But this topic is important.  In fact, it is so vital I had to consult an expert. According to C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed,

Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game ‘or else people won’t take it seriously.’ Apparently, it’s like that. Your bid—for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity—will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it.  And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horrible high; until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpence but for every penny you have in the world.  Nothing less will shake a man—or at any rate a man like me—out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs.  He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses…

Grief Surpasses Culture and People

Grief

Grief is an odd thing.  A truly transformative thing that should be where we stake our bets on what kind of strength resides within us when we are confronted with a loved-one’s death.

Our old neighbors were from India and became like family to us. The husband told me once of nursing both of his parents through cancer to their deaths, and all as a teenager and young adult.  He explained that in his culture they had something like “the crying”. For days after a loved-one’s passing, they stopped the world, and wept.  “We didn’t sleep; we barely ate…we just received visitors who wept and grieved with us.” It sounded horrific to me at the time, but in a culture where we feign self-control, it would seem contrary to our “togetherness”.

My Grapple With Grief

I was the last to go into my mother-in-law’s hospital room. A moment away from trying to be brave and helpful to my husband, father-in-law and siblings because I knew they had more “right” to be upset than I did.  I also knew that I had to face my own earthly separation from her, and so with a deep breath I entered her room.

Our three aunts were there, weeping together (yet somehow very alone). We greeted each other attempting to comfort one another with tearful embraces.  I approached the empty chair next to my mother-in-law, who laid peacefully on her hospital bed only an hour or two after she had passed. The next moment took my breath away—literally.

Shockingly, a spiritual vacuum seemed to engage and take hold of my soul. Tears, sobs, and the very breath pulled out of my lungs for what felt like an eternity. My stomach knotted and twisted in a way I never thought possible. I sobbed in a way I had never done before.

Grief Engulfs You

As my lungs continued to viciously choke breath forward, my memory mourned every sweet word she had ever said to me. Every stitch she had sewn into my clothing and every bite of every delicious food she prepared as if all meals were a wedding feast.  Mostly, I mourned the way she accepted me as her daughter.  She loved us all so well and united her suffering with Christ.

I think the level of my grief was shocking to me, and to my husband’s dear aunts, who were suddenly silent; perhaps suspended in the shock of what had overtaken me.  I wanted to calm down. To control myself from what was perhaps too dramatic of a reaction, maybe even frightening to them. Yet it was too late! The door opened and grief entered in. I had no other option but to give it a place to rest its feet for a while.

From Grief to Good

It’s difficult to discuss this moment of pain and loss of self-control, but there is love in the offering.  A revelation of grief as C.S. Lewis admits that writing “A Grief Observed” was recognition that “bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love.”

During the event of my mother-in-law’s passing, we all experienced the loneliness of grief. This occurred whether we were together in the same room or not.

Grief is a solitary experience.  People connect with one another in a way that impresses upon the soul.  Our experiences seem to form a linear bond of relation that can never be duplicated by two other people; we can’t even recreate the exact same moment of interchange or experience that we had with another person again.  Each moment of interaction with another person holds its own relevance in time and eternity.

Our actions and relationships help shape us into the person we are today— better or worse.  These are the things that we mourn at separation.  While I was hugging my mother-in-law, I recalled the words she stated at my bridal shower. The same type of care and love her mother displayed all her children.  My father-in-law was remembering sweet embraces of their early marriage. He also endured in supporting in the days before her death.   My brother-in-law missed the way she laughed at his joy. My husband missed his mother who always encouraged him.

Seek Love During Grieving

When God our Father reminds us through his son, Jesus, that the greatest commandment is love. Love God first. Then love our neighbor as ourselves. He knew that every word, look, impression, feeling, condemnation, encouragement and connection built an interior experience that is outside of time and space.

Everything counts. The preciousness of human relationships is entwined in the great tapestry of the Master.  Listen intently, O little creature of His; ask for a pure heart that sees the other with His eyes. Go forward with a prudent pace, a burning heart and a desire to delicately preserve those in your path today with the knowledge that each encounter will be forever imprinted on their soul and yours.

This article was inspired by a recent viewing of the movie Unplanned. I cried a gut-wrenching grief. Such grief has been a rare experience since the day of my sweet mother-in-law’s passing.

Our Lady of Consolation Shrine Carey, OH


Megan Naumovski is on a mission to remind the world of the love God has for each and every soul, and how that love deserves our response. Every day she is a wife and mom in her domestic church, but in the world she helps lead others to Christ though ministry leadership, teaching, speaking and blogging at The Domestic Church of Bosco, http://boscoworld.blog.

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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.

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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.”

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Siphoning Sanctity? Reconciling Mark 5:21-43’s Peculiar Passage with Reality

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Having taught high school Old and New Testament in the past and being a cradle Catholic, the newness of the Good News found in the Bible sometimes gets taken for granted. During the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday’s Mass, the Gospel reading actually penetrated my theological torpor and liturgical listlessness. Mark 5:21-43 details two healing stories in one gospel proclamation. The evangelist began with a synagogue official named Jarius pleading to Jesus to save his daughter near death. On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a seemingly tangential telling of the woman afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years! Jesus heals this poor woman and the passage concludes with Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead.

Reflecting on this passage the following questions invaded my mind:

questions

1. Why does Mark insert a seemingly random story within a healing story? Could he not simply detail the healing of the hemorrhaging woman after completing the passage on the healing of Jarius’ daughter?

2. Does this Gospel reading contain the strangest sentence uttered by Jesus: Who has touched my clothes? Is he not omniscient and all-knowing as God?

3. Power flowing from Jesus…what a peculiar way to describe the healing incident?

These questions initially perplexed me, however, when I had time to think about the passage and re-read the evangelist’s words, and interpret in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church I learned of the deeper more spiritual meaning hidden within Mark 5:21-43 and how it relates to my life today.

Christ Willing to Save All—Social Status does not matter

Sandwiched between the beginning and the end of the healing of Jarius’ daughter, Mark inserted Jesus’ encountered a woman suffering from a blood disorder. After careful review, I noticed the juxtaposition between the two individuals. Below is a chart that showing the differences in how Jarius’ daughter and the unnamed woman came to learn about Jesus.

 

Jarius’ Daughter Woman Suffering Hemorrhage
Young Older
Prestigious Family Poor
Father’s Intercedes Actively Passive Request for Healing
Saw Jesus Heard Jesus

John Paul II declared, “[O]nly in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ.” Certainly, Mark 5 demonstrates people who recognize the importance and power of Jesus.

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According the evangelist, “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” Obsessed with superheroes, I recently received Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game from my wife for Father’s Day. Along with my passion for this geeky deck-building game, I have rented a slew of comic books from the library as well. While my fandom seems random to the discussion of Mark’s Gospel I need to provide a little backdrop to my thought process after hearing the priest read Mark 5:30, the first thought that popped into my head, “I did not know that Rogue made an appearance. Sapping or draining of power is the hallmark of that X-Men character. Marvelously [no pun intended], merely grazing the cloak of Jesus provided the woman healing that eluded doctors many years.

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Joking aside, the healing power of Jesus is quite amazing. Previous consultation with doctors failed to ease the woman’s suffering. The passage that may be interrupted as a “power loss” of Jesus is not meant to infringe on his divine nature. On the contrary, Mark, like the other Synoptic Gospels, never dispute the divinity of Christ, he was utilizing language that his audience would be able to understand.

Jesus—Hope in Face of Despair:

Along with Jesus’ desire to save all humanity, regardless of social standing, Mark 5:21-43 focuses on hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. After healing the woman with a hemorrhage, Jesus arrived too late—at least that was what the crowd thought! Urging Jarius to accept his daughter’s fate the onlookers declared, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Men of little faith and tenacity would have resigned themselves to start the grieving process, yet Jesus urged the synagogue official to not be afraid.

According to Saint Pope John XXII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” From the onset of this Gospel reading Jarius actively sought the aid of Jesus and pleaded for the return of his daughter to life when all looked hopeless as she appeared to linger in the shadow of death. Below is a link to a story about Jesus providing miraculous healing to another young daughter—prematurely born!

uniqueness

Uniqueness of the Individual:

A final thought that crossed my mind when reflecting on Mark 5:21-43 was that Jesus focuses on the present moment with grace, love, and resolve. Even on the way toward healing a prominent religious official’s child, Christ paused to listen to the needs of an ordinary, poor woman. Saint Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Do not worry about the past nor the future only concern about the need of God’s children in front of you.

This is exactly what Jesus did in Mark 5:25-34—noticing the presence of the sickly woman Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment. As a father of three young children, my focus is frequently divided between juggling the various needs and adventures of my kids growing up. What I learned to devote my attention and time to the present moment and act with love instead of worrying about the various needs and whether it will be adequate or not. The genius of the Gospel message centers on the individual first. Siphoning sanctity cannot occur as love multiplies not divides when more and more individuals come into your life.

family circus

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Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms

rainbow babyLife events such wedding your best friend, celebrating an anniversary, graduating school, overcoming major illnesses, and learning to overcome addictions normally lead a person to joy. Usually such cathartic experiences bring incredible joy—joy that cannot be contained! However, I am currently struggling to bring myself to seize the joy of the anticipate birth of my fourth child. Let me provide a little background to clarify my hesitancy.

Past Losses Make Current Joy Tough

Dating back to late 2017 and beginning of 2018, my wife and I lost two children due to miscarriage. Because of the previous loss, and the insane amount of pain associated with it, I conditioned my heart, mind, and soul to be cautious. In fact, I guarded my expectations to prevent possible pain of future loss. As a result, I am neutral, stoic, non-responsive to the current joy in my life!

burying a child

Sifting through writings, thoughts, and quotes about miscarriage I came across profound wisdom from the great C.S. Lewis,

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing that she may still hope to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

Okay to Feel Joy Again

While I am not a mother, the Christian apologist’s words still pertain to me and my fatherhood [really any father who suffered the misfortune of having a child not survive pregnancy. A lot of my writings over the course of the year relate to my suffering, pain, distress, worry, and ultimate purgative experiences with miscarriage. Along with the pain and memory of hope dashed, I struggled mightily with letting my guard down to feel joy, to reacquaint myself with happiness of a birth announcement, and to re-orient myself toward hope.

According to Bishop Robert Barron in his book Catholicism, “We say something is beautiful—a face, a painting, a golf swing—when it hangs together as one (it has wholeness), when all of its parts work together in consonance (it has harmony), and when it shines forth as an archetype of what such a thing should be (it has radiance).” A family missing a member(s) cannot reflect the truth and power of the Holy Trinity. I sense that same is true for my family now.

God is in control

Always a Plan

Gazing at my three children playing at the park and helping each other go up the various climbing apparatuses or going down the slides, I imagined a fourth playing. Difficult to describe this scene it occurred more in the inner recesses of my heart that actually a physical vision or daydream.   During my wife and I’s engagement we talked about being open to life, raising a larger family, and we both seemed to desire [at least open to the desire] for at least four children. We cannot describe this desire in mere words. I just believe God’s Providential plan is at work in my life.

I pray for continued support, strength, and opportunities to unleash the joy of the Gospel during our family’s time of anticipation and cautious yearning for a safe birth and delivery of our child!

 

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Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.

Over the course of the past week I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children.  I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month–and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.

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I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,

43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

indictment

My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.

The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.

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St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.” I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!

 

Hope-Slider

Dear Lord,
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen

 

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Ruminations of a Simple Catholic

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This week Satan sent a slew of his tricks and attacks to get me to stumble and lose ground in my spiritual journey. Combining sick young children with the possibility of despair at the loss of my grandfather, and icy tempests of Midwest winter weather seemed like a perfect recipe for chaos to brew and bubble forth into my family’s life.

Over the course of my life, I discovered that the Devil enjoys wearing me down with a combined assault of disparaging events and situations. God’s consoling Love appears distant or completely absent altogether during such periods. The great mystic doctor of the Church St. John if the Cross refers to such times as a Dark Night.

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In the first chapter of his spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul, the Spanish saint compares The grace of God to the love of a mother to a child. During our early stages of being a child of God, we experience consoling graces to feed our spiritual growth– akin to a Mother breastfeeding an infant. As we progress in the spiritual life, God allows us to grow by limiting the consoling graces that originally aided us. St. John of the Cross tells us,

It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitively converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God…(Dark Night of the Soul, 4).

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Constantly challenged by whiny requests from my sick children, I struggled at the beginning of this week to act with patience and grace of a loving father. The good news is that God granted me several days [opportunities] to renew my commitment of selflessness that I promised on my wedding day and reaffirmed by being open to becoming a parent.

Prayer and the hope of the Sacrament of Confession provided stability to my feeble will over the course of this week. I started praying a decade of the rosary as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. Inserting that brief time of prayer instead of surfing social media on my iPhone helped bring back perspective to my day. I am a family man and need to lead by example. The sins of sloth and despair gained a foothold in my spiritual life earlier this week. Asking the Blessed Virgin and humbling confessing my shortcomings by week’s end provide shield against those sins.

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Communication with God and humbly asking for forgiveness will renew my commitment to being the best possible husband and father I am called to be! I am thankful God granted me a period of reprieve during my children’s afternoon nap to ruminate on the state of my spiritual life and to help me game plan for next week. I ask for continued strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit as I continue on my pilgrim pursuit of a joyous life.

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Examples of a [Grand]Father

Early this week, my grandfather passed away at the age of 95. He left 11 children my grandmother in an abundance of Grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. It is with more sadness and joy that I write today. My family – and the world – lost a holy man. His passing provided me an opportunity to pause to reflect on my own life. Sometimes it is important to stop and assess our spiritual life. Reflecting on my own path of holiness I need to take stock of whether I am living as God intended of me. Am I the best possible husband my wife deserves? What virtues may I improve on to become the best version of myself for my children? How am I doing as a Catholic man in today’s world?

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Saint Joseph is the Standard upon which all fathers should be measured on their greatness. St Josemaria Escriva said this about the foster father of Jesus, “St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. ”  I am convinced my grandfather model his life after St. Joseph. As a farmer, husband, and father, himself my grandfather diligently and humbly worked to provide for his family and lived in obedience of God.

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Obviously, we become biased toward our family members and especially hold them in higher regard after their passage from this life into the next. However, I have evidence that my grandfather modeled his life after the greatest male saint of all–Joseph. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 7:16-20,

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.k16l By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.20So by their fruits you will know them.

good tree

I see the holiness in my own father. I see my dad‘s humble witness to truth and to love for both my mother myself my siblings and the Catholic teaching. While my dad is a holy man in his own right, I believe his path towards holiness was forged in the days all his youth by my grandfather. I see loving examples of husbands and fathers in my uncles as well.

The example of a holy father figure carries a lot of weight. Its effects are tangible and stand the test of time.  “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessNothing is so gentle as real strength,” proclaimed Saint Francis de Sales. The gentle, patient, and humble example upon which my grandfather lived his life will not fade with his death. Instead, the legacy of strong father figures is continued in my father and uncles. Ultimately, I am faced with an important question: which kind of father do I want to exemplify to my own children? I hope to live up to the gold standard example of my grandfather’s [and St. Joseph’s] humble life. I continue ask God to give me grace to become the best version of myself on my pilgrim pursuit toward a joyous life!

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