Why Death is Not the End


Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 16, 2018.


Benjamin Franklin once declared, “The only guarantee in this life is taxes and death.” References to our mortality is oftentimes an uncomfortable topic for humanity in modern Western civilization. We do not want to hear, nor discuss, that all things eventually die. Decay of our bodies and deterioration of our minds is a sinister notion. Because of the fall, death [and sin] entered the world. God’s original plan for His greatest creation—mankind— did not involve dying and eventually being buried six feet under.

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Bleakness, death, and despair hounded me over the few months. My wife and I suffered another miscarriage in December and my grandfather suffered a heart attack at the end of 2017—he passed on from this life on January 15th.

Along with my personal encounters with suffering, I attended a funeral Mass for a stranger—my first such event! Our parish priest during the close of the Sunday liturgy told the congregation of a tragic story about a young military mother who died of brain cancer. He notified us of the funeral time to see if anyone wanted to attend to support her family.

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The School of Suffering

Such macabre normally causes me pause—and even fright—however, the school of suffering taught me that death is not the greatest fear in this world. Grounded in my faith combined with the teacher of experience, I learned that death is not the end! While moments of despair linger daily, hope persists. Earlier in 2017, I read Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book ‘You Did it to Me’: Divine Mercy in Action. In hindsight, picking up his work at the Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk in my church’s atrium was a turning point in my spiritual life. For those that have not heard of this title, the premise of the book involves providing practical ways to infuse divine mercy into our daily living.

Chapter Two of Divine Mercy in Action focused on the corporeal works of mercy of paying our respects to the deceased and welcoming strangers. Fr. Gaitley provided pages at the end of each chapter for practical tips to grow in holiness. Attending a stranger’s funeral—one of the suggestions— piqued my interest. I thought I would have to wait until my children were grown-up in order to actualize the corporeal work of “burying the dead” in my own life.

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The Curious Work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit works a mysterious and curious manner. Heeding my priest’s words, I scarified my time, something of myself. In a sense, I died—died to my fear—fear of showing up to an event where I knew no one aside from the presiding priests at the funeral. One caveat on this point, I actually did not stay for the entire Mass, and I never was able to enter the church! Instead, I roamed the church vestibules as I brought my two young children with me. Frequently chasing my runaway two-year old eventually got the better of me. Mother Teresa once said, “God doesn’t require you to succeed, he only requires that you try.”

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Death is Not the End

The saint of Calcutta’s wisdom provides us hope. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that death is not the end.  The sainted nun stated, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” Hearing those words always helps to re-orient my gaze toward hope and aids me in trusting the Lord. Jesus urged his apostles [and us today] in Matthew 16:24-26 to plunge headlong into the suffering of the Cross in order to fully follow Him.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides all believers the hope that death is not the end! My grandfather was a humble man of steadfast faith. I confidently hope and pray for the repose of his soul that he is able to experience the joy of the Beatific Vision. I prayer for the souls of my unborn daughter and the young military mother whose funeral I attended as well.

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“Eternal rest grant unto them [these three beautiful souls], O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

Related Links

Sufferings of The Simple Catholic

Death Is Not the End

Death Is a Veil — and Love Is Eternal

 

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Sufferings of The Simple Catholic


Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 20, 2018.


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.

Suffering Bears Fruit

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.

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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.

When Suffering Redeems

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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Saint 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

Related Links

How Pressure and Suffering Makes You Beautiful and Stronger

How Suffering is Purposeful

Hope through Suffering

Catholicism and Suffering

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Siphoning Sanctity? How to Reconcile Mark 5:21-43’s Peculiar Passage with Reality

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 4, 2018.


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.

Random or Intentional Detail in the Gospel of Mark?

On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a random tangent. He tells 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.

questions

Reflecting on this passage the following questions invaded my mind:

  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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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Encountering the Power of God

According to 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 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 healed the woman right away.

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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

Mark 5:21-43 also 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!

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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. He noticed the presence of the sickly woman. And Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment.

As a father of four 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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Why I Don’t Worry about Uncertainty Anymore

God will take care of you
Why don’t I worry about the uncertainty caused by the political strife, rhetoric, and fear-mongering (on both sides)?
Past suffering taught me God will never abandon me
In late 2014, I got a call from my wife to leave work. She was 10 weeks pregnant and in an ultrasound appointment. Her history of miscarriages and early signs pointed to another one in the process.
I was able to hear Jeremiah’s heartbeat that day. It was the first (and only) time I heard it. Four hours later, Jeremiah died.
We kept the remains for a few days in order to get tests to determine what happened.
It was discovered my wife contracted a virus at school. I forgot the name but it’s dangerous for the unborn.
Despair crippled my wife immediately.
It bit me like a slow-acting poison. The dangerous effects didn’t come to fruition until several months later.
I felt dead inside. An empty shell of myself. Joyless.

Persist in Prayer

I continued to pray and attend the sacraments during my despair but I rarely felt God’s presence.
Yet, I persisted on. Faith in the unseen God. Faith despite utter lack of consolation.
In the summer of 2015, I told my wife, “I want something good to happen in my life.” Obviously, in hindsight I realize God surrounded me with family and friends. But at the time I still felt alone.
Josiah was born the following year. We had to increase progesterone shots in my wife’s back to sustain the pregnancy. She is the strongest person I know.
After picking his name we learned Josiah literally translates to mean “healer”.
God sends you help not when you want but when you NEED it.
He sent my son as a healing force for me and my family. 2020 caused me to be frustrated at the hypocrisy in the Catholic Church— especially when some Catholics told others not to fear the novel virus but fearing political uncertainty or vice versa.
God will not abandon you
In the Old Testament, God provided for the famine with seven years of plenty along with the leadership of Joseph. In the New Testament, we see similar events of God providing, the feeding of the 5000 or something as small as Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.
If God did that in the past (and for me in my past) why won’t God continue to provide and care for those who trust in His Providence today and tomorrow?

Related Links

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A Letter to Lucia


Editor’s Note: Below is a letter I wrote to my unborn daughter Lucia Faustina who we buried on 12/19/2017.


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Dear Lucia,

Today, I stood aside a grave of another unborn child. I will never be able to hold you in my arms, or gaze joyfully at your face, or comfort you when you cry. It is not natural for a father to bury his child. This is truly a surreal and somber experience. Hope is the only thing getting me through this day–this week. The virtue of hope will be key to helping me through the next several months as I grapple with the loss of my sweet daughter.

Your name means “light”. Lucia I pray for strength to live out my vocation as a husband and father to your amazing mother and siblings. I guarantee that your brothers and sister would adore you. I am also confident that you are looking over us in communion with Jeremiah, St. Lucy, the Blessed Virgin and all the other saints in Heaven.

Please send our Heavenly Father my supplications for daily pardon and peace. I am reeling from losing you, but I understand that hope can never be lost if I cling to God’s Providence. May the light of God radiate upon your family as you provided light to your mother and I even though it was for what seemed a fleeting moment.

Your siblings and your mother deeply miss you. We hope to be united with your after our pilgrim journey in this life is completed.

With great love and gratitude,

Your father

Saint Lucy Pray for Us

Saint Lucy

Whose beautiful name signifies ‘LIGHT’

by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you

increase and preserve His light in my soul

so that I may avoid evil,

Be zealous in the performance of good works

and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and

the darkness of evil and sin.

Obtain for me, by your intercession with God

Perfect vision for my bodily eyes

and the grace to use them for God’s greater honor and glory

and the salvation of souls.

St. Lucy, virgin and martyr

hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

Amen.

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A Letter to the Downtrodden and Suffering


Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 7, 2017.


Dear Fellow Souls and Pilgrims on this Earthly Journey,

Hopelessness seems to cover the world. Hurricane Harvey decimated large parts of Houston. South Asia continues to experience chronic flooding. People suffer across the globe in large and small ways. Today, I wish to share my recent episodes of depression, I am not writing to complain about my situation, rather I hope to unite my suffering [albeit quite small in comparison to others] to others in great need. I want to be in communion with my fellow man.

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.

I cannot grow as a decent human being without learning from the school of suffering.

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Depression Strikes Often

Depression hit me again the past few weeks. Similar to an ocean, anxiety and sadness move in waves with brief periods of respite before the next deluge of depression comes crashing onto my shore. I feel a sense of hopelessness.

What is going on with my life to trigger these feelings? To be frank, I am not sure. Life appears to be going well: I have an amazing wife, family, good shelter, and a job. I had a recent change in anxiety medicine and changes are occurring rather frequently at work. Still, these concerns should be minor compared to people suffering loss due to the recent natural disasters. Depression shrinks my perspective. I see through narrower glasses.

Perhaps, you are similar to me. If you suffer from depression, whether it is severe or mild I want to unite myself to your suffering. I wish to take up my cross if only it may help widen my scope. Prying open a narrow gaze is painful. However, authentic and natural development involves growing pains.

Share Your Suffering with Others

If you are downtrodden, as I am currently, share your experience. Talk with people you trust. Talk to God—it works. Prayer is effective because it is communication with Him who created the universe. Oftentimes, I need to fall unto my knees and become downtrodden before I am able to gaze upward in prayer. Saint Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”

Although, I know my depression may likely come back again, I am aware of a strength to get me through the valley of tears—prayer. Prayer ultimately leads me toward an even-keeled path in my pilgrim journey on earth.

With great love and hope to alleviate your downtrodden soul,

Matthew, The Simple Catholic

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Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 29, 2018. My wife and I gave birth to our rainbow baby daughter late 2018.


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Life 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 Miscarriage 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!

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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

God Always Has 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!

Related Links

How to cope with the fear of losing another baby after miscarriage

Miscarriage Prayer

Miscarriage and the Sacrament of Time

A Letter to Jeremiah

Thank you for sharing!