Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

Rocks, Monkey Socks, and Toy Cars—Joy Found on a Summer Morning!

“I love the simple things in life. They tend to get overlooked.” This anonymous quote captured the entire theme of a morning at my home last week. Waking up early, my children itched for an opportunity to play outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun before the humidity set in.  Almost immediately, they rushed to the edges of my backyard to collect and play with rocks.

My son and daughter definitely received their geological glee from me—for a period I seriously considered majoring in geology! Noticing the different colors, sizes, textures, and hardness of the stones captivate their attention. If left to their own devices my oldest children would remain outside for hours and bring inside cartons of rocks.

Along with my children’s joyful “jewel” collecting, their imagination was in full force as well. Albert Einstein once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I most certainly need to pay more attention to my kids’ imaginative play as my thirst for knowledge has been stymieing my joy lately. The creative juices flowed greatly in the mind of my daughter. “Look dad!” she exclaimed, “Look at this. Taken aback at what I saw I asked, “What are you doing?” Proudly she exclaimed, “I am a monkey! Look at my monkey-socks!” Covering her feet were a pair of garden gloves I bought for her at the local home improvement store. Immediately, a grin spread across my face. Next, I just laughed—not a forced chuckle, but a natural, healthy and joyful guffaw!

The final thing that brought joy to me that summer morn was my youngest son’s continual love and obsession over his toy cars. Being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in late 2017, we discovered that his obsession and impulsive playing with toy cars is part of what makes him unique. Carrying a plastic vehicle at all the time provides him relief amidst daily stresses of toddler life and living with rambunctious siblings. No less than a couple hundred times do we hear our two-year old say, “A car, a toy car! Look a car!” His enthusiasm and unbridled joy at the simplicity of a toy car reminds me of a spectacular point G.K. Chesterton made in his masterpiece Orthodoxy. He stated,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  

Repetition, work, and habits do not infringe on our ability to grow. On the contrary, finding joy in the simple matters of life and completing “monotonous” tasks regularly with joy instill true life in us. Days where I focus on my vocation as a husband and father with love are the days where my vocation does not turn into drudgery. The same is true when it comes to my daily work.

My dad displays this simplicity and adherence to his vocation as husband and father in an exceptional way. Rarely, did I hear him complain about his family duties. Weariness of parenting did not seen to wear on his face—at least from what I remember! In terms of spiritually living, my father is “younger” than myself in the sense that his obedience and joy in his vocation is anchored in the Pre-Existent God more deeply than my spiritual life is at currently!

I will leave you today with a few simple and profound quotes that I hope with awaken or sustain your spiritual life. I hope you discover the simple joy that children seem to naturally possess.

“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

As St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.” —C.S. Lewis

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” —Greg Anderson, American author

Focus, Assess, Inward, and Live—How to Deal with Failures

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Perhaps the most difficult phrase a person has to hear in life is: You need to wait. Whether you renewing your driver’s license and have to wait at the local DMV or waiting for a job interview or searching for your vocation in life, waiting can be tough. St. Paul wrote about the importance of patience. Perhaps his most famous, and arguably his most timeless passage, 1 Corinthians 13, the great evangelizer ever reminds us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated” (verse 4 emphasis mine).

My natural tendency leans towards impatience. Busyness and speed dominate my daily life. Whether this issue began as a child, as I was diagnosed with ADHD or if my fast-paced work environment and reliance on technology is a factor may be debated. Regardless, at the end of the day, I am in charge of choosing to slow down, to pause, and to reflect on my crossroad events in my life. Certainly, today it seems is a turning point in my life.  Earlier this week, I learned about a fantastic job opportunity within my company that would be a perfect match for my skills. Excitedly, I discussed this chance with my manager. Needing permission from senior management to apply—as I am still only a few months in my current role, my manager informed me that I needed to wait for a year from when I was hired in my current role.

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Disappointed I took this time to focus my efforts into working diligently. Focus. This word permeated my thoughts today. According to the great Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Oftentimes, courage is associated with quick thinking. However, sometimes the courageous thing to do involves waiting—patiently. That is what I did today. I paused and assessed my frustrating situation. “I am stuck in a position where I am not happy. It is not a good fit!” I initially told myself.

After inwardly reflecting I realized that waiting is not necessary a bad thing. The American author Joyce Meyer poignantly put it, “Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Taking time to reflect on my apparent failings gave rise to a mantra that helped re-focus my attitude—F.A.I.L= Focus+ Assess + Inward=Live

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Live life to the fullest. We are called to a joyful life. This does equal a life free from suffering—today certainly proved that with my disappointment about the job opportunity. Nevertheless, any cross, big or small, presents us all with an opportunity—to run from it or to embrace it. Today, I choose the latter! St. Therese of Lisieux encountered suffering most of her earthly life. The wisdom gained from accepting her crosses was profound. The French saint stated, “For one pain endured with joy, we shall love the good God more forever.” Love is patient. God is love. Therefore, God is patient. May the Holy Spirit grant us the virtue of patience and ability to transform apparent failings into fruitful joys!

Sacraments: Theological Rest Stops for Our Pilgrim Journey

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are considered the only mammal that willingly delays sleeps. For more interesting facts about sleep here is a link: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/25-random-facts-about-sleep. Sleep is an issue that pervades all of human life. As a parent of young children, I oftentimes determine the success [or failure] of a day over whether my children successfully or unsuccessfully take their scheduled nap! Because of the stresses of life, intense busyness at work, dealing with sick family members, and sheer lack of sunlight [wintertime is my least favorite season] drain me on a daily basis. The exhaustion last week became so overwhelming that I almost gave up hope. But the thing about tiredness is that is oftentimes causes people to forgot and lose strength to continue.

On the verge of wallowing in a lake of lassitude, I suddenly remembered the words of Bishop Paul Swain that he said at a confirmation Mass. Specifically referring to the sacrament of confirmation, but I believe his words apply to the rest of the sacraments as well, the successor of St. Peter said, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.” In the past, I associated the sacraments as offensive weapons against sin, however, recently I have come to view the sacramental system as a means to shield and sustain oneness from the endless assault of the Enemy’s attacks. Below I wish to explore my experience with how the sacraments of confession, Eucharist, and marriage help provide spiritual rest for my pilgrim journey.

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  1. Confession: Growing up I remembered the summer vacations my family and I went on involved a ton of driving. If the rambunctious nature of sons is any indication of what I was like as a kid, I imagine my parents looked forward to taking a pause in the long drive to allow my siblings and I to run out our energy. As a parent now, I learned that a periodic rest stop sometimes solves a fussy situation in the car. Pope Francis once declared, “Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus. At the end, and forever. A journey in which we do not encounter Jesus is not a Christian journey.” Too many times I forget that life is more of a pilgrimage—toward Heaven—not simply a tourist attraction for me to amass as much pleasurable and exciting experiences as possible.

Without Jesus as the focus of my journey I lean toward being a tourist of the world instead of a pilgrim in the world. Confession is the sacrament that provides me an opportunity to rest and receive God’s graces. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it” (CCC 1469. Recently, I received the sacramental graces of the medicine box. I felt a large burden lifted from me and have the strength to be able to encounter the busyness of life with a calm assurance that God will sustain me even during tough situations.

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  1. Eucharist: While Confession heals the wounds of my sins, the sacrament of the Eucharist provides me nourishment and strength for the journey for the rest of the week. In the book of Exodus, God listened to the plea of his people, traveling in the wilderness, a plea for food to sustain them during the tumultuous journey. As amazing and unmerited the gift of manna in the Old Testament, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist as a fulfillment of this prefiguration in Exodus. Jesus decisively teaches us in John 6,

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

After receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ every Sunday Mass, I gain the strength to make it through the trials of this world. According to the Catechism paragraph 1391, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.” Reading this passage makes me reflect on the popular adage, “you are what you eat”—receiving Jesus in this sacraments helps transform us into the best [i.e. most Christ-like] versions of ourselves!

  1. Matrimony: K. Chesterton is considered a king of wit and satire—especially among Catholics. His quotes on marriage frequent social media. Ironically, I actually shared the below memes on Instagram recently!

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Wait! “I thought this article was about theological REST STOPS for our pilgrim journey—not holy hand grenades,” one might say. I agree with Chesterton, oftentimes marriage is like going to war—sins of pride, impatience, anger, lust, greed, and sloth [to name just a few]—become casualties. However, war does not always involve active or constant movement. Rather, a large part of war entails strategizing against the enemy—and that involves resting and planning. The sacrament of marriage is a gift from God that allows spouses to acquire the graces of rest and perseverance.

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Marriage as a sacrament involves total commitment towards one’s spouse. Husband and wife do not split responsibilities as in a 50/50 contract. Instead, marriage is a covenant—an oath that involves 100/100 dedication of the husband toward the wife and vice versa. Honestly, I sometimes struggle to view marriage this way. Throughout periods in my wife and I’s marriage either she or I would have to “more time and effort” than the other “put in”. Keeping a tally sheet and IOUs does not lead to a fruitful marriage. Only by donning a servant mentality did I truly receive the sacramental graces of matrimony to acquire true peace and rest.

To close, I wish to again ponder the words of Bishop Paul Swain, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.” Do you take advantage God’s oasis’ for holiness? If you are married do you take time to see God work in your spouse? Is there any ways you may be able to deepen your participation in the sacrifice of the Mass? Let us use the rest of Lent as a time to grow in holiness and thank God for the gifts of the sacraments—theological rest stops for our pilgrim journey!

Saturday Stress: System Glitches, Panic, & Confusion

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American author Melody Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Her words certainly seemed quite relevant this icy and confusing Saturday. Working my first official Saturday shift at my new work position involved frenzied co-workers, negativity, and confusion due to the unveiling of the new payment system.

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As with any new technology release, glitches are guaranteed to appear during the initial days of the life of any change/update in a computer system. Beginning with murmurings that eventually led to loud vocal outbursts, several co-workers expressed severe dissatisfaction with the new system release. Surprisingly, I handled the change well. During points of transition where major changes occur in the workplace I get nervous—I allow fear to take over. However, calmness of mind and heart hovered over me.

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Such tranquility did not originate from me. A power greater than I provided me the gift of peace and calmness of heart. My Catholic faith allows me to give a name to this power—the Holy Spirit. At Baptism I become an adopted child of God and the Holy Spirit indwelt within me.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 1227-1228, “Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.31 Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.32 St. Augustine says of Baptism: ‘The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament.'” Over time I have learned that the seed of the Catholic faith needs to be watered and fed by asking for God’s graces. According to the great doctor of the Church St. Ephraim, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul of the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven!”

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” I have probably made reference to this quote more recently than anything else the God-man taught us. The Holy Spirit provides clarity in confusing and stressful situations, but showering us with an array of luminous virtues. Peace dispels agitation, generosity quells greed, and charity uproots anger from my life.  Confusion is a guarantee in this life, however, the power we receive from the Holy Spirit to withstand the storm of doubt and uncertainty is a gift!

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.

How I Set the Re-set Button on My Anger Today

Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “When we have to reply to anyone who has insulted us, we should be careful to do it always with meekness. A soft answer extinguishes the fire of wrath. If we feel ourselves angry, it is better for us to be silent, because we should speak amiss; when we become tranquil, we shall see that all our words were culpable.” 

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How do you react when you experience injustice? Do you quickly respond with fury? Do you wait to reflect on the situation? I experienced a frustrating and unjust situation at work where I actually was able to diffuse the anger in my soul. Sometimes, I wish I a re-set button existed for me to push to begin my day again! Well, I experienced a sort of spiritual re-setting midway through today. How did I accomplish such a feat? Actually, it was fairly simple–yet difficult– I asked for help through prayer.

After I experienced the work situation that embarrassed me I used our scheduled lunch break to pause. I texted a close friend of mine an urgent, yet simple plea, “Please pray for me! I am feeling like I am going to lash out in anger to a co-worker.” Recognizing my problem of anger is the first step towards the cure. The next step is asking for help. Surprisingly, my anger dissipated fairly quickly. I listened to the wisdom of the Church as taught by St. James [and St. Alphonsus Liguori above!]. Chapter three of  the epistle of James warns against the dangers of the tongue. The letter compares man’s tongue to a fire–gossip and angry words can spread like a wildfire.

I am grateful for the gift of patience and self-control granted to me by the Holy Spirit today. I hope that I may continue to improve on limiting my anger flare-ups on my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I pray today for anyone specifically suffering from the sin of anger and wrath–know that I am with you [in prayer] in your journey to be a better version of yourself as well! God blesses us with a new day–and a new chance– to hit the re-set button.

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