Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 19, 2019.
A Prayer Before the Cross
Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today.
Saint Catherine of Sienna wrote, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.
My sins wound me. Damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity. I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.
May Mary Intercede for Us
I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”
At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.
Failures, trials, and doubts will surround us throughout life. Uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary brings joys and peace in the struggle. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times.
Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. The Catholic Church’s sacramental life centers on memorializing events from the Gospels. For example, during the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.”
When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,
I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.
Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”
Persistence pays off
Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Luke 19:4).
Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.
Jesus Chooses the Imperfect
Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Zacchaeus struggled to physically see Jesus among the crowd. he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen. He was a tax collector!
According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)”
Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,” Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).
Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Christ welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness.
Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future!
Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.
I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien
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.
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,
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 25, 2017.
According to a recent Gallup study, the average American adult employed full-time reported to work an average of 47 hours a week. While I attended college and before I had children, I worked 60 or more hours a week for months on end. The United States is sort of an outlier when it comes to finding a work/life balance.
Even though I no longer log the insane amount of hours, I still struggle with finding time to relax and separating work from home life. This battle seemed futile until I stumbled upon the writings and witness of a Spanish priest—St. Josemaria Escriva! I am not entirely sure how I came across this gem of a saint, but his writing provides such practical wisdom. This article will provide three practical tips I learned from Fr. Escriva’s The Way that saved me from being a workaholic.
Photo courtesy of St. Josemaria Institute.
Perspective is Key
Josemaria mentions the need to broaden our perspective in the first chapter. “Get rid of that ‘small-town’ outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, ‘catholic’,” he says. Lately, I struggled with having a narrow gaze when it comes to my job. I see things from my perspective alone.
I resist the Holy Spirit’s promptings in daily events whereby I am given chances to widen my limited purview. For example, my manager challenges me to think beyond my cubicle walls. I need to daily heed the Spanish saint’s wisdom.
Pardon my Excuses?!
Along with possessing a narrow outlook I tend to fight constant urges to make up excuses for my failings. “The computer system was slow”; “No one told me the new update”; “Things are too busy”. These are just some of the various excuses I tell myself throughout the week. According to Father Escriva, “Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won’t offend God.”
Perhaps such excuses may be admissible, but I need to be aware of my tone and frequency of complaints. “Let those very obstacles give you strength. God’s grace will not fail you,” St. Josemaria states. Stumbling blocks need not be hindrances. These blocks in my path are actually building blocks for my character. Relying on Jesus as my cornerstone, I will be able to pick up the stumbling blocks [i.e. excuses] and use them to build up the kingdom of God!
Work with Character and Substance
A third major theme within the initial chapter of The Way focuses on developing your character through work. St. Josemaria deliberately states, “Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character’. It’s your lack of character: Be a man [or woman].” In other words, do not allow your past and your genetics define your being.
I am guilty as anyone when it comes to blaming my woes and defects on my chemistry make-up. Often I blame my failure to listen to my wife on having ADHD. But that’s a cop-out. Excuses aren’t a way to grow in holiness.
Father Escriva’s states in the next line, “Get used to saying No. Turn your back on the tempter when he whispers in your ear: ‘Why make life difficult for yourself?’” Character is built on resisting the Tempter. I need to work on the sins of gluttony and sloth. I fight the urge to eat fast food and lack motivation to play with my children after work.
Canonized on October 6, 2002, St. Josemaria Escriva is a perfect role model for people living in the 21st century. The bustle of life is only going to increase, especially in an age of instant communication via social media and the internet! The Spanish saint provides a humble witness as to how to incorporate God into my work through real, tangible, and practical means.
Both a blessing and a curse, water exists as a life-giving resource or a potential deadly force—in the form of floods, monsoons, and hurricanes. The universality of hydrogen dioxide always is a great example to compare the stresses and storms of life against. Summer vacation does not always seem like a retreat especially as a father of three young children. Over the past week, my family traveled to a local state park and camped in a cabin, visited our municipal zoo, and went to a children’s museum. While on paper that seems a recipe for a smooth, carefree, and memorable family experience, the reality with having children with special needs do not necessarily match this ideal.
The power-struggle of putting our
four-year old toddler to bed each night combined with daily challenges adapting
to two sons on the autism spectrum needs to be frequently prepared for change
led to lassitude. Mere fatigue does not adequately capture my wife and I’s
emotional, physical, and mental state. In fact, my energy was zapped from me
and it felt like we withstood—ONLY by a great miracle—a tsunami of tiredness!
Precisely how did I live through the
most recent storm of life? Reflecting on the course of the past week, I
realized some important ways to survive, or stay afloat, maelstroms of life.
The Rock We May Cling To
According to Matthew
11:28, Jesus said, “Come
to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will
give you rest.” The Old Testament also speaks of entrusting your concerns,
weariness, and anxieties with the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 describes this, “But those
who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like
eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
Moreover, the Psalmist describes God as a bastion to remain safe: “But the LORD
is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide” (Psalm
What I find interesting is the description
of God as a mighty rock as a place for us to hide. Amid stressful
situations it may seem like a copout to go into hiding while the storm passes.
However, hiding is not the same as fleeing.
As a parent, I go into brief periods
of hiding [into another room or even outside] when the noise, raucous, and
whining of my children compound on each other. Taking a five minute break in
the form of “hiding” into another room or at least seeking “hiding” through
prayer is actually a healthy thing that makes the difference to me parental
mindset. Frankly, I need to utilize opportunities to “hide” or cling to the
rock of Our Lord much more often that I do currently!
Mary—Model to Mirror
Along with the stalwart strength God
affords us during the stormy seas of life, looking to the Blessed Virgin Mary
as a role model to emulate is another way that I stay afloat during bouts of
exhaustion. My family’s favorite appellation for Mary is Star of the Sea. In
fact, through this devotion of Stella Maris [Latin for Star of the Sea]
that my wife’s faith as. Convert to Catholicism deepened!
A nautical theme exists in our living room and bedroom with the walls decorated with anchors. These aquatic ballasts symbolize the ability to be anchored in the Lord and experience security continual turmoil of daily stresses. As the supreme role model for humanity, the Blessed Mother of God shows us that obedience to God is possible.
Guided back to Shore
My personal favorite quote about Mary’s guidance comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the Doctor of the Church, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary” Another sainted doctor, Francis de Sales, provides incredibly powerful words to describe Mary’s intercessory influence, “Let us run to her, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with a perfect confidence.”
Ready, Set, and Prepare for the Next
Together with reliance on God and
looking to Mary as a human role model, being prepared is absolutely essential
for withstanding a current maelstrom you may be experiencing and for weathering
future flurries. According to St. Josemaria Escriva, “Discouragement
is the enemy of your perseverance. If you don’t fight against discouragement,
you will become pessimistic first and lukewarm afterward. Be an optimist (The
Way, no. 988“
Prepare yourself with seeing trials that come into your life as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of being a burden drown you in a sea of depression. I honestly did not realize that the Spanish saint’s feast day was today until I noticed a post from in a Catholic group I follow on Facebook.
Even as I am writing now I struggle with physical stamina and mental mettle to complete this post. Suddenly, looking at an underlined passage that begins the chapter entitled Perseverance—I pause and realize that preparation does pay off! St. Josemaria reminded me, “To begin is for everyone, to persevere is for saints” (The Way, no. 983).
Without God’s previous preparation and my cooperation in that through my learning about the wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva, there conclusion to this post would be a little rocky [no pun intended!]. I am always willing to seek the advice of the spiritual giants who came before me. I always desire to seek an opportunity to better myself.
Go Out to Sea of the World with God’s Grace
While I failed to exit the most recent life-storm unscathed and with grace [both my wife and kids know that I lost my patience many times and pledge to be a better husband and father], my reliance on God as a rock of strength, Mary as a guide, and the rest of the saints as models to emulate I will be better provided to stay afloat with the next tsunami of tiredness hits. I pray that you find this read helpful and stay afloat with me using these tips during your storm(s) of life as well!
Saint Pope Pius V once declared, “All the evil in the world is due to lukewarm Catholics.” Definitely a strong statement made by a leader of the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation Pius V’s reflect his historical context. The 16th century includes fiery religious debates and heresies running amok. Although Pius V lived over 500 years ago, his claim that lukewarmness is connected to evil remain ever relevant.
Arguably no more climate on earth is more deadly than a desert. Dictionaries define a desert as “arid land with usually sparse vegetation especially: such land having a very warm climate and receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of sporadic rainfall annually”. While technically cold deserts exist in the Arctic and Antarctic, the commonality for all deserts is the existence of little rainfall. I got the inspiration for writing on the topic of deserts and spiritual dryness during Sunday Mass. In his homily, the priest spoke of the need to trust in the Lord always. He referred to the intense cold temperatures and lack of hope in the season of winter and that while Easter will come that we have to go through the season of Lent first.
Just as a physical desert lacks the comforts of water so too a depletion of spiritual consolation exists during periods of spiritual aridity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2728,
Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have “great possessions,”15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.
Being stuck in a spiritual “rut” feels hopeless. The monotony of the spiritual desert presents problems that the Enemy utilizes to trap humans. Dryness in the spiritual life is still a blessing from God. However, how you react to existing in a spiritual dry spell may be a greater blessing or lead to great decay. I wish to expand on the three “travel tips” presented by the Catechism and how to traverse the metaphysical monotony.
Humility: According to St. Vincent de Paul, “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.” Satan knows well that prayer leads to a deeper connection with God and that when spiritual comforts cease [for a period of time] that is the prime time for him to sow and later reap doubts in us. Along with humility being able to fend off the Devil, it is a vital virtue that allows us to recognize that we do not have all the answers [or the complete set of directions] in life. Be humble enough to continue to ask God for help during spiritual dryness!
2. Trust: The Catechism wisely listed trust after humility as a means to overcome spiritual aridity. Without the gift of the virtue of humility trust in someone other than ourselves would not be possible. Being stuck in a particular stage in life, especially the spiritual life, appears to be hopeless. It is easy to rely solely on emotions and feel like you want to give up prayer, sacrifice, good works, etc. Surfing my Facebook newsfeed I came across the following meme that relates to self-doubt amid trials:
While this refers specifically to the most “difficult” days, I would add to be mindful to remind yourself that even on the most ‘boring, mundane, and uninteresting’ of days, weeks, or months to keep the faith and trust “that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
3. Perseverance: The third way to combat monotony in the spiritual desert is to persist. Keep up your daily prayers even when you do not feel any comfort, presence, or joy from God. According to St. John of the Cross, “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” Sojourning through the dryness of the spiritual may seem like you lack the ability to gain any insight about God, but realize persisting when all seems ordinary and arid will only serve to guide you through that spiritual desolation.
St. Padre Pio famously quipped, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” Be humble enough to trust that the Lord will guide your through times of current and future spiritual deserts.