Choosing Beautiful Joy Over Ugly Fear

Department stores across America and the film industry anticipate Halloween well before the start of October. Being in mid-September, it is likely you already watched [or at least heard the chatter about] the cinematic horror film The Nun. Fear, horror, and terror possesses an allure that is sometimes difficult to move away from.

What-is-Fear-Phobia-Types.jpg

Scrolling through social media feeds, pushing the cart throughout the store, or even watching television we are bombarded with screams and frights! Increasing new words seem to be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary related to newly discovered fears. Sesquipedalophobia refers to the fear of long words [this would be awful if you had this phobia and were married to a pharmacist, doctor, or writer!]. Another bizarre phobia is dextrophobia–the fear of having objects to your right. For more information on these two fears and other intriguing phobia please click on this link: https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/strange-phobias/

too many walls.jpg

In today’s political climate, much discussion centers on whether a border wall should be built around the United States. While concerns about national security certainly are valid, equally valid a question would be how much of this fear of open borders is due to the fearful rhetoric and unknown about other cultures.  Maya Angelou perhaps said it best, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Succumbing to fear we tend to build up walls that section us from fruitful interactions with others.

From my own perspective, fear normally enters my life through uncertainty in my life. As a rationally oriented individual, I tend to dress up my illogical fears in the wrappings of “security” or “control”. Visiting the New Testament on the subject of being afraid, I discovered a better explanation. An increase in fear is directly linked to a decrease in my trust and obedience in God. According to 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Fear drives all negative decisions. Fear of the unknown leads to doubt and anxiety.

running through forest.gif

I am most nervous and afraid when I fail to take proper perspective of the trials that God allows to happen to me. American author Ralph Waldo Emerson pithily purported, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  That certainly is true from my own experiences. The greatest fears, usually revolving around fear of failing at work, home, and school, involved a lack of complete information about the situation. I tend to stumble through the tangled branches and dark shadows cast by the specific ‘trees’ of my problems instead of raising my gaze to notice the beauty of the forest of my foibles.

French dramatist Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh  declared, “An ugly sight, a man who is afraid.” Fear prevents man from confidently standing up to gaze at the beauty around him even in the midst of suffering. Instead, paralyzed by fear, man turns towards selfish tendency in a twisted effort to flee from fear, confusion, and the unknown. Ultimately, this leads to an ugliness and seemingly endless pit that we are unable to climb out of our own power. Only by turning back to our Divine Father will we be able to be graced with a chance to overcome our fears and failings.

choose joy daily.jpg

Thanksgiving and wonder at the simple things in life equip us in the battle against fear. First, show gratitude to God by praying and perform a simple act of kindness to someone else. Second, repeat the first step as often as you can throughout the day. Third, take notice of the beauty around you–whether that be leaves falling from a tree, an airplane in the sky, animals in your neighborhood, or the smile of a person you meet. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Trusting in the truth–the truth of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior– will cast out the doubts and fears from your life.


“Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid….And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (cf Matthew 28:10, 20)

St. Catherine of Sienna declared, “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear”

Terrifying Joy

what are you afraid of gif

What is the most terrifying thing that happened to you? While this likely will look different for everyone what I have learned throughout my life is that all the horrifying moments of my life consistently involve the following—a complete and utter lack of control.

Now, I am going to ask you to do a complete 180°. Reflect on the most joyful moment(s) of your life. Again, these will be entirely unique and different for anyone. A common thread that connects the joyful experiences is that joy is a received gift. It is not something that I am able to manufacture or produce of my own volition. In a sense, joy too may be something outside of your control.

Over the course of the past several months, I experienced a unique and incomparable feeling that I am going to try my best to describe with words—terrifying joy. Is this not an oxymoronic pairing? How can joy be terrifying? How can terror be joyful?

Doesnt-make-sense

For those that have following The Simple Catholic will know that I have frequently wrote about the despair I experienced through the painful deaths of my unborn children via miscarriage. Both of these miscarriages occurred at the end of the first trimester. In fact, the despair got to be so severe that I nearly jettisoned my faith in God completely. As time passed on, I learned that the suffering of losing my child was not the fault of God. He used those horrifying events to draw me closer in trusting the Mysterious movement of Divine Providence.

Although I am stronger in my faith than four years ago, I am still petrified with fears as my wife bears our rainbow baby currently in her womb. Our current pregnancy started off almost identical as the two previous miscarriages. We even had our parish priest administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to my wife when medical avenues were exhausted.

Cautiously optimistic, we slowly started taking down our self-crafted walls built to guard our emotions, expectations, and hopes. Dismantling emotional walls take time. While we carefully controlled our excitement, as the pregnancy progresses along, and our daughter grows, so too does our joy.  With the increase in joy, an equal amount of terror, for all that might possibly go wrong, plagues us.

PitifulSmugDamselfly-size_restricted.gif

My wife detailed out this insanely apocalyptic dream that invaded her sub-conscious last night. It began with the bleak news that we actually were never pregnant with our baby to begin with. Next, her nightmare involved witnessing a panoply of natural disasters: blizzard, floods, hurricane, wildfires, tornadoes, and lightning storms! After telling me this terrifying dream, she said, “We need to check [referring to sonar Doppler we purchased to check on the baby’s heartrate] on the baby tonight!” Later that night we listened to our baby’s strong and consistent heartbeat. Confidence and joy for this gift to our family returned.

Not exactly certain how I would end this topic, I took a break from writing and slept on it. The next day, I suddenly realized a way to describe this Mysterious union of terror and joy—the Incarnation of Jesus Christ helped provide me a little insight to my unique experience. Just as God became fully human while retaining the fullness of His divinity, so too, I posit that perhaps we sometimes partake in that Mystery of the Incarnation, at least a hint of this reality in our own life. While fully being joyful during our recent pregnancy, my wife and I also fully experience terror [of the unknown and potential loss]. The human side allows fear to set in, but as we as God’s adopted children through our Baptism—the Holy Spirit breaks into our life with the gift of joy as well!

Keep calm and ask for help

A tangible way I receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to sustain me in time of discuss and terror is by petitioning God for aid. To quote acclaimed Catholic author Jennifer Fulwiler, “I wanted to tell stories to relieve people’s burdens.” So too, do I desire to share my own joyful [and terror-filled] to ease others trials, doubts, and fears. Please continue to pray for the Lord to guide my family and I am certainly going to continue to petition on your behalf.


“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” St. Augustine

“Act in a way that all those who come in contact with you will go away joyful. Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God.” St. Maria Faustina

3 Lessons from Super Bowl LII

yogi_berra_quote

First uttered in 1973 during the National League Pennant race by baseball legend Yogi Berra, the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over” is now a staple colloquialism in American society. Watching Super Bowl LII made me think of this saying over and over. After last season’s epic comeback by the New England Patriots [and major collapse on the part of the Atlanta Falcons] in American football’s biggest stage, nothing is truly surprising to me anymore in the world of sports. We should be prepared for the unexpected! Actually, that is what most of the world received as the clock waned done to 00:00 in Super Bowl LII—a largely unexpected victory of the Philadelphia Eagles over the celebrated, and seemingly invincible juggernaut that is Tom Brady. I want to share three lessons I took from this game and how a sporting event provided some perspective to my spiritual journey.

michael scott never give up.gif

  1. Never Give Up: Anyone who has played a sport, whether professionally or at the amateur level knows that the overcome of the game is not done until the closing minutes—or even the final play. Whenever my friends and I played a pick-up game of basketball or football to relieve the stress of finals testing, the games were heated and typically ended in a close score. The first lesson I learned from watching Super Bowl LII is to never give up. It is always worth fighting until the end.

 

St. Paul often uses sports terminology when referring to persistence in the journey of faith. He tells us in Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Lessons from football, and other seemingly ordinary activities, can translate to the spiritual life. My time on this earth plane of existence is short, but the key is there is still time. God grants us time to have many chances at asking for forgiveness and bestowing mercy on others.

be bold.jpg

  1. Be Bold: Another message I gathered from watching Super Bowl LII is that boldness pays off. Several times throughout the game the Eagles head coach decided to go for it on 4th Knowing he had to be gutsy in order to even have a shot beating an NFL dynasty like the Patriots, Doug Pederson, selected a trick play that may go down in football history as the most intrepid play ever—a direct snap to the running back, pitch to the tight end, and pass to the quarterback for a touchdown!

Possessing confidence in his team allowed for Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to boldly go where teams [aside from the New York Giants] went before—hoisting the Lombardi trophy in victory over the dynamic duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Such boldness captivated my attention along with the millions of other viewers of the Super Bowl. Bold and confident people attract others to themselves.

Saint Pope John Paul II was that type of individual. He once stated, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” His words relate directly to my life situation. Struggling with confidence within my new job, I act in hesitancy that hampers my ability for achieving greater heights. Ironically, playing things safe, both in my professional and spiritual life do not lead to successes. God does not want us to worry about things outside of our control. Witnessing the football game of the year showed me that some risks are worth taking.

do-not-be-afraid-fb.png

  1. Rely on Him Who Gives Us Everything: During the trophy presentation of the Lombardi Trophy and the Super Bowl LII MVP award, the excitement of the coaches and players possessed a unique quality this time around. Obviously, any sane person would be ecstatic after winning such a highly touted championship event, but the joy the Philadelphia Eagles displayed seemed a bit different from previous awards ceremonies. All of the major figures in the Eagles franchise: owner, coaches, and quarterback—all opened their speeches with specific praises to God.

rock amongst the storm.jpg

Listening to various post-game interviews I came across this video of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. His major message is to recognize our failures and look to God for stability in those tough times. We cling to God during the storms of life. Below is a link to this press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s7Ge7GkhO4

Nick Foles told reporters after the game, “I may be in the NFL. We may have just won the Super Bowl, but we still have daily struggles—I have daily struggles. But that is where my faith and family. When you look at a failure in your life it is an opportunity for your character to grow…I would not be out here [playing football] without God, without Jesus in my life.”  God seems to use normal, maybe even trivial stuff—like an NFL football game, to teach me about the importance of perseverance in the faith and cling to Him in time of need. In my daily struggles to grow in holiness, being a better parent, and a more loving neighbor to my fellow mankind I am grateful that God displayed Himself again to me through the ordinary example of a sporting event!

 

How St. Josemaria Escriva Saved Me from Being a Workaholic

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 that I am going to request for some of his books as gifts this Christmas [my local library did not have any of his works L] Today, I want to share three practical tips I learned from Fr. Escriva’s The Way that saved me from being a workaholic.

workaholic

  1. 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.

batman no excuses.jpg

  1. 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 cognizant 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. Maybe the apparent 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!

  1. 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.

mulan be a man gif.gif

I am guilty as anyone when it comes to blaming my woes and defects on my chemistry make-up.  I tell my wife whenever I say something stupid or fail to listen to her needs, “This is who I am at my core! I struggle with focusing because of my ADHD diagnosis” 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 refusing to fall into the sins of gluttony and sloth [daily 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.

josemaria escriva.jpg

O God, through the mediation of Mar y our

Mother, you granted your priest St. Josemaría countless

graces, choosing him as a most faithful instrument

to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in

daily work and in the fulfillment of the Christian’s

ordinary duties. Grant that I too may learn to turn all

the circumstances and events of my life into occasions

of loving You and serving the Church, the Pope

and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the

pathways of this earth with faith and love.

Deign to grant me, through the intercession of St.

Josemaría, the favor of … (make your request). Amen.

3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

Zacchaeus.jpg

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. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. 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”

Bilbo exiting his hobbit hole

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle 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).

failure is success

  1. Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing: A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus 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.

memory gif.gif

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! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus. 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***

A Humble Hue: My Story about Autism

On a beautiful Thursday spring afternoon, I was counting down the minutes until closing time at the Municipal Museum. Employed as a part-time custodian and studying as a full-time graduate student, I had a busy week. I was ready for my shift to end. I looked forward to having a sit-down dinner with my wife. Fifteen minutes before five o’clock, a mom with a young boy entered the facility. Sweeping the entryway at this time, I politely greeted them and advised that we would be closing shortly. The mom quickly acknowledged me and rushed after her galloping child as he pursued the exhibits in a seemingly haphazard manner. I immediately noticed this and nonchalantly started to follow the museum visitors as I dusted the display placards. “Why is he acting like this?” I thought.

why meme.jpg

The boy appeared to lack listening skills and roved in a peculiar pattern. I immediately thought to myself, “Oh great, I always get THESE kind of customers right at closing time. Don’t they know we close at five. And why is that mom not paying attention to her hyperactive kid!” I forget the details of the end of that work day. But what I do remember is that before the family left for the day they visited the gift shop. “He has autism. My son has had a particular obsession with dinosaurs that past few months,” the mom casually remarked to the museum cashier and myself as the boy searched the gift shop for dinosaur paraphernalia.

This seemingly mundane work experience happened over five years ago. Why am I telling you about a random encounter I had with a child with autism? I have never seen this family ever again. Nevertheless, after my oldest son was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum a lot of my past experiences with individuals sharing similar traits to my child revisit me in my dreams and thoughts throughout daily life. See, I thought I knew things about autism before I had children. I acted self-righteous toward that mother five years ago. Today, I want to share three ways my child with autism has humbled me and how our family’s path toward a diagnosis educated me on the uniqueness, trials, and joys of autism!

  1. Kaleidoscopic, not monochromatic:  The error of my previous way of thinking stemmed from a simplistic view of the world. I tended [and oftentimes still do today!] to reduce, or place people into categories. Individuals are either good or bad, respectful or disrespectful, educated or ignorant, right or wrong. I lumped individuals into general categories. Perhaps that was my way [and still is my way] to come to grips with difficult situations and reconcile seemingly contradictory events with the rules and laws of nature. What my precise motivation for having this black/white dichotomous worldview is for another topic. The point is I did not view each person as an individual.

In my journey with learning about my son’s diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, I entered a new realm of possibilities. My old way of seeing the world did not line up with the increasing awareness and knowledge on the study of autism as a spectrum.  According to the dictionary, the word spectrum is defined as “a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequence.” Synonyms include: gamut, range, span, or rainbow.

autism colors my world

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder generally exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
  • Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life

During our journey toward a diagnose, my wife and I had our son evaluated because he exhibited OCD tendencies, social-communication issues, and various periods of obsessions . We learned that our son was on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum– he needed some interventions and therapy. Overall, he is still able to communicate pretty well. In other words, my son could hide his autism well, but my wife and I wanted to obtain a diagnosis to grant him services to best help him succeed in daily life. In telling his teachers and caregivers, our son’s great gifts and needs due to his autism diagnosis we get a nearly ubiquitous reply:  “Really? He doesn’t look like he has autism.” Autism spectrum disorder is an invisible diagnosis. Being on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum my oldest son appears to be a regular kid. That is the beauty and challenging nature of autism– one shoe does not fit all kids!

Currently our youngest son is trending toward a path similar, yet different from our oldest. He shows the same characteristics as outlined above. A pattern of autism is already present in our family, however, our youngest son experiences different struggles compared to our oldest. Kids with autism spectrum disorder are unique. There are a broad range of issues and gifts, along with a wide array of services available to assist individuals.

arrow learning.gif

  1.  Ever-learning: According to the Autism Speak website, almost 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A few years ago, I heard a commercial on the radio advising that 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with ASD. Why the big increase? Not being an expert myself, I have thought about this situation many times. My wife recently completed her graduate studies on special education and she took several classes relating to autism spectrum disorder. Talking about the rise of ASD, she mentioned that an increased awareness and broadening of the spectrum [recently Asperger’s Syndrome was added] is a factor of such increase.

It is important to realize, that since ASD is a spectrum professionals, in education, psychology, and counseling are constantly learning about autism. In fact, the logo for Autism Speaks is a puzzle piece. Puzzles, like a mystery, contain constant changes in knowledge and basic assumptions may be overturned upon the arrival of new evidence. It is important to realize that if you have a family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance with autism be prepared to be open to learning. Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Actively seek knowledge about autism spectrum disorder and learn to develop empathy. I am certainly working on this and wish I learned this lesson five years ago.

I dont know gif.gif

3.No One is a Full Expert: “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” This adage summed up my mindset on the subject of autism. Acting in ignorance and pride, I limited individuals with autism spectrum disorder to a generality instead of unique cases. Truly, no one really in a FULL and complete expert in the field of ASD. I need to continually to be wary of judging my oldest son’s struggles and strengths against my youngest child’s limitations and  skills.

As a new parent, I got lots of parenting advice from “so-called” experts. My son did not sleep through the night until he was three years old. I felt like I was being told, “You do not know what you’re doing”. To be frank, a large majority of the time, I spent self-critiquing and self-doubting my ability to parent. Once we got a diagnosis for our son, a weight was lifted. We had an explanation. We had options. I may not have been an expert [nor still am today] but as least my family as direction to help our son.

Please learn from my mistake. Autism spectrum disorder is not uniform in its scope. Initially I failed to see the beautiful hues of humanity within ASD. Individuality exists for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, not conformity or homogeneity. I am by far and expert and I can only see from my humble hue in the case of my son. What I do know is that I am always ready to learn. Although I do not always like being taught I pray for the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit to be open to teaching with grace.

 

mindislikeaparachute

***The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.***

Who Do You Say that I am?

Who are you? This is normally the first question we either ask a person or obtain an answer upon meeting someone for the first time. The Gospel reading for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time is Matthew 16:13-20—AKA the institution of the papacy. Jesus asks his apostles the following question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Having performed many miracles and healings, along with teaching with great teaching authority from God, Jesus elicited a decisive reply from his apostles. Rumors were circulating about the identity of Jesus: Herod claimed he was really John the Baptist [see Matthew 14:1-2] others viewed him as a profound teacher [see Matthew 8:18]. Confusion existed over the uniqueness and purpose of Jesus’ mission during his time on earth.

Peter outlines the various rumors already circulating about in ancient Palestine: Jesus is a reincarnation of old prophets or even John the Baptist [who was beheaded back in Matthew 14!]. Instead of chastising the fisherman, Jesus continues to question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). I have heard this gospel reading dozens of times now. The problem I struggle with as I grow older is that discovering newness to a biblical passage occurs less and less as the years pass. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, I was able to find a new perspective on Matthew 16:13-20. Let me explain three ways I viewed this passage in a newer light.

keys.jpg

1. Questioning is good: Skeptics gets a bad rap from supporters of religion. The word skeptic is defined as a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. According to this definition, I most certainly am considered a skeptic at least when it comes to the first half of the definition. I question nearly everything. I ask probably at least a hundred questions a day- both at work and home. Sometimes I feel that people get irritated when I ask so many questions. Whether this belief is founded or not depends on the tone and manner upon which I query. People who genuinely are curious about truth and honestly strive to gain knowledge about the world should not feel guilty about questioning. “There are no such things are a dumb question,” I remember many of my elementary and high school teachers telling me and fellow students.

In other words, a moderate amount of skepticism is good and healthy. Without skepticism we venture to the other side of the spectrum of belief—naivety! Matthew 16:13:20 presents Jesus as a questioner. Twice he asks Peter about who he thinks Jesus really is. Peter’s claim is that Jesus is the Christ—the anointed One from God.

Now, this claim was not simple religious gullibility. Peter and the Apostles spent a lot of time with Jesus traveling from city to city hearing his teaching. Along with listening to his message, the disciples witnessed several miracles first hand. I realized that the evangelist does not have Jesus prod the disciples about his identity until almost midway through the gospel. Why is that? Should not Jesus’ identity be discussed sooner? Reflecting on this chapter in Matthew, I read the chapters leading up and I concluded that perhaps Jesus wanted to give his followers sufficient time for receiving evidence [i.e. witnessing his works, listening to his teaching] before he confronted them with such a loaded question.

perspective gif

2. Truth beyond Perspectives: An anonymous quote I discovered the other day states, “Never believe everything you hear. Because there are always three sides of a story. Yours, theirs and the truth.” Perspective is the ability to look at an event through the lens of another and understand that individual’s point of view. This does not necessarily mean that you have to agree with that perspective, but many situations involve several sides. Belief of Jesus is no different. Discussion about the most famous person in history continues today. People claim to know who he is, others suspend judgment, and still others outright reject the existence of Jesus.

Catholics believe that Jesus institutes the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. Jesus gifts the early Church with a steadfast promise of clarity—in the office of the pope. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father,” Jesus states in Matthew 16:17. Peter and his successors are not honored by the Catholic Church because they were awesome people—remember Peter actually denied knowing Jesus three times before the Crucifixion! God made an interesting selection for the first leader of the Church after Jesus’ Ascension.

tell me more .gif

Catholics respect the authority of the pope because the Holy Spirit guided Peter [and his successors] and endowed him [and his successors] the gift of discernment and clarity on matters of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit helps the pope present such issues with clarity in confusing times. True, certain matters and events have varying perspectives. But the office of the papacy is guided by the Holy Spirit to allow the leader of the Church to being incapable of officially teaching erroneous things regarding faith and morality.

Light is composed of all visible colors in the electromagnetic spectrum. A prism is a tool to demonstrate this truth through refracting light into various wavelengths. In an analogous manner, the pope acts as a sort of theological prism upon which the unity of office is reflected in the diversity of individuals who hold that office. Over time, truth passed on to Peter from Christ is clarified and more clearly defined by future popes. Seen apart, each pope may seem to be teaching differently. However, when viewed through the prism of history and the office of the papacy, Catholic teaching is concentrated into a singular light of truth.

joey gif.gif

3. Who is Jesus to Me?: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” Jesus urges his Apostles in Matthew 25:45. How often do I forget that humanity on the periphery— the impoverished, the infirmed, individuals filled with despair, etc—are people I am called to love and serve. As an American, I have grown accustomed to decent living conditions. I have a house, family, money to pay the bills, and adequate food. Of course, as a Catholic, I see Jesus most fully present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and I do make time throughout the month to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Where I struggle and have an opportunity to improve in my spiritual life is to be more conscience to pray for people on the fringe of society. I need to see Jesus the beggar dwelling inside each of them.

statue beggar.jpg

Who are you? This question should be asked daily in our communication with God. He will reveal Himself but we need to be open to an unexpected answer. Faith and tradition tells us that Jesus is the Christ—the anointed Son of God and Savior of the World. Jesus is also the beggar, the impoverished one, the Suffering Servant—to borrower the evangelist Mark’s favorite title of Jesus. Let us embrace the fullness of Jesus both in his glory and his humility. In doing so, we grow in holiness and learn more about our true identity as well!