Saint Josephine Bakhita, you were sold into slavery as a child and endured untold hardship and suffering. Once liberated from your physical enslavement, you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church. O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery; Intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity. Those whom man enslaves, let God set free. Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and let them look to you as an example of hope and faith. Help all survivors find healing from their wounds. We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 19th, 2017
My wife and I stood outside surrounded by our family and close friends at the local Catholic cemetery. It was a cool November afternoon. Gray clouds lined the sky and appeared to be about ready to burst at any moment. The priest from our parish recited the funeral rite.
Throughout this process, my wife and I simply existed. I did not truly take in the meaning or fully process the prayers uttered by Fr. John. Instead, the world seemed to have frozen in silence—a horrific silence.
We lost our unborn son Jeremiah.
The event of our miscarriage immediately effected and crippled my wife. For me, despair and desolation did not actually set in until several months later. I spiraled into a deep depression. Wrestled over the belief in a good and generous God. Doubted my Creator’s providence and presence. Hope seemed futile.
Moment of Transformation
Fast forward almost 2 years; this event has been without question the turning point of my life [so far]! According to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Since the death of our son, his namesake’s words hit much closer to home. What I have come to realize is that St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” is not a pious clique.
There exists actual weight, real impact, and tangibility to his words. Let me explain. Yesterday, I had a day off from work. I decided to take my three kids to Jeremiah’s grave-site and place flowers on the grave. Before we left for the store, I was trying to wear out the children so they would not be too hyper at the cemetery. I made some paper airplanes for my son and daughter to toss.
Comfort Comes Unexpectedly
Along with making paper airplanes, my son wanted to color on the extra paper. I gave him the closest pen I could find. Soon into the process of drawing, he asked me how to spell three words. I was thinking, “Good, at least he is sitting down and this coloring is keeping him preoccupied. He’s thinking about school since he wants to learn to spell.”
It was not until we were traveling in the car after purchasing the flowers that my son’s true plan came to light. “Daddy, could we please get a little bag to put this book I made for Jeremiah into. I don’t want it to get wet” [it was starting to rain at this point], he said. I was floored by his reply. He actually took what I said to heart and sacrificed play time to make something for his unborn brother.
That was probably my proudest moment as a parent. What I have learned in the past two years is that God works all things for the good through the Sacrament of Time! Below are two ways I learned about this ordinary and sometimes forgotten gift from God.
Time Exists to Show Mercy
According to Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, in his work Time, “We must restore our spiritual sanity. One giant step in that direction is to think truly about time.” He goes on to talk about time existing within prayer as opposed to prayer existing in time. Prayer is communication with God.
Kreeft is saying that time should be viewed under the lens of communication with the Divine. “Prayer determines and changes and miraculously multiplies time…prayer multiplies time only if and when we sacrifice our time, offer it up. There’s the rub. We fear sacrifice. It’s a kind of death,” the Catholic professor tells us.
Through my experiences, I have learned that time grants me opportunities to display mercy as well. Forgiving others and showing mercy is tough. Time is one of God’s gifts to make mercy easier. I offered God countless prayers of lament in the months after our miscarriage. This resulted in a seed of mercy planted in my heart. Not until I sacrificed my time and prayed did I gain the ability to mercy toward myself and be able to learn to forgive God.
Sadness Remains, but Transformed
Time heals all wounds. We hear this phrase mentioned frequently when a person experiences a hardship or loss of a loved one. This adage does not contain the full truth. In reality, time does not eliminate sadness or wounds, rather it transforms them. I still experience sadness when I think of my unborn child.
The sacrament of time has transformed this sadness from a despairing sadness to a joyful sadness [I know if sounds like oxymoron term but I am not sure how else to describe it!].
Time and prayer turn suffering from a destructive force to a purgative, and possibly redemptive force. I posted our loss on social media. People reached out to me saying they were inspired by the funeral service we provided for our unborn child.
A friend from high school told me when she heard about my loss,
“Your testament and story give me inspiration to have grave markers in our backyard to remember our miscarriages. This was helped me move on and provide healing,”
Seven Other Sacraments
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacraments are efficacious[effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). Formally there are seven sacraments. But God transforms (and uses) time into a sacrament too.
Time exists in prayer not the other way around. Kreeft tells us, “Eternity is not in the future but in the present. The future is unreal, not yet real” (Time). Don’t worry about the past or future. Embrace now, the present. Welcome the sacrament of time—now!
According to the great Italian Saint Philip Neri, “There is no surer or clearer proof of the love of God than adversity.”
His message certainly stands in stark opposition with what the modern world tells us will bring love. Creating viral videos on YouTube, increasing our followers on social media platforms, and possessing the latest Apple technology appear to be channels by which 21st century humanity may achieve happiness. Suffering is so medieval or ancient times!
Why does man need to suffer when technological advancements will eliminate disease and human ailments in the future?
The Christian approach to redemptive suffering stands counter-cultural. What is not necessarily controversial is surprise and intrigue. Less than a year ago, I discovered the unconventional St. Philip Neri. In fact, I learned that the Italian priest is actually the patron saint of joy and humor!
Mark Twain once wrote, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.” As a Catholic, I contend with his claim that humor is the greatest blessing, as that belongs to the gift of the sacraments (especially Eucharist and Confession), the American author was correct that good-natured wit and jocosity help humanity. At the end of a stressful day at work, what normally infuses life into my wife and I’s day, and sometimes week, is comedy.
Levity, lightness, and wit dominate Philip’s letters and maxims. He loved to banter with his friends and later in life even with notable Church leaders like St. Charles Borromeo and his friend CesareCardinal Baronius. Along with being the patron saint of joy and humor, I will briefly detail three reasons why Philip Neri could be your patron saint as well!
Humility Makes Us Human
A manager of mine once gave me interesting advice whenever he came across negative experiences from customers. “Remember the Q-TIP method—Quit taking it personal!” Perhaps it is because of the interesting mental imagery that came to mind or maybe my ears were clogged with earwax that I needed to keep using the “Q-TIP” method before I started to take that advice. A more likely answer is that setting my pride aside and listening to others is easier when reading the wisdom of holy individuals such as St. Philip Neri. Neri states,
“When a man is reproved for anything, he ought not to take it too much to heart, for we commit a greater fault by our sadness than by the sin for which we are reproved.”
The Italian saint writes frequently about the importance of humility and the joy that comes as a result of asking for that virtue from the Holy Spirit. Pride is considered to be the vice opposed to the virtue of humility. St. Philip Neri spoke about hubris in this way, “Excessive sadness seldom springs from any other source than pride.” God did not intend for humanity to be sad, but we were made to experience joy and communion. Excessive joy, the opposite of sadness, would spring from the reverse of pride—humility.
Along with the importance St. Philip Neri attaches to the humility, a virtue necessary for growing in the spiritual life, his writings demonstrate an attractive simplicity to living life. Living in today’s world we all could certainly learn to live with less. I particularly struggle with excess—binge watching Netflix, eating fast food, or struggles with too much negativity. According to him, “Avarice is the pest of the soul!” Learning about this joyful saint through his writings help limit these unhealthy desires in my life.
Wading through the mires of trials, self-doubts, and obstacles certainly seems confusing. I came across a gem of spiritual advice from St. Neri. In regards to tackling on the pressures and temptations of the world he wrote, “Persons who live in the world should persevere in coming to church to hear sermons, and remember to read spiritual books, especially the Lives of the Saints.” Weekly attendance of Mass helps sustain us through tough times. While at Sunday Liturgy, Neri provides a simple, but profound insight to combat the devil. He urges us, “at communion we ought to ask for the remedy of the vice to which we feel ourselves most inclined.” His pithy and modest maxims show that living in holiness need not be complicated.
Delight in Difficulties
Another hallmark of the writings of St. Philip Neri is his focus on satisfaction gained through encountering suffering with grace. He realizes that truth of redemptive suffering contains the path to authentic joy. The Italian priest penned, “Nothing more glorious can happen to a Christian, than to suffer for Christ.”
Our joy gained via difficulties does not originate from man. Neri reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the cause for our continual peace and joy in trials. The Enemy’s primary weapon is suffering in hopes we fall into despair. The opposite of despair or sadness is humility. According to Neri, “One of the very best means of obtaining humility, is sincere and frequent confession.” Whenever I receive those sacramental graces poured forth in the medicine box any suffering I encounter turns sweet instead of sour.
Over a year ago, I accidentally stumbled across the unconventional, yet witty life and works of St. Philip Neri. Humility pervades his writings. While you may not acknowledge it now, we all truly need to learn more about being humble in the age of “selfies”. The wit and cheerful tone of Neri’s letters will prompt the natural urge to pursue truth in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Joy and humor enliven the spirit. St. Philip Neri proclaims, “The cheerful are much easier to guide in the spiritual life than the melancholy.” If you prefer an easier, but still true, path to living Gospel maybe you should take up the Italian priest as your patron saint!
Below is a letter I dedicate to our Lord Jesus Christ in celebration of his birth, December 25, 2020 Anno Domini.
Dear Baby Jesus,
In a stable, 2000 years ago, a seemingly ordinary infant was born. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shepherds and kings from afar learned about His incredible presence. God uses the most common of circumstances to work the greatest of all miracles–the Incarnation. God so loved the world He sent you–His only Son– to bridge the great gulf, the separation caused by sin.
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, you my king took the form of mankind. I have heard the Nativity story dozens of times. This Advent I feared I would took your origin story for granted. Instead, I am grateful for the opportunity to gaze on the Nativity scene through new eyes–not merely of a follower, but also as a father.
My children are a reminder of your goodness, truth, and beauty. Seeing the twinkle in their eyes when they gaze at the Nativity Scene at home or church is priceless. The smiles on my kids faces as they color “presents” pictures for my wife and I remind me the true reason for the season!
People are born everyday on this earth, but only once a year do we remember the greatest birth of all.
Jesus my servant king, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, God-hero, I adore you and celebrate with my family and friends the anniversary of your birth. I pray that my heart is enlarged to make room within the inn of my soul for you, my family, friends, and people I meet daily!
Praise we to God in the Highest and Alleluia for our Savior’s arrival.
With great love and gratitude,
Your adopted son,
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
Editor’s Note: Below is a letter I wrote to my unborn daughter Lucia Faustina who we buried on 12/19/2017.
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,
Saint Lucy Pray for Us
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
If this year has been anything like mine you strongly desire a sense of normalcy, routine, and stability. Up. Down. Sideways. Left. Right. Cattywampus. Upside down. There’s really no predictability in life anymore. At least that’s what our great Enemy desires us to think.
A spiritual weapon to fight chaos in your life.
Chaos is a normal part of life since the Fall as told in Genesis 3. Originally, Adam and Eve were created in an original state of justice and union with God. Disobedience to God’s will led to original sin and the consequences of death. But God is love and He didn’t want to give up on humanity so easily.
According to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul refers to Jesus as the New Adam (Man).
Since Jesus is the New Adam who then is considered the New Eve (Woman)? The answer is: Mary, the Mother of God.
Saint Jerome wrote in his Epistle 22, “Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.” Put another way, Mary gave birth to salvation (Jesus). The angel Gabriel visited Mary by greeting her and calling her the favored one of God. The Hail Mary prayer comes from the first chapter of Luke.
This leads me to the question a lot people have about the Blessed Virgin Mary: what is the Rosary?
What is the Rosary
In short, it is a prayer about the life of Jesus and Mary. Composed of the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers (there are other prayers included which I will go over in future posts), the Rosary helps Christians keep alive the memories of the events in salvation history.
The word Rosary originates from Latin and means a garland of roses, the rose being one of the flowers used to symbolize the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Praying the Rosary provides a foundation in your life. The repetition helps to form a habit of pondering the Mysteries of faith. Recently, I have struggled mightily with anxiety and depression. I’ve resolved to pray the Most Holy Rosary more frequently. The goal is not to rattle off prayers but to ponder the life of Jesus and Mary throughout your day.
Stay tuned for more in The Importance of the Rosary series. Subscribe to The Simple Catholic to receive email updates about the Rosary and other Catholic content.
“The Rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who loves His Mother.” — Saint Louis de Montfort