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 June 20, 2019.
According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness.
Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.
Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.
Larger Piece of the Puzzle
Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope in solving the puzzle!
Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle. Without borders and helpers it’s easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.
Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism
Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. Mike Pacer writes, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope isn’t the same as wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not produce a placebo effect like false-optimism.
God gives us the gift of hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”
Heaven—the Final Frontier
Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!
St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!
O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.
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The half way point of Lent is a time period when many people begin to cave into their Lenten promises. I know for me it is a struggle. I gave up negativity and fast food. Though in giving it up I find myself with a lot of extra time. I have spent more time in prayer with God during these forty days.
The Latin word for Lent, quadragesima, literally means forty days! However, this number does not mean much to the average person unless they understand the significance of the number forty in Scripture.
God and Geography
The number forty is also attached to particular geography: mountains and deserts. When one thinks of these places words such as desolate, barren, alone, and harsh might come to mind.
God seems to have a close presence to individuals in the Bible in these settings. Take Moses for instance, in Exodus 24:18 when he stays on the peak of Mount Sinai for forty days and nights. It was here that Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments.
Elijah also met God upon a mountain, after traveling for forty days and nights. On the mountain, Elijah faced strong winds and an intense earthquake. But he continued to hold steadfast in faith and met God in a quite whisper.
How often do we let the “noises” of daily life distract us from God?
In this modern world, people hate the quite and constantly surround themselves with “things” (cellphones, internet, television, etc) to keep from silence.
Importance of Fasting
During Lent we are called to a life of fasting. While Christians should always be fasting in some degree throughout the year, the Church urges us to reflect upon it more deeply.
The first thing Jesus does after His Baptism is to fast in the desert for forty days and nights. Probably weak from hunger, He is tempted by the devil. But Jesus fails to give into worldly pleasures. It is this example that all Christians are called to in Lent. By giving up things from this world, we can center our life back onto Christ.
Though it may feel like you are on a mountaintop or in a desert thirsting, know that Lent is not a time for punishing yourself with guilt. In fasting one learns to give up unnecessary and sometimes harmful objects or habits and grow into a closer relationship with Jesus.
Hopefully at the end of Lent, we can all say that we truly experienced God in an deeper way, like Moses and Elijah did on the mountaintop!
As I have mentioned in previous posts, my oldest son was diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum a couple years ago.
This journey toward an answer to helping our son has been filled with both joys and struggles. One of the fruits of this process is my wife has discovered her calling as a special education teacher. Another benefit of her knowledge is that it helps my cousin who is experiencing similar trials as my son.
Recently, my mom was doing research on saints who assist with people on the autism spectrum. She came across St. Thorlak who is currently being considered as a patron saint for people with autism spectrum disorder.
Born in 1133 A.D. Thorlak received the sacrament of Holy Orders at a young age. He was ordained a deacon at age 15 and became a priest when he was 18 years old! Eventually founding a monastery based on the rule of St. Augustine, Thorlak lived a monastic way of life for a several years. Thorlak was ordained a bishop of the Icelandic diocese of Skalholt. He continued to carry out the reforms instituted by Pope Gregory VII. St. Thorlak die in 1193 at the age of 60.
Relatively little information is known about Thorlak compared to other Catholic saints, such as Augustine, John Paul II, Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, etc. Despite this, my review of the website that is championing his cause for patron sainthood provides some insight as to how Thorlak could be a relieving guide in both my son’s life and our family in general.
Rigidity in manner
Being unbending in his moral expectations, St. Thorlak demonstrates a parallel to children with autism that commonly sees the world in terms of black/white dichotomy. My son for example, is a “rules kid” and will follow our household law to the letter.
Failure to Initiate or Reply to Social Interactions
According to the Mission of Saint Thorlak, the Icelandic saint said little during the discernment process for him to become bishop. St. Thorlak displayed reticence in social situations as well. Many times children with autism spectrum disorder are non-verbal when it comes to communication.
Although a lot of Catholic tradition relies on daily routine, St. Thorlak adhered to a strict routine of fasting and prayer—especially in his time of founding and living in the monastic community. Similarly, my son thrives on a strict and regular routine.
To be clear asking saints for help is not an easy solution to daily turmoil that medicine or therapy fails to soothe. Rather, I look to saints for guidance and relief for my personal trials or family strife. In regards to St. Thorlak, I believe based on the information I learned about his life that he would be a great role model for my son to look to when it comes to the challenges a child with autism faces on a daily basis. I found this concise prayer (below) helpful in calming me down. I printed off and taped it on my car dashboard to pray on my morning commute to work. I’m grateful for the witness of St. Thorlak and I hope his life gives insight, joy, and relief to individuals and families of those with autism spectrum disorder!
This Lent I am revisiting the great spiritual treatise of St. Francis de Sales’— Introduction to the Devout Life. Reading a couple meditations each day provides me ample time to reflect on the wisdom of the timeless truths of the Gospels as given to the world by God through St. Francis.
During the height of a stressful work day, I gazed at this book on my desk and resolved to take 5 minutes of my break to read the third meditation.
The theme for that meditation was titled: On Gifts of God. Below is an excerpted section from this third meditation:
Consider the material gifts God has given you—your body, and the means for its preservation;
your health, and all that maintains it; your friends and many helps. Consider too how many persons
more deserving than you are without these gifts; some suffering in health or limb, others exposed
to injury, contempt and trouble, or sunk in poverty, while God has willed you to be better off.
2. Consider the mental gifts He has given you. Why are you not stupid, idiotic, insane like many
you wot of? Again, God has favoured you with a decent and suitable education, while many have
grown up in utter ignorance.
3. Further, consider His spiritual gifts. You are a child of His Church, God has taught you to
know Himself from your youth. How often has He given you His Sacraments? what inspirations
and interior light, what reproofs, He has given to lead you aright; how often He has forgiven you,
how often delivered you from occasions of falling; what opportunities He has granted for your
soul’s progress! Dwell somewhat on the detail, see how Loving and Gracious God has been to you
Affections and Resolutions:
1. Marvel at God’s Goodness. How good He has been to me, how abundant in mercy and
plenteous in loving-kindness! O my soul, be thou ever telling of the great things the Lord has done
2. Marvel at your own ingratitude. What am I, Lord, that Thou rememberest me? How unworthy am I! I have trodden Thy Mercies under root, I have abused Thy Grace, turning it against Thy very
Self; I have set the depth of my ingratitude against the deep of Thy Grace and Favour.
3. Kindle your gratitude. O my soul, be no more so faithless and disloyal to thy mighty
Benefactor! How should not my whole soul serve the Lord, Who has done such great things in me
and for me?
What probably gave me most pause from the above except was St. Francis’ second resolution he charges: Marvel at your own ingratitude. Wait, what? Marvel at my epic fail of thanksgiving this week?! Yes, you read St. Francis’ words correctly. Pondering your own failure to be thankful for the gifts God bestowed upon you is a necessary step towards improvement of an attitude of gratitude.
It did not take me long reflecting about my own spiritual ineptitude. Most of my suffering and negativity this week stemmed from failure to simply thank God. Thank Him for the gifts— however big or small— He already provided me.
Gratitude helps to stave off greed and pride. I am thankful that I decided to spend a small amount of break-time in prayer. I am grateful for the example of holiness St. Francis de Sales. Finally, I am thankful for the gifts of my faith, family, and friends that God grants me daily!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 22, 2018. Updates have been made to reflect the canonization of Paul VI.
At 7:47 A.M. I pulled into the school parking lot. Frenzied. I threw off my seat belt, leaped out of the car, and continued to hurry my children out of the vehicle towards the school entrance.
“Come on, come on! Hurry now!” I exclaimed to my dawdling four year-old daughter. After getting her and my oldest son to their classroom with backpacks and winter clothing hung-up, I quickly walked down the corridor towards my car. It was now 7:53 A.M. when I restarted my car to drive to work. Speeding down the highway I weaved around the bustle of traffic. I arrived at my employer’s parking lot at 8:20 A.M., but my journey is not quite complete—I still needed to trek across the long employee lot and cross the street before entering the building. Time seemed to be running out on me…
If the above paragraph caused slight exhaustion, you are not alone. I want to point out that the busyness of life—especially in the morning seems to haunt me on a daily basis.
This hurried existence appears to be inescapable, at least in my foreseeable future. On top of the daily morning grind, we took my youngest son into urgent care again. The doctor gave me news that brought tears to my wife and elicited a stoic response in myself, “He tested positive for influenza type A.”
Life is beating us down—not just figuratively, but literally!
Sleep deprivation is overtaking both my wife and I, my oldest son is running a fever, and my daughter refuses to go to bed on time–as usual! Taking a snapshot of my life now does not promote much hope on the horizon.
Suddenly I came across an appropriate quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori that provided a bit of easement to my situation. According to the great doctor of the Church,
Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you. Converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.
Prayer should be a constant for the Christian, especially during the upcoming Lenten season. Sadly, I allowed the busyness of life to be an excuse to develop my relationship with God. After reflecting on St. Alphonsus’ words I discovered three reasons why the rat race of life is a terrible excuse to delay communication with the Author of Creation.
Saint Paul VI states in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio, “If you have lost the taste for prayer, you will regain the desire for it by returning humbly to its practice.” This seems like a paradoxically statement. How can you gain something you lost by returning to it? Herein lies the secret power of prayer. It’s not a limited resource. Prayer is communication. A two-way communication with the Divine—God who is eternal and everlasting.
What helped me gain back reliance on prayer is taking advantage of little opportunities throughout the day to insert a petition for God’s assistance or a prayer of thanksgiving for a simple joy in my life. Talking with God while waiting at a stoplight or praying a decade of the Rosary as I rocked my son to sleep allowed for me to slowly (real slowly, as I am still improving!) to develop my prayer life.
Prayer Sustains Hope
Oftentimes in the great shuffle and strife of daily living hopelessness and despair become implanted in my heart. Watered by the false notion that activity of the world sustains hope the fruit of fear and doubt arise. Filling my day with a billion activities–checking of social media sites for notifications, following new bloggers, or constant publication on my WordPress account does not bring lasting hope.
Slowing down allows for God to enter into my heart through prayer. Saint Charles Borromeo said, “God wishes us not to rest upon anything but His infinite goodness; do not let us expect anything, hope anything, or desire anything but from Him, and let us put our trust and confidence in Him alone.”
True hope is grown and supported through prayer.
Parable of the Talents
The third example of why busyness should never be an excuse to cease praying may seem like it is coming out of left field. Please hear out my thought process. The idea of this post actually came to me during my hurried car drive to work this morning. Immediately, I thought of Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30.
I associate most with the worker with the single talent. Instead of investing his God-given talent to grow it, that worker miserly held onto it out of fear. Sometimes I fear failure amid the bustle of the work day so I fail to step out in faith to rely on my God-given abilities to grow my confidence and to share my gifts to bring others to Christ.
However, this morning I stalled that mindset. I asked God to help me stay calm in storm of the rushed work day and busyness at home. Through the power of prayer, God provided me the gifts of patience and gratitude to finish out this busy day on a positive note!
“Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears – of everything that concerns you.”
Listening to the wisdom of St. Alphonsus reinvigorated my spirit. Instead of being worn down by the busyness of the day, I looked forward to the opportunity to rely on God for comfort when life challenged me. I pray for strength to withstand the storm of busyness. May you too find strength and perseverance in the Lord during the craziness of life.