To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.
Over the course of the past week I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children. I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month–and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.
I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.
Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,
43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.
The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.” I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen
This week Satan sent a slew of his tricks and attacks to get me to stumble and lose ground in my spiritual journey. Combining sick young children with the possibility of despair at the loss of my grandfather, and icy tempests of Midwest winter weather seemed like a perfect recipe for chaos to brew and bubble forth into my family’s life.
Over the course of my life, I discovered that the Devil enjoys wearing me down with a combined assault of disparaging events and situations. God’s consoling Love appears distant or completely absent altogether during such periods. The great mystic doctor of the Church St. John if the Cross refers to such times as a Dark Night.
In the first chapter of his spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul, the Spanish saint compares The grace of God to the love of a mother to a child. During our early stages of being a child of God, we experience consoling graces to feed our spiritual growth– akin to a Mother breastfeeding an infant. As we progress in the spiritual life, God allows us to grow by limiting the consoling graces that originally aided us. St. John of the Cross tells us,
It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitively converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations. The loving mother is like the grace of God…(Dark Night of the Soul, 4).
Constantly challenged by whiny requests from my sick children, I struggled at the beginning of this week to act with patience and grace of a loving father. The good news is that God granted me several days [opportunities] to renew my commitment of selflessness that I promised on my wedding day and reaffirmed by being open to becoming a parent.
Prayer and the hope of the Sacrament of Confession provided stability to my feeble will over the course of this week. I started praying a decade of the rosary as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. Inserting that brief time of prayer instead of surfing social media on my iPhone helped bring back perspective to my day. I am a family man and need to lead by example. The sins of sloth and despair gained a foothold in my spiritual life earlier this week. Asking the Blessed Virgin and humbling confessing my shortcomings by week’s end provide shield against those sins.
Communication with God and humbly asking for forgiveness will renew my commitment to being the best possible husband and father I am called to be! I am thankful God granted me a period of reprieve during my children’s afternoon nap to ruminate on the state of my spiritual life and to help me game plan for next week. I ask for continued strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit as I continue on my pilgrim pursuit of a joyous life.
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!
Insight from Fulton Sheen: According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).
We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!
Insight from St. Louis de Montfort: Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,
Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).
When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God? The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.
Insight from Genesis: Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull. Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!
Insight from Judith: Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.
The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.
Insight from Judges: Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville, “The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”
Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:
Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.
I have yet to meet a person who loves snakes. Possessing fangs, venom, and an ability to suffocate makes snakes simply sinister. Moreover, the lack of limbs to their deadly array of weapons further add to the peculiarity of snakes! Throughout history snakes appear in a majority of creation stories. The Bible is not exception.
A contextual reading of Genesis and Revelation opened my eyes to the genius of the Holy Spirit in ordering and confirming the canon of Scripture. Conflict with a serpent occurs at the beginning and end of the Bible!
According to Genesis 3:14 God places the following curse on the serpent, “Because you have done this [led Eve into sin], cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Immediately following in verse 15 predicts Satan’s animus towards the Woman. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 410, “This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (‘first gospel’): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers. Fast forwarding to the end of the Bible a similar opposition occurs.
Revelation 12 describes in vivid symbolic language a battle between a woman and a dragon. The writer of Revelation identifies the dragon as the Devil and Satan in verse 9. It is interesting to note that the bible is book-ended by this theme of the battle between a woman [Mary] and the dragon [Satan]. According to Alice Camille in her U.S. Catholic article In the Garden of Good and Evil,
In the Bible, snakes appear at the launch of creation and again just before the apocalypse. The first serpent is really a proto-snake: He only loses his legs after enticing the first couple to sin. The final serpent is a full-blown dragon, which in ancient mythology was just a snake with wings. These biblical book-end snakes are no accident. The story in Revelation of the woman snatched away from the dragon’s harm is a conscious reenactment of the creation story, with happier results the second time around (U.S. Catholic September 2014, page 45).
Without reading the Bible through an A.D.D. contextual lens, I would not notice the perfect book-ending of theme. There is a logical flow and order to the canon of Scripture and it is an amazing experience to discover. I hope that you found today’s topic to be interesting and I continue to challenge you to find connections between the Old and New Testaments!
I recently read that the average American person hits their snooze button about three times a morning. Unfortunately, on some days, my rate is almost double! Well, I wanted today’s topic to include an example that nearly everyone can relate to–the desire for more sleep. What is more, the snooze button is a metaphor for my spiritual life, at least as of late.
Procrastination is a condition that all humans suffer from at some point in our lives. Some suffer from this more than others. One might say, “Now hold on for a sec Matt! A little procrastination is not bad— I mean we should not work too hard in this life, right?!” Procrastination is most definitely less heinous than murder or terrorism. However, I maintain that the devil’s clandestine ploy against God’s faithful often takes ordinary disguises.
Laziness Leads to Lukewarmness
Lately, I have been lukewarm in my faith life. I mean I still uphold the basic tenets of the Catholic faith: going to Sunday Mass, occasional confession throughout the year, and a weekly reading of the Bible. But I still have a deep aching in my soul for more. What is my problem? For one I failed to follow through at times in my spiritual life. I tried to wake up for 6:45 A.M. daily Mass, but I hit my snooze button several times on my phone and overslept.
A New Testament passage that appeals to my current situation is the Agony in the Garden scene. Here Peter, James, and John suffer from sleepiness as well. Instead of having a cellular phone alarm to jolt them back to consciousness they are awakened by the Word of God— Jesus. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had to provide the sounding alarm for his apostles to wake up not once, but rather three times! The same amount as the average American hits the snooze button. We really have not progressed too far in 2000 years on that subject. Humans constantly let God down by procrastinating and failing to follow through on promises to Him. In Luke 22:40, Jesus warns his closest friends, “Pray that you may not undergo the test”.
No Rest for the Wicked
What this means is that Satan is never going to take a break from trying to sever our relationship with God. The great tempter is rarely overt in his attempts to lead us astray. The closer we get to God, the more sneaky and creative the devil needs to be in attempting to achieve his goals. Who knows what types of graces I may have received during the 6:45 AM Mass. Unfortunately, my chance for today is past. Alas, I must try again tomorrow.
My hope for those reading this post, especially if you are a marginal Catholic that is hesitant to trust the Church or simply stuck in a lazy period of your spiritual life, to please look for people in your life that you can turn to help keep you accountable. Ask a parent, spouse, neighbor, best friend, child, or co-worker to come to Mass with you. For me the only time I succeeded in waking up on time (AT 6 AM!) was when I went to a Catholic men’s faith-sharing group.
The best way to fight Satan’s secret weapons (the snooze button in this case) is actually through stealth. Publicly the Catholic Church is always clear that the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession are the best ways to ward off the devil’s temptations. And make you war against the elusive evil one public. Ask people to help and pray for you. I certainly will. And I hope you pray for me as well!