Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 19, 2019.
A Prayer Before the Cross
Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today.
Saint Catherine of Sienna wrote, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.
My sins wound me. Damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity. I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.
May Mary Intercede for Us
I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”
At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.
Failures, trials, and doubts will surround us throughout life. Uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary brings joys and peace in the struggle. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times.
Since 2008, no other superhero has commanded as much attention or authority as Iron Man. Portrayed by Robert Downey Jr, the Armored Avenger has been the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the beginning. What is most fascinating about Tony Stark is his character development. He goes from a selfish and greedy business man to a selfless hero.
In Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron Tony Stark almost makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. It was fitting that Iron Man was the superhero made the final snap of the new technological Infinity gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame. His death may have come as a surprise, but it was appropriate and necessary for the Golden Avenger to be the one to save everyone in the end. Iron Man’s completely noble deed completed the 180 degree transformation of his character.
Unfortunately, not every Iron Man storyline shows Tony Stark as a hero and leader. The Superior Iron Man (2014) series has an egomaniacal character thinking he is greater than the rest of humanity. This article will discuss the potential dangerous effects immoral use of technology would have on humanity, examine the Christian understanding of being the “best version of yourself”, and how Jesus is still the way in the age of superheroes.
The New Man vs. The Man of the Future
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 452, “The name of Jesus means ‘God saves.’” Jesus did not enter our world as a political or military messiah to usher in a worldly power of dominion. Instead, he entered into our world and became one of us to show us the true path—the road of true love and obedience to God. He gave us the blueprint to overcome sin—the sacraments. St. Augustine described sacraments best by calling them, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” As the New Man, Jesus gave us access to become new and better versions of ourselves, free from sin and death.
In Marvel comics, Tony Stark stands at the vanguard of human advancement. He is often referred to as the Man of the Future. The future ignites excitement. Possibility. Promise. Fulfillment. We all hope for a better future. Issue #1 of Superior Iron Man opened with that excitement. In San Francisco, Stark delivered a free app to all citizens to access and download Exetremis 3.0 This was a techno-virus created to turn people into the best version of themselves. Iron Man was a messiah figure!
Upgrading the Exterior
All promises for a better future are enticing at first. Superior Iron Man’s plan for the future was no different. However, Extremis 3.0 only solved physical defects. Tony Stark’s altruism quickly faded as he cut off free access to the techno-virus. He made the cost so expensive it caused people to turn to robbery. Bodily perfection became addictive.
Acting as one of the moral compasses in this series, Pepper Potts expresses concerns about Stark’s use of technology. “You created a master race across the city, but you’ve also created an instant underclass. Extremis may have made people more beautiful on the outside but you know as well as I do that, for some it will only enhance all of the ugliness within,” Potts warns Tony (Issue # 1).
Similar to technology there is an allure, an attraction to the exterior—to the mere outside. We can only see outward appearances. It is difficult to sense the underlying beauty at times. Iron Man’s various suits of armor are both attractive aesthetically and technologically. Whenever I watched the Iron Man or Avengers film I dreamed a day where similar technology could be created and implemented in our world. Fighting off evil with the flick of a wrist or voice command would be incredible. If given the chance to overcome a physical limitation would you have it cured?
Playing God Not Man’s Destiny
Iron Man gave Daredevil his eyesight back temporarily. Infused with a dose of the Extremis virus, Matt Murdock regained his vision. In response to receiving the virus without consent Murdock asks Stark, “What gives you the right to play God?” (Issue #3). Stark quips back, “Being a God can’t be too hard. I mean if Thor can do it…I’m the most intelligent, capable person on the planet. I’m not playing God. All this time…I’ve been playing human.”
This world is definitely imperfect. Human beings are selfish. Manipulative. Greedy. Prideful. We long for control of our situation. Control over suffering—eventually the eradication of all suffering.
God Values His Creation
Another important theme in Superior Iron Man is the creator versus creation. Tony Stark prior to his personality becoming infected with pride and egomania implemented a contingency plan to keep himself in check if he ever got out of control. Pepper works with a mysterious “new” Iron Man to combat the Superior Iron Man (Issue #6 In His Own Image). Later it is revealed that the “new” Iron Man is actually an artificial intelligence (the consciousness of Tony Stark before he turned evil) in an earlier version of the Iron Man armor.
As creator of his advanced superhero armor and artificial intelligences, Tony Stark is like God because he creates. That is as far as the similarities go. God respects human freedom. He did not create humanity to blindly obey 100% of the time. We are not automaton. Mere robots. Fighting his creations across San Francisco, Tony takes a brief moment to inform the artificial intelligence Tony, “Do you know what’s left when you take away everything that was holding us back? Freedom” (Issue # 8 Bio-Mark-One). He goes on to boast in Issue #9, “I made you. All of you. And I can tell you: each and every one of you is inferior.”
Danger of Man’s Pride
This is definitely the mentality of a prideful man. According to St. Teresa of Avila, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.”
The Superior Iron Man certainly possessed superiority, but dominance in worldly things alone. Tony Stark had a genius level intelligent, grand ambitions, and creativity second to none. His inability to account for human freedom and the need for morality would be his downfall. Stark failed to depend on others’ for help. Potts, Murdock, and their allies united together in humility to fight the selfish Stark.
Next Steps for Humanity?
Technological advancements such as advanced prosthetics, improving medical procedures, and renewable energy sources provide hope for the future. We can learn from the Superior Iron Man that true perfection is not skin (or armor) deep. Pride initially causes us to experience invincibility—and superiority. Experience shows us otherwise.
Jesus as the New Man—and True Man of the Future—teaches us the importance of the virtue of humility. His humble obedience to the Father led to suffering on the Cross, but it also led to the Resurrection—True life! We can experience authentic power when we follow Jesus, the Avenger of Sin. There is still value (and entertainment) in watching and reading about the adventures of Iron Man. Be a superhero. A superhero of virtue! St. Paul wrote, “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” Suit up. Not with arc reactor technology, but with the “ark technology” of the sacraments instituted by Christ and safeguarded by the Catholic Church.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 13, 2020.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori proclaimed, “Of all devotions, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the greatest after the sacraments, the one dearest to God and the one most helpful to us.” Sitting before the Eucharist in awe and wonder is something faithful Catholics have been doing for centuries.
Whether you are a faithful or lapsed Catholic, here are seven reasons why you need to be going to Eucharistic adoration today. Don’t worry you still have time to go now (either before or after reading this post).
Unites You to the Sacrament of the Eucharist
According to St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” Now. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. His body, blood, soul, and divinity under the appearance of a simple host. Sitting in Eucharistic adoration lets you draw closer to the Mystery of the Eucharist. How easy is it for us to dismiss this reality? But by driving to a local church you are making a sacrifice. A sacrifice of time. The same sacrifice you make on Sunday.
Increase in Holiness by Bathing in the Light of the Son
People enjoy tanning in the sunlight during summer or visit tanning salons. Going to Eucharistic Adoration does for your soul what a tanning salon does for your skin— it transforms it. Too much physical light burns. If you stay before the light of the Son too long your sins will be identified and destroyed.
Eucharistic adoration is a precursor to confession. St. Clare of Assisi proclaimed, “Gaze upon him, consider him, contemplate him, as you desire to imitate him.” Standing in the “Sonlight” will lead to you think like the Son. You will be more patient. Kinder. Gentler. More obedient to your parents, spouse, priests, bishop or other spiritual authorities in your life. Bath in the light of Son and be prepared for noticeable results.
Removes You from Temptations
Along with leading you notice your sins, frequent attendance of Eucharistic adoration will remove you from tempting situations. Think about it. Simply being before the Blessed Sacrament takes you away from the worldly things. Occasions of sin. My parish’s deacon, who is currently in seminary to become a priest, said there is always a choice between God and the world. Christ or the cell phone.In the times of greatest temptation seek our Lord! The Good Thief on the Cross gazed loving at Jesus during his greatest temptation. He could have easily fallen prey to despair. Why didn’t he? Because he looked to Jesus to take away his temptations and limitations.
Helps You to Examine Your Conscience
The longer you remain in the presence of God the more you will reflect on your failings—your sins. Remember being in the light of Christ will make your sins more recognizable.
Provides a Reboot to Your Spiritual Life
We all need a reset. Our lives get busy. Busy lives lead to tiredness. And tiredness causes us to give into temptation and sin. Think of sin as a virus that corrodes our soul. Without a proper defense the virus (of sin) will attack us more often and successfully cripple us spiritually. Eucharistic adoration acts as a kind of system reboot to our spiritual lives. Praying in the light of Christ brings us countless graces that will be effective in repairing us and warding off sin. Take time to rest. Rest in the pew. Sit (or kneel) before the Lord and ask for renewed strength and energy to reach the big spiritual reset— the Mass!
Prepares You for Sunday Mass
Adoration gets you into the right frame of mind for celebrating the Mass. Spend your time reading the upcoming Sunday Mass readings. Investing time into learning about the theme and reading of the Mass is helpful later on especially when you have younger children who can cause distractions on Sunday. Praying before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic adoration reminds you of the primary focus of the Mass—Jesus. The readings, rituals, and liturgical garments are all a means to point us closer to the Son. Gazing upon the Blessed Sacrament reminds us of Jesus’ words in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. ”
Because the Church Recommends It
A seventh reason to attend Eucharistic adoration is simple. The Catholic Church tells us to go. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1380,
The Church and the world have great need of Eucharistic adoration. Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and contemplation full of faith. And let us be ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease.
That reference is actually a quote from Saint Pope John Paul II in Dominicae Cenae: Letter to Priest, Holy Thursday, 1980. I am a big fan of John Paul II. He is amazing because of his close connection to God through the sacraments. I trust in the wisdom of the late Polish pope.The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith (CCC 1324). Jesus is truly the Bread of Life. Like the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph, and other New Testament figures, we too see Jesus on a consistent basis. No he will not be donning sandals or his mighty epic beard during Eucharistic Adoration, but we will still experience the same love. Try to find at least 15 minutes this week and visit our Lord at a local church. Better yet invite a friend or family member to go with you!
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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!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 3rd, 2018.
Are you feeling sluggish? Groggy? Quick-tempered? Do you struggle to move on from a trying situation despite your best efforts?
If you answered yes to at least one of the questions, or even all of them, please know that you are not alone! I often struggle with keeping up in an ever-changing work-place and quickening of life in general. I struggle to handle difficult and frustrating situations with grace and patience. What is the solution?
Experts, educators, doctors, psychologists, and scientist provide a panoply of tips and methods to improve people who suffer from anxiety and feelings of constant lack of energy. My goal today is not to replace or compete with any of those already tried and true methods. Instead, I want to share my personal experience living with and dealing with ADHD and anxiety.
Although ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, it sort of is a misnomer—people with this diagnosis do not always fail to pay attention. Rather, I go through periods where I hyper-focus. What this means is that I tend to fixate or zoom-in on a particular subject/hobby that I am passionate about. When this happens I tend to lost sight of things happening around me—my wife or children asking me a question or other perspectives at work.
Shifting my focus to and from various things in the day is tough for me, but I discovered a few strategies that help me form a habit to more agilely more from task to task throughout the day. The advice below comes from things that worked for me personally to limit my anxiety and increase my ability to move from trying situations easier and more positively.
Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry
Saint Padre Pio, a 20th century mystic and stigmatist, was a man whose powerful presence captivated a multitude of people. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” he exclaimed. When I first heard this statement in high school, I always thought it was a pious saying that overly religious people told you when things got tough. Certainly, I did not believe praying, hoping, and simply not worrying actually had a basis in reality.
After nearly a decade of being a parent, I learned about the power of prayer. Hoping even amid a seemingly hopeless situation is effective. The last part of DO NOT WORRY is a part that I struggle with mightily, but at least I am aware of my deficiency. Padre Pio continues to provide comfort to me. He reminded me the importance of the presence of God even when you cannot feel it,
Jesus is with you even when you don’t feel His presence. He is never so close to you as He is during your spiritual battles. Jesus is always there, close to you, encouraging you to fight your battle courageously. He is there to ward off the enemy’s blows so that you may not be hurt.
Remind Yourself to be Thankful
Equally important as praying is reminding yourself to be thankful. In fact, among the most common prayer is that of gratitude for the blessings in one’s life.
Forming a habit of shifting my mindset to reflecting on the blessings in my life took time and work. Ultimately, this habit has paid off! I found a direct correlation with the frequency of thankful thoughts with my ability to more quickly navigate between stressful situation.
Former NFL quarterback and devout Christian Tim Tebow spoke of thanksgiving in this way, “I pray to start my day and finish it in prayer. I’m just thankful for everything, all the blessings in my life, trying to stay that way. I think that’s the best way to start your day and finish your day. It keeps everything in perspective.”
As someone with diagnosed ADHD, I struggle with honing in on the trees of the forest instead of stepping away to notice the beauty of the forest [or life] as a whole. Jotting down a few of my blessings everyday on a Post-It note is an easy way for me to daily remind myself to continue an attitude of gratitude.
Exercise with Exorcise Your Personal Demons
My favorite philosopher Aristotle [sorry Plato!] wrote about the importance of developing a regular routine, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” Along with filling myself spiritually and emotionally with prayer and a thankful mindset, frequent exercise combats my inner demons of impatience and anger that get pent up after a stress-filled day at work and home.
Running calms my mind and provides me energy. St. Paul uses the analogy of running frequently in his letters, but among my favorite quotes comes from 1 Corinthians 9:26 when he writes, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”
Jogging intermittently or aimlessly does me no good in the long run. Frequent jogs at least three times a week for 2-3 miles provide me the best defense against my personal vices of anger, bitterness, impatience, and judgmental thoughts.
After a fulfilling 5k, I almost immediately experience a sense of joy and relief. Any lingering anxiety from earlier in the day disappeared. Focusing on a landmark or sign throughout my jog helps motivate me to push past any exhaustion or temptation to take a break.
Forming a healthy habit of prayer, thanksgiving, and exercise [mental and physical] will not happen overnight. The key is to acknowledge your progress and pick yourself up when you fall—believe me falling and failing is guaranteed. Good habits take time. Practice makes progress. Soon you will be able to encounter a difficult situation and more easily able to overcome.
Why don’t I worry about the uncertainty caused by the political strife, rhetoric, and fear-mongering (on both sides)?
Past suffering taught me God will never abandon me
In late 2014, I got a call from my wife to leave work. She was 10 weeks pregnant and in an ultrasound appointment. Her history of miscarriages and early signs pointed to another one in the process.
I was able to hear Jeremiah’s heartbeat that day. It was the first (and only) time I heard it. Four hours later, Jeremiah died.
We kept the remains for a few days in order to get tests to determine what happened.
It was discovered my wife contracted a virus at school. I forgot the name but it’s dangerous for the unborn.
Despair crippled my wife immediately.
It bit me like a slow-acting poison. The dangerous effects didn’t come to fruition until several months later.
I felt dead inside. An empty shell of myself. Joyless.
Persist in Prayer
I continued to pray and attend the sacraments during my despair but I rarely felt God’s presence.
Yet, I persisted on. Faith in the unseen God. Faith despite utter lack of consolation.
In the summer of 2015, I told my wife, “I want something good to happen in my life.” Obviously, in hindsight I realize God surrounded me with family and friends. But at the time I still felt alone.
Josiah was born the following year. We had to increase progesterone shots in my wife’s back to sustain the pregnancy. She is the strongest person I know.
After picking his name we learned Josiah literally translates to mean “healer”.
God sends you help not when you want but when you NEED it.
He sent my son as a healing force for me and my family. 2020 caused me to be frustrated at the hypocrisy in the Catholic Church— especially when some Catholics told others not to fear the novel virus but fearing political uncertainty or vice versa.
In the Old Testament, God provided for the famine with seven years of plenty along with the leadership of Joseph. In the New Testament, we see similar events of God providing, the feeding of the 5000 or something as small as Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.
If God did that in the past (and for me in my past) why won’t God continue to provide and care for those who trust in His Providence today and tomorrow?