3 Ways Hope Can Overcome Despair

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 that the puzzle could be solved!

Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle—without borders and helpers it is 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. According to Mike Pacer, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope should not be reduced to wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not procedure a placebo effect like false-optimism.

Hope is a gift granted by God, most especially by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity—the Holy Spirit. 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.

Advertisements
Thank you for sharing!

Rocks, Monkey Socks, and Toy Cars—Joy Found on a Summer Morning!

Simple Joys

“I love the simple things in life. They tend to get overlooked.” This anonymous quote captured the entire theme of a morning at my home last week. Waking up early, my children itched for an opportunity to play outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun before the humidity set in.  Almost immediately, they rushed to the edges of my backyard to collect and play with rocks.

My son and daughter definitely received their geological glee from me—for a period I seriously considered majoring in geology! Noticing the different colors, sizes, textures, and hardness of the stones captivate their attention. If left to their own devices my oldest children would remain outside for hours and bring inside cartons of rocks.

Joy of a child

Joy of a Child

Along with my children’s joyful “jewel” collecting, their imagination was in full force as well. Albert Einstein once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I most certainly need to pay more attention to my kids’ imaginative play as my thirst for knowledge has been stymieing my joy lately. The creative juices flowed greatly in the mind of my daughter. “Look dad!” she exclaimed, “Look at this. Taken aback at what I saw I asked, “What are you doing?” Proudly she exclaimed, “I am a monkey! Look at my monkey-socks!” Covering her feet were a pair of garden gloves I bought for her at the local home improvement store. Immediately, a grin spread across my face. Next, I just laughed—not a forced chuckle, but a natural, healthy and joyful guffaw!

Treasuring Toy Cars

Toys Cars

The final thing that brought joy to me that summer morn was my youngest son’s continual love and obsession over his toy cars. Being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in late 2017, we discovered that his obsession and impulsive playing with toy cars is part of what makes him unique. Carrying a plastic vehicle at all the time provides him relief amidst daily stresses of toddler life and living with rambunctious siblings. No less than a couple hundred times do we hear our two-year old say, “A car, a toy car! Look a car!” His enthusiasm and unbridled joy at the simplicity of a toy car reminds me of a spectacular point G.K. Chesterton made in his masterpiece Orthodoxy. He stated,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  

Joy of Daily Work

Meaningful Work

Repetition, work, and habits do not infringe on our ability to grow. On the contrary, finding joy in the simple matters of life and completing “monotonous” tasks regularly with joy instill true life in us. Days where I focus on my vocation as a husband and father with love are the days where my vocation does not turn into drudgery. The same is true when it comes to my daily work.

My dad displays this simplicity and adherence to his vocation as husband and father in an exceptional way. Rarely, did I hear him complain about his family duties. Weariness of parenting did not seen to wear on his face—at least from what I remember! In terms of spiritually living, my father is “younger” than myself in the sense that his obedience and joy in his vocation is anchored in the Pre-Existent God more deeply than my spiritual life is at currently!

I will leave you today with a few simple and profound quotes that I hope with awaken or sustain your spiritual life. I hope you discover the simple joy that children seem to naturally possess.


“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

As St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.” —C.S. Lewis

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” —Greg Anderson, American author

Thank you for sharing!

3 Ways We Can Avoid Awkwardness and Apathy after the Ascension

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 675, “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.” This Sunday Catholics across the world will celebrate the feast of the Ascension. Until recently, this high feast was celebrated on a Thursday—forty days after Easter. From a traditional standpoint normally a 10 day period existed from Ascension to the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Regardless, of the precise days, the main point is that for a brief period, the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus lived in a transition period from when Jesus no longer visibly existed in the similar manner that he did previously and the official descent of the Holy Spirit.

spiritual desert.jpg

Suffering from a severe dryness in my spiritual life this Easter season got me thinking: maybe I am in a transitory period myself whereby the descent of the Holy Spirit is not apparent in my life. I feel completely dried up—spiritually! Obviously, my situation is not exactly the same as the 1st century Christians who had to live for an awkward [and maybe apathetic] period before the official reception of the Paraclete.  Nevertheless, maybe your life is at a stage similar to that awkward week and a half—pondering the return of Christ, experiencing doubt in Divine Providence, or possibly even living in fear or distress. Reflecting on Acts 1-2 and wisdom from the tradition of the Church—through the Catechism and the saints—I came up with three methods [not really earth-shattering] to avoid awkwardness and apathy in your spiritual life in the days after the Ascension!

wellspring of worship

Wellspring of Worship

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). I have probably cited this paragraph more than any other passage, yet it is vitally important to the Catholic faith. What sustained the Apostles in the early Church while waiting for the Paraclete? The body of and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of the Eucharist—it is the wellspring, the origin of worship!

Although Jesus’ physical existence did not appear the same after his Ascension, he is still present to the Apostles [and to us] body, blood, soul, and divinity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Pope John Paul II mentioned the importance of this sacrament in his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “Her [The Church] foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated’ forever in the gift of the Eucharist” (no. 5). During periods of spiritual dryness we may be able to sojourn to the spiritual oasis of the Mass.

 

mary of perpetual help

Hail, Mary: Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Good Counsel

Josemaria Escriva declared, “Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer in your daily struggle.” I imagine the days following Jesus’ Ascension was a perilous time for Peter and the rest of the Apostles. During the most confusing and perilous times in my life it appears that Jesus is not present—the most difficult days lands in the middle of the work week when I lack the time to attend daily Mass or ability to go to Eucharistic adoration. Here is where my devotion to Mary is key to sustaining me during the staleness of my spiritual life. Jesus augmented Mary’s motherhood in John 19:27 with a simple command, “Woman, behold your son!” This is a reciprocal relationship as a mere verse later Our Lord urged the Apostle John [who represented humanity both individually and collectively] with the charge: “Behold, your mother!”

 From my own experience, I normally contact my mom first [when my wife is not available!] after an incredibly stressful and frustrating day. This is not to downplay the role of my father, but there is something unique, almost mysterious about the ability for mother to sooth children in need. The Blessed Virgin Mary is no different. Mother of Perpetual Help pray for us. Mother of Good Counsel pray for us.

keep calm and trust in the Holy Spirit

Trust in the Holy Spirit

The great scientist Isaac Asimov once purported, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” While the first two points of his statement may be debatable, it is quite difficult to argue that turning points in life, no matter how large or small, pose a challenge for everyone. Transitioning from physically seeing the Resurrected Christ to the age of the Church would have been a tough transitory event as well!

Jesus prepared his followers of the coming of the Holy Spirit prior to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. According to Christ in John 14:15-19, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. 1I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

While the Holy Spirit did not formally descend upon the Apostles in the Upper Room until Pentecost Sunday, the power of the Holy Spirit allowed Jesus to be substantially present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Paraclete also guided Peter and the other Apostles in selecting a worthy replacement for Judas. Moreover, just before his Ascension Jesus repeated his promise to send another Helper to fortify his followers: “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,g and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Hope Always Never Despair

Although you may in a spiritual dry spell [if not now you most certainly will encounter aridity and acedia—spiritual sloth– sometime in your life!], please do not despair. Hope is always on the horizon. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist, guide of Mary, and promise of the help of the Holy Spirit we receive strength and sustenance make it past any awkward and apathetic period in our spiritual journey.  Never give up—hope in the Lord always!

never give up gif.gif

The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity (CCC 1818).

 

 

Thank you for sharing!

3 Ways the Epistle of James Will Help You Succeed in Daily Life

In the age of the Internet, iPhones, social media, and other technological amenities of the 21st century, is learning from the pages of centuries old writing even relevant anymore? Have we not progressed as a society where psychologists, depression medicine, and other self-help tactics are a dime a dozen?

While I do believe there our current social-historical environment enjoys some of the greatest advancements and quality of life in the history of the human race, there still is wisdom to be gleaned from ancient texts. I came across such writing recently in both a familiar yet fresh place—the Epistle of James from the New Testament.

three pigs houses.jpg

Build your house on the living cornerstone instead of out of straw

One of my favorite children’s short stories is The Story of the Three Little Pigs. Along with being able to tell that tale to my children now, I enjoy the practical and simple message that the story contains. Preparation is key and having a solid foundation is vital not only to having a secure home, but also leading a stable and joyful life. Martin Luther, the champion of the Protestant Reformation, once called the Letter of James an “epistle of straw”. He jettisoned this work from his New Testament. As a result, the Protestant canon does not officially contain the Epistle of James.

Simply by reading the writing by St. James, his work is definitely not built on straw. Rather, this is truly an inspired text. I find practical applications of its message in my daily life. James 1:2 provides healing during stressful times in my life. Chapter 1 verse 2 states, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” This advice is much tougher than it sounds to incorporate, but I have noticed when I take time to discover joy in my suffering that weight becomes more bearable! Let Christ me a cornerstone for your life.

cornerstone.jpg

Tame the tongue

James 3 focuses on the dangers and evils associated with ill words. The New Testament writer uses such eloquent speech and examples. Because I do not want to downplay the inspired epistle I will cite James’ text before I provide the lessons I learned. St. James authoritatively states,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, 2for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.b 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. 11Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.c (James 3:1-12).

tame the tongue.jpg

Practical wisdom and spiritual guidance  from this passage

· Words guide actions

· Men may tame the natural world, but only the Holy Spirit may tame mankind

· Failure to control our speech will have dangerous consequences in daily life

· Complaining and cursing lead to destruction of a person’s entire character

Actions speak louder than words

Music provided a refuge from my depression in high school. During my junior and senior years, I was a part of nearly every musical group the school had to offer: All-state choir, chamber choir, musical, caroling, and show choir. There was a particular song I remember the varsity show choir sang during my freshman year—Louder than Words from the musical Tick, Tick…BOOM. I occasionally find myself singing the refrain randomly over the years. Below is an excerpt from the more famous part of the song and the section that I most remember.

Why do we play with fire?

Why do we run our finger through the flame?

Why do we leave our hand on the stove-

Although we know we’re in for some pain?

Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light

When the streets are dangerous?

Why does it take an accident

Before the truth gets through to us?

Cages or wings?

Which do you prefer?

Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?

Don’t say the answer

Actions speak louder than words.

walk the talk.jpg

Talk is Cheap

I am not sure what the original intention the songwriter’s had in composing the lyrics, but the juxtaposition between cages or wings is a simple and relatable image that I reflect on constantly during my battles against depression. I often toe the line between freedom and entrapment. What this song does a good job doing is reminding myself that deeds define a person. Words are cheap. Verbal promises are created easily. Where it gets difficult if when we our actions need to be consistent with our words—especially in times of trial! How often do we select cages over the freedom of wings? Do we allow sloth and our pride to prevent us from seeking new opportunities to act, to serve others, and engage in things that bring us true and lasting freedom? Do we choose fear or love?

The epistle of James provides us an answer to these questions. James states, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j 17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17). It is not sufficient to say that you love God, or that you love your neighbor. True faith is demonstrable. It dons the cloak of charity in feeding the hungry, comforting the depressed, or helping the disenfranchised.

Call to Action

Will you make your house out of straw? Why is refraining from sins of the tongue a good thing? Do you prefer cages or wings? The Epistle of James provided me practical answers to these questions. His writing leads me to have the possibility for daily success!

Thank you for sharing!