The Concealed Power of Christian Joy Needed to be Revealed to the World!

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life– loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

The Son of God’s words contain a message that is in keeping with his entire teaching throughout his three-year earthly ministry—sacrificial love and obedience to God brings true and lasting joy, peace, and purpose to one’s life. He also prepares us for the possibility of Heavenly joy with God in the next life. Before heading to Mass, I had few spare minutes as my children were dressed and ready for Sunday worship—that alone I thanked God as a miracle!—I perused social media and came across a meme with a quote by the acclaimed Catholic theological and biblical scholar Scott Hahn. He intrepidly declared, “A joyless Catholic is the devil’s best tool. A joyful Catholic is God’s greatest instrument.”

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Since this morning I have contemplated his words no less than a dozen times. I cannot help to feel that God is speaking directly to me through Scott Hahn. Many things in daily living suction off joy. Tiredness, both physically and spiritual lethargy, is a key ingredient to creating a barren environment for joy to thrive. A great tactic against physical laziness is going to sound incredibly simple and obvious—mostly because a good night’s rest is the best thing to treat your body to after a long day’s work! Supplementing an increase in sleep with a better nutritional habit will combat physical weakness. Re-committing myself to a healthier lifestyle last week already proved to show gains. Increased amounts of fruits, water, and a decrease in unhealthy sugars provided me more energy throughout the day.

Along with improving the physical aspects of living, I sought out to better my spiritual well-being as well. During an afternoon jog, I had time to reflect on my spiritual progress—both for that day and how I did throughout the week. I realized that only when I put others before myself is joy even possible. First of all, I have to ask God to grant me the gift of joy. Secondly, I reminded myself to count my blessings and thank God for everything in this life: good, bad, and neutral events.

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Joy is not a merely feeling of happiness—sorry Joy even though I loved your movie. Instead it is first and foremost a gift from God that is sustained through an attitude of gratitude. We freely receive joy as a blessing by the will of God. Our Heavenly Father God desires to bestow this gift to us as much as possible, however, he will only nurture it if we freely choose to embrace joy. The seed of Christian joy is planted when we become adopted sons and daughter through the sacrament of Baptism.

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Thanksgiving is the best way to foster and grow the gift of Christian joy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist (CCC 1324). In fact the Latin word eucharista actually means ‘thanksgiving’. While attending Sunday Mass and weekly receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the fullest way to develop the gift of joy it is not the sole means. The power of Christian joy is strengthened via a regular watering of thanksgiving. Thank God for waking up, thank your family members for all the things [great and small] they do for you, thank your co-workers for helping you throughout the day, write a list of the top things/people/events that you are grateful for, or simply say “Thank you Lord!” at least once a day. All the above opportunities are ways for you to increase the joy in your life.

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St. Mother Teresa spoke of Christian joy in the following way, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.” Let us ask for God’s grace to receive this gift to transform ourselves into a beacon of his love. I continue to thank God for the opportunity to write and share my faith. Thank you for continuing to support me in my pilgrim journey toward a joyous life.

Praying with Paper Football

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Albert Einstein once stated, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Simplicity is an attractive quality. I experienced simplicity in a unique and seemingly ordinary way—through a game of paper football with my 4 year-old daughter! Too often I strive for the complexities in life—whether that be in solving difficult problems or seeking joy in extraordinary things. Technology is also a double-edged sword, its purpose is to simplify human life, however, because of the explosion of technology in the 21st century we face a digital deluge—I feel the daily pressure [that I impose on myself] to constantly check my social media and blogging sites.

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Why do I inflict such frivolous constraints upon myself? What do I need to prove by keeping up with the trending blogger scene and marketing on various social media platforms? Will my family love me any less if I fail to hit my target goals for views and monthly posts? Certainly not! My struggle is that I tend to implement false activity to mask my slothful tendency.

Raising children—especially children who recently suffered continual fevers—takes a toll on a person. The daily grind of parenting wears on a father, mentally, physically, and spiritually. While I strive to live a virtuous life, I fail, and fail often as a father. Love for my children is replaced by a mindset of viewing children being burdensome. When that occurs the seed of sloth blossoms into a tree of acedia!

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The Holy Spirit conferred graces to help me withstand and eliminate my slothful nature through the simplicity of a paper football game. Triangular paper footballs are becoming common in our home. I recently renewed interest in the classic middle school table-top game. Football is my favorite sport to watch and with the Green Bay Packers out of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2009 I felt left wanting more football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.

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Having to stay home [YET AGAIN—at this rate I may be burned completely out of my PTO before spring 😦 ) with my children because of low-grade fevers, unbeknownst to me a fantastic, yet simple encounter with love. After dishing out a bowl of cereal for my daughter, I sat at the kitchen table with her. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the paper football and flicked the triangular toy across the table. This simple gesture turned into several minutes of laughter and great fun!

St. Mother Teresa speaks of joy in this way, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” While I cannot guarantee my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper—although I certainly hope she will learn to cherish this time—I am confident that the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of playtime with my daughter will stay with me forever. Both the Holy Spirit and my daughter taught me that play and prayer do not have to be mutually exclusive, instead God intends to use all types of interactions to draw us closer knowledge and love of Him.

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Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Hope-Slider

Dear Lord,
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

 

Death is not the End

Benjamin Franklin once declared, “The only guarantee in this life is taxes and death.” References to our mortality is oftentimes an uncomfortable topic for humanity in modern Western civilization. We do not want to hear, nor discuss, that all things eventually die. Decay of our bodies and deterioration of our minds is a sinister notion. Because of the fall, death [and sin] entered the world. God’s original plan for His greatest creation—mankind— did not involve dying and eventually being buried six feet under.

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 Bleakness, death, and despair hounded me over the few months. My wife and I suffered another miscarriage in December and my grandfather suffered a heart attack at the end of 2017—he passed on from this life on January 15th. Along with my personal encounters with suffering, I attended a funeral Mass for a stranger—my first such event! Our parish priest during the close of the Sunday liturgy told the congregation of a tragic story about a young military mother who died of brain cancer. He notified us of the funeral time to see if anyone wanted to attend to support her family.

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Such macabre normally causes me pause—and even fright—however, the school of suffering taught me that death is not the greatest fear in this world. Grounded in my faith combined with the teacher of experience, I learned that death is not the end! While moments of despair linger daily, hope persists. Earlier in 2017, I read Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book ‘You Did it to Me’: Divine Mercy in Action. In hindsight, picking up his work at the Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk in my church’s atrium was a turning point in my spiritual life. For those that have not heard of this title, the premise of the book involves providing practical ways to infuse divine mercy into our daily living.

Chapter Two of Divine Mercy in Action focused on the corporeal works of mercy of paying our respects to the deceased and welcoming strangers. Fr. Gaitley provided pages at the end of each chapter for practical tips to grow in holiness. Attending a stranger’s funeral—one of the suggestions— piqued my interest. I thought I would have to wait until my children were grown-up in order to actualize the corporeal work of “burying the dead” in my own life.

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The Holy Spirit works a mysterious and curious manner. Heeding my priest’s words, I scarified my time, something of myself. In a sense, I died—died to my fear—fear of showing up to an event where I knew no one aside from the presiding priests at the funeral. One caveat on this point, I actually did not stay for the entire Mass and I never was able to enter the church! Instead, I roamed the church vestibules as I brought my two young children with me. Frequently chasing my runaway two-year old eventually got the better of me. Mother Teresa once said, “God doesn’t require you to succeed, he only requires that you try.”

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The saint of Calcutta’s wisdom provides us hope. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that death is not the end.  The sainted nun stated, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” Hearing those words always helps to re-orient my gaze toward hope and aids me in trusting the Lord. Jesus urged his apostles [and us today] in Matthew 16:24-26 to plunge headlong into the suffering of the Cross in order to fully follow Him. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides all believers the hope that death is not the end! My grandfather was a humble man of steadfast faith. I confidently hope and pray for the repose of his soul that he is able to experience the joy of the Beatific Vision. I prayer for the souls of my unborn daughter and the young military mother whose funeral I attended as well.

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“Eternal rest grant unto them [these three beautiful souls], O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”