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.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 19th, 2017
My wife and I stood outside surrounded by our family and close friends at the local Catholic cemetery. It was a cool November afternoon. Gray clouds lined the sky and appeared to be about ready to burst at any moment. The priest from our parish recited the funeral rite.
Throughout this process, my wife and I simply existed. I did not truly take in the meaning or fully process the prayers uttered by Fr. John. Instead, the world seemed to have frozen in silence—a horrific silence.
We lost our unborn son Jeremiah.
The event of our miscarriage immediately effected and crippled my wife. For me, despair and desolation did not actually set in until several months later. I spiraled into a deep depression. Wrestled over the belief in a good and generous God. Doubted my Creator’s providence and presence. Hope seemed futile.
Moment of Transformation
Fast forward almost 2 years; this event has been without question the turning point of my life [so far]! According to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Since the death of our son, his namesake’s words hit much closer to home. What I have come to realize is that St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” is not a pious clique.
There exists actual weight, real impact, and tangibility to his words. Let me explain. Yesterday, I had a day off from work. I decided to take my three kids to Jeremiah’s grave-site and place flowers on the grave. Before we left for the store, I was trying to wear out the children so they would not be too hyper at the cemetery. I made some paper airplanes for my son and daughter to toss.
Comfort Comes Unexpectedly
Along with making paper airplanes, my son wanted to color on the extra paper. I gave him the closest pen I could find. Soon into the process of drawing, he asked me how to spell three words. I was thinking, “Good, at least he is sitting down and this coloring is keeping him preoccupied. He’s thinking about school since he wants to learn to spell.”
It was not until we were traveling in the car after purchasing the flowers that my son’s true plan came to light. “Daddy, could we please get a little bag to put this book I made for Jeremiah into. I don’t want it to get wet” [it was starting to rain at this point], he said. I was floored by his reply. He actually took what I said to heart and sacrificed play time to make something for his unborn brother.
That was probably my proudest moment as a parent. What I have learned in the past two years is that God works all things for the good through the Sacrament of Time! Below are two ways I learned about this ordinary and sometimes forgotten gift from God.
Time Exists to Show Mercy
According to Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, in his work Time, “We must restore our spiritual sanity. One giant step in that direction is to think truly about time.” He goes on to talk about time existing within prayer as opposed to prayer existing in time. Prayer is communication with God.
Kreeft is saying that time should be viewed under the lens of communication with the Divine. “Prayer determines and changes and miraculously multiplies time…prayer multiplies time only if and when we sacrifice our time, offer it up. There’s the rub. We fear sacrifice. It’s a kind of death,” the Catholic professor tells us.
Through my experiences, I have learned that time grants me opportunities to display mercy as well. Forgiving others and showing mercy is tough. Time is one of God’s gifts to make mercy easier. I offered God countless prayers of lament in the months after our miscarriage. This resulted in a seed of mercy planted in my heart. Not until I sacrificed my time and prayed did I gain the ability to mercy toward myself and be able to learn to forgive God.
Sadness Remains, but Transformed
Time heals all wounds. We hear this phrase mentioned frequently when a person experiences a hardship or loss of a loved one. This adage does not contain the full truth. In reality, time does not eliminate sadness or wounds, rather it transforms them. I still experience sadness when I think of my unborn child.
The sacrament of time has transformed this sadness from a despairing sadness to a joyful sadness [I know if sounds like oxymoron term but I am not sure how else to describe it!].
Time and prayer turn suffering from a destructive force to a purgative, and possibly redemptive force. I posted our loss on social media. People reached out to me saying they were inspired by the funeral service we provided for our unborn child.
A friend from high school told me when she heard about my loss,
“Your testament and story give me inspiration to have grave markers in our backyard to remember our miscarriages. This was helped me move on and provide healing,”
Seven Other Sacraments
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacraments are efficacious[effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). Formally there are seven sacraments. But God transforms (and uses) time into a sacrament too.
Time exists in prayer not the other way around. Kreeft tells us, “Eternity is not in the future but in the present. The future is unreal, not yet real” (Time). Don’t worry about the past or future. Embrace now, the present. Welcome the sacrament of time—now!
In the Catholic world, January 6th, 2021 was primarily to be the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 528, “The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world.” God became man in a humble stable. He used the language of science to appeal to the Eastern wisemen. They noticed a brightness in the night sky (the crossing of Jupiter and Saturn) of a “star”.
The events at the United States Capitol plunged social media and news networks into a darkness. Chaos. Confusion. Hurt. Division. Strife. Call it what you want. It’s the result of humanity’s fallen nature.
Jesus Christ became man to save humanity from sins. The God-man acts as a bridge for the human race to reconcile with the Holy Trinity. Saint Pope John XXIII wrote, “It is impossible to be joined to God except through Jesus Christ; it is impossible to be united to Christ except in and through the Church which is His Mystical Body.” Last century, that claim certainly seemed commonplace and it was abnormal to reject. Unfortunately, we live in a time in history where the greatest threats to the Church come from within.
What is the truth?
It’s a question philosophers throughout history pondered. Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Descrates, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and all in between. But it’s a question people ask on a daily basis.
Fake news has become a staple in Catholics’ everyday conversation. Cynicism, doubt, fear, worry, and anger result from the confusion. I’ve been silent far too long on the behavior I see by prominent Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum.
What is truth? That’s the wrong question to ask. Truth isn’t a what but a who.
Who is truth?
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
It shouldn’t be a surprise to know that the answer to the question is Jesus. Saint John the Apostle tells us in John 14:6, “I am theway and thetruthandthelife. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus ascended to God the Father forty days after his Resurrection so how exactly can we come to Jesus? It is through the sacraments. Christ gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sins and ability to be channels of grace for the other sacraments.
The Catholic Church is meant to be a light to the nations. One, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic are the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Church. Navigating the rabbit holes that are social media comments section on political topics you won’t think of those qualities at all!
False claims on both sides and vitriol dominate many online Catholic conversations. Trump. Biden. Republican. Democrat. Those aren’t the four marks of the Catholic Church. Too many times American Catholics put country and politics above the Creator of the Universe. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for decades because of worshipping false gods.
People maybe aren’t worshipping golden statues. But they certainly give the impression that it’s okay to idolize “golden” personalities.
How Does the Church Get Back on Track
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my priest gave an amazing homily on the ark of the covenant. In the Old Testament, the ark was a sacred vessel that housed the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and the manna from the desert. The main point of the homily was the Israelites’ success in battle when carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Troubles came when they failed to travel with it.
The Ark of the Covenant carried the presence of God. His laws and food for the journey. Catholics refer to Mary was the New Ark of the Covenant. Why? Because she housed God during her pregnancy with Jesus. The Catholic Answers website has an informative and detailed article for more reasons why Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.
Our Theological GPS
Mary is the perfect guide to Jesus.
Where Mary is present so too her Son is. How does the Church get back on track? The theological GPS back to Jesus is Mary. And the most effective prayer is the Most Holy Rosary. Anytime I fall away from the faith or lapse in my duty to love God and neighbor I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for guidance. Saint Louis de Montfort said, ““For never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil. This is a statement which I would sign with my blood.”
Wow! The French saint’s words may sound like hyperbole but they’re true. Mary is the connection to Christ. Mothers have an intimacy with their children. Why should it be any different for the Mother of God? Plus, through my direct experience I have learned about the efficacy of the Rosary. The goal of prayer is to get closer to God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prayer isn’t simply a recitation of words. The amount of times you pray the Rosary doesn’t increase or decrease your holiness level. Vocal prayer is a starting basis and important. But it shouldn’t be the end destination. God desires us to draw us into deeper communion with him. Vocal prayer should be followed (eventually) with mental prayer. Allowing our thoughts, wishes, desires, worries, fear, anxieties, doubts, joys, and everything be an offering to God.
I have struggled with thinking I was holier than others because of how I followed certain Catholic traditions. This is rooted in my selfishness, pride, and lack of fully trusting in God.
Evidence for Spiritual Growth?
One of the things I learned growing up was the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. But lately, that information remained merely a factoid in my memory bank. Inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart and soul increases your knowledge of God but more importantly your actions are transformed. Spiritual growth is determined by the fruits you notice. Here are a list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit:
Are you displaying these traits in your online (and offline) interactions? Does disagreements make you impatient or cause a rush to judgment? Do you currently lack self-control? Or faith in God’s Divine Plan?
These questions should be pondered often. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, knowledge, understanding, reverence, awe/wonderment, courage, and counsel.
These times are confusing. Uncertainty appears to be the new standard. Don’t fear! Our Common Enemy wants us to be afraid because this leads to movement away from God. Know Jesus is Truth, look to Mary to help point you to Him, and ask the Holy Spirit for the gift to live intentional and follow the will of God. The Catholic Church in America is in trouble but if you seek personal holiness you will be a salt to renew the joy of the Gospel.
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,
It’s no secret 2020 has been a less than perfect year. You might have had great expectations. New year equals a new start—new opportunities to kick bad habits. But soon you realized 2020 was not going to be a fairy tale. World basketball phenom Kobe Bryant died in January. Following this sudden tragedy was the COVID19 pandemic (with no end seemingly in sight). Race riots emerged afterward. Lockdowns. Quarantines. Masks. Masks. And more masks. The buzzwords of the year.
What the h***’s going on?! Seriously, why all this suffering? This isn’t the way life is meant to be. No sports or music concerts or church services. Those things stabilize us and give meaning to the topsy-turvies of life. You want things to go back to being normal (I want the craziness to stop—I can’t play real-life Jumanji anymore).
Did normalcy ever exist?
Life has never been normal. What exactly is normal? The dictionary defines ‘normal’ as conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. 2020 was unexpected! Who expected a microscopic virus to cripple the world economy and upturn people’s lives in unimaginable ways?
In April, I contracted the COVID19 virus. It was a horrendous experience. A high fever persisted for almost two weeks straight. It zapped me of energy, taste, smell, and gave me intense full body aches. This virus would have killed me had it not been due to the persistent prayers of my family and friends along with my wife making me drink water every hour and use a rescue inhaler for the first time in my life. In the beginning, I was angry with God for allowing me to get infected. I took every single precaution: washed my hands twice an hour, socially distanced, and consumed Vitamin C daily.
But in the heart of my suffering I recalled how God saved me from an intense depression and loss in 2014—losing an unborn child to miscarriage. Hindsight is 2020 (no pun intended). I experienced a lack of consolation in prayer. At first, I thought it was due to me not having enough faith. But learning more about the prayer life as detailed by Saint John of the Cross, I found out I was going through a Dark Night of the Soul. It is through that lens I view the trials the Church (and world) face in 2020.
Seeds of Faith Grow in the Soil of Suffering
Ever since I endured the suffering of having to bury unborn children, Jesus’ words in John 12:24 has become easier to understand. Christ said, “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.” Suffering is a means to kill the self (selfish desires and tendency towards sin). My suffering in 2014 caused me to be buried in a spiritual darkness. Out of the shroud of suffering I emerged renewed and more trusting in God’s Providence.
The greatest of saints grew into faithful witness for the Gospel through being buried in a soil of suffering. Saint John Paul II lived in Poland during Nazi and Communist occupation. He lost all of his immediate family members before his 22nd birthday. Such loss could have easily driven Karol Wojtyła into callousness and resentment. He looked to the Cross as a way to survive his unimaginable suffering.
10,000 Difficulties Don’t Equal a Single Doubt
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman famously wrote, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. (unequal).” The English cardinal’s words seem appropriate for Catholics to hear in 2020. How many times do you read on Catholic social media posts about people not trusting in God because of COVID19 precautionary measure? I was once accused of worshipping a “mask deity” because of my stance on wearing a facemask to public masses.
The current pandemic has presented too many difficulties to count for the Catholic. Earlier this year, the United States Catholic bishops decided to suspend all public Masses and the weekly obligation to attend. This led to an outpouring of confusion, concern, and frustration on the part of the laity. People began to blame the bishop and label them cowards for giving into the secular stance on the coronavirus situation.
Soon after Catholic social media lit up into tribalistic squabbles. Catholics began calling out their spiritual brother and sister’s faith into question. But a difficulty doesn’t equate to a doubt. Last time I checked, I don’t possess the ability to read a person’s heart and I am fairly confident most other Catholics lack that ability too. Instead of questioning a person’s faith would it not be more prudent and effective to ask the Holy Spirit for unity, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and generosity in online discussions?
All Things Work for the Good
Saint Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose.” In pop culture, the NBC drama Manifest (an amazing show about passengers on a plane who mysteriously reappears five years after disappearing) has increased the popularity of this verse. Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite Bible quotes. It has increased in relevance since enduring my Dark Night of the Soul in 2014.
All things work for the good even when you’re in a spiritual dark night.
Fear over the unknown may be the most common fear (even more widespread than fear of death). So much misinformation exists on the COVID19 pandemic. Was the lockdown needed or not? Was the virus naturally occurring or lab-generated? Are facemasks effective or not? Will the pandemic miraculously end the day after the election because a particular political party created the virus? (I don’t subscribe to any conspiracy theory but simply wanted to detail out the variance in thought about COVID19).
All things work for the good for those who love God.
God uses bad things and evil things for good. God is so good that even evil is transformed as a means to be drawn in closer to Him. For example my wife and I lost children to miscarriage. Out of that horror we grew in faith.
Whoever wins the United States election or whatever craziness left for the rest of 2020 only matters in the short-term. In the long-term (or more precisely in the perspective of eternity), all things work for the good of those who love God.
How Can Catholics Finish out 2020
Fear, animosity, blame-gaming, and judging others’ hearts has been the norm of social media. I believe the world is in a ‘Dark Night’. Suffering is not something to shy away from but should be viewed as an offering to God in prayer. It’s okay to have difficulties with how this year is going.
Don’t be afraid to completely break down in tears and shoot salvos of laments to the Holy Trinity. Ten thousand, ten million or ten billion difficulties don’t equal a doubt in God’s Providence. And etch this verse in your heart, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”