Editor’s Note: Here’ a letter I wrote to my unborn son Jeremiah who left this life on All Soul’s Day 2014.
Words will never fully describe the yearning I have to see you again in heavenly bliss. I will try my best with this letter. Life was tough in the months ensuing your death. While pain set in quickly for your mother, I remained aloof from the suffering—for a time—eventually I broke down and trembled at our sudden and inexplicable loss. Though I never blamed God, our Father, for taking you away from us, I did question the good in the situation.
To be honest, I have not fully recovered from our tragedy of you passing from this life to the next, ironically on All Souls’ Day. The pain does get a little bit less each day. Your mother and I were at a crossroads on a cool summer night. You were supposed to be born in June 2015. All around us people we knew were having babies and we were only reminded of our pain and thinking what might have been. I prayed out to God “I just want something good to happen in my life!” Weeks later we discovered your mother was pregnant. Despite this amazing news, we were cautious and often thought of losing you months earlier.
Half-way through the pregnancy we learned that we were having another baby boy and we settled on a name—Josiah. Later we learned that this name means “healer”. I do not think that was a coincidence. I firmly believe God answered our prayers and used you as a powerful intercessor to keep your brother Josiah safe throughout the pregnancy.
Grief is Love that Endures
Thank you for the gift you have provided your family! I’m grateful to have heard your heartbeat before we lost you. That memory gives my daily strength and every milestone Josiah has I think of you. I ask for continually help and intercession in your union with our Heavenly Father.
Your siblings and your mother deeply miss you. We hope to be united with your after our pilgrim journey in this life is completed.
With great love and gratitude,
P.S. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” –Jeremiah 1:5 (New American Bible)
Editor’s Note: This post originally published on July 20, 2018.
Saint Therese of Liseux once stated, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Part of the universal appeal of the Little Flower was her simplicity and humility when approaching the greatness of God.
As a classic over thinker and a perfectionist, I tend to overanalyze sanctity. Making checklists or reminders on my phone, I try to cram a bunch of spiritual activities into a week all the while juggling a healthy work, life, and exercise routine! I am exhausted simply thinking about scheduling confession in on a Saturday around my three children’s naptime and giving my wife time to go to the medicine box as well.
At work the stress continued. The constant barrage of complaints, concerns, and questions wear down a person. I try to give myself a few seconds rest between the hustle and bustle. St. Therese taught me three important lessons this week.
The French saint wisely stated, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” I have previously written about the importance of small incremental steps to gain progress; however, it is always good to remind ourselves that great things start with doing the little things well.
Children learning to ride a bicycle do not normally go from training wheels to mountain/trail cycling overnight. Bumps, bruises, tears, and frustrations abound over the course of time when learning to ride a bike. The same is true in our pilgrim journey towards holiness. Missed opportunities of smiling at an annoying co-worker or your trouble neighbor does not help our advancement in our sojourn of sanctity. St. Mother Teresa matter-of-factly said, “You have to be holy where you are – wherever God has put you.” Following in the footsteps of both Therese/Teresa’s I hope to remember daily to start little—with baby steps—as a I grow in holiness.
Fueled by the Fire of Love
According to Genesis 3, the curse place upon Adam [and later all mankind] was work being toilsome and difficult. In fact, the day of the Fall may have well been history’s first Monday! All joking aside, we normally dread work because it takes away of play—an activity of something which we enjoy and love doing. St. Josemaria Escriva declared, “Either we learn to find the Lord in the ordinary everyday life or else we shall never find him.”
Very much in keeping with his spirituality, and likely a major influence for the Founder of Opus Dei, St. Therese reminds us that work need not be toilsome—as long as daily work is fueled by love. Watered by love—of God and neighbor—work blossoms into a sweet activity that paradoxically involves suffering but bring joy as well! “I understood that love comprises all vocations – that love is everything, and because it is eternal, embraces all times and places,” the sainted French nun declared.
Part of a Whole
The final piece wisdom the Little Flower of Lisieux imparted to me this week was the importance of seeing myself as a part of a larger whole. Now this is not to reduce myself to a small wheel in the cog of Catholicism—such as view is entirely utilitarian and reduces our relationship to other human beings as purely functional/technical.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 952, when speaking about the communion of saints, “Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy. . . and of their neighbors in want.”487 A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods.” As a husband and father, I learned my will must be subordinated for the good of the other members of my family.
Easily declared from my theological armchair, I struggle mightily in the midst of family life and the bustle of raising children. Here is where the example and spiritual maturity of St. Therese again teaches me. On the subject of being a saint, Therese stated, “I realized that to become a saint one must suffer a great deal, always seek what is best, and forget oneself.”
Depend on God
The youngest of nine siblings Therese learned quickly in life that she could not always be the center of attention—although she did admit in her Diary of a Soul that her selfishness pervaded her very earliest of years. The Little Flower’s constant message in her writings about her [and our] need to have a complete dependency on God our Heavenly Father helped shift my selfish mindset toward others and the Ultimate Other.
Start small, easy your daily struggle with the fuel of love, and remember you are part of a larger whole—members of the human race. These three lessons the young, but wise French saint taught me this week.
Our world needs God. This year has definitely reminds us sin exists. We don’t require a dictatorial Supreme Being who imposes rules and restrictions. The backlash caused by the lockdowns across the United States reminds me of the Israelite people in the book of Exodus.
Freedom from slavery didn’t free them from selfish tendencies. Moses asked God, “O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own (Exodus 34:9).
The easy thing to do during a crisis is to play the blame game. Bad police. Inept politicians. Rage-filled rioters. But the way to true change is not in resentment or scapegoating. Authentic change for a better world is a narrow gate.
Saint John tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Trinity Sunday is about unity. The devil divides. In fact, the Greek word for devil, diabolos, means “to divide”. Satan aims to please the self and divide us from the multiplying force of God’s love.
Jesus came to save us from the Great Divider. Last week the Church celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, the Arrival of the Unifying Holy Spirit. While Jesus ascended back to the Father he did promise the Apostles (and us) to send a Helper. Two thousand years later, the Holy Spirit has continued to guide the Church.
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity celebrates the truth that God is love. Three Persons. One God. It is the simplest, yet most mysterious Christian truth.
Know Thy Enemy
Our common enemy hates Love and works to sow division. Satan’s common tactics include:
Destroy the family–> the family is an image of the Holy Trinity. Satan despises this reminder of God to the world. Divided families lead to divided societies.
Attack when holiness is increasing–> Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “Satan always tempts the pure (holy)—the others are already his.” I find that temptations find me quickly after I receive the Sacrament of Confession. The Devil wants to wound healed souls.
Transform suffering into hopelessness–> Satan “hopes” pain leads people toward despairs. He wants suffering to remain at the chaotic (meaningless) level.
Love Transforms Suffering
C.S. Lewis wrote in A Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (p.91). I used to think suffering meant I did something wrong. My understanding of suffering was immature— obey God’s laws and receive rewards but disobey and get punished. The Israelites didn’t listen to God even when He freed them from Pharaoh’s tyranny. Read about the Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32. Moses was PISSED OFF. And rightfully so.
Who else remembers watching “The 10 Commandments” every Palm Sunday? What a classic!
What was the Israelite’s punishment for worshipping a false god? Longer time spent wandering (aimlessly) in the desert. God could have compelled their obedience, yet Love doesn’t operate as a dictator. Freedom necessarily involves the potential of suffering (based on our choices).
Our world is always going to be in turmoil (2020 is not the exception on suffering, but the rule). No amount of sin can separate you from God as long as you sincerely seek repentance **stops typing and jumps for joy**. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit— undivided Unity. Reflect on the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity this week. Ask God to give you the strength to endure your daily struggles and joy to notice the wonders in your life.
P.S. Congratulations for reaching the end of this article (or maybe you skimmed). I would play a fanfare on my silver trumpet but I think my mom sold it **jots down ‘new trumpet’ on post-it note**.
Anyways, if you enjoyed learning about the awesomeness of the Holy Trinity become an email subscriber. Enter your email address in the Subscribe to Blog Via Email box and hit the Subscribe button. It’s that easy! Soon you will be receiving cool Catholic content in your inbox.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 15, 2017.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic I admire the witness of the saints. From a theological and cerebral perspective Ignatius makes sense, but to a person in the midst of trials his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now than during a low point in my life.
What I have found to be interesting during the past few months that I have been writing is that my more popular and greater trafficked posts relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Today I believe there are three specific reasons why writing about my own limitations appeal to others.
Suffering is Universal
J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the objective reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work The Lord of the Rings. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words, I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence.
Is that true of yourself?
Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is definitely true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.
Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face.
Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe my writing on my personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.
Sometimes quotes from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we are able to life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!
Honesty is the best policy
To continue on the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. Each writer admits their failings. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.
In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Half of the times, I am not even aware of what I am going to write about on a particular day or even how I am going to finish a post. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!
Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle
My battle against personal vices [anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc] is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles.
In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil of the ring tempts him:
Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.
Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!
The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need. It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ [making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend] that true fellowship happens.
Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure the fellowship around me [wife, family, faith, and friends] is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 16, 2018.
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.
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.
The School of Suffering
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.
The Curious Work of the Holy Spirit
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.”
Death is Not the End
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.
“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.”
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 20, 2018.
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.
Suffering Bears Fruit
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.
When Suffering Redeems
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.
Saint 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
Editor’s Note: Post originally published on January 13, 2019.
The legendary Italian artist Michelangelo once purported, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” I once traveled overseas on a college trip around Europe. One of the stops our tour group was in Rome. Seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel certainly allowed me to encounter the mysterious and awesome presence of God. My sublime experience in Rome lasted only a few minutes and occurred over a decade ago. I am extremely grateful to have seen with my own eyes one of the greatest and most beautiful works of art in all of human history.
Fast-forward ten years and a lot has changed in my life: I am married with four children, and in the workforce. While life brought me many struggles since that moment in Italy, my Catholic faith is stronger and more real because of those trials. Throughout much of 2018 I wrote frequently about my wife and I’s struggle with despair, loneliness, and sadness at the loss of our unborn children. Losing a child, you never could hold takes an indescribable toll on a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
A Christmas Miracle Child
This Christmas season our family was blessed with the healthy birth of our daughter. From the onset of the pregnancy complications developed. God interceded and saved our daughter from being miscarried. He accomplished it through the power of prayer and healing graces of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Our parish priest administered this sacrament to my wife. In my post, Containing Joy—Rainbow Baby After Miscarriage Maelstroms – The Simple Catholic, I talk about the struggle be joyous throughout the pregnancy. Hope always permeated our thoughts, but we tempered our joy just in case our daughter did not make it to term.
God’s Peace in the Pain
After my wife’s contractions got frequent enough for the delivery doctor and nurses to arrive, a calming presence overcame me as I gazed into my wife’s eyes between her painful contractions. An otherworldly peace entered that delivery room. Joy, peace, and confidence radiated from my wife’s eyes in the moments before our daughter was born.
Skeptics may doubt Divine Providence had anything to do with our experience in the delivery room. All I can speak of is my experience and that was an encounter with a reality, call it what you will, whose origin is not of this earthly existence. Long anticipation of seeing, hearing, and holding our daughter seemed to have time at a standstill those short minutes before the arrival of Avila.
Bishop Robert Barron once stated, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” Our joy-filled yet anxious laden pregnancy delivery began with the beautiful―the news of the conception of our daughter. That beautiful news led to the good. Good through the form of good friends, family, and priests praying for us on this 9-month journey.
Finally, the good of fellowship and prayer led my wife and I to the truth― this reality is not the sole mode of existence. The God who is above humanity’s total and complete comprehension decided to reveal himself in the material world. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in Bethlehem, and I had the privilege of encountering the peace of the Holy Spirit that early morn in the hospital room before and during the birth of my daughter!
“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”