Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 26, 2017.
One of my favorite things to watch is to watch NFL football games. I even own a cheese head to don during Green Bay Packer games. Nothing in sports is more exciting than when a football game goes into overtime and for the first time in NFL history the 2017 Super Bowl went to overtime.
Extra regulation is needed in instances where teams end the fourth quarter in a tie. Neither team played well enough to earn the victory or bad enough to lose the game. I used to have a similar mindset when it came to the doctrine of Purgatory. Let me give 3 reasons for why I had this limited view when it came to arguably one of the more intriguing teachings of the Catholic Church.
Legalistic Outlook of Right versus Wrong
I thought for the longest time that if you followed the law [i.e. the Commandments] and your good actions outweighed your bad actions than you were on your way to Heaven after death. I viewed God as a divine accountant who tallied up all the good and bad that we committed in this live and granted us purgatory as an extra period for instances of ties.
Limited view of suffering
Until recently, I do not truly suffer much. I always thought that purgatory was a period of “time” after death whereby people got extra suffering to make up for the comforts they received in this earthly life. My view on this has since changed immensely. I came to learn that suffering has not only a redemptive, but a purgative quality to it.
On a quite practical level, my marriage and family life has schooled my in this topic. For example, my lack of patience especially during our children’s bedtime routine, causes me much suffering. Through prayer and spiritual guidance I learned that God is using my children to help me grow in the virtue of patience- and sometimes growing is painful!
Learned More about the Saints
Until a few years ago, I did not know that St. Therese of Lisieux suffering from tuberculosis and that St. John Paul II’s mother died a mere month per his 9th birthday and his father passed away about 10 years later. And yet, there was something different about these two individuals and really all saints in general—their faith grew in spite of the suffering and loss experienced.
Looking at the lives of the canonized saints I became aware that purgatory is not something that needs to begin after our earthly death. Rather, for them it begins in time and space. Because of this purgatory does not need to be limited to an “extra period” given since we failed to achieve sanctity in this life. We can start the process to being SAINTS today!
I will continue to write how my journey toward a more Catholic understanding of purgatory has changed my life for the better in future posts. St. Maria Faustina saliently wrote, “Jesus says; ‘My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.”
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 15, 2017.
St. Ignatius of Loyala 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: This post was originally published on March 17th, 2017.
Boomerangs. An interesting word to start off this post, but I was thinking today that people commonly treat prayer like it is a boomerang. What I mean is that we quickly throw a “Hail Mary” up to God and hoping that is immediately directed back to us [similar to how a boomerang, upon reaching its apex, curves back to the person who threw it].
To be honest I have been in a “boomerang” type of mindset relating to the subject of prayer for most of my life. It has only recently that I began to see prayer as being more of “like a game of catch with God”. Let me show you what I mean.
Playing catch involves two people just like prayer is a two-way communication with God. Catch also involves a trust on the 2nd person by the 1st person to receive the ball back–similarly God will always answer our prayers and “toss” them back to us. The only difference is the length of time it takes for God to respond and sometimes we feel a sense of abandonment.
Why Does God Abandon Us?
Well, for the past half-year I have experienced an intense feeling of abandonment from God in my life. In November 2014, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage of our baby.
Earlier that day, we were at the hospital and were able to see Jeremiah’s heartbeat. Hours later my wife miscarried. She suffered quite dramatically during the ensuing two months. I, however, remained quite stoic–I wanted to put up a steel resolve, to be strong for my wife. But a parent suffering a miscarriage is devastating for many reasons.
I felt like I could not tell anyone about this because my baby was never born. Each month leading up to his due date [June] was like a dagger reopening the wound in our hearts that never fully healed.
I experienced a sense of abandonment. Where was God in all this suffering?
Going to the scriptures for comfort I reflected on Matthew 27:46. Jesus utters the words, “My God my God, why have you abandoned me?” It sounds eerily similar to my cries to God these past six months. A contextual read of the bible will show that Jesus is praying Psalm 22–a psalm of lament. Now a lament is a prayer of anguish or sadness especially in a situation where one is angry at God.
Abandonment Leads to Awareness of God’s Presence
Knowing that Jesus also experienced a sense of abandonment gives me hope. Weird as that might sound; Jesus’ loneliness on the cross is immediately followed by his resurrection (see Matthew 28). There is hope on the horizon for my family and I strongly urge anyone who is reading this post that prayers of lament are as legitimate as prayers of praise.
Perhaps I have been seeking to employ a “boomerang” prayer and seeking a fast answer as opposed to undergoing a “cocoon-like” [lonely] period in my relationship with God before He returns my prayers in greater blessing that I could have ever anticipated.
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