Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 20th, 2017.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words, I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic.
Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. Please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clear and authoritative outline of the issue.
To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.
Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman.
Here are three ways that reading fiction will help provide stability in your life when reality is too strange.
Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters
Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero title and their secret identity.
I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running. The main power of this character revolves around speed and endurance.
Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash!
Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.
Alleviation through Art
I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork.
The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.
In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home
Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!
The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center.
Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy—Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.
Is Truth Stranger than Fiction?
Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about.
Fiction can help you find purpose in this life. Through fiction you gain a renewed and broader perspective when returning to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
In 2019, Bishop Joseph Tobin tweeted a questionable statement about Jesus’ Baptism,
“Christ stood with all of us sinners seeking redemption” and that “the sinless Redeemer was reborn in grace”.
Whether his intention was heretical or if it was simply loose and careless theology could certainly be up for debate, I wish to write to clarify the reasons for why Jesus was actually Baptized.
Did Jesus Need to be Baptized?
Contrary to what was purported by the cardinal, Jesus did not require Baptism for salvation and also did not need to be “reborn in grace”. Already sinless, Jesus first and foremost entered the waters of the Jordan as an example for the new sacramental life of grace for his disciples to follow.
In John 3:5 Jesus taught Nicodemus [and later us] of the necessity for Baptism when he declared, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the importance of this passage as well:
Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is: “Faith!” (No. 1253).
Along with modeling the importance of Baptism, though Jesus himself did not require cleansing from sin, three additional lessons may be learned from the Event of the Baptism of Our Lord.
Fulfillment of Old Testament
Several key events in the Bible relate to water. The Flood in Genesis 6-8, the Crossing of the Red Sea, and the Crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land are just a few of the aquatic occasions detailed in the Old Testament.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New (CCC 129).
The Baptism of Jesus is a feast to help us realize the fulfillment of God’s promises from long ago.
Prefiguring the Death of Jesus
Along with being foreshadowed in the Old Testament, Jesus’ Baptism signified an anticipation of his Death. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes this perfectly in his work Jesus of Nazareth,
Looking at the events (of Christ’s baptism) in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, ”Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon. 1:12) . . . The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word
“baptism” to refer to his death (18).
Death to sin [original] gives way to a new life in the sacrament of Baptism. A new life of grace occurs through the waters of Baptism.
Door Way to Adoption
According to my favorite reference book– the thesaurus, synonyms for adoption include the following: acceptance, confirmation, ratification, and support. While each of those words convey a strong and position sense of adoption the synonym that stood out most to me was embracing.
Biological birth occurs through the profound act of sex, however, unfortunately not every child is welcomed a gift as a result. The major difference with adoption versus biological parenthood is that the former always seeks out the child to be welcomed into the family whereas that is not always the case for the latter.
Please note that this is not a knock on biological parents as some of the best parents gained children through biology [i.e. MY PARENTS!].
The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism in paragraph 1265, “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Enter New Life
Because of original sin, the biology of humanity is tarnished with a natural aversion from God’s will. Humans naturally seek their own will over the Will of the Father. Through the waters of Baptism, people cleansed of original sin and enter into the door of the sacramental life of the Church.
While Jesus did not require rebirth into the sacramental life of grace, he was baptized by John in the Jordan River to fulfill the Old Testament, prefigure his Death and Resurrection, and be a model for God’s faithful. German Catholic philosopher Josef Piper declared, “Adoption is the visible Gospel.” The graces received through the sacrament of Baptism truly brings good news as we become adopted children of God!
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Our car’s digital clock reads 9:27 A.M. I am thinking to myself, “Great, maybe we will be able to make it on time to Mass this week…finally!” [we only live 2 minutes away from our parish.]. After we pulling into a parking spot and turn off the ignition, my wife and I rush to get our three children into the church before the entrance hymn starts.
Thankfully, we made it in time. I thought myself, “Please let us be able to make it through at least the first part of the Mass without me having to take any one out!”
Let the Battle Begin
My prayer was almost answered. Two minutes into the first reading, my 18 month old son, started to lose focus and wanted to escape the premises. The granola bar and sippy cup of water were not enough to appease him long enough for me to finish the reading. I already had perspiration glinting on my temples and forehead from having to hold a squirming and twisting toddler.
I gave up the battle. I left my oldest son in the pew by himself for a couple minutes until my wife came back—she had to take our daughter out for a bathroom break five minutes into the liturgy!
“What is the point, I thought. Should I even continue trying to bring the kids along? Sometime people stare at us as if we have an extraterrestrial being dancing behind them in the pew? My kids are insane!” I lamented to myself. Mass ended fairly decent, considering the crazy start, but I felt inspired to write about my inner struggles about balancing family life with my Catholic obligation for Sunday worship. Here are three reasons why I cannot stop bringing my children to Mass despite the enormous “inconvenience” or “stress” it seems to bring.
Because I Experience Truth
Someone once asked my wife, “Why did you convert to Catholicism?” Her reply is probably the shortest apologetic statement in history, “Because it’s true!” The conviction and strength of faith of that level is something I have yet to achieve. I oftentimes feel myself providing caveats and further clarifications for why I am Catholic or why I continue to follow the faith.
At the end of the day, I continue to go to weekly Mass on Sundays because the Apostles—the first friends and followers of Christ—started that tradition 2,000 years ago. Jesus informed the Twelve to celebrate the “breaking of the bread” weekly.
I need to persist in taking my children to Mass because Jesus is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” and we receive the gift of the Eucharist! Truth is not always easy, but without truth I am nothing. Humans long for truth and the truest explanation for the wonders and strangeness of reality I find in the Catholic Church.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1324, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Because of the peak of the Catholic faith is found in the Mass, I am willing to deal with face the difficulties of bringing young children to church. The path toward Truth is not always easy to follow but it is always worth it in the end.
Peace Be with You
A Catholic priest once described the liturgy as a theological GPS that orients us back to the correct path when we fall away. This image always stuck with me. I seem to wander from the path of holiness frequently. My patience wears thin, I struggle with charity of speech, and I act rashly at times. Frankly, I think weekly attendance of Mass is far, far too infrequent for me! If it were not for my familial obligations as a husband and father along with my work duties to my employer, I would go to weekday Mass as well.
Peace is the gift we receive at Mass from the Holy Spirit. The first words that Jesus said to his Apostles in the Upper Room relate to the gift of peace too. In John 20:19 and 21 Jesus says, “’Peace be with you.’… ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” Utilizing my favorite reference book—my trusty Thesaurus—the two synonyms for the word peace that stand out most to me are restfulness and calmness.
From my previous posts, you will know that I am not necessarily a calm person. I struggle with anxiety and RESTLESSNESS. Growing up with ADHD and being a father to hyperactive children, I crave peace. I long for rest.
The Mass provides me that chance. Not every moment, because I do have to protect my somersaulting son from danger! Still, I found moments in the liturgy where I acquire genuine peace and calmness of heart. The best place on Earth where I have discovered true peace is within the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass.
My Primary Role as Dad
My main role as a father is getting my children to Heaven. I am called to be a saint maker—growth in sanctity occurs in this life. According to the Catholic Church,
The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC 2207).
How may I expect my children to love God if I did not establish a habit to visit the Divine Presence and rest in His grace? How do I lead my family on the path of true freedom if I do not experience freedom myself?
The answers are incredibly simple—visit God and visit frequently! My father was [and still is] an amazing example of holiness. He is patient, slow to anger, and consistent in his faith. Looking by at how he accomplished the tremendous feat of raising my siblings and I, I realized that the biggest constant is his life [besides my mom] was the Eucharist. God fed my own biological father through this sacrament.
The Holy Spirit increased my father’s inherent gift of patience to a profound and loving level—I need to follow that example.
My youngest child still has not called me “daddy” nor even uttered the word! Somedays I struggle to cope with this developmental delay. I noticed that my 18 month old will immediately fold his hands in prayer when I begin the Prayer Before Meals blessing. Seeing those little fingers crossed together humbled me. This small act has made me prouder than anything else.
Life is not about how smart, or beautiful, or successful you are. Life is about love and truth. The Holy Spirit sent me a reminder through the person of my toddler.
Do not be overwhelmed when it comes to raising your children in the faith. Even if you are a single person without children and struggle with motivation to go to Sunday Mass, I encourage you to still go.
The joy and peace I experience at the end of the Eucharistic celebration is worth it. I wish that every Sunday Mass felt as good as the above picture looks—but that is not always the case in the reality of life.
I need to continue to trust that my apparent feelings of failure and seeming ineptitude of corralling my children at Mass are distinct from the truth we experience every Sunday—that Jesus graces us with the ability to partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity! No amount of Sunday Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans will change this truth!
Does your life seem confusing? Are you currently in a situation where there is no apparent solution? Sir Isaac Newton once said, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” If that is the case it seems that life is lacking truth lately. Confusion, frustration, anxiety, and anger engulfed me over the course of the past couple weeks.
Anyone who has experienced that over a period of time will start to feel like you may be trapped in an endless loop of the daily grind. The image that immediately comes to mind during confusing times is the lithograph print Relativity [see above] by Dutch artist M.C. Escher.
When life starts to cycle into a twisted journey of never-ending [and never beginning] staircases, the seeds of desolation become sown. Every time doubt and despair grow in my heart I turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for assistance.
According to the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium 56 stated, “”The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.” While the devotion to Mary Undoer of Knots is founded in the ancient Church, I recently discovered this special appellation for Mary from Pope Francis.
I learned that the pope’s favorite devotion to Mary is to view her as our mother who unties the knots in our spiritual life. I came up with three reasons why I believe this to be true as well.
True model of obedience to God
As an adopted child of God I often struggle with being obedient to the will of my Heavenly Father. It is easy to embrace a “my way of the highway!” type of mentality. Due to original sin humanity suffers from a detachment from God. Mary is a bridge to Jesus—who is the ultimate bridge to God the Father!
The Blessed Virgin’s intrepid, but faithful statement of obedience in Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” always give me pause. Her statement she compel you to stop and ponder as well. How often do you attempt to push for your will to be done? Do you notice subtle, or maybe overt, signs pointing to God’s will, yet still ignore them? What things could you do differently to unite your will to the Father’s will?
Mary, Mother of God is the true and perfect standard-bearer for what obedience to God’s will looks like.
As a parent, the worst possibly suffering I could ever imagine would involve something happening to my children that was outside of my control and ability to comfort/aid them. Venerable Fulton Sheen always talks of Mary with both charity and clarity. In Mary and the Sword he speaks of the importance for Mary’s suffering before Calvary,
“An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna. Who is there who loves, who does not want to share the sorrows of the beloved? Since Christ loved mankind so much as to want to die to expiate their guilt, then He should also will that His Mother, who lived only to do His will, should also be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His griefs.”
Having experienced an unimaginable suffering of seeing her only son agonize on the Cross, Mary is the perfect mother for me to seek her aid as another son suffering from desolation and doubts at times.
Mother to all God’s children
Jesus in John 19 entrusted Mary to be the spiritual mother for John — and not only for John but for all of God’s children. According to the Catechism paragraph 963,
Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”502 “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”503
Oftentimes when I experienced confusion, sadness, anger, and doubt growing up [and even today] I usually reach out first to my mom in seeking consolation and clarity. The same is true for my spiritual mother—Mary. Her close unity with Jesus Christ combined with her full humanity allows her to be both a trusted and approachable figure to find refuge in.
Mary guides us to Her Son
St. Thomas Aquinas declared, “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” Catholics honor Mary because she points us to her Divine Son Jesus!
We relate directly to Mary due to her full humanity. During the stresses of life, reciting of a Hail Mary calms my angst and orients the storm in my soul toward God’s will. Let us close with the prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots in hopes that she guides us away from the knotty snares of the Devil.17
Prayer to Mary Undoer of Knots
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots.
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me
💡💡💡Be authentic. We hear that all the time on across the Internet. Life coaches. Bloggers. Podcasters. Everyone seems to have their two cents on this topic.
If you are like me you probably think: Of course be authentic, but what does that look like specifically?!”
This can be done using the following tips:
1️⃣ Don’t exaggerate your experience. It is good to use engaging language, but if you over exaggerate your story it almost becomes like a tall tale or a big fish story.
2️⃣ Use details in your content.
Over the past few weeks I have been reading Gary Halbert’s “The Boron Letters”. It is a fantastic read for anyone in the field of advertising or copywriting.
I came across this quote of his that actually inspired me to write this post. “Believability is one of the top most important ingredients of good promotions,” he wrote.
Share the details of your story! Today, my older kids are home from school. It is busier than usual. How did I find time to write this post?
I took my kids to the library and we are in a large playroom with tons of toys (play food and shopping carts) and I let them free play. This freed me up to write and read some of Halbert’s letters.
3️⃣ Share your triumphs AND your trials.
It is easy to filter our social media posts or blogging content to show only our wins. Who doesn’t like a success story?
However, the best stories involve overcoming a conflict or struggle. Those also happen to be the realest. Without showing your vulnerability and weaknesses a you run the risk of becoming unrelatable or stuff—one sided lacking dimension. Embrace the fullness of your life. Share your highs lows, and the in between times as well.
These simple tips will lead to being more authentic.
Do you agree with these tips? Let me know in the comments.
“What matters isn’t storytelling. What matters is telling a true story well.” — Ann Handley
💡The most engaging content I have written does not include the best grammar, language, or most philosophical ideas.
💡A common thread I noticed about posts that get more comments, likes, and views are about actual events in my life.
💡Truth. What is truth? For me it is something that matches reality.
💡The truth about me is that I am a devout Catholic, husband, and father. I enjoy writing (this should not be a shock to anyone 😊), running, reading, and geeking out over comic books and anything Tolkien.
💡The truth is my work schedule is not ideal. My wife and I get only a few times during the week to talk, actually talk about our day, hopes, and dreams.
💡 I have wanted to give up or at least take a long time off from my work as a writer. In hindsight, I know that it was sleep deprivation talking.
💡The truth is I am grateful. On my worst days I am at least grateful for my faith, family, and friends. On my best days I see literally everything I encounter as a blessing. We are blessed to have the ability to use blogging and social media as a platforms to share our truths with others.
💭What is your story?
💭How truthful are you about sharing it?
Let me know your thoughts below.