Month: March 2017

Boomerangs and other interesting thoughts…

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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.

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. To list just a couple: I felt like I could not tell anyone about this because my baby was never born and 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. I had difficulty in my faith life and trusting in God. 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. 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.

That Moment When an Elementary Student Taught Me More Theology than My Master’s Program

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Last fall I started volunteering as a mentor to an elementary student at a local Catholic school. I was nervous at first because this was the first time I served as a mentor to a young student. On that first day, the school counselor thought it would be nice for the student to give me a tour of the school. On this tour, I was making small-talk and the topic eventually led to saints [Icons of saints are present at every classroom door].

I posed this simple question to the student, “Who is your favorite saint?” The reason I received from him was simple but also tightly packed with theology! The student quickly responded with a sheepish grin, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” Though I was half-tempted to qualify his statement by saying, “Well, I meant technically a canonized saint…”  I stopped myself. Since that day I have pondered this revelatory statement at least once a week.

The more I reflected on my mentor student’s statement the more and more theology I realized was packed into it. Here are a few truths I gleaned from his statement:

  1. Holiness can start now: Sanctity is not reserved for after our death or even later in our earthly lives. To reference my recent post on purgatory, I used to believe purgatory was a “period” similar to an extra period in a sports game. Yet, my student’s reply is simple and true, our priest is like a saint to him because he knows holiness when he sees it.
  2. Priest, like saints, reflect God’s light:  The moon, which reflects the sun’s light, is a common image the early Church Fathers used to describe Mary, who reflects the son’s light. Similarly, we are called to be that same reflection. Christ even goes further when he calls his followers in Matthew 5:14-16 to be the “light of the world”. Perhaps the best truth that came forth from my student’s statement is summed up best when placing it next to St. Athanasius’ famous quote from On the Incarnation. He says, “God became man that man might become God”. I truly believe our parish priest is on that same path.
  3. My parish is doing something right: I should qualify this by saying our parish is doing something right by allowing God’s grace to work in the people I have encountered there. My student’s proclamation, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” is certainly a testament to our priest’s strong faith and reverence for the sacrament of Holy Orders. But I am sure he will agree with me in saying there is another source at work besides himself. It is the work of the Trinity. Not only at work in my student’s heart, but God is working through the dedicated teachers, administrative staff, and parishioners alike.

Many people tell me I am having a positive impact on that elementary student’s life each week I meet with him over lunch. What I do know for certain is that I get more graces than I give in mentoring. This “living theology” is something I never experienced during my graduate studies.  I thank God every day for the joy He gives me each week in serving Him.

2 Reasons Why Jesus’ “Failed” Miracle is the Turning Point of Mark’s Gospel

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My favorite healing story in Mark’s Gospel is the curing of the blind man at Bethsaida. This morning I got confirmation of this fact because the lone bookmark in my study bible was found in Mark 8:22-26. I placed that bookmark over 2 years ago!

Like most of the healing stories in Mark, the curing of the blind man is short. Here is the text,

22When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”g 24Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” 25Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. 26Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26 New American Bible)

I call this Jesus’ “apparent failed miracle” mostly because he has to cure the blind man in stages—the cure does not happen instantaneously. When I first read this passage the man’s statement of, “I see people looking like trees and walking”, was probably the oddest sentence ever uttered in the New Testament. It took me a long time to realize the purpose of this story. I give two reasons for why Mark 8:22-26 is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry.

  1. The healing happened in stages: This healing stands unique against Jesus’ other healings because Jesus does not heal the blind man right away. St. Jerome in Homily 79 viewed this passage allegorically to signify mankind’s gradual increase in wisdom. In other words, God’s revelation of truth throughout the Old Testament, New Testament, and current in the age of the Church is incremental.
  1. Peter’s declaration happens immediately after this healing: I previously mentioned the significance of having a contextual reading of the Bible as a whole. Most people tend to see this as reading books in the context of other biblical books. Yet, in the case of Mark 8:22-26 a contextual reading to draw out this passage’s meaning can occur within the gospel itself. Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ in Mark 8:30. I do not think this was a coincidence on the part of the evangelist. I believe that Mark intended to have the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida proceed Peter’s revelation to further the point that God’s truth is revealed gradually. From this point of the gospel until the end Jesus starts to ramp up his predictions of his Death and Resurrection and his identify starts to become revealed more and more.

I challenge you all to reflect upon this healing story and ask yourself these questions: At what stage am I at in my faith journey? Do I truly recognize Jesus to be the Christ as Peter proclaims, or am I still partially blind in my faith and seeing “theological trees”?

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Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D Part 2- Miracles of Elisha and Jesus

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When I taught Old and New Testament at a Catholic High School, I developed this phrase of “Catholics Must Use Bible A.D.D.” to describe how Catholics should read the scriptures. This is my second installment of what I hope to be a regular series for this blog. What I mean by Bible A.D.D. is necessary to understand the Scriptures, is that we need to read New Testament passages in light of the Old Testament and vice versa. We should not isolate Scripture passages in order to decipher their meaning. However, we need to be careful to avoid a Biblical A.D.H.D. in which we too quickly scan over passages without understanding the context of the Bible as a whole.

Today’s topic will consider how the prophet Elisha foreshadowed Jesus Christ. This will be demonstrated via biblical typology. Biblical typology is defined as follows, “when a person or an event in the Old Testament foreshadows a person or an event in the New Testament”.  I will outline three ways that Elisha foreshadows Jesus.

  1. Miracle of Multiplication of Food: In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha− through the grace of God− feeds 100 people by way of multiplying the bread. Jesus performs a similar miracle in John 6. Aside from the parallels in the actual miracles themselves, both Elisha and Jesus receive the bread from an unnamed individual (see 2 Kings 4:42 and John 6:9).

 

  1. Healing of Lepers: Elisha heals the soldier Naaman in 2 Kings 5:9-10 through his command to have the leper wash in the Jordan seven times. Jesus also performs the same type of healing miracle, but as with most typological reading everything the Son of God does is greater than the Old Testament type (i.e. Elisha)—here Jesus heals 10 lepers.

 

  1. Preceded by a Great Prophet: Both Elisha and Jesus were heralded in by a great prophet Elijah and John the Baptist respectively. Interestingly enough, St. Luke draws a connection between these prophets when he says, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17 NASB). What is most important is that both prophets point us toward Christ.

Elisha was a holy man of God who prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. He is one of many types that foreshadow and prepare us for the Incarnation. I will continue to post examples of this typological approach to reading the Scriptures. Please also be aware that today’s writing in no way limits the connections between Jesus and Elisha to three items alone. Feel free to post any questions you have about this topic and our Christian tradition of reading Scripture through a typological lens.

3 Reasons Why I Used to Think Purgatory was Like Overtime in a Football Game

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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.

  1. I had a legalistic way 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. 
  1. I had a limited view of suffering: Not really suffering all that much in my life until a few years ago, 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!
  1. I 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 could write pages upon pages upon this subject of purgatory, but I will wrap up this post shortly. 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. I will leave you today with the words of St. Maria Faustina, “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.”

 

My Occasional Dark Night

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For several years of my life, the final words of Jesus before his death on the Cross puzzled me. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).  The word forsaken according to a thesaurus has many synonyms but the two that stand out to me are quit and desert.  Let’s insert these words into the previous quote and read it again. On the Cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my God why have you quit on me and deserted me?” I think that everyone relate to Christ’s words. Within my own life I feel God has quit on me too many times remember. Because of this, I may be currently experiencing a period of abandonment and loneliness. 

Why am I telling you this? Is my accusation of God’s commitment to me a grave danger to my Catholic faith? Is my feeling of abandonment caused by outside factors such as my work, stress, the winter weather or something else? Perhaps. However, I felt compelled to journal about my inner struggles as a Catholic man as a type of prayer to God Himself. 

Let me back up and explain how I have grown to realize that feeling abandoned by God is not necessarily a bad thing. A few years ago, I was taking graduate theology courses and there was a particular class where I was required to read St. John of the Cross’s A Dark Night of the Soul– a spiritual grace that flowed from his period of spiritual loneliness. During this time of my life, I starting reading the Diary of St. Maria Faustina and she expressed similar sentiment. The Polish saint writes, “O Jesus, today my soul is as though darkened by suffering. Not a single ray of light” (Diary 195), Her words express my exact thoughts today. 

When I read Faustina’s words I felt provoked to learn more about the words of the dying Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It turns out that the Gospels writers were making an allusion to Psalm 22- a prayer the psalmist wrote as a lament to God. I believe that the Holy Spirit was teaching me by fusing my theological background of the Scriptures with my current life experiences. 

Maybe God is allowing me to suffer spiritual loneliness because He knows that this will direct me on the path of prayer again. Lately, I have not been the best Catholic. I have been impatient at work and home. I allow doubt to creep into my life. Perhaps this spiritual abandonment is the greatest gift God can grant to me now. Perhaps God is doing the same thing in your life now. Let’s embrace this loneliness together and continue to hope in God’s Providence. Amen. 

Windex, Storage Containers, and Teresa of Avila

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My wife and I completed an intense bout of pre-spring cleaning (it was a mere 2 days before the official start of spring J) this past weekend. That coupled with a reference to avoiding desolation and clearing our soul from the “dustiness” of a dry spiritual life during my weekly parish men’s group influenced the title of this post and inspired me to write today.

I am a neat freak. In fact, one of the major three tenets my blog is based on is organization. I am passionate about decluttering, sorting, and cleaning dusty crevices in my house. Yet, when it comes to the spiritual life, why do I occasionally lack the same fervor that I have cleaning my physical house?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 797, states,

“What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.”243 “To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members.”244 The Holy Spirit makes the Church “the temple of the living God”.

This imagery of the Holy Spirt being housed in the church is not new. St. Paul clearly states this in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:16 to name just a couple verses. However, it was through the intercession of St. Teresa of Avila’s writing that I especially encountered this truth recently. She begins her greatest work, Interior Castle, with the following divinely inspired words, “ I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions.” Teresa’s description of the soul is easy for me to understand yet at the same time illustrates the complexity of our human condition.

Throughout the Interior Castle the doctor of the Church takes readers on a spiritual journey by examining how in navigating through the castle of our soul we are able to grow in closer union with God. Without a thorough examination of oneself and spiritual guidance we are not able to recognize the graces God grants us daily and gives ways for us to clear out the “dustiness” of our soul. Just like how my home needs frequent seasonal cleanings, the Church in Her wisdom has seasonal cleanings as well for us to grow in holiness.

My goal is to take a few minutes each remaining week in Lent to reflect on St. Teresa of Avila’s words in Interior Castle. I hope you all prayerfully consider to join me in this journey and cleanse your own soul of the “dustiness” of sin and temptation.