Month: June 2017
I have learned that the more a person learns about a particular subject or person there exists a direct correlation in an increased amount of titles or synonyms to describe them. For example, I had a lot of nicknames as an infant and toddler because of my parent’s love toward me. I have inherited that same knack to create multiple appellations for my children as well.
Within the Catholic Church, our honor toward Mary, the Mother of God, lends itself to a burgeoning of titles to reference her too. Doing some research for a lesson on Mary I was teaching I learned that she has over 2,000 names and titles given to her throughout the history of the Catholic history! I will barely scratch the surface of this topic by reflecting on 3 specific titles of Mary that provide me hope on a daily basis.
1. Undoer of Knots: This is a relatively new devotion toward Mary. I became aware of this unique title through my reading of a biography of Pope Francis- shortly after his election to the papacy. Mary as Undoer of Knots is his personal favorite Marian devotion. Below is the prayer associated with this nascent devotional practice:
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 exist in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exists 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.
There is something tangible and raw and this prayer. Life is messy. Sometimes due to my own fallen nature, and occasionally because of the sinfulness of others, my life becomes knotted. My personal struggles develop into a Mobius strip of suffering. Reciting the prayer and asking for Mary as Undoer of Knots to help straighten me out is both a peaceful and confident feeling.
2. Star of the Sea: Along with Undoer of Knots, Mary as Star of the Sea is new title I am now assigning personally to our Blessed Mother. Historically speaking though, this title is as ancient as the sea. From early in the Church’s history this appellation has been associated with Mary. Throughout the Holy Scriptures the sea and oceans viewed as dangerous waters to transverse. During the night, stars helped to guide sailors to safety. In an analogous way, Mary acts as a guide, not our source of salvation [that is reserved for God alone!] toward salvation. Mary as our Mother is a protector of us, her children, against the tumultuous waters of life. According to the great Early Church Father, St. Ephraim, Mary is “the safe harbor of all sailing on the sea the world.” Centuries later, Pope Leo XIII uses similar language to describe Mary. He called her “safe harbor of travelers.”
Traveling is a universal experience among mankind. Mary as Star of the Sea reminds of the importance of reliance on others, to guide in times of strive and tumult.
3. Refuge of Sinners: Because the first woman, Eve, is associated as the bringer of suffering into the world through her fall in the Garden of Eden, Mary is traditionally seem as the New Eve. Together with being Star of the Sea and Undoer of Knots, the third Marian designation that fills me with hope is Mary as Refuge of Sinners. The word refuge originates from a French word meaning “to flee”. It makes sense for us to connect this title to the person of the Mother of God. Moms are people who their children flock or flee to in times of suffering or distress. As the most perfect and universal mother, Mary is a sure person to seek refuge from against the prowess of Satan and temptation.
The beauty of the Catholic Church is the great diversity that exists within its universal walls. Marian devotion is a gift to help bring us closer to God. I hope that I have shed some light on the significance of these three titles of Mary. I pray that I may continue to gain insight and guidance through my spiritual mother and my I always be pointed toward Christ!
Living in the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan during a tumultuous era of Church history. His road to ordination was an interesting journey. After the sudden death of the current bishop of Milan in 374 A.D. and in the climate of the Arian heresy, Ambrose, an unbaptized believe in Christ, was a charismatic figure who appealed to people of all sides of the Arian debate. Baptized as a Christian in his mid-thirties, Ambrose soon after received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and shepherded the peoples of Milan of the reminder of his life. Today I wish to highlight 3 reasons why I believe St. Ambrose is still relevant to Christians in the 21st century.
1. “You catch more flies with Honey than you do with vinegar”: There exists a legend within the hagiography of Ambrose which tells of a bizarre encounter with bees. As an infant, it is purported that several bees hovered over the head of the saint as an infant. Upon flying off, in addition to leaving Ambrose unharmed honey was left behind on his head. Ambrose’s parents interpreted this an a divine sign and foretelling of his ability to eloquently speak and unite differing factions. For this reason, Ambrose became known as the patron saint of beekeepers. Bees and honey are common symbols associated with him. According to Mike Aquilina in The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, “He was unanimously elected bishop, winning the votes of both Arians and the Catholics…an intellectual, he could move the movers and shakers of Latin culture. It was he who finally persuaded the stubborn Augustine to proceed to Baptism [I will expand in this later on!] “ (p. 166). Sweetness and kindness of speech is equally important to proclaiming truth. Ambrose found a balance between charity and truth. As result he was an effective teacher and administrator of the Catholic Church.
2. Model of the Episcopate: Along with Ambrose’s ability to teach truth in a charitable manner, he remained steadfast as a guardian of the teaching of the Catholic Church—one of the most important functions of a bishop! Because of his sweetness of speech, Ambrose built up enough rapport with the secular leaders of his time that when the time came to stand his ground his words packed clout. Ambrose graciously, but sternly, declined Emperor Valentinian’s invitation to a Church Council that bishop believed the secular leader had no authority convening. The sainted bishop stated,
And how, O Emperor, are we to settle a matter on which you have already declared your judgment, and have even promulgated laws, so that it is not open to anyone to judge otherwise?…if anything has to be discussed I have learned to discuss it in Church, as those before he did. If a conference is to be held concerning the faith, there ought to be a gathering of bishops, as was done under Constantine, the prince of august memory, who did not promulgate any laws beforehand, but left the decision to the bishops…
3. Master of the Master: According to R. Thornton in St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching, St. Ambrose had a significant impact on arguably the most influential theologian in the history of the Catholic Church—St. Augustine of Hippo. In fact, Augustine makes a point to frequently mention the influence of Ambrose in his Confessions Book VI Chapters 1-8. “The bishop of Milan was at least the guide of the guide of the theology of the West,” stated Thornton (St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching p. 125). To put it in modern lingo, St. Ambrose was the Qui-Gon Jinn to Augustine’s Obi-Wan Kenobi!!
The bishop of Milan lived more than 1,600 years ago. Nevertheless, he is more relevant than ever. In the age of social media, our world needs holy men and women to demonstrate truth in a charitable way. Proclaiming truth without kindness will never convert unbelievers’ hearts. St. Ambrose is a reminder and role model for our society that charitable dialogue is possible. For me personally, I need daily reminders to wed truth with charity. Remembering St. Ambrose’s life provides me with a guide on how to interact peacefully in a secular world. Finally, the sainted bishop’s ability to network with a myriad of people is another example of how he is still applicable to our society of marketing, social media, and age of internet. The next time I notice an buzzing bee on a summer’s day I will be reminded of the sweetness of truth exemplified by Ambrose!
Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.
1. Aslan’s Aria: Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,
A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.
Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.
2. Evidence from The Silmarillion: According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,
Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).
I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!
3. Musicam Sacram: Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”
The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world and the height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass. I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.
The dictionary defines resistance as the refusal to accept or comply with something. A common fruit of resistance is inaction. Today I am struggling immensely with resistance— resistance to get up this morning, go to work, and resistance to write! My family had a busy weekend. We celebrated my son’s birthday party and we had 15 kids running around our backyard for a few hours. On top of that Sunday we celebrated our priest’s going away party at our parish and took the kids out to the municipal zoo for a few hours before wrapping up with night by watching the Lego: Batman Movie. All in all it was a jam-packed weekend.
I normally get inspiration for my daily blog topic on my morning drive to work when I listen to Christian music. Today, I do not experience any such inspiration. I felt tired, unimaginative, and slothful. Resisting my feeling of resistance seemed futile. Thank goodness that statement is not true. I chose to act. Not with a grandiose or creative act, but with just a simple act. I choose to start writing. Sometimes that starting act is enough. We experience highs and lows in life. Today I am experiencing a low, a lull moment. My resistance to resistance is not much, but I am hopeful that it is enough to carry me to the next day—where my battle against resistance will begin anew. Tomorrow, I hope to write about how music inspires me. Hopefully, I will be inspired tomorrow during my morning drive to work listening to the radio. Hope. Because of its existence resistance is not futile!
Here is a continuation of a funny short story— based on characters I created from the antics of my oldest son in 2013.
Detective Daddy: Me
Concerned citizens: Jenny (my wife) and Amelia
Reformed Puzzler Pilfer [now a concerned citizen]: Noah
Sippy Cup Snatcher: Josiah
Prologue [set in spring 2013]: Detective Daddy was notified at 10am about a strange series of nocturnal occurrences at the Chicoine household. Several puzzle pieces have gone missing in the past week or two. A local citizen and concerned mother heard loud noises emitting from our son’s room. Upon entering she caught the Puzzle Pilferer red-handed!! He was dropping them down the heat vent. When Jenny questioned him about his dastardly deeds, this notorious fellow simply said “Uh-oh” and “Uh-hah”. Last afternoon when Detective Daddy returned home, he enlisted Jenny in sweeping the crime scene (Air Ventilation System) nothing was to be found. Looks like the Puzzler Pilferer will have to undergo a rigorous and unconventional interrogation method (Stay in timeout corner and rescinding him privilege of having a basketball and toy cars). Meanwhile the citizens of the Chicoine household will diligently search for those missing cognitive development toys. Time will tell whether things will settle down and the Puzzler Pilfer truly has been rehabilitated.
Present day: Returning from his Saturday afternoon run, the retired Detective Daddy rested in his front yard. Running always provided opportunity for him reflect on his life. Things have greatly changed in the past four years Daddy thought—but his family is in a better place!
Completing his most famous case and nabbing the Puzzle Pilferer that cool April night a few years ago was exhilarating. It also was taxing. The rehabilitation process, to reform the Puzzler Pilferer, took a lot out of the former private investigator. Moving to a new city, retiring from detective work, and taking up a low-key desk job as a mortgage modification specialist took away the stress of his previous career. However, there was always a certain restlessness Daddy had. A certain anxiety about whether he truly overcame the mischievous of the Puzzle Pilferer. Do shenanigans go ever forever or do they simply arise up again under a different guise and persona?
Citizens of the Chicoine household lamented over a precipitous precipitation related predicament—they were missing water from their sippy cups! Now as you may know, water is the most important natural resource known to man. The human body is composed of nearly 75% of H20. Initially, Daddy did not take these concerns too seriously. Perhaps the citizens simply drank the water and forgot they did so because of their engrossment within the ninja movies played at the local park theater [i.e. Living Room T.V.]. Instead of waning, the cries and citizenly concerns only increased as the week progressed.
Reluctantly, Daddy realized he had to don the deerstalker once again and become Detective Daddy! This mystery certainly eclipsed his case of the Puzzle Pilferer. An aquatic attack is an attack on the Chicoine water way of life. Pretending to do dishes, Detective Daddy waited until this mysterious Sippy Cup Snatcher revealed himself or herself. After what felt like hours [really only 5 minutes!] a two-foot tall toddler, with cuteness to kill, ambled across the local park [Living Room] and quickly snatched a green sippy cup. Leaning his head back, he chugged a few sips and proceeded to chuck the cup against the wall. Next he pirated water from his sister’s blue sippy cup!
Detective Daddy solved the mysterious identity of the Sippy Cup Snatcher, but the real challenge begins—building a case and a rehabilitation program to reform the Chicoine household’s most recent miscreant. Will our favorite private eye prevail or will this new friendly faced-foe best Detective Daddy? Will these shenanigans continue for good? Why does the Sippy Cup Snatcher only like green and blue cups? Will we discover the favorite shape of the reformed Puzzle Pilfer?
Anxiety is something I have struggled with for the majority of my life. In elementary school, I battled anxiety during standardized testing sessions, constant changes to my schedule, and my shyness in the classroom. As an adult, I was able to mitigate some of my anxiety—still worry continues to haunt me. I suffered from mild depression the last couple of years. Fortunately, I am blessed my faith and family continue to provide opportunities to help me out. Recently, I started going to a counselor to help me with my anxiety. I am come a long way because the old me was ashamed and embarrassed to admit I went to counseling. I felt like a failure for needing outside professional help.
What I have come to realize during my writing journey these past few months is that the Holy Spirit provides assistance in unusual times and places. Today I wish to share how I experienced peace on this Therapeutic Thursday.
1. I’m Alive Because He Lives: Matt Maher’s song Because He Lives played over the radio this morning on my drive to work. Here is the song’s refrain:
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives
Let my song join the one that never ends
Because He lives
Focusing on these words over and over during my work commute, I realized that my anxiety is nothing compared to the fact that Christ conquered death. When I unite my song to the eternal song of the Gospel life will flourish within me. Why do I suffer from anxiety weekly—some weeks almost daily? The answer is my failure to trust in the Providence of my Father. I’m alive because He lives!
2. Signs at Work: Our Father is so provident that in addition to Matt Maher’s words of truth, I realized signs of God’s goodness at my workplace. How do I truly know God’s signs were at work? Peace. One of the more simple and constant pieces of evidence for God’s work in our life is a sense of true peace. We had our monthly recognition meeting this morning. It seems silly but I always get nervous right before this meeting. It is in large part to my struggle with pride. I prideful hope I get recognized for my great work by my manager in front of the entire department. When it does not happen I get a sense of defeat. Well, I actually did not feel that way during today’s meeting. I did not get the monthly manager team shout out. I was oddly at peace. Later in the meeting our department played a team-building game. Little signs from God like the game gave me peace of mind.
3. Consoling Counselor: The advice I received from my counselor to utilize in stressful situations abetted my anxiety and worrisome mindset this morning. He told me to pause and do some slow breathing exercises when an anxious situation arises. I did that today before our departmental meeting. It helped. Our Heavenly Father knew that humanity struggles with worry. So before Jesus ascended into heaven a promise of a Consoler was given. Jesus’ Apostles questioned him about the next steps of their faith journey after he would ascend. He replied with the following words, “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,g and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NAB). Growing up, I commonly overlooked the role of the Holy Spirit. In the past few months, my relationship was the Divine Consoling Counselor has grown and deepened. I am continuing to learn to relay on the power of the Holy Spirit through the actions of others to help heal and comfort me.
Social media has promoted a lot of aficionados for alcoholic alliteration by referring to Thursday as Thirsty Thursday. While moderate drinking of beer, wine, or ale is not inherently bad, reliance on things to drown out our worry will not solve the problem on a long-term basis. Therapeutic relief from stress by our Consoling Counselor is lasting because God last forever. I hope I may continue to drink from the spiritual wellspring to acquire peace, joy, and thanksgiving before the Holy Trinity. You are never too far gone to ask others and God for help!
One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves, but rather the cardboard delivery box itself. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!
Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s HappyMeal toys.
1. Animals Assemble!: The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic. Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!
2. Researching Residences: Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.
3. Burgeoning Biomes: Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life! Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.
It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!