Pope Pius X was an influential successor of St. Peter at the turn of the 20th century. Born Giuseppe Mechiorre Sarto in 1835, he lived near Venice, Italy. Coming from a poor family of ten children, Giuseppe acquired an education aided through his keen intellect and high moral character. Eventually, he rose the ranks of the Catholic Church and became supreme pontiff in 1903. He led the Church until 1914.
To be honest, my initial knowledge about Pius X was overshadowed by his predecessor and later successor bearing the same appellation—Pius IX and Pius XII. However, the more I read and learned about the sainted bishop the more I gained an appreciation for what he offered the Church.
1. Marian devotion: Following the tradition of his predecessor, Pius IX, Pius X held a strong devotion to Mary. He dedicated an entire encyclical on the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The Italian pope definitively declared the significance of Mary in Ad Dieum Illum Laetissimum,
For can anyone fail to see that there is no surer or more direct road than by Mary for uniting all mankind in Christ and obtaining through Him the perfect adoption of sons, that we may be holy and immaculate in the sight of God?… it surely follows that His Mother most holy should be recognized as participating in the divine mysteries and as being in a manner the guardian of them, and that upon her as upon a foundation, the noblest after Christ, rises the edifice of the faith of all centuries (no. 5).
Pius X lauded the intercessory nature and power of Mary throughout this encyclical letter. Safeguarding and passing on the teaching of the Church, the Italian pope cited his predecessor’s clear and definitive language on the importance of Mary. “By this companionship in sorrow and suffering already mentioned between the Mother and the Son, it has been allowed to the august Virgin to be the most powerful mediatrix and advocate of the whole world with her Divine Son (Pius IX. Ineffabilis) (no. 13), wrote Pius X.
2. Emphasis on the Eucharist: Pius X’s love and admiration for the Blessed Mother ultimately helped him grow in closeness with Jesus. As a result, it should not be a surprise that the saint held a deep reverence and adoration for the Sacrament of the Eucharist. If Pius X’s pontificate could be summed up in a single theme it would be the promotion of Holy Communion to young people. In his encyclical letter, Quam Singulari the Italian pope lowered the minimum age to receive the Eucharist to seven years old. The ancient church allowed for children to receive the sacraments of initiation at a young age. Pius X condemned the error that delayed children from receiving the body and blood of Jesus until age ten or sometimes not until the adolescent years. Over time this practice dissipated and the age to receive the Eucharist was increased. The pope wasted no time in chastising the error which distinguished the age of reason between receiving Confession and Holy Communion. He boldly proclaimed in his encyclical,
The abuses which we are condemning are due to the fact that they who distinguished one age of discretion for Penance and another for the Eucharist did so in error. The Lateran Council required one and the same age for reception of either Sacrament when it imposed the one obligation of Confession and Communion.
Therefore, the age of discretion for Confession is the time when one can distinguish between right and wrong, that is, when one arrives at a certain use of reason, and so similarly, for Holy Communion is required the age when one can distinguish between the Bread of the Holy Eucharist and ordinary bread-again the age at which a child attains the use of reason (Quam Singulari).
If this language is not clear enough, Pius X point blank states, “To postpone Communion, therefore, until later and to insist on a more mature age for its reception must be absolutely discouraged” (Quam Singulari). As a father of three young children, I am indebted to the leadership of Pius X to unify the Catholic Church by lowering the age to seven for Holy Communion. Children acquire countless graces from this sacrament to ward off evil. Today’s world is as challenging to raise a family in the faith perhaps as any time in history. I am grateful I will have the weapon of the Eucharist to help my children fight the spiritual battles they will face daily.
3. Clarity of Truth: This year’s feast day of St. Pius X coincided with the epic solar eclipse. This saint and stellar event both elicit curiosity and awe. Truth has a penchant for grabbing people’s attention. Pope Pius X’s encyclicals are loaded with truth as the Italian pope acted as a guardian of Christ’s teaching. He wrote in Ascendi Dominici Gregis a lengthy refutation of the various errors and heresies surrounding his time. Pius X found the root cause of the prevalent heresy of his time—Modernism. He detailed this in his encyclical letter,
According to this teaching Modernism] human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that are perceptible to the senses, and in the manner in which they are perceptible; it has no right and no power to transgress these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognising His existence, even by means of visible things. From this it is inferred that God can never be the direct object of science, and that, as regards history, He must not be considered as an historical subject (Ascendi Dominici Gregis no. 6).
In other words, faith and science, to the Enlightened Man, are never meant to intermingle or coexist. According to the Modernist, a harmony between the two sources of man’s knowledge of God is simply a moral machination on the part of the Catholic Church.
From my experiences, the error of Modernity certainly eclipses truth [no pun intended!]. Creation is a revelation of God’s divine providence. Christianity is insistent that Christ became man. Knowledge through the senses is a path toward which God elects to reveal His grandeur. It is against the backdrop of cosmic events like the August 21st solar eclipse that man realizes his littleness in the universe. Despite our seemingly insignificance in this world, I have found that sometimes I actually grow closer to God when I encounter His august nature.
I discovered two concise quotes from St. Pius X to close my reflections on his life. The first concerns Mary [fun fact—the symbol of the Moon is traditionally associated with Her!] and the second relates to Christ—the true sun! Of Mary he proclaimed, “ Let the storm rage and the sky darken — not for that shall we be dismayed. If we trust as we should in Mary, we shall recognize in her, the Virgin Most Powerful who with virginal foot did crush the head of the serpent.” Regarding Jesus’ body and blood, the pope said, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven.” Sadly, I did not get to experience the fullness of the solar eclipse of 2017. Darkness did cover the earth in my location, but clouds and storms prevented me from actually seeing the unique event of the moon aligning with the sun. I am blessed that I had an increased encounter with the true Sun—the Son of God. I am grateful for the gift of St. Pius X the Eclipser of Error who made Eucharist a priority for young people.
O God, who, looking on the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
raised her to this grace,
that your Only Begotten Son was born of her according to the flesh
and that she was crowned this day with surpassing glory,
grant through her prayers,
that, saved by the mystery of your redemption,
we may merit to be exalted by you on high.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
These words come from the Collect prayer for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Catholics, Mary is the most honored saint—she is the holy Mother of God. She is a perfect example of what love and obedience to God looks like. There exist over 15 official liturgical feasts celebrating Mary regarding different facets of her life and various roles she performs on behalf of her Son Jesus Christ. I like to think of these Marian feasts as theological checkpoint—spiritual stops along our faith journey during the year. Ultimately, we celebrate and honor Mary because she is the closest human to Christ and a great role model for sinners. Why does the assumption of Mary matter? Let’s first define this event in Mary’s life and then we will examine three reasons why this feast should impact us today.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 966,
Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”508 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.509
Logically flowing from the fact that Mary’s was created without original sin, it makes sense that Her body and soul are assumed into Heaven. The faithful who pass from this life will be resurrected at the end of time, but Our Blessed Mary is granted the gift of experiencing the fullness of Heaven before time and space pass away. St. Pius XII infallibly defined this doctrine in his encyclical Munificentissimus Deus. The pope clearly states, “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
While this teaching ultimately remains a Mystery we at least have a basic understanding of what the Church teaches about the end of Mary’s earthly life.
- Essential to Catholic Faith: Belief in the Assumption of Mary is not an option for Catholics. It is one of the hallmarks and chief doctrines of truth. Pope Pius XII explicitly declares in Munificentissimus Deus, “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith” (no 45). To jettison the teaching of the Assumption would eventually lead to a decreased faith in our Marian doctrines: the Immaculate Conception, Maternal Mediation, seeing Mary as Mother of God.
2. Soul and Body Integrity: Another reason Mary’s Assumption plays an important role for us is that it prohibits a purely spiritual view of the afternoon. The body and soul do not remain separated for the faithful that attain the glory of Heavenly. There seems to be a false dichotomy between the body and soul– the former is bad while the latter is good.
The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium Et Spes points out that created things of this world, including our bodies are inherently good. “For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured,” the council bishops’ declared (Gaudium Et Spes no 39). Because there exists some type of temporal and physical reality to Heaven it makes sense that Mary–the holiest of all saints–participates with Her body and soul unified.
3. Evidence of Her Holiness: Lastly, the Assumption of Mary is evidence that she is a holy and exemplar model of virtue. Mary is the handmaiden of the Lord and most humble servant of God. According to the great French priest, St. Louis de Montfort in his work True Devotion to the Mary, “[The] Blessed Mother… is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus”. The doctrine of the Assumption is assurance for Catholics that Mary is united with God.
Mary is not a deity to be worshiped. Catholics are not called to a false and unhealthy devotion to Mary because that would be equated to idolatry. I look to Our Blessed Mother as a guide, a signpost, and a beacon that orients us toward God. The beauty and grandeur of Mary exists because she is the perfect mirror–she reflects God’s love outward toward all of humanity. May we continue to grow closer to God and learn from the humble example of Mary to obey God in all things!
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!”
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 firsting 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
According to Matthew 7:15, Jesus cautions us by saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” Frankly, I did not realize that adage originated from the Gospels. Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Thinking about this phrase I have come to realize that Jesus is speaking not only to humanity in general, but directly to me! I need to be consistent in my love toward God and my fellow man in order to avoid turning into that same false prophet I am called to be on the look-out for.
Jesus spoke with such clarity and used tangible examples. I am not going to “reinvent the wheel” regarding today’s topic. During his Sermon on the Mount discourse in Matthew 5, the Good Teacher charged his followers to be the salt of the earth. Above there are two pictures: one is salt the other is sugar. At face value both appear to be indistinguishable—similar to a wolf donning lamb’s fleece is camouflaged from its prey. Salt and sugar play a significant part in our life. Both add flavor to otherwise dull food. Excessive amounts of sodium and sugar lead to health problems. What I want to focus on is the dichotomous relationship between salt and sugar? Am I the salt or sugar of the Earth? Let’s see!
1. To preserve or not to preserve…that is the question: Aside from flavoring bland dishes or enhancing taste in already good meals, the main purpose of salt is to preserve food against deterioration. Salt draws out excess water from foods and dehydrates it. This process allows for increased storage times—especially in cases where food is in abundance and needs to be saved for later periods. Jesus used the example of salt because of its universal application and practical usage in daily living. He calls Christians to act as theological relish and preservative to society. Sometimes a little salt goes a long way in improving the taste of food. We need not feel defeated if it feels like we are moving against a seeming endless tide of negativity from the world. Holiness is what all Christians are called to—look at the saints and the witness they provided a world in despair.
2. Deny Yourself and Follow Him: In high school, I took chemistry and became fascinated with the various atomic structures of elements, molecules, and compounds. I found a certain beauty in their ordering and design. Below are picture of the atomic structure of NaCL [sodium chloride- table salt] and C₆H₁₂O₆ [glucose- a common sugar].
From a microscopic vantage point, a clear distinction may be made between these two common household items. Both are composed of entirely different elements [hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen in Glucose] and [sodium and chloride in salt]. Along with the having different building materials, sugar and salt are fashioned with different types of bonds—covalent and ionic respectively. Covalent bonds are stronger because the shared electron is what keeps the elements held together whereas in an ionic bond one element loses an electron to another causing one element to become positively charged and the other to become negatively charged such as in the case of NaCl or table salt.
In other words, the elements in table salt lose an electron to effect the ionic charge of the sodium or chloride molecule. Initially, losing may be viewing negativity [no pun intended!]. One may think that due to the stronger nature of the covalent bond in sugar that it should be preferred to salt. The New Testament does shed some light on the reality of loss and rejection. Luke 9:23-25 turns this notion on its head when Jesus says, “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. 24For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?'”
Christ’s words elicit a sense of paradox, yet allure within my mind. Interesting, I gain life when I serving other’s needs above my selfish desires. In my weakness I am stronger! Through a theological ionic bond, Christians act as holy seasoning to embolden our world.
3. Instant Gratification Leads to Decay: Dentists frighten me. Not in The Exorcist or The Shining sort of way. Still, I get apprehensive, anxious, and move toward hypochondriac-like behaviors when the subject of dentists come up. Perhaps, it stemmed from my penchant as a little kid for losing my teeth quickly and easily. Or maybe my periodontal panic happened due to my need for braces– not once, but twice in my elementary school years! Regardless of where this toothy torment began, I recognize that when I limit my sugar intake life is much easier during my semi-annual check-ups.
Excessive sugar proves damaging to both our physical and mental well-being. Unhealthy attraction to sugar is simply a euphemism for the sin of gluttony. Our society suffers from the belief that instant gratification is better than self-denial or self-control. I am as guilty of this vice as anyone. I have made it a point to limit my sugar consumption and practice fasting– to help me both spiritually and physically. I think Jesus choose not to use sugar as an example to relate to Christians because he understood the appeal and temptation this food item poses for humanity.
While sugar and salt look similiar in outward appearance the two are vastly different. How do we distinguish between the two? First, we learn to trust the authority of the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of these products. We trust that the packaging is correct. When a box at the grocery store says “SUGAR” it really is sugar and not salt. A second way to learn is more difficult– through the school of experience. Maybe sugar is housed in a clear container in your home. If you forgot to label it only tasting the substance will you determine if it truly is sugar and not salt.
The same may be said about temptations and goods sent our way. Oftentimes, Satan dresses up sin as “sugar” to enhance its allure. This makes is easier to fell prey to his trap. Our adversary disguised sin under the costume of a juicy fruit– see Genesis 3 for the story of the Fall. May we continue to rely on the tradition of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scriptures, and testament of the saints for guidance in our journey toward holiness. Let us be the salt of the Earth and preserve society! There is more to you than meets the eye.
According to the urban dictionary, the phrase “case of the Mondays” means: a general malaise felt on the first day back to work after the weekend. I was set-up to have a profound “case of the Mondays” yesterday. I came off a superb weekend with visiting close friends and their newborn son . Additionally, I had extra work built up due to me leaving early last Friday–perfect ingredients for a terrible start to the work week! My Monday started with an unexpected three hours of training—I only remembered getting a single email reminder about it as week leading up to it. I am a person who thrives on routine and consistency. I was primed to be a knotted ball of stress going into my lunch break. Something sudden and seemingly inadvertent happened—I received an unexpected compliment!
1. Thankfulness is life-giving: I received praise from a team member that I worked with on a couple escalated accounts last week. She lauded me for my professionalism in dealing with the troublesome situation caused by mistakes in our business line’s process. This flabbergasted me. I felt like I failed in a myriad of ways to end last week—I got frustrated, lacked trust in workflow processes, and doubted my ability to perform my job.
This simple complimentary email filled me with joy. Gratitude tends to reinvigorate souls in despair. The great American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou once said, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good”. The only thing I would change about her statement is that we should carry the pillow of gratitude throughout the day not just at night.
2. Praise Pontoon Against my Pride: Normally, when I receive praise at work I struggle to stay humble. My pride tends to well up until it overflows and leads to problems for me later that day or week. Authentic praise and gratitude is a theological ark against the sin of pride. Monday’s workday consisted of many deadlines and high priority cases. The compliment provided protection from the rain of Monday’s anxiety.
3. Wrestling Wickedness: St. Catherine of Bologna lived in the 15th century, yet her holiness remains relevant for us today. She compiled a list of seven general tenets [I call them weapons to fight sin] to grow in holiness. Here is a brief summary:
a. The first weapon I call zeal, that is solicitude in doing good, since the Holy Scripture condemns those who are negligent and lukewarm in the way of God (Apocalypse 3.15-16).
b. The second weapon is mistrust of self, that is, to believe firmly and without doubt that one could never do anything good by oneself, as Christ Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).
c. The third weapon is to put one’s trust in God and for love of him to fiercely wage battle with great readiness of spirit against the devil and against the world and one’s own flesh which is given one in order that it might serve the spirit.
d. The fourth is the memory of the glorious pilgrimage of that immaculate lamb, Christ Jesus, and especially his most holy death and passion, keeping always before the eyes of our minds the presence of his most chaste and virginal humanity.
e. The fifth weapon is to remind oneself that we must die.
f. The sixth weapon is the memory of the goods of paradise which are prepared for those who lawfully struggle by abandoning all the vain pleasures of the present life in accord with the saying of the most holy doctor Saint Augustine that it is impossible to enjoy present goods and future ones too.
g. The seventh weapon with which we can conquer our enemies is the memory of Holy Scripture which we must carry in our hearts and from which, as from a most devoted mother, we must take counsel in the things we have to do.
The overall theme in these tenets is that gratitude and trust overcome the prowess of evil. Catherine uses the term memory. Thankfulness boiled to its simplest meaning is essential remembrance of an act someone did toward you. To remind ourselves of God’s trust and the good [and maybe not so good] things in our lives is a way to help in cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
4. Sow tears…acquire joy: The psalmist proclaims in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy.” Prior to this week, the meaning of these words eluded my understanding. Understanding prayers of laments usually do not occur until after a blessing is granted. This is definitely the case for me. In a way, I planted a theological garden with my tears of frustration last week. Over the weekend, God worked in the heart of my co-worker and inspired her to write a generous thank you letter to show how I am appreciated. Growing takes time. We just need to trust that God will transform tears into joy in His providential scheduling.
C.S. Lewis understood the importance of living with thankfulness on the forefront of our mind. He once said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” Let us continue to rely on time and space as a schoolhouse in developing gratitude!
Possessing both a Bachelor of Arts in history and a continued passion for the subject, I constantly remind myself to view persons and events in a large historical context. According to the English poet John Donne in his poem No Man is an Island,
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
No person lives in isolation free from the influences of others humans and world events. Viewing connections between the Old and New Testaments is no different. Events and characters throughout the history and religious development of Judaism forged the way for the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D. series, I have portrayed that contextual reading is not merely a preferred, but an essential component to understanding and unlocking the fullness of Jesus’ gospel message. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism)…. 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.105 Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament.106 As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New (CCC 123, 129).
Today I wish to share the relationship between the famous Old Testament prophet Elijah and how he is a predecessor and prefiguring of John the Baptist.
1. Tackling Tyrants: Elijah and John the Baptist both faced wicked monarchs in their respective times. The Old Testament prophets vehemently opposed the evil ways of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. In 1 Kings 21, Elijah was able to get the king to repent of and humble himself before the Lord.
Similarly, John the Baptist squared off against an evil ruler as well—King Herod. Standing up to the king, John was loud in Herod’s lusting after and seeking to marry his brother’s ex-wife Herodias. The prophet’s continual condemnation of Herod’s evil led to John’s beheading.
2. Desert Dudes: Both prophets spent enormous amounts of time praying and fasting in the desert. According to 1 Kings 19:1-14, Elijah flees to the desert to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel after he destroyed the prophets of the idol Ba’al. The prophet spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness. His period of fasting culminated with his famous encounter with God in the stillness and quite voice.
Fast forward to the New Testament and John the Baptist lives in a similar manner. Matthew 3 tells of John preaching in the desert of Judea—clothed in camel hides and
eating locusts. His speech against false worship is similar is tone to Elijah. The Baptist chastised the Pharisees and Sadducees by saying,
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. 9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.f 10Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
3. Harbinger of Greatness: As profound and mighty prophets both Elijah and John the Baptist were in their own regard, they ultimately paved the way for someone greater to follow—Elisha and Jesus respectively. Elisha’s superiority is exemplified in providing greater miracles and ultimately being a foreshadowing of Jesus himself. The successor of Elijah, healed lepers, multiplied food, and resurrected the widow’s son. All of these miracles are things Jesus performed—simply on a grander manner.
The liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church places the feast day of John the Baptist on June 24th. It is interesting to note that this placement is close to the summer solstice and the time of the year where the day slowly starts to grew less and less. Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, occurs after the winter solstice. During the darkest periods of the year, there exists hope on December 25th as the daylight is increasing. John the Baptist tells us his role in salvation history. The prophet states, “He must increase while I must decrease!” (John 3:30).
John also defers to Jesus in Mark 1:7-8 when he says, “And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.'”
Today I will close with an excerpt from a sermon by St. Augustine for the Feast of St. John the Baptist. I found it while praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For more information on this amazing ancient public prayer of the Catholic Church please feel free to visit http://www.divineoffice.org.
(Sermo 293,1-3: PL 38, 1327-1328)
The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we celebrate the birthdays of John and of Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit. John was born of a woman too old for childbirth; Christ was born of a youthful virgin. The news of John’s birth was met with incredulity, and his father was struck dumb. Christ’s birth was believed, and he was conceived through faith. Such is the topic, as I have presented it, for our inquiry and discussion. But as I said before, if I lack either the time or the ability to study the implications of so profound a mystery, the Spirit who speaks within you even when I am not here will teach you better; it is the Spirit whom you contemplate with devotion, whom you have welcomed into your hearts, whose temples you have become. John, then, appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of “the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist.” Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ’s precursor, before they ever saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human frailty. Eventually he is born, he receives his name, his father’s tongue is loosened. See how these events reflect reality. Zechariah is silent and loses his voice until John, the precursor of the Lord, is born and restores his voice. The silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ. At John’s arrival Zechariah’s voice is released, and it becomes clear at the coming of the one who was foretold. The release of Zechariah’s voice at the birth of John is a parallel to the rending of the veil at Christ’s crucifixion. If John were announcing his own coming, Zechariah’s lips would not have been opened. The tongue is loosened because a voice is born.
When John was preaching the Lord’s coming he was asked, “Who are you?” And he replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” The voice is John, but the Lord “in the beginning was the Word.” John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.
Thank you God for the strong and passionate witnesses to the truth in the persons of Elijah and John the Baptist!
The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” His words seemed geared especially for my ears. I tend to overthink and over analyze situations in my life. As a result, instead of simply living I conflate daily stresses into something bigger than need be. I started doing puzzles to help me deal with my anxiety. I also rediscovered my childhood love of maze puzzles. That got me thinking life is sort of like a maze. The dictionary defines the word maze as “a network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way out”. A secondary definition for this word is when it is used as a verb: “to be dazed and confused”. I will incorporate both descriptions about mazes in my writing today. Here are three ways why my life lately is like a maze.
1. Life is complex, yet beautifully simple: Life is a busy and complex event. As a parent of three children life grows greater in complexity: school is starting up shortly, bedtime routines need to be followed strictly, kids get sick, my wife is starting a new job, my job is ever-changing on a weekly basis. Life is complex. But does it have to be.
When I stop and reflect on my life all I truly need to do include: feeding my family and myself, providing a shelter, teaching my children, providing clothing, and helping my wife. Life is a paradox—it is both simple and complex. Matthew 6:25-34 tells of the simplicity in life and Jesus urges his followers [and us] not to worry as we will be provided for because the birds of the air and other creatures are cared for as well.
Mazes are both simple and complex. All mazes have a beginning and end—simple. However, each maze is unique in its level of complexity due to the amount of dead-ends and size—complex.
2. Know the beginning and the end: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, provides me clarity about the purpose and goal of this life.
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. (CCC 27).
Through faith and science I know that the origin of the universe began with a omnipotent force—known to Christians as God. Witnesses of the saints’ lives, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and my faith inform me that death is not the end. Rather it is a springboard to a possible eternity with God. Life is like a maze in that it is book-ended with a clear start and finish. Why does the in between section [life] become complicated? Why do I find myself laboring through a labyrinth? The answer is simple—I forget the beginning and end goals of my puzzle that I call life.
3. Dot-to-dot living- perception or possibility?: Along with mazes, I enjoyed completing dot-to-dot puzzles in my elementary years. Having a son going into kindergarten this year has reminded me of these fun and simple type of games. Unlike mazes, dot-to-dots are straightforward—you simply start with the lowest number [or letter] dot and connect it to the next digit until the puzzle is complete. Oftentimes, I wish my life played out more like a dot-to-dot puzzles than a maze. I enjoy order and a linear pattern to living. Why does God allow life to exist in dot-to-dot manner? Why does He permit mazes caused by evil [personal and natural] to tangle up my life?
I asked these questions during period of my deepest depression and intense suffering. Arriving on the other side of suffering, I came to realize both through experience and prayer that God allows mazes to develop in human life due to the gift of free will. Freedom is both the greatest gift and great challenge we face on a daily basis. I am free to try impose my control over this life and fashion it into dot-to-dot living or I am free to embrace the a[maze]ness of this life and learn to rely on others and God for help and support when I inevitably face apparent dead-ends in my spiritual life.
Centering my life on a proper order of love—God, family, friend, fellow men—provides stability. Instead of laboring through life’s labyrinth, embracing my maze allows me to live to the fullest. Saint John tells us of God’s enduring nature in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, then beginning and the end.” When I view life through this sense I am able to incorporate Confucius’ teaching in daily living.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”