“Everything changes and nothing stands still,” the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once claimed. I first heard these words as a sophomore in college during an Intro to Philosophy class. Years later, this truth resurfaced under the guise of different words in a response to a question I posed to my interviewing manager for the job I am at today. I asked, “What is the single greatest piece of advice you have been given to succeed at this company?” The interviewer paused and pensively stated, “Be prepared to deal with change and learn to embrace change!” Ever since that 2015 summer afternoon I have frequently pondered the meaning of these words and what exactly they mean for other aspects of my life. Today I want to share my experiences and knowledge that I have learned about the importance changing for the better meant, and still means, for my daily life.
As I mentioned in last week’s post Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer? I am on the autism spectrum. Change always posed a challenge to me. Growing up as a cradle Catholic I benefited from the guidelines of the Catholic Church teachings through which I developed a black/white dichotomous view of morality. Either you are holy or you are not. That was my though process and my coping mechanism to reconcile differences I noticed in the world. Not until suffering found me on a personal level did my judgmental and simple morality start to transform. Losing my job and suffering a nightmarish miscarriage led me to the end of my rope. Let with nothing in the aftermath of this change-filled maelstrom I turned to God. To be frank, I did not feel His presence at all but through the urging of my mom and wife I went to Eucharistic adoration on a weekly basis. Here I sought out the Unchanged One for stability and support.
Fast forward to 2017 and I am more at peace and learning to realize the importance of changing my mindset from negative to positive. My son’s official autism diagnosis in 2016 helped provide some clarity for my situation as well. I am not defined by my inherent inner struggle with change. Although I have moved toward the right direction I still have a long ways to go in embracing change on a daily basis. Encountering God as the Unchanged One through Eucharistic adoration and through Matt Maher’s song Deliverer gave me hope and perspective to change for the better. I learned that suffering is redemptive and clinging to the Unchanged One changes a person. I am not the same person that I was in 2015. I am transformed and I thank the Unchanged One every day!
If you are struggling with life’s changes in little and grand ways please consider relying on the Unchanged One to transform you. If I could go back in time, I would tell Heraclitus that he was half-right. I would change to his maxim “Everything changes and nothing stands still” to “Everything changes and nothing stands still. Only meeting the Unchanged One and standing still in His presence will let us authentically change.”
A fruit of my consecration to Jesus through Mary in the days leading up to the centenary anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima was reflecting on the heroic life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe by the hands of Nazi Germany. Aside from St. Athanasius and St. John Paul II, I do not think there is another saint that modeled love and courage to speak the truth with such tenacity!
From an early age, Maximilian promoted devotion to Mary and sought to bring others of God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Ordained in 1918, he continued to work promoting Mary throughout Poland. I believe Divine Providence strategically placed Maximilian in Poland to be a light to the destitute because this nation eventually became an epicenter for Nazi domination.
During May 1941, Maximilian was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Polish priest died on August 14th, 1941. Despite his short stay, the heroism of St. Maximilian lives on and impacted his fellow inmates and generations to this day. I want to highlight three essential points about Maximilian’s life that compelled me turn to him as a role model.
1. Savior: Maximilian only cared about others. He refused to sign German documents that would have provided protections to avoid sending him to the concentration camps. He heroically volunteered to take the place of a man, with a large family, who was sentenced to death. Such selfless love is powerful. Maximilian allowed the Holy Spirit to be so present inside him that he reflected the love of Christ perfectly and died a horrific death like Jesus to save others!
2. Sacrifice of the Mass: St. Maximilian once said, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” The Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium echoes this point as well by calling the Eucharistic sacrifice the “source and summit” of the Catholic life (no. 5). As a priest Maximilian lived this reality and he took it to a new level in the concentration camps as well. He celebrated Mass daily and fellow prisoners even attested the Polish priest took crumbs of wheat bread to gather the substance needed to perform the sacrifice of the Mass when times became really desolate in his cell.
3. Divine Insight: The theology of St. Maximilian Kolbe that taught me most about relationship between the Trinity and Mary is his insight and clarification of the truth revealed to St. Bernadette and dogmatic proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century. Mary’s apparition at Lourdes revealed to Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception. Kolbe expanded on this revelation by making a distinction between the created Immaculate Conception [Mary] versus the uncreated Immaculate Conception [the Holy Spirit]. Maximilian clarified the Catholic understanding of Mary for me personally with this distinction. It is important to realize that Mary is a part of CREATION and it not to be worshipped. I think St. Maximilian provided a good example to help me understand how we honor the Mother of God!
Role models are not merely people that exist in a state of earthly life today. We may all look to the Catholic saints as good examples to mirror when it comes to combating our own selfish wills and desires. St. Maximilian stood up against the malevolent force of Nazism by proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. In a world of tumult and lack of stability clarity has never been more important. St. Maximilian once said, “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.” Let us seek truth always!
Breaking away from my more theologically oriented topics I normally focus on, today I need to discuss something that I cannot put off any longer. Has this blog made me power hungry? More importantly, am I trending toward megalomania through my writing endeavors on this blog? While it is may be safe to assume I am not a megalomaniac yet, I have my concerns about my past desire for power and control.
1. Obsession or passion?: Whenever I discover an interesting field of study I plunge my heart, mind, and soul into learning the entire subject and am quick to develop an adroitness to that subject. My OCD tendency brings me to the precipice of passion– where I choose between sanity or diving off the edge toward obsession– and seek mastery of a subject. This fine line between the inherent goodness of passion towards a field of study and the danger of obsession is a grave concern I have about whether I am trending toward megalomania with my writing.
2. Means to Go Down this Path: Along with my inherent natural tendency to fall prey to obsession I have the means to succumb to this darkness—experience with successful writing and free time. I finally pushed through the large world of publishing by getting an article published into a Catholic magazine. What made it official was that I actually got paid an honorarium! Back then I did not have the free time I have now so my means to achieve power and attaining notoriety has never been better.
3. Pen is Mightier than Sword: This metonymic adage seems to be truer with the passage of time. The inception of the Internet in the late 20th century and the burgeoning of social media allows the pen grow sharper and the sword duller. I am blessed to live in a country where the First Amendment grants the right to freedom of speech. My existence in a social milieu that encourages expression of thoughts leads to the temptation for power in pushing out as many publications and gaining as many followers. To be perfectly frank, I get a sense of happiness when I notice I gain a follower. It pleases me. But I am not satisfied long because I continue to seek to gain more and more prestige and power from the little blog I re-started to months’ ago. I need to beware of wielding one of the greatest weapons of all-time—power of print! If I am not aware of this peril I may plummet to a pitfall I will struggle to escape from.
Despite my pessimistic language about me teetering on the brink of megalomania I do have reason for hope.
1. Preparedness: My OCD may sometimes lead me toward obsessive and megalomaniac paths but this is a nice benefit to my personality and my autistic tendencies—I always am prepared. Hints at my propensity for organization and planning flashed up during my childhood. Even when playing board game I have a certain readiness about me. For example, whenever my wife and I play the cooperative game Pandemic I usually don the role of the contingency planner. My recognition of my leaning toward megalomania is a good sign I can stop it from coming to fruition!
2. Allies: Being Catholic I have a wealth of resources and allies for me to draw upon for courage and endurance. After completing my first Marian consecration with my wife on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I have gained a new awareness that I may rely on my Holy Mother to bring me closer to God. Secondly, I have a plethora of examples of Catholic saints who struggled with the sin of pride just like myself. St. Paul and St. Jerome are the first that come to mind.
3. Weapons Against Wickedness: Together with my penchant for strategy and the saints to guide me in battle against megalomania, I have access to an arsenal of weapons guaranteed to defeat this pride I face—the sacraments! First the sacrament of Baptism I received as a baby erased the stain of original sin. I died to sin and became a new creation. Secondly, the sacrament of Confession is especially powerful in my battle against megalomania as through the priest Jesus Christ grants the forgiveness of sin and graces me with strength to carry on anew. The Eucharist is food that fees me on my journey and graces me with Jesus’s own Body and Blood to defeat any sinful inclination. The last sacrament I want to focus on is marriage. While the Eucharist is the most powerful and source of life of the Church, I experience the sacrament of marriage more frequently. My wife and helpmate toward holiness graces me with the gift of perspective and she is like the DC Comics superhero Wonder Woman since she is able to kill any prideful tendency of mine and puts me on the right path toward humility.
I think one of the main reason I love writing is that I am changed and I seek to change others as well. Going into writing this post I honestly thought I would end on a pessimistic and apocalyptic tone. Somehow I was changed through the process of writing and reflecting on my sources of strength: Jesus, Mary, the saints, sacraments, and my wife. Remember despite the seeming darkness in the world hope will always prevail!
My son was recently diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum last year and it is highly likely that I myself am on the spectrum as well. Having my son diagnosed has been both a relief and a trial. I received answers for why I think the way I do. Journeying with my son to embrace the joy of autism in addition to learning new opportunities to grow helped me learn and change as a father and spouse. Struggling to adapt to an ever-changing world following college and during my nascent marriage, I fought temptation after temptation to try to control nearly every aspect of my life. My OCD instead of being strength transformed into a fatal flaw. To be clear I have improved on this area of my life, however, it is a temptation that I need to slay each and every day!
Unless I utilize my daily strategies and pray daily my mind goes into a frenzied state. Distraction, irritability, low patience, struggle to let things go are just a few of the side effects of my condition. I am so detailed-oriented that I could tell you genus of every “tree in the forest” whether it be a “deciduous or a pine” I focus on the minutiae, the seemingly mundane details in life. Led in the right direction my penchant for noticing daily inconsistencies that escape others’ radar will be an amazing skill. During the last few years my search for control and order has led me to find not organized chaos [i.e. life] but rather chaotic order [a self-imposed hell]. C.S. Lewis states this type of mindset best, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
The best example that comes to mind to describe the difference between “organized chaos” and “chaotic order” is looking at a piece of art. If you stand closely to a painting and only focus on a portion of the painting it may seem chaotic. Yet by shifting our gaze from the portion to the whole of the painting this seeming chaos focuses into a beautiful organization—similar to the din of instruments in a symphony work to produce harmonious music! I need to pray constantly and rely on the help of others—my wife especially who is a special educator teacher!—give me fortitude to slay my controlling tendencies.
St. Jerome struggled mightily against the sin of anger and sought to have control over thing in his life similar to myself. In fact, Jerome had such a hot-temper that he even pissed off St. Augustine himself! Many times I exhibit similar qualities as the great bible scholar: tactlessness, judgmental words, and low patience. Something that has helped me in the past that I need to get back in the habit is praying the liturgy of the hours. St. Jerome’s most famous quip is, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. The divine office incorporates a salubrious mix of the psalms, saintly homilies, and Gospel readings to medicate my soul. Finally, I need to realize that autism is not a disability it is simply a part of whom I am and who my son is. The only defining characteristic I need to focus on it that I am a child of God and caretaker to my family. May anyone you know who is touched by autism realize that it is a gift from our Creator!
Premiering in 1970, the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber merged with the biblical story of an Old Testament patriarch to form one of the more popular musicals of all-time—Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat. I remember seeing this musical during my elementary years at the Catholic school I attended. If it were not for this musical I may not have come to appreciate the significance of the patriarch Joseph. Usually he is overshadowed by other Old Testament figures like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon. What I hope to achieve today is to show that Joseph is every-bit as important as those other figures and has much more in common with Jesus than I used to think.
Before I get into the specific ways that Joseph is a prefiguration of Jesus I will rely on the catechism to remind us about the importance of reading the Bible as a whole and through a typological lens. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 130, “Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when “God [will] be everything to everyone.” Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.”
Because of the sheer amount of typological examples of Joseph as an Old Testament Christ-like figure I am going to be succinct in my commentary on the examples. I want to be sure to demonstrate the various passages in Genesis that foreshadow Jesus’ life in the Gospels.
- Beloved Son: Along Joseph had 10 older brothers he was the first born son of Jacob’s favored wife Rachel. Because of this, Jacob took up a penchant for Joseph and gifted him with an expansive coat that eventually drove his siblings to become jealous. Similarly, Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. God the Father states in Mark 1:11, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
- Sojourn to Egypt: Both Joseph and Jesus resided in Egypt caused by a traumatic event. The former ended up in Egypt after being sold into slavery and the latter fled to that country with the Holy Family to avoid King Herod’s massacre of the infants.
- Rejected by Own People: Joseph’s brothers ridiculed him about his dreams and threw him a pit to die after stealing his coat given to him by Jacob. Likewise, in Mark 8:31 predicted the same type of rejection would happen to Jesus.
- Faced Temptation: Genesis 39:1-12 details the temptation to commit adultery with his master’s wife. The Gospels portray the temptation of Jesus by the devil during his 40 days in the wilderness. Both men refused to be weathered by such enticement.
- Stripped: Joseph was stripped of his robe in Genesis 37:23 and Jesus was stripped of his garments in Matthew 27:28.
- Plot to Kill: The brothers of Joseph planned to kill him in Genesis 37:18 and Jesus’ adversaries in the scribes and Pharisees schemed his demise as well
- Traded for Silver: According to Genesis 37:28 the Midianite traders sold Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. The trade value to finalize the treacherous transaction for Jesus’ death was steeper at 30 pieces of silver (see Matthew 26:14-15).
Joseph is a commonly overlooked Old Testament figure when it comes to hinting toward Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, God as a masterful teacher knew that humanity learns best in stages and progressively taught truth through Scripture and Tradition. The more and more example of typology we notice between the Old and New Testament greater intimacy will flourish better the two halves of the Bible. I leave you with the words of St. Jerome to reflect on, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Last week we looked at the first novel in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy- Out of the Silent Planet. Today I want to provide my thoughts and analysis of his second installment of his Space Trilogy– Perelandra. Like the diversity of the planets of our solar system so too does Lewis paint another vivid portrayal of Dr. Ransom’s trip to Earth’s other neighbor—Venus.
The book opens up with Dr. Elwin Ransom a few years removed from his celestial journey to Malancandra [Mars]. Here he receives an assignment from Oyarsa—the angelic ruler of Malacandra—to travel to Perendra [Venus] to thwart an attack by Satan! Before I continue on with the synopsis, I want to point out something interesting I discovered about the first name of Dr. Ransom. While I do not necessary know the exact motivation for Lewis’ selection of appellations I think it is telling, along with a type of foreshadowing, that Elwin is a splicing together of the ancient word for God plus win thus equaling God wins as a meaning of the main character’s name!
Now to go back to the story, Ransom travels to the second planet from the Sun in a coffin-like spaceship and wakes up to a vastly different world from his time on Malancandra. Kaleidoscopic and oceanic, Perelandra is largely composed of fluid raft-like islands and the planet contained a singular geographic feature called the Fixed Land. Unlike his first space adventure, Ransom initially only encounters a single rational being—known as the Queen of the planet, an Eve-like figure. The green-skinned Queen hints at Ransom’s mission of savior and prevention of a reenactment of the Genesis Fall when she says, “that in your world Maleldil [Jesus] first took Himself this form, the form of your race and mine…Since our Beloved became a man, how should Reason in any world take on another form?” (p. 54). What the Queen refers to is that the Incarnation of God only happened once—on Earth.
It is not until the antagonist Weston from the first novel suddenly arrives on the scene that the battle over Perelandra begins. Through a constant onslaught of materialistic arguments Weston, who is possessed by the Devil, tried to get the Queen to disobey Maleldil’s order to avoid sleeping a night on the Fixed Land.
Weston continues to charismatically expand on his reasons for the Green Lady to disobey Maleldil and spend a night on the Fixed Land. He focuses on the fact that this command does not really seem to make much sense and urges her that rules are meant to be broken. The possessed Weston says, “These other commands of His—to love, to sleep, to fill this world with your children—you see for yourself they are good. And they are the same in all worlds. But the command against living on the Fixed Land is not so. You have already learned he gave no such command to my world. And you cannot see where the goodness of it is. No wonder. If it were really good, must He not have commanded it to all worlds alike? For how could Maleldil not command what is good? There is no good in it. Maleldil Himself is showing you that, this moment, through your own reason. It is mere command. It is forbidding for the mere sake of forbidding” (p. 100). Eventually, the diabolical argument posed by Weston crescendos when he tells the Queen the side effects of the First Fall on Earth—namely Maleldil becoming Incarnate to save humanity.
While hope is seemingly lost, Dr. Ransom realizes through a guidance of the divine voice that he himself is the savior of Perelandra. Lewis writes, “What happened on Earth, when Maleldil was born man at Bethelham, had altered the universe for ever. The new world of Perelandra was not merely a repetition of the old world Tellus. Maleldil never repeated himself. One of the purposes for which He had done all this was to save Perelandra not through Himself but through Himself in Ransom” (p. 123) Ransom eventually defeats the Un-man [Satanic possessed Weston] and the Queen is reunited with the King and the heavenly bliss continues on Perelandra. Finally, Ransom returns to Earth and continues to follow Maleldil’s mission to fight evil.
I loved reading this book! Like Out of the Silent Planet I give Perelandra four out of five stars. The only real downside to the book was the minimal amount of characters used throughout the novel. Aside from that issue, I enjoyed the abundant and colorful descriptions of the planet and the theological insight provided by Lewis. So far this is the only book I have ever read that satisfies my speculative theological appetite and scientific curiosity about extraterrestrial life. The author also provides a compelling explanation for how life may exist on other planets without contradicting the Christian truth of Jesus Christ as the sole mediator. Due to the linear nature of time, God never repeats Himself and as a result only one Incarnational event took place—2,000 years ago in Israel. Our mission as Christians if intelligent life exists outside of Earth is to unite ourselves to the One Mediator and evangelize. I highly recommend this book to any curious soul that loves C.S. Lewis, space travel, or theology!
I was sitting in the pew of St. Lambert’s Catholic Church listening to our priest deliver the Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter—this is rare since I am usually out in the hallway with my finicky 1 year old!—when I noticed a strange verse in the reading. St. John quotes Jesus as saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12 New American Bible). Throughout the rest of that Mass and every day since I have pondered Jesus’ meaning. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on how I interpreted this peculiar passage!
- Greater in Quantity Not Quality: According to the dictionary, the word greater is defined as large in number, notable, highly significant, and distinguished to name a few definitions. I want to highlight the first definition—large in number. It makes senses for the works of Christians done in Jesus’ name to be larger than Christ’s miraculous deeds done on Earth simply because 33 years is significantly shorter than the over 2,000 years in Church history. It is also important to read verse 12 in context with the rest of the passage. Immediately following Jesus’ odd statement in John 14:12, he talks about the sending of the Holy Spirit after he ascends to the Father. Jesus declared, ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth,* which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17 NAB). It is through cooperation with the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that Apostles and saints are graced through the ages to produce miraculous works.
- Father, Son, Holy Spirit= Distinct but Equally God: God is ultimately above humanity’s total comprehension. St. Thomas says that man must have a certain type of agnosticism about the full knowledge of God. According to John Courtney Murray in The Problem of God, “In the end, our presence to him, which is real, is a presence to the unknown; ‘to him we are united as to one unknown,’ says Aquinas (p. 71). Because of this ineffable [cool word I learned that means incapable of being expressed or described in words!] complete understanding of God, it makes sense that some peculiar and seemingly paradoxical passages in the Scriptures exist. The evangelist may have struggled with our to properly describe the relationship of the Trinity and may even have shared similar questions as myself. However, despite this struggle, as a Catholic I believe John to be a trustworthy firsthand witness to the teaching of Jesus. John makes it crystal clear in his prologue to his Gospel that though the Persons of the Trinity as Distinct they are equally God. Knowing this religious truth, when I go back to read John 14:12 I know that Jesus cannot possibly mean the works done by the Holy Spirit as greater than His works since the Son and the Holy Spirit are equally God!
Now the feast of the Holy Trinity [my favorite liturgical feast :)] is arriving soon and I hope to be sharing more of my thoughts and reflections on the mystery of the Holy Trinity leading up to that Sunday. Until then, I will leave you to ponder Jesus’ mysterious words again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father”. May we all be grateful for the gifts of knowledge and understanding given to us by the Holy Spirit and pray for a deepening of these gifts especially as we draw nearer to the Feast of the Holy Trinity.