3 Reasons Why Suffering Has Made Me a Better Catholic and Family Man.

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It has been several months since I lasted wrote. Life got extremely busy as of recent: I started a new job and my wife just gave birth to our third child. I promised God and myself that I would gather up the strength to write again once our baby boy was born. The reason for this is two-fold: I believe God will use my writing help me grow in holiness and others in holiness. That being said, the title of my post as been many months in the making. Here are three reasons for why suffering allowed me to grow closer to God.

  1. I believe in God more because of the hell I been through. Let me explain this statement. Last year my family and I faced a myriad of challenges and I was literally on the brink of doubting my faith. I lost my job and I lost a baby due to my wife having a miscarriage. I actually had suicidal thoughts and doubted the existence of God. Despite this intense suffering and doubt, I never abandoned the tenants of my Catholic faith and I never gave up doing the morally right thing. And through the grace of God in the sacraments I have been blessed with a great new job and a wonderful new baby boy. I have also gained a mindset of thankfulness on a daily basis because I seek to live in the present moment now.
  1. My marriage was tested by fire this past year and it is stronger than ever. I promised on my wedding day to share in both the joys and trials of life with my wife. We never would have realized that we would experience the personal loss of a child five years ago on our wedding day. However, when the going got incredibly trying my wife and I sent many salvos of lament prayers to God to aid us in our grief and pain. Today, my wife and I take nothing for granted and we seek to communicate our love in a more effective means as well.
  2. Through my losses I gained an important virtue– patience. When I lost my job I struggled to find new and lasting employment. I sent in a lot of applications which garnered little success at times. In those moments leading to when my family and I would lose out on healthcare coverage, I did not know how God could use that situation for good. Today, I now know. God was whittling away at my brashness and anger through the method of suffering. Out of this period of suffering I emerged with an augmented virtue of patience. It is this patience that I use daily in my vocations of husband and father. Going through my immense pain led me to a better place with my children today. I am less impatient and I am better able to live in the present instead of looking to the past or to the distant future.

I sincerely hope that I am able to make my writing a more frequent occurrence. Words will never be enough to express my gratitude toward God for all the blessings and lessons he has given me this past year. In my suffering I found a kind of redemption–I am a new man, a man that will not take things for granted in this life anymore. This post is the beginning of my humble attempt to glorify God by sharing my daily moments of grace with you my readers.

3 Ways I am Exactly Like the Rich Young Man in Mark’s Gospel

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rich young man

As a cradle Catholic I grew up hearing the story of the Rich Young Man in Mark 10:17-31 several dozens times. However, it was not until this past year where I was able to truly understand the meaning of this passage. During this last year, I have encountered God through my suffering and specifically showed me have I often display the attitude of the rich young man. In today’s post, I will briefly talk about 3 ways I lacked what Jesus desires from each of us.

  1. I believed that I was a good-goody Catholic. What I mean by this statement is that I often thought of how holy I was because of my support for traditional Catholic values: I vote pro-life, I don’t commit adultery, I always go to Mass on Sundays, and I definitely committed no major sins. I truly believed that because I was a good person that was enough to encounter Christ in a satisfying way. Let’s reflect on Mark’s words in 10:20, “Teacher, all of these [commandments] I have observed from my youth”. His thought process sounds eerily similar to mine! But that brings me to my second reason for being just like this young man.
  2. I could not give up control of “control over situations”.  Let me explain. I always interpreted Jesus’ response to the man (see Mark 10:21) in a purely materialistic light. I felt that because I could control the amount of my physical possessions that I could not possibly fit into the same category as this unfortunate youth. I am actually a neat-freak. I hate clutter and am OCD about junk and cleanliness. I live in moderation and don’t live outside my means. But the problem is that I did not give up MY CONTROL. I always wanted to be in control of the situation and though I followed all Catholic doctrine I truly was not letting God in control.
  3. I possessed a certain despair just like the Rich Young Man after his encounter with Jesus. I thought that I knew my path in this life. I had a plan as to what career I wanted to choose and how I would get there. Even when I got my dream job teaching in a Catholic School I still felt despair. When I encountered Christ I still could not give up control of my situation.

During this past year my family and I suffered immensely: my son was abused at the first daycare we took him to in our new city, my daughter suffered from multiple ear infections, and ultimately my wife and I lost our 10 week unborn child. I was driven to grief counseling I had sunk so low in my faith.

Here is where my story changed for the better. Amid this intense and painful suffering, God showed me the greatest love possible. He wanted for me to rely on Him fully. I was finally able to do something the Rich Young Man in Mark’s Gospel never did–I gave up all my “possessions”. I gave up control and totally relied on God for His love to envelope me. See, I still maintained the sacraments and belief in all Catholic teaching, but the difference is that I had faith IN GOD to help me in my situation. Previously, I tried to be simply a “good person” and seek a joyous life. It is impossible to have authentic joy in this life without encountering God and ultimately accepting Him as your savior.

I finally realized in my heart–my mind already knew this–that to truly be holy I needed to follow God’s commandments AND ask Him to help me on a daily basis. To paraphrase a personal hero of mine, St. Francis de Sales, “Work as if everything depends on you and pray as if everything depends on God”.

I am still on my pilgrim journey toward Heaven, but God made me realize that my dream to teach the faith will be fulfilled–just not in the ways I expected. I hope to continue writing my story on a regular basis to draw fringe Catholics to the Church. I truly want people to experience true joy in their life!

christian pilgrim

How Catholics are like Fishhooks!

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fish hook

The first followers of Jesus were simple fishermen and in today’s post I am going to put forth a pithy piscary example of how Christians should approach the topic of Evangelization.

To begin the very first command Jesus gave to the Apostles occurred in Matthew 28:19 when he said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, God makes it clear that EVERYONE is called to hear the good news of his Resurrection! I know this may sound cliché, but the example of Peter, James, and John being called by Jesus to become fishers of men is an extremely appropriate and ever applicable way to speak of how we should approach evangelization. 

I am not an expert in fishing. I have a couple family members who fish for a living, but alas, I can count on one hand the total times I have been fishing in my lifetime. Nevertheless, last month my family and I went fishing with my father-in-law. While a lot of things are necessary for fishing I will highlight only two things that directly apply to evangelization as well: patience and fishhooks. 

First, patience is essential to fishing especially when we went because it took over thirty minutes before we caught anything. The same is true for spreading our faith. We have to wait and lead others to Christ on God’s time. God is not giving commission-based raises on how many converts we pull in, rather I image God wants us to patiently wait for the right people to be placed in our life that need our help or hooking to lead them to the Catholic Church. 

This now leads to be the second thing needed for fishing– a fishhook. Without that barbed instrument on the end of the line it would be nearly impossible to hook and capture a fish. Likewise, I tend to see Jesus’ command to be fishers of men (see Matthew 4:19) in a more nuanced way, namely, that we should be the hook that captures people and keeps them on God’s line. I mean imagine the greatest evangelists in the history of the Catholic Church: St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi–what did they all have in common? They all suffered from a “barbed past”. Paul was a killer, Augustine was a sex addict, and Francis came from a miserable family. However, just like a fishhook is designed to be sharp and curved at the end to hook a fish’s gums so too God uses saints that have overcome a checkered and barbed past to help Him reel in new people into the Catholic Church. 

My challenge to you, my readers, is this: if you sense that God has placed certain people in your life to evangelize to please do not be afraid to do so. The best witness to evangelize our faith is to hear from people that have suffered yet maintained a steadfast faith in God. Do not shy away from a “barbed” or hurtful past. Open yourself up to share your faith story. I truly feel God is calling me to work in a secular workplace to shine forth his truth. As a matter of fact, I had a couple co-workers interested in my faith and I feel called by God to be his “fishhook”. But I need to be patient and allow Him to do most of the reeling in; I am simply His evangelical instrument and He the Divine fisherman.

jesus divine fisherman

Why Catholics MUST Have Bible ADD!- Intro

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I recently finished up teaching high school Scripture this past May. Some of my students complained when I started the Old Testament as to why I was going to the New Testament to better understand passages like the Temptation in the Garden or the Passover event in Exodus. I responded whimsically, “I ensure you I do not have Bible ADD, I simply want to show how the Old Testament prepares us for the New Testament and how the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament!” I had to mention this many times to lackadaisical students because I think we as a Church have lost a sense of the Bible as containing an over-arching story line–God’s plan of salvation to help humans overcome our pride and selfish desires.

So while technically speaking, we should not let ourselves get distracted and overwhelmed by the many books of the Bible, after further consideration of my silly saying about not having Bible ADD I think that is a perfect way to capture how Catholics must approach the Bible.

This being an introductory post on understanding the bible in a contextual way I will not go into too detailed of an example. But I do think a starter example will aid in how a Catholic needs to approach the Bible. For example, to best understand the reason for Jesus’ death we have to turn the pages to Genesis 3 which features the fall of humanity out of God’s grace. Thus, knowing that humanity is not in favor with God the life and death of Jesus makes more sense.

Now, when I use my term “Bible ADD” I am not saying that Catholics should scan the pages of the holy text in a frenzied hyper-squirrelly way without any regard for order and thought. I am using this term because I have been told by several young people that this way to describe a contextual reading of the Bible appeals to them. They can remember the importance to look at the entire Bible as a whole and not in fragments. Furthermore, Catholics have to be wary of a fundamentalist viewing of the Bible which limits passages to a single-literal meaning. Some passages [I will demonstrate this in future posts] are meant to be taken symbolically because they are poems or parables.

Words have the ability to contain multiple meanings and the inspired authors wrote with the ability for their words to be interpreted to meet the needs of our current situation today. However, just like a rubber-band has limits to how far it can stretch, so too passages in the Bible must be interpreted in light of Church Tradition and make sense in light of the whole context of the Bible.

I guess to go back to my above example to properly read the Bible as a Catholic is to have Bible ADD. I should qualify that to say we should avoid moving to having a Bible ADHD because our theological “rubber-band” might break. We will jump into the Bible with concrete examples later this week.

When God’s Love Spans Six and Half Decades…

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wedding rings

Marriage. Commitment. Life-long. Children. Sacrament. Relationship. Infidelity. Temporary. Burdensome. Secular. 

 I wrote out 10 words that relate to the topic of my post today-marriage. The first half relate to a Catholic understanding of this institution whereas the second half refer to how marriage is viewed under a modern lens. I recently saw on Facebook a person who celebrated the fact that they were getting divorced and gaining freedom to “do whatever they wanted to now!” Mind you, I do not know they story and I hope there was a valid reason for why they got divorced. Furthermore, we as Catholics are attacked for having an “antiquated view on marriage”. People say that it is not possible to stay in a monogamous and committed marriage for life. We don’t have to look to far in Hollywood when former Disney star, Miley Cyrus, is lambasting Christians for being judgmental towards others on the topic of who can marry who.

I am not out to start a debate over marriage. I simply want to give you, my readers, a tangible glimpse at what God’s love looks when the sacrament of marriage is lived as it ought to be–a faithful life-long commitment between a man and woman. This Friday, my grandparents  celebrated 65 years of marriage. You heard me right 65 YEARS OF MARRIAGE! I am blessed to witness their love and patience over the years. To quote my grandmother when asked what it takes to make it that long she stated, “You need to rely on God for strength”. I have never heard my grandparents argue. I have heard them discuss things at length, but voices never seemed to raise to the point of an argument. I firmly believe that was not by their own will power. It is through God that my grandparents learned patience and forgiveness. 

Having 11 children [my dad being the oldest] my grandparents had lots of helpers to grow in holiness. Now a generation or two later they have over 35 grandchildren and great-grand-children. During their celebration luncheon my aunts and uncles wanted to get pictures of every family combination with grandma and grandpa. Let me tell you both of them were troopers and emitted rays of holiness through their patience. I have seen plenty of elderly people and not-so elderly people (myself included) that get impatient with family photos and the constant phrases of “say cheese!” or “only one more time” or “where is cousin Benji?. But my grandparents calmly waited. Why? Because they know that why the day was in honor of them an awareness that the needs of their family was more important. THAT IS WHAT GOD’S LOVE LOOKS LIKE! It is about sacrifice. It is about not arguing with your spouse [grandpa is great with this] because your pride is not all that matters.

I hope you share this post with anyone who comes from a shattered family. Not because I am saying my family is perfect [everyone can always improve in holiness] but rather to show them that finding an “end-game spouse” is possible. Finally, I am grateful for grandparents’ openness for life and not seeing children as a burden since now I enjoy spending time with many cousins who I consider friends. Plus, I had a bunch of people to play Ultimate Frisbee with yesterday, but more about that in a later post. 

3 Ways I Encountered God on a Playful Thursday!

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Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.

cornhole toss

After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God? Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.

Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified. I mean God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. To briefly quote the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.

toddlers reading

My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].

To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.

Satan’s Secret Weapon: The Snooze Button

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snooze button

I recently read that the average American person hits their snooze button about three times a morning. Unfortunately, on some days, my rate is almost double! Well, I wanted today’s topic to include an example that nearly everyone can relate to–the desire for more sleep. What is more, the snooze button is a metaphor for my spiritual life, at least as of late.

Procrastination is a condition that all humans suffer from at some point in our lives–some suffer from this more than others. One might say, “Now hold on for a sec Matt! A little procrastination is not bad- I mean we should not work too hard in this life, right?!” To answer this hypothetical response, I would say that while putting off for tomorrow what we can do for today is most definitely less heinous than, say, murder or terrorism, I maintain that the devil’s clandestine ploy against God’s faithful often takes ordinary disguises.

Lately, I have been lukewarm in my faith life. I mean I still uphold the basic tenets of the Catholic faith: going to Sunday Mass, occasional confession throughout the year, and a weekly reading of the Bible. But I still have a deep aching in my soul for more. What is my problem? For one I failed to follow through at times in my spiritual life. I tried to wake up for 6:45 A.M. daily Mass, but I hit my snooze button several times on my phone and overslept.

procrastination.jpg

A New Testament passage that appeals to my current situation is the Agony in the Garden scene. Here Peter, James, and John suffer from sleepiness as well. Instead of having a cellular phone alarm to jolt them back to consciousness they are awakened by the Word of God- Jesus. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had to provide the sounding alarm for his apostles to wake up not once, but rather three times! The same amount as the average American hits the snooze button. We really have not progressed too far in 2000 years on that subject. But the point I really want to hammer in is that humans constantly let God down by procrastinating and failing to follow through on promises to Him. In Luke 22:40, Jesus warns his closest friends, “Pray that you may not undergo the test”.

agony in the garden.jpg

What this means is that Satan is never going to take a break from trying to sever our relationship with God. The great tempter is rarely overt in his attempts to lead us astray. And the closer we get to God, the more sneaky and creative the devil needs to be in attempting to achieve his goals. Who knows what types of graces I may have received during the 6:45 AM Mass. Unfortunately, my chance for today is past. Alas, I must try again tomorrow.

My hope for those reading this post, especially if you are a marginal Catholic that is hesitant to trust the Church or simply stuck in a lazy period of your spiritual life, to please look for people in your life that you can turn to help keep you accountable. Ask a parent, spouse, neighbor, best friend, child, or co-worker to come to Mass with you. For me the only time I succeeded in waking up on time (AT 6 AM!) was when I went to a Catholic men’s faith-sharing group.

The best way to fight Satan’s secret weapons (the snooze button in this case) is actually through stealth. Publicly the Catholic Church is always clear that the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession are the best ways to ward off the devil’s temptations. And make you war against the elusive evil one public. Ask people to help and pray for you. I certainly will. And I hope you pray for me as well!