Cellars of My Soul

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I mentioned this analogy a few weeks ago when referring to the spiritual life, but I like the tangibility of it so I will mention it again. St. Teresa of Avila likened the soul and its journey in the spiritual life to the navigation through a large a castle whereby our soul consists of several mansions. When I talked about this image with my parish’s discipleship group, I half-joked that I not only have mansions I need to order but also lots of “cellars of my soul” I need to examine and clean out.

On a serious note, I firmly believe there are many cellars within my soul I need to discover and maintain. A common definition of cellar means “of the lowest rank or grade”. Another usage of the word cellar is in relation to place where wine is stored. I have never actually lived in or owned a home with a cellar. However, I have tasted wine and I have experienced years where my favorite sports team resided in the cellar of the league standings.

Going back to the image of our Christian spiritual life as exploring the recesses of our interior castle, I have pondered how I might be able to reach the depths of my soul. I think one practical way for me to start this journey is to begin working with a spiritual director. According to St. John of the Cross, a director [spiritual] should be learned, prudent, and experienced.

Try as I might, I have yet to get past a certain threshold in my spiritual life. I am hoping that by adding a spiritual director and going on a silent retreat later this year that I will be graced with the help to access my spiritual wine cellar. Here I hope to share my spiritual gifts with others and give greater thanksgiving to God. But first, I need send that simple email. I will keep you updated on my journey through future posts. I humbly ask for your prayers as I begin this journey to explore the cellars of my soul.wine cellar

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3 Reasons Why my Secular Job Has Made Me a Better Catholic

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I am a cradle Catholic. I was baptized at the age of 1 week. I went to a Catholic elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. I even attended a Catholic graduate school. Interestingly, it is at my secular work place that I have taken the virtues I acquired in Catholic schooling and deepened them. I give you three reasons why my secular job has made me a better Catholic.

  1. Different Perspective: The major difference between my Catholic cradle upbringing and my daily work today is summed up in a single word—perspective. I have learned to see relationships, problems, daily tasks, and even conversations from a different perspective. I used to view the world in a dichotomous manner. There is black or white. I still view the world largely in this manner, but I have learned that sometimes there is gray in the world. Sometimes both people may be right in workplace conflict. It just depends on my perspective. This ability that I am daily improving upon is not hampering my Catholic identity, rather enhancing it. By taking a different perspective on things, I acquired a tool to combat the sin of judgmental thinking.
  1. Changes through Change: Similar to viewing things from different perspectives, I have learned in my job that change is inevitable. I am becoming more and more patient in my secular work place. I firmly believe God has graced me with the opportunity of my job to help me develop and deepen the virtues of patience and understanding. I still have a long ways to go, but I can tell I have made great strides in my spiritual life through my learning to embrace change even though I may find it difficult sometimes.
  1. Seasoning Adds Flavor: Jesus urged his followers to be “the salt of the Earth” in his Sermon on the Mount Discourse (Matthew 5:13). The purpose of salt is two-fold: preserve and season food. I believe that I the reason that I thrive in a non-Christian environment is for those same reasons. God wants me to act as a preservative of Truth against this worldly culture which promotes the self. Secondly, God gave me the gift to evangelize in a special way to non-Catholics. I need to continue to pray for God to reveal his graces to me on how exactly He wants me to add “flavor” or joy to my workplace.

I will end with this question: How may you be the salt of the Earth? Everyone is valued and God has you placed in your current job for a reason. Ask Him for guidance in knowing your purpose.

On Polish Horseshoes, Karol Wojtyla, Accordions, and Other Possibly Polish Things

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To be honest, I never really thought much about my Polish heritage until a couple of years ago. Two momentous events sparked my interested: the reading of a biography of John Paul II and discovering my favorite lawn game Polish horseshoes. I have now come to realize that the game’s namesake is a misnomer and has no origin from Poland at all. Still when I was making my own personal set I unknowingly created the poles to mirror Poland’s flag—white on the top half and red on the bottom half. Fun fact: Can you name the nation’s flag that is the inverse of Poland’s flag [red on top and white on the bottom]? If not that is alright, I will provide the answer at the end of today’s post!

The second reason I got intrigued more and more about Poland is after reading Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. After finishing this biography I felt a closer connection to the great saint. In fact, the grace I experienced in reading this book and through the intercession of St. John Paul II were instrumental in helping me get through one of my darkest valleys of desolation I ever experienced. I highly recommend this biography and any of the Polish pope’s writings for summer reading.

Finally, I will describe my connection to third “possibly Polish thing”—accordions. My mother actually owns an accordion and played it occasionally when I was growing up. Now that I have children of my own, I am blessed to see her lug out the dusty accordion box and play a quick tune for my kids. It is on my mom’s side of the family where I have Polish ancestry. I hope to one day have both the time and the energy to do some genealogical research and create a family tree especially in relation to my Polish descent.

Until then, I urge you all to learn more about the sanctity housed in the great nation of Poland over the course of the last century. Both St. Maria Faustina and St. John Paul II were born in this Eastern European country! And I almost forgot the answer to today’s trivia question above is Indonesia!

 

Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D. Part 3- Creation Week in Genesis and John

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This is the third installment of my series “Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D” and I am excited! The Gospel of John is probably my favorite gospel and I have always been fascinated with the creation story in Genesis as well. Today I am going to examine the direct connection the evangelist makes between the first book of the Bible and the first chapter in his gospel. I came across this revelation a few years ago while I was planning a lesson on John for my high school students.

Here are three ways to show how John’s Gospel is the fulfillment of Genesis 1.

  1. The presence of the Trinity: Both Genesis 1 and John 1 start with the phrase, “In the beginning” and both make reference to God being preexistent before the creation of the world. Not only is God referenced in both chapters, but the revelation of God as a commune of Persons is also present. The writers of Genesis in verse 2 state, “while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. Translated literally, this phrase refers to the spirit of God or the hinting at of the Holy Spirit—the Third Person of the Trinity. Another foreshadowing of the Trinity occurs in Genesis 1:26 when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” This plural use of the first person pronoun may be viewed as a hinting at the Triune God later revealed in the New Testament. Now compare this with the first words of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him” (1:1-3). I do not think it was a coincidence for John to invoke the first words of Genesis to begin his Gospel.

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  1. Count the Days: There are six days of creation within the first creation story of Genesis. Interestingly enough John starts his gospel using a similar chronology. The evangelist starts his gospel with the words, “In the beginning” so let’s make that day 1. When we get to 1:29 it states, “the next day”. This is day 2. Verses 35 and 43 also have the phrase “the next day” so those verses correspond to days 3 and 4. Chapter 2 begins with the following words, “On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus was also invited to the marriage, with his disciples.” Notice he says on the third day which in contextually reading with John 1 the wedding at Cana occurs at the 7th day of the week. In other words, John is mirroring the chronology of Genesis 1 to begin his gospel.

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  1. Wine Leads to Rest: Perhaps the greatest two words parents hear at the end of a long week both at work and home is rest and wine. John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, placed Jesus’ first miracle at the end of the New Creation week. The first miracle was not the curing of a blind man or healing or a leper. It was multiplication of alcohol at a wedding. It seems like a trivial use of God’s power! At first it seems so, but a deeper look at John’s connection with the creation story and the history of the Catholic Church tells otherwise. First of all, it is Mary who intercedes on behalf of the wedding couple to her Son to perform the miracle. While the first woman [Eve] fell into sin, Mary conceived free from sin was instrumental in the miracle of Jesus’ public ministry. Secondly, the resting of God on the 7th day of the initial creation week is a sort of celebration and similarly the wedding at Cana on the 7th day of the new creation week is celebratory in nature as well. Finally, the Catholic Church’s liturgy is a combination of the Old Testament “resting on the Sabbath” when we rest in the pews and contemplate God’s word in the readings and homily along with the celebration akin to the Wedding at Cana banquet when we arise for Communion to eat at the Eucharistic feast.

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My view of the relationship of the Old and New Testament transformed after I learned about the connections between Genesis and the Gospel of John. I hope that in reading this post you gain a greater interest for the Holy Scriptures.

 

I Self Identify as ______________.

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A popular movement in the 21st century is people defining and identifying themselves under a multitude of appellations. Caused in large part from the rise of social media, humanity is self-reflecting more and more each day. However, as the title indicates, I am not concerned with how and who other people self-identify as. Rather I am writing as a means of self-reflection on how I have fallen prey to this idea that you need to have a certain identity in order to be deemed by society as legitimate and worthy.

Football fan, reader, runner, board gamer aficionado, writer, Catholic, husband, father, and volunteer. These are just a few of the “caps” I wear when people ask me who I am. While the first few titles are pretty superficial I have realized through prayer, especially in Eucharistic Adoration, that even my identification of being Catholic, husband, and a father to my wonderful children are still in the grand scheme of things only a hint at who I truly am–and who I am truly called to be.

I originally was going to write on another topic today. What changed my mind? It was a song on the radio whose title escapes my memory. I do remember this one verse: “You’re [God’s] love is my identity!” These five words inspired me. Just like the five wounds of Christ on the Cross which proves God’s love for us these five words of the song reminded me that God’s love is not limited to my earthly accomplishments. It does not matter how many “titles” I accumulate over the course of my years. The only thing that matters is God’s love.

That being said, I will fill in the blank of today’s title: I Self Identify as ___________, to read “I Self Identify as a child of God.” But regardless of whether I feel God’s love or not it does not change the fact that due to the grace given to me in Baptism– I will always be an adopted son of God. I pray that we may all experience God’s grace this week because our identity is only complete when we realize we are called to be children of God!

What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?

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From a young age, I always saw the world through a scientific lens. I needed to understand how the world works. When I attended college, that way of thinking applied to research papers and ensuring I had logical and concise arguments to articulate my interpretation of a particular historical event.

When I read the Gospel of John there is a logical flow to his account of the Gospel events. His entire gospel is masterfully written and laden with tons of symbolism. As a cradle Catholic, I heard John 6 [Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse] preached frequently during the Mass. It took years of analyzing this chapter and critically viewing it before I realized the genius and truth contained in Christ’s message. Inevitability my close reading of John 6 led me to this conclusion– the evangelist truly believed that Jesus was the literal bread of life that gives humanity eternal life! I give three strong pieces of evidence for this case:

  1. Jesus as a Good Teacher: I think most people would agree with me that Jesus’ followers considered him a good teacher. Jesus could relate to an array of people: rich, poor, fisherman, tax collectors, sinners, and strangers alike. Secondly, Jesus taught using a plethora of means including: sermons, parables, and miracles to name a few. A quality in any good teacher is consistency in content along with the ability to clarify their subject content should disputes arise. In the bread of life discourse in John 6, Jesus presented both his teaching consistently and clearly. Within a span of 24 verses [John 6:35-59] Jesus mentions point blank at least 6 times he is the bread of life. In verse 35, Jesus states, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Verses 38, 48, 53-58 also support the Nazarene’s intrepid claim.

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  1. It’s all Greek to Me: There are a variety of Greek words for the English verb “to eat”. Jesus says in John 6:54, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” The Greek word that the Evangelist uses in this verse is trōgō. Trōgō is translated as “chew” or “gnaw”. Why would John use such a fleshy and literal word for eat in this context? This translation only makes sense if we accept that Jesus literally meant that he is the bread of life. John even goes on to use trōgō in verses 56, 57, and 58– a grand total of four times!

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  1. Loss of Followers: The evangelist writes in John 6:66 that many people who followed Jesus from the start of his ministry left him never to return. They were scandalized by the teaching of Jesus as the bread of life. I thought long and hard on this point. Why would many of Jesus’ followers leave him if he only spoke symbolically that he was the bread of life? Well, if Jesus truly did intend for his claim that he is the “bread of life” to be interpreted figuratively, I doubt many followers would have left him that day. I mean think about it, people tend to become disenchanted with a leader when his or her message becomes too scandalous to bear. I doubt a man speaking figuratively, and poetically, would gather such scandal. Jesus repeatedly claimed “I am the bread of life”. He never qualified that assertion to be taken figuratively. Such difficult news may have been too much for these fair weather followers to swallow.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324)—it is a non-negotiable belief. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint John knew of the importance of this sacrament and he stressed it frequently in Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. Through my Catholic faith, I accept Jesus’ claim that he is the bread of life. I ponder this question of Jesus frequently: Will you also go away? I ultimately hope that my answer is consistent with Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

 

When I Stumbled Upon the Sacrament of Confession in Genesis

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I had a profound moment of truth-finding a few years ago when I was writing lesson plan for my Old Testament class on the Book of Genesis. We were discussing the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have always been curious about the angelic tussle in Genesis 22-32.

It was not until I read Genesis 33:1-11 that I realized the significance of Jacob’s bout with the unnamed angel. Let me provide a little context of the situation between the two brothers leading up to chapter 33. Esau being the elder brother was supposed to inherit the firstborn blessing from his father Isaac. However, his mother Rebecca favored the younger son Jacob. Through a bit of chicanery Jacob attained the blessing from Isaac and a rift divided the brothers for most of their lives.

The name “Jacob” actually means supplanter in reference to Genesis 27:36. This poses a dilemma for those that claim Jacob as a rightful patriarch of the Jewish faith. It is by way of Jacob’s struggle with the angel and the angel’s inability to defeat Jacob whereby a conversion takes place. In Genesis 32:28, the angel states, “You name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

The immediate next encounter with Esau a reconciliation occurs. Their exchange is as follows,

8Then Esau asked, “What did you intend with all those herds that I encountered?” Jacob answered, “It was to gain my lord’s favor.”9Esau replied, “I have plenty; my brother, you should keep what is yours.”10“No, I beg you!” said Jacob. “If you will do me the favor, accept this gift from me, since to see your face is for me like seeing the face of God—and you have received me so kindly. 11Accept the gift I have brought you. For God has been generous toward me, and I have an abundance.” Since he urged him strongly, Esau accepted (Genesis 33:8-11).

Allegorically, Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel may be viewed as a foreshadowing of the sacrament of Confession. Anytime a name change occurs in the Bible a conversion takes place. One of the more notable instances is in the Acts of the Apostles where Saul encounters Christ and becomes Paul.

I urge you to have a wrestling moment with God. Let Him work in you and change you from a “Jacob” or “Saul” and transform you to an “Israel” or “Paul”. Practical tips during this Lenten season to grow in holiness may be to read the Scriptures and go to Confession. Let us journey together as we grow in holiness.