Emotions ran high in my family yesterday. I struggled with a stressful situation at work and my son fell off his bike and scrapes his knee—a meltdown ensued. Feelings are part of the fabric of what it means to be human. I am not proud to admit this, but I have greatly failed in keeping my feeling in check during the past couple weeks.
On my drove to work this morning, words from a Christian song over the radio jogged a thought I had about prayer and our communication of God. I pondered how natural it is for humanity to complain when things do not go your way. How do we overcome the sin of complaining? Listening to the song lyrics I realized the answer is incredibly simple—cry out to God!
Using examples from the Scriptures, excerpts from St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, and my own personal experiences I give 4 reasons why “crying out to God” is not complaining but rather an essential part of the spiritual life.
1. Lesson from Lamentations: Latent within the Old Testament, Lamentations is not among the first books that pop into my mind for having spiritual insight. I usually think of Proverbs or the Book of Wisdom. Lamentations is a collection of five poems that act as a woeful reply to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Both individual and communal prayers of sorrow are found in this book. For my purposes today I will only focus on Lamentations 3:19-31 which contains an individual lament.
The thought of my wretched homelessness is wormwood and poison; 20Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.21But this I will call to mind— therefore I will hope: 22The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent. 23They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness! 24The LORD is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him. 25The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; 26It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance. 27It is good for a person, when young, to bear the yoke, 28To sit alone and in silence, when its weight lies heavy, 29To put one’s mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope—30 To offer one’s cheek to be struck, to be filled with disgrace. 31For the Lord does not reject forever.
The inspired writer of Lamentations speaks directly to me in this passage. His words, “Over and over, my soul is downcast,” calls to mind my state of mind and relationship with God over the past several weeks. I was downtrodden and I frequently wanted to give up. Interestingly enough, I actually pondered the fact that there is a glimmer of hope in my situation. The writer of Lamentations is prophetic again when he states, “I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him. 25The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; 26It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance.”
2. Psalm 22: According to Mark 15:34, Jesus cries out to the Father in similar fashion as the book of Lamentations and myself when I encounter the stresses of life. The evangelist writes, “And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”* which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words used to befuddle me. I have since learned that Jesus was invoking the psalmist’s lamenting words in Psalm 22. The psalm begins as a sorrowful prayer to God but similar to Lamentations 3 it ends with hope [see Psalm 22:23-32]. Reading these words, the Holy Spirit connected the dots for me on this subject. Verse 30 references homage toward God on bended knee and I already was planning on talking about how lament leads to kneeling before God even before I read Psalm 22!! The movement of the Holy Spirit is mysterious yet true.
3. Dark Night of a Soul: St John of the Cross was a great mystic of the Catholic Church during the 16th century. His spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul is as relevant today as it was when it was originally written. I will only focus on the dark night of the purgation of our senses and tie it to the theme of crying out towards God. The major characteristic of this dark night is the soul finding no pleasure or consolation in the things of God. I find myself occasionally in a “spiritual rut” where I do not receive consolation or experience direct joy from God. St. John tells us to not worry, “It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love” (Chapter X no 3).
Sounding similar to the writer of Lamentations, John of the Cross, reassures us that for growth to occur in the spiritual life a certain period of purgation is necessary to increase our holiness and awareness of God.
4. Skinned Up Knees Leads to On Bended Knee: This week my wife and I added training wheels to our son’s bicycle and we being teaching him the quintessential summer experience of riding his first bike! We taught him the fundamentals of pedaling and coaxing him when he got frustrated because they were “too heavy”. Things were going well. He gained momentum and cruised on our neighbor sidewalk for about 50 feet. Suddenly he hit a raised section of the sidewalk and toppled off his bike. Tears immediately streamed down his face. My wife added a Band-Aid and after a few minutes of reassurance had him get back on the bike to try again.
How does this common childhood experience relate to the spiritual life? Oftentimes we get metaphorical “skinned up knees”. Gossip in the workplace or stressful family events damage our relationship with God. True growth is not without pain—both in learning to ride a bike and deepening our spiritual life. Having undergone lots of skinned up knees in learning to ride my bike it makes it easier for me to be on bended knee in prayer to thank God for going through the school of trials to learn more about Him.
The difference between complaining and lamenting is the former lacks the virtue of hope. Complaining is more self-centered in orientations whereas prayers of lament focuses communication with our Divine Creator. Do not be ashamed to cry out to God, but remember that while it is a necessary step in the spiritual process– it is only the beginning. May we always ask the Holy Spirit to lead us toward prayers of thanksgiving after a season of lament!
This past Sunday was the celebration of my favorite feast day of the liturgical year—Feast of the Most Holy Trinity! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teaching of holy Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity. Clear evidence of this in found in paragraph 249 of CCC, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis and prayer of the Church. Such formulations are already found in the apostolic writings, such as this salutation taken up in the Eucharistic liturgy: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”81
Revealed to us in the New Testament by Jesus Christ and later clarified by the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Church in ecumenical councils, our understanding of the Holy Spirit as developed but we still fall short in obtaining a full grasp of this mysterious reality and nature of God.
I have heard plenty of satisfying analogies that brought me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Trinity but the best example I have experienced so far is not academic or philosophically driven. The closest analogy I found to describe the love within the Trinity is the human family! Today I want to share my humble experiences as a young father where I see traces and hints of the Trinity in my adorable toddlers.
According to St. Paul, Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I definitely do not possess all those qualities all the time. However, my kids have allowed my virtues or patience and humility to grow—albeit slowly by surely in my case! Oftentimes, at Mass I get almost as good of a workout as when I churn out a 3 mile jog on the treadmill. My youngest son constantly finds himself dashing away from us in the pew so we have to take him out of Mass frequently. If I stay within the pew with my older children I often act as a diplomat to promote sibling civility during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Along with providing growth of my virtues, my toddlers are traces of the Trinity in their daily creative play. My older two children play in an imaginative world of ninjas, superheroes, princesses, and Lego-building. When I pay close attention to this mysterious play I am reminded of the Mysterious Nature of our Triune God as well. Something about the joy of children’s play piques adult interest. I find the same to be true when I reflect on the mystery of God being united as one but as a company of three divine persons.
To wrap up, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity will always be beyond our total grasp. We are not meant to fully understand this doctrine. Nevertheless, God revealed his nature as love and as a relationship of three Persons in Scriptures and hints is found within the family unit as well. Interestingly, God must have known I needed rest from my Sunday liturgical workouts. My wife and I were able to both listen to every reading and the entire homily for yesterday’s feast! Truly God works in Mysterious and in my children’s case humorous ways too.
There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.
I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.
I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!
I love random facts! I find they are great conversation starters and help me to trigger and bridge past and seemingly unconnected memories together. Speaking of the subject of bridges, I recently learned that the world’s longest bridge is over 102 miles! Carrying trains this incredible engineering feat connects the cities of Nanjing and Shanghai.
Aside from being massive architectural projects and accomplishments, the daily function of a bridge is a little more mundane—it serves as a connection between two points that otherwise could not meet or communicate. In a similar way today I am going to share my thoughts on how I myself and all Catholics, and Christians in general, are called to act a bridge between God and humanity. Examining Scripture, Tradition, and evidence from a strictly logical standpoint, I put forth three reasons why all Christians need to be bridge-builders
1. For the Bible tells Me So: You do not have to look far in the New Testament before you discover examples of Jesus promoting unity and building relationships with traditional 1st century outsider groups. In John 4, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the ancient water-cooler, the well of Jacob. Here is reaches out to a Samaritan who Jews ostracized during ancient times. Despite this Jesus provides her an offer of everlasting water. She readily exclaims, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15).
The Gospel of St. Luke abounds with examples of Jesus ministering to outcasts and “building bridges” to all of humanity. I will list just a few: shepherds being invited to witness the birth of Christ (Luke 2:15-20), call of Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27-32), forgiving the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50, and sending out of the seventy-two disciples to minister to others (Luke 10: 1-10).
Finally, I want to share the instance in the Acts of the Apostles where possible discord over whether followers of Christ needed to be circumcised in the custom of Judaism. In Acts 15 the Council of Jerusalem took place and God provided unity in this affair by bestowing authority to Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the author of Acts the following happened:
After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.c 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us.d 9He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.e 10Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?f 11On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,g in the same way as they.”* 12The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. (Acts 15:7-12).
In the midst of such authority silent reflection and pondering took place and unity flourished.
2. Follow Francis: Continuing on the theme of unity promoted by papal authority, Pope Francis on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall told Christians to, “Build bridges of understanding and dialogue.” In the pope is a visible sign of the unity of the Catholic Church. We as Catholic look to the pope with honor and as a leader of the faith not because he tells us but because Jesus gave us the gift of the papacy.
Like Francis, the late Pope John Paul II promoted ecumenism [fancy word for promoting unity J) The Polish pontiff tells us in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint [On Commitment to Ecumenism],
Together with all Christ’s disciples, the Catholic Church bases upon God’s plan her ecumenical commitment to gather all Christians
into unity. Indeed, “the Church is not a reality closed in on herself. Rather, she is permanently open to missionary and ecumenical endeavor, for she is sent to the world to announce and witness, to make present and spread the mystery of communion which is essential to her, and to gather all people and all things into Christ, so as to be for all an ‘inseparable sacrament of unity’…The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God (nos. 5-6).
3. Brains, brains, brains: I was binge watching an episode of The Walk Dead [YES I DID JUST TRANSITION FROM THE POPE TO ZOMBIES!!] a couple summers ago and took an important lesson from the show. In dire situations humans will work together to survive despite coming from various backgrounds. Police officers, farmers, and pizza delivery boys were able to unite for a common objective [namely to avoid being turned into a zombie] and I came away from the show thinking: should all people, in particular Christians unite? From a strictly logical standpoint people tend to be happier when working together as a team. This is true for me. At work I am more fulfilled when I work to serve the rest of my co-workers and assist throughout the day as opposed to having a self-serving mentality. Moreover, the old adage “two heads are better than one” is true when it comes to uniting and forging improved relationships.
Please do not interpret my urging for all Christians to be bridge-makers as a full on endorsement of compromising your Christians values completely. There are some non-negotiables I hold as a Catholic-Christian. I will not sell out my faith and I believe in the value of life at all stages. That being said, when it comes to me interacting people with completely different world outlooks
from myself I need to exercise patience, clarity in my thoughts, and charity in my dialogue to help others see the value in my positions. I also need to be humble enough to see things from others’ perspectives as well. Bridge-building is not an easy process—it is long and toilsome. With the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit such dialogue is possible!
Below is a letter I wrote to my unborn son Jeremiah who left this life on All Soul’s Day 2014.
Words will never fully describe the yearning I have to see you again in heavenly bliss. I will try my best with this letter. Life was tough in the months ensuing your death. While pain set in quickly for your mother, I remained aloof from the suffering—for a time—eventually I broke down and trembled at our sudden and inexplicable loss. Though I never blamed God, our Father, for taking you away from us, I did question the good in the situation.
To be honest, I have not fully recovered from our tragedy of you passing from this life to the next, ironically on All Souls’ Day. The pain does get a little bit less each day. Your mother and I were at a crossroads on a cool summer night. It was June 2015 the month you were supposed to be born. All around us people we knew were having babies and we were only reminded of our pain and thinking what might have been. I prayed out to God “I just want something good to happen in my life!” Weeks later we discovered your mother was pregnant. Despite this amazing news, we were cautious and often thought of losing you months earlier.
Half-way through the pregnancy we learned that we were having another baby boy and we settled on a name—Josiah. Later we learned that this name means “healer”. I do not think that was a coincidence. I firmly believe God answered our prayers and used you as a powerful intercessor to keep your brother Josiah safe throughout the pregnancy.
I want to thank you for the gift you have provided your family! I am grateful to have heard your heartbeat before we lost you. That memory gives my daily strength and every milestone Josiah has I think of you. I ask for continually help and intercession in your union with our Heavenly Father.
Your siblings and your mother deeply miss you and we hope to be united with your after our pilgrim journey in this life is completed.
With great love and gratitude,
P.S. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” –Jeremiah 1:5 (New American Bible)
What is truth? According to the dictionary, truth means that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality. For years I have found myself asking the same question: What is truth? This query has seemingly evaded philosophers’ full grasp for centuries and political leaders sought out the answer to this question as well. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate even posed this question before Jesus Christ himself in John 18:38.
What I want to focus on today is the words of Christ that caused Pilate to ask “What is truth?”. According to the fourth evangelist Jesus told Pilate, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 New American Bible). Jesus’ statement seems to be a stoic reply that apparently seems to not really give us much information. When I searched the rest of John’s gospel on passages that relate to truth I came across this verse that I think decisively answers Pilate’s question. In a discourse during the Last Supper, Jesus consoles his apostles, specifically Thomas, with the following words, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2466 declares, “In Jesus Christ, whole of God’s truth has been made manifest.’Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.’” Manifest means clear and obvious to the eye or mind. In other words, truth was plainly seen the Incarnation that occurred 2,000 years ago. Struggling with A.D.H.D and anxiety my entire life I have tried a gamut of remedies to cure my nervousness and constant worrisome. Truthfully, it is not until I rest in the Truth of God in the person of Jesus Christ where my anxiety truly disappears. All my successes: marrying my wife, celebrating our children’s births, earning my Master’s Degree, and promotions at work only give me temporary relief from my daily anxiety.
Uniting myself to truth is the only solution to my worry. I do believe humanity was created to yearn for truth. St. Augustine’s adage, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You” is truer now than ever before. I ask the Holy Spirit to continue to provide me consolation and strength to daily seek and unite myself to the Truth!
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communications, as well as by unique strength and differences. As science progressively gets diagnosing individuals our awareness of autism continues to develop and today more than ever, autism spectrum disorder contains as much variance as color wavelengths in the rainbow. Why am I talking about this? Isn’t autism a hot-buttoned word? There are organizations such as Autism Speaks that gives voice to this matter. Why should you care about this topic?
These are all valid questions and concerns. To be honest have a limited knowledge about autism I learn mostly through osmosis from my wife who is a special education teacher who works closely with students on the autism spectrum. What I can provide is my experiences, albeit limited with autism spectrum disorder. I will use my practical experience with my son who was diagnosed to be on the spectrum in summer 2016 and my year of teaching students with special needs. Here I hope to share the joy autism provided [through my students] and continues to provide [through my son]!
- Experience teaching students on the autism spectrum: Lack of interest in class and little to no eye contact was normal for my students that I taught in my sophomore Old and New Testament Scripture classes. Help from both my wife and the special education educators at my school made day to day interactions easier for me and allowed me to better understand my students’ situation. Despite the challenges of teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, joy and strengths become apparent.
a. Questioning: As the year progressed my students learned my teaching style and knew that I enjoyed questions to generate critical thinking. One student in particular who had Asperger’s Syndrome- which is on the autism spectrum, had a penchant for asking a myriad of questions. While some teachers may viewed this as an interrogation, I welcomed my student’s curiosity. All of his questions opened up doorways for discussion. His thinking outside the box was quite beautiful and I wished I thanked him more often for his participation.
b. Clarity: Students that I taught on the autism spectrum had an ability to ask crystal clear, point-blank questions that their peers either failed to recognize or maybe were too self-conscience to ask. I respect that ability to be clear and forthright
c. Honesty: Similar to the joy of being clear, my two students with Asperger’s Syndrome were honest. They made me aware when my lesson was boring or if I needed a better handle on classroom management. At first, I was little hurt by the seeming callousness of their words. It was not after learning more about autism spectrum disorder that I saw the joy in having honesty as a natural inkling. Whenever I doubted my teaching on a tough day, my students on the spectrum assured me I was doing a great job—that reassurance acted as a balm to remedy me through rough days and weeks of teaching!
2. Experience as a father of a child on the autism spectrum: Along with my experience of joys teaching high school students on the autism spectrum is my involvement with my son who is five years old and diagnosed last year. Below are the following hidden joys of autism I discovered as a father
a.Incredible Memory: My son remembers things he did as a 1 and 2 year old. He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about lots of topics: animals, dinosaurs, and ninjas to name a few!
b. Beautiful Mind: My wife and I knew we had a special child when our son was speaking in full sentences and knew his alphabet at 15 months. He even used complex sentences complete with subordinating clauses! I am blessed with a child who has language ability many grade levels above his age and he has recently learned and practiced subtraction with double digits numbers on his own.
c. Inconsistencies Noticed: My son is detail oriented and he is quick to remind me of whenever something seems out of place with our daily routine or activity. While some days his frequent corrections bog us down overall this ability to recognize inconsistencies in both life events and logic with serve him well in the future.
Kaleidoscopes took on a new meaning since I taught high school students and my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The ever-changing images and panoply for hues remind me that despite the daily challenges my students and my son face with having autism, they bring to the world a diversity that colors the world in truly indescribable and joyful ways! I encourage you to discover a kaleidoscope moment today.