Daily Donnybrook- The Day I Finally KO’d My Former Self

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Depression and anxiety are invisible disorders that fail to show physical signs to the untrained eye. I may seem like a normal young adult in American. I may appear to have my life together: I am married, have three adorable children, own a house, and have a job with benefits. Outwardly, I seem to be fine and dandy all the time.

In reality, I have been fighting a battle my entire life. My foe knows me at the most intimate level—knows my deepest fear, greatest strengths, and what makes me tick. The greatest challenger I ever faced in life is me! This summer I embarked on a journey to acquire tools, strategies, and weapons to combat “my former self”. Earlier this week, I finally broke through the darkness of negativity, anxiety, and depression. I metaphorically knocked out my opponent in a cage match of cranial proportions! Let me share with you how I achieved that.

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1. Professional Help: Recently, I started seeing a professional counsel to help me manage my anxiety and to provide tips to overcome stressful situations. Frankly, my pride staved off appointments as long as possible. I have maintained consistency with scheduling and keeping monthly appointment for a few months now. I can definitely tell the tide is shifting toward favoring “my new self”. I faced a situation at work this week that normally would stress me out. I would tend to obsess over things outside of my control. I faced a situation where I finally consciously  worked to deescalate and did it in an effective, calm, and timely fashion without having any feeling of guilt or anxiety! Professional help from both my counselor and medical doctor– who prescribed me an anxiety medicine that works for me—provided me strength to succeed against my past self.

I used to think that asking for help showed weakness—and that it was a bad thing. My new way of thinking is asking for help still shows weakness—but weakness and vulnerability is not necessarily negative. It is healthy to rely on others.

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2. Unexpected Friendships: Fellowship is strength. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” I do not believe it is a coincidence that I was sent two blessings of possible friendships within the past week at work.

A team member at my site stopped my desk and started up a jovial conservation about Green Bay Packer football and the joys [and anguishes] of playing the classic Nintendo 64 game NFL Blitz 2001. No prompting on my end, this meeting was seemingly random, but it was good—we talked for over 20 minutes!

The second example of an unexpected friendship arrived from a different route. I received an unexpected compliment [ please see my post How an Unexpected Compliment Revitalized My Week for more information] from a co-worker at a different work site. This week we have interacted through email and worked on a couple escalated accounts. During the stress of the week, I have been able to look to this team member for positive feedback and support.

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3. Music: Along with professional help and burgeoning work friendships, I have made it a point to increase the amount of Christian music I listen to on the radio during my drives to and from work. A particular inspiring song started playing as I arrived into the employee parking lot this morning. Instead of quickly turning off the car and rushing to work, I stayed to finish the ending of the song. The melody and words calmed my nervous nature down. I am able to reflect on some of the song lyrics throughout the day in my mind when I face a tough situation.

When I come home, I have been incorporating music in the early evening pre-bedtime routine. The benefits are two-fold: we limit television time for our children and music calms my youngest son down and mitigates the severity of his tantrums—they have been getting concerning lately both in frequency and length. Matt Maher, a Catholic singer and song writer, probably gives me the best songs to listen to overcome my anxiety. I strongly encourage you to play his music—I find it incredibly soothing and positive.

I am champion this week’s battle against my “former self”. Here is the thing about depression and anxiety, this battle is ongoing and constant. Tomorrow presents a new opportunity for me to KO my “former self”. Professional help, fellowship of friends, and positive music created the perfect game-plan to defeat my former way of thinking. If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, try these tactics. Sometimes it may work. For some people these strategies may not work. The key is learning to find people and tools to help you on your our “Daily Donnybrook against your former self”. I will leave you to reflect on the lyrics of an exceptionally positive song by Madisa—Overcomer:

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Staring at a stop sign Watching people drive by T mac on the radio Got so much on your mind Nothing’s really going right Looking for a ray of hope

Whatever it is you may be going through I know he’s not gonna let it get the best of you

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

Everybody’s been down Hit the bottom, hit the ground

Ooh, You’re not alone Just take a breath, don’t forget Hang on to his promises He wants you to know

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

The same man, the great I am The one who overcame death Is living inside of you So just hold tight, fix your eyes On the one who holds your life There’s nothing he can’t do He’s telling you

You’re an overcomer Stay in the fight ’til the final round You’re not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now You might be down for a moment Feeling like it’s hopeless That’s when he reminds you That you’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

You’re an overcomer You’re an overcomer

See don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

Don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

Don’t quit, don’t give in You’re an overcomer

You’re an overcomer

Am I Salt or Sugar of the Earth?

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According to Matthew 7:15, Jesus cautions us by saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” Frankly, I did not realize that adage originated from the Gospels. Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Thinking about this phrase I have come to realize that Jesus is speaking not only to humanity in general, but directly to me! I need to be consistent in my love toward God and my fellow man in order to avoid turning into that same false prophet I am called to be on the look-out for.

Jesus spoke with such clarity and used tangible examples. I am not going to “reinvent the wheel” regarding today’s topic. During his Sermon on the Mount discourse in Matthew 5, the Good Teacher charged his followers to be the salt of the earth. Above there are two pictures: one is salt the other is sugar. At face value both appear to be indistinguishable—similar to a wolf donning lamb’s fleece is camouflaged from its prey. Salt and sugar play a significant part in our life. Both add flavor to otherwise dull food. Excessive amounts of sodium and sugar lead to health problems. What I want to focus on is the dichotomous relationship between salt and sugar? Am I the salt or sugar of the Earth? Let’s see!

1. To preserve or not to preserve…that is the question: Aside from flavoring bland dishes or enhancing taste in already good meals, the main purpose of salt is to preserve food against deterioration. Salt draws out excess water from foods and dehydrates it. This process allows for increased storage times—especially in cases where food is in abundance and needs to be saved for later periods. Jesus used the example of salt because of its universal application and practical usage in daily living. He calls Christians to act as theological relish and preservative to society. Sometimes a little salt goes a long way in improving the taste of food. We need not feel defeated if it feels like we are moving against a seeming endless tide of negativity from the world. Holiness is what all Christians are called to—look at the saints and the witness they provided a world in despair.

2. Deny Yourself and Follow Him: In high school, I took chemistry and became fascinated with the various atomic structures of elements, molecules, and compounds. I found a certain beauty in their ordering and design. Below are picture of the atomic structure of NaCL [sodium chloride- table salt] and C₆H₁₂O₆ [glucose- a common sugar].

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From a microscopic vantage point, a clear distinction may be made between these two common household items. Both are composed of entirely different elements [hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen in Glucose] and [sodium and chloride in salt]. Along with the having different building materials, sugar and salt are fashioned with different types of bonds—covalent and ionic respectively. Covalent bonds are stronger because the shared electron is what keeps the elements held together whereas in an ionic bond one element loses an electron to another causing one element to become positively charged and the other to become negatively charged such as in the case of NaCl or table salt.

In other words, the elements in table salt lose an electron to effect the ionic charge of the sodium or chloride molecule. Initially, losing may be viewing negativity [no pun intended!]. One may think that due to the stronger nature of the covalent bond in sugar that it should be preferred to salt. The New Testament does shed some light on the reality of loss and rejection. Luke 9:23-25 turns this notion on its head when Jesus says, “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. 24For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?'”

Christ’s words elicit a sense of paradox, yet allure within my mind. Interesting, I gain life when I serving other’s needs above my selfish desires. In my weakness I am stronger! Through a theological ionic bond, Christians act as holy seasoning to embolden our world.

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3. Instant Gratification Leads to Decay: Dentists frighten me. Not in The Exorcist or The Shining sort of way. Still, I get apprehensive, anxious, and move toward hypochondriac-like behaviors when the subject of dentists come up. Perhaps, it stemmed from my penchant as a little kid for losing my teeth quickly and easily. Or maybe my periodontal panic happened due to my need for braces– not once, but twice in my elementary school years! Regardless of where this toothy torment began, I recognize that when I limit my sugar intake life is much easier during my semi-annual check-ups.

Excessive sugar proves damaging to both our physical and mental well-being. Unhealthy attraction to sugar is simply a euphemism for the sin of gluttony. Our society suffers from the belief that instant gratification is better than self-denial or self-control. I am as guilty of this vice as anyone. I have made it a point to limit my sugar consumption and practice fasting– to help me both spiritually and physically. I think Jesus choose not to use sugar as an example to relate to Christians because he understood the appeal and temptation this food item poses for humanity.

While sugar and salt look similiar in outward appearance the two are vastly different. How do we distinguish between the two? First, we learn to trust the authority of the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of these products. We trust that the packaging is correct. When a box at the grocery store says “SUGAR” it really is sugar and not salt. A second way to learn is more difficult– through the school of experience. Maybe sugar is housed in a clear container in your home. If you forgot to label it only tasting the substance will you determine if it truly is sugar and not salt.

The same may be said about temptations and goods sent our way. Oftentimes, Satan dresses up sin as “sugar” to enhance its allure. This makes is easier to fell prey to his trap. Our adversary disguised sin under the costume of a juicy fruit– see Genesis 3 for the story of the Fall. May we continue to rely on the tradition of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scriptures, and testament of the saints for guidance in our journey toward holiness. Let us be the salt of the Earth and preserve society! There is more to you than meets the eye.

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How an Unexpected Compliment Revitalized My Week

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According to the urban dictionary, the phrase “case of the Mondays” means: a general malaise felt on the first day back to work after the weekend. I was set-up to have a profound “case of the Mondays” yesterday. I came off a superb weekend with visiting close friends and their newborn son . Additionally, I had extra work built up due to me leaving early last Friday–perfect ingredients for a terrible start to the work week! My Monday started with an unexpected three hours of training—I only remembered getting a single email reminder about it as week leading up to it. I am a person who thrives on routine and consistency. I was primed to be a knotted ball of stress going into my lunch break. Something sudden and seemingly inadvertent happened—I received an unexpected compliment!

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1. Thankfulness is life-giving: I received praise from a team member that I worked with on a couple escalated accounts last week. She lauded me for my professionalism in dealing with the troublesome situation caused by mistakes in our business line’s process. This flabbergasted me. I felt like I failed in a myriad of ways to end last week—I got frustrated, lacked trust in workflow processes, and doubted my ability to perform my job.

This simple complimentary email filled me with joy. Gratitude tends to reinvigorate souls in despair. The great American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou once said, “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good”. The only thing I would change about her statement is that we should carry the pillow of gratitude throughout the day not just at night.

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2. Praise Pontoon Against my Pride: Normally, when I receive praise at work I struggle to stay humble. My pride tends to well up until it overflows and leads to problems for me later that day or week. Authentic praise and gratitude is a theological ark against the sin of pride. Monday’s workday consisted of many deadlines and high priority cases. The compliment provided protection from the rain of Monday’s anxiety.

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3. Wrestling Wickedness: St. Catherine of Bologna lived in the 15th century, yet her holiness remains relevant for us today. She compiled a list of seven general tenets [I call them weapons to fight sin] to grow in holiness. Here is a brief summary:

a. The first weapon I call zeal, that is solicitude in doing good, since the Holy Scripture condemns those who are negligent and lukewarm in the way of God (Apocalypse 3.15-16).

b. The second weapon is mistrust of self, that is, to believe firmly and without doubt that one could never do anything good by oneself, as Christ Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).

c. The third weapon is to put one’s trust in God and for love of him to fiercely wage battle with great readiness of spirit against the devil and against the world and one’s own flesh which is given one in order that it might serve the spirit.

d. The fourth is the memory of the glorious pilgrimage of that immaculate lamb, Christ Jesus, and especially his most holy death and passion, keeping always before the eyes of our minds the presence of his most chaste and virginal humanity.

e. The fifth weapon is to remind oneself that we must die.

f. The sixth weapon is the memory of the goods of paradise which are prepared for those who lawfully struggle by abandoning all the vain pleasures of the present life in accord with the saying of the most holy doctor Saint Augustine that it is impossible to enjoy present goods and future ones too.

g. The seventh weapon with which we can conquer our enemies is the memory of Holy Scripture which we must carry in our hearts and from which, as from a most devoted mother, we must take counsel in the things we have to do.

 

The overall theme in these tenets is that gratitude and trust overcome the prowess of evil. Catherine uses the term memory. Thankfulness boiled to its simplest meaning is essential remembrance of an act someone did toward you. To remind ourselves of God’s trust and the good [and maybe not so good] things in our lives is a way to help in cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

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4. Sow tears…acquire joy: The psalmist proclaims in Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy.” Prior to this week, the meaning of these words eluded my understanding. Understanding prayers of laments usually do not occur until after a blessing is granted. This is definitely the case for me. In a way, I planted a theological garden with my tears of frustration last week. Over the weekend, God worked in the heart of my co-worker and inspired her to write a generous thank you letter to show how I am appreciated. Growing takes time. We just need to trust that God will transform tears into joy in His providential scheduling.

C.S. Lewis understood the importance of living with thankfulness on the forefront of our mind. He once said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” Let us continue to rely on time and space as a schoolhouse in developing gratitude!

Detective Daddy Episode 3: Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Characters:

Detective Daddy: Me

Apple Aficionado: Josiah

Sir Isaac Newton: Ancestor of the former sippy cup snatcher

Annie Applesmith- town resident

Stephen Savant- town resident

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Prologue [summer afternoon, England, 1667]: Sir Isaac Newton rested under the foliage of a large apple tree. The past few weeks have been exhausting—teaching at the science academy, daily research on the peculiar fall of apple from the branches, and on top of it all he came home to tend to his ill mother. Life was busy and constantly in motion. Isaac seemed close to an explanation for a working theory on the subject of gravity—an invisible force in the world. Relying on his previous successes and family name has allowed Isaac to stave off criticism from his scientific peers. “I need some real evidence soon,” though Isaac. “Otherwise, my tenure at the local university will be over! How else will I be able to support my mother?”

Pensively gazing at the ripe red apples from the tree, Isaac remembered how his interest in science began. His father owned an apple orchard and enjoyed telling little Isaac about the various breeds and farming methods to produce the best apple crop. Isaac had a tenuous relationship with his dad, but the topic of apples always provided an easy way to connect. “What if I had more time with him?” thought Isaac. Perhaps if he had a better relationship he would be ready to form a family of his own. “I am thirty-nine with no marital prospects in sight,” Isaac reflected. He needed this scientific breakthrough to come and to come soon. Staring up at the

clouds he started to nod off. His mind kept repeating the some words to himself: “Hopefully the apple does not fall far from the tree; hopefully the apple does not fall far from the tree.”

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Summer 2017: Opening his mini-refrigerator in his office, Detective Daddy surveyed his selection of fresh fruit for a small afternoon snack. Grapes, oranges, plums, and strawberries lined the inside rack- the colors providing a kaleidoscopic effect. The private investigator’s eyes did not rest until they landed on a brilliant red, crisp Braeburn. “I need to go to the store,” Detective Daddy said to himself as this was the final apple.

Along with being his favorite fruit, apples held a special place in his heart. Detective Daddy remembered fond memories of yearly trips to the apple orchard with his family. An apple a day kept his deductive skills from decaying. Recently pulled out of retirement due to the emergence of the Sippy Cup Snatcher, the veteran gumshoe quickly got back into his routine. Within the last month, he solved 15 cases! “Headquarters better promote me to super-sleuth,” thought Detective Daddy.

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Later that day: Within the heart of the town, the Sippy Cup Snatcher forlornly meandered up and down the streets. Fresh on parole from his recent stint in timeout from stealing sippy cups and causing shenanigans, the former criminal enjoyed the first moments of freedom. Pilfering water holders did not interest him anymore—no, the Sippy Cup Snatcher set his sights on a far sweeter reward—arboreal antics.

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Annie’s Apple Orchard [city limits]: Detective Daddy received a call from an anxious owner of the town’s favorite orchard Annie Applesmith. People also wondered if her surname motivated Annie to continue the family business. Unfortunately, that tale will take too long to tell as Detective Daddy discovered key clues to crack this case. Scattered across the grassy rows of the orchard were a plethora of bruised apples. “Muscles, bruises, strong, disregard for apples feelings,” the sleuth uttered to himself. “Annie, I think I have a lead,” declared Detective Daddy. “But I need more evidence. Call me if you see any other suspicious activity” he said.

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Municipal Library [downtown]: Stephen Savant, the town’s head librarian called Detective Daddy exactly 9.80 days from the incident at Annie’s Apple Orchard. “Detective, I found strange shenanigans that occurred in our non-fiction section”.

After arriving at the library and questioning Mr. Savant, Detective Daddy scoured the crime scene [The non-fiction science section]. Both rows of bookshelves consisted of books stacked in orderly manner. A lone book laid half-open on the floor– Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. “Eureka!” exclaimed Detective Daddy. A couple of elderly library regulars put their fingers to their lips to hush him. The private eye was interrupting a compelling discussion of Willa Cather’s My Antonia. “Sorry,” apologized Detective Daddy. “Wrong mathematician! I know where our Apple Aficionado will strike next,” he stated.

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Pink Lady Park [9.80 days later]: With the help of Annie Applesmith and Stephen Savant, Detective Daddy waited in his granny smith apple colored car. They waited and waited what seemed like 9.80 hours. “According to my watch, we waited exactly 9.80 hours,” stated Stephen.

As Detective Daddy deduced the Apple Aficionado made his move. Circular objects started falling out of the sky and landing on the sleuth’s car. “THUD, THUD, THUD!” It sounds like a hail storm outside. Exiting the car, Detective Daddy yelled, “Stop! I know what you are doing. You almost had us fooled.” Annie and Stephen prepared themselves for an intense chase scene which would ultimately lead to Detective Daddy’s record 16th solved case for the month.

Nothing of that transpired. Instead, Detective Daddy praised the Apple Aficionado. “I would like to offer you a job on my team—as lead scientific inquirer. You almost had me fooled and thinking you reverted back to your cute capered ways.” Detective Daddy went on to fill Annie and Stephen in on the motivation of the Apple Aficionado. He was the long lost descendent of the great scientist Isaac Newton. The penchant for apples and idiosyncratic interest in integers pointed toward the English scientist’s study and discovery of the law of gravity. “Let me guess, the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in the library sealed the case?!” exclaimed Stephen. “Yes, all I needed was one last observance to test my hypothesis…the apple does not fall far from the tree,” stated Detective Daddy.

Detective Daddy arrived back in his office later that week. “Great, it has arrived,” He told the figure sitting in the chair before his desk. The private investigator replaced his old door sign with a plaque that read:

D.D. and A.A.

Detective Agency

***

No Crime too Small to Solve

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Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D Part 11- Elijah and John the Baptist

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Possessing both a Bachelor of Arts in history and a continued passion for the subject, I constantly remind myself to view persons and events in a large historical context. According to the English poet John Donne in his poem No Man is an Island,

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

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No person lives in isolation free from the influences of others humans and world events. Viewing connections between the Old and New Testaments is no different. Events and characters throughout the history and religious development of Judaism forged the way for the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D. series, I have portrayed that contextual reading is not merely a preferred, but an essential component to understanding and unlocking the fullness of Jesus’ gospel message. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism)…. Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself.105 Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament.106 As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New (CCC 123, 129).

Today I wish to share the relationship between the famous Old Testament prophet Elijah and how he is a predecessor and prefiguring of John the Baptist.

1. Tackling Tyrants: Elijah and John the Baptist both faced wicked monarchs in their respective times. The Old Testament prophets vehemently opposed the evil ways of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. In 1 Kings 21, Elijah was able to get the king to repent of and humble himself before the Lord.

Similarly, John the Baptist squared off against an evil ruler as well—King Herod. Standing up to the king, John was loud in Herod’s lusting after and seeking to marry his brother’s ex-wife Herodias. The prophet’s continual condemnation of Herod’s evil led to John’s beheading.

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2. Desert Dudes: Both prophets spent enormous amounts of time praying and fasting in the desert. According to 1 Kings 19:1-14, Elijah flees to the desert to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel after he destroyed the prophets of the idol Ba’al. The prophet spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness. His period of fasting culminated with his famous encounter with God in the stillness and quite voice.

Fast forward to the New Testament and John the Baptist lives in a similar manner. Matthew 3 tells of John preaching in the desert of Judea—clothed in camel hides and

eating locusts. His speech against false worship is similar is tone to Elijah. The Baptist chastised the Pharisees and Sadducees by saying,

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. 9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.f 10Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

3. Harbinger of Greatness: As profound and mighty  prophets both Elijah and John the Baptist were in their own regard, they ultimately paved the way for someone greater to follow—Elisha and Jesus respectively. Elisha’s superiority is exemplified in providing greater miracles and ultimately being a foreshadowing of Jesus himself. The successor of Elijah, healed lepers, multiplied food, and resurrected the widow’s son. All of these miracles are things Jesus performed—simply on a grander manner.

The liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church places the feast day of John the Baptist on June 24th. It is interesting to note that this placement is close to the summer solstice and the time of the year where the day slowly starts to grew less and less. Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, occurs after the winter solstice. During the darkest periods of the year, there exists hope on December 25th as the daylight is increasing. John the Baptist tells us his role in salvation history. The prophet states, “He must increase while I must decrease!” (John 3:30).

John also defers to Jesus in Mark 1:7-8 when he says, “And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.'”

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Today I will close with an excerpt from a sermon by St. Augustine for the Feast of St. John the Baptist. I found it while praying the Liturgy of the Hours. For more information on this amazing ancient public prayer of the Catholic Church please feel free to visit http://www.divineoffice.org.

(Sermo 293,1-3: PL 38, 1327-1328)

The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we celebrate the birthdays of John and of Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit. John was born of a woman too old for childbirth; Christ was born of a youthful virgin. The news of John’s birth was met with incredulity, and his father was struck dumb. Christ’s birth was believed, and he was conceived through faith. Such is the topic, as I have presented it, for our inquiry and discussion. But as I said before, if I lack either the time or the ability to study the implications of so profound a mystery, the Spirit who speaks within you even when I am not here will teach you better; it is the Spirit whom you contemplate with devotion, whom you have welcomed into your hearts, whose temples you have become. John, then, appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of “the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist.” Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ’s precursor, before they ever saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human frailty. Eventually he is born, he receives his name, his father’s tongue is loosened. See how these events reflect reality. Zechariah is silent and loses his voice until John, the precursor of the Lord, is born and restores his voice. The silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ. At John’s arrival Zechariah’s voice is released, and it becomes clear at the coming of the one who was foretold. The release of Zechariah’s voice at the birth of John is a parallel to the rending of the veil at Christ’s crucifixion. If John were announcing his own coming, Zechariah’s lips would not have been opened. The tongue is loosened because a voice is born.

When John was preaching the Lord’s coming he was asked, “Who are you?” And he replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” The voice is John, but the Lord “in the beginning was the Word.” John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.

Thank you God for the strong and passionate witnesses to the truth in the persons of Elijah and John the Baptist!

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3 Reasons Why My Life is like a Maze

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The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” His words seemed geared especially for my ears. I tend to overthink and over analyze situations in my life. As a result, instead of simply living I conflate daily stresses into something bigger than need be. I started doing puzzles to help me deal with my anxiety. I also rediscovered my childhood love of maze puzzles. That got me thinking life is sort of like a maze. The dictionary defines the word maze as “a network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way out”. A secondary definition for this word is when it is used as a verb: “to be dazed and confused”. I will incorporate both descriptions about mazes in my writing today. Here are three ways why my life lately is like a maze.

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1. Life is complex, yet beautifully simple: Life is a busy and complex event. As a parent of three children life grows greater in complexity: school is starting up shortly, bedtime routines need to be followed strictly, kids get sick, my wife is starting a new job, my job is ever-changing on a weekly basis. Life is complex. But does it have to be.

When I stop and reflect on my life all I truly need to do include: feeding my family and myself, providing a shelter, teaching my children, providing clothing, and helping my wife. Life is a paradox—it is both simple and complex. Matthew 6:25-34 tells of the simplicity in life and Jesus urges his followers [and us] not to worry as we will be provided for because the birds of the air and other creatures are cared for as well.

Mazes are both simple and complex. All mazes have a beginning and end—simple. However, each maze is unique in its level of complexity due to the amount of dead-ends and size—complex.

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2. Know the beginning and the end: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, provides me clarity about the purpose and goal of this life.

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. (CCC 27).

Through faith and science I know that the origin of the universe began with a omnipotent force—known to Christians as God. Witnesses of the saints’ lives, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and my faith inform me that death is not the end. Rather it is a springboard to a possible eternity with God. Life is like a maze in that it is book-ended with a clear start and finish. Why does the in between section [life] become complicated? Why do I find myself laboring through a labyrinth? The answer is simple—I forget the beginning and end goals of my puzzle that I call life.

3. Dot-to-dot living- perception or possibility?: Along with mazes, I enjoyed completing dot-to-dot puzzles in my elementary years. Having a son going into kindergarten this year has reminded me of these fun and simple type of games. Unlike mazes, dot-to-dots are straightforward—you simply start with the lowest number [or letter] dot and connect it to the next digit until the puzzle is complete. Oftentimes, I wish my life played out more like a dot-to-dot puzzles than a maze. I enjoy order and a linear pattern to living. Why does God allow life to exist in dot-to-dot manner? Why does He permit mazes caused by evil [personal and natural] to tangle up my life?

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I asked these questions during period of my deepest depression and intense suffering. Arriving on the other side of suffering, I came to realize both through experience and prayer that God allows mazes to develop in human life due to the gift of free will. Freedom is both the greatest gift and great challenge we face on a daily basis. I am free to try impose my control over this life and fashion it into dot-to-dot living or I am free to embrace the a[maze]ness of this life and learn to rely on others and God for help and support when I inevitably face apparent dead-ends in my spiritual life.

Centering my life on a proper order of love—God, family, friend, fellow men—provides stability. Instead of laboring through life’s labyrinth, embracing my maze allows me to live to the fullest. Saint John tells us of God’s enduring nature in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, then beginning and the end.” When I view life through this sense I am able to incorporate Confucius’ teaching in daily living.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

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Why St. Martha is the Perfect Saint for My Birthday!

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July 29th was my 30th birthday! More importantly it is the Feast Day of St. Martha the friend of Jesus Christ and brother to St. Lazarus and St. Mary. I have always shared a special connection to this ancient Christian role model. My own personal journey to overcome anxiety, worry, OCD, and constant movement in both my daily and spiritual life. Here I want to share a couple ways by which Martha is a perfect person to share July 29th.

  1. Action, Action, Action: Diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, I remember always being in motion as a kid. I know that sounds cliche to talk about children move around, wiggling, and lacking focus, but for me that was and still is some days true. I struggled with sitting still. I seen this trait passed on to my own children as well. Both my son and daughter rarely are able to sit down for a complete meal. In fact they have a tough time sitting still for more than a couple minutes at a time. Needless to say, the action and constant movement of St. Martha appeals to me on a personal level. busyness.jpg
  2. “Martha [Matt], Martha [Matt], you are anxious and worried about many things”:  Another reason the patron saint of homemakers is a perfect person to share my birthday with is due to her anxiety. Martha complains directly to Jesus about her sister Mary in Luke 10:40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The hospitality of Martha was negated by the tactless manner upon which she communicated her frustrations about her sister to Jesus. Jesus calmly replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” How often do I experience similar frustrations when I think I am doing more to prepare for guests than my wife or other members of my family. Preparation and hospitality are good in and of themselves. Where the trouble lies in Martha’s situation is she worried about something fleeting [the itinerary of the feast]  instead of cleaving to the eternal [sitting at the feet of Christ].
  3. Initial doubt, then Trust: Along with both the personal limitations Martha struggled with constantly and the focus on the minutiae of daily life, her initial doubt of Jesus’ ability to help Lazarus reminds me of my own frequent self-doubt. According to John 11, Jesus heard news of the Lazarus– the brother of Mary and Martha– being ill.

    I always found these two sentences in this story interesting and bewildering: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was” (John 11: 5-6). Wait. If Jesus really loved his friends, why in the world did he procrastinate the equivalent of a weekend’s worth of time? Basically his response is no different that if I heard that my parents were severely ignored and instead of rushing to the hospital immediately I stayed at my house for the weekend. To be honest, this passage was a difficulty for myself. It is reading the entirely of the chapter– and reading it in light of the Resurrected Christ– that I realized John is preparing us for a tremendous miracle– the raising of Lazarus.

    Martha’s reply to Jesus entering the city of Bethany is similar to something I would say, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!”  (John 11: 21). I often lament to God saying, “If only you answered my prayers timely would I not be suffering at this moment!”

    St. Paul reassures us that even in the face of suffering, doubt, and strife, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). This was actually the first line in the second reading of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30th). I actually planned to write this post on Saturday. I am grateful that my friend took me to see the newest Spiderman movie in theaters for my birthday because I would not have  made the connection to Paul’s message and the anxiety that both St. Martha and I share. We know that all things work for good for those who love God. This timeless message also reminds me of this Lauren Daigle song I heard on the radio this weekend as week. The song is titled Trust in You  and here are the lyrics:


    Letting go of every single dream

    I lay each one down at Your feet
    Every moment of my wandering
    Never changes what You see
    I try to win this war
    I confess, my hands are weary, I need Your rest
    Mighty warrior, king of the fight
    No matter what I face You’re by my side
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
    There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
    So let all things be my life and breath
    I want what You want Lord and nothing less
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    You are my strength and comfort
    You are my steady hand
    You are my firm foundation
    The rock on which I stand
    Your ways are always higher
    Your plans are always good
    There’s not a place where I’ll go
    You’ve not already stood
    When You don’t move the mountains
    I’m needing You to move
    When You don’t part the waters
    I wish I could walk through
    When You don’t give the answers
    As I cry out to You
    I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
    I will trust in You
  4. Cleanliness is next to Godliness: Martha is known as the patron saint of housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers, and servants. While I am not a great cook, I am a clean-freak. As a result of my OCD, I tend to do the majority of the household cleaning chores [I have control issues that I am currently working on]. I also helped my mom with her cleaning business as a kid and I worked in the fast food industry cooking and serving food for almost seven years during high school and college. Little did I know God was using my experiences with menial jobs to forge a relationship with one of the New Testament saints.

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Going into writing this post, I had some anxiety about how I would finish it properly. What I have learned is that God will transform the ordinary– in this case my anxiety and work experiences and raise it to a newness of creation. Sharing my birthday with the feast day of St. Martha of Bethany is an honor and a privilege. While I can wait to get another year older I cannot wait to celebrate this wonderful saint’s feast day again next year!

 

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