St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
This prayer is a staple in every Catholic’s spiritual arsenal. I used to believe that St. Michael was the greatest rival to Satan. Over the course of the past few years, my thoughts on spiritual warfare have developed. While I cannot pinpoint a precise date and time on when my thoughts changed, two distinct books influenced my thinking: Fulton Sheen’s The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God and St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary. Along with a closer reading and re-reading of Sacred Scripture, I have determined that Mary, not St. Michael the Archangel is the true general of God’s army and greatest rival to the Devil!
- Insight from Fulton Sheen: According to Catholic Church tradition, the followers of Christ on Earth are known as members of the church militant. When Jesus ascended to Heaven in Acts 1, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us. He also gave Mary as mother to all of humanity (see John 19:27). Fulton Sheen put it this way, “God gave hope to our disturbed and weak humanity. Oh, yes! He is our Model, but He is also the Person of God! There ought to be, on some human level, Someone who would give humans hope, Someone who could lead us to Christ, Someone who would mediate between us and Christ as He mediates between us and the Father” (The Word’s First Love: Mary, the Mother of God p. 9).
We are called to be soldiers for God in the spiritual battle against the Devil. May we look to Mary as our general to lead and intercede for us on behalf of Jesus- King of Kings!
- Insight from St. Louis de Montfort: Arguably the most influential saint of modern times regarding devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort impacted me greatly during the past few years. In reading his True Devotion to Mary, my wife and I participated in our first consecration to Jesus through Mary this spring! My devotion to Mary and understanding of Mariology increased due to the intercession of the 17th century saint. While his entire treatise on Marian devotion is excellent, I will highlight my favorite passage that I bookmarked and underlined in my copy of True Devotion to Mary. De Montfort says,
Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin’s, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God (p.52).
When I first read this passage I immediately re-read it. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Did St. Louis really claim Satan fears Mary more than God? The more I reflected on his intrepid claim, the more I saw his logic. The pride of Satan is so debilitating that he must sink to the level of creature-hood. As a part of creation, the devil’s true adversary would need to be a creature, not the Creator—Mary fits that bill better than St. Michael based off my reading of St. de Montfort.
- Insight from Genesis: Along with evidence from the Tradition of the Catholic Church, the Bible references Mary’s adversarial role against Satan. A commonly cited Old Testament text on Mariology is Genesis 3:15. Referred to as the proto-evangelium, or pre-Gospel, this text foreshadows Mary’s role in salvation history of being the Mother of God. God’ promise goes as follows, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15). Throughout history, Christian art depicted Mary standing triumphant, crushing Satan’s [represented by a snake] skull. Such imagery reminds me of the Blessed Virgin’s role as a spiritual protector and warrior against evil!
- Insight from Judith: Marian figures depicted as a warrior continues in the Old Testament with the Book of Judith. Catholic Church tradition connects the title hero of the Book of Judith as an Old Testament prefiguration of Mary. The official public prayer of the Catholic Church—the Liturgy of the Hours— cites Judith 13:17-18 and 13:18-19 on the mid-morning reading on the Feast of the Assumption and the noon reading on the Feast of Mary’s Birthday respectively.
The praise by King Uzziah on Judith mirrors the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Mary as “Blessed among all woman”. The Old Testament monarch declared to Judith, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18). Judith helped free the Israelite people from evil. In similar fashion, Mary is depicted as leading the charge against Satanic forces in the world.
- Insight from Judges: Another Old Testament figure traditionally interpreted as a type, or foreshadowing of Mary is the judge from the Book of Judges. Judges 5 contains the Song of Deborah which is a hymn proclaiming the wisdom and strength Deborah demonstrated in leading victory over the Israelite’s oppressors. As a good general, Deborah delegated authority to her special forces agent- Jael. It was Jael who snuck into the enemy camp and killed Sisera the evil Canaanite general. According to Franciscan University professor Mark Miraville, “The crushing of the head of Sisera by Jael and the victory over the Canaanites by Deborah and Barak brings peace for a generation after them. This is also a foreshadowing of the peace Christ and Mary will bring, “through the blood of His Cross,” for all generations!”
Both Scripture and Tradition attest to the prefiguration and eventual role of Mary as general of the Church militant. Seeing Mary as the spiritual commander obedient to the King of all Kings has helped me better understand the honor we bestow on the Blessed Mother. Mary is not greater than the Holy Spirit, rather she is the servant of servants. Let us reflect on the words from the Majestic Queen of Heaven Prayer and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom to properly treat Mary with respect and dignity:
Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of Satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?”
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love.
O Mother of God, send forth the holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe.
Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us.
Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. During the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.” When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,
I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.
Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”
- Persistence pays off: Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way (Luke 19:4). Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.
- Jesus Chooses the Imperfect: Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle to physically see Jesus among the crowd, he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen—he was a tax collector! According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)” Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,” Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).
- Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing: A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness. Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus. Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.
***“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien***
On a beautiful Thursday spring afternoon, I was counting down the minutes until closing time at the Municipal Museum. Employed as a part-time custodian and studying as a full-time graduate student, I had a busy week. I was ready for my shift to end. I looked forward to having a sit-down dinner with my wife. Fifteen minutes before five o’clock, a mom with a young boy entered the facility. Sweeping the entryway at this time, I politely greeted them and advised that we would be closing shortly. The mom quickly acknowledged me and rushed after her galloping child as he pursued the exhibits in a seemingly haphazard manner. I immediately noticed this and nonchalantly started to follow the museum visitors as I dusted the display placards. “Why is he acting like this?” I thought.
The boy appeared to lack listening skills and roved in a peculiar pattern. I immediately thought to myself, “Oh great, I always get THESE kind of customers right at closing time. Don’t they know we close at five. And why is that mom not paying attention to her hyperactive kid!” I forget the details of the end of that work day. But what I do remember is that before the family left for the day they visited the gift shop. “He has autism. My son has had a particular obsession with dinosaurs that past few months,” the mom casually remarked to the museum cashier and myself as the boy searched the gift shop for dinosaur paraphernalia.
This seemingly mundane work experience happened over five years ago. Why am I telling you about a random encounter I had with a child with autism? I have never seen this family ever again. Nevertheless, after my oldest son was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum a lot of my past experiences with individuals sharing similar traits to my child revisit me in my dreams and thoughts throughout daily life. See, I thought I knew things about autism before I had children. I acted self-righteous toward that mother five years ago. Today, I want to share three ways my child with autism has humbled me and how our family’s path toward a diagnosis educated me on the uniqueness, trials, and joys of autism!
- Kaleidoscopic, not monochromatic: The error of my previous way of thinking stemmed from a simplistic view of the world. I tended [and oftentimes still do today!] to reduce, or place people into categories. Individuals are either good or bad, respectful or disrespectful, educated or ignorant, right or wrong. I lumped individuals into general categories. Perhaps that was my way [and still is my way] to come to grips with difficult situations and reconcile seemingly contradictory events with the rules and laws of nature. What my precise motivation for having this black/white dichotomous worldview is for another topic. The point is I did not view each person as an individual.
In my journey with learning about my son’s diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, I entered a new realm of possibilities. My old way of seeing the world did not line up with the increasing awareness and knowledge on the study of autism as a spectrum. According to the dictionary, the word spectrum is defined as “a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequence.” Synonyms include: gamut, range, span, or rainbow.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder generally exhibit the following characteristics:
- Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
- Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
- Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
- Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life
During our journey toward a diagnose, my wife and I had our son evaluated because he exhibited OCD tendencies, social-communication issues, and various periods of obsessions . We learned that our son was on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum– he needed some interventions and therapy. Overall, he is still able to communicate pretty well. In other words, my son could hide his autism well, but my wife and I wanted to obtain a diagnosis to grant him services to best help him succeed in daily life. In telling his teachers and caregivers, our son’s great gifts and needs due to his autism diagnosis we get a nearly ubiquitous reply: “Really? He doesn’t look like he has autism.” Autism spectrum disorder is an invisible diagnosis. Being on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum my oldest son appears to be a regular kid. That is the beauty and challenging nature of autism– one shoe does not fit all kids!
Currently our youngest son is trending toward a path similar, yet different from our oldest. He shows the same characteristics as outlined above. A pattern of autism is already present in our family, however, our youngest son experiences different struggles compared to our oldest. Kids with autism spectrum disorder are unique. There are a broad range of issues and gifts, along with a wide array of services available to assist individuals.
- Ever-learning: According to the Autism Speak website, almost 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A few years ago, I heard a commercial on the radio advising that 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with ASD. Why the big increase? Not being an expert myself, I have thought about this situation many times. My wife recently completed her graduate studies on special education and she took several classes relating to autism spectrum disorder. Talking about the rise of ASD, she mentioned that an increased awareness and broadening of the spectrum [recently Asperger’s Syndrome was added] is a factor of such increase.
It is important to realize, that since ASD is a spectrum professionals, in education, psychology, and counseling are constantly learning about autism. In fact, the logo for Autism Speaks is a puzzle piece. Puzzles, like a mystery, contain constant changes in knowledge and basic assumptions may be overturned upon the arrival of new evidence. It is important to realize that if you have a family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance with autism be prepared to be open to learning. Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Actively seek knowledge about autism spectrum disorder and learn to develop empathy. I am certainly working on this and wish I learned this lesson five years ago.
3.No One is a Full Expert: “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” This adage summed up my mindset on the subject of autism. Acting in ignorance and pride, I limited individuals with autism spectrum disorder to a generality instead of unique cases. Truly, no one really in a FULL and complete expert in the field of ASD. I need to continually to be wary of judging my oldest son’s struggles and strengths against my youngest child’s limitations and skills.
As a new parent, I got lots of parenting advice from “so-called” experts. My son did not sleep through the night until he was three years old. I felt like I was being told, “You do not know what you’re doing”. To be frank, a large majority of the time, I spent self-critiquing and self-doubting my ability to parent. Once we got a diagnosis for our son, a weight was lifted. We had an explanation. We had options. I may not have been an expert [nor still am today] but as least my family as direction to help our son.
Please learn from my mistake. Autism spectrum disorder is not uniform in its scope. Initially I failed to see the beautiful hues of humanity within ASD. Individuality exists for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, not conformity or homogeneity. I am by far and expert and I can only see from my humble hue in the case of my son. What I do know is that I am always ready to learn. Although I do not always like being taught I pray for the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit to be open to teaching with grace.
***The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.***
Who are you? This is normally the first question we either ask a person or obtain an answer upon meeting someone for the first time. The Gospel reading for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time is Matthew 16:13-20—AKA the institution of the papacy. Jesus asks his apostles the following question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Having performed many miracles and healings, along with teaching with great teaching authority from God, Jesus elicited a decisive reply from his apostles. Rumors were circulating about the identity of Jesus: Herod claimed he was really John the Baptist [see Matthew 14:1-2] others viewed him as a profound teacher [see Matthew 8:18]. Confusion existed over the uniqueness and purpose of Jesus’ mission during his time on earth.
Peter outlines the various rumors already circulating about in ancient Palestine: Jesus is a reincarnation of old prophets or even John the Baptist [who was beheaded back in Matthew 14!]. Instead of chastising the fisherman, Jesus continues to question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). I have heard this gospel reading dozens of times now. The problem I struggle with as I grow older is that discovering newness to a biblical passage occurs less and less as the years pass. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, I was able to find a new perspective on Matthew 16:13-20. Let me explain three ways I viewed this passage in a newer light.
1. Questioning is good: Skeptics gets a bad rap from supporters of religion. The word skeptic is defined as a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. According to this definition, I most certainly am considered a skeptic at least when it comes to the first half of the definition. I question nearly everything. I ask probably at least a hundred questions a day- both at work and home. Sometimes I feel that people get irritated when I ask so many questions. Whether this belief is founded or not depends on the tone and manner upon which I query. People who genuinely are curious about truth and honestly strive to gain knowledge about the world should not feel guilty about questioning. “There are no such things are a dumb question,” I remember many of my elementary and high school teachers telling me and fellow students.
In other words, a moderate amount of skepticism is good and healthy. Without skepticism we venture to the other side of the spectrum of belief—naivety! Matthew 16:13:20 presents Jesus as a questioner. Twice he asks Peter about who he thinks Jesus really is. Peter’s claim is that Jesus is the Christ—the anointed One from God.
Now, this claim was not simple religious gullibility. Peter and the Apostles spent a lot of time with Jesus traveling from city to city hearing his teaching. Along with listening to his message, the disciples witnessed several miracles first hand. I realized that the evangelist does not have Jesus prod the disciples about his identity until almost midway through the gospel. Why is that? Should not Jesus’ identity be discussed sooner? Reflecting on this chapter in Matthew, I read the chapters leading up and I concluded that perhaps Jesus wanted to give his followers sufficient time for receiving evidence [i.e. witnessing his works, listening to his teaching] before he confronted them with such a loaded question.
2. Truth beyond Perspectives: An anonymous quote I discovered the other day states, “Never believe everything you hear. Because there are always three sides of a story. Yours, theirs and the truth.” Perspective is the ability to look at an event through the lens of another and understand that individual’s point of view. This does not necessarily mean that you have to agree with that perspective, but many situations involve several sides. Belief of Jesus is no different. Discussion about the most famous person in history continues today. People claim to know who he is, others suspend judgment, and still others outright reject the existence of Jesus.
Catholics believe that Jesus institutes the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. Jesus gifts the early Church with a steadfast promise of clarity—in the office of the pope. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father,” Jesus states in Matthew 16:17. Peter and his successors are not honored by the Catholic Church because they were awesome people—remember Peter actually denied knowing Jesus three times before the Crucifixion! God made an interesting selection for the first leader of the Church after Jesus’ Ascension.
Catholics respect the authority of the pope because the Holy Spirit guided Peter [and his successors] and endowed him [and his successors] the gift of discernment and clarity on matters of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit helps the pope present such issues with clarity in confusing times. True, certain matters and events have varying perspectives. But the office of the papacy is guided by the Holy Spirit to allow the leader of the Church to being incapable of officially teaching erroneous things regarding faith and morality.
Light is composed of all visible colors in the electromagnetic spectrum. A prism is a tool to demonstrate this truth through refracting light into various wavelengths. In an analogous manner, the pope acts as a sort of theological prism upon which the unity of office is reflected in the diversity of individuals who hold that office. Over time, truth passed on to Peter from Christ is clarified and more clearly defined by future popes. Seen apart, each pope may seem to be teaching differently. However, when viewed through the prism of history and the office of the papacy, Catholic teaching is concentrated into a singular light of truth.
3. Who is Jesus to Me?: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” Jesus urges his Apostles in Matthew 25:45. How often do I forget that humanity on the periphery— the impoverished, the infirmed, individuals filled with despair, etc—are people I am called to love and serve. As an American, I have grown accustomed to decent living conditions. I have a house, family, money to pay the bills, and adequate food. Of course, as a Catholic, I see Jesus most fully present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and I do make time throughout the month to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Where I struggle and have an opportunity to improve in my spiritual life is to be more conscience to pray for people on the fringe of society. I need to see Jesus the beggar dwelling inside each of them.
Who are you? This question should be asked daily in our communication with God. He will reveal Himself but we need to be open to an unexpected answer. Faith and tradition tells us that Jesus is the Christ—the anointed Son of God and Savior of the World. Jesus is also the beggar, the impoverished one, the Suffering Servant—to borrower the evangelist Mark’s favorite title of Jesus. Let us embrace the fullness of Jesus both in his glory and his humility. In doing so, we grow in holiness and learn more about our true identity as well!
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them,” the great Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileio Galilei once said. Earlier this week, I received confirmation about a truth I was on the path of discovering for several years now—that Wednesday it a high point of the week for me! Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, I mentored an elementary student on the midpoint of the work week. Additionally, I have noticed my children tend to fall asleep easier and more naturally on Wednesday nights.
This past Wednesday I had another encounter with wonder in a surprising place—a local pizza joint. Coming home from a fun-filled, yet busy first day of school [my wife started a new teaching job], my wife was a little worn out from her day and was not able to get supper prepared. Our 18 month old son also recently started a learning explosion earlier in the week. He waved good-bye and started playing properly with his toy cars. Needless to say, I felt that we needed to celebrate this achievement [as his early childhood development intervention plan was bearing fruits!]. We decided to pick up pizza for dinner.
I went to a close-by pizzeria with our youngest son [the 18 month old]. Hauling his sister’s Sophia the First stuffed doll in his right arm while being clothed in a Green Bay Packer onesie, my son showed off his inherent whimsical nature. Entering the dinner dive, a tall middle-aged fellow held the door for us. Other customers awaiting their orders included a couple in their twenties, an elderly lady, and another middle-aged man with a grizzled face—a motley crew indeed. I completed my order and the cashier advised there was going to be a 5 minute wait on the pepperoni pizza.
My son meandered up and down the lobby area. First, he went to gaze and touch the sign at the front counter. Less than a few seconds later, he moved toward the door noticed the doormat and bent down to feel the texture. Finally, he walked up to the customers and stared sheepishly at them. All the customers smiled back at him and me. “How old is he?” the tall gentleman asked me. I answered him and he replied with, “These are the best time of your life…haha…you are just a busy little fellow aren’t you.” He continued genteelly smile at us. When our order was completed, he held the door and told me in a jovial tone, “Now you have fun with that little one and take care!”
This exchange lasted 5 minutes—maybe 6 or 7 if I was truly timing it. Yet, I am still thinking about this wondrous encounter nearly a day later. Why? Aside from that fact that this event occurred on a Wednesday, I cannot provide a definite answer at this time. I did feel a movement of the Holy Spirit at the pizzeria. Is there nothing more typically American, and normal, than a father picking up pizza for his family during the middle of a hectic week? I did not have high expectations, or really any expectations at all, nor did I thought I would acquire anything else from my errand to the local pizzeria besides delicious pepperoni and cheese pizza. Will I meet this kind and cheerful middle-aged man or the other customers ever again in this life? Does he even realize the positive spark he provided me? I may never discover the answer to those questions.
What I think it important to share with this experience is that any event is a chance to rendezvous with the love of the Holy Spirit— a playful, whimsical, powerful, and awe-filled love. I usually see God’s love being experienced in either the lows or highs of my life. Is it possible that God wanted me to experience His profound love in a plainer, simpler way this Wednesday—through the plains and levelness of daily ordinary life?
-All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
Well, I achieved what I thought was the impossible for myself—completing my 100th blog post! Filled with lows, highs, and average experiences, a transformation occurred within my faith life over the course of the past several months. To be honest, as I mulled the title of my hundredth post for many weeks—an anxiety set in. I thought, “What if the title is not perfect or how will I capture the most views?” In the end, the Holy Spirit, I felt, truly inspired me to settle on a title I had the entire time—hidden in the recesses of my mind. It was also existed in plain sight as the subtitle of this blog. A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life is the most honest and real way to describe my writing over the course these past few months. Struggling with inner conflict, depression, while achieving successes, gaining insight from the Holy Spirit, and living through mundane daily routine has shown me that joy is not an instantaneous attainment. Rather, finding true joy takes an entire lifetime.
According to my favorite modern day philosopher Peter Kreeft, joy is to be distinguished from mere happiness. He states in his work Joy, “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness, is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self…St. Thomas says, ‘No man can live without joy’”. The Boston College professor is most certainly right—at least based off of my experiences. Life experiences have taught me more than books or a formal education on the subject of joy. I learned that suffering when encountered against the armor of faith and prayer, instead of destroying my being, I experience joy—I encounter the person of Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis talks about the elusive nature of joy in this life in his work Surprised by Joy. Lewis states, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” I would definitely say that Lewis is on to something. I find momentary joy on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven, but it is not lasting. No matter my successes, both worldly and spiritual, I still long for something greater than any award, pleasure, or spiritual consolation I have received.
Without re-hashing my pursuit toward a joyous life in grand detail and boring you with the minutiae or writing pages upon pages I will share my top five most joyful moments I experienced since my journey began. Please feel free to read [or re-read] and share these posts via the links below. My ardent goal is to reflect Christ’s light daily in hopes to providing joy for a least one soul each day.
1. A Letter to Jeremiah- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/a-letter-to-jeremiah/
2. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lewis-tolkien-and-the-creative-power-of-music/
3. Why Wearing the Armor of Weakness Makes Me Stronger- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/why-wearing-armor-of-weakness-makes-me-stronger/
4. Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer?- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/organized-chaos-or-chaotic-order-which-do-i-prefer/
5. Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans: Why Do I Even Take the Kids to Sunday Mass- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/sweat-stress-and-shenanigans-why-do-i-even-take-the-kids-to-sunday-mass/
Joy occurred when I learned of the will of God and acted in obedience to the Father’s plan. While God’s providence may not always feel like a thing to go after, what I have learned is that joy is beyond feeling. Kreeft tells us,
Every time I have ever said yes to God with something even slightly approaching the whole of my soul, every time I have not only said “Thy will be done” but meant it, loved it, longed for it – I have never failed to find joy and peace at that moment. In fact, to the precise extent that I have said it and meant it, to exactly that extent have I found joy.
I will continue to pursue the joy of the Good News in my daily life. Sometimes I will feel defeat and desolation. Other times I will experience great moments of spiritual consolation. Neither end of the spectrum defines joy properly. Continual prayer and loving my fellow mankind are the truest signposts toward my pursuit toward a joyous life! Finally, I will take today to thank God for the endurance to write, patience to listen to the Holy Spirit, and opportunity to celebrate this little success in my life.
Early on the history of the Catholic Church an admiration existed for Peter and Paul. Aside of Jesus Christ himself, these two men are the main characters in the New Testament. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, church leader Clement of Rome tells of the leadership of Peter and Peter. He wrote,
There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves (First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 5:4-6:1).
Living in the 1st century A.D., Clement’s praise of the first leaders of the Church is evidence that something special changed these men. God selected a simple fisherman and a reformed murderer to head the Catholic Church. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to forever link these two saints lives through having the same feast day on June 29th.
1. Creativity of Truth [St. Paul]: Having the ability to think outside the box and preach to vastly different audiences is a gift. St. Paul possessed both creativity and the flexibility to frame his thoughts to fit the needs and understanding of his particular audiences. Writer of almost 2/3 of the New Testament, St. Paul represents the creative aspect of the Catholic faith. He brings to the table dynamic, vibrant, creative theology to teach Christians in the early Church and today.
The Apostle of the Gentile used many tangible and relatable examples to teach the faith. One of my personal favorites comes from 1 Corinthians 12. Paul clearly and succinctly communicates the fact that unity is found within diversity. He provides the analogy of the Church consisting of one body with many parts and Jesus Christ as the ultimate head of the body. Another clear and understandable example of the love and teaching of God is St. Paul’s frequent references to Christians as adopted children of God. In Romans 8:14-17 he writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.j 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”k 16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,l 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
2. Stability of Truth [St. Peter]: Unlike Paul who represents the intellectual, creative, and theological side of truth, Peter is a model for the consistency and enduring nature of
Catholic teaching. Jesus instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. According to the evangelist the charge to the future pope went as follows,
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The lead up to this significant institutional passage is Peter’s realization of Jesus’ true identity is the Christ. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter led the Catholic Church after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. He led the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and displayed the ultimate mark of faith in his martyrdom. The papacy continues to be an office guided by the Holy Spirit by which unites Christianity and acts as the supreme authority on matters related to faith and morality.
3. Analogy of Tetherball: Truth is unchanging but our understanding of truth developed over the centuries. The genius of the Catholic Church is apparent in the consolidation of Peter and Paul’s feast on a single day. There is a schoolyard game that comes to mind to describe the relationship between the first pope and the great Apostle to the Gentiles—tetherball! Incidentally, it was not until my early twenties that I discovered the joy and fun this recess game provide despite its simplistic nature. I even purchased a tetherball at my local sporting goods store in hopes to eventually install a tetherball post in my background.
To get back from my tetherball tangent, the post in this game reminds me of the stability that the papacy of St. Peter provides. The ball and rope represent the creative theology of
St. Paul. Both are essential aspects of the game [and the Catholic faith]. Without the stability of the papacy, truth devolves into subjectivity and confusion ensues. Likewise, an absence of dynamic theological thought [represented by Paul] leads to staleness, rigidity, and irrelevancy of Catholic teaching. Remember kids recess is an important subject in school too—you never know when you can apply lessons from leisure to real life!
I find no more appropriate way of closing my thoughts on these holy individuals than to cite the words of the successor of Peter. Pope Francis on June 29th, 2017 stated, “The Fathers of the Church liked to compare the holy apostles Peter and Paul to two columns, on which the visible building of the Church rests. Both sealed with their own blood their testimony to Christ of preaching and service to the nascent Christian community.”