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.”
Anxiety is something I have struggled with for the majority of my life. In elementary school, I battled anxiety during standardized testing sessions, constant changes to my schedule, and my shyness in the classroom. As an adult, I was able to mitigate some of my anxiety—still worry continues to haunt me. I suffered from mild depression the last couple of years. Fortunately, I am blessed my faith and family continue to provide opportunities to help me out. Recently, I started going to a counselor to help me with my anxiety. I am come a long way because the old me was ashamed and embarrassed to admit I went to counseling. I felt like a failure for needing outside professional help.
What I have come to realize during my writing journey these past few months is that the Holy Spirit provides assistance in unusual times and places. Today I wish to share how I experienced peace on this Therapeutic Thursday.
1. I’m Alive Because He Lives: Matt Maher’s song Because He Lives played over the radio this morning on my drive to work. Here is the song’s refrain:
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives
Let my song join the one that never ends
Because He lives
Focusing on these words over and over during my work commute, I realized that my anxiety is nothing compared to the fact that Christ conquered death. When I unite my song to the eternal song of the Gospel life will flourish within me. Why do I suffer from anxiety weekly—some weeks almost daily? The answer is my failure to trust in the Providence of my Father. I’m alive because He lives!
2. Signs at Work: Our Father is so provident that in addition to Matt Maher’s words of truth, I realized signs of God’s goodness at my workplace. How do I truly know God’s signs were at work? Peace. One of the more simple and constant pieces of evidence for God’s work in our life is a sense of true peace. We had our monthly recognition meeting this morning. It seems silly but I always get nervous right before this meeting. It is in large part to my struggle with pride. I prideful hope I get recognized for my great work by my manager in front of the entire department. When it does not happen I get a sense of defeat. Well, I actually did not feel that way during today’s meeting. I did not get the monthly manager team shout out. I was oddly at peace. Later in the meeting our department played a team-building game. Little signs from God like the game gave me peace of mind.
3. Consoling Counselor: The advice I received from my counselor to utilize in stressful situations abetted my anxiety and worrisome mindset this morning. He told me to pause and do some slow breathing exercises when an anxious situation arises. I did that today before our departmental meeting. It helped. Our Heavenly Father knew that humanity struggles with worry. So before Jesus ascended into heaven a promise of a Consoler was given. Jesus’ Apostles questioned him about the next steps of their faith journey after he would ascend. He replied with the following words, “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,g and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NAB). Growing up, I commonly overlooked the role of the Holy Spirit. In the past few months, my relationship was the Divine Consoling Counselor has grown and deepened. I am continuing to learn to relay on the power of the Holy Spirit through the actions of others to help heal and comfort me.
Social media has promoted a lot of aficionados for alcoholic alliteration by referring to Thursday as Thirsty Thursday. While moderate drinking of beer, wine, or ale is not inherently bad, reliance on things to drown out our worry will not solve the problem on a long-term basis. Therapeutic relief from stress by our Consoling Counselor is lasting because God last forever. I hope I may continue to drink from the spiritual wellspring to acquire peace, joy, and thanksgiving before the Holy Trinity. You are never too far gone to ask others and God for help!
During a recent training seminar at my job, we took a test to determine our social style. To no surprise, I landed almost exclusively in the category of a thinker social style. Simply put, as a thinker I tend to enjoy viewing the entire process and need time to go over changes in my mind. I also tend to ask lots of clarifying questions. Along with my thinker social style I am also a director—a person who tends to be results oriented and a problem solver. I bring my social style up, well in large part because as a thinker I am compelled to provide a little background to my current situation!
I am 29 years old and my birthday is at the end of July. In the twilight of my twenties, I have pondered what things I hope to achieve and spend time doing in the final month of my roaring twenties. I tend to get grandiose in my goals, but having three young kids and a full-time job will limit some of my bucket list items. For the sake of my sanity and simplicity’s sake here are three things I want to continue to accomplish before I turn 30 and continue to work on after I hit this momentous birthday.
1. Improve as a Husband and Father: The majority of my time in the twenties I spent as a husband and father. I got married at age 22 and had our first son when I was 23. Sadly, I have failed in many respects in both vocations. Early in my marriage and fatherhood, I struggled with anger and losing patience. I have improved. Yet, I hope to make marked strides as I cross the fine line of my race to thirty and begin a new marathon toward forty years old! Yesterday, I had a great day with my kids. Today I am spending exclusive and quality time with my oldest son. There is hope on the husbandly horizon.
2. Wordsmithing: Words cannot describe my passion and thrill for writing. I will try my best to capture this feeling I have about wordsmithing. There is something cathartic and healing about sitting down at the keyboard or with pen in hand and getting my thoughts out in the open. I have experienced closeness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit through my weekly writing for this blog. I want to continue to share my joys and struggles in my faith to help others discover the work of the Holy Trinity in their lives as well.
3. Run Barry Run: Running has always played a large role in my life. During high school I participated in cross country and track. I cherish the memories I made with my teammates during our practice and race-day runs. I often recall the people I met through those experiences. After a brief hiatus from running during my early twenties, I recently started training for a half-marathon and completed a 10 mile run in April. What brought me the most joy what that I was able to run with my brother and sister for the first time ever! Secondly, my favorite T.V. show The Flash [based on my favorite superhero Barry Allen- aka The Flash!] has a major theme of running and endurance in difficult times. I hope to continue to train for a half-marathon in the waning days as a twenty-nine year old and make new friendships through racing as I enter my thirties. To my wife’s potential chagrin I hope to continue to read as many The Flash comic books as possible going into my thirties as well!
We all have hopes, goals, and dreams. Sometimes it takes milestone occasions—like my thirtieth birthday— to jumpstart motivation to pursue our life-dreams. My goal in the upcoming months is continue to foster my family relationships, write, and run. I hope that whenever and wherever you are in your life that you do not hesitate to follow your dreams!
A fruit of my consecration to Jesus through Mary in the days leading up to the centenary anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima was reflecting on the heroic life and death of St. Maximilian Kolbe by the hands of Nazi Germany. Aside from St. Athanasius and St. John Paul II, I do not think there is another saint that modeled love and courage to speak the truth with such tenacity!
From an early age, Maximilian promoted devotion to Mary and sought to bring others of God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Ordained in 1918, he continued to work promoting Mary throughout Poland. I believe Divine Providence strategically placed Maximilian in Poland to be a light to the destitute because this nation eventually became an epicenter for Nazi domination.
During May 1941, Maximilian was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Polish priest died on August 14th, 1941. Despite his short stay, the heroism of St. Maximilian lives on and impacted his fellow inmates and generations to this day. I want to highlight three essential points about Maximilian’s life that compelled me turn to him as a role model.
1. Savior: Maximilian only cared about others. He refused to sign German documents that would have provided protections to avoid sending him to the concentration camps. He heroically volunteered to take the place of a man, with a large family, who was sentenced to death. Such selfless love is powerful. Maximilian allowed the Holy Spirit to be so present inside him that he reflected the love of Christ perfectly and died a horrific death like Jesus to save others!
2. Sacrifice of the Mass: St. Maximilian once said, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” The Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium echoes this point as well by calling the Eucharistic sacrifice the “source and summit” of the Catholic life (no. 5). As a priest Maximilian lived this reality and he took it to a new level in the concentration camps as well. He celebrated Mass daily and fellow prisoners even attested the Polish priest took crumbs of wheat bread to gather the substance needed to perform the sacrifice of the Mass when times became really desolate in his cell.
3. Divine Insight: The theology of St. Maximilian Kolbe that taught me most about relationship between the Trinity and Mary is his insight and clarification of the truth revealed to St. Bernadette and dogmatic proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century. Mary’s apparition at Lourdes revealed to Bernadette that she is the Immaculate Conception. Kolbe expanded on this revelation by making a distinction between the created Immaculate Conception [Mary] versus the uncreated Immaculate Conception [the Holy Spirit]. Maximilian clarified the Catholic understanding of Mary for me personally with this distinction. It is important to realize that Mary is a part of CREATION and it not to be worshipped. I think St. Maximilian provided a good example to help me understand how we honor the Mother of God!
Role models are not merely people that exist in a state of earthly life today. We may all look to the Catholic saints as good examples to mirror when it comes to combating our own selfish wills and desires. St. Maximilian stood up against the malevolent force of Nazism by proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. In a world of tumult and lack of stability clarity has never been more important. St. Maximilian once said, “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.” Let us seek truth always!
I was sitting in the pew of St. Lambert’s Catholic Church listening to our priest deliver the Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter—this is rare since I am usually out in the hallway with my finicky 1 year old!—when I noticed a strange verse in the reading. St. John quotes Jesus as saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12 New American Bible). Throughout the rest of that Mass and every day since I have pondered Jesus’ meaning. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on how I interpreted this peculiar passage!
- Greater in Quantity Not Quality: According to the dictionary, the word greater is defined as large in number, notable, highly significant, and distinguished to name a few definitions. I want to highlight the first definition—large in number. It makes senses for the works of Christians done in Jesus’ name to be larger than Christ’s miraculous deeds done on Earth simply because 33 years is significantly shorter than the over 2,000 years in Church history. It is also important to read verse 12 in context with the rest of the passage. Immediately following Jesus’ odd statement in John 14:12, he talks about the sending of the Holy Spirit after he ascends to the Father. Jesus declared, ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth,* which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17 NAB). It is through cooperation with the Third Person of the Holy Trinity that Apostles and saints are graced through the ages to produce miraculous works.
- Father, Son, Holy Spirit= Distinct but Equally God: God is ultimately above humanity’s total comprehension. St. Thomas says that man must have a certain type of agnosticism about the full knowledge of God. According to John Courtney Murray in The Problem of God, “In the end, our presence to him, which is real, is a presence to the unknown; ‘to him we are united as to one unknown,’ says Aquinas (p. 71). Because of this ineffable [cool word I learned that means incapable of being expressed or described in words!] complete understanding of God, it makes sense that some peculiar and seemingly paradoxical passages in the Scriptures exist. The evangelist may have struggled with our to properly describe the relationship of the Trinity and may even have shared similar questions as myself. However, despite this struggle, as a Catholic I believe John to be a trustworthy firsthand witness to the teaching of Jesus. John makes it crystal clear in his prologue to his Gospel that though the Persons of the Trinity as Distinct they are equally God. Knowing this religious truth, when I go back to read John 14:12 I know that Jesus cannot possibly mean the works done by the Holy Spirit as greater than His works since the Son and the Holy Spirit are equally God!
Now the feast of the Holy Trinity [my favorite liturgical feast :)] is arriving soon and I hope to be sharing more of my thoughts and reflections on the mystery of the Holy Trinity leading up to that Sunday. Until then, I will leave you to ponder Jesus’ mysterious words again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father”. May we all be grateful for the gifts of knowledge and understanding given to us by the Holy Spirit and pray for a deepening of these gifts especially as we draw nearer to the Feast of the Holy Trinity.
I bet you are probably why I titled this post after everyone’s favorite nocturnal bird. To be honest, I had no plan on writing today; I had a long day at work and my three kids while I love them were overtired and bedtime occurred later in the day. As I was rocking my 4 month old to bed I got to finally slow myself done and starting praying several Hail Mary’s.
And that is when the Holy Spirit told me: “You are going to write about owls, but not really owls but what owls will remind you of after you write tonight”. I soon realized that the word owls contains the same letters as “slow”.
You may ask so what Matt? Why is “slow” important? I have been having a tough time in my spiritual life the last few months and I always struggle with finding balance in my life. After a good confession I had a few weeks ago, I promised myself that I will try to slow down and be more thankful for the things in my life.
Slowly- no pun intended- I have incorporated ways throughout my busy day to slow myself down: prayer more often, be more grateful, and try to be better attentive at Mass. As I was rocking my son to sleep tonight a moment in the Gospels came to mind that fits the theme of slowing down and gratitude quite perfectly. In Luke 24:13-35 Jesus appears to two of his followers on the road to the town of Emmaus. “Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus and they were talking about the things that had occurred” (v. 13). What had just happened? Jesus was viciously slaughtered and various claims about his mysterious return abounded. During this seven mile walk Jesus appeared to them but the men did not recognize them. The followers were only able to recognize Jesus when they slowed down and stopped for a meal and Jesus shown himself “in the breaking of the bread” (v. 34).
How often do we debate about the facts about Jesus as we move about our daily lives? How often do we recognize God in our midst- not necessarily in the same physical form of a Jewish man who lived 2000 years ago, but as reflection of God the Holy Spirit who dwells in each one of us? For me personally, I encounter God when I slow down and express gratitude.
And that is exactly why God instituted the Mass with the Eucharist as the centerpiece of that event. God knew that slowing down is essential at time for man. The Eucharist also actually translates to mean thanksgiving. My goal this week is to go to one daily Mass in addition to Sunday worship and to express a thankful mindset at all times. I challenge anyone who reads this post to do the same.
Slow down and be thankful for the things God as put into your life: the Mass, your family, your friends, and for everyone, but especially aviary enthusiasts—OWLS.