Perfection is rare especially in professional football. Throughout the history of the National Football League only 4 teams [the 1934 Chicago Bears, the 1942 Chicago Bears, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and the 2007 New England Patriots] lasted an entire single regular season with an unblemished mark. Competition is tough. Teams and companies rarely leave unscathed over the course of time. The same is true for individuals. Life will definitely throw you curve balls—many of which hit us!
I struggle with constantly striving for perfection. Largely, this is due to my obsessive compulsion towards having order. However, the more I strive for control and order the less I possess it! My idea of perfection is imperfect. True perfection, perfect humanity involves seeking out love, truth, and beauty with sincerity of heart.
When I seek a perspective beyond myself , I have learned that authentic personal growth occurs. Over time I have realized that only the truth, taught by Jesus Christ and safeguarded by the Catholic Church has stood the eroding power of time. In other words, truth—that which is real and reality itself will always find a way to win, a way to persevere. Reality is undefeated.
Venerable Fulton Sheen sums it up best, “Truth does not change; it is only forgotten from one generation to the next. The truth is the truth even if no one believes it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.” Truthfully, I was going to end this post with the words of the American bishop. I have been struggling with the sin of sloth lately and I am trying to stave off despair due my wife and I’s recent miscarriage of our unborn child. The Holy Spirit inspires in mysterious ways. Tonight, I sensed the movement of God in perhaps the most surreal way–connecting the dots to my family’s story.
I received a text message at 11:40 a.m. from the funeral home director that he wanted me to call him back about setting up a team for the funeral service. Being in training for my new job, I did not read this message in full until later in the evening. Upon arriving home, I cooked supper for my kids, gave them baths, and my wife and I put them to bed. It was not until almost 9 p.m. that my wife and I were able to eat dinner ourselves. We lounged on the couch watching sitcoms on Hulu. As I said before, I struggled with laziness and tonight was no different. I did not really feel like, nor even wanted to, finishing this post.
Suddenly, my wife told me something that connected the dots. “You know honey, St. Lucia’s feast day is today! I do not think it is a coincidence.” It took me a couple seconds to figure out what she meant. I checked my text message sent earlier today from the funeral director. He stated, “We received word from the hospital, Lucia is no in our care. Please call me back about setting up a time for the service.” Me of little faith. Reality is undefeated. Truth always triumphs. Circumstantial things only appear like coincidences. It is over the course of time that apparent serendipitous events are revealed as part of a larger Divine plan.
We named our unborn child, we believed in our hearts to be a girl, Lucia Faustina. December 13th–the same day we got confirmation that the remains of our child is safe with the Catholic funeral home–is the feast day of St. Lucia. Reality is undefeated. I cannot explain this happenstance except through the eyes of faith. God provided some consolation to my disparaging soul today. Will I be healed by the end of the week? Certainly not. I am further convinced that God has a great plan for both my wife and I and that we should not despair– instead we need to cling to hope now more than ever! Reality is undefeated. Truth always triumphs–it is not always easy and suffering is guaranteed. I will conclude with the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-25: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,* take up his cross, and follow me.25r For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Amen.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “When we have to reply to anyone who has insulted us, we should be careful to do it always with meekness. A soft answer extinguishes the fire of wrath. If we feel ourselves angry, it is better for us to be silent, because we should speak amiss; when we become tranquil, we shall see that all our words were culpable.”
How do you react when you experience injustice? Do you quickly respond with fury? Do you wait to reflect on the situation? I experienced a frustrating and unjust situation at work where I actually was able to diffuse the anger in my soul. Sometimes, I wish I a re-set button existed for me to push to begin my day again! Well, I experienced a sort of spiritual re-setting midway through today. How did I accomplish such a feat? Actually, it was fairly simple–yet difficult– I asked for help through prayer.
After I experienced the work situation that embarrassed me I used our scheduled lunch break to pause. I texted a close friend of mine an urgent, yet simple plea, “Please pray for me! I am feeling like I am going to lash out in anger to a co-worker.” Recognizing my problem of anger is the first step towards the cure. The next step is asking for help. Surprisingly, my anger dissipated fairly quickly. I listened to the wisdom of the Church as taught by St. James [and St. Alphonsus Liguori above!]. Chapter three of the epistle of James warns against the dangers of the tongue. The letter compares man’s tongue to a fire–gossip and angry words can spread like a wildfire.
I am grateful for the gift of patience and self-control granted to me by the Holy Spirit today. I hope that I may continue to improve on limiting my anger flare-ups on my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I pray today for anyone specifically suffering from the sin of anger and wrath–know that I am with you [in prayer] in your journey to be a better version of yourself as well! God blesses us with a new day–and a new chance– to hit the re-set button.
“The soul’s true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud,” St. Maria Faustina wrote in Divine Mercy in My Soul. I am a proud man. Proud in the sense that I strive for greatness daily. I am proud of my accomplishments. I am proud of my growth as a writer.
There are periods in my life when pride is healthy—I am confident in the gifts and blessings God gave me to lead others to Christ. Lately, I have been veering closely to the sin of pride. I look inward at my accomplishments as if I am the sole reason for my successes. I need to be constantly reminded through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Mass that humility of heart and mind leads to true success. My best writing does not stem from my intellect. From my experiences I have learned that listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit along with relying on the wisdom of Mother Church and Her saints provides the greatest fruits in my writing and personal satisfaction. I want to share three ways that one can remain relevant as a Catholic blogger [or really a Catholic evangelizer in general!]
- Testify to the Truth: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2465-2466,
“The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”255 Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.256
In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.257
This seems like an obvious statement. Of course, any Catholic needs to testify to the truth. It should go without saying…right!? Perhaps, testifying to the truth is a self-evident statement. Regardless of whether it is obvious or not, it is always good to be clear with our mission as followers of Christ. I am as guilty as anyone of preaching the Word of God, but not living it to its fullest extent. I struggle with anger, pride, gluttony, greed, doubt, and sloth daily. I need to renew my mission as an evangelizer of the Good News and it starts with me being reminded to remain steadfast to the truth that has been safeguarded and passed down by the Catholic Church.
My former self used to fall into theological rabbit-holes of speculating random questions about Catholicism that did not truly lead me to an authentic love of the Triune God. As a practical step towards keeping my old self at bay I removed myself from occasions to unhealthy theological speculation by leaving groups on social media that did not lead me to greater love of the Catholic faith!
- Trust in the Truth: Along with testifying to the truth professed by Jesus Christ and passed on down through Apostolic succession, I need to TRUST in that truth. My penchant toward rationalism and analysis sometimes leads me to scrupulosity in matters of challenging Catholic doctrine. I desire to know all. That is quite prideful! The desire for knowledge about God and Catholicism is not bad in and of itself. When I fall into the extreme of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge that it becomes problematic. St. Cardinal John Henry Newman’s famous quip helps give me perspective. He stated, “Regarding Christianity, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”
I do not have all the answers. In fact, the Catholic Church does not have all the answers either! Some things are left to ponder. God is ultimately a mystery beyond our total comprehension. However, the Catholic Church does have answers to all the most important questions like: what is the purpose of this life? Can we know God? How can we grow in relationship with God and our neighbors?
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us one of the most important things Catholics should ponder daily: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”
- Be Creative: Truth housed within and safeguarded by the Catholic Church is universal. It applies to everyone across the globe—and across time. Different approaches need to be made to teach the truth to different audiences. I have learned that people are at different stages of belief. Even in my own life I need to read various passages of Scripture and diverse writings of saints to help me growth in my spiritual life. Variation in teaching and communication applies to writing as well. I have developed my tone of writing to be less severe.
When I become a father and learning that our children have special needs opened my eyes to the message of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Our youngest son has cognitive delays and requires weekly special education. My previous vision of a black and white, simplistic world was challenged. So was my Catholic faith. I believe the Holy Spirit provided me these difficulties to plant—and later harvest—a creative spark in my writing! The Good News is akin to an acorn that develops from a small seed to a magnificent and beautiful oak tree. The Church wants the world to realize that truth is able to develop and we are still in the process of learning about how to fully describe God’s revelation.
According to Dei Verbum 8 the Council Fathers declared,
The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.
Change is inevitable. Since I started blogging several months ago, my writing and approach to publicizing my message has changed. According to St. John Henry Newman, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” I have to constantly shift my gaze upward to God. I have learned that my successes are gained only through the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching, trusting, and being creative in how I convey the truth of the Gospel!
John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.
As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.
St. Teresa of Avila once said, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:
- God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!
An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.
- Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.
You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:
O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet. Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared, “A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.”
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity. Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
- Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
- Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
- Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
- Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
- Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
- Augustine: Confessions
- Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
- Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
- John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
- Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
- Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
- Josemaria Escriva: The Way
- Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
- James: The Letter of St. James
- Maximilian Koble
- Pope Pius IX
- Pope Leo XIII
- Francis of Assisi
- Ignatius of Loyala
- Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
- Jerome: Homilies
- John Chrysostom
- Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
- K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
- S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
- Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
- Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
- J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now of this readings are a replacement for the best possible way we can celebrate All Saints Day–the best way is to go to Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
***“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”***
This quote comes from the opening pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Readers unfamiliar with the background of this novel may need some context to see the relevance of this passage to today’s topic. Basically, the protagonist of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins—a hobbit who at the beginning of the story lives a quiet life free from any big adventure or risk-taking. His tranquil existence is seemingly upset upon the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a troupe of adventuring dwarves. The wizard succeeds in convincing Bilbo to join the dwarven expedition to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon. Bilbo’s role is to serve as the burglar—someone quick and nimble—to steal the gold from Smaug the Dragon. I always found Bilbo’s inner struggle whether to embrace his Baggins [low-risk, simple] side or his Tookish [adventurous] family lineage.
Frequenctly I find myself a chimera—a hybrid—composed of my rational and scientific mentality juxtaposed against my life of faith. According to John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides Et Ratio).
Pitting faith against reason or vice versa only frustrates man’s pursuit toward a joyous existence. I know this to be true because I experienced life when I shut out faith and when I land on the other extreme as well and jettison my rational side. Similarly, Bilbo Baggins did not fully embrace reality nor fully attain a fulfilling life until he incorporated the Tookish [faith, adventurous] side. I look to Tolkien’s literary work with a character who resembles myself at my current stage in life. Recently, I have become too logical, too rigid, and too rational in my approach to living. I need to embrace my Tookish side. Below are three concrete ways whereby I may accomplish this goal.
- Laughter: Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Bold claim. Lacking in laughter, I tend to struggle with being too serious. I think part of my seriousness stems from my desire to control daily events. Amidst the constant curveballs life throws at you sometimes the only thing to do is to laugh. Mark Twain wittingly declared, “The human race has only one effective weapon and that is laughter!” While I dispute the notion that humor is our sole weapon, Twain has a point—laughter serves a remedy to an ailing situation.
Watching television comedies like The Office and Home Improvement with my wife help me re-charge from a toilsome day. The levity of sitcoms provides me perspective on my day. Through the antics of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I develop an ability to have faith that things will work out in the end and that I need to embrace the roller coaster adventure of life!
- Out of the Mouths of Babes: According to Matthew 21:16, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” Now this passage is actually a direct quote from Psalms 8:3. This psalm mentions the amazing power of God and His praiseworthy nature. Throughout history, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” has developed into an idiom to refer to the keen insight the young/inexperienced may be able to provide someone “wiser” or “older”. My children abound with wisdom [even though they are oblivious to that fact!]. While the old and wise wizard Gandalf, solicited Bilbo out of his reserved and cautious hobbit hole, my situation is almost the inverse. My young [wise] children allow me to engage with my Tookish [faith-filled, funny-loving, witty, adventurous] side.
- Listening to the Holy Spirit: Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit is a third way I embrace my “Tookish” side. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I am only going to focus on two: courage and right judgement. Both gifts I believe to be invaluable for me to pursue adventure in my life. It takes courage to go on a journey—whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Gandalf provided courage and right judgment to Bilbo in aiding him on his unexpected journey. The author of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith permeated his fiction. As his son Michael once said about the impact of Catholicism on his father’s work, “[it] pervaded all his thinking, beliefs and everything else.” The Holy Spirit enters my life unexpectedly at times in my life granting me courage and right judgment.
St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Embracing my inherent gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit will allow me to find a healthy balance in my spiritual life. I will learn to embrace my adventurous and jovial side with jettisoning my rational, reserved nature.
As I wrap up, I need to make the following disclaimer: embracing your Tookish side will change you. Be prepared. When Biblo Baggins returns from his long journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, his fellow hobbits viewed him differently. Tolkien writes,
Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be “queer” – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.
Do not be discouraged by this news. Whenever I despair about any changes from embracing the life of faith I remember Christ’s words, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)!