“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!
According to the American author Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” The end of October was a period of consolation in my spiritual journey. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same is true for the 11th month of the year.
November is a tough month for me personally. Three years ago, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage and all the horrifying feelings resurface during this time of the year. Along with the memory of our loss, the dimming of daylight [especially when we turned the clocks back an hour on November 5th!] provides the perfect recipe for despair and desolation. When it comes to spiritual attach by the Evil One there are generally two general methods to combat him: actively fight through prayer, good works, and reception of the sacraments or secondly retreat from the vices that tempts us.
Today I am going to reflect on the latter strategy. I feel like am called to retreat to my spiritual cave to try to eliminate opportunities for future temptation as to help me avoid further sliding into despair.
Throughout the Bible God calls individuals to experience a conversion in solitude and reflection before granting them power and authority to lead others to Him. For the purpose of eliciting imagery [as I am a visual learner and tend to like symbols] I will refer to such an experience as my “spiritual cave dwelling”!
- Exodus: Throughout the Book of Exodus God calls individuals and His people as a whole to conversation during a trip in the wilderness. Exodus 2-3 details Moses flight from Egypt to the rural land of Midian and his eventually encounter with the Divine presence under the form of the burning bush. God also utilizes a period of spiritual “dryness” to help transform the idol worship of the newly freed Israelites to trust in His Divine Providence. Over a period of forty years, the Israelites had to wander the wildness as reparation for violating the first commandment.
Perhaps, November is my own personal “time in the wilderness” to help me grow in virtue and eliminate bad habits.
- Jesus’ Fasting in the Wilderness: The Gospels placed Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert at the start of his public ministry. Along with calling to mind Moses’ and the Israelites period of conversion, Jesus fasts not because he needs it [because he is without sin!], but rather to be a model of the Christian spiritual life. Sometimes we need to practice self-denial to grow in holiness. While I usually associate fasting relating to physical items such as food or drink, I recently had a thought. What if God allows for consolation to be rescinded from us in order to permit authentic spiritual growth and trust in Him? In my youth I experienced growing pains. Why should be not be different when I grow in my spiritual life? St. Ignatius of Loyala addresses the same point in the Seventh Rule for Discernment of Spirits. He says,
Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it [my emphasis]: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.
November 2017 could be a spiritual schooling from the Holy Spirit allowing me to wean off the need and desire for God’s spiritual candy of consolation that I too quickly “gobbled up” [along with physical candy 🙂 ] in October!
- Athanasius the Bold: During the 4th century A.D., the Catholic Church faced arguably its worst and most pervasive heresy in history—Arianism. Stemming from the false beliefs of the priest Arius, proponents of this belief denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. According to Arius, “There was a time when He [Jesus Christ] was not.” Confusion was so rampant that the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea was convened at 325 A.D. which pronounced Arianism as official heresy. While officially the matter was theologically solved, Arian agents still remained throughout the magisterial network for the remainder of the century.
To combat this heinous heresy, God sent St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, to champion authentic truth of the Holy Trinity. However, testifying to the truth came with a price—a bounty on Athanasius’ life not once but five times! As a result he went into hiding each time. He led his diocese clandestinely through the protections of monks. St. Athanasius stands as an exemplary model of obedience to God. He could have despaired and lamented his situation, but instead he remained steadfast to the truth!
The easier path this month would be for me to languish in my despair. Job promotion denials, stress at work, and daily anxiety abound. How did Athanasius prevail with his life on the line? Reading his work On the Incarnation provided me clarity. Athanasius states, “Anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”
Periods of desolation are unavoidable on this side of eternity. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an actual cave to escape the entrapments laid out before me by the Devil. While going away on a sudden sabbatical would be irresponsible to my family duties as husband and father. Warding off vice through removing myself from opportunities to sin is not the same as skirting my vocational calling. Fasting and prayer will be powerful weapons for me the remainder of the month as I strive in my pursuit towards holiness.
This summer my wife and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary! In honor of this event, I figured I would dedicate a post to our marriage. I also want to highlight the positive effects the sacrament of marriage has on society and why I believe the sacrament of matrimony is vital to a salubrious society. Along with our own marriage celebration, I want to personally recognize my cousin’s testament to the married life. He got married to his bride this past weekend. I present 4 reasons why the sacrament instituted by God is necessary for a healthy society.
1. Unity in Diversity: The four marks [i.e. defining characteristics] of the Catholic Church according to the Nicene Creed is that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Each of those traits are found within the sacrament of marriage as well. I will highlight the qualities of the oneness [unity] and catholic [universality] within this sacrament. Men and women are different. Differences are not bad. True equality is not to reduce men and women to be the same in every single aspect of life. Rather, true equality is in reference to equality of respect and dignity for how spouses treat each other. From my own personal experiences, I look to my parent’s marriage as an example of unity found within a diverse relationship. My mother and father come from completely different backgrounds. My dad’s family lacks divorce and has long life spans. On the contrary, my mom’s family exhibited more turmoil as her dad passed away when she was only 12 years old and her sibling relationships are splintered. Men and women communicate differently. By embracing such diversity a unity may be found.
I think somehow this diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of marriage has been lost in our culture. Not everything in marriage needs to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. I am meant to explore and learn about my wife on a daily basis. I am not meant to have her completely conform to my image or me to her image. Diversity leads to unity.
To sum up this point I refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154” (CCC 1644).
2. Full of Fruits: According to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:43-45,
A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
The same may can be said about the sacrament of marriage. Before I continue, I do want to distinguish between different kinds of fruits: physical and spiritual fruits. I will highlight the spiritual fruits marriage offers society later on. For now, I want to focus on the fruit of children in the sacrament of marriage. The Catholic Church leaves the married couple the freedom to elect how many children they want to have. But it is important to note that openness to fertility is essential for an authentic Christian marriage. The Church states,“By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652).
Children are a gift from God, not a product for married couples to control or purchase. I think a renewed sense of children as gifts would go miles to infuse society with a new mentality that is other-centered instead of self-centered. Admitting, I too sometimes struggle to make my children in my own image and control their daily activities. I more than anyone else needs to be reminded that God gifted me with children and I am to thank Him by raising them to be gifts for all of society as well!
Society grows through the family unit. Ultimate long-term success for society hinges on families that practice sacrificial love instead of self-love.
3. Use the Force: A certain power is found in permanency. Things that last long periods of time seem to gather a force and power as they age. The best example I think of is the sacrament of marriage. My grandparents recently celebrated 67 years of marriage earlier this month! You heard me: 67 years! Feeble knees, dimmed hearing, and other ailments that go with advanced years do not diminish the power and force my grandparent’s marriage hold. Whenever I tell a random stranger, friend or co-worker the length of their marriage there is always a momentous pause…then a statement of awe and wonder will always follow. My grandparent’s marriage is not successful because they are amazing. It is successful because they rely on God to help them forgive each other. My cousins’ new father-in-law gave pithy, but profound advise to the new married couple from this weekend, [after telling my cousin and his wife to sit close together] “See that little space between you. Always be sure to include the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have them
fill that space. Everything else will work out, maybe not necessarily the way you think it will, but everything will work out!”
It is only through a sacramental marriage that married couples are about to use the force…the force of our Triune God!
4. Victory through Virtues: Authentic victory is to be achieved not through military might or political prowess, but rather through personal virtue. Having virtuous and charitable citizens are the only way for society to be renewed and remain healthy. While children are the more visible of the fruits of marriage, I maintain that the more universal fruit of sacramental marriages is virtue. Not every married couple is able to conceive a child. Such marriages are not to be held as less holy or effective as couple that has children. In fact, the number of children is not to be correlated with an increase [or decrease] in holiness.
It is through my experience that the longer a couple is married and the more they tend to remind themselves that marriage is a sacrament that greater virtue abound. Patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, and gratitude are just some of the many virtues I notice in my
parents, grandparents, and even my own marriage [when I embrace the sacrament]. Societies that tend to have citizens who exhibit virtues and charity towards others, I have noticed, tend to be more unified and healthy.
On a closing note, I want to make sure I am clear that people who participate in sacramental marriages are NOT better nor more holy than single people or priests. What I want to stress is that marriage along with being a sacrament [visible sign from God] is not a right, but a gift. Not everyone is called to be married! And that is okay. Diversity of vocations: married state, single state, and ordained state all contribute to a healthy and holy society!
This past Sunday was the celebration of my favorite feast day of the liturgical year—Feast of the Most Holy Trinity! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teaching of holy Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity. Clear evidence of this in found in paragraph 249 of CCC, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis and prayer of the Church. Such formulations are already found in the apostolic writings, such as this salutation taken up in the Eucharistic liturgy: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”81
Revealed to us in the New Testament by Jesus Christ and later clarified by the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Church in ecumenical councils, our understanding of the Holy Spirit as developed but we still fall short in obtaining a full grasp of this mysterious reality and nature of God.
I have heard plenty of satisfying analogies that brought me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Trinity but the best example I have experienced so far is not academic or philosophically driven. The closest analogy I found to describe the love within the Trinity is the human family! Today I want to share my humble experiences as a young father where I see traces and hints of the Trinity in my adorable toddlers.
According to St. Paul, Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I definitely do not possess all those qualities all the time. However, my kids have allowed my virtues or patience and humility to grow—albeit slowly by surely in my case! Oftentimes, at Mass I get almost as good of a workout as when I churn out a 3 mile jog on the treadmill. My youngest son constantly finds himself dashing away from us in the pew so we have to take him out of Mass frequently. If I stay within the pew with my older children I often act as a diplomat to promote sibling civility during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Along with providing growth of my virtues, my toddlers are traces of the Trinity in their daily creative play. My older two children play in an imaginative world of ninjas, superheroes, princesses, and Lego-building. When I pay close attention to this mysterious play I am reminded of the Mysterious Nature of our Triune God as well. Something about the joy of children’s play piques adult interest. I find the same to be true when I reflect on the mystery of God being united as one but as a company of three divine persons.
To wrap up, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity will always be beyond our total grasp. We are not meant to fully understand this doctrine. Nevertheless, God revealed his nature as love and as a relationship of three Persons in Scriptures and hints is found within the family unit as well. Interestingly, God must have known I needed rest from my Sunday liturgical workouts. My wife and I were able to both listen to every reading and the entire homily for yesterday’s feast! Truly God works in Mysterious and in my children’s case humorous ways too.
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.