Hope

Faustina’s Faith: How A Simple Polish Nun Changed My World

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October 5th marked the Feast Day of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Venerated by the Catholic Church as the “Apostle of Mercy” the Polish saint influenced the world arguably more than any other individual in the 20th century. I have mentioned this previously and I will mention this again, Sister Faustina holds a special place in my heart. She has impacted my writing and spirituality as much as anyone. Classified as a mystic because of her unique spiritual experiences and visions from God, Maria Faustina is a model of what holiness looks like when an individual completely trusts on the Father’s will. As a belated celebration of her Feast Day, I will reflect on a couple ways the Polish nun influenced my life.

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  1. Daily Dose of Divine Mercy: Maria Faustina received this message from our Lord during her visions, “‘I am love and Mercy Itself.  There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases.  The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” (1273, page 459). In His infinite wisdom, God reminded the world—through the young Polish sister—that His mercy overcomes anything. The 20th century experienced two world wars and many decades of Communism. St. Faustina died of tuberculosis before the advent of WWII. God used her as an instrument to prepare people that hope will not be lost despite the atrocities of the Holocaust.

On a personal level, my family has been transformed spiritually by God’s mercy. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy Prayer pulled my wife from the depths of despair after her close high school friend died by suicide. Faustina’s intercession within my wife’s life poured into my spiritual life as well. Frequently, I look to God’s mercy in times of trial and desolation in daily living. I am grateful for St. Maria Faustina’s “YES” to God’s divine plan.

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  1. Trust Me I’m the Doctor: Maybe it is because I am a guy and males generally hate to admit weakness, but I need to be direly ill before I allow myself to go to the doctor. Unfortunately, sometimes the same can be said about my spiritual life. Because of my stubbornness and pride, I only seek help from the divine physician when I need spiritual triage. I need to develop a better trust is Jesus Christ—my divine healer—to aid me both in desperate times and during daily living! According to St. Faustina, trust is an essential feature in growing in the spiritual life. Here is an excerpt from her diary:

Today the Lord said to me, ‘Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it.  Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul.  When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you.  I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul.  Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy.  Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust.  If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity.  The torrent of grace inundate humble souls.  The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls. (1602, page 568)

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Do I trust that God is present in the confessional? Am I aware that I am spiritually infirmed and in need of healing? Jesus tells us, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Luke 5:31). Through the intercession of Sister Maria I have learned to view Jesus more as a divine doctor and the Catholic Church as a hospital.  Let us ask for healing from our sin and weakness by asking Christ the Divine Physician for restorative union with God:

Healing Novena

To Christ the Great Physician
We know that there is one physician:
Both flesh and spirit
uncreated, yet born
God in man
True life in death
From both Mary and From God
Subject to suffering and then impassible
Jesus Christ our Lord!

We ask O Great Physician, for spiritual, physical, and emotional healing, especially my intention of ______.
You of both flesh and spirit

May we spend all of our days in your healing presence
You the eternal Son born for us

Grant us the healing benefits of your Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection
You who are true God and true man

Grant us your true life in the midst of death
You, the true life in death

Grant us to follow your example and that of your Blessed Mother
You, from both Mary and from God

May our suffering be for our growth; free us, we pray, from that which we cannot bear
We ask You, O God the Word who became man to suffer

We ask you to grant us this healing if it brings us closer to you,
Jesus Christ our Lord!

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3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

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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”

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  1. 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.

 

  1. 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).

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  1. 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.

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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***

Wonder of the Youth

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The great American poet Maya Angelou said, “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.” Aging is a universal problem. Adults lose a sense of wonder with the world. We arrive on the job scene after our schooling years and get sucked into the maelstrom of monotony. I definitely feel like I my spirit of wonder and awe dulled over the course of time. But does that need to happen? Is it possible to return to child-like wonder? Is it possible to be young again while aging? Let me put forth three examples of activities that reignite my imaginative spark and curiosity about the world.

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1. See anything [and everything] as new: As curious individual, growing up I tended in see freshness to nearly every aspect of life. I intellectually devoured information with an endless appetite. Subjects that fascinated me [and still do to this day] included: geography, animals, board games, baseball, colors, science, history, literature, words, order of the world, space travel, and time travel to name just a few.

The adult version of myself still maintains enjoyment on learning about those topics. Difficulty arises with the need to balance, family life, work, volunteering, and hobbies. Thankfully, I have made it a point to read at least 30 minutes a day after my family goes to sleep. Currently, I am learning about Darth Vader’s ascension to power as the Emperor’s galactic general in James Lucano’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. Entering the fictional universe of Star Wars reawakens the wonder of my childhood. I feel like I am learning constantly about the characters—old and new alike—and enjoy learning about the wondrous possibilities of space travel! I strongly encourage you to experience the wonder in the written world of fiction. Wonder abounds in a book. To quote Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”

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2. All work and no play…makes Jack a dull boy: There are variations of this old adage. All share the same theme—too much work leads to drudgery and stress. As a committed workaholic I am far too familiar with the dangers of not making time for recreation. God foresaw the need for rest and recreation in humanity’s life on earth. According to Genesis chapter 2, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.”

Following this biblical principle, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “For Christians, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a special day consecrated to the service and worship of God. It is a unique Christian festival. It is “the day the Lord has made” (Ps. 117 (118):24). Its nature is holy and joyful. Sunday is the day on which we believe God acted decisively to liberate the world from the tyranny of sin, death, and corruption through the Holy Resurrection of Jesus.” Oftentimes, I fail as a parent to promote play [and engage in playful activities with my children]. My son and daughter excitedly rushed to our front lawn and jumped in jubilation at the yellow-tinged leaves newly fallen. “Let’s get into the car, I am going to be late for work!” is my default reply lately. I was a curmudgeon, the very person I did not want to be as a father. All work and no play makes me a dull Catholic, a dull husband, and a dull father.

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3. The Golden-Rule leads to true riches: The good news is that every day is a new start. I went to Confession this week. I received the sacramental graces to sharpen my awareness to God’s activity in my kids, friends, wife, and family. When I treat others with respect [i.e. FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE] I acquire riches beyond the value of physical gold—I attain joy and a spirit of gratitude. My penance for my confession was to reflect on the gifts God has given me. The priest urged me to grow my gifts and not worry about others’ gifts that I previously envied. Through prayer and advice from other people, I have realized that one of my God-given gifts is writing. Confession and a mindset of thankfulness reignite my desire to write—the past few weeks I have struggled with laziness and have not written enough!

golden rule

Life is full of periods where you feel aged, dull, and simply lethargic. This became a problem in my life when habitual laziness and dismal attitude became the norm. I ask for your continued prayers to support me in my journey toward a joyful life. Today I re-commit myself to act as God’s instrument in hope to provide a glimmer of hope and light into you [my readers] daily living!

Do I Deserve Anything?

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“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough,” Oprah Winfrey once said. Life is fleeting. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are proof of this fact. While I have not been directly impacted by these super storms I see the results. I have a cousin who lives in southeast Texas and had to leave because of Harvey. I work assisting people with mortgages who have suffered property loss from Irma. Seeing the photos from my family member and hearing the strife my clients undergo make my issues small.

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Over the past several months, I battled the sin of complaining. I whined over simple things: kids messing up the house, co-workers annoying me, routine bills, etc. You name it and I probably complained. I am not happy or proud that I engaged in such behavior, but that was who I was recently. The stress and negativity grew and grew. Finally, I went to Confession this weekend. According to St. Augustine, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” The saints words ring true. During the last few days, I experienced a shift in mentality. Instead of thinking, “I need _____” or “I deserve ______ to happen “phrases such as “How I may help?” or “Life is a gift” become more natural for me to reflect on.

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Receiving a new start on my path towards holiness, through the sacrament of Confession, I experience a clearer sight of the truly important things in life. Counting my blessings and donning an attitude of gratefulness became more natural after I received the graces to forgive in the theological medicine box. Do I deserve anything? I pondered this question a lot yesterday and today.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1999, “The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.” The dictionary defines gratuitous as given or done free of charge. God needs nothing in return. Life is a blessing. God’s grace sustains me. I cannot add or take away from God’s power and authority. Do I deserve anything? No, as a selfish creature before our wonderful Creator I did not deserve anything. Why am I given such blessings? The answer is that God’s freely chooses to love me and lavish gifts on his adopted children.

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Do I deserve anything? No, I am a sinful, narrow-minded person. Through the grace I received in the Sacrament of Confession, God reminds me that just because I am not entitled to the blessings in my life do not mean that He will take them away. The trials, sufferings, blessings, and joy are all part of my life to help me grow in holiness. How do I combat an attitude of privilege? I need to don the cloaks of humility and gratitude. I will close this reflection with lyrics to Your Grace is Enough by Matt Maher:

Great is your faithfulness oh God of Jacob
You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
When nothing can keep us apart

So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough for me

Great is your love and justice God of Jacob
You use the weak to lead the strong
You lead us in the song of heaven’s victory
And all your people sing along

So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough for me

So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough for me

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Book Review!

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Please feel free to check out my book review of  Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday for Homiletic and Pastoral Review through link below. This book is probably the best book on Holy Saturday theology I have ever read!

http://www.hprweb.com/2017/09/early-fall-reading-2/

A Letter to the Downtrodden

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Dear Fellow Souls and Pilgrims on this Earthly Journey,

Hopelessness seems to cover the world. Hurricane Harvey decimated large parts of Houston. South Asia continues to experience chronic flooding. People suffer across the globe in large and small ways. Today, I wish to share my recent episodes of depression, I am not writing to complain about my situation, rather I hope to unite my suffering [albeit quite small in comparison to others] to others in great need. I want to be in communion with my fellow man. According to Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” I cannot grow as a decent human being without learning from the school of suffering.

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Depression hit me again the past few weeks. Similar to an ocean, anxiety and sadness move in waves with brief periods of respite before the next deluge of depression comes crashing onto my shore. I feel a sense of hopelessness. What is going on with my life to trigger these feelings? To be frank, I am not sure. Life appears to be going well: I have an amazing wife, family, good shelter, and a job. I had a recent change in anxiety medicine and changes are occurring rather frequently at work. Still, these concerns should be minor compared to people suffering loss due to the recent natural disasters. Depression shrinks my perspective. I see through narrower glasses.

Perhaps, you are similar to me. If you suffer from depression, whether it is severe or mild I want to unite myself to your suffering. I wish to take up my cross if only it may help widen my scope. Prying open a narrow gaze is painful. However, authentic and natural development involves growing pains. If you are downtrodden, as I am currently, share your experience. Talk with people you trust. Talk to God—it works. Prayer is effective because it is communication with Him who created the universe. Oftentimes, I need to fall unto my knees and become downtrodden before I am able to gaze upward in prayer. Saint Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”

Although, I know my depression may likely come back again, I am aware of a strength to get me through the valley of tears—prayer. Prayer ultimately leads me toward an even-keeled path in my pilgrim journey on earth.

With great love and hope to alleviate your downtrodden soul,

Matt

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Toy Cars, Farewells, and Door Knockings

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Concluding a fast-paced morning at work, I headed to the lunch area to heat up my lunch. I was famished and worn out from the busyness of the day. I reached into my pocket for my iPhone as I normally check in at noon with my wife to see how her day is going. Instead, I pulled out a green hot wheels car named Ballistik – I forgot to send this toy with my youngest son when I dropped him off at daycare this morning.  Not being able to reach of my wife, my thoughts wondered as I waited for my macaroni and cheese to cool down.

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The mind is an interesting place. It is the gathering place of ideas, thoughts, dreams, concerns and sorrows. Today, my mind meandered about my son’s early childhood therapy he started receiving at the beginning of August.  The plastic toy car reminded me of the immense strides that he has made toward improvement on his developmental delays. My son is a joy of my life. His high pitched giggles and funny mannerisms infuse life into me daily. I was experiencing a brain barricade when it came to writing. I lacked motivation, inspiration, and endurance to pen my thoughts.  Toy cars, farewells, and door knockings unexpectedly lifted me out of my stupor.

Infants typically begin playing with toys around 5-6 months. My son was a unique case as he only played with toys cylindrical or round in nature. He has a fascination with circles—currently he goes into our bathroom and nearly dives headfirst into the empty tub looking for the round drain cover! Don’t worry; I make sure to disinfect it time. Nevertheless, my child has idiosyncratic interests that make him a distinct, and cute, individual. To get back to the topic of toy cars, the reason why it is significant is that this past week was the first time I captured him playing with cars—the appropriate way instead of flipping them to look at their circular wheels or chucking them in the kitchen! Progress is visible. As a father of a child with autism [my oldest son was diagnosed a couple years ago], I noticed hints of autism spectrum disorder with my youngest. I want to give him the best tools to succeed in life and to improve his communication as well.

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Regarding, farewells my son was not able to communicate verbally during tantrums he banged his head against the ground. Since the start of his therapy, I have noticed a tremendous growth my son’s social-communication skills. Last week he waved good-bye for the first time. Since then, he has been waving to our daycare provider upon my picking him up. These seem like simple achievements, but to a parent of a child with a developmental delay I was overjoyed with my 18 month old’s budding skills!

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Jesus tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).  Knocking on educational “doors” was a common experience that past few months as we sought after help for our son. Through the grace of God we got therapy to help him improve his communication. Continual asking for help was a sign of our hope in the Lord to provide for our child in need. Patience and persistence bore fruit in the form of my son knocking on doors recently. His tiny knuckles clinking the side of a front door was one of the most beautiful sounds I heard this week.

If you are experiencing a stressful situation with anxiety or struggle with communication the best way is to continue ask for help. Ask professionals. Ask friends. Ask God. It will take time, but do not be alarmed—help will always find those seeking aid and refuge from worry!

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***For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened***