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.
I finished my lunch that consisted of 3 day old pepperoni pizza and a crisp red apple. Having already read several pages of my book and wanting to preserve data on my phone my eyes started to wonder. Peering from left to right the panoramic view of the partially-filled lunchroom involved fellow company employees staring at their iPhones. My eyes suddenly shifted to the half-eaten fruit in my hand. “Apples are interesting,” I told myself. I went on to reflect on the amazing fact that apples exist and the differences on the crispness and sweetness each variety contains.
G.K. Chesterton once stated, “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” This quote did not make sense to me until recently. Not until despair entered into my life again. See when I am succeeding [at least according to worldly standards] I do not stop to “smell the roses”—or to look at the wonder of the world. Rather, I am on to the next project, the next goal, the next challenge to overcome!
When I go through long periods of consolation I tend to take the blessing in my life for granted. Only through the school of suffering do I learn to focus my worldly preoccupations on God. Suffering does not discriminate. It does not recognize differences in age, race, financial background, or religious belief. Recently, my wife and I suffered another miscarriage. I struggle with reason for why God allows these horrific events to continue to hound us.
Both my wife and I went to the sacrament of Confession to help us heal from our doubting in God’s Providence. Did this completely eradicate my feelings of desolation? No, however, through recognizing suffering as a learning opportunity and trusting in God’s ultimate providence helps me start the healing process—albeit may be a long path for us.
I notice the greatness of God in the moments of suffering. Oftentimes during my mountain climb toward success I succumb to pride and lose sight of my reliance of Him. Because God is love, he allows things to happen to me. Saint John Paul II summed it up best, “Freedom exists for the sake of love.” This will be a constant struggle for me as I deal with the aftermath of our miscarriage. While I may not always feel the embrace of God’s consolation, I have learned from my past suffering that I will always be able to trust in His total Providence!
Every day we have a choice. We either give into the pressures of daily living or to crumble upon the weight of stress. The constant flux of life makes stress inevitable. Despite, the fact that stress will always surround me in some way, shape, or form I should not despair. Instead, I have learned to shield myself against the pressures of this world and the snares the Devil lays out to try to entrapment. Here are seven ways to arm you against anxiety:
***NOTE: These are only suggestions. Some of the strategies may not be applicable to your situation at this time in your life. Please use these shields against anxiety as it suits your needs/situation.***
- Prayer: 1 Peter 5:7 states, “Cast all your worries upon Him because he cares for you.” The Holy Spirit truly does work in mysterious ways. I am currently in a training class for my new position and the title of the session is A.R.E. in the Workplace. Perhaps it was a coincidence; I rather see it as perfect divine timing. Prayer is communication with the Divine Creator of the Entire Universe. It involves a dialogue not a monologue. Much of my spiritual journey had me focus on my end of communication—asking God for my wants. I did not always listen. Something I have done to open up communication is to be more deliberate in my gratitude.
- Music: Along with prayer, song safeguards me from anxiety. I used to listen to rock music; however, four years ago I made a shift in the type of music that played in my car. Because the words we hear impact our daily living, my shift to living to positive and uplifting Christian music protects me from the chaos life throws my way.
- Counseling: Together with prayer and encouraging music, monthly counseling appointment defends myself from the foray caused by the foibles of myself and my fellow neighbors. Counselor is a title given to the Holy Spirit as well. Between my professional counseling sessions, I am able to rely on the aid of the Holy Spirit to console me against daily anxiety.
- Reading: A fourth shield in my armory against anxiety is frequent reading of good books. According to Frederick Douglas, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” While this quote is not necessarily an absolute truth, I will attest to that reading can definitely be a doorway to freedom. As I journey into the literary universes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a couple of my favorite authors, I am afforded respite from the toils of work. Through the written word I am also able to travel—in a sense – back in time to meet holy men and women and learn about they existed in a world that was not their home.
- Exercise: St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 provided a timeless example of the spiritual life, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” I joined cross country in high school and my passion for running continues today. During a stressful week I defend myself from the snares of anxiety by taking my children out in the jogging stroller for a short run. During my neighbor circuits, I was able to reflect on how my day went and how I may be able to improve on my shortcomings.
- Medicine: Anxiety medicine does not work for anyone so feel free to disregard this point. However, pharmaceuticals for stress help me to limit the anxieties I impose on myself. Consistent usage of doctor prescribed anxiety medication is beneficial to my unique situation. It took me a long time to acknowledge that outside help was necessary to relief intense stress.
- Sacraments: God loves humanity so much that he implemented a support system for his adopted children to utilize to shield against the prowess of the Devil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1436, “Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. “It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.”35
The Holy Spirit absolves me of my sins when I have an authentic contrition. Along with forgiveness, I receive grace to stave off future temptations. When I face despair and doubt in Divine Providence often the sacrament of Confession is the only thing that bring me back to the life of faith!
Whether I am in the shadows of a desolation or experiencing consolation, I found these seven shields an effective defense against the constant assault of anxiety. I will continue to fight the good fight to become the best version of myself and not succumb to impatience, anger, or doubt. I pray that you take up this challenge daily as well!
According to a recent Gallup study, the average American adult employed full-time reported to work an average of 47 hours a week. While I attended college and before I had children, I worked 60 or more hours a week for months on end. The United States is sort of an outlier when it comes to finding a work/life balance. Even though I no longer log the insane amount of hours, I still struggle with finding time to relax and separating work from home life. This battle seemed futile until I stumbled upon the writings and witness of a Spanish priest—St. Josemaria Escriva! I am not entirely sure how I came across this gem of a saint, but his writing provides such practical wisdom that I am going to request for some of his books as gifts this Christmas [my local library did not have any of his works L] Today, I want to share three practical tips I learned from Fr. Escriva’s The Way that saved me from being a workaholic.
- Perspective is Key: Josemaria mentions the need to broaden our perspective in the first chapter. “Get rid of that ‘small-town’ outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, ‘catholic’,” he says. Lately, I struggled with having a narrow gaze when it comes to my job. I see things from my perspective alone. I resist the Holy Spirit’s promptings in daily events whereby I am given chances to widen my limited purview. For example, my manager challenges me to think beyond my cubicle walls. I need to daily heed the Spanish saint’s wisdom.
- Pardon my Excuses?!: Along with possessing a narrow outlook I tend to fight constant urges to make up excuses for my failings. “The computer system was slow”; “No one told me the new update”; “Things are too busy”: these are just some of the various excuses I tell myself throughout the week. According to Father Escriva, “Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won’t offend God.”
Perhaps such excuses may be admissible, but I need to be cognizant of my tone and frequency of complaints. “Let those very obstacles give you strength. God’s grace will not fail you,” St. Josemaria states. Stumbling blocks need not be hindrances. Maybe the apparent blocks in my path are actually building blocks for my character. Relying on Jesus as my cornerstone, I will be able to pick up the stumbling blocks [i.e. excuses] and use them to build up the kingdom of God!
- Work with Character and Substance: A third major theme within the initial chapter of The Way focuses on developing your character through work. St. Josemaria deliberately states, “Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character’. It’s your lack of character: Be a man [or woman].” In other words, do not allow your past and your genetics define your being.
I am guilty as anyone when it comes to blaming my woes and defects on my chemistry make-up. I tell my wife whenever I say something stupid or fail to listen to her needs, “This is who I am at my core! I struggle with focusing because of my ADHD diagnosis” Father Escriva’s states in the next line, “Get used to saying No. Turn your back on the tempter when he whispers in your ear: ‘Why make life difficult for yourself?’” Character is built on resisting the Tempter. I need to work on refusing to fall into the sins of gluttony and sloth [daily I fight the urge to eat fast food and lack motivation to play with my children after work].
Canonized on October 6, 2002, St. Josemaria Escriva is a perfect role model for people living in the 21st century. The bustle of life is only going to increase, especially in an age of instant communication via social media and the internet! The Spanish saint provides a humble witness as to how to incorporate God into my work through real, tangible, and practical means.
O God, through the mediation of Mar y our
Mother, you granted your priest St. Josemaría countless
graces, choosing him as a most faithful instrument
to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in
daily work and in the fulfillment of the Christian’s
ordinary duties. Grant that I too may learn to turn all
the circumstances and events of my life into occasions
of loving You and serving the Church, the Pope
and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the
pathways of this earth with faith and love.
Deign to grant me, through the intercession of St.
Josemaría, the favor of … (make your request). Amen.
“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. I came across this quote earlier this week as I read Orthodoxy. Immediately, I picked up my mechanical pencil off the living room floor and underlined this concise, but brilliant message. As a former cross country runner, street intersections always remind me of the choice I had as a runner. Which path should I take? Do I take the easy and high trafficked path [normally I feel motivated by an audience of automobile drivers on the busier streets to help me continue to run] or do I take the road less traveled? Little did I realize how Chesterton’s statement would be actualized in my life. Less than a day after reading that passage, I arrived at a junction.
Some brief background is needed as I believe God has prepared me for this moment for a while now. My youngest child was evaluated by early childhood developmental professionals and diagnosed with some learning and cognitive disabilities. Along with this challenge my wife started a new teaching job. Bills seem to continually pile up with little end in sight [at least immediate end]. Over the past few months I struggled with anxiety and my vocation in this world. I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father, but sometimes I felt like I needed to do more, to be something more, and to provide more light to this world.
Counseling sessions and anxiety medication help me cope with the daily stresses of this ever-changing and chaotic world. Thankfully, my son was approved to receive weekly special education services to assist him in limiting his incredible tantrums and frustration levels [he was at a point where he started banging his head against the ground and hurt himself!] and increasing his ability to socialize and communicate. Small gains are being made, yet he has a long road ahead.
Together with counseling and medicine, listening to Christian music daily and reading literary Catholic giants like Chesterton and Tolkien provide me with relief when self-doubt and despair assault me. In the weeks preceding my crossroads experience I had yesterday. “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.”
Talking with my manager during our weekly meeting, I looked for feedback on a new company position I was interested in. “Why did you apply for this position?” he asked. I replied, “The creative aspect and the possibility to increase my writing skills.” He continued to press on as to why exactly I enjoyed writing and advised that my career is what I choose to make of it. As a person who struggled [I guess still struggles] with OCD, I tend to like to view the world as black and white; either/or; through an if/then lens. I tried to get my manager to make the choice for me on my next path. “Where do you see yourself [career wise] in the next few years?” he asked.
There are a few moments in life where you experience a profound clarity. Almost eerily clear. The best example I remember is when I started dating my [then future] wife in college. A mere month into dating I got a sense that I was meant to marry this girl. I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Matt you are going to marry her!” Yesterday’s conversation with my manager produced a similar lucidity of thought. “What do you want to do with your career Matt?” I responded [in my head] almost immediately, “A writer, I want to be a writer and spread the Catholic faith!!” Outside of my mind, I replied to my manager, “Well, you know I am not completely sure…” I continued to make general statements about how I enjoyed writing and about becoming a stay-at-home father to assist with my son with special needs.
Why do we shy away from God’s clear direction at a “crossroad moment” of our life? Personally, I struggle with the notion that such clear moments exist. Clarity in this chaotic world is bold. Truth is daring. As Chesterton put it, “Life [according to the faith] is very much like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with a promise (or menace)…But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will” (Orthodoxy p. 128). Sometimes I wish there was a pre-determined path laid out for me. In some ways, lacking freedom is less stressful. But such mentality stems from the Evil One and leads to doubt in God’s providential plan for us. It seems crazy that I am so sure that I am called to be a Catholic writer. Looking back on my life, I had the exact same doubt when I dated my wife. I thought, “It is not possible to be so certain about marrying so short in the dating process!” Marrying my wife, my best helpmate toward Heaven, was [and is] in God’s plan.
“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.” I sincerely hope that I am able be an instrument of God help bring peace and clarity to people who suffer periods of doubt and confusion. Thank you for reading and continue to pray for me to follow God’s path!
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.
- 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.
- 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)
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:
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!