Suffering

Reality is Undefeated!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Preoccupations

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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!

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Three Years Later…

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This essay is memoir. It reflects the author’s present recollections of experiences over time. Some names and characteristics may have been changed, some events have been compressed, and some dialogue has been recreated.

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November 2nd, 2016, Somewhere in the Midwest:

Quickly parking my vehicle in the company parking lot, I rushed out of my car toward the crosswalk. I waited several moments for the pedestrian signal to allow us to cross safely. At the intersection I recognized a lady from a prior position I held in the company. We exchanged greetings. Her next words penetrated my heart and are imprinted into my permanent memory still today. Susan exclaimed to me, “I have this profound sense that I am supposed to pray for someone today. I feel that God is calling me to pray to ease someone’s pain this very day.” Half-jokingly, I informed her, “Well, interestingly enough today is All Souls Day! You get to prayer for everyone.”

What I kept hidden from Susan was that in addition to celebrating All Souls Day, that it was the 2nd year anniversary of my wife and I suffering a miscarriage. Her words consoled me and gave me relief that our unborn son—Jeremiah Matthias—was in a better place and looking over us.

November 2nd, 2017, Still Somewhere in the Midwest:

Today is the 3rd year anniversary of my unborn son’s death. I am experiencing a gamut of emotions now: sadness, sorrow, confusion, hope, nostalgia, and joy! The last emotion seems strange. Give me time to provide a little bit of background to explain and I believe my seeming disparaging situation may be able to be viewed more hopeful than it appears.

November 2nd, 2014- Still Somewhere in the Midwest:

My worst experience of my life occurred on November 3rd, 2014. I went from hearing the heartbeat of our son Jeremiah for the first time in my life to a mere 4 hours later consoling my wife as we found out we suffered a miscarriage. This traumatic event immediately crippled my wife. For me despair took root that day and slowly spread its stranglehold over me until it came into full-force several months later. I do not wish such an experience on my worst enemy!

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June 2015:

Crumbling from the evils of despair, I doubted God’s Divine Providence. I was on the verge of apostasy—the sin of renouncing my Catholic faith. “I want something good in my life to happen.” I told my wife. My words proved to be prophetic as two weeks later my wife told me that she had a surprise for me. She exclaimed, “I am pregnant!”

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Present:

That prayer of lament: “I want something good in my life to happen” was the turning point of my life. We conceived our youngest born son. Through the grace of God he is still with us. During the past three years, I have undergone a complete transformation in my Catholic faith. I am literally like a new person, a new man, a new husband, and a new father. I went from being on the brink of renouncing my faith to utilizing my God-given talents to evangelize.

Reading my children Eric Carle’s The Very Hungary Catepillar always reminds me of the transformation that occurred within me over the past three years. Just as a caterpillar’s transformation occurs in secret in its pupae stage so too does our spiritual development happens via a theological cocoon. Growth–both physical and spiritual– involves suffering and pain.  I have learned there exists a fine line between pain and joy. The difference lies in whether we unite our suffering with Christ.

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During these past three years, I developed spiritually through the “womb of suffering”. I am reminded of Matthew 12:40 when Jesus says, “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale was a foreshadowing or Jesus’ death and so too my three years of “spiritual darkness” is a prefiguration of hopefully my ultimate death to my selfish ways and reliance fully on God. I still struggle with my son’s death on a daily basis but time and God’s grace provide me strength to make it through day by day. While I used to experience a despairing type of sadness, I am making progress on interpreting my family’s suffering through the lens of grace and I am feeling a sense of joyful sadness as I remember my son Jeremiah and the soul’s of the faithful departed. I conclude today with a prayer for the dead:

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Dear souls of the dead,
you are still remembered by my family;
you are most worthy of our perpetual remembrance,
especially you, my grandparents, my parents,
also our relatives, children,
and everyone whom death
took away from our home.
I invite you to this annual feast.
We pray that this feast be agreeable to you,
just like the memory of you is to us. Amen.

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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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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A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life- Part 1

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Well, I achieved what I thought was the impossible for myself—completing my 100th blog post! Filled with lows, highs, and average experiences, a transformation occurred within my faith life over the course of the past several months. To be honest, as I mulled the title of my hundredth post for many weeks—an anxiety set in. I thought, “What if the title is not perfect or how will I capture the most views?” In the end, the Holy Spirit, I felt, truly inspired me to settle on a title I had the entire time—hidden in the recesses of my mind. It was also existed in plain sight as the subtitle of this blog. A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life is the most honest and real way to describe my writing over the course these past few months. Struggling with inner conflict, depression, while achieving successes, gaining insight from the Holy Spirit, and living through mundane daily routine has shown me that joy is not an instantaneous attainment. Rather, finding true joy takes an entire lifetime.

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According to my favorite modern day philosopher Peter Kreeft, joy is to be distinguished from mere happiness. He states in his work Joy, “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness, is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self…St. Thomas says, ‘No man can live without joy’”. The Boston College professor is most certainly right—at least based off of my experiences. Life experiences have taught me more than books or a formal education on the subject of joy. I learned that suffering when encountered against the armor of faith and prayer, instead of destroying my being, I experience joy—I encounter the person of Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis talks about the elusive nature of joy in this life in his work Surprised by Joy. Lewis states, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” I would definitely say that Lewis is on to something. I find momentary joy on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven, but it is not lasting. No matter my successes, both worldly and spiritual, I still long for something greater than any award, pleasure, or spiritual consolation I have received.

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Without re-hashing my pursuit toward a joyous life in grand detail and boring you with the minutiae or writing pages upon pages I will share my top five most joyful moments I experienced since my journey began. Please feel free to read [or re-read] and share these posts via the links below. My ardent goal is to reflect Christ’s light daily in hopes to providing joy for a least one soul each day.

top five

1. A Letter to Jeremiah- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/a-letter-to-jeremiah/ 

2. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lewis-tolkien-and-the-creative-power-of-music/ 

3. Why Wearing the Armor of Weakness Makes Me Stronger- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/why-wearing-armor-of-weakness-makes-me-stronger/ 

4. Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer?- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/organized-chaos-or-chaotic-order-which-do-i-prefer/ 

5. Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans: Why Do I Even Take the Kids to Sunday Mass- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/sweat-stress-and-shenanigans-why-do-i-even-take-the-kids-to-sunday-mass/

Joy occurred when I learned of the will of God and acted in obedience to the Father’s plan. While God’s providence may not always feel like a thing to go after, what I have learned is that joy is beyond feeling. Kreeft tells us,

Every time I have ever said yes to God with something even slightly approaching the whole of my soul, every time I have not only said “Thy will be done” but meant it, loved it, longed for it – I have never failed to find joy and peace at that moment. In fact, to the precise extent that I have said it and meant it, to exactly that extent have I found joy.

I will continue to pursue the joy of the Good News in my daily life. Sometimes I will feel defeat and desolation. Other times I will experience great moments of spiritual consolation. Neither end of the spectrum defines joy properly. Continual prayer and loving my fellow mankind are the truest signposts toward my pursuit toward a joyous life! Finally, I will take today to thank God for the endurance to write, patience to listen to the Holy Spirit, and opportunity to celebrate this little success in my life.

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Sacrament of Time

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My wife and I stood outside surrounded by our family and close friends at the local Catholic cemetery. It was a cool November afternoon. Gray clouds lined the sky and appeared to be about ready to burst at any moment. The priest from our parish recited the funeral rite. Throughout this process, my wife and I simply existed. I did not truly take in the meaning or fully process the prayers uttered by Fr. John. Instead, the world seemed to have frozen in silence—a horrific silence. We lost our unborn son Jeremiah. The event of our miscarriage immediately effected and crippled my wife. For me, despair and desolation did not actually set in until several months later. I spiraled into a deep depression. I wrestled with belief in a good and generous God. I doubted my Creator’s providence and presence. Hope seemed futile.

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Fast forward almost 2 years; this event has been without question the turning point of my life [so far]! According to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Since the death of our son, his namesake’s words hit much closer to home. What I have come to realize is that St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” is not a pious clique. There exists actual weight, real impact, tangibility to his words. Let me explain. Yesterday, I had a day off from work. I decided to take my three kids to Jeremiah’s grave-site and place flowers on the grave. Before we left for the store, I was trying to wear out the children so they would not be too hyper at the cemetery. I made some paper airplanes for my son and daughter to toss.

Along with making paper airplanes, my son wanted to color on the extra paper. I gave him the closest pen I could find. Soon into the process of drawing, he asked me how to spell three words. I was thinking, “Good, at least he is sitting down and this coloring is keeping him preoccupied. Also he is thinking about school since he wants to learn to spell.” It was not until we were traveling in the car after purchasing the flowers that my son’s true plan came to light. “Daddy, could we please get a little bag to put this book I made for Jeremiah into. I don’t want it to get wet” [it was starting to rain at this point], he said. I was floored by his reply. He actually took what I said to heart and sacrificed play time to make something for his unborn brother. That was probably my proudest moment as a parent. What I have learned in the past two years is that God works all things for the good through the Sacrament of Time! Below are two ways I learned about this ordinary and sometimes forgotten gift from God.

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1. Time Exists to Show Mercy: According to Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, in his work Time, “We must restore our spiritual sanity. One giant step in that direction is to think truly about time.” He goes on to talk about time existing within prayer as opposed to prayer existing in time. Prayer is communication with God. In other words, Kreeft is saying that time should be viewed under the lens of communication with the Divine. “Prayer determines and changes and miraculously multiplies time…prayer multiplies time only if and when we sacrifice our time, offer it up. There’s the rub. We fear sacrifice. It’s a kind of death,” the Catholic professor tells us. Through my experiences, I have learned that time grants me opportunities to display mercy as well. Forgiving others and showing mercy is tough. Time is one of God’s gifts to make mercy easier. In the offering of many, many prayers of laments to God in the months after our miscarriage the seed of mercy was planted and came to fruition. But it was not until I sacrificed my time and prayed that I gained the ability to show mercy toward myself and be able to learn to forgive God.

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2. Sadness Remains, but it is Transformed: Time heals all wounds. We hear this phrase mentioned frequently when a person experiences a hardship or loss of a loved one. This adage does not contain the full truth. In reality, time does not eliminate sadness or wounds, rather it transforms them. I still experience sadness when I think of my unborn child. However, the sacrament of time has transformed this sadness from a despairing sadness to a joyful sadness [I know if sounds like oxymoron term but I am not sure how else to describe it!].

Time and prayer turn suffering from a destructive force to a purgative, and possibly redemptive force. I have had a few people tell me that they were influenced and inspired by the funeral service we provided for our unborn child. “Your testament and story give me inspiration to have grave markers in our backyard to remember our miscarriages. This was helped me move on and provide healing,” a friend from high school told me when she heard about my loss.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacraments are efficacious[effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). Formally there are seven sacraments, but in reality time when approached in the right manner may be transfigured into a sacrament as well. Time exists in prayer not the other way around. Kreeft tells us, “Eternity is not in the future but in the present. The future is unreal, not yet real” (Time). Instead of worrying about the past and future let us embrace now, the present. Let us embrace the sacrament of time– now!

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