St. Ignatius of Loyala said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic I admire the witness of the saints. From a theological and cerebral perspective Ignatius makes sense, but to a person in the midst of trials his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now than during a low point in my life.
What I have found to be interesting during the past few months that I have been writing is that my more popular and greater trafficked posts relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Today I believe there are three specific reasons why writing about my own limitations appeal to others.
1. Suffering is Universal: J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the objective reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work The Lord of the Rings. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence. Is that true of yourself? Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is definitely true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.
Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face. Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe my writing on my personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.
Sometimes quotes from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we are able to life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!
2. Honesty is the best policy: To continue on the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. The reason for this is due largely to their candor and admittance of their limitations. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.
In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Half of the times, I am not even aware of what I am going to write about on a particular day or even how I am going to finish a post. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!
3. Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle: My battle against personal vices [anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc] is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles. In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil of the ring tempts him:
Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.
Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!
The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need. It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ [making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend] that true fellowship happens. Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure the fellowship around me [wife, family, faith, and friends] is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.
Below is a letter I wrote to my unborn son Jeremiah who left this life on All Soul’s Day 2014.
Words will never fully describe the yearning I have to see you again in heavenly bliss. I will try my best with this letter. Life was tough in the months ensuing your death. While pain set in quickly for your mother, I remained aloof from the suffering—for a time—eventually I broke down and trembled at our sudden and inexplicable loss. Though I never blamed God, our Father, for taking you away from us, I did question the good in the situation.
To be honest, I have not fully recovered from our tragedy of you passing from this life to the next, ironically on All Souls’ Day. The pain does get a little bit less each day. Your mother and I were at a crossroads on a cool summer night. It was June 2015 the month you were supposed to be born. All around us people we knew were having babies and we were only reminded of our pain and thinking what might have been. I prayed out to God “I just want something good to happen in my life!” Weeks later we discovered your mother was pregnant. Despite this amazing news, we were cautious and often thought of losing you months earlier.
Half-way through the pregnancy we learned that we were having another baby boy and we settled on a name—Josiah. Later we learned that this name means “healer”. I do not think that was a coincidence. I firmly believe God answered our prayers and used you as a powerful intercessor to keep your brother Josiah safe throughout the pregnancy.
I want to thank you for the gift you have provided your family! I am grateful to have heard your heartbeat before we lost you. That memory gives my daily strength and every milestone Josiah has I think of you. I ask for continually help and intercession in your union with our Heavenly Father.
Your siblings and your mother deeply miss you and we hope to be united with your after our pilgrim journey in this life is completed.
With great love and gratitude,
P.S. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” –Jeremiah 1:5 (New American Bible)
“Everything changes and nothing stands still,” the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once claimed. I first heard these words as a sophomore in college during an Intro to Philosophy class. Years later, this truth resurfaced under the guise of different words in a response to a question I posed to my interviewing manager for the job I am at today. I asked, “What is the single greatest piece of advice you have been given to succeed at this company?” The interviewer paused and pensively stated, “Be prepared to deal with change and learn to embrace change!” Ever since that 2015 summer afternoon I have frequently pondered the meaning of these words and what exactly they mean for other aspects of my life. Today I want to share my experiences and knowledge that I have learned about the importance changing for the better meant, and still means, for my daily life.
As I mentioned in last week’s post Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer? I am on the autism spectrum. Change always posed a challenge to me. Growing up as a cradle Catholic I benefited from the guidelines of the Catholic Church teachings through which I developed a black/white dichotomous view of morality. Either you are holy or you are not. That was my though process and my coping mechanism to reconcile differences I noticed in the world. Not until suffering found me on a personal level did my judgmental and simple morality start to transform. Losing my job and suffering a nightmarish miscarriage led me to the end of my rope. Let with nothing in the aftermath of this change-filled maelstrom I turned to God. To be frank, I did not feel His presence at all but through the urging of my mom and wife I went to Eucharistic adoration on a weekly basis. Here I sought out the Unchanged One for stability and support.
Fast forward to 2017 and I am more at peace and learning to realize the importance of changing my mindset from negative to positive. My son’s official autism diagnosis in 2016 helped provide some clarity for my situation as well. I am not defined by my inherent inner struggle with change. Although I have moved toward the right direction I still have a long ways to go in embracing change on a daily basis. Encountering God as the Unchanged One through Eucharistic adoration and through Matt Maher’s song Deliverer gave me hope and perspective to change for the better. I learned that suffering is redemptive and clinging to the Unchanged One changes a person. I am not the same person that I was in 2015. I am transformed and I thank the Unchanged One every day!
If you are struggling with life’s changes in little and grand ways please consider relying on the Unchanged One to transform you. If I could go back in time, I would tell Heraclitus that he was half-right. I would change to his maxim “Everything changes and nothing stands still” to “Everything changes and nothing stands still. Only meeting the Unchanged One and standing still in His presence will let us authentically change.”
As a cradle Catholic I grew up hearing the story of the Rich Young Man in Mark 10:17-31 several dozens times. However, it was not until this past year where I was able to truly understand the meaning of this passage. During this last year, I have encountered God through my suffering and specifically showed me have I often display the attitude of the rich young man. In today’s post, I will briefly talk about 3 ways I lacked what Jesus desires from each of us.
- I believed that I was a good-goody Catholic. What I mean by this statement is that I often thought of how holy I was because of my support for traditional Catholic values: I vote pro-life, I don’t commit adultery, I always go to Mass on Sundays, and I definitely committed no major sins. I truly believed that because I was a good person that was enough to encounter Christ in a satisfying way. Let’s reflect on Mark’s words in 10:20, “Teacher, all of these [commandments] I have observed from my youth”. His thought process sounds eerily similar to mine! But that brings me to my second reason for being just like this young man.
- I could not give up control of “control over situations”. Let me explain. I always interpreted Jesus’ response to the man (see Mark 10:21) in a purely materialistic light. I felt that because I could control the amount of my physical possessions that I could not possibly fit into the same category as this unfortunate youth. I am actually a neat-freak. I hate clutter and am OCD about junk and cleanliness. I live in moderation and don’t live outside my means. But the problem is that I did not give up MY CONTROL. I always wanted to be in control of the situation and though I followed all Catholic doctrine I truly was not letting God in control.
- I possessed a certain despair just like the Rich Young Man after his encounter with Jesus. I thought that I knew my path in this life. I had a plan as to what career I wanted to choose and how I would get there. Even when I got my dream job teaching in a Catholic School I still felt despair. When I encountered Christ I still could not give up control of my situation.
During this past year my family and I suffered immensely: my son was abused at the first daycare we took him to in our new city, my daughter suffered from multiple ear infections, and ultimately my wife and I lost our 10 week unborn child. I was driven to grief counseling I had sunk so low in my faith.
Here is where my story changed for the better. Amid this intense and painful suffering, God showed me the greatest love possible. He wanted for me to rely on Him fully. I was finally able to do something the Rich Young Man in Mark’s Gospel never did–I gave up all my “possessions”. I gave up control and totally relied on God for His love to envelope me. See, I still maintained the sacraments and belief in all Catholic teaching, but the difference is that I had faith IN GOD to help me in my situation. Previously, I tried to be simply a “good person” and seek a joyous life. It is impossible to have authentic joy in this life without encountering God and ultimately accepting Him as your savior.
I finally realized in my heart–my mind already knew this–that to truly be holy I needed to follow God’s commandments AND ask Him to help me on a daily basis. To paraphrase a personal hero of mine, St. Francis de Sales, “Work as if everything depends on you and pray as if everything depends on God”.
I am still on my pilgrim journey toward Heaven, but God made me realize that my dream to teach the faith will be fulfilled–just not in the ways I expected. I hope to continue writing my story on a regular basis to draw fringe Catholics to the Church. I truly want people to experience true joy in their life!