How Can I Be a Saint When Demons Are Binding Me?

Credit: Tim Stringer

Life has been one struggle after the next since the day before Palm Sunday.

On that day I went to confession. While waiting in line, I was praying for the Lord to help me with my lustful thoughts and sexual impurity. As I gazed at the life-size crucifix, I heard Jesus’ words in my heart:

Do it for me.

In other words, don’t give up your sin in order to receive blessings. Don’t give up lust, masturbation, and pornography just to make yourself feel better. Give it up because I love you.

After confession, I felt like a million dollars. This is it. I will mark time by this day. The rest of my life I will resist these sexual sins with the Lord’s power.

I went to confession several weeks ago at a youth camp that I attended with my sons, and the wise old priest, after I confessed my sexual lust and impurity, told me that I needed a “battle plan;” sheer will power wouldn’t cut it. The problem was, I didn’t know what the heck that meant. And I was too stupid to ask!

So, I did quite well in resisting lust. My battle plan was to chant the word “Mary” to myself until the urge passed. Was that even a so-called battle plan? I have no idea.

Lust was no longer an issue. Instead, anger suddenly became my downfall on Holy Thursday as I lost my temper later that night with a fellow K of C member who was part of the liturgy with me. I won’t go into detail, but he did something that wasn’t even a big deal. However, my paranoia and victim mentality caused me to blow it out of proportion: I screamed at him and threatened him via voicemail, and I also wrote a scathing yet tactful email (because emails can be forwarded and passed around) to him.

My Easter weekend was ruined. All I could think about was how he “did me wrong.” And, like an avalanche, all the times I’d been bullied or taken advantage of came flooding back over me. It was so bad that on Resurrection Sunday, I was questioning my faith and entertaining the idea of driving my car over a bridge.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as that mess got cleared up, the demons hit me full-on with lust. Something tells me (demons? angels? my own thoughts?) that if I fall again, it’s over. No chance at getting a better job, no chance at a better marriage, no chance of reading the Scriptures and knowing by faith that God’s promises are for me.

And, worst of all, I would be forever trapped in that dark place with nothing except my endless lust for female flesh.

I can’t keep fighting off the demons like this. I need reinforcements. Where are they?

I really hope you weren’t creeped out by the image at the top of this post. I chose it because it represents me right now: naked, tempted beyond belief, and confused.

~t


Sunday Musings: Weekend Campout

 

Credit: Microsoft images

A few weeks ago, my sons and I had the opportunity to go on a weekend father-and-son campout with my parish youth group.

Surprisingly, my wife didn’t object when I asked her if I could start taking our sons to a Sunday afternoon youth group. At first our kids didn’t quite fit in since they’re not being raised in the most Catholic of households. Before bed, my kids and I pray the Hail Mary, and we read a Bible story each night in my oldest son’s My Little Bible.

With this being my very first outdoor Mass, and having to corral my two muddy little boys through the whole thing, I thought that it would make for some Sunday musings.

 

1. Watching Clark Kent Change into Superman

I thought it was cool that the two young priests put on their vestments among us since there was no sacristy at the campgrounds. It was kind of like a behind-the-scenes moment that I probably won’t see very often.

 

2. The “Choir”

Mothers and daughters, how we missed you.

 

3. The Spirit of God Was Alive and Well

Missals being blown off the lectern, altar cloth billowing in the wind, ball caps flying across the seats. Oh, and the now-infamous highlight of the Mass for the kids: watching some poor family’s tent being blown into the lake directly behind the altar.

 

4. A Scary Cave Experience

The homily was really gripping. The Gospel text was John 9:1-41 which was about Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The priest, a native of Arkansas, shared a personal account of exploring some of the state’s many underground caverns.

He described one cave as a five-level maze. Sure enough, his helmet light wasn’t fully charged, and it died at the wrong time. I wouldn’t want to imagine the fright as he tried to find his way out of the total darkness. Eventually, he saw a tiny speck of daylight far off into the distance. Relief flooded over him as he made his way to the light.

Needless to say, it put the Gospel reading into full perspective for me. You know, “blind but now I see” and all that.

 

5. Feeding Frenzy

No tabernacle = nowhere to place the Eucharist after Mass. I suppose the priests erred on the side of caution, because after communion, both of them stood at the altar for a very long time consuming all the leftover hosts. I bet there were a hundred extras that had to be consumed before Mass could continue. Talk about an awkward moment.

~t


And God Said No

Credit: Alexandre Buisse

My wife, who is not a Christian, reluctantly agreed to attend a baptismal class for our youngest son. I figured she would be bored out of her mind: The hour-long class would be full of Catholic terminology regarding a sacrament that Ayako had no clue about.

And there would be praying.

That evening, I found the courage to glance over at Ayako at some point during the class, and, sure enough, her eyes were glazed over. “How are you doing?” I asked meekly.

No response.

I got worried. The whole idea of baptizing our children was mine. I was the reason we were all here on a weeknight instead of at home in our highly-structured routine.

In my mind, I tried to hurry along the class so that I wouldn’t feel like I was keeping my wife hostage inside a Catholic church. Just a few more minutes, right? I kept asking myself nervously.

After 90 minutes, we were dismissed. Leaving Ayako with both kids, who were going stir crazy by then, I went up to the individuals in charge of the baptismal class to ask some questions.

Outside in the parking lot, I expected Ayako to either give me the silent treatment or start complaining about wasting her time. Instead, the first words out of her mouth were: “I liked that prayer.”

“Which one?”

“The one at the beginning. It sounded like a poem.”

This is a very good sign! I thought, shocked that she actually enjoyed something about the class.

I went home and punched in some key words on the computer; I had no idea what the poem was called or anything. That’s why God gave us Google, I reminded myself.

Ayako even wanted me to print a copy for her which she now reads every night before going to bed.

The moral of this story? God is in control. He can work wonders. He changed a big fool such as me, and He can surely convert the heart of a tough little non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist Japanese woman. Just not according to my timetable.

Anyway, here is the poem that I tracked down. It’s called “When God Says No” by Claudia Minden Welsz.

 

I asked God to take away my pride,
and God said, “No.”
He said it was not for Him to take away,
but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole,
and God said, “No.”
He said her spirit is,
while her body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience,
And God said, “No.”
He said patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No.”
He said He gives blessings,
happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain,
and God said, “No.”
He said, “Suffering draws you apart from
worldly cares and brings you closer to Me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow,
and God said, “No.”
He said I must grow on my own,
but He will prune me to make it fruitful.

I asked God if He loved me,
and God said, “Yes.”
He gave me His only Son, who died for me.
And I will be in Heaven someday
because I believe.

I asked God to help me love others
as much as He loves me,
and God said,
“Ah, finally, you have the idea.”

~t


I Should Be Happy

I should be happy with my life because I’ve found God and His Church, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I have two healthy, happy sons, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I have a wife who is honest and loves our family, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I have a full-time job, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I am healthy, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because my family and I aren’t homeless or starving, but I’m not.

I should be happy with my life because I can just change my thinking and be positive, but I can’t.

I should be happy with my life because I can make changes and please my wife, but I can’t.

I shouldn’t be happy without my life because all my pain and suffering can end right here and now, but I am.

 


You Can Get Better: Struggling with Panic Attacks

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about a former CNN reporter who struggles with panic attacks. Although both of ours stem from PTSD, my experiences seem to pale in comparison to the reporter’s; witnessing an electric-chair execution of a convicted murderer is something that I cannot fathom.

I can trace my PTSD back to my childhood. I lived in constant fear, wondering when my dad would explode with rage and begin beating my mother and me. Even now, when someone is walking too closely behind me, as the reporter states in the article, I “feel as if [my] world is ending. [My] heart is racing, [I] begin to hyperventilate, every nerve in [my] body is exploding — it seems [I'm] about to die, and [I] have an overwhelming sense of doom.”

Luckily, I now have medication and coping skills such as breathing techniques and prayer that help me when I get panic attacks.

The worst attacks come when I’m driving on a wide-open interstate or highway, however. The above symptoms usually force me to pull over to the side of the road. I have often been late to work or late getting home as a result.

I can trace this back to my college days when I used to fly single-engine airplanes (Cessna 150s and 172s). One time in particular, I made the huge mistake of making a solo cross-country jaunt without feeling totally comfortable with my instruments. Who needs instruments when it’s a clear day? That’s what landmarks are for.

However, I failed to realize the consequences of a recent flood in the region: Once I got in the air, a uniquely-shaped lake had become completely unidentifiable. Seized with panic, I tried to figure out which way was which. I had to make it back to my tiny airport which had no control tower. It didn’t help that (a) the short runway resembled a postage stamp tucked away in the hills and (b) my precious fuel was being depleted.

I will probably always struggle with these panic attacks. What encouraged me about the reporter’s story, though, were his words toward the end: “For those going through anxiety issues, I have a message: You can get better, you can work through it. It may be therapy, medication, or just the realization that you aren’t alone.”

You are not alone. No matter what you are struggling with.

You can get better. There is hope.

~t


Sunday Musings: Do Not Worry

credit: wallpapersus.com

This is a section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. Running into Church

I cant believe it. Yesterday I was wearing shorts and sweating at the park in 80 degree (26 C) sunshine. This morning, the temperature had plunged to 40 (4 C).

You would have thought the world was ending: everyone sprinting into church from the parking lot. Alas, no spontaneous conviction of sin; just cold Texans headed into a warm place.

 

2. Mass Disruption

I’ve been reading blogs by traditional Catholics who prefer the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. It’s definitely given me food for thought as to the modern innovations that have taken place in the past 40 years or so.

All of this came to mind in the middle of Mass this morning when the priest suddenly asked all parishioners to come to the altar in a chaotic mob and pick up a copy of a Lent booklet. It just didn’t seem like the appropriate time to do such a thing.

Maybe the complaints of the traditionalists are starting to influence me, or maybe I’m being too uptight about the whole thing. I don’t know. I’ll just continue to trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding us as we are fumbling along into the third millennium of the Church.

 

3. Do Not Worry

The homily and Gospel reading today fit perfectly into my current positive-thinking discipline. Matthew 6:24-34 reminded me to stop worrying about things and trust that God will provide in all situations.

It also helped me to remember that the upcoming Lenten season is a time to draw closer to God as we make sacrifices that might otherwise distract us from Him.

My fear for this Lent (as well as previous ones):  Will I be holy and pious enough during the upcoming 40 days? Do not worry, Topaz.

 

4. Men’s Club vs. K of C

After Mass, a representative from the parish Men’s Club gave a recruitment spiel about the benefits of joining his “social and service brotherhood.” I don’t know if other parishes have a Men’s Club, but I found myself being offended that this group would (gasp!) dare to compete with the Knights of Columbus. We are better! You few guys need to join us! 131 years and going strong! Definitely a pride check from God.

 

5. Chalices are Back

During the winter, the chalices (communion cups) weren’t being used due to flu season. Today, all of a sudden, they were back! I know it’s the very beginning of March, but… What if flu season is still here?! After my initial panic, I got in line for the chalice. Do not worry…

~t


Positive Thinking and the Mind of Christ

One week after being ordered to attend anger management classes by my supervisor, I finally met with a counselor that was assigned to me.

On the phone, she sounded very kind, like a grandmotherly type. I was surprised that she answered her own phone. I guess her schedule was pretty open because I named a time and date, and she immediately said she’d see me then.

I wasn’t greeted by any receptionist window when I entered her office; a nice, cozy, empty living-room-type area was all I saw. I wandered around the “office” until I finally heard voices coming from a back room. Feeling more at ease, I plopped down on the fluffy sofa with plenty of mismatched pillows surrounding me.

Finally the other patient left, and the therapist, a tall, thin lady in her 60s, came to get me.

Her office, what looked like a converted bedroom, overwhelmed my senses in a good way: shelves of stuffed animals, knick-knacks everywhere, flowers and plants placed all over. I got the impression right away that she counseled lots of families and children.

Taking my seat on the comfortable sofa, I immediately noticed her main bookshelf, where The Secret was prominently featured. Hmm. She is wearing lots of bangles and stuff. I pegged her as a New Ager right away. What the hell, I thought. My school is paying for all this, and I’m allowed to miss work, so relax.

Before we started, the doctor (she has a Ph.D.) asked me what my goal for these sessions was; my school is only covering three sessions after all.

“Anger management. How to control my anger at work and be professional. Even when I don’t feel like it.”

That seemed to satisfy her.

The rest of the 45-minute session was straight out of The Secret: our positive thoughts flow into the universe, and the universe sends back positive energy and results. And vice versa.

I felt like I was trapped inside a giant infomercial for that book. The doctor went on and on, sharing testimony after testimony about how positive thinking and will power changed her life for the better. No mention of God or Jesus.

I told her I would give it a shot.

On my way home, I started thinking about the session and what I was learning. Then I realized that I could take the “normal” things, like positive thinking, and leave the universe-energy-Secret stuff.

Then a Scripture came to me like God whispering in my ear:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

And then another:

…I beat my body and make it my slave… (1 Corinthians 9:27)

This last one didn’t mention mind, but I believed it involved making every effort to be positive. Anyhow, I was on to something.  I went home and searched the Scriptures for mention of the word mind. Here are some verses that I found:

I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind… (Jeremiah 17:10)

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

And then this one:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Why hadn’t I paid attention to all this before? Well, one doesn’t seek medical attention until one is convinced of an illness. I do suffer from mental issues, but nobody (that I can recall) had ever taught convinced me that even I could take control of my mind and feed it positive thoughts.

It would take some work, like giving up some extreme metal music that I had come to enjoy and putting aside some of those dark independent films that I’m fond of.

I met with the doctor for a second time this morning and told her of my progress: I had actually seen some sort of improvement from our first session! By feeding my mind positive thoughts, I had been able to enjoy work more and get along better with my students and colleagues.

And I was overjoyed to finally discover and put into practice the idea of taking on the mind of Christ.

…But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

~t

(photo by Topaz)


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