Tag Archives: faith

Sunday Musings: All Saints Day

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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.

About a month ago, I was reading an excellent book called Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. (I highly recommend this book to Catholics as well as people curious about or interested in the faith. It is changing my life chapter by chapter.)

The writer suggests taking notes at Mass each Sunday. Before Mass begins, he says to pray the following:

God, show me one way in this Mass that I can be a better version of myself this week.

This prayer and my notes have helped me tremendously. This morning God revealed to me that I need to strive harder to be a saint (which all Christians already are); but, I need to look to the canonized saints from history, ones whose lives were filled with Godly virtues, to do my best for God each and every day.

Give it a try!

~t

 

 


Picture-Perfect Catholic Couples

I’m sitting here in front of the computer feeling dejected. How did this happen? Probably being confined to bed rest for the past four days hasn’t helped.

But what about the nice family dinner we had tonight? There we go. It’s balanced out now.

No, wait. the picture-perfect Catholic families who I unfriended on Facebook. It’s their fault, attending every parish function in their Sunday finest; praying the Rosary out loud on the living room floor every. Single. Night.

Happily.

Unified.

Yuck.

What I wouldn’t give to have a Catholic wife. One that wouldn’t dismiss images of the crucifix with the wave of a hand: I just don’t understand that, she utters, passing my bloody and pathetic God on the cross. How gross. They should ban those things.

The kids were “christened” in a Shinto shrine. They cannot go through catechism classes at my parish because it’s “too weird.”

Picture-perfect Catholic families: Count your blessings.

Picture-perfect single Catholics: Don’t you dare marry anyone other than a faithful Catholic.

Lukewarm pew-warmers who show up for cultural reasons: Get your heads out of your rectal cavities and get with the program. There’s more. Lots more.

Don’t end up like Topaz: carrying a full-grown paralyzed woman on my back while trying to survive The Hunger Games. (You’re comparing your wife to a paralyzed deadweight? That’s not very Catholic.)

Shut up and go back inside your glass house.

Oh, back to my introduction.

What about the Xanax I took to make me feel alive like living? That went straight out the window as soon as you caught hell for giving the kids an after-dinner snack. I hate it when she stares me down.

I put up with seven years of people staring me down in that giant Pachinko hall they call Tokyo.

Husbands, don’t yell at your wife and kids to hurry up in the morning as you’re all getting ready for church. Wives, don’t nag at your husbands for taking too long to get ready for church in the morning.

Just be thankful that you share the same faith. The same religion.

And count your lucky stars that you’re not trying to live out that God-awful “Coexist” bumper sticker.

~t


A Terrible Day for Two of Us

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“Why are you here? Just go. Change to another class.”

“He won’t even let us go to the bathroom.”

“Your writing is boring. It puts me to sleep.”

“If you leave early again, I’ll call the police.”

“You have no chance in here. I will fail you.”

I couldn’t believe these false accusations against me. I sat in the HR director’s office with the dean and associate dean; this wasn’t happening. I was just in this office a year ago for some other BS!

“Your students don’t want you back in the class,” the associate dean told me.

I sat there dumbfounded, my backpack and school bag beside me on the floor in the spacious office. The associate dean bum-rushed me as soon as I walked in the door this morning. “We have a meeting with the dean and the HR director in ten minutes. It’s bad. Bring your bags and all your stuff. Leave your gradebook.”

That could only mean one thing: I would not be going back to my office. I would not be coming back to my job. Why? What had I done?

Like the paranoid fool I am, I began frantically thinking about anything illegal that I had done. I hadn’t picked a fight with anyone. I hadn’t molested any students. What did I do that was so bad??

The dean and her associate walked me to the HR building; we walked in single file. I was last. The long walk. I had just watched a documentary the other day about life on death row.

The dean decided to have mercy on me. The next logical step was for me to get a week’s leave without pay — a method that the college uses to get rid of people since termination paperwork is too time consuming. However, she suggested that I receive yet another written warning instead.

Plus, I got pulled from the class. I would now be doing lowly tutoring work with the educated rejects in the writing center who languished away for minimum wage. At least I could keep my other two classes: the ones I actually liked. The one I got pulled from was an ESL class full of rich, spoiled international students lucky enough to make it to a U.S. college. A lot of them had powerful fathers who knew how to pull strings for their kids back home.

I got back to my office. My colleague and good friend, Rebecca, a Spanish professor, was sobbing in the next office as she packed all her books and knick-knacks in boxes. “So today is your last day?” I said.

“Yep.” She fell apart again. I had never seen her pretty blue eyes so red, puffy, and full of tears. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for such a loving soul as Rebecca.

The new dean and her associate don’t like Rebecca for reasons unknown. We don’t know why because Rebecca is one of the most respected, sincere, hardworking faculty members at the college. The new deans are essentially putting her out to pasture at some rinky-dink satellite campus ten miles away.

Rebecca is a good, faithful Methodist. Even though our Christian traditions vary somewhat, we always found common ground on the essentials of the faith.

She was only given one week’s notice about being “shipped down the river.” I wanted desperately to give her some sort of memento. Not a Starbucks mug or anything ordinary and cheesy. All I could think of was my Divine Mercy prayer card that I kept in my wallet.

I didn’t want to see her open my petty gift in the envelope that I made with a piece of printer paper stapled along both sides.

She told me later that it was the most thoughtful gift that she had received in her short time at the college. In my note that I included with the card, I tried to encourage her with Romans 8:28 which says:

God works for the good of those who love Him.

Rebecca probably had no idea what the Divine Mercy chaplet was. It didn’t matter. On the front, underneath the picture of Christ, are these five words:

Jesus, I trust in you.

“At least I’m not the only one having a terrible day,” Rebecca joked between sobs after I told her about my third written warning in two years.

She initiated a hug right before leaving her office for good. I was nervous because Rebecca is very attractive. Anyway, we hugged, and I’m glad we did because she’s my friend and I’ll miss her greatly.

~t


The Glorious Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Life has been better lately:

I’ve finally dealt successfully with a particularly nagging sin in my life.

My wife suddenly started sleeping in our bed again (that’s in, not with by the way).

I have a good chance of getting a better-paying job in the near future that would finally free my kids from the reduced-price lunch program at school.

So, driving home from work last week, I was pleased to know that it was the day for the glorious mysteries of the rosary.

Out of all four of my “rosary reports,” this is the only one where I was actually in a good mood beforehand. Below are my thoughts while praying the glorious mysteries last week.

 

1. The Resurrection – Fruit of the Spirit: Faith

The resurrection. Who wouldn’t be joyful after being reminded that Christ overcame death and is now reigning in glory? That would fire someone up right away. Jesus didn’t just conquer His fears and the painful agony of the cross. He conquered death. Satan has already lost!

If you’re still feeling down, don’t worry. Just ask God for an increase in faith. I do this all the time. Some days I can barely get out of bed due to my depression. All I have is my mustard seed of faith that God will help me; all I need to do is ask.

 

2. The Ascension – Fruit of the Spirit: Hope

After all that time with His apostles, Christ ascended into heaven to be with the Father. Just like the apostles, we have that special hope to be with the Lord after finishing our earthly lives.

It’s easy to have hope and to be happy when times are good. Right now this describes me. However, as little as a year ago, that depressed me. Why? Because I had the mindset of “what goes up must come down.” My hope was crushed because of my own lack of faith. These days, I rejoice when times are good. I feel that my walk with God has matured to the point where I don’t worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

 

3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of God

Just like Jesus said, the Holy Spirit came to rest on the apostles and Mary. They were waiting in anticipation, and Jesus stayed true to His word as always.

God is love, and he is always reliable. I had the hardest time accepting this truth because my dad was the complete opposite. So many people, as I did, picture God as they do their earthly father because, well, that’s all we know. But God doesn’t belittle us or wait for us to mess up so that He can punish us.

If you’re having a hard time accepting the fact that God is love — love in its purest form — then ask Him to help you. You’ll be amazed when He grants you the faith to accept and believe in His true nature.

 

4. The Assumption of Mary – Fruit of the Spirit: Grace of a Happy Death

The next two mysteries don’t go over very well with Protestants. No, the Bible doesn’t mention the Assumption or the Coronation of Mary. But where in the Bible does it say that everything we believe has to come from the Bible?

Anyway, this doesn’t mean that Mary ascended into heaven by her own power as Christ did. As Elijah and Enoch in the Old Testament, it was God who made it happen.

I used to fear death. In college, I flew a Cessna 172 on weekends, but I quit after about a year because my fear of dying overtook my passion for flying. It definitely wouldn’t have been a “happy death.”

What is a happy death? I believe it’s when we’re old and full of years, having lived a fulfilled, selfless life with our loved ones around us, with the hope that we will soon be with the Lord. That’s the only kind of death that I want for my family.

 

5. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven – Fruit of the Spirit: Trust in Mary’s Intercession

I consider going to heaven a fringe benefit of being a Christian. Some people are too focused on it, but, honestly, it’s usually not even on my mind. I guess it’s because God has blessed me with a wonderful life right now. I’m not perfect. The world isn’t perfect. But life is good.

This mystery reminds me that I, like Mary, will receive a crown when I (prayerfully) get to heaven. What a glorious day that will be! In the bestseller Heaven is for Real, a non-Catholic book, someone asked Colton Burpo if he saw Mary in heaven, and if so, what she was doing. He responded and said that Mary was next to Jesus and never left His side. Just like a queen mother in the Old Testament. I found that inspiring even before I was Catholic.

Mary is praying for us, just like my good Christian grandparents who are in heaven. Recently I asked a friend to pray for my mental health. I trust that her intercession was effective. How much more effective and trustworthy would the intercession of “the mother of [the] Lord” (Luke 1:43) be?

 

Unrelated Thought

With Thanksgiving coming up, everyone will soon be focused on food what they’re thankful for. However, take some time out every day to count your blessings. You’ll feel a lot better.

I wish you, dear reader, a wonderful day.

~t


Helping Students Beyond the Classroom: A Lady Named Colleen

I’m a college teacher, but sometimes I’m also a counselor for my students. During my office hours, it’s not uncommon for students to come and see me about problems in their personal lives. I am more than happy to give advice or, in most cases, just lend an ear. I trust that the Holy Spirit guides me and gives me the wisdom to help these individuals.

Yesterday morning, as I arrived at my office, one of my students was sitting against the door and crying. She is one of my best students, so I had a feeling it wasn’t grade-related. As she began telling me what was going on, I suddenly felt unqualified. “Are you sure you don’t want to meet with a counselor? The office is just down the hall, and it’s free for students.”

Her answer: “I can’t open up with just anyone. God has led me to you.”

The student, who I will refer to as Colleen, is in a marriage that is quickly spiraling downward. It’s complicated, but the gist is that her husband verbally and physically abuses her, won’t let her drive, and demands that she hand over all of her salary from her part-time food service job.

Colleen is from a country in West Africa, and her husband is American. He has arranged a court date for them to sign divorce papers.

Trusting in the Holy Spirit — since I didn’t get the memo that God was sending Colleen my way — I listened to her and clarified some things. Not really knowing what to say, I referred Colleen to some apartments near campus that were affordable. I’m friends with the coordinator of career services at the college, so I told Colleen where to find the office and to tell them that I sent her.

Lastly, I shared Romans 8: 28 with her: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” There is a reason for everything, I told Colleen. She told me that she believed and trusted that God would work everything out for her. I was humbled by her faith.

When we finished talking, Colleen felt so much better. Tomorrow she is going to court with her husband. When she walks out afterward, she will suddenly be alone in a strange new country with no home, no family, and not quite enough money to make ends meet.

“Thank you for everything!” she told me as she stood up to leave. “You have really helped me.”

“But I really didn’t do much.”

“Oh, you did. You really did.”

Luckily, Colleen will be in my class until the semester ends in December. After that, though, I may not see her again.

Please keep Colleen in your prayers.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


Clawing Your Way Out of Hell

Blackshear-T-Forgiven-AP-Signed

Credit: Thomas Blackshear

It has been a tough week. Trying to regain my faith, I listened to a talk given by a Catholic speaker named Matthew Kelly entitled “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.”

One thing that really struck me was when Matthew spoke about how predictable human nature is. To illustrate his point, Matthew encouraged everyone in the audience to buy a journal and take it to Mass every Sunday. Before Mass, write at the top of the page: What is God Going to Say to Me This Morning?

Listen to the music. Hear the Scriptures being read. Open your heart to the prayers. Meditate on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In some way, God will speak to you. When He does, write it down.

Then Matthew drove his point home: We will bring the journal to Mass the following week, write in it, decide that we don’t want anyone to read our private thoughts, and hide it in an old drawer. Days, months, and years go by. One day we happen to find the journal in the old drawer, rip out the two pages of notes that are no longer important to us, and then use the journal for something else.

In other words, without changing our habits, we will end up stuck in the same sinful life, never to break free.

The inspirational men and women of history had great habits. That’s what separates them from the rest of us.

I have found myself trapped in this disheartening cycle recently. On my way to work this morning, I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to God in spontaneous prayer. Instead, I prayed the Our Father and the Hail Mary (one example of how recited prayers are effective — They are good to fall back on when we just can’t bring ourselves to talk to God).

Listening to the motivational talk on the CD helped. An image ran through my mind afterward: the wonderful painting called Forgiven by Thomas Blackshear (see top of post). I used to see this painting in all the Christian bookstores that I once strolled through. I remember thinking once, Wow. How religious is that! before turning away to look through the bargain bin.

The image of that painting, Jesus holding up an exhausted, hurting young man who is clutching a spike and mallet, burned itself into my mind. That man is me. I’m tired. I’m knee-deep in sin. I’m emotionally drained. It all made perfect sense. It’s funny how we don’t realize the obvious until we are broken-down and ready to give up.

When we find ourselves at the bottom of a muddy pit of despair, there are only but two choices to make: resign ourselves to our “fate” or begin the arduous process of climbing out, inch by agonizing inch. Staying the same may be comfortable, but if we really want a fulfilling life and to get close to God again, we must make every effort. As the saying goes, If you want to see a rainbow, you have to persevere through a storm.

A friend of mine shared a very powerful verse with me recently from Proverbs: Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again. (Pr 24:16)

There is a movie called Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino as the head coach of a once-great professional (American) football team that is struggling with low morale and internal dissension. In the locker room right before a playoff game, the coach pours out his heart in one of my favorite inspirational speeches in a movie.

The transcript of the pre-game pep talk is below:

I don’t know what to say really.

Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives

all comes down to today.

 

Now, either we heal as a team,

or we’re gonna crumble.

 

Inch by inch, play by play, ’til we’re finished.

 

We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me.

 

And, we can stay here and get the **** kicked out of us,

Or we can fight our way back into the light.

 

We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time.

 

Now, I can’t do it for you. I’m too old.

 

I look around. I see these young faces and I think:

I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make.

 

I ****** away all my money, believe it or not.

I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me.

And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

 

You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you.

That’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

 

You find out life is this game of inches. So is football.

Because in either game, life or football,

the margin for error is so small.

 

I mean, one half step too late or too early,

and you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow, too fast,

you don’t quite catch it.

 

The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They’re in every break of the game.

Every minute, every second.

 

On this team, we fight for that inch.

On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.

We claw with our fingernails for that inch!

 

Because we know, when we add up all those inches,

that’s gonna make the ******* difference between winning and losing!

 

Between living and dying!

 

I’ll tell you this: In any fight,

it’s the guy who’s willing to die

who’s gonna win that inch.

 

And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore,

it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch

because that’s what living is!

The six inches in front of your face.

 

Now, I can’t make you do it.

You gotta look at the guy next to you.

Look into his eyes!

 

Now, I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you.

You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team

because he knows when it comes down to it,

you’re gonna do the same for him.

 

That’s a team, gentlemen.

 

And, either we heal – now – as a team,

or we will die as individuals.

 

That’s football, guys.

That’s all it is.

 

Now, what are you gonna do?

Here is the video clip of the speech (Warning: Some strong language):

~t


How I Ruined My Family’s Sunday Afternoon

I couldn’t see a thing. All I knew was that the room was about 8′ x 5′ (2.4 m x 1.5 m). I sat there with my legs folded under me with my eyes closed. My mind wasn’t working; only the heaviness of guilt and regret was with me in the darkness. This was my punishment. I had it coming. How I wish I could take back everything I did. I didn’t want to leave this pitch-black cell, though.

After being frozen in place for what seemed like hours, I curled up on the floor, using an old musty cloth as a pillow. I didn’t want to stretch out; it would have been too much of a luxury, plus my feet would have been near the door. I never expected to drift off to sleep, but it had been an emotionally draining experience.

It all happened in a flash. One moment, I was checking my email on my phone, and the next minute, the fight broke out with no warning. They were going at it with everything they had. It’s a prison fight, I thought with horror. How could it be happening? What caused it? And right under my nose? How dare they!

After the bigger one got the smaller one down and began hammering his back with right-left combinations, I snapped.

It was one thing I lived in fear of, even as a dedicated, faithful Christian. The beast inside me reared its ugly head once again and took over. I got in each boy’s face and screamed at each one. “What are you doing?! You will not fight while I’m here! You,” I said, looking at my seven-year-old. “Don’t you realize that he is only five? Why were you beating on him like that? Huh?!”

“Scott, stop. You’re getting carried away.” Ayako, my wife, tried to calmly intervene.

“Don’t interrupt! I’m in the middle of disciplining them!”

“But, you’re yelling–”

“Didn’t you see it?! It was like a prison fight!” Now I was yelling at my wife.

I don’t remember what happened next. I was in such a crazy state of mind.

I used to punish myself by striking myself in the temple, cheek, and forehead. I was doing it again. Wasn’t all that crap behind me?

I had one of those profound moments during Mass earlier in the morning when my soul cried out to God. I was in up to my neck in a certain type of sin, and I couldn’t worship the Lord like I usually did.

That’s what sin does. It makes you think that once is enough. Instead, the cycle begins. Like a drug addict trying to go straight. One little snort or injection and everything will be okay. Just one fix.

But that’s not how sin works. The devil knows that one little slip and he’s got you. The feeding of the addiction happens all over again. The cycle is torture. Even St. Paul struggled with sin: Even though his mind said no, his flesh said yes. I always seem to forget about the rest of that verse.

His answer is to turn to Christ.

God told me in the middle of Mass that I kept falling because I was legalistically trying to avoid sin. What I didn’t realize was that I was using my own power. God reminded me that I must avoid sin out of love for Him and not because of myself.

When God speaks to me, I don’t mean that He speaks audibly inside my head like I’m a schitzo. It’s more of telepathy for lack of a better term. His Spirit connects with my spirit on a deep, primal level. I don’t even have to think of a reply; my soul responds automatically.

So there I was, my heart and soul transformed and touched by the hand of God. After Mass, as everyone cleared out, I knelt down in the pew and continued praising God and thanking him profusely for His gift of faith and forgiveness through Christ. Normally I get distracted and not pray after Mass, but I was deep in communion with the Holy Spirit yesterday, and nothing could divert my attention. How wonderful it was!

So how did I go from that mountain-top experience with God to being curled up in the fetal position in this dark, cramped room? It felt like my brain was swishing around in my skull; the dull pain was making me sick to my stomach. You deserve it, Scott. Serves you right for treating your two little buddies so horribly.

My oldest son is very sensitive and gets his feelings hurt easily. He is excelling in second-grade reading and math. I am so proud of him. My youngest son is in kindergarten, and all last week he and one other student had the privilege of sitting at a special table in his classroom reserved for exceptional students. The little rascal didn’t even tell my wife or me, but that’s how he is. Very humble.

The three of us love playing soccer in the backyard after dinner. Both boys are playing in a fall soccer league now, and my youngest is the star player on his team. He gets the majority of his team’s goals each game. My two little buddies are the pride and joy of my life.

Seeing them both break down into tears as I screamed at them hit me like a sack of bricks afterward. When my rage was in full force, though, I wanted them to cry; I wanted to see their remorse and for them to fully understand how fighting would not be allowed.

I try very hard to be the best father that I can be. I love my sons more than I love myself. If they’re still hungry when we eat at home or at a restaurant, I am quick to share my food or dessert with them. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have shared with my wife. My food was mine!

I sometimes get angry with my sons for little things. Yesterday morning we had a fun day at the park. My kids love riding their bikes through a nature trail, stopping periodically to explore a creek or a wooded area that looks interesting. Yesterday, I took the photo at the top of this post It was in a wide-open field at the park. As I was trying to figure which angle of the log to photograph, my oldest son sneaked up behind me and yelled boo. He was laughing, having fun because he scared Dada. I responded by yelling at him not to scare me like that. He went away dejected.

My right shoulder and back were killing me from spending so much time on the floor in the small, dark closet. I turned over, tossed away the old cloth that was my pillow and roughed it some more. The more I was uncomfortable and in pain, the more I could atone for my behavior. In shorts and a t-shirt, the floor was feeling cold, but I was determined to keep lying there; hopefully I would catch a cold and suffer for several more days.

God, I whispered, help me. Help me in this situation. I created such a mess. Then I thought about how every action of mine, either positive or negative, affects my whole family. Just like when I was young. My father’s mood affected all of us and ruined so many happy moments. It tore me apart to see myself acting like my father who I still cannot forgive for leaving me nothing but rancid memories of my childhood.

I drifted in and out of consciousness in the darkness. Brief dreams floated through my mind. Suddenly I heard a female voice. It was soft and gentle. Perhaps it was an angel.

Scott. Scott. SCOTT.

Huh? I mumbled. Was I dreaming?

Get up. The voice sounded authoritative now.

No. I want to stay here.

Get up! The angel was yelling now. Don’t make me angry!

I was awake now, but I didn’t move. Stop yelling first.

Your sons are waiting for you to read to them!

It wasn’t an angel after all. It was Ayako, my wife. She is a tough little thing, so I knew it would be in my best interest to get up and go into the living room.

Before opening my bedroom door, I collected myself and prayed. God, you gotta help me. I let out a deep breath and opened the door.

My boys were on the sofa with their little books, waiting for me to read to them. “Dada! Come sit with us!”

They had forgiven me and were actually happy to see me. We read several books together, and then we played their favorite card game, Uno. My wife even came in from the kitchen and joined us for two games.

Later, after dinner, my sons and I went out back as usual and played soccer. A little while later, my wife came out for the very first time, and we played an aggressive but fun two-on-two match.

God had worked another miracle. Everything was back to normal, but I was still depressed and suffering from guilt.

I’m sure my family won’t forget what happened yesterday afternoon, but it was evident that they had forgiven me.

I don’t expect them to forget, though. How I wish they would.

Someday when my sons think back to their childhood, I don’t want my screw-ups to outweigh the fun times that we had.

I am still burdened by extreme guilt right now as I finish typing this. I had to take two Xanax tablets a little while ago to relieve the pain and agony inside of me. The pills didn’t quite do the trick.

I want to lock myself in a room somewhere because I am agitated despite the 2 mg of Xanax. I can’t do that, though. All I can do is rely on God, but I’m having a hard time surrendering right now.

~t

(photo by Topaz)