Tag Archives: Jesus

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)


Communicating with God

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week was very challenging. On Wednesday, I got into some sin that affected the remainder of my week.

I don’t know about you, but there are certain sins that, when I let my guard down and give in to, plunge me into the pit of despair. Unable to claw my way out, I start sinking deeper within the cold, muddy pit.

I know that God forgives me; I ask his forgiveness and (try to) repent. However, I find myself returning again and again to that filthy pit.

This is why I love the sacrament of reconciliation (commonly referred to as confession). With the power given to the priest by Christ (“Whatever you bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:18]), it’s as if I’m confessing my sins directly to Jesus who is sitting near me. What a powerful, electrifying experience to actually hear the words of forgiveness.

This past Saturday, I went to confession at my parish. I prayed fervently beforehand that the Holy Spirit would help me to pray the Act of Contrition from my heart, and that the Holy Spirit would fill me.

There is nothing like praying inside the church: various individuals kneeling reverently before the life-sized crucifix and the tabernacle beside it that holds the Holy Eucharist, the true body and blood of Christ present before us.

After exiting the reconciliation room (“the confessional”), I always locate a pew in front of the altar, kneel, and immediately bow my head, reflect on my sin, and recite the prayers of penance.

However, instead of bowing my head, I knelt with my hands clasped in front of me, and my eyes were instantly transfixed on the body of Christ that hung on the cross. What’s going on? I was unable to move. It was one of those moments when The Lord speaks before I do.

At that moment, my mind was profoundly connected to God’s, and our conversation began:

Lord, since Wednesday, I…

Forget it. It’s in the past now.

Dear God, thank you for forgiving me…

You’re already forgiven. It’s time to move on.

The dialogue was over, but God wasn’t quite finished.

As I continued to gaze upon the crucifix, I had a vision of two long paths running parallel and almost touching. The left path was my life: I saw myself going through life working, spending time with family, and so forth. On the right path, rays of light that resembled water continually shone down the path and out of sight. I saw myself occasionally taking a step onto the right path, the rays of light/water washing over me like a horizontal shower. After a brief moment, I would step back onto the left path and continue my daily life.

The right path was God’s forgiveness. The Lord was showing me that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, and His saving grace always exists and is close by; all I must do is take the step, wash myself in it, and carry on.

At last I felt that God was finished communicating with me, and it was time for my penance. I prayed one “Our Father” and ten “Hail Marys.” These aren’t just rote actions that we go through because the priest says we have to; the prayers help us to get our focus on God. The prayers came alive like never before, each word imprinted on my soul.

I have listed the two prayers here:

Our Father, Who art in heaven,

hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace,The Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners now

and at the hour of our death. Amen.

~t


It Would be Great to Have a “Real” Marriage

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I usually don’t post thoughts that are off-the-cuff because, well, that’s not the way I like to write. As a college English teacher, I tell my students that brainstorming and making an outline are essential first steps in writing an essay.

But forget all that. This isn’t a stinkin’ essay.

All of you are aware that I am dealing with… “issues.” And you also know that I’m trying to be a good Catholic at the same time. Well, it’s not always a bed of roses.

Like right now.

Maybe it’s because I had to cut my meds down to a half-dose because my new psychiatrist couldn’t fit me right in. I’m don’t know, but life has been very up-and-down lately. (Luckily I have an appointment tomorrow morning to see him, so that’s good.)

Only on a Catholic/mental illness blog could the author go from writing thoughts about the rosary and contemplative prayer one day and writing a post like this one the very next day. Welcome to my world.

I have been mourning my marriage a lot lately. How could my wife and I go from being giddy young(er) lovers to coed roommates who manage a household like brother and sister?

I’m happy for all of the happily married couples that I see at church and on the blogs that I frequent. I really am. It’s just hard for me to see sometimes. Kind of like a guy seeing his recent ex-girlfriend in a hot new relationship while the former boyfriend is at home scouring Internet dating sites, trying in vain to find someone.

I have God, His Son, The Blessed Virgin, and all of the angels and saints, though. However, I don’t mean to sound like I’m questioning my faith (I’m not), but I am reminded of the scene in the movie Good Will Hunting where the counselor asks the young man if he has any friends. The young man says yes, he has many good friends and starts listing off classic authors. The counselor responds by saying that all of those people are dead and begins lecturing him on having real relationships with real people.

Again, there’s no doubt in my mind that the saints are alive in heaven and praying for me constantly. It’s just that… they’re not present here. I can’t see them.

Jesus is my savior and friend (yes, friend), and I love spending time praying/talking to him.

However,

it would be great to have real friends. A real love of my life.

The Church is the bridegroom of Christ. That is awesome; it’s a lovely image.

But that’s more like reading poetry: beautiful allusions and lofty prose. The real thing would be nice, though.

I need to count my blessings. I know. I have been. I thank God daily for everything that He has given me.

It would be wonderful to have a “real (?)” marriage like Christ has with His Church.

Fellow believers, please don’t write me off as a heretic. I’m really not. I’m just a guy who’s going through some stuff, that’s all.

~t


The Joyful Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I started yesterday with some good prayer, and the night before, I studied some uplifting passages in the Scriptures. However, it was a typical Monday for me once I got to work: I was unable to fully wake up, and my students gave me an especially hard time because I handed back the final drafts of their essays which never seems to go well.

I tell you, college students will argue ’til the cows come home in order to get me or my colleagues to reconsider their grades (I usually don’t).

In typical fashion, my focus was no longer on God but on my workday and on everything that needed to be done. By the time I got to my car in the evening, I was feeling pretty guilty about pushing Jesus aside the whole day. It really pained my heart. I needed to get my focus back and put the day’s events (and failures) behind me.

I have iRosary which is an app for my iPhone. I used to use it in order to learn the structure of the rosary and the prayers. Now, however, I seem to use it only to find out what the mysteries are for a certain day.

So I was instantly comforted to know that yesterday was the day for the Joyful Mysteries. God always knows what I need!

I have written some thoughts that I had during my praying of the rosary yesterday. I hope you are able to find some encouragement from them.

1. The Annunciation – Fruit of the Spirit: Humility

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord may not be sending angels to let you know that change is coming, but He works in ways which we may not realize.

Because of His grace, God enabled me to reach out to Him in distress; he answered me by moving within my heart and assuring me that He blesses a humble spirit. God doesn’t want many eloquent words; He works best with a humble and contrite spirit.

You don’t have to be a canonized saint or the Mother of God for Him to speak to you. Just start with prayer and ask Him to help you and show you the way to His Son.

2. The Visitation – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of Neighbor

Gabriel visited Mary, and then Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John, the one who would baptize Jesus at the beginning of His ministry.

It’s been said that Mary was the first missionary, bringing Jesus to her cousin. The Scriptures say that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy when Mary greeted her.

The fruit of the Spirit, love of neighbor, spoke to me the most regarding this mystery. I had just finished a stressful day with students and colleagues, and praying for and loving them were the furthest from my mind; another example of how God urges us and helps us!

3. The Birth of Jesus – Fruit of the Spirit: Poverty

Everyone knows about the nativity; we see it every December. As a result, when I pray this mystery, I try to meditate on something that isn’t ingrained in me like images of warm-and-fuzzy manger scenes on Christmas cards.

I once heard an Evangelical preacher on the radio say that he wanted to design a Christmas card image that reflected his own perspective on the nativity: a disturbing image of Mary on the ground drenched in blood, screaming in agony while giving birth.

The purpose of the preacher’s controversial idea, which may or may not have come to fruition, was to “tell it like it was” and shake people up. Although I’d rather not go to that extreme, I focused on poverty while meditating on this mystery and how God loved me so much that He allowed His Son to be born into a poor family. That little baby in a Bethlehem stable would definitely shake people up one day.

4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – Fruit of the Spirit: Obedience

This particular mystery was a breath of fresh air for me yesterday. Our Heavenly Father wants our obedience because that is the only way He can help us. When we surrender to God and His will, we are like baby Jesus in the arms of Simeon, receiving a blessing in the Lord’s very own temple. It is quite an amazing image that  brought tears to my eyes.

You may feel that you are worthless and that nobody loves you. Maybe you’ve been told this so many times that you have started to believe it. Take another look at the image above and see how proud Mary, Joseph, and Simeon the priest are. God and all of the angels and saints in heaven are just as proud of you.

Do some studying and find out about God’s image of you. He created you, so believe Him instead of mean-spirited people in your life.

5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple – Fruit of the Spirit: Joy in Finding Jesus

Joseph and Mary had been looking for their Son who they thought was in their group as they made their way back home. After three days of searching, His parents were filled with joy when they found Him.

As a parent, I can imagine their joy and relief. Like any good mother, though, the first thing that Mary did was to admonish her Son for not keeping up with them.

Despite what the fruit of the Spirit says, I saw this in the opposite way: I was lingering behind, doing my own thing, and my spiritual family, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and all the saints in heaven, celebrated and embraced me when I rejoined them.

Final Thoughts

God is nothing like my earthly father: staring at me with a critical eye, waiting for me to mess up so he can hit and berate me. Glory be to Christ that I have a loving Father who longs for me to wallow out of my sin and come back each time I mess up.

As I smiled and praised God for turning my sadness to joy yesterday, I thought of all the individuals in the world who have been hurt by religion or who don’t know the joy and love of the faith. I pray that others can find that bright pearl of Christ in their own lives.

~t


Do You Want to Get Well?

When we give ourselves and our problems over to God, He is faithful and will help us.

Yeah, right.

During the years that I was a church-hopping Protestant, I would hear personal testimonies about how God miraculously helped someone become a brand-new person in Christ. The Bible talks about this in several places; for example, 2 Corinthians 5:17 (RSV) says: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

I used to read about all the men and women in the New Testament who were changed like this: Paul, Mary Magdalene, Peter, etc. I listened to individuals stand up in front of churches and give testimonies. I would see people in church and wonder how they had their lives changed by Christ. Was it because they naturally had outgoing, ambitious personalities? Was it due to their being on a spiritual high every Sunday? How come God didn’t change me? Was it because I was a self-doubting introvert? Then there was no hope for me. I resigned to the belief that it just wasn’t part of God’s will for me to be a new creation. Maybe the Calvinists were right. I was starting to fear that Unconditional Election was indeed true.

I remember watching Pat Robertson on The 700 Club or other televangelists who would look into the camera and tell me that my life would be transformed and I would be a new man, able to flippantly dismiss sin as a king shooing away a servant.

There was something wrong. It was looking more and more like the Bible and Christianity were only for “winners” who already had positivity beaming out of their orifices like rays of sunshine.

Yelling and forcing did nothing. I didn’t last very long at non-denominational denominations because I had absolutely no interest in emulating the fake smiles and loud, obnoxious good ol’ boys who were “on fire for Jee-zus.” It just wasn’t me.

So, I figured I had two choices: 1) give up and become an atheist or a neo-pagan; or 2) pray like crazy.

I chose the latter because I still had a mustard seed of faith and, darn it, I was bound and determined to have this Holy Spirit live in me.

Matthew 16:25 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Sorry, Jesus. That’s too cryptic for me.

There is a hymn that I remember from my college days that goes, “…we must die to ourselves and live through Your death.” What the heck does that mean? I have to give up everything and be a monk? That was a pretty scary thought.

So I prayed and prayed. I read everything that I could find about what it meant to surrender to God. I listened to religious call-in programs. I was doing and doing and doing.

I was thinking, I’m doing everything right, so how come I’m not growing in my faith? How come I’m not getting closer to God?

And, wouldn’t you know it, I took an inventory of my life one day and it dawned on me. I was going through the motions of being Catholic, but at the same time I was looking at Internet porn whenever I felt like it, listening to Satanic metal, masturbating regularly, using my illness as an excuse to be down, neglecting my family, and so on. I either had to do something drastic or remain miserable. I was like the invalid in the story from John 5: 1-9 (emphasis mine):

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

It was incredibly hard to cut off social media contacts with all of the negative influences in my life. I quit drinking (because it would sometimes lead me to sin), I stopped looking at porn, I stopped masturbating, I quit whining about being in a sexless marriage — basically I did some major spring cleaning.

That made all the difference.

What about you? Do you want to get well? Tired of being miserable year after year like the man in the above story? You gotta get the sin out of your life and turn to God.

And, yes, it is as hard as it sounds, but it’s what you need to get well.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


The Luminous Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was a challenging day. The beginning of the semester is always hectic, and I end up running on just four or five hours of sleep each day. Not even a Starbucks triple espresso could help me much this morning.

Driving to campus, my anger, fatigue, and frustration from work and other life events became too much. What to do?

I tried spontaneous prayer, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Someone told me once to recite the Our Father or Hail Mary prayer in such times. The key to recited prayers is to say it with all your heart, though — “say it like you mean it.”

So I prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. During rush-hour traffic, my mind and heart were taken away to a higher place, above the hustle and bustle of daily life. I no longer focused on being at a standstill on the highway and possibly arriving late for class. The holy power of the Rosary lifted me above all that.

I’d like to share with you some of the thoughts and meditations that I had while praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this morning.

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1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River – Fruit of the Spirit: Openness to the Holy Spirit

This really set the tone for the Mysteries. It humbled me and caused me to examine my anger and frustration issues. Why was I letting petty things get the best of me? Don’t I have the Holy Spirit in me?

Even Jesus, the Son of God, is baptized. The Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit came down like a dove upon Him (Matthew 3:16). God was showing me that I had to let go of control; He is Lord and, until I surrender to Him, I will continue to be frustrated and angry at the little things in life — and everything is little in God’s eyes.

wedding-feast-at-cana

2. The Wedding Feast at Cana – Fruit of the Spirit: Fidelity

I particularly love this Mystery because it shows Mary’s maternal bond with Jesus. The wedding feast at Cana is where Jesus performs His first miracle of His ministry; and, at first, He tells his mother that it isn’t time yet. But, how could he refuse his beloved mother? At her request, Jesus changes the water into wine so that the wedding party could continue (because what is a wedding reception without wine?).

Interestingly, Mary tells the attendants to “do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) This opened my eyes and forced me to examine my heart. Are there any areas of my life in which sin still dominates? What do I need to do to get rid of it? Fidelity means being true to your spouse; Christ wants our full loyalty and not just part of it.

14ProclamationoftheKingdom4

3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God – Fruit of the Spirit: Desire for Holiness

For me, this is the high point of the Luminous Mysteries. Jesus’ ministry is in full swing, and it’s now time for Him to announce to the world that God’s Kingdom has come! What a glorious image.

One thing I love about the Rosary is that it is meditative: I can picture Jesus among the people, His dusty sandals leaving prints on the ground, the murmur of the townspeople as they marvel at His words, and the sun beating down on His flesh.

I’m reminded of the Good News of the Scriptures and how God has called me to be one of His children. I desire what The Lord desires, and we become one.

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4. The Transfiguration – Fruit of the Spirit: Spiritual Courage

This Mystery somehow reminds me of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the temple (Matthew 21:12), displaying the fire of righteous anger and zeal for His Father. When Christ is transfigured before the eyes of three of His apostles, it is a dazzling and radiant event that they would never forget.

The fruit of the Spirit compels me to view my trials and tribulations in light of the transfiguration (no pun intended). When someone opposes me or sets out to cause me harm for whatever reason, I must remember that the Devil is at war with God, and that unseen warfare also plays out in the material world. Seeing the bigger picture is comforting and takes the focus off myself.

betrayal-last-supper

5. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of Our Eucharistic Lord

What would my faith be without the Holy Eucharist: the body and blood of Christ? If it weren’t for Jesus offering Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for me, then everything that I believe would be in vain; life would be meaningless.

Christ is always present in the Eucharist and desires to help us. However, we must allow him to do so. Revelation 3:20 essentially says that we must make the decision to let Jesus heal us.

By this point in the Mysteries, my batteries are fully charged and I’m ready to stop my “woe is me” whining. Jesus came to set the captives free. Prayer and meditation on these Mysteries allow me to let Him set me free.

Final Thoughts

Of course, prayer, whether it be vocal, meditative, or contemplative, isn’t the same as chanting a magic spell and seeing the immediate effect appear before your eyes. If God doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean He is ignoring you or is indifferent to your problems and concerns. God has a reason for everything that He does.

So, if you’re feeling F.I.N.E.* (faithless, insecure, neurotic, emotional), stop for a moment and pray. If you can’t bring yourself to pray, then at least think about everything in your life that you’re thankful for. We should all count our blessings.

~t

*title of an Aerosmith song


The Sorrowful Mysteries

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Monday was the first day of classes at my college. The first week is usually chaotic as I try to get on top of my classes, serve on committees, get late students into correct classes, and so on. By the end of the day yesterday evening (only the second day!), I was exhausted, stressed, and reeling from sin and temptation.

Even though the fall semester has started, it’s still hot as blazes here in Texas, so a lot of students are still wearing as little as possible. Needless to say, it is not uncommon for me to encounter “spiritual landmines” throughout my day: lust and temptation.

I prefer to pray the Rosary at home in a quiet place, but I decided to play the CD during my commute home. I don’t listen to the Rosary on CD very often, especially while driving, but it was one of those days. What better way to cleanse the mind and refocus on God?

The calming background music and soft voice of the narrator immediately took the focus off myself. God knew exactly what I needed because yesterday happened to be the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I prayed along with the CD, the Mysteries and fruits of the Spirit totally matched my struggles. Not only did God put the idea on my heart to pray the Rosary, He also, in His glory, matched me up with exactly what I needed to hear and pray about.

I have listed each Sorrowful Mystery below, along with my thoughts and practical applications that I gleaned from my meditation.

Agony-in-the-Garden

1. The Agony in the Garden – Fruit of the Spirit: Sorrow for Sin

Three words stood out to me on this one: agony, sorrow, and sin. As I mentioned, it was a day filled with temptation (which day isn’t?), so I was feeling really guilty and sorry for letting my mind dwell on forbidden thoughts throughout the day. Even before I started the CD, I was already asking God to forgive me for not avoiding everything that led me to sin.

Plus, the image of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane puts everything into perspective: I’m the sinner, so I should have been the one crying out to God to “take this cup away from me.” (Luke 22:42) Instead, out of His love for me, Christ took my place.

scourging

2. The Scourging at the Pillar – Fruit of the Spirit: Purity

There’s that word, purity. The Lord was speaking directly to me. That’s God: He always knows what we need and when we need it.

While I was letting my thoughts run loose, at one point Christ was being beaten within an inch of His life. He is the essence of purity yet was treated as a common criminal for my sake. Remember, He is God in the flesh, and He stooped down to this level for me.

That’s love. Not the warm-and-fuzzy sort of love that comes with infatuation; rather, it’s the self-sacrificing kind that a mother has for her child. I know that my mother would give her life for me, just as I would for my children.

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3. The Crowning of Thorns – Fruit of the Spirit: Courage

Of course, when the word courage was mentioned during the introduction of this Mystery, I said a special “thank you” prayer to God. He was allowing me to see the progression I was to take: be sorry for my sins, vow to be pure, and now He was showing me that I must have courage to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Let me tell you, when you give your whole self over to God, he will rock your world. And it’s scary. On one hand, you know that God is with you — you can just feel it. And it feels awesome! However, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you will periodically have doubts. For me, those doubts are crippling to me because I’m now doing something totally out of character like leading a men’s purity group or helping struggling Christians regain their faith.

He-Carried-That-Cross-For-Us

4. The Carrying of the Cross – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

Okay, so you’re feeling pretty fired up and are living out your faith. That’s wonderful. Now another hurdle is in your path: patience. Just as Jesus endured the long, arduous walk to the place where He was crucified, we must also carry our own crosses (Luke 14:27). There will be times that you stumble and drop your burdensome cross due to its enormous weight; those times call for patience, a fruit of the Spirit.

Actually, even when things are going well for me, just one unanswered prayer can sink my mood and discourage me like crazy. I need to remember that God has His own plan, and it’s usually different from mine!

There may have been a time when Jesus merely wanted everything to be finished. Imagine going through a hyped-up trial, a severe beating and torture, and then, half dead already, having to carry an instrument of your own execution for what seems like miles and miles.

crucifixion

5. The Crucifixion – Fruit of the Spirit: Perseverance

Being a Christian isn’t a part-time job or hobby. It’s a lifetime commitment. So it’s not by accident that the last fruit of the Spirit of these Mysteries happens to be perseverance. God never said it would be an easy life. In fact, the Bible says to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

We must persevere and not give up because the cycle will repeat itself: commit sin, resolve to be pure, find courage, exercise patience, and not give up. Persevere because we will fall again. When (not if) that happens, we must get back up and keep trying our best.

I always thought that crucifixion was an immediate death, but it’s not. The Romans perfected this method of execution to prolong the suffering of the victim as long as possible. When criminals were crucified in the first century, they most likely died from asphyxiation after hours or even days of excruciating pain on the cross. (Actually, the word excruciating is derived from crucifixion).

Conclusion

I am so thankful to God for teaching me this lesson as I calmly fought rush-hour traffic on my way home yesterday. Just typing this out helps me to recall and meditate once more upon these Sorrowful Mysteries.

I pray that The Lord will inspire me to write reflections on the other Mysteries of the Rosary as well: the Joyful, the Luminous, and the Glorious. I’m in no hurry, though, because I will wait on God to inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be putting into practice the five fruits of the Spirit from this post.

~t


The Thorn in My Side

Credit: Carl Heinrich Bloch

Things have been pretty difficult for me lately. I made the mistake of going off my medication because it was making me too groggy to perform my job. At first I felt like, “Wow. I’m doing all right! I’m glad I got rid of those blasted pills.” However, weeks later, my mood began spiraling downward: I no longer desired to interact with colleagues and students (which is unacceptable since I am a teacher), and the time I was spending with my wife and kids was starting to suffer.

In a panic, I resumed the normal dosage after being off the meds for so long — a big mistake. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

As a way to cope with all this, I felt the need to share some things with you.

I believe that God put it on my heart to begin this blog. Before I post anything, I pray about it and let the draft sit for a few hours just to make sure that it meets my/God’s standards. I have messed up a few times, though. For instance, I thought by posting censored images of pornography that I would, in essence, be smacking people in the head with a wooden staff, waking them up to how degrading and inhumane porn is to the women who are displayed — and to women in general.

I also thought that by throwing in a few cuss words here and there, it would make me “relatable” to non-religious people who read my posts. I have since come to my senses; I should “not conform to this world.” (Romans 12:2) Rather, by trying to be a good example of a Catholic and upholding God’s standards, I can “be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” (Ibid.)

Anyway, I believe that God allowed the thorn of mental illness to be stuck in my side, and, by surviving two suicide attempts, He has allowed me to live in order that I may share my experiences with the world.

Maybe it’s a result of quitting my meds cold turkey, or maybe it’s because they weren’t working properly, but since I started blogging, my heart has felt like it is ready to burst with fountains of tears. It’s a feeling that I’m used to experiencing, but not on a constant, day-to-day basis.

There are so many people whom I am meeting in the blogosphere and beyond, individuals whom I wish more than anything I could hug and comfort. I have sobbed from reading their blog posts, and I have cried during our correspondence. How I wish I had God’s healing power as the apostles had in the Book of Acts. I wouldn’t attempt to be like Jesus and perform public miracles or anything. Instead, I would visit these poor people with broken hearts and broken spirits and heal them in private, avoiding any limelight or fame. These feelings of yours are not healthy, some might be thinking. But only God knows the answer to that.

When I was in graduate school, and before I became a Catholic, I led a small Bible study through a non-denominational campus ministry. It was a small group that I shepherded: only about four other members. They have gone on to become professional artists, engineers, and physicists, but back then, we were just a ragtag band of emotional outcasts who needed each other. I include myself because, although I was chosen as the leader by the pastor, I was “one of them.”

One time, a member who went on to become a physicist heard through the grapevine that I was thinking about quitting leadership. “You can’t quit,” he told me, tears welling up in his eyes. “You are a true leader in ways that you cannot imagine.” I didn’t know what he meant, although the encouragement was nice to hear. However, due to such low self-esteem, I never considered myself a leader.

Another time, a member who is now supporting himself as a very talented artist in California told me as we were driving, “You know why we follow you? Because you feel. You really feel.” Again, I appreciated this, but I didn’t (couldn’t) fully comprehend it.

It was after years of seeking God and praying to find Him that I discovered that my ability to feel and suffer with those who were hurting was perhaps connected to my being diagnosed with mental illness. I’m not saying that only those struggling with mental illness can most effectively help others. However, it helped me to begin learning about this stranger who was myself.

I used to pray daily that God would take away my illness and make me normal. When I was hospitalized, though, I learned from one of many counselors that there is no such thing as a “normal” standard by which to measure others, including those with mental health issues.

My favorite time to pray is at night. I go into the walk-in closet with my Bible and saint cards and gaze at the crucifix above the doorway. After learning that St. Dymphna was the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness, I bought her saint card because it had a special prayer on the back. I soon discovered that God was communicating with me through the words in the prayer (the bold words in italics are mine):

…Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Your divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Your will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen. (Prayer to St. Dymphna)

If it be Your will. These five words pierced me like a silver-tipped arrow. God will cure me or leave me like this according to His will. But why would God leave me in this condition? Doesn’t He help those He loves? Does that mean God doesn’t care about me? Quite the contrary. St. Paul struggled with a mysterious thorn in his side and pleaded with God to remove it. However, God’s response was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For some reason, God is allowing my illness, my “thorn in my side,” to remain. Perhaps He will remove it at some point. Perhaps it will be there for the rest of my earthly life. I do know that St. Paul was able to accomplish great things for God and His Church because he was forced to rely on God and His strength, and what an awesome strength it is to have!

On a related note, if you’re suffering or hurting in any way, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Tell someone. Tell me. Call a help line. Do something. Please.

And be assured that even Jesus needed comforting during dark times in His life. (Luke 22: 41-44)

~t


In Which Today’s Post Disintegrates into a Whiny Rant

Credit: pillthing.com

One stressful thing about starting a blog is that readers expect it to be updated regularly (quite a relative term). When I can’t think of anything after coming off a three-day string of posts, I’m too hard on myself when, in fact, it’s not really surprising to people: Oh, a guy dealing with mental illness? Of course he’s gonna be consistent. Just like all those young blondes that marry Hugh Hefner do so out of love.

Today, no attempt at a deep, profound flash-fiction parable that would rival those of Jesus. No stab at a Tony Robbins-style pep talk/kick in the pants. I’ll just write about how I’m doing or what’s going on.

Okay. Here goes.

I’ve been really frustrated with my bad luck regarding psychiatrists. I know they are overworked in this country due to a shortage and a big need, but when I see my psychiatrist, it would be nice if he would try to act like a doctor. I’m reaching my limit with conversations like this:

Me: Doctor, I’ve been on these meds for three months and I still don’t feel any better.

Shrink: Well, what do you want to do?

Me: Um, I’m not sure. I was hoping you would help me out with that.

Shrink: Well, if you want to change medications, then change them.

Me: (long pause) Do you think that would help?

Shrink: You tell me. What do you want to do?

I mean, I know doctors are busy, but I don’t think it would be asking too much for them to at least pretend that they care. At least the preceding conversation didn’t dissolve into the one that I’m about to show you. In the next one, I had just come out of the hospital after my second suicide attempt, and this was the first time for me to meet with my doctor after that:

Shrink: So, you tried to kill yourself again?

Me: Um, yeah…

Shrink: (throws pen against wall) I thought we were making progress. I can’t trust you any more!

Me: I’m sorry. I was trying… Can you help me?

Shrink: No. You don’t listen to me. Go and be your own doctor. Go on.

This still makes me angry when I think about it. The shrinks in these two situations are both from the same country. (At least no one can say that I don’t give second chances.) It’s not like the American ones are any better, though. This next exchange happened during one of my hospital stays:

Shrink: …….and then take this one to counter the side effects of that one. And then this one will stop the weight gain from that one…….

Me: Wow, doctor. I’ve never taken eight kinds of pills at the same time. I’ll have to get one of those weekly pill containers that old people have.

Shrink: (takes off glasses and glares at me) You want to get better, don’t you?

Ugh. I told the second story about the psycho-shrink to our family practitioner during my annual check-up. He told me that psychiatrists are basically one step away from being patients themselves. By the end of med school, he said he had accurately predicted the ones who would pursue psychiatry.

Actually, I didn’t intend to whine about shrinks for this entire post, but, since I am, I might as well talk (whine) about therapists while I’m at it.

I had to change my therapist during my first hospital stay. She was very nice and intelligent, but, seriously, none of us could distinguish her from our fellow patients. For starters, her attire: It was like no one had told her that Woodstock was over.* Some were actually convinced that she was sampling the product in the hospital cabinets.

Then there is the therapist from whom I’ve recently parted. I’m not kidding when I say the following took place during every session:

Therapist: So, have you and your wife had sex yet?

Me: Um, no—

Therapist: NO??!! ShoutshoutshoutshoutMaslow’sHierarchyOfNeedsshoutshoutshout………

My current therapist is pretty good. I haven’t run into any problems (yet). What’s funny is that she is pro bono.

In the hospital, the lecturers and nurses kept telling us that medicine alone would not help us get better: We needed a combination of medicine, therapy, exercise, coping skills, hobbies, etc. Isn’t that the truth.

Since this post disintegrated into a rant, I’ll share this link that I posted yesterday on Facebook and Twitter as a source of encouragement. It also includes a healthy dose of Christian faith which I, ahem, somehow left out of this post.

Actually, ranting like this is therapeutic. Maybe I should become my own doctor.

~t

*You know you’re getting old when you feel the need to explain Woodstock.


An Antisocial Outcast in God’s Temple

Today is Sunday, so that means 8:30am Mass! Ask any Christian, and they will say that Sunday is their favorite day of the week: Mass/service, fellowship, hanging out, lunch together…

Unfortunately, I can’t relate.

Don’t get me wrong; I go to weekly Mass and my soul actively participates in worshiping God. It is an exhilarating, mystical experience. By the end of Mass, I sometimes have tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my face.

And then…

I go home.

Believe me, I want to hang around afterwards and chit-chat with people; laughing and smiling is good for the soul. I just have trouble making my body… um, do that.

During the Mass, there is a moment when we greet and shake hands with parishioners around us (No, it’s not some awkward trend that happens only in Evangelical churches). I know exactly when it is coming: shortly after the Our Father and before the consecration of the Eucharist. Since I know when it’s going to take place (think of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day), I dread the moment and wonder each time how I will manage to get through it. Will someone ignore me? Will a husband smooch his wife and then turn to someone else, leaving me out (not that I want to be smooched)? Or will an old woman scowl at me while offering a limp hand?

“I knew this was gonna happen.”

Last week, I have to confess that I did something different for the first time and unbecoming of a Catholic and Knight: During the meet-and-greet part, I clasped my hands in prayer, bowed my head, and shut my eyes tightly. I could hear the greetings die down, so I knew when to open my eyes again and rejoin the Mass.

I know. That was bad. I won’t do that again. Luckily I wasn’t wearing my white K of C name badge. Just like people who put the Christian fish symbol on their car: They are expected to be polite drivers. If not, then it’s full-on scandal mode featured on the nightly news or something.

Right after Mass (*not during), I retreated to the safety of my car and tweeted about how lonely I always feel sitting by myself each week. I even try to avoid smiling at kids in front rows who turn around to look at me, afraid that I would be seen as a pedophile (you know, big tall nerdy guy sitting all alone in church, smiling at kids). (I am not a pedophile by the way.) (Man, I just realized I use a lot of parentheses.)

I mentioned in my tweet that I wished our parish had a section of pews where solo churchgoers could sit; we would feel more secure perhaps. Well, Topaz, um… Why don’t you go sit by someone who is alone?! Duh! Because it’s hard, and I am afraid that they would consider that a weird request: “Hi. I don’t want to look like an idiot, so can I sit by you?”

Anyway, this wonderful Twitter follower of mine responded with: “Jesus was alone in the garden while He struggled with his emotions. Lean on Him.” Wow. That is awesome.

I immediately went back into the chapel (the church was emptied out by this point) and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I spent some good time there before the tabernacle in the semi-dark chamber lit by gorgeous white candles along the walls with the single red one that symbolizes the presence of Christ.

God always speaks to me in some way — usually in a barely-audible whisper that comes from the far reaches of my soul. He told me basically to take my beatings as I go. He reminded me that, in just a few hours, I would be going over to the grand knight’s house to prepare the food for our pool party to honor the altar servers in the parish. Then God reminded me again — I’m such a blockhead — that I needed to get going because, being the council youth director, I was the one leading this whole event and I had work to do.

(By the way, I didn’t become the K of C council youth director and an officer because I’m so awesome. It’s because nobody else wanted the job.)

So, in essence, God’s reply to my loneliness and anxiety was to get over it and focus on others. Later in the day, when the pool party was in full swing without any major disasters going on, I thanked God for helping me through yet another episode of my depression and anxiety.

So, this Sunday turned out to be the best day of my week. Not because I’m such an important Super Christian ™ and born to mingle, but because I remained faithful through all the pain and torment of my illness.

Hopefully all of you reading this had a good day. If not, there’s always tomorrow.

I am not a trained psychologist or therapist, but if you feel all alone and need someone to talk to who understands, please leave me a message or contact me at: thepsychword@gmail.com. Seriously.

~topaz

*I sometimes think people are blatantly texting or surfing the ‘net on their smartphones, but they could be following the order of the Mass and the readings instead. So it’s probably not the best idea to assume they are the bane of your existence.