A Struggle in Faith in Crisis

Faith has never been something that’s come easily for me. Perhaps it is better said, it’s trust -trust in God and in his help and mercy- that has never come easily. I’m not saying that as something of which I am particularly proud, nor am I ashamed. It’s just something that happens to be, well, “it is what it is”.

I’ve always admired (and stood in a little bit of wonder and bewilderment) at my friends who are so incredibly on fire in their faith and in their trust in God at every step….through good (which is understandable enough), bad (understandable, if perhaps in a slightly diminished sense), and even the horrible (this one astonishes me). Nothing and no one can shake them from their faith, from their trust in the love and mercy of God- even when it seems as though He isn’t listening or seems to have completely checked out of the scene. This level of faith and trust is something that amazes me, and leaves me wishing I could be so on fire- especially when dealing with the life-threatening illness of my child.

I have no clue as to how to achieve an unbreakable, unshakable faith / trust on the level that I see (and would love to attain). I just don’t get it. I do, however strive to reach that height, to make that manner of faith and trust my very own. I slowly chip away at the concrete with which I’ve managed to encase my heart and soul over the years- sometimes, I can see the progress. In other times, I realize I’m much farther back from where I started. The key is, I pick up again and start edging forward. And even in this, I am not perfect. I have spent recent months just mired in place, mostly angry at God for what’s come about than surrendering to any semblance of trust and being hopeful (in His even being there, let alone in His mercy and help)…..and forget any idea of being thankful. Thankful for what, my child’s suffering? The impossible situation in which my wife and I found ourselves? I became blind in my despair.

Things had become overwhelming, and even though I was still in touch with family and friends, I was starting to feel rather isolated in matters. Out of the blue, a monk with whom I’m friends on social media reached out and offered a simple reminder that he was there (along with his brethren) and praying for my child and family. Suddenly, the seeds of faith and trust I had unwittingly planted over the years before crisis struck began to offer up shoots. Some of the shadows that had me wallowing in despondency and self-pity lifted, and I was able to slowly regain a bit of my lost footing. I began to pray again, and to find myself trusting (however minimally) in God’s mercy.

It has been and continues to be a long road….but on reflection, I can see the progress I’ve made (as well as the setbacks) along the way, in building up a faith and trust of the sort I see in my unshakable friends. Will I ever get to their level or anywhere close to it? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that I *never* will if I stop trying to reach that goal. Even if I just inch along and have to restart from a few feet or miles previously walked, I know I need to keep moving forward as best as I can- in so doing, faith and trust becomes increasingly made manifest within me, and the concrete shell around my heart and soul slowly cracks and sheds its flakes, pebbles, and sometimes bricks.

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“Thoughts and Prayers”….Do They Really Matter?

“My / our thoughts and prayers are with you…..”

Any time we see tragedy or hardship breaking out or being shared on social media, we are sure to see this very common reply pop up in response. It’s a nice sentiment, and seems to be today’s catch-all when one feels compelled to leave a comment but doesn’t quite know what to say, or perhaps doesn’t have anything more intimate to offer in consolation. But does mere sentiment count? Does it even matter that one would offer this (either casually or with real sincerity) for words of consolation?

After the most recent school-shooting in Parkland, Florida (at the time of this writing), this response (either in its written form on social media, or spoken by officials and commentators) has come under fierce fire. As quickly as “my / our thoughts and prayers….” can be uttered or typed, we find and hear in angry retort how utterly meaningless those “thoughts and prayers” are, how they don’t do anything to alleviate suffering, nor offer any real solutions to the problems at hand (or their root causes). So much of the disdain seems ill-placed or misdirected, being a product of a growing disregard of God and distaste for his following. But, I don’t think all of the criticism is improperly stated or rooted in the falling-away. Frankly, I think a good bit of it is actually well-deserved.

Why? Well, because far too often, writing or saying “my / our thoughts and prayers….” is nothing but a knee-jerk response of empty rhetoric. While it could be suggested that sending some “feel good vibes” counts for at least something, I would disagree. Most see it for what it (sadly) often is: the “empty rhetoric” I’ve just mentioned. What would make a difference is if the recipient were assured that someone actually did have them in their “thoughts and prayers”. He or she would know that they didn’t have to bear through hardship or tragedy alone, that folks had him / her in their thoughts, were praying to God for them, and were indeed walking along with them through the shadows…for however long or short of a time.

Let folks know you are thinking of them. Let them know they aren’t alone, and that you are praying for them. But, don’t put off the thought or prayer. Take a moment after you are done typing out your reply to truly say prayer, however small. Think of God’s grace filling them, think of Him offering comfort and strength…think of that person in their suffering, and perhaps offer up an additional prayer that their pain be given to God. Turn your sentiment into action- make it a point to do so every time, and it soon becomes second nature. Following the response with an actual prayer / reflection will be incorporated into your thought patterns, and become a reflexive action, not mere words.

Speaking of actions, I would agree (at least in part) with those who are critical of “sending thoughts and prayers”, where they cite a lack of / need for action in particular circumstances. Is there something to which we can set our hand in assistance or in impacting some change of course or policy? Is there something we can do that lightens the burden of our Brothers and Sisters, that helps to build toward a better society, or for those positive changes that set a course away from darkness and chaos, and toward light and peace?

Sometimes, we need to be willing to take the opportunity to not only pray and reflect, but to act. In other times, all we can do is pray and reflect (and that itself, is an act when carried through, beyond the sharing of empty words and “feel good vibes”). Do thoughts and prayers really matter? Yes, as an action, they most certainly do.

Byzcatholic.com: One Year In!

It’s been a year now since I’ve started on this project. Looking back through the rush of life and crammed schedules, I’m a little surprised I was able to make any progress in fleshing things out- but at the same time, I had hoped to provide much more content than I’d been able to over the past twelve months. Things remain a work in progress, and I do make an effort to add content as frequently as I can (particularly, adding churches and resource links at the very least).

I am grateful for the opportunity to do this outreach, and for all of the kind support given to both myself and the work at hand. I appreciate the feedback where it’s been offered, and certainly continue to welcome it in the days and months ahead (see the contact link on the header bar). I ask for your continued prayers, and again- my sincere thanks goes out to you all. May God bless you and yours!

-James

Catholic Men: The Company We Keep

We are dynamic people, living dynamic lives. As a Catholic man with more than a few decades under my belt, I have made the acquaintance of a large variety of folk, and have developed an assortment of friendships over the years- not every person with whom I’ve come to know (to whatever degree) has shared my same outlook or religious beliefs, but there has mostly been some level of mutual respect or appreciation for what one or the other held to. Really, you cannot have a true friendship if you need to hide a part of yourself, or if something that you find as part of the core of who you are is such an affront to your companion(s) that there is an unhealthy tension or some manner of disdain. It just won’t work- and if it does for a time, it won’t last for long.

Friendships are integral to life. Generally speaking, we can’t go at it completely alone or isolated from one another (in typical social settings). We are meant to live and thrive within a community. That, necessarily, takes us beyond the microcosm of immediate (or even extended) family, and into macrocosm of society, where we develop connections of all manner with others outside of the scope of kin. While it can be argued that not every person with whom we connect needs to be on the same footing in every regard, it does remain essential that our closer circle of friends (at least) are on that same footing- especially where moral or religious outlook is concerned. In other words, it’s important for the devout, Catholic man to have the friendship of other (likewise devout) Catholic men.

Let me briefly share an example that I feel illustrates this need rather well:

When my family first moved to Florida, we were very lucky to find a great neighborhood of folk and would all quickly become good friends. Our kids played together, and we adults shared enough common interests to enjoy many fun times, lively talks over a couple of beers, and just simply hanging out with one another. We could count on each other in times of need, and we all shared in keeping an eye on the kids when they were outside, playing…. you get the idea.

One evening, we (adults) were enjoying laughs and companionship, as the setting sun painted the sky in brilliant hues. One of the guys suggested a quick run for a bottle of wine an a twelve-pack of beer (we weren’t looking to get hammered, just share a few adult beverages between four or five couples). So, I and a few of the guys jumped into one of the cars and set off for a nearby supermarket. As soon as I shut my door, my friend (who was driving) turned and informed me that we weren’t heading to the market straightaway. Rather, that errand was just the excuse for setting out on the real quest: the nearest strip joint. I politely excused myself, and went back to those of the group who had remained behind.

I am no man’s judge, so I’ll leave it at that. The point to which I would rather return is that Catholic men need to have the friendship of other Catholic men. We need to know that those guys in whom we place our comradeship and trust will not be a catalyst for temptation or for falling into serious error and grave sin. We need to be able to be fully relaxed in the security of friendly trust- in a world in which we must be constantly guarded, we need to have companions with whom we can enjoy true leisure, free from the cares and worries that otherwise gnaw at our souls. Troubles will find us easily enough in this life- we don’t need the guys we’d otherwise rely on for support to be inviting such in our down-time. Having the friendship of other Catholic men ensures against falling into such snares. So too, it gives us the firm reassurance that men of like mind and moral outlook really do “have our back” in our times of distress and need. We know we can turn to our Brothers in Christ in trust, and not be led astray or along the dark road into sin. We are after all, the company we keep.

Time is Short: Live an Attentive Life!

The time we are given in which to live our lives is a precious gift from God. We move through our days mostly unaware of the passing moments, and often unaware of the hours that we squander in pointless pursuits and petty trifles. I would argue that it is an extraordinary person indeed who can account for *every* moment of his or her life in grace-filled productiveness, contemplation, prayer, or other manner of activity that is wholly centered on God (if such a one even exists!). All of us waste some amount of time. But to squander our days utterly in a wholly unaware state, in the assumption that we will have a wealth of future moments, days, weeks, and even years to follow is dangerous folly at the very least, and truly sinful at worst.

When we are ill-attentive and devoid of a sense of deeper purpose, we edge into complacency- and this can take shape in the everyday or mundane, but it is especially perilous in regard to the spirit or “spiritual”. When we slip into this state, we no longer focus on moving forward in any regard, and we cease in our striving toward God in any meaningful way. Our spiritual development and growth is arrested and ultimately stagnates in stasis.

When we lose a deeper appreciation of the preciousness of the moments with which God has blessed us, we become forgetful of religiously meaningful endeavors and motivation, and we easily slide into neglecting the role that church and prayer serve within in our lives. Here, we gradually shed (or perhaps even throw off outright) the armor of God’s grace, and open ourselves to being vulnerable to the enemy of our souls. And this is exactly what he would want of us. After all, his slow needling is far less effective when we are applying the means to repel such attacks. The means of the enemy are far more effective when we are in stasis, when we are without that which protects us, without those exercises and habits which keep our focus honed, and our senses sharp. Rarely will he seek a blatant, full assault- his preference is the slow, imperceptible pricking of his poisonous darts.

Strive to live an attentive life, work toward spiritual growth and make the effort to sustain a regular prayer rule. Remain watchful, that you may avoid the snares of complacency and forgetfulness of God and His grace. Our lives are fleeting, and the store of hours at our disposal is not only finite, but uncertain. None know the hour at which our Heavenly Father will call us from this life and it is of the greatest importance that we remain aware of the manner in which we spend this small portion of treasure that He has shared with us.