A week or so ago (as I am writing this), I was driving in the car with my sons- the eldest is ten, the youngest is a mere toddler. I was exhausted from a preceding difficult week and a lack of sleep (thanks to back discomfort- old injuries reminding themselves that they are still with me). Needless to say, I was a little more on the grumpier side than usual, and was quicker to impatience with a few instances of careless drivers. Instead of using the opportunity to exercise charity and reserve, I was annoyed and grumbly to put it mildly. While I wasn’t screaming and flipping anyone off, I mumbled less-than-charitable thoughts to myself in the circumstances that arose -or so I thought (to myself), anyway.
A few days passed, and in talking with my wife, she made mention of my mumblings. As it turned out, the utterances that I thought were between “me, myself, and I” were in truth overheard by my eldest (who, after all was sitting right next to me), and he had spoken of it to her in the course of passing conversation. I was embarrassed- she and I had a brief discussion about it, which closed with her words that I used in the title of this post: “(don’t forget), your sons are watching you”.
We are all human, we are all fallen by nature, and no matter how straight the course for which we strike, we are going to veer, stumble, or fall down a time or many. None of us are perfect, nor will we ever be in this waking world. On that same note, we can never be Christ, but should always strive to be Christ-like. It doesn’t matter how often we veer, stumble, or mess up. What matters is that we keep trying, that we keep moving forward.
Your sons are watching you.
So too, are your daughters. Your children are watching and learning from your example. While we may have our less-than-spectacular moments in life, we should always try to keep that fact in mind, to let it be among our guiding thoughts. We need to be as best an example of what it means to be a Catholic man / father / husband as we are able to be. There is plenty out there to tempt our children away from their Catholic foundation, to set lower bars of expectation, and to form the groundworks of base behaviors and behavior patterns. We need to be the light in the darkness, to be a shining -Catholic- example to which our children can aspire. Can we expect a sense of charity and caring for our fellow man (friend and foe alike) to awaken and live within them if it’s not what we ourselves are demonstrating in their company? Can we really expect them to put any stock in even being a Catholic (over the long haul of years) if we aren’t living out the joy of our faith and resting in its strength? Talk is cheap. The proof is in the deed, in how we actually conduct our lives. We must always do our best to be the Catholic role model(s) on which the standards of our children are founded. We need to be a “constant” and actively lead our children to Christ in living example, through not only our actions but also in the manner of our expression(s). We can’t expect them to cleave to that which we seemingly do not adhere ourselves. Always remember: your sons (and daughters!) are watching you.
O GLORIOUS Prince of the heavenly host, Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle and fearful warfare that we are waging against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the evil spirits. Come thou to the assistance of men, whom Almighty God created immortal, making them in His own image and likeness and redeeming them at a great price from the tyranny of Satan. Fight this day the battle of the Lord with thy legions of holy Angels, even as of old thou didst fight against Lucifer, the leader of the proud spirits and all his rebel angels, who were powerless to stand against thee, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast forth, the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and satan, who seduces the whole world; and he was cast forth upon Earth, and his angels were sent with him.
But behold! the ancient enemy of mankind and a murderer from the beginning has been fiercely aroused. Changing himself into an angel of light, he goes about with the whole multitude of the wicked spirits to invade the earth and blot out the Name of God and of His Christ, to plunder, to slay, and to consign to eternal damnation the souls that have been destined for a crown of everlasting life. This wicked serpent, like an unclean torrent, pours into men of depraved minds and corrupt hearts the poison of his malice, the spirit of lying, impiety and blasphemy, and the deadly breath of impurity and every form of vice and iniquity.
Be favorable to Thy Church, the Bride of the Lamb without spot, whose enemies have filled to overflowing with gall and inebriated with wormwood. They have laid profane hands upon Her most sacred treasures. Where the See of the most blessed Peter and the Chair of Truth has been constituted as a light to the nations, there they have placed a throne of their abomination and impiety; so that with the Pastor struck, they may prevail to disperse the flock.
Therefore, most invincible Leader, be with the people of God against this spiritual wickedness and bring about victory. Thou art venerated by Holy Church as Her guard and patron; Thou art glorified as our defender against the impious powers of earth and of hell. Unto thee the Lord hath handed over the souls of the redeemed to be placed in happiness above.
Entreat the God of peace, to obliterate satan beneath our feet, lest he prevail further to hold men captive, and to injure the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that the mercy of the Lord may swiftly overtake us, and apprehend the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and satan, and send him bound into the abyss, so that he may seduce the nations no more.
Henceforth having been confided to thy escort and protection, we sacred ministers by the authority of the Holy Mother Church [if recited by a cleric of the order of exorcist or above, say instead: by our authority], do undertake to repel the infestations of diabolical deceit in the Name of Jesus Christ, Our God and Lord.
V. Behold the Cross of the Lord; be scattered hostile powers.
R. The Lion of the tribe of Juda has conquered, the root of David.
V. Let Thy mercies be upon us, O Lord.
R. As we have hoped in Thee.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.
[If recited by at least a deacon add the following:]
V. The Lord be with you all.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us Pray
O God, and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we invoke Thy Holy Name, and we humbly implore Thy clemency so that, through the intercession of Mary, the Immaculate ever-Virgin Mother of God, of blessed Michael the Archangel, of blessed Joseph, the Spouse of the same blessed Virgin, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the Saints, Thou may deign to offer us aid against satan, and all the other unclean spirits, who wander through the world to injure the human race and to destroy souls. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen
Life is full of disappointments. Some, we readily shrug off and forget. Others seem to linger, or even to take deep and firm root within our hearts. In one regard, this is only natural- we look back on our lives and smile at the moments and choices that resulted in satisfactions, but we also regret those certain decisions we’ve made or perhaps had failed to make. With this latter especially, we may set our minds to wondering about “what might have been”, “if only…..” and other such ponderings that leave us mired in our disappointment(s) and longing for an imaginary present (stemming from an imaginary past)- This is particularly true when things aren’t going quite to our plans or in line with our efforts, or when we’ve hit a notably rough patch of road on the going.
The real problem isn’t being disappointed. Rather, it is in our lingering or dwelling upon our disappointments where the problem lies. When we dwell on the fantasies of “what might have been, if only……” or we concentrate so much of our time and emotional energy on the situation / person / thing of disappointment, we not only lose the moment which God has given us (and one, I may add, we will never have again once it passes from the present), but we lose our sense of peace. We lose any manifestation of the inner stillness with which we are blessed when we are otherwise concentrated on regrets. We miss out on the real beauty of the lives which God has given us, and we lose touch with the mere joy of living. Granted, it doesn’t mean that we are always going to be leaping and dancing, laughing, and full of smiles as in some dreamy, utopian sort of “heaven on earth”. Instead, the joy we have within is a gift of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allows us the strength of spirit to accept the challenges, difficulties, and even pain that will come our way in this fallen world. It allows us to experience these things, and have the conviction to move through them in faith, fully trusting in God’s mercy.
The enemy of our souls would love nothing more than for us to lose our focus on God, to disconnect from the knowledge and trust of his mercy, to lose sight of the greater goal for that which occupies the immediate. Every bump in the road is a chance to become misled into that dim forest of despondency, wandering among the underbrush of our disappointments, which tear at our clothes and flesh like the sharp thorns of tangled briars. Life is all too short and it is easy to waste what little moments we are afforded in clinging to regrets. We must remain watchful and focused, giving but a fleeting notice to a moment of disappointment or regret- these moments will come and will naturally catch our attention. However, we must not tarry there, but instead engage our will by the grace and mercy of God to let such moments go. Otherwise, we blindly fall into the enemy’s trap, and are led astray in the bleakness of our bitter thoughts. We are then made more vulnerable to his urgings, to be more easily turned from the love and grace of God. In this, we are robbed of our joy, and kept from the wholeness of heart and mind that keeps us on the path to salvation.
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I tend to be a bad listener. I want to fix things, and I have this inner need (apparently) to help, to give answers to questions when they are asked- after all, aren’t questions put forward to gain answers? Well, not always. Sometimes, people are merely expressing anguish or voicing frustration in the ‘asking’….they aren’t really looking for a proper response, but just want a listening ear other than their own to hear their words. This is something I understand, but can’t seem to put into practice with any great measure of success.
I would say that to be an effective listener is a bit of an art- but in all truth, it is really much more of a self-discipline than art. I find that it isn’t always easy to keep silent and simply listen. My inclination is to discuss and to offer advice. It takes a particular awareness on my part, a true state of watchfulness to keep my desire (to help or advise) in check. It’s a deliberate focus of the will to purely listen and be present for another, without giving in to the idea that somehow I need to be more than a listener, more than one to whom a friend, partner, or spouse can confide.
When we listen in attentive silence, we not only show the person in need that we care enough to be fully present for them, we also communicate peace in our silence. This peace can provide a healing comfort to those who are afflicted with cares, and can foster the presence of stillness and peace within their own unsettled hearts. This is far better than any advice-unasked-for or other manner of banter that interrupts another’s sharing of troubles or concerns. Certainly, if we are asked for our advice, we should give it- the key is to refrain from jumping at the chance to offer it, from blurting out the seeming ‘gems of wisdom’ and advice that well up within our minds. But more often than not, it really is enough to just be still, fully present, and attentively listen.
For me, having that attentive ear to which I can unload is one of the blessings of the Mystery of Confession. While so many may look upon Confession as being undertaken merely out of a sense of guilt or only to seek forgiveness of sinful deeds, it is in fact one of the many medicinal cures offered by the very “hospital for the soul” (the Church of Christ) for the broken heart and afflicted spirit. We can confide our sins to our Father Confessor, unloading the burdens that weigh heavily upon us and keep us chained to our anxieties and frustrations. And in so doing, we are not only sharing them to the Confessor, but through him to the most perfect of listeners: Jesus Christ, Himself.
It goes without saying that Christ is ever present and ever attentive to our needs. In some small way, we follow his example by lending an ear, by offering ourselves in being present and attentive for another. None of us are as perfect as Christ, but as devout Christians, we do strive to be Christ-like in our words and deeds -in spite of our many failings and in spite of just how far from that goal we fall. But try we must, no matter how imperfect our earnest efforts may be. I am far from being Christ-like, and fail at the practice more than I succeed. I’m also a bad listener, as I’ve already mentioned….but as I strive to live more by Jesus Christ’s example, I’m also striving to be a better listener.
Life in the modern age is one that is full of activity. It seems that every moment of our waking lives can be accounted for in some manner of work, chore, or distraction. Every space in time is occupied by something, with little to no room for pause. We can duly expect our work and / or school weeks to be packed with laden schedules- but how many of us start our week on Monday wishing we had a weekend to recover from the weekend? We are constantly on the go, even when we should otherwise be at rest. Accustomed to such busy-ness, it is small wonder that so many of us tend to be ill at ease, restless, or bored when some bit of down-time does in fact manage to crowbar its way into our agendas. There’s a creeping sense of emptiness that brings about a state of mental discomfort, one that presents a need to be filled. And with what do we fill that emptiness? Distraction.
Distraction becomes a balm on the mind to soothe a restless soul- it fills the cracks, the gaps, the emptiness….it gives us a temporary (and artificial) sense of wholeness, whether or not we are actually aware of it doing so on a conscious level. If we are constantly seeking to fill the empty moments with some manner of activity or distraction, we are playing into the hands of the enemy of our souls. This may seem to be a bit of an extreme claim, but it is true nonetheless. In filling every possible moment, we aren’t so much driving away a mundane sense of boredom or restlessness, but are in effect dulling our inherent sense of need and hunger for God and His mercy. The enemy of our souls uses such situations to entangle us in the worldly, and to intoxicate us with the material so that we don’t actively seek the spiritual. We become so overindulged with distraction that our spiritual hunger and longing is artificially alleviated, and so we no longer seek true sustenance in God, in His Word, or in His Church… it’s analogous to filling up on junk food right before a proper meal (and so, no longer wanting or needing to eat that meal). But it doesn’t truly satisfy our need and so we are soon hungry again…we indulge in more junk or another distraction, instead of fulfilling that need with what will truly satiate it.
In our fallen existence, God allows for emptiness and longing- not so that we can be made to suffer or feel some manner of being punished or mentally / spiritually tortured, but so that we would realize our need for His presence and grace in our lives. God didn’t create us to be puppets, nor does He compel us against our will. Rather, He desires that we seek Him with our hearts and minds, fully and completely. Our longing for God draws us closer to Him. The emptiness we feel makes us aware of our connection to Him and our need draws us closer to Him (and so, we can be filled with His love and grace). Does this mean that we should exclude hobbies or exploring interests from our lives? No. Rather, we need simply to slow down a little (or in many cases, a lot), open up our daily agendas a bit, and allow for quiet, empty moments. These breaks allow us a bit of pause and reflection, and provide some “space” for us to not only feel our longing, but to truly understand that longing for what it is and so seek the right and true sustenance for it: God and His mercy.