Following in the Footsteps of St. Paul

The air was a bit humid and the sky bright and blue as I gazed over the city of Athens from the place I was standing on Mar’s Hill. Two thousand years before my arrival there, a much more significant individual than myself had stood upon that same hill, preaching the Gospel to the pagan philosophers of his day, enkindling the fire of the Faith that would spread across the western world over the following centuries.

In May of this year, I had the incredible opportunity of traveling to Greece with a group from the college at which I teach. The purpose of the trip was to follow the route of St. Paul’s second missionary journey. We spent ten days traveling about the country by bus, visiting such places as Philippi and Thessaloniki and Corinth and Athens. In addition to these, we were able to see some of the famous sites from antiquity.

On the final day of the trip, as we drove back to our hotel in the evening, the tour leaders asked me if I, as a history instructor, would mind spending a few minutes talking about what I found to be the most interesting or valuable part of the trip. I’d already been reflecting on that very question for the past several days, and so after a brief struggle with the microphone system—historians seem to be notorious for their technological difficulties—I gladly shared a few of the thoughts I’d been gathering throughout the course our journey.

“I’ve never doubted that St. Paul visited Greece to preach the Gospel,” I said, looking out over the two-dozen or so exhausted faces in front of me. “But being here in this place, walking where he walked, standing where he stood, seeing what he saw—it all made it so much more tangible for me. For the rest of my life, whenever I read an account of his missionary work, I will be able to vividly envision St. Paul in these places.”

Our trip wasn’t exclusively meant to be a pilgrimage, as the twice-a-day buffets reminded me, but in many ways it did serve as a source of spiritual nourishment. In particular, it drove home for me the fact that St. Paul was a flesh-and-blood man like the rest of us. It reminded me that he was an actual, physical person who had his own trials and faced his own struggles and overcame his own weaknesses, by the grace of God. It reminded me that he was an ordinary man who became one of the greatest saints of the Church by responding to God’s call and following God’s will for his life.

The trip also highlighted for me the extreme sinfulness of the Greek world in which St. Paul preached. Especially in the city of Corinth, which we were able to visit, sexual immorality of every conceivable kind was not only tolerated but even raised to the level of pagan religious practice. This was the world into which St. Paul came to preach the Gospel and win converts for the one, true Faith.

I learned several lessons from my short time in Greece, but the one I wish to share here is this: St. Paul was a real man, like the rest of us. He breathed, he ate, he walked, and he slept, just like we do. Also like us, he lived in extremely corrupt times, yet through the grace of God he was able to become a great saint. With that same grace, each and every one of us can become a great saint too.

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Some thoughts on St. Joseph

Today, March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph, the man chosen by God to be the foster father of His Divine Son.

As St. Joseph is my favorite saint, as well as the saint whose name I chose at my confirmation, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a few, brief reflections on his life. They are not my original thoughts but rather a compilation of ideas I’ve come across over the years. I will lay them out here as they come to my mind, in the form of a brief meditation.

St. Joseph is known for his many virtues, but two that stand out the most to me are his gentle strength and genuine humility. When we first meet him in the Gospel, Joseph is betrothed to the Blessed Virgin. Very soon afterward, he discovers that she is with child, and he knows the child is not his own. The discovery causes him both great anguish and great confusion. He knows Mary is chaste, but the biological facts seem to contradict that knowledge. How does he respond? He decides to “put her away quietly.” In other words, he decides to leave her. By doing so, he would make himself look like the villain in the eyes of everyone. This shame would be a great sacrifice for him, but he is willing to accept to preserve Our Lady’s honor.

As we all know, the angel’s message assures Joseph that he needn’t be afraid to take Mary as his wife. But shortly before she is to give birth, Caesar Augustus decrees that all the empire’s residents must return to their places of birth to participate in the census. And so we find St. Joseph leading his very-pregnant spouse to Bethlehem. When they arrive, he finds that “there was no room for them in the inn.” Not that “there was no room in the inn,” but that “there was no room for them in the inn.” Inns cost money, and Joseph, the poor carpenter, was unable to pay.

He searches frantically for shelter, knowing that Our Lord’s arrival is imminent. Imagine how ashamed he must have felt knowing that he would be unable to provide a decent place for the Son of God to make His entry into the world. We tend to romanticize the stable at Bethlehem, and we forget that in reality it was a dirty, smelly barn.

After the Nativity, St. Joseph learns from the angel that Herod is seeking to kill the child Jesus. He quickly takes the child and his mother and leads them along the long, dangerous journey into Egypt, all the while facing the threat of roving bandits who liked to prey on unwary travelers. Then, for the first several years of Our Lord’s life, He lives in exile in a foreign land, under the care of Joseph who must find work there in order to provide for the child and His mother.

After the death of Herod, Joseph returns the holy family to Judea, to Nazareth. There he is faced with yet another challenging problem: How exactly does one go about raising God’s own Son?

St. Joseph, being the simple, humble man that he was, raised up Our Lord in the one way that he knew how—he taught him to be a carpenter. He had the creator of the universe under his care . . . and he taught him how to build tables and shelves.

I find it’s a beautiful image for meditation, the thought of St. Joseph in the dusty woodshop, teaching the child Jesus, the Son of God, how to use hammers and saws.

This wasn’t all for show, either. Before his public ministry, Our Lord earned his living as a carpenter. That’s how he kept a roof over his head. That’s how he provided for Our Lady after the death of Joseph. He used the skills taught to him by the man who spent thirty years raising Him as his own son.

In conclusion, St. Joseph is a beautiful example of humility and simplicity. He shows us the dignity of labor done for the love of God. He demonstrates for us how to be a good and faithful spouse. He shows us the tremendous importance of fatherhood.

Our Lord, being God, was able to choose any man in the world—any man in history—to be His father on earth . . . and He chose Joseph, the carpenter.

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God’s Got This

This Christmas Eve will mark the two-year anniversary of my massive brain hemorrhage and 36-day hospitalization.

While I am now 100% recovered, it’s a severe understatement to say that things didn’t look good for me in the hours and days that followed my “incident.” My dad, who is himself a medical professional, took one look at my brain scans on his arrival at the hospital and shook his head saying, “he’s not going to make it.”

This dour appraisal seemed to be a common assessment. Most people thought that if I did somehow manage to pull through, I’d be at least partially disabled for the rest of my life. I am told, however, that there was a voice of hope in that rather melancholic hospital room. Over the next few weeks I had some severe ups and downs—most of which I don’t even remember—but through it all, my youngest brother remained confident, continuously reassuring everyone that “God’s got this.”

As it turns out, he was right. I have for well over a year been back to my usual activities, teaching, writing, driving, working out, and doing all of the other things that two years ago it seemed I would never be able to do again. God was in charge of the situation. He always is.

Oftentimes it seems that we look to God as a last resort. When all else has failed, we throw up our arms and say things like, “Well, it’s in God’s hands now.” We forget that everything’s always in God’s hands.  We also forget that there’s no better place for it to be.

Now of course not all tragic stories end as happily as mine did. Not even close. We can’t always understand why God allows situations to play out the way they do. I’ve certainly had plenty of my own heartfelt prayers go unanswered over the course of my life, and it’s easy to see how others might grow resentful or discouraged when theirs seem to fall on deaf ears as well.

But while God won’t always direct events the way we’d like them to go, He is always in charge, and He knows far better than we ourselves what we need and what is best for us. It’s a lesson that I’ve been slowly learning and one that has brought significantly more peace to my life. And while I still get frustrated and impatient far too often when things don’t go the way I’d like them to, I’ve learned to ease some of the pressure and lighten some of the darkness of various situations by repeating my little brother’s confident words from my hospital room:

God’s got this.

God’s always got this.

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Our Luxurious Lives

A few months back I wrote a post called “Our Land of Plenty” in which I reflected on the superabundance of food available to us in the United States. I pointed out that we today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world.

In this post, I’d like to continue on that theme by calling attention to how luxurious modern western life really is.

While there are always going to be some discomforts, our lives in the United States today are more comfortable than almost any other people’s from Continue reading

It’s Already Been a Year

Well, it’s official. This post marks the one-year anniversary of my blog.

This project started out as a way for me, in the wake of my medical issues in early 2016, to keep people informed about how my recovery was going and to share my thoughts about the process so that I wouldn’t go crazy.

I had also hoped that having a blog would help me to be a more disciplined writer, which I think it has done, as I have been successfully Continue reading

The Last Hurrah of Summer

Where has my summer gone? It seems every single one flies by faster than the one before it.

I began preparing my fall semester classes the same week spring semester ended, and I’ve been focused on that planning for all of May, June, and July. Then, about ten days ago, I realized that school was again upon us, and that instead of feeling refreshed after a nice, long summer break, I felt totally burned out. I realized that if I wanted to survive until Christmas—not always and easy feat for me—I would need to at least take a few days off to recharge my “batteries” before the start of the new school year.

I had a lot of options as to how to spend my “vacation” time, because I have a to-do list that I know will still be twelve miles long by the time I die, but since I was trying to relax a bit, I wanted to do something slightly less productive. Thus, I chose to Continue reading

The Lesson of Diapers and Toys

On two separate evenings this past week, I found myself roped into moving a massive pile of boxes across town. Moving in and of itself wasn’t at all a new experience for me, but moving what was in those boxes was.

The cardboard crates in question contained hundreds of pounds of diapers and blankets and car seats and toys. I and the other volunteers—most of whom I’d never met before—loaded the tender cargo into the backs of trailers, pickup trucks, and mini-vans, and then Continue reading