Replacing the Batteries

Being a big sports fan, I love sitting on the couch over the weekend and watching a game on TV. I put my feet up, recline back with a soda and some chips, huddle with a blanket and take in all the action.

Whether it’s my favorite team playing, an important playoff game between rival clubs, some pre-season exhibition contest or an international event like the Olympics, I truly enjoy the relaxation of sitting with my remote control in hand, watching the competition unfold before me.

Now, finding the opportunity to do so is rare these days, having two children under the age of two years old.

However, if I time it right, I can usually head down to the basement for half an hour or so while the boys are sleeping. That is, of course, if house chores are already taken care of and my school work is done.

If I’m really lucky, I can get a good chunk of time to watch an entire game or go for a run on our treadmill while flipping back and forth between different sporting events being televised.

And right then is exactly when it happens.

Invariably, I will get so comfortable on the couch or I’ll hit such a stride in my run that I need to get up on my feet or step off the treadmill because the remote control batteries have died at the most inconvenient time.

Then, I either have to search throughout the house for replacement batteries or resort to changing channels manually – and I think we all know how much fun that can be.

What good is a remote control when its batteries are dead?

Pressing the different buttons with greater force only leads to the same result, except with more frustration.

You see, the exterior is secure, but the foundation is weak. Without a true and healthy core, the remote control’s strength is severely compromised, if not eliminated altogether. New batteries give the device full power yet again, enabling peak performance.

Remote Control BatteriesAs humans, we are similar to a TV remote control. With blood pumping from our hearts throughout our bodies, we receive the energy required for living. Yet, as important as the heart and body are, we should never forget the center, or battery, of our existence – the soul.

Just as our faith is meaningless without supporting works, our bodies are ineffective without a vibrant spirit. It is the soul that serves as the source of our lives, without which the flesh is rendered useless. (James 2:26 & John 6:63)

A soul rooted in God can lead to a healthy heart and effective body, while a weakened soul not devoted to Christ can expose us to many perils. (Matthew 10:28)

Perhaps it’s resorting to cheating on a test or essay due to poor studies, or succumbing to temptations of drug experimentation at a party in order to gain approval from peers.

It could be the desire to dress a little more provocatively in order to attract the attention of that cute guy in school. Or, it might be the curiosity to take performance-enhancing drugs to secure an athletic scholarship on a university football team.

Sure, immediate results may seem promising and, as such, their prospects can lead us to follow the path of least resistance. But what do we truly gain if our soul is lost and corrupt? (Matthew 16:26)

A soul devoid of righteousness and strong self-esteem will prevent us from ever obtaining complete peace and joy.

Having Jesus as our rock can give us the force required to overcome such obstacles. Following God’s word, listening to His voice speaking inside us and applying His teachings in our daily living can all give us a soul of truth and can lead to a new life of abundant riches. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

Doing so can restore our better judgment and, as better choices will lead to better actions and results, we can further discover the wonderful programs God has planned for us in His TV Guide booklet of life.

All or Nothing

Every once in a while, some friends and I get together to play some poker. The stakes are never too high, as most of us are a bunch of novice players just looking to hang out with friends for a fun night. Just the same, it’s always good to catch up on life over a good game of cards.

Throughout the evening, however, the competitive nature in us inevitably flows through and each player starts showing a more aggressive personality.

We will all aim to outsmart our opponents, teasing them with bluffs or cunningly raising the stakes of a bet in order to squeeze out some of the competition.

Sure, some players might be less ambitious than others with this approach, but at some point, each one of us will eventually take a risk for the prospects of a great reward.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of the game – to win everything? If someone wants to take home all of the money on the table, he will first have to take all the money of his competitors.

Now, you can do this systematically and over a longer span, which can certainly play mind games with your opponents. Or, you can empty their wallets (or whatever they’re willing to spend that night, at least) in one fell swoop. Either way, you will ultimately have to make the decision to go all in.

To win it all, you eventually must be ready to bet it all. In other words, you must be both bold and brave.

Risking all of your chips without knowing other players’ cards is a huge gamble, no pun intended. After all, poker is far easier to play when you have a strong handle of your odds of winning. Since skilled players hardly ever tip their hand, such an experience is very rare.

Poker All InThe game of poker is much like the game of life in this respect.

Life is far easier to live when we have a concrete understanding of the impact of our decisions. However, this is not always the case.

Without knowing the future, we can only learn from our past and act in the present. Yet, we can make decisions as completely and prudently as possible, ensuring we are as prepared as we can be in order to plan wisely for the unknown.

We can take this same mindset and apply it when imagining an outcome for the afterlife.

If we truly wish to enter into Heaven upon our death, do we not need to give everything we have to God while on earth?

It seems, just like poker, to get the complete gift of eternal salvation from God, we must first offer Him all that we have in life on earth and include Him in all that we do each day.

Just as we cannot ultimately win a game of poker by only betting half of our chips, we cannot set only one foot into God’s Kingdom. Sooner or later, we need to commit our lives fully and wholeheartedly to Him, displaying this covenant with all of our being.

Much like a vending machine that will not distribute a snack or beverage if enough money is not inserted, God cannot fix our broken hearts unless we first give Him all of the pieces. He cannot steer us along the right road in life if we constantly apply the brakes and try to change direction.

No matter what anxiety or uncertainty may come with this realization, we must remember the promises our Lord gives us. We are assured by our God that our paths in life will be made straight with service to Him, and we will be rewarded for leaning on and placing our trust in Him. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Indeed, we venture into challenging waters in doing this, for we do not know the outcome. Yet, we don’t know if we’ll lose a pile of poker chips until we see our rival’s cards turned over and that should not deter us from raising the stakes of a bet.

How much we devote ourselves to God is a testament of our faith – the assurance of all that is hoped for and the certainty of all that is unknown. (Hebrews 11:1)

If we somehow prevent God from receiving us entirely and we do not give ourselves over to Him through daily works of faith, how can we expect anything different in return when we die? (Mark 8:38)

May each of us allow ourselves to confidently go all in with God, in order that we may reap the many blessings available and promised to us each day and on the Last Day.

In so doing, not only will we be both bold and brave in our life version of poker, but we can also enjoy being abundantly blessed.

I’ve Got that Joy Down in my Heart

Years ago when I was a teenager, my mom worked as a public health nurse. As part of its marketing campaign to drum up support for its programming, the health unit where she worked once came up with a catchy phrase, Be Happy, Be Healthy.

I was recently reminiscing about this with my wife over dinner, discussing how so many of us in the world today seek true happiness, while there seem to be a myriad interpretations on how best to obtain or recognize it.

We were talking at the time about how some parents give birth to babies with Down syndrome or other developmental difficulties, in comparison to how our two children were born without any serious health complications.

Such an event can understandably jar a parent and leave feelings of shock and dismay in the hearts of so many people. Yet, these babies are unmistakably blessings from Heaven and their arrival should only bring tears of joy, not sadness. Beautiful angels with so much promise laid out before them, and still, they could be welcomed into the world with trepidation.

My wife and I continued to talk about how so many parents – ourselves included – merely wish for their babies to be born healthy (as if there is one clear definition of that term).

Certainly, discovering one’s child is born free of any brain defects or breathing difficulties, missing limbs, or weak organs can provide a great sense of relief for the parents and heightened hope for both them and their baby. But should any health concern really serve as a stain on a baby’s life or compromise the joy in the lives of anyone around her?

We went on to remark how so many of us in society base our happiness on such matters as health, or finances, or social status and other aspects.

How many people base their level of delight or optimism on how big their home is, or the type of job they have, or clothes they wear? How many of us find ourselves comparing our possessions to those of our neighbor, whether they are a backyard, a vacation destination or a prom date? (Exodus 20:17)

As a high school teacher, I see all too often a level of dissatisfaction in life, as students can easily get caught up in a trap of questioning Am I enough? or Can I have more?

Whether it is a grade not worthy of university or parental acceptance, a body type not attractive to the cool clique, or a video game system or cell phone not up to par with today’s radically advanced standards, so many youth can easily have an innocent perception of happiness clouded or destroyed by surrounding influences.

It was during this dinner conversation that my wife mentioned another word beginning with H that was missing from the equation – holy.

It seems we focus far too much on worldly elements dictating our happiness and health, rather than appreciating all of the blessings bestowed upon us by God and seeing them as means for living a happy and healthy life, thanking and serving Him as the source of all of this.

If we as children of God truly believe our faith’s teaching that we are created in the image and likeness of God, then are we not also to live according to His example, rather than social expectations?

H3 - Formula for LifeInstead of focusing on riches and possessions, we are called to live with humility and simplicity, showing our thanks and sharing our gifts with those less privileged around us.

This can be achieved through so many ways, including giving clothes too small for us to impoverished children of a resort island next time we visit there, or donating them to a discount store right in our own community.

Rather than compare our appearances to celebrities or our peers and feeling inadequate, we are invited to appreciate our bodies as temples of God, treating them with respect and honor.

We can demonstrate this by eating healthy and regularly; exercising in a fair and consistent manner without causing undue stress or damage to ourselves; not feeling pressured to decorate our bodies excessively or artificially; and growing our intellect through constructive reading or strategic games.

In order to cultivate a more genuine and renewed foundation in our lives, we are challenged to deepen our walk of discernment and spirituality.

We can accomplish this through more frequent prayer and attendance at Mass, and reading from the Bible as part of our daily or weekly routine. We can also seize opportunities to be involved in our community, volunteering our time and money for various charities, research organizations and public awareness rallies, all in the name of fostering the beauty of life.

As well, we can celebrate opportunities for quality time with our loved ones, savoring moments such as a board game or picnic together as more important than watching a movie or our favorite TV show alone.

Doing such things to our best ability and with the involvement of our families, friends and new connections disguised as strangers, we can truly develop lives rich in happiness, health and holiness.

As we grow in this mission, we can achieve exactly what we are called to do – live saintly lives while discovering a path of acting justly, loving with mercy and walking humbly with God and His community. (Micah 6:8)

Paving the Way Through Recon-seal-iation

For over two years now, my wife and I have been blessed to live in a comfortable townhouse in a suburb community.

During this span, we’ve experienced many wonderful and joyful memories, visiting with loved family and friends, and welcoming our two treasured sons into the world.

But owning a home has also carried many responsibilities and challenges, including regular maintenance of the house.

Earlier this summer, Catherine and I arranged for some much-needed interlock landscaping to be done in a portion of our driveway. Following the work, I decided to pave the remainder of the driveway, as new asphalt sealer would accentuate the interlock while bringing new life to the front side of our home.

It occurred to me during this work that driveway sealing is very much like the sacrament of reconciliation.

Driveway SealingWhile working to great lengths to evenly pave our driveway, giving it a sharper and livelier appearance in the process, I was reminded of how God wishes to pave over our sins and give us a clean slate.

As I aimed to fill any asphalt crevices by rolling over them with sealer mix, I appreciated how the confession of our sins enables God’s endless offer of a fresh start, washing away our stains and recreating a smooth and even surface in our lives.

Just like our driveway receiving a new look, this grace-filled sacrament of reconciliation allows for rebirth and renewal of our minds, bodies, hearts and souls.

Jesus presents this very opportunity to us through priests, His earthly representatives. This longstanding Church sacrament traces back to Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to His apostles, when He commissioned them to forgive the sins of all through His holy authority. (John 20:19-23)

Yet, while attending confession seems so simple in having God steamroll our transgressions, it is often far easier in theory than in practice.

Some people might consider themselves too busy to speak with a priest, while others may feel too uncomfortable. There may be others still who simply have not truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit envelop them in past reconciliation experiences, and are therefore reluctant or skeptical to explore God’s powerful healing available to them.

This can become a point of contention between ourselves and anyone wishing to encourage us to go to confession. But just as stress can build up between my wife and me over the quality and timeliness of my driveway sealing performance, the absence of reconciling with God and receiving absolution for our sins can further widen the gap between us and the Lord.

Without confession, our sins can cloud our judgment and compromise our subsequent actions, causing us to drift further from God and preventing us from recognizing His omnipresent love. (Isaiah 59:2)

Conversely, the sacrament of reconciliation can introduce new joy with God once again, providing tremendous strength and liberation. Like the pride and relief I felt after having completed our driveway sealing, a weight is lifted from our shoulders when we confess our sins and are reunited with Christ.

Calculating the preparation required and the completion of the sealing job itself, I must admit I spent several hours devoted to improving our asphalt driveway. After having applied multiple coats of sealing mix on different occasions during this sequence, I would continue to notice some spots left unattended.

My wife – along with many others, I’m sure – knows me to be a bit of a perfectionist and would suggest I stop obsessing about smaller details such as these.

But perhaps we can all stand to demonstrate this characteristic a little more when it comes to developing our relationship with God and with one another.

After all, are we not called to live more like Jesus, the model of perfection? Perhaps three coats of sealing applied to our driveway in efforts to cover the surface entirely and cleanly were akin to our need to return to confession regularly, erasing our faults so that we may once again be renewed with God.

May all of us feel empowered and invited to seek healing and forgiveness for our sins through confession, in order that we may grow even closer to God and our neighbor with each passing day.

Who knew the road to Heaven would be paved with asphalt?

The Mighty Ant

Being a teacher, I am very fortunate to enjoy two months of holidays each year throughout the summer. While still attending to commitments such as home maintenance and lawn upkeep, such time off also affords great opportunity for relaxation.

Spending time with friends over dinner, going out to watch a movie or catching a baseball game on TV and the occasional round of golf are all pastimes that provide me with plenty of joy. Yet, the activity I love and appreciate the most is spending time with my family.

My wife and I are blessed with two young boys, and our son Isaac and I have quickly come to identify going to the park as one of our favorite things to do. In fact, it’s practically become a daily ritual for us to head over to the nearby park or splash pad.

Whether alone or surrounded by other kids and their parents, it’s so wonderful to see the smile on Isaac’s face when he swings in the air or slips down a slide.

As many children can be, Isaac is very curious and active in his exploration of all things new. He will often notice something random and seemingly insignificant, and delve into his knack for discovery of something fascinating.

During a recent visit to the park, he was drawn to the fine grains of sand underneath a playground structure.

As I knelt down beside him to demonstrate sand sifting through my fingers, we observed a tiny ant climbing along the surface. As Isaac expressed his innocent awe, I dropped some sand on the ant to cover him.

Within a couple of seconds, the ant resurfaced and continued his march. Again, I dumped a handful of sand on the ant. Much to Isaac’s amazement, the ant showed determination and emerged out of the sand, continuing on his way.

It was then that I was reminded we are all like the ant. All too often, we face adversity of one kind or another, falling down in pain and in times of great weakness.

Whether it be such struggles as family issues or problems related to school or personal friendships, stumbles can often lead to us being knocked down into a great pit of despair.

When discussing very difficult subjects or unpleasant experiences and situations in today’s society – particularly when involving youth – it is very tempting for us to give up and turn away from God. However, such challenging moments offer extremely rewarding Mighty Antopportunity in opening ourselves to Him.

During times of trial, our faith calls us to be relentless in our perseverance. Jesus’ gospel message affirms this, assuring us that “with God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Now, I realize an ant fighting through a pile of sand dumped on him cannot be equated to a student wrestling with her parents’ divorce, or a high school football player seeing his dreams of playing at university come to a crashing halt due to a career-ending injury.

While facing a battle of its own, the ant’s struggle is dwarfed by that of a teenager needing to work three part-time jobs while attending school, in order to fund her post-secondary tuition.

That said, I will often quote author Timothy Pina when telling my students in class, “If God sees you to it, He will see you through it.”

If a minuscule insect can refuse to quit and thereby overcome virtually insurmountable odds, then why should we as humans not adopt the same attitude?

St. Paul reminds us that God’s grace manifests itself particularly in our pains and frustrations, revealing His perfect power in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In other words, while we may appear to be down, with God on our side, we are never done.

Recognizing God’s presence can only occur if we are open to it, however – if we say to Him, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)

Daily prayer invites God to reveal His will for us, while centering us on His direction during our times of difficulty.

Whether it is the rosary, being present in holy adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or any other time spent communicating with God, it is activity such as prayer that can provide the courage and clarity we seek and require to master our life hurdles.

We can therefore draw strength from the Lord, who carries us through darkness into light – from struggle to success. While this path likely may not be short or easy, we can rest confident that, much like the ant buried in sand at the park, we will overcome.

And with such an approach during hardships, we can not only be more like marching ants but, maybe one day, like marching saints.

What’s in a Sundae?

On a hot summer day, I often like to enjoy a popsicle or an ice cream sandwich to keep cool. Sometimes, I’ll even throw a bunch of different fruits and milk together into the blender to create a delicious smoothie. I’ll admit, though, what I prefer most is a big bowl of ice cream.

When I really want to be creative, I’ll pull out a deep dessert bowl from the cabinet and fill it with several scoops. If that weren’t enough to concern my wife or doctor, I’ll take out a can of whipped cream from the fridge and spray some on top of my ice cream mountain. Next, I will drizzle chocolate syrup all over those white waves.

Feeling somewhat guilty or conscientious of my health, I will then scatter some chopped nuts and chunks of banana over my tasty treat, adding a cherry on top for good measure.

Yes, an ice cream sundae is a dessert I would gladly eat daily if sugar intake was not a hurdle. Alas, I tend to save it instead for special occasions or for the middle of a summer heat wave.

Recently, as I was devouring my delicious ice cream meal, it dawned on me that we humans don’t just eat sundaes in society today. We live them.

Ice Cream Sundae & GodYou see, the whole point of a sundae is to dress it and build it as much as you can, adding more and more to improve its taste. Yet, we can easily forget the key ingredient of a sundae lies simply at the bottom – the ice cream.

It doesn’t matter if it’s vanilla or Neapolitan, cookies and cream, or mint chocolate chip – ice cream is the foundation on which all other toppings will stand and without which all other toppings are weak.

Like ice cream in a sundae, God is our foundation. Only He can offer and provide the true joy and fulfillment we so desperately crave and seek in life.

Yes, our families and friends are of tremendous importance. Our jobs and hobbies hold great value also. Material possessions, too, can be extremely useful and give enjoyment in so many ways.

Yet, while sundae toppings can be desired, it is the ice cream that serves as the essential ingredient of the dessert, while any add-ons merely enhance it.

While we may enjoy the latest clothing trends or score tickets to the coolest concert, are we defined by these temporary or artificial aspects? Do we feel complete only when we have hundreds of followers on Twitter or our beach resort vacation pictures draw the approval of so many of our Facebook friends? Is our dating status or potential education or employment advancement our main motivation in life? Could we truly say our family relationships are rooted in a foundation that is deep and meaningful?

Inviting God into our lives and featuring Him at the center can only make these elements so much more real and purposeful.

Without God, all of these and so many more examples can render us empty at our core. But with Him, these elements can represent and radiate our full being.

Indeed, they are to reflect God and enrich our relationship with Him – serving as a complement, not a replacement.

Growing closer with God and having Him as our base is like any other worthwhile experience in life – it takes time and effort. How blessed we are that He offers us such an opportunity.

Just as we can prepare an ice cream sundae any day of the week, we can spend time with the Lord and celebrate with our community by attending Mass regularly – especially on Sunday.

Now, before I lace up my sneakers to run and burn off my additional calories, it should be noted that sundae was actually my second helping.

But that just goes to show that with God, we should always come back for more!

Getting Started

Hello My Name IsHello, my name is…

Perhaps you’ve seen a sticker or two with this introductory phrase on it. Certainly, if you’ve attended any workshop or conference, you’ve likely come across a registration booth with similar identification labels to help everyone feel more comfortable and familiar.

I figured this would be a simple but effective way to introduce my website and my intentions for it, and I hope you feel welcomed to visit often and regularly to be informed, amused and inspired.

As a high school Religion teacher, it’s my challenge and responsibility to help my students connect with God. Whether that connection is an introduction to God or an encouragement to continue getting to know Him more deeply, I accept this privilege seriously, with both energy and humility.

In a society growing in secularism, I feel it necessary to offer my students and their community opportunity to discover a full and meaningful relationship with the Lord. Now after many years of teaching, I’ve felt an increasing inclination to take my classroom on the road, so to speak, and it’s time I scratch this itch. So, I present to you this website.

But while the sticker above can help me introduce myself to you, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how God always seeks to present Himself to all of us.

Every day, Jesus reveals Himself to the world, wishing we would simply acknowledge and follow Him. (Matthew 4:19) So, in my teaching and now through this website, I endeavor to facilitate an opportunity for you to see God in regular life experiences.

My hope is these writings will provide you with perfect opportunity to explore and appreciate a deeper relationship with God, while feeling motivated to share His wonder with others in your daily life.

Thanks for reading and God bless,
Matt