Reflecting on 2019

2019 was quite possibly the hardest year of my life.  Yet, despite the many challenges, there were many graces intertwined throughout the year.  I spent a portion of time in December and some time in January reflecting on 2019, as well as 2020, as well as making plans for the year ahead.

Things that happened in 2019

I completed Exodus 90

Exodus 90 was tough, but very beneficial.

The first main highlight of the year was Exodus 90.  Exodus 90 is a program designed to take you through the book of Exodus, whilst instilling good patterns in your life and eliminating bad habits.  In essence it is as one Priest put it, namely, a ‘Double Lent’.  I tried it a second time later in the year and completely failed, but I was pretty good the first time.  Some of benefits of the program were:

  • I lost 10% of my bodyweight in 90 days
  • It led me to read fourteen books, including:
    • The Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)
    • Dorotheos of Gaza – Discourses and Selected Writing
    • The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
    • The Power of Silence by Robert Cardinal Sarah
    • Wild at Heart by John Eldredge
    • The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
    • Meditations before Mass by Romano Guardini
    • The Angels and their Mission by Danielou
    • Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe
    • Letters from Lake Como by Romano Guardini
  • I learned to more greatly appreciate hot showers
  • I learned what disciplines I need to implement in order to lose and maintain weight
  • I went to see Sugarloaf Mountain with a group of gents, and went hiking with a Priest mate of mine and some other people, where we did a 65km hike through Wilson’s Prom.
  • I peaked at 3.5 hours of daily prayer.
  • I learned how beneficial making a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament can be.
  • I established the practice of the daily Rosary.
  • Prayer helped me to be able to obtain some information previously not available to me, that lead to me resigning from a particular job.

I put my money where my mouth is as it relates to the value of integrity over prosperity

I had picked up a job late 2018, and some things seemed strange.  Eventually I found out through the Internet about my employer’s prior criminal convictions and current convictions.  These were of such a nature that I resigned effective immediately.  It was a choice to stick to my personal integrity, one that had an opportunity cost well in excess of $100,000.  Nevertheless, it was the right decision.  Others eventually found the information also (it’s publically available) and I believe many others have chosen to make the same decision.  

My Mum passed away

Mum opening up the Sistine Chapel one morning in 2018.

I had picked up some temporary work and was offered full-time after four days, but had to down tools when I received a call telling me my Mum was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus that had spread to her liver, bones and lymph nodes.  Mum was not a smoker or a drinker, yet due to 25 years reflux (which we did not realize was a major issue), she had over a period of about 5-6 months developed a cancer that was 10cm x 2cm in her oesophagus, which had caused her to be unable to eat for months, due to her oesophagus being 80% blocked by the diameter of the cancer.

This was probably the hardest experience I have been through in my life.  Mum was diagnosed with 3 months to 2 years, but passed away after only 4 weeks, as the cancer was highly aggressive.

The lessons that I learned from my Mum over my life are countless, many of which were watching her poise and dignity in those last few weeks of life.  God was gracious to her in that she was able to organise all her affairs prior to her passing.  Many of the positive little impacts of her life will be of benefit to others, so I am in the process of creating a website to help ensure other people are exposed to some of Mum’s ideas, her love and charity she held for people in her life.

We were able to get Mum the last rites; anointing of the sick, absolution, holy communion and an Apostolic Pardon about a week prior to her passing, which was greatly appreciated.  We thank Fr. Gerald Quinn from the Passionists in Hobart for his service as Chaplain at the Hobart Royal Hospital.

A friendship rekindled

I had lost touch with a mate from my youth about four years ago.  After many prayers, two in particular were answered, both after painstaking intercession throughout the day.  We are now in regular contact, and things are going reasonably well there.

Health complications 1 of 2

Following Mum’s death, because I have had reflux I needed to book in for a gastroscopy. That resulted in me discovering that I have a small portion of Barrett’s oesophagus, as well as grade II oesophagitis. It turns out the reflux I had been experienced was diagnosed a year prior as GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease) without my realising.  I was given a 20mg prescription previously (not realising this was a necessary consumption, as I thought it was only for when I was experiencing symptoms) and this was upped to 40mg post diagnosis for life. Yikes!  I’m glad I took the recommendation to get checked and have implemented the recommended treatment.  It was terrible circumstances that lead to this discovery, but I’m better able to manage the issue now that I’m aware of it, and if it had not been for Mum’s passing, I would never have known how serious my issue had become for my age.

A new Nephew and the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary

Image source: https://i1.wp.com/www.catholicgentleman.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CxiJkmqWIAAUvNS-1.jpg?fit=1000%2C1000&ssl=1

My sister had a new child.  She had to have an emergency C-section as the baby’s heart rate dropped down to 45, but both were safe and healthy.  On the same day, my application to join the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary was accepted. This was on the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, which makes both easy to remember. 

Car written off

I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, as too many happen to not be something natural but beyond out understanding (or, by definition, supernatural).  After my Mum’s passing, a number of Priests offered Masses for her soul.  I was given a loaf of banana bread, something Mum used to make me when I was a kid. Purple was her favourite colour, and there is a purple flower that grows randomly on the concrete of my balcony. A random saint name generator yielded my patron for 2020 as Saint Cecilia, a Saint whose original place of repose in the Roman Catacombs of St. Callixtus I had visited twice with Mum.  

Perhaps the most interesting one was that of her car that I inherited.  I had purchased a newer car in December 2017, after having owned the same car for nine years.  My last three cars have been blue, but Mum wanted me to have her car. I was a little unsure because the colour was white (a Catholic lady had indicated to me that Blue was Mary’s colour and has mentioned to me that Our Blessed Mother is calling me to Medjugorje more than once), but I ended up selling my car and keeping Mum’s car, which was newer.  The day of her birthday in December I visited her grave, then saw my brother.  On the way home, a person ran into the back of the car at 70km/h while I was accelerating with the traffic at about 40 km/h.  This wrote the car off.  I have since replaced the car with a newer, top of the range version of Mum’s car in a ‘Gravity Blue’ colour.

Health complications 2 of 2

Following the car write-off, I went to the doctor for a check-up.  Fortunately, I only had a bit of whiplash, but I was able to get an ultrasound for my right side hip and abdomen, which have been giving me pain for about a year.  I had been to several doctors, a physio (hat tip to Ash Back In Motion Carrum Downs for determining my pain my be related to the digestive tract) and had had no success. The Ultrasound revealed I have fatty liver disease, which has necessitated I focus on losing weight and cutting back my drinking, which was getting excessive.

Careful consideration and reflection

As I prepare to get married, I have been asked by two Priests to reconsider my vocation.  I have had 36 people (since becoming a Catholic) now mention something to this effect to me from a variety of denominations (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant), along with 40-odd timely readings at Masses, and many other things.  One of these two Priests believes this is unprecedented and has even gone so far as to say that they believe that I could be the next Cardinal John Henry Newman of the Church or Francis Xavier if I pursued the Priesthood, and warned me of the potential consequences of not following what appears to many to be an obvious vocational calling.

As a result, a lot of the last twelve months has been spent taking time out on Sabbatical to serious consider and reflect on my chosen path.  So help me God, my intention is to pursue original commitment to marriage.

Bushfires

The last thing for the year was the Australian Bushfires.  I have not been one to speak much about them, as there seems to be so much emotion linked to all the information going around about them. Nevertheless, my sister and family were on holidays in the affected areas.  They returned home safely, but it was a little concerning for the whole family for a while there.

Lessons and Reflections from 2019

The Rosary

I read a few books on the Rosary and Mary by St Louis de Montfort and Fr Donald Calloway. These were fantastic.  I have benefited much from the Rosary and these reinforced the benefits.  The Rosary is like the Jesus Prayer beads, but on steroids.  Learn it, use it, love it!

Honouring your Father and Mother

I had to cancel a trip to Rome, Spain and Portugal just days prior to departure to be with Mum in the weeks prior to her death. I don’t regret this decision. I’ve also learned that the Fourth Commandment doesn’t cease at the death of one’s parents, as there are still commitments to honour, respect to be paid in speaking of the person, etc. Christ’s coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven has been quite insightful in this respect.

St Michael the Archangel and St Benedict Medals

Statue of St Michael the Archangel. Image source: https://i.pinimg.com/474x/cf/e5/56/cfe556db01bf1abfe3d3fea85563c7f4–saint-michael-michael-okeefe.jpg

Praying to St Michael the Archangel and using St Benedict Medals really helped getting me out of a bind earlier in the year.  Learn the prayer to Saint Michael and recite it as part of your Rosary. And aim to have a St Benedict Medal on your person at all times.

A $1,500 lesson on grief… and an excellent book

It took a long time to get one (lots of hurdles), but I finally was able to see a Psychologist last year and this year to assist me with grief.  The key lesson from those sessions was, ‘The first of everything (First Christmas, first birthday, etc.) are all going to be hard, and that is okay.”

I also heard Peter Kreeft, who I greatly respect for his logical clarity recommend C.S. Lewis’ book ‘A Grief Observed’ as one of the best books to give to someone who is grieving.  It really broke me, but it was very cathartic.  I highly recommend this for someone grieving.

On “Hearing God”, the “Discernment of Spirits”, or ‘Listening to your conscience’; understanding differences in religious vs secular language

Statue of Ignatius of Loyola. Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a3/Ignatius_of_Loyola%2C_Church_of_Gesù%2C_Rome%2C_Jan_2013.jpg/640px-Ignatius_of_Loyola%2C_Church_of_Gesù%2C_Rome%2C_Jan_2013.jpg

Something became apparent to me this year that I have suspected for a while now is that when people refer to ‘God speaking to them’, they are really explaining what other people refer to as their conscience.  Since Freud, moderns have referred to various thoughts within one’s Psyche as ‘Super ego, ego and id’, ancients such as Origen of Alexandria and the Desert Fathers called the super ego and id the ‘Angelic and Demonic’ and Ignatius of Loyola called it the ‘discernment of spirits’.  One attributes aspects of the thoughts to something outside oneself, the other to biological factors.  But the intent behind what is being said is in essence the same.  To that end, I have learned how to ‘hear God’, to listen to the various thoughts and to discern which ones I do and don’t act on.  

Related for the nerds: In Latin, the Soul (Greek: ‘Psyche’) is often translated as ‘Intellectus’, or the intellect.  Sometimes, the Latin ‘Anima’ is translated as ‘soul’ into English, but this definition makes up a lot more of the thoughts in our brain than just the intellect.  Christian theologians, along with Aristotle and other Greek Philosophers pre-Christ believe that the ‘intellect’ is not of a material nature and therefore indestructible.  It’s also believed to be the only part of a person that lives on after their death, until the resurrection of the body (Christianity) or until reincarnation (assuming Socrates’ belief that the soul is eternal going into the past, and not just the future).

Acting on the recommendations of Doctors in humility

With Mum’s cancer and my own health crises, I have taken great confidence in acting on the advice of Doctors.  This came from reading a number of passages relating to health in the Bible whilst Mum was sick.  One of the most comforting has been from Ecclesiasticus, (also known as Sirach or Wisdom of Ben Sira):

“Make friends with the doctor, for he is essential to you; God has also established him in his profession. From God the doctor has wisdom, and from the king he receives sustenance. Knowledge makes the doctor distinguished, and gives access to those in authority.

God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent should not neglect; Was not the water sweetened by a twig, so that all might learn his power? He endows people with knowledge, to glory in his mighty works, Through which the doctor eases pain, and the druggist prepares his medicines. Thus God’s work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth.

My son, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to God, for it is he who heals. Flee wickedness and purify your hands; cleanse your heart of every sin. Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and memorial, a generous offering according to your means. Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; you need him too, For there are times when recovery is in his hands. He too prays to God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure. Whoever is a sinner before his Maker will be defiant toward the doctor.

My son, shed tears for one who is dead with wailing and bitter lament; As is only proper, prepare the body; and do not absent yourself from the burial. Weeping bitterly, mourning fully; pay your tribute of sorrow, as deserved: A day or two, to prevent gossip; Then compose yourself after your grief. For grief can bring on death, and heartache can sap one’s strength.

When a person is carried away, sorrow is over; and the life of the poor one is grievous to the heart. Do not turn your thoughts to him again; cease to recall him; think rather of the end. Do not recall him, for there is no hope of his return; you do him no good, and you harm yourself. Remember that his fate will also be yours; for from him it was yesterday, for you today. With the dead at rest, let memory cease; be consoled, once the spirit has gone.”

Wisdom of Ben Sira 38: 1-23 NABRE

A related quote from a Latin Memento Mori usually seen with skeletons:

quod sumus, hoc eritis

Relics

Relics often have a weird connotation for Protestants.  The word is simply Latin for ‘Remains’, and usually speaks of the remains of a person, either their body or objects they used to own.  My Mum suggested that when she pass away my sister and I might each like a lock of her hair, which we took.  This seemed a strange suggestion at the time, but it is nice to have a relic in my possession of my Mum’s body in addition to various items she once owned.

Tradition

Photo from a Latin Mass. Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Missa_tridentina_002.jpg

I have wrestled a lot with challenges from Eastern Orthodoxy this year.  The thing I keep coming back to is that their doctrine seems to be circular, and therefore requires the logically flawed position of presuppositionalism to work.  I’m still looking into it in more detail.

During this time though, I have attended my first Latin Mass and have been reading the canons of the first seven ecumenical councils.  What strikes me as interesting is how valuable tradition and maintaining continuity with prior generations is.  In a sense, it is a shame that the new Mass appears to have such a great loss of the tradition that has developed in the Western Church over the prior 1,400 years since the Gregorian Mass was first implemented.  Granted, this had evolved over time, but it seems the newer Mass is a lot less in alignment with that in its implementation at most parishes now.  Some corrections I’d like to see implemented at all Masses:

  • A return to Ad Orientem worship
  • The elimination of lay female lectors and altar servers.
  • The elimination of lay lead communion services.
  • A return to receiving communion kneeling and ideally on the tongue for the Body of Christ.
  • The reintroduction of the prayers after Mass.
  • Confession available during Mass at any Parish that has more than one Priest (an old practice that was encouraged by John Paul II).
  • The reintroduction of the communion warning into the Cycle of Readings.
  • The insistence of Eucharistic Prayer I for all Masses.
  • The Kyrie Eleison and Christi Eleison returning to a 9x recitation as opposed to 6x.
  • A return to periods of silence, and the use of interior prayer during the Mass by the Laity.

Such changes would likely be beneficial to all parishes and the faith of many.

Accepting help

While hiking with Fr. Nicholas, my body gave way in some capacities about 40kms in. The boys came to my support, lightening my load.  This was a really humbling experience, and Fr. Nicholas reminded me that I need to ‘accept the help’, swallowing my pride in the process.  This was a very powerful lesson that has yielded much fruit over the months since.

St John Henry Newman

Image source: https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/sites/default/files/styles/article_full/public/20191010T1308-30933-CNS-BANNER-CANONIZATION-VATICAN.jpg?itok=EWwyf3Vk

It was great to see John Henry Newman be canonised a Saint this year.  My Spiritual Director has prescribed for me Newman’s ‘Way of Perfection’, which I still need to master.  When I’m on point with it, I find myself a lot more disciplined and at peace than when I am not.

Summary

2019 was a big year, possibly my hardest one year.  I hope that in addressing my health matters, getting a new car and making progress on various other fronts, that 2020 will shape up to become a much better year, and perhaps the best one yet.

I hope 2019 was a great year for you and that 2020 is even better.

Pax Christi,

Josh

Comments

  1. Dale-Allison

    Blessings Josh
    I followed the link on your Instagram and feel in grace to have learnt more about you and what sounds a profound spiritual journey

    See you on Tuesday

    Dale-Allison

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