How St. Josemaria Escriva Saved Me from Being a Workaholic

According to a recent Gallup study, the average American adult employed full-time reported to work an average of 47 hours a week. While I attended college and before I had children, I worked 60 or more hours a week for months on end. The United States is sort of an outlier when it comes to finding a work/life balance. Even though I no longer log the insane amount of hours, I still struggle with finding time to relax and separating work from home life. This battle seemed futile until I stumbled upon the writings and witness of a Spanish priest—St. Josemaria Escriva! I am not entirely sure how I came across this gem of a saint, but his writing provides such practical wisdom that I am going to request for some of his books as gifts this Christmas [my local library did not have any of his works L] Today, I want to share three practical tips I learned from Fr. Escriva’s The Way that saved me from being a workaholic.

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  1. Perspective is Key: Josemaria mentions the need to broaden our perspective in the first chapter. “Get rid of that ‘small-town’ outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, ‘catholic’,” he says. Lately, I struggled with having a narrow gaze when it comes to my job. I see things from my perspective alone. I resist the Holy Spirit’s promptings in daily events whereby I am given chances to widen my limited purview. For example, my manager challenges me to think beyond my cubicle walls. I need to daily heed the Spanish saint’s wisdom.

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  1. Pardon my Excuses?!: Along with possessing a narrow outlook I tend to fight constant urges to make up excuses for my failings. “The computer system was slow”; “No one told me the new update”; “Things are too busy”: these are just some of the various excuses I tell myself throughout the week. According to Father Escriva, “Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won’t offend God.”

Perhaps such excuses may be admissible, but I need to be cognizant of my tone and frequency of complaints. “Let those very obstacles give you strength. God’s grace will not fail you,” St. Josemaria states. Stumbling blocks need not be hindrances. Maybe the apparent blocks in my path are actually building blocks for my character. Relying on Jesus as my cornerstone, I will be able to pick up the stumbling blocks [i.e. excuses] and use them to build up the kingdom of God!

  1. Work with Character and Substance: A third major theme within the initial chapter of The Way focuses on developing your character through work. St. Josemaria deliberately states, “Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character’. It’s your lack of character: Be a man [or woman].” In other words, do not allow your past and your genetics define your being.

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I am guilty as anyone when it comes to blaming my woes and defects on my chemistry make-up.  I tell my wife whenever I say something stupid or fail to listen to her needs, “This is who I am at my core! I struggle with focusing because of my ADHD diagnosis” Father Escriva’s states in the next line, “Get used to saying No. Turn your back on the tempter when he whispers in your ear: ‘Why make life difficult for yourself?’”  Character is built on resisting the Tempter. I need to work on refusing to fall into the sins of gluttony and sloth [daily I fight the urge to eat fast food and lack motivation to play with my children after work].

Canonized on October 6, 2002, St. Josemaria Escriva is a perfect role model for people living in the 21st century. The bustle of life is only going to increase, especially in an age of instant communication via social media and the internet! The Spanish saint provides a humble witness as to how to incorporate God into my work through real, tangible, and practical means.

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O God, through the mediation of Mar y our

Mother, you granted your priest St. Josemaría countless

graces, choosing him as a most faithful instrument

to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in

daily work and in the fulfillment of the Christian’s

ordinary duties. Grant that I too may learn to turn all

the circumstances and events of my life into occasions

of loving You and serving the Church, the Pope

and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the

pathways of this earth with faith and love.

Deign to grant me, through the intercession of St.

Josemaría, the favor of … (make your request). Amen.

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Crossroads

“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. I came across this quote earlier this week as I read Orthodoxy. Immediately, I picked up my mechanical pencil off the living room floor and underlined this concise, but brilliant message. As a former cross country runner, street intersections always remind me of the choice I had as a runner. Which path should I take? Do I take the easy and high trafficked path [normally I feel motivated by an audience of automobile drivers on the busier streets to help me continue to run] or do I take the road less traveled? Little did I realize how Chesterton’s statement would be actualized in my life. Less than a day after reading that passage, I arrived at a junction.

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Some brief background is needed as I believe God has prepared me for this moment for a while now. My youngest child was evaluated by early childhood developmental professionals and diagnosed with some learning and cognitive disabilities. Along with this challenge my wife started a new teaching job. Bills seem to continually pile up with little end in sight [at least immediate end]. Over the past few months I struggled with anxiety and my vocation in this world. I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father, but sometimes I felt like I needed to do more, to be something more, and to provide more light to this world.

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Counseling sessions and anxiety medication help me cope with the daily stresses of this ever-changing and chaotic world. Thankfully, my son was approved to receive weekly special education services to assist him in limiting his incredible tantrums and frustration levels [he was at a point where he started banging his head against the ground and hurt himself!] and increasing his ability to socialize and communicate. Small gains are being made, yet he has a long road ahead.

Together with counseling and medicine, listening to Christian music daily and reading literary Catholic giants like Chesterton and Tolkien provide me with relief when self-doubt and despair assault me. In the weeks preceding  my crossroads experience I had yesterday.  “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.”

Talking with my manager during our weekly meeting, I looked for feedback on a new company position I was interested in. “Why did you apply for this position?” he asked. I replied, “The creative aspect and the possibility to increase my writing skills.” He continued to press on as to why exactly I enjoyed writing and advised that my career is what I choose to make of it. As a person who struggled [I guess still struggles] with OCD, I tend to like to view the world as black and white; either/or; through an if/then lens. I tried to get my manager to make the choice for me on my next path. “Where do you see yourself [career wise] in the next few years?” he asked.

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There are a few moments in life where you experience a profound clarity. Almost eerily clear. The best example I remember is when I started dating my [then future] wife in college. A mere month into dating I got a sense that I was meant to marry this girl. I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Matt you are going to marry her!” Yesterday’s conversation with my manager produced a similar lucidity of thought. “What do you want to do with your career Matt?” I responded [in my head] almost immediately, “A writer, I want to be a writer and spread the Catholic faith!!” Outside of my mind, I replied to my manager, “Well, you know I am not completely sure…” I continued to make general statements about how I enjoyed writing and about becoming a stay-at-home father to assist with my son with special needs.

Why do we shy away from God’s clear direction at a “crossroad moment” of our life? Personally, I struggle with the notion that such clear moments exist. Clarity in this chaotic world is bold. Truth is daring. As Chesterton put it, “Life [according to the faith] is very much like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with a promise (or menace)…But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will” (Orthodoxy p. 128).  Sometimes I wish there was a pre-determined path laid out for me. In some ways, lacking freedom is less stressful. But such mentality stems from the Evil One and leads to doubt in God’s providential plan for us. It seems crazy that I am so sure that I am called to be a Catholic writer. Looking back on my life, I had the exact same doubt when I dated my wife. I thought, “It is not possible to be so certain about marrying so short in the dating process!” Marrying my wife, my best helpmate toward Heaven, was [and is] in God’s plan.

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“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.” I sincerely hope that I am able be an instrument of God help bring peace and clarity to people who suffer periods of doubt and confusion. Thank you for reading and continue to pray for me to follow God’s path!

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Name Change

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I recently changed the name of this blog from Prayer, Recreation, and Organization: A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life to The Simple Catholic: My Pilgrim Pursuit of a Joyous Life. The reason I made this change is twofold. First of all, The Simple Catholic flows easier and is less complex than my previous title. Secondly, and more importantly, I realized that the previous name limited myself to three facets of my life. The true essence of my being stems from me being an adopted son of God through my baptism. Catholicism permeates my life and I want the name of my blog to reflect this simple [yet profound!] truth.

My hopes in writing are to continue to share my humble experiences with sincerity, clarity, and courage as a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of the Catholic Church. May God bless you and the Holy Spirit inspire you to learn something new today!

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The Magic of Living

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What am I doing here? Is this all to life? Sitting in my work cubicle these thoughts occasionally cross my mind. Struggling with the daily routine of work and family life, my mind tends to wander off toward fantasy. I think part it is it due to a desire to escape my mundane situation. Reading fantasy allows me to attain that escapism while remaining in the comfort of my living room. After putting my children to bed and waiting for my wife to return from errand-running, I had some free time to read. Picking up Chesterton’s Orthodoxy I spent about twenty minutes navigating his semi-autobiographical work. Suddenly, I stopped at a passage from his fourth chapter entitled The Ethics of Elfland. The great English wordsmith writes, “I have said that stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege” (Orthodoxy p. 54).

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In other words, life is not something to be merely enjoyed via self-gratification, but rather my existence on this earth should be viewed through the lens of privilege—life is a free gift. My children point to this reality, often lost as we reach adulthood, that life should be joyful. The strangeness and idiosyncrasies of the universe should be something to revel in, not quake at the seeming despair when we encounter things and events that do not fit our controlled world. On the other end of the adult’s worldview is perceiving re-occurrence as a bad thing or something to be avoided. Chesterton put it this way,

All towering materialism which dominates the modern world rest ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation known to fact…A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue…For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon (Orthodoxy pp. 50-51).

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Wonder and awe stems from the ability be amazed at creation even if it is the hundredth or thousandth time viewing a starry night or noticing a bird gathering straw for her nest. Children possess the magic of living—the ability to love life despite doing the same activity over and over again. Monotony, dullness, and lethargy did not enter the vocabulary of the youth. Chesterton reminded me that I need to return to my youth. I need to jettison the false assumption that repetition is inherently bad and variety alone leads to life!

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I need not enter the Pevensie’s wardrobe, or a supernatural rabbit hole, or even run headfirst toward a brick-wall on an English train station between platforms 9 and 10 [although I did visit this fictional landmark during my trip to Europe!! 🙂 ]. Instead, I am able to encounter magic in this life by visiting my children’s closet as I gaze at the array of Lego men and women scattered in an apparent random order on top of, within, and under the closet shelves. What adventures are they going on today? I can also lower myself to the level of my youngest son as his eyes open with joy at the sound of the door opening. He enjoys leaving in the morning as he gets to meander outside and gaze at the wheels of my car. How incredibly simple, yet fulfilling would life be if I approached every day as a magical experience? The life of children is akin to that of our Divine Creator—they do not get bogged down by the monotony [apparent monotony that is] in this world. I ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven my soul to view any dullness and routine in my life as a gift!

***Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon”***

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Faustina’s Faith: How A Simple Polish Nun Changed My World

October 5th marked the Feast Day of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Venerated by the Catholic Church as the “Apostle of Mercy” the Polish saint influenced the world arguably more than any other individual in the 20th century. I have mentioned this previously and I will mention this again, Sister Faustina holds a special place in my heart. She has impacted my writing and spirituality as much as anyone. Classified as a mystic because of her unique spiritual experiences and visions from God, Maria Faustina is a model of what holiness looks like when an individual completely trusts on the Father’s will. As a belated celebration of her Feast Day, I will reflect on a couple ways the Polish nun influenced my life.

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  1. Daily Dose of Divine Mercy: Maria Faustina received this message from our Lord during her visions, “‘I am love and Mercy Itself.  There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases.  The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” (1273, page 459). In His infinite wisdom, God reminded the world—through the young Polish sister—that His mercy overcomes anything. The 20th century experienced two world wars and many decades of Communism. St. Faustina died of tuberculosis before the advent of WWII. God used her as an instrument to prepare people that hope will not be lost despite the atrocities of the Holocaust.

On a personal level, my family has been transformed spiritually by God’s mercy. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy Prayer pulled my wife from the depths of despair after her close high school friend died by suicide. Faustina’s intercession within my wife’s life poured into my spiritual life as well. Frequently, I look to God’s mercy in times of trial and desolation in daily living. I am grateful for St. Maria Faustina’s “YES” to God’s divine plan.

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  1. Trust Me I’m the Doctor: Maybe it is because I am a guy and males generally hate to admit weakness, but I need to be direly ill before I allow myself to go to the doctor. Unfortunately, sometimes the same can be said about my spiritual life. Because of my stubbornness and pride, I only seek help from the divine physician when I need spiritual triage. I need to develop a better trust is Jesus Christ—my divine healer—to aid me both in desperate times and during daily living! According to St. Faustina, trust is an essential feature in growing in the spiritual life. Here is an excerpt from her diary:

Today the Lord said to me, ‘Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it.  Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul.  When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you.  I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul.  Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy.  Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust.  If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity.  The torrent of grace inundate humble souls.  The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls. (1602, page 568)

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Do I trust that God is present in the confessional? Am I aware that I am spiritually infirmed and in need of healing? Jesus tells us, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Luke 5:31). Through the intercession of Sister Maria I have learned to view Jesus more as a divine doctor and the Catholic Church as a hospital.  Let us ask for healing from our sin and weakness by asking Christ the Divine Physician for restorative union with God:

Healing Novena

To Christ the Great Physician
We know that there is one physician:
Both flesh and spirit
uncreated, yet born
God in man
True life in death
From both Mary and From God
Subject to suffering and then impassible
Jesus Christ our Lord!

We ask O Great Physician, for spiritual, physical, and emotional healing, especially my intention of ______.
You of both flesh and spirit

May we spend all of our days in your healing presence
You the eternal Son born for us

Grant us the healing benefits of your Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection
You who are true God and true man

Grant us your true life in the midst of death
You, the true life in death

Grant us to follow your example and that of your Blessed Mother
You, from both Mary and from God

May our suffering be for our growth; free us, we pray, from that which we cannot bear
We ask You, O God the Word who became man to suffer

We ask you to grant us this healing if it brings us closer to you,
Jesus Christ our Lord!

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