5 Birthday Gifts I am Thankful to Have Received

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Merriam-Webster defined the word gift as something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation. Aside from the official United States Thanksgiving, no other day reminds me to be grateful than my birthday. G.K. Chesterton wrote the following about thanksgiving, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” As each year passes, I get further away in time from the child-like wonder that used to come naturally to me. However, on the celebration of my latest birthday the gifts I received inspired an attitude of gratitude and a sense of wonder—the perfect recipe for happiness. This post is dedicated sharing my thankfulness for the five special gifts I received.

1. Sacrament of the Eucharist: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1324, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’” No other gift in this life is as sacred, precious, or even as transformative as the Eucharist—the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ! The high point of my week includes going to Sunday Mass and receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Referring to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, St. Therese of Liseux wrote, “Receive Communion often, very often…there you have the sole remedy, if you want to be cured. Jesus has not put this attraction in your heart for nothing…” No other gift in this life provides more peace, joy, and thanksgiving than the Eucharist!

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2. Sacrament of Holy Matrimony: Along with the incredible grace from the Eucharist, I received sanctifying graces from the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of marriage. The Catechism details the importance of holy marriage, “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple (no. 1660). Without the strength and patience of my wife, I would not have been able to enjoy the Mass as effectively as I did. She also arranged for my friends and I to spend quality time together. I am deeply indebted and thankful for her constant support and love!

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3. Friendships: The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said the following about friendship, “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” While I certainly debt that I have fifty enemies [at least I hope!], quality time spent with my friends this weekend re-charged myself and built up a bastion of positivity against the frequent assault of negativity I will likely face this week at work.

Sharing in the joys and trials of fatherhood with my friends helped to provide me both perspective and gratitude. Laughing at the antics of our children and emphasizing with the struggles helped to unite us closer as friends and ultimately as dads.

4. Board Games: Although not on the same level as my previous gifts of sacramental grace and presence of friends, board games acts as medium to unite through strategy, story, and humor. We played a cooperative firefighter-themed game called Flashpoint. Despite losing to the game itself by allowing the conflagration to cause systematic structural damage to the house [board], our firefighter foibles infused life and camaraderie between my friends and I. I am grateful to have owned Flashpoint and my countless other games as a means to enjoy further friendship.

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5. Books: Similar to board games, books in and of themselves act as a bridge to friendship. As a gift to customers during their birthday month, a local used bookstore gave me $10 store credit to use on any book in the store. I am pleased to have found J.R.R. Tolkien’s endearing short story Roverandom in near perfect condition. I am excited to spend nights reading chapters of this whimsical tale of a dog enchanted into a toy dog to my children! Rovenandom was a fine addition to my slowly [but surely!] growing Tolkien collection.

Truly my birthday this year could be summed up as gratitude encountering wonder. The powerful gifts of the sacraments and time with my friends brought forth a grateful mentality and the material gifts of playing a board game and purchase of a Tolkien classic instilled a sense of playful wonder! All men grow older yet not all men have to be old. Take delight in the simple things in life and the joys of friendship.


“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

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5 Ways Clive Staples Lewis Inspires

According to English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”  This statement rings true especially in relation to another great English author—Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis! No another writer, accept maybe J.R.R. Tolkien, has influenced me and provided me as much inspiration for my writing over the course of the past couple years as Lewis.

C.S. Lewis once declared, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” While that statement is true for all good books and excellent authors, his pithy saying certainly foreshadowed how all of his writings would be received by his fans [and any literature enthusiast!] in the decades after his death. Below are five reasons why the premiere Christian apologist of the 20th century inspires me [and others] in the 21st century and beyond.

1. Imaginative Genius: Up until a few years ago, I only knew C.S. Lewis through The Chronicles of Narnia series. His character of Aslan, the symbolic figure of the Holy Trinity is among the greatest fictional characters ever created. Both the power and gentle nature of Aslan makes him relatable and mysterious figure at the same time.

Along with creating the history, characters, and landscapes of a world accessed through a mere wardrobe, reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy truly proved to me his imaginative genius. His science fiction novels take readers on an interplanetary peregrination. Out of the Silent Planet depicts unfallen alien species unstained by Original Sin. Lewis’ creates a vivid experience that continually draws you into the mysterious rational alien and their eventually interaction with humans. The second novel Perelandra retells the traditional story of the Fall of humanity, but occurring on the planet Venus. Lewis’ prompts interesting questions about man’s ability to evangelize beyond Earth—assuming extraterrestrial life exists!

2. Engaging Your Intellect: In addition to stirring the imagination of readers, C.S. Lewis also wrote with the ability to whet your intellectual pallet. His ability to write about deep theological truths with ease of understanding and depth is second to none. Even though I earned a Master’s Degree in Theology, I still learned a lot from Lewis’ introductory primer on Christianity—Mere Christianity. While the entire book is a gem, for conciseness’s sake I will only point out a couple key passages that made the human condition of sin easy to understand the relay:

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

3. Gateway to Tolkien: The great friendship between C.S. Lewis and contemporary professor of literature J.R.R. Tolkien is legendary. Concerned about the state of literature both writers pledged to do something proactive instead of simply lamenting. During the 1930s, Lewis and Tolkien truly came to the scene with the former penning his Space Trilogy and the latter publishing the classic work The Hobbit.

Both men challenged each other to be a better writer and grow their writing abilities by exploring different genres. Below is a link which details Tolkien’s friendly challenge to Lewis to delve into the realm of science fiction!

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/12/how-cs-lewis-space-trilogy-came-into-being.html

Tolkien stated of his bond with Lewis, “Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual–a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher–and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.” I am indebted to C.S. Lewis for introducing me to the joy of reading Tolkien.

4. Versatility: Lewis’ dexterous prose and subject matter enlighten my mind and infuse a youthfulness to my life like no another author—save possibly Tolkien himself! Tackling the age-old dilemma of evil in The Problem of Pain to enchantingly depicting eschatology in dream-like sequences in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis provides a panoply of subject matter for theologians—lay and professional—to discuss and re-read many times over.

5. Schools through Suffering: St. Ignatuis of Loyola spoke of the purpose of trials in this way, “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” While C.S. Lewis did not formally convert to Catholicism he definitely endured suffering and helped lead countless to a deeper relationship with Christ. Suffering immensely from the death of his wife, Lewis channeled this pain and it bore the fruit of his work A Grief Observed.

The rawness of his prose struck me as both honest and real. Lewis lamented in A Grief Observed, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” I certain relate to this. From a cerebral level I certainly understand the promise of suffering Christ guarantees in John 15:20. Not until we encounter suffering do we truly get tested. Only after the storm do we realize the lessons given.

C.S. Lewis declared, “We read to know we are not alone.” Through reading the masterful works of the great English writer I grown both as a Christian and as a writer. His ability to move my mind to ponder higher realities with simple examples allows me to understand the good, true, and beauty in the world much better.

Catholic Camaraderie—Unity in Suffering

According to J.R.R. Tolkien in his masterpiece The Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all those who wander are lost.” We do not have to look too far to notice that man in the 21st century wander often. Struggling with anxiety, I go through periods in my life where desolation and loneliness—for those who have followed The Simple Catholic blog previously, you are already aware this is a common theme of my writing. Filling my day with social media and DC comic books, after my children go to bed, I still feel overwhelmed from the continual onslaught of changes at work, financial strain, and fussy children. As a Catholic I often forget that the solution to despair is always safeguarded and housed within the Catholic Church—camaraderie in Christ!

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Saint Pope Pius XII declared in his encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, “For, as We said above, Christ did not wish to exclude sinners from His Church; hence if some of her members are suffering from spiritual maladies, that is no reason why we should lessen our love for the Church, but rather a reason why we should increase our devotion to her members” (no 66). Along with loving Christ the Head of the Church, all Christian are compelled to love other members of the Body of Christ as well.

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1. No Man is an Island: Being a social rational animal humans need companionship and interactions with fellow man in order to be happy. While people do require alone time—I myself require it occasionally due to the frenetic nature of family life, it is not natural individual to prefer isolation for the majority of their earthly existence. Our actions and inactions effect not only us and those closest to, but can ripple out to effect, positively or negatively, people beyond our immediate scope or moment in time. The great English poet John Donne wrote about the interconnectedness of humanity. In his poem No Man is an Island Donne states,

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

As a Catholic I am reminded weekly of the importance of communion with God and neighbor alike. Central to Christianity is the tenets of the Nicene Creed—a profession of beliefs Catholics recite weekly every Sunday Mass. The first characteristic of the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ—is unity. Jesus himself prayed for Christian unity in John 17:19-23. Recognition that we truly are all brothers and sisters of the same human race helps center myself toward a better daily outlook. Viewing daily strife at work as an opportunity to reconcile or reunite my fellow neighbor into communion allows me to limit anxiety, anger, and impatience. No man in an island our good deeds help others and bad deeds hurt others too!

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2. Many Hands Make the Load Light: Among the best advice given to me has been to learn to accept the help of others. As a perfectionist and someone who suffers from OCD, I often struggle to allow my wife and children aid me in the household chores. Giving up control by letting family, friends, and co-workers help me in daily tasks in the long-run ease self-imposed burdens. Jesus Christ himself urged all struggling with burdens to trust in Him. In Matthew 11:29-30 the God-Man told his disciples, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest. 29* p Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Besides Scripture, the most relatable example I discovered of bearing the weight of another comes from the fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings. Over the course of the trilogy, the central figure of the novels the hobbit Frodo Baggins bears the burden of carrying the One Ring to Mount Doom to destroy it and ultimately destroy the Dark Lord Sauron’s control over Middle Earth. While hobbits possessed a natural ability to withstand the allure of the power of the One Ring longer than other races, Frodo wore the ring so long that he started to grow weak.

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Arguably the most striking scene in trilogy in The Return of the Ring involves Frodo’s friend and fellow hobbit Samwise Gamgee entering into the suffering of the ring bearer when he cries, “Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried.’I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”

Helping others shoulder their cross is the hallmark of Christianity. Cooperation in suffering pervades the history of Christianity. From Simon the Cyrene helping Jesus bear the weight of the cross up Calvary, to the modern day saints like Saints John Paul and Maximilian Kolbe offering their suffering and death to alleviate the suffering of their fellow mankind, we are all called to a Catholic [a universal] camaraderie.

Purgative experiences on my earthly journey allows me to get beyond my limited purview. Engaging and uniting to the suffering of my family members and neighbors [near and far] plunges us into deeper camaraderie.


Behold me, my beloved Jesus, weighed down under the burden of my trials and sufferings, I cast myself at Your feet, that You may renew my strength and my courage, while I rest here in Your Presence. Permit me to lay down my cross in Your Sacred Heart,

for only Your infinite goodness can sustain me; only Your love can help me bear my cross; only Your powerful hand can lighten its weight. O Divine King, Jesus, whose heart is so compassionate to the afflicted, I wish to live in You; suffer and die in You. During my life be to me my model and my support; At the hour of my death, be my hope and my refuge. Amen.