Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 20, 2019.
According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness.
Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.
Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.
Larger Piece of the Puzzle
Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope in solving the puzzle!
Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle. Without borders and helpers it’s easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.
Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism
Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. Mike Pacer writes, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope isn’t the same as wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not produce a placebo effect like false-optimism.
God gives us the gift of hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”
Heaven—the Final Frontier
Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!
St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!
O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 1, 2015.
I will begin today’s post by comparing the structure of the Catholic Church to a somewhat “elementary” thing. Let me give you some word clues. Hopscotch. Foursquare. Kickball. Red Rover. Before I confuse you anymore please let me briefly explain the context to why I am talking about children’s playground games and religion in the same paragraph.
During this past year I worked at a Catholic high school and taught Old and New Testament. On the day we discussed the epic first century saints Peter and Paul, I gave my students a simple analogy. A healthy Catholic Church is likened to a game of tetherball. To better help you understand what I mean precisely with that example please let us first discuss why Peter and Paul are important to Christianity.
Stability of the Rock
Matthew 16:16-19 has Peter clearly stating the identity of Jesus Christ and thereafter he is entrusted with the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”. Catholics interpret this passage as hard and fast proof for the papacy. To cite Fr. Robert Barron in his book Catholicism [referring to Peter’s special insight], “And this knowledge did not come from Peter’s native intelligence or from an extraordinary education…It came as a gift from God, a special charism of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 121). Thus, God chose a pope from the very beginning to be that stability upon we, as Catholics, can rely on. If the Church had multiple heads its teachings would devolve into something ugly–like the multi-head monster in Greek myth– the hydra. In a similar way, the center-post in a tetherball game provides stability for the game to happen.
Creativity of a Theologian
Now let’s turn our attention to St. Paul. While the popes enjoy the office of St. Peter and provide stability to the Catholic Church, having this Petrine element alone would make Her teachings dry and rocky. Thus, to balance out the papacy there is a need for theology to make the Church healthy.
After Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 until the end of the book, the saint is literally always on the move. As I told my students, “Paul does not have biblical ADD, but rather he was the spark of life that started the early Christian churches”. Citing from Fr. Barron again, “Paul stands for mission, the engagement of the culture and proclamation. Every missionary, teacher, preacher, and theologian, is, in this sense, a son or daughter of Paul.” (p. 141). Paul represents an archetype within the Catholic Church to adapt to different times and cultures. He represents the spunk that enlivens the Church. Going back to the tetherball analogy the rope and ball provide the excitement for the playground game.
Structure + Flexibility= Healthy Church
A healthy Church needs both structure (papacy) and flexibility (theology). So too does a tetherball game needs the center-post= [representing the papacy/Petrine element] and the rope and ball= [representing theology/Pauline element].
The schoolyard game would be pointless if a center-post did not exist to keep the ball close for the players to bat around. At the same time a game consisting of only a metal pole would be stagnant and boring. Similarly, the Catholic Church without the dynamic element St. Paul brought in the first century and whose memory represents today.
Which playground game is God’s favorite? I would imagine that God has all the time in the world to try them all and find them equally enjoyable, but if I had to venture a guess I would pick tetherball! 🙂
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 25, 2019.
Mark Twain wrote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Recently, the “greatest American humorist” has showed up in a lot of my posts. His wit and eccentricity defy convention. Boundless creativity define Twain and other classic writers.
Is this it in Life?
Sitting in my cubicle at my bank job got me thinking quite seriously about creativity, self-reflection, and life in general. During a long span between inbound calls, I gazed across the floor and noticed something—more accurately the absence of something. Perhaps it is the drudgery work, but I realized, my job does not reward creativity. Compliance, uniformity, and procedural elements dominate the world of finance. “Is this what life is truly meant to be?” I pondered.
Instructed to work within the limits of law, policy, and procedure, I learned that I cannot be free to create—new ideas, content, strategies, or even share best practices. Although I enjoy order, working in a solely unimaginative environment stymies my creative side. Along with my desire to evangelize and educate others on the Catholic faith, my primary motivation for writing was to satiate my creative thirst. Creativity cannot be contained. It may be limited and temporarily tempered, but it can never be truly contained.
Uniqueness Defeats Conformity
Influenced by my faith and personal experience as a father to special needs children, I place high value toward individuality. My sons require an individualized education plan (IEP) to best succeed in school. Human beings are not meant to be uniform. We should celebrate our differences, strengths and limitations all together! Authentic diversity actually leads to true unity. This is best summed up in the Catholic Church.
St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of the importance of the uniqueness of the Body of Christ. United by Christ the diversity of the members is graced with the ability to work for the greater good.
Another reason that containing creativity is impossible is because creation by its nature is limitless. French philosopher Albert Camus purported, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” Creating art, language, music, and technology starts with the mentality of the limitless. The greatest act of creation, that formation of the Universe via the Big Bang, seems absurd. Creation out of nothing. Genesis 1 tells us God created the formed the universe ex nihilo!
The Supreme Creator God definitely cannot be contained or limited. That would be contrary to God’s nature. However, that is a grandiose example of creativity. Creation simply cannot be bound. My 5 year old daughter uses her imaginative and sees beyond the ordinary in everything. A rock becomes a “piece of chocolate”. Cardboard boxes become animals. Sticks become “silverware”. Pages and pages of drawings populate our kitchen table, bookshelves, and dresser tops. Maya Angelou describes the limitless nature of creativity perfectly when she said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Along with the unique and boundless quality of creativity a third reason why imagination cannot be contained is due it is spread so easily. According to Albert Einstein, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” Opposites attract. Creativity attracts exponentially more! Great imaginative minds never exist on their own. J.R.R. Tolkien attracted C.S. Lewis and vice versa.
Together they transformed literature in the 20th century. John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated to bring the world amazing music. The Wright brothers worked together to innovate transportation by developing the first airplane.
Whenever I feel my creativity spirit drying up I look to the creative individuals to reignite my creativity. Reading Tolkien, Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and the doctors of the Church such as Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila brings forth creativity. Creativity elicits more creativity.
If you are a writer stuck in an imaginative idleness please don’t despair. It is natural to experience periods of droughts, but creativity is never truly lost or fully contained. Seek out other creative individuals (both past and present). Learn from their works. Creativity lead to creativity. Embrace your uniqueness. Don’t try to be anyone else expect yourself. You have a 100% monopoly on being you—let this be your advantage!