3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

 

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Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. The Catholic Church’s sacramental life centers on memorializing events from the Gospels. For example, during the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.”

When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.

Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”

Bilbo exiting his hobbit hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persistence pays off

Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Luke 19:4).

Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.

Jesus Chooses the Imperfect

Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Zacchaeus struggled to physically see Jesus among the crowd. he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen. He was a tax collector!

According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)”

Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).

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Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing

Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Christ welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness.

Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future!

Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.


I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

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Apostolic Analogies—Similarities with my Namesake Saint

 

 

 

 

 

 


Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 23, 2018.


According to Rick Riordan, author of the acclaimed young adult series Percy Jackson, “Names had power!”  Among the first questions people ask parents upon the birthday of a child is “which name did you choose? Names also possess a meaning.

Now you may or may not be aware of the meaning or purpose of the name your parents choose for you. If you are not aware, it would be an interesting conversation to discover why they choose a particular name? If there was no particular reason, it would still be interesting to look up the history of your namesake or the literal meaning of it!

The general reason for my name selection is due to my parents being Catholic had myself and my siblings to be named after a holy person who espoused the truths of the Gospels. While I am not entirely sure why my parents, specifically picked Matthew out of the myriad of Catholic saint names available.

Celebrating the feast day of the St. Matthew is something that I regrettable not truly did until last year. Along with eating a special dinner with my wife, reading today’s Gospel, and playing a fun board game, I am going to also celebrate by recognizing a few similarities I share with my personal patron!

You Owe Me

Within the past year, I took on a new position in the company as a student loan debt collector. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and modern technology certainly has softened collection practices in recent year. But debt collectors still don’t have a positive connotation in today’s society. Back in the time of 1st century Palestine, the stigma against debt collectors was prevalent. In fact, tax collectors were especially hated by the Jews as they were viewed as sell-outs who worked for the “evil” Roman Empire.

 

 

 

 

My new association with debt collections brings the challenges of dealing with angry, concerned, confused, and desolate customers. However, my new job comes with a hidden joy of being more closely linked with St. Matthew.

Lover of Theology

Along with sharing similar occupations with St. Matthew, I possess a thirst for discovering knowledge about God just like the Gospel writer. Theology refers to faith seeking understanding. Among the saints Matthew possessed a privileged opportunity of being selected as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. What is more, Matthew together with St. John are the only individuals able to claim being both an Evangelist and Apostle!

Matthew’s Gospel is laden with parables and the incredible Sermon on the Mount. He shows Jesus as the Good Teacher always willing to shed light on the truth of God’s love. I am always emboldened by the following words of Christ proclaims to conclude Matthew’s gospel, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20, emphasis added mine).

Called by God

While the saint whose moniker I bear did not always believe in Jesus, he experienced a profound conversation. Matthew’s calling is significant. All three Synoptic Gospels include this episode as important in the public life and ministry of Jesus.

Being a cradle Catholic myself, I lack that momentous public conversion that St. Matthew experienced. However, this does not mean that I never underwent a conversion. Actually, my Catholic faith and reliance has slowly deepened over the course of my college years, and nascent parenting years.

A couple years ago I took an assessment on the various charisms that would most likely be my natural God-given gift. My two highest [according to the questions I answered] included the charism of writing and evangelization. I’m sure St. Matthew helped foster those talents.

The craziness of wrangling three ( now four) overtired kids and bustle of the workday delayed my celebration of Matthew the Evangelist’s Feast Day. Tonight, I plan on celebrating my patron saint! Jesus choose an unworthy man to be among his apostles. If God can choose sinners and tax collectors, certainly we are called by Him to follow in the footsteps of the saints who came before us.


Collect [From the Liturgy of the Feast of St. Matthew]

O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

Related Links

St. Matthew the Evangelist

Saint Matthew- Franciscan Media

11 Awe-Inspiring Art Pieces That Celebrate Saint Matthew

An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Life

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A Sneak Peek of “Lessons about democracy in ‘Justice League – Rule of War Lessons about democracy in ‘Justice League – Rule of War'”

Justice League Rule of War
Fine line between protection and absolute power.

Here’s a brief snippet of my latest article for Voyage Comics & Publishing. Enjoy! 😊

🔰 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.”

It feels like he penned that phrase yesterday.

🔰 Self-governance is something achievable when the people hold a common truth and trust of each other.

The greatest dictators accumulated power during a crisis. At first there’s a promise of protection. Rulers tell the people how they will safeguard against outside (or sometimes inside) threats.

🔰 Little by little freedoms are given up in the name of safety. Justice League Rule of War (Issues 48-50) shows how easy it is for protectors to transform into tyrants.

Read on to learn more ⤵️

Voyage Comics

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Harvesting Gifts—Reflection on the Parable of the Talents


Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 5, 2018.


Over the past couple months, I received several opportunities that I am incredibly thankful and humbled by to further develop my gift of writing—a chance to contribute for the ‘epic’ website [no pun intended] EpicPew.com and as a content writer for the Sioux City Diocese Catholic Radio website.

The timing truly could not be more fitting as August is normally the beginning of the harvest season for farmers and the fruits of labor arrive. On top of this seasonal serendipity, the Gospel reading for September 1st seemed appropriate as well. To begin the month, Jesus told his disciples [and us through the Church] the parable of the talents.

Parable of the Talents

Basically the story goes where a man went on a trip and entrusted his servants to 10, 5, and 1 talents respectively. He expected them to grow and nurture these gifts when he returned. The individuals granted 10 and 5 talents honed and multiplied their gifts, whereas the third servant miserly buried his sole gift in fear of losing it. Praising the good stewards the master declared, “Well done, my faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:21- 23).

Parable of the Talents+

The miserly servant did not get the same generous reply. Instead, the master declared,

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!* So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? 27Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 28Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 29* e For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30* And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’

Use Your God-given gifts for the benefit of others

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 791, The body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members: “In the building up of Christ’s Body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church.” We are all endowed with a unique personality, unique soul, and unique gifts to help further the Kingdom of God here on earth and to promote peace and justice in the world as well. Be diligent to foster your gifts to share with others instead of selfishly squandering them away.

Do Not Fear Failure

St. Pope John Paul II once said, “There is no place for selfishness and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice”. I have noticed that whenever I narrow my perspective towards selfishness instead of widening my scope of reality by trusting in God I tend to fear the unknown and fear failure. As a writer, this fear frequently hits me. The following thoughts invade my mind from time to time: “What if my topic I write about today is boring?” “I am concerned about getting writer’s block!” “I am just lazy today, I do not have the energy or motivation to write!”

Jesus teaches us in the Parable of the Talents to exercise our gifts, in spite the fear of failure. Succumbing to fear only leads down a desolate and destructive path!

Responsibility Leads to More Responsibility

Talents God gifts

The great English Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” Utilizing your God-given gifts provides not only an immense joy and a deepening of that charism, but also your responsibility increases as well. In the Parable of the Talents the master informed the responsible servants, “Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities” (Matthew 25:21). When we ask for help the Holy Spirit answered and grants us the ability, resolve, and grace to make it through difficulties utilize our gifts to help others!


Heavenly Lord, do not let us neglect Your Spirit or the gifts You have given us. Give us courage to use these gifts and the humility to not use them for our glory, but for You and Your glory. Help us see the good work You have ready for us and embrace that work with willingness and joy. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Related Links

The Parable of the Talents- Catholic Exchange

The Deeper Meaning of the Parable of the Talents

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A Letter to the Downtrodden and Suffering


Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 7, 2017.


Dear Fellow Souls and Pilgrims on this Earthly Journey,

Hopelessness seems to cover the world. Hurricane Harvey decimated large parts of Houston. South Asia continues to experience chronic flooding. People suffer across the globe in large and small ways. Today, I wish to share my recent episodes of depression, I am not writing to complain about my situation, rather I hope to unite my suffering [albeit quite small in comparison to others] to others in great need. I want to be in communion with my fellow man.

According to Helen Keller,

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

I cannot grow as a decent human being without learning from the school of suffering.

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Depression Strikes Often

Depression hit me again the past few weeks. Similar to an ocean, anxiety and sadness move in waves with brief periods of respite before the next deluge of depression comes crashing onto my shore. I feel a sense of hopelessness.

What is going on with my life to trigger these feelings? To be frank, I am not sure. Life appears to be going well: I have an amazing wife, family, good shelter, and a job. I had a recent change in anxiety medicine and changes are occurring rather frequently at work. Still, these concerns should be minor compared to people suffering loss due to the recent natural disasters. Depression shrinks my perspective. I see through narrower glasses.

Perhaps, you are similar to me. If you suffer from depression, whether it is severe or mild I want to unite myself to your suffering. I wish to take up my cross if only it may help widen my scope. Prying open a narrow gaze is painful. However, authentic and natural development involves growing pains.

Share Your Suffering with Others

If you are downtrodden, as I am currently, share your experience. Talk with people you trust. Talk to God—it works. Prayer is effective because it is communication with Him who created the universe. Oftentimes, I need to fall unto my knees and become downtrodden before I am able to gaze upward in prayer. Saint Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”

Although, I know my depression may likely come back again, I am aware of a strength to get me through the valley of tears—prayer. Prayer ultimately leads me toward an even-keeled path in my pilgrim journey on earth.

With great love and hope to alleviate your downtrodden soul,

Matthew, The Simple Catholic

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Windex, Storage Containers, and Teresa of Avila


Editor’s note: Article originally published on March 17, 2017.


My wife and I completed an intense bout of pre-spring cleaning (it was a mere 2 days before the official start of spring J) this past weekend. That coupled with a reference to avoiding desolation and clearing our soul from the “dustiness” of a dry spiritual life during my weekly parish men’s group influenced the title of this post and inspired me to write today.

Spring Cleaning for the Soul

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I am a neat freak. In fact, one of the major three tenets my blog is based on is organization. I am passionate about decluttering, sorting, and cleaning dusty crevices in my house. Yet, when it comes to the spiritual life, why do I occasionally lack the same fervor that I have cleaning my physical house?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 797, states,

“What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.”243 “To this Spirit of Christ, as an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the whole Spirit of Christ is in the head, the whole Spirit is in the body, and the whole Spirit is in each of the members.”244 The Holy Spirit makes the Church “the temple of the living God”.

Teresa of Avila on Cleaning the Soul

This imagery of the Holy Spirt being housed in the church is not new. St. Paul clearly states this in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:16 to name just a couple verses. However, it was through the intercession of St. Teresa of Avila’s writing that I especially encountered this truth recently. She begins her greatest work, Interior Castle, with the following divinely inspired words, “ I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions.”

Teresa’s description of the soul is easy for me to understand yet at the same time illustrates the complexity of our human condition.

Throughout the Interior Castle the doctor of the Church takes readers on a spiritual journey by examining how in navigating through the castle of our soul we are able to grow in closer union with God.

Saint Teresa of Avila quote

Without a thorough examination of oneself and spiritual guidance we are not able to recognize the graces God grants us daily and gives ways for us to clear out the “dustiness” of our soul. Just like how my home needs frequent seasonal cleanings, the Church in Her wisdom has seasonal cleanings as well for us to grow in holiness.

My goal is to take a few minutes each remaining week in Lent to reflect on St. Teresa of Avila’s words in Interior Castle. I hope you all prayerfully consider to join me in this journey and cleanse your own soul of the “dustiness” of sin and temptation.

Related Links

Exploring the Cellars of the Soul

Spiritual Surgeons— Clean Out the Wounds of Your Soul with Teresa of Avila

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