3 Tips to Write More Effortlessly

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British author J.K. Rowling declared, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” Writers since the beginning of time faced the double-edged sword the joy of creation from words and the fear of writer’s block. Some days it seems that words cannot be typed quick enough as phrases, sentences, and paragraphs already exist in your mind. Other times crafting a mere word or phrase is as painful as getting a tooth pulled at the dentist!

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Whether you currently are in a state of inspiration or at a standstill in your writing here are three tips to enhance the ability to write more naturally and effortlessly.

  1. Read, Read, Read— Feed Your Mind: The great American author William Faulkner advocated for the importance of reading, “Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” From my own experience, I have learned that the most fruitful periods of writing, and writing that comes naturally without really any strain, occurs during times where I read a lot! Just like the body requires a balanced meal for good nutrition, so too does the mind need a steady stream of information. Along with frequent writing variety is equally important. Making a habit of non-fiction and fiction will only help to expand your ability to write from multiple points of view and in diverse ways. Currently, I am reading Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men comics (to fill my creative side) and Dialogues of Catherine of Siena and Heresies by G.K. Chesterton (to satisfy my more spiritual and intellectual side).

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2.  Reflection:  Another tip to develop more natural and effortless writing is to make time to reflection on the stuff you read. The Greek philosopher Aristotle purported, ““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Without proper time to examine yourself and the ideas that you read about it gets difficult to organize them into coherent thoughts. Among the best times for reflecting on a post that I want to write about occurs in the car. Using the minutes between drives to work, the grocery store, or other errands I ponder how I want to organize the essential points of an article that I am working on. Even a few minutes of reflection helps me write at a quicker rate and with less resistance!

3. Passion and Purpose: After feeding your mind with plenty of information and reflecting on the material that you want to write about the third tip I use to make my writing more effortless includes a passion and clear objective. Why are you writing? Is it for an increased amount of exposure and social media fame or is your reason deeper?

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My own particular desire for creating The Simple Catholic blog was (and still is) to discover the joy in life on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven. As the great Catholic write Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write to discover what I know.” Through my faith I know that truth that freedom from sin and death exist by way of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A secondary goal flowing naturally from my first is to help people discover joy in this life (and hopefully the next as well!). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole self and that the second greatest commandment— love of neighbor— flows naturally from the first command (Matthew 22:34-40).  Putting God first, others second, and myself last not only helps my writing, but also infused joy into all facets of my life. This kind of joy cannot be contained and I do not want to keep this gift all to myself—it need to be shared with others, you my readers, and in turn I hope you share with your friends and family! 

Filling my mind with a variety of ideas, taking time to analyze that information, and remembering my original mission for becoming a writing has all contributed to helping me write more naturally, more honestly, and more effortlessly. I hope that these tips help you in your writing endeavors as well. Please feel free to share these tips to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.


“All for one and one for all” Alexander Dumas

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” Anne Frank

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Mahatma Gandhi

How to Navigate through Spiritual Deserts You are Guaranteed to Encounter

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Saint Pope Pius V once declared, “All the evil in the world is due to lukewarm Catholics.”  Definitely a strong statement made by a leader of the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation Pius V’s reflect his historical context. The 16th century includes fiery religious debates and heresies running amok. Although Pius V lived over 500 years ago, his claim that lukewarmness is connected to evil remain ever relevant.

Arguably no more climate on earth is more deadly than a desert. Dictionaries define a desert as “arid land with usually sparse vegetation especially such land having a very warm climate and receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of sporadic rainfall annually”. While technically cold deserts exist in the Arctic and Antarctic, the commonality for all deserts is the existence of little rainfall. I got the inspiration for writing on the topic of deserts and spiritual dryness during Sunday Mass. In his homily, the priest spoke of the need to trust in the Lord always. He referred to the intense cold temperatures and lack of hope in the season of winter and that while Easter will come that we have to go through the season of Lent first. 

Just as a physical desert lacks the comforts of water so too a depletion of spiritual consolation exists during periods of spiritual aridity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2728,

Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have “great possessions,”15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.

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Being stuck in a spiritual “rut” feels hopeless. The monotony of the spiritual desert presents problems that the Enemy utilizes to trap humans. Dryness in the spiritual life is still a blessing from God. However, how you react to existing in a spiritual dry spell may be a greater blessing or lead to great decay. I wish to expand on the three “travel tips” presented by the Catechism and how to traverse the metaphysical monotony.

  1. Humility: According to St. Vincent de Paul, “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.” Satan knows well that prayer leads to a deeper connection with God and that when spiritual comforts cease [for a period of time] that is the prime time for him to sow and later reap doubts in us. Along with humility being able to fend off the Devil, it is a vital virtue that allows us to recognize that we do not have all the answers [or the complete set of directions] in life. Be humble enough to continue to ask God for help during spiritual dryness!

2. Trust: The Catechism wisely listed trust after humility as a means to overcome spiritual aridity. Without the gift of the virtue of humility trust in someone other than ourselves would not be possible. Being stuck in a particular stage in life, especially the spiritual life, appears to be hopeless. It is easy to rely solely on emotions and feel like you want to give up prayer, sacrifice, good works, etc. Surfing my Facebook newsfeed I came across the following meme that relates to self-doubt amid trials:

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While this refers specifically to the most “difficult” days, I would add to be mindful to remind yourself that even on the most ‘boring, mundane, and uninteresting’ of days, weeks, or months to keep the faith and trust “that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

3. Perseverance: The third way to combat monotony in the spiritual desert is to persist. Keep up your daily prayers even when you do not feel any comfort, presence, or joy from God. According to St. John of the Cross, “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” Sojourning through the dryness of the spiritual may seem like you lack the ability to gain any insight about God, but realize persisting when all seems ordinary and arid will only serve to guide you through that spiritual desolation.

St. Padre Pio famously quipped, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” Be humble enough to trust that the Lord will guide your through times of current and future spiritual deserts.

3 Reasons Humility is Practical and Reliable

Opening my email inbox I noticed a correspondence from a resume-building website titled Your Resume Review is Complete. Quickly, I clicked on the email to see how I compared to other job seekers. Needless to say, my feedback shows that I have much room for improvement. My initial reaction to the review included feelings of dejection, inadequacies, and defeat. On top of these negative feelings my toddler son began a 10 minute tantrum. “Today is going to be one of those days,” I thought.

Author Erwin McManus wrote, “Attitude is an accurate monitor of where we fall on the spectrum of pride and humility.” Normally, my virtue-vice needle points closer to the pride side. Today was different though. Although my natural reaction tended toward despair which is a product of pride, that soon dissipated towards a desire to learn and improve on my resume — I realized I’m not the smartest when it comes to professional resume building!

According to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” The old me would tend toward despair with any type of constructive criticism. My primary focus has been to improve my spiritual life– I need to limit my impatience, pride, and anger when things get outside of my control. Reading St. Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosaryenhanced my devotion to Mary. Aside from Jesus, no other person exhibits humility as much as the Queen of Humility. Along with spiritual benefits of humility this virtue provides practicality and reliability to daily life.

1. Time-saver: Ralph Waldo Emerson plainly wrote, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” The times I most often get angry is when something does not go MY way. Whenever I have the prideful audacity to believe that I am in 100% total and utter control of my day is usually the day that nothing I want gets done. Humility is the antidote to pride. Patience is also a cousin of the virtue of humility. During the more stressful parts of parenting, I noticed that whenever I exercise patience I actually end up saving time in the long-run.

2. Improves relationships: Along with saving time, the virtue of humility helps and strengthens relationships. One does not need to look far to see how the virtue of humility helps. The department for the company that I work for holds a monthly meeting to detail the progress over the past 30 days. Together with the business achievements, managers recognize employers who excelled that particular month. Without exception, the workers who receive Team Member of the Month have been dutiful and humbly going about their work without the promise for recognize. Such individuals have strong relationships with their peers.

Not only does the virtue of humility apply to healthy and successful profession relationship, but it is essential for family life as well. St. Teresa of Avila declared, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” All the books on marriage preparation or counseling will strengthen your marriage as much as your willingness to humble yourself before your spouse. St. Paul details the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. While he does not specifically use the word humility it is clear that exercising that virtue will only benefit spouses.

3. Buoy during Life’s Storms: Together with helping you move on from stressful situations easier and fostering relationships, the virtue of humility acts as a benevolent beacon to guide you through all of life’s storms. A common reaction toward the pressures, woes, and calamities of life is to flee. Developing the strength to withstand the maelstroms of misery takes time and patience. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote, “Humility is the foundation of all virtues.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux recognized the importance of humility as well as he famously declared, “The three most important virtues are humility, humility, and humility!”

From my own experience the instances where I weathered the storms best occurred whenever my wife and I were both on the same page–sharing the same goal and purpose. Through humbling myself to recognize the merits of her insight was I able to lift her up [and she lifted up me] during the tumultuous times.

No matter what stage or circumstance you are at in life the virtue of humility will always be reliable and practical–on a daily basis! A trusted resource I use whenever the tentacles of pride try to take over my life is the Litany of Humility. Be prepared for this powerful prayer to change your life!


O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
 provided that I may become as holy as I should…

3 Thoughts about the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

C.S. Lewis wrote, ““There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” There is no better time to put things into perspective than the present–and especially at the beginning of the New Year. Whether you had a good, bad, or simply indifferent 2018 now is time to focus on bettering your life.

While I certainly could come up with a laundry list of New Year’s resolutions the birth of my fourth child could make that challenging. Late night diaper changes and gazing at my beautiful newborn throughout the day take up a lot of time already. If you are pinched for time like me, then I propose an easy, yet profound resolution for 2019–daily pray and reflect upon the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila.

The Holy Doctor of the Church has held an important role in my life. Her life and writings provide an excellent standard for me to live my life by and now I have a daughter named after St. Teresa! Below is the short prayer I plan on reciting and pondering daily. Additionally, I have included a few thoughts about this brief and mighty prayer.


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.


1. Fear Not: Fear gets in the way of growth. Being afraid causes one to hesitate and question the blessings in your life. Reading the words of the Spanish saint always provides comfort.

2. Power of Patience: St. Teresa’s assertion that “patience obtains all things” prompts me to pause. Patience is a virtue that seems undervalued compared to courage, justice, and faith. However, all problems in my life could either resolve themselves or lessen greatly if exercised patience more. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 736,  By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear “the fruit of the Spirit: . . . love, joy, peace, patience,  By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit.

3. Keep Perspective: The Carmelite sister reminds us that worldly things last only temporarily. Only God is eternal. The stresses of 2018, yesterday, and even an hour ago will appear like a blink amid the gaze of the Beatific Vision.

The wisdom of St. Teresa of Avila will be guaranteed to change your life. Already in the short time of reflecting on her words I have been able to better keep things in perspective. Make 2019 your best year (until 2020 and the years that follow!) yet!


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices

Preparation [for the King] is King

Blustery winds, icy streets, and bustle of the holiday happenings form the recipe for the perfect storm. The best way to combat the crazy I discovered is through preparation for the storm. Recently my family’s home-life has been strained: my wife’s workload keeps getting increased, my job assignments, and testing this month for our two-year old as he gets re-evaluated to see if he would qualify for early childhood special education services still. The crazy keep hitting us before my mind is able to register the previous crazy event or antic that hit me.

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Finding fleeting moments, but still at least some MOMENTS of reprieve as I drive to and from work—after dropping off the kids off at daycare and school of course!—I prepare for the list of all of things or chores, writing topics I hope to write about, and our family’s schedule. Listening to Christian music in the radio, the song What Child is This? came on over the airwaves. No matter the setting that I hear this hymn, I always get choked up—most especially during the refrain:

This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Specifically, the words haste stands out for me. Synonyms for haste include: swiftness, rapidity, acceleration, and quickness. I always find it intriguing to talk of birth of Jesus in this hustle and bustle manner. Really, I should not find that too fascinating as expectancy and preparation for the Son of God is a common theme throughout the Bible. Among the more famous Old Testament examples common from Isaiah 7:14, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign;* the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.” Over centuries and centuries God gathered a people together under the nation of Israel and promised the birth of a Savior to reunite humanity with God. While preparation takes a long time and patience, it is essential to combat the storms one encounters in life. No greater preparation exists than preparing your soul to receive the King of Kings.

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1. Daily Drudgery: A primary side effect of the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 included pain and toil in daily living. Just because something is painful and boring, or in the case of many jobs, painfully boring, it should not be avoided. Instead, good, authentic, and true work brings a sort of dignity and fulfillment in humanity. According to St. John Paul II in Laborem Exercens, Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being” (no. 9).

2. Constant Constancy: Work turns into daily drudgery when not viewed as an opportunity to growth in virtue and love of neighbor. St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, says it best, “You cannot forget that any worthy, noble and honest work at the human level can — and should! — be raised to the supernatural level, becoming a divine task” (The Forge, no. 687). The only way for this to occur is continual reliance on God. Ask the Holy Spirit for the graces to sustain you in the tough times and the stamina to prepare for the less tough times. As an adopted child of God through the sacrament of Baptism, I too often forget the gifts at my disposal from my Divine Father. I need only to graciously ask for help on the way of my day.

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American Christian televangelist Robert Schuller, declared, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” Preparation goes unnoticed. All the behind the scenes work do not receive any accolades. Oftentimes, the mundane and dryness of preparation for the storms of life wear us down. I pray you may have the patience, fortitude, and mettle to weather the changing tides of life. The most important duty is to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings. Make the most of the reminder of this Advent season to kindle the flame of expectation for Jesus Christ!


“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”— Luke 21:36

Back to Basics

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According to American author Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it.” The continual focus on progress, change, movement, and improvement dominates 21st century humanity. Continued desire to improve on limiting stress, furthering personal and career goals may be inherently good; however, a person reaches a point when the trajectory of progress cannot ascend any higher. Ernest Hemingway wryly wrote, “Never confuse movement with action.”

Throughout history and literature, quick and unbridled progress poses the danger for a quick fall back to mediocrity and a starting at square one. The Great Depression in the 1930s happened on the heels of an epic economic boom, Greek literature warned of Icarus soaring too close to the sun—and eventually his wax wings melted and he fell to his doom. Personally, I too notice that whenever I experience a successful season in my life I have to be wary of being puffed up too much with pride. I start think too boldly—leading to the error of becoming a braggadocio!

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As a Catholic, my faith plays a strong shaping force in my world outlook and daily life. According to Lumen Gentium the primary goal of all faithful is to grow in holiness, the Council Fathers declared, “Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive (no. 42). I never truly pondered it before, but I recently realized that Jesus’ parables and teaching examples often included planting, gardening, and farming references because plant growth takes time—it is slow, but steady. Likewise, our growth in virtue and moral excellence needs to be watered with essential elements. The growth need to be natural, steady and sure for the progress to be permanent. Ascendency towards one’s goals whether that be moral, work, or exercise related poses a threat of a great fall. To avoid any backpedaling, it wise to return to the fundamentals of success. Below are three basic activities that helped me limit stress, decrease my negativity, and improve my relationship with others.

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  1. Prayer: Saints wiser and infinitely holier than myself, always proclaim the importance of prayer. Perhaps no one else discussed the importance of prayer more plainly than St. John Chrysostom, “It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life!”

 

Over the past couple of months, my wife and I committed ourselves to a regular, steady prayer routine. Before putting the kids to bed, we pray a decade of the Rosary. According to St. John Paul the Great, “The Rosary is the storehouse of countless blessings.”  His words ring true with crystal clarity—the graces I received have been immeasurable. My manager noticing the changes in my demeanor at work told me, “Matt, you have had a tremendous month. I notice a great calmness within you over the past few months.” I almost was tempted to pull out my scapular—strong Marian devotion—to show my manager that what has changed did not occur on my own power. To cite John Paul II again, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”

  1. Exercise: Along with daily prayer, renewing my focus on regular exercise greatly helped sustain the progress I made. Because of the changing of the weather, I have get creative with my workouts. Actually, not truly that creative, I just call upon Shawn-T with his T-25 fitness program that I watch through the Beach Body channel on my Roku. Jabbing, hopping, and twisting my arms, legs, and core in my living room I feel replenished with energy after the under half-hour workout session. Not only does exercise help with the body, it reinvigorates my mental capacity and energy for the rest of the day.

 

  1. Reading Renaissance: Those of you that have followed The Simple Catholic will be aware that one of my strongest passions and loves in this life consists of the written word in the form of books. The only hindrance for me from purchasing and amassing more and more books is because I would either have to buy more bookshelves or take time away from reading to make a bookshelf myself. It is quite the predicament!

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In all seriousness though, reading, and specifically reading good books from good authors, reignites my desire to become a better person. Late American essayist E.P. Whipple wrote this beautiful description for books, “Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” Reading books, especially the classics, allows the reader access to the thoughts, intellects, curiosities, and inquiries of history’s greatest minds. The foundation for all success is being humble to realize someone else is always smarter and wiser than yourself. After reading Fulton Sheen’s Remade for Happiness and C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, this fact was reaffirmed.  Surrounding yourself with the wisdom and insights of those men and women before you will only enhance your ability to become the best version of yourself.

Progress is not bad, in fact, it is necessary in an ever changing world. In order to survive and flourish, you need to learn to adapt to changes. If you have found strategies or things that have already proven to help you develop into a healthier, stronger, and more virtuous version of yourself keep doing those things! Go back to the basics as often as needed. My revisiting of my basics—prayer, exercise, and reading— continues to provide me stability for a successful [and hopefully sanctifying] life!