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

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Originally published September 22nd, 2017


Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.

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Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit

Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.

Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.

A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.

St. Matthew

Happy Holiness Day

Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job?

Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?

While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

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September of Sacraments

Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month.

During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful humility:

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…

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Be on the Lookout for Your Unexpected Journey

Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day: will you follow me?

Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same

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3 Ways to Embrace Our Tookish Side

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”

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This quote comes from the opening pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Readers unfamiliar with the background of this novel may need some context to see the relevance of this passage to today’s topic. Basically, the protagonist of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins—a hobbit who at the beginning of the story lives a quiet life free from any big adventure or risk-taking. His tranquil existence is seemingly upset upon the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a troupe of adventuring dwarves. The wizard succeeds in convincing Bilbo to join the dwarven expedition to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon. Bilbo’s role is to serve as the burglar—someone quick and nimble—to steal the gold from Smaug the Dragon. I always found Bilbo’s inner struggle whether to embrace his Baggins [low-risk, simple] side or his Tookish [adventurous] family lineage.

Human Hodgepodge?

Frequently, I find myself a chimera—a hybrid—composed of my rational and scientific mentality juxtaposed against my life of faith. According to John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides Et Ratio).

Pitting faith against reason or vice versa only frustrates man’s pursuit toward a joyous existence. I know this to be true because I experienced life when I shut out faith and when I land on the other extreme as well and jettison my rational side. Similarly, Bilbo Baggins did not fully embrace reality nor fully attain a fulfilling life until he incorporated the Tookish [faith, adventurous] side. I look to Tolkien’s literary work with a character who resembles myself at my current stage in life. Recently, I have become too logical, too rigid, and too rational in my approach to living. I need to embrace my Tookish side. Below are three concrete ways whereby I may accomplish this goal.

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Laughter

Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Bold claim. Lacking in laughter, I tend to struggle with being too serious. I think part of my seriousness stems from my desire to control daily events. Amidst the constant curve-balls life throws at you sometimes the only thing to do is to laugh. Mark Twain wittingly declared, “The human race has only one effective weapon and that is laughter!” While I dispute the notion that humor is our sole weapon, Twain has a point—laughter serves a remedy to an ailing situation.

Watching television comedies like The Office and Home Improvement with my wife help me re-charge from a toilsome day. The levity of sitcoms provides me perspective on my day. Through the antics of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I developed an ability to have faith that things will work out in the end. I need continue to embrace the roller coaster adventure of life!

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

According to Matthew 21:16, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” Now this passage is actually a direct quote from Psalms 8:3. This psalm mentions the amazing power of God and His praiseworthy nature. Throughout history, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” has developed into an idiom to refer to the keen insight the young/inexperienced may be able to provide someone “wiser” or “older”. My children abound with wisdom [even though they are oblivious to that fact!]. While the old and wise wizard Gandalf, solicited Bilbo out of his reserved and cautious hobbit hole, my situation is almost the inverse. My young [wise] children allow me to engage with my Tookish [faith-filled, funny-loving, witty, adventurous] side.

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Listening to the Holy Spirit

Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit is a third way I embrace my “Tookish” side. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I am only going to focus on two: courage and right judgement. Both gifts I believe to be invaluable for me to pursue adventure in my life. It takes courage to go on a journey—whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Gandalf provided courage and right judgment to Bilbo in aiding him on his unexpected journey. The author of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith permeated his fiction. As his son Michael once said about the impact of Catholicism on his father’s work, “[it] pervaded all his thinking, beliefs and everything else.”  The Holy Spirit enters my life unexpectedly at times in my life granting me courage and right judgment.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Embracing my inherent gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit will allow me to find a healthy balance in my spiritual life. I will learn to embrace my adventurous and jovial side with jettisoning my rational, reserved nature.

Embrace Your Inner Took!

As I wrap up, I need to make the following disclaimer: embracing your Tookish side will change you. Be prepared! When Biblo Baggins returns from his long journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, his fellow hobbits viewed him differently. Tolkien writes,

Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be “queer” – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.

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Do not be discouraged by this news. Whenever I despair about any changes from embracing the life of faith I remember Christ’s words, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)!

Thank you for sharing!