The Concealed Power of Christian Joy Needed to be Revealed to the World!

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life– loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

The Son of God’s words contain a message that is in keeping with his entire teaching throughout his three-year earthly ministry—sacrificial love and obedience to God brings true and lasting joy, peace, and purpose to one’s life. He also prepares us for the possibility of Heavenly joy with God in the next life. Before heading to Mass, I had few spare minutes as my children were dressed and ready for Sunday worship—that alone I thanked God as a miracle!—I perused social media and came across a meme with a quote by the acclaimed Catholic theological and biblical scholar Scott Hahn. He intrepidly declared, “A joyless Catholic is the devil’s best tool. A joyful Catholic is God’s greatest instrument.”

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Since this morning I have contemplated his words no less than a dozen times. I cannot help to feel that God is speaking directly to me through Scott Hahn. Many things in daily living suction off joy. Tiredness, both physically and spiritual lethargy, is a key ingredient to creating a barren environment for joy to thrive. A great tactic against physical laziness is going to sound incredibly simple and obvious—mostly because a good night’s rest is the best thing to treat your body to after a long day’s work! Supplementing an increase in sleep with a better nutritional habit will combat physical weakness. Re-committing myself to a healthier lifestyle last week already proved to show gains. Increased amounts of fruits, water, and a decrease in unhealthy sugars provided me more energy throughout the day.

Along with improving the physical aspects of living, I sought out to better my spiritual well-being as well. During an afternoon jog, I had time to reflect on my spiritual progress—both for that day and how I did throughout the week. I realized that only when I put others before myself is joy even possible. First of all, I have to ask God to grant me the gift of joy. Secondly, I reminded myself to count my blessings and thank God for everything in this life: good, bad, and neutral events.

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Joy is not a merely feeling of happiness—sorry Joy even though I loved your movie. Instead it is first and foremost a gift from God that is sustained through an attitude of gratitude. We freely receive joy as a blessing by the will of God. Our Heavenly Father God desires to bestow this gift to us as much as possible, however, he will only nurture it if we freely choose to embrace joy. The seed of Christian joy is planted when we become adopted sons and daughter through the sacrament of Baptism.

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Thanksgiving is the best way to foster and grow the gift of Christian joy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist (CCC 1324). In fact the Latin word eucharista actually means ‘thanksgiving’. While attending Sunday Mass and weekly receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the fullest way to develop the gift of joy it is not the sole means. The power of Christian joy is strengthened via a regular watering of thanksgiving. Thank God for waking up, thank your family members for all the things [great and small] they do for you, thank your co-workers for helping you throughout the day, write a list of the top things/people/events that you are grateful for, or simply say “Thank you Lord!” at least once a day. All the above opportunities are ways for you to increase the joy in your life.

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St. Mother Teresa spoke of Christian joy in the following way, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.” Let us ask for God’s grace to receive this gift to transform ourselves into a beacon of his love. I continue to thank God for the opportunity to write and share my faith. Thank you for continuing to support me in my pilgrim journey toward a joyous life.

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Saturday Stress: System Glitches, Panic, & Confusion

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American author Melody Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Her words certainly seemed quite relevant this icy and confusing Saturday. Working my first official Saturday shift at my new work position involved frenzied co-workers, negativity, and confusion due to the unveiling of the new payment system.

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As with any new technology release, glitches are guaranteed to appear during the initial days of the life of any change/update in a computer system. Beginning with murmurings that eventually led to loud vocal outbursts, several co-workers expressed severe dissatisfaction with the new system release. Surprisingly, I handled the change well. During points of transition where major changes occur in the workplace I get nervous—I allow fear to take over. However, calmness of mind and heart hovered over me.

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Such tranquility did not originate from me. A power greater than I provided me the gift of peace and calmness of heart. My Catholic faith allows me to give a name to this power—the Holy Spirit. At Baptism I become an adopted child of God and the Holy Spirit indwelt within me.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 1227-1228, “Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.31 Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.32 St. Augustine says of Baptism: ‘The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament.'” Over time I have learned that the seed of the Catholic faith needs to be watered and fed by asking for God’s graces. According to the great doctor of the Church St. Ephraim, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul of the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven!”

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” I have probably made reference to this quote more recently than anything else the God-man taught us. The Holy Spirit provides clarity in confusing and stressful situations, but showering us with an array of luminous virtues. Peace dispels agitation, generosity quells greed, and charity uproots anger from my life.  Confusion is a guarantee in this life, however, the power we receive from the Holy Spirit to withstand the storm of doubt and uncertainty is a gift!

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Crossroads

“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. I came across this quote earlier this week as I read Orthodoxy. Immediately, I picked up my mechanical pencil off the living room floor and underlined this concise, but brilliant message. As a former cross country runner, street intersections always remind me of the choice I had as a runner. Which path should I take? Do I take the easy and high trafficked path [normally I feel motivated by an audience of automobile drivers on the busier streets to help me continue to run] or do I take the road less traveled? Little did I realize how Chesterton’s statement would be actualized in my life. Less than a day after reading that passage, I arrived at a junction.

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Some brief background is needed as I believe God has prepared me for this moment for a while now. My youngest child was evaluated by early childhood developmental professionals and diagnosed with some learning and cognitive disabilities. Along with this challenge my wife started a new teaching job. Bills seem to continually pile up with little end in sight [at least immediate end]. Over the past few months I struggled with anxiety and my vocation in this world. I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father, but sometimes I felt like I needed to do more, to be something more, and to provide more light to this world.

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Counseling sessions and anxiety medication help me cope with the daily stresses of this ever-changing and chaotic world. Thankfully, my son was approved to receive weekly special education services to assist him in limiting his incredible tantrums and frustration levels [he was at a point where he started banging his head against the ground and hurt himself!] and increasing his ability to socialize and communicate. Small gains are being made, yet he has a long road ahead.

Together with counseling and medicine, listening to Christian music daily and reading literary Catholic giants like Chesterton and Tolkien provide me with relief when self-doubt and despair assault me. In the weeks preceding  my crossroads experience I had yesterday.  “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.”

Talking with my manager during our weekly meeting, I looked for feedback on a new company position I was interested in. “Why did you apply for this position?” he asked. I replied, “The creative aspect and the possibility to increase my writing skills.” He continued to press on as to why exactly I enjoyed writing and advised that my career is what I choose to make of it. As a person who struggled [I guess still struggles] with OCD, I tend to like to view the world as black and white; either/or; through an if/then lens. I tried to get my manager to make the choice for me on my next path. “Where do you see yourself [career wise] in the next few years?” he asked.

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There are a few moments in life where you experience a profound clarity. Almost eerily clear. The best example I remember is when I started dating my [then future] wife in college. A mere month into dating I got a sense that I was meant to marry this girl. I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Matt you are going to marry her!” Yesterday’s conversation with my manager produced a similar lucidity of thought. “What do you want to do with your career Matt?” I responded [in my head] almost immediately, “A writer, I want to be a writer and spread the Catholic faith!!” Outside of my mind, I replied to my manager, “Well, you know I am not completely sure…” I continued to make general statements about how I enjoyed writing and about becoming a stay-at-home father to assist with my son with special needs.

Why do we shy away from God’s clear direction at a “crossroad moment” of our life? Personally, I struggle with the notion that such clear moments exist. Clarity in this chaotic world is bold. Truth is daring. As Chesterton put it, “Life [according to the faith] is very much like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with a promise (or menace)…But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will” (Orthodoxy p. 128).  Sometimes I wish there was a pre-determined path laid out for me. In some ways, lacking freedom is less stressful. But such mentality stems from the Evil One and leads to doubt in God’s providential plan for us. It seems crazy that I am so sure that I am called to be a Catholic writer. Looking back on my life, I had the exact same doubt when I dated my wife. I thought, “It is not possible to be so certain about marrying so short in the dating process!” Marrying my wife, my best helpmate toward Heaven, was [and is] in God’s plan.

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“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.” I sincerely hope that I am able be an instrument of God help bring peace and clarity to people who suffer periods of doubt and confusion. Thank you for reading and continue to pray for me to follow God’s path!

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Planetary Peregrination III- Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength

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The solar eclipse provided a unifying effect on the world, albeit momentarily, when people stood outside to witness the splendor of the moon covering the sun. 2017 seems to be the year of space: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 premiered in May, Star Trek: Discovery will launch in September on CBS, and finally Star Wars: Episode VII The Last Jedi comes to theaters in December. Science fiction fans and astronomers get to experience a solar-system’s worth of story-lines to satisfy their cosmic cranial cravings!

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Traveling the across the imaginative galaxies, I have been currently reading Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy comics. The subject of space travel ignites a creative fire in my mind. Peculiar surroundings and new literary beings I encounter through the medium of science fiction point toward a higher reality than the drudgery I face on a daily basis. Today, I am going to provide an analysis and my opinion on the final novel of C.S. Lewis’ epic Space Trilogy—That Hideous Strength. Having read the first two books multiple times and the setting occurring on other planets, I found it fairly easy to compose reviews.  Please bear with me as I gather “strength” to complete my thoughts on this final installment of Lewis’ SF series.

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While the events Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra occur largely on the Mars and Venus respectively, That Hideous Strength’s setting is grounded to Earth. Along with the change in scenery, the primary character of the Space Trilogy—Dr. Elwin Ransom—was absent for a sizeable chunk of this third novel. Lewis starts the book focusing on a cast of individuals, an academic Mark Studdock, his wife Jane, and Lord Feverstone, director of National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments [N.I.C.E]. N.I.C.E. is an institution that seeks to implement social control for individuals. Unaware of the events of the previous two books, Jane begins to receive visions in her sleep. Initially, she is transported to St. Anne’s hospital because the dreams are believed to be psychologically, not divinely inspired.

Persistence of Jane’s visions causes her and Mark’s marriage to strain. Dr. Elwin Ransom finally makes his appearance in chapter seven. The prophetic revelations Jane experienced Ransom tells the reader were actually a warning about an upcoming war. Ransom details the events of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra to Jane. He explains that reality is not limited to the physical realm. Ransom serves as the king [Pendragon] of the legendary kingdom of King Arthur. In keeping with the mythology of the first two books, Lewis reveals that Lord Feverstone is actually Richard Devine- foe to Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet. Feverstone is determined to really be working on behalf of the fallen Oyarsa [demons/fallen angels] who seek to exploit human greed and selfishness with and end game of total annihilation of humanity.

Lewis incorporates Christian elements into That Hideous Strength maintaining the theological tracks he built earlier in the Space Trilogy. He juxtaposes the scientific materialistic philosophy of N.I.C.E. against the traditional Christian worldview that is embodied by the Random-led camp at St. Anne’s. Over the mode of fiction, Lewis shows that while humanity naturally have a selfish tendency, our sinfulness cannot be overcome except through the aid of God. The agenda of the fallen angels [Lewis calls them eldila] under the guise of nicety and scientific advancement believed that true progress could only occur if the flesh of humanity was destroyed.

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I discovered that the meaning of the title– That Hideous Strength—is a reference to the Tower of Babel. A new Tower of Babel, the building that housed N.I.C.E represented humanity’s attempt to control nature and unify through man-made efforts alone. Genesis 11:4 tells us of the pride of a united humanity, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky,* and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” Unification under a common purpose breeds the potential for good, but also may lead to potential for evil. In the ninth chapter Elwin Ransom reflects on the possibility of his enemies [the fallen angels] on the verge of achieving artificial resurrection of the body [i.e. artificial immortality], “Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result” (p. 200)  We only need to look back last century on what concentration of power in the “greater good” looks like under a Hitler or a Stalin.

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Honestly, I would give That Hideous Strength 3.5 out of 5 stars. Initially, I found the shift in plot and scenery to be laborious to follow. This book was disconnected from Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Along with the new set of characters, the late arrival of Dr. Ransom left me confused. After reading the book a second time, I gained a new found respect for Lewis’ contribution to science fiction and the completion of his Space Trilogy. The Christians become more evident the second time around- especially the theme of the New Tower of Babel. Hidden in the final pages of That Hideous Strength is a subtle, yet curious allusion to Middle Earth. According to Bradley Birzer in The Challenge: How C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy Came into Being“Lewis had borrowed significantly from Tolkien’s Atlantean world of Númenor. Númenor, corrupted as “Numinor,” appears nine times in That Hideous Strength as well as in one of Lewis’s poems, “The End of the Wine”.

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C.S. Lewis was also a contemporary and close friend to the Lord of the Rings’ creator J.R.R. Tolkien. May it be possible that The Hobbit, Silmarillion, and Lord of the Rings represented ancient history while the events of Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength reflect the fictional universe’s modern timeline? This Easter egg may be in reality me simply searching for a link between my two favorite fantasy writers, but I still found it to be intriguing.

Despite the awkward handoff between Perelendra and That Hideous Strength, I still recommend reading the final installment of the Space Trilogy. Lewis, a largely non-fiction writer, went on a limb to delve into the realm of science fiction. This work is a necessity for any collector of science fiction or fan to C.S. Lewis!

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4 Reasons Why the Sacrament of Marriage is Necessary for a Healthy Society!

This summer my wife and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary! In honor of this event, I figured I would dedicate a post to our marriage. I also want to highlight the positive effects the sacrament of marriage has on society and why I believe the sacrament of matrimony is vital to a salubrious society. Along with our own marriage celebration, I want to personally recognize my cousin’s testament to the married life. He got married to his bride this past weekend. I present 4 reasons why the sacrament instituted by God is necessary for a healthy society.

1. Unity in Diversity: The four marks [i.e. defining characteristics] of the Catholic Church according to the Nicene Creed is that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Each of those traits are found within the sacrament of marriage as well. I will highlight the qualities of the oneness [unity] and catholic [universality] within this sacrament. Men and women are different. Differences are not bad. True equality is not to reduce men and women to be the same in every single aspect of life. Rather, true equality is in reference to equality of respect and dignity for how spouses treat each other. From my own personal experiences, I look to my parent’s marriage as an example of unity found within a diverse relationship. My mother and father come from completely different backgrounds. My dad’s family lacks divorce and has long life spans. On the contrary, my mom’s family exhibited more turmoil as her dad passed away when she was only 12 years old and her sibling relationships are splintered. Men and women communicate differently. By embracing such diversity a unity may be found.

I think somehow this diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of marriage has been lost in our culture. Not everything in marriage needs to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. I am meant to explore and learn about my wife on a daily basis. I am not meant to have her completely conform to my image or me to her image. Diversity leads to unity.

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To sum up this point I refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154” (CCC 1644).

2. Full of Fruits: According to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:43-45,

A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

The same may can be said about the sacrament of marriage. Before I continue, I do want to distinguish between different kinds of fruits: physical and spiritual fruits. I will highlight the spiritual fruits marriage offers society later on. For now, I want to focus on the fruit of children in the sacrament of marriage. The Catholic Church leaves the married couple the freedom to elect how many children they want to have. But it is important to note that openness to fertility is essential for an authentic Christian marriage. The Church states,“By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652).

Children are a gift from God, not a product for married couples to control or purchase. I think a renewed sense of children as gifts would go miles to infuse society with a new mentality that is other-centered instead of self-centered. Admitting, I too sometimes struggle to make my children in my own image and control their daily activities. I more than anyone else needs to be reminded that God gifted me with children and I am to thank Him by raising them to be gifts for all of society as well!

Society grows through the family unit. Ultimate long-term success for society hinges on families that practice sacrificial love instead of self-love.

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3. Use the Force: A certain power is found in permanency. Things that last long periods of time seem to gather a force and power as they age. The best example I think of is the sacrament of marriage. My grandparents recently celebrated 67 years of marriage earlier this month! You heard me: 67 years! Feeble knees, dimmed hearing, and other ailments that go with advanced years do not diminish the power and force my grandparent’s marriage hold. Whenever I tell a random stranger, friend or co-worker the length of their marriage there is always a momentous pause…then a statement of awe and wonder will always follow. My grandparent’s marriage is not successful because they are amazing. It is successful because they rely on God to help them forgive each other. My cousins’ new father-in-law gave pithy, but profound advise to the new married couple from this weekend, [after telling my cousin and his wife to sit close together] “See that little space between you. Always be sure to include the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have them

fill that space. Everything else will work out, maybe not necessarily the way you think it will, but everything will work out!”

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It is only through a sacramental marriage that married couples are about to use the force…the force of our Triune God!

4. Victory through Virtues: Authentic victory is to be achieved not through military might or political prowess, but rather through personal virtue. Having virtuous and charitable citizens are the only way for society to be renewed and remain healthy. While children are the more visible of the fruits of marriage, I maintain that the more universal fruit of sacramental marriages is virtue. Not every married couple is able to conceive a child. Such marriages are not to be held as less holy or effective as couple that has children. In fact, the number of children is not to be correlated with an increase [or decrease] in holiness.

It is through my experience that the longer a couple is married and the more they tend to remind themselves that marriage is a sacrament that greater virtue abound. Patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, and gratitude are just some of the many virtues I notice in my

parents, grandparents, and even my own marriage [when I embrace the sacrament]. Societies that tend to have citizens who exhibit virtues and charity towards others, I have noticed, tend to be more unified and healthy.

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On a closing note, I want to make sure I am clear that people who participate in sacramental marriages are NOT better nor more holy than single people or priests. What I want to stress is that marriage along with being a sacrament [visible sign from God] is not a right, but a gift. Not everyone is called to be married! And that is okay. Diversity of vocations: married state, single state, and ordained state all contribute to a healthy and holy society!

Thank you for sharing!