The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you,“What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness??Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, maystillbecorrect—theanswer I was looking for was a red wagon!
Over the past week we celebrated Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. One of the gifts that my father-in-law gave to my kids was a red wagon. I assembled the crimson coach while watching Sunday football. When my two year old woke from his nap his eyes lit up and shouted, “Wheels, wheels!” So far this week, I have taken the kids for a ride at least 5 times. The following exchange between my 5 year-old daughter and I demonstrates how a simple children’s toy brings happiness.
Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”
Me: “What does that mean?”
Daughter: “Freedom means I am happy.”
J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote,“Little by little, one travels far.”His words perfectly summarizedour wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times.
Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainlyexceeded expectations and brought joy!
Along with my enjoyment of crafting the written word into sentences, paragraphs, coherent thoughts, and detailing my struggles and limitations, I began The Simple Catholic blog with the aim to pursue the joy of the Gospel in my pilgrim journey on this Earth. This thing about joy is that it is always momentarily and never actually something you can produce yourself. Joy is different from mere happiness as joy hints at a higher reality and is a gift from God. Happiness, on the other hand, may be man-made, it is something able to be manufactured and it provides temporary pleasure.
According to C.S. Lewis discussing a life experience in Surprised by Joy wrote, “I called it [his experience] Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is” (p. 18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1829). Only through love of God and neighbor, through the virtue of charity is the gift of joy received!
Another interesting thing about joy is that we receive this gift unexpectedly. Ironically, and no pun intended, when I noticed Lewis’ Surprised by Joy hidden on the bottom of a bookshelf in the local used books store joy immediately flooded in. I was “surprised by joy!” Out of great love for C.S. Lewis, I was grateful and joyful to have the opportunity to purchase his wonderful conversion story.
Earlier this week, I received joyful and surprising news—I was going to see a college buddy of mine. My wife texted, “We are having dinner at XXX and XXX’s house on Saturday! We are bringing dessert.” While at face value this message appeared ordinary, charity transforms seemingly mundane events into joyful ones! I was not excited about the dessert or a change in scenery for dinner. Rather, I was joyful about spending time with my friend and his family.
Joy out of this World
Joy involves the in-breaking of the transcendent reality into this earthly existence. It hints at a higher reality of Heaven—communion with God forever. According to Saint John Paul II, “Christ remains primary in your life only when he enjoys the first place in your mind and heart. Thus you must continuously unite yourself to him in prayer…. Without prayer there can be no joy, no hope, no peace. For prayer is what keeps us in touch with Christ.”
Joy is a gift we receive when we live for others and receive it most fully when we live for the Ultimate Others—the Trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sin separates us from the joy of love of God and fellow man. We need to ask God for the gift of joy, the fruit of charity to be aware of the little moments He meets us throughout our life. The first step after prayer is just others over yourself!
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!
1. You Owe Me: Within the past year, I took on a new position in the company as a student loan debt collector. Although the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and modern technology certainly has softened collection practices in recent year, debt collectors still do not have a positive connotation in today’s society. Back in the time of 1st century Palestine, the stigma against debt collectors was especially 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.
2. 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! Laden with parables and the incredible Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Gospel 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).
3. Called by God: While the saint whose moniker I bear did not always believe in Jesus, he experienced a profound conversation. The significance of Matthew’s calling is so significant that all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) 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. Looking back in hindsight, I cannot help but wonder if St. Matthew is interceding in my life to help foster my talents that he too shared with the early Christian community—and today as well!
The craziness of wrangling three 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 and fellow writer’s gift of the Good News. I am encouraged that Jesus desired to choose a man from such a hated profession to be part of His Divine Plan of Salvation. 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.