Hope you have a Happy Memorial Day! I am grateful for the incredible men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice to keep my country safe.
“Dear Lord Jesus and Mary, Mother of God, Hold all these brave souls in the palm of your hand, comfort them and their families. … On Memorial Day we not only remember those who have died, but also those who continue to serve and the families they have waiting for them
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 11, 2019.
According to the American author Mark Twain, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” His words definitely rang true this morning. As I rushed to get my kids’ backpacks and lunches ready, my 5 year-old daughter tugged on my jacket and asked, “Daddy! Can I take this [to school] for sharing day?!” Looking down I noticed a leather-bound book adorned with gold leafed pages—it was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit!
Normally, I would be hesitant to allow my precious books to leave the bookshelf without under my protection, especially a classic. Something, a feeling, an inkling, beyond my own power provoked me to let her keep the book for the day.
Letting go of control is not easy for me. This is particularly true when it comes to items dear to me. Releasing control led to a sudden deluge of joy. Excitement brimmed up inside me. Seeing the twinkle in my daughter eyes as she hugged The Hobbit tight simply was amazing. It was also quite unexpected—much like the Unexpected Journey of Bilbo in Middle Earth!
The first requirement for discovering joy is to be among others. After dropping the kids off at school, I wondered, “How else can I find joy? I love this experience and want to share it others.” Joy became my focus for the remainder of the day. While not an exhaustive list, I found three incredibly SIMPLE ways to find joy in your life!
A natural fruit of thankfulness is joy. Harboring a thankful mindset provides stability amid life’s storms, but also gives blossom to delight. I recently came across a post on social media that lamented the “forced gratitude” of Teacher Appreciation Week.
As a Catholic my sentiment towards gratitude is that it is our central mission, the thing we value more than anything else. In fact, the source and summit of the Christian life—the Eucharist literally translates to mean “thanksgiving.” Just because you are not “compelled” or have to thank a teacher this week does not mean that you shouldn’t. More thanksgiving, freely done, only brings joy!
St. Paul recognizes this truth in Galatians 5:22-23. I do not believe it is a coincidence that the ordering of the gifts of the Holy Spirit have joy preceded by love. Where do we most show God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) love? By participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—the prime event of thanksgiving!
Be on the Lookout
G.K. Chesterton captured the essence of joy best as he wrote, “Surprise is the secret of joy”. Joy is not something we can produce from our own willpower. The example I mentioned earlier occurred unexpectedly. Normally, sudden events do not sit well with me. I like to be in control! Being prepared for things helps lead to peace—it decreases angst. While peace is a good goal, joy is an even greater good! Actively looking for joy does not work. I have tried and failed. Every. Single. Time.
As a gift of the Holy Spirit, joy cannot be produced by our active works. I often struggle with a restlessness—a strong urge to keep moving, never sitting still, or slowing my mind. Since Good Friday, my family and I have sung the Chaplet of Divine Mercy nightly. The first fruit of this prayer I noticed was peace. Only recently did I also begin to notice moments of joy breaking into my life. According to St. 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, and no peace. For prayer is what keeps us in touch with Christ.
Prayer helped stabilize me. On my own I cannot run fast even to capture joy. Slowly down allows joyous moments to catch me. You too can wait for joy—be on the lookout, instead of rushing to and fro frantically!
Recognizing Your Place in Creation
Along with thanksgiving and waiting patiently for joy, recognizing my place in the universe, not only humbles me, but fosters me foster joyful moments. Every week Catholics profess our core beliefs at Mass with the Nicene Creed. In the first tenet, we remind ourselves: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. We are creatures, NOT THE CREATOR.
This takes humility to recognize what you are not. I am not the composer of my story. The Divine Author formed me uniquely—and you uniquely too! Reminding myself of my place in creation helps foster a proper attitude to receive joy.
Be open to the unexpected. Let the Holy Spirit into your life. Ask for the gift of joy, give thanks always, and remember God is your Creator. If you practice these three simple things do not be surprised to discover joy—it might be sooner than you realize!
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This Lent I am revisiting the great spiritual treatise of St. Francis de Sales’— Introduction to the Devout Life. Reading a couple meditations each day provides me ample time to reflect on the wisdom of the timeless truths of the Gospels as given to the world by God through St. Francis.
During the height of a stressful work day, I gazed at this book on my desk and resolved to take 5 minutes of my break to read the third meditation.
The theme for that meditation was titled: On Gifts of God. Below is an excerpted section from this third meditation:
Consider the material gifts God has given you—your body, and the means for its preservation;
your health, and all that maintains it; your friends and many helps. Consider too how many persons
more deserving than you are without these gifts; some suffering in health or limb, others exposed
to injury, contempt and trouble, or sunk in poverty, while God has willed you to be better off.
2. Consider the mental gifts He has given you. Why are you not stupid, idiotic, insane like many
you wot of? Again, God has favoured you with a decent and suitable education, while many have
grown up in utter ignorance.
3. Further, consider His spiritual gifts. You are a child of His Church, God has taught you to
know Himself from your youth. How often has He given you His Sacraments? what inspirations
and interior light, what reproofs, He has given to lead you aright; how often He has forgiven you,
how often delivered you from occasions of falling; what opportunities He has granted for your
soul’s progress! Dwell somewhat on the detail, see how Loving and Gracious God has been to you
Affections and Resolutions:
1. Marvel at God’s Goodness. How good He has been to me, how abundant in mercy and
plenteous in loving-kindness! O my soul, be thou ever telling of the great things the Lord has done
2. Marvel at your own ingratitude. What am I, Lord, that Thou rememberest me? How unworthy am I! I have trodden Thy Mercies under root, I have abused Thy Grace, turning it against Thy very
Self; I have set the depth of my ingratitude against the deep of Thy Grace and Favour.
3. Kindle your gratitude. O my soul, be no more so faithless and disloyal to thy mighty
Benefactor! How should not my whole soul serve the Lord, Who has done such great things in me
and for me?
What probably gave me most pause from the above except was St. Francis’ second resolution he charges: Marvel at your own ingratitude. Wait, what? Marvel at my epic fail of thanksgiving this week?! Yes, you read St. Francis’ words correctly. Pondering your own failure to be thankful for the gifts God bestowed upon you is a necessary step towards improvement of an attitude of gratitude.
It did not take me long reflecting about my own spiritual ineptitude. Most of my suffering and negativity this week stemmed from failure to simply thank God. Thank Him for the gifts— however big or small— He already provided me.
Gratitude helps to stave off greed and pride. I am thankful that I decided to spend a small amount of break-time in prayer. I am grateful for the example of holiness St. Francis de Sales. Finally, I am thankful for the gifts of my faith, family, and friends that God grants me daily!
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla said, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” Ingratitude is a cancer that destroys the best of relationships, all previous successes, and precedes despair. In preparation for the season of Lent, I am focusing on developing a better daily habit– that of more graciousness for life both good and bad.
Find Joy— Make a Great (Grateful) List
Let’s do an experiment. Get a timer for look at your watch or clock and time yourself for a minute.
During this 60 seconds list out all of the various things in your life that you’re grateful for. You can type this out or jot it down on a piece of paper. At the end of the minute look at the various things that you’re grateful for below are a list of my items.
Note: For the sake of transparency I listed the things in the order that they popped into my head. The ordering is not a reflection of the priority of gratitude!
Whether your list is larger or smaller than mine does not matter. What I am certain of is that you could certainly think of at least ONE person or thing you are thankful for.
This exercise took only 1 MINUTE!
Imagine performing this simple test of thankfulness every hour of the day. Aristotle once wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Start your life anew with developing a sense of gratitude.
Develop a sense of thankfulness no matter what happens in life. Happiness and peace will soon follow!
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On the first Sunday of Advent, our parish priest gave a homily about how during this season the world tends to speed up and get “busier,” but the Church is actually calling us to slow down and spend more time in prayer. My wife and I both left Mass that Sunday with a high resolve to “slow down” this season and not let the usual culprits get the best of us.
First Part of Advent
We got off to a great start. I joined an Advent Meditation group that I was invited to. I committed to some new service opportunities. My wife, Kate, took up extra prayer devotions and made a commitment to go to Confession regularly throughout the season. She went on a retreat. We both decided not to get too crazy with parties, and shopping, and all the usual suspects. We got our kids involved in some new Advent traditions. Things were looking fantastic.
The first week went really well. We worked everything into our already existing routine. We held each other accountable. It seemed like this was going to be the best Advent ever for our family spiritually. However, once Kate left for her retreat, we got a series of unexpected circumstances that through us way off track.
Our Series of Curveballs (or Snowballs)
Once Kate left for retreat, our two year old son got sick with a fever. He couldn’t go to daycare. The illness was prolonged by an ear infection. This was quickly passed to his older and younger brothers and the illness took a week and a half for our family to recover from.
My ability to work during this time was severely limited. Fortunately, my wife and I are both self-employed so it was somewhat manageable. However, ironically during this time I began to generate some new leads and was getting into the thick of a re-vamped marketing plan that I was trying to pick up some steam on before Christmas break.
Nobody was getting a good night’s sleep in our house for about two weeks. Finally, once we thought it was over, then came the stomach virus that afflicted everyone in our family including myself. Suddenly, I found myself stressing out over the season because I was backed up on work and we weren’t ready for Christmas. My prayer routine had gone out the window as I was just trying to stay above water.
God Has a Plan
Despite my best plans, my ideal Advent had been de-railed. I had to accept that my prayer life was not going to be perfect, and that I needed to focus on my top priorities for work and possibly save the other tasks until after the New Year.
I’m called in my vocation to love my wife and children. Sometimes that means I cannot commit to a regular routine prayer life and fruitful time of deep contemplation. Sometimes it means holding my five year old while he watches Star Wars until he feels better, or making sure the house is in order because our six month old is sick and just wants to be held by his mom.
The Advent Meditation Group that I joined is looking at Advent through the eyes of St. Joseph. My two biggest takeaways from this group so far in how I am preparing during Advent are:
St. Joseph lived his life in humble service to his Creator
St. Joseph had a prayer life that was organic.
The Best Prayer is a Humble Prayer
Although I am having trouble getting out my prayer materials at the same time everyday to find fruitful prayer in my routine, I have been seeking God in humble service (to my family) and trying to live a more organic prayer life.
My prayer life has not included things like regular Adoration and Scripture study like it usually does, but I have been taking time regularly throughout my day to thank God for my wife, my kids, the ability to work from home, and the people that have helped me in different facets of my life. It has left me with a more grateful, and simpler attitude.
My marriage has blossomed this Advent as Kate and I both practice gratitude, and I am learning to see God in everyday moments in a special way.
Wherever you are spiritually this Advent, whether your Advent hasn’t gone as planned, you didn’t plan anything special, or it is going better that you thought, I encourage you to stop and consider what God is calling you to in this next week.
Our individual call is just as unique as our set of circumstances. There is always a way to “roll with the punches” and discover our infinite God in new and exciting ways. God meets us where we are. Right in our glorious messes!
The Nativity story is the perfect example of finding God’s will and rolling with the punches. If you are finding that there is “no room at the Inn,” I challenge you to look around you and find your manger where you can slow down and sleep in heavenly peace.
Jonathan Hicks is a husband and father of 3 boys, ages 5, 3 and 6 months. He works as a grant writing consultant and has a passion for Catholic causes, particularly those that serve the poor. Originally from Scranton, PA, he currently resides in Grand Rapids, MI.
Once November arrives our culture shifts directly into “Black Friday” Christmas shopping mode. The hustle and bustle of completing holiday to-do lists certainly puts pressures on people to rush. As a result, sometimes we forget that thanksgiving is not merely a day of the year, but rather a mindset. Recognizing the blessings in your life is not a novel, Americanized concept. Actually it is quite old.
According to ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” I needed to hear that wisdom as I too suffer immensely from gratitude nearsightedness.
Acclaimed Catholic journalist and essayist G.K. Chesterton pithily proclaimed, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
Since focusing my attitude toward gratitude, I have noticed a seismic shift in my approach to treating my wife, kids, customers, and co-workers with more respect and patience. Along big component to thanksgiving is sharing with others gifts that helped you out, for me ten outstanding individuals helped shape—and continue to shape—my Catholic faith. I am thankful for the following ten Catholics and their witness to Truth.
Venerable (Soon-to-be Blessed) Fulton Sheen
Reading the works of the American archbishop helped me learn my faith in a clearer and more articulate fashion. His book The World’s First Love: Mary the Mother of God influenced more than any other work on deepening my relationship with the Blessed Virgin.
St. Josemaria Escriva
Since receiving his book The Way as an unexpected Christmas present, this Spanish priest became a huge role model for me. Fr. Escriva’s practical advice and wisdom on work being a pathway to holiness helped me become not only a better employee, but also a better husband as well.
St. Catherine of Siena
Over the past year, I had the privilege and joy of acclimating myself with the teachings of this Doctor of the Church. In light of the recent clergy crisis, I oftentimes sink into despair as I think that a simple lay person such as myself has nothing to contribute or weight to affect the good of the Church.
Reading the many letters of Catherine of Siena proved to me that even the laity have the ability—and the charge—to holiness and call on Church leadership to be good shepherds to lead the flock faithfully!
St. Maria Faustina
Being my wife’s confirmation saint, I did not learn about Sister Faustina until we started dating in college. Along with the impact the Polish nun had on my wife, her Diary of a Soul proved helpful for my spiritual life.
As a lifelong Catholic, I always knew of God’s mercy, but her ability to articulate boundlessness of Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy icon now have become staples in my spiritual life.
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I am ashamed to admit I never heard of this amazing doctor of the Early Church. Since taking a graduate course on Christology and reading [enter book title], St. Athanasius’ intrepid stand against the most sinister heresy—Arianism—in the history of the Catholic Church always inspires and fascinates me! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read the sainted bishop’s On the Incarnation.
St. Pope John Paul II
The Polish pope overcome much adversity in his life: losing his immediate family members by the age of 21, living through Nazi and Communist regime, and suffering from polio at the end of his life.
John Paul II’s ability to suffer gracefully and his strong devotion and daily reception of the sacrament of Penance make him the perfect role model for faithful Catholics.
St. Francis de Sales
Although Frances was a bishop, his spirituality largely impacted the laity. His spiritual work Introduction to the Devout Life, remains as relevant now almost 500 years later.
St. Therese of Lisieux
Whether I experience doldrums or dryness in the spiritual life, reacquainting myself with the Little Way of St. Therese provides me spiritual nourishment to withstand those dry spells.
The simplicity of her spiritual helps to provide me perspective that I do not have to perform grandiose works to grow in holiness. Actually, that path it found through consistent prayer and trust in God’s will. I am thankful for her loving witness to trust in the Father’s Divine Plan.
While the father of fantasy and beloved creator of Middle Earth may appear as an outlier in this list, the late Oxford professor strongly influenced and deepened my Catholic faith in recent years. His ability to teach truth without sounding preachy is second to none.
Reading his works sparks my imagination. When I found out that his Catholic faith permeated his entire life, even his writing, I too dove deeper into the pursuing the joy of the truth founded in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I discovered the awesomeness that is Robert Barron back in 2014 as I was teaching Old and New Testament Scripture classes to high school sophomore. His YouTube videos provided clear and interesting short clips about various topics on Catholic theology.
I am indebted to his ministry Word on Fire as well. Along with his videos, Bishop Barron’s book Catholicism proudly is displayed on my bookshelf. It is a frequent reference for many of my posts.
Lord I am grateful for the wonderful individuals who followed your will and helped me learn more about the Catholic teaching and strengthen my spiritual life!
“What matters isn’t storytelling. What matters is telling a true story well.” — Ann Handley
💡The most engaging content I have written does not include the best grammar, language, or most philosophical ideas.
💡A common thread I noticed about posts that get more comments, likes, and views are about actual events in my life.
💡Truth. What is truth? For me it is something that matches reality.
💡The truth about me is that I am a devout Catholic, husband, and father. I enjoy writing (this should not be a shock to anyone 😊), running, reading, and geeking out over comic books and anything Tolkien.
💡The truth is my work schedule is not ideal. My wife and I get only a few times during the week to talk, actually talk about our day, hopes, and dreams.
💡 I have wanted to give up or at least take a long time off from my work as a writer. In hindsight, I know that it was sleep deprivation talking.
💡The truth is I am grateful. On my worst days I am at least grateful for my faith, family, and friends. On my best days I see literally everything I encounter as a blessing. We are blessed to have the ability to use blogging and social media as a platforms to share our truths with others.