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!

Expect Nothing Gain Everything

Author Chris Tiegreen wrote, “Thankfulness is difficult to express when one starts with an attitude of entitlement.”  From my experience, I noticed that whenever people claim to deserve everything– I am including myself as the prime perpetrator of this attitude— rarely do things work out. Since my family starting praying the Rosary on a nightly basis, my attitude and approach to situations outside my control began to change.

After several months in a row where I went into work with high expectations, I quickly discovered rarely did the reality match my ideals. Anger, resentment, frustration and negativity came forth from my unrealistic anticipations. Falsely equating high expectations with my desire to be entitled to high production metrics and quality scores caused me to dive into a den of despair. Oftentimes, I came home from work with these feelings still churning inside me. Lacking patience, I lashed out at my family whenever the kids made messes or my wife made excessive requests for help. I sought to control all facets at home in hopes to gain a sense of control in the workplace. Ironically, by expecting everything oftentimes I gain nothing but disappointment and distress.

Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed, “Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace.” Shifting my mindset to viewing all things in life as a gift greatly helped lift my gaze upward and in turn raised my hopes. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most perfect role model as someone who graciously accepted unexpected news that the world would consider an upheaval—an unexpected pregnancy in the most unexpected of all situations!

With my wife being pregnant with our rainbow baby, we viewed this child as a total and completely free gift from God. Moving away from the entitlement mindset, I am able to embrace, ever so slowly, this gift of the sustained and healthy pregnancy. St. Therese of Liseux declared, “I understood that love comprises all vocations – that love is everything, and because it is eternal, embraces all times and places.” Without love all else in life ultimately is moot. Humanity truly deserves nothing. Nevertheless, the Creator of the Universe granted life and even became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Since my move away from my selfish, entitled, greedy mindset, I seek to thank God for the blessings in my life. I ask the Holy Spirit for the graces to continue with this mindset and I pray for you to encounter the same joy that gratitude brings as well!


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. Chesterton

“Gratitude comes naturally when you take so much responsibility that you expect nothing except what you’ve earned through hard intelligent work and always see where you can improve.” –Anonymous

Fixing Our Gaze on Golgotha

Lord Jesus Christ, I petition you as your most unworthy servant and adopted child through the waters of Baptism to hear my petitions. Please soothe the anxiety in my heart, mind, and soul over the pressures, toils, and attacks of despair the Enemy sends my way. Self-doubt and self-loathing pervades me mind throughout today. In keeping with the words of the great Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Sienna, “Every great burden becomes light beneath this most holy yoke of the sweet will of God.” May I receive the graces from the Holy Spirit to love myself and confidently seek your Will, not for my sake but as in loving myself I make a worthy offering to you Most Holy God.

While my sins wound me and damage my relationship with myself, my neighbors, and ultimately You Most Holy Trinity, I petition for intercession from the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints in Heaven to help re-orient my gaze from the gutters of the troubles of my life to gaze upward to the Cross of Jesus—crucified on Golgotha.

I recall the words from a homily by my parish priest who declared, “It is through the atmosphere of Mary that we truly are able to receive the light of the Son.” According to John 19:26-27, “When Jesus saw his mother* and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”n 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted his beloved disciple [and all humanity] to his mother. More important, Jesus gifts us the blessing of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well.

Despite the failings, trials, and doubts that surround us, be assured that peace and joy canbe found in uniting ourselves to Christ’s suffering in Calvary. Remembering that we are all in this pilgrim journey, towards holiness, together helps sustain me in my downtrodden times

Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

Terrifying Joy

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What is the most terrifying thing that happened to you? While this likely will look different for everyone what I have learned throughout my life is that all the horrifying moments of my life consistently involve the following—a complete and utter lack of control.

Now, I am going to ask you to do a complete 180°. Reflect on the most joyful moment(s) of your life. Again, these will be entirely unique and different for anyone. A common thread that connects the joyful experiences is that joy is a received gift. It is not something that I am able to manufacture or produce of my own volition. In a sense, joy too may be something outside of your control.

Over the course of the past several months, I experienced a unique and incomparable feeling that I am going to try my best to describe with words—terrifying joy. Is this not an oxymoronic pairing? How can joy be terrifying? How can terror be joyful?

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For those that have following The Simple Catholic will know that I have frequently wrote about the despair I experienced through the painful deaths of my unborn children via miscarriage. Both of these miscarriages occurred at the end of the first trimester. In fact, the despair got to be so severe that I nearly jettisoned my faith in God completely. As time passed on, I learned that the suffering of losing my child was not the fault of God. He used those horrifying events to draw me closer in trusting the Mysterious movement of Divine Providence.

Although I am stronger in my faith than four years ago, I am still petrified with fears as my wife bears our rainbow baby currently in her womb. Our current pregnancy started off almost identical as the two previous miscarriages. We even had our parish priest administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to my wife when medical avenues were exhausted.

Cautiously optimistic, we slowly started taking down our self-crafted walls built to guard our emotions, expectations, and hopes. Dismantling emotional walls take time. While we carefully controlled our excitement, as the pregnancy progresses along, and our daughter grows, so too does our joy.  With the increase in joy, an equal amount of terror, for all that might possibly go wrong, plagues us.

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My wife detailed out this insanely apocalyptic dream that invaded her sub-conscious last night. It began with the bleak news that we actually were never pregnant with our baby to begin with. Next, her nightmare involved witnessing a panoply of natural disasters: blizzard, floods, hurricane, wildfires, tornadoes, and lightning storms! After telling me this terrifying dream, she said, “We need to check [referring to sonar Doppler we purchased to check on the baby’s heartrate] on the baby tonight!” Later that night we listened to our baby’s strong and consistent heartbeat. Confidence and joy for this gift to our family returned.

Not exactly certain how I would end this topic, I took a break from writing and slept on it. The next day, I suddenly realized a way to describe this Mysterious union of terror and joy—the Incarnation of Jesus Christ helped provide me a little insight to my unique experience. Just as God became fully human while retaining the fullness of His divinity, so too, I posit that perhaps we sometimes partake in that Mystery of the Incarnation, at least a hint of this reality in our own life. While fully being joyful during our recent pregnancy, my wife and I also fully experience terror [of the unknown and potential loss]. The human side allows fear to set in, but as we as God’s adopted children through our Baptism—the Holy Spirit breaks into our life with the gift of joy as well!

Keep calm and ask for help

A tangible way I receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to sustain me in time of discuss and terror is by petitioning God for aid. To quote acclaimed Catholic author Jennifer Fulwiler, “I wanted to tell stories to relieve people’s burdens.” So too, do I desire to share my own joyful [and terror-filled] to ease others trials, doubts, and fears. Please continue to pray for the Lord to guide my family and I am certainly going to continue to petition on your behalf.


“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” St. Augustine

“Act in a way that all those who come in contact with you will go away joyful. Sow happiness about you because you have received much from God.” St. Maria Faustina

Muffins, Magic Words, and Maneuvering through Monday Maelstroms


Me: “Wake up kids! You can have muffins for breakfast once you get dressed.”

My daughter: [sitting up instantly with a grin on her face] Muffins! Yay!

Me: “Who knew I only had to say the magic word of ‘Muffin’ in order to get you to wake up”

My daughter: “Daddy, saying magic words always help me get up better!”


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This exchange took place at 6:32am today as I was getting my family ready to begin the week. Normally, Monday mornings, any day really, waking up my children is akin to prodding a hibernating bear—prodder beware! Happier and calmer children provided good momentum for me to start the week. According to C.S. Lewis, “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”

While I may disagree with the first half of his statement, the latter part—of desiring us to love and be loved is spot on. Now, love involves sacrifice. Both my wife and I love to be prepared and organized. However, organization, especially with three young children, requires we sacrifice certain things in the short-term for the longer-term goal of having an even-keeled and lower stressed week. On Sunday, we sacrificed watching football and instead prepped our food for the week. The fruit of our labor paid off with that sweet exchange between my daughter and I had about the magic of muffins!

This got me thinking about other possible “magic” words to help stymie your work week stress that Monday’s inevitably throw at us.

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1. Pause: Working in a fast-paced job environment and the incredible hectic daily routine of getting three children ages 7 and under for school/daycare makes stopping to take a legitimate break next to impossible. Some weeks it feels like I underwent the stress equivalent of running a half-marathon when my kids are cranky—and it normally is not even 6:50am! As a result of the daily bustle, I learned of the importance to pause. Short and frequent breaks after a stressful situation comes in handy when trying to disarm Monday’s momentum  from developing into a morning maelstrom that drowns the rest of your day’s hopes away. Pause, pause, pause. Keep that magic word in mind.

2. Thank you: Together with breaks, nothing else takes the wind out of a chaotic stress-storm as much as gratitude.  Your mindset in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day [in some cases even the remainder of the week]. Genuine thankfulness stops negativity in its tracks. But it has to be genuine. Expected ‘thank yous’ in return is not the approach when demonstrating gratitude towards others or for the blessings in your life. G.K. Chesterton said it best, ““When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

3. Help: Closely tied to stopping to clear your mind and developing a thankful mentality is asking for help in times of stress. Sometimes out of pride I fail to ask for assistance from those in a position to help me in time of need. In the midst of a stressful situation, I lose sight that I am not alone in this world. Along with my family, friends, and co-workers, I have a God always willing and able to hear my plea for aid. According to St. Francis de Sales, “We shall steer safely through every storm so long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed on God.”

Whether your week began with a flurry of frenzied customers, unexpected projects, screaming kids, or vehicle troubles please do not throw in the towel. Remember the magic words of: pause, thank you, and help! If you are a good baker, or know someone who is, be sure to make yourself pumpkin muffins for breakfast. I am sure they will be a hit if you have young children or simply a child at heart–unless you are allergic to pumpkin than bake banana-nut muffins!

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“Yet what I discovered is that when you put love first, not only does your life improve, but your work improves.” –Jennifer Fulwiler

Little Steps to Big Success!

Humanity in the 21st century live in a time defined by the age of social media, instant gratification, and spirit of one-upmanship. Listening to sports radio the other day, I learned that baseball—the traditional national pastime in the United States—is on the declined. Players focus on hitting grandiose homers and run the risk of striking out. This all-or-nothing principal, typifices our high-risk/high reward culture. Put another way, Hollywood actor Jason Statham, “Every sequel needs to be bigger and better!”

As a member of the human race at this particular time period, I too struggle with the appeal and temptation to reduce my worth—as a writer, employee, and father—to be equal to how “big” or “flashy” my success look like. According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” His words seems to be penned for me in particular. I often insist on taking the more glamorous, but more complicated, route in life. The same is true when it comes to my blog posts. I try to think of a superbly clever topic and feel like I need a particular word count—the more the better—in order for a post to be considered successful or relevant to my audience.

Being pinched for time lately, my desire for the pizazz and ambitious adjective littered prose hit a wall. I simply cannot write 1,000+ word posts three times a week. Perhaps it is a season; regardless of the specific reason it is good to be reminded that the frequently and sheer amount of articles I procedure do not equal quality. I am reminded of the words of St. Therese of Liseux, “Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.” The littleness of the French saint’s way really leads to big success [both in holiness—and when applied to practical living].

Focusing on little acts of love at home [and even little acts of efficiency and politeness at work] provide the foundation for greater growth and potential for increased sanctity and success. Without rambling on too much, I will leave you today with a few quotes from the Little Flower—I hope you find hope in this little way!

The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place.

Perfect love means putting up with other peoples shortcomings, feeling no surprise at their weaknesses, finding encouragement even in the slightest evidence of good qualities in them.

My vocation, at last I have found it; my vocation is love.

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love