3 Tips to Write More Effortlessly

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British author J.K. Rowling declared, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” Writers since the beginning of time faced the double-edged sword the joy of creation from words and the fear of writer’s block. Some days it seems that words cannot be typed quick enough as phrases, sentences, and paragraphs already exist in your mind. Other times crafting a mere word or phrase is as painful as getting a tooth pulled at the dentist!

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Whether you currently are in a state of inspiration or at a standstill in your writing here are three tips to enhance the ability to write more naturally and effortlessly.

  1. Read, Read, Read— Feed Your Mind: The great American author William Faulkner advocated for the importance of reading, “Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” From my own experience, I have learned that the most fruitful periods of writing, and writing that comes naturally without really any strain, occurs during times where I read a lot! Just like the body requires a balanced meal for good nutrition, so too does the mind need a steady stream of information. Along with frequent writing variety is equally important. Making a habit of non-fiction and fiction will only help to expand your ability to write from multiple points of view and in diverse ways. Currently, I am reading Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men comics (to fill my creative side) and Dialogues of Catherine of Siena and Heresies by G.K. Chesterton (to satisfy my more spiritual and intellectual side).

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2.  Reflection:  Another tip to develop more natural and effortless writing is to make time to reflection on the stuff you read. The Greek philosopher Aristotle purported, ““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Without proper time to examine yourself and the ideas that you read about it gets difficult to organize them into coherent thoughts. Among the best times for reflecting on a post that I want to write about occurs in the car. Using the minutes between drives to work, the grocery store, or other errands I ponder how I want to organize the essential points of an article that I am working on. Even a few minutes of reflection helps me write at a quicker rate and with less resistance!

3. Passion and Purpose: After feeding your mind with plenty of information and reflecting on the material that you want to write about the third tip I use to make my writing more effortless includes a passion and clear objective. Why are you writing? Is it for an increased amount of exposure and social media fame or is your reason deeper?

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My own particular desire for creating The Simple Catholic blog was (and still is) to discover the joy in life on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven. As the great Catholic write Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write to discover what I know.” Through my faith I know that truth that freedom from sin and death exist by way of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A secondary goal flowing naturally from my first is to help people discover joy in this life (and hopefully the next as well!). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole self and that the second greatest commandment— love of neighbor— flows naturally from the first command (Matthew 22:34-40).  Putting God first, others second, and myself last not only helps my writing, but also infused joy into all facets of my life. This kind of joy cannot be contained and I do not want to keep this gift all to myself—it need to be shared with others, you my readers, and in turn I hope you share with your friends and family! 

Filling my mind with a variety of ideas, taking time to analyze that information, and remembering my original mission for becoming a writing has all contributed to helping me write more naturally, more honestly, and more effortlessly. I hope that these tips help you in your writing endeavors as well. Please feel free to share these tips to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.


“All for one and one for all” Alexander Dumas

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” Anne Frank

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Mahatma Gandhi

3 Reasons Humility is Practical and Reliable

Opening my email inbox I noticed a correspondence from a resume-building website titled Your Resume Review is Complete. Quickly, I clicked on the email to see how I compared to other job seekers. Needless to say, my feedback shows that I have much room for improvement. My initial reaction to the review included feelings of dejection, inadequacies, and defeat. On top of these negative feelings my toddler son began a 10 minute tantrum. “Today is going to be one of those days,” I thought.

Author Erwin McManus wrote, “Attitude is an accurate monitor of where we fall on the spectrum of pride and humility.” Normally, my virtue-vice needle points closer to the pride side. Today was different though. Although my natural reaction tended toward despair which is a product of pride, that soon dissipated towards a desire to learn and improve on my resume — I realized I’m not the smartest when it comes to professional resume building!

According to C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” The old me would tend toward despair with any type of constructive criticism. My primary focus has been to improve my spiritual life– I need to limit my impatience, pride, and anger when things get outside of my control. Reading St. Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosaryenhanced my devotion to Mary. Aside from Jesus, no other person exhibits humility as much as the Queen of Humility. Along with spiritual benefits of humility this virtue provides practicality and reliability to daily life.

1. Time-saver: Ralph Waldo Emerson plainly wrote, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” The times I most often get angry is when something does not go MY way. Whenever I have the prideful audacity to believe that I am in 100% total and utter control of my day is usually the day that nothing I want gets done. Humility is the antidote to pride. Patience is also a cousin of the virtue of humility. During the more stressful parts of parenting, I noticed that whenever I exercise patience I actually end up saving time in the long-run.

2. Improves relationships: Along with saving time, the virtue of humility helps and strengthens relationships. One does not need to look far to see how the virtue of humility helps. The department for the company that I work for holds a monthly meeting to detail the progress over the past 30 days. Together with the business achievements, managers recognize employers who excelled that particular month. Without exception, the workers who receive Team Member of the Month have been dutiful and humbly going about their work without the promise for recognize. Such individuals have strong relationships with their peers.

Not only does the virtue of humility apply to healthy and successful profession relationship, but it is essential for family life as well. St. Teresa of Avila declared, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” All the books on marriage preparation or counseling will strengthen your marriage as much as your willingness to humble yourself before your spouse. St. Paul details the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. While he does not specifically use the word humility it is clear that exercising that virtue will only benefit spouses.

3. Buoy during Life’s Storms: Together with helping you move on from stressful situations easier and fostering relationships, the virtue of humility acts as a benevolent beacon to guide you through all of life’s storms. A common reaction toward the pressures, woes, and calamities of life is to flee. Developing the strength to withstand the maelstroms of misery takes time and patience. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote, “Humility is the foundation of all virtues.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux recognized the importance of humility as well as he famously declared, “The three most important virtues are humility, humility, and humility!”

From my own experience the instances where I weathered the storms best occurred whenever my wife and I were both on the same page–sharing the same goal and purpose. Through humbling myself to recognize the merits of her insight was I able to lift her up [and she lifted up me] during the tumultuous times.

No matter what stage or circumstance you are at in life the virtue of humility will always be reliable and practical–on a daily basis! A trusted resource I use whenever the tentacles of pride try to take over my life is the Litany of Humility. Be prepared for this powerful prayer to change your life!


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…

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