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!

Spiritual Weapon to Slaughter Pride

Over the course of Catholic Church history, the inner tension between good and evil has been described in warlike and violent language. From to premonition of the Woman crushing the serpent’s head in Genesis 3:15 to the various Old Testament battles and even Jesus Christ himself fashioning a whip to run out temple abusers in John 2:15, the spiritual battle is so real that no other way to talk about it save as a battle does justice to describe it.

Peter Kreeft stated, “Pride looks down, and no one can see God but by looking up.” All sin is rooted in pride. According to the great monastic St. Benedict, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” This is precisely why the Blessed Virgin is honored as the greatest of the saints—her humble and total obedience on the news of her bearing the Son of God. Selfishness exists when we prideful think that our life is in our complete control. As a mere creature of the Creator, I need to re-orient my thoughts away from self-centeredness and instead towards gratitude at the life granted by God.

Below is the best, most effective, and simplest of prayers that I rely on to fend off the sin of pride in my life. I sincerely hope you receive great peace, joy, and the virtue of humility over the course of time in reciting the Prayer of Humility.


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…

3 Reasons Why Children are Good Teachers in this Schoolhouse We call Life

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George Washington Carver once stated, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” Over the course of the centuries education has changed, developed, and evolved. As a society we are becoming more aware of the benefits of education, both at an early age and at later stages in life. Continual learning past the traditional high school, college, and even post-graduate levels is essential for living a healthy and fulfilling life.

As a husband of a special education teacher and a former educator myself, I am attune to the importance learning holds for a person both professionally and personally. Having earned a Master’s in Theology, I once thought myself to be an expert, or master, in that particular field–the study of God. My vocation as a father proved this arrogant premise to be contrary to what I once believed. Children–my three incredible adorable and sometimes obstinate offspring–are in fact good teachers in the school of life.

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  1. “Knock, knock who is there?”: Eight o’clock at night arrived in my household. Both my wife and I were scrambling to get our older children to bed. My son and daughter finished their evening snack of a cheese-stick, clothed in their pajamas, and teeth brushed. We prayed the Guardian Angel prayer before shipping them off to the bedroom. I thought we were in the clear when I heard my daughter asking, “Daddy, can I get a book? I don’t have one in my bed!” Begrudgingly, I harped, “Yes, go quickly into the living room and pick one off the shelf.”

Oddly enough–or maybe not so oddly– my daughter grabbed a joke book filled with riddles, knock-knock jokes, and other corny puns. As I tucked the blanket around her, my daughter insisted I read a few jokes. I conceded and read a couple knock-knock jokes. Her eyes lit up and dimples appeared in the corners of her smile. Reflecting upon this seemingly mundane experience now, I realized that laughter is okay–even during bedtime routine. My children taught me that lessening my serious demeanor will not kill me. Instead, laughter enlivens my spirit. New life is breathed into me as I gaze at the humorous antics within my home.

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2. Keep your promises: Our oldest son is a “rules kid”. What do I mean by this? He is quite bright, detail-oriented, and observant. I am convinced he possesses a photographic memory. My children taught me that the stakes for making–and breaking–promises exponentially increase when you become a parent.

During the hustle and bustle of daily living, I sometimes say things to assuage my son’s persistent pleading. I am not proud of it. As a member of the human race, I suffer from original sin as much as anyone. My promises do not always get fulfilled. Oftentimes, I fall short of the expectations my son and daughter have for me. What parenthood has taught me is that I need to be honest when I break a vow. I need to continually strive to be better at keeping my promises. Most importantly I have learned that children are fairly quick to forgive– I have learned forgiveness is key to becoming a better father.

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3. Joy in the little things in life: Our youngest son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Daily life is frequently tough as he struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively. Meltdowns and tantrums occur regularly. Despite his struggles and limitations, my son teaches me everyday to look for the simple joys in life. For instance, he finds an inordinate amount of joy in anything containing or resembling the shape of a circle. If we go grocery shopping, his eyes light up whenever we pass a helium-filled balloon or whenever he gazes up at the round light bulbs in the store ceiling. Similarly, at house he plays with the same toy cars and trucks without getting bored. Although he has a social-communication disability, in some ways my son has a special ability– to see joy in the seemingly mundane.

Fatherhood reminds me of the words of Aristotle, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Personal growth and learning take time and oftentimes are painful. By focusing on mere snapshots of my parenthood journey I fail to see the fruit that family life fosters. I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons of humility, humor, and joy that my children taught me. I pray that I continue to strive towards being an open and honest student!

2 Ways I Relate to Max Lucado’s You are Special

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John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.

As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.

St. Teresa of Avila once said, “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.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:

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  1. God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!

An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.

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  1. Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.

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You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:

O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.

An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Path

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Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.

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1. Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit: Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.

Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.

A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.

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2. Happy Holiness Day: Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job? Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?

While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

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3. September of Sacraments: Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month. During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful humility:

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…

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Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day is: will you follow me? Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same

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3 Tips to Guarantee You Will Overcome Adversity

According to Thomas Paine in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Written almost 300 hundred years ago, the American philosopher words remain fresh and relevant to our age as they did back in the time of the American Revolution. Facing deluges of stress, busyness, and changes in the workplace, I experienced difficulty in tough times. Last week the stress drowned me and I let anxiety overwhelm me. Probably the best thing I did for myself [and my family] was to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Here I obtained the graces for a clean start, a theological re-booting of my system, and aid to face the adversity this week. Along with Divine assistance, I also had a counseling appointment where I received additional help to stay even-keeled as I boarded the “ship of life” and sailed out against the sea of stress. Below I discovered [actually re-discovered] three practical tips that guarantee you will overcome adversity.

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  1. Seek Help: As a perfectionist I often struggle to admit I need help. My drive to succeed and do the right thing is both a blessing and a curse. In the storm of adversity, sometimes I am not able to keep afloat by myself. Jesus Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew  7:7). To ask for help means to submit yourself to the possibility that you may not have all the answers. Being uncertain about something or not a sign of weakness. Rather, seeking help demonstrates a powerful humility–a mighty weapon to wield in the face of adversity.

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2. Own Up to Failures:  Similar to the first point of asking for help and demonstrating humility, acknowledgment of my limitations provided another bulwark against adversity. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” His words carried real weight for me this week. Working for the banking industry involves balancing regulatory compliance with superb customer service to our clients in order to treat them with dignity and respect. To be honest, I feel like an actuarial acrobat most of the week. A situation arose where I placed more priority on company risk prevention then serving a customer impacted by Hurricane Irma. I felt guilty–even though I really did nothing morally culpable nor illegal. Still, I realized I could have provided our client a better experience. So, I took initiative to actively solve the issue by simply calling him back to inform him of the complete breakdown of disaster assistance our company provides. Almost immediately, I gained a strength to persevere with mettle despite encountering other stressful situations that day.

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  1. Learn, learn, learn: Albert Einstein once said, “A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  Despite, being a professional physicist, the German genius gave us profound philosophical wisdom in this quote. Throughout my life I encountered people I consider to be “learner yearners”. In other words, people who commit themselves to life-long learning and study. The common thread among “learner yearners” is that they seem to deal with adversity in a calm and controlled manner. Adversity will always pester us and follow us in our earthly existence. The key is donning an educational attitude and seek opportunities to learn. Learning leads to perspective. Perspective leads to patience. Patience is the virtue that allows us to disable adversity’s assault.

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The great English prime minister Winston Churchill stated, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” More colloquially put, “With great power comes great responsibility,” attributed by Ben Parker [uncle of Peter Parker/Spiderman]. Facing turmoil and adversity head-on seems brings a sense of joy and peace. This seems counter-intuitive, but from my personal experiences so far that has been the case. A habit of seeking help, taking ownership of my failings, and continual learning leads to overcoming of adversity!

***”It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”***