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!

J.O.Y.—Just Others [over] Yourself!!!

Along with my enjoyment of crafting the written word into sentences, paragraphs, coherent thoughts, and detailing my struggles and limitations, I began The Simple Catholic blog with the aim to pursue the joy of the Gospel in my pilgrim journey on this Earth. This thing about joy is that it is always momentarily and never actually something you can produce yourself. Joy is different from mere happiness as joy hints at a higher reality and is a gift from God. Happiness, on the other hand, may be man-made, it is something able to be manufactured and it provides temporary pleasure.

According to C.S. Lewis discussing a life experience in Surprised by Joy wrote, “I called it [his experience] Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is” (p. 18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1829). Only through love of God and neighbor, through the virtue of charity is the gift of joy received!

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Another interesting thing about joy is that we receive this gift unexpectedly. Ironically, and no pun intended, when I noticed Lewis’ Surprised by Joy hidden on the bottom of a bookshelf in the local used books store joy immediately flooded in. I was “surprised by joy!” Out of great love for C.S. Lewis, I was grateful and joyful to have the opportunity to purchase his wonderful conversion story.

Earlier this week, I received joyful and surprising news—I was going to see a college buddy of mine. My wife texted, “We are having dinner at XXX and XXX’s house on Saturday! We are bringing dessert.” While at face value this message appeared ordinary, charity transforms seemingly mundane events into joyful ones! I was not excited about the dessert or a change in scenery for dinner. Rather, I was joyful about spending time with my friend and his family.

Joy involves the in-breaking of the transcendent reality into this earthly existence. Joy hints at a higher reality of Heaven—communion with God forever. According to Saint John Paul II, “Christ remains primary in your life only when he enjoys the first place in your mind and heart. Thus you must continuously unite yourself to him in prayer…. Without prayer there can be no joy, no hope, no peace. For prayer is what keeps us in touch with Christ.”

Joy is a gift we receive when we live for others and receive it most fully when we live for the Ultimate Others—the Trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sin separates us from the joy of love of God and fellow man. We need to ask God for the gift of joy, the fruit of charity to be aware of the little moments He meets us throughout our life. The first step after prayer is just others over yourself!

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5 Ways Clive Staples Lewis Inspires

According to English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”  This statement rings true especially in relation to another great English author—Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis! No another writer, accept maybe J.R.R. Tolkien, has influenced me and provided me as much inspiration for my writing over the course of the past couple years as Lewis.

C.S. Lewis once declared, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” While that statement is true for all good books and excellent authors, his pithy saying certainly foreshadowed how all of his writings would be received by his fans [and any literature enthusiast!] in the decades after his death. Below are five reasons why the premiere Christian apologist of the 20th century inspires me [and others] in the 21st century and beyond.

1. Imaginative Genius: Up until a few years ago, I only knew C.S. Lewis through The Chronicles of Narnia series. His character of Aslan, the symbolic figure of the Holy Trinity is among the greatest fictional characters ever created. Both the power and gentle nature of Aslan makes him relatable and mysterious figure at the same time.

Along with creating the history, characters, and landscapes of a world accessed through a mere wardrobe, reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy truly proved to me his imaginative genius. His science fiction novels take readers on an interplanetary peregrination. Out of the Silent Planet depicts unfallen alien species unstained by Original Sin. Lewis’ creates a vivid experience that continually draws you into the mysterious rational alien and their eventually interaction with humans. The second novel Perelandra retells the traditional story of the Fall of humanity, but occurring on the planet Venus. Lewis’ prompts interesting questions about man’s ability to evangelize beyond Earth—assuming extraterrestrial life exists!

2. Engaging Your Intellect: In addition to stirring the imagination of readers, C.S. Lewis also wrote with the ability to whet your intellectual pallet. His ability to write about deep theological truths with ease of understanding and depth is second to none. Even though I earned a Master’s Degree in Theology, I still learned a lot from Lewis’ introductory primer on Christianity—Mere Christianity. While the entire book is a gem, for conciseness’s sake I will only point out a couple key passages that made the human condition of sin easy to understand the relay:

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

3. Gateway to Tolkien: The great friendship between C.S. Lewis and contemporary professor of literature J.R.R. Tolkien is legendary. Concerned about the state of literature both writers pledged to do something proactive instead of simply lamenting. During the 1930s, Lewis and Tolkien truly came to the scene with the former penning his Space Trilogy and the latter publishing the classic work The Hobbit.

Both men challenged each other to be a better writer and grow their writing abilities by exploring different genres. Below is a link which details Tolkien’s friendly challenge to Lewis to delve into the realm of science fiction!

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/12/how-cs-lewis-space-trilogy-came-into-being.html

Tolkien stated of his bond with Lewis, “Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual–a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher–and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.” I am indebted to C.S. Lewis for introducing me to the joy of reading Tolkien.

4. Versatility: Lewis’ dexterous prose and subject matter enlighten my mind and infuse a youthfulness to my life like no another author—save possibly Tolkien himself! Tackling the age-old dilemma of evil in The Problem of Pain to enchantingly depicting eschatology in dream-like sequences in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis provides a panoply of subject matter for theologians—lay and professional—to discuss and re-read many times over.

5. Schools through Suffering: St. Ignatuis of Loyola spoke of the purpose of trials in this way, “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” While C.S. Lewis did not formally convert to Catholicism he definitely endured suffering and helped lead countless to a deeper relationship with Christ. Suffering immensely from the death of his wife, Lewis channeled this pain and it bore the fruit of his work A Grief Observed.

The rawness of his prose struck me as both honest and real. Lewis lamented in A Grief Observed, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” I certain relate to this. From a cerebral level I certainly understand the promise of suffering Christ guarantees in John 15:20. Not until we encounter suffering do we truly get tested. Only after the storm do we realize the lessons given.

C.S. Lewis declared, “We read to know we are not alone.” Through reading the masterful works of the great English writer I grown both as a Christian and as a writer. His ability to move my mind to ponder higher realities with simple examples allows me to understand the good, true, and beauty in the world much better.