Controlling the Unexpected

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According to 18th century British poet Alexander Pope, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Although as a perfectionist and someone who thrives on routine, my immediate reaction to his words would be to disagree. However, I am actively seeking to stretch my preconceived notions and prejudices, especially when it comes to challenging situations. Possessing a penchant for order, clear expectations, and knowledge of what exactly I should expect in daily life, I do not always adjust to unexpected changes gracefully.

In fact, I think as a whole humanity tends to be geared towards order, structure, routine, and regular habits. When faced with the unexpected a natural reaction usually is to question the purpose or cause of the upheaval of our “control”. As recent as the new changes [developments as I prefer to call them] to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the issue of the death penalty, people seem to have [over]reactions to something new, and possibly unexpected! Now, I am not going to provide you may thoughts on the new developments on Catholic Church teaching on capital punishment—I hope to write about this on a later time—it is just one example of how mankind does not seamlessly adjust to unexpected changes.

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The words of C.S. Lewis appropriately describe our seeking to “control the unexpected”. In his work A Grief Observed the Christian apologist declared, “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” [emphasis added]. Humanity in the 21st century seeks to dominate all aspects of our life. Even the abortion clinics in the United States contain a euphemism—Planned Parenthood—as if children are something to be ultimately controlled! Why cannot we plan all aspects of life? Would it not be easier to live each and every day free of the stresses of the unknown and unexpected?

Control over all variance that a creature with free will such as man would in fact actually lead to a cold-indifferent robotic society. Attempts to eliminate pain, risk, and the unknown of life would also mean that joy, humor, and creativity would disappear. C.S. Lewis summed up this tension between free will and pain in the world best in The Case for Christianity:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.

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1. Love Worth the Unexpected: After a busy week of wrangling and wearing out my three children through taking them to the park, walks around the neighbor, piggyback rides, picking up strewn toys—for the 100th time!—and trying to put the children to bed for what feels like the 1,000th time, I am tanked. Drained out energy I oftentimes lack the strength to be fully present to my wife.

When I am motivated by controlling my kids sleep schedule instead of love, I actually lose control. Love involves permitting free will to occur and setting boundary-lines to avoid self-destructive habits. God as the All-Loving Father graced humanity with the ability to freely choose Him or to reject Him. He provided guidelines for love to grow and flourish both in expected—and expected ways. Freedom involves the unexpected from time to time and love is always worth the unexpected—we just have to make a daily decision to choose love over selfish arbitrary control!

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2. Creativity of the Creator: Along with love being worth the unexpected, total control over one’s life actually stymies creativity—an essential feature of love. Whenever I think of creative individuals, famous or people within my life, words that immediately come to mind include: passionate, intelligent, desire, attentive, and inventive. Albert Einstein, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Thomas Edison are individuals that I think of right away that fit this above description. A further trait of creative individuals is that the act of creation originates not from need, but rather from love and or pursuit of a higher reality.

As a creature created by the Creator, man is not meant to be a static, robotic entity. Creativity naturally entails an involvement on behalf of the Creator with creation. Evidence of this is found in Genesis 1 which shows God actively involved and attentive to the creation of the universe—paying heed to both the whole and the details. Throughout the day, my children act creatively by lovingly engaging in imaginative play via erecting Lego-structures, racing toy cars, or dressing up stuffed animals for “dance parties”. While general boundaries exist in play, the joy, creativity, and humor of childhood [and life as a whole too!] exist when the constraints of control do not rule absolutely supreme.

According to J.R.R. Tolkien, “The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing [controlling] other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.” Regulating reality is not inherently bad, as with most things moderation is the key. Limiting surprises is not necessarily a bad thing. Humans need routine to thrive. The chief purpose of life, for any of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. Our freedom to choose influence over our surroundings should not be at the expenses of our soul or our fellow man!

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.

Catholic Camaraderie—Unity in Suffering

According to J.R.R. Tolkien in his masterpiece The Fellowship of the Ring, “Not all those who wander are lost.” We do not have to look too far to notice that man in the 21st century wander often. Struggling with anxiety, I go through periods in my life where desolation and loneliness—for those who have followed The Simple Catholic blog previously, you are already aware this is a common theme of my writing. Filling my day with social media and DC comic books, after my children go to bed, I still feel overwhelmed from the continual onslaught of changes at work, financial strain, and fussy children. As a Catholic I often forget that the solution to despair is always safeguarded and housed within the Catholic Church—camaraderie in Christ!

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Saint Pope Pius XII declared in his encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, “For, as We said above, Christ did not wish to exclude sinners from His Church; hence if some of her members are suffering from spiritual maladies, that is no reason why we should lessen our love for the Church, but rather a reason why we should increase our devotion to her members” (no 66). Along with loving Christ the Head of the Church, all Christian are compelled to love other members of the Body of Christ as well.

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1. No Man is an Island: Being a social rational animal humans need companionship and interactions with fellow man in order to be happy. While people do require alone time—I myself require it occasionally due to the frenetic nature of family life, it is not natural individual to prefer isolation for the majority of their earthly existence. Our actions and inactions effect not only us and those closest to, but can ripple out to effect, positively or negatively, people beyond our immediate scope or moment in time. The great English poet John Donne wrote about the interconnectedness of humanity. In his poem No Man is an Island Donne states,

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

As a Catholic I am reminded weekly of the importance of communion with God and neighbor alike. Central to Christianity is the tenets of the Nicene Creed—a profession of beliefs Catholics recite weekly every Sunday Mass. The first characteristic of the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ—is unity. Jesus himself prayed for Christian unity in John 17:19-23. Recognition that we truly are all brothers and sisters of the same human race helps center myself toward a better daily outlook. Viewing daily strife at work as an opportunity to reconcile or reunite my fellow neighbor into communion allows me to limit anxiety, anger, and impatience. No man in an island our good deeds help others and bad deeds hurt others too!

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2. Many Hands Make the Load Light: Among the best advice given to me has been to learn to accept the help of others. As a perfectionist and someone who suffers from OCD, I often struggle to allow my wife and children aid me in the household chores. Giving up control by letting family, friends, and co-workers help me in daily tasks in the long-run ease self-imposed burdens. Jesus Christ himself urged all struggling with burdens to trust in Him. In Matthew 11:29-30 the God-Man told his disciples, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest. 29* p Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Besides Scripture, the most relatable example I discovered of bearing the weight of another comes from the fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings. Over the course of the trilogy, the central figure of the novels the hobbit Frodo Baggins bears the burden of carrying the One Ring to Mount Doom to destroy it and ultimately destroy the Dark Lord Sauron’s control over Middle Earth. While hobbits possessed a natural ability to withstand the allure of the power of the One Ring longer than other races, Frodo wore the ring so long that he started to grow weak.

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Arguably the most striking scene in trilogy in The Return of the Ring involves Frodo’s friend and fellow hobbit Samwise Gamgee entering into the suffering of the ring bearer when he cries, “Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried.’I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”

Helping others shoulder their cross is the hallmark of Christianity. Cooperation in suffering pervades the history of Christianity. From Simon the Cyrene helping Jesus bear the weight of the cross up Calvary, to the modern day saints like Saints John Paul and Maximilian Kolbe offering their suffering and death to alleviate the suffering of their fellow mankind, we are all called to a Catholic [a universal] camaraderie.

Purgative experiences on my earthly journey allows me to get beyond my limited purview. Engaging and uniting to the suffering of my family members and neighbors [near and far] plunges us into deeper camaraderie.


Behold me, my beloved Jesus, weighed down under the burden of my trials and sufferings, I cast myself at Your feet, that You may renew my strength and my courage, while I rest here in Your Presence. Permit me to lay down my cross in Your Sacred Heart,

for only Your infinite goodness can sustain me; only Your love can help me bear my cross; only Your powerful hand can lighten its weight. O Divine King, Jesus, whose heart is so compassionate to the afflicted, I wish to live in You; suffer and die in You. During my life be to me my model and my support; At the hour of my death, be my hope and my refuge. Amen.

3 Ways Hope Can Overcome Despair

According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness. Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.

Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.

1. Larger Piece of the Puzzle: Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope that the puzzle could be solved!

Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle—without borders and helpers it is easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.

2. Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism: Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. According to Mike Pacer, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope should not be reduced to wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not procedure a placebo effect like false-optimism.

Hope is a gift granted by God, most especially by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity—the Holy Spirit. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”

3. Heaven—the Final Frontier: Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!

St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!

O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.

5 Epic Quotes to Prepare You for the Feast of Corpus Christi

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Along with the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the celebration of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ [commonly called The Feast of Corpus Christi] is my favorite day in the Liturgical Year. In preparation for this solemn celebration I wish to share a few quotes from Catholic saints and/or Catholic faithful—the great English author J.R.R. Tolkien should be seriously considered for canonization due to his profound ability to draw people to the Catholic faith through the medium of literature!

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1324, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The graces received from the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus provide sustenance over the course of our pilgrim journey here on Earth. Nothing, and I truly mean, nothing is more vital, more essential, or more powerful than any natural force on earth than the being in the light of the Son or receiving the true bread from heaven!

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Here are five powerful quotes that helped me draw further into wonder and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. While this is not an exhaustive list [NOT EVEN CLOSE!], I hope you find peace, joy, and strength when you reflect on these passages. May God Bless You and thank you for your continued support!

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The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.—J.R.R. Tolkien

“I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master.” St. John Vianney

“If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” —St. Maximilian Kolbe

“Receive Communion often, very often…there you have the sole remedy, if you want to be cured. Jesus has not put this attraction in your heart for nothing…” —St. Therese of Lisieux

“The Blessed Sacrament is indeed the stimulus for us all, for me as it should be for you, to forsake all worldly ambitions. Without the constant presence of our Divine Master upon the altar in my poor chapels, I never could have persevered casting my lot with the lepers of Molokai; the foreseen consequence of which begins now to appear on my skin, and is felt throughout the body. Holy Communion being the daily bread of a priest, I feel myself happy, well pleased, and resigned in the rather exceptional circumstances in which it has pleased Divine Providence to put me.” —Blessed Fr. Damien, Apostle of the Lepers

The Simple Joy of Holiness: Reaction to GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE

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Jesus’ charge to his disciples in Matthew 5:48, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” His declaration formed the longstanding and consistent Catholic Church teaching that holiness is a universal call for everyone. Sainthood is not meant to be reserved for priests and nuns. St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Lumen Gentium, and the writings of St. Josemaria Maria Escriva acted as watershed writings that helped me understanding the catholicity of holiness. Now, I have another work to add to this tremendous list—Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete Et Exsultate.

Maintaining the traditional claim that holiness for both laity and ordained alike, Francis communicates this message in a fresh manner that still adheres to traditional Catholic teaching.  Below are key points from the exhortation that stood out to me and believe echo important wisdom and truth for all.

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  1. Universal Call to Holiness: The pontiff’s aim in writing Gaudete Et Exsultate is clearly indicated from the beginning, “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis goes on to describe sanctity as a process that is available to all—referring to the need for “saints next door”. Salvation is a communal endeavor and not meant to compartmentalize individuals in isolation. The Argentinian pope declares, “In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved along, as an isolated individual” (#6).

I am reminded by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring as the best fictional analogy for humanity’s journey towards holiness. Although Frodo is the primary ring-bearer he is surrounded by a cadre of helpmates in his journey to destroy the One Ring. In similar fashion, while you may be the primary character in your unique quest towards sanctity, God provides coworkers [your spouse, family, friends, and the saints] to assist.

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  1. Progressive Nature of Holiness: Along with sanctity involving a fellowship, the universal call to holiness involves a journey across the timeline of your life. Pope Francis states in Gaudete Et Exsultate #50, “Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively.” In other words, it takes time to become a saint! Processes contain both blessings and challenges. On one hand, God mercifully affords humanity multiple opportunities to repent and seek his will. However, the journey of life sometimes becomes difficult and we oftentimes yearn for union with God in Heaven before our earthly affairs complete. The drudgery of life is exhausting and temptations of the world constantly allure and assault us. How may be combat these continual attacks? Communicate with the Holy Trinity. “Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love,” the Argentinian pontiff writes (#104).

 

  1. Realness of Holiness: Sainthood is not meant to be an ephemeral experience. Instead, holiness involves raw, concrete living with our neighbors’ best interests at heart. To quote St. John Paul II from his Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Ineunte, “If we truly start out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified.” Jesus Christ advised us in Matthew 25:40 “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Pope Francis unabashedly stated, “If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public square” (Gaudete Et Exsultate, #98). How easily do we pigeonhole holiness within the walls of a church or within the realm of the Scriptures? Most of humanity work within the world and face opportunities to be charitable to others on an hourly basis.

Throughout the work week, I struggled mightily with anger and contempt towards co-workers who differed in their approach and willingness to assist customers in need. When I allowed anger to color my outlook on justice I don a metaphorical judge’s robe–such sentiment is not healthy for my spiritual well-being. After a frustrating day at work, I called my brother for support. His first reply upon hearing my concerns were, “Matt, are those people still children of God?” Humbly, I had to retracted a bit on my anger and cede to his point. “Yes, of course they are!” I emphatically admitted. This moment coupled with Pope Francis’ charge to be holy in everyday situations helped re-frame my mindset.

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 4. Surprise of Joy:  Together with realizing that holiness is meant to be a tangible experience with love of God and neighbor, Pope Francis reminded me that humor and joy are key components to holiness. He states, “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy,  or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humor.  Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is ‘joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17), for the ‘necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved…the effect of charity is joy'” (Gaudete Et Exsultate, #122).

In the midst of seemingly harrowing situations saints wear the face of joy. Holy men and women unite themselves to the Holy Spirit through constant prayer and reliance on God.  Francis urges, “Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’ That joy brings deep security, serene hope and a spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate” (Gaudete Et Exsultate, #125).

The Lord desires us, his children, to be joyful and fulfilled in this life–and the next. Reading Gaudete Et Exsultate helped remind me that the simple joy of holiness is our ultimate aim in this reality. Sainthood is a calling for all–not the few– and it is possible, but it takes time and the grace of God!

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3 Tactics to Depress Your Depression

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The beginning of this week continued my struggle with depression. Over the past several weeks, I lacked both the physical, mental, and emotional mettle to write. Journaling and blogging used to come more natural to me, however, lately I ran into a seemingly impenetrable mental wall of writer’s block. During periods of depression, you may feel utterly helpless and lack the motivation to implement means to overcome this vile force. Trust me this feeling is real and appears to be inescapable. I felt the same way to start the week. Please know that hope is always on the horizon—the problem is that you may need to remind yourself of this fact!

Hope arrived on the scene in a unique manner this week—through reading the classic children’s bedtime book Goodnight Moon to my youngest son. Currently he is going through a language explosion—he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder—he development was delayed but through frequent therapies we are seeing the fruit of his hard work. The story involves saying goodnight to an array of items and characters in a bedroom. Upon getting to the page about the red balloon, my son shouted “Ah a balloon!” This image of a fully inflated balloon stuck with me throughout the night and into the morning. I viewed my current emotional state as a metaphorical depressed balloon unable to lift off the ground due to lack of the energy, gratitude, and hope.

It took a simple image of a balloon to jumpstart my creative juices about what to write about today. I wish to provide three tactics to take the wind out of the storm of depression you may be facing now—or will be facing in the future!

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  1. Shield Yourself with Thanksgiving: Before going into battle, a solider needs to wear armor and acquire the appropriate defensive tool. Just like physical war, fighting depression involves taking the necessary steps to defend against the continued barrage of negative self-depreciating thoughts. The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once stated, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” Adopting this mindset today defended me against depression’s attack.

Start this defensive tactic to keep depression at bay. For example, at lunch I made a mental list of three specific things I was thankful for today. Strawberries, my comic books, and the ability to write freely immediately popped into my mind as things I feel blessed to possess. Try this simple exercise as a way to easily remind yourself of the various blessings in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised that things may not be as bad as you would think!

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  1. Miniature Victories Win the War: A second tactic to weaken depression’s grip is to focus on minor victories throughout the day. Recognizing that the battle against depression is not necessarily achieved through a once-size-fits-all solution became an important step in my battle. Viewing any positive thing that occurred to me over the course of a day as a win is essential. Fitness trainers tell us the importance of focusing on small incremental goals and the same and spiritual directors remind of the importance of praying consistently in short periods of time first before proceeding to long sessions of meditation—why would it be any different for people who suffer from bouts of depression?

 The relief that arrives when I realize that small triumphs over depression are just as successful and valid as large victories.  According to Andrew Carnegie, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Naming your goal and setting forth a plan is a concrete tactic to combat depression. However, in implementing any plan towards your ultimate goal keep in mind that it is important to celebrate the little victories along with the end result. 

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  1. Fellowship not Forlornness: The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov stated,  “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” When I strive away from a purposeful life that is when depression seems to infiltrate. Sure life has its natural ups and downs. However, for someone with chronic depression it is vital to journey throughout life in fellowship rather than tackle your struggles alone.

The best literary example that comes to mind when thinking about the importance of communion to fight off despair and depression is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. His first installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy involves the formation of a Middle Earth menagerie composed of four hobbits, two humans, an elf, a dwarf, and the wizard Gandalf. Similar to depression, the power of the One Ring involved the ability to gain control of its bearer over the course of time. The Fellowship’s singular purpose was to provide aid and companionship to aid Frodo in his journey to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. I found this excerpt that exhibits the importance of friendship during moments of doubt,

But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. 

Are you experiencing moments of doubt now? Does it appear that there is no one around you to trust? Please know that this is a false belief—there is always someone who is willing to help. During times of deep depression I too struggle immensely with doubt. I doubt that I am worthy of friendship. I sometimes even doubt that my beloved Father in Heaven care for me.

Surrounding myself with good and holy people help pull myself out of this tendency to self-doubt. Last week, my manager at work provided much needed words of consolation when I struggled with depression in the workplace. Each week I attend the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where I am united in communion with other fellow Catholics. Through reception of the Eucharist I am nourished by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ to journey out into the world for the next week. Thanksgiving, recognizing the small achievements, and seeking fellowship with others allow you to gain an upper hand in your daily battle against depression. Thank you all for reading my articles and continue to fight the good fight!

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