The Little Way of the Hobbit–Celebrating Tolkien and the Holy Name of Jesus

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January 3rd celebrates two important events: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and the anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a Catholic obvious the former has to take precedence, I mean Jesus is the center of the Catholic faith. However, I think it is ironic, maybe even providential, of the placement of the great English literary figure’s birthday within the season of Christmastide. The famed creator of Middle Earth himself was a devout Catholic and belief in Jesus Christ permeated his entire life. I admire Tolkien because of his creativity, devotion, and ability to invoke joy into my life simply by reading his works or striking up a conversation with a random stranger about his life!

Last year, I wrote an article published in EpicPew.com  discussing the reasons for canonizing Tolkien as a saint of the Church. According to the Baltimore Catechism paragraph 215 answered the question of why Catholics honor saints in this way,  “We honor the saints in heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God we honor God Himself.”

The excitement, peace, and joy I receive when reading, researching, or talking about Middle Earth ultimately is aimed at a higher reality–a deeper reality of full communion with God in Heaven. Tolkien once wrote, “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’.” All of creation act as signposts for truth of God’s existence. The same is true for the hidden or not so hidden Easter-eggs contained in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The date of the formation of the Fellowship–that is, the group of representatives of Middle Earth races– actually is December 25th!

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Much of Tolkien’s theology, whether he would have wanted to admit it or not,  reminds me of the spirituality of The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her path towards holiness consisted of relying on God’s mercy and forgiveness while seeking ordinary daily actions to show love of God and neighbor. The French saint wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Whenever I read and reflect upon that quote I am also reminded of the following words of Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

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Fantasy and Tolkien geeks now well that the bearer of the One Ring [the embodiment of temptation]  was a hobbit. If only one word would suffice to describe a hobbit to individuals not too aware of this fictional Middle Earth race it would be diminutive.  Littleness, at least in appearance, is the chief trait of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings. However, like St. Therese of Lisieux, Tolkien recognizes that the smallest person can have a great impact on human history. The greatest event in human history is the Incarnation–God being man in the person of Jesus Christ in the form of a little baby. I honor J.R.R. Tolkien today because his “complex”, extensive, and intricate sub-creation of Middle Earth provokes a sense of joy in the little acts done in great love and sacrifice. Ultimately, after reading any of his works, I am reminded to be grateful for creative genius not as a worship of the fantasy author, but rather I honor him as he points me to the Real and Truth Author of All of Reality!


“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11

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10 Catholic Role Models I Appreciate!

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Coming off the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday, it may be easy to move directly into “Black Friday” Christmas shopping mode. The hustle and bustle of completing the holiday to-do list certainly puts pressures on people to rush. As a result, sometimes we forget that thanksgiving is not merely a day of the year, but rather a mindset. Recognizing the blessings in your life is not a novel, Americanized concept. Actually it is quite old. According to ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” I needed to hear that wisdom as I too suffer immensely from gratitude nearsightedness.

Acclaimed Catholic journalist and essayist G.K. Chesterton pithily proclaimed, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Since focusing my attitude toward gratitude, I have noticed a seismic shift in my approach to treating my wife, kids, customers, and co-workers with more respect and patience. Along big component to thanksgiving is sharing with others gifts that helped you out, for me ten outstanding individuals helped shape—and continue to shape—my Catholic faith. These following ten Catholics are role models I am incredibly thankful for God allowing to enter into my life by either reading their works or listening to their speeches.

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1. Venerable Fulton Sheen: Reading the works of the American archbishop helped me learn my faith in a clearer and more articulate fashion. His book The World’s First Love: Mary the Mother of God influenced more than any other work on deepening my relationship with the Blessed Virgin.

2. St. Josemaria Escriva: Since receiving his book The Way as an unexpected Christmas present, this Spanish priest became a huge role model for me. Fr. Escriva’s practical advice and wisdom on work being a pathway to holiness helped me become not only a better employee, but also a better husband as well.

3. St. Catherine of Siena: Over the past couple of months, I had the privilege and joy of acclimating myself with the teachings of this Doctor of the Church. In light of the recent clergy crisis, I oftentimes sink into despair as I think that a simple lay person such as myself has nothing to contribute or weight to affect the good of the Church. Reading the many letters of Catherine of Siena proved to me that even the laity have the ability—and the charge—to holiness and call on Church leadership to be good shepherds to lead the flock faithfully!

4. St. Maria Faustina: Being my wife’s confirmation saint, I did not learn about Sister Faustina until we started dating in college. Along with the impact the Polish nun had on my wife, her Diary of a Soul proved to be a fruitful read for my spiritual life. As a lifelong Catholic, I always knew of God’s mercy, but her ability to articulate boundlessness of Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy icon now have become staples in my spiritual life.

5. St. Athanasius: Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I am ashamed to admit I never heard of this amazing doctor of the Early Church. Since taking a graduate course on Christology and reading [enter book title], St. Athanasius’ intrepid stand against the most sinister heresy—Arianism—in the history of the Catholic Church always inspires and fascinates me! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read the sainted bishop’s On the Incarnation.

6. St. Pope John Paul the Great: The Polish pope overcome much adversity in his life: losing his immediate family members by the age of 21, living through Nazi and Communist regime, and suffering from polio at the end of his life. JPII’s ability to suffer gracefully and his strong devotion and daily reception of the sacrament of Penance make him the perfect role model for faithful Catholics.

7. St. Francis de Sales: Although Frances was a bishop, his spirituality largely impacted the laity. In his spiritual work Introduction to the Devout Life, remains today almost 500 years later a

8. St. Therese of Lisieux: Whether I experience doldrums or dryness in the spiritual life, reacquainting myself with the Little Way of St. Therese provides me spiritual nourishment to withstand those dry spells. The simplicity of her spiritual helps to provide me perspective that I do not have to perform grandiose works to grow in holiness. Actually, that path it founded by continually to pray and rely on trusting in God’s will. I am thankful for her loving witness to trust in the Father’s Divine Plan.

9. J.R.R. Tolkien: While the father of fantasy and beloved creator of Middle Earth may appear as an outlier in this list, the late Oxford professor strongly influenced and deepened my Catholic faith in recent years. His ability to teach truth without sounding preachy is second to none. Reading his works sparks my imagination. When I found out that his Catholic faith permeated his entire life, even his writing,  I too dove deeper into the pursuing the joy of the truth founded in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

More information about my admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien can be found be clicking on this link to an article I wrote for EpicPew: https://epicpew.com/an-unexpected-journey-the-case-for-the-canonization-of-j-r-r-tolkien/

10. Bishop Robert Barron: I discovered the awesomeness that is Robert Barron back in 2014 as I was teaching Old and New Testament Scripture classes to high school sophomore. His YouTube videos provided clear and interesting short clips about various topics on Catholic theology. I am indebted to his evangelization ministry Word on Fire as well. Along with his videos, Bishop Barron’s book Catholicism proudly is displayed on my bookshelf and is a frequent reference for many of my posts.

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Lord I am grateful for the wonderful individuals who followed your will and helped me learn more about the Catholic teaching and strengthen my spiritual life!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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Thank you for sharing!