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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Finding Joy–My Accidental Discovery of St. Philip Neri

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The great Italian saint Philip Neri once declared, “We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.” How easy it is for us to perform acts of charity in hopes of the reward? I struggled with this temptation recently– instead of serving others out of love of God and neighbor, I oftentimes think of the long-term benefits I may receive– the favor may be returned, customers act nicer towards me, work is lessened in the time-run, etc. Seeking the results the cause [as Philip Neri put it] leads to joylessness.

I started this blog bring joy into my life and into my readers lives as well. Pursuing my daily feed, I came across a post about the patron saint of joy–Philip Neri. His name and patronage stuck with me throughout the workday. “I need to learn more about this saint of joy!” I thought to myself driving back home from work. As soon as my wife went to bed, I google searched Philip Neri and discovered the along with being the patron saint of joy he is an advocate for humor and, interestingly enough, U.S. Special Forces! Please know that I will be incorporating more quotes, writings, and wisdom from St. Philip Neri over the rest of 2018. I am excited for this journey to deepen my relationship with God through the witness of Philip Neri this year. Below is the link to the article that I was referencing above:  https://aleteia.org/2018/04/03/want-to-be-more-joyful-pray-this-prayer-to-st-philip-neri/

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I will close with a prayer that incorporate into my spiritual arsenal [and I hope you do too!]:

Prayer to Saint Philip Neri  

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.

Happy Autism Awareness Day!

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This is the first year that I actually paid attention to Autism Awareness Day. With a second child diagnosed on the autism spectrum as a parent an awareness increased in my personal life that children with autism are unique. My oldest son excels in language and articulating complex sentences, yet he still struggles to formulate his needs at times. On the other hand, my younger son was diagnosed with a more severe form of autism. He qualified for more special services such as speech therapy, OT, and special education.

My hope is that I continue to grow as both a parent and citizen of the world in my knowledge and compassion towards individuals with autism spectrum disorder and the families who support them. Parents naturally strive to attain to find all the answers. When questions abound and various strategies need to evolve to best serve your child tensions sometimes rise. I often struggle with doubts and depression as a parent to children with special needs. My wife and I constantly worry about if the world will accept and love our sons. Autism Awareness Day is a start–a sign that hope is on the horizon! I am comforted through the intercession of St. Thorlak an individual commonly believed to be on the autism spectrum [see link below for more information]. During sessions of stress I mediate on this short prayer:

“Holy Thorlak,
Cut with the scythe of your workings
the thorns casting shadows
in my unclear mind!”

For more information on St. Thorlak please click this link: http://www.mission-of-saint-thorlak.com/patron-of-asd.html

I thank the Lord for the blessings of my children. I am also appreciative that greater awareness is being brought to people with autism. Knowledge is truly a necessary step towards a truer and deeper level of compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. I will conclude today’s post by reflecting on a simple, but powerful anonymous quote, “As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life ‘fair,’ but we do have the power to make life joyful.” 

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The Concealed Power of Christian Joy Needed to be Revealed to the World!

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life– loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

The Son of God’s words contain a message that is in keeping with his entire teaching throughout his three-year earthly ministry—sacrificial love and obedience to God brings true and lasting joy, peace, and purpose to one’s life. He also prepares us for the possibility of Heavenly joy with God in the next life. Before heading to Mass, I had few spare minutes as my children were dressed and ready for Sunday worship—that alone I thanked God as a miracle!—I perused social media and came across a meme with a quote by the acclaimed Catholic theological and biblical scholar Scott Hahn. He intrepidly declared, “A joyless Catholic is the devil’s best tool. A joyful Catholic is God’s greatest instrument.”

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Since this morning I have contemplated his words no less than a dozen times. I cannot help to feel that God is speaking directly to me through Scott Hahn. Many things in daily living suction off joy. Tiredness, both physically and spiritual lethargy, is a key ingredient to creating a barren environment for joy to thrive. A great tactic against physical laziness is going to sound incredibly simple and obvious—mostly because a good night’s rest is the best thing to treat your body to after a long day’s work! Supplementing an increase in sleep with a better nutritional habit will combat physical weakness. Re-committing myself to a healthier lifestyle last week already proved to show gains. Increased amounts of fruits, water, and a decrease in unhealthy sugars provided me more energy throughout the day.

Along with improving the physical aspects of living, I sought out to better my spiritual well-being as well. During an afternoon jog, I had time to reflect on my spiritual progress—both for that day and how I did throughout the week. I realized that only when I put others before myself is joy even possible. First of all, I have to ask God to grant me the gift of joy. Secondly, I reminded myself to count my blessings and thank God for everything in this life: good, bad, and neutral events.

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Joy is not a merely feeling of happiness—sorry Joy even though I loved your movie. Instead it is first and foremost a gift from God that is sustained through an attitude of gratitude. We freely receive joy as a blessing by the will of God. Our Heavenly Father God desires to bestow this gift to us as much as possible, however, he will only nurture it if we freely choose to embrace joy. The seed of Christian joy is planted when we become adopted sons and daughter through the sacrament of Baptism.

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Thanksgiving is the best way to foster and grow the gift of Christian joy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist (CCC 1324). In fact the Latin word eucharista actually means ‘thanksgiving’. While attending Sunday Mass and weekly receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the fullest way to develop the gift of joy it is not the sole means. The power of Christian joy is strengthened via a regular watering of thanksgiving. Thank God for waking up, thank your family members for all the things [great and small] they do for you, thank your co-workers for helping you throughout the day, write a list of the top things/people/events that you are grateful for, or simply say “Thank you Lord!” at least once a day. All the above opportunities are ways for you to increase the joy in your life.

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St. Mother Teresa spoke of Christian joy in the following way, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.” Let us ask for God’s grace to receive this gift to transform ourselves into a beacon of his love. I continue to thank God for the opportunity to write and share my faith. Thank you for continuing to support me in my pilgrim journey toward a joyous life.

Mathematics of Living a Joyful Life

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Disclaimer: All my readers who hated math in elementary and high school please bear with me as I promise the mathematics I am proposing today is less confusing than long division and solving a geometric proof! For math aficionados hopefully you enjoy this post as much as you enjoy the following math jokes:

  1. How do you stay warm in an empty room? Go into the corner where it is always 90 degrees.

2. There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.

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“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves,” John Paul II declared in his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor. I reflect on this quote more than any other from the Polish pope’s papal writings. Throughout my life I felt a pendulum swing between the scientific and spiritual sides of my being. Instead of embracing unity between this two sides, I fall into the error of viewing faith and reason as unnatural mule-like state.

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Imbalance leads to lack of joy, despair, and doubt. Today, I allowed a one-sidedness to creep up on my and grasp my being. Being a perfectionist, my rational pursuit for excellence at work sowed the seeds to restlessness and anxiety. Any little mistake I made remained with me for some time. I struggled with healthy self-esteem during my periods of pure rationalism.

The danger of reducing all knowledge to reason is that a loss of wonder occurs. During the periods where I exhibit control over all areas of my life [work, home, leisure time, etc] ironically instead of acquiring long-term control and freedom, I only gain a fleeting control that seems to escape my grasp as soon as it arrived.

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I stumbled upon the apropos wisdom of G.K. Chesterton on my dilemma. Instead of reflecting inward the great Englishmen declared, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought.” When I am grateful I am happier. I find this to be true in my life experiences. Oftentimes, after a difficult day at work, home, or both I try to take a short inventory at the end of the day of where I typically failed and how I could succeed. Only through the addition of gratitude to my attitude am I able to subtract the worries of the world from the next day. Strangely enough, I discovered that the mathematics of thanksgiving does not necessarily follow the standard rules of elementary arithmetic.

The rest of the Chesterton quote from above goes as such, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” My conscience [and rational] effort to focus on being more thankful is not sufficient to a happy and joyful life. Thanksgiving needs to be multiplied with wonder. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 1299, “The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words:

‘All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.
Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.113′”

Notice that the final gift of the Holy Spirit conferred is wonder and awe. Amazement at the splendor of God’s being and even his created works is a grace. As a child seeing the world through the lens of wonder was easy. I had the dependence on my parents [and God] that things would work out. Jesus spoke of the importance of child-like faith in Matthew 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples* approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”2He called a child over, placed it in their midst,3b and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,* you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.4c Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5* And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

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The Son of God is not meaning that we should don a gullible faith in God–that is an immature understanding of his words. What Jesus means is that our relationship with God should be that of a father-son/daughter bond.As an adopted son of God I am called to ask for and freely choose to rely on God for dependence during trying times in my life. As previously stated, there is a balance that needs to be struck between human reason and faith in Our Heavenly Father.

Aristotle wrote, “The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry, and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful.” There is a true beauty in the overall structure of the created universe. I also believe that God allowed human freedom and intellect to possess the ability to develop and discover math and science to uncover the mysteries of the world. More authentic usage of our rational capabilities along with recognizing our limitations allows for a person to be both grateful for the created order and marvel at God’s majestic masterpiece. I will leave you with a homework problem below: [DON’T WORRY IT WILL BE AN OPEN NOTE QUIZ I ONLY ASK YOU SEEK TO TRY TO IMPLEMENT THIS EQUATION IN YOUR LIFE!!]

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***Gratitude +Wonder= Subtraction of Worry and Multiplication of Joy*** 

 

A Close Encounter of the Whimsical Kind

“Laugh and grow strong,” St. Ignatius said; and to one of his novices, “I see you are always laughing, and I am glad of it.” Humor is a quality I don’t usually attribute to saints, let alone to God. Of all of my defects, perhaps my greatest involves being too serious. Sometimes, I let the stress of daily work and family life hinder my ability to laugh and enjoy life to the fullest. I have often written about how Wednesdays seem to be the highlight of my week. Please see my past articles for a brief history of encountering silliness in the middle of the week: https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder/   and https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/another-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder-at-the-pizzeria/   laughter_health_benefits_smiley_face.jpg

This Wednesday I experienced a whimsical and encounter with wonder yet again— this time through the simple joy of reading the Wizard of Oz to my daughter. Our journey to the magical land of Oz Began several weeks ago as I started to read a chapter from L. Frank Baum’s Book each night to my daughter. To quote Andrew Bernard from The Office, “I wish you had a way of knowing you were in the old of days before you left them.” I certainly had that sentiment as I cuddled with my 4 year old on the couch and told her the fantastical journey of Dorothy’s motley crew toward the Emerald City of Oz.

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Divine encounters always seem to occur in the most unlikely of places and manners. In the Old Testament, Moses encountered God in the guise of a burning bush. During the book of Acts, the Gentiles learned about God through the witness of Peter and the rest of the Apostles. My children as fruits of the sacrament of Matrimony—the tangible experience of God’s love and laughter in my life. Reading about Dorothy’s quest to see the Wonderful Wizard, I witnessed the delight of whimsy and wonder in my child’s eyes. Telling her about the cyclone, Kalidahs—hybrid bear-tiger creatures, yes these are actually a thing that the movie left– (maybe there is where the ♫ Lions, and Tigers, and Bears…oh my! ♫ came from Person Shrugging on Apple iOS 11.2),  and the encounter with the Witched Witch renewed my own spirit of wonder and awe.

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Saint Mother Therese spoke of laughter by saying, “Joy is the net of love by which we catch souls.” My whimsical encounter with wonder pulled me out of despair. Sometimes it takes the simple joys in life–in this case, reading to my child a classic book– to remind me that it is okay to laugh and possess hope during my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I need not always be austere in order to follow God’s plan of salvation. God wants us to enjoy the simple joys and wonders this world has to offer!

Praying with Paper Football

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Albert Einstein once stated, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Simplicity is an attractive quality. I experienced simplicity in a unique and seemingly ordinary way—through a game of paper football with my 4 year-old daughter! Too often I strive for the complexities in life—whether that be in solving difficult problems or seeking joy in extraordinary things. Technology is also a double-edged sword, its purpose is to simplify human life, however, because of the explosion of technology in the 21st century we face a digital deluge—I feel the daily pressure [that I impose on myself] to constantly check my social media and blogging sites.

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Why do I inflict such frivolous constraints upon myself? What do I need to prove by keeping up with the trending blogger scene and marketing on various social media platforms? Will my family love me any less if I fail to hit my target goals for views and monthly posts? Certainly not! My struggle is that I tend to implement false activity to mask my slothful tendency.

Raising children—especially children who recently suffered continual fevers—takes a toll on a person. The daily grind of parenting wears on a father, mentally, physically, and spiritually. While I strive to live a virtuous life, I fail, and fail often as a father. Love for my children is replaced by a mindset of viewing children being burdensome. When that occurs the seed of sloth blossoms into a tree of acedia!

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The Holy Spirit conferred graces to help me withstand and eliminate my slothful nature through the simplicity of a paper football game. Triangular paper footballs are becoming common in our home. I recently renewed interest in the classic middle school table-top game. Football is my favorite sport to watch and with the Green Bay Packers out of the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2009 I felt left wanting more football to help keep the stresses of life at bay during the icy winter months.

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Having to stay home [YET AGAIN—at this rate I may be burned completely out of my PTO before spring 😦 ) with my children because of low-grade fevers, unbeknownst to me a fantastic, yet simple encounter with love. After dishing out a bowl of cereal for my daughter, I sat at the kitchen table with her. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the paper football and flicked the triangular toy across the table. This simple gesture turned into several minutes of laughter and great fun!

St. Mother Teresa speaks of joy in this way, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” While I cannot guarantee my daughter will remember this simple and joyful experience of playing football paper—although I certainly hope she will learn to cherish this time—I am confident that the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of playtime with my daughter will stay with me forever. Both the Holy Spirit and my daughter taught me that play and prayer do not have to be mutually exclusive, instead God intends to use all types of interactions to draw us closer knowledge and love of Him.

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