The Joy in Learning Something New

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Acclaimed French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.” That claim certainly is easy for a former child prodigy to utter! Not everyone has time to dedicate to advancing the field of math and science. If you are anything like me, you are vastly more concerned with more ordinary things such as paying the bills, school scheduling, and heating your house (those that are blessed to live in a place with cold winters). Speaking of warming up your permanent whereabouts, I had the opportunity to learn interesting tidbits from my local HVAC specialist during a routine furnace servicing job.

Handing out several pamphlets on the benefits of a new humidifier or air ventilation system prompted me to think about how I have previously made home upkeep seem more difficult than it need be. Along with those informational packets, the HVAC specialist advise me of simple fixes to prevent draining condensation from corroding the bottom of my washer. Author Marianne Williamson declared, “Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”

Today, I experienced the joy of recognizing that my family is blessed with the ability to upkeep our furnace which brings warmth into the home. I am also glad to have the chance to acquire insight for simple actions for me to take to enhance our HVAC situation. I will leave with the great words of Henry Ford, ““Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” 

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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

Red Wagon Ruminations

The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you, “What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness?? Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, may still be correct—the answer I was looking for was a red wagon! 

 

Over the past week we celebrated Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. One of the gifts that my father-in-law gave to my kids was a red wagon. I assembled the crimson coach while watching Sunday football. When my two year old woke from his nap his eyes lit up and shouted, “Wheels, wheels!” So far this week, I have taken the kids for a ride at least 5 times.  The following exchange between my 5 year-old daughter and I demonstrates how a simple children’s toy brings happiness.


 Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Daughter: “Freedom means I am happy.”


J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, Little by little, one travels far. His words perfectly summarized our wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times. 

Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainly exceeded expectations and brought joy!

Satan’s Sinister Weapon—Dosage of Despair


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A few years ago, I discovered a “secret weapon” the Devil utilizes to lull Christians into a false security of security—the snooze button (see related links at end of article for more information!). Along with the cloudy weather, and antics of my children, I am confident that a clandestine onslaught against me by the Adversary planted the seeds of spiritual sloth and gluttony. This weekend so a resurgence of another spiritual attack on my soul, this time with arguably the most sinister weapon of all—despair. Ironically, this attack landed on the Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—a time of joy in anticipation for the birth of the Christ-Child.

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What happened? I believed to be on track, spiritually, to grow closer to Jesus. My wife and I made a concerted focus to pray before the Advent wreath and read the Gospel reading for the day. C.S. Lewis wrote, “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.” Focusing on myself, shifted the focus away from God. The effects have been quite devastating. Despair compounds quicker than a pay-day lender loan’s interest.

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What is the defense against Satan’s sinister weapon? The answer is as old as time itself, but never more relevant—trust in God always. St. Maria Faustina always provides me uplifting words. In her diary she wrote, “I will not allow myself to be so absorbed in the whirlwind of work as to forget about God.  I will spend all my free moments at the feet of the Master hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.” While, I failed miserably earlier today about lamenting too much and dwelling too much on the failures and stresses of work, the good news is that it is never too late to hit the re-set—so long as it is not the re-set for the snooze button J!].

Together with reading about the saints of Divine Mercy like St. Faustina, the singular best weapon to combat despair is hope. We are led our Hope of Hopes most easily through following the witness of Jesus’ Mother. St. Louis de Montfort declared, “The Rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who loves His Mother.”

Hope dispels despairs. Hope in Christ hold eternal consequences. Think about the two thieves crucified next to Jesus. Luke 23:39-43 details out an end of life exchange between the two criminals and Jesus. The unrepentant thief ridiculed Jesus. While his fate is ultimately not specifically given, the good thief, or the penitent thief we are told was forgiven and allowed into Heaven.


40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving [c]what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come [d]in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”


Although the Adversary utilizes the primary spiritual weapons of the seven deadly sins, a sinister side effect, and weapon in an of itself is despair. Frequenting the sacraments, praying the Rosary daily [or at the very least petitioning the Blessed Virgin for aid], and asking spiritual guidance from the saints will galvanize you in the spiritual battle.

Pope Benedict XVI on hope

 A Prayer for Hope

Heavenly father, I am your humble servant,
I come before you today in need of hope.
There are times when I fell helpless,
There are times when I feel weak.
I pray for hope.
I need hope for a better future.
I need hope for a better life.
I need hope for love and kindness.
Some say that the sky is at it’s
darkest just before the light.
I pray that this is true, for all seems dark.
I need your light, Lord, in every way.
I pray to be filled with your light from
head to toe. To bask in your glory.
To know that all is right in the world,
as you have planned, and as you want
it to be. 
Help me to walk in your light, and live
my life in faith and glory.
In your name I pray, Amen.

Related Links: https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2015/06/09/satans-secret-weapon-the-snooze-button/

J.O.Y.—Just Others [over] Yourself!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Expect Nothing Gain Everything

Author Chris Tiegreen wrote, “Thankfulness is difficult to express when one starts with an attitude of entitlement.”  From my experience, I noticed that whenever people claim to deserve everything– I am including myself as the prime perpetrator of this attitude— rarely do things work out. Since my family starting praying the Rosary on a nightly basis, my attitude and approach to situations outside my control began to change.

After several months in a row where I went into work with high expectations, I quickly discovered rarely did the reality match my ideals. Anger, resentment, frustration and negativity came forth from my unrealistic anticipations. Falsely equating high expectations with my desire to be entitled to high production metrics and quality scores caused me to dive into a den of despair. Oftentimes, I came home from work with these feelings still churning inside me. Lacking patience, I lashed out at my family whenever the kids made messes or my wife made excessive requests for help. I sought to control all facets at home in hopes to gain a sense of control in the workplace. Ironically, by expecting everything oftentimes I gain nothing but disappointment and distress.

Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed, “Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace.” Shifting my mindset to viewing all things in life as a gift greatly helped lift my gaze upward and in turn raised my hopes. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the most perfect role model as someone who graciously accepted unexpected news that the world would consider an upheaval—an unexpected pregnancy in the most unexpected of all situations!

With my wife being pregnant with our rainbow baby, we viewed this child as a total and completely free gift from God. Moving away from the entitlement mindset, I am able to embrace, ever so slowly, this gift of the sustained and healthy pregnancy. St. Therese of Liseux declared, “I understood that love comprises all vocations – that love is everything, and because it is eternal, embraces all times and places.” Without love all else in life ultimately is moot. Humanity truly deserves nothing. Nevertheless, the Creator of the Universe granted life and even became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Since my move away from my selfish, entitled, greedy mindset, I seek to thank God for the blessings in my life. I ask the Holy Spirit for the graces to continue with this mindset and I pray for you to encounter the same joy that gratitude brings as well!


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. Chesterton

“Gratitude comes naturally when you take so much responsibility that you expect nothing except what you’ve earned through hard intelligent work and always see where you can improve.” –Anonymous