3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

 

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Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. The Catholic Church’s sacramental life centers on memorializing events from the Gospels. For example, during the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.”

When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.

Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”

Bilbo exiting his hobbit hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persistence pays off

Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Luke 19:4).

Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.

Jesus Chooses the Imperfect

Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Zacchaeus struggled to physically see Jesus among the crowd. he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen. He was a tax collector!

According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)”

Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).

failure is success

Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing

Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Christ welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness.

Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future!

Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.


I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

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Apostolic Analogies—Similarities with my Namesake Saint

 

 

 

 

 

 


Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 23, 2018.


According to Rick Riordan, author of the acclaimed young adult series Percy Jackson, “Names had power!”  Among the first questions people ask parents upon the birthday of a child is “which name did you choose? Names also possess a meaning.

Now you may or may not be aware of the meaning or purpose of the name your parents choose for you. If you are not aware, it would be an interesting conversation to discover why they choose a particular name? If there was no particular reason, it would still be interesting to look up the history of your namesake or the literal meaning of it!

The general reason for my name selection is due to my parents being Catholic had myself and my siblings to be named after a holy person who espoused the truths of the Gospels. While I am not entirely sure why my parents, specifically picked Matthew out of the myriad of Catholic saint names available.

Celebrating the feast day of the St. Matthew is something that I regrettable not truly did until last year. Along with eating a special dinner with my wife, reading today’s Gospel, and playing a fun board game, I am going to also celebrate by recognizing a few similarities I share with my personal patron!

You Owe Me

Within the past year, I took on a new position in the company as a student loan debt collector. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and modern technology certainly has softened collection practices in recent year. But debt collectors still don’t have a positive connotation in today’s society. Back in the time of 1st century Palestine, the stigma against debt collectors was prevalent. In fact, tax collectors were especially hated by the Jews as they were viewed as sell-outs who worked for the “evil” Roman Empire.

 

 

 

 

My new association with debt collections brings the challenges of dealing with angry, concerned, confused, and desolate customers. However, my new job comes with a hidden joy of being more closely linked with St. Matthew.

Lover of Theology

Along with sharing similar occupations with St. Matthew, I possess a thirst for discovering knowledge about God just like the Gospel writer. Theology refers to faith seeking understanding. Among the saints Matthew possessed a privileged opportunity of being selected as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. What is more, Matthew together with St. John are the only individuals able to claim being both an Evangelist and Apostle!

Matthew’s Gospel is laden with parables and the incredible Sermon on the Mount. He shows Jesus as the Good Teacher always willing to shed light on the truth of God’s love. I am always emboldened by the following words of Christ proclaims to conclude Matthew’s gospel, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20, emphasis added mine).

Called by God

While the saint whose moniker I bear did not always believe in Jesus, he experienced a profound conversation. Matthew’s calling is significant. All three Synoptic Gospels include this episode as important in the public life and ministry of Jesus.

Being a cradle Catholic myself, I lack that momentous public conversion that St. Matthew experienced. However, this does not mean that I never underwent a conversion. Actually, my Catholic faith and reliance has slowly deepened over the course of my college years, and nascent parenting years.

A couple years ago I took an assessment on the various charisms that would most likely be my natural God-given gift. My two highest [according to the questions I answered] included the charism of writing and evangelization. I’m sure St. Matthew helped foster those talents.

The craziness of wrangling three ( now four) overtired kids and bustle of the workday delayed my celebration of Matthew the Evangelist’s Feast Day. Tonight, I plan on celebrating my patron saint! Jesus choose an unworthy man to be among his apostles. If God can choose sinners and tax collectors, certainly we are called by Him to follow in the footsteps of the saints who came before us.


Collect [From the Liturgy of the Feast of St. Matthew]

O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

Related Links

St. Matthew the Evangelist

Saint Matthew- Franciscan Media

11 Awe-Inspiring Art Pieces That Celebrate Saint Matthew

An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Life

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A Letter to the Downtrodden and Suffering


Editor’s note: Article originally published on September 7, 2017.


Dear Fellow Souls and Pilgrims on this Earthly Journey,

Hopelessness seems to cover the world. Hurricane Harvey decimated large parts of Houston. South Asia continues to experience chronic flooding. People suffer across the globe in large and small ways. Today, I wish to share my recent episodes of depression, I am not writing to complain about my situation, rather I hope to unite my suffering [albeit quite small in comparison to others] to others in great need. I want to be in communion with my fellow man.

According to Helen Keller,

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

I cannot grow as a decent human being without learning from the school of suffering.

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Depression Strikes Often

Depression hit me again the past few weeks. Similar to an ocean, anxiety and sadness move in waves with brief periods of respite before the next deluge of depression comes crashing onto my shore. I feel a sense of hopelessness.

What is going on with my life to trigger these feelings? To be frank, I am not sure. Life appears to be going well: I have an amazing wife, family, good shelter, and a job. I had a recent change in anxiety medicine and changes are occurring rather frequently at work. Still, these concerns should be minor compared to people suffering loss due to the recent natural disasters. Depression shrinks my perspective. I see through narrower glasses.

Perhaps, you are similar to me. If you suffer from depression, whether it is severe or mild I want to unite myself to your suffering. I wish to take up my cross if only it may help widen my scope. Prying open a narrow gaze is painful. However, authentic and natural development involves growing pains.

Share Your Suffering with Others

If you are downtrodden, as I am currently, share your experience. Talk with people you trust. Talk to God—it works. Prayer is effective because it is communication with Him who created the universe. Oftentimes, I need to fall unto my knees and become downtrodden before I am able to gaze upward in prayer. Saint Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.”

Although, I know my depression may likely come back again, I am aware of a strength to get me through the valley of tears—prayer. Prayer ultimately leads me toward an even-keeled path in my pilgrim journey on earth.

With great love and hope to alleviate your downtrodden soul,

Matthew, The Simple Catholic

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Why 2020 Will be The Return of the Simple Catholic

This marks the start of something new….

In April I almost died from Covid19

🔷Young

🔶No previous health conditions

🔷 I took plenty of Vitamins

But I still got sick— and my content game never recovered fully

But many times life never works out as planned.

The good guys lose and the bad guys win

By the grace of God and the support of my family, friends, and my faith community I survived the virus.

🎶 Let the good (insane) times roll 🎵

But the hits of craziness kept coming:

Remote learning for my kids (mental health drainer there)

The insane requirement on teachers (my wife is a special education teacher) forced me to rethink my approach to my freelance business.

I knew my limits— pandemic + special needs kids + increasing work demands at my “day” job made it a simple choice— I had to put a pause on consistent writing.

I’ve been living on recycled content (mostly) or less than my 💯 work.

I used to be ranked #92 in Feedspot’s Top Catholic Websites and Bloggers. Now I’m in the top 110. I’m not upset about the ranking loss. But I am a bit frustrated at myself for losing the influence I had to help educate and inspire Catholics across the world to find joy in the Gospel.

The Devil is in attack mode

The Enemy has attacked me unceasingly with the sins of anger and sloth. Too often I got distracted by others’ failure to take the pandemic seriously and that wrath zapped me of energy to read and write about Catholicism.

Return of The Simple Catholic

Today is the start of a restart— my goal for the rest of the year is to get more creative, collaborate more, and be more disciplined.

Why?

Because I want to provide YOU with a how-to guide to return from a bat 💩 crazy year and succeed (all the while thriving in the truth and hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Today I renew my commitment to earn back trust. I won’t wait for the calendar to flip to 2021. Partnering with the Holy Spirit and my team of The Simple Catholic Supporters I gathered over the past year or two, I will end 2020 on a high note.

How do you bounce back from a big backslide in success?

Thank you for sharing!

Why Teaching Your Children to Do the Chores will Save Your Sanity

Dad hack #4— Train the kids early to help clean 🧼 🧽 around the house (it gives me time to post more #dadhacks 🙂)

Avila and a broom

The Muffin Miscreant doing community service to atone for her shenanigans.

This summer my wife and I taught our kids how to:

🧺 Fold the laundry

🗑 Take out the garbage

🧽 Load the dishwasher

😜 Battle the shenanigans of their 18 month old sister

It took a lot of time, patience, modeling good behaviors, and reteaching but I’m glad we did.

Teaching kids chores result in:

Teamwork

Learning a mop was not something you hit your brother in the head with (my daughter may or may not have done this)

 More gratitude

Instill a good work ethic

Play/work balance

How did chores play a role in your childhood and later professional work?

What was your favorite chore (mine was drying the dishes— my brother and I usually made my sister wash 🙂)?

Thank you for sharing!

3 Ways Hope Can Overcome Despair


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 20, 2019.


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.

Hope

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 in solving the puzzle!

Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle. Without borders and helpers it’s 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.

Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism

Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper.  Mike Pacer writes, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope isn’t the same as wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not produce a placebo effect like false-optimism.

Holy Spirit and Hope

God gives us the gift of hope. 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.”

St. Therese of Liseux quote

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.

Related Links

Five Ways to Move from Despair to Hope

Hope: A Misunderstood Virtue

3 Titles of Mary that Give Me Hope

Satan’s Sinister Weapon—Dosage of Despair


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