The Simple Catholic’s First Christmas Card

This is the inaugural Chicoine Christmas card.

Both my parents are too tired to chip in with input on the letter. And my three siblings are too busy acting like lemurs or black & white pandas to care about starting a new tradition.

Anyways, it’s up to me to present our family’s successes and 2020 highlights. Free of shenanigans.

Yeah right! Shenanigans are part of my middle names (unofficially).

Hope you enjoy the seasonal shenanigans!

January— New Year Same Routine

I started the new year as a fresh one year old. Noah, Amelia, and Josiah enjoyed going to school and playing in the snow. Mommy continued teaching special education at Valley Springs Elementary. Daddy worked overnights at a local grocery store.

My new year’s resolution was simple— add new shenanigans each month. Last year, I got caught stealing too many blueberry muffins (Pro-tip: Make sure to clean up the evidence before leaving the crime scene).

Daddy wrote about this incident and dubbed it Muffingate. Since then, I’ve acquired the nickname “Muffin Miscreant”.

February— Ground’s Day Month

Noah, Amelia, and Josiah enjoyed going to school and playing in the snow. Mommy continued teaching special education at Valley Springs Elementary. Daddy worked overnights at a local grocery store.

Yes, I know my family’s boring.

I think Noah was still in his Pokémon obsession and my parents were still watching Superhero shows on The CW.

I continued to watch how my siblings got in or avoided trouble and took notes.

March— The Ides are Turning

This seemed to be a turning point. Suddenly, Mommy, Noah, and Amelia stayed home more often. I heard mommy talking to weird kids on the computer. Daddy kept referring to himself as a “Zoom call goaltender”.

Josiah had school therapy at home and this involved him being a black & white panda all the time! Pandas? Seriously, that’s such a predictable move. Couldn’t he pretend to be a platypus or something cooler than a bamboo eater?

While my dreams of traversing the Australian outback didn’t happen, I did experience a “ground under” moment.

Mommy was on her 97th Zoom call and this gave me the perfect chance to try the legendary liquid—coffee. I found a K-cup in the pantry and gained a new moniker— The Coffee Culprit.

April— Sickness and Added Shenanigans

Daddy received a promotion at his local grocery store to Assistant Manager. He was even more excited when Mommy gave him an “Assistant to the Regional Manager” hoodie to celebrate the new job.

April felt like an entire lifetime (1.5 years).

Home school made Mommy and my siblings very tired and cranky. Even worse, Daddy got super sick with a virus-thingy. I couldn’t even see him for two weeks except on the computer. Josiah was really sad and kept saying “Daddy

in downstairs emergency room”. Mommy was stressed with teaching from home, taking care of us, and being Daddy’s doctor.

But this month did have good things: the Easter bunny visited us and Josiah learned to ride a bike.

I maintained my moniker as the Coffee Culprit by eating another K-cup.

May— More Zoom

The Zoom calls continued, and Daddy resumed his role as goaltender against my shenanigans. I miss the good old days when I could bust open bedroom doors without repercussions or being shushed. The strange kids didn’t seem so strange anymore. Mommy even gave up and let me say “hi” to my new friends.

Pro-tip: Persistence pays off.

Noah was obsessed with Star Wars and cars. Amelia (and Daddy) enjoyed pushing me in my throne on wheels. Mommy and Daddy got a new swing set for us to play in. I loved sliding and swinging!

June— Celebrating Sacraments and Sprinklers

Noah received his First Holy Communion on June 14th. It was supposed to be in April but it was delayed because of the virus-thingy or the panda-emic (not sure what to call it officially). “But God’s plan is more perfect than anything we can possibly imagine.” That was something Daddy kept saying. He seemed super-smiley and happy about Noah’s First Eucharist happening on The Feast of Corpus Christi.

Along with celebrating the sacrament my siblings and I played lots of times in the sprinkler. What wonderful waterworks! Josiah showed me how to play carwash in our water table. We play carwash often.

Mommy and Daddy celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary! This was neat for me because grandma and grandpa got to watch me and the other kids overnight! We had so much fun.

July— Zoo Fun

The local zoo reopened with panda-emic precautions. Josiah called the gibbons “black and white pandas” and we all enjoyed watching the snow monkeys and ducks.

I set a family record by becoming the earliest to ride a strider bike. Strider bike didn’t seem right, so I called it “a butt”. Mommy and Daddy laughed. I think they’re proud of me. I say “a butt” so much.

August— Back to School

Noah started third grade and Amelia began first grade at Valley Springs. Josiah went to early childhood for the second year. I enjoyed more time to plan hijinks as daddy and mommy got more tired from getting house projects done. I continued to get my hands-on Mommy and Daddy’s coffee (I love coffee!).

Amelia learned how to read and created artwork daily. Josiah continued to play carwash in new and creative ways.

September— The Mystery of the Missing Toys

This month began normally with me playing with my dolls, cars, and other gadgets. But soon I noticed things disappearing. First, books I enjoyed were gone. Slowly my stuffed animal supply shrunk, and baby toys taken. I did notice more and more cardboard boxes.

Thankfully, I had Aunt Mary’s wedding to take my mind off the missing toy misery. I had fun playing with grandma, grandpa, and Uncle Steven.

Pro-Tip: Pushing doors open to go outside the reception is fun and an effective way to get my parents to chase me.

October— Mystery Solved

More and more boxes piled up in our living room, garage, basement, and kitchen. My siblings enjoyed many afternoons riding their bikes (and I riding my “a butt”).

I had a busy month with speech therapy starting and I broke my arm. Amelia was dancing with me and I thought a flying leap was a great idea. But the good thing is I got a cool pink cast.

I got used to life with limited toys. But then something changed! All the boxes moved. We played in a different room and slept in a different area. Mommy and Daddy called this our new house. We all thought it was pretty cool!

November— Shenanigans Supreme

My siblings and I love our new house. More room to run and climb. Noah had fun throwing the football in the garage with Daddy. Amelia found new places for art.

Josiah and I found a new way to play carwash. When Daddy was sleeping on the couch (from working a late night) my brother and I overflowed the kitchen sink. Water poured on the entire floor. We had TONS of cars to wash that morning! Daddy seemed surprised about all the water. After this incident we couldn’t sneak and do carwash anymore. Still not sure why?

Mommy continued to balance her teaching job with her additional virus-things protocols. She seemed tired most days, so I try to cheer her up with hugs!

December— Enter the Boss Level

Daddy kept making Jumanji references throughout the year. Everyone was talking about an election thingy. What more did 2020 have in store?

This year they say was tough, but in my experience all life can be challenging but fun too. I’m going to turn two on December 29th. I felt I gained a lot of wisdom this year.

Noah taught me countless facts about Harry Potter and read books to me. Amelia taught me how to draw and be creative. Josiah taught me how to laugh and play with cars. Mommy taught me how to love and hug. Daddy taught me the importance of a balance between seriousness and shenanigans.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a blessed 2021!

P.S. Daddy thinks he’s a creative writer, but he gets all his best ideas from my shenanigans. Follow #Muffingate for more funny stories

P.P.S. Special thanks to Daddy for being my secretary for this Christmas Letter. Extra special thanks to my brothers and sister for all this great content

Love,

Avila: The Muffin Miscreant, Coffee Culprit, and who knows what else.

Thank you for sharing!

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

Thank you for sharing!

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

Thank you for sharing!

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.

suffering1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Thank you for sharing!

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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Thank you for sharing!