Back to Basics

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According to American author Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it.” The continual focus on progress, change, movement, and improvement dominates 21st century humanity. Continued desire to improve on limiting stress, furthering personal and career goals may be inherently good; however, a person reaches a point when the trajectory of progress cannot ascend any higher. Ernest Hemingway wryly wrote, “Never confuse movement with action.”

Throughout history and literature, quick and unbridled progress poses the danger for a quick fall back to mediocrity and a starting at square one. The Great Depression in the 1930s happened on the heels of an epic economic boom, Greek literature warned of Icarus soaring too close to the sun—and eventually his wax wings melted and he fell to his doom. Personally, I too notice that whenever I experience a successful season in my life I have to be wary of being puffed up too much with pride. I start think too boldly—leading to the error of becoming a braggadocio!

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As a Catholic, my faith plays a strong shaping force in my world outlook and daily life. According to Lumen Gentium the primary goal of all faithful is to grow in holiness, the Council Fathers declared, “Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive (no. 42). I never truly pondered it before, but I recently realized that Jesus’ parables and teaching examples often included planting, gardening, and farming references because plant growth takes time—it is slow, but steady. Likewise, our growth in virtue and moral excellence needs to be watered with essential elements. The growth need to be natural, steady and sure for the progress to be permanent. Ascendency towards one’s goals whether that be moral, work, or exercise related poses a threat of a great fall. To avoid any backpedaling, it wise to return to the fundamentals of success. Below are three basic activities that helped me limit stress, decrease my negativity, and improve my relationship with others.

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  1. Prayer: Saints wiser and infinitely holier than myself, always proclaim the importance of prayer. Perhaps no one else discussed the importance of prayer more plainly than St. John Chrysostom, “It is simply impossible to lead, without the aid of prayer, a virtuous life!”

 

Over the past couple of months, my wife and I committed ourselves to a regular, steady prayer routine. Before putting the kids to bed, we pray a decade of the Rosary. According to St. John Paul the Great, “The Rosary is the storehouse of countless blessings.”  His words ring true with crystal clarity—the graces I received have been immeasurable. My manager noticing the changes in my demeanor at work told me, “Matt, you have had a tremendous month. I notice a great calmness within you over the past few months.” I almost was tempted to pull out my scapular—strong Marian devotion—to show my manager that what has changed did not occur on my own power. To cite John Paul II again, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”

  1. Exercise: Along with daily prayer, renewing my focus on regular exercise greatly helped sustain the progress I made. Because of the changing of the weather, I have get creative with my workouts. Actually, not truly that creative, I just call upon Shawn-T with his T-25 fitness program that I watch through the Beach Body channel on my Roku. Jabbing, hopping, and twisting my arms, legs, and core in my living room I feel replenished with energy after the under half-hour workout session. Not only does exercise help with the body, it reinvigorates my mental capacity and energy for the rest of the day.

 

  1. Reading Renaissance: Those of you that have followed The Simple Catholic will be aware that one of my strongest passions and loves in this life consists of the written word in the form of books. The only hindrance for me from purchasing and amassing more and more books is because I would either have to buy more bookshelves or take time away from reading to make a bookshelf myself. It is quite the predicament!

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In all seriousness though, reading, and specifically reading good books from good authors, reignites my desire to become a better person. Late American essayist E.P. Whipple wrote this beautiful description for books, “Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” Reading books, especially the classics, allows the reader access to the thoughts, intellects, curiosities, and inquiries of history’s greatest minds. The foundation for all success is being humble to realize someone else is always smarter and wiser than yourself. After reading Fulton Sheen’s Remade for Happiness and C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, this fact was reaffirmed.  Surrounding yourself with the wisdom and insights of those men and women before you will only enhance your ability to become the best version of yourself.

Progress is not bad, in fact, it is necessary in an ever changing world. In order to survive and flourish, you need to learn to adapt to changes. If you have found strategies or things that have already proven to help you develop into a healthier, stronger, and more virtuous version of yourself keep doing those things! Go back to the basics as often as needed. My revisiting of my basics—prayer, exercise, and reading— continues to provide me stability for a successful [and hopefully sanctifying] life!

Spiritual Weapon to Slaughter Pride

Over the course of Catholic Church history, the inner tension between good and evil has been described in warlike and violent language. From to premonition of the Woman crushing the serpent’s head in Genesis 3:15 to the various Old Testament battles and even Jesus Christ himself fashioning a whip to run out temple abusers in John 2:15, the spiritual battle is so real that no other way to talk about it save as a battle does justice to describe it.

Peter Kreeft stated, “Pride looks down, and no one can see God but by looking up.” All sin is rooted in pride. According to the great monastic St. Benedict, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.” This is precisely why the Blessed Virgin is honored as the greatest of the saints—her humble and total obedience on the news of her bearing the Son of God. Selfishness exists when we prideful think that our life is in our complete control. As a mere creature of the Creator, I need to re-orient my thoughts away from self-centeredness and instead towards gratitude at the life granted by God.

Below is the best, most effective, and simplest of prayers that I rely on to fend off the sin of pride in my life. I sincerely hope you receive great peace, joy, and the virtue of humility over the course of time in reciting the Prayer of Humility.


O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…

From the desire of being extolled …

From the desire of being honored …

From the desire of being praised …

From the desire of being preferred to others…

From the desire of being consulted …

From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …

From the fear of being despised…

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

From the fear of being calumniated …

From the fear of being forgotten …

From the fear of being ridiculed …

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …

That, in the opinion of the world,

others may increase and I may decrease …

That others may be chosen and I set aside …

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

God of Surprises—Turning the Greatest Murderer of His People into His Greatest Evangelizer

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According to Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” From the onset of Jesus’ ministry the followers of Jesus become astonished at his works. As a perfectionist and control-freak, my natural inclination is to seek regularity and pattern in daily living. While I enjoy reading about sudden plot twists from the comfort of my armchair, I did not handle tons of surprises in my life well.

Most choices I make only occur after being carefully calculated and thought out. Today started no differently. Always planning ahead, I woke up quickly going over the list of my agenda for the day: get breakfast ready for the wife and kids, take my son to school, exercise, take younger kids to library, get more cereal—this perhaps was the most important as to avoid a meltdown from my 4 year old tomorrow morning—  and finally drop the kids off at daycare before going to work. WHEW! If I was not already tired I am now after writing that sentence! Hopefully, you have not grown weary yet. My daily routine planted its grip on me which grants me stability, but the downside is I am not as open to wonder and awe as easily.

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The paradox with seeking complete control of your life is that anxiety seems to follow close behind. Although I had a productive day errand-wise when it came to writing this article I initially hit a roadblock. Anxiety set in. What to write about? How would I be able to compose engaging material that without being forceful in my thought? The words of St. Paul came to assuage my concerns. He proclaimed, “”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7). Paul of Tarsus’ conversion story always appealed to me.

Throughout this week I thought a lot about the surprising [and questionable] reasoning of God to select a former mass murderer to serve as his primary evangelizer in the early Church. See the thing about God’s will and plan is that it goes above man’s mere superficial gaze. The God of Paul, the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a being of great surprises. God surprised me today When I looked up the daily Mass reading for April 17th,[today!] I almost stood up from my desk in awe! The first reading for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter comes from Acts 7:51-8:1A—the stoning of Stephen. Stephen’s murder represented the height of Saul’s sin. I truly do not believe my ponderings on St. Paul were mere coincidence. God planted a desire in my heart—the same day that the Mass readings were about his past failures!—to look to Paul’s journey toward conversion as a testament of Divine Mercy.

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Among the most sinister characters in the New Testament, Saul led the assault against Christians. However, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles the same individual goes by the name Paul, became a household name in the early Church, and preaches through the ancient world the Good News of Jesus Christ. How is that possible? Answer: The God of the Universe loves to surprise. The plot twist involving the former persecutor of Christians is just one example of God’s mysterious, yet amazing plan of salvation.

The pride and self-righteousness of Saul prior to his conversion speaks directly to my own struggles with hubris and judgmental attitude towards others of different backgrounds. Acts 9 contains the conversion story of Saul. Traveling to Damascus, a bright light from the sky blinds him and Saul falls to the ground. Receiving temporary blindness for three days, the Lord moves in the heart of Saul during his period of darkness. After being healed from his blindness, Saul is baptized and takes the new Christian name of Paul—and the rest of the story is history.

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Does your own pride cause myopia in your spiritual life? Are you in a place in your life where it would not be a bad thing to be knocked off the high horse of hubris? Have past actions caused innocent people to suffer? These are questions I reflect on today— and need to regularly ponder—as I sojourn through life. Am I currently Paul? Or have I acted like a Saul lately?

St. Maria Faustina detailed this truth about God’s mercy in Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul“A soul does not benefit as it should from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery” (113, page 63). I would not be surprised if the memory of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 acted as a seed planted by the Holy Spirit as the Polish saint wrote these words. God’s write a perfect story with imperfect story. St. Paul is a testament to this fact. I am given hope by learning to trust in God’s surprising and unexpected details in his plan of salvation!  

God writes straight

 

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