5 Ways Clive Staples Lewis Inspires

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According to English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”  This statement rings true especially in relation to another great English author—Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis! No another writer, accept maybe J.R.R. Tolkien, has influenced me and provided me as much inspiration for my writing over the course of the past couple years as Lewis.

C.S. Lewis once declared, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” While that statement is true for all good books and excellent authors, his pithy saying certainly foreshadowed how all his writings would be received by his fans [and any literature enthusiast!] in the decades after his death. Below are five reasons why the premiere Christian apologist of the 20th century inspires me [and others] in the 21st century and beyond.

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Imaginative Genius

Up until a few years ago, I only knew C.S. Lewis through The Chronicles of Narnia series. His character of Aslan, the symbolic figure of the Holy Trinity is among the greatest fictional characters ever created. Both the power and gentle nature of Aslan makes him relatable and mysterious figure at the same time.

Along with creating the history, characters, and landscapes of a world accessed through a mere wardrobe, reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy truly proved to me his imaginative genius. His science fiction novels take readers on an interplanetary peregrination. Out of the Silent Planet depicts unfallen alien species unstained by Original Sin. Lewis’ creates a vivid experience that continually draws you into the mysterious rational alien and their eventually interaction with humans. The second novel Perelandra retells the traditional story of the Fall of humanity but occurring on the planet Venus. Lewis’ prompts interesting questions about man’s ability to evangelize beyond Earth—assuming extraterrestrial life exists!

Engaging Your Intellect

In addition to stirring the imagination of readers, C.S. Lewis also wrote with the ability to whet your intellectual pallet. His ability to write about deep theological truths with ease of understanding and depth is second to none. Even though I earned a master’s degree in Theology, I still learned a lot from Lewis’ introductory primer on Christianity—Mere Christianity. While the entire book is a gem, for conciseness’s sake I will only point out a couple key passages that made the human condition of sin easy to understand the relay:

“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.”

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

 Gateway to Tolkien

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 The great friendship between C.S. Lewis and contemporary professor of literature J.R.R. Tolkien is legendary. Concerned about the state of literature both writers pledged to do something proactive instead of simply lamenting. During the 1930s, Lewis and Tolkien truly came to the scene with the former penning his Space Trilogy and the latter publishing the classic work The Hobbit.

Both men challenged each other to be a better writer and grow their writing abilities by exploring different genres. Below is a link which details Tolkien’s friendly challenge to Lewis to delve into the realm of science fiction!

The Challenge: How C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy Came Into Being

Tolkien stated of his bond with Lewis, “Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual–a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher–and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.” I am indebted to C.S. Lewis for introducing me to the joy of reading Tolkien.

Versatility

 Lewis’ dexterous prose and subject matter enlighten my mind and infuse a youthfulness to my life like no another author—save possibly Tolkien himself! Tackling the age-old dilemma of evil in The Problem of Pain to enchantingly depicting eschatology in dream-like sequences in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis provides a panoply of subject matter for theologians—lay and professional—to discuss and re-read many times over.

Schools through Suffering

 St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of the purpose of trials in this way, “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” While C.S. Lewis did not formally convert to Catholicism he definitely endured suffering and helped lead countless to a deeper relationship with Christ. Suffering immensely from the death of his wife, Lewis channeled this pain and it bore the fruit of his work A Grief Observed.

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The rawness of his prose struck me as both honest and real. Lewis lamented in A Grief Observed, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” I certain relate to this. From a cerebral level I certainly understand the promise of suffering Christ guarantees in John 15:20. Not until we encounter suffering do, we truly get tested. Only after the storm do we realize the lessons given.

C.S. Lewis declared, “We read to know we are not alone.” Through reading the masterful works of the great English writer I grown both as a Christian and as a writer. His ability to move my mind to ponder higher realities with simple examples allows me to understand the good, true, and beauty in the world much better.

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3 Tips to Write More Effortlessly

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British author J.K. Rowling declared, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” Writers since the beginning of time faced the double-edged sword the joy of creation from words and the fear of writer’s block. Some days it seems that words cannot be typed quick enough as phrases, sentences, and paragraphs already exist in your mind. Other times crafting a mere word or phrase is as painful as getting a tooth pulled at the dentist!

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Whether you currently are in a state of inspiration or at a standstill in your writing here are three tips to enhance the ability to write more naturally and effortlessly.

  1. Read, Read, Read— Feed Your Mind: The great American author William Faulkner advocated for the importance of reading, “Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” From my own experience, I have learned that the most fruitful periods of writing, and writing that comes naturally without really any strain, occurs during times where I read a lot! Just like the body requires a balanced meal for good nutrition, so too does the mind need a steady stream of information. Along with frequent writing variety is equally important. Making a habit of non-fiction and fiction will only help to expand your ability to write from multiple points of view and in diverse ways. Currently, I am reading Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men comics (to fill my creative side) and Dialogues of Catherine of Siena and Heresies by G.K. Chesterton (to satisfy my more spiritual and intellectual side).

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2.  Reflection:  Another tip to develop more natural and effortless writing is to make time to reflection on the stuff you read. The Greek philosopher Aristotle purported, ““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Without proper time to examine yourself and the ideas that you read about it gets difficult to organize them into coherent thoughts. Among the best times for reflecting on a post that I want to write about occurs in the car. Using the minutes between drives to work, the grocery store, or other errands I ponder how I want to organize the essential points of an article that I am working on. Even a few minutes of reflection helps me write at a quicker rate and with less resistance!

3. Passion and Purpose: After feeding your mind with plenty of information and reflecting on the material that you want to write about the third tip I use to make my writing more effortless includes a passion and clear objective. Why are you writing? Is it for an increased amount of exposure and social media fame or is your reason deeper?

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My own particular desire for creating The Simple Catholic blog was (and still is) to discover the joy in life on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven. As the great Catholic write Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write to discover what I know.” Through my faith I know that truth that freedom from sin and death exist by way of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A secondary goal flowing naturally from my first is to help people discover joy in this life (and hopefully the next as well!). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole self and that the second greatest commandment— love of neighbor— flows naturally from the first command (Matthew 22:34-40).  Putting God first, others second, and myself last not only helps my writing, but also infused joy into all facets of my life. This kind of joy cannot be contained and I do not want to keep this gift all to myself—it need to be shared with others, you my readers, and in turn I hope you share with your friends and family! 

Filling my mind with a variety of ideas, taking time to analyze that information, and remembering my original mission for becoming a writing has all contributed to helping me write more naturally, more honestly, and more effortlessly. I hope that these tips help you in your writing endeavors as well. Please feel free to share these tips to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.


“All for one and one for all” Alexander Dumas

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” Anne Frank

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Mahatma Gandhi

Thank you for sharing!

3 Easy Steps to Grow in Holiness

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Christianity in the 21st seems to get more difficult as each day passes. Unfavorable Supreme Court decisions, hostile media reporting, and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse scandal makes the desire to follow the teachings of Christ quite tough. Jesus even promised that the way to Heaven would not be easy. In Matthew 19:24 he declared, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” On average, camels grow to the shoulder height of 6 feet high and the length of about 9-10 feet. Typically, the khaki-colored creatures weigh well over 1,000 pounds. The eye of a needle is quite small, just slightly greater than the width of the thread that goes through it. Certainly, Jesus’ example was only hyperbolic when it comes to entering Heaven! Right?!

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The late Catholic nun Mother Angelica quipped, “Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few – it is the obligation, the call, and the will of God for every Christian.” Holy individuals make it appear easy to live the holy life. However, when we try it ourselves it is quite different. Not to downplay that difficult road toward Heaven, because it truly is difficult, I have learned that in some ways holiness need not be as cumbersome as we may make it to be. I wish to share three tried and true steps to grow in holiness.

1. Pray Daily: You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!” you can be sure you have already begun.’ 10
St. Josemaria Escriva. Praying is plainly described as talking with God. Relationship involves dialogue: speaking and listening. Prayer involves a two-way conversation. If you are unsure what to say to God, maybe begin your prayer simply in silence–waiting for God start. Some people feel more comfortable petitioning God for help. That is also a great way to start prayer. Just be sure to allow time and be open to God’s reply as well.

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2. Learn from Scriptures and Saintly Writings: Another easy step to increase holiness is to open up a Bible or read a spiritual work by a saint. The key to this step is not the length of time, but instead the frequency and consistency by which you acquaint yourself with spiritual writings. Schedules are busy with work and family obligations taking up a large chunk of the day.

Begin with small and reasonable goals with how much time to spend on spiritual reading. Maybe your daily routine allows for an hour, maybe it only allows for a few minutes. Start will just reading for 5 minutes a day. You will be surprised how much your week will improve with insight from those holy men and women!

3. Small Sacrifices: The third thing to incorporate into a daily routine is sacrifice. True love involves giving yourself for the other. It involves sacrifice and reduction of selfish tendencies. Authentic change and orienting your life towards holiness will not happen overnight. In fact, it will take time and likely a lot of time. Be prepared to grow in holiness for the rest of your life!

Because of the long term commitment, I say let’s start small with manageable tiny sacrifices. It may simply involve refraining from a sarcastic comment when your spouse, friend, or neighbor annoy you. St. Josemaria Escriva, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.'” That would be a small, but still sacrificial moment. Once you have the daily routine of sacrifice for your loved ones day pat then you may focus on larger sacrifices.

Signpost pointing to A better life

Starting, or perhaps restarting, your spiritual journey need not be impossible. Developing a daily habit of prayer, frequent spiritual reading, and looking for the good of the other [and the Ultimate Other] through small sacrifices will help your increase your virtue and transform your life.


“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

“So be holy  just as your heavenly Father is be holy.” –Matthew 5:48

 

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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!

Thank you for sharing!

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://thesimplecatholic.blog/2017/06/09/a-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder/   and https://thesimplecatholic.blog/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!

Thank you for sharing!

My 2018 Resolutions

Normally I do not formally publish my New Year’s Resolution as I try to incorporate my goals throughout the calendar year anyways. This year is a little bit different as I currently am in a slump of desolation.

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Writing down a list of goals would be able to jump start my personal development. While smaller miniature goals will come and go throughout 2018 as the seasons change I want to spell out my top five 2018 resolutions I want to strive constantly:

  1. Attend Eucharistic Adoration Once a Month: Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life. It only makes sense that in order to grow closer in my relationship Him I go more frequently to Eucharistic Adoration. I really have no good excuses to fail this goal.

 

  1. Attend Confession Once a Month: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23) God gifted humanity with the opportunity to receive forgiveness of our sins against Him, our neighbor, and ourselves. This grace is free and I need to make better and more frequent use of this opportunity to experience God’s Mercy in 2018.

3. Exercise Patience: As a husband and a father of three young children, I am given many opportunities to share God’s love. Unfortunately, in 2017 I failed a lot. I pledge to use family life as a way to grow more in holiness in 2018.

4. Exercise My Muscles: Along with growing in holiness, I resolve to exercise at least three times a week to acquire a healthier lifestyle. I always felt more energized after working out and hopefully this momentum will propel me towards a better spiritual life as well!

5. Read at least 10 Minutes a Day: I am already doing this goal for the most part. From the time of elementary school to the present I have always been an avid reader. I want to continue this part of my life in 2018.

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St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his spiritual work The Way, “Make few resolutions. Make specific resolutions. And fulfill them with the help of God” (no. 249). We need the Holy Spirit to aid us in our life’s journey and maintaining our New Year’s resolutions in 2018 [and beyond]. I ask that you pray for me to help me in my spiritual journey on this earth and please know you all are in my prayers as well. God Bless you and your family during 2018!

Thank you for sharing!