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!

J.O.Y.

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

Fortress Mentality—Why Creating a Stronghold Keeps Negativity at Bay

Growing up, I enjoyed constructing blanket forts in the living room or playing under the deck with my siblings in our dirt-laden bunker. Something about forts invokes nostalgia. Security and strength also are words that immediately come to my mind when I think of fort [and fortresses]. Over the past few years, I have noticed an increased anxiety, not only from myself, but from society as a whole. Americans enjoy the pleasure of living in a wealthy and free society—privileges not afforded in other places and times. My aim here in this post is not to analyze the causes for the increased angst. That I will leave to professionals in psychology, medicine, and psychiatry. Instead, I am going to share a couple reasons why retreating to my cerebral citadel as opposed to actively engaging the stress inducers has worked for me for the past month. Please be aware, that while this approach may work for me I am in no way endorsing a fortress mentality being a miracle-cure method to fending off fretfulness for everyone.

1. Defense Beats Offense Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote,

Negativity can only feed on negativity.” From personal experience, I know that negativity only grows when you give attention to it, too much attention will lead to negativity consuming your life. Fighting negativity with an offensive attack does not work. I came across this anonymous quote that stuck a cord on this subject, “When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.” Different approaches are necessary when battling stress and negativity in your life. An image of a faucet comes to mind when complaining controls my life. Last month, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me: both at home and work. Frustrations about unmet expectations caused grievances which poured out like water running from an open faucet.

To combat my weaknesses, I simply went to source—my words and shut off the valve of verbal complaints. This month instead of vocally sharing my grumbles aloud, I created a laconic lock for my tongue. According to James 3, the mouth and tongue act as a gateway for various despicable behaviors. Keeping our words bridled is key to stopping negativity.  The Apostle writes in James 3:2-5,

If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

2. Fortifying not fleeing: The brilliant Albert Einstein once declared, “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Sometimes turning away from the stresses and negativity going on in life gets equated with running from your problems. Withstanding the temptations to give into the negativity that surrounds you displays strength.

Known as fortitude, courage is the foundation upon which virtue and the ability to withstand the assault of pessimism is built on. Author Maya Angelou succinctly states, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Shifting my mindset toward stoicism and fortress-like greatly helped me weather the storms of stress.

Becoming more self-aware of my vocal complaints, grumbles, and murmurings prevented me from stumbling into the sea of stress. Distancing myself emotionally from the “bad” or “negative” experiences I faced in the workplace or at home helped me to move more quickly onto the next task or event of the day. The image of a fortress best represents for me the virtue of fortitude and ability to block negativity.


“But you, O man of God, must flee from these things; and strive for uprightness, godliness, good faith, love, fortitude, and a forgiving temper.” –1 Timothy 6:11

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7

5 Things that Make John Paul the Great, Well—Great!

JPII MORE THAN GOOD GREAT

Catholics enjoy the opportunity to look to holy men and women who followed before as role models and guides in fulfilling your true purpose in life. As I learn and read about the saints, the more profoundly I experience fellowship. Saints lived through suffering experiences with patience and reliance on God’s help. Perhaps no other 20th century figure, and this includes a legendary list, provided a better example of following the golden rule and forgiving other as St. Pope John Paul II. Being my personal hero, I was overwhelmed with joy upon his canonization a MERE five years after his death! While countless reasons exist for why I love and admire JPII below are five main things that make the great Polish pope—great.

 

1. Endured a Lifetime of Tragedies: Born in [enter year] Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II’s pre-papal name] grew up during the most tumultuous eras of Polish history—Nazi occupation and later during the reign of Communism. Before he turned 22, Karol lost all of his immediate family members (his mother passed away during childbirth, his sister died before Karol was born, and his brother and father stated reason/manner). As if losing your family was not enough suffering to last a few lifetimes for anyone, in the beginning of his pontificate John Paul gunned down via a failed assassination. The leader of the Catholic Church united himself so much to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. According to Jason Evert author of Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, “When someone mentioned the impending suffering that would be required by one of his surgies, he replied, ‘The Church needs suffering” (p.192).

JPII Mary

2. Marian Devotion: The Polish pope famous motto was Totus Tuus. This Latin phrase translates as “Totally Yours”—a reference to Mary’s total obedience to the Father’s will. Among the defining events of the sainted pontiff’s life the assassination attempt on May 13th, 1981 certainly had to be a monumental turning point. Already possessing a strong piety to the Blessed Virgin, this only increased after the bullet missed hitting vital organs by mere millimeters. He quipped, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.” Totally trusting in the mediation of Mary in his life, John Paul II provides a good example for other Catholics to rely on the Mother of God to be a good protector and guide towards Christ.

Jason Evert in his biography talks of the pope’s admiration to Mary in this way, “In True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort wrote, ‘the most faithful servants of the Blessed Virgin, being her greatest favorites, receive from her the best graces and favors from heaven, which are crosses.’ If suffering is a sign of predilection, then John Paul II must have been one of our Lady’s favorites!” (Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves, p. 191). Of the importance of the Rosary John Paul II declared, “[The Rosary is] our daily meeting which neither I nor the Blessed Virgin Mary neglect.”

Recently, my family started praying a decade of the Rosary each night before putting the kids to bed. My outlook on life and graces for patience have never been higher. I am thankful for John Paul the Great’s great witness to Marian devotion!

3. Pope for the People: John Paul II instituted World Youth Day, a worldwide gathering of Catholic youth every 4 years. He saw the importance of children and teens being the future of the Church. The excitement that revolves around this event continues even in the years after his death. The Polish pope traveled extensively across the globe administering to all God’s people and showing the love of Christ. His long tenure afforded the opportunities for a generation to grow up under his papacy and enjoy stability of leadership for the Catholic Church.

Stay holy

4. King of Confession: While John Paul II lived a remarkable life and endured to the end—suffering from Parkinson’s disease, the most impressive feat of his papacy [and priesthood] was his daily reception of the Sacrament of Confession. He declared,

It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation. Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.

I feel out of whack spiritually when I fail to go to the Medicine Box for over a month. His near mastery of virtue—through the aid offered by the Holy Spirit in the confessional—is evident by his encounter with all he met and his quick canonization less than half a decade after his death.

JPII Bring down communism

5. Heroic Herald of Truth: Along with John Paul II’s ability to forgive others, especially the man who tried to murder him, the Polish pope safeguarded and articulated the Catholic Church’s teaching boldly and clearly. Intrepidly standing up to the evils of Communism, the sainted pope never watered down truth for the sake of diplomacy. Below are two links to encyclical letters where the Supreme Pontiff clearly upholds the Catholic teaching on the priesthood being reserved for males alone and the reciprocal relationship between faith and science:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1994/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19940522_ordinatio-sacerdotalis.html

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html

St. John Paul the Great stated, “Remember that you are never alone, Christ is with you on your journey every day of your lives!” Truly God gifted the world with the holiness of Karol Wojtyla. St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote,  “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” Following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II will not be an easy feat, but it is a surefire and joyful path toward closer union with God. Thank you Lord again for the life of this wonderful saint!

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“The more ready you are to give yourselves to God and to others, the more you will discover the authentic meaning of life”

“Do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium!”

The Morning Everything Went Wrong…and Why I Didn’t Freak Out


Me [on the cell phone]: “Honey! Just what? I just got locked out of my car! And I am locked out of the house too.

Wife: “We cannot afford a locksmith today. You don’t get paid until tomorrow.

Me: I will try my credit card.

Wife: I am leaving work to at least let you in the house. Maybe we have a spare key.

Me: Thank you! But, I am pretty sure we don’t have any extra keys…


To say that my morning began a little off course or on the wrong footing is a big understatement. More accurately, Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day better describes the beginning of my Thursday. After my door dilemma, I make a few fast errand stops at the grocery store and the library before coming home again for my 2 year’s back-to-back speech and occupational therapy sessions.

Because of having to wait for the locksmith to free my keys from the car I had to really rush. My final errand was the library where my son toted around merrily a plastic box of toys. As we started to leave the library atrium, he tripped over his shoes and face planted on the floor—crying ensued and his lips started to seep crimson blood. Having no napkins, I could do nothing except for rushing my toddler to my vehicle and pray that the bleeding stopped before I would be able to get to wipes at home.

The morning smoothed out for my toddler, at least, as he did tremendously well during his therapy sessions. I still felt the busyness and wayward nature of the morning still pursue me as I had to make several phone calls to settle things with my student loan and an application on another loan my wife and I applied for recently. The off-kilter day continued a bit even when I arrived at work. My anticipated meeting with my manager on my monthly progress was unexpected cancelled and moved to the following day. Oddly enough, as someone who normally desires—actually craves—routine and regimen, I was fairly calm considering the maelstrom of morning madness! Certainly out of my natural character, upon reflection I came up with the following three reasons below for why I didn’t freak out.

1. Past Suffering Helps Present Pain: The great American Helen Keller once declared, 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. Being born both blind and deaf, she overcame more than the average person. However, suffering if part of this fallen world. Past suffering from years, and months ago, helped prepare me for the stresses of yesterday. Former President Harry S. Truman stated, “The reward of suffering is experience!” We can learn how to cope with or overcome present pain from lessons in the past.

2. Monkish Methods: My primary objective this week was to limit complaining. If something frustrated me, I really made an effort to act as a mute monk in the situation. According to St. John of the Cross, “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Reflecting on the simplicity of this basic truth helped reframe my mindset when “everything” didn’t go my way.

Cardinal Robert Sarah also promotes the monkish method of silence as well. In his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise Sarah purports, “Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.” There is no middle ground for the red-hatted Prefect for Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This hard-lined approach toward negativity and complaining worked wonders for me so far! Reticence reverses resentful thoughts. Peace and tranquility ensues and takes place of the former chaos. Sarah beautifully compares silence to visible icons by saying, “Silence is an acoustic veil that protects the mystery… a sort of sonic iconostasis”

3. More Help from Mama Mary: Along with adding a “silencer” to my spiritual weapons against complaining and gossip, a healthy dose of praying a decade of the Rosary nightly with my family protected me against the wiles the Evil One set me that Thursday morn. St. Josemaria Escriva boldly claimed, “The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you’ll be amazed at the results.” There is a reason Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a common title the Blessed Virgin Mary—she is a perfect advocate in times of trouble!

Silence in trying times and refraining from complaining takes strength. Such power cannot originate from within the self. Looking to the witness of the saints, most especially the Mother of God we are provided hope to adopt a properly pious mentality in times of confusion and suffering. Cardinal Robert Sarah again speaks of the importance of silence, “Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost. The earth then rushes into nothingness.”


“The Rosary is the ‘weapon’ for these times.” -Saint Padre Pio

Re-Gaining a Sense of Voyage in Life

As a child I had a fascination with maps, geography, and the idea of being on a quest. My favorite books to read as a kid included the famous Greek epic The Odyssey and the Redwall Series by English author Brian Jacques. Both included a sense of adventure whereby the main character(s) trekked across dangerous terrain and met obstacles to overcome (external and internal struggles) before eventually arriving at their destination at the end of the story. The word odyssey actually means journey, pilgrimage, or trek.

As a father of four [one is in utero!], I am able to reacquaint myself with the sense of life as a voyage. Frequently, I lose sight of reality as the flood of daily temptations, confusion, and struggles assail me. My 5 year old daughter definitely got her penchant for atlases from me. Almost every day, she asks me, “Daddy! Can you please get me paper and markers for me to make a map?!”  Cartography reigns supreme in my household—especially on rainy days!

The other day I read an article online that referenced the importance of returning to a sense of voyage. A quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux stuck in my mind after I went on with the rest of my day. The Doctor of the Church wrote, “The symbol of a ship always delights me and helps me to bear the exile of this life.” Her words convey a truth that I always wanted to communicate but was not able to fully articulate—something about sea travel points to a higher reality. Perhaps it is because we named our child Noah, named after the Old Testament figure who crafted the ark, that I tend to have boats on the mind—at least subconsciously. Or maybe, there is something innate in each of us that desires the continual movement that travel affords us. St. Augustine famously declared, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you [God].”

Here is a well-written and easy to understand article on the connection between Noah’s Ark and its prefiguring of the Catholic Church: https://catholicexchange.com/ten-ways-noahs-ark-prefigured-church. Some highlights include that just as the giant boat housed the holy individuals of Noah and his family, so too, does the Catholic Church safeguard individuals striving for holiness against the dangers of the deluge of temptations!

Another important point that stands out regarding the maritime theme is that life is bearable when we look to the Promised Land—Heaven—as our destination. When times get tough, during the turbulence of life we look beyond our vehicle, and outside of ourselves toward the horizon—toward the rising of the Sun [Son]!

Every quest involves dead-ends, treacherous terrain, and wild beasts [physical and/or spiritual]. Fellowship is essential for any journey—just ask Frodo the Hobbit!

Reacquainting myself with the fact that life is truly a voyage helps to remind me that I am not only in the journey. God provided helpmates along the way, namely my wife, children, and the saints such as St. Thérèse. When life gets your down and despair sets in please be reminded that you still have a road ahead. You have the ability to pick the road on this pilgrimage of life—make life more joyful by following the witness of the holy ones before us!

St. Teresa of Avila Pray for Us!

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Among my favorite saints is the Spanish Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila. Her spirituals works bring peace and comfort to my life. I discovered a simple, but powerful prayer, a poem Teresa wrote, that brings comfort in distressing times.


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.


We thank God for the wonder witness of the life of St. Teresa of Avila. May we look to her as a faithful spiritual toward Jesus Christ. St. Teresa pray for us!