Today started out much like a normal day. I woke up. Ate breakfast. Got ready for work. Arriving at work, I encountered a lot of negativity. Frustration from customers. Lack of understanding from co-workers. Dullness, dreariness, pessimism besieged me.
My ego weakened and trust damaged I felt like giving up. Something provoked me to pause. Wait. Think it through. To fight back.
Gratitude caused me to push back against the negativity. Pulling out a post-it notes I quickly jotted a ton of things (ability to write, family, life, job, pens, calculator). Most of these were blessings immediately in front of me. I soon relearned that I have much to be thankful.
Stopping to reflect on my blessings put distance between myself and the negativity. Recognizing all the things large and small I have to be grateful for proved to be the turning point in my day.
Gratitude is the greatest weapon to defeat negativity. If you are encountering pessimism daily, at work or home, please don’t despair. Think about the blessings in your life great and small. Thanksgiving will help dispel the storm.
American author Thomas Merton wrote, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” As the root of all evil, pride has existed for all of human history. Adam and Eve had the perfect situation—created flawless without disease or material care. Their prideful attitude reduced them and the rest of humanity to less authentic versions of ourselves. Humanity was created to be in complete communion and love with God and others. The sinister nature of pride severs our connection with Love.
Pride—the great weapon of the Enemy
The Enemy’s primary weapon in the battle over our souls is pride—the ego, the self! Saint Anselm, bishop and Doctor of the Church, boldly proclaimed, “It is impossible to save one’s soul without devotion to Mary and without her protection.” No other human, save for Christ himself, shows more selflessness than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of her excellence in virtue, she stands as a primary adversary to the egotistical Enemy (cf. Genesis 3:15).
While I have written a lot on the subject of pride, the depths of evil this sin perpetuates is a good enough reason to continue to speak against the Enemy’s attack. There will never be enough content on how to disable, defeat, and annihilate pride on this side of eternity! This post will examine two primary spiritual weapons (a sword and a shield) to fight the deadly sin. We will also examine how we can properly maintain our weaponry against pride to ensure the best chance in the War on Sin.
Humility—a sword to slay pride
The 19th century art critic John Ruskin wrote, “I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility.” Along with being the first test, an initial step in any battle is preparing yourself—and your weapons. The virtue of humility, being the exact opposite of pride, is the best weapon to kill pride! Whenever a sword gets dull it needs sharpening. I have noticed the same is true for virtues. Whenever I get complacent in my spiritual life, the virtue of humility gets dull as well. Slowly the weeds of pride begin to grow back into my life. Focusing on gratitude, reading the Scriptures, and learning from the saints helps me re-sharpen my “sword of humility”.
Gratitude—a shield to guard against pride
While not considered a weapon in the traditional sense, unless you are a fan of Captain America, shields still are considered a piece of armament in warfare. Humility chops away at the roots of pride. Gratitude acts as a deterrent, or shield, against the ego. I have discovered the days I am more thankful tend to be times where I am less effected by pride. The Enemy never takes a day off! Thankfulness definitely protects against the sin of pride. Acting as a coat of armor, gratitude keeps arrogance at bay. Thinking about the various blessings in my life keeps my mind focused on the good instead of greed—a gateway sin toward pride.
Catholic Church— the forge to strengthen these weapons
Possessing the weapons of humility and thanksgiving will go far in turning the tide in your battle against the Devil. However, the battle is persistent and as time goes on these weapons will be blunted. They will need to be strengthened and re-sharpened to ensure the final victory! The best place to refine your arms is the Catholic Church.
Officially the Catechism of the Catholic Church houses clear and objective content to equip yourself for the battle in sin. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of doctrine in the catechism. Whenever this happens the other place I look to forge my weaponry is through the writings of the saints. Arguably no other saints describes daily living as plainly as St. Josemaria Esciva. According to the Spanish priest in The Forge, “Pride dulls the edge of charity. Ask Our Lord each day for the virtue of humility, for you and for everyone. Because as the years go by, pride increases if it is not corrected in time” (no. 596). Josemaria advises later in The Forge, “Be convinced that if you do not learn to obey you will never be effective” (no. 626). Obedience to God and His Church helps us try strong against the Enemy.
Because God created humanity to live in communion, the sin of pride isolates individuals from others. Relationships strain, fracture, and eventually die if pride is left unchecked. Humility and gratitude attack and defend effectively against this sinister sin. When your weapons need repairing seek out the help of the Catholic Church and implore the aid of the Holy Spirit.
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” —Philippians 4:13
According to the American author Mark Twain, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” His words definitely rang true this morning. As I rushed to get my kids’ backpacks and lunches ready, my 5 year-old daughter tugged on my jacket and asked, “Daddy! Can I take this [to school] for sharing day?!” Looking down I noticed a leather-bound book adorned with gold leafed pages—it was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit! Normally, I would be hesitant to allow my precious books to leave the bookshelf without under my protection, especially a classic. Something, a feeling, an inkling, beyond my own power provoked me to let her keep the book for the day.
Letting go of control is not easy for me. This is particularly true when it comes to items dear to me. Releasing control led to a sudden deluge of joy. Excitement brimmed up inside me. Seeing the twinkle in my daughter eyes as she hugged The Hobbit tight simply was amazing. It was also quite unexpected—much like the Unexpected Journey of Bilbo in Middle Earth!
The first requirement for discovering joy is to be among others. After dropping the kids off at school, I wondered, “How else can I find joy? I love this experience and want to share it others.” Joy became my focus for the remainder of the day. While not an exhaustive list, I found three incredibly SIMPLE ways to find joy in your life!
A natural fruit of thankfulness is joy. Harboring a thankful mindset provides stability amid life’s storms, but also gives blossom to delight. I recently came across a post on social media that lamented the “forced gratitude” of Teacher Appreciation Week. As a Catholic my sentiment towards gratitude is that it is our central mission, the thing we value more than anything else. In fact, the source and summit of the Christian life—the Eucharist literally translates to mean “thanksgiving.” Just because you are not “compelled” or have to thank a teacher this week does not mean that you shouldn’t. More thanksgiving, freely done, only brings joy!
St. Paul recognizes this truth in Galatians 5:22-23. I do not believe it is a coincidence that the ordering of the gifts of the Holy Spirit have joy preceded by love. Where do we most show God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) love? By participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—the prime event of thanksgiving!
Be on the Lookout
G.K. Chesterton captured the essence of joy best as he wrote, “Surprise is the secret of joy”. Joy is not something we can produce from our own willpower. The example I mentioned earlier occurred unexpectedly. Normally, sudden events do not sit well with me. I like to be in control! Being prepared for things helps lead to peace—it decreases angst. While peace is a good goal, joy is an even greater good! Actively looking for joy does not work. I have tried and failed. Every. Single. Time.
As a gift of the Holy Spirit, joy cannot be produced by our active works. I often struggle with a restlessness—a strong urge to keep moving, never sitting still or slowing my mind. Since Good Friday, my family and I have sung theChaplet of Divine Mercynightly. The first fruit of this prayer I noticed was peace. Only recently did Ialso beginto notice moments of joy breaking into my life. According to St. John Paul II,
Christremains 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, and no peace. For prayer is what keeps us in touch with Christ.
Prayer helped stabilizeme. On my own I cannot run fast even to capture joy. Slowly down allows joyous moments to catch me. You too can wait for joy—be on the lookout, instead of rushing to and fro frantically!
Recognizing Your Place in Creation
Along with thanksgiving and waiting patiently for joy, recognizing my place in the universe, not only humbles me, but helps foster joyful moments. Every week Catholics profess our core beliefs at Mass with the Nicene Creed. The first tenet we remind ourselves is:I believe in one God,the Father almighty,maker of heaven and earth,of all things visible and invisible.We are creatures, NOT THE CREATOR.
This takes humility to recognize what you are not. I am not the composer of my story. The Divine Author formed me uniquely—and you uniquely too! Reminding myself of my place in creation helps foster a proper attitude to receive joy.
Be open to the unexpected. Let the Holy Spirit into your life. Ask for the gift of joy, give thanks always, and remember God is your Creator. If you practice these three simple things don’t be surprised to discover joy—it might be sooner than you realize!
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla said, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” Ingratitude is a cancer that destroys the best of relationships, all previous successes, and precedes despair. In preparation for the season of Lent, I am focusing on developing a better daily habit– that of more graciousness for life both good and bad.
Let’s do an experiment. Get a timer for look at your watch or clock and time yourself for a minute,m. During this 60 seconds list out all of the various things in your life that you’re grateful for. You can type this out or jot it down on a piece of paper. At the end of the minute look at the various things that you’re grateful for below are a list of my items. Note: For the sake of transparency I listed the things in the order that they popped into my head. The ordering is not a reflection of the priority of gratitude!
Whether your list is larger or smaller than mine does not matter. What I am certain of is that you could certainly think of at least ONE person or thing you are thankful for. This exercise took only 1 MINUTE! Image performing this simple test of thankfulness every hour of the day. Aristotle once wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Start your life anew with developing a sense of gratitude. Develop a sense of thankfulness no matter what happens in life. Happiness and peace will soon follow!
Coming off the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday, it may be easy to move directly into “Black Friday” Christmas shopping mode. The hustle and bustle of completing the holiday to-do list certainly puts pressures on people to rush. As a result, sometimes we forget that thanksgiving is not merely a day of the year, but rather a mindset. Recognizing the blessings in your life is not a novel, Americanized concept. Actually it is quite old. According to ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” I needed to hear that wisdom as I too suffer immensely from gratitude nearsightedness.
Acclaimed Catholic journalist and essayist G.K. Chesterton pithily proclaimed, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Since focusing my attitude toward gratitude, I have noticed a seismic shift in my approach to treating my wife, kids, customers, and co-workers with more respect and patience. Along big component to thanksgiving is sharing with others gifts that helped you out, for me ten outstanding individuals helped shape—and continue to shape—my Catholic faith. These following ten Catholics are role models I am incredibly thankful for God allowing to enter into my life by either reading their works or listening to their speeches.
1. Venerable Fulton Sheen: Reading the works of the American archbishop helped me learn my faith in a clearer and more articulate fashion. His book The World’s First Love: Mary the Mother of God influenced more than any other work on deepening my relationship with the Blessed Virgin.
2. St. Josemaria Escriva: Since receiving his book The Way as an unexpected Christmas present, this Spanish priest became a huge role model for me. Fr. Escriva’s practical advice and wisdom on work being a pathway to holiness helped me become not only a better employee, but also a better husband as well.
3. St. Catherine of Siena: Over the past couple of months, I had the privilege and joy of acclimating myself with the teachings of this Doctor of the Church. In light of the recent clergy crisis, I oftentimes sink into despair as I think that a simple lay person such as myself has nothing to contribute or weight to affect the good of the Church. Reading the many letters of Catherine of Siena proved to me that even the laity have the ability—and the charge—to holiness and call on Church leadership to be good shepherds to lead the flock faithfully!
4. St. Maria Faustina: Being my wife’s confirmation saint, I did not learn about Sister Faustina until we started dating in college. Along with the impact the Polish nun had on my wife, her Diary of a Soul proved to be a fruitful read for my spiritual life. As a lifelong Catholic, I always knew of God’s mercy, but her ability to articulate boundlessness of Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy icon now have become staples in my spiritual life.
5. St. Athanasius: Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I am ashamed to admit I never heard of this amazing doctor of the Early Church. Since taking a graduate course on Christology and reading [enter book title], St. Athanasius’ intrepid stand against the most sinister heresy—Arianism—in the history of the Catholic Church always inspires and fascinates me! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read the sainted bishop’s On the Incarnation.
6. St. Pope John Paul the Great: The Polish pope overcome much adversity in his life: losing his immediate family members by the age of 21, living through Nazi and Communist regime, and suffering from polio at the end of his life. JPII’s ability to suffer gracefully and his strong devotion and daily reception of the sacrament of Penance make him the perfect role model for faithful Catholics.
7. St. Francis de Sales: Although Frances was a bishop, his spirituality largely impacted the laity. In his spiritual work Introduction to the Devout Life, remains today almost 500 years later a
8. St. Therese of Lisieux: Whether I experience doldrums or dryness in the spiritual life, reacquainting myself with the Little Way of St. Therese provides me spiritual nourishment to withstand those dry spells. The simplicity of her spiritual helps to provide me perspective that I do not have to perform grandiose works to grow in holiness. Actually, that path it founded by continually to pray and rely on trusting in God’s will. I am thankful for her loving witness to trust in the Father’s Divine Plan.
9. J.R.R. Tolkien: While the father of fantasy and beloved creator of Middle Earth may appear as an outlier in this list, the late Oxford professor strongly influenced and deepened my Catholic faith in recent years. His ability to teach truth without sounding preachy is second to none. Reading his works sparks my imagination. When I found out that his Catholic faith permeated his entire life, even his writing, I too dove deeper into the pursuing the joy of the truth founded in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
More information about my admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien can be found be clicking on this link to an article I wrote for EpicPew: https://epicpew.com/an-unexpected-journey-the-case-for-the-canonization-of-j-r-r-tolkien/
10. Bishop Robert Barron: I discovered the awesomeness that is Robert Barron back in 2014 as I was teaching Old and New Testament Scripture classes to high school sophomore. His YouTube videos provided clear and interesting short clips about various topics on Catholic theology. I am indebted to his evangelization ministry Word on Fire as well. Along with his videos, Bishop Barron’s book Catholicism proudly is displayed on my bookshelf and is a frequent reference for many of my posts.
Lord I am grateful for the wonderful individuals who followed your will and helped me learn more about the Catholic teaching and strengthen my spiritual life!
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.
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