Month: September 2017

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. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. 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

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle 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).

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  1. Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing: A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus 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! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus. 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***

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An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to my Spiritual Path

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Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.

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1. Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit: Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.

Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.

A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.

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2. Happy Holiness Day: Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job? Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?

While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

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3. September of Sacraments: Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month. During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful 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…

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Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day is: will you follow me? Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same

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Wonder of the Youth

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The great American poet Maya Angelou said, “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.” Aging is a universal problem. Adults lose a sense of wonder with the world. We arrive on the job scene after our schooling years and get sucked into the maelstrom of monotony. I definitely feel like I my spirit of wonder and awe dulled over the course of time. But does that need to happen? Is it possible to return to child-like wonder? Is it possible to be young again while aging? Let me put forth three examples of activities that reignite my imaginative spark and curiosity about the world.

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1. See anything [and everything] as new: As curious individual, growing up I tended in see freshness to nearly every aspect of life. I intellectually devoured information with an endless appetite. Subjects that fascinated me [and still do to this day] included: geography, animals, board games, baseball, colors, science, history, literature, words, order of the world, space travel, and time travel to name just a few.

The adult version of myself still maintains enjoyment on learning about those topics. Difficulty arises with the need to balance, family life, work, volunteering, and hobbies. Thankfully, I have made it a point to read at least 30 minutes a day after my family goes to sleep. Currently, I am learning about Darth Vader’s ascension to power as the Emperor’s galactic general in James Lucano’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. Entering the fictional universe of Star Wars reawakens the wonder of my childhood. I feel like I am learning constantly about the characters—old and new alike—and enjoy learning about the wondrous possibilities of space travel! I strongly encourage you to experience the wonder in the written world of fiction. Wonder abounds in a book. To quote Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”

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2. All work and no play…makes Jack a dull boy: There are variations of this old adage. All share the same theme—too much work leads to drudgery and stress. As a committed workaholic I am far too familiar with the dangers of not making time for recreation. God foresaw the need for rest and recreation in humanity’s life on earth. According to Genesis chapter 2, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.”

Following this biblical principle, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “For Christians, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a special day consecrated to the service and worship of God. It is a unique Christian festival. It is “the day the Lord has made” (Ps. 117 (118):24). Its nature is holy and joyful. Sunday is the day on which we believe God acted decisively to liberate the world from the tyranny of sin, death, and corruption through the Holy Resurrection of Jesus.” Oftentimes, I fail as a parent to promote play [and engage in playful activities with my children]. My son and daughter excitedly rushed to our front lawn and jumped in jubilation at the yellow-tinged leaves newly fallen. “Let’s get into the car, I am going to be late for work!” is my default reply lately. I was a curmudgeon, the very person I did not want to be as a father. All work and no play makes me a dull Catholic, a dull husband, and a dull father.

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3. The Golden-Rule leads to true riches: The good news is that every day is a new start. I went to Confession this week. I received the sacramental graces to sharpen my awareness to God’s activity in my kids, friends, wife, and family. When I treat others with respect [i.e. FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE] I acquire riches beyond the value of physical gold—I attain joy and a spirit of gratitude. My penance for my confession was to reflect on the gifts God has given me. The priest urged me to grow my gifts and not worry about others’ gifts that I previously envied. Through prayer and advice from other people, I have realized that one of my God-given gifts is writing. Confession and a mindset of thankfulness reignite my desire to write—the past few weeks I have struggled with laziness and have not written enough!

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Life is full of periods where you feel aged, dull, and simply lethargic. This became a problem in my life when habitual laziness and dismal attitude became the norm. I ask for your continued prayers to support me in my journey toward a joyful life. Today I re-commit myself to act as God’s instrument in hope to provide a glimmer of hope and light into you [my readers] daily living!

3 Tips to Guarantee You Will Overcome Adversity

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According to Thomas Paine in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Written almost 300 hundred years ago, the American philosopher words remain fresh and relevant to our age as they did back in the time of the American Revolution. Facing deluges of stress, busyness, and changes in the workplace, I experienced difficulty in tough times. Last week the stress drowned me and I let anxiety overwhelm me. Probably the best thing I did for myself [and my family] was to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Here I obtained the graces for a clean start, a theological re-booting of my system, and aid to face the adversity this week. Along with Divine assistance, I also had a counseling appointment where I received additional help to stay even-keeled as I boarded the “ship of life” and sailed out against the sea of stress. Below I discovered [actually re-discovered] three practical tips that guarantee you will overcome adversity.

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  1. Seek Help: As a perfectionist I often struggle to admit I need help. My drive to succeed and do the right thing is both a blessing and a curse. In the storm of adversity, sometimes I am not able to keep afloat by myself. Jesus Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew  7:7). To ask for help means to submit yourself to the possibility that you may not have all the answers. Being uncertain about something or not a sign of weakness. Rather, seeking help demonstrates a powerful humility–a mighty weapon to wield in the face of adversity.

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2. Own Up to Failures:  Similar to the first point of asking for help and demonstrating humility, acknowledgment of my limitations provided another bulwark against adversity. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” His words carried real weight for me this week. Working for the banking industry involves balancing regulatory compliance with superb customer service to our clients in order to treat them with dignity and respect. To be honest, I feel like an actuarial acrobat most of the week. A situation arose where I placed more priority on company risk prevention then serving a customer impacted by Hurricane Irma. I felt guilty–even though I really did nothing morally culpable nor illegal. Still, I realized I could have provided our client a better experience. So, I took initiative to actively solve the issue by simply calling him back to inform him of the complete breakdown of disaster assistance our company provides. Almost immediately, I gained a strength to persevere with mettle despite encountering other stressful situations that day.

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  1. Learn, learn, learn: Albert Einstein once said, “A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  Despite, being a professional physicist, the German genius gave us profound philosophical wisdom in this quote. Throughout my life I encountered people I consider to be “learner yearners”. In other words, people who commit themselves to life-long learning and study. The common thread among “learner yearners” is that they seem to deal with adversity in a calm and controlled manner. Adversity will always pester us and follow us in our earthly existence. The key is donning an educational attitude and seek opportunities to learn. Learning leads to perspective. Perspective leads to patience. Patience is the virtue that allows us to disable adversity’s assault.

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The great English prime minister Winston Churchill stated, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” More colloquially put, “With great power comes great responsibility,” attributed by Ben Parker [uncle of Peter Parker/Spiderman]. Facing turmoil and adversity head-on seems brings a sense of joy and peace. This seems counter-intuitive, but from my personal experiences so far that has been the case. A habit of seeking help, taking ownership of my failings, and continual learning leads to overcoming of adversity!

***”It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”***

Do I Deserve Anything?

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“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough,” Oprah Winfrey once said. Life is fleeting. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are proof of this fact. While I have not been directly impacted by these super storms I see the results. I have a cousin who lives in southeast Texas and had to leave because of Harvey. I work assisting people with mortgages who have suffered property loss from Irma. Seeing the photos from my family member and hearing the strife my clients undergo make my issues small.

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Over the past several months, I battled the sin of complaining. I whined over simple things: kids messing up the house, co-workers annoying me, routine bills, etc. You name it and I probably complained. I am not happy or proud that I engaged in such behavior, but that was who I was recently. The stress and negativity grew and grew. Finally, I went to Confession this weekend. According to St. Augustine, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” The saints words ring true. During the last few days, I experienced a shift in mentality. Instead of thinking, “I need _____” or “I deserve ______ to happen “phrases such as “How I may help?” or “Life is a gift” become more natural for me to reflect on.

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Receiving a new start on my path towards holiness, through the sacrament of Confession, I experience a clearer sight of the truly important things in life. Counting my blessings and donning an attitude of gratefulness became more natural after I received the graces to forgive in the theological medicine box. Do I deserve anything? I pondered this question a lot yesterday and today.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1999, “The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.” The dictionary defines gratuitous as given or done free of charge. God needs nothing in return. Life is a blessing. God’s grace sustains me. I cannot add or take away from God’s power and authority. Do I deserve anything? No, as a selfish creature before our wonderful Creator I did not deserve anything. Why am I given such blessings? The answer is that God’s freely chooses to love me and lavish gifts on his adopted children.

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Do I deserve anything? No, I am a sinful, narrow-minded person. Through the grace I received in the Sacrament of Confession, God reminds me that just because I am not entitled to the blessings in my life do not mean that He will take them away. The trials, sufferings, blessings, and joy are all part of my life to help me grow in holiness. How do I combat an attitude of privilege? I need to don the cloaks of humility and gratitude. I will close this reflection with lyrics to Your Grace is Enough by Matt Maher:

Great is your faithfulness oh God of Jacob
You wrestle with the sinner’s restless heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
When nothing can keep us apart

So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough for me

Great is your love and justice God of Jacob
You use the weak to lead the strong
You lead us in the song of heaven’s victory
And all your people sing along

So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough for me

So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough

For Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough
Yeah Your grace is enough for me

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Contributing Writer!

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I recently joined an as contributing writer for joyintruth.com. Please feel free to check out my post on the sacrament of the Eucharist through the following link:  https://joyintruth.com/my-flesh-is-real-food-my-blood-is-real-drink/  

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Book Review!

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Please feel free to check out my book review of  Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday for Homiletic and Pastoral Review through link below. This book is probably the best book on Holy Saturday theology I have ever read!

http://www.hprweb.com/2017/09/early-fall-reading-2/