Every day we have a choice. We either give into the pressures of daily living or to crumble upon the weight of stress. The constant flux of life makes stress inevitable. Despite, the fact that stress will always surround me in some way, shape, or form I should not despair. Instead, I have learned to shield myself against the pressures of this world and the snares the Devil lays out to try to entrapment. Here are seven ways to arm you against anxiety:
***NOTE: These are only suggestions. Some of the strategies may not be applicable to your situation at this time in your life. Please use these shields against anxiety as it suits your needs/situation.***
- Prayer: 1 Peter 5:7 states, “Cast all your worries upon Him because he cares for you.” The Holy Spirit truly does work in mysterious ways. I am currently in a training class for my new position and the title of the session is A.R.E. in the Workplace. Perhaps it was a coincidence; I rather see it as perfect divine timing. Prayer is communication with the Divine Creator of the Entire Universe. It involves a dialogue not a monologue. Much of my spiritual journey had me focus on my end of communication—asking God for my wants. I did not always listen. Something I have done to open up communication is to be more deliberate in my gratitude.
- Music: Along with prayer, song safeguards me from anxiety. I used to listen to rock music; however, four years ago I made a shift in the type of music that played in my car. Because the words we hear impact our daily living, my shift to living to positive and uplifting Christian music protects me from the chaos life throws my way.
- Counseling: Together with prayer and encouraging music, monthly counseling appointment defends myself from the foray caused by the foibles of myself and my fellow neighbors. Counselor is a title given to the Holy Spirit as well. Between my professional counseling sessions, I am able to rely on the aid of the Holy Spirit to console me against daily anxiety.
- Reading: A fourth shield in my armory against anxiety is frequent reading of good books. According to Frederick Douglas, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” While this quote is not necessarily an absolute truth, I will attest to that reading can definitely be a doorway to freedom. As I journey into the literary universes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a couple of my favorite authors, I am afforded respite from the toils of work. Through the written word I am also able to travel—in a sense – back in time to meet holy men and women and learn about they existed in a world that was not their home.
- Exercise: St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 provided a timeless example of the spiritual life, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” I joined cross country in high school and my passion for running continues today. During a stressful week I defend myself from the snares of anxiety by taking my children out in the jogging stroller for a short run. During my neighbor circuits, I was able to reflect on how my day went and how I may be able to improve on my shortcomings.
- Medicine: Anxiety medicine does not work for anyone so feel free to disregard this point. However, pharmaceuticals for stress help me to limit the anxieties I impose on myself. Consistent usage of doctor prescribed anxiety medication is beneficial to my unique situation. It took me a long time to acknowledge that outside help was necessary to relief intense stress.
- Sacraments: God loves humanity so much that he implemented a support system for his adopted children to utilize to shield against the prowess of the Devil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1436, “Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. “It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.”35
The Holy Spirit absolves me of my sins when I have an authentic contrition. Along with forgiveness, I receive grace to stave off future temptations. When I face despair and doubt in Divine Providence often the sacrament of Confession is the only thing that bring me back to the life of faith!
Whether I am in the shadows of a desolation or experiencing consolation, I found these seven shields an effective defense against the constant assault of anxiety. I will continue to fight the good fight to become the best version of myself and not succumb to impatience, anger, or doubt. I pray that you take up this challenge daily as well!
As a Middle-earth aficionado, I have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Currently, I am navigating the land of Beleriand as I am reading The Children of Húrin. While these books are creative and profound, my personal favorite Tolkien work [so far this may be subject to change!] does not take place in a mythic land or through the medium of an epic adventure tale. Instead, a short story published in 1945 wins my personal Pulitzer. Leaf by Niggle does not follow hobbits, elves, dwarves, or contain any sinister evil such as Sauron or Morgoth. Instead, the plots details of a simple painter’s journey in the afterlife.
The short story begins by depicting Niggle, an artist, living in a society with little esteem for art. He is continually interrupted by his neighbor Parish who is lame and has an ill wife. Although Niggle views such disruptions as annoying, he still helps his neighbor due to his politeness.
Niggle is forced to take a trip that he is not ready for and spends time at a hospital. Daily work as a gardener is the task that he is entrusted with during his time at the health institution. Throughout this process, the reader hears two unseen voices discuss the progress of Niggle.
It is determined that the artist made advancements and is sent to a new country—the Land of the Tree and Forest of his great painting. Niggle becomes re-united with Parish and together they work the land. Their work brings beauty to the Tree and the Forest. Finally, Niggle bids farewell to Parish as he continues his journey with the shepherd to learn more about the sheep and journey toward the high pastures in the Mountains.
- Clearly Catholic: The main reason I enjoy Leaf by Niggle is due to the clear catholicity contained within the characters, plot, and symbols. Niggle represents everyman—humanity as an individual and as a collective. When I looked up the word niggle in the thesaurus, I learned that the name has synonyms which included: annoy, bother, discomfort, and anxiety. According to Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution of the Church] 7, “On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified.” Niggle also suffered various disturbances of his artwork while he was on a pilgrim journey.
Another example of how Tolkien clearly infused Catholic thought into his short story is the hospital being an allegory for the cleansing process of purgatory. Next, the Voices represent the judgment and mercy of God. The English writer conveys the balanced Catholic approach to Divine Mercy and Judgment through the dialogue between the voices on Niggle’s progress:
“Now the Niggle case,” said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor’s.
“What was the matter with him?” said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft-it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. “What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place.”
“Yes, but it did not function properly,” said the First Voice. “And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers’ wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet.”
“It would not do him any harm, perhaps,” said the Second Voice. “But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know.”
“Perhaps,” said the First Voice; “but very few that will really bear examination.”
“Well,” said the Second Voice, “there are these. He was a painter by nature. In a minor way, of course; still, a Leaf by Niggle has a charm of its own. He took a great deal of pains with leaves, just for their own sake. But he never thought that that made him important. There is no note in the Records of his pretending, even to himself, that it excused his neglect of things ordered by the law.”
“Then he should not have neglected so many,” said the First Voice.
“All the same, he did answer a good many Calls.”
- I am Niggle: Probably the biggest takeaway I received from Leaf by Niggle this that the titular character mirrors traits found within myself. While Niggle is engrossed in his artwork, I often find myself absorbed in my hobbies of reading and writing. Daily disturbances—such as assisting neighbors in need—annoy Niggle, but he ultimately does the right thing, just not always out of love. In a similar fashion, I struggle to carry out my familial and employee duties without ever lamenting or finding these tasks bothersome. At the end of the day, I will complete my duty because it is right and moral. What I sometimes lack is serving my family and co-workers with love all the time!
Tolkien’s ability to depict the rawness and realness of Niggle urged me to re-read this short story almost immediately upon completing it the first time. As an idealist, I am often color-blind to the real-life situations and toils of daily living. Leaf by Niggle provides clarity into how a person’s life is judged. I am hopeful, yet realistic about God’s mercy and realize I have a purgative road ahead of me in this life [and likely the next life!].
- Purgatory is a Real Process: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Niggle’s trip to the hospital and the Land of the Tree and Forest represent the Christian doctrine of purgatory—a state of existence whereby souls are purified. Purgatory is an ephemeral existence, it is not permanent. It is a stage toward Heaven. However, the process of purgation is not ethereal, it involves a REAL PROCESS of perfection.
Tolkien utilizes allegory to capture this truth. He details concrete examples to describe the purgative experience. Death is the doorway that leads mankind toward purgation [this is assuming they led an imperfect life, but ultimately choose to follow God!]. In Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien represents Death via two character’s the Inspector of Homes and the Driver—brings Niggle to the hospital [i.e. Purgatory]. Listen to the conversation between Death and Niggle:
“Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.
“Damn!” said Niggle. But he might just as well have said “Come in!” politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.
“This is a private studio,” said Niggle. “I am busy. Go away!”
“I am an Inspector of Houses,” said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. “Oh!” he said.
“Your neighbour’s house is not satisfactory at all,” said the Inspector.
“I know,” said Niggle. “I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill.”
“I see,” said the Inspector. “But you are not ill now.”
“But I’m not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service.”
“They are busy with worse damage than any up here,” said the Inspector. “There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint.”
“Where?” asked Niggle indignantly.
“There!” said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.
“My picture!” exclaimed Niggle.
“I dare say it is,” said the Inspector. “But houses come first. That is the law.”
St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” We do not know the hour of our death. Just how Niggle was not fully prepared to meet death, we will be surprised at the end of this earthly existence. Thankfully, due to the mercy of God, a process/period of purgation exists. Any lover of Tolkien and Christian allegory will find enjoyment while reading Leaf by Niggle.
John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.
As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.
St. Teresa of Avila once said, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:
- God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!
An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.
- Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.
You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:
O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.
According to the American author Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” The end of October was a period of consolation in my spiritual journey. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same is true for the 11th month of the year.
November is a tough month for me personally. Three years ago, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage and all the horrifying feelings resurface during this time of the year. Along with the memory of our loss, the dimming of daylight [especially when we turned the clocks back an hour on November 5th!] provides the perfect recipe for despair and desolation. When it comes to spiritual attach by the Evil One there are generally two general methods to combat him: actively fight through prayer, good works, and reception of the sacraments or secondly retreat from the vices that tempts us.
Today I am going to reflect on the latter strategy. I feel like am called to retreat to my spiritual cave to try to eliminate opportunities for future temptation as to help me avoid further sliding into despair.
Throughout the Bible God calls individuals to experience a conversion in solitude and reflection before granting them power and authority to lead others to Him. For the purpose of eliciting imagery [as I am a visual learner and tend to like symbols] I will refer to such an experience as my “spiritual cave dwelling”!
- Exodus: Throughout the Book of Exodus God calls individuals and His people as a whole to conversation during a trip in the wilderness. Exodus 2-3 details Moses flight from Egypt to the rural land of Midian and his eventually encounter with the Divine presence under the form of the burning bush. God also utilizes a period of spiritual “dryness” to help transform the idol worship of the newly freed Israelites to trust in His Divine Providence. Over a period of forty years, the Israelites had to wander the wildness as reparation for violating the first commandment.
Perhaps, November is my own personal “time in the wilderness” to help me grow in virtue and eliminate bad habits.
- Jesus’ Fasting in the Wilderness: The Gospels placed Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert at the start of his public ministry. Along with calling to mind Moses’ and the Israelites period of conversion, Jesus fasts not because he needs it [because he is without sin!], but rather to be a model of the Christian spiritual life. Sometimes we need to practice self-denial to grow in holiness. While I usually associate fasting relating to physical items such as food or drink, I recently had a thought. What if God allows for consolation to be rescinded from us in order to permit authentic spiritual growth and trust in Him? In my youth I experienced growing pains. Why should be not be different when I grow in my spiritual life? St. Ignatius of Loyala addresses the same point in the Seventh Rule for Discernment of Spirits. He says,
Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it [my emphasis]: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.
November 2017 could be a spiritual schooling from the Holy Spirit allowing me to wean off the need and desire for God’s spiritual candy of consolation that I too quickly “gobbled up” [along with physical candy 🙂 ] in October!
- Athanasius the Bold: During the 4th century A.D., the Catholic Church faced arguably its worst and most pervasive heresy in history—Arianism. Stemming from the false beliefs of the priest Arius, proponents of this belief denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. According to Arius, “There was a time when He [Jesus Christ] was not.” Confusion was so rampant that the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea was convened at 325 A.D. which pronounced Arianism as official heresy. While officially the matter was theologically solved, Arian agents still remained throughout the magisterial network for the remainder of the century.
To combat this heinous heresy, God sent St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, to champion authentic truth of the Holy Trinity. However, testifying to the truth came with a price—a bounty on Athanasius’ life not once but five times! As a result he went into hiding each time. He led his diocese clandestinely through the protections of monks. St. Athanasius stands as an exemplary model of obedience to God. He could have despaired and lamented his situation, but instead he remained steadfast to the truth!
The easier path this month would be for me to languish in my despair. Job promotion denials, stress at work, and daily anxiety abound. How did Athanasius prevail with his life on the line? Reading his work On the Incarnation provided me clarity. Athanasius states, “Anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”
Periods of desolation are unavoidable on this side of eternity. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an actual cave to escape the entrapments laid out before me by the Devil. While going away on a sudden sabbatical would be irresponsible to my family duties as husband and father. Warding off vice through removing myself from opportunities to sin is not the same as skirting my vocational calling. Fasting and prayer will be powerful weapons for me the remainder of the month as I strive in my pursuit towards holiness.
***“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”***
This quote comes from the opening pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Readers unfamiliar with the background of this novel may need some context to see the relevance of this passage to today’s topic. Basically, the protagonist of The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins—a hobbit who at the beginning of the story lives a quiet life free from any big adventure or risk-taking. His tranquil existence is seemingly upset upon the arrival of the wizard Gandalf and a troupe of adventuring dwarves. The wizard succeeds in convincing Bilbo to join the dwarven expedition to reclaim treasure stolen by a dragon. Bilbo’s role is to serve as the burglar—someone quick and nimble—to steal the gold from Smaug the Dragon. I always found Bilbo’s inner struggle whether to embrace his Baggins [low-risk, simple] side or his Tookish [adventurous] family lineage.
Frequenctly I find myself a chimera—a hybrid—composed of my rational and scientific mentality juxtaposed against my life of faith. According to John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides Et Ratio).
Pitting faith against reason or vice versa only frustrates man’s pursuit toward a joyous existence. I know this to be true because I experienced life when I shut out faith and when I land on the other extreme as well and jettison my rational side. Similarly, Bilbo Baggins did not fully embrace reality nor fully attain a fulfilling life until he incorporated the Tookish [faith, adventurous] side. I look to Tolkien’s literary work with a character who resembles myself at my current stage in life. Recently, I have become too logical, too rigid, and too rational in my approach to living. I need to embrace my Tookish side. Below are three concrete ways whereby I may accomplish this goal.
- Laughter: Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” Bold claim. Lacking in laughter, I tend to struggle with being too serious. I think part of my seriousness stems from my desire to control daily events. Amidst the constant curveballs life throws at you sometimes the only thing to do is to laugh. Mark Twain wittingly declared, “The human race has only one effective weapon and that is laughter!” While I dispute the notion that humor is our sole weapon, Twain has a point—laughter serves a remedy to an ailing situation.
Watching television comedies like The Office and Home Improvement with my wife help me re-charge from a toilsome day. The levity of sitcoms provides me perspective on my day. Through the antics of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, I learn to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I develop an ability to have faith that things will work out in the end and that I need to embrace the roller coaster adventure of life!
- Out of the Mouths of Babes: According to Matthew 21:16, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” Now this passage is actually a direct quote from Psalms 8:3. This psalm mentions the amazing power of God and His praiseworthy nature. Throughout history, the phrase “out of the mouths of babes” has developed into an idiom to refer to the keen insight the young/inexperienced may be able to provide someone “wiser” or “older”. My children abound with wisdom [even though they are oblivious to that fact!]. While the old and wise wizard Gandalf, solicited Bilbo out of his reserved and cautious hobbit hole, my situation is almost the inverse. My young [wise] children allow me to engage with my Tookish [faith-filled, funny-loving, witty, adventurous] side.
- Listening to the Holy Spirit: Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit is a third way I embrace my “Tookish” side. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I am only going to focus on two: courage and right judgement. Both gifts I believe to be invaluable for me to pursue adventure in my life. It takes courage to go on a journey—whether it is physical or spiritual in nature. Gandalf provided courage and right judgment to Bilbo in aiding him on his unexpected journey. The author of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith permeated his fiction. As his son Michael once said about the impact of Catholicism on his father’s work, “[it] pervaded all his thinking, beliefs and everything else.” The Holy Spirit enters my life unexpectedly at times in my life granting me courage and right judgment.
St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord; 6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Embracing my inherent gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit will allow me to find a healthy balance in my spiritual life. I will learn to embrace my adventurous and jovial side with jettisoning my rational, reserved nature.
As I wrap up, I need to make the following disclaimer: embracing your Tookish side will change you. Be prepared. When Biblo Baggins returns from his long journey with Gandalf and the dwarves, his fellow hobbits viewed him differently. Tolkien writes,
Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be “queer” – except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.
Do not be discouraged by this news. Whenever I despair about any changes from embracing the life of faith I remember Christ’s words, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)!
According to a recent Gallup study, the average American adult employed full-time reported to work an average of 47 hours a week. While I attended college and before I had children, I worked 60 or more hours a week for months on end. The United States is sort of an outlier when it comes to finding a work/life balance. Even though I no longer log the insane amount of hours, I still struggle with finding time to relax and separating work from home life. This battle seemed futile until I stumbled upon the writings and witness of a Spanish priest—St. Josemaria Escriva! I am not entirely sure how I came across this gem of a saint, but his writing provides such practical wisdom that I am going to request for some of his books as gifts this Christmas [my local library did not have any of his works L] Today, I want to share three practical tips I learned from Fr. Escriva’s The Way that saved me from being a workaholic.
- Perspective is Key: Josemaria mentions the need to broaden our perspective in the first chapter. “Get rid of that ‘small-town’ outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, ‘catholic’,” he says. Lately, I struggled with having a narrow gaze when it comes to my job. I see things from my perspective alone. I resist the Holy Spirit’s promptings in daily events whereby I am given chances to widen my limited purview. For example, my manager challenges me to think beyond my cubicle walls. I need to daily heed the Spanish saint’s wisdom.
- Pardon my Excuses?!: Along with possessing a narrow outlook I tend to fight constant urges to make up excuses for my failings. “The computer system was slow”; “No one told me the new update”; “Things are too busy”: these are just some of the various excuses I tell myself throughout the week. According to Father Escriva, “Say what you have just said, but in a different tone, without anger, and your argument will gain in strength and, above all, you won’t offend God.”
Perhaps such excuses may be admissible, but I need to be cognizant of my tone and frequency of complaints. “Let those very obstacles give you strength. God’s grace will not fail you,” St. Josemaria states. Stumbling blocks need not be hindrances. Maybe the apparent blocks in my path are actually building blocks for my character. Relying on Jesus as my cornerstone, I will be able to pick up the stumbling blocks [i.e. excuses] and use them to build up the kingdom of God!
- Work with Character and Substance: A third major theme within the initial chapter of The Way focuses on developing your character through work. St. Josemaria deliberately states, “Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character’. It’s your lack of character: Be a man [or woman].” In other words, do not allow your past and your genetics define your being.
I am guilty as anyone when it comes to blaming my woes and defects on my chemistry make-up. I tell my wife whenever I say something stupid or fail to listen to her needs, “This is who I am at my core! I struggle with focusing because of my ADHD diagnosis” Father Escriva’s states in the next line, “Get used to saying No. Turn your back on the tempter when he whispers in your ear: ‘Why make life difficult for yourself?’” Character is built on resisting the Tempter. I need to work on refusing to fall into the sins of gluttony and sloth [daily I fight the urge to eat fast food and lack motivation to play with my children after work].
Canonized on October 6, 2002, St. Josemaria Escriva is a perfect role model for people living in the 21st century. The bustle of life is only going to increase, especially in an age of instant communication via social media and the internet! The Spanish saint provides a humble witness as to how to incorporate God into my work through real, tangible, and practical means.
O God, through the mediation of Mar y our
Mother, you granted your priest St. Josemaría countless
graces, choosing him as a most faithful instrument
to found Opus Dei, a way of sanctification in
daily work and in the fulfillment of the Christian’s
ordinary duties. Grant that I too may learn to turn all
the circumstances and events of my life into occasions
of loving You and serving the Church, the Pope
and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the
pathways of this earth with faith and love.
Deign to grant me, through the intercession of St.
Josemaría, the favor of … (make your request). Amen.
What am I doing here? Is this all to life? Sitting in my work cubicle these thoughts occasionally cross my mind. Struggling with the daily routine of work and family life, my mind tends to wander off toward fantasy. I think part it is it due to a desire to escape my mundane situation. Reading fantasy allows me to attain that escapism while remaining in the comfort of my living room. After putting my children to bed and waiting for my wife to return from errand-running, I had some free time to read. Picking up Chesterton’s Orthodoxy I spent about twenty minutes navigating his semi-autobiographical work. Suddenly, I stopped at a passage from his fourth chapter entitled The Ethics of Elfland. The great English wordsmith writes, “I have said that stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege” (Orthodoxy p. 54).
In other words, life is not something to be merely enjoyed via self-gratification, but rather my existence on this earth should be viewed through the lens of privilege—life is a free gift. My children point to this reality, often lost as we reach adulthood, that life should be joyful. The strangeness and idiosyncrasies of the universe should be something to revel in, not quake at the seeming despair when we encounter things and events that do not fit our controlled world. On the other end of the adult’s worldview is perceiving re-occurrence as a bad thing or something to be avoided. Chesterton put it this way,
All towering materialism which dominates the modern world rest ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation known to fact…A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue…For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon (Orthodoxy pp. 50-51).
Wonder and awe stems from the ability be amazed at creation even if it is the hundredth or thousandth time viewing a starry night or noticing a bird gathering straw for her nest. Children possess the magic of living—the ability to love life despite doing the same activity over and over again. Monotony, dullness, and lethargy did not enter the vocabulary of the youth. Chesterton reminded me that I need to return to my youth. I need to jettison the false assumption that repetition is inherently bad and variety alone leads to life!
I need not enter the Pevensie’s wardrobe, or a supernatural rabbit hole, or even run headfirst toward a brick-wall on an English train station between platforms 9 and 10 [although I did visit this fictional landmark during my trip to Europe!! 🙂 ]. Instead, I am able to encounter magic in this life by visiting my children’s closet as I gaze at the array of Lego men and women scattered in an apparent random order on top of, within, and under the closet shelves. What adventures are they going on today? I can also lower myself to the level of my youngest son as his eyes open with joy at the sound of the door opening. He enjoys leaving in the morning as he gets to meander outside and gaze at the wheels of my car. How incredibly simple, yet fulfilling would life be if I approached every day as a magical experience? The life of children is akin to that of our Divine Creator—they do not get bogged down by the monotony [apparent monotony that is] in this world. I ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven my soul to view any dullness and routine in my life as a gift!
***Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon”***