Joy

A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life- Part 1

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Well, I achieved what I thought was the impossible for myself—completing my 100th blog post! Filled with lows, highs, and average experiences, a transformation occurred within my faith life over the course of the past several months. To be honest, as I mulled the title of my hundredth post for many weeks—an anxiety set in. I thought, “What if the title is not perfect or how will I capture the most views?” In the end, the Holy Spirit, I felt, truly inspired me to settle on a title I had the entire time—hidden in the recesses of my mind. It was also existed in plain sight as the subtitle of this blog. A Simple Catholic Man’s Pursuit of a Joyous Life is the most honest and real way to describe my writing over the course these past few months. Struggling with inner conflict, depression, while achieving successes, gaining insight from the Holy Spirit, and living through mundane daily routine has shown me that joy is not an instantaneous attainment. Rather, finding true joy takes an entire lifetime.

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According to my favorite modern day philosopher Peter Kreeft, joy is to be distinguished from mere happiness. He states in his work Joy, “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness, is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self…St. Thomas says, ‘No man can live without joy’”. The Boston College professor is most certainly right—at least based off of my experiences. Life experiences have taught me more than books or a formal education on the subject of joy. I learned that suffering when encountered against the armor of faith and prayer, instead of destroying my being, I experience joy—I encounter the person of Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis talks about the elusive nature of joy in this life in his work Surprised by Joy. Lewis states, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” I would definitely say that Lewis is on to something. I find momentary joy on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven, but it is not lasting. No matter my successes, both worldly and spiritual, I still long for something greater than any award, pleasure, or spiritual consolation I have received.

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Without re-hashing my pursuit toward a joyous life in grand detail and boring you with the minutiae or writing pages upon pages I will share my top five most joyful moments I experienced since my journey began. Please feel free to read [or re-read] and share these posts via the links below. My ardent goal is to reflect Christ’s light daily in hopes to providing joy for a least one soul each day.

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1. A Letter to Jeremiah- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/a-letter-to-jeremiah/ 

2. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lewis-tolkien-and-the-creative-power-of-music/ 

3. Why Wearing the Armor of Weakness Makes Me Stronger- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/why-wearing-armor-of-weakness-makes-me-stronger/ 

4. Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer?- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/organized-chaos-or-chaotic-order-which-do-i-prefer/ 

5. Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans: Why Do I Even Take the Kids to Sunday Mass- https://mattchicoine.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/sweat-stress-and-shenanigans-why-do-i-even-take-the-kids-to-sunday-mass/

Joy occurred when I learned of the will of God and acted in obedience to the Father’s plan. While God’s providence may not always feel like a thing to go after, what I have learned is that joy is beyond feeling. Kreeft tells us,

Every time I have ever said yes to God with something even slightly approaching the whole of my soul, every time I have not only said “Thy will be done” but meant it, loved it, longed for it – I have never failed to find joy and peace at that moment. In fact, to the precise extent that I have said it and meant it, to exactly that extent have I found joy.

I will continue to pursue the joy of the Good News in my daily life. Sometimes I will feel defeat and desolation. Other times I will experience great moments of spiritual consolation. Neither end of the spectrum defines joy properly. Continual prayer and loving my fellow mankind are the truest signposts toward my pursuit toward a joyous life! Finally, I will take today to thank God for the endurance to write, patience to listen to the Holy Spirit, and opportunity to celebrate this little success in my life.

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Sacrament of Time

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My wife and I stood outside surrounded by our family and close friends at the local Catholic cemetery. It was a cool November afternoon. Gray clouds lined the sky and appeared to be about ready to burst at any moment. The priest from our parish recited the funeral rite. Throughout this process, my wife and I simply existed. I did not truly take in the meaning or fully process the prayers uttered by Fr. John. Instead, the world seemed to have frozen in silence—a horrific silence. We lost our unborn son Jeremiah. The event of our miscarriage immediately effected and crippled my wife. For me, despair and desolation did not actually set in until several months later. I spiraled into a deep depression. I wrestled with belief in a good and generous God. I doubted my Creator’s providence and presence. Hope seemed futile.

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Fast forward almost 2 years; this event has been without question the turning point of my life [so far]! According to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Since the death of our son, his namesake’s words hit much closer to home. What I have come to realize is that St. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” is not a pious clique. There exists actual weight, real impact, tangibility to his words. Let me explain. Yesterday, I had a day off from work. I decided to take my three kids to Jeremiah’s grave-site and place flowers on the grave. Before we left for the store, I was trying to wear out the children so they would not be too hyper at the cemetery. I made some paper airplanes for my son and daughter to toss.

Along with making paper airplanes, my son wanted to color on the extra paper. I gave him the closest pen I could find. Soon into the process of drawing, he asked me how to spell three words. I was thinking, “Good, at least he is sitting down and this coloring is keeping him preoccupied. Also he is thinking about school since he wants to learn to spell.” It was not until we were traveling in the car after purchasing the flowers that my son’s true plan came to light. “Daddy, could we please get a little bag to put this book I made for Jeremiah into. I don’t want it to get wet” [it was starting to rain at this point], he said. I was floored by his reply. He actually took what I said to heart and sacrificed play time to make something for his unborn brother. That was probably my proudest moment as a parent. What I have learned in the past two years is that God works all things for the good through the Sacrament of Time! Below are two ways I learned about this ordinary and sometimes forgotten gift from God.

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1. Time Exists to Show Mercy: According to Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, in his work Time, “We must restore our spiritual sanity. One giant step in that direction is to think truly about time.” He goes on to talk about time existing within prayer as opposed to prayer existing in time. Prayer is communication with God. In other words, Kreeft is saying that time should be viewed under the lens of communication with the Divine. “Prayer determines and changes and miraculously multiplies time…prayer multiplies time only if and when we sacrifice our time, offer it up. There’s the rub. We fear sacrifice. It’s a kind of death,” the Catholic professor tells us. Through my experiences, I have learned that time grants me opportunities to display mercy as well. Forgiving others and showing mercy is tough. Time is one of God’s gifts to make mercy easier. In the offering of many, many prayers of laments to God in the months after our miscarriage the seed of mercy was planted and came to fruition. But it was not until I sacrificed my time and prayed that I gained the ability to show mercy toward myself and be able to learn to forgive God.

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2. Sadness Remains, but it is Transformed: Time heals all wounds. We hear this phrase mentioned frequently when a person experiences a hardship or loss of a loved one. This adage does not contain the full truth. In reality, time does not eliminate sadness or wounds, rather it transforms them. I still experience sadness when I think of my unborn child. However, the sacrament of time has transformed this sadness from a despairing sadness to a joyful sadness [I know if sounds like oxymoron term but I am not sure how else to describe it!].

Time and prayer turn suffering from a destructive force to a purgative, and possibly redemptive force. I have had a few people tell me that they were influenced and inspired by the funeral service we provided for our unborn child. “Your testament and story give me inspiration to have grave markers in our backyard to remember our miscarriages. This was helped me move on and provide healing,” a friend from high school told me when she heard about my loss.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacraments are efficacious[effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). Formally there are seven sacraments, but in reality time when approached in the right manner may be transfigured into a sacrament as well. Time exists in prayer not the other way around. Kreeft tells us, “Eternity is not in the future but in the present. The future is unreal, not yet real” (Time). Instead of worrying about the past and future let us embrace now, the present. Let us embrace the sacrament of time– now!

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Cardboard Boxes, Zoo Animals, and Creative Joy!

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One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves, but rather the cardboard delivery box itself. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!

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Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s HappyMeal toys.

1. Animals Assemble!: The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic. Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!

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2. Researching Residences: Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.

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3. Burgeoning Biomes: Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life! Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.

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It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!

Toddlers: An Adorable Trace of the Trinity Part II!

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This past Sunday was the celebration of my favorite feast day of the liturgical year—Feast of the Most Holy Trinity! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teaching of holy Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity. Clear evidence of this in found in paragraph 249 of CCC, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis and prayer of the Church. Such formulations are already found in the apostolic writings, such as this salutation taken up in the Eucharistic liturgy: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”81

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Revealed to us in the New Testament by Jesus Christ and later clarified by the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Church in ecumenical councils, our understanding of the Holy Spirit as developed but we still fall short in obtaining a full grasp of this mysterious reality and nature of God.

I have heard plenty of satisfying analogies that brought me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Trinity but the best example I have experienced so far is not academic or philosophically driven. The closest analogy I found to describe the love within the Trinity is the human family! Today I want to share my humble experiences as a young father where I see traces and hints of the Trinity in my adorable toddlers.

According to St. Paul, Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I definitely do not possess all those qualities all the time. However, my kids have allowed my virtues or patience and humility to grow—albeit slowly by surely in my case! Oftentimes, at Mass I get almost as good of a workout as when I churn out a 3 mile jog on the treadmill. My youngest son constantly finds himself dashing away from us in the pew so we have to take him out of Mass frequently. If I stay within the pew with my older children I often act as a diplomat to promote sibling civility during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Along with providing growth of my virtues, my toddlers are traces of the Trinity in their daily creative play. My older two children play in an imaginative world of ninjas, superheroes, princesses, and Lego-building. When I pay close attention to this mysterious play I am reminded of the Mysterious Nature of our Triune God as well. Something about the joy of children’s play piques adult interest. I find the same to be true when I reflect on the mystery of God being united as one but as a company of three divine persons.

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To wrap up, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity will always be beyond our total grasp. We are not meant to fully understand this doctrine. Nevertheless, God revealed his nature as love and as a relationship of three Persons in Scriptures and hints is found within the family unit as well. Interestingly, God must have known I needed rest from my Sunday liturgical workouts. My wife and I were able to both listen to every reading and the entire homily for yesterday’s feast! Truly God works in Mysterious and in my children’s case humorous ways too.

The Joy of Autism

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Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communications, as well as by unique strength and differences. As science progressively gets diagnosing individuals our awareness of autism continues to develop and today more than ever, autism spectrum disorder contains as much variance as color wavelengths in the rainbow. Why am I talking about this? Isn’t autism a hot-buttoned word? There are organizations such as Autism Speaks that gives voice to this matter. Why should you care about this topic?

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These are all valid questions and concerns. To be honest have a limited knowledge about autism I learn mostly through osmosis from my wife who is a special education teacher who works closely with students on the autism spectrum. What I can provide is my experiences, albeit limited with autism spectrum disorder. I will use my practical experience with my son who was diagnosed to be on the spectrum in summer 2016 and my year of teaching students with special needs. Here I hope to share the joy autism provided [through my students] and continues to provide [through my son]!

  1. Experience teaching students on the autism spectrum: Lack of interest in class and little to no eye contact was normal for my students that I taught in my sophomore Old and New Testament Scripture classes. Help from both my wife and the special education educators at my school made day to day interactions easier for me and allowed me to better understand my students’ situation. Despite the challenges of teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, joy and strengths become apparent.

a. Questioning: As the year progressed my students learned my teaching style and knew that I enjoyed questions to generate critical thinking. One student in particular who had Asperger’s Syndrome- which is on the autism spectrum, had a penchant for asking a myriad of questions. While some teachers may viewed this as an interrogation, I welcomed my student’s curiosity. All of his questions opened up doorways for discussion. His thinking outside the box was quite beautiful and I wished I thanked him more often for his participation.

b. Clarity: Students that I taught on the autism spectrum had an ability to ask crystal clear, point-blank questions that their peers either failed to recognize or maybe were too self-conscience to ask. I respect that ability to be clear and forthright

c. Honesty: Similar to the joy of being clear, my two students with Asperger’s Syndrome were honest. They made me aware when my lesson was boring or if I needed a better handle on classroom management. At first, I was little hurt by the seeming callousness of their words. It was not after learning more about autism spectrum disorder that I saw the joy in having honesty as a natural inkling. Whenever I doubted my teaching on a tough day, my students on the spectrum assured me I was doing a great job—that reassurance acted as a balm to remedy me through rough days and weeks of teaching!

2. Experience as a father of a child on the autism spectrum: Along with my experience of joys teaching high school students on the autism spectrum is my involvement with my son who is five years old and diagnosed last year. Below are the following hidden joys of autism I discovered as a father

a.Incredible Memory: My son remembers things he did as a 1 and 2 year old. He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about lots of topics: animals, dinosaurs, and ninjas to name a few!

b. Beautiful Mind: My wife and I knew we had a special child when our son was speaking in full sentences and knew his alphabet at 15 months. He even used complex sentences complete with subordinating clauses! I am blessed with a child who has language ability many grade levels above his age and he has recently learned and practiced subtraction with double digits numbers on his own.

c. Inconsistencies Noticed: My son is detail oriented and he is quick to remind me of whenever something seems out of place with our daily routine or activity. While some days his frequent corrections bog us down overall this ability to recognize inconsistencies in both life events and logic with serve him well in the future.

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Kaleidoscopes took on a new meaning since I taught high school students and my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The ever-changing images and panoply for hues remind me that despite the daily challenges my students and my son face with having autism, they bring to the world a diversity that colors the world in truly indescribable and joyful ways! I encourage you to discover a kaleidoscope moment today.