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.
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.
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.
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.
The great Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” His words seemed geared especially for my ears. I tend to overthink and over analyze situations in my life. As a result, instead of simply living I conflate daily stresses into something bigger than need be. I started doing puzzles to help me deal with my anxiety. I also rediscovered my childhood love of maze puzzles. That got me thinking life is sort of like a maze. The dictionary defines the word maze as “a network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way out”. A secondary definition for this word is when it is used as a verb: “to be dazed and confused”. I will incorporate both descriptions about mazes in my writing today. Here are three ways why my life lately is like a maze.
1. Life is complex, yet beautifully simple: Life is a busy and complex event. As a parent of three children life grows greater in complexity: school is starting up shortly, bedtime routines need to be followed strictly, kids get sick, my wife is starting a new job, my job is ever-changing on a weekly basis. Life is complex. But does it have to be.
When I stop and reflect on my life all I truly need to do include: feeding my family and myself, providing a shelter, teaching my children, providing clothing, and helping my wife. Life is a paradox—it is both simple and complex. Matthew 6:25-34 tells of the simplicity in life and Jesus urges his followers [and us] not to worry as we will be provided for because the birds of the air and other creatures are cared for as well.
Mazes are both simple and complex. All mazes have a beginning and end—simple. However, each maze is unique in its level of complexity due to the amount of dead-ends and size—complex.
2. Know the beginning and the end: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, provides me clarity about the purpose and goal of this life.
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. (CCC 27).
Through faith and science I know that the origin of the universe began with a omnipotent force—known to Christians as God. Witnesses of the saints’ lives, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and my faith inform me that death is not the end. Rather it is a springboard to a possible eternity with God. Life is like a maze in that it is book-ended with a clear start and finish. Why does the in between section [life] become complicated? Why do I find myself laboring through a labyrinth? The answer is simple—I forget the beginning and end goals of my puzzle that I call life.
3. Dot-to-dot living- perception or possibility?: Along with mazes, I enjoyed completing dot-to-dot puzzles in my elementary years. Having a son going into kindergarten this year has reminded me of these fun and simple type of games. Unlike mazes, dot-to-dots are straightforward—you simply start with the lowest number [or letter] dot and connect it to the next digit until the puzzle is complete. Oftentimes, I wish my life played out more like a dot-to-dot puzzles than a maze. I enjoy order and a linear pattern to living. Why does God allow life to exist in dot-to-dot manner? Why does He permit mazes caused by evil [personal and natural] to tangle up my life?
I asked these questions during period of my deepest depression and intense suffering. Arriving on the other side of suffering, I came to realize both through experience and prayer that God allows mazes to develop in human life due to the gift of free will. Freedom is both the greatest gift and great challenge we face on a daily basis. I am free to try impose my control over this life and fashion it into dot-to-dot living or I am free to embrace the a[maze]ness of this life and learn to rely on others and God for help and support when I inevitably face apparent dead-ends in my spiritual life.
Centering my life on a proper order of love—God, family, friend, fellow men—provides stability. Instead of laboring through life’s labyrinth, embracing my maze allows me to live to the fullest. Saint John tells us of God’s enduring nature in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, then beginning and the end.” When I view life through this sense I am able to incorporate Confucius’ teaching in daily living.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Today my wife and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary! In honor of this event, I figured I would dedicate today’s post to my wife and my marriage. I also want to highlight the positive effects the sacrament of marriage has on society and why I believe the sacrament of matrimony is vital to a salubrious society. Along with our own marriage celebration, I want to personally recognize my cousin’s testament to the married life. He got married to his bride this past weekend. I present 4 reasons why the sacrament instituted by God is necessary for a healthy society.
1. Unity in Diversity: The four marks [i.e. defining characteristics] of the Catholic Church according to the Nicene Creed is that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Each of those traits are found within the sacrament of marriage as well. I will highlight the qualities of the oneness [unity] and catholic [universality] within this sacrament. Men and women are different. Differences are not bad. True equality is not to reduce men and women to be the same in every single aspect of life. Rather, true equality is in reference to equality of respect and dignity for how spouses treat each other. From my own personal experiences, I look to my parent’s marriage as an example of unity found within a diverse relationship. My mother and father come from completely different backgrounds. My dad’s family lacks divorce and has long life spans. On the contrary, my mom’s family exhibited more turmoil as her dad passed away when she was only 12 years old and her sibling relationships are splintered. Men and women communicate differently. By embracing such diversity a unity may be found.
I think somehow this diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of marriage has been lost in our culture. Not everything in marriage needs to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. I am meant to explore and learn about my wife on a daily basis. I am not meant to have her completely conform to my image or me to her image. Diversity leads to unity.
To sum up this point I refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154” (CCC 1644).
2. Full of Fruits: According to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:43-45,
A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
The same may can be said about the sacrament of marriage. Before I continue, I do want to distinguish between different kinds of fruits: physical and spiritual fruits. I will highlight the spiritual fruits marriage offers society later on. For now, I want to focus on the fruit of children in the sacrament of marriage. The Catholic Church leaves the married couple the freedom to elect how many children they want to have. But it is important to note that openness to fertility is essential for an authentic Christian marriage. The Church states,“By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652).
Children are a gift from God, not a product for married couples to control or purchase. I think a renewed sense of children as gifts would go miles to infuse society with a new mentality that is other-centered instead of self-centered. Admitting, I too sometimes struggle to make my children in my own image and control their daily activities. I more than anyone else needs to be reminded that God gifted me with children and I am to thank Him by raising them to be gifts for all of society as well!
Society grows through the family unit. Ultimate long-term success for society hinges on families that practice sacrificial love instead of self-love.
3. Use the Force: A certain power is found in permanency. Things that last long periods of time seem to gather a force and power as they age. The best example I think of is the sacrament of marriage. My grandparents recently celebrated 67 years of marriage earlier this month! You heard me: 67 years! Feeble knees, dimmed hearing, and other ailments that go with advanced years do not diminish the power and force my grandparent’s marriage hold. Whenever I tell a random stranger, friend or co-worker the length of their marriage there is always a momentous pause…then a statement of awe and wonder will always follow. My grandparent’s marriage is not successful because they are amazing. It is successful because they rely on God to help them forgive each other. My cousins’ new father-in-law gave pithy, but profound advise to the new married couple from this weekend, [after telling my cousin and his wife to sit close together] “See that little space between you. Always be sure to include the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have them
fill that space. Everything else will work out, maybe not necessarily the way you think it will, but everything will work out!”
It is only through a sacramental marriage that married couples are about to use the force…the force of our Triune God!
4. Victory through Virtues: Authentic victory is to be achieved not through military might or political prowess, but rather through personal virtue. Having virtuous and charitable citizens are the only way for society to be renewed and remain healthy. While children are the more visible of the fruits of marriage, I maintain that the more universal fruit of sacramental marriages is virtue. Not every married couple is able to conceive a child. Such marriages are not to be held as less holy or effective as couple that has children. In fact, the number of children is not to be correlated with an increase [or decrease] in holiness.
It is through my experience that the longer a couple is married and the more they tend to remind themselves that marriage is a sacrament that greater virtue abound. Patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, and gratitude are just some of the many virtues I notice in my
parents, grandparents, and even my own marriage [when I embrace the sacrament]. Societies that tend to have citizens who exhibit virtues and charity towards others, I have noticed, tend to be more unified and healthy.
On a closing note, I want to make sure I am clear that people who participate in sacramental marriages are NOT better nor more holy than single people or priests. What I want to stress is that marriage along with being a sacrament [visible sign from God] is not a right, but a gift. Not everyone is called to be married! And that is okay. Diversity of vocations: married state, single state, and ordained state all contribute to a healthy and holy society!
During a recent training seminar at my job, we took a test to determine our social style. To no surprise, I landed almost exclusively in the category of a thinker social style. Simply put, as a thinker I tend to enjoy viewing the entire process and need time to go over changes in my mind. I also tend to ask lots of clarifying questions. Along with my thinker social style I am also a director—a person who tends to be results oriented and a problem solver. I bring my social style up, well in large part because as a thinker I am compelled to provide a little background to my current situation!
I am 29 years old and my birthday is at the end of July. In the twilight of my twenties, I have pondered what things I hope to achieve and spend time doing in the final month of my roaring twenties. I tend to get grandiose in my goals, but having three young kids and a full-time job will limit some of my bucket list items. For the sake of my sanity and simplicity’s sake here are three things I want to continue to accomplish before I turn 30 and continue to work on after I hit this momentous birthday.
1. Improve as a Husband and Father: The majority of my time in the twenties I spent as a husband and father. I got married at age 22 and had our first son when I was 23. Sadly, I have failed in many respects in both vocations. Early in my marriage and fatherhood, I struggled with anger and losing patience. I have improved. Yet, I hope to make marked strides as I cross the fine line of my race to thirty and begin a new marathon toward forty years old! Yesterday, I had a great day with my kids. Today I am spending exclusive and quality time with my oldest son. There is hope on the husbandly horizon.
2. Wordsmithing: Words cannot describe my passion and thrill for writing. I will try my best to capture this feeling I have about wordsmithing. There is something cathartic and healing about sitting down at the keyboard or with pen in hand and getting my thoughts out in the open. I have experienced closeness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit through my weekly writing for this blog. I want to continue to share my joys and struggles in my faith to help others discover the work of the Holy Trinity in their lives as well.
3. Run Barry Run: Running has always played a large role in my life. During high school I participated in cross country and track. I cherish the memories I made with my teammates during our practice and race-day runs. I often recall the people I met through those experiences. After a brief hiatus from running during my early twenties, I recently started training for a half-marathon and completed a 10 mile run in April. What brought me the most joy what that I was able to run with my brother and sister for the first time ever! Secondly, my favorite T.V. show The Flash [based on my favorite superhero Barry Allen- aka The Flash!] has a major theme of running and endurance in difficult times. I hope to continue to train for a half-marathon in the waning days as a twenty-nine year old and make new friendships through racing as I enter my thirties. To my wife’s potential chagrin I hope to continue to read as many The Flash comic books as possible going into my thirties as well!
We all have hopes, goals, and dreams. Sometimes it takes milestone occasions—like my thirtieth birthday— to jumpstart motivation to pursue our life-dreams. My goal in the upcoming months is continue to foster my family relationships, write, and run. I hope that whenever and wherever you are in your life that you do not hesitate to follow your dreams!