Book Thoughts: Resisting Happiness

Resisting Happiness was a 2016 book by Matthew Kelly that my parish offered all parishioners after the Christmas services. It’s a nice yearly tradition to get some good reading material for the new year. This is the second Matthew Kelly book I’ve read. The first one was The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. That book had a lot of good ideas. I ended up writing them all down and implementing the best ones. Resisting Happiness felt very similar. Just like The Four Signs, it was a book about being the best version of yourself. This time it approached the idea from the angle of happiness.

Resisting Happiness had a total of 37 chapters. Each chapter began with a short anecdote from Matthew Kelly’s life. He then extrapolated what he learned from that experience into a Key Point that summarized the essence of the chapter and an Action Step the reader could take to improve themselves. I have already been doing much of what Matthew Kelly suggested, but some of them were interesting questions to answer or things I needed to work on more. I wrote down all the Action Steps, did the short term ones, and made plans for the long term ones.

I already do many of the Action Steps like praying daily and regular Bible reading. I already had plans for some of them like going to confession regularly. Others, like writing a spiritual plan, I already did on my own. However, two new ones I am starting are offering every activity to God for an intention and making a conscious effort to listen to God.

Resisting Happiness taught me that our ordinary life (work, chores, etc.) is pleasing to God just as dedicated prayer is pleasing to him, so our normal activities can be offered to God as a prayer for something in return. My intentions will all be for loved ones both living and dead. I am excited to have another way to give back to others that doesn’t require me to leave the house.

Listening to God is hard for me because I am such a big thinker. I can sit for hours in silence just thinking about random stuff. It’s hard for me to empty my mind and just listen. I am taking what I learned from Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Prayer to incorporate listening to God into my life. I will be trying my hardest to always ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. Making this a habit will help me feel the presence of God much more.

Overall, I like Matthew Kelly’s message of being the best version of yourself. Before I even read any of these books, I had the idea to improve myself and be a saint. It has been continually reinforced with these books as well as my efforts on this blog. These days I have gotten used to the constant effort of improvement, but it was a major life-changing decision back then. I probably would have resisted had I known what the future had in store for me.

I developed several health problems over a six year period. They were easy to ignore at first, but slowly got worse. I prayed for healing for many years. Then my prayers were answered. For almost four months, I had no symptoms. I felt great. In return for God answering my prayers, I decided to start the path of improvement and become a really good person. Unfortunately, my good health was short-lived. The problems all came back worse than before. Since then I have had ups and downs with my health. Rarely, I have a good day or even a week but never several months.

I am still working on my health, but after working on it so long with no positive results, I don’t have any hope of being healthy again. I continue praying for it, but my hope is only in eternal life not any earthly happiness. So the primary thing holding me back from happiness is my bad health not any lack of action on my part. I did learn some things from this book, but I wasn’t really the target audience. Like most books, it was written for the average person with normal health, the people that have the freedom to do many things. On the other hand, my freedom is limited. I have freedom to do things from home or through the Internet. What I do outside has to be limited due to how much suffering it causes me. I still liked the book despite it not having the answer to my happiness. My happiness depends on God healing me permanently. Based on my past, that will never happen, so I am ever focused on the end of my suffering in heaven. Just because I am home a lot doesn’t mean I can’t improve though.

I still work on it every day. Most of my efforts are on improving my prayer life and sense of God in my life to ward off loneliness and finding ways to serve others from home. I’ve been working on this several years, but I continue to learn new things and start new practices. I continue to become holier and closer to God. All this excites me even more for my eventual peace in heaven. It’s so hard to wait many days. When the going gets tough I refocus on God with prayer and service. I am eager for the time of good health.

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Speech Thoughts: Prayer

Prayer was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards. I saw this priest speak at a men’s conference, and he was very good. He really knew how to grab everyone’s attention. My dad bought a CD containing the audio of this speech. My mom happened to find it while cleaning out all the religious books and let me borrow it. Compared to Fr. Larry’s speech on Confession, this one didn’t have as much new information. The focus was using Jesus example of how to pray (the Our Father prayer) to guide us in the present time.

Fr. Larry explained how Jesus’ use of “Father” as a name for God was unheard of in his time. The priests of the time believed God’s name was so holy it could never be spoken. On the other hand, Jesus made God much more relatable. He is our Father. By comparing God to our biological father, we could understand the kind of relationship we should have with God. We should love him like a parent because we are children compared to him.

The next part of the speech was about “Your will be done”. Fr. Larry explained that we need to listen to God. It’s not just about what we want or even need. It’s what God wants. God knows what our needs are before we even sit down to prayer, so we don’t have to worry about him not meeting our needs. It’s okay to ask for things, but we always need to think about what God wants first. This requires a lot of trust in God.

Fr. Larry did his best to promote mass for the next part. The words, “Give us our daily bread”, are not just about God feeding us. All our physical, mental, and spiritual needs are wrapped up in this sentence. On top of that, “bread” also refers to the Eucharist, so “daily bread” means go to daily mass. I don’t think many people were interested, but I like the idea. Maybe if I can retire someday, though I don’t see that ever happening with how expensive everything is these days.

The last part I remember was about “…as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Fr. Larry gave the Bible reading where Jesus said we would not be forgiven by God if we did not forgive our enemies here on Earth. I’ve done pretty well at this one. Sometimes I do get disappointed or angry with people, but I always forgive them a short while later. For some people, this is the great battle of their life. I am thinking of people that were abused as children or went through a painful divorce. It’s really hard to forgive someone that has caused so much suffering. I am so blessed to have not had to live through such tragic events.

For the last 15 minutes Fr. Larry put his own instructions into practice by leading everyone in prayer. The key thing was to imagine God through the image of Jesus standing in front of us. We could imagine what he looked like from his hair, clothes, skin, eyes, and more. That made it easy to see God is with us at all times and feel close to him. After developing a good image of God through Jesus, the prayer continued with repentance, surrender to God, allowing God to hold us, and praying the Our Father together with Jesus.

It would be too long to go into all the detail, but I got more out of this speech than I expected. I had copied a prayer format from a book by Matthew Kelly. This prayer was a good start, but I soon had a long list of petitions each day. I did do repentance and a tiny bit of listening to God, but the prayer was mostly about my petitions, what I want. I had been meaning to do more listening but wasn’t sure how. This CD came to me at a good time. I was able to combine the two prayer formats to create a new one that has the best of both. I start by surrendering to God, asking forgiveness and listening for his commands. Only then do I go into my petitions. I got rid of the long lists of petitions and now just ask for whatever comes to mind. These are the most important ones.

I am very excited to use this new prayer practice whenever I can. I can’t just drop everything for God, but I will ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. This will mostly be during my free time. Sometimes I will get direction from these prayers and other times I will have to make my own decisions, but I need to involve God. That way at my death I can say: “I did what God wanted. Wherever I have ended up is because of God.” Of course, I can’t listen to temptations and assume they are from God, but if I feel called to do some good action, I can make that decision knowing God wills it to some extent. As long as I involve God in my decisions, he will be happy with my life and have little to worry about. I hope this new prayer practice will allow me to serve others even better. If God has my back, the things I do should be more effective.

Book Thoughts: Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It!

Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It! is a 2006 book by Fr. Frank A. Pavone, M.E.V. This book was written assuming the reader was pro-life. It’s goal wasn’t to convert the reader to the pro-life cause but to reinvigorate existing pro-life believers. My mother let me borrow the book. I have been a firm pro-life believer for many years but haven’t been active in arguing it. I knew the Church teaching on abortion, but like many things in life, it can be thought about in many different ways. Fr. Pavone is the leader of the Priests for Life organization and has been active in the pro-life movement for many years now. He has a lot of experience in this area, so I really felt like Ending Abortion provided a thorough examination of abortion in America. The book approached the subject from six angles: The Activists, Arguments, Women, Babies, Celebrations, Abortionists, Government and Church.

The Activists provided quick and easy actions the reader can take right now to make a difference. The Arguments listed out the most common arguments pro-life people can make to counter the arguments of abortion supporters. The Women explained how women are also victimized by abortion. The Babies described the value of even the tiniest human life. The Celebrations went through how to promote the pro-life cause through national holidays. The Abortionists went into how to organically shut down abortion clinics by converting the people who support them. The Government gave the obligations Catholics have as civil servants to fight abortion through politics and government. Lastly, The Church showed the Church’s stance on abortion and the actions the clergy can take to end abortion.

Ending Abortion was an easy read but took longer than some books. The book was structured as a series of thoughts on supporting the pro-life movement grouped into eight categories. Each thought was no longer than two pages, so Fr. Pavone got to the point quickly. He wrote in plain terms, making each point very clear. Each thought was a totally new idea to think about, with its own beginning, middle, and end. This made the book excellent for a short daily reading of just one thought per day but not very good for long, continuous reading like I prefer. I read the book cover to cover because I needed to catch up on my Catholic reading, but I plan to go through it more slowly later.

Ending Abortion had a lot of good ideas and arguments. I’m sure all this information is available elsewhere, but I will be compiling it into a short cheat sheet and posting it on this website. I will be giving the book back to my mother soon but want to retain the essence of the book. Posting it on the website will also allow anyone else to enjoy this information too.

One downside to this book was that fact that it was written over ten years ago. Several times Fr. Pavone referenced new developments in the pro-life movement which is now old news ten years later. This is not his fault, just the effects of the passage of time. I do wonder if he has written a newer book on abortion, but almost everything in the book still applies today.

27 Easy Questions to Prepare for Confession According to Fr. Larry Richards’ Speech on Confession

During Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Confession he mentioned how anyone who didn’t know what their sins were in confession could just ask him for these easy questions. By the end, they would have a pretty good idea what their sins were. At the end of the speech, Father quickly rattled them off. After being reminded of their sins, I’m sure some people were ready to go to confession immediately after the speech ended. Anyways, I thought this list would be a good reference for others. I reordered the questions and polished it up slightly compared to the list given in the speech. It’s just an examination of conscience. You can find several of these online, but maybe this one is right for you. God works in mysterious ways.

Warning: According to the speech, Fr. Larry primarily works with college students, so he is very frank in these questions. Some of the language or wording may be inappropriate for children. Parents should review this list before handing it over to their children. You probably don’t want to explain some of these things to young children. 🙂

27 Easy Questions to Prepare for Confession

  1. Do you pray every day?
  2. Have you used God’s name in vain?
  3. Have you missed mass?
  4. Have you dishonored your parents?
  5. Have you gotten angry?
  6. Have you hurt others with your words?
  7. Have you made fun of others?
  8. Have you lied?
  9. Have you cheated?
  10. Have you gossiped?
  11. Have you been jealous?
  12. Have you been judgmental?
  13. Have you been proud?
  14. Do you consistently give to the poor?
  15. Have you gotten drunk?
  16. Have you gotten high?
  17. Have you had impure thoughts?
  18. Have you had impure actions with yourself?
  19. Have you looked at pornography?
  20. If not married, have you had oral sex with another?
  21. If not married, have you had intercourse with another?
  22. If married, did you commit adultery?
  23. If married, have you used artificial birth control?
  24. Have you had sex with someone of the same sex?
  25. Have you had an abortion?
  26. Have you helped someone else have an abortion?
  27. Are you sorry?

For a more detailed list, refer to the Sins List [PDF] from Fr. Larry’s Reason For Our Hope Foundation. You can also purchase a recording of his speech from that same website.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Simple Living for Catholics Part 2: Examples

Last Friday, I wrote about living simply as a Catholic. The basic idea is to buy what you need and give away the rest. To generalize even more, Catholics should use their resources as needed for their basic needs. Once their needs are taken care of, all surplus resources should go towards those in need. If we don’t pay attention to what we do, it is easy to fall into laziness with giving. You might think you have nothing to give, but spend some time thinking about it and you will find ways to give.

To illustrate the ideal of simple living, imagine a family of four with two parents and two children. The father is a police officer, the mother works part-time as a tutor and part-time as a housewife, the son and daughter are both in school. Their household income is $90,000. Per year, they spend $26,000 on their mortgage, $24,000 on healthcare, $15,000 for school tuition, $10,000 for transportation, $4,000 on vacations, $2,000 for utilities, $2,000 on other miscellaneous necessities, $2,000 on entertainment, and $1,000 for charity. They save $2,000 a year for retirement and $2,000 a year for emergencies.

On a typical weekday, the father gets home at 7pm, eats dinner, and watches TV until his 9pm bedtime. The mother gets off work at 1pm, does some errands, takes the kids home from school, has dinner with the children at 5pm, does some chores, and watches TV with her husband until her 10pm bedtime. The son and daughter get home from school at 3pm, have dinner, do homework, and plays with their tech gadgets until their 10pm bedtime.

On a typical Saturday, the father goes golfing with his buddies during the day and plays poker with other friends at night. The mother spends most of the day taking the kids to their sports practices and competitions, using any free time to make meals and do chores. On a typical Sunday, the family goes to church in the morning. Then they go shopping for food, clothes, entertainment and other things. The rest of the day, the father watches football, the children play video games or socialize with friends online, and the mother makes meals and finishes the household chores.

Now we can look at how this family can simplify their life by giving, donating, and serving. The first step is giving excess material goods. This family is buying new things every Sunday. Over a whole year that’s a lot of clothing and entertainment. At most, they need outfits for maybe a month. Even then, clothes can be mixed and matched, so they don’t need a unique set of clothes for all 30 days. Over the year, they should be able to give many surplus clothing items to the needy. Entertainment items are even easier to give. Most times entertainment is consumed and then never touched again. Movies, books, video games, and more can be sold at garage sales or on Craigslist. The money can then be given to those in need.

The second step is donating money. This family is not donating any money to the church or poor. It looks like they have no money, but they really do if they take the time to think about their actual needs. If they buy used cars instead of new ones, they can save $2,000 a year on transportation. Vacations can greatly be cut back. Their current spending is enough for a big trip every year like going to Disneyland, but it’s not necessary to go on such big vacations. Switching to camping or a short road trip will save $2,000 a year for vacations. This family buys clothes and entertainment every Sunday. Some of that is needed but not all of it. They can easily cut that down by $1,000 for another big chunk of money.

Combined with their existing donations of $1,000 a year, their new total is $6,000 a year in donations. Ideally, they would be able to donate 10% of their income or $9,000 a year, but $6,000 is not bad at all. God would be very happy with this starting point. The next $3,000 might require more drastic sacrifices like moving to a cheaper house or even changing careers. God understands our limits.

The third is serving others. Within this family we can already see that the father is not spending enough time with his family. It’s true that he gets home late from work, but he just plants himself in front of the TV for 2 hours on weeknights. On Saturdays, he’s gone all day with his friends. On Sundays, he spends a little time with the family but then watches more TV. He should use some of that time for family activities like talking about their day and prayer. TV can be a family activity if the children are involved, but other than dinner, the children are in their rooms. They should be using some of that time to help their mother with chores and spend time with their parents. The children should do their best to get good grades. Sometimes this is a real sacrifice but it will please their parents and aid their future.

The mother is doing the heavy lifting in this family, juggling her job and the household chores all while taking care of the children. The father and children need to help her out more. The parents also need to be educating their children in the faith and in basic skills they will need when they grow up. A huge part of being a parent is educating their children, but these parents are completely ignoring this responsibility. School is not enough to teach children everything they need to know. The education in school and from parents works hand in hand to make good kids. Without reinforcement at home, the children will most likely struggle to adapt to adult life.

The family members are not doing as much as they can to serve their loved ones, but they also aren’t doing any service towards those outside the house. All their weekly activities are for themselves. There are a lot of needy people they could help. An easy form of service to start is prayer on behalf of those in need. They don’t even have to leave the house to do this. Another easy service opportunity is helping with coffee and donuts after church. Within the community they can help at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Another good one is participating in the pro-life prayer vigils. They are very common on Sundays outside abortion clinics.

Here is a quick list of the changes this family could make to practice simple living:

Giving Material Goods

  • Once a year give clothes that haven’t been worn in over a year.
  • Once a year sell or give away all the movies and books you have seen or read. Donate any money obtained this way to charity.
  • Whenever the son gets a new game, he has to sell or give away one of his older games. If he sells it, he has to use the money for a family gift such as getting ice cream or seeing a movie.

Donating Money

  • Buy used cars instead of new cars. Then donate the saved money to charity.
  • Switch to cheaper vacations and donate the extra money to charity.
  • Buy clothes only one Sunday a month and donate the savings to charity.
  • Spend no more than $100 per month on entertainment, giving the rest to charity.

Serving Others

  • For the father, play one of golf or poker, not both. Use the extra time to help out with chores, making meals, and going to your children’s sports practices.
  • For the parents, spend one hour per night on weeknights teaching and praying with your children.
  • For the children, help out the family with one chore each per day.
  • For the whole family, pray at least 15 minutes every night.
  • For the whole family, help out with coffee and donuts after church every Sunday.
  • For the whole family, help make a meal at a soup kitchen one Sunday a month.

Every Catholic family should take the time to analyze how they are giving, donating, and serving. It’s not easy making these sacrifices, but this is the Catholic way. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, take your analysis and write a list of all the changes that would be good to make similar to what I wrote above. Then once a year during Lent, make just one of those changes. Put it on the calendar, so you will remember. Focus on just that one change the whole year. You’ll probably keep forgetting at first or get out of the habit, but eventually the whole family will get used to it. The next year make another change.

If, for some reason, you can’t work on a new change during a year, feel free to postpone it. Just do your best to improve over time as a family. When you look back 10, 20, 30 years of family life, you should see a huge, positive difference between your family now and your family in the past. Remember every sacrifice for good will be rewarded in heaven. You will not regret God’s rewards for your good works.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Speech Thoughts: Confession

Confession was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards on the Sacrament of Confession. My dad bought this CD at a men’s conference we went to a while back. I had totally forgotten about it until my mom happened to find it buried in the religious books. After listening to it herself, she let me borrow it. I already knew Fr. Larry was a good speaker from my time at the conference, so I was not surprised this was a good speech. It was perfect timing to listen to this now, with Lent being the time of confession, forgiveness, and repentance.

Many times I fall into the trap of thinking I know all about some aspect of the faith. Confession is one of the Big Seven (The Sacraments) in the church. Catholics like myself participate in the Sacraments many times a year. We know them well, so it’s easy to think we know all about them and have nothing to gain from a speech about the Sacrament of Confession. Fr. Larry did a great job of showing just how little I know. Even when I did know all about something, he was able to say it in a new and refreshing way. I truly believe much of studying the faith is looking at Catholicism from all different angles. In this way, we can know about how we fit into this faith from all different angles. In listening to a speech like Confession, we come to know ourselves that much more.

Knowing yourself is especially important in the case of Confession. After all, we can’t really change our ways unless we know completely and fully why we sin. It’s easy to read about various sins and understand the logic behind why they are wrong. What’s not easy is finding out why, despite having this knowledge, we continue to sin. The heart of Confession is looking at our deepest desires and longings and seeing why we choose sin as a substitute for God.

One of the main parts of the speech was a detailed explanation of sin and confession. Satan tempts us to sin through doubt, continually asking us to question God’s commandments. (“God didn’t really mean that did he?”) When we sin we are saying No to God. We are saying we know better than God. This is pride, the root of all sin. Sin is a cancer of the spirit. To treat cancer, doctors make sure to cut it all out. If any is left, it will just grow back. In confession, God does surgery on the soul. If we don’t do a good confession, some of that sin is left on the soul, and, just like cancer, it will grow back. With a good confession, the soul is totally clean.

The second big part was about how to give a good confession. Of course, Catholics know this means examining our conscience, so Fr. Larry went through the Ten Commandments talking about all the most common sins related to them. The last 5 minutes or so, Fr. Larry quickly rattled off around 30 easy questions to ask ourselves before entering the confessional. By the end of this part, everyone had a good idea of all their sins, many of which they had not considered before. Even though I wasn’t present for the speech, I could see many sins I haven’t really confessed very much or very well. I am eager for my Lenten confession, so I can say everything.

Because sin is such a big deal for all humanity, it would be very good practice to listen to this speech again every Lenten season. I only borrowed the CD, so I took lots of notes down instead. Then I can come back to my notes the next year. I am planning to write down the 30 easy questions on this blog in case anyone finds it useful. Every Catholic has done an examination of conscience and seen those long lists of questions, but I really like how short and sweet these questions are.

Simple Living for Catholics Part 1: Definition and Practice

Simple living is a growing movement in America to get away from the busyness of modern life. For many people, simple living means getting closer to their roots in nature usually in the form of homesteading. They learn to live off the land, not on manufactured goods. Life can be much slower and peaceful this way. For Catholics, however, simple living usually means avoiding materialism. Since earthly life is just a temporary thing, it’s a waste to acquire wealth we don’t need when it’s just going to be taken away when we die. Despite this, material goods can easily become idols (CCC 2113). They can be a distraction and sometimes even lead to sin (CCC 2536-2537). Because material goods can be a danger to holiness, all Catholics are called to this form of simple living (temperance, CCC 2517).

The basic idea behind simple living as a Catholic is buy what you need; give the rest away. Deciding what is a need can be hard because everyone is in a different situation in life. For one person a new smartphone is a luxury, for another it is a business expense. For a small family, a 3 bedroom home is fine while a 5 bedroom home is needed for a bigger family. It’s not always easy to figure out which things are needs and which are wants. With ample prayer plus the advice of fellow Catholics and our priests, you can get a good idea what you and your family’s needs are. There is no need to rush in this. About a month of thinking, prayer, and talking with others is enough.

Once you know what your needs are you can take inventory of what you have. Most people have many extra belongings they don’t need. These can be donated or recycled. This is a good practice for the whole family to reinforce the giving spirit of the Catholic faith. Another part of taking inventory is calculating how much money is required for the family’s needs. That is how much money you need. The rest of the money can be donated for the needs of others. A third thing to consider is your time. Time is a resource just like material goods and money. Everyone needs a certain minimum amount of time to meet their duties to themselves and their family. Extra time should then be used serving others. Parents do a lot of this already while taking care of their children, but the children also need to learn this, so it’s best to use some free time to serve others as a family.

You probably noticed that these three things all require commitment. Over the years you will continue to buy things, some of which you won’t need, so you will always have belongings to donate over time. The monetary needs of the family will always be changing as new members enter the family and children grow up, so the amount of money you can donate will change over time. Your free time will also change. When you have several young children, you might only have time to serve them. Once they get older and more independent, you will have more time for service outside the home.

Living a simple life is not easy. If you and your family have been living the typical American life, you probably purchased many things you didn’t need over the years and maybe haven’t donated much money to others. Even when you know what you should be doing, it can be a struggle to do the right thing. The challenge is maintaining the spirit of giving (service, CCC 340, 1109). This is very much an ideal. There may be times you forget about it, but always get back on track later. It’s not just about helping others. This practice will make you and your family holier people.

The persons of the Holy Trinity represent perfect, complete sacrificial love (CCC 221, 1109). In a perfect world, we would fully emulate the Trinity, giving all our money and material goods to others for their needs. Others would do the same for us. Receiving what we need would just be a side effect of everyone’s giving. That is what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but at least we can see what that perfect world would be.

We know in heaven all our time will be spent giving, and we will love that completely. If we don’t love that completely, we need to grow more in holiness. That can either happen on earth or in purgatory. Since purgatory involves a lot of suffering, it is in our best interest to do as much growing as possible on earth (CCC 260, 1031). This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our needs or our family’s needs and expect others to take care of us. We aren’t in that perfect world, so we do need to cover our basic needs, but we should constantly strive to give whenever possible. Simple living is a huge part of that.

The practice of simple living allows for more giving with the same amount of resources. If you are just starting this practice, it may be hard. All change involves suffering, but that suffering will be far less than the required suffering in purgatory if you aren’t at that level when you die. With continued effort, simple living will just become part of life. You will be able to accept it and be content with it. You might not get anything in return for your giving on earth, but this is practice for heaven, where everyone will receive as much or more than they give. It is important to note that simple living isn’t required to go to heaven. Selfishness can definitely be a mortal sin, but in many cases, simple living is not a matter of sin. As above, whatever growth we don’t achieve on earth will happen in purgatory, but the holier we are on earth, the less suffering in purgatory. It just makes sense to strive for simple living.

With this you have the basics of simple living for Catholics. For a detailed illustration of implementing this in a typical family, see the second part.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Book Thoughts: Paint by Sticker: Create 12 Masterpieces One Sticker at a Time!

Paint by Sticker: Create 12 Masterpieces One Sticker at a Time! was a 2016 art book by Workman Publishing. The twelve art pieces consisted of a hummingbird, two rowboats, a goldfish, some sort of water or steel mill, a butterfly on a flower, hot air balloons, still life with fruit, wooden house with tree, a red fox, the head part of a horse, still life with sunflowers, and a train with billowing smoke. In recent years there has been a wave of new art books for adults. Most of these have been coloring books, but there are a few unique ones like this sticker art book. Maybe there are other books like this, but it was a new idea to me.

Like its name implies, Paint by Sticker took the idea of paint by number but replaced the paint with stickers. To do this, they subdivided each art piece into hundreds of numbered, tiny cells, either triangles (3 sides) or quadrangles (4 sides). In the back of the book were corresponding stickers to peel and stick in the appropriate cell. Finishing an art piece could be time consuming, but they all looked pretty cool at the end.  The art pages and the sticker pages could be torn out of the book for easier completion of the artwork.

There was a noticeable increase in difficulty as I went through Paint by Sticker. The first art pieces had fewer and larger stickers. By the end, there were more stickers, mostly smaller sizes. It wasn’t always easy to make it look like the sample picture because the stickers were not always the perfect size to fit in the cell. Sometimes they were cut slightly too large or small. In rare cases, the shape was slightly off. On top of this, it was hard to line up the edges of the sticker with the cell. By the end of an art piece, there were usually a few visible seams where stickers didn’t line up perfectly. The end result was that it looked like a mosaic. This didn’t bother me at all though. They looked good enough. The imperfections made it look more human and less like computer output.

One bad thing was how the sticker pages were sometimes not cut very well. I already mentioned some stickers not having the right shape, but on some pages the stickers were not cut all the way through. A few times I ripped a sticker while trying to peel it off. This was mainly a problem in the beginning when I wasn’t used to the technique. By the end, I was an expert and almost never had trouble getting a sticker out. I found it much easier to get them out by bending the paper on the edge of the sticker I wanted. Usually, the sticker would partially detach giving me a part to pull from. In cases where the sticker was not cut all the way through, I peeled the other parts of the sticker and then used my nail to gently cut the sticker were it was supposed to be cut. By the time I finished the last art piece, they were looking very clean. There were still a few seams, but they looked pretty high quality.

I thought it was a nice touch how the pages could be torn out of the book. It made it easier to finish each piece, but even better was how the artwork could then be hung up on a wall. Paint by Sticker was made for adults, but teenagers would probably be able to finish everything pretty well. The only requirement is patience. It can get pretty tedious when there are a bunch of tiny stickers to place. This book would be great for friends to casually chat while placing stickers. It very much fits in the same niche as the adult coloring books.

Overall, I had fun with Paint by Sticker and recommend it to anyone interested in easier art. It can take a while to finish the artwork, but it’s never hard. I received this book as a gift and enjoyed it, so I also recommend it for gifts. However, one possible problem is all the hunching over placing stickers can require. Several times I felt back pain after working on the book, but an elderly person might have more trouble. Keep this in mind if you plan on buying it for someone with back problems. Then again, they could tape the pages to a window, allowing their back to remain upright while they work.

What is Good Prayer?

You can’t live a good, holy life without consulting God on a regular basis. Prayer is the primary way we receive guidance and support from God (CCC 2566, 2611), so it’s super important to have a good prayer life. If you don’t, you will slowly move in a different direction than God, possibly wandering far away from where God wants you. If your prayer life is not doing well, you will get tired of prayer and likely abandon it. If your prayer life is doing great, you will look forward to prayer everyday and can’t imagine life without it. This is achieved through good prayer.

Good prayer is peaceful, relaxed, and easy. There is no effort involved. When you have a stressful day, you look forward to your prayer to calm you down. Good prayer warms the heart. Whether dealing with depression or sorrow, you feel the love of God in your prayer. No matter how bad you feel when you start, you always feel better after. Good prayer is desirable. When you forget to pray or don’t have the time, you feel something missing in your life. You look forward to your prayer time every day after work. Good prayer is meaningful. You’re mind isn’t blank when you pray. It is full of hopes, dreams, love, sadness, anger, and a deep longing to be with God. Good prayer is revealing. During prayer you unveil the depths of your soul to God and God unveils part of his essence, an insight that leads to a deeper understanding of your Creator. Good prayer is such a wonderful gift from God, but how do you get there?

The keys to good prayer are trusting God, understanding how you relate to God, and having a dedicated time and place for prayer. You have to trust that God exists and is listening when you pray (CCC 2609-2610). For new believers, prayer many times feels empty or stale. It takes time and dedication to become sensitive to the presence of God. Some people will hear the voice of God, but this is extremely rare. Most people only have the “feeling” of God, and it’s usually only barely perceptible in prayer. The closer you get to God, the more sensitive you are to his presence. Very holy people feel God throughout the day in everything they do.

If you start a new prayer habit, do not give up if you don’t feel like the prayer is doing anything. Just keep praying. Eventually, you will start to feel something (CCC 2613). It probably won’t be every time you sit down to pray. Unfortunately, on earth God will always be distant. Most people will barely feel God even after years of prayer, but occasionally you will have a really intense prayer session. Those times you are blessed with a small taste of what heaven will be like, something to look forward to after your resurrection.

Trusting God is important to good prayer, but it’s also important to understand how to you relate to God. As Creator of all the living, God is the father of everyone. Just as a child learns from his or her father or asks him for help, we as adults learn from God and ask him for help (CCC 2564). Remember when you were growing up at home and how you interacted with your father. Hopefully, you had daily communication with your father. That is how your relationship should be with God in prayer (CCC 2565). If you’re father was missing or emotionally absent, God can fill in as the perfect father.

When you talk to God in prayer, it should be the same as how you talk to a best friend, close relative, or spouse. You should be comfortable saying anything on your mind and not worry about being made fun of or taken advantage of. You should speak from the heart, not from a script. When talking to a human you can congratulate them, look up to them, thank them, ask them for something, give them something, or talk about others with them. All of these ways of communicating work pretty much same with God through the prayers of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, offering, and intercession (CCC 2626-2643). The best part about prayer is that God is perfect. Even people we really trust on earth can sometimes treat us badly, but God is perfectly good. He will never do anything to harm us, so we can always look to prayer for a deep conversation with the Father we love.

Lastly, you need to get away from others in a quiet place for good prayer to happen (CCC 2602). Similar to how kids spend times with their parents as a group and one-on-one, every Catholic needs some alone time with God. This is where those deepest prayers can happen. To prevent other people from barging in on your time with God, you will probably have to dedicate certain times of the day for prayer. This might be in the morning before others get up or at night after everyone has gone to bed. Maybe the home is too chaotic, so you have to go to a nearby park, church, or some other peaceful place away from others. Whatever you choose, you have to get away from distractions to be able to pray deeply.

Good prayer is something that has to be worked on, but the reward is invaluable to Catholic life. Going from a life alone to a life with God is night and day. You will go from a shallow and dull life to a life full of meaning and purpose. It’s all through continued good prayer. I am a cradle Catholic who has prayed for decades, but I still continue to improve my prayer every year. The reward for this effort has been a deeper and deeper relationship with God as the years go by. It is just so comforting and pleasing throughout the day being with God. Some days I suffer a lot or people treat me badly, but it just doesn’t bother me much because I am with God. You, too, can have this peace and support if you work on good prayer a little every day.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Speech Thoughts: 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy

7 Secrets of Divine Mercy was a CD recording of a talk given in 2015 by Vinny Flynn. The talk was based on a book by the same name, also by Vinny Flynn. The recording was about 45 minutes long. I found Mr. Flynn to be a great speaker. He spoke clearly, had a good personality, and kept the subject moving along. Humorous puns relating to the topic added a lot of humor to the talk. I have never heard a speaker use so many puns. It was his unique style.

I have prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for many years, so I knew the general idea behind the prayer. I never studied it though, so this talk gave me a lot of interesting concepts to think about. I knew the basic idea behind the secrets, but Mr. Flynn had new details and insights I hadn’t heard before. I am always amazed at how various parts of theology relate to each other. Through the centuries popes, saints, scholars, and others has continually developed new and interesting ways to explain the Catholic faith. After listening to this talk, I see that Divine Mercy is another way.

I really liked Vinny Flynn’s explanation of the Divine Mercy image. I’ve seen it many times before. I always saw it as just a painting of Jesus displaying how his Divine Mercy works. Mr. Flynn said the same thing but then added that the Divine Mercy image was actually a mirror. In this painting, Jesus is showing us what a perfect image of God looks like, so we aren’t really seeing Jesus in the image but God himself. Mr. Flynn then explained how we needed to “improve our image”, the 3rd secret. This pun explained that when you look at yourself in a mirror, you should see an image of God. This was a great way to explain my unending effort to optimize my life around the faith. My optimization is all about striving for perfection in holiness. That is literally improving my image of God.

The 6th secret was about “the eternal now”. I know that heaven is not bound by the time of earth, but Vinny Flynn brought this paradox back into my mind. The basic idea is that when we sin Jesus literally feels it on the cross. How can this be? According to our Earth history he has already been crucified, died, and resurrected, but somehow our sins in the present affect Jesus in the past. Along the same line, our prayers in the present and our offerings of suffering somehow help Jesus in the past. This paradox is a mystery, but it is refreshing to know that my actions today have a big impact on Jesus. It makes my life feel that much more important.

Mr. Flynn also explained how this paradox applies to the souls of loved ones that have passed from this world. This means our prayers in the present for the dead can somehow still help a soul’s purification even if it already happened in the past. I don’t know how it works, but I’ve always heard people say no prayers for the dead are wasted. Now I have a better understanding. Whether their souls are still being purified or are already experiencing the Beatific Vision, our prayers will help.

I really enjoyed 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy overall. It was both educational and entertaining. I have only gone into maybe 10% of the content in the talk, so I recommend you get a copy of this for yourself. I only listened to the talk. The book probably goes into even more detail. It will really help you see the faith in a new light. Sometimes that is enough to put you on the path of major change towards “improving your image”. I will be thinking about these things when I pray this chaplet again.