Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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Where Was God?!

Abandoned-Andrew_Amistad

Photo by Andrew Amistad

Where was God last Sunday night in Las Vegas? Why didn’t he stop the bullets? Why didn’t he stop the gunman, give him a heart attack or stroke, or somehow alert the authorities? If God was so good, so loving and tender, where in the heck was he?! Doesn’t that prove that God doesn’t exist, or even worse, that he doesn’t care?

It’s natural to ask questions like these in the face of tragedy. And we could extend it even further, where was God when Hugh Hefner got Playboy started? Why didn’t he stop him from doing so much to destroy our culture and the countless lives of women, men and families? Where was God each time a baby is destroyed in its mother’s womb? Where was God when the hurricanes were destroying the Caribbean? If God so loved the world, then why in the heck does he allow such pain and suffering?! What kind of God does that?

These are impossibly difficult and painful questions to answer, but there is an answer, and no, it’s not a comfortable one either. Sure, there are the unhelpful answers that God gave us free will and loves us too much to take that free will away. Thanks, but not much comfort there. Well then, God was there because look at how some people are turning their hearts to him now. Again, nice thoughts and probably true but not a whole lot of comfort. Fine. Then how about God was there in the heroic choices people made to give their lives for others. Yeah, that’s great, tremendous and beautiful, but still, wouldn’t he be more loving to stop the bullets in the first place?

Well, no, because I believe that God calls each of us home when we are most likely to get into heaven. You see, God loves us so much and he knows that this earth is not our final destination but just the desert in our own personal exodus. Heaven is our home and he desires that all be saved! And so he’ll do whatever he needs, he call us home whenever we are most likely to make it. OK, that’s a little comforting, but still, it hurts too much to make sense!

I have one final answer for you then. Let me tell you a story about a young teen who had no friends, he was constantly mocked and ridiculed and laughed at, even by some of his own family. He was neglected and alone. His mom loved him certainly, but that was about it, and she worked so hard to support the family that she was hardly there. And so the only other being in existence he knew loved him was his dog, Max. He’d come home every day from school and rush to his dog and hug him thightly, and his dog would jump up and down and run around so happy to see his friend. But his dog got sick, he got arthritis and eventually couldn’t get up to go pee. He’d just lie there all day and when his best friend arrived home his tail would slap the floor with all the energy of a healthy dog and he’d pant with excitement; and the boy was loved.

Darkness_meta-zahren

Photo by Meta Zahren

But one day the boy arrived home and Max couldn’t be found anywhere. He was gone. “I’m sorry honey, we took Max to the vet. We put him to sleep.” This boy’s only friend in the world was gone, and he was alone. Have you ever hurt so deeply, mourned so deeply that it physically hurt? This boy began heaving, feeling like he was going to throw up. His heart literally hurt… betrayed, abandoned, alone. I ask you, where was God in that moment?! Let me tell you, it felt like there was no God, but in fact the God of the universe was right there, his heart aching with every torturous beat of that young man’s heart. He was there in the nights filled with tears, in the dark, in the loneliness and hopelessness. He was there as the young man wrote a letter saying goodbye to the world. He was there as he contemplated throwing everything away and ending the pain. He was there, weeping with his hands nailed to a tree, pouring out his abandoned, broken, and pierced heart.

That young man couldn’t see it, he couldn’t feel it, but he wasn’t alone. He was held in the hands of the Father. Caressed with the kisses of angels and his heart slowly healed and day by day he found peace and hope and light again; not through the passage of time. It wasn’t the simple fading memory of the pain that healed him. It was the love of the Father poured out through the pierced heart of the Son and given with the breath of God that healed his soul. And that my friends is the only real answer that can be given, the only answer that truly satisfies. It is the Face of Christ, the bloodied, bruised and broken Face of Christ in which we find peace and hope.

Where was God on Sunday night? He was there with his blood being poured out like a libation, just as he is in every abortion clinic and every school hallway and every lonely kids darkened room, pouring out his love, often unseen, but always and unfailingly there; transforming broken lives and broken hearts into gloriously new creations.

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz


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When Roots Run Deep

In Remembrance

I woke up this morning to terrible news of yet another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. You know by now, it was the worst (most number of deaths) mass shooting in U.S. history. And right away there were calls for stricter gun control and responses of the need for more guns and blame being shot all around the internet and people yelling at each other.

Dog fight

Here’s the thing, this is the wrong argument to have. The reform that is needed has nothing to do with more laws enforced by a government that half of us don’t trust anyway. What’s needed is a reform of the heart and mind. You see, the escalating violence in the U.S. and around the world has nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and everything to do with the proliferation of hedonism and the inherently selfish worldview of the modern materialistic atheism.

In other words, we are the proverbial frog boiling to death. We’ve slipped so far down the ever deepening slope of narcissism that don’t even realize our own hypocrisy! Hugh Hefner just died and the country mourns his death as a national hero! The man was one of the root causes of the sexual revolution which has subsequently enslaved (both literally and figuratively) untold numbers of men, women and children. Practically, it is well known that he hated the women he used and abused them mentally and emotionally and treated them like play toys he didn’t care about. And this man is an idol in our nation!

Is it any wonder why so many people in our culture turn to violent aggression when they feel unloved, ignored, misunderstood, slighted or any other number of feelings that deeply wound the ego? When you are constantly told that what matters most is your own personal feelings and that you deserve comfort and pleasure, and the world is supposed to give you that pleasure, but then reality happens and you are wounded, whether real or perceived, you lash out and try to take what’s due to you.

We live in a world where, if someone else is an inconvenience to you, whether it’s their fault or yours, then you have every right to dispose of them however you see fit. So, as I saw someone else post, talking about stricter gun control is like lamenting abortion rates and then passing out contraception pills trying to prevent more abortions. What happens is more people have “consequence-less sex” and when the consequences come anyway, they go remove that unintended consequence through abortion.

We need to talk about the real root of the cause. Our violent culture (gun or otherwise) is a symptom, not the problem. Like modern medicine, we throw out countless drugs and solutions at someone’s health problems while ignoring the real cause of their sickness. Whether you want stricter gun control or greater access to firearms, we each need to stop and pray about how to actually make a difference.

compassion

Ultimately, that difference is to be found in the only One who can do anything about all this — Jesus Christ. Only through Him do we have a chance. Rather than defending our lives and fighting against those who fight against us, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are called to put others first, always. Love is the answer. Love is always the answer. Love is the only answer. Pray for the man who killed so many innocent people in Vegas. Pray for Hugh Hefner, pray for those who follow in their footsteps. Pray for your rival or enemy at work. Pray for your boss. Pray for your spouse, kids, family, friends. Ask God’s blessing upon them. Don’t give the finger to that annoying driver in front of you, give him a blessing and a smile instead.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort me and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in the hearts of all that love me, Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger.”   – Prayer of St. Patrick

Wounds of Christ

What if you’re not Christian, like so many of our fellow Americans? What’s the answer for them? Ultimately, it’s the same, Jesus Christ. But practically, it’s the same, Jesus Christ. OK, but if they don’t believe in Christ, how can he make a difference in their lives? What are they supposed to do? First of all, it’s not like the Holy Spirit is absence from their lives. Secondly, Christ can work through even those who refuse to acknowledge Him. Furthermore, each act of love, whether by a Christian or an atheist or Muslim, is nonetheless an act of love.


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Happy Anniversary “Humanae Vitae”!

Today is the 49th Anniversary of the release of the world shattering encyclical “Humanae Vitae” by Pope Paul VI! Please help us celebrate this grace by reading the amazing articles honoring HV at the Couple to Couple League, Int..

You can check out my article at Humanae Vitae – The Sword and the Stone.

God bless,

Michael Gagnon


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Heart of the Father

Tonight we (my family) sat at the dinner table, eating, joking and having a good time. I told a bad joke, everyone rolled their eyes, and it was good. I’d cooked BBQ chicken tenders, potatoes au gratin and garlic/butter smothered green beans. It was delicious! Near the end of the meal Maria hushed the children and asked each one to share something they loved about their daddy (me, just in case there was any confusion). My wife and children then proceeded to go around the table, one after the other, naming things they loved about me. It was inspiring and humbling. I’m not a perfect dad, not even close. Yet, for some reason my wife and children love me. My three year old princess summed it up simply by saying “I love loving Daddy!” WOW! From the mouth of babes! I can’t really describe what this does to me, what it teaches me… but I’ll try.

She has a heart for her father, that little angel. And her father has a heart for her! She is my precious angel, my prima ballerina, my sweet girl. I love her with a passionate and tender love that I can’t possibly find the words to describe, and I’m a wordsmith. My heart expands each time I look at her. It doesn’t matter if she’s giving me a “bear hug” with her arms thrown around my neck or if she’s throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. I may be angry and impatient but my heart nonetheless grows three times larger, like the Grinch, with each gaze upon that precious little girl. This, I imagine, is what happens to the Father each time he gazes upon his beloved children.

It bears repeating that every breath we take is an unmistakable sign of the love of the Father. The Father’s heart beats with and for his love for us. And every breath we take is the Father saying, “I love you!” If, for one beat of His heart he ceased thinking of us we would cease to exist. Each breath you take and every beat of your heart, therefor is proof of His love! Your heart beats therefor, not with mere blood but with the very love of the Father! And with each beat of His heart, it expands three sizes bigger with love for you. Think about that. Heaven is an eternity of the ever expanding love of the Father for you, his precious child! That’s a difficult thought to contemplate, to be sure. But then again, anything dealing with eternity is difficult to really conceive. I think it’s natural to imagine a balloon being filled with water. Eventually it’s ever expanding shell will burst. That’s how our brains conceive eternity. But the reality is beyond us to fully conceive… a balloon that never bursts, that cannot burst.

Here’s what I’ve learned the last eighteen years of being a father (my oldest son is eight years old, but as a youth minister of eighteen years, I have countless sons and daughters). There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, nothing I wouldn’t give for any one of my kids (all 1000+). I have kids who are my “pride and joy” and others who break my heart with each post on Facebook or Instagram. But they are each one of my kids and I love them with each beat of my heart. Every single one of them has let me down and every single one of them has brought me great joy and hope. And I want nothing but the best for them… to each have a truly noble vocation, to respond with joy and faith to the vocation God has called them to, to become the person they were each created to be. That is my great hope and joy… to see my kids reach their fullest purpose, to become saints! And I have a few on their way, that’s to be sure.

Back now to the dinner table tonight. “I love loving Daddy!” Therese cries out. Wow! Why? Why does she love me? Why would she love loving me? What exactly is she trying to say? Well, in her three year old mind and vocabulary, she loves the snuggles and the hugs and kisses and joy she receives from her father. And it’s clear (I hope) that her father finds true joy in all this as well. That’s a lovely thing, certainly. But I think it’s much deeper than that. She literally has a piece of my heart, in that half of her DNA comes from her father. And furthermore, half her upbringing comes from her father. So, in a certain sense, her very heart is the heart of her father and mother. So, it seems to me that her heart naturally reaches out for its home, for the source.

And do not each of us long for the same, not just for our earthly fathers and mothers, but for our heavenly Father as well? He is the source of all life and love. His heart is the heart of every heart. As my favorite marriage prep course says, “It takes three to get married.” When I stood upon the altar with my soon-to-be-bride, we were not alone there but the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the love of God, filled our space and actually united us together. This great, overflowing love of the Father draws us to Himself and every breath we take is our response to this overflowing love of the Father.

My daughter loves loving me because her very existence is nothing less than the manifestation of love itself! She is the outpouring of love between her father, mother and God! And love loves to be loved! Love loves to love!

This heart of the Father calls us forth and calls us out of our stupor and into the light, into the joy of eternity and the ever-expanding love of his heart, one that explodes with more love and greater joy. And this heart of the Father is tender, oh so tender; one that calls us forth that so gently leads us back into union with His love until our hearts beat as one because they are one. As God himself speaks to each one of us:

“I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,” says the Lord, “touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Cor. 6:16-18

Is that not the most comforting words you’ve ever read?! We shall be His sons and daughters! We shall be like David, a child after His own heart! And He will live with us! Move among us! And you and I will be his son, his daughter, coddled upon his lap and Consumed in His tender love.


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God is Goodish!

That awkward moment when you realize that the mercy you’ve received and will continue to receive is so utterly undeserved and any words you may try to write about it will ultimately fall flat, will fail to grasp…

God is so good! To say that God is good is an understatement of such magnitude that it is actually closer to an insult, if it weren’t for the intention of the one who says such a thing. The mercy of God is likewise. The Divine condescension!! How could he?! Why does he?! Have you ever pondered that? Look into your heart, contemplate your choices, those thoughts that no one else will ever know and how often they come to you, and then contemplate the fact that God has shown you mercy and willingly, longingly wipes those sins away like so much dust on a mantle place.

God is good! How good is he? He allows us to proclaim his goodness, even though the goodness we see and proclaim is but a scratch of the true depths of goodness that he pours out onto his Beloved. To compare it to a child who hugs his dad for giving him a small treat, though the child has no idea how much the dad has sacrificed and given to love his child. Even that falls short of the goodness God has showered upon us!

God is good! His heart overflows with tender love for us. My tender love for my little girl pales in comparison to the tender, fatherly love my Father has for me… for you. The lengths he would go to love us, protect us and bring us back to himself… I can’t even fathom! The Cross. Why did he die on the cross for us? He could have saved us with the first little scratch he endured as a child. But that wouldn’t have shown the depths of his love. And if there were a more profound means of demonstrating these infinite depths, he surely would have chosen it. But as it stands, as He hung, he gave all. He gave more than we could possibly conceive. The mercy and love of God is beyond us, utterly. We speak of the depths of his love but don’t ever think about it more than that. God gave up being God! God experienced death! God felt the utter separation of Him from Himself! I sit here and simply can’t. How do you express this any further? What words? There are none.

God is good. We are nothing. But he loves us still. He gives us worlds, a literal universe! God is good! God is! You, reading this, when you doubt that you are good enough, when you doubt that you worthy, know this… you are not. But you don’t have to be. God is good! And his goodness, his love, his mercy doesn’t care about your worthiness. He cares only for your love. So how do we do that? How do we love a Love that wants nothing less than a perfect love in return? By loving with the Love that loves perfectly! In other words, I cannot be what He wants me to be. So I must let Him be perfect for me! I must let Him love through me. (Thank you St. Therese!)

God, you are good! Give me your heart that I may love you, that I may be good like you. Only then can I love as you will, only then can I be perfect like you, my heavenly Father is perfect.


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Deep Breath – Dark Night

Eucharist

It is almost Holy Week!! I can’t believe it. Usually Lent seems to last forever for me. But somehow, this year I find myself staring at Holy Week and I’m all I can think is, where did it go? Right now it’s late Friday night, the house is beautifully silent as the wife and kids sleep peacefully upstairs and the only sound is the humming of the fridge and the twirl of the fish tank filter. It’s a cool night in north Georgia and quiet.

I reflect on Lent 2017 and wish I’d done more, wish I’d done better and begin to congratulate myself for all the successes I had, but I stop short and thank God instead. And I reflect on what we are about to experience this next week, Holy Week… it feels like the world is holding its breath in anticipation. I don’t mean the world of man, with all the war and violence and pride and business and unnoticed suffering going on. I mean the grand silent night, the flickering stars, the trees and lawns and birds that are just beginning to wake up from their long winter’s nap.

The world of man rages on, ever and endlessly on in a mad screaming dash towards it’s own ends, without ever really stopping other than to give a passing glance at the man dying on the side of the road, shrugging its shoulders and congratulating itself for not being the one dying. It happened to Christ on the cross and it continues happening all around us, to us and because of us and despite us.Syrian Refugee

But the world of creation, of stars and waterfalls and little crickets pauses every now and then, and holds its breath in anticipation of something extraordinary and world-shatteringly amazing. It did thus on the 1st Christmas (and I suspect it does it every Christmas if only we’d pay enough attention) and it does it each year as we approach Holy Week and the death shattering events of the Paschal Mystery.

Can you feel it? It’s the deep breath before the long night.

SONY DSC

Have you ever held your breath in anticipation? The world does so now and awaits the outcome as if it were the first time, because really, it is the first time. At the Mass the veil of time is torn asunder and we recline at table with the Apostles as Christ celebrates the last and first Passover, and we kneel on Calvary as Christ consummates the new Covenant in His Blood. This isn’t just a nice image to think on. It’s literal and true. Our elder brothers, the Jews, experience this each time they celebrate the Passover and we continue this tradition at each and every Mass. And especially in Holy Week the world and all those blessed to see it, hold their breath in anticipation of reliving the event that shattered the world and made it new.

I invite you now to breath deep this wondrous stillness. Pray to look past the surface level chaos and noise, whether it’s an office or classroom or grocery store you find yourself in. Breath deep for a long dark night is about to fall around us; a glorious night, a sad night, a beautiful night, made beautiful by the Morning Star that rises once more.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because once we were slaves and now we are free.

Sunrise Cross


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Once More Into the Breach

That time you started a new habit of prayer, or started using your gifts to follow your dream, only to let it slowly slip away… just like all those good New Year’s resolutions or Lenten promises; or every time you’ve fallen to temptation and made sincere promises never to fall again… but then life happens and you forget your promises, rationalize your choices or make excuses.
Horse Fall
This sort of thing happens to me all the time! If I’d followed through on even a fraction of the spiritual commitments I’ve made over the years I’d be a saint by now. You probably would be too. In light of this endless struggle and failure it’s easy to become complacent and to stop tying so hard. It’s easy to look up from our failures and think, “Well, I tried and failed again. I guess there’s no point anymore; it’s just not going to work.” And we move on, or in the case of sin, give in and rationalize it away.

About this blog, if you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been posting nearly as often as I use to. Well, this is me, picking myself back up and saying to you, it’s OK to fail, but now it’s time to pick yourself up (with God’s grace, because ultimately, all is grace) and try again. I’ve been given the gift of writing and have a dream to use this gift to help others encounter Christ. But for various reasons (the biggest is laziness), I’ve dropped the ball these last few (many) months.

A friend recently challenged me to get back up and keep writing, so here I am, back up on my horse and I want to encourage you to do the same. It feels good to be trying again, a bit scary, but good. It’s not easy, but it’s good. As it’s been said many times before, we’re not promised tomorrow, or even another hour. So don’t wait to strive to accomplish what you most desire and what God has called you to.

In light of the immanence of Christ, I think this Lent presents us a unique moment in history. Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams and in the midst of all this chaos, it’s the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima! I don’t know about you but I am super-excited and hopeful that God, through Mary, is going to do something marvelous!

But even if nothing stupendous happens we should still be trying our best to prepare our hearts and minds for whatever God wills. And let’s be honest, every breath we take is a stupendous grace that provides us an opportunity to love God and transform our world. And every life we touch, every movement in union with God’s grace is a miracle never before seen! I encourage you to take a minute (or ten) and sit with these truths, just spend some time breathing slowly and with each breath contemplate the miracle of your life, the breath you are able to take. After all, if God weren’t actively thinking about you (and madly in love with you) you would simply cease. Every single breath is the miraculous grace of God within you!

Now that we’ve readjusted our vision to the end goal (union with God), let us set our sights back to the moment in front of us (keeping the end goal in our hearts)… standing back up after our failures, picking up where we left off, seeking forgiveness and healing once again.

I can almost hear you thinking (because I’m thinking it myself), “But I know I’m going to fail, again!” But all I can respond with is, “You’re probably right. So what?” God doesn’t ask us to succeed, he asks us to try. Cliche yes, but nonetheless truth. As a saint once said, a saint is someone who got back up one more time. You see, saints aren’t perfect. They’re stubborn and humble. Their failures don’t bother them because the failures only prove how helpless and weak they are, what they’ve already learned so well. And it’s precisely in this utter helplessness that God rushes in to lift them up. Nothing attracts God to a soul more quickly, more completely than true humility.

That was St. Therese’s Little Way. It wasn’t merely doing small things with great love (let’s be honest, we’ll fail miserably at that too). It was in recognizing her utter inability to reach the heights of sanctity that her soul desired. And so, she cast everything onto Christ. He would have to lift her up because she certainly couldn’t do it herself.

This is easier said than done of course. But then again, doesn’t that just prove exactly what I’m saying (repeating from the saints)? So go ahead and get back up, dust yourself off and cast yourself onto the mercy of Christ. You can do it… um, I mean, you can’t do it, but Christ can.

Mother Mary, give me your heart.

Pieta