Awkward Catholic

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


Leave a comment

Get busy living or get busy dying

 

That awkward moment when you realize that our nation is being torn apart just like an unborn baby in her mother’s womb during an abortion.

It’s unnerving watching our culture at war with itself. Each side demonizing the other, justifying violence and vengeance upon each other. People literally in the street shattering windows and lives with bullets. Young people are so disconnected with each other and any truly meaningful relationships that they are killing each other and themselves at alarming rates, or diving headlong into addiction and despair.

People’s lives are being torn apart, disintegrated through countless abuses against their own and each others’ God-given, beautiful nature. Families are disintegrating, too, because of and in precipitation of all these self-inflicted wounds. It feels as if so many lives, so many families and all of society is spiraling out of control into a vortex of war and destruction, internal and external.

Disintegration

Image by Cyril Rana

After yet another shooting, such a common occurrence now that even the media outlets are starting to ignore them, people are shouting even louder (if that’s possible) for more gun-control. They think that’ll solve all these terrible mass-murders. But gun control isn’t the solution because it isn’t the guns that are killing people but people killing people. And before you jump on me, I do believe in enacting certain limited, sane, safe and healthy gun policies. It’s a balancing act, not an all or nothing kind of thing. Besides, gun laws aren’t the answer. Just like the vast majority of so many other hot button issues, like immigration and education.

Ultimately, it boils down to this one truth so clearly simple that it baffles me that so many people simply don’t understand it… we are living in a culture of death and it should surprise no one when death occurs, natural or violent. Why would a troubled teen think twice about shooting up his school when any mom can simply stroll into an abortion clinic and kill her unborn child? Yes, it’s about abortion. The moment our once great nation accepted the murdering of its most defenseless and vulnerable, we lost our soul as a nation. And what happens when a person’s soul separates from his body? He dies. That fateful day, Jan 22nd, 1973 is the day of our nation’s death.

Stroller Grave

Photo by Henry Burrows

We were once a nation of immigrants. No longer. We were once a nation where people came because they had a dream of life and hope. A place of freedom and prosperity. We are now a nation of freedom from religion, a nation of death and “tolerance.” You will be tolerated as long as you agree and support the army of death. But speak out against it and your job, your business, your family, your life is forfeit. Welcome to the brave new world where slavery thrives, alive and well. Not only is real, physical, human slavery thriving more now than at any point in history (there are more people enslaved through human trafficking and the sex trade than at any time in history before), but we are a culture enslaved to the doctrine of tolerance.

But I don’t want to tolerate you, I want to love you. I am not a slave, I am a friend and I love you too much to allow you to persist in a life of death.

Our moment of death as a nation was on Jan 22nd, 1973 with the legalization of abortion, but we became sick many years before, when in the 1930’s, Protestant churches began accepting the use of artificial birth-control methods. As Justice Anthony Kennedy said in 1992, that women have come to depend upon abortion should their contraception fail. Thus, abortion is a necessity.

With contraception, we violate the very nature of sex (being ordered toward procreation and unity) and thus destroy and disintegrate our love. And without love we die. As John Paul II once said, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”

With artificial contraception, the love between spouses disintegrates and removes the heart of the family, God, from the most intimate and profound of all possible acts. And death ensues. The family disintegrates, the child is no longer an expression of love but now a commodity to be bought and sold, traded, fought over, torn apart and discarded. Sex, now a vehicle for selfish pleasure, becomes cold and lifeless and porn becomes just another means of satisfaction, another commodity in the relentless pursuit of pleasure and escape from the pounding, ever-menacing presence of death.

But all hope is not lost. No, far from it! For we do not hope in a lifeless, distant god. Our God raises the dead to life with a mere thought, a simple act of His will! But he does not wish to go it alone. This God of love insists that our love participates in his!

He brings the dead to life– persons, families, nations and the world! He called the universe into existence with a thought, he can raise our culture back to life. But he waits; he waits for you and for me to respond to his call to raise our nation and our world, our families and our own souls back into the light of his love and life. We do this, not by our own strength, but by His strength within us, by responding (through his grace) to that still small voice within our hearts crying out in a whisper, “Love!”

So let us arise. What are we waiting for? As Andy Dufresne said in “The Shawshank Redemption,” “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Freedom


Leave a comment

The Storm Rages On

There is so much going on right now. Both personally and in the world around us. My boys are going to public school for the first time, my wife is due with baby #4 in two months, good friends are moving far away, the youth ministry is gearing back up for the school year, and many more things. It’s so difficult to find time to pray. Yet, I look at what’s coming at us and realize how desperately I need to… we need to.

Spending just a few minutes connected to the internet or listening to the news, it feels as if we’re being attacked on all sides. Not just from our own busyness but especially in what matters most… our faith. The culture seems hell-bent, literally, on destroying the Catholic Church and everything it stands for; and from every angle, we are besieged. But it’s not just the world around trying to tear us down.

Within the Church, forces seem to be trying to tear it apart from the inside: many priests and bishops have perpetrated or at least looked the other way while other clergy act heinously, or perhaps they’re just mediocre priests, when what we need are men who will stand in the breach, or rather, kneel in the breach and humbly lead their flock to heaven.

ukraine priest

Don’t get me wrong, there are many good priests; in my immediate area alone, I can easily name 4 men whom I would trust to guide and lead my soul and family. But unfortunately, the ones who are mediocre at best and those worse, tend to suck up all the oxygen in the room, so to speak. And it can be disheartening and scandalous.

Now, before you call me a hypocrite (because I kind of am), I’ll call myself out and say that I too would lump myself in the class of mediocre Catholics. I try-ish to be holy, but the weight of my laziness and sinfulness… oof. And I don’t excuse this either. This war I speak of, of being attacked on all sides, includes our personal sinfulness as well. Sometimes, this is the most difficult part of the fight, the most discouraging. At Mass this morning, I sat in my pew as the priest prayed the Consecration and my mind fluttered over the countless failings in my life. It was as if the devil was trying to distract and discourage me by reminding me of how horribly I’ve sinned, of how unworthy I am to even be present to this most miraculous gift.

Fortunately for me, the grace of God is tremendous and He’s taught me that I am unworthy, for all have sinned, all fall short. And so I thanked the devil for the reminder of my failures so that I could then offer them to God and his abundant mercy.

Then I looked up and around at the numerous faithful Catholics kneeling around me and was overwhelmed with joy and hope! Despite all that is coming at us, these men and women remain faithful. The storms of the world, the corruption of bishops and cardinals, the attacks of the culture, their own sins and mistakes… and here they [the faithful] are, worshiping God and returning to Him who alone can satisfy! Praise the Lord!

I see these ordinary and faithful Catholics and imagine we are in the company of Elijah and a whole cloud of witnesses around us. We stand at the entrance of the cave as the storms and earthquakes rage all around and we are unafraid. We listen for that still, small voice calling out to us, “I am with you,” and we find faith, hope and love. And there is simply no place I’d rather be.

The Summit


Leave a comment

God’s School of Trust

Leap of Faith

I’m currently spending the week at a Life Teen summer camp. It is a Catholic camp for high school students. There are almost 300 high school teens here this weekend in the North Georgia Mountains and the theme is “Relentless Father”. It’s an especially amazing theme and an especially blessed camp. God is so tremendous and relentless in his pursuit of each one of us, individually, uniquely and passionately. It’s precisely what I’ve been trying to teach the teens I minister to for the last several years. I’ve written about it a number of times on this blog. Ultimately, in my understanding of God, this is pretty much what it all boils down to. Everything else is simply a different spin, a unique aspect of his passionate pursuit of each of our souls, his thirst for our love, not for his own satisfaction but for ours.

 

In light of all this, I’ve been reflecting on what he’s been doing within me lately. I’ve been inundated by this very specific message of trust, for the last few months. And as I reflect on my life, I see this common thread weaving in and out through so many countless moments, both big and small; I’m not even sure where to begin or how to list them all; it would take many more blog posts than this one. I think most importantly I first learned this trust through my beautiful mother, Jackie. She taught me through her actions, if not her words, that God will always provide for me. I learned through my mom that he will never fail me.

 

Then, there is the story of his Sacred Heart. Again, through my mom, a devotion to his Sacred Heart pierced my own and has remained with me throughout my years, even those when I walked away from his love. And again, when I found myself drawn back into his love, yet struggled against it, he gave me his very own mother to continue guiding me home, providing for me spiritually and emotionally. Through Saint Therese the Little Flower I encountered the endless abyss of his merciful love and found a model of trustful surrender.

 

As I struggled in my ministry, when I struggled in my marriage, when my mom passed from cancer, when my wife got sick, as we struggled on her road to recovery, and in so many countless different ways, His hand has been there guiding me, protecting me and providing for me. And his still small voice has been calling me to trust in him.

 

Lately, as I wrestled with deep father wounds, he has broken through in tremendous ways, in gentle and healing ways, in beautifully subtle and miraculous ways to heal my woundedness. It’s as if he’s currently shouting from the rooftops, “Trust in me!” In prayer, I have long prayed in desperation. In fact, I can remember long dark nights as a young teenager pleading and begging God for help, if he cared; if he wanted. And to this day I struggle with this, despite this intense school of trust he has led me through. I have a deep seated tendency to beg God in my prayers, like the desperate father in Mark 9 who cries out to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us.” But God doesn’t want this untrusting faith. He desires and he thirsts for our faithful love, so to fill us with his love, to heal us and to transform us from glory unto glory!

 

At Mass yesterday we were praying the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” At the first “Lord, have mercy,” I was distracted and was saying it carelessly. And recognizing this, I quickly focused my heart on the 2nd part. Praying “Christ, have mercy,” I pleaded for his mercy, as I always do. But something stirred in me that even this wasn’t right. And at the third part “Lord, have mercy,” I prayed with confidence, a confidence I did not have of my own. It was a confidence in his abundant and merciful love, as if it were already granted. And I found myself awash in his mercy! It was stupendous and ultimately indescribable except by a single word: JOY!!

 

And I think it’s a message meant not only for me, but for so many others. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve we have failed to trust in God’s love. And he has ever since called us back into his trust, giving us everything including his very own Son to accomplish this task, that we might place our trust in Him and allow his will to rule our lives. If only we would trust that his yoke is truly easy and his burden is truly light, then we would cast aside all of our silly distractions and heavy burdens and dive head first into his merciful heart!

 

It seems like such a mountain to climb though! I’m not like those great saints! It’s not so easy to cast myself into his merciful love and trust him in all things. I mean, I have a wife and four kids to care for! I have bills to pay, and hopes and dreams to achieve and wounds and hurts to nurse and numb. I’m too busy! I haven’t been given enough examples or experiences of his abundant love yet. If only he’d just prove his love and providence to me… again. Then maybe I could do it.

 

Yet, something has been whispering to me lately, there seems to be this sliver of understanding that in reality, this mountain is nothing more than a mole hill. And my heart suddenly yearns to leap! Lord, give me the strength! Lord, I do believe! Help my unbelief!*

 

* Mark 9:19-29

*I should note that I borrowed the title of this post from Fr. Michael Gaitley. 


Leave a comment

A Touch of Insanity

Then there’s that moment when you realize that you’re actually quite insane and that the vast majority of people around you are as well. It’s simple really. In basic parlance, a person said to be insane is someone who is out of their mind, someone who is mentally unhealthy on unstable, or that they’ve broken from reality. And if that’s the case, then I argue that the vast majority of the world is actually quite insane. Evil Mask

What I mean by this is that I so often go about my life as if God weren’t a part of it. I mean sure, I’m a youth minister and talk about God often; I spend time in prayer throughout my day (usually a brief couple of minutes or a passing thought); and I desire to make God the center of my life. But when I really look hard at my life I quickly see that the majority of my day is filled up with God as an after thought or a filler or a habit (there’s nothing wrong with making God a habit, but it should be an intentional habit, or better put, a virtuous habit).

Earlier this evening I was talking with the teens in my youth program about God’s mercy (his greatest attribute) and how every sin is rooted in a lack of trust in God, that if we truly trusted in God then we would make him central to every part of our lives. I mentioned to the teens that when I was dating in college and beyond I would spend time in prayer with the young women I was dated. It was an intentional way of including God in those relationships, and more than that, putting the relationships in his hands. It was an act of trust. So I asked them how many of them prayed on their dates and they all looked at me like deer in headlights. A few snickered.

20070707-_NPF107015640

I continued to press the point that we should include God in all the decisions and moments of our lives, not just the big ones but the daily little ones. I asked them how many included God in their decisions and how many brought him along when they went out with their friends? And a bunch of them  laughed. So I just stopped and looked at them and said, “Why not?” And that’s when it dawned on me that we’re all actually insane.

You see, God is reality, He is fullness, He is joy, He is mercy, He is life, He Is. And yet we keep this Fullness of Reality locked away in a box and only take him out at family meals or on Sundays at Mass, thinking we’re giving God his due. And then we go on with our lives trying to be successful, to be happy, to have fun, to make money, to take care of our family, to be loved. And we think that if we include God in all these plans of ours he’s going to ruin them, or at least make them more boring. BUT THAT’S INSANE!! It is literally insane to think that the author of all these things would make them boring!

In reality the opposite is true, isn’t it? If you brought God into your workplace or school he would make it good and beautiful and meaningful; your work and education would have meaning and a purpose! If you brought God to the movies or to dinner with your friends, he would make it truly refreshing and fulfilling. If you brought God into your relationships, on your dates, while playing a board game, on a road trip or just a trip to the store, those moments would become extraordinary! When you bring God into your marriage, not just generically, but profoundly, deeply and intimately, into your sex life, your children, your home… this transforms the world. (Just look at Therese Martin’s family as proof of how this literally transforms the world.)

I want to take it a step further though, because even the above is actually off, or to follow the theme, insane. You see, if God is the author of reality, if he is reality itself, then the most real, the most sane we can get is to realize that when we do anything (such as those things listed above), then it is not we who take God with us, but it is God bringing us along with him! Do you see it? It is the great I Am who creates us, the Breath of Life that  sustains us, breath by breath. It is Merciful Love that redeems us and calls us out of our insanity back into the fullness of reality! All of these moments of our lives are really his anyway.

To trust in God is to give him all of your life, every decision, every relationship, every breath and to live, to love with his life, with his love. It is this that the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen called “The Divine Invasion”. As he beautifully said, “It is not we who are on the quest for God, but God who is on the quest for us!”

Lest I think I can sum it up better than the Venerable Fulton Sheen, allow me to close with this quote of his taken from a talk he gave called “The Divine Invasion”. You should listen to it. Just do a search on Youtube. It’s breathtaking.

“If we wish to find the source of the life, and the truth, and the love that is in this world, then we must go out to a life that is not mingled with death, a truth that is not mingled with the shadow error, out to a love that is not mingled with the shadow hate or satiety. We must go out to pure life, pure truth, pure love; and that is the very definition of God! That’s what we were made for.”

Divine Mercy


4 Comments

Leaning In Deep

Our Lady of Fatima

Two weeks ago Gabriel Rodrigues took his own life.

One week ago I found out that my beautiful wife is pregnant with our fourth child.

Two days ago I received word that a number of parents are unhappy with what I am teaching the teens at Life Teen (high school youth ministry).

Each of these events are uniquely different and yet profoundly world shaking to me. Each, in its own right shatters my world.

Vulnerable

Gabe is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid. He promised, after the Marines that he would come back and take my job as youth minister. He had potential to be amazing. He was amazing. But something… I can’t bring myself to even write more about it. My heart is shattered.

We weren’t expecting to have another child anytime soon. We both wanted another one, but because of our circumstances, we discerned that now wasn’t the best time to bring another child into the world. But God had other plans in mind. We weren’t fertile when we chose to renew our marital vows. Every time we engage in the marital embrace we pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. And now our hearts are an explosion of unexpected joy and a flurry of other thoughts and emotions at His creative presence, like a person afraid of heights getting on an extreme roller coaster for the first time… trusting in the creator’s ability to build and guide the coaster’s course despite the wild ride.

The most important thing in my world is my wife and kids. Second only to that are my teens. The teens in my youth ministry… I love them, they are my kids. I’ve given my life and everything I am to them and their families. I’ve made mistakes with them, for sure. I’ve had teens and families walk away because of something I’ve said, done or taught. But each time it tears me to shreds. I know the surpassing love of God, the unfathomable joy of a life united to Christ, and to have a teen or a family walk away because of what I’ve said or done… shatters me.

The grief…

The uncertainty…

The sorrow…

In these moments I survive by leaning in deep. I look to my Savior and kneel before his broken, bruised, bloodied body on the Cross and lean in, pressing my lips to his bloodied and pierced feet… allowing the mercy of his spilled blood wash over me.Wounds of Christ

When these trials beset me I run to my blessed Mother, hold her like my 3 year old runs and wraps her arms around my waist and presses herself against me. I lean in deep and allow her to wrap me in her mantle of grace.

john-paul-n-mother-mary

Beyond my imagination, in reality, I am the beloved disciple leaning against the breast of my Lord, hearing that

one will betray him, knowing that I have done as much, hoping that others will not, asking if it is I.

***************************

Jesus I trust in you.

***************************

Jesus I trust in you.

***************************

Jesus I trust in you.

***************************

Divine Mercy.jpg

In all of this and more, I choose to lean in deep. Each moment I choose to lean in deep. I lean into the grief, the uncertainty, the sorrow. I lean in, knowing that I am not alone, that I am carried and redeemed, that I am on certain ground. The standard of the victor has been planted on a mountain for all to see and I am counted as his very own portion.

I don’t see a way forward.

He does.

I don’t understand.

He does.

I doubt.

He doesn’t.

There is One to whom I can go. There is One answer, One hope, One love. There is One God and I am His, you are His. All is His!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”… it is here where we lean in deep; it is here when He leaned in deep. Have you ever read the entire Psalm 22? Christ was not crying out in despair! He was leaning in deep! In the greatest moment of his affliction, in the most horrible moment of all history, He leaned in deep. He gave himself over to the affliction and suffering, he took upon himself the weight of our sins and cried out to His Father for mercy! Not mercy for himself, but mercy for you and for me! He opened wide his arms and took in all those who are willing to lean in deep into his embrace.

Be washed, be cleansed, be healed, be, within His embrace. Lean in deep.

sacred-heart-of-jesus


Leave a comment

Dad, is God real?

While driving my three children to school a few weeks ago (it’s a 30 minute drive), my eldest who turned 9 years old recently, asked me, “Daddy, how do we know our God is the real God?” and immediately followed that up with, “And how do we know everything our religion teaches is right? And how do we know Jesus was born from Mary?”

Questioning

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I mean, woah! These are the same questions the teens in my high school youth program ask on a regular basis and here’s my 9 year old asking them casually on the way to school one morning! How awesome! You see, I think we all ask these questions, and many others like them, throughout our lives. Seeking the truth isn’t just regulated to school aged children, but is one of the most deeply lived pursuits of every human life. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, the three deepest desires of the human heart are for truth, love and life. And as Christ once said, “I am the way (love), the truth and the life.”

Throughout my 18 years of leading teens closer to Christ (or trying to), I’ve been attempting to answer my son’s questions in ways that lead them to a deeper understanding and experience of Christ and of faith. It’s not easy. For one, we tend to hear what we want to hear and reject that which we don’t want to hear; or we dismiss it as nonsense because it doesn’t match up with our personal world view. Which, I think is why I was so delighted to hear my 9 year old ask these questions at such a young age; he’s less jaded and more open to truth.

On the other hand, I’ve also often watched as teens, and adults, hear and accept what I say only to walk away like the rich young man in the parable of Jesus, who walked away sad because he had many things. We don’t want to give up those things that bring us comfort and escape, or our grudges and addictions. Because if I become convicted of the reality of God and his love for me, that’s going to demand a change. And change is scary, uncomfortable and frightening.

But as Pope Benedict XVI said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” And so, I answered my son as best I could in a car also carrying a 6 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. I’ll post some links for the answers to his questions, but this post isn’t meant to be an apologetic one. It’s meant to challenge you (and me).

As the new year rapidly approaches, I think it’s the right time to take a few moments / days and reflect on the reasons we respond the way we do when our world view is being challenged, whether you’re a saintly Catholic, mediocre Catholic (like me), fallen away Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Muslim, etc. When confronted with questions, or more to the point, when confronted with the Truth, why do you respond the way you do?

Over the Christmas holiday I had a conversation with a family member who’s a fallen away Catholic. He off-highhandedly comments to me that the Catholic faith is simply a rehashing of the Egyptian worship of the god Horus. I roll my eyes and begin trying to respond with answers only to be shouted down as he walked away. I truly believe this family member is yearning for truth, for meaning and hope in their life, but isn’t willing to listen to what Christ offers because it’ll mean making some seriously significant changes.

But even for those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior, what holds you back from responding more generously like Zacchaeus and less like the rich young man? Even those who are living a moderately religious life can walk away from Christ by rejecting his call onward and upward.

What is holding you back? What are you afraid of? What lies or sinful strongholds have you allowed into your heart?

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz

Links to some of the above questions about faith:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-real-thing

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/ricky-gervaiss-atheism-claims-answered

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/jesus-and-the-pagan-gods

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/mary-full-of-grace

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/no-contradictions-in-truth