Awkward Catholic

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


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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


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Singing Out of Tune

song-to-singThat awkward moment when you’re at Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and of course all your favorite Marian hymns are being sung, and you just can’t hold it in and you let your heart sing (via your voice) and you look around and realize that everyone around you looks like they’re in pain. Then you realize that your singing is at fault. You feel sorry for them but no force in the universe can hold in your song.

Yeah, that happened to me the other day. I love my Momma Mary and I just can’t hold it in. I also love to sing! I’m also tone deaf and can’t carry a tune. God and I have a deal though. When I get to heaven He’s going to give me, even if its just for one song, a most beautiful singing voice and I’m going to get to do a solo in front of all the heavenly host to honor his (and my) Mother.

Here’s my point: God has created you, unique and amazing, even when you don’t feel like it; you are more beautiful and resplendent than the stars in all their glory. And you have a song to sing; a song that only you can sing. And it’s not easy as we are each so deeply flawed because of our sin. It’s like my singing voice. I know I have a song in my heart that wants to burst out of me, but it sounds so awful when it comes out. I think all of our good works, all the holiness we strive for… in our hearts and heads it seems so beautiful and good but in reality it’s still so out of tune with perfection. AND. THAT’S. OK. God doesn’t ask us for perfection, he simply asks us to sing. It’s up to him to make the music beautiful.

cat-screechingI honestly don’t know how he could ever make my song into something beautiful, but somehow, through his grace he transforms it from a screeching cat into a masterpiece. Because, well, he’s God. And because as a great saint once said (I think it was St.Therese), “One act of pure love is worth more than all the sacrifices of all the saints throughout the world.” In other words, the smallest, most insignificant act of pure love overwhelms the heart of Jesus, who is love itself.

And ultimately what is at the center of this act of love is a simple yes. A simple yes like Mary’s, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” When we say yes at the deepest part of our soul to whatever God wills, even in the smallest of actions, we overwhelm the heart of God. I can only imagine he looks on us as I do my beautiful 2 year old little girl when she tries to sing the Happy Birthday song, I’m simply overwhelmed with joy and love for her.

kid-singing

So I encourage you not to worry what the people around you may think of the song you sing, whether you’re feeding the homeless or simply walking away when the office gossip starts. Sing that song with all your heart.

microphone

 

 

* Whenever this song is sung at church I can’t help but imagine myself singing like Carrie Underwood. Those poor people around me suffer so much. But my soul MUST sing!!


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Is Christ Your King?

A Pastoral Reflection on the Feast of Christ the King

At the time of Christ Jesus, Israel was a nation in expectation, hoping and waiting for the promised messiah, the king that would set them free from the tyranny of foreign oppression and restore the glory of David’s kingdom. They were waiting for a king, God’s anointed, but they were expecting an earthly king, a return to “the good old days”. And so their vision was obscured. To their credit though, the promised one of God was wholly other than what anyone would expect, as Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “It was a sign no one ever asked for, for no one ever hoped that a virgin would become pregnant… or that this offspring should be ‘God with us’.”[1]

Today, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate the fact that Christ Jesus, the God-Man reigns eternal in heaven, as the first fruits of humanity, opening the way for each of us to join him in paradise. In our celebration of Christ the King we celebrate his eternal reign in heaven and on earth, and hopefully in each of our hearts as ‘God with us’. Next Sunday we begin Advent when we prepare for the coming of the King, both in celebration of his birth on earth and in hopeful expectation of his coming again and the completion of all things.

‘Beyond what we ask for; beyond what we hope’; this sums up what St. Irenaeus meant in his above quote. When God sent his only begotten Son, it was beyond our wildest imagination. The general expectation of Israel was for another king like David. God, however, wanted more than to establish a mere earthly kingdom. Rather, he meant to establish the heavenly kingdom, to reunite humanity to God, lost in original sin.

The only begotten Son of the Father became Man, not merely in name or thought, but in actuality. The divine Logos was born of a virgin and became man. He took on human flesh, a human mind, and a human will and united it to his divine person. This is the one we call Jesus Christ, perfectly God and perfectly man. And through this unmixed unity he has redeemed all mankind enabling us to share in his inheritance, which is the kingdom of God.

But what should we expect when his kingdom comes? What are we waiting for? Should we be waiting at all or should we be actively seeking to make his kingdom present here and now? What hope do we have of ever establishing his kingdom in such a broken world?

Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in 1925. In writing the encyclical Quas Primas Pope Pius stated,

 

These manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics… that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.[2]

 

In other words, without Christ there is no hope for peace and our present world has reached a point that it believes it does not need Christ. Hence, Pope Pius established the feast of Christ the King to combat this evil, to give the world hope.

But in the face of the tidal wave of evil that now confronts us, how can we bring back the reign of Christ in our lives and the lives of those around us? To begin with, we must, like Mary, remain faithful ourselves. Like the Most Blessed Virgin, we must let Christ reign in our own lives, over our own wills, in our own hearts and minds and through our very bodies.[3] Then and only then will we be able to withstand the tidal wave of evil sweeping over our world and to build the kingdom of God.

We do this primarily through prayer, by coming to know and love the Lord God personally. First and foremost we unite ourselves to Mary, our Mother. We also participate in the feasts and celebrations of the Church; learn to pray in the rhythm of her seasons, through acts of penance and charity and through obedience to Christ and his Church. In all this we will begin to live in that kingdom that is not of this world, of which this world has no power except what is given it from above.[4] And living under the rule of Christ we will become indomitable for, “all things work for good for those who love God.”[5]

So we first let Christ reign in our lives as King. We then teach and encourage others to participate in the life of the Church and in prayer and fasting. In this we will create a reverse wave. We will turn the tide of evil. But we cannot wait on it happening to us. We must participate in making the kingdom come! Actively seek and work for justice; not a mere human justice, but the justice of love, of the cross, which is love in action.

Be wary, though. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of busy-ness and lose sight of what it is we work for, or rather, whom it is we work for. We work and love for the King and we must keep our eyes on the prize. We accomplish this by learning to see Christ everywhere and in everyone and to be Christ to all those we meet. Remember, too, God loves to surprise us with the unexpected.

We need to ask ourselves, whom are we expecting? When we attend Mass on Sundays, looking to encounter our God, when we join Bible studies or serve at soup kitchens, whom are we expecting to meet? Are we trying to pigeonhole Jesus into a savior of this moment, someone who will lift us out of our misfortune and suffering and give us the good life, someone who will return us to those ‘good old days’?

Or are we open to encountering our Lord as he wills to reveal himself beyond our wildest imagination? Do we see him in the eyes of those we serve, in the words we read in Scripture or in the veiled reality of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist? Do we go to be served or to serve, to be loved or to love?

As we work to build the kingdom of God, remember that the kingdom we are building is not one of this earth but rather of heaven. The kingdom is made present in our love but also retains a “yet to be fulfilled” dynamic. The ultimate fulfillment of this kingdom will only happen at the end of time, at the fulfillment of all things. So find your strength in the hope that looks forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that we will be with him in paradise.

As Jesus hung dying, mocked by the rulers, soldiers and criminals, one man resisted this tide of evil. The criminal on Jesus’ right rebuked the other thief, reminded him of the justice they deserved, and begged for forgiveness. Rather, he merely asked to be remembered. He didn’t ask for salvation or anything wild, but merely to be remembered. And how did Christ respond? By promising him more than he could have possibly hoped for, eternal life in paradise![6] So love in the moment and hope for the unimaginable.

 

 

Bibliography

Brown, Robin K. “25 November 2007 • Christ the King.” Homily Service 40, no. 12 (November 2007): 58-68. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).

Goodwin, Mark J. “Hosea and “the Son of the living God” in Matthew 16:16b.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 67, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 265-283. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2010).

Norris, Richard A., Jr. trans./ed. The Christological Controversy. Sources of Early Christian Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Pius XI. Quas Primas. December, 1925. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010].

West, Fritz, et al. “Christ the King • Reign of Christ • Proper 29.” Homily Service 38, no. 12 (November 2005): 51-63. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).

[1]Richard A. Norris, Jr., trans./ed, The Christological Controversy, Sources of Early Christian Thought [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], 57.

[2] Pius XI, Quas Primas, December, 1925, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010], 1.

[3] Ibid, 33.

[4] John 18:36, 19:11 All biblical references in this paper are from the NAB, 1991, unless otherwise specified.

[5] Romans, 8:28.

[6] Luke 23:35-43.


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The Third Brother

That awkward moment Pope Francis gives an impromptu interview, usually on an airplane; accompanied by an equally awkward moment when you realize that Jesus left out a really important part of the story of the Prodigal Son… he forgot to mention the third brother.

Head in Hands

It seems that every time Pope Francis gives an interview or speaks from the heart he gets in trouble. It’s become almost expected. He says something profoundly merciful and the faithful Catholics around the world give a massive face-palm to themselves while the news media and all those waiting for the Church to “catch up to the times” gives a momentary high-five. In the end both sides are disappointed. Most recently the Pope gave an interview about how he accompanied a number of homosexuals, some of whom found peace and healing.

 

The thing is each side is expecting Pope Francis to be like them, one of the two brothers from the story of the Prodigal Son. There are those who want the pope to bless them in their actions, to say, “go ahead and throw away your inheritance, I have plenty and whenever you want to squander more, you’re welcome back for a second helping. Go, have fun, enjoy your sin and never worry about suffering the consequences.

 

Then there’s the group of “faithful” Catholics who demand an accounting of the pope, who want him to stand up and say, “Stop your evil sinning now!” They want the pope to call all those sinners out on their sins and demand they return home and never sin again. And when he doesn’t, when he inevitably fails their expectations, they get angry and accuse him of doing exactly what the group of “younger brothers” want. At the end of the day both groups walk away shaking their head and angry that the pope has failed them yet again.

 

The problem is, none of us are called to be like either brother. Both sin in their own right. Both have gone astray, one through their actions and distance from the Father and the other in their heart full of judgment and self-righteousness. Rather, we are called to be like the third brother who loves his younger brother and rejoices with him when he returns home.

 

Oh wait, there isn’t a third brother! Have you ever wondered why that is? The two brothers give such a bad example; shouldn’t there be a third, good example? Well, looking down through history, when has there been a good example? I mean, right from the very beginning all we see is Cane and Able fighting and killing each other, brother against brother.

 

What we need apparently, isn’t the heart of apigsty brother but the heart of a father, one who loves his sons, who calls them back home to rejoice in the truth; a father who searches, not from afar, but is out there walking the distant roads to bring his sons home. The Father doesn’t just call us home but goes out to us and meets us where we’re at and challenges us to rise above our broken hearts, our pigsties and judgmental attitudes and come to the joyful feast! And that’s exactly what Pope Francis is doing each time he speaks from his heart, because he has the heart of a father, of the Father.

 

The heart of the Father is one of mercy, infinite, beautiful, incomprehensible mercy! And the word mercy means having a heart for the miserable. You can’t have a heart for the miserable and sit on your white washed throne (sepulcher) and judge them. You also can’t have a heart for the miserable and not try to help them out of their misery but instead condone all they do as good and healthy.

 

Any good therapist or counselor knows this truth, that when someone comes to you in misery the only proper response is one of mercy and compassion (to suffer with). The best therapist often times simply sits with the person in misery, feels their suffering and holds them close, letting the person know he’s not alone; in a word, accompaniment. What Pope Francis is calling us “faithful” Catholics to do is not have a heart of a brother but the heart of a father, one who accompanies the wayward brother along the road home, who goes out to him in his pigsty and sits with him there, in the mud and filth and loves him with a father’s heart.

compassion

Or another way of looking at it, I think he’s calling us to recognize that both brothers stand outside the Father’s house; that we need to find each other along the road and walk together, to approach the Father together and say, “Father, I have sinned against you but I have not abandoned my brother in our misery. Please have mercy on us.”

 

So instead of a collective face-palm or disdainful wag of the head perhaps we should rejoice in the reminder the Pope gives us of mercy and love that isn’t OK with the sin but loves the sinner, embraces the sinner and accompanies him back to the Father’s house. After all, all have gone astray, you, me, everyone and we all are in desperate need of the merciful love of the Father.


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A Saint Half Full is No Saint at All

That awkward moment when you realize the person treating you like crap is your “neighbor” and you’ve sort of got to treat him with mercy and love. That happened to me recently. I was working with someone on a project (a board game I’m preparing to Kickstart) and I didn’t effectively communicate with him to make my dream a reality. He didn’t take it well, to say the least. I tried my best to apologize and make amends but he ignored all that and in my heart I passed judgment on him.

Judgment Bus

It seems like such a small thing, passing judgment on someone who rubs us the wrong way, it seems such a small thing, a harmless thing, a justified thing at times to judge and speak ill of those who offend us. “They deserve it,” “That person is rotten to the core,” “She is just getting what she deserves,” “I’m only speaking the truth about him so it’s not really gossip.” But in reality, it’s a big problem. I’m not claiming it’s easy, to show mercy and forgiveness, in fact I fail at it myself so often, but it’s worth saying and being reminded of. After all, St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” And it’s precisely in these little things where we fail to be a whole saint.

 

Today’s Gospel strikes to the heart of the matter: Luke 10:25-37. In this passage Jesus is questioned by a scholar as to how to inherit eternal life. Is this not the crux of sanctity… uniting ourselves for eternity with God?! Jesus turns the question around on the scholar and asks him to sum up the Law (which in the Jewish understanding meant “teaching”). The scholar responds by stating the “Greatest Commandment”: to love God with your whole self and to love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this and you shall live,” Jesus responds. Easy, right?good-samaritan

 

Wrong.

 

The scholar, perceiving exactly how difficult this would be immediately wishes to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” This the way of things, isn’t it? “But Lord, my neighbor s a jerk!” “I’m just trying to teach him a lesson!” “He deserves it!” “He doesn’t deserve my love, he’s a sinner!” “He’s disgusting, his lifestyle is so obviously wrong that I just can’t love him.” “What would others think of me?”

 

To our limited vision, according to worldly wisdom our justifications make sense. But our ways are not the Lord’s ways. How does Jesus respond to the “justified” scholar? By telling him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know the story, the priest and scholar ignored the dying man on the road but the Samaritan (the one who was considered lower than a dog, to Jews) saw the man’s wounds and had merciful love on him. And that is how we’re called to act to all we meet along this road of life; it’s not easy.

 

Most people we meet along our road are not literally lying in the street bloodied and dying. As always, when reading Scripture we must probe deeper than the surface of things. Most people look normal and healthy, as you and I do. But that’s only because most wounds are not visible to our senses. Each of us is broken and dying on the inside. Most of us harbor deep wounds that cause us to love like half saints, or even less than that. The robbers who left the man for dead are all those that wound us throughout our lives, who hurt us, abandon us and leave us for dead; those who rob us of our dignity through bullying; those who rob us of our ability to have healthy relationships through abuse and neglect; those who rob us of so much more, often times because of their own wounds.

 

So that person who “deserves” our justified judgment is wounded just as we are and thus, in God’s eyes demands our mercy and love! It is up to us to enter into the person’s woundedness, even if that simply means forgiving them in your heart and not judging them. A transgression forgiven heals the victim and the transgressor, for “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”.

 

But, if possible, more is demanded of us. To love our neighbor as ourselves requires sacrifice and accompaniment. We are called, not simply to have pity on our neighbor but mercy. And mercy doesn’t simply pour some ointment on the wound and walk away. The Samaritan didn’t just pour some wine and oil on the man’s wounds and go on his merry way. No, he lifted him onto his own donkey and carried him to an inn and paid for his care and promised his return.

Pope Francis' General Audience

Do you see that accompaniment?! The Samaritan accompanied this man to safety, to deep healing; he loved him as a brother, a man who likely would have treated the Samaritan as a dog if they’d met under different circumstances. Recall, this is a story directly out of Jesus’ mouth, not just a nice thought of some pious theologian living in a comfy monastery. This is the demands of love, of the Law of eternal salvation. To be a whole saint means to have merciful love on all those we meet, on each and every one of our neighbors, no matter how beautiful or disfigured (inside or out) they may be. We are not called to save them; we are called to love them; just as we are not called to save ourselves but to be faithful to the One who loves us onto eternal life.