Awkward Catholic

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


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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


2 Comments

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


Leave a comment

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!!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

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.

 


Leave a comment

The Life Sucking Monster

The Father and Adam

That awkward moment when you realize that for the last three years you’ve been attacked by a life-sucking monster and had no idea.

* The below post is an article published in “Family Foundations” a Natural Family Planning magazine published by the Couple to Couple League (www.ccli.org). It is republished here with permission and some modifications by the author. 

It happened about two months ago, the day our whole world fell apart. It seemed rather sudden, but looking back I can see that life-sucking monster growing in the shadows for months, years even. It grew unnoticed or unchecked and even when the monster did start to reveal itself, we ignored it, pushed it back down and made excuses for it. But the monster of Depression wasn’t going anywhere without a direct fight. Looking back, we see that it was sometime after our 2nd child was born when Maria started feeling the effects of Postpartum Depression. She journaled that  her joy was slowly slipping away as she felt overwhelmed more and more each day and life became a burden, but she soldiered on like a “good wife and mother”. I didn’t notice anything at all; she put on a good front and despite all those communication blessings that flow from using NFP, we never really discussed it.Depression.png

I was consumed in my work doing youth ministry, working 3-4 nights a week… 4-5 nights a week. Maria took on a part time job and then another to help make ends meet while trying to home school our three children and slowly the monster grew. It slowly sucked away her joy, her patience, her hope. She stopped listening to music; she dropped her hobbies and kept trudging along, washing and folding clothes, working on work, feeding and clothing our kids, etc., etc., etc. It was a long day, every day. And I slowly grew accustomed to a joyless wife and began detaching from her as she detached from life. And slowly my joy slipped away too.
After 2 ½ years, she began to cry out in desperation, meekly asking for help. I noticed and tried to accommodate, offering to help, asking what I could do. But we didn’t really sit down and discuss it; neither wanted to burden the other. She started seeing a therapist who suggested depression and possibly medication. We resisted. I resisted. But finally it was too much.

Glass of Water.jpg

If you want to know what it’s like, then pick up a glass of water and hold it straight out for a minute. It’s not too difficult but keep holding it out for 10 minutes, for an hour, for a day. Eventually, your arm becomes numb and paralyzed and it all comes crashing down. That’s what happened, or almost happened. But my beautiful bride cried out and I finally had ears to listen and we sought help, and are now slowly healing and finding our way back to good. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear her laugh, to see her smile. It’s beautiful.

Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I’d probed deeper into her feelings. I wish I’d done more than just ask what she needed. I wish I’d left work earlier. I wish.

I wish I’d used the lessons I learned in NFP and applied them to my life. NFP teaches us to check our wife’s temperature every morning, to record her signs and to reflect on our status; and when one of us is struggling, the other can pick up the slack because we’re a team. And this truth applies to more than just fertility awareness. It applies to all of our marriage… asking not just how I could help, but seeking to understand what is going on inside of her, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Let’s be honest, most of us men don’t like to do that (stereotypes exist for a reason). We’re often exhausted at the end of our day of work and make excuses as to why I need to “veg” out in front of the TV for 3 hours rather than spend 15, 30 or 60 minutes talking to the woman whom I’ve committed my life to, the mother of my children, my best friend and most trusted confidant. She’s my wife after all, she’ll be there tomorrow when I need her… but when will I be there for her? She needed me then and I’m struggling with the guilt of not doing more when I could have. It’s something I need to come to terms with. Both of us made mistakes. Both of us are in the process of healing. It’s  long road, a hard road, but a road worth going the distance on (if you find yourself on it). We lost sight of who God was calling us to be. We let our immediate desires take the place of our deepest needs. God allowed us to travel on this road and He is is trustworthy; he is good.

God is good… if not predictable in his incessant imaging of himself in his creation. Natural Family Planning doesn’t just help us plan our families. It mirrors life. Theology of the Body is the study of who we are and who God is through our created selves. All of life is a mirror, a reflection of God and our destiny. When we lose sight of that, we lose sight of ourselves. When we lose ourselves, we slowly slip away. The constant daily checkups in NFP are a reminder of a deeper checkup… am I living as God intended, am I being the person he intended me to be?

Maria & I lost sight of these truths over the last few months… years. We lost sight of ourselves as reflected in Christ. But through his grace, we’re finding his vision again, in a greater clarity than we ever had before.

Helping Hand


Leave a comment

When You Feel Like You’re Drowning

— Warning: foul language follows —

Helping Hand

That moment when you’re scrolling through Facebook and realize that all the perfect lives you see in front of you aren’t all that perfect, or that moment as you sit at a long stop light and watch the faces of people as they drive by and you wonder what kind of hidden burdens, crushing grief or soul sucking crap they’re dealing with; because let’s be honest… a great majority of us are struggling with something, whether for a brief period or a long haul that we hide behind a polite smile and a joke.

If we’re really being honest, life’s pretty hard, for some it really just kind of sucks sometimes. I don’t know if anyone has ever said this, but I’m sure there’s some sort of quote by some famous person that basically says, “All of life is one big struggle to pull yourself out of suffering and then you die.” I’m pretty sure that’s how the majority of people feel, at least some of the time.

So then, we have two basic choices when it comes to faith…

  1. There is no god and life is a random accident; so suck it up and deal with it; or,
  2. God exists and there’s either some purpose to our suffering or there’s no purpose and God is just some sadistic asshole.*

If the first option is true then read Ecclesiastes. It’ll do you some good. The point of that most profound of books… there is no purpose, life is one endless chase after the wind and you might as well chase after the “good life” and then die. If this is what you believe then you should stop reading this and go chase after the wind; after all, what you’re reading then really has no meaning, no purpose and no point.

Dung Beetle

If the second option exists then well, you have some real thinking to do. You’re most likely currently carrying a heavy load of skubala** (the Greek word St. Paul used to describe everything that is not God… shit). How do I know you’re carrying a heavy load of shit? That’s simple, we all are. Every. Single. One. Of. Us has some load of skubala. Now then, does God care or doesn’t he?

We have so many pretty songs of hope. Listen to Christian music for just a few hours and you’ll realize that every song basically says the same thing… trust in God’s mercy. Read the Bible for more than a couple of days and you’ll realize that almost every passage says the same thing… trust in God’s mercy. Hope. Hope in God’s love. Hope in God’s mercy. Let go and let God.

Here’s the problem, letting God doesn’t necessarily resolve your skubala, does it? “Letting God” doesn’t really solve anything, other than passing the buck from you to God. Pass the buck all you want but at the end of the day you’ve still gotta deal with the skubala. And sometimes, that load of skubala is just too much to carry. Sometimes, it’s just too much. Can you imagine drowning in a bottomless pit of skubala ? I think you can, most of us can, most of us have felt that way at some point in our lives. In those moments, where is this merciful God we claim to trust in?

job-dung-heap

Job on his dung heap.

He’s standing at the bottom of the bottomless pit and raising his hands up high in order to catch your feet and hold you up high enough to keep you nose above water / skubala . That’s where he is. He’s a the bottom of the pit. Do you think he descended into hell for nothing? Sure our theology tells us he descended into hell to bring all those souls like Abrahama, Isaac and Jacob up to heaven. But I’ll tell you another reason he descended into hell, so that you wouldn’t have to be alone at the bottom of hole of shit, so that you wouldn’t have to suffer in your pile of skubala by yourself, while all your friends slept peacefully just a short distance away.

I’ve been told that “Your god doesn’t care.” My response? My God cares, he cares so much that he didn’t just look on and hold my hand while I was suffering, he became suffering! He descended into hell for me! St. Teresa of Avila was once granted the “grace” of visiting hell. When she returned she taught that it was worth spending your entire life just to save one single soul from hell. Think about that. Hell is so bad that it would be worth wasting every breathe you are granted just to prevent one single soul from it. For perspective, I wouldn’t spend a day preventing someone from watching Episode 1 of Star Wars.

Bottomless Pit.jpg

And here our God went to hell and back for me. And so I go to hell and back for you. That’s why I suffer, for you. I let go and let God. Letting God doesn’t mean I let him simply take my place or that I let him remove my suffering.

It means I let God take my suffering, that I offer for you, to himself and let him suffer that hell with me… for you. Does that make sense? Through my suffering he continues to stand at the bottom of the bottomless pit of skubala and hold us up. I stand on his hands and you stand on mine and I stand on yours and we manage not to drown in this skubala … this shit.

 

I’m sure that C.S. Lewis and G. K Chesterton say this all much more eloquently than I do, but if we’re being honest, you’re much more likely to keep scrolling through Facebook than you are to read Lewis or Chesterton***. So I leave you with this: that suffering of yours, that hell on earth, that skubala, isn’t for nothing. It’s for me. I need you. Your life is mine and my life is yours; you’re suffering for me, I’m suffering for you; all for one and one for all. Your suffering has meaning, it’s helping to save my life. My suffering has meaning and purpose because it makes up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. It helps to save your soul and that gives me hope, it gives my suffering meaning. And trust me, when you feel like you’re drowning in a pit of skubala every little bit of hope helps.

 

* Don’t worry, if God is really a good and just God and the God of mercy, then me calling him an “asshole” isn’t really a big deal. I think he prefers honesty over false piety.

** Philippians 3:8

*** If you are interested in reading more eloquent verse on this type of topic I strongly recommend you check out the following sources:

  • “Three Philosophies of Life” by Peter Kreeft
  • “Shadowlands” a movie about the life of C.S. Lewis
  • “Turn My Mourning into Dancing” by Henri Nouwen (this is the book I read after my mother died. I can’t think of the words that could do this book justice.)