Awkward Catholic

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


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Contemplation and Beatitude

SolitudeThat awkward moment when you can’t help think that all you want to do is run off and join a monastery and never have to speak to anyone ever again. It’ll be just you and God and all the craziness of the world can just keep to itself. I’m sure this feeling has a lot to do with my needs as an introvert, but at times I just want to run from my boys who can’t seem to stop talking, fighting, eating or crying, my amazing and beautiful wife who wants quality time, all the demands of my ministry, and the constant bombardment of news and controversies: flags, vaccines, wars, marriage, scandals, etc… basically, all the noise and busyness of life. And who hasn’t felt this way at one time or another.

Our world and lives are such bundles of chaotic noise and busyness, it seems to me we’re like a bunch of blind ants Angry Antsscrambling to rebuild our little pile after some kid keeps kicking it over. We all seem to be in a perpetual state of motion, and I believe it is destroying our spiritual lives.

Of course, I would never run off and join a monastery, I love my wife and kids and ministry. But the fact that I long for solitude is quite telling of how starved I’ve let myself become. We are spiritual beings as much as we are physical and just as our bodies need food, so too our souls. And while our main spiritual food is the Eucharist, it is incomplete without that interior connection, that deep interior rooting of our souls in union with God’s love; this is contemplation.

Contemplation comes only through solitude, times of silence where we are alone(1) with the Alone. We are built for rest, “Our souls are restless O Lord, until they rest in Thee.”(2) We long and hope throughout our pilgrimage on this earth to reach our final destination, heaven: where we can rest and with our whole being sigh, “Ah, at last I have found You; at last You have found me.” Our every longing will be fulfilled. There will be no more searching, no more crying, no more lack, for we will see him face to Face and know and be known.

This beatitude is one of contemplation, where we will just be. Should we not begin now? Each time we pray, “Thy kingdom come…” we seek that which we ignore or refuse when we opt for the busyness of the world. Where God is, there is His kingdom. And where is he found but in the silent recesses of our hearts. Why do we incessantly fill our lives with so much noise and distractions? I agree with Fr. Mike Schmitz who says that most of us don’t really think that prayer works(3). We’re afraid of wasting our time. The rest of us are afraid perhaps that the opposite is true, that prayer works and we’re not certain we want that to happen. Or perhaps we’re afraid of what we might discover about ourselves and about God if we let his voice be heard. Silence can be a terrifying thing.

But we must not let our fear or doubts stop us. This silence, solitude and contemplation transcends our physical and psychological natures. Introvert or extrovert, shy or outgoing, self-confident or unsure, we cannot know who we are meant to be without hearing the Word of God whispered in our souls, without seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of our Creator, without probing the wounds of our Savior. To accomplish this stillness of mind and body is central. Silence and peace are necessary because contemplation is not merely thinking about God but about being in his presence and adoring him. Meditation is the active work of thinking about him, the mental journey towards the center where the King resides. Both Martha and Mary are necessary, but by far, Mary has chosen the better part(4).

Going back to Fr. Mike Schmitz, I do struggle with believing that prayer really works. If I honestly thought it worked then perhaps I would pray more. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so lazy at night and stay up late watching TV when I could spend time with my God, at least 20 minutes. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Each night I sit down and “veg” out on the computer or TV trying to recharge my batteries when in reality I need to recharge my soul. I stay up way too late and lack any energy to wake up early and start my day off in silence before the little noise makers wake up. But whether I think it works or not, I know in my heart it does. So pray for me as I struggle to make these changes, and I’ll keep you in my prayers as well.

The Summit

1) To be alone does not mean to be lonely. Some of the loneliest people in the world are surrounded by others. To be alone means to be in a place of solitude, even when in the middle of the crowd. To be lonely means to feel unloved.

2) St. Augustine, Confessions

3) Fr. Mike Schmitz: http://ascensionpresents.com/video/time-to-pray/

4) Luke 10:42


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The Lonely Little Boy

The other day I spent time with a 2nd grade little boy, about 7 years old. He was brought into my office at the church because he’d told his religion teacher that he wanted to kill himself. The boy is in SECOND GRADE!! He had no friends and was being bullied. He felt isolated and completely alone. I know that feeling well. I was severely bullied throughout my childhood, alone, lost and without hope.

Mother Teresa once said that the greatest suffering is loneliness; of those familiar with suffering, few I think understood it as Lonely Mandeeply as Mother Teresa. Her life was poured out in walking with others in their suffering and most painful moments. I believe that she saw clearly into the heart of the modern world where we have become isolated and lonely. Our lives have become filled with isolation and selfishness, or rather, they have been emptied of all that is good and beautiful. We have sterilized our lives behind the facade of social media and disavowed any need for the other in our pursuit of the empty fulfillment of fame, fortune and immortality. And this has been done intentionally.

Our beloved Pope Francis has recently stated that we must not forget that the devil is real and actively seeking to destroy us. This is nothing new and has been proclaimed by countless saints throughout the ages. The devil is real and operating in the world with an evil intent… to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to isolate us from God and each other. And not only do we let him, we most often willingly cooperate with him! In war, when is a person most vulnerable? When he’s separated from his platoon. When is a quarterback most vulnerable? When his offensive line collapses around him and he’s left alone.

We have become isolated through our selfishness, laziness, greed and fear. And we isolate others because then, we’re not alone in our isolation. The problem is… everything we are, our body, mind and soul is designed for one simple purpose… communion. We exist to be the “thou” to someone else’s “I”. The way we live our lives can give purpose, meaning and hope to others; or it can take it away.

Every sin is a sin against communion because every sin is a sin of selfishness. Mother Teresa knew this well and sought out the most unapproachable, ignored, rejected, isolated Untouchable, who was being eaten by worms as he lay in the sewer awaiting death. She picked him up and carried him to her home, tended to his wounds (both spiritual and physical) and loved him into heaven. His was a life of loneliness and isolation. His was a death of beauty and love. Why? Because Blessed Mother Teresa entered into his suffering and walked with him to the steps of heaven.  She then repeated this act for the rest of her life with each person she met.

Deer Thirsts 2

What motivated her to do this? Mere knowledge couldn’t. Any person with a brain could figure out that we’re made for communion. Nor was it vein hope, desire for fame or blind faith. It was an encounter with the thirst of the One “I” to whom all others are “thou”; the thirst of the living God. Mother wrote the following in a letter to her fellow sisters:

Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes – to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you… That is so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that he loves you, but even more – He longs for you…. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes – He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe- you are precious to Him… Why does Jesus say, “I thirst”? What does it mean? “I thirst” is something much deeper than Jesus saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.[1]

When we encounter the thirst of Jesus we know, in the depths of our being who we are and who He wants to be for us. We enter into a real communion… our destiny. I have yet to experience this in its fullness. I trust in the testimony of the blessed who have gone before me. I also trust in the promises of Christ himself who will bring me to this himself.

I no longer suffer from loneliness, most of the time. I’ve been blessed with a loving wife, children and friends, but old habits die hard. Rather, I suffer the pains of loneliness in the teens, children and parents who pass through my office on a daily basis. There are so many hurting, lonely souls in the world. Our modern society, with all of its “conveniences” has turned us into lonely, isolated individuals… and we must rage against this machine! We must rage against this tidal wave of evil that is trying to scatter and separate us so as to overwhelm us. We “rage” by quietly letting go of our selfishness and simply engage those around us. We stand up for the kid being bullied, we put down our technology and talk face to face, we turn off the T.V. and talk to our family members, we sacrifice and give for those around us, we help others carry their crosses and we pray. We reach out to the person being bullied and we pray. We smile at those we pass in the hall or on the street and we pray. We do the chores and duties of our family members out of love and we pray. We hold the hand of the person (friend, stranger, enemy) that his suffering and we pray.

Ultimately, we do nothing of our own accord. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” We choose to cooperate with the grace of God rather than the lies of Satan. It is the love of God, our communion with him that will redeem the world. Therein lay our hope and our strength.

Mother Theresa

 

P.S., I have hope for the young boy I met with last week. He is dearly loved by his mother and knows now that he has a safe place at his church. He has been enfolded in prayer, he is not alone and through the grace of God will know that some day soon.

 

 

[1] Mother Teresa’s letter to the Missionaries of Charity family, 25th March, 1993 as found in 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. Marian Press, Sotckbridge, MA. 2011.


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The Father’s Love

From a DistanceWhere has God gone? I think it a pertinent question considering that lately we seem to be surrounded by so much death. Everywhere we look death seems to be the victor: suicides, overdoses, bullying, abortion, movies, Ebola, terrorism, gossip and on and on. How do we make sense of all this suffering and evil; how do we justify this tidal wave of evil that seems to be sweeping across our world? Where is God in all this mess?

In the last two weeks my parish community has lost four young people to various causes. Let me tell you, there is no grief like a parents grief. I know this because there is no love like a parent’s love. The mere thought of something awful happening to my own child… it’s enough to make the strongest man tremble. So where is God in all this? Where is the loving Father Almighty? So often it seems like Bette Midler had it right when she sang, “God is watching us from a distance.” But that’s the thing, he’s not watching us from a distance. He’s right here, right now, right always. My pain is his pain, my grief is his grief, my sorrow and joy and love and hopes and fears, he knows them and loves me through them.

A few weeks ago I came home for work around 7:30PM and found the house quiet except the TV. I walked over to the living room and found my two boys (5 & 3) sitting on the couch looking miserable. I went over to them and found their faces all puffed out like Will Smith’s in his movie “Hitch” after he ate the shell fish. It turns out that earlier that afternoon while playing in the side yard they stirred up a yellow jacket nest (they make their homes in the ground). They were instantly swarmed and came running into the house surrounded by dozens of yellow jackets. They each received almost 20 stings all over their little bodies. As I gently held them I felt their pain and my heart broke for them. I was with them in that moment and though they couldn’t imagine that I suffered with them, I did.

And therein lies the beauty of the Father Almighty. He is God with us. Now, I know we usually call Christ the Emmanuel (God with us), but do you realize that where Christ is, there is the Father?! As Christ said, “He who sees me sees the Father,” and again, “The Father and I are one.” Now, I’m not saying they are one in the same person, but the three persons of the Trinity are so intimately united that they are one God and while we distinguish between their persons and work, where one is, all three are. The Father doesn’t just sit on his golden throne watching his will being accomplished. He is in our midst, loving us, near us, in us and through us. He truly is God with us!

One of my favorite passages in the Bible (I have a lot) is 2 Corinthians 6:16, 18: “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people… and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’ “The Father and Adam

Do you hear that? We are his temple. Make no mistake, a temple isn’t simply an empty building where people gather to pray. It is the footstool of God! It is the dwelling place of the Most High. He has pitched his tent among us. And you are that temple! You are his dwelling place; the creator of the universe is closer to you than you are to yourself! ALLELUIA! And more than that, you aren’t simply his dwelling (as if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, but you are his son or daughter. He has claimed you as his own and he loves you!

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “It is not man who is on the quest for God but God who is on the quest for man.” When I first heard that I was stunned. All this time I thought it was I searching for meaning and for hope when in reality it was God within me, calling me and running to me, searching for his little lost helpless, hapless sheep. Why? Because he loves me, because he loves you. Why did God create the universe? Because he loves you. Because he loves everyone? No. Because he loves you. The Father has had an image of you (singularly you) in his mind for all eternity, waiting for the moment that you would come into existence so that he could love you. Every single star in the universe exists so that God could love you. Every single star. Here’s a sliver of what I’m talking about:GalaxiesYeah, that’s all for you.

If you were the only person in the history of the world to exist, ever, he still would have done Every. Last. Thing. He’s. Ever. Done. All for you.

There’s no way he could remain passive on his golden throne while you were down here away from your home. He’s simply too madly in love with you.

Ultimately, I would say that making sense of why we suffer is easy… we are the cause of it. Our sin brings chaos and suffering into the world. But just understanding why it happens doesn’t really make it any easier, doesn’t give it any meaning. What makes the difference is understanding that we’re not alone in our suffering. That our sin, and the chaos it creates doesn’t have the last word. God does. God brought order out of chaos once when he created the world and he continues to do so each moment that he allows creation to persist. His plan, his will, his love will be accomplished… not in spite of our weakness but through it. His almighty power is made manifest in our weakness. He is God with us, he loves with us and suffers with us and redeems that suffering through the love of his Son. And that is what gives hope.

If you ever doubt that then meditate on my all time favorite passage in the entire Bible… Romans 8:28-39, “We are being slain all the day long, we are as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us [for not even death] will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As long as we draw breath there is hope and when our last breath leaves our body, and it is finished, then our hope and our faith will be no more and only the light of the Love of God will remain. Every tear will be wiped away, every grief, even the loss of a child, will be turned into dancing for we will see God face to Face and we will know we are loved.Father and Son