Awkward Catholic

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


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The Pierced Hands of Christ

That awkward moment when you realize you’re fighting a losing battle against the atheism and apathy that has infected so many persons and families in our world. Yeah, this is another heavy post but please read it through to the end.

The 1st reading at Mass one day last week was the first few verses from Acts 8. It describes the persecutions that ensued after Stephen’s murder… martyrdom. All but the Apostles fled in fear and Saul busied himself in destroying the fledgling Church. I can’t begin to imagine the terror and despair so many of these first Christians must have felt.

For many in our world, however, it’s not just a story but a daily reality. These last few days I’ve come across article after article talking about the innumerable evils happening in our world around us such as ISIS, abortion, porn, the slave/sex trade, etc.; and more articles about the seemingly endless parade of anti-Christian/anti-Catholic bigotry and violence sweeping our nation. It seems as if the world is on fire and the armies of Satan march towards victory unimpeded while most of the world is content to watch it burn. Through a certain lens it appears as if we live in hell and Christians are the main course.

I’ve recently started watching a new show on Netflix called “Daredevil.” It’s a pretty good show, if not a little violent. But one of the things that I struggle in accepting is that in order for the King Pin to pull off so much evil, countless numbers of people have to be either complicit or at least ambivalent towards his actions. I’ve thought over and over while watching the show that I just can’t believe that so many people would be willing to accept and participate in explicitly evil actions.

But the sad reality is that I think many real world people would be. Not necessarily out of some evil intent in their hearts, but for any number of other reasons such as apathy, rationalization, fear, or a sense of helplessness. To realize the truth of this statement all you need do is look at the news for about half an hour. For example, during the recent surge in refugees taking boats from Africa to Italy, a number of Muslims have started throwing Christians overboard to drown. Then there are the atrocities of groups like ISIS… enough said.

In the U.S., the Catholic Church is being intentionally boxed out of more and more areas of society on a daily basis; areas they not only have a right to be in, but are often in the best position to do the most good. The Church is no longer able to provide direct aid to sex trafficking victims because we’re not willing to make abortion referrals, and we’re no longer able to offer adoption services because we aren’t willing to let homosexual couples adopt children. The list goes on and on… And the media? Few entities are more biased: this isn’t a liberal vs. conservative statement, either, but one of orthodox vs. heterodox.

So where does that leave us? We appear as ants standing against the might of a tsunami. What hope do we have? Honestly, our hope lies in the movie “Rocky.” Rocky didn’t win his fights because he was stronger (“Rocky IV”), better (“Rocky I & II”), tougher (“Rocky III”), or younger (“Rocky V”). Rather, he out-lasted each of his opponents; he persevered; he had heart. As J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The story of the Church is one of a long, slow defeat,” and yet we get back up, we survive.

Those first Christians survived Saul’s persecution, the ancient Roman Christians survived the Coliseum, the medieval Christians survived the collapse of civilization, the Renaissance Christians survived the Reformation and on, and on. Like Rocky, like the Daredevil, we are defeated, beat down and fallen, yet we get back up; we persevere. In fact, our defeat is necessary for our survival. As Tertullian once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” With each drop of blood spilt, the faith grows. Simply put, there is no Resurrection without the Passion. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24).

We are the Body of Christ, are we not? Then we live in a beautiful tension of already and not yet, of crucified and glorified. Until that final moment where time meets eternity “we are being slain all the day… as sheep to be slaughtered,” (Romans 8:36) yet we live in His kingdom. During Mass, the veil of time is torn asunder and we are made present to Calvary. We pick up our crosses and unite our’s with His. We make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church. (Col 1:24). We are, like Christ… no, we become one with Christ, in his utter defeat upon the Cross. And we cry out in hope, “Eloi, eloi, lema sebachtani!” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” (Psalm 22:2).

Did you ever bother to read the rest of the Psalm that Christ cried out on the day of his defeat? You should. It’s beautiful. It reads:

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

            And then a desperate prayer:

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

And therein lays our hope… the humble, faith-filled prayer. Mother Theresa once obtained an unobtainable cease-fire with nothing other than prayer. The humble faithfulness of three illiterate peasant children once caused the sun to dance in the sky. The desperate plea of a faithful father once saved his son from a demon. Countless people have been cured of incurable diseases, devils have been cast out, marriages are saved, souls are saved, saints are made through simple, humble, faithful prayer.

Our hope against this tsunami? Faith. Our heart against the mightier fighter? Prayer… faith-filled prayer… “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We are his hands and feet; his pierced hands and feet; his glorified, pierced hands and feet. In the midst of our defeat, we are victorious!

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!


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Head First Into the Abyss of Love

When was the last time you delved into the wounds of Christ? I can hear the objections, “But this isn’t Lent?!” “We just finished Easter and it’s Ordinary Time, let us relax in the calming green for a little while.” I can’t. Or rather, I did. I neglected to post anything for the last month because I was too busy relaxing in front of the T.V. (at least I’m honest about it, right?). But the wounds of Christ were still there when he appeared to the disciples, and they’re still there now and will be for eternity.

Wounds of Christ

So, when did you last probe the depths of his love for you, not just with your finger but with your heart? Thomas challenged his fellow disciples, and unknowingly God, that he would need to probe the wounds of Christ before he believed. Then, when he encountered Christ in his risen glory, wounds and all, he fell to his knees in adoration. He no longer needed to probe with his finger for he dove heart first into the merciful wounds of Christ.

In those wounds he discovered who he truly is. So, I ask again, when was the last time you delved into the wounds of Christ? Have you ever delved in? I haven’t. Let’s be honest, I’ve only thought about sticking my finger into his wounds, and that with a surgical glove on! If I had, I’d be the saint he was calling me to be. But I can assure you, not on my experience but on the testimony of the saints… Every. Single. One. Of. Them. that what I say is true. Probe the depths of the wounds of Christ and you will be transformed from an ordinary, every day, ho-hum human being into a gloriously-world-transforming saint.

Why is that I wonder? I wish I knew. I’ve been trying to work up the courage for years now. I recently ran my first obstacle course race (see superheroscramble.com). It was a blast. One of the obstacles gave me quite a pause though; it was the the high jump. We had to jump from a platform into a pool of water about 50 feet below. Many people walked around the jump because even though they’d seen others jump and survive, they simply couldn’t bring themselves to take the leap themselves. And I don’t blame them, it was terrifying. Fortunately for me I was running the race with a friend.

Tom (name changed) and I stood on top of the platform with about 20 other people trying to work up the courage to jump. As I stood back in the “ready to jump” posture but frozen in fear, Tom simply ran and jumped and eventually splashed in the water below. Encouraged by his survival and joyous exclamations, I ran forward and dove feet first. It’s one of my proudest moments of recent history. Now, if I could only work up the courage to do the same in my faith.

I share all this because I want the world to be full of saints; those who can’t do, teach. I am a teacher with the hopes of becoming an doer. What about you? How many hours per week do you sit, simply sit in the presence of Christ? St. Catherine of Siena once said that everything she knew she learned at the foot of the Cross. Everything I know, I studied. I’m ignorant when compared to St. Catherine.

Sit at the foot of the Cross. Gaze upon his wounds – one wound; pick one, it doesn’t matter which. They are each unique and speak differently to each person. I’m personally attracted to the wounds in his feet. I feel him calling me to go out into the world and walk the walk. For me, the feet represent the lowest part of the body, the most abused and used part. I don’t have great expectations for myself (as long as I can provide for my family and lead others to Christ) and so I identify with Christ’s bruised, bloodied, pierced feet.

Hold a Crucifix in front of you, in your imagination. Now kiss it. Do you kiss his feet, his hands, his head or his heart? Why? What does it signify to you personally?

Leap of FaithWhat is it that holds you back from diving in, head first, into the wounds of Christ? As Pope Francis said, “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: He is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”

For me personally, I’m too lazy and too busy (or so I tell myself) to take the plunge. It’s apathy really, that prevents me from diving in. What prevents you? I’ve found that naming those things that bind us gives us a power over them. We are then able to call God’s grace into those specific places of bondage. For St. Thomas it was his doubt. For me it’s my apathy… yes, I will be a saint one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. I claim that grace. I make no excuses, I have only myself to blame. As St. Augustine once said, all is grace. Only my sin can I claim as my own.

I am not Pelagius, I cannot pull myself up by my boot straps. But I can cooperate with the grace of God, the grace that pours out of his pierced side, the holes in his hands and feet. As Pope Francis states, “it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring us salvation. This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely.”(1)

What more is there to say? The wounds of Christ earn, deserve, demand my complete trust. My life is found in the wounds of Christ.

 

1. “Lumen Fidei” – Encyclical of Pope Francis, Paragraph 16.