Awkward Catholic

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


Leave a comment

When Roots Run Deep

In Remembrance

I woke up this morning to terrible news of yet another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. You know by now, it was the worst (most number of deaths) mass shooting in U.S. history. And right away there were calls for stricter gun control and responses of the need for more guns and blame being shot all around the internet and people yelling at each other.

Dog fight

Here’s the thing, this is the wrong argument to have. The reform that is needed has nothing to do with more laws enforced by a government that half of us don’t trust anyway. What’s needed is a reform of the heart and mind. You see, the escalating violence in the U.S. and around the world has nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and everything to do with the proliferation of hedonism and the inherently selfish worldview of the modern materialistic atheism.

In other words, we are the proverbial frog boiling to death. We’ve slipped so far down the ever deepening slope of narcissism that don’t even realize our own hypocrisy! Hugh Hefner just died and the country mourns his death as a national hero! The man was one of the root causes of the sexual revolution which has subsequently enslaved (both literally and figuratively) untold numbers of men, women and children. Practically, it is well known that he hated the women he used and abused them mentally and emotionally and treated them like play toys he didn’t care about. And this man is an idol in our nation!

Is it any wonder why so many people in our culture turn to violent aggression when they feel unloved, ignored, misunderstood, slighted or any other number of feelings that deeply wound the ego? When you are constantly told that what matters most is your own personal feelings and that you deserve comfort and pleasure, and the world is supposed to give you that pleasure, but then reality happens and you are wounded, whether real or perceived, you lash out and try to take what’s due to you.

We live in a world where, if someone else is an inconvenience to you, whether it’s their fault or yours, then you have every right to dispose of them however you see fit. So, as I saw someone else post, talking about stricter gun control is like lamenting abortion rates and then passing out contraception pills trying to prevent more abortions. What happens is more people have “consequence-less sex” and when the consequences come anyway, they go remove that unintended consequence through abortion.

We need to talk about the real root of the cause. Our violent culture (gun or otherwise) is a symptom, not the problem. Like modern medicine, we throw out countless drugs and solutions at someone’s health problems while ignoring the real cause of their sickness. Whether you want stricter gun control or greater access to firearms, we each need to stop and pray about how to actually make a difference.

compassion

Ultimately, that difference is to be found in the only One who can do anything about all this — Jesus Christ. Only through Him do we have a chance. Rather than defending our lives and fighting against those who fight against us, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are called to put others first, always. Love is the answer. Love is always the answer. Love is the only answer. Pray for the man who killed so many innocent people in Vegas. Pray for Hugh Hefner, pray for those who follow in their footsteps. Pray for your rival or enemy at work. Pray for your boss. Pray for your spouse, kids, family, friends. Ask God’s blessing upon them. Don’t give the finger to that annoying driver in front of you, give him a blessing and a smile instead.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort me and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in the hearts of all that love me, Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger.”   – Prayer of St. Patrick

Wounds of Christ

What if you’re not Christian, like so many of our fellow Americans? What’s the answer for them? Ultimately, it’s the same, Jesus Christ. But practically, it’s the same, Jesus Christ. OK, but if they don’t believe in Christ, how can he make a difference in their lives? What are they supposed to do? First of all, it’s not like the Holy Spirit is absence from their lives. Secondly, Christ can work through even those who refuse to acknowledge Him. Furthermore, each act of love, whether by a Christian or an atheist or Muslim, is nonetheless an act of love.


Leave a comment

Ascending Hope

That awkward moment when a friend comes to you seeking advice, you can see they’re desperate for hope, for something to hold onto and their faith is holding on by a thread and they look to you to provide that hope. Yet, in your heart, you too are holding on by a thread, confused and hurting and almost lost. You stand next to your friend looking up to the sky wondering, “Lord, why did you leave us?” As a youth minister, I’ve been in that situations more times than I could count.

Like the Apostles at the Ascension, I look to the sky wondering why he’s abandoning us. Lord, if you love us so much why in the heck are you leaving us? Why don’t you stay? We need you! Can’t you see how much we need you?
Ascension

Have you ever pondered, I mean truly meditated on the mystery of the Ascension? I’m 38 years old, I’ve been a youth minister for almost 15 years and yet I’ve never once really pondered the mystery of the Ascension. Until recently it was one of the 6 Holy days of obligation. It is one of the most important feasts in our Church’s calendar of feasts (and we have a lot of feasts). And yet, most Catholics I know have gone more than surface deep into the mystery of the Ascension.

Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps because it’s rather simple, Jesus’ time had come to go to heaven and so he went; like our loved ones who’s time have come. But perhaps it’s also because in the depths of our hearts we wonder why he had to leave? A few weeks ago I decided it was time to teach my teens about the Ascension and I quickly realized I had no idea what to talk about to them. Every reason I could think of for the Ascension left me wanting.

He had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come. Why? If the Father and Jesus are truly one, then so too the Holy Spirit; where One is, so all three are. Wouldn’t this life of faith be so much simpler if Jesus remained on earth and proved his existence and love to us by his mere presence? Imagine, Jesus sitting on a throne in Jerusalem and all the world could see, touch and hear Jesus alive and well. Someone has a question or doubt and they could simply go to Jesus, or better yet, in his glorified body he could bi-locate to them.

But then, where would our joy be? If you were a world class soccer player, would you want to sit and watch the World Cup from the stands or be on the field playing? We are called to be saints, to participate in our own salvation. The joy of evangelization is surpassed by very little in this world.

So what? I would give all that joy to make atheism irrelevant. I would happily lay down any excitement and fulfillment of watching a young person come to know Christ if just one of the terrible wars or violent extremist groups were eradicated because of the presence of Jesus, bodily and irrefutably present on earth.

All of the above is good and right but leave you wanting. It was Fr. Robert Barron who finally provided the answer, one I’m still coming to terms with as I write this post. Quite naturally we perceive heaven and earth as the ancient Greek philosophers did, as two dichotomous realms, completely separate from each other. When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us behind. Sure, he’s still with us spiritually, but what this really means in a practical sense is that he left us behind and sent us his Spirit. He still left us behind.

But praise be to God, he’s not Greek, he’s Jewish; or rather, the Jewish understanding of God is a bit more accurate. You see, as Fr. Robert Baron demonstrates, heaven and earth, while distinct from each other are deeply interlaced into each other. There’s a blending and melding of the two. It isn’t that Jesus left us so much as that he ascended into something more. It’s as if a triangle suddenly became a pyramid (again, a Fr. Baron reference). Those of us who are two-dimensional wouldn’t even begin to comprehend the pyramid.

Heaven and earth are one, or rather, are in the process of becoming one and the Ascension of Christ is what makes that possible. His glorified body is the beginning of the melding of created, human, earthly nature into the spiritual nature of God. It is the adoption of humanity by Divinity. We are sons and daughters of the Father because Jesus not only took upon himself our humanity but because he raised it up into divinity.

2,000 years ago a wise Jewish rabbi was asked by his disciples how to pray and he replied, “Thy kingdom come, the will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May God’s will be made a reality on earth as it is in heaven. May earth become heaven! The Ascension isn’t the departing of Jesus. It is the reunification of heaven and earth! Jesus didn’t leave us, he merged us into the life of the Trinity!

So what does this mean? It means that when we preach the Gospel, the Good News, we make the kingdom of God truly present; we become the hands and feet of Christ and overlay heaven upon earth. So, as I sit there with my friend, both of us desperate for hope, we look towards the heavens searching for answers and find them in the presence of our faith: his faith, my faith, our oneness of hope. You wouldn’t seek help if you had no hope.

It also means that while we can’t see Jesus without the eyes of faith, he is closer to us than we can possibly imagine. It’s as if the triangle that became a pyramid has enclosed us within his fullness. We are the Body of Christ, not a body severed from its head but still attached! Remember, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He isn’t “God with us for 33 years and then God in heaven”, away from us. But he remains God with us because heaven and earth have become mingled and united together and with each act of love we make this union more complete.

For me, this answer satisfies. I don’t fully grasp it, and probably never will until I’m in heaven, but it satisfies. I long for my Beloved, to touch him and hold him, to be consumed by him. And this longing, this “now and not yet” is what keeps me going, hoping for a simple “now”.

Holy Spirit2

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/why-the-ascension-of-the-lord-matters/196/


Leave a comment

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!