Awkward Catholic

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


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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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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.

 


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To Be or Not to Be… a Saint…

That awkward moment when you’re driving down the road and suddenly realize that you forgot how old you are… “I’m 38,” you say to yourself. “No, wait, I’m 39. Wait, did I turn 38 or 39 last month? Oh shoot, I can’t remember. I think it was 39, but I’m not a year away from 40, am I? No, it has to be 38.” Then you have to start from 1977 and count forwards on your fingers until you realize with great despair and sorrow that you are in fact 39.

Fortunately, nobody was around to witness this torturous moment of self-awareness. Yes, I am 39 years old, one year away from 40 and I’m no closer to being a saint than I was at 28, sometimes I feel even further away. Ugh. Think of it this way, my life is perhaps half over and the seemingly “best years”, the ones in which I’m supposed to be fired by passion and hopeful zeal for change have slipped away. It’s funny, I used to think I’d be dead by the time I was 40, it seemed like I would have accomplished all I needed to by then. But now, the deadline looms large and I look back and realize that I let slip by so many of the best years of my life. So many of the saints were saints by now or well on their way. But where am I; still dawdling at the starting line, distracted by things that are really nothing.

This connects to what dawned on me just the other day in my favorite place to meditate, the shower… I’m not sure I really want to be a saint. I mean, sure I want to be a saint, but do I really WANT to be a saint? I don’t know. I want to go to heaven, of course; I love God and I love His Church, its teachings Traditions, doctrines, and pretty much the entire beautiful mess that makes up the Body of Christ. But I don’t think I want to give up my video games, sleeping in, binge watching Netflix, superhero movies, driving too fast and everything else I waste time doing.

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for some time (there aren’t very many of you, so thanks) you’re probably expecting some deep insight or profound encouragement, but I honestly don’t have it. If I’m being honest, I’m content in my contentedness; I’m content to keep chipping away with tiny little chisel blows at the colossal boulder that sits in place of my heart when I know I need a sledge hammer. (Maybe this means God is going to be swinging that sledge hammer with or without my permission soon enough and he’s trying to get me ready for it… in that case I can only cry, cringe and hope for the best I suppose. – Romans 8:28.)

Why am I being so honest? Because I’m convinced that a majority of people feel the same way and it doesn’t do us any good to pretend otherwise. I’m not saying that I’m giving up, nor am I satisfied with my reality. Of course I’m still going to try to love God, my wife, my kids and my neighbor as best I can. But I need to be honest because I can’t get to my destination if I lie about where I am. If I somehow convince my Waze GPS program that I’m somewhere I’m not, no matter how accurate the program is, I will never reach my destination… to see the Face of God.

But how can I see if I am blind? Am I blind? I feel as if I have a split personality at times, as if half of me were like the man born blind in John 9, who once he was healed believed in God and worshipped him; and the other half of me is like the Pharisees who knew the truths of God but are unable to see… unable to believe and be healed. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.” (John 9:41)

Please God, let me see my blindness! Let me see the Truth of my sin, my weakness, my false reality (i.e. those things that distract me from you). Heal the brokenness within me and without. Give me the grace to change. I give you permission to change that which I lack the strength to change myself.


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To the Heights – Through the Valley

That awkward moment I was bounding up the main stairs of the Catholic high school just as all the teens were being dismissed and filing out into the halls and parking lot, and my foot missed the next step and I face-plant in front of all of them… not a good way to make a first impression.

Mountain in a Lake

 

One of the most profoundly important scenes in the Gospel is one that is often overlooked or treated as a nice story but left behind quickly as it is a bit confusing… the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is contained in all three synoptic Gospels, with a brief reference in John; in each instance the Transfiguration is a turning point, the fulcrum to the whole story of our redemption.

To see the face of God… to see God, Face to face… it is the destiny, the dream of every human heart because it is the fulfillment of every human desire. Yet, to see God’s face is death; that is, we cannot see God’s face until we have faces with which to see him. (Peter Kreeft).

What do the above two points have to do with each other? What do they have to do with Good Friday and Easter? Why write about his today? I’m so glad you asked.

The Transfiguration is the fulcrum to the entire Gospel and yet is so often misunderstood or glossed over because there is simply so much going on. Prior to the Transfiguration Christ had spent his entire ministry in Galilee, healing, teaching and doing miracles. After the Transfiguration he sets his face towards Jerusalem and to his ultimate glory. The story is a Theophany in that it reveals God. It is a mountain top experience, a foreshadowing of our destiny in heaven. And it is a Christophany in that it reveals the true nature of Christ, the summation of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), but not just a summation for Christ goes beyond them, becoming the lasting fullness of God’s revelation… the revelation of the Face of God.

As Jesus is praying his face was changed and his clothes became dazzling white. This is a vision of the heavenly glory that awaits each of us, but more importantly, it is a vision of the Face of Christ unveiled for our human eyes to see. In this glimpse we see the glory of God, but it is just a glimpse. One of the most important lessons I have learned from this passage is that in order to obtain the beatific vision in its fullness, like Christ we must first pass through the valley of the cross.

Wounds of Christ

I love the reaction of the Apostles because it shows clearly that even they didn’t get it. They were as thick-headed as I am. Just a few days prior Jesus had told them that “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Then, in the Transfiguration, he discusses his exodus, i.e. his Passion, with Moses and Elijah; Peter, John and James, completely miss the point! They want to make three tents, three chapels where they can keep that encounter alive. They want to stay on the mountain. Can you really blame them?

To the ancient Jewish mind (and the modern mind too), suffering meant that God had abandoned you, that you had somehow caused God to leave you to wallow in your misery. That’s what Job’s three friends accused Job of when he suffered more grief and loss in one day than most people suffer in a lifetime. And Peter, John and James didn’t want to descend into the valley, to leave behind this mountaintop experience. They wanted to stay there, where it was safe and comfortable and “heavenly”. Who can blame them?

But a cloud comes down upon the three disciples and the voice of God booms, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” I love this! It reminds me of the countless times I’ve bent down to my four year old who is blessed with an active imagination, so much so that he rarely hears what others are saying to him or asking of him. I repeatedly bend down and call out his name, “Dominic! Listen with your ears!” The apostles, like us, needed to learn to listen to Jesus, who had just commanded them to take up their crosses, to descend into the valley of the cross and suffer like Christ.

Why? Why must we suffer? Simply this… to find our faces. What’s the point of suffering, of Good Friday? What’s so good about it anyway?! As Peter Kreeft describes, our hearts are like granite blocks in the hands of a master sculptor who must chisel away the stone until our true image appears.

I remember hearing once that a master sculptor, when he obtains a new block of granite, doesn’t just start chipping away but rather listens to the stone, spends time with it and studies it in order to find it’s true nature. I like to imagine the Father does the same with us, he sees the true nature, our real faces inside the deep recesses of the stone. And the blow of the hammer against the chisel, our suffering, is what brings our true nature out.

That’s what’s so good about Good Friday… the true nature of Christ is revealed in his face, the most beautiful face of love, the suffering Christ, the Holy Face, the scourged face, the crucified face of Christ. And in that most horrible moment, in the suffering that broke the world, Christ took upon himself the suffering of the world and transformed it into the most beautiful, powerful, death destroying love. That is a good Friday! That is the beauty of our suffering… it enables us to find our faces so as to meet Him face to Face.

Face to face

The mountaintop experience gives us hope and strength to endure the valley of the cross. We cannot stay on the mountain any more than we can stay in heaven… until we have found our faces. And so like Christ, having encountered his glory on the mountaintop (the retreat or prayer experience) we must set our faces towards Jerusalem… our own individual exodus’ by taking up those little crosses of daily life and follow him. And as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death we find that each thorn, each whip, even the nails piercing our hands and feet become as beautiful roses, a garden of joy and peace… because like Job, we find our own faces and are able to meet God, Face to face and be satisfied.


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Checking Your List for the Divine Invasion

That awkward moment when you see the horrible things going on in the world around you and you realize that this day, or any day, might be your last and that you aren’t prepared, that there are too many things left undone or unsaid. At the very least, you want to check off a few more things from your bucket list.Bucket

So, what’s on your bucket list? My bucket list has four items on it: To marry a beautiful woman, to have a family, to be published and to become a saint. Thus far I’ve accomplished 3 of my four goals.

What about you? If you haven’t actually made a bucket list, then at least ask yourself what you most want to accomplish in this life before you die. But then ask yourself why you want these things. Most likely there is some story behind your desire or need for each item on your list. Most likely you believe that obtaining those goals will bring you satisfaction or fulfillment of some kind. And most likely they will, to a certain extent.

But now I want to ask you what do you think is on God’s bucket list? The obvious answer is that he wants us with him for eternity. But really, that’s too generic, isn’t it? Your bucket list is most likely specific and concrete, why wouldn’t God’s be?

I’ve said this before but I think it bears repeating: why did God create the world?

The answer is simple: to love you; so that you would be here for him to love. You are the apple of his eye, the treasure of his heart, his precious. What God wants is you; simply you. Nothing else, nothing less, he wants you and you alone. Every star in t he sky exists so that God could love you.

But we resist this, don’t we? We look for our satisfaction just about everywhere else. Why is that I think? Why do we continue to seek the satisfaction of his love elsewhere?! I think a major part of the problem is that, for most of us, eternity is so far away, so distant into the future that it’s hard to think about, to live for. Rather, most of us are just trying to survive this week, or this day, aren’t we?

Yeah, I want to go to heaven but right now, I want more to make it through today without giving up, without being hurt, without hurting someone else or embarrassing myself or messing up or disappointing someone.

This, in a certain sense, in a very real sense, is the war we find ourselves in on an almost daily basis… a war with its most evil manifestations in the mass shootings and terrorism around us, but more importantly in the everyday lives of everyday people. None of us signed up for this war, but we find ourselves in it nonetheless.

Each day we find ourselves simply trying to survive the day and all these fears, hurts, dangers and traps are the weapons of the enemy, the devil. We’re so focused on these small battles that we forget the overall war, the goal. We make concessions saying that I don’t think I can obtain salvation, or I’ll worry about it later. Right now, I just want a little rest, a little peace and something joyful. To be clear, delighting in the everyday joys, the little things that make life good or tolerable are not bad. In fact, they are gifts from God. But the danger comes when we begin to make these little pleasures all we’re fighting for.

That’s why the idea of a bucket list is actually a good one. Typically, a bucket list contains things that are life-changing, life-defining, lifetime accomplishment type goals. They are real and concrete and help us focus on the long term, they help us to keep fighting and moving forward. But make sure those items on your list have the right priority. What is your #1? What should it be? If the love of God isn’t your #1 goal then you’re missing the point.

But let’s get back to this war we’re fighting. We’re getting ready to celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Think about that for a minute, about how in this Great War, a war that has raged through all time and space, there was a moment when God’s plan had come to fruition and it was time to strike. And so he sent his army of One onto the front lines, a beachhead in the form of a baby in a manger… the Divine Invasion began and continues today.Nativity

In our lives, our minds and hearts, Christ comes again and again, in the silence and stillness. Just like he came the first time as a still, small baby; he comes to us now in a still, small voice. Not with guns or bombs or fanfare but in the silence of a still mind, a quiet, searching heart. Mark my words, strength to survive this week or the day will not be found in those small pleasures of things but rather in the stillness of silence.

Sure, silence is a terrifying experience for most. With all the countless distractions of today it’s nearly impossible to know silence. And this, I believe is one of the most potent weapons of the enemy. I know well the fear of silence. I had a difficult time growing up. My inner thoughts were filled with self-hatred and disgust and the thought of spending time with those thoughts, of wrestling with them was a terrifying one. Why would I want that?

But where else am I going to find healing and wholeness? It is in the silence where I am able to confront my wounds, wounds inflicted on me and those I’ve inflicted myself. Then, in his mercy he enters our hearts and minds, often unseen, and begins to heal those wounds and we find peace and begin living the eternity we are destined for.

This Advent, prepare your heart for the coming of Christ. Wrestle with the silence and hear the voice of God say to you, “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” You are his Beloved! Sit with that in the silence. Let this truth overwhelm your fear and wash clean your wounds, you are God’s entire bucket list.


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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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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/


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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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The Man in the Mirror

That awkward moment when you realize you left a teen behind for the confirmation retreat and you have to call his mother.

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I’ve been doing youth ministry for 15 years and I’ve never yet lost a teen on a trip. I’ve wanted to at times, but it’s never happened yet, thank God. Well, a few weeks ago 100 teens and chaperones gathered at our church for the fish fry and then to carpool 70 miles up to the confirmation retreat center. Getting everyone signed in and assigned to a car was like herding butterflies with a stick. Loaded and leaving 45 minutes late for the campground I decided to call Bob’s1 mom on the road. He hadn’t signed in or been seen at the church and so I assumed he decided not to attend.

When I’m finally able to call Bob’s mom we have a pleasant conversation about how Bob had apparently been dropped off at the church and should be with us. As it turns out, discovered about one hour after that unexpectedly calm conversation, Bob had indeed been dropped off at the church, had proceeded to eat at the fish fry without checking in, felt sick and sat in the bathroom for about 30 minutes only to come out and realize everyone had left. Needless to say, Bob was none to thrilled to attend the retreat in the first place. His very understanding parents subsequently dropped Bob off at the retreat center and he remained distant and aloof the entire weekend.

As I said earlier, I’ve never lost a kid on a trip but I’ve watched too many of them walk away on their own: too proud, stubborn, angry or apathetic to let the transforming power of God break in. It breaks my heart every time. I want to grab a hold of the kids like Bob and shake them to wake them up, to shout at them, “Can’t you see what you’re missing?! How could you walk away from Him?! Why would you give him up?!”

But later on, as I look inward and examine my own life I realize I do the very same thing a hundred times a day. When I judge someone in my heart, look at a woman impurely, speak ill of someone, ignore the thoughts to visit with Christ in adoration and on and on. I imagine what St. Therese or St. Francis would say to me; are they looking down wanting to shake me awake? The reality is, I’m much spiritually closer to Bob’s choice than to St. Therese.

I pray St. Therese does what I do for Bob and all his friends, call my Mother and ask her to get me to where I need to be; because I can’t do it on my own. I’m stuck in the bathroom, sitting on the pot too tired… too lazy… too weak to get there myself. But even if Mary does the work for me, even if when she somehow gets me to her Son, it still hinges on my choice.

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Whom do I love most: my Savior or myself?

When my wife justifiably expresses her frustration with me I have a choice. When a teen does something stupid or rejects me I have a choice. When I feel the call to prayer I have a choice. When I’m tempted to lust, or to judge, or to anger, pride or sloth, I have a choice. The grace of God is already in me. The power to move the mountain of my heart is already within me. All is grace… each and every breath. “In him I move and breathe and have my being.”2 His grace is sufficient and made perfect in my weakness.3

Please Lord, wake me up inside, that I may choose life. Then, maybe, through your grace I may help Bob and all his friends wake up too.

1.  Name changed.

2.  Acts 17:28

3.  2 Cor 12:9


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A Simple Question

That awkward moment when someone asks you a question that you know the answer to but you completely blank.

Confused

This happens to me all the time. I know a lot of useless information and a lot of Theology but quite often it escapes me when I actually need it. And I know I’m not alone in this. In the confirmation interviews I ask the teens questions about their faith and their understanding of Church teaching. I’m certain they know the answers to many of these questions but in the high pressure environment of the interview, they blank.

The last question I ask them is simple, “Why do you want to be Catholic?” It’s simple yet the most important question I ask. “Why do you want to be Catholic?” What I’ve found is that most people haven’t really thought or prayed about if before I asked them. Sure, they have their reasons, but even the parents would be hard-pressed to articulate the answers. For many of us Catholics (myself included) there’s simply a general feeling that the Catholic faith is the right one. For many, it’s what they are used to, how they were raised or other sentimental reasons. Honestly there’s nothing wrong with these reasons, everyone’s gotta start somewhere after all. But alone they are not enough.

The covenant we enter with God through the Sacraments of Initiation isn’t some mere contract to be made or broken at will. It is a covenantal relationship like marriage and is meant to be permanent. Just as the covenant of marriage is stronger and more permanent than blood relationships; blood relationships are created by covenantal relationships, so too is our covenantal faith with Christ and his Church.

Like marriage, there will be good times and bad times. There will be times when your faith is on fire and the world is bathed in God’s glorious wonder; the hills will be alive with the sound of music. There will be times when your faith is flat and gray and just kind of there. And there will be times when the world goes dark, your faith seems to have shriveled and the “Mighty Smiter” will seem to be smiting you with all his might. It’s in these times when your answer to that most important question matters most.

When tragedy strikes you will face that question, “Why am I Catholic?” When profound sickness comes you will be asked, Into Darkness“Why am I Catholic?” When your faith is challenged by your friends, why are you Catholic? When your priest or youth minister or other trusted leader of your parish causes scandal, why are you Catholic? When God seems to have abandoned you and nothing makes sense, why are you Catholic? Your answer to this question can make all the difference.

Recently I went through a difficult situation where my faith in God was tested. The Big Man and I had some words, I questioned his providential care for me and faced this question myself, not for the first time. My answer was simple though it did not come easy. Why am I Catholic? Because what else could I be? To whom should I go? Who else has the words of eternal life, the Eucharist, Mary and the saints, Scripture, Truth, community and so much more?

I thank God also for the grace found in the disciplines he’s helped me develop over the years. For a time I went on an autopilot of sorts. The disciplines remained and kept me going in that time of despair and depression. And like Jeremiah the prophet I cried out, “You duped me oh Lord, and I let myself be duped!” (Jer. 20:7) Yet once again his grace sustained me when all I could see was the pain in front of me. Time passed slowly but my heart remained anchored in his Eucharistic heart and the disciplines of faith kept me going. Eventually I stood firm in my faith again. The fire within, never extinguished, took hold and like Jeremiah I rediscovered that the Lord has planted his word in my heart, like a fire burning within my bones and I cannot contain it, I cannot keep silent.

FireSo I ask you, is there a fire in your heart? Does your soul ache for the love of God? Are you rooted in his word, his Truth? Why are you Catholic? From where does your fire come? What will anchor you to his Cross when all light seems to have gone out from the world? Each of us must answer that question many times throughout life. It pays to be prepared.