Awkward Catholic

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


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Why Mary?

On this, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary I wonder, why Mary? What do I mean by that? Of the 7 most important feasts that we celebrate as Catholics: Mary, the Mother of God (Jan. 1st), Easter, Ascension Thursday, The Assumption of Mary (Aug. 15th), All Saints Day (Nov. 1st), The Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th), Christmas (Dec. 25th), why are so many focused on Mary? That’s three feasts directly about Mary, then All Saints day with the greatest of saints being Mary, and Christmas which kind of heavily involves Mary.

So why Mary?

Well, let’s look at it like this… what is our primary responsibility as Christians? It’s not the salvation of our own souls. If all you’re concerned about is saving your soul, that’s an inherently selfish perspective. Don’t get me wrong, desiring salvation is good, but if it’s your main or only focus, that’s selfish.

Ultimately, we are tasked with helping to save the souls of as many others as we can. Our primary responsibility is to bring others to heaven. Of course, we’re most effectively by striving for holiness in our own lives.

Why is saving others our primary responsibility? Because God has chosen to work through our broken humanity to save others. Sure, he could simply reveal himself in glory to everyone, but that would, in a sense, take away our free will. We would be so overwhelmed by Him that we couldn’t choose not him. And his love necessitates a completely free response, just like any pure love does. So he chooses to reach out in love, to save each soul through the hands and feet and lives of you and me.

In other words, we can’t just accept our redemption then sit back and enjoy the show. We have work to do! “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” The more Christ-like I become, the more I live and breathe and move in the will of God, the more I look like Christ, the more beautiful and attractive I become, drawing others along with me.

And who, other than Mary imitates her Son more perfectly?! Who, from the moment of her birth until the moment of her Assumption reflects the love and will of God more than Mary?

As Saint Maximilian Kolbe once said, “Mary’s will does not differ from the will of God. Calling upon her without reserve, you manifest a love for the will of God, for her will is so perfect that in nothing does it differ from His. Thus you give glory to God that he created so perfect a creature and took her for his Mother.”

And then he gave her to us! He gave us his own Mother as our own. In my favorite Scripture passage, “The Wedding at Cana,” Mary notices that they have run out of wine. The fact wasn’t brought to her attention, she knew before anyone said anything. And she proceeds to tell the waiters to “Do whatever he tells you.” Do you see that?! She knows, your Mother knows what you need and says only this, “Do whatever he tells you.” Let go of your own will and take up the will of her Son and the grace of God will pour out upon you abundantly! The waiters at the wedding didn’t then take the most beautiful wine and keep it to themselves, but shared that overflowing and abundant grace with others.

In a certain sense, the Christian life is really that simple. Like Mary, to do the will of God.

So why do we go to Jesus through Mary? As Fr. Michael Gaitley put it in his grace-filled book “33 Days to Morning Glory:” Because Mary was there. She was present at every moment of Jesus’ life and ministry, literally from the time of his Conception to his Ascension into heaven. It was she who carried Christ in her body before any disciple, it was she who ushered in his first miracle at Cana, it was Mary who watched at the foot of the Cross, it was she who was given to the world as Mother. It is she who loves her children and brings them to her Son, to satisfy his dying words, “I Thirst.”


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A Shadow of Heaven

Baby in UteroThe world we live in is a shadow of the one to come, not merely symbolic of the one to come, but a foretaste, a foreshadowing. Did you ever think about that? All creation is an act of God, a result of his ever-abundant, overflowing love. The very nature of God is love; self-gift to and reception of the other. The Father gives himself completely in love to the Son and the Son gives himself completely in love to the Father. This mutual outpouring of self, this love, is the Holy Spirit.

This in essence is life. All creation is a manifestation of this Trinitarian love. And this love naturally draws what it loves to itself. All creation flows out of this Trinitarian love and instinctively, naturally and inherently returns to the source of its love. You, I, the trees and animals, the stars in the sky, the angels and celestial choirs, every single aspect of creation is a unique expression of the love of God. And love draws what it loves to itself, so as the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “It is not we who are on the quest for God, but God who is on the quest for us!”

Further, as in all things concerning God, there is an order to things. Every aspect of creation is ordered to, in a certain and limited way, reflect this love of God. And so inanimate objects to a much lesser degree than living beings, with humans at the apex of the loving reflection. Hence, all creation is a shadow of the life to come, where we will reach our end, the end of our journey, and the beginning of life in the fullness of reality, the fullness of love.

Now let’s get real… let’s get Catholic…

When you were baptized you were betrothed to Christ and his Church (his Body). To be clear, you weren’t just “accepted” into the Church. Betrothal, as opposed to our modern form of engagement, isn’t just a promise for a future marriage. It begins the marriage! Did you ever notice that Joseph was going to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant? Why would he need to divorce her if the marriage hadn’t yet begun? The wedding ceremony completes what begun in the betrothal just as Confirmation completes what begins in Baptism.

Wedding Rings

Confirmation then is literally (not just symbolically) your wedding day to Christ… not just spiritually but bodily (remember the Church is the Body of Christ)! In Confirmation we walk down the aisle and enter into a covenant relationship with Christ! It’s a wedding, a real and fruitful wedding where our Beloved literally pours himself, his love, the fullness of his Spirit into ourselves. It is an exchange of selves!

So if Baptism and Confirmation are a marriage (not just symbolically, but truly) then any marriage, to be valid must have a “wedding night”. Do you know what I mean by that? A marriage is effected not just spiritually but bodily as well. Hence, the Eucharist! Communion is the consummation of our wedding with Christ! How pathetic would it be if the Eucharist were just a mere symbol? Who wants to only symbolically consummate their marriage? (This explains why you can only be baptized and confirmed once, but receive the Eucharist over and over again.) 

This is the beauty of our faith! Remember, the word “communion” is Latin for “union with”. We are meant for total union with God in heaven. Earth is just a cruise ship stuck in the ocean with overflowing toilets. Eventually we’ll get home and home is heaven! And heaven is the eternal consummation of love! And in Communion we literally and truly consummate, become one with God!

This life is only a shadow of the one to come, but Communion, Communion is literally heaven on earth.

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The Storm Rages On

There is so much going on right now. Both personally and in the world around us. My boys are going to public school for the first time, my wife is due with baby #4 in two months, good friends are moving far away, the youth ministry is gearing back up for the school year, and many more things. It’s so difficult to find time to pray. Yet, I look at what’s coming at us and realize how desperately I need to… we need to.

Spending just a few minutes connected to the internet or listening to the news, it feels as if we’re being attacked on all sides. Not just from our own busyness but especially in what matters most… our faith. The culture seems hell-bent, literally, on destroying the Catholic Church and everything it stands for; and from every angle, we are besieged. But it’s not just the world around trying to tear us down.

Within the Church, forces seem to be trying to tear it apart from the inside: many priests and bishops have perpetrated or at least looked the other way while other clergy act heinously, or perhaps they’re just mediocre priests, when what we need are men who will stand in the breach, or rather, kneel in the breach and humbly lead their flock to heaven.

ukraine priest

Don’t get me wrong, there are many good priests; in my immediate area alone, I can easily name 4 men whom I would trust to guide and lead my soul and family. But unfortunately, the ones who are mediocre at best and those worse, tend to suck up all the oxygen in the room, so to speak. And it can be disheartening and scandalous.

Now, before you call me a hypocrite (because I kind of am), I’ll call myself out and say that I too would lump myself in the class of mediocre Catholics. I try-ish to be holy, but the weight of my laziness and sinfulness… oof. And I don’t excuse this either. This war I speak of, of being attacked on all sides, includes our personal sinfulness as well. Sometimes, this is the most difficult part of the fight, the most discouraging. At Mass this morning, I sat in my pew as the priest prayed the Consecration and my mind fluttered over the countless failings in my life. It was as if the devil was trying to distract and discourage me by reminding me of how horribly I’ve sinned, of how unworthy I am to even be present to this most miraculous gift.

Fortunately for me, the grace of God is tremendous and He’s taught me that I am unworthy, for all have sinned, all fall short. And so I thanked the devil for the reminder of my failures so that I could then offer them to God and his abundant mercy.

Then I looked up and around at the numerous faithful Catholics kneeling around me and was overwhelmed with joy and hope! Despite all that is coming at us, these men and women remain faithful. The storms of the world, the corruption of bishops and cardinals, the attacks of the culture, their own sins and mistakes… and here they [the faithful] are, worshiping God and returning to Him who alone can satisfy! Praise the Lord!

I see these ordinary and faithful Catholics and imagine we are in the company of Elijah and a whole cloud of witnesses around us. We stand at the entrance of the cave as the storms and earthquakes rage all around and we are unafraid. We listen for that still, small voice calling out to us, “I am with you,” and we find faith, hope and love. And there is simply no place I’d rather be.

The Summit


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A Refugee Christmas

Our Lady of FatimaOur Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

That awkward moment when you realize that if you’re going to truly, deeply and honestly live your faith, then that one teaching you can’t accept, you’re going to have to accept; or that one thing you can’t live without, you’re going to have to live without; or the one thing you can’t stop doing because you don’t really want to, you’re going to have to stop doing. I’m pretty sure Mary and Joseph didn’t want to flee for their lives with a newborn son, who was suppose to be God, into a country that was known throughout their nations history as the enemy (Egypt). But they did it because their faith in God demanded it.

As my faith has grown over the years I’ve experienced a number of such moments. One of my earliest occurred when I was about 11 years old. I was delivering papers for my paper route and I’d just thrown the 15th paper onto a roof (I didn’t have good aim). Now I wouldn’t have enough papers to finish my route and I shouted “G_d damn!” As I continued on my way I thought about what I’d said and realized how awful of a thing I had just done to Someone (God) I claimed to love. In that moment I vowed never to say that again.

A bit later in life I was asked by my boss to attend a seminar on immigration and my eyes were opened to the reality and truth of the immigration situation in the U.S. and what it meant for our faith. I realized in that moment that all the anti-immigration rhetoric I believed had to go if I were to continue to claim to be Catholic.

I believe, I hope, I pray that this is such a moment for many friends and people of our nation today who call themselves Christian (Catholics included). If for no other reason than the world is watching us in this moment and how we respond to the refugee crisis will profoundly affect the world’s opinion of us: do we actually walk the walk or just talk the talk.

The situation in the Middle East and Europe demands our response in faith; our bishops have called for such a response (here and here). Our brothers and sisters, yes, they are our brothers and sisters, not our enemy, not distant strangers, not even our neighbors but our brothers and sisters, their lives depend upon our response. As I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say, if you call yourself a Christian then your response to the refugee crisis MUST be one of compassion and love, not fear and hate. Our faith, our God demands it!

I know it might not make sense and seems just a little bit terrifying, but wasn’t that exactly how you felt the first timeSyrian Refugee2 you encountered God and everything in your life changed? Well, this moment can be that for you again and perhaps for the refugees as well. A number of such encounters with Christ have already been reported where Muslim refugees are converting after encountering the love of Christ in their new host countries. Isn’t it even the slightest bit possible that our hospitality is what brings them to faith?

Yet, despite what I know to be sincere and deep faith in many Christian friends of mine, they still demand we close our borders and basically say, “I’ll pray for you, here’s a coat.” And what this comes down to is fear. It always comes down to fear. Throughout history refugees (or aliens) have been feared and hated and demonized without exception. And don’t try to say this is different. It’s not. It’s no different than the fear of the Jews during WWII; it’s no different than the fear of the Catholics, the Irish or the Italians in the great migrations towards America, etc, etc, etc, down throughout history.

So here’s the thing… perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in Christ. Fear is a sin, or it can be if you allow it to prevent you from loving. That’s why we always demonize or objectify the enemy, because you can’t love a demon or a thing. I’m afraid of spiders but that doesn’t stop me from loving God’s creation. I’m afraid of a terrorist bomb blowing up my family but that doesn’t stop me from loving the refugees. In fact, my heart goes out to them all the more because they’ve been living in the hell that I’ve only heard of on the news, they’ve watched their loved ones blown up in front of them while I’ve watched the aftermath on T.V.Syrian Refugee

Ultimately, we are to be imitators of Christ, not just when it’s easy but when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard; always when it could cost us everything! Fact check: there are churches in the U.S. who have to have guards for every priest and Eucharistic Minister during Communion at Mass because there are so many people trying to steal the Eucharist for stupid YouTube videos or worse, Satanic Black masses. Why would Christ allow that?! Why would he risk it?! One word: LOVE. He became man and allowed himself to be crucified. He became bread and allows himself to be denied, mocked, stepped on, ignored, forgotten, thrown away and desecrated in a Satanic ritual, all for the hope that you would spend five minutes with him, sometime. How can we love his children any less?!

What it comes down to is this: I would rather die from a terrorist bomb while trying to love, than live in pseudo-safety while I deny love to my brother and sister because I am afraid.

In this year of mercy, let us remember the mercy of God. Let us fear, not the one who can kill the body but not the soul, rather fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28). Or, if you’d prefer to act out of love rather than fear:

Luke 7:27-38
27r “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,s28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.t29To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.30Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.31Do to others as you would have them do to you.u32For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.34If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.v35But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.w36Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.”

Syrian Refugee3

Finally, here’s an example of how our nation should act. Remember, the world is watching and God is depending… on you to love as he loves, even if it means to die as he died.


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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.