Awkward Catholic

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


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Trust the Church?

Recently I was talking with some teens about the Church and how has the fullness of the Truth and they struggled to accept that statement. Mind you, some of these teens are faithful Catholics and peer leaders in their youth group.

Helping Hand

So, that begs the question, can the Church be trusted? If the Church is made up of people like you and me, how can we trust the Church to have the answers, to have the fullness of the Truth? In the Creed we say that we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But how can this Church be holy? I know what I’ve done in my life and I’ve not always lived a very holy one. Even today, I’m constantly succumbing to temptations and sins. I feel like such a hypocrite being encouraging teens to be holy, pray more and to love God, when I so often choose the opposite in my own life.

So how do I do it? How can I tell you that the Church is the fullness of Truth and holiness when there are so many hypocrites like me in it? First, perhaps we should define our terms. To be holy is to be set apart for God. You and I are holy because, through our Baptism, we have been set apart for God, claimed as His very own, and so we are holy. The sacred vessels at Mass are holy because they are set apart for God alone. It would be terrible to fill the chalice with coke or beer. We could, and that would desecrate it, but wouldn’t change the fact that the chalice continues to have a unique and beautiful purpose… to hold within it the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Jesus our Lord.

You and I are more than just “like the chalice”; we become the chalice! Through Communion we become the vessel that brings Christ to the world! We are called to be set apart for God, and no matter how much we tarnish our lives with sin, we still remain His.

This may not seem too important to your life right now, but think about what this means! You are unique and deeply loved and longed for by God! You have a purpose and mission unique in the entire history of time and space! Because of this call to holiness, this being chosen and set apart by God, your life, your drama, your suffering and joys are given a beautiful purpose.

I don’t know about you but that gives me hope and joy, especially when I’m not feeling so special or unique or good about myself.

Next, what about all the hypocrites like me? You know what it’s like. You’re sitting in the pew at Mass and see that kid from school who was passing pictures of some poor girl around on his phone, or you see that girl you know who was killing some other girl’s soul with gossip and lies the other day. And there’s that youth minister guy who’s always talking about God and love, but you I saw him in the store the other day losing it at his kids. What a hypocrite.

Some faith this church seems to have.

Here’s the thing, the Church isn’t a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. You and I don’t come to church because we have it all together, but because without His grace and mercy in the Sacraments and found through our community, we’re sick and gasping for breath, choking on our brokenness.

Finally, we are the Body of Christ. We are not merely a random group of people who happen to believe a similar thing, trying to find comfort in a hoped for future paradise. We are Christ’s hands blessing the world; we are his mouth speaking mercy and peace upon those around us; we are his heart pouring ourselves out for the weak and lost.

And he is our head. He is perfect justice, perfect mercy, and the fullness of Truth.

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; not a way, a truth and a life! He is the only true way, the fullness of Truth, the only true source of Life! All other ways are either mere copies, or cheap knockoffs, or complete shams.

In the end, it is not just me or the priest, mere men and women who call you to holiness. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit within us. And this Holy Spirit is not mixed with shadows of error, doubt or lies.

Can the Church be trusted? Well, only you can answer that question for yourself. When we ask that question, we are not asking whether or not men and women in the Church can be trusted. We are asking, can the Holy Spirit, God himself, be trusted? That is a question that each heart must answer for his or her own.

And if I trust Christ, trust in his Spirit, then it naturally follows that he will lead me into the fullness of His Truth, the place where there is no mixture of falsehood or shadow. And that when he promised us that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that he would give us the fullness of His Spirit in our Church, then it only leaves two options, either Christ is a liar and can’t be trusted at all or the Church contains the fullness of Truth who is Christ himself, and that while we are still sinners, he is transforming us into saints, to be holy, like His Church.


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Consoling the Heart of Jesus

Did you ever think that you could console the heart of Jesus? That the heart of Christ is in pain and that you, as you are today, without doing much of anything at all, can console the heart of Christ and give relief to his heartache? You can. And it costs you hardly anything at all.

sacred-heart-of-jesus

Fr. Michael Gaitley wrote a book called “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” and in it he explores this very concept. Please read this book, it’s a potential life changer, or rather, heart changer. He clearly shows how when we follow the saints of mercy throughout the ages, such as St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina, St. Pope John Paul II, and my favorite, St. Therese the Little Flower, we see clearly that Jesus’ heart is filled to the brim with mercy and love and yet He finds so few souls who are willing to accept His torrents of grace and mercy.

We see how St. Therese so simply allowed the Father of Mercy to lift her up in her “elevator” to holiness, by casting herself upon the merciful heart of Christ. As she describes it, we stand on a razor thin edge, to one side is the abyss of despair and the other is the abyss of mercy. And in the end, there really isn’t any other option.

In one of the revelations to St. Faustina, the depths of her nothingness and complete dependence on God was revealed to her, wherein Christ told her that if He hadn’t sustained her in that revelation, she would have died of despair. And I think to myself how each and every soul is more akin to St. Faustina’s utter miserableness (without Christ) than we realize; how each of us stands on a razor’s edge and are given a choice, daily and moment by moment. Thank’s be to the God who created the stars and every single blade of grass with you in mind!

The grace and mercy of God awaits us on the edge of the precipice. It’s as simple, according to the saints, as a trustful surrender to mercy. “Jesus, I trust in you. I open my heart to receive the abundant mercy that so fills your Heart. I accept all the mercy other souls have rejected. May my weak trust, my imperfect trust and surrender, console your heart and give it joy. Though I don’t always see how I can be a joy to your heart, let me never abandon you. Bring me close to your merciful heart and hide me there. Jesus, I trust in you.”

Above, I mentioned a few of the saints of mercy, there are many more. Well this morning on my drive into work I prayed my morning Rosary and was blessed with a few minutes of real focus on the mystery itself (rather than my usual ADD mental unfocus). As I prayed the fourth Sorrowful Mystery, the Carrying of the Cross, I reflected on some of the Stations of the Cross and was struck with how these saints were perhaps the first of the saints to console the Heart of Jesus. Mary, of course is the first of the saints to console her Son. As is fitting, she does so perfectly.

Then Simon, pressed into service carries the cross, against his will perhaps, but carries it nonetheless. How often do we come to Christ: imperfectly and begrudgingly go to prayer, or help a neighbor, or forgive an injury? And yet, this imperfect accompanying of Christ consoles his heart. Then comes Veronica, a simple woman who dared brave the Roman guards and approached Christ to offer comfort and consolation. What good could a simple pressing of a cloth to the face of a tortured, condemned man do? And yet, I can only imagine what that act of love gave to Christ’s heart. So too, the weeping women, and the Beloved Disciple who’s very presence gave consolation to the Heart of Christ.

And then, the Roman guard who, in what seems like an act of heartlessness, in order to simply assure the death of the man, approached Jesus without love, but approached nonetheless and pierced the very Heart of Christ. And just as how each person who approaches Christ imperfectly  is given grace and mercy untold, the very Heart of Christ poured out His abundant love and mercy transforming Longinus from a simple soldier into a saint.

Divine Mercy

So run to Jesus, to his Heart of Mercy, imperfect though you are, and allow the oceans of mercy to wash over you and transform you into the image of his very self. If you’re still unsure of this then ask his mother, his beautiful mother, Our Lady of the Rosary to bring you to her Son. She will not fail you.

Mother Mary, pray for us.

passion-mary-a


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Feel Like It Syndrome

So I just realized I haven’t posted anything on my blog for five months! Wow! Well, not to make excuse (which means, here comes an excuse) I recently discerned that I suffer from something called “Feel Like It Syndrome”. During a Men’s retreat I attended, the first personal retreat I’ve attended in almost 20 years (because of FLIS), I read about something called “Root Sins”.

I don’t have my reading material with me as I write this, but I found this article that correlates to what I discovered. Basically, there are three core Root Sins: Pride, Vanity and Sensuality. Each person has a root sin that manifests itself in various ways. As I read through the various manifestations of these sins, I was struck deeply by how much I connected to the root sin of Sensuality. I always just thought I was lazy and tried to make myself be less so. But constantly failed. Now I better understand why. Laziness was just a fruit of the root, not the source.

In discovering this concept of root sins, I was taught that to find healing from this brokenness, I need to strive to practice the opposite virtues. And let me tell you, it seems to be working. The opposite of FLIS (Feel like it syndrome) is to practice discipline and self-sacrifice. And so I’ve started saying yes to my kids when they ask to play (even when it’s 95 degrees out and my boy wants to play basketball). And after a couple of months I’ve experienced more victories than ever over my laziness and excuses.

The moral of this story is this, go find read and pray about your Root Sin, then continue to pray about the virtues you need to find healing from it. Then begin practicing those virtues and find freedom and hope that you may just become the saint God has called you to be.

FYI, here’s a follow up article on finding those virtues you need to practice to combat the Root sin of Sensuality. Perhaps you could help me find resources on the other Root Sins.

P.S., I was originally going to write about the tremendous struggle our nation finds itself in, for the soul of our nation (abortion) but was suddenly struck with the need for me to write this post.


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Get busy living or get busy dying

 

That awkward moment when you realize that our nation is being torn apart just like an unborn baby in her mother’s womb during an abortion.

It’s unnerving watching our culture at war with itself. Each side demonizing the other, justifying violence and vengeance upon each other. People literally in the street shattering windows and lives with bullets. Young people are so disconnected with each other and any truly meaningful relationships that they are killing each other and themselves at alarming rates, or diving headlong into addiction and despair.

People’s lives are being torn apart, disintegrated through countless abuses against their own and each others’ God-given, beautiful nature. Families are disintegrating, too, because of and in precipitation of all these self-inflicted wounds. It feels as if so many lives, so many families and all of society is spiraling out of control into a vortex of war and destruction, internal and external.

Disintegration

Image by Cyril Rana

After yet another shooting, such a common occurrence now that even the media outlets are starting to ignore them, people are shouting even louder (if that’s possible) for more gun-control. They think that’ll solve all these terrible mass-murders. But gun control isn’t the solution because it isn’t the guns that are killing people but people killing people. And before you jump on me, I do believe in enacting certain limited, sane, safe and healthy gun policies. It’s a balancing act, not an all or nothing kind of thing. Besides, gun laws aren’t the answer. Just like the vast majority of so many other hot button issues, like immigration and education.

Ultimately, it boils down to this one truth so clearly simple that it baffles me that so many people simply don’t understand it… we are living in a culture of death and it should surprise no one when death occurs, natural or violent. Why would a troubled teen think twice about shooting up his school when any mom can simply stroll into an abortion clinic and kill her unborn child? Yes, it’s about abortion. The moment our once great nation accepted the murdering of its most defenseless and vulnerable, we lost our soul as a nation. And what happens when a person’s soul separates from his body? He dies. That fateful day, Jan 22nd, 1973 is the day of our nation’s death.

Stroller Grave

Photo by Henry Burrows

We were once a nation of immigrants. No longer. We were once a nation where people came because they had a dream of life and hope. A place of freedom and prosperity. We are now a nation of freedom from religion, a nation of death and “tolerance.” You will be tolerated as long as you agree and support the army of death. But speak out against it and your job, your business, your family, your life is forfeit. Welcome to the brave new world where slavery thrives, alive and well. Not only is real, physical, human slavery thriving more now than at any point in history (there are more people enslaved through human trafficking and the sex trade than at any time in history before), but we are a culture enslaved to the doctrine of tolerance.

But I don’t want to tolerate you, I want to love you. I am not a slave, I am a friend and I love you too much to allow you to persist in a life of death.

Our moment of death as a nation was on Jan 22nd, 1973 with the legalization of abortion, but we became sick many years before, when in the 1930’s, Protestant churches began accepting the use of artificial birth-control methods. As Justice Anthony Kennedy said in 1992, that women have come to depend upon abortion should their contraception fail. Thus, abortion is a necessity.

With contraception, we violate the very nature of sex (being ordered toward procreation and unity) and thus destroy and disintegrate our love. And without love we die. As John Paul II once said, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”

With artificial contraception, the love between spouses disintegrates and removes the heart of the family, God, from the most intimate and profound of all possible acts. And death ensues. The family disintegrates, the child is no longer an expression of love but now a commodity to be bought and sold, traded, fought over, torn apart and discarded. Sex, now a vehicle for selfish pleasure, becomes cold and lifeless and porn becomes just another means of satisfaction, another commodity in the relentless pursuit of pleasure and escape from the pounding, ever-menacing presence of death.

But all hope is not lost. No, far from it! For we do not hope in a lifeless, distant god. Our God raises the dead to life with a mere thought, a simple act of His will! But he does not wish to go it alone. This God of love insists that our love participates in his!

He brings the dead to life– persons, families, nations and the world! He called the universe into existence with a thought, he can raise our culture back to life. But he waits; he waits for you and for me to respond to his call to raise our nation and our world, our families and our own souls back into the light of his love and life. We do this, not by our own strength, but by His strength within us, by responding (through his grace) to that still small voice within our hearts crying out in a whisper, “Love!”

So let us arise. What are we waiting for? As Andy Dufresne said in “The Shawshank Redemption,” “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Freedom


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God’s School of Trust

Leap of Faith

I’m currently spending the week at a Life Teen summer camp. It is a Catholic camp for high school students. There are almost 300 high school teens here this weekend in the North Georgia Mountains and the theme is “Relentless Father”. It’s an especially amazing theme and an especially blessed camp. God is so tremendous and relentless in his pursuit of each one of us, individually, uniquely and passionately. It’s precisely what I’ve been trying to teach the teens I minister to for the last several years. I’ve written about it a number of times on this blog. Ultimately, in my understanding of God, this is pretty much what it all boils down to. Everything else is simply a different spin, a unique aspect of his passionate pursuit of each of our souls, his thirst for our love, not for his own satisfaction but for ours.

 

In light of all this, I’ve been reflecting on what he’s been doing within me lately. I’ve been inundated by this very specific message of trust, for the last few months. And as I reflect on my life, I see this common thread weaving in and out through so many countless moments, both big and small; I’m not even sure where to begin or how to list them all; it would take many more blog posts than this one. I think most importantly I first learned this trust through my beautiful mother, Jackie. She taught me through her actions, if not her words, that God will always provide for me. I learned through my mom that he will never fail me.

 

Then, there is the story of his Sacred Heart. Again, through my mom, a devotion to his Sacred Heart pierced my own and has remained with me throughout my years, even those when I walked away from his love. And again, when I found myself drawn back into his love, yet struggled against it, he gave me his very own mother to continue guiding me home, providing for me spiritually and emotionally. Through Saint Therese the Little Flower I encountered the endless abyss of his merciful love and found a model of trustful surrender.

 

As I struggled in my ministry, when I struggled in my marriage, when my mom passed from cancer, when my wife got sick, as we struggled on her road to recovery, and in so many countless different ways, His hand has been there guiding me, protecting me and providing for me. And his still small voice has been calling me to trust in him.

 

Lately, as I wrestled with deep father wounds, he has broken through in tremendous ways, in gentle and healing ways, in beautifully subtle and miraculous ways to heal my woundedness. It’s as if he’s currently shouting from the rooftops, “Trust in me!” In prayer, I have long prayed in desperation. In fact, I can remember long dark nights as a young teenager pleading and begging God for help, if he cared; if he wanted. And to this day I struggle with this, despite this intense school of trust he has led me through. I have a deep seated tendency to beg God in my prayers, like the desperate father in Mark 9 who cries out to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us.” But God doesn’t want this untrusting faith. He desires and he thirsts for our faithful love, so to fill us with his love, to heal us and to transform us from glory unto glory!

 

At Mass yesterday we were praying the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” At the first “Lord, have mercy,” I was distracted and was saying it carelessly. And recognizing this, I quickly focused my heart on the 2nd part. Praying “Christ, have mercy,” I pleaded for his mercy, as I always do. But something stirred in me that even this wasn’t right. And at the third part “Lord, have mercy,” I prayed with confidence, a confidence I did not have of my own. It was a confidence in his abundant and merciful love, as if it were already granted. And I found myself awash in his mercy! It was stupendous and ultimately indescribable except by a single word: JOY!!

 

And I think it’s a message meant not only for me, but for so many others. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve we have failed to trust in God’s love. And he has ever since called us back into his trust, giving us everything including his very own Son to accomplish this task, that we might place our trust in Him and allow his will to rule our lives. If only we would trust that his yoke is truly easy and his burden is truly light, then we would cast aside all of our silly distractions and heavy burdens and dive head first into his merciful heart!

 

It seems like such a mountain to climb though! I’m not like those great saints! It’s not so easy to cast myself into his merciful love and trust him in all things. I mean, I have a wife and four kids to care for! I have bills to pay, and hopes and dreams to achieve and wounds and hurts to nurse and numb. I’m too busy! I haven’t been given enough examples or experiences of his abundant love yet. If only he’d just prove his love and providence to me… again. Then maybe I could do it.

 

Yet, something has been whispering to me lately, there seems to be this sliver of understanding that in reality, this mountain is nothing more than a mole hill. And my heart suddenly yearns to leap! Lord, give me the strength! Lord, I do believe! Help my unbelief!*

 

* Mark 9:19-29

*I should note that I borrowed the title of this post from Fr. Michael Gaitley. 


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Leaning In Deep

Our Lady of Fatima

Two weeks ago Gabriel Rodrigues took his own life.

One week ago I found out that my beautiful wife is pregnant with our fourth child.

Two days ago I received word that a number of parents are unhappy with what I am teaching the teens at Life Teen (high school youth ministry).

Each of these events are uniquely different and yet profoundly world shaking to me. Each, in its own right shatters my world.

Vulnerable

Gabe is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid. He promised, after the Marines that he would come back and take my job as youth minister. He had potential to be amazing. He was amazing. But something… I can’t bring myself to even write more about it. My heart is shattered.

We weren’t expecting to have another child anytime soon. We both wanted another one, but because of our circumstances, we discerned that now wasn’t the best time to bring another child into the world. But God had other plans in mind. We weren’t fertile when we chose to renew our marital vows. Every time we engage in the marital embrace we pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. And now our hearts are an explosion of unexpected joy and a flurry of other thoughts and emotions at His creative presence, like a person afraid of heights getting on an extreme roller coaster for the first time… trusting in the creator’s ability to build and guide the coaster’s course despite the wild ride.

The most important thing in my world is my wife and kids. Second only to that are my teens. The teens in my youth ministry… I love them, they are my kids. I’ve given my life and everything I am to them and their families. I’ve made mistakes with them, for sure. I’ve had teens and families walk away because of something I’ve said, done or taught. But each time it tears me to shreds. I know the surpassing love of God, the unfathomable joy of a life united to Christ, and to have a teen or a family walk away because of what I’ve said or done… shatters me.

The grief…

The uncertainty…

The sorrow…

In these moments I survive by leaning in deep. I look to my Savior and kneel before his broken, bruised, bloodied body on the Cross and lean in, pressing my lips to his bloodied and pierced feet… allowing the mercy of his spilled blood wash over me.Wounds of Christ

When these trials beset me I run to my blessed Mother, hold her like my 3 year old runs and wraps her arms around my waist and presses herself against me. I lean in deep and allow her to wrap me in her mantle of grace.

john-paul-n-mother-mary

Beyond my imagination, in reality, I am the beloved disciple leaning against the breast of my Lord, hearing that

one will betray him, knowing that I have done as much, hoping that others will not, asking if it is I.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Divine Mercy.jpg

In all of this and more, I choose to lean in deep. Each moment I choose to lean in deep. I lean into the grief, the uncertainty, the sorrow. I lean in, knowing that I am not alone, that I am carried and redeemed, that I am on certain ground. The standard of the victor has been planted on a mountain for all to see and I am counted as his very own portion.

I don’t see a way forward.

He does.

I don’t understand.

He does.

I doubt.

He doesn’t.

There is One to whom I can go. There is One answer, One hope, One love. There is One God and I am His, you are His. All is His!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”… it is here where we lean in deep; it is here when He leaned in deep. Have you ever read the entire Psalm 22? Christ was not crying out in despair! He was leaning in deep! In the greatest moment of his affliction, in the most horrible moment of all history, He leaned in deep. He gave himself over to the affliction and suffering, he took upon himself the weight of our sins and cried out to His Father for mercy! Not mercy for himself, but mercy for you and for me! He opened wide his arms and took in all those who are willing to lean in deep into his embrace.

Be washed, be cleansed, be healed, be, within His embrace. Lean in deep.

sacred-heart-of-jesus


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Dad, is God real?

While driving my three children to school a few weeks ago (it’s a 30 minute drive), my eldest who turned 9 years old recently, asked me, “Daddy, how do we know our God is the real God?” and immediately followed that up with, “And how do we know everything our religion teaches is right? And how do we know Jesus was born from Mary?”

Questioning

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I mean, woah! These are the same questions the teens in my high school youth program ask on a regular basis and here’s my 9 year old asking them casually on the way to school one morning! How awesome! You see, I think we all ask these questions, and many others like them, throughout our lives. Seeking the truth isn’t just regulated to school aged children, but is one of the most deeply lived pursuits of every human life. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, the three deepest desires of the human heart are for truth, love and life. And as Christ once said, “I am the way (love), the truth and the life.”

Throughout my 18 years of leading teens closer to Christ (or trying to), I’ve been attempting to answer my son’s questions in ways that lead them to a deeper understanding and experience of Christ and of faith. It’s not easy. For one, we tend to hear what we want to hear and reject that which we don’t want to hear; or we dismiss it as nonsense because it doesn’t match up with our personal world view. Which, I think is why I was so delighted to hear my 9 year old ask these questions at such a young age; he’s less jaded and more open to truth.

On the other hand, I’ve also often watched as teens, and adults, hear and accept what I say only to walk away like the rich young man in the parable of Jesus, who walked away sad because he had many things. We don’t want to give up those things that bring us comfort and escape, or our grudges and addictions. Because if I become convicted of the reality of God and his love for me, that’s going to demand a change. And change is scary, uncomfortable and frightening.

But as Pope Benedict XVI said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” And so, I answered my son as best I could in a car also carrying a 6 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. I’ll post some links for the answers to his questions, but this post isn’t meant to be an apologetic one. It’s meant to challenge you (and me).

As the new year rapidly approaches, I think it’s the right time to take a few moments / days and reflect on the reasons we respond the way we do when our world view is being challenged, whether you’re a saintly Catholic, mediocre Catholic (like me), fallen away Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Muslim, etc. When confronted with questions, or more to the point, when confronted with the Truth, why do you respond the way you do?

Over the Christmas holiday I had a conversation with a family member who’s a fallen away Catholic. He off-highhandedly comments to me that the Catholic faith is simply a rehashing of the Egyptian worship of the god Horus. I roll my eyes and begin trying to respond with answers only to be shouted down as he walked away. I truly believe this family member is yearning for truth, for meaning and hope in their life, but isn’t willing to listen to what Christ offers because it’ll mean making some seriously significant changes.

But even for those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior, what holds you back from responding more generously like Zacchaeus and less like the rich young man? Even those who are living a moderately religious life can walk away from Christ by rejecting his call onward and upward.

What is holding you back? What are you afraid of? What lies or sinful strongholds have you allowed into your heart?

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz

Links to some of the above questions about faith:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-real-thing

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/ricky-gervaiss-atheism-claims-answered

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/jesus-and-the-pagan-gods

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/mary-full-of-grace

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/no-contradictions-in-truth