Awkward Catholic

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


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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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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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No Tears in Heaven (but there might be wings)

The other day in the car, I had a conversation with my five-year old son; he wanted to know if he could get angelWinged Victory wings in heaven. I told him that in heaven God would give him whatever he needed to be happy; if he needed angel wings to be happy then God would find a way to give him wings. (I have it on good authority that Redbull doesn’t exist in heaven so that’s not an option.) I then stressed to my boy who this is one of the most amazing things about heaven… it’s perfect happiness where nobody ever cries or gets hurt. He didn’t believe me.

First he inquired, “But what about when someone makes you cry?” I said that nobody makes you cry in heaven because everyone wants to share and be kind and love you. I quoted the sage Eric Clapton and told him there are no tears in heaven (I believe this is also found somewhere in that zany book of the Bible called “Revelations”)¹. He simply said in response, “I don’t believe you.”

I. Was. Stunned.

Dads are supposed to know everything for their little boys. There isn’t supposed to be doubt or disbelief! How could this be? Fortunately, I was stopped at a red light otherwise I may have driven off the road. In pondering this conversation the last few days I came to the realization that of all things for him to doubt, this doubt makes sense. He already knows well that this life filled with suffering, selfishness, tears and yellow jackets. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a happy boy and has loads of fun and is loved and knows he is loved, but by the age of five he’s discovered that tears are a part of life. We all know that, don’t we… only too well?

In this world most of us are taught to doubt anything we can’t see or touch or prove empirically. So heaven either can’t be real or, if it is, can’t be all it’s cracked up to be. After all, this world is pretty consistent in one thing… letting you down. After years of adulation you realize that your parents are fallible (apparently that only takes five years or so); everyone around you acts selfishly, especially yourself; the world is full of criminals; and so on. Simply spending a week as a high school student in a public or private school will suffice to teach this lesson. Everything we can see and touch and empirically prove tells us that “life is pain and anyone who says differently is selling something.”² Why should heaven be any different? Because God says so? Just look at him, this God of ours… hanging on a cross, dying the most horrific death possible. And so we say to him, “Whatever you say, Jesus.” But we think in the depths of our hearts, “I don’t believe you.”

Is it any wonder why it’s so difficult to lead teens (or anyone else) closer to Christ?! Everything in the world around them convinces them that heaven is a big sham. And that hypocritical youth minister over there telling me that God loves me and wants to be happy with me in heaven forever? Puh-leaz! I don’t believe him! Who wants eternal life when life is pain?

So how do we respond? Whether you’re a youth minister, a priest, a teen or a parent, what’s the antidote? Honestly, I don’t have one. There’s nothing I can say to absolutely prove that it’s all going to be worth it. I can provide no antidote to the pain of life.

But I don’t have to. It’s not up to me. It’s not up to you. I am nothing more than the sailor sitting next to his friends in a lifeboat trying to find his way to a safe harbor. Ultimately, it’s the Captain’s job to guide us home; he and he alone can do it and while he seems to have gone down with the ship, he somehow rose again from the depths and is with us.

Refugee Boat

The only one who can prove the joy of heaven is Christ himself. He proved it to me many years ago while I was on retreat. He met with me, he encountered me and I have never been the same. I know in the depths of my heart that heaven exists and is more than I could possibly imagine. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has in store for those that love him.”³ This knowledge is a true knowledge. We believe that Saturn exists, not because we can see it but because we trust the astronomers who tell us. That is true knowledge. I believe that heaven is real and is more than a mere absence of suffering because the Word of Truth tells me so.

The only answer, the only antidote, the only proof that exists is Existence itself! The God who’s love is so great that he left the joy of heaven to suffer with his beloved loves you. He. loves. you! That love will not be outdone. His love will not be tainted by suffering, not in the slightest because he suffered for you. He took your sin and suffered in your place because he loves you. Perhaps you haven’t met him yet and don’t know. That’s OK. Call out to him. If your suffering is too great then cry out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”4 And he will meet with you. I know him personally (though I’m not the best friend he could ask for) and I tell you, he longs for you like a deer longs for the running stream.

There is nothing I can prove to you or my five-year old son. You can not prove it. It is beyond belief. The Truth of the joy of heaven resides in one place only, one person only (well three Persons if you want to be technical). My job as a dad, youth minister and Christian is to point… to lead others to a place of encounter. Your job is to do the same. Are you helping others encounter Christ? That is your job, your solemn duty, your privilege, your joy.

 

 

1.  Rev 7:17
2.  From the greatest movie ever made: The Princess Bride
3.  1 Cor. 2:9
4.  Matt 27:46