Awkward Catholic

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


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The Third Brother

That awkward moment Pope Francis gives an impromptu interview, usually on an airplane; accompanied by an equally awkward moment when you realize that Jesus left out a really important part of the story of the Prodigal Son… he forgot to mention the third brother.

Head in Hands

It seems that every time Pope Francis gives an interview or speaks from the heart he gets in trouble. It’s become almost expected. He says something profoundly merciful and the faithful Catholics around the world give a massive face-palm to themselves while the news media and all those waiting for the Church to “catch up to the times” gives a momentary high-five. In the end both sides are disappointed. Most recently the Pope gave an interview about how he accompanied a number of homosexuals, some of whom found peace and healing.

 

The thing is each side is expecting Pope Francis to be like them, one of the two brothers from the story of the Prodigal Son. There are those who want the pope to bless them in their actions, to say, “go ahead and throw away your inheritance, I have plenty and whenever you want to squander more, you’re welcome back for a second helping. Go, have fun, enjoy your sin and never worry about suffering the consequences.

 

Then there’s the group of “faithful” Catholics who demand an accounting of the pope, who want him to stand up and say, “Stop your evil sinning now!” They want the pope to call all those sinners out on their sins and demand they return home and never sin again. And when he doesn’t, when he inevitably fails their expectations, they get angry and accuse him of doing exactly what the group of “younger brothers” want. At the end of the day both groups walk away shaking their head and angry that the pope has failed them yet again.

 

The problem is, none of us are called to be like either brother. Both sin in their own right. Both have gone astray, one through their actions and distance from the Father and the other in their heart full of judgment and self-righteousness. Rather, we are called to be like the third brother who loves his younger brother and rejoices with him when he returns home.

 

Oh wait, there isn’t a third brother! Have you ever wondered why that is? The two brothers give such a bad example; shouldn’t there be a third, good example? Well, looking down through history, when has there been a good example? I mean, right from the very beginning all we see is Cane and Able fighting and killing each other, brother against brother.

 

What we need apparently, isn’t the heart of apigsty brother but the heart of a father, one who loves his sons, who calls them back home to rejoice in the truth; a father who searches, not from afar, but is out there walking the distant roads to bring his sons home. The Father doesn’t just call us home but goes out to us and meets us where we’re at and challenges us to rise above our broken hearts, our pigsties and judgmental attitudes and come to the joyful feast! And that’s exactly what Pope Francis is doing each time he speaks from his heart, because he has the heart of a father, of the Father.

 

The heart of the Father is one of mercy, infinite, beautiful, incomprehensible mercy! And the word mercy means having a heart for the miserable. You can’t have a heart for the miserable and sit on your white washed throne (sepulcher) and judge them. You also can’t have a heart for the miserable and not try to help them out of their misery but instead condone all they do as good and healthy.

 

Any good therapist or counselor knows this truth, that when someone comes to you in misery the only proper response is one of mercy and compassion (to suffer with). The best therapist often times simply sits with the person in misery, feels their suffering and holds them close, letting the person know he’s not alone; in a word, accompaniment. What Pope Francis is calling us “faithful” Catholics to do is not have a heart of a brother but the heart of a father, one who accompanies the wayward brother along the road home, who goes out to him in his pigsty and sits with him there, in the mud and filth and loves him with a father’s heart.

compassion

Or another way of looking at it, I think he’s calling us to recognize that both brothers stand outside the Father’s house; that we need to find each other along the road and walk together, to approach the Father together and say, “Father, I have sinned against you but I have not abandoned my brother in our misery. Please have mercy on us.”

 

So instead of a collective face-palm or disdainful wag of the head perhaps we should rejoice in the reminder the Pope gives us of mercy and love that isn’t OK with the sin but loves the sinner, embraces the sinner and accompanies him back to the Father’s house. After all, all have gone astray, you, me, everyone and we all are in desperate need of the merciful love of the Father.

Follow MeI’d like you to take a minute at the beginning of this blog and get a little bit self-reflective. Think about your personal faith life. Are you happy with your faith? Would you say that you have a strong faith? Is it a steady faith? It it alive, active? Are you comfortable with your faith?

If you answered yes to all the above questions except the last one, then kudos to you. But if you claimed to be comfortable with your faith, then prepare to be uncomfortable. Because our faith should never make us comfortable; comforting yes, comfortable, no. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, 38 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword…. whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” This sword of division is one meant to divide that which is good from that which is bad, including within our own selves. And believe me, this is not a comfortable experience.

Really though, simply pray over the Beatitudes (the most excellent summary of the Gospel) to see what I’m talking about. “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” Our faith is fully alive, blessed, when we weep and mourn in compassionate communion with those who are mourning and weeping, when we give comfort and love to others. This is rarely a comfortable thing to do, to enter into another’s pain and suffer with them.

Being a peacemaker means placing yourself in the middle of conflict like the priests in the Ukraine and loving those on both sides, a particularly uncomfortable place to be. Being meek means to not claim your right to defend yourself against another’s calumny, but to trust in god to justify you. Being poor in spirit does not mean lacking faith but humility, to not claim anything as your own (except your brokenness) and to depend on God for all things, to give him the glory in all. These are particularly uncomfortable ways to live.
ukraine priest

To see this even more clearly, actually lived out, meditate on the Passion of our Lord: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter or the sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth,”(1) “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,”(2) “it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured… upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed,”(3) “making peace through the blood of his cross.”(4)

Are you uncomfortable yet? If you’re anything like me you are because I love being comfortable, of taking the path of least resistance. And lately I’ve been getting the nagging feeling that I’m happy and comfortable with where my faith is. It’s a good thing Lent is coming! This Lent I intend to get uncomfortable because I want to end up looking just like my Savior, my Beloved and I can’t do that from my armchair.

I’m going to fast because I hate fasting.

I’m going to exercise because I hate exercising.

I’m going to pray before I “relax” in the evenings because I hate missing out on my relaxation time.

I’m going to reach out to others in their suffering because I hate going out of my comfortable little bubble.

I’m going to do these things I hate because I desperately need to. I need this much more than I realize. What about you? What are you planning on doing for Lent to stretch your faith and make yourself uncomfortable? How are you going to pick up your cross and follow your Savior?

Father, I trust in you to give me the grace and strength I need to move out of my comfort zone and onto my rightful place, on my cross next to you. Amen.

1. Isaiah 53:7
2. Phil. 2:7, 8
3. Isaiah 53:4, 5
4. Col. 1:20