Awkward Catholic

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


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A Father’s Heart

Therese and DaddyThe other day I was resting on the couch and my beautiful 16 month old daughter fell asleep on my chest. It is one of those moments I will forever treasure; a moment of absolute peace and trust and love. I lay there thinking about my love for my family when the terrible reality of what’s happening in our world today crossed my mind. Would I be willing to risk everything, to leave home and country and risk my life for the sake of my family? In a heartbeat. Don’t mess with a father’s heart.

It is through this lens that I speak of everything else below. It is through my fatherly heart that I understand the tragedy of the refugee crisis in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It is through my fatherly heart that I struggle to understand the immigration problems in the Americas. In reality, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the crisis in Europe and the one in America. Both revolve around families doing whatever they must to stay alive.

This, in large part, is why it astounds me that so many people, so many Christians have such a strong bias against immigrants; as if having to press a button on a phone for English is actually hurting you. Many will retort that they’re not against immigration, but against illegal immigration. They’re against people breaking the law. That’s fair, I guess. I mean I know I would never break the law, even if my child’s life was at stake, even if my entire family was at risk of starving to death or of being bombed out or gunned down if we stayed where we were. Even then I would never even think of trying to find somewhere else to live if it meant getting there illegally. I would stay put and fix things in my own country, even though I have no education, money, resources, political voice, etc. to actually make a difference.

But I digress. It’s funny how we claim the word Christian when it’s convenient, when we have time to go to the soup kitchen and get our hands dirty making sandwiches, when we give of our excess to St. Vincent de Paul, as long as the poor don’t come into my neighborhood, my county, my state or my country. But when those in need begin to impose demands upon us, we suddenly find every excuse in the world. We already have too many problems here, too many poor and not enough time.

The Christian faith is not one of convenience, it is of sacrifice, and it is an inconvenient truth that those who lose their lives save it. Judeo-Christianity puts the orphan, widow and alien first, not second. Not only if they are here legally, but if they simply have a need. Unfortunately, we too often let fear control us. We are afraid they will take our jobs, drain our resources, corrupt our culture, and turn into criminals, or worse, terrorists. But perfect love casts our fear. Fear is no way to live or to love. The majority are not criminals but some of the hardest working, most faithful people I know. They add to our culture, making it richer, more vibrant and more beautiful, and they do not take our jobs but most often take the jobs we don’t want to do, and in the process grow our economy and enrich our lives.

We lose nothing, absolutely nothing when we give of ourselves, when we care for and love the orphan, the widow and the alien, rather we gain everything else along with them. Who is my neighbor? That’s simple, everyone.

Does our Father in heaven care if we’re brown, black, yellow, white or green? Does he care if we’ve crossed some arbitrary border with or without permission? No! His heart is breaking for his children who are suffering and dying for lack of sympathy and fear. My fatherly heart is nothing else than an image of our Father’s heart. He is the image in which all fathers are made. The Good Samaritan is a prototype of this. The beaten man he encountered was a foreigner, his enemy and yet he cared and loved him as his own brother.

Lord, help us be less like the priest who crossed to the other side of the road and more like the Samaritan.Helping Hand


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Hands in the Air Vulnerability

What is the first thing most people do when being held up by robbers?Surrender Pic Stick their hands in the air. When a criminal is surrounded what does he typically do to give up the fight? Stick his hands in the air. When you’ve been working on something with all you have and you just can’t figure it out and you give up, what do you do? Throw your hands in the air. Why is that? I believe because putting your hands above your head places you in the most vulnerable position you could possibly be in. Our hands, and by extension our arms, are the first and last defense. We stick our hands out to feel our way in the dark, we cover our face to protect it from incoming danger, we brace ourselves with our hands as we fall. Our hands protect and defend us; to move them as far away from our bodies, to place them in a position of uselessness is an act of vulnerability.

To be vulnerable is to risk that the other will hurt you, and to, in a certain sense, say, “I give you permission to do whatever you will.” Like it or not, it’s something we all experience in our lives. In fact, most of us spend the greater part of our childhoods being vulnerable and learning that to live life that way hurts… a lot. And so we learn to close ourselves off, to protect ourselves. Hence, we have the wonderful song by Simon and Garfunkel, I am a Rock.

VulnerableIn almost every human interaction we consciously or subconsciously judge how vulnerable we are going to be with the other person; “How much am I willing to share?” “Can I trust this person?” “Can I be myself right now?” and countless other questions we ask ourselves. Each of them lead back to that core question, “How vulnerable am I willing to be towards this person?” Now, we can’t just go around willy-dilly lettin’ the crazy out on everyone we meet. But there are some people I believe it is necessary to risk that vulnerability with, to risk being hurt by. Those are the ones to whom we say, “I love you.” (And yes, this includes God.)

In order to love we have to be vulnerable, don’t we? On Good Friday I was meditating on the Way of the Cross and was struck with a new insight concerning the 10th Station “Jesus is Stripped of his Clothes.” This is quite possibly the most vulnerable moment in all history: the God-Man, the most powerful, infinite, good and loving being making himself weak and helpless with love. He was completely exposed, completely vulnerable! Vulnerable to what? To us, to our hate and judgment, our scorn and mockery, to the weight of our sin crushing him as he leaned upon the rock of his love.

Jesus is Stripped

Our modern sensibilities have glossed over the reality of this moment and made it difficult for us to realize its gravity. Out of a sense of decency we have placed a cloth over Christ’s loins. We protect the image so as not to reveal too much. And who can blame us? But it wasn’t really that way. The Romans didn’t suddenly find pity in their hearts for the man they were in the midst of torturing and decide, “Let’s leave him a little decency.” They stripped him of everything and nailed his hands above his head to the cross… the most vulnerable position to be in for anyone, least of all God.

Of course, in this Easter season I can hear the objections now, “But Mike, it’s Easter! Why are you talking about the Cross now?! Where’s the upbeat, happy, alleluia message?”

It’s right here, hidden beneath the nakedness of God. You see, it is precisely because he allowed himself to be stripped and utterly exposed that we have the joy of Easter. This is what love is after all, being open to the other, being vulnerable giving yourself completely to another, whether or not they give anything back. That’s why Adam and Eve covered themselves after the Fall, to protect themselves from each other, and from God. And that’s why Christ, the new Adam, ended up naked on a mountain before all the world, to untie the knot of Adam’s sin.

“But Mike, I can’t go around in naught but my skin. I’d get arrested and possibly sunburned!” Yeah, that’s probably not a good idea. You can however have a heart naked and open like the saints, who in imitation of Christ, loved without fear, pretension or ulterior motive. Yes, it’s risky and it’s going to hurt but so did the Cross. And didn’t Jesus demand of his followers that they pick up their cross and follow him? Did you ever ponder that? He doesn’t just want us to suffer like him. He wants us to love like him, to be vulnerable like him, to risk rejection like him.

Light Cross

After all, it’s only because of his vulnerable love that we have the joy of Easter. Love hurts, yes but as Lord Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” It’s better not because love is simply some noble cause, but because that is what we are made for! We exist to love, to know and be known. And you cannot be known if you are a rock! You cannot love if you are an island alone and unfeeling! And when we take this risk it will hurt because we are surrounded by people who would rather crucify God than embrace him (and that includes most of us some times). But the Good News is that when we do open ourselves to this vulnerable love, we become like Him; and who doesn’t want to become a little more God-like?

So what does it look like to be vulnerable?

For me, that means opening up to my wife about how I’m feeling. It means trusting others and not always keeping them at arms’ length with sarcasm and jokes. It’s about having real conversations with friends and not just talking about sports or boardgames; looking people in the eyes and smiling, even with strangers. It’s about seeing Christ in the other person–my friend, my enemy, the stranger, the beggar, the president–and being truly present to them in their need and circumstance. Most of all, it’s about spending time in prayer and opening my heart to my Savior, the greatest lover of all.

So won’t you join me this Easter season and throw your hands up in the air like you just don’t care? Surrender to Christ, become completely vulnerable to him and his loving will, as when He stretched his hands out on the cross in naked vulnerability to the will of the Father. Remember: God will not be out-done in generosity!

And, as a parting note, if you need any more encouragement to let yourself become vulnerable, just read the very end of the Bible, Rev 21-22. That’s what we have to look forward to.