Awkward Catholic

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


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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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Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

My mom’s cancer was, in a certain sense, one of the best things that ever happened to her. I know, that sounds horrible, but bear with me here. She suffered with cancer from 1993 – 2010. Prior to her struggle, she was a Sunday Catholic, attending Mass every week and raising her boys with a sense of the Catholic faith. But she wasn’t very spiritual. She didn’t strive to live by the teachings of the Church and she didn’t seem to have a deep prayer life, except for the occasional attempts to pray together as a family. She was a good woman, though, a woman who truly sacrificed every single moment of her life for her family. She taught me the meaning of love through her every action.

As she struggled with cancer, a particularly painful kind called osteosarcoma (bone cancer), she was slowly transformed from a Sunday Catholic into a saint.

J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The world is one long, slow defeat, with only faint hints of future victory.” And it certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? A simple look back through history and we quickly realize that the world seems to sink further and further in sin and destruction. Rather than advance into utopian futures, we use our ingenuity and capacity to create to make more and more effective methods of waging war and death.

Looking into the history of the Church is not much different. Each time the Church seems to flourish and thrive, it is ultimately consumed with corruption or beaten down into triviality, just look at what has become of “Christian America”. And when we look into our own lives we see much the same thing. Time and again I seem to be making progress in my spiritual life only to slip and fall back twice as far, or if I’m lucky, back to where I started. And there are many reasons (excuses) for this: the busyness of life, fear of failure, exhaustion, sinful habits, laziness, pride, etc., etc., etc.

I know, I’m really encouraging you here, aren’t I? But this is important to point out, because it puts the hidden truth into greater clarity. This long, slow defeat we experience ultimately becomes a victory. As Gandalf says in The Lord of the Rings, “There was never really very much hope. Only a fool’s hope.” So let us be fools for Christ. (1 Cor. 1:22-31)

As we peer through the wounds of Christ—his defeat—at the history of the world, of the Church, and of our own lives, we discover a tremendous victory and a trustworthy hope. We discover the grace of God—meek, humble, unassuming, and indomitable. All we need do is look at the Cross and the broken, beaten, bruised and bloodied body of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Read to the end of the next paragraph and then go spend time actually gazing upon a Crucifix (not an empty Cross, lest we forget exactly what our life has cost – Jar’s of Clay).

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Contemplate the contradictory images of defeat and victory found therein. Don’t come back to this article until you’ve spent at least five minutes contemplating this. Here are some Scripture passages to help you:
– Mark 15:31 “He saved others, he cannot save himself.”
– Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
– Mark 15:32 “Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.”
– Luke 23:34 “Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”
– Mark 15:34 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
– Rev 21:5 “See, I make all things new.”

Why are you still reading? I’m not kidding. STOP, go, turn off your computer, find a Crucifix (you shouldn’t ever be more than an arm’s reach away from one) and stare at it. Ponder the contradiction of the Cross. I’M NOT KIDDING… GO!!

Welcome back, friend. What did God reveal to you in your time of prayer? For me, I found hope through letting go, victory through obedience, patient love in the face of injustice and indignity, and strength hidden in and revealed through suffering.

Winged VictoryAt the end of this post I want you to return to prayer and contemplate your own life: where you have been defeated, ground down, hopeless or broken. Where in these moments was God’s grace? Where are your victories? You see, there’s no such thing as victory without struggle because without struggle, success is just a hand out. Be careful here, though. I’m not asking you to go and pat yourself on the back. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing except your sin is truly your own. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” But we should spend time noting in our lives where we’ve cooperated with God’s grace and found victory in the midst of our defeat!

In your prayer time, think about those moments you overcame adversity, persevered through suffering, and when you sacrificed your own desires and pleasure for the sake of another. And then thank God for those moments. Carry those moments with you throughout the rest of the day and through tomorrow. With a thankful heart raise your hands up to your Savior and rejoice in his victory on the Cross!! Because I guarantee that he will be thinking of and hoping for you.