Awkward Catholic

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


A Simple Question

That awkward moment when someone asks you a question that you know the answer to but you completely blank.


This happens to me all the time. I know a lot of useless information and a lot of Theology but quite often it escapes me when I actually need it. And I know I’m not alone in this. In the confirmation interviews I ask the teens questions about their faith and their understanding of Church teaching. I’m certain they know the answers to many of these questions but in the high pressure environment of the interview, they blank.

The last question I ask them is simple, “Why do you want to be Catholic?” It’s simple yet the most important question I ask. “Why do you want to be Catholic?” What I’ve found is that most people haven’t really thought or prayed about if before I asked them. Sure, they have their reasons, but even the parents would be hard-pressed to articulate the answers. For many of us Catholics (myself included) there’s simply a general feeling that the Catholic faith is the right one. For many, it’s what they are used to, how they were raised or other sentimental reasons. Honestly there’s nothing wrong with these reasons, everyone’s gotta start somewhere after all. But alone they are not enough.

The covenant we enter with God through the Sacraments of Initiation isn’t some mere contract to be made or broken at will. It is a covenantal relationship like marriage and is meant to be permanent. Just as the covenant of marriage is stronger and more permanent than blood relationships; blood relationships are created by covenantal relationships, so too is our covenantal faith with Christ and his Church.

Like marriage, there will be good times and bad times. There will be times when your faith is on fire and the world is bathed in God’s glorious wonder; the hills will be alive with the sound of music. There will be times when your faith is flat and gray and just kind of there. And there will be times when the world goes dark, your faith seems to have shriveled and the “Mighty Smiter” will seem to be smiting you with all his might. It’s in these times when your answer to that most important question matters most.

When tragedy strikes you will face that question, “Why am I Catholic?” When profound sickness comes you will be asked, Into Darkness“Why am I Catholic?” When your faith is challenged by your friends, why are you Catholic? When your priest or youth minister or other trusted leader of your parish causes scandal, why are you Catholic? When God seems to have abandoned you and nothing makes sense, why are you Catholic? Your answer to this question can make all the difference.

Recently I went through a difficult situation where my faith in God was tested. The Big Man and I had some words, I questioned his providential care for me and faced this question myself, not for the first time. My answer was simple though it did not come easy. Why am I Catholic? Because what else could I be? To whom should I go? Who else has the words of eternal life, the Eucharist, Mary and the saints, Scripture, Truth, community and so much more?

I thank God also for the grace found in the disciplines he’s helped me develop over the years. For a time I went on an autopilot of sorts. The disciplines remained and kept me going in that time of despair and depression. And like Jeremiah the prophet I cried out, “You duped me oh Lord, and I let myself be duped!” (Jer. 20:7) Yet once again his grace sustained me when all I could see was the pain in front of me. Time passed slowly but my heart remained anchored in his Eucharistic heart and the disciplines of faith kept me going. Eventually I stood firm in my faith again. The fire within, never extinguished, took hold and like Jeremiah I rediscovered that the Lord has planted his word in my heart, like a fire burning within my bones and I cannot contain it, I cannot keep silent.

FireSo I ask you, is there a fire in your heart? Does your soul ache for the love of God? Are you rooted in his word, his Truth? Why are you Catholic? From where does your fire come? What will anchor you to his Cross when all light seems to have gone out from the world? Each of us must answer that question many times throughout life. It pays to be prepared.

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Confessions of a Flawed Father

It’s Lent, a great time for confession, reconciliation and a new start. Hence…

I have a confession. I failed miserably the other night while putting my two boys to bed. My wife was out at a prayer meeting, her “Praying Wives Club – praying for their husbands” of all things, and so I had the pleasure of putting my two boys to sleep. It was story time and each boy got to pick a story. While reading “The Best Nest” with each boy sitting on either side of me I should have been on top of the world! I should have been thinking how blessed I was and soaked up each second, each word as two of the greatest blessings in my life snuggled close. Instead, as my eldest son (5 years old) tried to tell me what was going to happen in the story, trying to impress his father, I shut him down, “Yes, Gabriel, I know. Stop spoiling the story for your brother.” A few moments later he was again trying to impress me and I turned the page and shushed him because it was all taking too long.

Complete. And. Utter. Fail.9394078863_296f04b407_z (2)

The good news is, a little later after some time in prayer I figured out why I acted so horribly, so selfishly towards my son who was only trying to impress me and connect with me. For awhile I had been getting lazy in both my prayer and discipline. I’ve been acting more selfishly, and I’ve been letting my mind wander to where it shouldn’t. And these seemingly harmless actions and hidden thoughts have actually revealed their true nature in a big way.

Why am I telling you all this and not just to my priest? Because through this experience I’ve come to realize how my sin and lack of virtue affects not only my own soul but also all those around me! I’ve always intellectually understood that sin has communal effects, but now I see it face to face and it’s an ugly little demon.

Who does it really hurt when I fantasize in my head? My children, my wife, the teens I minister to, and myself. It even hurts those I’ve never met. So, I have resolved to fight harder, to pray longer and to love(1) deeper and when I fail, to stand back up, apologize and try again. Yes, I’m going to fail. Yes, I’m going to scar my children with my selfishness and failures. But I’m also going to teach them that their failures and wounds can do more than crush them; in God’s grace they can give glory to God through their wounds! A wise man once said that in heaven God’s glory is going to shine brightest through our healed wounds; that gives me great hope.

That night I resolved that when my son wakes me up too early the next morning, isn’t it always too early, I will kneel down on his level and apologize for something he has no recollection of. Sin is communal yes, but where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.

I think it a little ironic that we were reading “The Best Nest” since it’s all about how they made a mistake yet ended up together, happy and with new life. And isn’t that what this article is all about… abandoning what is good in a selfish search for something better only to find that the “better” thing is really just a loud clanging bell that’s only going to offer despair and grief. Fortunately, I found (was led) back home quickly.

My son, having such a good and generous heart, simply replied after my apology, “I love you daddy.” Now, with God’s grace I’ll be able to teach him what that love really means.

1. Love, as defined by Pope John Paul II is a gift of self, not some mere emotion or sentiment.


From Bench-Warmer to Saint-Warrior

My boys never cease to amaze me. A few days ago Maria informed me that Gabriel, my five year old decided to forgo a frozen strawberry Popsicle (even while his younger brother enjoyed one) so that he could get a special treat after dinner instead (they’re only allowed one special treat a day because my wife does not suffer from the same problem I do). It seems my boy has more self-discipline than his dad. As for me, I hate suffering, and especially voluntary suffering. I’m the biggest wimp when it comes to self-sacrifice.

This of course explains why I can’t seem to make any progress on a number of issues in my life, such as why I haven’t made any real spiritual progress in years, why I seem stuck as a mediocre husband and father, a bench-warmer. It’s why I haven’t really pursued the jobs I want or the education I desire. I’m so addicted to comfort and indulgence that the mere thought of fasting makes me hungry. Each day I rush home to my family with all these great ideas and energy… I can’t wait to wrestle with my boys and to embrace my wife in a passionate kiss and help cook dinner. I’m going to get all the bills paid and fix that closet door; I’m going to engage my wife in meaningful conversation and we’re going to spend quality time in prayer.

But then I walk through the front door, put my bag down and hear the comfy couch calling my name. Suddenly all my grand schemes come crashing to the ground in a pile of charred wreckage. Perhaps it’s because I watched nine hours of TV each day during high school and so never really formed any sort of self-sacrificial discipline? Whatever the reasons and excuses, the fact of the matter is that I’m not very good a making those small sacrifices in my daily life, which if we’re being honest, are what make all the difference between a saintly life and a “could have been”.

What, pray tell, does all this have to do with being a good husband and father? Simply this, what could be more important than helping my wife and children become saints? Leon Bloy once said, “At the end of life there is only one great tragedy, not to have been a saint.” As a husband and father, my single most important responsibility is to help my wife and children avoid that tragedy.

So how do I do this? By being a saint myself and reflecting the light and love of Christ so as to illumine their lives and to teach them to do likewise; easy, right?

So, it’s my job to form them into saints (with the grace of God of course). Well, I can tell you this much, that the formation we’re talking about doesn’t take place in those “big”, “easy”, “obvious” moments in life where you’re called to give some gloriously obvious sacrifice. The big sacrifices are the easy ones. Real saintly formation takes place in those small loving sacrifices, those daily moments that take place a thousand times a day.  It’s in not watching “one more” YouTube video, or checking Face Book for the umpteenth time, or not complaining that the AC isn’t cold enough. It’s in waiting patiently behind a slow driver who doesn’t use her turn signal and giving the peace sign to the guy who is flicking me off while cutting me off. It’s in listening attentively to my little boy’s story that makes no sense, or my wife talk my ear off because she’s been listening intently to nonsense all day long.

BUT I DON’T WANT TO!! And that’s the problem. As I said earlier, I really stink at all this self-donating love stuff. Fortunately, with God’s grace, I’ve made that first really big step… I’ve stopped making excuses. I’m a grown man and I own (take responsibility for) my lazy, self-indulgent nature. Now I need to start praying for the grace to take the next step… to get off the bench and actually start making some of those small sacrifices that I loathe so much.

I know it’s going to be painful at first and I cringe at the thought of it. But I’m certain that one day in the future it won’t seem so bad. I might even begin to look forward to those sacrifices of love. Then, I’ll be able to say with St. Lawrence to the torturers who were flaying him alive, “You can turn me over, I’m done on this side.” Or better yet, I’ll be able to join my five year old son in not having a Popsicle because my wife asks us to only have one special treat a day.

Mary, my Mother, help me to imitate your Son by giving myself in love. Amen.