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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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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Contemplation and Beatitude

SolitudeThat awkward moment when you can’t help think that all you want to do is run off and join a monastery and never have to speak to anyone ever again. It’ll be just you and God and all the craziness of the world can just keep to itself. I’m sure this feeling has a lot to do with my needs as an introvert, but at times I just want to run from my boys who can’t seem to stop talking, fighting, eating or crying, my amazing and beautiful wife who wants quality time, all the demands of my ministry, and the constant bombardment of news and controversies: flags, vaccines, wars, marriage, scandals, etc… basically, all the noise and busyness of life. And who hasn’t felt this way at one time or another.

Our world and lives are such bundles of chaotic noise and busyness, it seems to me we’re like a bunch of blind ants Angry Antsscrambling to rebuild our little pile after some kid keeps kicking it over. We all seem to be in a perpetual state of motion, and I believe it is destroying our spiritual lives.

Of course, I would never run off and join a monastery, I love my wife and kids and ministry. But the fact that I long for solitude is quite telling of how starved I’ve let myself become. We are spiritual beings as much as we are physical and just as our bodies need food, so too our souls. And while our main spiritual food is the Eucharist, it is incomplete without that interior connection, that deep interior rooting of our souls in union with God’s love; this is contemplation.

Contemplation comes only through solitude, times of silence where we are alone(1) with the Alone. We are built for rest, “Our souls are restless O Lord, until they rest in Thee.”(2) We long and hope throughout our pilgrimage on this earth to reach our final destination, heaven: where we can rest and with our whole being sigh, “Ah, at last I have found You; at last You have found me.” Our every longing will be fulfilled. There will be no more searching, no more crying, no more lack, for we will see him face to Face and know and be known.

This beatitude is one of contemplation, where we will just be. Should we not begin now? Each time we pray, “Thy kingdom come…” we seek that which we ignore or refuse when we opt for the busyness of the world. Where God is, there is His kingdom. And where is he found but in the silent recesses of our hearts. Why do we incessantly fill our lives with so much noise and distractions? I agree with Fr. Mike Schmitz who says that most of us don’t really think that prayer works(3). We’re afraid of wasting our time. The rest of us are afraid perhaps that the opposite is true, that prayer works and we’re not certain we want that to happen. Or perhaps we’re afraid of what we might discover about ourselves and about God if we let his voice be heard. Silence can be a terrifying thing.

But we must not let our fear or doubts stop us. This silence, solitude and contemplation transcends our physical and psychological natures. Introvert or extrovert, shy or outgoing, self-confident or unsure, we cannot know who we are meant to be without hearing the Word of God whispered in our souls, without seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of our Creator, without probing the wounds of our Savior. To accomplish this stillness of mind and body is central. Silence and peace are necessary because contemplation is not merely thinking about God but about being in his presence and adoring him. Meditation is the active work of thinking about him, the mental journey towards the center where the King resides. Both Martha and Mary are necessary, but by far, Mary has chosen the better part(4).

Going back to Fr. Mike Schmitz, I do struggle with believing that prayer really works. If I honestly thought it worked then perhaps I would pray more. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so lazy at night and stay up late watching TV when I could spend time with my God, at least 20 minutes. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Each night I sit down and “veg” out on the computer or TV trying to recharge my batteries when in reality I need to recharge my soul. I stay up way too late and lack any energy to wake up early and start my day off in silence before the little noise makers wake up. But whether I think it works or not, I know in my heart it does. So pray for me as I struggle to make these changes, and I’ll keep you in my prayers as well.

The Summit

1) To be alone does not mean to be lonely. Some of the loneliest people in the world are surrounded by others. To be alone means to be in a place of solitude, even when in the middle of the crowd. To be lonely means to feel unloved.

2) St. Augustine, Confessions

3) Fr. Mike Schmitz: http://ascensionpresents.com/video/time-to-pray/

4) Luke 10:42


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Unbounded Grace

VulnerableDo you believe that God wants to heal you from your wounds, to set you free from your fears? Do you truly believe that God wants to set you free? It’s easy to claim that we believe it. Every Christian will quickly give a mental assent to this truth. But few actually embrace it with their hearts. I know this because I too fail to fully embrace it. Each night I somehow convince myself that watching the T.V. will be more satisfying than reading Scripture or spending time in quiet prayer.

Why is that? Why do we cling to our fears and sin when we know the Truth? Perhaps it’s because we’re comfortable in our brokenness, it’s familiar to us. We know what to expect. Or perhaps it’s because we don’t really trust God. I mean, he’s so distant and intangible to us! How can a God up in heaven set me free down here on earth? If he wants to set me free, he can do it, but I’m not letting go of my sin until he does. Or perhaps we’re too afraid that our particular sin or fear it is too big, too embarrassing, or too unforgivable.
So we keep our fears and sins buried (or we try to) in the deep recesses of our hearts, allowing them to spill over into our real lives by preventing us from embracing prayer, loving others, following Christ with all our heart, mind and strength and hindering our relationships with our friends and family. We bury our fears and sins deep within and verbally claim Christ’s grace without letting it penetrate our souls.

This is not what Christ wants for us. He did not die so that we might live in fear. He did not send his Spirit so that we might lock ourselves in the prison of our hearts. As it says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”

Both God and Satan have a plan for us:
God desires us to know, love and serve him by bringing his life giving, soul freeing love to others.
Satan is hungry to devour with the lust of a child predator. We are to become his food, his slaves.

T-Rex
The devil tries to get us to focus on our faults and failings and despair. God gives us unbounded power and grace*. And his grace doesn’t just make up for what we lack, it completely transforms our failings into our strength!! He takes our weakness and makes us strong. He sees our faults as opportunities to demonstrate his awesome love and power. He uses our sins and creates opportunities to love. It is from our woundedness that we serve him best, where we recognize his love and grace and find our hope and our salvation!! As it says in 1 Cor. 1:25, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

God has a plan for your life, a beautiful, glorious and challenging plan. He is calling you. He wants to set you free! Even when Jesus walked the earth, he didn’t call the perfect, the best speakers or leaders, but he called Simon, a loud mouthed know-it-all and Judas, a thief and betrayer. He could read hearts. He knew exactly where they excelled and exactly where they would be stretched. And yet, he still chose them! Not because it would grow his ministry, but because he wanted them to experience his real and true love!!

But not all those he called responded with openness. We can see what happens when we simply acknowledge God’s grace but don’t accept it into our hearts… Judas. Judas wasn’t forced to betray Christ, he chose to betray him. He acted out of fear and selfishness; he refused the grace of God. And we see what happens when we do truly accept it: St. Peter, St. Paul, the Good Thief and so many more.
We cannot, however, receive this grace of God if we don’t acknowledge and humbly accept our need for it. We must search out those places we need healing and wholeness and ask for God’s grace in those places. God desperately wants to heal you, but he will do nothing without your permission.

So what is your biggest fear, where do you need God’s grace the most? Acknowledge your brokenness and sin (the best way is to go to Confession on a regular basis, but it also helps to read Scripture, meditate on the Cross and pray the Rosary, among other devotions). God truly wants to set you free to become the person he made you to be. Cooperate with that grace and allow him to heal you and shine through your wounds, which he will heal. In heaven, I believe, the glory of God will shine most intensely through our scars.

Light Cross

* CCC 1996: Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.