Awkward Catholic

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


Leave a comment

Why Mary?

On this, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary I wonder, why Mary? What do I mean by that? Of the 7 most important feasts that we celebrate as Catholics: Mary, the Mother of God (Jan. 1st), Easter, Ascension Thursday, The Assumption of Mary (Aug. 15th), All Saints Day (Nov. 1st), The Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th), Christmas (Dec. 25th), why are so many focused on Mary? That’s three feasts directly about Mary, then All Saints day with the greatest of saints being Mary, and Christmas which kind of heavily involves Mary.

So why Mary?

Well, let’s look at it like this… what is our primary responsibility as Christians? It’s not the salvation of our own souls. If all you’re concerned about is saving your soul, that’s an inherently selfish perspective. Don’t get me wrong, desiring salvation is good, but if it’s your main or only focus, that’s selfish.

Ultimately, we are tasked with helping to save the souls of as many others as we can. Our primary responsibility is to bring others to heaven. Of course, we’re most effectively by striving for holiness in our own lives.

Why is saving others our primary responsibility? Because God has chosen to work through our broken humanity to save others. Sure, he could simply reveal himself in glory to everyone, but that would, in a sense, take away our free will. We would be so overwhelmed by Him that we couldn’t choose not him. And his love necessitates a completely free response, just like any pure love does. So he chooses to reach out in love, to save each soul through the hands and feet and lives of you and me.

In other words, we can’t just accept our redemption then sit back and enjoy the show. We have work to do! “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” The more Christ-like I become, the more I live and breathe and move in the will of God, the more I look like Christ, the more beautiful and attractive I become, drawing others along with me.

And who, other than Mary imitates her Son more perfectly?! Who, from the moment of her birth until the moment of her Assumption reflects the love and will of God more than Mary?

As Saint Maximilian Kolbe once said, “Mary’s will does not differ from the will of God. Calling upon her without reserve, you manifest a love for the will of God, for her will is so perfect that in nothing does it differ from His. Thus you give glory to God that he created so perfect a creature and took her for his Mother.”

And then he gave her to us! He gave us his own Mother as our own. In my favorite Scripture passage, “The Wedding at Cana,” Mary notices that they have run out of wine. The fact wasn’t brought to her attention, she knew before anyone said anything. And she proceeds to tell the waiters to “Do whatever he tells you.” Do you see that?! She knows, your Mother knows what you need and says only this, “Do whatever he tells you.” Let go of your own will and take up the will of her Son and the grace of God will pour out upon you abundantly! The waiters at the wedding didn’t then take the most beautiful wine and keep it to themselves, but shared that overflowing and abundant grace with others.

In a certain sense, the Christian life is really that simple. Like Mary, to do the will of God.

So why do we go to Jesus through Mary? As Fr. Michael Gaitley put it in his grace-filled book “33 Days to Morning Glory:” Because Mary was there. She was present at every moment of Jesus’ life and ministry, literally from the time of his Conception to his Ascension into heaven. It was she who carried Christ in her body before any disciple, it was she who ushered in his first miracle at Cana, it was Mary who watched at the foot of the Cross, it was she who was given to the world as Mother. It is she who loves her children and brings them to her Son, to satisfy his dying words, “I Thirst.”


Leave a comment

Consoling the Heart of Jesus

Did you ever think that you could console the heart of Jesus? That the heart of Christ is in pain and that you, as you are today, without doing much of anything at all, can console the heart of Christ and give relief to his heartache? You can. And it costs you hardly anything at all.

sacred-heart-of-jesus

Fr. Michael Gaitley wrote a book called “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” and in it he explores this very concept. Please read this book, it’s a potential life changer, or rather, heart changer. He clearly shows how when we follow the saints of mercy throughout the ages, such as St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina, St. Pope John Paul II, and my favorite, St. Therese the Little Flower, we see clearly that Jesus’ heart is filled to the brim with mercy and love and yet He finds so few souls who are willing to accept His torrents of grace and mercy.

We see how St. Therese so simply allowed the Father of Mercy to lift her up in her “elevator” to holiness, by casting herself upon the merciful heart of Christ. As she describes it, we stand on a razor thin edge, to one side is the abyss of despair and the other is the abyss of mercy. And in the end, there really isn’t any other option.

In one of the revelations to St. Faustina, the depths of her nothingness and complete dependence on God was revealed to her, wherein Christ told her that if He hadn’t sustained her in that revelation, she would have died of despair. And I think to myself how each and every soul is more akin to St. Faustina’s utter miserableness (without Christ) than we realize; how each of us stands on a razor’s edge and are given a choice, daily and moment by moment. Thank’s be to the God who created the stars and every single blade of grass with you in mind!

The grace and mercy of God awaits us on the edge of the precipice. It’s as simple, according to the saints, as a trustful surrender to mercy. “Jesus, I trust in you. I open my heart to receive the abundant mercy that so fills your Heart. I accept all the mercy other souls have rejected. May my weak trust, my imperfect trust and surrender, console your heart and give it joy. Though I don’t always see how I can be a joy to your heart, let me never abandon you. Bring me close to your merciful heart and hide me there. Jesus, I trust in you.”

Above, I mentioned a few of the saints of mercy, there are many more. Well this morning on my drive into work I prayed my morning Rosary and was blessed with a few minutes of real focus on the mystery itself (rather than my usual ADD mental unfocus). As I prayed the fourth Sorrowful Mystery, the Carrying of the Cross, I reflected on some of the Stations of the Cross and was struck with how these saints were perhaps the first of the saints to console the Heart of Jesus. Mary, of course is the first of the saints to console her Son. As is fitting, she does so perfectly.

Then Simon, pressed into service carries the cross, against his will perhaps, but carries it nonetheless. How often do we come to Christ: imperfectly and begrudgingly go to prayer, or help a neighbor, or forgive an injury? And yet, this imperfect accompanying of Christ consoles his heart. Then comes Veronica, a simple woman who dared brave the Roman guards and approached Christ to offer comfort and consolation. What good could a simple pressing of a cloth to the face of a tortured, condemned man do? And yet, I can only imagine what that act of love gave to Christ’s heart. So too, the weeping women, and the Beloved Disciple who’s very presence gave consolation to the Heart of Christ.

And then, the Roman guard who, in what seems like an act of heartlessness, in order to simply assure the death of the man, approached Jesus without love, but approached nonetheless and pierced the very Heart of Christ. And just as how each person who approaches Christ imperfectly  is given grace and mercy untold, the very Heart of Christ poured out His abundant love and mercy transforming Longinus from a simple soldier into a saint.

Divine Mercy

So run to Jesus, to his Heart of Mercy, imperfect though you are, and allow the oceans of mercy to wash over you and transform you into the image of his very self. If you’re still unsure of this then ask his mother, his beautiful mother, Our Lady of the Rosary to bring you to her Son. She will not fail you.

Mother Mary, pray for us.

passion-mary-a


Leave a comment

Feel Like It Syndrome

So I just realized I haven’t posted anything on my blog for five months! Wow! Well, not to make excuse (which means, here comes an excuse) I recently discerned that I suffer from something called “Feel Like It Syndrome”. During a Men’s retreat I attended, the first personal retreat I’ve attended in almost 20 years (because of FLIS), I read about something called “Root Sins”.

I don’t have my reading material with me as I write this, but I found this article that correlates to what I discovered. Basically, there are three core Root Sins: Pride, Vanity and Sensuality. Each person has a root sin that manifests itself in various ways. As I read through the various manifestations of these sins, I was struck deeply by how much I connected to the root sin of Sensuality. I always just thought I was lazy and tried to make myself be less so. But constantly failed. Now I better understand why. Laziness was just a fruit of the root, not the source.

In discovering this concept of root sins, I was taught that to find healing from this brokenness, I need to strive to practice the opposite virtues. And let me tell you, it seems to be working. The opposite of FLIS (Feel like it syndrome) is to practice discipline and self-sacrifice. And so I’ve started saying yes to my kids when they ask to play (even when it’s 95 degrees out and my boy wants to play basketball). And after a couple of months I’ve experienced more victories than ever over my laziness and excuses.

The moral of this story is this, go find read and pray about your Root Sin, then continue to pray about the virtues you need to find healing from it. Then begin practicing those virtues and find freedom and hope that you may just become the saint God has called you to be.

FYI, here’s a follow up article on finding those virtues you need to practice to combat the Root sin of Sensuality. Perhaps you could help me find resources on the other Root Sins.

P.S., I was originally going to write about the tremendous struggle our nation finds itself in, for the soul of our nation (abortion) but was suddenly struck with the need for me to write this post.


Leave a comment

The Storm Rages On

There is so much going on right now. Both personally and in the world around us. My boys are going to public school for the first time, my wife is due with baby #4 in two months, good friends are moving far away, the youth ministry is gearing back up for the school year, and many more things. It’s so difficult to find time to pray. Yet, I look at what’s coming at us and realize how desperately I need to… we need to.

Spending just a few minutes connected to the internet or listening to the news, it feels as if we’re being attacked on all sides. Not just from our own busyness but especially in what matters most… our faith. The culture seems hell-bent, literally, on destroying the Catholic Church and everything it stands for; and from every angle, we are besieged. But it’s not just the world around trying to tear us down.

Within the Church, forces seem to be trying to tear it apart from the inside: many priests and bishops have perpetrated or at least looked the other way while other clergy act heinously, or perhaps they’re just mediocre priests, when what we need are men who will stand in the breach, or rather, kneel in the breach and humbly lead their flock to heaven.

ukraine priest

Don’t get me wrong, there are many good priests; in my immediate area alone, I can easily name 4 men whom I would trust to guide and lead my soul and family. But unfortunately, the ones who are mediocre at best and those worse, tend to suck up all the oxygen in the room, so to speak. And it can be disheartening and scandalous.

Now, before you call me a hypocrite (because I kind of am), I’ll call myself out and say that I too would lump myself in the class of mediocre Catholics. I try-ish to be holy, but the weight of my laziness and sinfulness… oof. And I don’t excuse this either. This war I speak of, of being attacked on all sides, includes our personal sinfulness as well. Sometimes, this is the most difficult part of the fight, the most discouraging. At Mass this morning, I sat in my pew as the priest prayed the Consecration and my mind fluttered over the countless failings in my life. It was as if the devil was trying to distract and discourage me by reminding me of how horribly I’ve sinned, of how unworthy I am to even be present to this most miraculous gift.

Fortunately for me, the grace of God is tremendous and He’s taught me that I am unworthy, for all have sinned, all fall short. And so I thanked the devil for the reminder of my failures so that I could then offer them to God and his abundant mercy.

Then I looked up and around at the numerous faithful Catholics kneeling around me and was overwhelmed with joy and hope! Despite all that is coming at us, these men and women remain faithful. The storms of the world, the corruption of bishops and cardinals, the attacks of the culture, their own sins and mistakes… and here they [the faithful] are, worshiping God and returning to Him who alone can satisfy! Praise the Lord!

I see these ordinary and faithful Catholics and imagine we are in the company of Elijah and a whole cloud of witnesses around us. We stand at the entrance of the cave as the storms and earthquakes rage all around and we are unafraid. We listen for that still, small voice calling out to us, “I am with you,” and we find faith, hope and love. And there is simply no place I’d rather be.

The Summit


Leave a comment

A Touch of Insanity

Then there’s that moment when you realize that you’re actually quite insane and that the vast majority of people around you are as well. It’s simple really. In basic parlance, a person said to be insane is someone who is out of their mind, someone who is mentally unhealthy on unstable, or that they’ve broken from reality. And if that’s the case, then I argue that the vast majority of the world is actually quite insane. Evil Mask

What I mean by this is that I so often go about my life as if God weren’t a part of it. I mean sure, I’m a youth minister and talk about God often; I spend time in prayer throughout my day (usually a brief couple of minutes or a passing thought); and I desire to make God the center of my life. But when I really look hard at my life I quickly see that the majority of my day is filled up with God as an after thought or a filler or a habit (there’s nothing wrong with making God a habit, but it should be an intentional habit, or better put, a virtuous habit).

Earlier this evening I was talking with the teens in my youth program about God’s mercy (his greatest attribute) and how every sin is rooted in a lack of trust in God, that if we truly trusted in God then we would make him central to every part of our lives. I mentioned to the teens that when I was dating in college and beyond I would spend time in prayer with the young women I was dated. It was an intentional way of including God in those relationships, and more than that, putting the relationships in his hands. It was an act of trust. So I asked them how many of them prayed on their dates and they all looked at me like deer in headlights. A few snickered.

20070707-_NPF107015640

I continued to press the point that we should include God in all the decisions and moments of our lives, not just the big ones but the daily little ones. I asked them how many included God in their decisions and how many brought him along when they went out with their friends? And a bunch of them  laughed. So I just stopped and looked at them and said, “Why not?” And that’s when it dawned on me that we’re all actually insane.

You see, God is reality, He is fullness, He is joy, He is mercy, He is life, He Is. And yet we keep this Fullness of Reality locked away in a box and only take him out at family meals or on Sundays at Mass, thinking we’re giving God his due. And then we go on with our lives trying to be successful, to be happy, to have fun, to make money, to take care of our family, to be loved. And we think that if we include God in all these plans of ours he’s going to ruin them, or at least make them more boring. BUT THAT’S INSANE!! It is literally insane to think that the author of all these things would make them boring!

In reality the opposite is true, isn’t it? If you brought God into your workplace or school he would make it good and beautiful and meaningful; your work and education would have meaning and a purpose! If you brought God to the movies or to dinner with your friends, he would make it truly refreshing and fulfilling. If you brought God into your relationships, on your dates, while playing a board game, on a road trip or just a trip to the store, those moments would become extraordinary! When you bring God into your marriage, not just generically, but profoundly, deeply and intimately, into your sex life, your children, your home… this transforms the world. (Just look at Therese Martin’s family as proof of how this literally transforms the world.)

I want to take it a step further though, because even the above is actually off, or to follow the theme, insane. You see, if God is the author of reality, if he is reality itself, then the most real, the most sane we can get is to realize that when we do anything (such as those things listed above), then it is not we who take God with us, but it is God bringing us along with him! Do you see it? It is the great I Am who creates us, the Breath of Life that  sustains us, breath by breath. It is Merciful Love that redeems us and calls us out of our insanity back into the fullness of reality! All of these moments of our lives are really his anyway.

To trust in God is to give him all of your life, every decision, every relationship, every breath and to live, to love with his life, with his love. It is this that the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen called “The Divine Invasion”. As he beautifully said, “It is not we who are on the quest for God, but God who is on the quest for us!”

Lest I think I can sum it up better than the Venerable Fulton Sheen, allow me to close with this quote of his taken from a talk he gave called “The Divine Invasion”. You should listen to it. Just do a search on Youtube. It’s breathtaking.

“If we wish to find the source of the life, and the truth, and the love that is in this world, then we must go out to a life that is not mingled with death, a truth that is not mingled with the shadow error, out to a love that is not mingled with the shadow hate or satiety. We must go out to pure life, pure truth, pure love; and that is the very definition of God! That’s what we were made for.”

Divine Mercy


4 Comments

Leaning In Deep

Our Lady of Fatima

Two weeks ago Gabriel Rodrigues took his own life.

One week ago I found out that my beautiful wife is pregnant with our fourth child.

Two days ago I received word that a number of parents are unhappy with what I am teaching the teens at Life Teen (high school youth ministry).

Each of these events are uniquely different and yet profoundly world shaking to me. Each, in its own right shatters my world.

Vulnerable

Gabe is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid. He promised, after the Marines that he would come back and take my job as youth minister. He had potential to be amazing. He was amazing. But something… I can’t bring myself to even write more about it. My heart is shattered.

We weren’t expecting to have another child anytime soon. We both wanted another one, but because of our circumstances, we discerned that now wasn’t the best time to bring another child into the world. But God had other plans in mind. We weren’t fertile when we chose to renew our marital vows. Every time we engage in the marital embrace we pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. And now our hearts are an explosion of unexpected joy and a flurry of other thoughts and emotions at His creative presence, like a person afraid of heights getting on an extreme roller coaster for the first time… trusting in the creator’s ability to build and guide the coaster’s course despite the wild ride.

The most important thing in my world is my wife and kids. Second only to that are my teens. The teens in my youth ministry… I love them, they are my kids. I’ve given my life and everything I am to them and their families. I’ve made mistakes with them, for sure. I’ve had teens and families walk away because of something I’ve said, done or taught. But each time it tears me to shreds. I know the surpassing love of God, the unfathomable joy of a life united to Christ, and to have a teen or a family walk away because of what I’ve said or done… shatters me.

The grief…

The uncertainty…

The sorrow…

In these moments I survive by leaning in deep. I look to my Savior and kneel before his broken, bruised, bloodied body on the Cross and lean in, pressing my lips to his bloodied and pierced feet… allowing the mercy of his spilled blood wash over me.Wounds of Christ

When these trials beset me I run to my blessed Mother, hold her like my 3 year old runs and wraps her arms around my waist and presses herself against me. I lean in deep and allow her to wrap me in her mantle of grace.

john-paul-n-mother-mary

Beyond my imagination, in reality, I am the beloved disciple leaning against the breast of my Lord, hearing that

one will betray him, knowing that I have done as much, hoping that others will not, asking if it is I.

***************************

Jesus I trust in you.

***************************

Jesus I trust in you.

***************************

Jesus I trust in you.

***************************

Divine Mercy.jpg

In all of this and more, I choose to lean in deep. Each moment I choose to lean in deep. I lean into the grief, the uncertainty, the sorrow. I lean in, knowing that I am not alone, that I am carried and redeemed, that I am on certain ground. The standard of the victor has been planted on a mountain for all to see and I am counted as his very own portion.

I don’t see a way forward.

He does.

I don’t understand.

He does.

I doubt.

He doesn’t.

There is One to whom I can go. There is One answer, One hope, One love. There is One God and I am His, you are His. All is His!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”… it is here where we lean in deep; it is here when He leaned in deep. Have you ever read the entire Psalm 22? Christ was not crying out in despair! He was leaning in deep! In the greatest moment of his affliction, in the most horrible moment of all history, He leaned in deep. He gave himself over to the affliction and suffering, he took upon himself the weight of our sins and cried out to His Father for mercy! Not mercy for himself, but mercy for you and for me! He opened wide his arms and took in all those who are willing to lean in deep into his embrace.

Be washed, be cleansed, be healed, be, within His embrace. Lean in deep.

sacred-heart-of-jesus


Leave a comment

Where Was God?!

Abandoned-Andrew_Amistad

Photo by Andrew Amistad

Where was God last Sunday night in Las Vegas? Why didn’t he stop the bullets? Why didn’t he stop the gunman, give him a heart attack or stroke, or somehow alert the authorities? If God was so good, so loving and tender, where in the heck was he?! Doesn’t that prove that God doesn’t exist, or even worse, that he doesn’t care?

It’s natural to ask questions like these in the face of tragedy. And we could extend it even further, where was God when Hugh Hefner got Playboy started? Why didn’t he stop him from doing so much to destroy our culture and the countless lives of women, men and families? Where was God each time a baby is destroyed in its mother’s womb? Where was God when the hurricanes were destroying the Caribbean? If God so loved the world, then why in the heck does he allow such pain and suffering?! What kind of God does that?

These are impossibly difficult and painful questions to answer, but there is an answer, and no, it’s not a comfortable one either. Sure, there are the unhelpful answers that God gave us free will and loves us too much to take that free will away. Thanks, but not much comfort there. Well then, God was there because look at how some people are turning their hearts to him now. Again, nice thoughts and probably true but not a whole lot of comfort. Fine. Then how about God was there in the heroic choices people made to give their lives for others. Yeah, that’s great, tremendous and beautiful, but still, wouldn’t he be more loving to stop the bullets in the first place?

Well, no, because I believe that God calls each of us home when we are most likely to get into heaven. You see, God loves us so much and he knows that this earth is not our final destination but just the desert in our own personal exodus. Heaven is our home and he desires that all be saved! And so he’ll do whatever he needs, he call us home whenever we are most likely to make it. OK, that’s a little comforting, but still, it hurts too much to make sense!

I have one final answer for you then. Let me tell you a story about a young teen who had no friends, he was constantly mocked and ridiculed and laughed at, even by some of his own family. He was neglected and alone. His mom loved him certainly, but that was about it, and she worked so hard to support the family that she was hardly there. And so the only other being in existence he knew loved him was his dog, Max. He’d come home every day from school and rush to his dog and hug him thightly, and his dog would jump up and down and run around so happy to see his friend. But his dog got sick, he got arthritis and eventually couldn’t get up to go pee. He’d just lie there all day and when his best friend arrived home his tail would slap the floor with all the energy of a healthy dog and he’d pant with excitement; and the boy was loved.

Darkness_meta-zahren

Photo by Meta Zahren

But one day the boy arrived home and Max couldn’t be found anywhere. He was gone. “I’m sorry honey, we took Max to the vet. We put him to sleep.” This boy’s only friend in the world was gone, and he was alone. Have you ever hurt so deeply, mourned so deeply that it physically hurt? This boy began heaving, feeling like he was going to throw up. His heart literally hurt… betrayed, abandoned, alone. I ask you, where was God in that moment?! Let me tell you, it felt like there was no God, but in fact the God of the universe was right there, his heart aching with every torturous beat of that young man’s heart. He was there in the nights filled with tears, in the dark, in the loneliness and hopelessness. He was there as the young man wrote a letter saying goodbye to the world. He was there as he contemplated throwing everything away and ending the pain. He was there, weeping with his hands nailed to a tree, pouring out his abandoned, broken, and pierced heart.

That young man couldn’t see it, he couldn’t feel it, but he wasn’t alone. He was held in the hands of the Father. Caressed with the kisses of angels and his heart slowly healed and day by day he found peace and hope and light again; not through the passage of time. It wasn’t the simple fading memory of the pain that healed him. It was the love of the Father poured out through the pierced heart of the Son and given with the breath of God that healed his soul. And that my friends is the only real answer that can be given, the only answer that truly satisfies. It is the Face of Christ, the bloodied, bruised and broken Face of Christ in which we find peace and hope.

Where was God on Sunday night? He was there with his blood being poured out like a libation, just as he is in every abortion clinic and every school hallway and every lonely kids darkened room, pouring out his love, often unseen, but always and unfailingly there; transforming broken lives and broken hearts into gloriously new creations.

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz