Awkward Catholic

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


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Once More Into the Breach

That time you started a new habit of prayer, or started using your gifts to follow your dream, only to let it slowly slip away… just like all those good New Year’s resolutions or Lenten promises; or every time you’ve fallen to temptation and made sincere promises never to fall again… but then life happens and you forget your promises, rationalize your choices or make excuses.
Horse Fall
This sort of thing happens to me all the time! If I’d followed through on even a fraction of the spiritual commitments I’ve made over the years I’d be a saint by now. You probably would be too. In light of this endless struggle and failure it’s easy to become complacent and to stop tying so hard. It’s easy to look up from our failures and think, “Well, I tried and failed again. I guess there’s no point anymore; it’s just not going to work.” And we move on, or in the case of sin, give in and rationalize it away.

About this blog, if you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been posting nearly as often as I use to. Well, this is me, picking myself back up and saying to you, it’s OK to fail, but now it’s time to pick yourself up (with God’s grace, because ultimately, all is grace) and try again. I’ve been given the gift of writing and have a dream to use this gift to help others encounter Christ. But for various reasons (the biggest is laziness), I’ve dropped the ball these last few (many) months.

A friend recently challenged me to get back up and keep writing, so here I am, back up on my horse and I want to encourage you to do the same. It feels good to be trying again, a bit scary, but good. It’s not easy, but it’s good. As it’s been said many times before, we’re not promised tomorrow, or even another hour. So don’t wait to strive to accomplish what you most desire and what God has called you to.

In light of the immanence of Christ, I think this Lent presents us a unique moment in history. Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams and in the midst of all this chaos, it’s the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima! I don’t know about you but I am super-excited and hopeful that God, through Mary, is going to do something marvelous!

But even if nothing stupendous happens we should still be trying our best to prepare our hearts and minds for whatever God wills. And let’s be honest, every breath we take is a stupendous grace that provides us an opportunity to love God and transform our world. And every life we touch, every movement in union with God’s grace is a miracle never before seen! I encourage you to take a minute (or ten) and sit with these truths, just spend some time breathing slowly and with each breath contemplate the miracle of your life, the breath you are able to take. After all, if God weren’t actively thinking about you (and madly in love with you) you would simply cease. Every single breath is the miraculous grace of God within you!

Now that we’ve readjusted our vision to the end goal (union with God), let us set our sights back to the moment in front of us (keeping the end goal in our hearts)… standing back up after our failures, picking up where we left off, seeking forgiveness and healing once again.

I can almost hear you thinking (because I’m thinking it myself), “But I know I’m going to fail, again!” But all I can respond with is, “You’re probably right. So what?” God doesn’t ask us to succeed, he asks us to try. Cliche yes, but nonetheless truth. As a saint once said, a saint is someone who got back up one more time. You see, saints aren’t perfect. They’re stubborn and humble. Their failures don’t bother them because the failures only prove how helpless and weak they are, what they’ve already learned so well. And it’s precisely in this utter helplessness that God rushes in to lift them up. Nothing attracts God to a soul more quickly, more completely than true humility.

That was St. Therese’s Little Way. It wasn’t merely doing small things with great love (let’s be honest, we’ll fail miserably at that too). It was in recognizing her utter inability to reach the heights of sanctity that her soul desired. And so, she cast everything onto Christ. He would have to lift her up because she certainly couldn’t do it herself.

This is easier said than done of course. But then again, doesn’t that just prove exactly what I’m saying (repeating from the saints)? So go ahead and get back up, dust yourself off and cast yourself onto the mercy of Christ. You can do it… um, I mean, you can’t do it, but Christ can.

Mother Mary, give me your heart.

Pieta


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Soul Gardening 101

Straw Bale 2Have you ever wondered why it seems almost everything in life can be made into an analogy of the spiritual life? Some things are more apropos than others, but pretty much every situation, event, and experience, every aspect of creation is somehow analogous to our relationship with God. Of course, the obvious answer is that it was all created by God and therefore must reflect his glory, “I tell you, if [the disciples/you] keep silent, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40) But I think it is also because God planned it this way; he wants us to know and love him and he will do anything to speak to us, to reach us, to reveal himself to us. So he ordered creation so that even the rocks cry out his glorious love for us.

Now, the greatest analogy of God’s love is marriage, and it is the goal of marriage to prepare us for heaven… the eternal union with God. But today I want to reflect on another profound analogy of our relationship with God, a favorite of both mine and God’s… the garden. Gardening is on my mind right now since we’ve just started prepping ours for the seeds this Spring.

This year, my wife and I are trying something new: straw bale gardening! We’re very excited because there will be no weeding. Over the years, we’ve tried row gardening, square foot gardening, and trellis gardening and we’ve explored other options like raised bed gardening. All have their benefits and drawbacks, but in the process of these experiments I’ve learned something important: that no matter which type of gardening you do or gardener you are, there are a number of universal principles necessary to have a healthy and fruitful garden—and therein lies our first great analogy for gardening.

Straw Bale 1

Just as every single garden plot and garden style is unique, so too is every human soul, and so too is the manner in which each soul approaches God. Yet, despite our uniqueness, there are certain constants that each soul requires. Every garden needs light, water, nutrients, and tender care and every soul needs the same: light (faith), water (hope), nutrients (love) and tender care (a personal relationship with Christ).

 

But while every garden needs certain universal things, each absorbs and requires them differently; so too the soul. Each person encounters God uniquely and so it is profoundly important to understand how you personally encounter God.

Here’s a personal reflection for you to try: (what’s listed below are just examples, there are many more possibilities for each question)
In what manner do I encounter God? How is my soul primarily fed: through beauty, truth, goodness, or unity?

In what manner does God stretch me: through acts of service, suffering, or self-discipline?

Where do I hear God most clearly: through meditation, the Sacraments, guided meditations, the Rosary, Scripture, or holy conversations?

Now use the fruit of your reflection to continue to grow, stretch yourself and produce fruit a hundred-fold.

Weeping AngelSt MichaelWhat’s more, every garden needs constant pruning and care. If you’ve ever gardened, you know that to let your garden go  untended for more than a week is to court disaster. The fruit of the plants must be culled at the right time, the weeds will quickly overwhelm your garden in what seems like minutes, and the wild animals will ravage anything they can reach; so too with our souls. Make no mistake; the spiritual life is warfare (another analogy, I suppose). The demons (yes, they are as real as you and me) will stop at nothing to tear you away from God— they will nibble and gnaw, tear and chew anything that you leave exposed. Temptation will weed its way into your heart before you even notice it is there and you will find yourself overwhelmed and spiritually undernourished.

What about the culling of the fruit? This is something profoundly important but often overlooked in the spiritual life. So often we concern ourselves with rooting out sin (a very important task) that we forget to cull the fruit, we forget to harvest! Each sacrifice, every moment of suffering, every prayer, every single last grace that God pours out upon our lives bears fruit unseen. And so often we have our noses pressed into the mud trying to root out our sins that we forget that abundant fruit is being produced through us and around us!

Make no mistake, the weeds must never be forgotten. To drop your guard against temptation for an instant is to court disaster. But to ignore the good that God is doing in you and through you is to ignore hope and joy; because without hope of a resurrection the crucifixion is ludicrous. The deepest desire of the human heart is joy & happiness. Every single action, every single breath is taken in the hope of happiness. (NOTE about how the next time you think your spouse is nagging you remember that she/he only does so because he/she is seeking happiness and is hoping you will help him/her obtain it.) We need to acknowledge the good God is doing in our lives and most importantly we must share it. You do this by engaging in holy conversations about where God is working in your life, by noticing the good in others (especially those that most irritate you), by generously sharing the energizing spirit that you’ve gained from the good fruit with others, etc.

So, here we find ourselves, almost through Holy Week, a time of preparation, a time of tilling and sowing and readying the soil of our hearts to receive the seeds of eternal life within us. Whatever your Lent has been up to this point, take these last few days and prepare the soil of your heart for the bountiful goodness of God’s love. Root out the sin in your life. I know for certain that God reveals to us those places in our lives where sin has a strangle hold (such as anger or lust or laziness) and I know that you know what it is in your life. Five minutes of self-reflection is sufficient to reveal your biggest stumbling block. And for these next few days fight with everything you have, like William Wallace of “Brave Heart”, for the freedom that God offers you over this sin. And you will rejoice on the day of victory that God has given you the strength to overcome. Because there’s something pretty cool about our God that so many people take for granted… he will never be outdone in generosity. Let me repeat that… he will NEVER be outdone in generosity! See Matt 20:1-16 for proof.

So give yourself generously to these last days of Lent and God will begin a transformation in your life like you have never seen. Die to yourself. Die to yourself, for “Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it produces much fruit.”


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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.

Follow MeI’d like you to take a minute at the beginning of this blog and get a little bit self-reflective. Think about your personal faith life. Are you happy with your faith? Would you say that you have a strong faith? Is it a steady faith? It it alive, active? Are you comfortable with your faith?

If you answered yes to all the above questions except the last one, then kudos to you. But if you claimed to be comfortable with your faith, then prepare to be uncomfortable. Because our faith should never make us comfortable; comforting yes, comfortable, no. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, 38 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword…. whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” This sword of division is one meant to divide that which is good from that which is bad, including within our own selves. And believe me, this is not a comfortable experience.

Really though, simply pray over the Beatitudes (the most excellent summary of the Gospel) to see what I’m talking about. “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” Our faith is fully alive, blessed, when we weep and mourn in compassionate communion with those who are mourning and weeping, when we give comfort and love to others. This is rarely a comfortable thing to do, to enter into another’s pain and suffer with them.

Being a peacemaker means placing yourself in the middle of conflict like the priests in the Ukraine and loving those on both sides, a particularly uncomfortable place to be. Being meek means to not claim your right to defend yourself against another’s calumny, but to trust in god to justify you. Being poor in spirit does not mean lacking faith but humility, to not claim anything as your own (except your brokenness) and to depend on God for all things, to give him the glory in all. These are particularly uncomfortable ways to live.
ukraine priest

To see this even more clearly, actually lived out, meditate on the Passion of our Lord: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter or the sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth,”(1) “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,”(2) “it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured… upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed,”(3) “making peace through the blood of his cross.”(4)

Are you uncomfortable yet? If you’re anything like me you are because I love being comfortable, of taking the path of least resistance. And lately I’ve been getting the nagging feeling that I’m happy and comfortable with where my faith is. It’s a good thing Lent is coming! This Lent I intend to get uncomfortable because I want to end up looking just like my Savior, my Beloved and I can’t do that from my armchair.

I’m going to fast because I hate fasting.

I’m going to exercise because I hate exercising.

I’m going to pray before I “relax” in the evenings because I hate missing out on my relaxation time.

I’m going to reach out to others in their suffering because I hate going out of my comfortable little bubble.

I’m going to do these things I hate because I desperately need to. I need this much more than I realize. What about you? What are you planning on doing for Lent to stretch your faith and make yourself uncomfortable? How are you going to pick up your cross and follow your Savior?

Father, I trust in you to give me the grace and strength I need to move out of my comfort zone and onto my rightful place, on my cross next to you. Amen.

1. Isaiah 53:7
2. Phil. 2:7, 8
3. Isaiah 53:4, 5
4. Col. 1:20