Awkward Catholic

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


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Was Jesus a Drunkard?

That awkward moment when you are hosting a party and run out of drinks and food for your guests; really any moment when you realize that you’re on the verge of being completely embarrassed and there’s nothing you can do about it. You might search for solutions, but ultimately your only hope is a miracle and so you prepare to suck it up and deal.

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This is how I imagine the bridegroom felt in last Sunday’s Gospel reading from John 2:1-12. This just happens to be one of my favorite Gospel passages, “The Wedding at Cana.” I love this Gospel! I was so excited when the Luminous Mysteries were announced and I discovered the second Mystery was the Wedding at Cana. I’ve spent so much time meditating on this passage and have been so inspired and moved by its profound depth, by Christ’s deep concern for others, by Mary’s motherly prodding, by the humility of the servers, by the faith of his disciples, and so much more.

But more than anything else in this beautiful passage, what moves me most deeply is the overwhelming providence of God’s grace. Have you ever noticed that Mary wasn’t asked by the bridegroom to help? She simply notices that they have run short of wine, and that undoubtedly the bridegroom would be deeply embarrassed, and she asks her son to help. While Jesus at first seems to balk at the idea, she meekly goes to the waiter and tells him to obey Jesus. And what does Jesus do? He changes 180 gallons* of water into wine.  Have you ever contemplated how much wine that is?! It’s about 4 bathtubs full of wine or almost 12 kegs worth. That’s a lot of wine. And remember, that’s after the entire wedding party had already drunk all the other wine! That’s a lot of wine!Cana Wine Jugs.jpg

What’s my point; was Jesus a drunkard? Was he promoting alcoholism? Was he presciently commenting on Protestant anti-alcohol laws? While it seems that he was subconsciously declaring alcohol an acceptable drink, I think he had a more important message to send. God provides. It’s as simple as that. God provides; in abundance; filled to the brim and overflowing! God will not be outdone in generosity! I forget where I heard that last line, “God will not be outdone in generosity!” But it has stuck with me for many years.

I’ve had some hard times, a number of dark moments, such as when my mom died. Nothing can prepare you for that moment, not even 15 years of expectation as she struggles with cancer. Yet, God provided for me, sustained me, and drew me closer to him and to his most Sacred Heart. In all my life I have never known God to fail in coming through. Much of my life he provided through my beloved mother. But even after she passed into glory, he has continued to provide in many ways unseen. But here’s the really cool part: his providence hasn’t even begun to show itself in my life!

Before moving on, though, let’s clarify something… I’ve realized that as much as I deride people like Joel Osteen who preach a prosperity Gospel, I nonetheless seem to desire such a thing. I want and expect God to provide and give me all these good things such as job promotions and the winning lottery numbers. But that’s not how God works. That’s not how God provides.

God isn’t the God of affluence. He’s not Donald Trump who hires or fires us if we do a good enough job! He loves us and wants more for us than a comfortable 80 years on earth! He wants our eternal happiness, not a fleeting “successful” career.

He. Will. Always. Provide.

And what that means is that he will give us what we need, when we need it, even if–especially if–we don’t realize we need it. This isn’t easy for me to write. I want success, who doesn’t? But as God provides for us, he calls us to a success that pays out much greater dividends than any stock market. His grace fills to the brim and overflows. Meditate on that, just for a bit. His grace overflows in abundance even when we don’t ask for it!

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As I sit here and write this article, I keep coming back to all the amazing blessings he’s given me in my life, such as my astonishingly beautiful wife. But that’s not what I’m trying to express. His grace is a deeper, more unfathomable reality. It’s a spiritual transformation, a real salvation that pulls at us and nudges us into perfection through the daily grind of “real life,” through the hidden graces in each instant, in each breath. One thought continues to explode in my mind as I write and perhaps this is the only way to really express what I’m trying to say…

Every single breath you take is God saying I love you.

And that’s just the first sip of 180 gallons of overflowing, gracious love.

 

Notes
*  Whoa! I just realized that the amount of water into wine was 180… the very number of degrees that express a complete conversion, a turning point of monumental proportions! Whoa!!


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Air Quotes and Babies

There’s that awkward moment when you’re ‘discussing’ the hot topic of marriage with a gay ‘marriage’ proponent and you realize that he has no idea what you’re talking about and it dawns on you that except for divine intervention there’s no hope of you ever coming to an understanding of each other.

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The other day I was eating dinner with my family and found myself making air-quotes while talking to my six year old son. He didn’t even respond or ask what I was doing with my fingers. It meant absolutely nothing to him, so much so that it didn’t even register. To him, I was just ‘talking with my hands’. Because of him not understanding the air-quotes everything I said was misunderstood by him.

This, in a nutshell, is why I believe most people today, including many Christians don’t understand the Church’s teaching on a whole range of issues that are troubling our world such as gay ‘marriage’, contraception, abortion, the permanence of the family, education, parents’ rights, etc. Ultimately, a majority of those who promote these family /society destroying things like gay ‘marriage’ or abortion have lost an understanding of what marriage is meant to be, or rather, they no longer have the capacity to comprehend the true purpose of marriage and family; they are much like my six year old who simply lacks the ability to comprehend air quotes. (1)

What is it they can’t understand? Simply this: the purpose of marriage is babies. Why can’t they understand this? Because many years ago the Anglican church accepted contraception as morally acceptable and a super-sonic slide into the destruction of the family took place where babies were divorced from marriage. Marriage is now seen as an agreement between two persons to spend time together and share their lives as long as it is mutually beneficial. There is no deeper purpose to marriage. And if this is true, that marriage was meant to be a mere emotional, financial or spiritual bond between two persons then who could justly prevent gay ‘marriage’?

But fortunately for us and our world, God has a much deeper meaning and purpose for Wedding Ringsmarriage and the family. At its core marriage is the greatest experience a person can have of God. It is the only apt analogy of the Trinitarian life: two distinct persons are united as one in love and that love expresses itself as a 3rd distinct and equal person, fully united to the other two.  The bonding between husband and wife is not the goal but rather, the only proper means of achieving the goal… the sharing of life-giving love.

Unfortunately, our society no longer has the capacity for this life-giving truth. We live in a culture of leisure (2), of the rugged-individualist’s pursuit of self-satisfaction – which is not the same as self-fulfillment. (3) Our culture is all about the individual “sucking the marrow out of life” for his own satisfaction. Pornography is prime example of this, where one uses and abuses another, sucking the life and dignity out of him/her for one’s own satisfaction.

Even when one steeped in our culture does manage to find an altruistic, self-giving spirit, it most often ends up trying to help others find the same self-satisfaction. But if we truly love others, we need to learn to look beyond their immediate self-satisfaction, towards their deeper fulfillment. And as experience and married life have taught me, true fulfillment can only be achieved in the giving of one’s life for another… self-sacrificial love… babies.

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If people truly loved Bruce Jenner they would not encourage him to get a sex change (which is impossible because he still has XY chromosomes) but they would seek to help him find healing and wholeness as God created him to be. If a person truly loves her homosexual cousin they wouldn’t encourage him to pursue a life of mere self-satisfaction. If a friend truly loves a young woman with an unexpected pregnancy, he wouldn’t encourage an abortion out of fear of a ruined life, of never being able to achieve that self-satisfaction, but rather, would care for her body and soul and for the body and soul of her child.

But as I said earlier, this deeper understanding of the person, of marriage and of love is beyond most people in our culture and so dialogue most often fails. The answer is not to argue louder but to love better; to witness to the Truth with our lives and marriages; to have babies and raise them with the understanding of this Truth. Then one day society will re-develop the ability to understand, much like my six year old will eventually develop the ability to understand air quotes.

Finally, remember that no matter how far our society falls, the family and the Church are divine institutions. They will never fail, they will never be undone. The family and the Church will always survive and march towards ultimate victory through the grace of God.

  1. The gay ‘marriage’ lobby, media and others are intentionally skewing the argument, but most ordinary, well-meaning people are well-intentioned but lack the ability to understand.
  1. My major in college was “Recreation and Leisure Services and Studies”.
  1. In the sense used here, “self-satisfaction” is a transitory, satisfied feeling, much like when a person feels full from eating. Self-fulfillment on the other hand means the experience of the fullness of life, completeness.


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Every Star, Every Drop of Rain

Standing At MassHave you ever had that awkward moment when you’re at Mass and start drifting off into a daydream when suddenly you realize it’s time to stand up? You quickly rise to your feet only to realize everyone else is still kneeling except for the other daydreamers and some poor old man who’s painfully rising to his feet. You stand there awkwardly, unsure what to do; knowing that everyone’s now wondering why you stood up or secretly laughing/judging you. Full of shame, all you want to do is run and hide as you vow to never be the first one to stand again.

In that moment, it feels like the whole world revolves around you and everyone’s judging you. It’s a horrendous feeling, if we’re being honest. This is why I find it so interesting that so many of us do everything we can to make life all about us. We so often and easily get trapped in our own little worlds, wrapped up in petty arguments, perceived slights, jealousy, greed and selfishness. We fantasize about a beautiful woman or chiseled man adoring us and making our lives perfect and everyone else around us loving us and realizing the perfection that we are. And in our delusional desires of self-grandeur, we conveniently leave out the reality of vain-glory… all the awkward, painful, embarrassing moments that come with being in the spotlight.

In Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II made a point that shame is a gift from God that protects us from our lustful desires. In a sense, it also protects us from vain-glory. It can give us perspective on ourselves and our desires. There is a profound often-overlooked tension in Catholic theology that the experience of shame helps to illuminate. On the one hand, as followers of Christ we are called to self-forgetful love, to live for the other as if our lives were insignificant. Yet, we are also told that each of us has infinite value as a child of God; the entire universe, every single star in the sky exists so that God could love you, and you alone. And if you were the only person to have ever lived he still would have done every single last thing he’s ever done… including his death on the cross.

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It’s fundamental for a healthy Christian faith to recognize this truth and receive it in your heart… that Jesus thirsts for you. Yet we are then called to live as if we are the least significant person and to give our lives for the other. This is a difficult tension to live out until you realize that the above is true not just of you but also of your 8 billion neighbors out there. And it’s especially true of your neighbor who’s judging, mocking, or wounding you.

I’ve recently learned the difficulty of living this out in real life. My whole being cries out for justice for a wrong done to me and yet I’m the one being forced to apologize. I want nothing more that to prove these persons wrong and call justice down upon them. But I can’t. Instead, I find myself struggling to pray for these persons, these blessed children of God, that they find peace and blessing.

As I write this it might sound like “holier-than-thou” bragging, but the reality is far from it. The not-so-nice thoughts that have run through my head, the judgment and indignation that pours out of my heart… ouch. Rather, I share this struggle in the hopes of encouraging you.

Every star, every drop of rain, every blade of grass exists for you—and you don’t deserve it. He loves you anyway. You’re a petty, broken sinner whose apparent beauty can’t compare to that of the universe. And He loves you anyway. Your neighbor is a judgmental hypocrite (just like you) and yet, He loves him or her anyway.

You are the very image of God and He loves you. You are not worthy to bear this glory, but because of his inexplicably generous love he has given it to you. The shame that protects us, that reminds us of our undeserved glory is a good thing. Likewise, the humiliating experience of being unjustifiably accused and slandered reminds us of the unjustifiable glory that He has bestowed on us.

You are beautiful. You are good. You are glorious! Whether you feel like it or not, whether you understand it or not, you are the Father’s beloved child and he would absolutely give up his life for you. And so, as his image, you too are called to do the same for your brothers and sisters.

Humility is the key to solving the paradox. Humility is always the key. Humility is the door by which we enter the life of faith. You cannot love God if you love only yourself. You cannot love others if you love yourself more. Those countless awkward or embarrassing moments serve to humble us… not humiliate us. Humiliation is for the proud. The humiliated person is the perfect person who has been embarrassed. The humble person recognizes their own imperfection, accepts it and trusts in God’s grace to see them through.

I make mistakes because I am imperfect. I feel ashamed for many of my actions and choices because I am an imperfect person… because I need God, I need the One who is righteous. There is no other. Only One is truly righteous. Only One is truly perfect. Even Mary, the Mother of God is utterly dependent upon her Son. All have fallen short. But there is One who redeems all others. His name, the one name that gives breathe to all others, that gives life to all others, that justifies all others is Jesus, the Christ. There is One: Jesus, the Christ.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus.


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A Tribute to My Mom

3X3 pic2 Life has gone on. It has been four years and life has gone on. I wasn’t sure how at first. Four years ago my mom left this world, not my heart. Who I am, who I was, who I will be… forever because of her. My hero, my first love. My defender, protector, formater, life-giver, helper. My friend, confidant, companion in all joy, all sorrow.

 

Every wound she bound up, every joy she cried with life. She imagined the world for me. She hoped the best, she gave her all that I might be. Every moment of my life is colored by her love. I live because she gave her life. I know now she cried my every tear and suffered my every insult; silently, to herself, out of earshot she wept my tears… holding my hand, never letting go.

 

I am the man of faith today because she had the courage to live a faith she didn’t understand but knew was true. She went to church every Sunday, not because she understood it but because she knew it was right. Why? Not for herself but for her sons. She worked 10 hour days, came home cooked dinner, cared for her boys, rocked us to sleep and worked into the night because she wanted to give us a life worth living. And she did.

 

My greatest treasure is the memory I have of when I was about 7 years old. I had gotten hurt and was crying and inconsolable. My mom swept me up in her arms and carried me to our old wooden rocking chair in the corner of the family room. There she rocked holding me tightly in her arms. I knew that I would never be left alone, I would never suffer alone. I was loved. That memory has gotten me through many terrible nights.

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It is because of my mom that I love God as much as I do. She was my first experience of the Father’s tender love for me. For many years she was the only experience of God’s love, but never did it waiver. Not once. Even that one time when I tried to wound her deeply; I lashed out, not at her but at all those who had hurt me, but she was the target because I could trust her. I regret that moment, but even then her love never wavered.

 

It has been hard, these four years without her; without her advice, without her care, her generosity and her voice. She never met her 2nd grandson or 2nd granddaughter. That is a difficult burden I bear. She so deeply longed to meet them. But I know her joy in loving my 1st born. And that joy, I try to give to the others. Her love pours down on them I know. Her generosity, unmatched in this world inundates us every day. What mother wouldn’t call down great love and grace from the Father upon her children?

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Her favorite song those last few years was, “I Could Only Imagine” by MercyMe. I love that song because of her because I know there is no more imagining for her, only the reality of God, Face to face… glory upon glory. Hers was a race well run, finished well. She ran so as to win and I run so as to catch her. God, give me the grace to be so blessed.


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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.

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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.

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* 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.