Awkward Catholic

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


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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.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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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


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Dad, is God real?

While driving my three children to school a few weeks ago (it’s a 30 minute drive), my eldest who turned 9 years old recently, asked me, “Daddy, how do we know our God is the real God?” and immediately followed that up with, “And how do we know everything our religion teaches is right? And how do we know Jesus was born from Mary?”

Questioning

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I mean, woah! These are the same questions the teens in my high school youth program ask on a regular basis and here’s my 9 year old asking them casually on the way to school one morning! How awesome! You see, I think we all ask these questions, and many others like them, throughout our lives. Seeking the truth isn’t just regulated to school aged children, but is one of the most deeply lived pursuits of every human life. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, the three deepest desires of the human heart are for truth, love and life. And as Christ once said, “I am the way (love), the truth and the life.”

Throughout my 18 years of leading teens closer to Christ (or trying to), I’ve been attempting to answer my son’s questions in ways that lead them to a deeper understanding and experience of Christ and of faith. It’s not easy. For one, we tend to hear what we want to hear and reject that which we don’t want to hear; or we dismiss it as nonsense because it doesn’t match up with our personal world view. Which, I think is why I was so delighted to hear my 9 year old ask these questions at such a young age; he’s less jaded and more open to truth.

On the other hand, I’ve also often watched as teens, and adults, hear and accept what I say only to walk away like the rich young man in the parable of Jesus, who walked away sad because he had many things. We don’t want to give up those things that bring us comfort and escape, or our grudges and addictions. Because if I become convicted of the reality of God and his love for me, that’s going to demand a change. And change is scary, uncomfortable and frightening.

But as Pope Benedict XVI said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” And so, I answered my son as best I could in a car also carrying a 6 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. I’ll post some links for the answers to his questions, but this post isn’t meant to be an apologetic one. It’s meant to challenge you (and me).

As the new year rapidly approaches, I think it’s the right time to take a few moments / days and reflect on the reasons we respond the way we do when our world view is being challenged, whether you’re a saintly Catholic, mediocre Catholic (like me), fallen away Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Muslim, etc. When confronted with questions, or more to the point, when confronted with the Truth, why do you respond the way you do?

Over the Christmas holiday I had a conversation with a family member who’s a fallen away Catholic. He off-highhandedly comments to me that the Catholic faith is simply a rehashing of the Egyptian worship of the god Horus. I roll my eyes and begin trying to respond with answers only to be shouted down as he walked away. I truly believe this family member is yearning for truth, for meaning and hope in their life, but isn’t willing to listen to what Christ offers because it’ll mean making some seriously significant changes.

But even for those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior, what holds you back from responding more generously like Zacchaeus and less like the rich young man? Even those who are living a moderately religious life can walk away from Christ by rejecting his call onward and upward.

What is holding you back? What are you afraid of? What lies or sinful strongholds have you allowed into your heart?

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz

Links to some of the above questions about faith:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-real-thing

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/ricky-gervaiss-atheism-claims-answered

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/jesus-and-the-pagan-gods

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/mary-full-of-grace

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/no-contradictions-in-truth

 


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Singing Out of Tune

song-to-singThat awkward moment when you’re at Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and of course all your favorite Marian hymns are being sung, and you just can’t hold it in and you let your heart sing (via your voice) and you look around and realize that everyone around you looks like they’re in pain. Then you realize that your singing is at fault. You feel sorry for them but no force in the universe can hold in your song.

Yeah, that happened to me the other day. I love my Momma Mary and I just can’t hold it in. I also love to sing! I’m also tone deaf and can’t carry a tune. God and I have a deal though. When I get to heaven He’s going to give me, even if its just for one song, a most beautiful singing voice and I’m going to get to do a solo in front of all the heavenly host to honor his (and my) Mother.

Here’s my point: God has created you, unique and amazing, even when you don’t feel like it; you are more beautiful and resplendent than the stars in all their glory. And you have a song to sing; a song that only you can sing. And it’s not easy as we are each so deeply flawed because of our sin. It’s like my singing voice. I know I have a song in my heart that wants to burst out of me, but it sounds so awful when it comes out. I think all of our good works, all the holiness we strive for… in our hearts and heads it seems so beautiful and good but in reality it’s still so out of tune with perfection. AND. THAT’S. OK. God doesn’t ask us for perfection, he simply asks us to sing. It’s up to him to make the music beautiful.

cat-screechingI honestly don’t know how he could ever make my song into something beautiful, but somehow, through his grace he transforms it from a screeching cat into a masterpiece. Because, well, he’s God. And because as a great saint once said (I think it was St.Therese), “One act of pure love is worth more than all the sacrifices of all the saints throughout the world.” In other words, the smallest, most insignificant act of pure love overwhelms the heart of Jesus, who is love itself.

And ultimately what is at the center of this act of love is a simple yes. A simple yes like Mary’s, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” When we say yes at the deepest part of our soul to whatever God wills, even in the smallest of actions, we overwhelm the heart of God. I can only imagine he looks on us as I do my beautiful 2 year old little girl when she tries to sing the Happy Birthday song, I’m simply overwhelmed with joy and love for her.

kid-singing

So I encourage you not to worry what the people around you may think of the song you sing, whether you’re feeding the homeless or simply walking away when the office gossip starts. Sing that song with all your heart.

microphone

 

 

* Whenever this song is sung at church I can’t help but imagine myself singing like Carrie Underwood. Those poor people around me suffer so much. But my soul MUST sing!!


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Is Christ Your King?

A Pastoral Reflection on the Feast of Christ the King

At the time of Christ Jesus, Israel was a nation in expectation, hoping and waiting for the promised messiah, the king that would set them free from the tyranny of foreign oppression and restore the glory of David’s kingdom. They were waiting for a king, God’s anointed, but they were expecting an earthly king, a return to “the good old days”. And so their vision was obscured. To their credit though, the promised one of God was wholly other than what anyone would expect, as Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “It was a sign no one ever asked for, for no one ever hoped that a virgin would become pregnant… or that this offspring should be ‘God with us’.”[1]

Today, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate the fact that Christ Jesus, the God-Man reigns eternal in heaven, as the first fruits of humanity, opening the way for each of us to join him in paradise. In our celebration of Christ the King we celebrate his eternal reign in heaven and on earth, and hopefully in each of our hearts as ‘God with us’. Next Sunday we begin Advent when we prepare for the coming of the King, both in celebration of his birth on earth and in hopeful expectation of his coming again and the completion of all things.

‘Beyond what we ask for; beyond what we hope’; this sums up what St. Irenaeus meant in his above quote. When God sent his only begotten Son, it was beyond our wildest imagination. The general expectation of Israel was for another king like David. God, however, wanted more than to establish a mere earthly kingdom. Rather, he meant to establish the heavenly kingdom, to reunite humanity to God, lost in original sin.

The only begotten Son of the Father became Man, not merely in name or thought, but in actuality. The divine Logos was born of a virgin and became man. He took on human flesh, a human mind, and a human will and united it to his divine person. This is the one we call Jesus Christ, perfectly God and perfectly man. And through this unmixed unity he has redeemed all mankind enabling us to share in his inheritance, which is the kingdom of God.

But what should we expect when his kingdom comes? What are we waiting for? Should we be waiting at all or should we be actively seeking to make his kingdom present here and now? What hope do we have of ever establishing his kingdom in such a broken world?

Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in 1925. In writing the encyclical Quas Primas Pope Pius stated,

 

These manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics… that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.[2]

 

In other words, without Christ there is no hope for peace and our present world has reached a point that it believes it does not need Christ. Hence, Pope Pius established the feast of Christ the King to combat this evil, to give the world hope.

But in the face of the tidal wave of evil that now confronts us, how can we bring back the reign of Christ in our lives and the lives of those around us? To begin with, we must, like Mary, remain faithful ourselves. Like the Most Blessed Virgin, we must let Christ reign in our own lives, over our own wills, in our own hearts and minds and through our very bodies.[3] Then and only then will we be able to withstand the tidal wave of evil sweeping over our world and to build the kingdom of God.

We do this primarily through prayer, by coming to know and love the Lord God personally. First and foremost we unite ourselves to Mary, our Mother. We also participate in the feasts and celebrations of the Church; learn to pray in the rhythm of her seasons, through acts of penance and charity and through obedience to Christ and his Church. In all this we will begin to live in that kingdom that is not of this world, of which this world has no power except what is given it from above.[4] And living under the rule of Christ we will become indomitable for, “all things work for good for those who love God.”[5]

So we first let Christ reign in our lives as King. We then teach and encourage others to participate in the life of the Church and in prayer and fasting. In this we will create a reverse wave. We will turn the tide of evil. But we cannot wait on it happening to us. We must participate in making the kingdom come! Actively seek and work for justice; not a mere human justice, but the justice of love, of the cross, which is love in action.

Be wary, though. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of busy-ness and lose sight of what it is we work for, or rather, whom it is we work for. We work and love for the King and we must keep our eyes on the prize. We accomplish this by learning to see Christ everywhere and in everyone and to be Christ to all those we meet. Remember, too, God loves to surprise us with the unexpected.

We need to ask ourselves, whom are we expecting? When we attend Mass on Sundays, looking to encounter our God, when we join Bible studies or serve at soup kitchens, whom are we expecting to meet? Are we trying to pigeonhole Jesus into a savior of this moment, someone who will lift us out of our misfortune and suffering and give us the good life, someone who will return us to those ‘good old days’?

Or are we open to encountering our Lord as he wills to reveal himself beyond our wildest imagination? Do we see him in the eyes of those we serve, in the words we read in Scripture or in the veiled reality of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist? Do we go to be served or to serve, to be loved or to love?

As we work to build the kingdom of God, remember that the kingdom we are building is not one of this earth but rather of heaven. The kingdom is made present in our love but also retains a “yet to be fulfilled” dynamic. The ultimate fulfillment of this kingdom will only happen at the end of time, at the fulfillment of all things. So find your strength in the hope that looks forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that we will be with him in paradise.

As Jesus hung dying, mocked by the rulers, soldiers and criminals, one man resisted this tide of evil. The criminal on Jesus’ right rebuked the other thief, reminded him of the justice they deserved, and begged for forgiveness. Rather, he merely asked to be remembered. He didn’t ask for salvation or anything wild, but merely to be remembered. And how did Christ respond? By promising him more than he could have possibly hoped for, eternal life in paradise![6] So love in the moment and hope for the unimaginable.

 

 

Bibliography

Brown, Robin K. “25 November 2007 • Christ the King.” Homily Service 40, no. 12 (November 2007): 58-68. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).

Goodwin, Mark J. “Hosea and “the Son of the living God” in Matthew 16:16b.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 67, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 265-283. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2010).

Norris, Richard A., Jr. trans./ed. The Christological Controversy. Sources of Early Christian Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Pius XI. Quas Primas. December, 1925. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010].

West, Fritz, et al. “Christ the King • Reign of Christ • Proper 29.” Homily Service 38, no. 12 (November 2005): 51-63. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).

[1]Richard A. Norris, Jr., trans./ed, The Christological Controversy, Sources of Early Christian Thought [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], 57.

[2] Pius XI, Quas Primas, December, 1925, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010], 1.

[3] Ibid, 33.

[4] John 18:36, 19:11 All biblical references in this paper are from the NAB, 1991, unless otherwise specified.

[5] Romans, 8:28.

[6] Luke 23:35-43.


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A Simple Question

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

Confused

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.