Awkward Catholic

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


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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.

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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


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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.

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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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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.

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God is Goodish!

That awkward moment when you realize that the mercy you’ve received and will continue to receive is so utterly undeserved and any words you may try to write about it will ultimately fall flat, will fail to grasp…

God is so good! To say that God is good is an understatement of such magnitude that it is actually closer to an insult, if it weren’t for the intention of the one who says such a thing. The mercy of God is likewise. The Divine condescension!! How could he?! Why does he?! Have you ever pondered that? Look into your heart, contemplate your choices, those thoughts that no one else will ever know and how often they come to you, and then contemplate the fact that God has shown you mercy and willingly, longingly wipes those sins away like so much dust on a mantle place.

God is good! How good is he? He allows us to proclaim his goodness, even though the goodness we see and proclaim is but a scratch of the true depths of goodness that he pours out onto his Beloved. To compare it to a child who hugs his dad for giving him a small treat, though the child has no idea how much the dad has sacrificed and given to love his child. Even that falls short of the goodness God has showered upon us!

God is good! His heart overflows with tender love for us. My tender love for my little girl pales in comparison to the tender, fatherly love my Father has for me… for you. The lengths he would go to love us, protect us and bring us back to himself… I can’t even fathom! The Cross. Why did he die on the cross for us? He could have saved us with the first little scratch he endured as a child. But that wouldn’t have shown the depths of his love. And if there were a more profound means of demonstrating these infinite depths, he surely would have chosen it. But as it stands, as He hung, he gave all. He gave more than we could possibly conceive. The mercy and love of God is beyond us, utterly. We speak of the depths of his love but don’t ever think about it more than that. God gave up being God! God experienced death! God felt the utter separation of Him from Himself! I sit here and simply can’t. How do you express this any further? What words? There are none.

God is good. We are nothing. But he loves us still. He gives us worlds, a literal universe! God is good! God is! You, reading this, when you doubt that you are good enough, when you doubt that you worthy, know this… you are not. But you don’t have to be. God is good! And his goodness, his love, his mercy doesn’t care about your worthiness. He cares only for your love. So how do we do that? How do we love a Love that wants nothing less than a perfect love in return? By loving with the Love that loves perfectly! In other words, I cannot be what He wants me to be. So I must let Him be perfect for me! I must let Him love through me. (Thank you St. Therese!)

God, you are good! Give me your heart that I may love you, that I may be good like you. Only then can I love as you will, only then can I be perfect like you, my heavenly Father is perfect.


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The Third Brother

That awkward moment Pope Francis gives an impromptu interview, usually on an airplane; accompanied by an equally awkward moment when you realize that Jesus left out a really important part of the story of the Prodigal Son… he forgot to mention the third brother.

Head in Hands

It seems that every time Pope Francis gives an interview or speaks from the heart he gets in trouble. It’s become almost expected. He says something profoundly merciful and the faithful Catholics around the world give a massive face-palm to themselves while the news media and all those waiting for the Church to “catch up to the times” gives a momentary high-five. In the end both sides are disappointed. Most recently the Pope gave an interview about how he accompanied a number of homosexuals, some of whom found peace and healing.

 

The thing is each side is expecting Pope Francis to be like them, one of the two brothers from the story of the Prodigal Son. There are those who want the pope to bless them in their actions, to say, “go ahead and throw away your inheritance, I have plenty and whenever you want to squander more, you’re welcome back for a second helping. Go, have fun, enjoy your sin and never worry about suffering the consequences.

 

Then there’s the group of “faithful” Catholics who demand an accounting of the pope, who want him to stand up and say, “Stop your evil sinning now!” They want the pope to call all those sinners out on their sins and demand they return home and never sin again. And when he doesn’t, when he inevitably fails their expectations, they get angry and accuse him of doing exactly what the group of “younger brothers” want. At the end of the day both groups walk away shaking their head and angry that the pope has failed them yet again.

 

The problem is, none of us are called to be like either brother. Both sin in their own right. Both have gone astray, one through their actions and distance from the Father and the other in their heart full of judgment and self-righteousness. Rather, we are called to be like the third brother who loves his younger brother and rejoices with him when he returns home.

 

Oh wait, there isn’t a third brother! Have you ever wondered why that is? The two brothers give such a bad example; shouldn’t there be a third, good example? Well, looking down through history, when has there been a good example? I mean, right from the very beginning all we see is Cane and Able fighting and killing each other, brother against brother.

 

What we need apparently, isn’t the heart of apigsty brother but the heart of a father, one who loves his sons, who calls them back home to rejoice in the truth; a father who searches, not from afar, but is out there walking the distant roads to bring his sons home. The Father doesn’t just call us home but goes out to us and meets us where we’re at and challenges us to rise above our broken hearts, our pigsties and judgmental attitudes and come to the joyful feast! And that’s exactly what Pope Francis is doing each time he speaks from his heart, because he has the heart of a father, of the Father.

 

The heart of the Father is one of mercy, infinite, beautiful, incomprehensible mercy! And the word mercy means having a heart for the miserable. You can’t have a heart for the miserable and sit on your white washed throne (sepulcher) and judge them. You also can’t have a heart for the miserable and not try to help them out of their misery but instead condone all they do as good and healthy.

 

Any good therapist or counselor knows this truth, that when someone comes to you in misery the only proper response is one of mercy and compassion (to suffer with). The best therapist often times simply sits with the person in misery, feels their suffering and holds them close, letting the person know he’s not alone; in a word, accompaniment. What Pope Francis is calling us “faithful” Catholics to do is not have a heart of a brother but the heart of a father, one who accompanies the wayward brother along the road home, who goes out to him in his pigsty and sits with him there, in the mud and filth and loves him with a father’s heart.

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Or another way of looking at it, I think he’s calling us to recognize that both brothers stand outside the Father’s house; that we need to find each other along the road and walk together, to approach the Father together and say, “Father, I have sinned against you but I have not abandoned my brother in our misery. Please have mercy on us.”

 

So instead of a collective face-palm or disdainful wag of the head perhaps we should rejoice in the reminder the Pope gives us of mercy and love that isn’t OK with the sin but loves the sinner, embraces the sinner and accompanies him back to the Father’s house. After all, all have gone astray, you, me, everyone and we all are in desperate need of the merciful love of the Father.


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A Saint Half Full is No Saint at All

That awkward moment when you realize the person treating you like crap is your “neighbor” and you’ve sort of got to treat him with mercy and love. That happened to me recently. I was working with someone on a project (a board game I’m preparing to Kickstart) and I didn’t effectively communicate with him to make my dream a reality. He didn’t take it well, to say the least. I tried my best to apologize and make amends but he ignored all that and in my heart I passed judgment on him.

Judgment Bus

It seems like such a small thing, passing judgment on someone who rubs us the wrong way, it seems such a small thing, a harmless thing, a justified thing at times to judge and speak ill of those who offend us. “They deserve it,” “That person is rotten to the core,” “She is just getting what she deserves,” “I’m only speaking the truth about him so it’s not really gossip.” But in reality, it’s a big problem. I’m not claiming it’s easy, to show mercy and forgiveness, in fact I fail at it myself so often, but it’s worth saying and being reminded of. After all, St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” And it’s precisely in these little things where we fail to be a whole saint.

 

Today’s Gospel strikes to the heart of the matter: Luke 10:25-37. In this passage Jesus is questioned by a scholar as to how to inherit eternal life. Is this not the crux of sanctity… uniting ourselves for eternity with God?! Jesus turns the question around on the scholar and asks him to sum up the Law (which in the Jewish understanding meant “teaching”). The scholar responds by stating the “Greatest Commandment”: to love God with your whole self and to love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this and you shall live,” Jesus responds. Easy, right?good-samaritan

 

Wrong.

 

The scholar, perceiving exactly how difficult this would be immediately wishes to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” This the way of things, isn’t it? “But Lord, my neighbor s a jerk!” “I’m just trying to teach him a lesson!” “He deserves it!” “He doesn’t deserve my love, he’s a sinner!” “He’s disgusting, his lifestyle is so obviously wrong that I just can’t love him.” “What would others think of me?”

 

To our limited vision, according to worldly wisdom our justifications make sense. But our ways are not the Lord’s ways. How does Jesus respond to the “justified” scholar? By telling him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know the story, the priest and scholar ignored the dying man on the road but the Samaritan (the one who was considered lower than a dog, to Jews) saw the man’s wounds and had merciful love on him. And that is how we’re called to act to all we meet along this road of life; it’s not easy.

 

Most people we meet along our road are not literally lying in the street bloodied and dying. As always, when reading Scripture we must probe deeper than the surface of things. Most people look normal and healthy, as you and I do. But that’s only because most wounds are not visible to our senses. Each of us is broken and dying on the inside. Most of us harbor deep wounds that cause us to love like half saints, or even less than that. The robbers who left the man for dead are all those that wound us throughout our lives, who hurt us, abandon us and leave us for dead; those who rob us of our dignity through bullying; those who rob us of our ability to have healthy relationships through abuse and neglect; those who rob us of so much more, often times because of their own wounds.

 

So that person who “deserves” our justified judgment is wounded just as we are and thus, in God’s eyes demands our mercy and love! It is up to us to enter into the person’s woundedness, even if that simply means forgiving them in your heart and not judging them. A transgression forgiven heals the victim and the transgressor, for “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”.

 

But, if possible, more is demanded of us. To love our neighbor as ourselves requires sacrifice and accompaniment. We are called, not simply to have pity on our neighbor but mercy. And mercy doesn’t simply pour some ointment on the wound and walk away. The Samaritan didn’t just pour some wine and oil on the man’s wounds and go on his merry way. No, he lifted him onto his own donkey and carried him to an inn and paid for his care and promised his return.

Pope Francis' General Audience

Do you see that accompaniment?! The Samaritan accompanied this man to safety, to deep healing; he loved him as a brother, a man who likely would have treated the Samaritan as a dog if they’d met under different circumstances. Recall, this is a story directly out of Jesus’ mouth, not just a nice thought of some pious theologian living in a comfy monastery. This is the demands of love, of the Law of eternal salvation. To be a whole saint means to have merciful love on all those we meet, on each and every one of our neighbors, no matter how beautiful or disfigured (inside or out) they may be. We are not called to save them; we are called to love them; just as we are not called to save ourselves but to be faithful to the One who loves us onto eternal life.

 


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True Stories of Love & Lust

That awkward moment when you finally admit to yourself that you’re an addict and that more awkward moment when you admit to your loved ones that you’re an addict.Jail

By the grace of God I was fortunate enough to recognize from an early age that I was struggling with an addiction; I say fortunate because the recognition of the addiction enabled me to struggle against it and not simply indulge with abandon. From the first time I tried to resist the temptation to indulge in my “drug of choice” and failed I knew I was addicted. I tried for years to free myself from my addiction but failed miserably; I could no more stop myself from giving in than I could stop a bullet with my teeth. It was only by the grace of God and the prayerful love of a faithful woman that I’m able to manage my addiction. That’s the thing about addiction, the pull never really leaves you; it’s why alcoholics can’t have just one drink.

I was recently asked to review a new book called Restored: True Stories of Love and Trust After Porn by Matt and Cameron Fradd. It’s a beautiful book about the wondrous grace of God and the restoration of love and wholeness found by couples who suffered through a porn addiction. At times the profound suffering experienced by the ten couples who share their stories seems overwhelming, but the victories won, the grace, mercy, and restoration given by God is what captivates and makes reading through the suffering so powerfully fruitful! As Rachel shares of her story:

Am I restored? I can say with certainty that being restored is not a single event we mark on a calendar to which we point and say, “Yep, there it is, that’s the day he fixed me.” Renewal is a daily choice we make each morning when we open our eyes and ask Jesus to help us lead our best life possible. Somehow, that usually begins with a measure of forgiveness.

I was restored the day I was baptized into the Church and again on the day of my First Communion. I get restored every Sunday during Holy Communion and in the quiet of the night while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament inside our adoration chapel. I feel restored when I see my girls playing with their Daddy in our living room, when I hear them laughing, and I smile, knowing our family journey is just beginning. I am restored when I pause during the craziness of my busy life to realize how my choice to stay and fight is the only thing that shields our little girls from the brokenness and pain of divorce. It is a choice I embrace. Thank you, Jesus, for restoring me again today.

And in case you’re tempted to run from this book because of the topic, it’s not a book about porn, it’s a book about hope, grace, and mercy. Recently one of my awesome teens said, “Mercy is what gives love direction.” And in the stories contained throughout Restored, the mercy of God seeps through the pages. In this beautiful Year of Mercy Pope Francis gifted us, the unfathomable mercy of God becomes palpable and real through the stories of real people, real wounds, and real mercy.

Reading this book is a transformational experience, reading about the profound transformations and restoration of people who experienced profound trauma encourages and transforms my own spirit towards a more profound personal restoration. There’s a restoration and freedom that I’m still working towards, that God is leading me to; there’s a restoration that too many men in our culture desperately need and that this book holds out as possible. Through the grace and mercy of God “all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).Freedom

Whether you’re someone who struggles with porn addiction or have been affected by someone’s struggle, whether you’ve never struggled or may be married to one who struggles, this book is a moving and real depiction of the amazing grace that God offers through his mercy. We each have the chance to claim the very same mercy that the woman caught in adultery experienced, summarized perfectly by Paul in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “We know that all things work for good for those who love the Lord.” (Rom. 8:28)