Awkward Catholic

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


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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.

compassion

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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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)