Awkward Catholic

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


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The Paris Attacks – A Call to Arms

Words can’t truly express the sorrow of the tragic events that have unfolded around the world. The attacks in Paris last night, the attacks in Lebanon… what can we say but my Jesus, mercy! Let us take time to mourn those who lost their lives, to pray for them and yes, to pray for the murderers as well.

As I’ve said in past posts, the magnitude of evil happening in our world is unfathomable. There is a tidal wave of evil that is crashing over us and it often feels as if we are about to be crushed by it. The terror attacks that happened last night are unquestionably evil and tragic, yet they do not stand alone, the tragedy of countless lives lost in Syria and Iraq are equally as horrific. Are they not just as tragic as the lives lost in France? What about those countless lives lost to abortion? Our world is hurting, is bleeding out and nothing seems able to stop it:

“Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see
Whether there is any suffering like my suffering,
Which has been dealt me
When the Lord afflicted me
On the day of his blazing wrath.”
– Lamentations 1:12

Let me be clear, I am not making light of the tragedy in Paris. But I hope that this event may spur us to something great, “We know that all things work for good for this who love God.” (Rom. 8:28). What’s likely to happen is that France’s president will make bold statements and commit to bold action in response to the terror attacks, our president will do the same. The world will unite in solidarity with France and the war will continue. More guns, more bombs, more war will ensue and evil upon evil will multiply.

I am not advocating that we simply ignore what happened and not attempt to defend the defenseless. I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight for those in the Middle East or anywhere around the world that are being murdered and persecuted. What I am saying is this, before we react in vengeance, before we attack those who attacked us should we not do the one thing that will actually make a difference? Should we not pray?

Many have called, since the attacks in Paris, to pray. After every tragedy like this we are called to pray. And many of us do, we offer a Hail Mary or a Rosary, we go to a Mass or adoration, we stay mindful and send our thoughts and sympathies to the victims and their families. That’s great, for a start. How about this though, instead of offering one Hail Mary or a Rosary for a day, we keep praying the Rosary everyday.

If we truly believed that pray works, then wouldn’t we pray more? If we truly believed in the power of prayer we wouldn’t need guns or bombs or anything else. If you doubt me then let me refer you to the words of the Bishop of Nigeria. Not long ago he reported a vision he had of Mary who told him that if people prayed the Rosary every day for the end of Boko Haram, it would be no more. How many people do you think took up this call? How many people trusted that Mary’s words would be accomplished? The Bishop did, and I’m certain some of the few people around the world who heard of this story did. But many didn’t, or many tried and gave up. Is Boko Haram still spreading its evil through Nigeria? Yes. But as Mary promised, if we but pray, not fight but pray, Boko Haram will be no more. See here for the story.

Could it be true that if we but prayed, earnestly, believing that our prayer would actually work, that ISIS would be no more as well? I believe so. But it’s going to take more than a few Hail Mary’s and adoration hours. It’s going to take a great deal more suffering and a great deal of perseverance, but it is possible:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.”
– James 1:2-8

It’s more than possible, it is the only sure means of our hope.

How many people spend 30 minutes or more in their car 5 days a week on their way to work? What a great time for a Rosary! What about those who spend countless hours in waiting rooms and hospital beds, with our without kids? What is it we’re waiting on in those moments as the cars stand still, as other people’s names are called? Why wait when we could actively seek, actively intervene in world events through our prayer?

How many of us spend more than an hour each night ‘unwinding’ from the stresses of the day, watching TV, cruising social media, playing video games, reading books, etc.? What are we really searching for but to refresh our minds, bodies and souls? Why not spend at least 20 minutes instead searching in the one place that will actually refresh us and at the same time change the world?

Let these most recent tragedies be a call to arms, a call to two arms stretched out upon a piece of wood, a call to thousands of arms stretched out, pierced and bleeding with love, waiting to embrace the suffering of others, waiting to welcome those hurt and those who caused the hurt alike.

“I called upon your name, O Lord, from the bottom of the pit;
You heard me call, “Let not your ear  be deaf to my cry for help!
You came to my aid when I called to you;
You said, “Have no fear!”
– Lamentations 3:55-57

 

I think Matt Maher sums it up beautifully in his song “You Were On the Cross”:


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The Lonely Little Boy

The other day I spent time with a 2nd grade little boy, about 7 years old. He was brought into my office at the church because he’d told his religion teacher that he wanted to kill himself. The boy is in SECOND GRADE!! He had no friends and was being bullied. He felt isolated and completely alone. I know that feeling well. I was severely bullied throughout my childhood, alone, lost and without hope.

Mother Teresa once said that the greatest suffering is loneliness; of those familiar with suffering, few I think understood it as Lonely Mandeeply as Mother Teresa. Her life was poured out in walking with others in their suffering and most painful moments. I believe that she saw clearly into the heart of the modern world where we have become isolated and lonely. Our lives have become filled with isolation and selfishness, or rather, they have been emptied of all that is good and beautiful. We have sterilized our lives behind the facade of social media and disavowed any need for the other in our pursuit of the empty fulfillment of fame, fortune and immortality. And this has been done intentionally.

Our beloved Pope Francis has recently stated that we must not forget that the devil is real and actively seeking to destroy us. This is nothing new and has been proclaimed by countless saints throughout the ages. The devil is real and operating in the world with an evil intent… to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to isolate us from God and each other. And not only do we let him, we most often willingly cooperate with him! In war, when is a person most vulnerable? When he’s separated from his platoon. When is a quarterback most vulnerable? When his offensive line collapses around him and he’s left alone.

We have become isolated through our selfishness, laziness, greed and fear. And we isolate others because then, we’re not alone in our isolation. The problem is… everything we are, our body, mind and soul is designed for one simple purpose… communion. We exist to be the “thou” to someone else’s “I”. The way we live our lives can give purpose, meaning and hope to others; or it can take it away.

Every sin is a sin against communion because every sin is a sin of selfishness. Mother Teresa knew this well and sought out the most unapproachable, ignored, rejected, isolated Untouchable, who was being eaten by worms as he lay in the sewer awaiting death. She picked him up and carried him to her home, tended to his wounds (both spiritual and physical) and loved him into heaven. His was a life of loneliness and isolation. His was a death of beauty and love. Why? Because Blessed Mother Teresa entered into his suffering and walked with him to the steps of heaven.  She then repeated this act for the rest of her life with each person she met.

Deer Thirsts 2

What motivated her to do this? Mere knowledge couldn’t. Any person with a brain could figure out that we’re made for communion. Nor was it vein hope, desire for fame or blind faith. It was an encounter with the thirst of the One “I” to whom all others are “thou”; the thirst of the living God. Mother wrote the following in a letter to her fellow sisters:

Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes – to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you… That is so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that he loves you, but even more – He longs for you…. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes – He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe- you are precious to Him… Why does Jesus say, “I thirst”? What does it mean? “I thirst” is something much deeper than Jesus saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.[1]

When we encounter the thirst of Jesus we know, in the depths of our being who we are and who He wants to be for us. We enter into a real communion… our destiny. I have yet to experience this in its fullness. I trust in the testimony of the blessed who have gone before me. I also trust in the promises of Christ himself who will bring me to this himself.

I no longer suffer from loneliness, most of the time. I’ve been blessed with a loving wife, children and friends, but old habits die hard. Rather, I suffer the pains of loneliness in the teens, children and parents who pass through my office on a daily basis. There are so many hurting, lonely souls in the world. Our modern society, with all of its “conveniences” has turned us into lonely, isolated individuals… and we must rage against this machine! We must rage against this tidal wave of evil that is trying to scatter and separate us so as to overwhelm us. We “rage” by quietly letting go of our selfishness and simply engage those around us. We stand up for the kid being bullied, we put down our technology and talk face to face, we turn off the T.V. and talk to our family members, we sacrifice and give for those around us, we help others carry their crosses and we pray. We reach out to the person being bullied and we pray. We smile at those we pass in the hall or on the street and we pray. We do the chores and duties of our family members out of love and we pray. We hold the hand of the person (friend, stranger, enemy) that his suffering and we pray.

Ultimately, we do nothing of our own accord. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” We choose to cooperate with the grace of God rather than the lies of Satan. It is the love of God, our communion with him that will redeem the world. Therein lay our hope and our strength.

Mother Theresa

 

P.S., I have hope for the young boy I met with last week. He is dearly loved by his mother and knows now that he has a safe place at his church. He has been enfolded in prayer, he is not alone and through the grace of God will know that some day soon.

 

 

[1] Mother Teresa’s letter to the Missionaries of Charity family, 25th March, 1993 as found in 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. Marian Press, Sotckbridge, MA. 2011.


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Getting Perspective

baby crying This morning started off pretty well. I woke up on my own, as opposed to my three year old loudly disturbing my slumber early in the morning as is his custom. My 3 month old daughter slept until 9AM and then sat quietly and patiently by as I finished cooking pancakes for the boys. It was after that when things started getting rough. An hour after waking my daughter started crying; she was hungry and tired.

Normally I’d just pass her off to Maria to nurse her which would almost instantly put her to sleep. However, my amazing wife was not home. She was at her first day of work after giving birth. So this morning was my first attempt (and Therese’s 2nd attempt) at using a bottle. It didn’t work. She cried her sweet little eyes out not understanding why her mommy wasn’t coming to the rescue. It was heartbreaking.

So I took her upstairs and tried pacing around the room with her, shushing her and patting her back. Eventually it worked beautifully and she fell asleep and I was able to put her down just before my back began cramping up. Prior to her falling asleep, as I paced back and forth, my mind poured over all the problems and concerns I have, from the stress of a crying, inconsolable baby, to my two boys fighting downstairs, the unpaid hospital bills and looming mortgage payment, our old house which still hasn’t rented out (on which we’re counting to augment our income), the ridiculously high electric bill and on and on.

Then something occurred to me that put it all in perspective. Here I stood in a huge house, holding a beautiful baby girl, with her two wonderful, healthy siblings downstairs, and my wife and I both are gainfully employed and so many other countless blessings. Meanwhile, there’s the worst Ebola outbreak the world’s ever seen occurring in Africa, Isis is taking over Iraq and destroying the lives of millions of people, a war is brewing in Israel, typhoons are ravaging the Philippines, countless thousands of refugees are crossing into Texas, the scourge of sex slavery is growing exponentially (a result of porn) and on and on.Ebola

How blessed am I?! It’s not that I shouldn’t be concerned with those little things that surround my life, but in the greater perspective my life is good, amazingly blessed and my loving concern for those suffering unfathomable loss and grief has grown enormously. So, rather than wasting my time stressing over these little things I need to pray. I need to pray for them and let them go in trusting surrender to God’s will. Then I need to pray earnestly for those that need God’s grace. Or rather, I need to pray to God and call down his grace on those who need it now, the most. He knows so much better than I where his grace is most desperately needed.

I want to challenge anyone reading this to find a new perspective. Let’s put aside our judgment and preconceived prejudices about immigrants (legal or illegal), about the chaos of northern Africa, about who’s at fault in the Israel/Palestinian conflict (more than one side is wrong there, it’s not as black and white as you think), about the terror and evil in Iraq, and so on. Let’s cast aside our judgment and pray. Pray for a just and compassionate solution for the immigrants seeking a better life, for those suffering from plague or terror or war. Pray earnestly for peace, for health, for hope. Pray.

After all, the wars and plagues and famines and suffering is your fault anyway. Well, OK, it’s all of our fault. You see, God created paradise but our sin brought chaos. That’s what sin is, a tearing away of perfection and replacing it with chaos, with an absence of love. So yes, that Ebola outbreak is a result of our sin, the evil in Iraq is a result of our sin and the only way to bring an end to it all is God’s grace breaking into the chaos of our sins and turning it into something good, beautiful and perfect… kind of like the Crucifixion of Christ.Crucifix


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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.”

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


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Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

My mom’s cancer was, in a certain sense, one of the best things that ever happened to her. I know, that sounds horrible, but bear with me here. She suffered with cancer from 1993 – 2010. Prior to her struggle, she was a Sunday Catholic, attending Mass every week and raising her boys with a sense of the Catholic faith. But she wasn’t very spiritual. She didn’t strive to live by the teachings of the Church and she didn’t seem to have a deep prayer life, except for the occasional attempts to pray together as a family. She was a good woman, though, a woman who truly sacrificed every single moment of her life for her family. She taught me the meaning of love through her every action.

As she struggled with cancer, a particularly painful kind called osteosarcoma (bone cancer), she was slowly transformed from a Sunday Catholic into a saint.

J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The world is one long, slow defeat, with only faint hints of future victory.” And it certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? A simple look back through history and we quickly realize that the world seems to sink further and further in sin and destruction. Rather than advance into utopian futures, we use our ingenuity and capacity to create to make more and more effective methods of waging war and death.

Looking into the history of the Church is not much different. Each time the Church seems to flourish and thrive, it is ultimately consumed with corruption or beaten down into triviality, just look at what has become of “Christian America”. And when we look into our own lives we see much the same thing. Time and again I seem to be making progress in my spiritual life only to slip and fall back twice as far, or if I’m lucky, back to where I started. And there are many reasons (excuses) for this: the busyness of life, fear of failure, exhaustion, sinful habits, laziness, pride, etc., etc., etc.

I know, I’m really encouraging you here, aren’t I? But this is important to point out, because it puts the hidden truth into greater clarity. This long, slow defeat we experience ultimately becomes a victory. As Gandalf says in The Lord of the Rings, “There was never really very much hope. Only a fool’s hope.” So let us be fools for Christ. (1 Cor. 1:22-31)

As we peer through the wounds of Christ—his defeat—at the history of the world, of the Church, and of our own lives, we discover a tremendous victory and a trustworthy hope. We discover the grace of God—meek, humble, unassuming, and indomitable. All we need do is look at the Cross and the broken, beaten, bruised and bloodied body of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Read to the end of the next paragraph and then go spend time actually gazing upon a Crucifix (not an empty Cross, lest we forget exactly what our life has cost – Jar’s of Clay).

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Contemplate the contradictory images of defeat and victory found therein. Don’t come back to this article until you’ve spent at least five minutes contemplating this. Here are some Scripture passages to help you:
– Mark 15:31 “He saved others, he cannot save himself.”
– Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
– Mark 15:32 “Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.”
– Luke 23:34 “Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”
– Mark 15:34 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
– Rev 21:5 “See, I make all things new.”

Why are you still reading? I’m not kidding. STOP, go, turn off your computer, find a Crucifix (you shouldn’t ever be more than an arm’s reach away from one) and stare at it. Ponder the contradiction of the Cross. I’M NOT KIDDING… GO!!

Welcome back, friend. What did God reveal to you in your time of prayer? For me, I found hope through letting go, victory through obedience, patient love in the face of injustice and indignity, and strength hidden in and revealed through suffering.

Winged VictoryAt the end of this post I want you to return to prayer and contemplate your own life: where you have been defeated, ground down, hopeless or broken. Where in these moments was God’s grace? Where are your victories? You see, there’s no such thing as victory without struggle because without struggle, success is just a hand out. Be careful here, though. I’m not asking you to go and pat yourself on the back. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing except your sin is truly your own. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” But we should spend time noting in our lives where we’ve cooperated with God’s grace and found victory in the midst of our defeat!

In your prayer time, think about those moments you overcame adversity, persevered through suffering, and when you sacrificed your own desires and pleasure for the sake of another. And then thank God for those moments. Carry those moments with you throughout the rest of the day and through tomorrow. With a thankful heart raise your hands up to your Savior and rejoice in his victory on the Cross!! Because I guarantee that he will be thinking of and hoping for you.


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Gutterball Stuck

GutterballHave you ever given someone good advice that would truly help them in their life, only to realize that you fail to live by that advice yourself? I have. In fact, I have given this particular piece of advice about 150 times a year, for the last 9 years. Think about that, at least once every two days I told something to somebody (usually a different person) that I failed to follow myself. Have you ever met such a hypocrite?!

What advice am I talking about? Just this: that in order to become a saint, you need to pray, a lot more than what you’re doing now. You see, I am a youth minister and it’s my job to prepare high school teens for Confirmation. If you’re not Catholic, Confirmation is where a person confirms his or her faith in God as a Catholic and receives the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (the love of God). It is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church and is a big deal.

I meet one-on-one with each teen in the program twice, once at the beginning of their two-year preparation and again at the end, prior to their receiving the Sacrament. Each time I ask the teens about their prayer life. Most of them have progressed very little during their time in the program, which is natural, in a certain sense, for the average American teenager who’s more concerned about texting and enjoying life than about becoming a saint. OK, let’s be honest, that description pretty much sums up just about every single American, no matter the age, religion, gender, race or life situation.

I guess that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? We’re all kind of stuck in this rut, in this tired and routine way of doing things that prevents us from ever truly changing. I mean, COME ON! I’ve actually said the words, “You need to pray more, a lot more, because trying to be a Christian without a prayer life is like trying to be a pole vaulter without a pole,” over 1450 times in the last nine years and I’ve maybe taken two steps forward in my own prayer life.

What have I done to improve my prayer life in the last nine years? Well, I used to go to daily Mass; now I’m lucky if I make it there once a month. I’ve started saying a daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy… when I drive somewhere. If I don’t go anywhere that day, I don’t pray the chaplet. I say a Rosary each day, usually. That started about a year ago. But I usually only finish the full Rosary when it’s convenient, like when I have to spend time rocking one of my children to sleep. I have started trying to “practice the presence of God” in my daily life and I usually remember to do that once every other day.

What’s my point? I’m a hypocrite. I’m a hypocrite with a gift for writing and encouraging others to do what I’m so bad at doing myself. Could you imagine how holy my family would be or how effective my ministry would be if I actually started living the life I challenge my teens to live?! How many lives could I change if I were the person God expected me to be? Pope Francis recently said,

“Accompanying Christ, remaining with him requires a “stepping outside,” a stepping beyond. Stepping outside of ourselves, of a tired and routine way of living the faith, of the temptation to withdraw into pre-established patterns that end up closing our horizon to the creative action of God.  God stepped outside of himself to come among us, he pitched his tent among us to bring the mercy of God that saves and gives hope.”

If I had the courage to step outside of my routine, tired habits I could change the world, I could be that mercy and hope to others in ways I can’t even imagine. What are your tired routines, your pre-established patterns? For me, my tired routines are thus: driving home each night to sit down at the dinner table and help my kids to eat their dinner, engage in small talk with my wife, and put my boys to bed. Then we watch a show or play a board game and head off to bed ourselves.

Sure, we bless our food, we pray with the boys each night as they go to sleep and we pray as husband and wife as we fall asleep (when I’m tired enough to go to bed when my wife does). But those are such routine prayers! There are so many other opportunities to grow in my prayer life! But I’m like a stream of water, taking the path of least resistance. It’s easier to turn on the TV then to sit in prayer. It’s easier to play a game of chess on my tablet than to read Scripture or the life of a saint. It’s easier to check Facebook than to go to the church and pray (which is only 40 steps away from my office desk).

What about you? How can you change your tired routines to become the saint that God is calling you to be? You shouldn’t have to think too hard. I believe most of us already know what it is we need changing, but we lack the will to do it. As Saint Augustine once quipped, “Lord, Make me chaste; just not yet.”

I think there are only about 3 husbands/dads reading my blog at this time (and about 5 women), but who cares? To paraphrase Thomas Dubay in his book, The Fire Within, if only 100 people would become the saints that God has called them to be, it would set the world on fire. Three husbands/dads is a good start… only 97 to go.

How can we bust out of our tired routines? Even if we have to embarrass ourselves in front of our wives by asking for their help, what is it we can do to become great saints, to lead them into sanctity? For me, it’s reading Scripture with my wife each night after we put our boys to bed and before we turn on the TV; or perhaps we talk about our feelings for a little while; or, God forbid, I wake up early twice a week and take one of my boys to daily Mass with me (and then go for those beautifully unhealthy treats called donuts afterwards). I love donuts. Maybe one day soon I’ll love prayer even more.