Awkward Catholic

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


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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.


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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.