Awkward Catholic

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


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The Storm Rages On

There is so much going on right now. Both personally and in the world around us. My boys are going to public school for the first time, my wife is due with baby #4 in two months, good friends are moving far away, the youth ministry is gearing back up for the school year, and many more things. It’s so difficult to find time to pray. Yet, I look at what’s coming at us and realize how desperately I need to… we need to.

Spending just a few minutes connected to the internet or listening to the news, it feels as if we’re being attacked on all sides. Not just from our own busyness but especially in what matters most… our faith. The culture seems hell-bent, literally, on destroying the Catholic Church and everything it stands for; and from every angle, we are besieged. But it’s not just the world around trying to tear us down.

Within the Church, forces seem to be trying to tear it apart from the inside: many priests and bishops have perpetrated or at least looked the other way while other clergy act heinously, or perhaps they’re just mediocre priests, when what we need are men who will stand in the breach, or rather, kneel in the breach and humbly lead their flock to heaven.

ukraine priest

Don’t get me wrong, there are many good priests; in my immediate area alone, I can easily name 4 men whom I would trust to guide and lead my soul and family. But unfortunately, the ones who are mediocre at best and those worse, tend to suck up all the oxygen in the room, so to speak. And it can be disheartening and scandalous.

Now, before you call me a hypocrite (because I kind of am), I’ll call myself out and say that I too would lump myself in the class of mediocre Catholics. I try-ish to be holy, but the weight of my laziness and sinfulness… oof. And I don’t excuse this either. This war I speak of, of being attacked on all sides, includes our personal sinfulness as well. Sometimes, this is the most difficult part of the fight, the most discouraging. At Mass this morning, I sat in my pew as the priest prayed the Consecration and my mind fluttered over the countless failings in my life. It was as if the devil was trying to distract and discourage me by reminding me of how horribly I’ve sinned, of how unworthy I am to even be present to this most miraculous gift.

Fortunately for me, the grace of God is tremendous and He’s taught me that I am unworthy, for all have sinned, all fall short. And so I thanked the devil for the reminder of my failures so that I could then offer them to God and his abundant mercy.

Then I looked up and around at the numerous faithful Catholics kneeling around me and was overwhelmed with joy and hope! Despite all that is coming at us, these men and women remain faithful. The storms of the world, the corruption of bishops and cardinals, the attacks of the culture, their own sins and mistakes… and here they [the faithful] are, worshiping God and returning to Him who alone can satisfy! Praise the Lord!

I see these ordinary and faithful Catholics and imagine we are in the company of Elijah and a whole cloud of witnesses around us. We stand at the entrance of the cave as the storms and earthquakes rage all around and we are unafraid. We listen for that still, small voice calling out to us, “I am with you,” and we find faith, hope and love. And there is simply no place I’d rather be.

The Summit


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Once More Into the Breach

That time you started a new habit of prayer, or started using your gifts to follow your dream, only to let it slowly slip away… just like all those good New Year’s resolutions or Lenten promises; or every time you’ve fallen to temptation and made sincere promises never to fall again… but then life happens and you forget your promises, rationalize your choices or make excuses.
Horse Fall
This sort of thing happens to me all the time! If I’d followed through on even a fraction of the spiritual commitments I’ve made over the years I’d be a saint by now. You probably would be too. In light of this endless struggle and failure it’s easy to become complacent and to stop tying so hard. It’s easy to look up from our failures and think, “Well, I tried and failed again. I guess there’s no point anymore; it’s just not going to work.” And we move on, or in the case of sin, give in and rationalize it away.

About this blog, if you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been posting nearly as often as I use to. Well, this is me, picking myself back up and saying to you, it’s OK to fail, but now it’s time to pick yourself up (with God’s grace, because ultimately, all is grace) and try again. I’ve been given the gift of writing and have a dream to use this gift to help others encounter Christ. But for various reasons (the biggest is laziness), I’ve dropped the ball these last few (many) months.

A friend recently challenged me to get back up and keep writing, so here I am, back up on my horse and I want to encourage you to do the same. It feels good to be trying again, a bit scary, but good. It’s not easy, but it’s good. As it’s been said many times before, we’re not promised tomorrow, or even another hour. So don’t wait to strive to accomplish what you most desire and what God has called you to.

In light of the immanence of Christ, I think this Lent presents us a unique moment in history. Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams and in the midst of all this chaos, it’s the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima! I don’t know about you but I am super-excited and hopeful that God, through Mary, is going to do something marvelous!

But even if nothing stupendous happens we should still be trying our best to prepare our hearts and minds for whatever God wills. And let’s be honest, every breath we take is a stupendous grace that provides us an opportunity to love God and transform our world. And every life we touch, every movement in union with God’s grace is a miracle never before seen! I encourage you to take a minute (or ten) and sit with these truths, just spend some time breathing slowly and with each breath contemplate the miracle of your life, the breath you are able to take. After all, if God weren’t actively thinking about you (and madly in love with you) you would simply cease. Every single breath is the miraculous grace of God within you!

Now that we’ve readjusted our vision to the end goal (union with God), let us set our sights back to the moment in front of us (keeping the end goal in our hearts)… standing back up after our failures, picking up where we left off, seeking forgiveness and healing once again.

I can almost hear you thinking (because I’m thinking it myself), “But I know I’m going to fail, again!” But all I can respond with is, “You’re probably right. So what?” God doesn’t ask us to succeed, he asks us to try. Cliche yes, but nonetheless truth. As a saint once said, a saint is someone who got back up one more time. You see, saints aren’t perfect. They’re stubborn and humble. Their failures don’t bother them because the failures only prove how helpless and weak they are, what they’ve already learned so well. And it’s precisely in this utter helplessness that God rushes in to lift them up. Nothing attracts God to a soul more quickly, more completely than true humility.

That was St. Therese’s Little Way. It wasn’t merely doing small things with great love (let’s be honest, we’ll fail miserably at that too). It was in recognizing her utter inability to reach the heights of sanctity that her soul desired. And so, she cast everything onto Christ. He would have to lift her up because she certainly couldn’t do it herself.

This is easier said than done of course. But then again, doesn’t that just prove exactly what I’m saying (repeating from the saints)? So go ahead and get back up, dust yourself off and cast yourself onto the mercy of Christ. You can do it… um, I mean, you can’t do it, but Christ can.

Mother Mary, give me your heart.

Pieta


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The Math of Abortion

Let’s take a break from the awkward moments for a bit. Let’s get real here and realize that the world we live in has become so corrupted by sin, i.e. selfishness, that a great many of us can no longer tell the difference between good and evil, much less distinguish between that which is utterly evil and that which, while profound, pales in comparison.

Baby in Utero

What am I talking about? Simply this: any person who thinks that abortion is not the single most important problem facing our nation and world is either fooling themselves or is a fool. The utter moral depravity that compares abortion to economics or gun control is quite simply, unconscionable.

 

There is no argument, no rationale that justifies the killing of an innocent human being in his mother’s womb. None. Nada. Nothing. The very thought of arguing with a person (this happened to me recently) about priorities makes me want to scream and shake them until they wake up. Of course, in normal human discourse, this isn’t an option and moreover rarely ever works.

 

No, I’m not flippantly brushing off the importance of a healthy, just economic system, the right of persons to defend themselves, quality education, or any other issue. Each, in its own right, is urgently important. But, come on! I mean, we’re comparing quality education to ripping a defenseless human being limb from limb who has been proven to feel pain and fights against the torturous instruments of its death. It’s as if we live in 1930’s Nazi Germany and we’re debating the economy all the while the police are rounding up Jews and invalids for extermination. Here’s a scene from “Life Is Beautiful” for an example of what I’m talking about.

Calvin & Economy

I recently read an article from David Andrusko[1] on LifeNews.com where he quoted G.K. Chesterton: “All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.” And in this Mr. Chesterton speaks truth. God created the entire universe and yet thought that it wasn’t yet complete until you were in it. Now, that doesn’t just apply to those we deem “wanted” or “worthy.” It applies TO EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING! God, not you, gets to decide who lives and who dies. God gets to decide which souls get created, not you, not me, not Hitler, the abortionist, Donald Trump, or the president of the United States.

 

Each time a new human life comes into existence it is a brand new act of creation. Did you realize that? God doesn’t have a giant gumball machine full of souls up in heaven waiting for couples (or scientists) to join a sperm and egg. Each time he reaches down and intentionally creates a brand new soul that will live for eternity, one whom the world has never before seen, that will never again be repeated in the history of eternity. From this perspective, God’s perspective, which do you think he cares more about… quality education, a good economy, or the life and dignity of the human person?

 

The baby matters because God has willed it into existence– from all eternity he has been contemplating that particular soul and waiting more anxiously than a dad awaits his firstborn son. That baby is wanted–perhaps not by its own mother or father–but is wanted passionately, deeply and eternally. And that baby’s right to life is more urgent than any gun laws or health care laws or immigration laws.

 

And let me just stop you now– you cannot argue against this. Well, you can try, but all you will succeed in doing is proving yourself a fool, or worse, completely oblivious to the reality of evil permeating our society.

[1] http://www.lifenews.com/2016/02/17/why-do-unborn-children-matter-just-because-they-are/


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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)

 


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The Father’s Love

From a DistanceWhere has God gone? I think it a pertinent question considering that lately we seem to be surrounded by so much death. Everywhere we look death seems to be the victor: suicides, overdoses, bullying, abortion, movies, Ebola, terrorism, gossip and on and on. How do we make sense of all this suffering and evil; how do we justify this tidal wave of evil that seems to be sweeping across our world? Where is God in all this mess?

In the last two weeks my parish community has lost four young people to various causes. Let me tell you, there is no grief like a parents grief. I know this because there is no love like a parent’s love. The mere thought of something awful happening to my own child… it’s enough to make the strongest man tremble. So where is God in all this? Where is the loving Father Almighty? So often it seems like Bette Midler had it right when she sang, “God is watching us from a distance.” But that’s the thing, he’s not watching us from a distance. He’s right here, right now, right always. My pain is his pain, my grief is his grief, my sorrow and joy and love and hopes and fears, he knows them and loves me through them.

A few weeks ago I came home for work around 7:30PM and found the house quiet except the TV. I walked over to the living room and found my two boys (5 & 3) sitting on the couch looking miserable. I went over to them and found their faces all puffed out like Will Smith’s in his movie “Hitch” after he ate the shell fish. It turns out that earlier that afternoon while playing in the side yard they stirred up a yellow jacket nest (they make their homes in the ground). They were instantly swarmed and came running into the house surrounded by dozens of yellow jackets. They each received almost 20 stings all over their little bodies. As I gently held them I felt their pain and my heart broke for them. I was with them in that moment and though they couldn’t imagine that I suffered with them, I did.

And therein lies the beauty of the Father Almighty. He is God with us. Now, I know we usually call Christ the Emmanuel (God with us), but do you realize that where Christ is, there is the Father?! As Christ said, “He who sees me sees the Father,” and again, “The Father and I are one.” Now, I’m not saying they are one in the same person, but the three persons of the Trinity are so intimately united that they are one God and while we distinguish between their persons and work, where one is, all three are. The Father doesn’t just sit on his golden throne watching his will being accomplished. He is in our midst, loving us, near us, in us and through us. He truly is God with us!

One of my favorite passages in the Bible (I have a lot) is 2 Corinthians 6:16, 18: “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people… and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’ “The Father and Adam

Do you hear that? We are his temple. Make no mistake, a temple isn’t simply an empty building where people gather to pray. It is the footstool of God! It is the dwelling place of the Most High. He has pitched his tent among us. And you are that temple! You are his dwelling place; the creator of the universe is closer to you than you are to yourself! ALLELUIA! And more than that, you aren’t simply his dwelling (as if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, but you are his son or daughter. He has claimed you as his own and he loves you!

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “It is not man who is on the quest for God but God who is on the quest for man.” When I first heard that I was stunned. All this time I thought it was I searching for meaning and for hope when in reality it was God within me, calling me and running to me, searching for his little lost helpless, hapless sheep. Why? Because he loves me, because he loves you. Why did God create the universe? Because he loves you. Because he loves everyone? No. Because he loves you. The Father has had an image of you (singularly you) in his mind for all eternity, waiting for the moment that you would come into existence so that he could love you. Every single star in the universe exists so that God could love you. Every single star. Here’s a sliver of what I’m talking about:GalaxiesYeah, that’s all for you.

If you were the only person in the history of the world to exist, ever, he still would have done Every. Last. Thing. He’s. Ever. Done. All for you.

There’s no way he could remain passive on his golden throne while you were down here away from your home. He’s simply too madly in love with you.

Ultimately, I would say that making sense of why we suffer is easy… we are the cause of it. Our sin brings chaos and suffering into the world. But just understanding why it happens doesn’t really make it any easier, doesn’t give it any meaning. What makes the difference is understanding that we’re not alone in our suffering. That our sin, and the chaos it creates doesn’t have the last word. God does. God brought order out of chaos once when he created the world and he continues to do so each moment that he allows creation to persist. His plan, his will, his love will be accomplished… not in spite of our weakness but through it. His almighty power is made manifest in our weakness. He is God with us, he loves with us and suffers with us and redeems that suffering through the love of his Son. And that is what gives hope.

If you ever doubt that then meditate on my all time favorite passage in the entire Bible… Romans 8:28-39, “We are being slain all the day long, we are as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us [for not even death] will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As long as we draw breath there is hope and when our last breath leaves our body, and it is finished, then our hope and our faith will be no more and only the light of the Love of God will remain. Every tear will be wiped away, every grief, even the loss of a child, will be turned into dancing for we will see God face to Face and we will know we are loved.Father and Son


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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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Unbounded Grace

VulnerableDo you believe that God wants to heal you from your wounds, to set you free from your fears? Do you truly believe that God wants to set you free? It’s easy to claim that we believe it. Every Christian will quickly give a mental assent to this truth. But few actually embrace it with their hearts. I know this because I too fail to fully embrace it. Each night I somehow convince myself that watching the T.V. will be more satisfying than reading Scripture or spending time in quiet prayer.

Why is that? Why do we cling to our fears and sin when we know the Truth? Perhaps it’s because we’re comfortable in our brokenness, it’s familiar to us. We know what to expect. Or perhaps it’s because we don’t really trust God. I mean, he’s so distant and intangible to us! How can a God up in heaven set me free down here on earth? If he wants to set me free, he can do it, but I’m not letting go of my sin until he does. Or perhaps we’re too afraid that our particular sin or fear it is too big, too embarrassing, or too unforgivable.
So we keep our fears and sins buried (or we try to) in the deep recesses of our hearts, allowing them to spill over into our real lives by preventing us from embracing prayer, loving others, following Christ with all our heart, mind and strength and hindering our relationships with our friends and family. We bury our fears and sins deep within and verbally claim Christ’s grace without letting it penetrate our souls.

This is not what Christ wants for us. He did not die so that we might live in fear. He did not send his Spirit so that we might lock ourselves in the prison of our hearts. As it says in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”

Both God and Satan have a plan for us:
God desires us to know, love and serve him by bringing his life giving, soul freeing love to others.
Satan is hungry to devour with the lust of a child predator. We are to become his food, his slaves.

T-Rex
The devil tries to get us to focus on our faults and failings and despair. God gives us unbounded power and grace*. And his grace doesn’t just make up for what we lack, it completely transforms our failings into our strength!! He takes our weakness and makes us strong. He sees our faults as opportunities to demonstrate his awesome love and power. He uses our sins and creates opportunities to love. It is from our woundedness that we serve him best, where we recognize his love and grace and find our hope and our salvation!! As it says in 1 Cor. 1:25, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

God has a plan for your life, a beautiful, glorious and challenging plan. He is calling you. He wants to set you free! Even when Jesus walked the earth, he didn’t call the perfect, the best speakers or leaders, but he called Simon, a loud mouthed know-it-all and Judas, a thief and betrayer. He could read hearts. He knew exactly where they excelled and exactly where they would be stretched. And yet, he still chose them! Not because it would grow his ministry, but because he wanted them to experience his real and true love!!

But not all those he called responded with openness. We can see what happens when we simply acknowledge God’s grace but don’t accept it into our hearts… Judas. Judas wasn’t forced to betray Christ, he chose to betray him. He acted out of fear and selfishness; he refused the grace of God. And we see what happens when we do truly accept it: St. Peter, St. Paul, the Good Thief and so many more.
We cannot, however, receive this grace of God if we don’t acknowledge and humbly accept our need for it. We must search out those places we need healing and wholeness and ask for God’s grace in those places. God desperately wants to heal you, but he will do nothing without your permission.

So what is your biggest fear, where do you need God’s grace the most? Acknowledge your brokenness and sin (the best way is to go to Confession on a regular basis, but it also helps to read Scripture, meditate on the Cross and pray the Rosary, among other devotions). God truly wants to set you free to become the person he made you to be. Cooperate with that grace and allow him to heal you and shine through your wounds, which he will heal. In heaven, I believe, the glory of God will shine most intensely through our scars.

Light Cross

* CCC 1996: Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.


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Satan vs. the Eucharist… Challenge Accepted

Evil Mask

* Update: While the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club officially canceled the event at the last minute, about 40 students involved found another location, “The Hong Kong Restaurant” and unbeknownst to the owner, held the black mass in the upper room.*

 

Tonight, May 12th 2014 an atheist group at Harvard conducted a Black Mass under the guise of a cultural enrichment program. The blasphemous horror of the event has not been lost on many of the Catholic faithful around the country. For those who might not know, a Black Mass is a mockery of the Catholic Mass and is the grand event of satanism with the desecration of a stolen Eucharist the main event, much like the Catholic Mass is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. The sole purpose of a Black Mass is to make a mockery of a Catholic Mass and to desecrate the Body of Christ.

Let’s be honest here, anyone aware of the culture war going on around us, both physical and spiritual, isn’t surprised by this latest atrocity. As our culture tolerates everything but the Truth, it is no wonder that the last acceptable bias is against Catholics. And as we all know, Satan attacks most fiercely those things that are a threat to him. He goes after that which is holy, good and true. Remember, Satan can’t create anything new, all he can do is twist and mock that which is real(1). Lust is nothing but a twisted form of love; greed and envy are merely twisted forms of self-gift; gluttony is twisted self-denial; wrath is twisted justice; sloth is twisted mercy.

PietaIn response, tonight my wife and I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as I gazed upon a beautiful image of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Mary holds her Son’s lifeless body, her heart pierced by a sword of loving grief. Her right hand clasps her son’s body and her left lies open, inviting the world to adore. It’s as if she were saying, “Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering.”(2) Mary our Mother invites us into her grief, to mourn with her and to love with her.

We make ourselves vulnerable, as he was vulnerable; as he is still vulnerable to all the evil the world can throw at him. With every blasphemous Black Mass, every abortion, every murder or grave sin, Christ’s body is bruised and broken. His hands and feet are nailed to the Cross, his side is pierced for our transgressions, and not just the grave sins, but the small ones too. Those sins we daily commit, the lustful stare, the demeaning word or rumor, the judgement in our hearts and the laziness in our bones. God made himself vulnerable to our love and our hate. He gave his body over to torment and death and he hasn’t revoked that promise.

In these recent days I’ve often wondered why he doesn’t stop such an atrocity from occurring. I have to keep reminding myself that the Pharisees mocked him on the cross with the very same challenge, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”(3) I need to remember that God is in control, all things happen according to his will and “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.”(4)

You see, I truly believe that God will bring about amazing graces through this blasphemy. It’s not that he wanted this to happen, but that he allows it to happen (because he promised us free will and must stand by his word) and despite the great evil that is perpetrated, he will bring about even greater good. Even before the Black Mass at Harvard began countless people around the world have been praying, Masses have been offered up, Holy Hours have been prayed and grace upon grace has been poured out all over the world! There’s simply no telling how much grace will be poured out and where it will end! That’s the awesome power of our God!

EucharistSo, how should we respond to such evils as the Black Mass being conducted at Harvard? We fight fire with Fire of course. The Archbishop of Boston is right to protest this evil with a counterpoint… the beauty of the Mass and Holy Adoration. It’s the same in our daily lives as we encounter sin, both the sin of others and our own… we counter evil with love, we respond to injustice with mercy, we pray, adore God and sacrifice. We call down God’s grace and power into this world and like the Allies on D-Day, we establish an indomitable beachhead of God’s Kingdom in a darkened world and watch satan fall from the sky like lightning.(5)

God has already won the victory, now let us fight the battle.

1. The more God-like or holy someone/something becomes, the more real it becomes.
2. Lamentations 1:12
3. Luke 23:37
4. Romans 5:20
5. Luke 10:18


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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.”


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Confessions of a Flawed Father

It’s Lent, a great time for confession, reconciliation and a new start. Hence…

I have a confession. I failed miserably the other night while putting my two boys to bed. My wife was out at a prayer meeting, her “Praying Wives Club – praying for their husbands” of all things, and so I had the pleasure of putting my two boys to sleep. It was story time and each boy got to pick a story. While reading “The Best Nest” with each boy sitting on either side of me I should have been on top of the world! I should have been thinking how blessed I was and soaked up each second, each word as two of the greatest blessings in my life snuggled close. Instead, as my eldest son (5 years old) tried to tell me what was going to happen in the story, trying to impress his father, I shut him down, “Yes, Gabriel, I know. Stop spoiling the story for your brother.” A few moments later he was again trying to impress me and I turned the page and shushed him because it was all taking too long.

Complete. And. Utter. Fail.9394078863_296f04b407_z (2)

The good news is, a little later after some time in prayer I figured out why I acted so horribly, so selfishly towards my son who was only trying to impress me and connect with me. For awhile I had been getting lazy in both my prayer and discipline. I’ve been acting more selfishly, and I’ve been letting my mind wander to where it shouldn’t. And these seemingly harmless actions and hidden thoughts have actually revealed their true nature in a big way.

Why am I telling you all this and not just to my priest? Because through this experience I’ve come to realize how my sin and lack of virtue affects not only my own soul but also all those around me! I’ve always intellectually understood that sin has communal effects, but now I see it face to face and it’s an ugly little demon.

Who does it really hurt when I fantasize in my head? My children, my wife, the teens I minister to, and myself. It even hurts those I’ve never met. So, I have resolved to fight harder, to pray longer and to love(1) deeper and when I fail, to stand back up, apologize and try again. Yes, I’m going to fail. Yes, I’m going to scar my children with my selfishness and failures. But I’m also going to teach them that their failures and wounds can do more than crush them; in God’s grace they can give glory to God through their wounds! A wise man once said that in heaven God’s glory is going to shine brightest through our healed wounds; that gives me great hope.

That night I resolved that when my son wakes me up too early the next morning, isn’t it always too early, I will kneel down on his level and apologize for something he has no recollection of. Sin is communal yes, but where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.

I think it a little ironic that we were reading “The Best Nest” since it’s all about how they made a mistake yet ended up together, happy and with new life. And isn’t that what this article is all about… abandoning what is good in a selfish search for something better only to find that the “better” thing is really just a loud clanging bell that’s only going to offer despair and grief. Fortunately, I found (was led) back home quickly.

My son, having such a good and generous heart, simply replied after my apology, “I love you daddy.” Now, with God’s grace I’ll be able to teach him what that love really means.

1. Love, as defined by Pope John Paul II is a gift of self, not some mere emotion or sentiment.