Awkward Catholic

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


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Heart of the Father

Tonight we (my family) sat at the dinner table, eating, joking and having a good time. I told a bad joke, everyone rolled their eyes, and it was good. I’d cooked BBQ chicken tenders, potatoes au gratin and garlic/butter smothered green beans. It was delicious! Near the end of the meal Maria hushed the children and asked each one to share something they loved about their daddy (me, just in case there was any confusion). My wife and children then proceeded to go around the table, one after the other, naming things they loved about me. It was inspiring and humbling. I’m not a perfect dad, not even close. Yet, for some reason my wife and children love me. My three year old princess summed it up simply by saying “I love loving Daddy!” WOW! From the mouth of babes! I can’t really describe what this does to me, what it teaches me… but I’ll try.

She has a heart for her father, that little angel. And her father has a heart for her! She is my precious angel, my prima ballerina, my sweet girl. I love her with a passionate and tender love that I can’t possibly find the words to describe, and I’m a wordsmith. My heart expands each time I look at her. It doesn’t matter if she’s giving me a “bear hug” with her arms thrown around my neck or if she’s throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. I may be angry and impatient but my heart nonetheless grows three times larger, like the Grinch, with each gaze upon that precious little girl. This, I imagine, is what happens to the Father each time he gazes upon his beloved children.

It bears repeating that every breath we take is an unmistakable sign of the love of the Father. The Father’s heart beats with and for his love for us. And every breath we take is the Father saying, “I love you!” If, for one beat of His heart he ceased thinking of us we would cease to exist. Each breath you take and every beat of your heart, therefor is proof of His love! Your heart beats therefor, not with mere blood but with the very love of the Father! And with each beat of His heart, it expands three sizes bigger with love for you. Think about that. Heaven is an eternity of the ever expanding love of the Father for you, his precious child! That’s a difficult thought to contemplate, to be sure. But then again, anything dealing with eternity is difficult to really conceive. I think it’s natural to imagine a balloon being filled with water. Eventually it’s ever expanding shell will burst. That’s how our brains conceive eternity. But the reality is beyond us to fully conceive… a balloon that never bursts, that cannot burst.

Here’s what I’ve learned the last eighteen years of being a father (my oldest son is eight years old, but as a youth minister of eighteen years, I have countless sons and daughters). There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, nothing I wouldn’t give for any one of my kids (all 1000+). I have kids who are my “pride and joy” and others who break my heart with each post on Facebook or Instagram. But they are each one of my kids and I love them with each beat of my heart. Every single one of them has let me down and every single one of them has brought me great joy and hope. And I want nothing but the best for them… to each have a truly noble vocation, to respond with joy and faith to the vocation God has called them to, to become the person they were each created to be. That is my great hope and joy… to see my kids reach their fullest purpose, to become saints! And I have a few on their way, that’s to be sure.

Back now to the dinner table tonight. “I love loving Daddy!” Therese cries out. Wow! Why? Why does she love me? Why would she love loving me? What exactly is she trying to say? Well, in her three year old mind and vocabulary, she loves the snuggles and the hugs and kisses and joy she receives from her father. And it’s clear (I hope) that her father finds true joy in all this as well. That’s a lovely thing, certainly. But I think it’s much deeper than that. She literally has a piece of my heart, in that half of her DNA comes from her father. And furthermore, half her upbringing comes from her father. So, in a certain sense, her very heart is the heart of her father and mother. So, it seems to me that her heart naturally reaches out for its home, for the source.

And do not each of us long for the same, not just for our earthly fathers and mothers, but for our heavenly Father as well? He is the source of all life and love. His heart is the heart of every heart. As my favorite marriage prep course says, “It takes three to get married.” When I stood upon the altar with my soon-to-be-bride, we were not alone there but the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the love of God, filled our space and actually united us together. This great, overflowing love of the Father draws us to Himself and every breath we take is our response to this overflowing love of the Father.

My daughter loves loving me because her very existence is nothing less than the manifestation of love itself! She is the outpouring of love between her father, mother and God! And love loves to be loved! Love loves to love!

This heart of the Father calls us forth and calls us out of our stupor and into the light, into the joy of eternity and the ever-expanding love of his heart, one that explodes with more love and greater joy. And this heart of the Father is tender, oh so tender; one that calls us forth that so gently leads us back into union with His love until our hearts beat as one because they are one. As God himself speaks to each one of us:

“I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,” says the Lord, “touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Cor. 6:16-18

Is that not the most comforting words you’ve ever read?! We shall be His sons and daughters! We shall be like David, a child after His own heart! And He will live with us! Move among us! And you and I will be his son, his daughter, coddled upon his lap and Consumed in His tender love.


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The Third Brother

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

Head in Hands

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

compassion

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

 

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