Awkward Catholic

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


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Trust the Church?

Recently I was talking with some teens about the Church and how has the fullness of the Truth and they struggled to accept that statement. Mind you, some of these teens are faithful Catholics and peer leaders in their youth group.

Helping Hand

So, that begs the question, can the Church be trusted? If the Church is made up of people like you and me, how can we trust the Church to have the answers, to have the fullness of the Truth? In the Creed we say that we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But how can this Church be holy? I know what I’ve done in my life and I’ve not always lived a very holy one. Even today, I’m constantly succumbing to temptations and sins. I feel like such a hypocrite being encouraging teens to be holy, pray more and to love God, when I so often choose the opposite in my own life.

So how do I do it? How can I tell you that the Church is the fullness of Truth and holiness when there are so many hypocrites like me in it? First, perhaps we should define our terms. To be holy is to be set apart for God. You and I are holy because, through our Baptism, we have been set apart for God, claimed as His very own, and so we are holy. The sacred vessels at Mass are holy because they are set apart for God alone. It would be terrible to fill the chalice with coke or beer. We could, and that would desecrate it, but wouldn’t change the fact that the chalice continues to have a unique and beautiful purpose… to hold within it the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Jesus our Lord.

You and I are more than just “like the chalice”; we become the chalice! Through Communion we become the vessel that brings Christ to the world! We are called to be set apart for God, and no matter how much we tarnish our lives with sin, we still remain His.

This may not seem too important to your life right now, but think about what this means! You are unique and deeply loved and longed for by God! You have a purpose and mission unique in the entire history of time and space! Because of this call to holiness, this being chosen and set apart by God, your life, your drama, your suffering and joys are given a beautiful purpose.

I don’t know about you but that gives me hope and joy, especially when I’m not feeling so special or unique or good about myself.

Next, what about all the hypocrites like me? You know what it’s like. You’re sitting in the pew at Mass and see that kid from school who was passing pictures of some poor girl around on his phone, or you see that girl you know who was killing some other girl’s soul with gossip and lies the other day. And there’s that youth minister guy who’s always talking about God and love, but you I saw him in the store the other day losing it at his kids. What a hypocrite.

Some faith this church seems to have.

Here’s the thing, the Church isn’t a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. You and I don’t come to church because we have it all together, but because without His grace and mercy in the Sacraments and found through our community, we’re sick and gasping for breath, choking on our brokenness.

Finally, we are the Body of Christ. We are not merely a random group of people who happen to believe a similar thing, trying to find comfort in a hoped for future paradise. We are Christ’s hands blessing the world; we are his mouth speaking mercy and peace upon those around us; we are his heart pouring ourselves out for the weak and lost.

And he is our head. He is perfect justice, perfect mercy, and the fullness of Truth.

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; not a way, a truth and a life! He is the only true way, the fullness of Truth, the only true source of Life! All other ways are either mere copies, or cheap knockoffs, or complete shams.

In the end, it is not just me or the priest, mere men and women who call you to holiness. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit within us. And this Holy Spirit is not mixed with shadows of error, doubt or lies.

Can the Church be trusted? Well, only you can answer that question for yourself. When we ask that question, we are not asking whether or not men and women in the Church can be trusted. We are asking, can the Holy Spirit, God himself, be trusted? That is a question that each heart must answer for his or her own.

And if I trust Christ, trust in his Spirit, then it naturally follows that he will lead me into the fullness of His Truth, the place where there is no mixture of falsehood or shadow. And that when he promised us that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that he would give us the fullness of His Spirit in our Church, then it only leaves two options, either Christ is a liar and can’t be trusted at all or the Church contains the fullness of Truth who is Christ himself, and that while we are still sinners, he is transforming us into saints, to be holy, like His Church.


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A Saint Half Full is No Saint at All

That awkward moment when you realize the person treating you like crap is your “neighbor” and you’ve sort of got to treat him with mercy and love. That happened to me recently. I was working with someone on a project (a board game I’m preparing to Kickstart) and I didn’t effectively communicate with him to make my dream a reality. He didn’t take it well, to say the least. I tried my best to apologize and make amends but he ignored all that and in my heart I passed judgment on him.

Judgment Bus

It seems like such a small thing, passing judgment on someone who rubs us the wrong way, it seems such a small thing, a harmless thing, a justified thing at times to judge and speak ill of those who offend us. “They deserve it,” “That person is rotten to the core,” “She is just getting what she deserves,” “I’m only speaking the truth about him so it’s not really gossip.” But in reality, it’s a big problem. I’m not claiming it’s easy, to show mercy and forgiveness, in fact I fail at it myself so often, but it’s worth saying and being reminded of. After all, St. Therese said, “You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” And it’s precisely in these little things where we fail to be a whole saint.

 

Today’s Gospel strikes to the heart of the matter: Luke 10:25-37. In this passage Jesus is questioned by a scholar as to how to inherit eternal life. Is this not the crux of sanctity… uniting ourselves for eternity with God?! Jesus turns the question around on the scholar and asks him to sum up the Law (which in the Jewish understanding meant “teaching”). The scholar responds by stating the “Greatest Commandment”: to love God with your whole self and to love your neighbor as yourself. “Do this and you shall live,” Jesus responds. Easy, right?good-samaritan

 

Wrong.

 

The scholar, perceiving exactly how difficult this would be immediately wishes to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” This the way of things, isn’t it? “But Lord, my neighbor s a jerk!” “I’m just trying to teach him a lesson!” “He deserves it!” “He doesn’t deserve my love, he’s a sinner!” “He’s disgusting, his lifestyle is so obviously wrong that I just can’t love him.” “What would others think of me?”

 

To our limited vision, according to worldly wisdom our justifications make sense. But our ways are not the Lord’s ways. How does Jesus respond to the “justified” scholar? By telling him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know the story, the priest and scholar ignored the dying man on the road but the Samaritan (the one who was considered lower than a dog, to Jews) saw the man’s wounds and had merciful love on him. And that is how we’re called to act to all we meet along this road of life; it’s not easy.

 

Most people we meet along our road are not literally lying in the street bloodied and dying. As always, when reading Scripture we must probe deeper than the surface of things. Most people look normal and healthy, as you and I do. But that’s only because most wounds are not visible to our senses. Each of us is broken and dying on the inside. Most of us harbor deep wounds that cause us to love like half saints, or even less than that. The robbers who left the man for dead are all those that wound us throughout our lives, who hurt us, abandon us and leave us for dead; those who rob us of our dignity through bullying; those who rob us of our ability to have healthy relationships through abuse and neglect; those who rob us of so much more, often times because of their own wounds.

 

So that person who “deserves” our justified judgment is wounded just as we are and thus, in God’s eyes demands our mercy and love! It is up to us to enter into the person’s woundedness, even if that simply means forgiving them in your heart and not judging them. A transgression forgiven heals the victim and the transgressor, for “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”.

 

But, if possible, more is demanded of us. To love our neighbor as ourselves requires sacrifice and accompaniment. We are called, not simply to have pity on our neighbor but mercy. And mercy doesn’t simply pour some ointment on the wound and walk away. The Samaritan didn’t just pour some wine and oil on the man’s wounds and go on his merry way. No, he lifted him onto his own donkey and carried him to an inn and paid for his care and promised his return.

Pope Francis' General Audience

Do you see that accompaniment?! The Samaritan accompanied this man to safety, to deep healing; he loved him as a brother, a man who likely would have treated the Samaritan as a dog if they’d met under different circumstances. Recall, this is a story directly out of Jesus’ mouth, not just a nice thought of some pious theologian living in a comfy monastery. This is the demands of love, of the Law of eternal salvation. To be a whole saint means to have merciful love on all those we meet, on each and every one of our neighbors, no matter how beautiful or disfigured (inside or out) they may be. We are not called to save them; we are called to love them; just as we are not called to save ourselves but to be faithful to the One who loves us onto eternal life.