Awkward Catholic

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


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Where Was God?!

Abandoned-Andrew_Amistad

Photo by Andrew Amistad

Where was God last Sunday night in Las Vegas? Why didn’t he stop the bullets? Why didn’t he stop the gunman, give him a heart attack or stroke, or somehow alert the authorities? If God was so good, so loving and tender, where in the heck was he?! Doesn’t that prove that God doesn’t exist, or even worse, that he doesn’t care?

It’s natural to ask questions like these in the face of tragedy. And we could extend it even further, where was God when Hugh Hefner got Playboy started? Why didn’t he stop him from doing so much to destroy our culture and the countless lives of women, men and families? Where was God each time a baby is destroyed in its mother’s womb? Where was God when the hurricanes were destroying the Caribbean? If God so loved the world, then why in the heck does he allow such pain and suffering?! What kind of God does that?

These are impossibly difficult and painful questions to answer, but there is an answer, and no, it’s not a comfortable one either. Sure, there are the unhelpful answers that God gave us free will and loves us too much to take that free will away. Thanks, but not much comfort there. Well then, God was there because look at how some people are turning their hearts to him now. Again, nice thoughts and probably true but not a whole lot of comfort. Fine. Then how about God was there in the heroic choices people made to give their lives for others. Yeah, that’s great, tremendous and beautiful, but still, wouldn’t he be more loving to stop the bullets in the first place?

Well, no, because I believe that God calls each of us home when we are most likely to get into heaven. You see, God loves us so much and he knows that this earth is not our final destination but just the desert in our own personal exodus. Heaven is our home and he desires that all be saved! And so he’ll do whatever he needs, he call us home whenever we are most likely to make it. OK, that’s a little comforting, but still, it hurts too much to make sense!

I have one final answer for you then. Let me tell you a story about a young teen who had no friends, he was constantly mocked and ridiculed and laughed at, even by some of his own family. He was neglected and alone. His mom loved him certainly, but that was about it, and she worked so hard to support the family that she was hardly there. And so the only other being in existence he knew loved him was his dog, Max. He’d come home every day from school and rush to his dog and hug him thightly, and his dog would jump up and down and run around so happy to see his friend. But his dog got sick, he got arthritis and eventually couldn’t get up to go pee. He’d just lie there all day and when his best friend arrived home his tail would slap the floor with all the energy of a healthy dog and he’d pant with excitement; and the boy was loved.

Darkness_meta-zahren

Photo by Meta Zahren

But one day the boy arrived home and Max couldn’t be found anywhere. He was gone. “I’m sorry honey, we took Max to the vet. We put him to sleep.” This boy’s only friend in the world was gone, and he was alone. Have you ever hurt so deeply, mourned so deeply that it physically hurt? This boy began heaving, feeling like he was going to throw up. His heart literally hurt… betrayed, abandoned, alone. I ask you, where was God in that moment?! Let me tell you, it felt like there was no God, but in fact the God of the universe was right there, his heart aching with every torturous beat of that young man’s heart. He was there in the nights filled with tears, in the dark, in the loneliness and hopelessness. He was there as the young man wrote a letter saying goodbye to the world. He was there as he contemplated throwing everything away and ending the pain. He was there, weeping with his hands nailed to a tree, pouring out his abandoned, broken, and pierced heart.

That young man couldn’t see it, he couldn’t feel it, but he wasn’t alone. He was held in the hands of the Father. Caressed with the kisses of angels and his heart slowly healed and day by day he found peace and hope and light again; not through the passage of time. It wasn’t the simple fading memory of the pain that healed him. It was the love of the Father poured out through the pierced heart of the Son and given with the breath of God that healed his soul. And that my friends is the only real answer that can be given, the only answer that truly satisfies. It is the Face of Christ, the bloodied, bruised and broken Face of Christ in which we find peace and hope.

Where was God on Sunday night? He was there with his blood being poured out like a libation, just as he is in every abortion clinic and every school hallway and every lonely kids darkened room, pouring out his love, often unseen, but always and unfailingly there; transforming broken lives and broken hearts into gloriously new creations.

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz


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To the Heights – Through the Valley

That awkward moment I was bounding up the main stairs of the Catholic high school just as all the teens were being dismissed and filing out into the halls and parking lot, and my foot missed the next step and I face-plant in front of all of them… not a good way to make a first impression.

Mountain in a Lake

 

One of the most profoundly important scenes in the Gospel is one that is often overlooked or treated as a nice story but left behind quickly as it is a bit confusing… the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is contained in all three synoptic Gospels, with a brief reference in John; in each instance the Transfiguration is a turning point, the fulcrum to the whole story of our redemption.

To see the face of God… to see God, Face to face… it is the destiny, the dream of every human heart because it is the fulfillment of every human desire. Yet, to see God’s face is death; that is, we cannot see God’s face until we have faces with which to see him. (Peter Kreeft).

What do the above two points have to do with each other? What do they have to do with Good Friday and Easter? Why write about his today? I’m so glad you asked.

The Transfiguration is the fulcrum to the entire Gospel and yet is so often misunderstood or glossed over because there is simply so much going on. Prior to the Transfiguration Christ had spent his entire ministry in Galilee, healing, teaching and doing miracles. After the Transfiguration he sets his face towards Jerusalem and to his ultimate glory. The story is a Theophany in that it reveals God. It is a mountain top experience, a foreshadowing of our destiny in heaven. And it is a Christophany in that it reveals the true nature of Christ, the summation of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), but not just a summation for Christ goes beyond them, becoming the lasting fullness of God’s revelation… the revelation of the Face of God.

As Jesus is praying his face was changed and his clothes became dazzling white. This is a vision of the heavenly glory that awaits each of us, but more importantly, it is a vision of the Face of Christ unveiled for our human eyes to see. In this glimpse we see the glory of God, but it is just a glimpse. One of the most important lessons I have learned from this passage is that in order to obtain the beatific vision in its fullness, like Christ we must first pass through the valley of the cross.

Wounds of Christ

I love the reaction of the Apostles because it shows clearly that even they didn’t get it. They were as thick-headed as I am. Just a few days prior Jesus had told them that “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Then, in the Transfiguration, he discusses his exodus, i.e. his Passion, with Moses and Elijah; Peter, John and James, completely miss the point! They want to make three tents, three chapels where they can keep that encounter alive. They want to stay on the mountain. Can you really blame them?

To the ancient Jewish mind (and the modern mind too), suffering meant that God had abandoned you, that you had somehow caused God to leave you to wallow in your misery. That’s what Job’s three friends accused Job of when he suffered more grief and loss in one day than most people suffer in a lifetime. And Peter, John and James didn’t want to descend into the valley, to leave behind this mountaintop experience. They wanted to stay there, where it was safe and comfortable and “heavenly”. Who can blame them?

But a cloud comes down upon the three disciples and the voice of God booms, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” I love this! It reminds me of the countless times I’ve bent down to my four year old who is blessed with an active imagination, so much so that he rarely hears what others are saying to him or asking of him. I repeatedly bend down and call out his name, “Dominic! Listen with your ears!” The apostles, like us, needed to learn to listen to Jesus, who had just commanded them to take up their crosses, to descend into the valley of the cross and suffer like Christ.

Why? Why must we suffer? Simply this… to find our faces. What’s the point of suffering, of Good Friday? What’s so good about it anyway?! As Peter Kreeft describes, our hearts are like granite blocks in the hands of a master sculptor who must chisel away the stone until our true image appears.

I remember hearing once that a master sculptor, when he obtains a new block of granite, doesn’t just start chipping away but rather listens to the stone, spends time with it and studies it in order to find it’s true nature. I like to imagine the Father does the same with us, he sees the true nature, our real faces inside the deep recesses of the stone. And the blow of the hammer against the chisel, our suffering, is what brings our true nature out.

That’s what’s so good about Good Friday… the true nature of Christ is revealed in his face, the most beautiful face of love, the suffering Christ, the Holy Face, the scourged face, the crucified face of Christ. And in that most horrible moment, in the suffering that broke the world, Christ took upon himself the suffering of the world and transformed it into the most beautiful, powerful, death destroying love. That is a good Friday! That is the beauty of our suffering… it enables us to find our faces so as to meet Him face to Face.

Face to face

The mountaintop experience gives us hope and strength to endure the valley of the cross. We cannot stay on the mountain any more than we can stay in heaven… until we have found our faces. And so like Christ, having encountered his glory on the mountaintop (the retreat or prayer experience) we must set our faces towards Jerusalem… our own individual exodus’ by taking up those little crosses of daily life and follow him. And as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death we find that each thorn, each whip, even the nails piercing our hands and feet become as beautiful roses, a garden of joy and peace… because like Job, we find our own faces and are able to meet God, Face to face and be satisfied.


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The Final Exam

The Final Exam

That awkward moment when you show up for class, sit down at your desk, and realize that everyone else is preparing to take a test you had no idea about. You rack your brain trying to remember any mention of the test, you urgently try to think of an excuse to get you out of it; perhaps you could pretend to be sick. You nervously pray that it’s all just a big joke or a dream. But the teacher has already begun passing out the test and there’s no escape. You’ve got to simply do the best you can and pray for a miracle. Being surprised and found unready is not something many people look forward to, yet many of us are likely to find ourselves in that very situation when it matters most.

I’m 38 years old, just five years shy of the age my mom was when she was first diagnosed with cancer. My mom was 43 and I was a junior in high school. I was thinking about this the other day when the thought occurred to me that the very same thing could happen to me, at any moment really. (For those concerned, no, I don’t have cancer that I know of). And if I were diagnosed, what would happen? What would I do? If I only had a short time to live, how would I react? Am I ready for that?

I’ve read the lives of many saints and one thing that separates them from the rest of us is their reaction to suffering and death: St. Therese the Little Flower rejoiced when she first coughed up blood from Tuberculosis, St. Pier Giorgio Frassati hid his sickness so as not to impose upon others, and Blessed Alexandrina exuded joy throughout her many years of excruciating pain. If I had something like two years to live, or unending pain would I, like them, exude joy and faith or would I shrivel up and turn inwards? Would I, as I hope, finally begin living a life worthy of the name Christian? That’s what it comes down to; it’s in this that we pass the test. Am I ready to love Christ in the pain and suffering? Will I find my joy and hope in his faithfulness? Am I ready like Blessed Alexandrina to say, “Yes Lord, I will give whatever you ask”?

I’m not sure I would be ready for that. Suffering aside, what it comes down to is, am I ready to die? If I died today or tomorrow, would I pass the test? No, that’s not right. I don’t just want to pass the test; I want to ace it! Isn’t it all about love after all? And why would I settle for just squeaking by? By comparison, would I be a good husband or father if I was satisfied with giving my family mediocre love?

I hold to this fantasy that I’ll be like my mom. She loved amazingly, if not perfectly, but when she was diagnosed with cancer, she experienced a transformation and became a giant, an expert, an ace in faithfulness and love. But isn’t it kind of foolish to wait until a tragedy or long-suffering happens to start loving like that?

I wonder what my life would look like if I started living like I was dying. Do you ever wonder about that? Do you ever pray about it? Perhaps we should. It’s quite an effective reality check, don’t you think?

None of us can honestly claim surprise when we encounter that final test. We will be asked a simple question, “Do you love me?” How we spend our lives studying for this test will make all the difference.

  1. Blessed Alexandrina: http://www.blessed-alexandrina.com/
  2. Blessed Pierre Giorgio Fassati: http://frassatiusa.org/
  3. St. Therese the Little Flower: http://www.littleflower.org/therese/


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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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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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No Tears in Heaven (but there might be wings)

The other day in the car, I had a conversation with my five-year old son; he wanted to know if he could get angelWinged Victory wings in heaven. I told him that in heaven God would give him whatever he needed to be happy; if he needed angel wings to be happy then God would find a way to give him wings. (I have it on good authority that Redbull doesn’t exist in heaven so that’s not an option.) I then stressed to my boy who this is one of the most amazing things about heaven… it’s perfect happiness where nobody ever cries or gets hurt. He didn’t believe me.

First he inquired, “But what about when someone makes you cry?” I said that nobody makes you cry in heaven because everyone wants to share and be kind and love you. I quoted the sage Eric Clapton and told him there are no tears in heaven (I believe this is also found somewhere in that zany book of the Bible called “Revelations”)¹. He simply said in response, “I don’t believe you.”

I. Was. Stunned.

Dads are supposed to know everything for their little boys. There isn’t supposed to be doubt or disbelief! How could this be? Fortunately, I was stopped at a red light otherwise I may have driven off the road. In pondering this conversation the last few days I came to the realization that of all things for him to doubt, this doubt makes sense. He already knows well that this life filled with suffering, selfishness, tears and yellow jackets. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a happy boy and has loads of fun and is loved and knows he is loved, but by the age of five he’s discovered that tears are a part of life. We all know that, don’t we… only too well?

In this world most of us are taught to doubt anything we can’t see or touch or prove empirically. So heaven either can’t be real or, if it is, can’t be all it’s cracked up to be. After all, this world is pretty consistent in one thing… letting you down. After years of adulation you realize that your parents are fallible (apparently that only takes five years or so); everyone around you acts selfishly, especially yourself; the world is full of criminals; and so on. Simply spending a week as a high school student in a public or private school will suffice to teach this lesson. Everything we can see and touch and empirically prove tells us that “life is pain and anyone who says differently is selling something.”² Why should heaven be any different? Because God says so? Just look at him, this God of ours… hanging on a cross, dying the most horrific death possible. And so we say to him, “Whatever you say, Jesus.” But we think in the depths of our hearts, “I don’t believe you.”

Is it any wonder why it’s so difficult to lead teens (or anyone else) closer to Christ?! Everything in the world around them convinces them that heaven is a big sham. And that hypocritical youth minister over there telling me that God loves me and wants to be happy with me in heaven forever? Puh-leaz! I don’t believe him! Who wants eternal life when life is pain?

So how do we respond? Whether you’re a youth minister, a priest, a teen or a parent, what’s the antidote? Honestly, I don’t have one. There’s nothing I can say to absolutely prove that it’s all going to be worth it. I can provide no antidote to the pain of life.

But I don’t have to. It’s not up to me. It’s not up to you. I am nothing more than the sailor sitting next to his friends in a lifeboat trying to find his way to a safe harbor. Ultimately, it’s the Captain’s job to guide us home; he and he alone can do it and while he seems to have gone down with the ship, he somehow rose again from the depths and is with us.

Refugee Boat

The only one who can prove the joy of heaven is Christ himself. He proved it to me many years ago while I was on retreat. He met with me, he encountered me and I have never been the same. I know in the depths of my heart that heaven exists and is more than I could possibly imagine. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has in store for those that love him.”³ This knowledge is a true knowledge. We believe that Saturn exists, not because we can see it but because we trust the astronomers who tell us. That is true knowledge. I believe that heaven is real and is more than a mere absence of suffering because the Word of Truth tells me so.

The only answer, the only antidote, the only proof that exists is Existence itself! The God who’s love is so great that he left the joy of heaven to suffer with his beloved loves you. He. loves. you! That love will not be outdone. His love will not be tainted by suffering, not in the slightest because he suffered for you. He took your sin and suffered in your place because he loves you. Perhaps you haven’t met him yet and don’t know. That’s OK. Call out to him. If your suffering is too great then cry out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”4 And he will meet with you. I know him personally (though I’m not the best friend he could ask for) and I tell you, he longs for you like a deer longs for the running stream.

There is nothing I can prove to you or my five-year old son. You can not prove it. It is beyond belief. The Truth of the joy of heaven resides in one place only, one person only (well three Persons if you want to be technical). My job as a dad, youth minister and Christian is to point… to lead others to a place of encounter. Your job is to do the same. Are you helping others encounter Christ? That is your job, your solemn duty, your privilege, your joy.

 

 

1.  Rev 7:17
2.  From the greatest movie ever made: The Princess Bride
3.  1 Cor. 2:9
4.  Matt 27:46


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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