Awkward Catholic

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


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God’s School of Trust

Leap of Faith

I’m currently spending the week at a Life Teen summer camp. It is a Catholic camp for high school students. There are almost 300 high school teens here this weekend in the North Georgia Mountains and the theme is “Relentless Father”. It’s an especially amazing theme and an especially blessed camp. God is so tremendous and relentless in his pursuit of each one of us, individually, uniquely and passionately. It’s precisely what I’ve been trying to teach the teens I minister to for the last several years. I’ve written about it a number of times on this blog. Ultimately, in my understanding of God, this is pretty much what it all boils down to. Everything else is simply a different spin, a unique aspect of his passionate pursuit of each of our souls, his thirst for our love, not for his own satisfaction but for ours.

 

In light of all this, I’ve been reflecting on what he’s been doing within me lately. I’ve been inundated by this very specific message of trust, for the last few months. And as I reflect on my life, I see this common thread weaving in and out through so many countless moments, both big and small; I’m not even sure where to begin or how to list them all; it would take many more blog posts than this one. I think most importantly I first learned this trust through my beautiful mother, Jackie. She taught me through her actions, if not her words, that God will always provide for me. I learned through my mom that he will never fail me.

 

Then, there is the story of his Sacred Heart. Again, through my mom, a devotion to his Sacred Heart pierced my own and has remained with me throughout my years, even those when I walked away from his love. And again, when I found myself drawn back into his love, yet struggled against it, he gave me his very own mother to continue guiding me home, providing for me spiritually and emotionally. Through Saint Therese the Little Flower I encountered the endless abyss of his merciful love and found a model of trustful surrender.

 

As I struggled in my ministry, when I struggled in my marriage, when my mom passed from cancer, when my wife got sick, as we struggled on her road to recovery, and in so many countless different ways, His hand has been there guiding me, protecting me and providing for me. And his still small voice has been calling me to trust in him.

 

Lately, as I wrestled with deep father wounds, he has broken through in tremendous ways, in gentle and healing ways, in beautifully subtle and miraculous ways to heal my woundedness. It’s as if he’s currently shouting from the rooftops, “Trust in me!” In prayer, I have long prayed in desperation. In fact, I can remember long dark nights as a young teenager pleading and begging God for help, if he cared; if he wanted. And to this day I struggle with this, despite this intense school of trust he has led me through. I have a deep seated tendency to beg God in my prayers, like the desperate father in Mark 9 who cries out to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us.” But God doesn’t want this untrusting faith. He desires and he thirsts for our faithful love, so to fill us with his love, to heal us and to transform us from glory unto glory!

 

At Mass yesterday we were praying the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” At the first “Lord, have mercy,” I was distracted and was saying it carelessly. And recognizing this, I quickly focused my heart on the 2nd part. Praying “Christ, have mercy,” I pleaded for his mercy, as I always do. But something stirred in me that even this wasn’t right. And at the third part “Lord, have mercy,” I prayed with confidence, a confidence I did not have of my own. It was a confidence in his abundant and merciful love, as if it were already granted. And I found myself awash in his mercy! It was stupendous and ultimately indescribable except by a single word: JOY!!

 

And I think it’s a message meant not only for me, but for so many others. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve we have failed to trust in God’s love. And he has ever since called us back into his trust, giving us everything including his very own Son to accomplish this task, that we might place our trust in Him and allow his will to rule our lives. If only we would trust that his yoke is truly easy and his burden is truly light, then we would cast aside all of our silly distractions and heavy burdens and dive head first into his merciful heart!

 

It seems like such a mountain to climb though! I’m not like those great saints! It’s not so easy to cast myself into his merciful love and trust him in all things. I mean, I have a wife and four kids to care for! I have bills to pay, and hopes and dreams to achieve and wounds and hurts to nurse and numb. I’m too busy! I haven’t been given enough examples or experiences of his abundant love yet. If only he’d just prove his love and providence to me… again. Then maybe I could do it.

 

Yet, something has been whispering to me lately, there seems to be this sliver of understanding that in reality, this mountain is nothing more than a mole hill. And my heart suddenly yearns to leap! Lord, give me the strength! Lord, I do believe! Help my unbelief!*

 

* Mark 9:19-29

*I should note that I borrowed the title of this post from Fr. Michael Gaitley. 


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Hands in the Air Vulnerability

What is the first thing most people do when being held up by robbers?Surrender Pic Stick their hands in the air. When a criminal is surrounded what does he typically do to give up the fight? Stick his hands in the air. When you’ve been working on something with all you have and you just can’t figure it out and you give up, what do you do? Throw your hands in the air. Why is that? I believe because putting your hands above your head places you in the most vulnerable position you could possibly be in. Our hands, and by extension our arms, are the first and last defense. We stick our hands out to feel our way in the dark, we cover our face to protect it from incoming danger, we brace ourselves with our hands as we fall. Our hands protect and defend us; to move them as far away from our bodies, to place them in a position of uselessness is an act of vulnerability.

To be vulnerable is to risk that the other will hurt you, and to, in a certain sense, say, “I give you permission to do whatever you will.” Like it or not, it’s something we all experience in our lives. In fact, most of us spend the greater part of our childhoods being vulnerable and learning that to live life that way hurts… a lot. And so we learn to close ourselves off, to protect ourselves. Hence, we have the wonderful song by Simon and Garfunkel, I am a Rock.

VulnerableIn almost every human interaction we consciously or subconsciously judge how vulnerable we are going to be with the other person; “How much am I willing to share?” “Can I trust this person?” “Can I be myself right now?” and countless other questions we ask ourselves. Each of them lead back to that core question, “How vulnerable am I willing to be towards this person?” Now, we can’t just go around willy-dilly lettin’ the crazy out on everyone we meet. But there are some people I believe it is necessary to risk that vulnerability with, to risk being hurt by. Those are the ones to whom we say, “I love you.” (And yes, this includes God.)

In order to love we have to be vulnerable, don’t we? On Good Friday I was meditating on the Way of the Cross and was struck with a new insight concerning the 10th Station “Jesus is Stripped of his Clothes.” This is quite possibly the most vulnerable moment in all history: the God-Man, the most powerful, infinite, good and loving being making himself weak and helpless with love. He was completely exposed, completely vulnerable! Vulnerable to what? To us, to our hate and judgment, our scorn and mockery, to the weight of our sin crushing him as he leaned upon the rock of his love.

Jesus is Stripped

Our modern sensibilities have glossed over the reality of this moment and made it difficult for us to realize its gravity. Out of a sense of decency we have placed a cloth over Christ’s loins. We protect the image so as not to reveal too much. And who can blame us? But it wasn’t really that way. The Romans didn’t suddenly find pity in their hearts for the man they were in the midst of torturing and decide, “Let’s leave him a little decency.” They stripped him of everything and nailed his hands above his head to the cross… the most vulnerable position to be in for anyone, least of all God.

Of course, in this Easter season I can hear the objections now, “But Mike, it’s Easter! Why are you talking about the Cross now?! Where’s the upbeat, happy, alleluia message?”

It’s right here, hidden beneath the nakedness of God. You see, it is precisely because he allowed himself to be stripped and utterly exposed that we have the joy of Easter. This is what love is after all, being open to the other, being vulnerable giving yourself completely to another, whether or not they give anything back. That’s why Adam and Eve covered themselves after the Fall, to protect themselves from each other, and from God. And that’s why Christ, the new Adam, ended up naked on a mountain before all the world, to untie the knot of Adam’s sin.

“But Mike, I can’t go around in naught but my skin. I’d get arrested and possibly sunburned!” Yeah, that’s probably not a good idea. You can however have a heart naked and open like the saints, who in imitation of Christ, loved without fear, pretension or ulterior motive. Yes, it’s risky and it’s going to hurt but so did the Cross. And didn’t Jesus demand of his followers that they pick up their cross and follow him? Did you ever ponder that? He doesn’t just want us to suffer like him. He wants us to love like him, to be vulnerable like him, to risk rejection like him.

Light Cross

After all, it’s only because of his vulnerable love that we have the joy of Easter. Love hurts, yes but as Lord Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” It’s better not because love is simply some noble cause, but because that is what we are made for! We exist to love, to know and be known. And you cannot be known if you are a rock! You cannot love if you are an island alone and unfeeling! And when we take this risk it will hurt because we are surrounded by people who would rather crucify God than embrace him (and that includes most of us some times). But the Good News is that when we do open ourselves to this vulnerable love, we become like Him; and who doesn’t want to become a little more God-like?

So what does it look like to be vulnerable?

For me, that means opening up to my wife about how I’m feeling. It means trusting others and not always keeping them at arms’ length with sarcasm and jokes. It’s about having real conversations with friends and not just talking about sports or boardgames; looking people in the eyes and smiling, even with strangers. It’s about seeing Christ in the other person–my friend, my enemy, the stranger, the beggar, the president–and being truly present to them in their need and circumstance. Most of all, it’s about spending time in prayer and opening my heart to my Savior, the greatest lover of all.

So won’t you join me this Easter season and throw your hands up in the air like you just don’t care? Surrender to Christ, become completely vulnerable to him and his loving will, as when He stretched his hands out on the cross in naked vulnerability to the will of the Father. Remember: God will not be out-done in generosity!

And, as a parting note, if you need any more encouragement to let yourself become vulnerable, just read the very end of the Bible, Rev 21-22. That’s what we have to look forward to.