But I Won’t Do That!

There’s a lyric to an old Meatloaf song that sings, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” This one line is often plucked from the larger context of the song to fit just about any commercial, film, or television situation where its meaning and application become practically universal. In the spirit of adopting a new meaning for the lyric, I want to share with you the reason that same line popped into my head after reading yesterday’s Gospel from John chapter 14.

In the Gospel, it read:

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” – John 14:23-24a

 

Living and acting in accord with God’s word, as it has been revealed to us, is the litmus test of our love for Christ. Ideally, this living and acting would be borne of one’s interior life – their lived relationship with God. Proceeding from a fervent love for Christ and His Church, the way we live takes on a greater significance and sense of mission to the extent that we adhere to God’s word in everything.

When we begin to examine our conscience and take a self-inventory, of sorts, for the day it is plain to see where we have fallen short – in what we have done, and what we have failed to do. But often times there might be one sin in particular that we bring with us to the Sacrament of Confession on a consistent basis – one habitual sin that we tend to grapple in our walk with Jesus.

Thinking about that one habitual sin, it is important to examine the circumstances that surround that act – the near occasion of that particular sin. Do you struggle with gluttony? Lust? Greed? Sloth? What sin of these, or the other deadly sins, seems to creep into each trip to the confessional? These habitual sins are rooted in an inordinate attachment to some temporal good. More importantly, they begin with a comfort with that inordinate attachment.

Comfort within our interior life leads to stagnation, and stagnation leads to the sin that separates us from communion with God. Recognizing this comfort which has led us to sin is but the first step in a long, arduous, uphill battle. Rarely do we realize how ‘normal’ a certain sin has become in our lives until we try to eradicate it. Sometimes, what we took for a harmless vice, without realizing it, has become an addiction.

Putting an end to any habitual sin, apart from God’s grace, is impossible. We, however, are called to cooperate with God’s sufficient grace to overcome our sinfulness. Our pursuit of holiness – the battle we wage for the good of our soul – begins with prayer. A consistent, disciplined life of prayer becomes our means of victory. Beyond prayer, we must drive a wedge between ourselves and the near occasion of sin. This might mean cancelling our cable subscription, putting a web filter on all of our devices, changing the way we spend, save, or obtain our money, the company we keep, or even an intentional searching out of new ways to detach from anything that redirects our affections which are due to God alone.

This might sound simple enough, but what we come to discover sooner, rather than later, is the actual depth of our love for God. Since our sin has reached the level of habit, redirecting that reflex will prove to be most uncomfortable – even painful at times. Habitual sin has become our crutch; our coping mechanism. Like most sin, the ones we deal with most frequently are the ways in which we have become Lord of our own lives – at least in those certain areas. When we lean on a sinful habit to fill any void, or just to get by, we cease in our leaning on God.

This is why we cannot hope to move forward from our sin apart from prayer and God’s grace, because we need that grace so that we might have real faith and trust that – if we let this go – God will be totally sufficient for us. I would dare to say that we fall into habitual sin because of our lack of faith and trust in God. For these reasons we must be vigilant in our self-examination, and relentless in our pursuit of God’s mercy and forgiveness. By these measures we come to know ourselves; we come to know what we would actually do, and not do, for love.

Exodus

When making any life-altering decisions, we’ve really got to question our motives. If our motivation for change isn’t really worthwhile then we are likely to fall off the wagon sooner rather than later.

Beginning about mid-February I had come upon another weight loss plateau. I didn’t have to look very far to see that this latest pause in progress was self-inflicted. I began to increase my carb intake ever so slightly. Going into this plateau I was about 20 lbs down from my starting weight. Two weeks later? I was still 20 lbs down. I began a struggle with my will power; it seemed as though I had lost my resolve to just stick to the program.

I began to realize that my weight loss “for my family” was a thinly-veiled disguise for my own vain ambitions of getting fit again. I didn’t just want to be healthier, I wanted to look good. I wanted to regain some semblance of self-confidence that I hadn’t felt in years. I’m not here to tell you that these are entirely bad motivations. In fact, they are quite reasonable for any man. Confidence is a good thing.

But I was doing it again; I was falling back into the same old mentality. I was living for myself.

In the latter part of last year, I had stumbled upon a blog post by Taylor Marshall, of the New Saint Thomas Institute, wherein he mentioned all of the benefits that had come from a ninety day program called Exodus 90. I remember thinking to myself, “I want that.”

So I slowly began to research the program and had come to the firm decision that I was to begin on March 1st. Ash Wednesday. This regimen which includes moderate ascetic practices, daily exercises, prayer and reflection, and weekly accountability meetings, was just what I needed. It was almost perfect timing that my decision to begin at the outset of Lent came on the heels of me slipping away from my new low-carb lifestyle.

Exodus 90 for me was not going to focus on how I looked in the mirror; it was going to be about who I am as a Husband, a Father, a Friend, and, most importantly, as a Catholic. Today (March 7th) is Day 7. Our fraternity, which includes me and three other guys, has already had our first meeting and we are off to a great start. The literature that accompanies this 90-day challenge warns us time and time again that while this program starts out “easy” that this Exodus will be anything but easy. I am not only part of a fraternity of four guys, but of a larger community of 1700+ men who have already gone through their own Exodus.

To give you a quick overview as to what my Exodus looks like, here’s a bulleted list of what I am giving up with brief explanations:

  • To combat my love of comfort: Cold/Lukewarm showers only, No snacks between meals, No sweetened beverages, No alcohol, Abstinence & Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, No desserts or sweets, regular and intense exercise
  • To combat my addictive tendencies: Computer/Mobile Devices for work/research purposes only (i.e. no social media, etc.), no television (this includes movies and Netflix), Only music that lifts the soul to God, no major material purchases (beyond toiletries)
  • For my wellbeing: Commitment to getting seven hours of sleep each night (harder than you might think), Weekly accountability meetings with your fraternity (small group), Make time for regular holy hour (aka the two hours I spend commuting each day, now without radio)

Why did I list everything?

Not to gloat. Not to prove anything, but to inspire.

Maybe someone will end up reading this who is also in need of a change, just like me. I wanted to disclose the Exodus 90 system in this way to show you that it is no joke, and there will be countless reasons to quit or to not take the challenge at all.

“I just can’t give up social media. I need it for…”

“No hot showers? Are you kidding me?”

“But I’m not even Catholic! So why would I…”

There are endless reasons why someone should NOT do Exodus 90.

I’m doing it for my freedom, because an unhealthy attachment to worldly goods limits my capacity to give of myself and live for others. I’m doing it to get my life back, and to give God control over everything. I’m doing it for happiness and health. I’m doing it for my own salvation.

If these types of improvements don’t sound desirable, then Exodus is not for you.

I do, however, ask that you remember me in your prayers.

Progress Report: As of 3/7/2017, I have lost 24 lbs.

Fine Tuning

This past week has been a bit mundane when compared to other weeks in recent history. The spring semester started up and I can see the finish line coming up this December. This past week has been filled with tons of meetings at work, tons of reading at home, and only one pound of weight loss to report. I’ve plateaued. When it comes to my ketogenic regimen, I have effectively cut out most carbs and am staying consistently below the 20 carb daily limit. The culprit of this plateau has been that I have reduced myself to a mere carnivore. Steaks. Chicken. Bacon. Eggs. Repeat. When I first started this change in a bid to better my health, and to lose weight, I incorporated a bit more intake of vegetables and other low-carb options. As time went on and became more pressed, I had to resort to quicker, simpler options when it came to my meal preparations. And… I’ve plateaued.

What I learned recently is that too much protein can actually knock someone out of ketosis (click here to see where I explain ketosis). By going some days without actually consuming a single carb, I have sabotaged my process another way by not diversifying my meal choices. So currently, as I lose a half-pound here and lose nothing there, I am in the process of fine tuning the regimen to get back on track and move onward towards better health and chiseled abs.

Fine tuning is important. It is how we avoid becoming stagnant in key areas of our life. Our bodies change over time, and there comes a day when we can no longer eat like we did as teenagers, and we must make the appropriate adjustments. I felt old typing that previous sentence, but I’m not even old. Granted, my body has been treated like some kind of amusement park in recent years, but I am not old. I am young. Why don’t I feel young? Anyways…

Fine tuning is also important when it comes to our spiritual lives as well. A few things we need to consider up front is that fine tuning does not equate to “changing it up” when we get bored, and it is not the enemy of consistency, or even a sensible routine when it comes to our faith and the way we live it out. Fine tuning means making the appropriate adjustments when they’re needed. Just like when my current meal regimen, as I was approaching it, ceased to be effective and necessitated an adjustment, so too our spiritual life ought to be adjusted when it no longer produces fruit.

Habits accompany virtue. Habits are good when it comes to our Christian faith. Getting into a habit or routine with our prayers, worship, reflection, and study wards off our tendency to base our entire Christian experience on what we’re feeling in that moment. Developing habits and routines cause us to worship and pray without ceasing simply because God is God who is all good and benevolent, and is always deserving of our praise even when we don’t feel like it. If I could be so blunt, consistency in our spiritual life is what breeds spontaneous and fruitful, Spirit-filled encounters. Praying when we “feel” called or led to do so breeds an appetite for the emotional highs of a relationship with God, but not the relationship itself.

One of the most discouraging events of a person’s journey towards better health is when their hard work bears no fruit. It is in those moments that the temptation to just say “screw it” and eat junk is at its highest. The principle is the same in our walk with God. When we pray, fast, and give alms, and get nowhere, the temptation to question the validity of it all comes to the fore.

In our consistency of worship, prayer, reflection, and study, we ought to avoid symptoms of comfort and complacency. If you are going to pray the Rosary every day or go to the perpetual adoration chapel every Thursday at 3pm, do it because it works, because it is good for you, and because you know God is real and present and hears your prayers. Don’t just do it because that’s what you’ve decided to do. We are Christians because all that has been revealed to us through Sacred Scripture and Tradition is real and it is life changing. No one is ever the same after having truly encountered God, but we can certainly fall into legalism and mindless practices if we become too comfortable.

You see, I don’t really care for too many vegetables. A few I enjoy but most I eat because I need to and they’re good for me. Our faith is the same way. Consistency is good and can work, but it takes some work. To the extent that we lose our sense of investment in these habits and practices, they might cease to be efficacious and worthy of our limited time. It is unlikely for anyone who prays the Rosary, ever, to say “this prayer doesn’t work” if they endeavored to do so with at least the slightest intent to be heard. If, however, someone prays the Rosary day in and day out because “that’s what good Catholics are supposed to do”, well it’s a good chance nothing at all is exactly what might happen.

I once heard a story about a husband who was always bringing his wife flowers. One day she finally asked him why he kept bringing her flowers and he plainly responded “that’s that husbands are supposed to do, right?” You can imagine how the rest of that conversation went. The thing is he wasn’t doing it for love. And I don’t mean love as an emotion, because love entails a great sense of duty and selflessness, but that’s another post for another day. What I mean is that in our faith and in our health, it is good to find what works and to keep doing it. We must never lose our fervor for doing what is good and true. When things in life begin to plateau or become stagnant, then it is time to reevaluate and figure out where and why things have simply stopped working. It isn’t always about changing it all up and changing course. Sometimes it is just about doing some fine tuning.

On Not Giving Up

Week one down, a lifetime to go.

This week has been a test of my will; the daily struggle caused me to constantly evaluate the changes I was seeking to make in my life. Daily. Literally daily, I entertained the idea of quitting. To give you a better point of reference: I’ve cut all carbs and sugary junk food out of my life. Complimenting this abstinence has been my intention to pray more often and incorporate more physical activity as I am able. Fast and pray, right?

Well, you never really learn just how addicted you are to something until you decide to give it up. Looking back, I lived from one sugar high to the next; between seven dollar latte drinks, instant-microwavable food, and a steady attachment to desserts, I was killing myself. Leaving all of this behind was hell. Most of last week I was nauseated, unable to think straight, unable to stay awake during the day, and unable to go to sleep at night. I would actually take time to plot ways of finding a dessert that could pass as healthy or ‘low carb’ enough for me to be able to fit it into my regimen.

Throughout last week, throughout my sacrifices, I was steadily looking for the loopholes. I was looking for ways to feed the desires of my flesh while keeping the bear-minimum of my new healthy lifestyle. And this behavior of trying to see how I could continue to get by with doing less, at this point, could be the tagline for my autobiography. I’ve always done this. I’m lazy.

More than being lazy, I lack faith. By not ever going ‘all in’ or by seeking comfort in material things I have precluded myself from trusting God fully. Padre Pio once described the Christian life as a “perpetual struggle against self.” Among the innate tendencies we struggle against, I think comfort and safety are among them. We have little faith that God will solve our problems so we frantically try to solve them all ourselves. We do what we don’t think God will. The result is, more often than not, misery. When we try to take on in our lives the role that belongs properly to God, we quickly realize that we are not God. It is our lack of faith that prevents us from surrendering, and we pick ourselves up from disappointment and go racing towards our next disappointment.

Last week I had to face hunger, boredom, anger, and hopelessness with no other resolve, but prayer. All of the feelings and sensations that I could typically numb with unhealthy distractions were now left bare. I had no other recourse but God. It was uncomfortable. Taking control was well within reach, but I could not reach. I had to be vulnerable before God, and my family. Last week was hell. Enduring such an immense amount of discomfort, for me at least, was the beginning of healing. It was the beginning of being whole again.

On Saturday I was able to grab coffee (regular black coffee, with just a bit of half-and-half) with two of my best friends, Josh and Braylin. I’ve been friends with Josh for 10.5 years now, and Braylin for 9. These are friendships that began in high school and have managed to last throughout college and into early adulthood. As I departed from the few hours we had spent together, I reflected on the longevity of these friendships. Many opportunities have presented themselves for each of these friendships to cease; to continue no more. Josh, Braylin, and I have grown into three seemingly different directions in our lives. The only reason our fraternal bond has withstood these changes was the fervent intentionality with which we approached it. With all the disagreements and differences, the three of us have decided not to give up.

Not giving up. Not giving up in the face of an insurmountable struggle. That is what this first week has been about.

The degree to which I have spent years giving myself over to the base desires of my flesh has, in many ways, rendered me unrecognizable. Like an addict going through rehabilitation, there will be a period of withdrawal. There will be moments when I struggle in my relationship with God, with my vocation to my wife and children, to my family and friends, and in my commitment to good health. The point is that I cannot give up. I most keep moving forward. Most importantly, I must trust that God is my portion, my fulfillment, and that nowhere else can I find the satisfaction found in Him alone.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Progress Report: As of 1/8/2017, I have lost 9.5 lbs.

The Time is Now

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

This post is likely one of a million (or more) being churned out at the beginning of this year detailing how the respective blogger plans to change their lives in the spirit of “new year, new me.” This post is different.

Are you convinced? Neither am I.

I, like many of you reading this, have vowed year after year to get in shape, achieve any and all immediate professional goals, and to finally get cracking on that book, screenplay, and/or “other big project” that we’ve repeatedly put off until later. I, like many of you reading this, have failed time and time again.

The problem is our motivation. Vain ambition is a flame that burns out quick; disappointing ourselves is easy. We’ll have that slice of greasy pizza, forgive ourselves, and try to forget we ever made that ‘unreasonable’ resolution to begin with… If we are our own motivation, meaning we are working towards these things with ourselves in mind, our accountability is lessened and we are more likely to fall off the wagon.

In many ways, these types of resolutions only serve to perpetuate a disordered self-love. This is not to say that having a healthy desire to take care of our overall wellbeing is bad, because it isn’t. Just that having big goals that are self-serving, to the extent that we are dedicated to these goals, keep us at the forefront of our minds. And no one else.

St Paul exhorts Christians to ‘die to themselves’ and to take up a more noble cause; the cause of Christ. If I were to take an inventory of my own life, I immediately see my family as my first priority. God has blessed me with the vocation of husband and father. These roles supersede all other roles in my life. Who I am to my family is more important than who I am to anyone else, by far. They are my primary ministry. And I am finding when I forsake prayer and regular observance of the sacraments, I am forsaking them. The grace and intimacy I am able to extend towards them proceeds from the grace and intimacy I’ve experienced in my walk with God. When I fall into sin, I close myself off to God and to others. Sin, for me, has become habitual. It’s second nature. It’s easy, and it feels as though sin has become deeply engrained into who I am.

Change brings stress and uncertainty. While in college I converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism, got married, and gained roughly sixty pounds. As the stress of life piled up, I panicked. I stopped thinking of God as my ever-present help, and turned to indulging my flesh as a means of coping. I became physically and spiritually marred by lust, gluttony, and sloth. In some of life’s most momentous occasions, I was fighting a quiet fight of self-loathing and depression. I would lash out, and would go on to destroy friendships, damage familial relationships, and become a sad excuse for a husband and father. As my world slowly became about me it began to fall apart.

In mid-late 2016, things began to shift.

I grew tired of who I was. Each day, the desire to change grew in its intensity. Like an act of God, I stumbled upon the Nazarite Challenge. Sponsored by Catholic Balm Co. and uCatholic, this challenge was set up for Catholic men to build community with one another, to be vulnerable together, and to engage in fasting and prayer. It wasn’t lent, but I couldn’t wait any longer so I jumped in head-first. I am so grateful for the brotherhood that has been birthed from that challenge; they continue to be a solid support system for me.

This 30-day alternative to “No Shave November” set me on an imperfect path towards total transformation. The fasting I took on was not geared towards me. It was about my family. It was the kick in the butt that I needed to stop being so damn selfish. Since completing this challenge I have been praying more, thinking of myself less (which has been a challenge), and taking up, once again, the mantle I took on when I said “I do” to my beautiful wife nearly six years ago.

The biggest transformation, however, will not be in what I do, but in who I am. This year will be a time for rediscovery of purpose. Through constant surrender, my hope is to shirk all self-centeredness, and to take on holiness. To live for others, and not for myself. To understand my good mental, physical and spiritual heath is not for me, but for my family and others to enjoy.

The time for change has come. It will be painful, but it is more than necessary.

For the next year, I invite you to read along and follow me on this journey. I will be blogging about it regularly, including picture updates, tips I pick up along the way, and sharing what God is doing in and through me. This will not be a catechizing blog, as it has been in the past, but a look into my struggles, victories, thoughts, and prayers as I endeavor to die to self and follow Christ with all that I am.

The time is now, are you with me?

 

 

Image Credit: ThoseCatholicMen.com 

We Need the Ascension.

Today is one of those feast days that our Bishops have so tactfully relocated to this upcoming Sunday. Today, however, is the actual Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. We, Catholics have feast days just about every day of the year, but for the key moments of Jesus’ time here on earth we honor such days with an emphasized feast day known as a solemnity. While not all solemnities are days of obligation for the faithful, optional solemnities become such when Bishops and Episcopal Conferences move such days to the nearest Sundays. Since… you know… every Sunday is a holy day of obligation.

This particular solemnity, that of the Ascension, carries with it a certain dogmatic weight. This means that belief in the Ascension is considered a necessary component of one’s profession of faith. Today marks the end of the forty days after Christ’s resurrection wherein He taught his followers of the kingdom of heaven in depth; He gave them the fullness of the Deposit of Faith. It also marks an event that Jesus forewarned them about numerous times. In John’s Gospel, he recounts what Jesus told the apostles:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you… “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  –  John 16:7, 12-14

The Apostles were very sad when Jesus told them he was preparing to depart, but He explained this ascension as necessary so that the Holy Spirit might come to them and give them help. Their sadness wasn’t one borne of a friend who was going away and such that “Aww, we’ll miss him!” It was primarily because, in light of all that has taken place thus far, their fearless leader was about to leave them alone. Even though Jesus promised them He would be with them always, His actual departure from them would prove to be a test of their faith. Their sadness, then, was more of a fear they experienced; a sense of hopelessness.

So often in our own lives we forget the promises Jesus has made to us in His Sacred Scripture and through the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Our faith in Jesus falls short and we place it in worldly saviors that, in the end, fail to satisfy. We are like the apostles in this sense because we know, if we read and hear, what Jesus has told us but actually living by those words causes us to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. Living our faith is much easier in theory than it is in all actuality.

With the current state of the race for America’s next president, for example, the doomsday prophets have come out in full force and many Christians have completely lost sight of themselves because our current options are just terrible. While this observation may seem a bit arbitrary, it is just one example of another way wherein we are just like the Apostles. We have become sad because the hope we have put in temporal leaders has slowly and surely eroded away completely.

The difference? None of the presidential candidates can make promises that even slightly compare to the promise Jesus has given us.

His apostles were sad, but they had to endure ten whole days of just being alone with themselves and relying totally on faith. This period of waiting for them must have felt like an eternity. They likely prayed in a very nervous manner asking, “Ok God! Ha Ha Where are you? You can come out now! We totally believe you… just come. Please!” They had to experience a time of spiritual desolation during a time wherein their very lives were at stake for even associating with the man called Christ. (sound familiar?) When the Holy Spirit finally came, whatever spiritual desolation and weakness of faith they may have endured would have come to light.

Roughly ten days from today is Pentecost Sunday; the “birthday of the Church”, if you will. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom, the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s vision concerning the Son of man: “To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” After this event the apostles became witnesses of the “kingdom that will have no end.” – CCC #664

This kingdom that will have no end is sacramentally expressed through the Church over which the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail. The Church, guided into the fullness of truth by the same Holy Spirit that descended onto the Apostles at Pentecost, lives constantly in the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to His disciples in John 16. We need the Ascension. We need it because of all it teaches us about our own moments of doubt, desolation, or fear. It is a necessary part of our creed because it forces us to announce with our lips not only the reality of what happened, but the reality of what is to come. Without the Ascension there would be no Pentecost, no coming of the Holy Spirit, no Church, and no Hope. The enduring element of Jesus’s most perfect sacrifice begins to come to fruition with the event of the Ascension.

We need the Ascension. Now go to confession and get yourself to Mass, ya filthy animal. (just kidding, but seriously.)

Catechism Teacher v. The Parent: Dawn of Conversion

In case you don’t quite know me yet, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Robert and I am a catechist. Over the past few years I have facilitated small groups, hosted lock-ins, gone on retreats, taken 15+ hour bus rides across the country, given talks and workshops, spent countless hours in the confessional and even longer on my knees in prayer… all in the name of handing on the faith to a bunch of teenagers and young adults. Parish ministry is messy and I am here to tell you that without the Sacraments, it will undoubtedly steal your soul. Working in ministry day in and day out is taxing and has a tendency to keep you up at night from time to time.

Today, I am going to focus on another tendency that can creep up, especially in youth and young adult ministry, if you allow it. When trying your best to lay the groundwork for some sort of Holy Spirit encounter to take place, nothing kills your enthusiasm faster than a teen that couldn’t care less… It is important to keep in mind that conversion is 100% the work of the Holy Spirit and that we, as ministers of the faith, cannot force an experience of faith, but with the right amount of prayer and elbow grease, can facilitate these opportunities.

However, when a regular attendee suddenly loses interest or begins to exhibit a gradual decline in enthusiasm, a certain amount of due diligence is necessary so that any potential threat to their formation might be eradicated. In my own experience, sudden or gradual turns for the worst are usually the result of traumatic events in the life of a young person or the more common lack of reinforcement. There is one thing, of which, we can be certain: young hearts are hungry for the truth. If the ecclesial community fails to offer any real substance, we’ll lose them to something else that can satisfy or at least appear to satisfy.

Authentic Christian living isn’t something that can be faked for any lengthy period of time. When the rubber meets the road and hardship sets in, only those who are grounded in their faith can withstand such a test. Young people notice that. They notice when the adults in their life are the real deal or when they are just going through the motions. At this point it is important to establish that it is not the pastor, nor the youth minister, nor the catechism teacher who is solely responsible for the formation of a young person’s faith. Throughout their childhood, adolescent, and teenage years it is the parents who must act as the primary teachers of the faith.

This type of assertion might cause some to fret but I say to you FRET NOT! A theology degree isn’t required for such a responsibility. Your child isn’t necessarily concerned with the immensity of the truth bombs you are willing to drop so that they might grow up into a mature and faithful Catholic. The secret is not in what you say but more often in what context you begin to say it. ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ is popular and can get the job done in most parenting situations, but when it comes to matters of the faith; it is what you do that makes the difference.

The cold hard truth is that your parish’s religious education program can, in some situations, be a mere exercise in cruel and unusual punishment to a young person who goes home to a faithless environment. Of course, there are some obvious exceptions to that statement and in many scenarios a child can defy the odds and become the next great witness of the faith in their generation. In any case, we cannot ignore the importance of a solid observance of faith in the home.

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self–denial, sound judgment, and self–mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. – CCC 2223 abbrv.

The tendency of which I write about today is the level of animosity that can develop between the parent and the parish religious educator. From the perspective of the parish employee, the amount of frustration that accrues from nominally involved parents is a call for conflict. Sternly written letters, texts, blunt phone calls, and the occasional heated face-to-face meetings are all part of the job. On the other side of the coin, parents might feel as though the parish expects too much of them or that what is asked of these young people simply isn’t necessary.

This is a struggle that, unless communication improves ten-fold, a wedge will be driven between the parish church and the domestic church; the church of the home. The reality that both parties need to come to understand is that while, at times, a certain element of frustration breaks out over the young person’s formation; the parents and the parish are not enemies, but partners against a greater evil. When both parties come together and acknowledge the gravity of the task at hand, the differences and disagreements suddenly become menial and irrelevant as they relate to the state of the young person’s eternal soul. All involved would also do well to realize it takes both a domestic and a parish church to raise up faithful Catholics.

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents. – CCC 2226

Be who God meant you to be.

Abortion. Redefinition of Marriage. Terrorism. The Dallas Cowboys. There are many terrible things in the world we live in today and quite often we feel powerless as to how we should stop these forces of evil. Just about any day of the week you might turn on the news to see the newest ‘human right’ being fought for on social media; other times there might be masses of belligerent protestors trying to get their point across. Whatever the case, as a Catholic you might feel a bit useless. Think about it. The Church is supposedly the greatest force of good on the planet but between the Lenten fish fries and the parish donut socials we find ourselves preoccupied with certain things that come across as less… significant. We might feel called to sign every petition, march in every protest, and a many number of other things but we often neglect THE most effective way to change the world.

Vocation. At this point in time, perhaps you have heard or read tons of ‘life calling’ posts and to be honest you aren’t interested in reading anything else about your vocation. Keep reading…

Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.   – St. Catherine of Sienna

I think St. Catherine was on to something. Too often we find ourselves going after our own plans, our own goals, completely ignorant to what God might be calling us towards. The truth of the matter is: we are called to happiness. Our willingness to entrust our happiness to the plan of God usually depends on how we view the big man in the sky altogether. For example, if you view God as a big man in the sky, He might seem as a distant, uninvolved figure that typically leaves us to our own affairs so long as we shoot up a ‘thanks’ from time to time. It can be very hard to ‘feel’ God, especially in our lowest points of life. It is our faith that tells us He is present and that He hears us.

When we look at the injustices of the world, we can quickly become overwhelmed. The question of suffering haunts the faithful more than you would think. Most of us get by through a careful avoidance of thinking about the current state of our culture in any capacity. I think what happens when we look at the world, I mean really look; it forces us to come to terms with our views of Jesus, His redemptive mission, and our own roles in that mission. Faith is generally easy if you don’t think about it. In fact, faith doesn’t become difficult until you look suffering in the eye.

Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. – CCC 162

In order to say, without being dishonest, that have truly have faith in God, we are called to have faith in His plan for our lives; our vocation. Our vocation is the call of God on our lives; our primary ministry. Throughout our lives, we might find hints as to what our vocation might actually be; the nudge to go into the seminary or to get married or even an urge to find out more about a certain religious order. For some of us, God’s plan might clash with our plans. We develop, over the course of our lives, based on our interests and experiences, a sense of what we would like to do; a goal that we aspire towards.

If our ultimate call, the call of God, is what will lead us to our ultimate happiness, one might wonder why it is, sometimes, at odds with our own plans. Our goals and aspirations are generally good but they are limited and flawed. We are imperfect beings, stained by sin and formed by past experiences (good or bad) and for such reasons our plans for our own lives, the ones we formulate from our own desires, simply fall short. God created us and knows far better than we do what it takes for us to achieve our ultimate happiness. God knows our purpose for existing; He knows our vocation.

People protest and sign petitions, enlist in the military and go into some form of public service for a common reason: they want to change the world and make it into a better place for everyone. Even the ‘no justice, no peace’ marches; they are honest cries for consolation and reparation for past injustices. The thing is that we are flawed, and apart from God, our attempts to make the world a better place are also flawed. The logic here is that, without God’s perfect wisdom and understanding, our noble attempts to achieve anything will fall undeniably short. Our greatest achievements, in any form, never resolve therefore the process of development is never complete. We find ourselves restless.

If you are called to the priesthood, the religious life, or the diaconate then, by all means, explore that call. Forget your plans, forget your worries; I can assure you that in no other place will you find the happiness that you so desperately desire. Maybe you’re called towards marriage or even to be perpetually single. Embrace your call, embrace God’s plan for chastity and charity in your own life. The most effective way to stand for traditional marriage and to fight against abortion is to get married, love your husband or wife, and commit to being open to children and to raise them in the light of the Catholic faith. Whatever God’s plan for you entails, be open to it and live it out heroically with complete abandon; shun the fleeting pleasures of this world. Think about your own plans for your life and know with certainty that you were made for more. Your vocation is, undoubtedly, the most prolific endeavor that could be pursued this side of eternity.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. – Psalm 139:13-16

Can the Church Change the World?

I have a tendency towards pessimism. If any bad thing can happen, it probably will. It’s a terrible personality trait of mine that I have tackled for years through prayer and believing in God’s plan for my life and the life of others. Trusting in God can certainly be difficult at times and I feel as though I am not alone in this.

While reflecting on the Gospel reading in John I am reminded of myself, particularly, when Thomas initially doubts that Jesus had appeared to the others and doesn’t believe until he comes to see the Christ with his own eyes. We are all doubting Thomas at one point or another. Whether it is a rough patch in our finances, in our family life, our job, or even in the current state of the society in which we live, there are moments when we simply doubt that God is near to us. In these moments we tend to challenge God; in some round-about way asking Him to prove his presence to us.

Granted this is not a theistic doubt, I am not saying that the lot of us tend to doubt if there even is a God, but that in the low points of life our faith is tested. I’ve written about trusting God before and how that trust is absolutely crucial for an authentic relationship with God. What I aim to focus on at this point is the work that has been cut out for us as Christians.

If you’re a cradle Catholic and you’re reading this you probably remember going to catechism class growing up. It might have been a priest, a religious sister (or mother or brother), a paid teacher, or even a volunteer who taught most of your catechism classes. If you grew up in a typical, practicing Catholic family, catechism class was likely an extension of going to mass and praying together with your immediate family. This experience, unfortunately, is not typical for many Catholics, especially in the United States. Many cradle Catholics have rarely, if ever, experienced mass with their parents and have grown up in environments where faith was never given a place of priority. In these situations, catechism class takes the place of parents and other influential people in the lives of young people and becomes the ‘only line of defense’ against the relativism that dominates popular thought.

My father once said “Children are always learning and if parents aren’t teaching them how to live then someone else is…”

The influence of family life has (whether we like it or not) shaped us in significant ways and will, inevitably, shape our children. This begs the question as to who has influenced this generation and how this generation is influencing the next. Actor, Robert Downey Jr., recently said in an award show that we should, ‘because we can’, shape our generation. There are certainly those among us who rise to the top and set the trends of our society. The question that remains is who influenced them? What do they believe?

Believe it or not, there was once a time in America when faith played a greater role in public opinion. There was even a time when most families still shared a meal or two around the same table each day and began the tradition with a moment of prayer and thanksgiving. Times have undoubtedly changed and this is where the Church must choose: fight or flight. Up to this point, I have not told you anything remotely groundbreaking, but hopefully, I have gotten you to think for a moment about your own family and your own faith. Do you feel like you can go out and make a difference? Do you feel like even if you openly practiced what you believe that anyone would notice? There are moments when we feel as though we can do nothing and that society is doomed to implode on itself. We wait for others to make a difference claiming we need proof before we, ourselves, choose to act. We become like doubting Thomas.

If I could implore you, now more than ever: act. Live out your faith and be an authentic witness to the one who has saved you from your own mess. If you have been away from the Church for a while, come back. If you have doubts, ask questions! If you feel far from God, pray! It is not a group of people who are familiar with Catholic doctrine that will change the world; it is only by those who have been transformed by the truth it contains. The vineyard needs laborers, the Church needs intentional disciples, and the world needs the Catholic Church. It all begins with the Church and the ministry of the Church begins when we answer the call to action. It’s our turn.

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society. – St. Francis of Assisi