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 

It is God that You Seek

Two of the most detrimental misunderstandings that can and will ruin the faith of any Christian are such that when Christ promises us happiness and fulfillment we interpret it as ‘getting to do whatever we want’; the other is understanding our ‘blessings’ to be of the material variety. Jesus never promised us material abundance, freedom from consequences, or a life without immense suffering. In fact, suffering and persecution are two guarantees that Christ does give us.

If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. – John 15:18-20

Last night I had the opportunity to reflect on Paul’s speech in Athens that can be found in Acts 17. In his speech, Paul appeals to the religiosity of the Greek culture. Paul found the good, if you will, of their religious practices and related to them how this unknown god whom they seek is actually the God Paul came to proclaim. This encounter with the Greeks took place in the Areopagus which was the cultural, political, and intellectual epicenter of Athens. We need not go into great detail, but we can rest assured knowing what great intellectual and cultural gifts ancient Greece has given us. Paul was certainly dealing with the cream of the intellectual crop.

Reflecting on Paul’s apostolic endeavors it dawned on me that Paul couldn’t even dream of making any real progress with these people unless he believed with great conviction what he was to preach. Also, it would have been necessary for him to have some awareness of who his intended audience was. If we think for a moment as to why most Christian music and movies are boring, bland, and just plain terrible (sorry, not sorry) it can be plain to see that most of these artists are appealing to the ‘church crowd’. They are preaching to the choir and are speaking in idioms and dialects that the secular world doesn’t care to understand.

Bono (U2) recently spoke out citing the lack of conviction and honesty in Christian music. He’s right. Paul, as we discover in the Scriptures, was wildly successful in his apostolic ministry. Yes, he faced many hardships and ended up losing his life over it, but he was the foremost ambassador between Christ and the gentile world. You can bet that Paul didn’t walk into Greece or anywhere else with comforting phrases, blanket statements, and preconceived responses. Paul lived the Gospel; he experienced it and it was a part of who he was as a messenger of Christ. Just as important, he knew who he was speaking to and took into account the struggles, desires, and priorities of the Greeks when he considered how he might evangelize in the region.

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. – Acts 17:22-27

So often, the honest atheist is closer to God than many self-professed Christians. It is he (or she) who seeks truth that explicitly, or implicitly, seeks after God. Many Christian communities, however, are not offering God to their congregation. If we can understand for a minute that all the pleasures we seek and the fulfillment we desire are actually implicit strivings for God then we would find ourselves turning away from material comforts and turning our hearts toward God alone. What happens, then, when a church tells us that God is the bridge that will lead us to material prosperity and a stress-free life? Such promises are actually leading us away from God.

Comfort, pleasure, and prosperity are not our ends. Our desire for happiness is ultimately oriented toward God who can offer us such fulfillment. These misdirected doctrines share a common denominator with bad Christian movies and music: the world neither believes in nor truly wants what they are selling. Paul never affirmed the idolatry of the Greeks; rather, he showed them how in their idolatrous pursuits it was actually God in whom they sought. Prosperity preachers, just like bland Christian artists, lack the conviction and authenticity needed to evangelize our broken world. Most secularists know full well that wealth and comfort will never be enough; they are also under the impression that Christianity can do nothing for them.

When we seek to evangelize we must first acknowledge that our innate desires are comparable (even identical) to those of the atheist or the pagan. They want what we want. We are them to a degree. We can take a page out of Paul’s book and use this nugget of wisdom to completely transform our evangelization efforts. Let us stop promising anything other than God to the world. Let us stop speaking in generalities. Let us stop pretending like suffering isn’t a fact of life. Let us even acknowledge that Christianity might open us up to more suffering. Let us be authentic in our pursuits so that the world might come to know it is God they seek when they seek happiness.

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness: He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you. – Pope St. John Paul II

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

The Need for a New Evangelization

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20

Last night I completed my reading of JP2’s ‘Veritatis Splendor (the Splendor of Truth)’ and in the last portion our beloved Pope Saint spends a great deal of time introducing to the world the concept of a new evangelization. Bear in mind, this encyclical was written in the 1990’s; right around twenty years ago to be exact. It is blatantly obvious that John Paul II was extremely intuitive and was on point with his assessment of the ‘signs of the times.’ In his wisdom, he knew that there existed (and still exists) a desperate need for the Church to defend her timeless truths with unrelenting pastoral care. We live in an age where everyone gets offended over everything and anyone who claims to know the truth about anything will quickly be labeled as a bigot or a racist, etc. We live in a totalitarian age governed by relativism. Relativism simply states that what might be true for you isn’t necessarily true for me and therefore we can no longer proclaim anything to be objectively true or morally absolute.

Relativism brings to mind the instance in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit so that they might be ‘like God’. Genesis so appropriately captures in that one sentence the essence of all sin. When we remove God as Lord of our lives and replace Him with ourselves we, effectively, remove all that is objectively true and good only to replace it with an entire universe that revolves around our own views. Sin is not only a turning away from God but an elevation of our own, imperfect preferences.

The Church, in all of her wisdom, seeks to promote the dignity of the human person in every situation; after all, made in God’s image is something worth preserving. Church teaching on the issues of abortion, gay marriage, contraception, and the like are often misconstrued as being invasive, dated, unfair, and intolerant. Think about this for a second, especially if you disagree with the Church’s position on any of these ‘hot button’ issues: If evil is opposed to good buy its very definition, how would the enemy of your soul have you to view the very teaching that aims to redeem your soul?

Exactly.

It is for such reasons that a new evangelization is so vitally important. The truth isn’t something that changes in order to ‘get with the times’ and the Church affirms that moral absolutes do exist and are worth preserving. However, we live in a culture that exists as if God doesn’t. As Catholics we are called to be faithful to the truth even until the point of death. (cf. Revelation 2:10) Martyrdom is, indeed, its own reward. The thought of martyrdom, however, seems radical and might even repel some to the idea of diving deeper into their faith. I can assure you that living out our Catholic identity in a radical way is the only way that the tide could ever be turned. The enemy seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy, and is going about these objectives with great determination and creativity.

The Church is called not to an equal, but a greater response. And no, such cultural issues cannot be rectified with making church ‘cool’, rather people need to see that the Church teaches something real, tangible, and life-changing. So I encourage you: live passionately Catholic. Invite people to mass, study your faith so that you might give a defense (if necessary), pray without ceasing, and make your faith the focal point from which your life takes its order and not just a compartmentalized part of who you are. (cf. 1 Peter 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:17) The future of the Church is in the hands of those who truly witness, by word and deed, the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. It matters nothing if you’re a ‘good Catholic’ who does only what is required of you and nothing more.

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses…” – Blessed Pope Paul VI

Is the Catholic Church Waking Up?

Growing up, I was always taught that it was important to get ‘plugged in’ at church. Such a belief has stuck with me, still today. In order to “be the Church” we are obliged to do more than just occupy a pew on Sundays. Being the Church entails an active participation in the various ministries that your community of faith has to offer. Believe me, there is always a spot for everyone. If you can sing, join the choir. If you can’t, be a lector. Stage fright? Be an usher. I could go on and on but the fact remains that whatever your unique skill set may be, the Church can use it. Even if you don’t think you have any skills the Church still needs you!

Continue reading “Is the Catholic Church Waking Up?”

On Being Pro-Life: Part 2 of 2

One of the earlier remarks of Pope Francis’ papacy is that we are the “throw away culture,” which, if we took time to think about it, his assessment was spot on. Initially, we might find his labeling to be harsh and such remarks could go as far to hurt the pride of young millennials who are working to change their societies into something that they see as ‘better.’ Francis’ assessment extends into discussions of the environment, technology, and most importantly… the human person. In my previous post, I wrote about a less popular topic that often gets ignored by the pro-life movement at large. I wrote about the grave harm brought on by any and all forms of artificial contraception and sterilization. Contraception, sterilization, and everything that I am going to address today contribute to why we received the ‘honor’ of being called the throw-away culture.

Continue reading “On Being Pro-Life: Part 2 of 2”

On Being Pro-Life: Part 1 of 2

Being anti-abortion is easy. Being pro-life is hard.

Ever since I found out the truth about abortion, I was against it. I have always believed that life begins at conception and that any force of man to end the life of another was nothing short of murder. To many of you reading this, you are likely to be quite familiar with the pro-life, pro-choice debate here in the United States. As we approach the anniversary of Roe V. Wade this debate will only intensify. On one hand you have the mostly Christian, mostly conservative pro-life establishment that seeks to overturn Roe V. Wade and all similar legislation. Most people who claim to be of religious affiliation or even claim to abide by some moral code will likely stand with the pro-life camp. The correlation between being religious and being anti-abortion rests in the belief that all life is sacred. Even if you aren’t fighting abortion due to certain religious convictions your stand against abortion probably comes from some innate feeling inside you that tells you life is worth preserving.

Continue reading “On Being Pro-Life: Part 1 of 2”

A Brief Reflection on Faith and Family.

HolyFamily

Being a person of faith has never been easy. More specifically, being a person whose faith is in Jesus has never been easy. Persecution has always been at the door of the Church attempting to tear her down and to shatter the hearts and minds of the faithful. For many, the pressure has proven too great and subsequently forced many believers down the path of conformity; the wide road.

Persecution, however, is not always the kind that directly attacks what we believe in a literal ‘convert or die’ sort of way. Sometimes persecution comes when certain social issues become the focal point of social and political debate and Christians are forced to take sides. Are we compassionate? Are we judgmental? Are we outdated? Are we relevant enough? Many questions plague the Church and cause believers to doubt; cause us to second guess ourselves. I’ve written a post before about the implications of being ‘on the wrong side of history’ which can be viewed either from an eternal vantage point of from the perspective of being culturally ‘correct’. Taking sides is the demand of the world on the Church today. Today the world is telling us to “Choose this day, whom you shall serve!”

Continue reading “A Brief Reflection on Faith and Family.”