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.

Taking a Break

In high school, I was given the opportunity to serve as a peer leader in my youth group. This meant that while I was still a ‘youth’ myself, I was given various responsibilities within the scope of the rather large youth group to which I belonged that would help me to develop valuable leadership qualities. Looking back, ever since I was a child, I had a knack for ministry. Pastors would pray and prophesy over me, even when I was in elementary school, and countless adults told me I was going to be a pastor someday. ‘Working for the Lord’, as it were, became ingrained into who I was; into my very identity.

As I went into college, experienced a great crisis of faith (more on that later… not in this post, but later), and was introduced to the riches of the Catholic Church, I was plunged right back into ministry after having only skipped a beat or two. While going through RCIA on Wednesdays, I was leading a Confirmation small group on Sundays. A few months after being received into the Catholic Church, I was offered the role of youth minister in a rural parish nearby. Six years later, I’m still actively serving in youth ministry.

And I’ve got to tell you: I’m totally burnt out.

Those are the buzzwords that no lay person in ministry would ever dare to say out loud. To be ‘burnt out’ can often feel like an admission of defeat. In reality, I’ve been burning the candlewick at both ends for quite some time. Being in full-time ministry takes its toll on a family, and if you aren’t taking time to reinvest in yourself, ministry can do great harm to your family. I recently heard an itinerant ministry worker open up about a “cat’s in the cradle” moment they experienced when their, teenaged-turned-young adult, child hit some milestone in life. I can’t quite recall the specifics at this time, but I imagine this is a common experience among lay ministry workers. To spend so much time away ministering at retreats, conferences, camps, etc. is taxing.

I’ve gotten tired of telling my kids, “Daddy has to go to work, be back in a week.”
This ministry thing is, however, a double edged sword. While taking its toll on your family life, unless you’ve hit that jackpot where you get to do ministry with your family, ministry is probably one of the most rewarding ways to make ends meet this side of heaven. Playing some small, often forgettable, albeit vital role in bring Jesus to someone is its own treasure. Ministry, God willing, is what I’ll probably spend the rest of my life doing.

The key is to strike a balance. A person’s primary vocation must be just that: primary. If you are married with one or more kids, they are your primary ministry. Expecting a kid? Your ministry is about to grow. And this isn’t just some symbolic adage, or well-meaning sentiment. I am literally communicating to you that if you are spending more time ministering to others than to your own family, or whomever God has entrusted to your care, something is out of balance.

Wait… I seem to have stepped onto a soap box. Let me just push that aside. My apologies…

Okay. What I am trying to say here is that I am stepping away from youth ministry. For the foreseeable future, I will not be employed by a parish or diocese. A week ago, I turned in my two weeks’ notice. Friday is my last day.

This decision has been in the works for quite some time. The leading cause for this particular, planned career break is economically motivated above all else. And yes, I am leaving on great terms with my current employer. Rachel, my wife for those of you who don’t know, will actually be diving headfirst into full-time teaching at an early childhood center in connection with a local parochial school. As for me? I will be trying out the ‘stay-at-home dad’ role for a while as I move into my final semester of graduate school. Wrapping up this degree, which has been three years in the making, will be no joke as I plan to give an account for all that I’ve learned up to this point. Prayerfully, this December you may begin referring to me as Master Robert.

Throughout this entire time of transition my family and I have enjoyed great peace. We have no second guesses about this move, and while it might not make a great deal of sense to everyone, it is the best move for us right now. We’re no stranger to making the appropriate financial sacrifices; in fact, we’ve got it down to a science at this point.

We’re happy, and if that is your concern for us upon hearing this news, please remember: we. are. happy.

For now, I plan to get involved in a few ministry initiatives happening at home in the Diocese of Lake Charles as a volunteer. I think volunteering in ministry will help to rediscover a love for ministry that I have let slip away in recent memory. Getting involved in my home parish and other opportunities for the love of it, and not because it is tied to any material compensation will serve to rejuvenate and revive, within me, a healthy relationship with ministry.

It is with great sadness that many of my coworkers in the vineyard, across the border in Texas, will not be a part of my daily life anymore. I must say those Texans are the salt of the earth (Texjoy-brand salt, to be more specific); they are some of the most humble, and holy people I’ve ever gotten to do ministry, and life, with, and I will certainly won’t be a stranger ‘round those parts.

And if you’re still reading… I plan to get back to another great love of mine: writing. If nothing else, you’ll be able to keep in touch with me and my ramblings through this blog and other great outlets in the very near future.

Pray for my family as we pray for all of you.

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.

I Can’t Go Back

Do you ever find yourself thinking about simpler times? Perhaps when you were younger and the responsibilities of life hadn’t quite kicked in yet? When the daily stress of our life overwhelms us it is perfectly normal to become a bit nostalgic. To remember these memories acts as a kind of mental refuge; it offers us a temporary break from the issues right in front of us.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about some of my greatest motivations for eating better and getting my health back. I want to be more active with my kids. I want to feel better. I want to be a better, healthier version of myself. To a certain degree, and to the extent that I’ve let my health slip away from me with unhealthy habits, I feel as though I have lost myself or that I have morphed into someone else entirely. I remember when I was younger and in far better physical condition. I remember having more confidence in myself and my abilities. I remember some of the friendships I used to cherish then, when times were simpler. Sometimes I think to myself “I want the old me back!”

Getting back to an old weight is a worthy endeavor. Trying to get back into a former version of oneself, however, is not. No matter how much weight I lose, and no matter how much improvement I seem to aspire towards in other areas of my life; I will never be the old me.

Things have changed.

In the past seven years I graduated college, got married, became a father (three times over), became Catholic, failed at launching a business, parted ways with toxic friendships, and formed new, meaningful ones. Times are not simpler. They will likely never be ‘simple’ again. Through this realization, I’ve come to learn that nostalgia can become idolatrous; the drive to restore what has been lost can quickly become an unhealthy obsession.

We have to move forward.

I am where I am, and I am who I am, right now, for a reason. When I meet the goals I’ve set for my health it won’t be the bringing back of the “Old Bobby” but the next chapter. What’s important to remember is that everywhere I’ve come up short, made a mistake, or disappointed someone I deeply care about, these are pages in previous chapters. Fallen human nature tells me they’ll probably be pages in future chapters as well, but for now all that can be affected is the next page, the next line, the next word.

A big part of my journey thus far has been not just learning from my mistakes, but seeing how God has worked in hindsight. My family and I have gone through some pretty disparaging times, and through it all God has been there. We might not have seen his hand in the storms, but we know he was there in how we made it through. This is as cliché as it gets, but: Everything in my life has led me to this point.

The past is what made me, but what God is doing affects right now. My obedience affects the future. If I want to have even a shred of hope of living out my vocation as a faithful husband, father, and son, I can’t go back.

Progress Report: As of 2/5/2017, I have lost 20.5 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.

Lesson Learned

Leading into week two, and coinciding with my last update post, I decided to give myself a cheat day. The thought process was simple; I had lost a good amount of weight for the first week and I deserved a reward.

dwightmistake

My body had essentially gone through somewhat of a detox. I had come off of sugar, and was just starting to feel normal again. Better actually. Life without sugar and carbs has allowed me to think clearer, focus better, feel happier, and have more energy throughout the day. And then I decided to cheat. It wasn’t much, a trip to Subway for one meal and a pop-tart (two actually) later that day was enough to make me regret it.

I was doing so well, but when I cheated I ran back to the very thing I had been seeking to avoid. The problem with a “cheat day” mentality is that it holds up our vice, temptation, or near occasion of sin as the prize to be enjoyed. I’m not saying that sweets, or carb-laden food is a sin; it’s not. It is the unhealthy attachment to anything that causes that very thing to lead us away from God. Even an obsession with something very good such as exercise, to the extent that we use it to satisfy some longing beyond our basic health, wellness, and athletic needs, can come between us and God; it can become our idol.

After feeling the effects of my near-sighted decision, I was eager to get back on track and keep moving forward. The downside is that my weight loss kind of stalled for a day or two because I had knocked my body out of ketosis. Ketosis is the state when your body no longer looks to sugar, but to its own fat reserves for energy. Ketosis is brought on by the release of ketones in the bloodstream which help to break down the fat. This meant I had the painstaking process of getting back into that state so I could resume my journey.

In those moments when I weighed myself and found no weight had been lost, it would have been easy to become discouraged. It was really only a minor setback, but even the minor mistakes can lead us into discouragement and despair. One of the hardest things to do after a setback, whether it be in our health, our marriage, our career, or wherever is to keep working towards the goal. The highest goal toward which man could aim is that of personal holiness. Holiness comes in the letting go of what is temporary in exchange for what is eternal. For me, it is in the slow shaking off of various addictive tendencies. This process, for me, is more than just weight loss; it is an act of great surrender. I don’t want look for satisfaction in what is passing; I want to find it in God alone.

I’m getting back on track now, and the journey is becoming easier. I don’t say this as a boast of my own strength, but as a testament to God’s providence. As I carve out time for prayer, spiritual reading, and meal planning, I do it all as an offering of myself, and my time, back to God. I know that unless I completely give myself over to this period of growth and self-improvement, I will never be the husband/father/son/brother/friend/ catechist/student that I need to be. So I ask you to pray for me as I continue this journey. I’ll return the favor.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Progress Report: As of 1/16/2017, I have lost 13 lbs.

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.)

Letting It All Happen

Well… it has been nearly a year since I’ve written for my own site. It feels good to be back, but at the same time I feel as though I am trying to strike up a conversation with an old friend with whom I’ve neglected to keep in touch. Since my last post a few things have changed in my life. The first and most significant change was the welcoming of our son, Noah Joseph. His arrival marks our third kid overall and the beginning of our more focused approach to Natural Family Planning (Where my Catholic parents at?!).

The next major change came in the form of a new ministry opportunity for our family; since November of last year I’ve been working with the Office of Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Beaumont. This was a tough transitional period for our family. Previously, I had been with Christ the King Parish in Lake Charles for over four years. During my last year there the Lord began to tug at my heart; He began to let me know that my time there was coming to an end. I was comfortable there… so I ignored the ways in which he was trying to speak to me. There came a time when the needs of my family were beginning to shift and a change was inevitable. The craziest part is what I often read about from others who are in ministry, but never actually experienced for myself, and that is the call to cast out into the deep, so to speak.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. – Luke 5:4-6

The Lord brought our family away from Christ the King in a very rapid and unexpected manner, and He wasn’t going to open wide the next door just yet. We spent the next three months living on prayer and whatever was in our savings account. Several opportunities that didn’t pan out led me to quite a low point; I avoided people just so I could avoid them asking how I was doing. Even among church family the response “Oh… you know… still praying.” only garnered a sympathetic nod. It was rough, but the Lord is faithful.

During my time of unemployment I launched another blog site, which I’ve since retired due to the busyness of life and the inability to find time to maintain it as an editor should. I’ve also been semi-steadily blogging at epicpew.com.

So often during my journey I’ve found myself identifying with Israel during her Old Testament years. I feel as though when I’m at my lowest point I begin to pray fervently and with great resolve. As soon as things begin to turn up I tend to leave God behind. I’ve become the unfaithful nation in many ways; I’ve fallen into the habit of only seeking God when crisis hits. Not long after I began working with the Diocese of Beaumont I kind of fell out of my regular prayer habits. Sure enough, just over a month in I find out I need an emergency surgery that will land me back at home for five weeks of recovery. This process made me angry. The money began to dry up again and I remember just crying out “WHY?!” During my recovery there were weeks when there were no groceries and no means of going to get more. I developed a great love for cereal during my recovery.

During this low point, as I processed what was happening to my family, I began to seek the Lord once again. He showed me during this time what I was doing wrong… He showed me where I was being unfaithful. It wasn’t until Rachel and I completely surrendered; it was when we threw our hands in the air and told the Lord “Not our will, but yours!” that (I kid you not) money began to show up at our front door. Before our great surrender, the lowest of low was when we had to approach family to borrow a few bucks just to keep our lights on. Such an experience broke me of whatever ounce of pride I had left.

I think that’s what God was looking for all along. He wanted our surrender. He wanted our pride to be broken. He wanted us to finally and completely depend on him.

This morning I was reminded of God’s faithfulness. During my morning commute the rain began to pour down as the rising sun became overshadowed by the blackened, stormy sky. I found myself driving as slow as 45mph on the highway just to keep safe (I drive a Sentra, don’t judge). Before the rain hit I prayed with great zeal for the rain to be held off until I reached the chancery. But… it came with a vengeance. During my coffee-fueled, wide-eyed, overly-cautious commute I began to kind of laugh at myself. I was praying for safety, but the Lord didn’t want me to pray for safety… He wanted me to pray for faith. God doesn’t want to spare you from the storm. Heck, sometimes God’s plan isn’t even to get you through the storm. In all things, however, He wants us to ask him for the faith and perseverance to endure. So if you’re still reading this far I implore you to endure whatever life is throwing at you. You may be suffering and that suffering may get a hell of a lot worse before (and if) it gets better. In any case, God has a plan for you and is trying to speak to you through the suffering and heartache. Let it happen and LISTEN!