Husbands, Love Your Wives.

Writing this post is going to hurt. In all honesty, it will border on hypocrisy due simply to the fact that I am not a perfect husband. I am immature, selfish, and tend to hold everyone to incredibly lofty standards… including my wife. In the most humble way possible I would like to acknowledge that I am a work in progress. Any improvements that I have made in loving my wife were not the result of my own, independent resolve but were, in fact, moments of personal conversion. Wait… what? Yeah, as cliché as this might sound (and as prevalent it might be in the Catholic blogosphere), I didn’t begin to make improvements in the ‘being married’ department until I began really taking my relationship with God seriously.

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A Brief Reflection on Faith and Family.

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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 Are we outdated?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!”

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Go Make A Difference.

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One of the most commonly played sending forth hymns I hear at mass, at least in my home parish, is ‘Go Make a Difference’. It is a very catchy tune; one that brings about a third of the parishioners to some form of synchronized clapping. I wonder, though, has this particular hymn become something of a mindless habit rather than a call to action?

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In Defense of the Liturgy: A Catechetical Discussion

eucharistOne of the most common hang-ups against the Catholic Church from an outside perspective is that it is “too ritualistic” or “too rehearsed”. Comments like these lead people to the idea that the Catholic way of worship is completely and utterly man-made. I used to be on the other side of the fence so I do have a bit of perspective to offer on this subject.

First off, it is the understanding of most evangelical Christians that the manner in which we worship should contain a certain degree of spontaneity. Is this spontaneity for its own sake? Not at all, in fact, spontaneity isn’t even the point of evangelical worship, although it is viewed as somewhat necessary. Whether you attend a “service”, a “mass” or the newly-termed “gathering,” the end by which you justify your means rests in the encounter. How might we encounter God? Much of the differences in worship that we find from denomination to denomination depends greatly on a particular group’s interpretation of Scripture. (p.s. Scriptural interpretation is not where we’re going, that’s another blog, or book, altogether…) Believe it or not, the Catholic liturgy is primarily concerned with an authentic encounter with God, as well.

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Catechesis: Everyone’s Divine Calling

catholicbooks For the better part of the last five years, I have been involved in parish youth ministry and catechetical formation in two parishes, as both a volunteer and as a paid staff member. Anyone who has taken up the mantle of working with teens and adolescents can attest to the fact that this ministry is not for the faint of heart. Many sleepless nights and hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament are how I have coped with the stress that comes with it all. Now, in order to be a catechist training, education, and experience are always a plus but the truth is… catechesis is for everyone! If you’ve labeled yourself as “Catholic” in the “about me” section of your Facebook profile, then you are called to be a catechist. Seriously.

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On the Wrong Side of History.

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Being “on the wrong side of history” is a phrase that finds its way into the media from time to time. When asked why someone would support controversial issues, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and even the legalization of marijuana, this is a defense to which they often cling. Such a defense has even found its way into the pulpit, the sermon, the homily, and even the Christian blogosphere.

There seems to exist a new breed of Christian in western culture. A politically correct Christian of sorts, who will go so far as to redefine their understanding of the faith in order to avoid being “on the wrong side of history…”  Don’t get me wrong, quite the case has been established to support this way of thinking. Extremist groups such as the KKK and more recently, Westboro Baptist Church have both come under the guise of “doing the work of God.” As we learned, both during and after the fact, all Christians supporting these causes were certainly, on the wrong side of history. Add to these two blemishes, the grossly ill-perceived crusades, the sex-abuse scandals, among other things and anyone would seemingly be justified in their opinions towards Christianity.

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Defeating Opportunism. Yet another brief reflection.

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St. John Paul II’s “Love & Responsibility” is such a profound work; it laid the groundwork for what would become a series of talks we know as Theology of the Body. A basic principle that we can take away from his work is that love must be the foundation upon which relationships are built. Love, by its very nature is the gift of oneself for the good of another. Love is two people seeking out a virtuous life, together. St. JPII also makes it clear that love treats people as “ends” and not “means to an end”. The individualistic nature of western culture has shifted the focus from our fellowman towards what we can do to look out for our own best interests. Our goals and aspirations for this life have become increasingly self-centered with a lessening regard for the well-being of others. It would also appear that being immune to such ideology is easier said than done.

The type of friendship that many young people (and people of all ages) find themselves in is what Aristotle labels as the “friendship of utility”. It is a relationship, based largely upon the mutual benefit or “use” that one or both friends may derive from a relationship. Because relationships based on use exist, opportunism has managed to creep its way into many relationships, even into the bonds shared among people of the Christian faith. For example, a common form of opportunism can occur when friends are attempting to make plans with one another. When attempting to receive an affirmative response after the initial invitation, our hopes are usually not very high. Opportunism has wiped away the necessity to commit.  Because let’s be honest… when something better comes along, we do not want to be tied down. Many of us, myself included, may have been guilty of this mindset at least once (if not more) in our relationships with others.

Opportunism in friendship, when it has become acceptable, can be an extremely difficult cycle to break. Especially, when such behavior is considered the norm it may seem irrational to protest against it. In a culture where we use our phones and tablets to disengage from intimate or difficult conversations, taking the time to challenge opportunism will seem like a futile undertaking at first. Seeking to develop love and responsibility towards one another in a friendship where neither currently exists doesn’t come with an instruction manual. However, if opportunism has infiltrated a relationship worth keeping, it will be worth the effort.

Suggested Reading:

Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s ‘Love and Responsibility’ (Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2007) by Dr. Edward Sri

Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla

A “No Win Situation”.

Converts to the Catholic faith come in many different forms. I, in particular, would be considered a convert of the over-zealous variety. My conversion story (available in a bookstore near you, late 2015) (hopefully) is one of an evangelical protestant who initially set out to settle the debate and disprove Catholicism once and for all. God had a different outcome in mind… In any sense, I was the protestant that most cradle Catholics would never hope to encounter. I was hard-headed and faithful to the teachings of the evangelical tradition. Disdain for the Catholic faith was a part of my Christian upbringing.

Since joining the Church, I will often encounter various forms of my former self. I am not the most learned Convert but I am becoming somewhat of a burgeoning bibliophile in terms of Catholic literature. I hate to read… so this is a big deal. Periodically, I’ll find myself lodged in a debate over theology or social teaching and about half of the time I’ll come out victorious by social media debate standards. The other half results when I either get blindsided, consequently directing my independent reading in a new direction to safeguard against that in the future or I’ll be in a no-win situation. This is when the person I am debating has taken serious issue with the Catholic Church altogether. Part of the time this will result in a blatant refusal of truth on their behalf or my arguments could not stand up against their concerns. In the later of these situations, the best remedy is just to be there.

As a Catholic and an apologist-in-training I will never have all the answers and sometimes the answers will never be enough. There may come a time when you will find yourself with your back up against the wall and the only way forward is to make peace, accept it as a moment to grow in humility and offer up kindness. Whatever ends up happening, we must never stop praying for our brothers and sisters of different faiths (or no faith at all).

Cleaning Up.

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This rainy Friday morning I will be making the trek down to the ol’ Cathedral for confession. I’ve made it a point in my life to partake in this sacrament a bit more frequently. It’s gotten to a point that when I fall short (in what I have done or failed to do) I feel like I am living in a dirty home. Reconciliation is the remedy, it cleans out the home and keeps me from becoming buried alive (hoarders pun, sorry). So the question is… Why is a ‘clean home’ so important in terms of our soul?

1. A dirty home isn’t hospitable for guests.
I remember, growing up, the number one reason that I needed to clean my room or pick up my toys around the house was due to the imminent arrival of guests. People were about to join us, not just regular people but, family or close friends. When we let our souls become overrun with the junk that comes with our sinful nature, we are essentially removing the possibility of an edifying communal experience with others. Reconciliation fixes that.

2. A dirty home left unattended, will become uninhabitable.
This reminds me of passages from both the Second Letter to the Corinthians and the Letter to the Ephesians when Paul reminds us that we are not to fellowship with what is ungodly (pagan in Ephesians). Reconciliation not only reunites our souls into full communion with the Church it also reunites us into full communion with Christ in the Eucharist. Scripture makes it clear that partaking of the Eucharist is the source and summit of our salvation! It is by that very union that we have life! Like a dirty house that hasn’t been cleaned, we will eventually become uninhabitable for Christ. Reconciliation fixes that.

3. Putting off this necessary ‘cleaning’ will often result in MORE shame, MORE guilt, and MORE seclusion.
I can’t tell you how often my pride has kept me from seeking out reconciliation. Mind you, I was raised on “go directly to God” so brushing it under the rug was a skill of mine. Week after week many Catholics attend mass and do not join their family at the table of the Lord. In many cases, shame alone will keep them from even going forward for a blessing. Pretty soon parishioners are missing Mass and eventually leaving the Church altogether. Reconciliation fixes that.

So here I go, even in the flash flood, I will seek out God’s forgiveness. Talk about humbling, I currently have hundreds of reasons going through my mind as to why I should wait, put it off, or not go at all. None of those reasons are good enough. Even though my human nature would keep me occupied with other menial tasks, Christ is calling me. We are all broken. Reconciliation fixes that.

Religion = Relationship

Jesus assures us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. St. Paul asserts in his writings that a freedom exists in the life of a Christian. Wouldn’t it make more sense that St. Paul was not inviting us to abandon a moral and holy lifestyle but to embrace love instead of legalism?

“God did not ask us to follow Him because He needed our help, but because He knew that loving Him would make us whole.”   -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

I think it’s important to consider that religion (adherence to a set of beliefs) and legalism (the position that obedience to the law is the pre-eminent principle of redemption) are not the same. Religion, for most Catholics and orthodox Christian traditions is very much rooted in love and devotion to a merciful God. Additionally, there are many cases when a believer proclaims “Relationship!” over their view of religion with an ulterior motive in mind. It is no secret that the downside to the common, misguided view of religion exists in all of the restrictive rules and regulations.

Love, in its purest form is the gift of self to another, a sacrificial lifestyle. When we choose to view all of the sacrifices required of us in Christianity as obligations and not as acts of devotion, our views take on a legalistic identity. Furthermore, throwing out all of the ‘rules’ for a more basic, free-form gospel is not the remedy for religion but a perpetuation of misinformed opinions. Maybe, if we gave up everything, took up our cross, and followed Christ we would experience true freedom? All because we did it out of devotion and not of duty? As we continue to walk with Christ, we will find that a life lived in Christ is much more demanding of us than a life lived in obligation. All Christians would do well to ecumenically say “it’s not legalism, it’s love” as opposed to “it’s not religion, it’s relationship”. As these two statements are not the same in any regard.