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.

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.

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!

 

 

 

A Few Thoughts on Freedom.

Thoughts on Being ‘Trapped’

Yesterday evening, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the monthly gathering of our Diocese’s young adult ministry called Truth Poured Out (similar to Theology on Tap). The topic that Fr. Jeff selected is one that, in recent years, has been gaining traction among various faith groups; the topic of human trafficking. Leading up to last night, my only familiarity with this issue stemmed from a documentary I viewed a few years back and having witnessed a few of my friends participate in awareness marches, locally. I knew there was a major problem, especially here in the US but I never really gave it much thought. Even though this problem had, in a major way, become a domestic problem I always felt that it wouldn’t be happening here, in a nearby big city perhaps, not here though.

Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Freedom.”

Is Mass Boring?

Throughout my years of working in youth ministry, the number one response I receive when I ask students about their Church-going habits is that they don’t go because it is boring. Second and third place responses are usually tied to issues of oversleeping or perhaps Mass, for them, simply isn’t a family affair. Granted, a good number of the teens I work with do attend Mass faithfully. On the other hand there are a few who rarely do. If there is anything that I can hope to accomplish in youth ministry it is this: that every one of them would fall madly in love with the Eucharist. More than hype, more than fun and games (which are absolutely crucial) my only desire for these young souls is that they allow for their hearts to be swept away in desire for Christ in the Eucharist. Truly, this would be the greatest accomplishment of any parish ministry.

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The Spirit-filled Catholic Church

One of the most common questions I get asked regarding my conversion to the Catholic faith is why I would leave a ‘spirit-filled’ church to join a dead, lifeless, ritualistic, man-made religion. Bear in mind, the inquiries don’t normally put down the Catholic Church in such a manner; however, these questions are usually pretty loaded. The nature of the question offers up very specific implications regarding the Catholic tradition. Over time, I have learned not to take offense when asked. Moreover, no matter the intention of the person asking I take the initiative in believing that these moments are opportunity for true, ecumenical dialogue. So, I oblige them to define exactly what they think being ‘spirit-filled’ means.

Continue reading “The Spirit-filled Catholic Church”

A Sacrificial Kind of Love.

Has anyone ever tried to convince you that love is just a feeling? If so, you’ve been lied to. The notion that love is just that warm feeling you get about a cute guy or girl is, in fact, the greatest lie ever told. If we begin to believe that love is purely emotional then we begin to lay a very disappointing foundation for the rest of our lives. Society, unfortunately, through its use of media (especially) has distorted our understanding of love and has gone on to convince us that love can be fleeting; only temporary. Think about it. How many times do marriages end because the two simply fell out of love? Or how about when two individuals have been hardwired to use one another for their own personal desires? We’ve been fooled into thinking that love is what makes us happy. We’ve been trained to view love in terms of what we get out of it.

Continue reading “A Sacrificial Kind of Love.”

Take Me To Church.

It’s been said that church can be boring and that going to church is usually an hour that a person will never get back. Many of us have had feeling comparable to this relating to the mass. It certainly doesn’t help if the homily is lack-luster, the readings are long, and the music is off key. There are countless reasons that we can decide for ourselves that mass or just church in general isn’t worth our time. The question remains; however, what is it exactly that we’re going to church for anyways? If we’re walking in the doors because the preaching is good or because the music is on point then leaving when one of these areas suffers makes a bit more sense. What if I told you that neither of the aforementioned elements are the point of mass?

Continue reading “Take Me To Church.”