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.

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

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!

 

 

 

Catechism Teacher v. The Parent: Dawn of Conversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be who God meant you to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Church Change the World?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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