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.

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.

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

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

Is the Catholic Church Waking Up?

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

Continue reading “Is the Catholic Church Waking Up?”

On Being Pro-Life: Part 2 of 2

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

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

On Being Pro-Life: Part 1 of 2

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

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

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

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.”

A Brief Reflection on Faith and Family.

HolyFamily

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

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

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