Thursday, July 20, 2017

I Did Not Fall and I Wish I Had

A couple weeks ago (June 22-26) I was able to take one of my teens to Steubenville of the Rockies in Auroroa, CO. A friend of mine who is a youth minister had extra spots and offered some to me. I offered them to 9 teens and got one. WORTH IT!

As youth ministers everything we do is for the teens but in God's greatness, love, and mercy he always has something for us. Well for the two weeks leading up to the conference I had been dealing with something personally heavy. It got to a point where I could not carry it anymore. It went so far to where I did not want to go on the trip. I was not myself for the first couple days of travel. And as my friend the youth minister and I were able to go off on our own for a little while to connect he shared how he could tell I was not myself.

I shared with him what I was going through. We spoke about how I had not been doing much self care (lifting, comic book reading, grading a beer with friends, etc, things that I did for myself). I thought that was a good revelation. But, it wasn't until that night during adoration that the real revelation.

During the Saturday night Eucharistic adoration procession is when I saw my fault. During Matt Maher's song, Lord I Need You, specifically during the bridge, is whenI realized where I had been going wrong. The second half of the bridge is what hit me, 

When I cannot stand I'll fall on you
Jesus, You're my hope and stay.
For the past two weeks my prayer life was crap! I was not relying, I was not falling on him. WE spent time talking about everything else that self-care is about EXCEPT for God himself!

I'll admit, even with that realization, even when I got back it was not easy. But, with the realization of where I was putting my trust and where I wasn't putting it, that eventually brought the situation to a beautiful reality.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Of Children, Theology, and Disney PART II

This past Sunday my girls and I were outside testing out our new slip and slide. I told them that we needed to go in and get ready for mass. My oldest Elanor, 5 years old, asked if we could just go the next day and keep playing. I told her that it was Sunday and that meant that we went to mass. There was mass on other days but Sunday was our requirement as Catholics. We were to keep the Sabbath day holy and as Catholics that’s how we do it as a universal family, we go to mass.

She then asked why we could to other days and I told her in the Church’s wisdom mass was offered daily, except Good Friday. I told her that we tried to go as often as possible because the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we come to know him and love him and then we are able to know and love our neighbor and even enemies more. “Loving enemies is hard and we need Jesus to help us with that,” I told her. She then said, “Like in Tangled.” “What do you mean,” I asked. She then said, “Like Mother Gothel. It must have been hard for Rapunzel to love Mother Gothel.”

Kids know what is right and wrong. They can even tell you immediately after something they’ve done if it was right or wrong. They know what love is. I’m learning as I continue to parent these intuitive souls that very little escapes their eyes and minds.

Of Children, Theology, and Disney

A couple Sundays ago we actually got to church for mass really early. After we sat down Adeline (3 year old) asked me, "Where is Jesus". I explained to her that Jesus is in the tabernacle in the form of bread. She of course followed up with, "How is he bread". I then explained how he promised to be with us forever after he ascended into heaven and one of the ways is in the Eucharist. When the priest calls down the Holy Spirit (when he puts his hadn't over the bread and wine) they change into Jesus. It still looks, tastes, smells, feels like bread and wine but it's essence, what it is now, is Jesus. And when we consume him he becomes part of us and we are to take him to other people and be Jesus in the world.

Elanor (5 year old), who was listening in, said "Like what Mufasa said?". "How do you mean", I asked. She explained, "Well, Mufasa told Simba that when they die they go into the ground and become part of the earth, then the plants eat them, then the animals eat them, and they are part of the animals and  circle of life like that."

With my mind blown about how she made those connections I replied, "Yeah, it's kinda like that."

Many people want to dumb down the faith and maybe even not try to explain difficult teachings to their kids. But in my experience they can grasp it. Our kids already grasp complex. Bishop Barron speaks about a daughter of someone at Word On Fire that can explain the entire main plot and story of the main Star Wars storyline complete with names of planets and characters.

"People say, “Oh Father, you can’t expect the kids today to learn the Bible.” There was a 9-year-old girl, the daughter of someone who works in our Word on Fire office. She came in one day – a real bright kid. And she has watched all the Star Wars movies, all six of them. And, honest to God, this kid could give you chapter and verse of the entire Star Wars saga. I can say Han Solo and Princess Leia. I mean, she’s way beyond that. She gives you every little detail of the Star Wars saga. Don’t tell me kids can’t learn the Bible. Don’t tell me they can’t learn every detail of the Great Story that really matters. In fact, the best of the Star Wars stories is an imitation of the Bible. So learn it and teach the kids and let them know who Jesus is." - Bishop Barron

I have a teen who explained the entire plot also with names of characters, tech, etc of Halo. My intern and I sat there for about an hour and a half listening to him. And he told it so well it was really fascinating. What I thought I knew about Halo was only the surface.

We send them to school to learn complicated subjects English, Math, Science, other languages, but the intricaces of the faith can wait? What if we really taught our kids the faith, our theology, salvation history? What if they could share their faith with their friends just like the share about Star Wars, Halo, Marvel and DC movies? Sharig their faith in an engaging and captivating way? Hmm, what a great idea!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Why Are You Standing There?

Sunday Readings:
First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20

This Sunday's first reading and Gospel recount the ascension of Jesus event. Each one is powerful in its own way and presses home a certain theme that demands serious attention.

But, of the two, at this point in my life the first reading truly caught my attention with a short and gut check question from the angels that appear as Jesus ascends:

"While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."- Acts 1:10-11

First of all, did they question them AS Jesus was ascending or did they wait until he was out of sight? I don't like being interrupted. Secondly, wow, what a question after experiencing such a sight, "why are you standing there", as if this is an every day occurrence. Ok maybe the angels weren't impressed but woah! But, why were they standing there?

I starting to think about experiences I've seen in my life that have completely taken my breath away and left me staring, or with my jaw dropped. Or more simply, I thought about amazing movies I've seen that have truly impacted me. What is the first natural reaction we have when we have an experience or see such a movie? We want to talk about it! We want to either find someone who has seen it and talk about it, debate about it, analyze it, OR we want to tell someone how good it was in an attempt to convince them that they need to see it.

Well then, why don't we have that urge with the most important thing in our life, the Gospel? The apostles did not just experience something miraculous and supernatural, they were given marching orders, a great commission right before it happened. I wonder, just how long had they been standing there before the angels spoke up. They were told to head back to Jerusalem and await the Holy Spirit and to baptize the nations and tell them all that Jesus had taught them. For the past three years they had been discipled, not to have cool knowledge or to just be better guys, they were being trained for a mission. Angels were there to wake them up.

So why are we just standing there? Why do we stand there silent when an opportunity arrises to share the Gospel, to pray with someone not later but right then and there, to engage with love, to be the good Samaritan? What is it that holds us back if we have something so good.

What comes to mind is 1 Peter 3:15, "Always be ready to give and explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope". Are we ready? Do we have or know our reason for our hope. Why are do we continue to be Christian. Why do we continue to be Catholic? What got us to this choice in the first place? And once we find it, what good is it if we don't share it.

So now, why are you standing there?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

He Did What He Had to Do

 My mission, Shrine of the True Cross in Dickinson, TX, is going through some renovations. The church is being expanded to allow for a larger sanctuary and a larger chapel to allow for more seating in both. This is obviously causing some changes in programming and location changes. Some ministries/groups that used to meet in the chapel, as well as adoration, and confession, have now been moved to other locations. One day during the early stages of the construction I was leaving the church office building and walking to my car and as I passed between the church and a little playground for the elementary school kids I saw a man sitting outside of the church next to the side doors peering through the glass into the church. I'm fairly familiar with this guy, we say hi when we see each other, so I asked him if he needed to get inside anywhere. He replied, "I'm just spending time with Jesus."

Jesus exposed in the Eucharist had been reposed and taken out of the now locked chapel, but he was still in the tabernacle in the church. I was kind of baffled for a second and really didn't know how to respond. Later on it really hit me as a powerful moment. This guy didn't care how he looked. Honestly, I thought he was a homeless dude when I first saw him. All he knew was he wanted to be close to Jesus, he knew where he could be found, and even though it wasn't ideal, comfortable, nor cozy, he did what he needed to do to spend some time with him.

It really impacted me. I thought about how many times I complain about not having the perfect time of day carved out for prayer, or for not waking up early enough, or for being in a rush or whatever excuse for not spending time with Jesus either in prayer or in adoration. But not only did he take time to come to church, he's getting uncomfortable leaning against a gnarly wall on some concrete steps, to look through the glass of a door to gaze on a tabernacle (if he can see it) to be with Jesus.

I think I'm going to tell him "Thank you" next time I see him.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I Spent an Hour With Bruce

A couple weeks ago I was leaving my mission, Shrine of the True Cross, and I was exhausted. As I was putting my things into my car I heard a voice nearby. As I turned around I saw a man with a great red beard and a mane of red bushy hair. He had a couple bags next to him along with a basketball. He was reading from the bible out loud. I went over to talk to him.

I asked him if he needed anything or if he was trying to get in somewhere. He then told me how he was trying to get into the chapel for some time in adoration but someone told him that he could not go in without an ID. He went on to tell me that he didn't have his license because it was stolen in Austin. Why was he in Austin? He was just passing through.

Bruce went on to tell me that he had been walking the country for a while, with his rosary in hand, and trying to make it to mass as often as possible. Why? Because he had not been living a good life. He worked for a trading company on Wall Street but he worked remotely in California. He was going from girl to girl, growing his own weed (legally), and knew his friends weren't real friends. He grew up Catholic. He picked up the bible one day and read the story of the rich man who followed all the commandments and wanted to know what more he could do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him to give everything away. The man left. Bruce, he figured if Jesus could die on the cross, he could at least do what he told that rich man to do. So he did just that. And he's been walking since.

I had never heard anything about needing an ID to get into the chapel. I do know that the chapel had been broken in to, and I'd assumed someone just thought he was trouble. So I told him I needed to get home but I could spare 30 minutes if he'd like to go to adoration. I'd go in with him. He accepted. So we went in and it was interesting. Here's this dude with a big beard and dreadlocks and another dude with all this red hair and a red beard. I'm sure it was an epic sight. People came in and gave side looks. One man leaned over after staring oddly at Bruce and asked him what his favorite scripture passage was. Later he told Bruce to look up some scripture in Exodus, and that he'd love it. Odd. As we sat there I peered into his bag. I saw his bible, other books, and a beat up copy of 33 Days to Morning Glory. He read his current issue of the Magnificat.

Afterwards I asked Bruce what his goal was, or where he was hoping to end up. He said he really didn't know. He's hoping God uses him along the way and that maybe I was part of his journey. He then asked if I could give him a ride to St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal in Texas City because he wanted to go to mass there in the morning. Thing is, he had mentioned wanting to go there earlier, so all through our time in adoration I was asking God to let me know if my thoughts of giving him a ride were the right I had total peace about it. I was confident this was right because I've been asked for rides by people before, to somewhere literally down the street/walking distance, and had zero peace. So, I gave him a ride.

On that ride he told me of his past life style, how his brother and father did not approve of what he was doing and that he should leave because they wanted nothing to do with him. We talked about how we as humans do the worst things to each other and how forgiveness is so important. I dropped him off, gave him a big hug, invited him to our worship night a couple nights away, told him of a possible housing opportunity, and I drove off.

I have no idea where Bruce is. I know he was hoping to make it to Big Bend National Park. I hope he's ok. I hope he gets there. I'm glad we met.

Pray for Bruce.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I'm Going On An Adventure: The Roster - Sunday Readings Reflection Series

Yeah this is late, but life.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

At many new steps in our life we have to make the roster. What ever team, group, band, job, etc that we are trying to join, they have expectations of what they are looking for and how you are expected to act once chosen.

I remember having to interview to be on camp staff at Life Teen Camp Covecrest back in 2004. This was before they had all of the missionary training they do now. I remember there being an application and a phone interview. I don't remember specifics but we were asked about our experience in ministry, our current faith life, our willingness to work with youth, do any and every job given to us, and to work as a team. Once you get there, you realize how important those expected characteristics are.

God calls all to himself, no matter what is in their past. There's nothing we can do to give ourselves salvation. We have to accept it. And once accepted there is a way we are expected to live. I think that's a large part of what the scriptures were talking about on Sunday.

In the second reading Paul is telling us that God does not choose his workers in the field like the world chooses. The world is usually looking for the strongest, bravest, fastest, most wealthy, etc. But God, he uses the ones people least expect to impact the world. I think the apostles and saints are perfect examples of this. The saints run the gamut of human experience. But, if they've been at the top of society they have often been taken down. If they've been rich, many times they've been made poor. If they have been rich and at the top they made themselves less important and served others. The apostles were not part of an elite class. They were fisherman and, as their peers saw it, scum of the earth tax collectors. Not learned men, religious leaders, people with power, but regular men that stumbled and put their feet in their mouths more often than not, yet spread the gospel so that Jesus' church could be what it is today.

In the Gospel Jesus gives us his Beatitudes. Some of them make sense, but it is the odd ones that I think are the most powerful and demand more of our attention. First off we have to begin with even though most translations begin each beatitude with "blessed" a better translation is "happy". And so the odd balls follow, "Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted, and those who receive insult, persecution, and evil." Huh, happy are those people?

I like how Bishop Barron explains these in his Catholicism series. The main focus of these "negative" beatitudes, as he puts it, are their visions of detachment. If we are too attached to things, experiences to make us happy, we have no room for God to provide true happiness and joy.

-The poor in spirit are detached from possessions and wealth.
-Those who mourn are detached from thrill seeking and always having to be happy, finding the next fix.
-The meek are detached from control and power.
-The persecuted, insulted, etc, are detached from comfort and social appeal.

Think about it. If you are attached to any of these it is going to be hard to allow God to mould you, send you, teach you, much less look to him and others in your faith journey. Without the beatitudes I think we turn into our own pope. We become the type of people that hold others up to impossible non-empathetic, unsympathetic standards.

When St. Bernard of Clairvaux was asked what the 3 most important virtues were he replied, "Humility, humility, humility." Humility isn't thinking less of ourselves, it's thinking of ourselves less.  At our high school retreat weekend on Jesus, we ended with a session called "The Choice". Once we know who Jesus wasn't, who he was, and what he calls us to, we must respond. And right off the bat we start thinking of how unworthy, gross, disgusting, etc, we are. And yes, we are unworthy, but he makes us worthy. Without him we are incapable but he makes us capable. It doesn't matter if we are the school bully or the bullied, if we've been abused or we are the abuser, if we struggle with our sexuality, drugs, alcohol, pornography, if we've broken ever commandment. If we are humble and know that God is all powerful, we have already been called and chosen, and that he wants and loves us no matter what is in our past, nothing can stop him from using us for his greater glory if we allow him.

I've been reading about Hans Frank, Hitler's lawyer and was single handedly responsible for the the Siege of Warsaw causing the destruction of 84% of the city. Hans Frank was captured and sent to the Nazi war trials. Patton assigned Fr. Sixtus O'Connor, OFM as the Catholic chaplain to the Nazi war criminals. During their time together through what must have been a serious amount of humility, Hans Frank repented and converted to Catholicism. His last words before being hung were, "I beg the Lord to receive me mercifully." A modern day Saul.

If he could realize that even after what he did, enough to earn himself the nick name "the Nazi butcher", God loved him, what is holding us back?