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?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

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

January 22, 2017
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

I'm titling these next few weeks of readings a series: I'm Going On An Adventure. Last week we got an intro to Jesus from John the Baptist (Meet Your Adventure Guide). This week is "IGOAA: The Summons"

This week we see the beginning of Jesus gathering his disciples. It, of course, reminds me of the beginning of The Hobbit. Gandalf arrives at Bilbo's residence unannounced and tells him he is taking him on an adventure. As the rest of the evening follows the band of dwarves arrive for their meeting. Bilbo's day is totally ruined and he's frightened half to death with the proposal to take him on as the 14th member of the party as a burglar. But, there comes a point where he must make a decision to join the journey, the mission, or not, to stay home comfortable and safe in his Hobbit hole.

Jesus functions in the same fashion. He shows up unannounced. He approaches the soon to be apostles at their place of work. He tells them to leave it all behind and to follow him. I think theres a lot we don't see. Do they jump out the boat right then and there and leave. Do they say yes but finish the day and tell their loved ones bye. We don't know. But the fact is they said yes and left to follow him.

He has summoned all of us also. From the proto-evangelium, to the Jewish people as the chosen people, to Jesus calling his disciples, he has been laying the ground to call each one of us to the mission. Throughout his ministry he laid the ground work and his teachings for how we are to live. Before he ascended he gave the apostles and us the great commissioning.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power and heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." - Matthew 28: 18-20

We've been summoned. We have to make the choice to follow.

I spoke to some teens at their Confirmation  retreat yesterday about being a missionary. But a large part of my talk was that we aren't all going to be called to go on a mission trip, or much less to be called to live as a missionary. But, we are all called to mission. My advice for figuring out how to become a missionary was the exact same advice I'd give to discern any other part of one's life. Do what Mary told the servants at the wedding ta Cana, "Do whatever her tells you." And what did he tell us? Come and follow me, love God,love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemy, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, visit the imprisoned, go and make disciples.

He has a plan for us, we are called to mission, and he knows exactly how we are to best accomplish it. We aren't all called to be priests, religious, missionaries. But, we are all baptized priest, prophet, and king. We need holy CEOs, lawyers, dentists, garbage men, janitors, teachers, coaches, journalists, fishermen, artists, senators, representatives, etc. And in each of those ways of life, starting with our family and moving outward, we will be on mission.

We've been summoned. We must answer and continue answering every day.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Didn't Think I'd Have To Do This So Soon, Or At all

Since forever Elanor has loved her hair. She liked to get it styled or have it down and long like Rapunzel. On top of that EVERYONE loves her hair. Everywhere she goes people are complimenting her and Adeline about how they love their curly hair. But there has either been a wrench thrown in that or its just a little phase. I'm hoping it's the latter. Elanor doesn't like her hair anymore.

Elanor has been saying recently that she does not like  her curly hair and she doesn't like the color. She wants straight hair and she wants it to be blonde. What the heck?! Where's this coming from? We do our best to be super positive about our bodies, shapes, sizes, colors, etc. She has an assortment of dolls of different ethnicities and hair styles/colors. We got into sort of a long conversation today and I was asking her why she doesn't like her hair. She mentioned it can be hard to comb. Well yeah, but this is how I tried to fix it...I told her I CAN'T comb my hair, hahaha. What an idiot! But I tried telling her how God made her that way, how pretty it is and how I and all the people she meets love it. What makes me think it is a phase is she said she can't do any styles with it. But, her mom and grammy do super cool stuff with her and her sister's hair with braids and buns, etc. A friend was telling me that when her daughters saw mine at a wedding with their braids they were so jealous and wanted their hair braided like that.

So as a guy I was trying to find a fix (yes I know it's just time) so I searched for cool styles for curly hair. I found this girl on Youtube who does styling tutorials for curly hair. I wanted to show her that she could do tons of styles with her hair. Plus, this girl has dark hair. We watched it and half way through she was saying there were so many she liked she'd have a hard time picking. She was getting excited. So was I. Once we were done she was asking me for bobby pins but I was trying to get a snack ready for them. So, she proceeded to use toy forks to stick in her hair and here's the really funny part, in the video the girl is talking and explaining what she does. As Elanor was putting forks in her hair she was just doing her own commentary.

I know this is not going to be the last time I have to deal with this. People don't like to talk about it but mainstream American media is white and geared towards whites. Just flip channels, commercials, magazines, etc. There have been studies that show that women of color tend to think that their skin and natural hair is not as pretty as fair skin and straight hair. I'm not placing blame on race but it is a reality that we live in in America. I just hope and pray that being in our family makes it easier. We have many different skin tones, hair colors and styles, and Erika and I try to be as positive and affirming as possible and to not place so much emphasis on looks.

I'm pretty sure it's just a simple phase and it'll be over soon. But, I want to continue laying a foundation for her to love herself. I could be making this a bigger deal than it is but I love my girls and I want them to love themselves.

Well, their Nani has blonde hair and they love to comb it. That's it, it's Nani's fault.

Here's the video I showed Elanor:

Monday, January 16, 2017

It Was Worth It

Thursday was my first youth night at my new mission parish. I was excited. I built it up as much as I could. It was in the bulletin. It was on posters I had put around the parish. We handed out little calendars at CCE a couple times. I talked it up at Funday Munday, our after school hang out. And, it was on the Instagram account.

I was super excited but a little worried because I didn't have anyone saying that they would help with the night. I knew I had some former teens in town for break so I solved that problem by contacting a few and I got one to come out. It was great, we got to catch up on our 50 minute drive to Dickinson and I thanked her by buying her dinner afterwards.

We had about a 2 hour set up time. We had to tear down 12 tables, around 80 chairs, hang lights which was a pain, haul our giant Jenga set to the room from my office across campus, gather drinks, cups, plates, napkins, set up sound, and a few minor things to get ready. Once we were done we allowed ourselves 15 minutes in the adoration chapel to pray.

A friend of mine who is a youth minister called and let me know he was praying for us. He told me a quote from Bob Rice who led a retreat for youth ministers a couple weeks ago that went something like this: "When they are coming, remember you aren't that amazing. When they aren't coming, remember that you aren't that bad." well...

6:30 came. After about 10 minutes, a teen showed up. We played Jenga until 7:00. He was the only one that showed up. So we pulled some chairs in a circle and had our night. It was worth it.

It was worth it because if my former teen had't been there I would have had to send the young man away due to safe environment rules. It was worth it because I used this Sunday's first reading and gospel to talk about the authority of Jesus and his Church as well as authority figures in our lives and how well or not so well we obey. This young man tends to get into trouble a lot. This was for him . It was worth it.

Two hours of set up time. About 45 minutes of clean up time. One teen. It was worth it.