Why I Won’t Be Getting Drunk When I Turn 21

This Sunday, I have the privilege of making one of the last societal rites of passage into adulthood. I’m turning 21. With that, of course, comes the legal right to purchase and consume alcohol.

Sex, drugs and alcohol are all bad, right? At least that’s what you’d expect any Jesus freak to say. That’s actually quite the opposite of what I’m going to say, however.

God created the world and He declared it good. Every part of Creation has found its source in God, and this makes it very, very good (Genesis 1).

What is not good is how we use it. We are the stewards of Creation and Creation was made for us to enjoy just as God delights in His people and His handiwork. With that comes responsibility.

Sex, drugs and alcohol are all very good things when used in the right context. What I mean by that is that they are good when they are used in the manner in which they were intended.

Sex is very good when it is both unitive and procreative and shared between a husband and a wife as it was intended to be. This bonds a man and a woman so intimately that the Church has called the conjugal embrace the closest we can get to understanding the sensory goodness of Heaven while still living here on earth. It is also life-giving, which is so beautiful. It is creative!

Sex is not very good when it results in broken hearts, damaged relationships, diseases, or premature pregnancies and subsequent abortions. Sex is not very good when a man and woman are not giving themselves fully to each other; when it is not a total gift of self; when it is selfish. These consequences factor in only when we condone promiscuity, wrong conceptions of love, or a divorce of the two underlying purposes of sex as established by God and evident in our very being. These are consequences that were never meant to be associated with such a beautiful gift.

In the same way, drugs are good when they cure us or alleviate physical suffering, but bad when we use them dangerously, illicitly, or as a substitute for addressing our underlying physical, emotional or psychological problems.

That leaves alcohol. Alcohol is not bad! Jesus turned water into wine because it would have been a total bummer for them to only serve water at the wedding feast!

Sharing a beer with friends or having a glass of wine with dinner cannot be called a bad thing. In fact, this form of sharing fellowship or enjoying life in a way that offers us a foretaste of Heaven is very, very good.

As St. Paul and the Church have taught us, though, drunkenness is not very good at all. In fact, the Church teaches us that it is a sin to overindulge in anything, but in alcoholic beverages in particular. Here, we refer to the historic meaning of the word “sin” which is “to miss,” so it’s not to say that we are terrible people should we have one drink to many but that we have missed the mark or fallen short.

Balance, health and moderation—these are all things both Jesus and the Church desire for us. That means we do not cling to one extreme or the other, but rather to Jesus. We enjoy Creation, but, most of all, the One who made it.

In John 10:10, Jesus declares: “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

That is fundamentally what the Church is about. She does not exist to burden us with rules; She exists to spread life wherever she goes. She lives to rain true freedom upon Her people—to help them navigate life in this strange place and keep them constantly looking upward to their heavenly home.

Indeed, we see this theme continued in St. Paul’s instructions to the people of Galatia. Namely, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

That is the yoke of heartache. That is the yoke of addictions. That is the yoke of the hurt we cause to others. True freedom comes in living as we were meant to live, in not sinning, in not missing the mark. Or at least this is what we’re striving after.

In John 10:11, Jesus continues: “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is the good shepherd.

Adam and Eve’s sin was not submitting to God. Instead of enjoying Creation the way He intended them to, they made an idol out of the fruit. They made themselves their own gods. And for this they experienced death.

I’m having a drink this Sunday, but I won’t be doing it my way or the world’s way. I’m going to savor the opportunity to taste some awesome local craft beer over dinner with my girlfriend, I’m going to have a blast being a ridiculous goofball with her, and I’m not going to get drunk. Instead I’ll enjoy the goodness and freedom of doing it God’s way.

Sunday is one day, but I have this decision every day, and so do you. Jesus is the good shepherd. Will we allow ourselves to be shepherded by Him, or will we again submit to the yoke of slavery?

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Farther Along

I wanted to take the time to share a video I found very moving. It is worth watching in full before making any judgments. I will say that if you care to have arguments over theology, this is not the place to have them. That goes against the very spirit of this video, and it goes against the spirit of people overcoming differences to become one people bowed down in worship of the Lord.

Unfortunately, this video has become the source of controversy for many who are hopelessly bent on division and declaring themselves righteous. It has sparked the commentary of many who feel the need to condemn that which they do not understand—that which they misunderstand without an attempt to grow in knowledge of the truth and mutual understanding. What was meant to inspire love and communion has compelled false prophets to launch diatribes against the Bride of Christ, the Church, which He established, as something loathsome and now despised by the Lord. I feel comfortable calling them false prophets, because, the one who does the will of God leads always in love, while the fruits so clearly seen in some of the video responses are hate, divisions like the ones both Jesus and Paul preached against, the propagation of incorrect stereotypes, and utterances of damnation that the Bible says belong only to the Lord. I struggled to even find the full video posted by someone not seeking to continue this very work of the dismemberment of the Body of Christ.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important for each of us to check our biases at the door and open our hearts up to hearing a message we’d maybe rather not: that God loves each of us and that a world of pettiness where we run around and pretend like we have Him figured out perfectly is not at all His will for us. With that, I just pray for you as you watch this, I pray for our communities as we seek to build bridges that will unite us in His service and love until that day when all things will be revealed, and ask that you would do the same.

Here it is:

http://youtu.be/2QarP2d7eqM

My only point of contention with the video is that Tony Palmer makes the implication that salvation by works and faith was not always the teaching of the Catholic Church. This has never been the case. The official stance of the Church has always been that we can never merit our salvation. This is where faith comes in. It is the necessary precursor. That being said, we have always believed that we can lose our salvation. By failing to repent and to strive earnestly to live a life transformed, we make ourselves bad stewards of God’s free gift of salvation. By choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, we make ourselves once more answerable to a God who is Justice just as much as He is Love. All of that is in accordance with Scripture, and it has always been at the bedrock of the Church’s understanding and teaching of salvation.

However, while the Church is made divine through the Holy Spirit that dwells within it and inspires its work, its individual parts are undoubtedly human and given to mistakes. Additionally, since it is such a large body, it is sometimes hard to orchestrate unity. Thus, it is not a fellowship unopened to abuses and misunderstandings respectively. At various points in our Church’s history, different sects and theological quandaries have arisen. It is at such intersections that the Church has come together to reemphasize what we believe and put the questions to rest, much like Paul did through letters to his communities that experienced the same types of problems. This is the work the Church undertook in the Council of Trent, as leaders began to address some of the criticisms Martin Luther had rightly made. (This is why it would have been unsurprising had Luther been named a “doctor of the Church” if he were to have stayed with the Church and joined in the work of returning certain factions back to the foundational teachings.) The joint declaration made in 1999 was, then, not a change of doctrine, but another one of these clarifications, as Catholic and Lutheran leaders came together in recognition of the fact that the two groups they represented have actually believed the same thing. The continuation of the divide was due in large part to misconceptions and misunderstanding.

More on this can be found both in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the links I’ve posted here:

This issue aside, we are unfortunately living in an age where Christianity has become endlessly fractious, as we decide we know what is right for ourselves and refuse to accept any and all calls to submission to a Spirit greater than ourselves. This destructive attitude lives even in Catholics who purport to know better than the Church. This spirit of pride—the desire for divide—lives in the Catholics who join in rhetoric meant to destroy the bonds that unite us with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters. The point is: it’s something we’re all guilty of.

Today, please join me in praying for a love that overcomes theological divides and builds bridges between human hearts as we all seek the same thing: to know our Creator and to live with hearts more like His. Take a look around. This world is more in need of relationship with the Lord every day. We all need a sustainer. We all need authentic love. This is something we cannot share if we are too busy hating each other.

Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. Together, let us set our sights on a Love beyond all comprehension and look to the day when we will finally have the peace, the joy, and the clarity that this world can never offer us. I ask all this in Jesus’ name, amen.

http://youtu.be/IctD9l4F-ag

A Call to Greatness

Today I’m issuing a challenge. It’s geared specifically towards my college friends, but I think it’s equally applicable for anyone who’s ever been struck by just how fortunate most of us are.

Yesterday, I was extremely touched by the video of a particular organization that sponsors Mayan children in Guatemala. I’ve attached it below. Take a look—it’s really worth watching.

http://youtu.be/jAAqqSByt8w

I found it so moving to hear this little girl cry—to hear her desperation for the chance to be a kid. She wanted to be able to play with the non-Mayan kids she saw running around without a care in the world. She wanted to be able to go to school with them. She wanted to learn! Whereas most of us see school as a burden, to her it was an opportunity she could only dream of, and, when she finally got the opportunity to go, she overflowed with gratitude.

At just 8 years old, Claudia was expected to work to help support her struggling family—something most children that age would never even think of—and, though she was forced to continue all of this manual labor in addition to her new schoolwork, she never complained. Even though she was much poorer than all her classmates and put in classes with boys and girls years younger, she was still so grateful. With tears streaming down her face, and grace and maturity greater than that of people even ten times her age, Claudia shared these words: “I don’t have a lot of things, but I couldn’t ask for more.” And she’s only around ten years old.

Wow. That really puts things into perspective. But it also breaks my heart and makes me want so badly to help those who haven’t had the same opportunities as I have growing up.

Unfortunately, however, the action often stops there. I’ll feel bad. I’ll be thankful. I might even share the story or video with friends or family. But these stories are not meant to enflame our hearts just for the sake of enflamed hearts. We cannot be the one who sees and hears but does not react. Our hearts must be moved, but so also our hands and feet.

1560601_731860769440_31541998_nI really felt those words spoken to my heart last night, and I felt convicted to finally stand up and do something. I know the time for New Year’s resolutions has passed, but I’m going to issue one anyway. For the next eleven months—for the rest of this year—I’m going to commit myself to giving. I’d like to invite you to join me on this journey.

Now, I know we’re just college kids, and we might feel like we don’t have much to give, but that’s okay. Give anyway. I am so blessed, and I have done nothing to merit the blessings I’ve received. That’s why I cannot continue to live in a way that says, “I deserve what I have, and the circumstances of others are not my problem.” My brothers and sisters are starving—both for food and love. They’re thirsty for the knowledge that there’s someone out there who loves them—someone out there who cares about them and sees the great dignity that’s inside them. I cannot ignore their need.

I also cannot continue to be a slave to the fear that I will never have enough. I am a full-time student, with absolutely no source of income, but I am still so much more fortunate than so many others, and I believe that God is the Giver of all things. I believe that He will continue to provide for all my needs. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is.

Sympathy does not fix the world’s ills. Kind words do not fill hungry bellies. Empty prayers cannot send children to school. Awareness alone will not break the cycle of poverty. We cannot be blind in the face of injustice, and we cannot be idle in light of what we see.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Volunteer. If you’re not invested in some form of service already, sign up, sign up, sign up! It could be anything—tutoring kids after school through the Big Brother/Big Sister program, building houses with Habitat for Humanity, working at your local Society of St. Vincent de Paul food pantry… Do some research and see what interests you. Even if you can only commit to volunteering once a month at the local soup kitchen, this will bless your life, and, more importantly, it will bless the lives of many others. This is the opportunity to manifest the Love we’ve been shown and tell people of their worth as radiant daughters and sons of God in a very real way. I can’t encourage it enough.
  2. Give. Join me in giving, even from our broke-college-student state. Maybe you want to find one charity you believe in and pledge to contribute a certain amount each month. Maybe you want to sponsor a child. Maybe you’d like to give to a different charity each month. Sounds good to me! Whether you wanna donate five dollars or fifty, just give! Every dollar will be a blessing.
  3. Pray. Pray that your investment makes a difference. Pray for your brothers and sisters on the receiving end of this aid. This is about more than just checking boxes. This is about sharing love and changing lives. Our commitment to prayer could not be any more important.
  4. Share. Tell all your friends and family. Invite them to join you on this journey. Change your cover photo on Facebook to snapshots of the people whose lives are being changed by your charit(ies)’ work. Get the word out—tell people why you feel so strongly about the investments you’re making and why they should feel the same.

Join me this year in giving back. Let us be men and women of courage instead of just passive subjects of the culture. I have the feeling this resolution might effect great change in us, and who knows—maybe when we look back on the year come January 1st, we’ll have found a new life resolution instead of one that tapered off towards the end of 2014.

Let me know if you’re willing to accept the challenge. Together we can create a network of people ready to answer the call to step outside of ourselves and live with reckless love.

I’ll be praying for you.

Magnetic Christianity

On Tuesday, Pope Francis spoke about the need for Catholics to come out of their shells in praising the Lord. I want to share some articles with quotes from his homily, as well as a few thoughts on the Pope’s call. The first of the two links includes more excerpts from his talk, while the second is more of a synopsis. My comments follow.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/come-out-of-your-shell-to-praise-the-lord-urges-pope/

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1400366.htm

This’ll make a lot of Catholics uncomfortable, and many will claim to know better than the Pope, or say that what people thinks he was saying wasn’t really what he was saying. The fact of the matter, however, is that we were created not for comfort but for greatness.

The New Evangelization is not simply about starting up the evangelization machine again, as if we had at one point shut it off. It’s about evolving and becoming a Church that is magnetic—a Church that dialogues with the world and draws people in by its overflowing joy and radical love.

The fact of the matter is that no amount of knowing theology, making faith a public yet private exhibition, condemning the outside world, or forming our own Christian bubbles will draw people in to the Christian truth. This will not help us in living out our call to be fishers of men—to show people the love of Christ. What’s attractive is a transformed heart, and that’s what we’re striving for here.

This is why I am so grateful for the Pope’s fearless witness. I love the fact that he’s shaking things up and making people uncomfortable. This is what made Jesus both wildly popular and yet scorned by those who prided themselves on knowing the way—scorned by those He called outside of their selves.

All of this being said, with friends that find themselves of the divide, I would simply share the insight of a friend of mine, which I’ve seen to be truer than the buttery goodness of a warm grilled cheese sandwich. That is that “charismatic Christians” could use a lot more Tradition and “traditional Christians” could use a whole lot more charisma.

The bottom line, however, is that there need not be a divide. We are all members of the same Body, and we need to remember that when we approach our brothers and sisters. Bring not an attitude of pride, self-righteousness or all-knowingness to the way you worship, but celebrate the diversity. Build bridges, not walls, between hearts, and together we can change the world by our love, as we sing, “O, Come—Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together![1]


[1] Psalm 34:3

How Big Is Your Faith?

How big is your faith? Is it big enough to move mountains?[1] I know mine often isn’t. I find it hard to trust. I find it hard to accept that God’s plans for my life are not my own. I don’t understand why incredible people are brought into my life only to be taken out. I don’t see why God could not want me to have relationships, job opportunities, etc. that seem so good.

It hurts to want something good—something that seems like it should be pleasing to God—only to find out that it’s not gonna work.

Oftentimes, I’m tempted to sit in that hurt. Much like Job or the Psalmist, I cry out to God: “This hurts! Why, God, why?” That’s all good and well. We weren’t created to be robots. God doesn’t want us pretending like we’re good and holy and faithful all the time. What He wants is authenticity. Bringing that hurt to God, asking Him why the heck things are going the way they’re going—this is a good thing! It’s in wrestling with God that we know Him. Don’t be afraid to be like Jacob—imperfect and yet one of God’s most beloved children.[2]

On the other hand, our hurt does us no good if we allow it to paralyze us. We have to be willing to come back to the Lord—even when it hurts, and even when we could just as easily point the finger at God. You can’t stay mad at God forever. Really, if you know Him, you can’t be mad at Him at all, because He is a God of so much mercy and grace. He loves each of us so deeply, and He really does not want to see us suffer. He just wants what’s best for us.

We have to be willing to believe that. We have to be willing to take that leap of faith and say:

“God, I don’t really understand why this is happening right now, but I know You’re in control and I know what You’ve got in store is better than what I’d carelessly settle for right now. You’ve proven Your faithfulness before, and I know it continues even now, so, Lord, I’m giving this hurt back to You and I’m choosing to believe in Your promise again.”

Say to the Lord: “This hurts, ‘but you, Lord, are enthroned forever.’”[3]

Live the hurt, but when its time has come, commit to choosing hope. Have faith in the God who loves you—the God who is working all things for your good.[4] This is the constant in our lives. This is the one thing that remains through every good we welcome and say goodbye to over the course of a lifetime.[5]

“This we have as an anchor for our souls.”[6]

Your faith may not be big enough to move mountains, but be decisive about choosing to place your trust in the Lord, and He’ll do the hard work of moving away the hurt inside—even if it’s only little by little, day after day. His mercy is new every morning.[7] Lean into it.

 


[1] Mark 11:23

[2] Genesis 32:23-33

[3] Psalm 102:13

[4] Romans 8:28

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

[6] Hebrews 6:19

[7] Lamentations 3:22-23

Relationship

Sometimes I try to be the God of my own life. It’s not intentional. Actually—my intentions are really good. I’m driven by a desire to do better, to be better, to love the Lord more perfectly. Unfortunately, it’s in this pursuit that I tend to lose sight of the goal: Jesus.

My thinking goes a little like this:

  • If I sign myself up for a long list of prayer or devotional commitments, I can grow in relationship with Him.
  • If I impose fasts on myself—if I remove distractions—I can make room for Him.
  • If I volunteer more—if I eliminate all the time I have saved for myself in my schedule—I will be a better servant.
  • If I read more Christian blogs, do more spiritual reading, and learn more about theology, I can know Him better.

Do you see where the problem lies in this train of thought? There’s a whole lot of I. If I do this, than I can get this result. In my heart, I know the intentions are good. It hurts me when I know I’ve hurt the One who loves me more than life, so I want to do whatever I can to prevent that. If I could, I would flip a switch that would make it so that I’d never screw up again. I would flip a switch so that I was able to love God for the rest of my life unto eternity. I would go to Mass every morning, I would forever cast off dating, I’d shut off my Facebook account, feed the homeless and never sleep if I thought that would do the trick. But, ironically, none of that would do a bit of good. That’s because my focus has become self-repair instead of relationship with Christ.

Now, obviously, I’m not suggesting we cast off devotionals, community service, or various forms of worship. That’s all very necessary, and it will both flow from and deepen the faith we already have.

Becoming a better person and getting to know God is always something worth striving for. It’s what we’re called to, in fact. But what we’re not called to—what we’re not created for—is a life of doing things for ourselves.

How could this be? How do we start with the goal of growing in relationship with the Lord and wind up neglecting it?

I think this phenomenon is best understood through a comparison to marriage.  I recently read an article about some relationship trouble this really heartfelt Christian man was having with his wife. At some point, his wife had come to him with hurt feelings because she didn’t feel like her husband had been respecting her in their relationship. It all started because the husband had been taking care of the couple’s financials all by himself. He figured that he had been doing her a favor by doing all their budgeting. He thought he was doing her a service by keeping her from having to deal with all the bills and annual tax reporting minutiae. However, he never communicated this to her, and, by not including her in the process, he had made her feel like a child.

The same thing comes up in one of my favorite movies: Guess Who, starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher. In the movie, Ashton Kutcher’s character winds up quitting his job the same day he’s supposed to meet his fiancée’s parents for the first time. That’ll cause some tension, obviously, but what’s worse is that he doesn’t tell his fiancée about it. The news finally breaks at the film’s climax, and this prompts Zoe Saldaña’s character, his fiancée, to question their engagement. While he tells her he just didn’t want to worry her, she questions her ability to trust the communication in their relationship. Ultimately, she wants to be treated as an equal partner. She wants to make decisions—to do things—together.

Ultimately, that’s what God wants too. He doesn’t want us to keep things from Him. He doesn’t want us to get it done by ourselves. He doesn’t want us to act like everything’s perfect. What He wants is to walk with us. What He wants is a relationship with us.

I thought I could accomplish this through self-regulation, but I couldn’t.

Recently, I noticed that I had become so distracted by girls and obsessing over not being in a relationship that I was neglecting my relationship with God. It simply wasn’t His time yet, and I needed to readjust my focus. Thus, I decided to go on a dating fast. Unfortunately, this didn’t help my relationship with the Lord so much as it allowed me to slap some blinders on and “check the box” that said I had removed something that had become a distraction in my life.

Not dating isn’t bad. However—when it’s a discipline you’ve imposed on yourself, it can be. When you decide to remedy your problems all by yourself and pretend like girls don’t exist for years on end, you’re not doing your spiritual life any favors. That’s because: you’re suddenly not dating, not because you’re waiting on the Lord, but because you’ve decided you’re not allowed to pay any attention to the people God might be putting in your life until further notice. You’re not obligated to wait upon His will for your relationships. You’re operating on your timetable—not His. In lieu of listening to God and actually taking cues from Him, you get to tune Him out, do your own thing, and feel good about yourself.

The same can be said about making your own decisions about how you spend your time. Earlier this year, I thought I had to be Superman. I was convicted by the need I saw around me and felt that it would be selfish for me to use free time for myself. If I had an evening open, I felt the need to fill it with a shift at the local homeless shelter or yet another campus ministry meeting. However, I came to find that my spiritual life was becoming more and more strained the busier I got. Stacking activity upon activity—ministry upon ministry—does not bring you closer to the Lord if there’s no time left in your schedule to rest in adoration of Him.

Even our prayer and devotional routines can be detrimental depending on the attitude with which we approach them. Mass, novenas, rosaries, Bible studies, worship nights—these are all great things and most of us could probably afford to do them more! However, they pose a danger if we use them the wrong way.

For instance, many people set rules for themselves that do not allow them to experience the Lord’s will for our lives when He said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” but rather tie a millstone around their necks.[1] This could mean coming to the conclusion that you have to go to Mass every single morning at 6am—that there is never an excuse for missing it—or it could mean that you stare at a timer to make sure that you spend a certain amount of time in prayer before you fall asleep every night. The problem here is that so many of us allow these “extra” prayer routines to become normative, to become binding. Then we beat ourselves up when we miss a day. We attribute our trials that day to the fact that we weren’t able to live up to the obligation we enjoined upon ourselves—as if God were in the business of punishing us for the fact that sometimes life gets busy. You can’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. That’s the work of Satan—not the One who gives us Life.

Another example of prayer gone wrong is when it becomes a performative utterance we simply complete in order to protect us from falling or ever having to come humbly to the throne of mercy—from actually having to encounter Jesus.  Along these lines, I’ve heard of all sorts of superstitious formulae for guarding against impurity. However, if these prayers lose their meaning to us and become mere tools we use to get something (i.e. a life free of spiritual trial) instead of the fundamental line of communication between God and man, we’ve missed the point.

If we become slaves to a certain prayer regiment because we think that will maintain our blamelessness, or that our completion of it entitles us to purity, we run the risk of making an idol out of the form of prayer. What’s more—we’re then faced with the temptation of, once again, becoming our own gods, because we’ve forgotten that He alone is the One that clothes us in all righteousness and purity. He alone is our reason for praying. We pray not to avoid ever having to feel guilty, but because we are moved with love for Him. We are driven by a deeply rooted desire to know our Creator and be known by Him.

Don’t get me wrong: discipline in prayer is a GOOD thing! However, prayer does nothing if we our hearts aren’t moved. Without a conversion of heart, our worship lacks meaning. That is why our primary goal should not be to complete some list of prayers. Our goal should not be to merely avoid the things that would remind us of our need for Him. It should not be to go to every single worship night the ministries on campus offer in a week. Our primary goal has to be a life of dependence on the Lord. We’re bound to fall either way. We’re human. What’s most important is that we know the One who loves us anyway.

What’s most important is relationship. We need to come back to Him everyday. As tempting as it can be to just wanna flip the switch and solve all the problems—and as good as the heart can be behind not wanting to screw up or hurt the Lord—that’s not what we were created for. We were created imperfect for a reason. There is a reason perfection lies in God alone. It is because we were created for a relationship. We were created to know Love.

If we extend our marriage analogy further, relationships never end when you say, “I do.” It’s not enough to stand up and say, “I love you,” when you’re head over heels and all your single friends are looking on with envy. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Marriage is a commitment, which requires a couple to stand up (or bend low) and say, “I do,” day in and day out: even when all the party guests have gone home, the wedding dress is faded, and all the pictures are covered in dust.

Feelings wear off, but true love doesn’t settle for going through the motions. It has to rekindle the fire. It has to ignite the flame. It has to come close and listen to its Beloved’s heart. True love must be pursued.

God’s not something we can check off our to-do lists. We won’t come to know Him by taking our lives into our own hands or trying to be perfect all by ourselves. We know Him when we’re authentic. We know Him when we make the journey from our heart to His every day until our very last. We know Him when we invite Him in, when we listen, and when we allow Him to be the leader of our daily lives.

Every day I find myself making my worship a task to complete so I can feel good about myself. It’s as if I’ve forgotten why I’ve made a practice of it in the first place. So every day I undertake the even harder task of not just going through the motions but uniting my life with the life of Christ. Every day we’re faced with the task of fanning the flame of love.

This is when we know Him. This is when we experience radiant joy, lasting peace, and true Love. If this is the opportunity I have in Christ, I have to ask myself: why would I ever want to be my own God again?


[1] John 10:10

Thank God for Little Girls and Mommas’ Hearts

3-baby-girls-in-white-dress-and-flower-the-little-one-is-taken-good-care-of-they-are-like-angels-cute-babies-wallpaperWarning: this post may contain several cute baby pictures.

My grandmother once told me about growing up in in a big Catholic family in Brooklyn, with a God-fearing woman who fearlessly gave birth to five girls and nine boys as her mother. One day while she was at school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the topic of Heaven came up between my grandmother and her teacher, Sister Ann Elizabeth. “Surely you’re going to Heaven, Sister,” my grandmother exclaimed. Sister Ann Elizabeth took her by the hand, however, and said, “Oh, no, no. Your mother—she’s the real saint. She has given life. She birthed you and your brothers and sisters and she’s raised you in a loving household. She’s brought you up in the Faith. She’s the one who will reach Heaven long before I ever do.”

This struck me, especially because it came from a “Religious” at a time when religious life was seen by many to be holier than married life. That being said, I have no doubts that many mothers are much more worthy of a place in Heaven than I’ll ever be.

Yesterday, as I sat in a pew at Mass, I allowed myself one of the sweetest little distractions. The baby being rocked by a young mother in front of me was the cutest thing in the world. She had the chubbiest cheeks, a slight smile, and these big brown eyes graciously fixed on her mother as she soaked in the love. As it turns out, I was not the only one gawking at how insanely adorable she was—two little girls were fawning over her too. They were each probably about seven years old; they had their hair pulled back in braids by very pink, very girly hair elastics; and they were both completely checked out of their families gathered around them and everything else going on in church. They sat there, gazing longingly at this cute baby nestled in the arms of her mother. They were captivated by the precious new life.

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Thank God for little girls and momma’s hearts, for it is these hearts that will grow up to give life and a wealth of love to a world—made up of children—in such need of nurturing compassion.

In an article titled “The Godliness of Motherhood,” Dr. Donald DeMarco describes the mystery of motherhood and the feminine heart quite well:

According to a Jewish proverb, “God could not be everywhere, so He made mothers.” This is a fine, enduring sentiment. I do think, however, that by reversing the statement we come closer to the truth: “God could be everywhere and proved it by creating mothers.” This image is consistent with the American novelist William Makepeace Thackeray’s remark, in Vanity Fair, that “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”

A mother is a reflection of God. We know this simply by the fact that God created man in His own image, “male and female He created them.”[1] But what I mean is that: to be a mother is a special vocation. It is unique. And the heart with which so many mothers and little girls alike are endowed conveys the nature of God in a very particular way.

God, we believe, is neither male nor female. However, it is probably more fitting, or at least more understandable, to say that He is both male and female. We believe He is everything good. He is strong—He is the just judge—but He is also intrinsically kind and full of mercy. Unfortunately, the masculine pronoun and the fact that God came in the person of Jesus Christ often leads us to forget God’s feminine qualities. Nevertheless, Isaiah 49:14-15 establishes a connection between the God of Israel and the mother of a child:

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget you, I will never forget you.

 In other words, the closest thing to God’s remembrance, faithfulness, and tenderness are those a mother has for her child. What a beautiful gift. In our mothers, our daughters, our sisters—we get an entirely different glimpse of God’s nature than we would if we thought of Him merely as the God who chastised His people throughout the Old Testament or the strong (and very much bearded) man who gave Himself to death on a tree underneath a scorching Jerusalem sun some two-thousand years ago. We meet a God who is nurturing—a God who has shared an intimate bond with us, like the one a newborn shares with its mother, since the time in our mother’s wombs.[2]

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Praise God for that. I know I’m only the man I am today because of a mother’s love. My mom has laid down her life in service to me and to the rest of our family. She has offered me grace and forgiveness every single time I’m a selfish jerk. She does all that she can to ease my worry, and she has borne my hurts upon her heart. She’s perhaps striving with me and making this journey called “Life” with me like none other. Most importantly, she has loved me well, just as God has.

My mom is one of my best friends.

That being said, I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the love of my dad, either. My dad has taught me everything I know of integrity, and he has left me a great example of selflessly providing for the needs of others. He has inspired me and given me the support to dream bigger, go farther. His humor has taught me the importance of laughing from your belly regularly. He, too, has loved me like my Father in Heaven has.

My dad is my other best friend.

But I also know that my dad wouldn’t be here if not for the love of his mother. That’s because, when the doctor recommended my grandmother have an abortion due to some complicating factors and the risk that her baby would be imperfect, she unequivocally refused—just as God, who knew how imperfect we would be, still chose to bear us out of love.

What a marvel we have in mothers—in the young girl’s heart. What a marvel we have in our perpetually Life-giving God. Together, they fit beautifully.

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Give thanks for the women in your life today—for the beautiful capacity they have to share a taste of Love and grace that speaks only of the Lord. Don’t complain about all the hormones and feelings. They’re part of what makes her the beautiful (and sometimes scary) thing she is: a woman.

Don’t tell the little girl doting on her dolls “it’s time to grow up,” either. Wrap her in love and encourage her to blossom into the well of life she’s made to be for so many. Honor her and cherish her. Her outpouring of love will be one-hundredfold, and the earth will be ever more full of God’s goodness once we celebrate both femininity and motherhood for everything they can be. I’d have to say that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

Thank God for little girls and thank God for mommas’ hearts.


[1] Genesis 1:27

[2] Jeremiah 1:5

The Light of Love and Truth

You don’t have to look far before you realize how dark this world can be. From the fact that we still have millions of people around the world in slavery to the fact that we have still not evolved past a point of wars, torture and cold-blooded massacre, man’s capacity for evil is clearly great. Forget these extreme examples—just turn on the evening news and you’ll see how warped this world can be. Go to any school and witness just how mean kids can be, as the CDC estimates that 4,400 young people commit suicide every year in the U.S. as a result of bullying, and one-hundred times that many children, teens, and young adults attempt it. Watch a movie like “Prisoners,” or a show like “Criminal Minds,” and realize how many crazy people there are in the world and just how defenseless we can really be.

Watch a movie like “Mean Girls” and lose all faith in humanity…

You get the point. The world is screwed up, and not just in violent ways. We live in a culture that worships self and money—yet, in an ironic twist, this culture destroys people’s sense of self and squanders away their dearest assets. It is a culture that elevates utility and pleasure over the inherent dignity of life and the primacy of the human person. Even relationships centered on “love” come to an end, as a person’s worthiness of love is apparently contingent upon his or her ability to maintain sexual enticement in a pornography-ridden, airbrushed world, where something better (albeit artificial) never fails to come along and cause eyes to wander. You think you’re ready to marry somebody? You can’t say that unless you’ve taken them for a test drive and determined that they’re at least as good as your string of previous lovers.

Whether it’s the fear of being rejected, discarded, or even subjected to death by the darkest corners of the human heart, the world is a scary place. But it is this imperfect world that points me evermore to that which is perfect, to that which is good. To me, that is the love, the light and the Truth I see in the Gospel. That is the Truth I see in Jesus Christ and in the Father who offers redemption to a broken humanity. That is the Holy Spirit leading me on to a life lived with Love.

To be quite honest, a lot of times I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I question the purpose of it all. I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong:

Is God really who I think He is?

Is there actually a God at all?

Why? What’s the point?

Most times, I wind up with more questions than answers. Yet—still I believe. I believe not because I’ve had some prolific vision or because I’ve deceived myself into thinking any claim is devoid of assumptions that are unverifiable. I believe because of the goodness I’ve seen looking through the eyes of Christ.

One analogy I’ve heard for this dark world we live in where it’s hard to make things out is that we’re essentially up out of bed, feeling our way around in the dark and moving about in the night. This life is hard, and oftentimes we’ll stub a toe. We’ll go on living our lives, taking things on faith, without knowing where we are or when the dawn will come (if ever). However, in the midst of this, there is One who makes all things clear. He is the Risen Son of Righteousness, who illuminates the world just as the risen sun.

The first chapter of John’s gospel says that Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness and “the darkness has not overcome it.”[1] Jesus is the Light! He’s not some flimsy flashlight, nor is He just the answer given by some self-help book. Jesus is the light that calls us out of the darkness. He casts it out completely and calls us to Life and Goodness. Just as the sun breaks across the eastern sky and light races across the ends of the earth in range, so does God’s righteousness flood the hearts of humanity through the Gospel.

C.S. Lewis once remarked on this phenomenon, writing, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but, because, by it, I see everything else.”

I haven’t seen Jesus face-to-face. I’ve never fallen down in a fit of visions like St. Paul did. But the eyes of my heart have been opened to the Truth, to the Goodness that underlies this life here on earth. Christ’s light has illuminated the darkness for me, and my soul finds rest in that. I need not certainty nor physical encounter to believe the Gospel truth. I don’t make a practice of staring at the sun, but I trust it’s there because it helps me to see all the glory of Creation.

I don’t always see Jesus standing there in front of me, but I can honestly say that it was only when I put my trust in Him that I began to see things as they were—that I began to see things in the Light. I now know what real love and beauty look like, and it’s only found in Christ Jesus, the Lord.


[1] John 1:5

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” — John 1:1-5, 14

This year, before Christmas, I decided I was going to reread all the Gospel references to the Incarnation. Of course, we spent all of Advent hearing Scriptures proclaimed to us that spoke of the coming of Christ, as we were told to make ready. Then, on Christmas day, we heard at least one of the nativity narratives as we looked upon the figurine of the newborn baby Jesus now gently resting in his crèche beneath the altar. This year, however, I wanted to re-experience the nativity story in its totality. Between a late finals period and scrambling to get gifts in time for Christmas, I felt as though I had missed Advent, or at least rushed through it.

I felt as though I had failed to build the spiritual anticipation due to one of the greatest days of the year: the day we celebrate the Savior’s birth. Moreover, I realized I didn’t really appreciate this miracle we celebrate as fully as I should. I’ve always been a huge fan of Easter—to me, that is one of the most spiritually moving days of the year. The Crucifixion—God’s sacrifice—and the subsequent Resurrection have always touched me deeply. To me, those were the mysteries of profound bearing upon our Christian life. The Incarnation seemed only a necessary prerequisite, and one that had become grossly commercialized, as an otherwise non-religious population derived some unexplained comfort from the thought of a baby lying in a manger, surrounded by some donkeys and sheep.

Praying through this joyful mystery and re-reading the Gospel accounts kindled in me the deepest sense of joy and wonder this Christmastime. While I’ll never understand this God we believe in and all of His ways in entirety, I can honestly say I have a deeply rooted, newfound appreciation for the consequence of the Incarnation—what it reveals about God’s nature and the way in which man relates to Him. That being said, as I read through the Scriptures this Christmastime, I still had no grasp on the significance or even the basic meaning of some words that were very familiar to me.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Of course, I knew enough to associate “the Word” with Jesus. That was a moniker I’d heard used for the Lord on countless occasions. I also knew that we believed that Jesus was God—that He was with God the Father from the beginning of eternity, and that, together with the Holy Sprit, they made one indivisible, omnipotent, entirely transcendent yet immanent God of all Creation. But I didn’t really understand what it meant to say that Jesus was “the Word,” or that God could be equated with a unit of speech.

Sitting in Mass today, it started to make sense. As Catholics, we believe that we all belong to a Creator. We believe that He made us not because of some Divine need, but that He created us out of Love. And it is out of this Love that He desires to have a relationship with us—that He desires to be born into our hearts and into our world. However, true love requires a choice. Both parties must choose to love each other. It is a mutual act of the wills. That is why we have free will, for, if we hadn’t been given this gift, we would be no better than robots, who cannot truly love because they cannot choose to love or to unite their hearts with their Creator. They cannot do anything other than that which they were designed to do, which speaks not of loving service but of slavery.

That being said, man continually chooses to make himself his own god—to worship self over the Creator. This damages the relationship between man and the Divine. How could a man seeking to satisfy his desires by lying with someone other than his beloved not damage their marriage? It does. However, the God we worship as Christians is the perfect embodiment of Love. He has Love at the core of His very being. He is Love. That is why He can choose to love us as opposed to reacting as the hurt and heartache might cause Him to. He shows us that love is an act of the will, not the subjection to emotion, and, concordantly, He designs a plan to bring us back to Himself, to bring us back into His arms, even when we have struck at the chords that bind us together in covenant with Him.

As Catholic Christians, we refer to this plan that has unfolded over the course of millennia and continues to engage us today as “salvation history.” In other words, God has had a plan from the beginning of all eternity to love us and to bring us back to Himself, and it has manifested itself over the course of history as man grew in relationship with Him. We read about it from the start of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. God creates man, but man acts against Him. The clear punishment for this type of sin is a divorce of sorts, if not death. Why would a God who created man to live in loving relationship with Him want to pursue a man who determined he didn’t want Him? Why would a God who loved all of His Creation, declaring it good, allow a man who killed another, or posed a threat to the good of others, to continue to live?

The answer is He created man out of love. He knew that, having the freedom to choose, man would inevitably fail to reciprocate this love at one time or another. He knew that this would be painful. But still He loved. So He set out to make a way for man to mend his relationship with the Lord even when man fell short or denied his relationship with the Lord completely. This was with God from the start of Creation.

That is where Jesus Christ comes in.

In spite of all of man’s sin, God promised that He would still love those He had created. He promised justice, mercy and restoration, again and again throughout the Old Testament. Again and again, the Lord vowed to make good on the promises He made to Abraham—to bring His people back to Himself, to prosper the work of their hands, and not to withhold His steadfast love from them. In the Scriptures, which we believe to be the divinely inspired Word of God, He gave us His word that there would be deliverance from the punishment that was due to us.

Now, that, in and of itself, should be pretty remarkable. The word of God was pretty powerful. It was by God’s words that the world was spoken into being. He said, “let there be light,” and there was light. God did not have to use hands or tools to create matter and bring it together in a way that would later facilitate the development of human life and the universe as we know it. He simply willed it to be and it was.

More than that, the God we profess, being all things good, was also perfectly truthful. If He said He would renew us in His love, we should have had no reason to doubt Him. Nevertheless, God knew that it wasn’t enough to tell us that He loved us. It wasn’t enough to promise us His presence, or to have some scribes write down that we would be forgiven. He had to show us. He wanted to show us how much we were loved. That is why we have the Incarnation. That is why we have God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ was the Word, with God from the very beginning. He was the promise of love and fidelity! He was the way to redemption God promised us! Indeed, God became man that we with our hardened hearts, being slow to believe, might see with our own eyes, with our own hearts, the otherwise nebulous and inexpressible love of God we had been told of so often that it had become cliché and dismissed.

Read the Gospels. The love of Jesus Christ is not cliché. The Love of God is not something that can be contained by a single unit of language. It is something best understood when it is experienced, lived. That is why God’s word became flesh and dwelt among us, and this, my dear brothers and sisters, is the Gospel of the Lord in whom we trust—the Way, the Truth, and the Life forever, amen.