The Church Showed Up Again

The Church Showed Up Again

Last fall, I saw the Church show up in a downtown bar to listen to a talk and grow in community. Last month, I saw the Church show up in an expected place (a church building) but in an unexpected way.

The Knights of Columbus organized a pilgrimage with the heart relic of St. John Vianney. I attended a crowded noon Mass and then waited to venerate the relic. Ever the romantic, I was waiting for the church to clear out and for the chance to approach the relic with ample time to pray. I imagined the crowds would soon dissipate and people would return to work.

That did not happen.

As time passed, the crowds did disperse, but people kept trickling in, causing the line to remain stretched down most of the center aisle. People came after work or on a break or once they picked their kids up from school. For nearly the entire afternoon, the line stretched down the aisle and about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the church.

The few hundred people who showed up at noon Mass surprised me, but the consistent flow of people throughout the afternoon surprised me more. It was a striking response to the distressing news that keeps being unearthed in diocese after diocese around the nation and world. The day before, our bishop released a letter listing priests who have abused minors in our diocese. Hours later, the Church showed up as hundreds of lay faithful and priests were falling on their knees before the incorrupt heart of a priest.

Our prayers were urgent and heartfelt. We need priests who have priestly hearts, mirrored after the heart of St. John Vianney but even more so after the High Priest Jesus Christ. Scandal within the Church simply highlights even more the great need that we have for holiness in the Body of Christ. Acknowledging the fragility of humanity, we interceded for the men whose consecrated hands confect the Eucharist, whose words extend absolution, and whose presence is sought from birth until death–and some of the most significant moments in between.

Continue reading “The Church Showed Up Again”

The Church Showed Up

The Church Showed Up

When I scroll through Facebook, it is difficult to not feel at least a little discouraged.  My mini-world of online Catholic life, neatly curated based on my interests, is overflowing with article after article of questions, deception, and Church hierarchy.  I haven’t joined the fray and posted yet another reflection on the duplicity found within some of the Church’s most elevated ordained men.  It didn’t seem necessary after millions of words have been spilled over it and it doesn’t seem to help the hurting.  Despite not posting about it, I feel the increasing weight of the problems and wonder what will happen next.

My faith isn’t shaken–it wasn’t rooted in bishops or the Holy Father to begin with.  I don’t feel compelled to even consider leaving the Church–She is my home and I would not want to be an orphan in this crazy world.  I do, however, ache for the hurting and I frequently consider how this must look from the perspective of my students.  When hypocrisy is so blatant, it is a struggle for them to see why one should belong to such a fragile, sinful institution.

Despite the fact that I am unshaken in my desire to remain in the Church, the Lord gave me a generous gift.  Yesterday, the Lord gave me what I didn’t know I needed.

 I attended a Theology on Tap.  

I know the coordinator pretty well (she is my sister, after all) and so I have known about the progress of the launch of this new program every step of the way.  Yet when I walked into the gathering space, I was surprised at the number of people already present.  And as the minutes continued to pass, I was soon blown away by the number of people who came streaming in.  An event that initially had aimed for fifty people and then optimistically raised its hopes to seventy or eighty, eventually rounded out at about 150 people.

The attendees?  They were young college kids, adults in the first decade of “adult” work, middle-aged parents, and grandpas and grandmas.  A gentleman at my table graduated from high school in 1956.  A priest stood behind me.  A co-worker sat next to me.  My parents were nearby.  A couple sat on the floor near the bar, all available seats having long been snatched up.

The attendees?  The Church.   Continue reading “The Church Showed Up”

To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus

To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus

“If I could do the last thirty years over again, I would do it differently.  I would try to make people fall in love with Jesus.”

A story was being told about a conversation with an elderly priest nearing death, but it pierced my heart and filled me with a great desire to do the same thing.  In teaching Theology, I feel these seemingly conflicting pulls on my heart.  I desire to teach them concrete information yet I want to show them how to fall in love with the Lord.  These two desires aren’t mutually exclusive, but the balance is a difficult thing to ascertain.

While I wish we could have daily conversations about the matters closest to their hearts or the questions they really want answered, I also have a curriculum to follow.  We need to take quizzes and tests.  I am required to give them assignments and to grade their work.  Yet, somehow, in the midst of the formal education, I am also supposed to provide an education of the heart.

How?  I’m uncertain.  I know it sometimes happens when their sincere questions spring from the topics at hand.  Or during unplanned times of heart sharing and depth.  The Holy Spirit will surprisingly show up and elevate my lesson to something far beyond what I could do on my own.

I want to answer all of their questions about the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ.  Sometimes they don’t know how to phrase the questions or are uninterested in engaging in a conversation that may challenge their status quo.  Despite my desires to help them encounter the Lord, I cannot manufacture an encounter in a 50-minute class period.  I attempt to provide opportunities and share experiences I have had, yet with 25-30 students in a class, I am unable to personally reach each person as they need to be reached. Continue reading “To Make People Fall in Love with Jesus”

Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together

Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together

I’ve spent a great deal of the summer considering how this next school year will unfurl.  Each fall, I start with the hopes that this will be the best year ever.  And, in many ways, that has largely proven to be true.  The more I teach, the more confident I feel teaching.  The longer I am there and the more experiences I have, the more prepared I feel to handle future problems and situations.  Yet despite all of my preparations and extra reading I do during the summer, one thing is certain: I will never be perfectly prepared for every question they ask me.

Honestly, I think I am able to answer most of the questions that arise in the classroom.  If I have never considered the question or even heard the answer, I am surprised how often I am able to give an answer anyway.  I’m not lying to them or just trying to look smart.  I’ve come to realize that the longer one knows the Lord and studies His Church, the better one is able to think with the mind of the Church.  So even if that question has never been posed to me before, I can often give a pretty confident answer because I have come to know and understand the Church to a degree.

There is, however, a lingering concern that I will be unable to answer a question.  Or, worse yet, that my lack of knowledge will appear to mean that the Church has never considered that question or that her theology is found wanting.  Regarding those fears, I think back to the summer before my first year of teaching.  I was presenting these concerns to a trusted priest and he asked if I thought that a student could ask a question that the Church couldn’t answer or that would prove her wrong.  I told him that I was certain the Church had answers and that I trusted her to be true in all things she affirmed as true.  For him, that was the end of it.  So what if I didn’t know the answer?  I knew the Church had an answer and I was fairly confident I could find it if needed.

For the last five years, that is what I have sought to do.  To a generation that I struggle to understand, I have striven to present truths they struggle to find relevant or accurate.  I ask them to consider the truths of the Church and they echo Pilate by saying, “What is truth?”  They question if it matters to know the truth.  They ask if everything could be true.  And I try to use logic and personal examples to show them the beauty of knowing and pursuing the truth.   Continue reading “Teaching: To Pursue The Truth Together”

Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church

Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church

In college, I took a course called “Theology of the Church” and the professor made certain to cement a specific truth in my mind.  He spoke frequently of how the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ, without blemish or error.  Yet he spoke just as often about how the Church is stained and tarnished, filled with sin and weakness.  Each Catholic must come to terms with this dichotomy if he or she desires to fully understand this living organism we call the Catholic Church.

The saints are beautiful models of following Christ and seeking holiness in the midst of a chaotic world.  For most of the difficulties we face in life, we can turn to a specific saint who had similar struggles.  There are saints who had difficult relationships with their parents or children, saints who were falsely accused, saints who had superiors who treated them unjustly, saints who lost loved ones, saints who experienced poverty, saints who struggled with drinking or drugs, saints who battled anger and violence, and saints who people thought were foolish or incapable.

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Yet we know the Church is not merely comprised of saints.  I belong to the Church and I am most definitely not a saint yet.  So while it is easier to focus on the virtues and gifts of the saints, we also know we are a Church filled with sinners.  We have sinners in the pews, in the choir, in the streets, at the altar, in the diocesan offices, in the Vatican, and in the chair of St. Peter.  Each of us, on our journey to become the saints God desires, must fight our own battles as we acknowledge our sinfulness.  The goal is not to make perfect masks that cover up our imperfections.  Rather, we seek to let Christ into our deepest sins and allow Him to transform us.

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It is with this knowledge of myself, as a sinner striving to be a saint, that I can recognize this reality within the Church herself.  She is perfect: Christ instituted her, the Holy Spirit guides her, and the Father welcomes her members into Heaven, one by one.  Yet she is us: flawed, broken, dragging our weary hearts to Calvary and to Heaven.  All of the romantic notions I have about the Church and her beautiful, soul-shaking theology necessarily contrast painfully with the reality of the Church that I see around me.  Reality is certainly not so romantic and not so obviously beautiful.  Nonetheless, it is still the Church I love.

When we encounter scandal in the Church, it is helpful to remember this inherent dichotomy, one that existed from the beginning of the Church, yet one which will end when we are purified and in Heaven.  While I love quite fiercely different humans within the Church, I also know that my love for the Church is not solely based on these humans.  My spiritual director is wise and I find myself able to share the workings of my heart with him.  My pastor leads me to a deeper understanding of how to encounter Christ in the daily moments.  Yet even should these priests fail me, I would not stop loving the Church.
Continue reading “Saints and Sinners: The Indelicate Reality of Christ’s Church”

Farewell to a Pastor

Farewell to a Pastor

Jesus and the prophets spoke to the people of their times in ways that enabled the listeners to understand.  They used examples and situations that were relevant.  Growing up on a sheep farm, the numerous references to sheep struck me as particularly insightful.  Many of my classes have heard stories of how sheep aren’t the brightest and how fitting I think that is in relation to humans.  Yet for all the ways that sheep seem dim-witted, they have some great qualities that make them endearing.

Sheep are communal beings and generally move as an entire flock.  It was rare that simply one sheep would slip through a defect in the fence.  If one had escaped, it was likely that multiple had.  I have several memories of trying to separate a couple of specific sheep out of the flock and their attempts to remain with the larger group.  Yet their desire to be in communion with others, in their simple animal way, is something that is roughly mirrored in humans.  Even as an introvert, I know I need to be in communion with others.  I want to be alone at times and yet I find an intense joy in sharing life with others, too.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

When the sheep would wander far out into the pasture, my dad would go to the gate with a couple of pails of corn, cup his hands to his mouth, and bellow, “Sheep!”  It wasn’t really a unique call in terms of words used, but his voice was unique to the sheep.  My brother could try to imitate it, but I remember going to the pasture on days I was responsible for chores and trying to yell in the deep pitch of my father.  Generally, they were unconcerned.  After calling and several enticing shakes of corn kernels in a bucket, they would lift their heads and begin to head in my direction.  As soon as my dad calls, they start running in his direction, at near full speed.  They know the shepherd’s voice.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)

The word pastor literally means a helper or feeder of sheep.  For years, I only referred to my priests as “Father.”  And there is admittedly a beauty in that.  I love the filial sense of love and respect that is found in the relationship between a priest and his people, a father and his children.  Yet over the past couple years, I have found the term pastor increasingly meaningful.  I used to equate it only with Protestant churches and their ministers.  However, pastor means shepherd and I know the importance of the role of the shepherd.

In a world that is chaotic, the sheep need a shepherd to speak through the noise.  For the past three years, I have had the great gift to be led by my parish priest, my pastor, Fr. John.  He is a priest of my diocese, but I found myself quick to claim a closer association with him if possible.  Not simply a fellow member of the diocese, he was my particular shepherd, the one leading my parish community.   Continue reading “Farewell to a Pastor”

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

The Shack: A Catholic Critique

Spoiler: If you haven’t read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young and don’t want to know anything about it that might take away from your initial experience, please be aware this post might not be for you.  I discuss elements of the story, but I don’t give it all away.

I recently finished reading The Shack and I found it to be, as a whole, a beautiful story of how God desires to enter into our most painful situations and transform them by His presence.  The way Young depicts the interactions within the Trinity caused me to stop and consider more deeply the perfect communion found within God Himself.  In fact, as soon as I finished The Shack, I picked up Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book The ‘One Thing’ is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.  After reading about the communion of the Trinity in intimate detail, I was filled with a desire to learn more about our Trinitarian God.

The general story line of The Shack is about a man named Mack who has experienced great suffering and loss.  He receives a note from God asking him to come to an old shack to spend the weekend with Him.  When Mack does this, he enters into an incredible encounter with the living God and grows in an understanding of each person of the Trinity.

The main aspects of Young’s story I found to be edifying.  It was simply some of the side details or conversations that made me wonder if he was critiquing Christianity as a whole or specifically Catholicism.  Or, at least, his perception of what the Catholic Church teaches or is.  There are a handful of elements that struck me as a direct rebuke of Catholicism.  The two I want to focus on are ritual and institution.

There is a beautiful section where God involves Mack in “devotions” after a shared meal.  Rather than producing a Bible to read from, Mack is surprised when Jesus reaches across the table, takes the Father’s hands, and speaking honest, loving words of adoration.  It reinforces the reality that devotion is entering into a loving relationship with God, not something that is merely rote or filled with words.  After another meal, Mack expects the same thing to happen.

“What about devotion?” asked Mack.
“Nothing is a ritual, Mack,” said Papa…

What is so wrong with something being a ritual?  There are a couple other places where ritual is portrayed as unsavory and in conflict with God’s desires.  I could agree with this if ritual meant that something was insincere or done merely out of habit.  However, that is not what a ritual has to be.  Sometimes rituals are the best way to enter into something that is far above us.  Like the Mass or marriage, we follow a religious ritual because we are connected to something bigger than just ourselves.

The Catholic Church is known for saying the same Mass over and over and over again.  My students will sometimes question why they need to go to Mass each week when it is simply the same thing they heard the previous week.  But if we understand the sacrifice of the Holy Mass as it actually is–the priest in persona Christi re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus at the Last Supper and consummated on the cross at Calvary–then we would realize that nothing else would be a fitting memorial.

Yes, it is a ritual.  But Jesus also said “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Why reinvent the wheel every Sunday when Jesus has given us His very self and asks us to share in this sacrificial meal?  More than new praise and worship songs (which I appreciate in a specific context), the Mass prayed throughout the ages unites us to the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t a bad type of ritual, but rather a ritual that unites Christians across space and time. Continue reading “The Shack: A Catholic Critique”

Many Are Called: A Book Review

What does it mean to be a priest?  Amidst the scandals within the Church, many have a fundamental misunderstanding of the priesthood.  In Scott Hahn’s ­Many Are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood, the multi-faceted beauty of the ordained priesthood is revealed.  Hahn’s work delves into what a priest is in his roles as mediator, provider, teacher, warrior, judge, bridegroom, celibate father, and brother.

Continue reading “Many Are Called: A Book Review”

The Love of a Father



“To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.  I have become all things to all, to save at least some.  All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”  
1 Corinthians 9:22-23
 
Be all things to all people.  That is a tall order.  An impossible order, I suppose.  There will always be a way that you fall short or don’t live the way someone expects or wants you to live.  Yet I saw this “all things to all” being lived out in a beautiful way.
We celebrated a large Mass with all of the Catholic students of our diocese.  In the thirty minutes following Mass, I watched the eager crowds of children gradually disperse.  While they waited, I watched my parish priest as he made his rounds.  He stopped by the section where students from his previous parish were seated.  A large group of them began to wave excitedly.  To them, he was a star and they were excited to see him again after his absence.  After a few minutes of talking to students and teachers, he migrated to his current parish and greeted the children.  I kept waiting for him to walk away, but he didn’t.  One-by-one as the students left their rows to go to the bus, he greeted them.  Some wanted a high-five, others wanted a hug, and some simply waved.
It was beautiful to watch them each pass under his fatherly gaze, often accompanied by a pat on the head or shoulder and always a smile.  This is not the first time I have been amazed by his fatherly care.  During his homilies at Mass, it is easy to get that sense that he is our spiritual father.  Yet the way he lives it out does not remain simply spiritual.  It is not just in prayers and sacrifices that he seeks to be our father.  Rather, he greets the people of his parish and goes to their homes.  His heart is filled with a tender fatherly love for his children, some of them biologically older then him.
My experience with priests has led to me to harbor a deep love for them.  While I would not relate to all of them in a fatherly way, I have found many who are living out the call to encounter people where they are “for the sake of the gospel” in order to “have a share in it” also.  The priest who instructed my summers of Totus Tuus also lived out the role of a father.  We were primarily young college students and he laughed with us, taught us, and loved us.  At the end of the first summer, he thanked us for “calling out the fatherhood” in him.
For all of the things that the secular media says about the institution of the priesthood and all the ways it seeks to change it, I am inspired to continually meet young, holy priests (or not-young, holy priests) who have sacrificed having their own families so as to welcome an entire parish as a family.  Regardless of your upbringing and family background, in the beauty of the Catholic Church, everyone has a father who reveals to us, in part, the person of God the Father.