Experiencing the Presence of God in Your Life?

Do. do. do. do. do.

What is at stake if we have forgotten how to be?

Each morning one of my standard greetings is “Keep up the good work.” I am subtly missing the point.   This greeting doesn’t come from ill intention. And, in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t inherently bad. However, in this greeting, I emphasize too much that a person’s daily value comes from their productivity rather than their being. Instead, maybe I should greet “It’s good to be with you this morning.” Spiritually, this distinction has ramifications.

There are two aspects of being:
1) That we are (existence)
2) What we are (essence)

Philosophically, this is true at the very grounding of our being. ‘What we are’ necessarily presupposes ‘that we are.’ If we focus too much on ‘what we are,’ forgetting ‘that we are,’ we demean our dignity. ‘What we are’ is important too, but too often this stifles and kills off the wonder ‘that we are.’ Isn’t it a wonder that we exist at all?  We have been loved into existence. Unconditional Love rests in the fact that we exist. There are no other conditions. When we forget this first principle we lose the vision for the whole trajectory of how to organize our lives.

‘What we are’ has some bearing though. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in calling us Children of God. Yet that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). We too often define ourselves by something peripheral to our being. We not only exist, but we exist as beloved children of God. Let us keep first things first.

For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?   -Matthew 16:26

A second takeaway from this initial metaphysics is that insofar as we exist, God is intimately present in our lives. God is that absolute source of being itself. God is not ‘a being’ as if he is the greatest being among many. Rather, God is the source of all being. He creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. He is not an object in this universe, but the source for the possibility of even having a universe. If you look up, you won’t find heaven. God is beyond the material universe.  (Here is an interesting video that is semi-related)

Therefore, insofar as we are existing at this very moment, God is holding us in existence. And therefore, He is intimately present to us whether we recognize it or not. God is present before doing is even possible. As St. Augustine said, God is “interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.” God is both more intimate to me, than I am to myself, and beyond my highest being. Further, God is Love (1 John 4:8), and thus we can confidently rest by dwelling silently in His loving embrace. Love is holding us in existence.

In this restful embrace then, how might we pray?  Initially, by doing nothing. Just be.
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

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Then, practically speaking, prayer works best at the beginning of the day for me. I begin by sitting in my blue chair and by clearing my mind and heart of everything. I breathe in and out. Inhale. Exhale. And I sit. Silence is absolutely essential. At times I do enjoy listening to music to set the tone, but my standard prayer must begin in silence. I simply rest in God, and only after that do I begin to mediate on scripture (check these out for helpful scripture resources).

Another option is to go to a sacred space in a church. Certain spaces can help us be more disposed to the presence of God. Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful opportunity for prayer at a local Catholic Church. Jesus is uniquely present to us in the Sacrament.

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Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me“: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church #2715

God is intimately present to us in life, more so than we are to ourselves. We can begin to experience this through mediating on the initial fact that we exist. Sit in silence, and rest in the presence of God, free from distractions. God loves you first and foremost because of the very fact He created you. You have dignity in the very fact that you exist.  Do not do. Simply, Be.

Then, if you are looking to continue after that, pick up the Bible. Try meditating with the Psalms in the Old Testament. They cover the entire range of human emotions and can speak to the heart in a particularly powerful way. They teach us language for prayer. They are the prayers that Jesus prayed.

Psalm 62:1-8
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly moved.

How long will you set upon a man
to shatter him, all of you,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his eminence.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 139: 1-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You searched out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You best me behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts,
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am wondrously made.
Wonderful are your works!
You know me right well;
my frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Your eye beheld my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.

 

A Parable

A young man was falling into it. In reality, it was falling into him. At first it was just a spark. Most sparks were quickly quenched by the mid-morning dew. The mid-morning dew was abundant. It was also cold outside. He was used to the cold. It was only warm sporadically. One spark, however, found a dry spot, lightly sheltered, in a place he didn’t take much notice of. At least he tried not to take much notice of it. He was a traveler and prided himself on his travels. This spot was near his home. Did he travel far and wide to avoid it? He wondered about that. Briefly.

The spark ignited. This surprised him. It burst into a consuming fire very near his home. It was very hot. Dangerously so. But he liked it. This surprised him. He had read about fires before. Big ones, like the one that razed Ancient Rome. He had read a lot. Secretly, he was intrigued by them. He wouldn’t tell people about that though. He would tell them about his travels. He was a traveler. He knew a lot about fires. He had never understood them though. This one started to burn his house. He was happy to let it burn.

 


 
This is a parable I wrote for my Narrative Preaching course. Parables speak of heavenly things through earthly things. We had three main principles to guide us:
1) tensive (it is and it is not)
2) effective (helps you come to knowledge)
3) ambiguous and uncertain

May it be so?

The Theology of Hamilton

I love Hamilton. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack numerous times. What’s most impressive to me is how integrated and layered the story is throughout the entire musical. There are themes and sub-themes repeated constantly.  There are also a lot of theological ideas that are threaded throughout. But first, enjoy the song.

Right Hand Man is the 8th song in the musical. The Revolution is happening and Hamilton, the poor orphan, is looking to make a name for himself.

[HAMILTON]
As a kid in the Caribbean I wished for a war
I knew that I was poor
I knew it was the only way to—

[HAMILTON/BURR/MULLIGAN/LAURENS/LAFAYETTE]
Rise up!

[HAMILTON]
If they tell my story
I am either gonna die on the battlefield in glory or—

[HAMILTON/BURR/MULLIGAN/LAURENS/LAFAYETTE]
Rise up!
_______________

We all want to be a hero. We want to be the subject of a story. Hamilton is consumed with  creating his legacy. This can, but doesn’t have to be, egotistical. Our life is a gift from God, and it’s only fitting to offer it back to Him as a life well-lived (cf. Rom 12:1). That’s stewardship.

Hamilton gives us a lens into the Theology of Martyrdom. Those who die for the faith are martyrs. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).Martyrdom has always been exalted because it is proof of your faith in Christ. I imagine most people as they grow in faith have at least some fantasies about being a martyr. I certainly have (note though that my ‘fantasies’ involve a quick and painless martyrdom rather than anything lasting too long, or being too gruesome). If I’m being honest though, my ‘desire’ for martyrdom isn’t so much about the glory of God, it’s more about the glory of myself. True martyrdom is a gift from God, it is NOT to be sought. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23). The driving force for Hamilton toward martyrdom is to create his legacy. It is not a selfless, but a selfish martyrdom. Throughout the entire musical (with few exceptions) he seeks this without regard for his family (the birth and later death of his son does briefly change him).

A more mature desire ought to be The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Little Way is a vocation to love. True love in every situation. It is not glamorous or flashy. It starts at home. Love your mom. Love your dad. Love your family. Love your neighbor. Start Local. I can be the most loving person in the world to strangers, and even to my friends, but if I’m not loving to my family it’s meaningless.

I have work to do.

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” – G.K. Chesterton

 

The early Christian story of St. Polycarp illustrates true martyrdom. A man named Quintus sought martyrdom for his own glory. However, he got scared when he saw the wild beasts that were to devour him and then committed apostasy (giving up his faith in God). Polycarp (69-155 AD), the Bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of the Apostle John, who was a disciple of Jesus. He did not seek martyrdom, but was arrested during a local persecution. Upon his trial for being a Christian the proconsul urged him to renounce his faith. He responded:

“Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”  -St. Polycarp

He was threatened with wild beasts. He remained steadfast. He was threatened to be burned alive. Still, he remained steadfast.

“You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.”  -St. Polycarp

____________________

BACK TO HAMILTON. There is a great difference between the martyrdom Hamilton seeks and that which sought Polycarp.

[HAMILTON to WASHINGTON]

Your excellency, you wanted to see me?

Have I done something wrong, sir?

[WASHINGTON]
On the contrary
I called you here because our odds are beyond scary
Your reputation precedes you, but I have to laugh

[HAMILTON]
Sir?

[WASHINGTON]
Hamilton, how come no one can get you on their staff?

[HAMILTON]
Sir!

[WASHINGTON]
Don’t get me wrong, you’re a young man of great renown
I know you stole British cannons when we were still downtown
Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox wanted to hire you…

[HAMILTON]
To be their Secretary? I don’t think so

[WASHINGTON]
Why’re you upset?

[HAMILTON]
I’m not—

[WASHINGTON]
It’s alright, you want to fight, you’ve got a hunger
I was just like you when I was younger
Head full of fantasies of dyin’ like a martyr?

[HAMILTON]
Yes

[WASHINGTON]
Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder

_____________________

Hamilton has a gift with words, but he’s still living with his fantasies about being a martyr. Dying is easy. Living is harder. Washington has the maturity to recognize this. Hamilton’s true vocation is to do the less glorious task of serving as Washington’s secretary. Hamilton’s ego hinders him from this.

Our gifts ought to be at the service of others. Sometimes this will lead to fame, but mostly it won’t. Seeking fame for its own sake isn’t helpful to anyone. By listening to Washington this ended up working out for Hamilton. His legacy ended up being much greater than it would have been had he died early in the revolution.

This is also illustrated in the song Meet Me Inside:

[HAMILTON (OVERLAPPING)]
Charles Lee, Thomas Conway
These men take your name and they rake it
Through the mud

[WASHINGTON]
My name’s been through a lot, I can take it

[HAMILTON]
Well, I don’t have your name. I don’t have your titles
I don’t have your land
But, if you—

[WASHINGTON]
No—

[HAMILTON]
If you gave me command of a battalion, a group of men to lead, I could fly above my station after the war

[WASHINGTON]
Or you could die and we need you alive

[HAMILTON]
I’m more than willing to die—

[WASHINGTON]
Your wife needs you alive, son, I need you alive—

[HAMILTON]
Call me son one more time—
______________________


As we grow in maturity, we come to seek our vocation rather than what glorifies us. In my own life this has played out. When beginning to discern the priesthood, it was romantic to dream about being a missionary to some far off place in rural Africa. I’d be a hero. Everyone would talk about it. My parents could brag about it. Some people do have an authentic vocation to be a missionary in a far-off land. However, I’m not one of them. When I experienced a call to the priesthood and prayed about it, over time it became clear that I was called to serve as a parish priest in my home diocese. God called me to be a priest for the good people of Northeast Iowa. We need priests here too.

Along with this subject, I’m often asked: “Where do you want to go as a priest?” This question is completely well-intentioned, but it is a bit misguided. My vocation is a call from God to serve as a faithful priest of Jesus Christ. That’s it. It doesn’t really matter about where I want to go. The bishop’s job is to assign me to a church. My concern is to be faithful in whatever assignment I am given. Hamilton shoots too large too soon. Fortunately, he has a wise friend in Washington to temper his rashness and guide him. We should strive to be faithful in small matters first, and then if God wants to put more on our plate He is more than capable of bringing that about.

In our life it is good to have aspirations. However, the important thing is that we reflect on our motives. Is this for the Glory of God? Is this truly about the good of society? My family? Or am I being selfish? Being a lawyer to work for authentic justice is a wonderful aspiration which can glorify God and benefit the community. Being a lawyer to make a ton of money and host fancy parties might not pass the test. Being a politician is a noble form of public service, provided that one forgoes the temptations to solely serve oneself.

In a world where it seems like one needs to start an orphanage to get into a top-tier college, maybe we have focused too much on the extraordinary to the detriment of the ordinary. Maybe our exotic dreams miss the mark a little.  Maybe we shouldn’t fantasize about being a martyr. Instead, maybe we should seek to simply be an everyday saint, and see just where that might lead us. Maybe we should listen to the wise guides like George Washington in our life. That’s the Little Way, which turns out to be not so little. Just ask Mother Teresa.

 

All the Light We Cannot See: A Homily?

Novels, or stories, are particularly helpful to teach us truths about different aspects of our human experience. All the Light We Cannot See is a recent novel written by Anthony Doerr. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. The book is beautiful, filled with a rich and elegant vocabulary, making it incredibly pleasant to read, while also presenting to us a thought-provoking tale. In addition, it gives us insight into the theological virtue of faith.

Marie-Laure was a 6-year old French girl when she went blind. Her father, Daniel, was a very loving man, a locksmith, and a skilled woodworker. He treasured his daughter. The story is set in World War II as the Germans are about to invade France. Marie-Laure’s father was deeply worried about his daughter getting lost, so he built her an exact wooden model replica of the town. For hours and hours, Marie-Laure’s hands explored and fumbled over all the intricate details of the town. Through those many hours with the wooden model, she became keenly aware of the greater reality of her town, aware of all those features she otherwise would miss. Her father Daniel would then take her to different parts of the town where she would have to carefully walk finding her way home. There is a lot of visible light that Marie-Laure does not see. Throughout the novel, though, she finds a way to see into a deeper reality and truth than many of her non-blind friends do.

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Our world is fascinating. Yes, it is a world that is rational and follows certain scientific laws. Science is true and good. Our world has an intelligibility to it, accessible to our probing minds. At the same time, it is also a world that is deeply mysterious and enchanted. Contemporary physics has defied the modern expectations of a deterministic world. There remains a certain unpredictability, or openness, to our world. Any claim to the contrary lacks humility.

Our world is a reality that cannot be exhausted. What I mean by this, is that though it is palpably close to us, it is also utterly beyond our control. We find we are stewards rather than masters. Do we have the humility to acknowledge our human limitations?

I introduce these observations to make clear the correct relationship between faith and science. Science is good and true. However, scientism is a fallacy that is all-too-popular today. Scientism claims that science is the only way toward truth. Scientism reduces everything to the scientific mode of investigation as if that was the only mode. Scientism sets up science as an idol by making science as the true God. The major error we see with this is that it reaches science a step too far beyond its competence. There are many important questions that are properly non-scientific questions. Science only investigates the empirical world, the world of matter, material things. But doesn’t love have an immaterial aspect to it? Is love simply a certain mixture of pheromones and chemical bonds? Do we actually believe that? Or what about beauty? Does beauty have no greater reality than its atomic components? Further, you cannot scientifically prove science. The possibility of science must be proved my something other than itself, and this is where we enlist philosophy. Philosophy helps us to understand the nature of science, as well as the foundation for many other beliefs we hold. Philosophy shows us the truth is attainable through other ways of investigating reality: faith (theologically understood), art, and literature being three such ways.

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So, what do Marie-Laure and science have to do with faith? These help us show the role faith needs to play in our lives to live in the fullness of truth rather than with just a partial truth. Our life is necessarily incomplete without faith.  Faith is “the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We see that the Lord, Our Redeemer, teaches us what is for our good.  “By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Heb 11:3). God is the creator of the world. As the creator, He created us out of love and for love. He is not in competition wanting to limit us. Living the virtue of faith is living life to reflect these truths. Faith, as the evidence of things not seen, is making decisions in life with the understanding that we have a loving and merciful God who wants to give us deep joy. He desires our prosperity to be like a river and for us to have descendants as numerous as the grains of sand in the desert (cf. Is 48:18). Faith is to trust God.

Therefore, scientism is too small a worldview for us. It’s too small because it ignores the Creator who made science even possible. Science is true, but only part of the truth. Faith grounds our knowledge and elevates our scientific knowing. Faith answers the deeper questions that science cannot know, like the question of why life is worth living? So rather than putting God and science against each other, instead, let’s live with both God and science, with both in their proper place working in sync. Let God as our loving Father direct our life to show us what makes life worth living. Let’s also then thank God for the gift of an intelligible world, the fact that we have minds that can understand, and use science to be good stewards of this world.

Faith must be a gift from God. This means that we must pray for God to increase this virtue within us. As the Gospel of Mark tells us, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We do have control of allowing ourselves to be open to receiving faith. We have the ability open or close our eyes to God. How much light are we willing to let in?

Faith is a form of vision that we walk our life by. Marie-Laure’s blindness allowed her to see more of All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, it allowed her a greater physical knowledge of her town, but as you read the book it appears to give her a precise moral insight as well. She understands all of reality in a more profound way than the other characters. Had she never been blind, she would have never known home so well. Her blindness required her to spend many hours exploring that intricate wooden-model. Do we spend hours in prayer exploring our world? Her blindness required her to grow in trust, and it was easy to trust her father because he loved her so much. Even with that fatherly love, though, being forced to actually walk home, while blind, those first few times, was difficult and scary. Faith requires us to trust our loving Father, just like Marie-Laure. It requires us to trust God and to spend many hours exploring the intricacies of our life and purpose. This means we need the sacraments. We need to receive Jesus often in the Eucharist. We need reconciliation. We need to heal our broken relationships with God and others. This means we need a prayer life. We need to schedule time each day to sit in quiet prayer, asking God for ears to hear and a heart that is soft. Lord, give me your eyes to see as you do; thin that veil between heaven and earth in my life. Lord, give me eyes to see All the Light I Cannot See. Lord, give me touch to feel the work you are doing in my life.

What if we had more than five senses? What if we could experience reality in more intense and varied ways? It would be nice to thin that veil between heaven and earth a little more, although we’ve all experienced it before, little tastes of heaven.  The virtue of faith does that for us. Faith thins that veil, giving us a more complete picture of how everything fits together in our life.

The Gospel today shows a generation that refuses the possibility for faith. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard’” (Matt 11:19). That generation was impossible to please. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. We must not close our eyes like that generation. We must not limit our vision too much. For, what is Faith if not the gift of the vision of All the Light We Cannot See?

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*Based on the readings from Friday of the Second Week in Advent- Lectionary: 185
This was a practice homily assignment for my moral theology class. The focus was to encourage the faithful to grow in the virtue of Faith.

The Election and Loving your Enemies

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
-Matthew 5:43-45.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
-John 13:34-35

As a nation, we’re deeply divided. We’re deeply hurt. We’re scared. We’re upset. Whether Hillary or Donald won, this was going to be the result. The wounds were gaping before election day. We’ve been polemical. We’ve picked sides. We’ve demonized each other. We’ve slandered each other. We’ve lost our decency. Where do we go from here?

We are offered a major moral test. How we control our reaction, whether upset, angry, scared, excited, thankful, or triumphant shows a lot about our character. Individually we have the choice to work towards reconciliation or not.

Experiencing these emotions is good. It’s human. Electing a president has serious consequences for our society.  I am deeply nervous about some of the things Donald has campaigned for. I was also deeply nervous about some of the things Hillary campaigned for. Major disappointment was to come with either result. Now though, how do we react in a way that brings healing? Or do we dig in and twist the knife more?

This does not mean that we compromise our values and beliefs. If a true injustice arises during this presidency, we must conscientiously object. We must protest appropriately. Convictions are necessary. In doing this our task is to learn how to respectfully but firmly disagree. This is possible.

Christ is our brightest light. Christ Jesus invites us to love our enemies. He invites us to pray for those we disagree with- to pray for those we hate. I invite Democrats to pray for Donald Trump. I invite Republicans to pray for Hillary Clinton. Lord, we’ve been plagued with ugliness and animosity this election season. Bring healing. Bring unity. Lord Jesus, I pray that Donald Trump will be a good public servant. He has a major task ahead of him. I pray that he will be a president for all Americans. I pray that he surrounds himself with virtuous men and women and that they truly will work for the common good. I pray for Democrats, Republicans, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and the Unborn. I pray that all people in America can feel safe and welcomed. I pray that we recognize and treat all people with their God-given dignity.

Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility gentleness and patience.
-Col 3:12

Jesus Christ has given us the lasting example. Let us pray for each other, especially the ones we don’t want to pray for.

In Christ,
Joseph Sevcik

How Catholicism changes me.

Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
St. Augustine

I am very satisfied with my life. In fact, I love it. And, I wholly attribute this to Jesus and Catholicism.

Why is this?  Do I mean this? Does my life bare witness to this? This is not meant to be triumphant, or to gloat. But hopefully instead, it is a reflection on what I am grateful for in the life I have lived to this point. I pray that if you’re open, you might have this  experience too.

I’ve got a restless heart. My finite body has infinite desires. I desire fame, fortune, and power. I have lustful desires too. Girls are really good looking. I’m a slave to many things in life, most of all desserts. In the immortal words of B.O.B, “Everyone’s addicted to something.” I’m definitely selfish, and prideful.  But Catholicism teaches me that God still loves me. Jesus never abandons me. Even in my weakness and failings I know deep in my heart that Jesus loves me, and that He is gracing me in life, helping me to grow day by day. God desires me to be happy, and to grow in holiness (to become whole). My life is not meaningless. Every life has inestimable worth.

The Christian life is not so much about being good, as it is about being free.

I also am taught that the world is created good. The world is something to be enjoyed. Desserts are good, when used properly. Alcohol is good, when used properly. Sex is a beautiful gift, when used properly. God desires us to be happy, not miserable. And Catholicism is teaching me how to truly experience this freedom. Jesus Christ frees us from slavery.

Catholicism also inspires me in the true radical nature of what life can be. I’m freely choosing to live a celibate life because I have confidence in a dynamic loving relationship with God. Marriage is a wonderful good, a beautiful gift, and most all of us are called to it. I desire it more than you could imagine. But for some of us, freely choosing celibacy can be a gift and witness in the world. Jesus, though unmarried, found a way to love perfectly. That’s my mission to learn (and Lord knows I’ve got a lot to learn about it).

I’m Catholic because of the saints. Saints such as Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux, John Paul II, Mother Theresa, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa of Avila, and Damien of Molokai show me lives that are worth living. Catholicism produces the most wonder-provoking lives. Saints inspire awe and challenge like nothing else. Read stories of the saints and I promise you will find no greater inspiration. The saints glorify God fully in their life. They show us concrete examples of God working in the world.

Catholicism makes me humble. It reinforces that I’m most happy when I can strive to overcomes selfishness and greed. St. Francis’ prayer provides beauty and wisdom:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

I’m Catholic because of Reconciliation. Confessing my sins to a priest humbles me, and it is also cathartic. Through Reconciliation I know that I am forgiven for anything I have ever done. Reconciliation is the definition of grace- a free gift. The Prayer of Absolution, prayed aloud by the priest during confession is fantastically powerful:

“God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Those words give me peace like nothing else. It provides a finality and concrete assurance to know that I am forgiven.

I could list a thousand more reasons for why I am so grateful to be Catholic. But for now I’ll end it here. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” I honestly believe it is true.

So I offer you the chance as you explore what makes life worth living. What do you live for? I pray that you might at least be open to Catholicism. Please message me with any questions or struggles that you might have. I’d love to talk. I’d love to listen.

“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.” -Pope Benedict XVI

On Death

I’ve never been with a person when they die. I’ve never been there for the final breath. It’s an occasion that I’ve thought about many times before. One of those ephemeral times when we rest from our ceaseless activities and collide with the reality of death. Our gaze forced to contemplate mortality.  A moment where time stills. The air a little denser than normal. Emotions emanate a bit easier. Tears, even if not from sadness, flow. It’s a time of purging, and hopefully a time of peace. It’s a moment where we cast off spectacle, standing exposed.

And at the same time, its utter reality is mystical. We experience the metaphysical, the true fullness of nature. Supernatural – above nature. Faith gives us assurance, but the chasm still percolates with mystery. I just finished Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See. In it a character notes that visible light, the light that we see, only makes up a very small portion of all the light that exists. More reality exists than what is just visible. The mystery of death puts us face to face with this fullness of reality.

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Last week my grandma’s brother Roger passed away. A few nights ago my grandpa’s brother Ken passed away. They were both good men, and I’ve always respected and enjoyed seeing them, even if it has only been in brief spurts growing up. Their passings have given me a few reflections over the past few days.

My mother and I were sitting in Ken’s hospital room the morning of his last day. We knew Ken was going to die soon. It was surprising he hadn’t passed the previous night. This 94 year-old man had lived a full life, with roughly 4 times the memories and experiences that I’ve had. [And I think I’ve been around for a while]. He’d fallen in love, raised a family, experienced war, grown old. He outlived 99% of his friends. Everything that he’d ever experienced climaxed to this one final day, and I was one who got to share it with him.

Ken couldn’t talk. He was fairly unresponsive. But, he knew we were there. We greeted him as we entered and sat near his bed. And then my mom reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it tenderly. She told him that we love him, that he’s been a blessing to our family, and that God loves him too. The power of a simple touch conveyed a depth of love words couldn’t express. It was tender and simple, compassionate and natural. A capacity I can grow in.

We started to pray the rosary with him. We’d say it aloud and he’d listen, holding my mother’s hand. And though he was mostly unresponsive, he could still squeeze her hand. After we finished the first decade he reached up and grabbed my hand, holding it as we continued to pray. I’m probably definitely one of the least touchy guys around, [I generally hate hugs at the sign of peace] but in that moment it was right, it was powerful, it was perfect. Holding Kenneth’s hand was an experience of Jesus’ love. Overwhelming love. On a man’s last day on this earth, I got to experience a part of it with him. Fortunately, that’s a gift in the priesthood that I’ll get to share with countless others.

In this Year of Mercy in the Church, I understand a little deeper why visiting the sick is such an important corporal work of mercy. One that I haven’t had too much experience with yet. I appreciate the role doctors, nurses, and others have to play in this ministry. I appreciate the power of love that I see my mother demonstrate so well, especially with her care for my grandma. I think about the loneliness that so many face, as they prepare to face death, and the importance of us sharing that journey with them. I’m also grateful for God’s mercy and love in my own life, and for Jesus not letting death have the final word.

Finally, I appreciate God’s gift of sadness. Tears of a joy from a life well lived. When things are worth crying about, things are worth living for.

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And the stars looked down upon a happy man?

The stars looked down upon a happy man.  G.K. Chesterton wrote a biography on St. Francis of Assisi, one of my two closest saints (buy it here – it’s good). As I was reading it, that line struck me. The stars looked down upon a happy man. Two years later and it still strikes me. A man who grew up prosperous, knowing the thrills of the world, with a father who literally clothed him in jewels, a man who was magnetic and generous with his friends. But a man, though rich in appearance, had a heart unsettled. Uncharmed. Slowly his heart changed. Conversion. From that San Damiano Cross, when Jesus spoke to him saying “go and rebuild my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins,” this was only one of a series of conversions (First Bio of Francis).

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My friends AJ and Terri graciously painted this for me last week

Francis abhorred lepers. Until he kissed one. He never felt poverty. Until he traded clothes with a beggar in St. Peter’s square. His heart slowly turned, through physical encounters of love and solidarity. It wasn’t until 9 or so years after his initial conversion that he began preaching to animals. And they listened? If all we need in life is what the world can offer us, then we would never have had a Francis of Assisi. Fortunately, we do. And through these small conversions of the heart, in little ways, Francis became the great saint he is. As his father took him to the Bishop of Assisi to charge him as a thief for giving away his money, Francis’ actions perplex me in such a beautiful when he answered, “Up to this time I have called Pietro Bernadone father, but now I am the servant of God. Not only the money but everything that can be called his I will restore to my father, even the very clothes he has given me.” And he took off all his clothes, except a hair shirt.

“He was penniless, he was parentless, he was to all appearances without a trade or a plan or a hope in the world; and as he went under the frosty trees, he burst suddenly into song.” – GK Chesterton

He suddenly burst into song? What Francis found was joy. He found the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ.  He found that Jesus was the only thing that would give him profound, authentic, and enchanting joy. And isn’t that deep down what all of us are looking for? A spark in our soul that fills us with vigor? The knowledge that we are greatly loved and that we have the blessing to share that love endlessly? The gift to the heart to burst out in song when everything else crumbles?

I pray that God might continue to grant me the grace to know joy more fully and the capacity to laugh more easily.

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This is Christian Joy.

I decided to try and write this blog to share and dialogue with you about the joys and questions that I’ve found in my life. I hope that through comments below, or maybe emails, or messages, that you can share insights, questions, joys from your life. I have many wonderful friends and acquaintances that I’m blessed with in life, and over the years we’ve gone and journeyed down different roads. But I think we have a lot to offer each other, especially as we come to the world from countless backgrounds. I hope St. Francis can continue to teach us through the example of his life. Pope Francis too. I hope I can share some of my joy from this beautiful life that I’m blessed with in seminary. And, I hope that your wisdom, and maybe even pains, can help to teach me about the great mystery that we live in. And maybe the stars will look down upon a few more happy men and women.

I’ll share my life with you. I invite you to share your life with me as well.

The grace of Lord Jesus be with all.