Saturday, July 27, 2013

Totus Tuus

My ten-year old daughter, Molly, finished up a week of "Totus Tuus" at St. Andrew's on Friday.  Totus Tuus, besides being Pope John Paul II's motto "Totally Yours," is a week long program in parishes lead by college students and seminarians geared towards elementary and middle school students.  I think a lot of people would compare it to a Vacation Bible School type of thing---but Catholic.  

I might be speaking out of turn.  I don't have much experience with Vacation Bible School but what I've seen is that it is basically the same program as the Methodist or the Christian Church down the street---same characters, same songs, same skits etc, etc, etc.  And I'm not taking anything away from the volunteers that help put on the VBS programs.  I know they work very hard and do it out of love for the kids.  My question is for those who do the programming.  Why do we have to rip something off from the Protestants when we have such a deep and rich faith that really goes unexplored at a typical VBS program.

My daughter came home every day talking about the different saint they learned about or a different sacrament.  She went to to mass everyday and even went to adoration.   My daughter, who is only ten years old, was looking up Padre Pio on the internet so that she could learn more about him.  I didn't see her bringing home a bunch of crafts or practicing songs (although they did do some crafts and did sing songs).   We didn't have to wash her t-shirt every night so that she would be color coded for her age group.  It didn't feel like a big production.  It was catechesis. It was evangelization.  It was fun.  

I think our children have been underestimated and have been spoon fed this vanilla "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, For the Bible Tells me So" education for too long.  And that is fine for pre-schoolers but really down plays what our elementary and middle school kids are capable of.  My daugher, who loves to escape into books and enjoys Harry Potter and Doctor Who and all types of fantasy came home every day talking about her faith.   Our kids should be challenged and not dumbed down.

I believe more programs should be like Totus Tuus and centered around the Eucharist and the sacraments and Mary and the saints instead of focusing on some cartoon characters and sing-along songs.  Unfortunately, I don't see things going in that direction.  I see them going in the wrong direction where middle school programs are blended together with the elementary programs and the elementary programs are dumbed down even more.  And that's just wrong.  Because you'll never bring middle schoolers to their faith by treating them like children.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Father's Love

Over the past month or so I've heard a couple people talk at different venues about how God describes Himself as "Father" and how sad it is that in today's world so many kids don't understand that example because they don't have good examples of fathers for themselves. Their own fathers are bad examples because either their fathers were just sperm donors and they never knew him or because they were abusive or just absent--even if they were physically present. 

I am one if those kids who fit in that profile. My parents were never married and my mom left my father when I was an infant.  And he never made any effort to keep in contact.  I looked him up when I was 21 and we met.   I don't know what I was expecting.  But things didn't work out and I didn't keep in contact with him.  

So as I started getting into my faith, I did have difficulty understanding what what "a father's love" meant because I didn't think that I had ever really experienced it.  But upon meditating upon it I realized I had.  

First of all, my biological father may not have been there for me but there were several men in my life who were father-figures to me.  Primarily my grandfather who I lived with while growing up.  But I also had six uncles who all provided examples of fatherhood to me and even though I was just a nephew they loved me and took care of their baby sister's little boy.  Finally my babysitters husband, Kenny Harris, was another man who was like a father to me.  So, I may not have grown up with a biological father but I was better off--I had eight men in my life who showed me what it meant to be a man and to be a father. 

Secondly, by the time I really started getting into my faith, I was a father myself.   In fact, the reason I came back to the Catholic faith was for my children---- because I wanted them to know God's love.  So, I knew what a father's love was because it was what I felt for my own children.  

Finally, I knew what it was because I had felt God's love for me.

The are some who don't believe we should use the analogy of a "Father's love" because of the fact that so many people don't have father's of their own.   They have even tried to turn God into a woman and into a more motherly role.  

I think this is a mistake----not to take anything away from mothers.   But if God describes Himself as a Father---calling Himself "Abba" or daddy---then who are we to challenge that.   It is wrong to change scripture to fit our agenda. 

And in the end---maybe it is for the men in the world to mold ourselves into that example of Fatherhood that God has set for us instead of changing what He said.   We should show a Father's Love to our children....tender, stern, loving, forgiving, merciful, and fun.   All of the deadbeat dads in the world need to look at God as and example of what they need to be or transform themselves into that roll. 

Friday, July 19, 2013


Recently, Rolling Stone magazine has taken a lot of flack because of their putting Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on the cover.   People complain that it makes him appear as a celebrity.  I've found it very interesting, though, as to what makes a person a celebrity.   What may be a celebrity to one person is unknown to another (I don't recognize most of the celebrities in the celebrity magazines).  I think the important thing to remember is that these "celebrities" are just people going through trials, just like you and I, and deserving of love, just like you and I.

I'm fortunate that I've been able to work off-duty several years in the dugouts or bullpens at Kauffman Stadium so I've had more than my fair share of brushes with celebrities.  I'll admit, I appreciate my situation, knowing few people get to be there. It is pretty cool thinking, "I'm standing next to a future Hall of Famer before he goes up to bat."  That being said, you also get to see the players as people--celebrating their successes, angry at their failures, being kind, being not so kind.  And ironically, going unrecognized in the parking lot. 

The same is true in the Catholic world.  There are all types of "Catholic celebrities."  These celebrities are famous for different reasons, some are people in power such as Timothy Cardinal Dolan or Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia.  Some people are bloggers such as Father Z or Deacon Kandra.  Scott Hahn and Tim Staples are famous speakers.  Lino Rulli is a radio host on Sirius/XM's The Catholic Channel.  And in there youth ministry world there is Mark Hart, Jesse Manibusan, Father Tony and many many others. 

These people are held up as celebrities, yet they are unknown outside of their own circle.  I know that if I mentioned their names at work, people would not know who they are.  But I make time to read their books or blogs.  I'm interested in what they have to say and will make efforts to see them do presentations.  I even consider a couple of them as roll models. 

Here is the thing---I may see them as "celebrities" but I also see them as people---worthy of my admiration. But because I see them also as fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, I don't get bent out of shape if they make mistakes.  On the other hand, I don't "freak out" over them either.  Oh sure, with my friends, I'll act all fanboy sometimes but they understand that's just me being goofy.  And sure, I would love to sit with many of them and over a beer discuss theology, youth ministry or even baseball---but that's just because I do have admiration for them just like I admire certain co-workers, my parish priest or family members.  

Celebrity is good--- as long as they are celebrity for the right reason--that they are people to look up to for the right reasons.  But it takes a lot for me to get too excited---after all, my favorite "celebrities" are my wife and my best friends.  Because they like me back!!  And not to name drop---but I had a nice conversation with God this morning---I have His number in my cell---so top that!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I think it would be safe to say that I am one who is easily distracted.  I'm one of those people who you complain about that goes out to eat with the family and is constantly looking their phone.  I might be looking at Facebook, Googling something that came up in conversation or looking at a sports score.   People have teased me because I'll be having a conversation with them while watching a movie and playing a game on my phone.  Heck, back in the day before smartphones and I had Motorola Razor and I could feel the buttons---I could be looking at you and be conversing with you and have my phone down at my side and texting someone else.

So, prayer is very difficult for me.   It's difficult for me to sit in a quiet place and talk to God when I'm not sure He is listening.   And that whole "be quiet and listen" thing?  Not a chance.  I wish I could be some great mystic who has this great relationship with God and talks to Him and know what He wants or what He is thinking.   I fully realize that you have to work at prayer in order to have a good prayer life.  Just like everything in life---if you want something, you have to work for it.

That's easy to say but it is more difficult to put into practice especially when you cannot sit still for a moment.What are these distractions really though??  Distractions are things keeping us from God.   They may be distractions in prayer keeping me from talking with God.   They can also be things of this world that we seek in placement of God.  

I heard someone say, and I don't remember who, that everything we long for in life are actually substitutions for God.  It is truly Him that we are after but in His place we long for that new car or that vacation or some other thing instead.   This person said that when we long for something in this world that we should refocus ourselves onto God instead.

I find it difficult to even lay down and go to sleep most of the time.  How I wish I could go to sleep as fast as my wife---it seems that as soon as she closes her eyes she is a asleep.  I toss and turn, thinking about different things.  I even have different "daydreams" that I think about when I'm trying to put myself to sleep.  I have different scenarios that help remove me from reality in order to shut my brain down.

So, I've been trying this.  When I'm bored and can't focus I'll stop what I'm doing and try to refocus on God.   It's only been the past few days that I've been trying it so I can't report to you and tell you how it's working so far and I can say that I've only used it when I've caught myself daydreaming.    I'll have some scenario running through my head where I'm saving the world or something and I'll refocus myself and either think about God or enter a prayerful moment.

I get frustrated because I know I want God's love.  I get frustrated because I want to be pleasing to God.  And now I get frustrated because I recognize that these distractions are my substitutions for God because I've experienced replacing those distractions with prayerful times with God and realize that they do make me happier. But yet...... Those distractions still come up. I still fail to always put God number one in my life.  I still choose sin.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Understanding God's Love

I was having a crisis of faith last week.   I was meditating on the fact that God loves me.  That much I cannot doubt.  I know it from a theological angle--from everything thing I have been taught.  God loves everyone.  God IS love.  God gave His love for the world.  I also know it because I recognized how God has shown me His love.   Through my wife's tender touch on my shoulder and kind words when I'm sad.  By my children's joy when they see me.  And by having friends who know the right time to be there when I need them, or know the right thing to say.   These are all examples of graces that God has given me that to deny God's love for me would just be ignorant.

My question that I had going through my head is WHY does God love me.  Again, I can give myself the correct theological answer.  God loves everyone.  We are made in His image and likeness.  God is love and cannot help but to love us.  It is His nature.   I understand those as best as I can---I think.  Let's face it, it is mind boggling to think that God loves everyone and wants a personal relationship with everyone---even the crazy cat lady.

But, I was having difficulty wrapping my head around--why does God love ME??  I was having problems getting this idea from my head to my heart.  You see, I can understand why my wife or my kids or my mom loves me.  I can even understand why my friends love me.   But, I know everything that goes on in my little head.  I know my sinful past. I recognize my faults that I have now.  I don't trust myself not to sin again if and when the temptation strikes me again.  I see all those faults in my and it bothers me and I'll be honest--I have problems liking myself much less understanding why God, who knows all and see all, would also love me.

Strange thing starts to happen.  Mark Hart posted on his Facebook. "Facing a challenging situation?  You should feel affirmed - God obviously thinks more of you than you do."    Ahhhhhhh, exactly what I needed to hear on that day---almost as if Mark Hart is stalking me.

And then, I was discussing my thoughts with a friend and she used my dog Amelia as an analogy.  At my house, we have a pack---four dogs.  On Valentine's day, Amelia got into a scuffle with one of our other dogs, Sarge, and we had to take her to the vet because she got cut up and was bleeding.   By the time we had gotten her to the emergency vet she had bled all over my car.  It looked like a crime scene.

My friend said this, "Of course there is disappointment when we chose to sin, but He is still there loving us just like you still love Amelia when she sheds blood all over your car from yet another fight."

It clicked right there for me.  Yeah, I still love Amelia when she is bad.  I'll still love her when she jumps up on my dresser or tears something up or eats my food.  She's just a dog and it's her nature.  And that behavior is to be expected until she is trained well enough not to do that.    "DING"---An Ah-Ha moment.  In my pride, I try to put myself on God's level or bring Him down to mine in order to understand Him.  But, I'm not on God's level.   It's the same difference between God and me and me and Amelia.  God understand who I am better than me and understands my sinful nature and loves me enough to stick with me until I'm "trained" well enough not to behave sinfully.  Obviously, "trained" is not the appropriate word---it's actually a conversion of heart.

Amelia was a rescue--this was her shelter picture.
So, it's really silly and pointless to sit around and worrying about WHY God loves me or WHY God forgives me.   I'm not going to figure it out so shut up, sit back, accept God's grace and let that grace transform me into the man I want to be.

Interestingly enough, over the next several days, I've seen several things on Facebook that seem to be the Holy Spirit talking to me and reminding me that God is trying to show me how much He loves me. Another one happened just today when I say a picture posted on the Facebook page, "UCatholic."   It is a quote from St. Augustine that says "There is no Saint without a past, no sinner without a future."  

God loves me.  I don't know why---but He does.

Amazing Priests

As a married man and a father of three, I believe that I have a huge responsibility in care for the spiritual needs of my wife and my kids.   I believe that was a responsibility I took on when I got married.    Our roles in life as married people are to assist each other in getting to Heaven.   I also took on that responsibility when I had my kids baptized into the Catholic Church.  I made a promise to God to raise my children in the Catholic faith.    Sometimes this seems like a daunting task.   Heck, sometimes it seems like a gargantuan chore just to take care of my own spiritual needs much less those of four other people.  As great of a responsibility that I face, I sometimes wonder would it would be like to be a priest with a parish of hundreds of people.

I realize that a priest isn't ultimately responsible for every soul that is in his parish.  We, as individuals with free will, are responsible for ourselves.   But, a priest has a lot of responsibility too as he oversees his flock to do everything that he can to guide them towards a healthy relationship with God.  For these men to take on this responsibility is why I believe our priests are amazing.

First of all, they take on vows and make promises to God that I do not think a lot of us would be willing to make.   I mean, that whole "chastity" thing---that's when I realized the priesthood wasn't for me.  I liked girls too much.  It was a sacrifice that I was not willing to make.   But I'm thankful for all those men who do feel that call and are willing to make those sacrifices.  And for them, they not necessarily be sacrifices.   For them, the calling may be a greater gift than what they are giving up.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, I would think that as a priest you would feel and incredible responsibility for those who come to your church.   I would think that you would feel that you are the ultimate role model.  I would feel a certain responsibility towards ensuring that I do whatever I can do to get every soul that I encountered to Heaven.   I'm not dumb.  I realize that while priests may be the vessels that we receive the sacraments we have free will and are ultimately responsible for ourselves.   Also, a side bar; I do realize that all of us, ordained or laity, have a certain responsibility towards ensuring we do to get every soul that we encounter to Heaven.   We are all called to discipleship and there have been more than one instance where I've gone into confession and said, "for leading others into sin."

Finally, the reason that I think priests are amazing is because they are just like you and me.   Too often, we paint the picture of priests as these stodgy old men who are against having fun.   I'll tell you something, most of the priests I know are fun, fun people.  They are happy and joyous and are a cross section of humanity.   Some could be police officers, fire fighters, accountants or computer programmers, or even actors or musicians.  They are athletes and nerds.  I know some that I'd take to a baseball game and some that I'd take out shooting (because you never know when the next zombie apocalypse is going to begin)

Yes, being a cross section of humanity there are bad priests.  I think the abuse scandals that haunt the church are the easy reminder of that.  And there are some stodgy priests.  Some who have no personnel skills and some who, well, should be hermets in a cave praying to God with a little contact with people as possible.

But, overall, I think priests are amazing.  I admire them and I'm thankful for them.  I go out drinking with a lot of them.   If you are a priest.  Thank you.   If you are seminarian.  Thank-you.   If you've ever wondered if you are right for the priest hood---I encourage you to invest some time and looking into it.  God may be calling.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Notre Dame's Catholic Identity

A week ago Sunday was the first time that I had stepped foot onto the campus of Notre Dame.   A friend had been going every summer for several years and had become a huge fan of it.  I had grown up a Notre Dame fan if for no other reason than "they are Irish and they are Catholic."  In reality, as a kid from a small town in northwest Missouri,  I was very ignorant of the campus in northwest Indiana.

As I grew older, I became more neutral towards Notre Dame than anything.  I think I had a couple of Notre Dame sweatshirts from the early 90's (I don't really throw clothes away) and I might have cheered for them if I happened to see them on television.  That changed in 2009 when Notre Dame featured President Obama as their commencement speaker and gave him an honorary degree.   As a Catholic, I felt it sickening that they would do this considering how pro-abortion President Obama showed himself to be then and has proven to be.  The president doesn't try to downplay this, even saying recently, "God bless Planned Parenthood."

At that point, I became anti-Notre Dame.  There was no way I could support them.  It was then that I signed up and got on Project Sycamore's email list.  Project Sycamore is an organization made up of Notre Dame alum and supporters that is concerned about the secularization of Notre Dame and want to help maintain her Catholic identity.  

Every few months since then, I've gotten bulk emails from their president, William Dempsey, telling me about different events or situations at Notre Dame that would be considered scandalous or goes against Catholic teaching.  I'll be honest, I usually only glanced at the headlines and rarely read them in detail as they were just another thing filling my email.  For all I know, the email may also talk about the great Catholic events that were occurring on campus.

After several years of getting these emails, my mind was made up.  I believed that Notre Dame was Catholic in name only and should be stripped of the title of being a Catholic University.  There was certainly no way I was going  to spend my money or waste my time going there.   I'm not sure what made me change my mind and persuaded me to go----------correction, I didn't know what changed my mind and persuaded me to go but I do now.

I got to Notre Dame on Sunday night, just in time to make it to the 9pm mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and left five days later right after the ND Vision mass at DiBartollo Hall.  In those few days, my opinion of Notre Dame has forever changed.  There is no doubt in my mind that Notre Dame maintains a strong Catholic identity.  There is no doubt in my mind that God changed my mind about going and persuaded me to go because I encountered God on that campus like I have never encountered Him before.  For a few example as to how I encountered Him there check out my post on my "Favorite Things about ND Vision-CYM."

That being said, I will acknowledge the fact that I was basically on a week long retreat and surrounded by other people on the same retreat.   I am totally ignorant of what the atmosphere may be like during the school year and in the classrooms.  I will also point out that the Sycamore Trust would acknowledge the fact there is still a Catholic Identity.  In fact, it states that it's mission is, "....preserving the Catholic identity of the University."

So, I've gone from quasi-fan, to anti-Fighting Irish to thinking that the campus of Notre Dame is my favorite place on Earth.   I would be frustrated that it took me so long to discover this but I trust that I discovered it when I was supposed to.  I'm also glad that there is an organization, like Project Sycamore, that is protecting my favorite place on Earth and helping her keep her Catholic identity.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

What I Learned at ND Vision

Last week, I spent the week at the CYM portion of the ND Vision conference at Notre Dame.  It was a conference that put me in spritual turmoil where I felt like God was a baker and I was the pile of dough that he was kneeding.   I was told that "grace meets us where we are but she doesn't leave you there."   That certainly was true for me this week.

So, what did I take from ND Vision??  For me, the atmosphere for the whole week was set by Terry Nelson-Johnson, who just cracked the shell surrounding me and broke down any barriers that I may have had and made me totally vulnerable.  God used him to break me down and used the speakers throughout the rest of the week so that come Friday morning, although I have a long spiritual road ahead of me, I was at least able ready to face the world again without shedding tears everytime someone said, "Jesus loves you."

I have to give credit to Msgr. Michael Heintz for the two lines that my whole week seemed to revolve around.  The first one was, "you can't give what you don't have" and the second was that being a Christian is more than just doctrine or morality---although they are both very important.  But being a Christian is about transformation.

There was no "ah-ha" moment for me at this conference.  The whole conference was spent in a lot of prayer trying to figure things out in my spirtual life.   It wasn't until a several days after everything was over and I am back at home that I can formulate a concrete response for what I took from the conference.  The truth of the matter is, I'm still working through a lot of what I took away from there and will probably be working on it for years to come.  But, if you were to ask me for that concrete response of what I learned it would be this.  In order for me to be a disciple of Jesus, I have to love.   I cannot minister to youth and expect them to want to transform their lives unless they see someone who themselves has been transformed and loves God.  They have to see someone who knows they, themselves, are loved by God and passes that love onto them.  I can know my faith forwards and backwards and I can know a ton of ice-breakers or games and show up to lock-ins and pizza parties but unless I show them the love that God has for them then it's all going to be for nothing.

This may seem like a simple premis but because of the spiritual battles I was facing all week I was having a heck of a hard time letting it sink it.   It's been a long week of allowing ideas in my head make their way to my heart and allowing the scales to fall from my eyes.    I can't wait to see what next year holds for me . . .

Monday, July 1, 2013

Favorite Things About ND Vision CYM

Last week, I spent a week at Notre Dame in South Bend at a conference called "ND Vision-CYM."   When I had signed up, I was basically planning on being a chaperone for high school teens like I have been for a wide variety of different events in the past.

I was wrong though.  While ND Vision is a program for teens, the CYM portion is geared just for the adults.   The teens are taken care of by "mentors"--college students who help guide them and expand their faith and the adults have minimal contact with the youths.

As soon as I realized this, I was excited.  With no kids to be responsible, I could have a nice relaxing week to myself.  Was I ever wrong.  At Vision, God pushed me and pulled me and turned me inside out.  He really put me through the gauntlet.  And I loved every moment of it.   So, like I did after returning from NCYC, I've made a list of my favorite things about ND Vision-CYM.  You may think some things are missing from my list, such as the grotto or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  They aren't missing.  Those items would be part of my "Favorite things about Notre Dame" but this is solely covering my experiences for this week.

1. Closing mass-- As I said, this week was very trying for me.  There were a lot of tears shed.  I felt the presence of God like I had never felt Him before.  What was lacking, was joy and it concerned me.  I was having a good time but that joy, that I've always been proud to show off was missing.  Until the closing mass.  There, something happened that made me smile and giggle a little bit.  And then, I could not help but to smile.  God was there with me again and I was smiling ear to ear.  I actually got the attention of the person next to me to show off my smile.

2. The Presence of God.   God was with me all week.   But one incident, though subtle, struck me as miraculous.   Wednesday afternoon, I had decided to spend some time in prayer and to walk around one of the lakes on campus----the Lake of St. Mary.  Along the back side of the lake was a bench and I sent down for a few minutes of alone time with God.   There is nothing around me a view of the campus and woods.  All of a sudden, I smelled the fragrance of flowers.  It wasn't strong but it wasn't subtle. I looked to my left and I looked to my right.   I felt it was a sign that God was with me.   I've since been made aware that the scent of flowers is a sign of the presence of the Virgin Mary.  It was the Lake of St. Mary.  Perhaps this was it.  I'm not saying who was there.  I'm just describing what I experienced.  

3. Returning Home At the opening theological primer, Dr. Timothy O'Malley quoted St. Augustine when he said, "My heart is restless, O Lord, until it rests in you."  When I returned home at about 1:30 on Saturday morning, I saw my wife Abby as a sacramental---a physical sign of God's grace and love and a symbol of this quote.   It was more than just being home.  It was more than being with my spouse.  I was calm.   I was relaxed.  As Abby placed her hand on my forearm, I felt God's calming presence.

4Reconciliation Tuesday evening was reconciliation and I went for the first time in three months.  Confession is so freeing.  It will probably make any list of my favorite things.  This was even freeing in the penance given.  It wasn't difficult but it was challenging.  It pushed me and made me think.  

5. Solitude  Prior to the reconciliation service on Tuesday night, I spent some time alone.  I went down to the Lake of St. Joseph where the have a Stations of the Cross set up.  I did that and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that at station 12---the crucifixion--there is a life sized statue of the crucifixion along with statutes of the Virgin Mary and, I assume, Mary Magdaline, along with a kneeler so you can pray at the foot of the cross.  Afterwords, I continued to walk around the lake.  I then went towards the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  As I walked under the Golden Dome I realized I was alone.  Literally, there was not another human in sight--up and down the normally busy quad.  I realized that I was alone during most of the time while I was walking the lake.  I then went inside the basilica and there were only a couple of people in the large church. I felt as if I were alone with Jesus.  I enjoyed the quietness, with no distractions.  I enjoyed the solitude, although I know I wasn't alone.

And---as an extra bonus . . .

6. Adoration -- just like reconciliation, will make any of my "favorites" list.  This was in a beautiful chapel in one of the dorms.  I walked in with my friend, separated and went over by a window, set my stuff down and sat there in quiet prayer.  The priest then came in, took the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle and placed it in the monstrance.   I placed my arms across the back of the chair in front of me and placed my forehead on my arms and a wave of emotions came over me and tears started streaming down my face.  What a feeling to be in the physical presence of Jesus.