The Problem With Teddy Bear Jesus

I know the title sounds a little weird, maybe even a little funny, but I think my meaning will be made perfectly clear in this post. So bear with me here (pun intended).

carry cross

When you say, “I’m a Christian”, what does that mean? Does it mean that you go to church every Sunday, or go when you can? Does it mean that you tolerate other people? Does it mean that you say you “don’t judge” but secretly pass judgment on everyone in your heart? Or does it mean that you go out and feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Visit the imprisoned? What SHOULD it mean?

I’m afraid that, in many ways, we have watered down the Gospel. We’re comfortable with where we are (especially in the West). We have a nice house, a good family, enough food and water, and some of us have more than enough entertainment. But hey, we go to church every single Sunday and we always put money in the plate and pay attention during the service and listen to the (sometimes long and boring) sermon/message for the day. We try to be good friends to people and attempt to be fair and just in our work.

But…is that all we should be doing?

Have we diluted the Gospel so much that we think we’re doing “enough”? When we read about Jesus blessing the poor, telling people to sell their belongings and give to those in need, warning that the rich will have a hard time of entering the Kingdom…we squirm a little bit. Somehow, though, it’s all explained away. That was just Jesus’ culture, just something in that time period that needed to be addressed — we have nothing to worry about. And hey, we give to charities! We ARE helping the poor!

Are we, really?

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

-Matthew 25:44-46

Clinging to this teddy bear Jesus we’ve invented — this Jesus who affirms everything we do and is constantly reassuring us that we’re doing “enough” — isn’t gonna cut it. The Gospel message is radical! Going to church is great and we should do that; giving monetarily to churches is good and we should do that; trying to be kind to others is good and we should do that, too. But here’s a good test: if you’re really comfortable with your life and can’t imagine it without the comforts you have now, can’t imagine inconveniencing yourself, can’t imagine how you could possibly do more, chances are that you’re far from doing what you could be doing.

Now before you start thinking that I’m gonna tell you to sell your house and go move to some random country you’ve never heard of, just hold on a minute. The ministry you SHOULD be doing, the ministry you COULD be doing, isn’t necessarily across the globe somewhere. There are people in your community right now who are starving, who are lonely, depressed, and in need of love and compassion. Start there. Give of your time and your talents. When you see someone in need, don’t stop to ask whether or not they are “worthy” of your help — help them. And I’m not talking about giving the homeless person standing by the side of the road a couple of coins as you walk by. Look into that person’s eyes and talk to that person, and find out how you can help that individual. You don’t have to go to some other country to live out the Gospel message. You can give completely of yourself and your talents right here, right where you live, right now.

There are also people in other countries, all over the world, who need our love and support. You can send money and prayers — but you can also volunteer to go and help. It’s one thing to pity the poor and quite another to live in solidarity with them. Jesus doesn’t call us to be of help from a distance. He calls US to be His hands and feet, to give drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We shouldn’t be comfortable with sitting back and watching as our brothers and sisters suffer and go hungry and endure hardship at home and abroad. As difficult as it is sometimes, we have to reach out and help.

There are people who are starving. There are people who are suffering. There are people being persecuted. There are people who are ostracized. There are people who don’t feel welcome in our churches. There are people who are refugees, fleeing from oppressive and dangerous regimes. There are people who are depressed and need love and support. There are people who are afraid, children who are abused and need homes…the list goes on. There is no shortage of work to be done.

Love is an act of self-giving. If we are to love the poor and those most in need of our help, we can’t possibly think that sitting around is going to cut it. We’re going to have to get out of our comfort zones, to let ourselves be challenged. Don’t let yourself settle for doing the bare minimum. Push the envelope a little bit at a time. What Jesus calls us to is radical and absolutely challenging — He set the bar pretty high. But with His grace, we can do it.

Don’t hold anything back! If you think, “I’ll do this act of service, but no way am I doing that!”…you should go do that. It’ll never be easy and rarely be convenient, but it will always be rewarding. Give of yourself completely, a total surrender to God and neighbor out of love.

That’s what Jesus asks of us. THAT’S what it means to be a Christian. Take some time to think about that during this Lenten season.

Don’t Be a Lenten “Sourpuss”

Lent Image

When you hear the word “Lent”, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? For most people, it seems to conjure images of darkness and despair and torture — at least, that’s what they seem to think if you look at their expressions and attitudes throughout these 40 days.

Come on, I know you guys have noticed this. Most of us walk around during Lent and we think we have to be kill-joys for the whole season. We think of this season as being one full of sorrow. Lent is the place where happiness, smiles, and laughter come to die.

Or is it?

love life live lent

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke about Christians becoming “sourpusses”. (I’m not making this up. I promise. Chapter 2, paragraph 85.) I would venture to say that we’re often most at risk of becoming “sourpusses” during Lent. Many of us seem to take up this strange pessimism when Lent rolls around and we feel like we’re just supposed to think about our sins for 40 days and we have the mantra “REPENT, SINNER” stuck in our heads on replay. Lent isn’t about being a kill-joy, though…in fact, God isn’t about being a kill-joy either.

The point of Lent isn’t to walk around with this depressed yet pious look on your face for 40 days or to sit around and brood over your sins until you feel like the worst person on the planet. Lent is a time to recognize our faults, yes — but it is above all a time to turn back to God, a time of spiritual transformation. Don’t sit there and work yourself into depression and despair. If you do that, you’re not really preparing yourself for the joyous celebration of Easter.

Take time this Lent to be honest with yourself and realize where you have fallen short of where you need to be. Then recognize that God has forgiven you and desires that you return to Him with your whole heart, and let that joy — the joy of God’s mercy and grace — fill your heart.

Don’t be a Lenten “sourpuss”. God loves you — put a smile on your face.

A Suggestion for Lent

First Sunday of Lent…and I’m sure that some people are already itching to do or have whatever they have vowed to give up for these 40 days. If you’re like I was last year, you may still be trying to figure out just what you can do for this Lent. I have a suggestion for y’all.

When Lent rolls around, there’s all this talk of what to “give up”. Sometimes it’s sodas or Facebook, sometimes it’s smoking or drinking (alcohol…please don’t give up drinking water for Lent). In some cases, these are good ideas — but sometimes, laying off social media for 40 days won’t really make a big difference in your spiritual life. For those of you still struggling to figure out what to do for Lent, think of a problem in your life. Maybe you don’t pray enough, maybe your relationship with your family is strained, maybe you judge others too quickly. Now, with that very real problem in mind, think of what you can do to fix it. Chances are that giving up sodas won’t make your relationship with your siblings or parents any better by the end of Lent, but maybe working towards more open communication would. Not using Facebook might help your prayer life, but so would setting aside a time to be alone with God and working on being kind to other people.

On Ash Wednesday, Fr. James Martin posted the video below on his Facebook page. (By the way, if you want some interesting reading, you should check out his Facebook page and also consider pre-ordering his new book. Just a suggestion.) Fr. Jim suggests that instead of giving up the things we typically give up for Lent, we might think about taking something on instead. He suggests that we challenge ourselves during this Lenten season to be kind.

1) Don’t be a jerk.

In other words, don’t spread your bad mood or frustration around to other people.

2) Honor the absent.

Or simply: Don’t gossip. (Hey, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.)

3) Give others the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t assume that people have the worst possible intentions.

If you’re looking for a way to make this Lent a season that will bring you closer to God, better your spiritual life, and help you to live out the Gospel message, try Fr. Jim’s suggestion — and be kind.

Just When You Think It Couldn’t Get Worse…

I’m pretty sure that this has been the most interesting/irritating/funny day of my entire life. So I thought I’d share this on here, not because my life is utterly fascinating and therefore merits documentation, but because I figured some people might need some comic relief. Plus, I kinda want a record of the goings-on of February 15, 2014.

First though, let me give you some background. I go to college in Pennsylvania. I’m from Arkansas. Anyone who knows anything about the continental United States should be laughing already. For those who don’t know, though, let me just paint a picture for ya. During winter in Arkansas, it usually doesn’t get below 20 degrees, and we mostly get ice storms with the occasional light dusting of snow. In Pennsylvania…a “light dusting” is 4 inches. To say that I’m a little in over my head is an understatement. Basically, this is me everyday:

kid snow

Now, I have a roommate. She’s from Virginia — so neither one of us knows anything about Pennsylvania. We’re like fish outta water around here, seriously. To give you a bit of an idea of just how lost we are in good ol’ PA, we one time went out to dinner and the restaurant was closed because of a water problem. So instead of going back to campus, we decided to keep driving down the highway until we found another place to eat. We ended up in Pittsburgh. Our college is over an hour from Pittsburgh. Yeah.

So, now that you have a little bit of an idea, let me tell you about our adventures today. We woke up this morning to the dreaded sight of snowfall — in fact, it had snowed for most of the night. I have my car here on campus, but I don’t have 4 wheel drive, and I also don’t know how to drive in snow. (A bit of a problem since I live in Pennsylvania now, but hey…whatever.) Anyway, my roommate and I decided that we wanted to get off campus for a while today, and we had the genius idea to call a cab.

Well, it took us about 30 minutes to find a cab company that would actually come to the (very small) town where our college is and pick us up to take us just a little way down the highway to a mall that has a movie theater across the parking lot. Our plan was to get something to eat in the mall’s food court and then go to see a movie. Not a bad idea, right?

Maybe not. But here’s where the fun actually starts. We sat downstairs in our dorm building for 45 minutes to an hour waiting on the cab to arrive. It was confusing…because the cab was almost 20 minutes late and we hadn’t received a phone call with an update on an estimated arrival time. One of the other students came downstairs and said that the cab was waiting on the parking lot that is accessed from the third floor of the building. So up the stairs we went. When we got outside, though, we couldn’t seem to figure out where the cab was…until we realized that the cab was the tan minivan parked in the middle of the driving lane.

We got into the van (sounds a little sketchy, I know) and the driver proceeded to drive in circles around the parking lot until he finally figured out how to get out of it and back onto the road. Meanwhile, this other lady who was in the cab with us kept asking me and my roommate questions. There wouldn’t have been much of a problem with this had the minivan not been slightly more than ancient and, thus, louder than a brass band, making it impossible for us to communicate with each other while sitting six inches away — we could hardly understand what the woman in the front seat was saying. I’m pretty sure she asked us every question under the sun. I realize that some people would call that “being friendly”. I tend to call it “being annoying”, but…to each his own.

To top it off, though, the man driving the cab didn’t seem to understand what a speed limit was and drove at least 15 mph over the speed limit at all times, barely stopping for stop signs and narrowly missing other vehicles. It was actually quite comical…because this is something that would ONLY happen to me and my roommate. We have the worst luck in the world!

Anyway, we made it to the mall. The cab ride, which had taken us probably a grand total of 5 miles (maybe), cost us $20.00. We didn’t expect it to be that much — but hey, at least we got there. And, miraculously, we got there in one piece, although I have the feeling that our safe arrival was more due to the guardian angel prayers that my roommate was surely saying the entire time than it was to any effort on the part of the driver.

We went into the food court and proceeded to buy some pretty nasty food from a seemingly reputable vender. My roommate later got half a sandwich, which apparently had some pretty suspicious looking mustard on it that was more the color of mayonnaise than mustard. I went to get a milkshake from a different place in the food court. Not only did the employee who took my order get into an argument with another employee about how much change she owed me, but she also complained that people always come in at the end of her shift and order milkshakes. So that was awkward and interesting.

Needless to say, my roommate and I were not too keen on the idea of getting back into that cab to go back to school later, so we started texting everyone we could think of on campus, including a couple of the priests who work with Campus Ministry. Why do we have priests’ cell phone numbers, you ask? Hey, we’re Theology majors. You never know when you’ll need to dial-a-confessor. You never know when you’ll be in an (eternal) life or (eternal) death situation.

Unfortunately, the people who answered while we were sitting in the food court were unable to come pick us up. We started walking around the mall, and then my roommate had a great idea — one of the guys she knows from our school works at Hollister in the mall, and there was a good chance he’d be there. So we walked over to Hollister to see if he was working and would be willing to give us a lift back to campus at the end of his shift.

hollister

Now, I don’t know how many of you have been in a Hollister store before. But ya know how most stores are well lit and have some music playing softly in the background? Hollister is really dark (probably because they don’t want you to see the price tags until you get to the register) and it was almost louder than the ancient minivan/cab that we rode in (you almost have to yell to have a conversation in there). Anyway, my roommate and I walked around in there and couldn’t find the guy…and we also couldn’t find the way out. Seriously, that place is this dark maze of connected rooms and it’s the most confusing thing ever. We walked back towards the front of the store and couldn’t figure out where the door was. My roommate turned around and walked off, and I tried to yell to her that I found the exit. She, of course, couldn’t hear me over the din. So I waited outside the store for a minute or two until she came stumbling back out into the light, and we both fell over laughing. I’m pretty sure people were freaked out because I actually sat down on the ground and laughed until tears were streaming down my face. We got into college, but we couldn’t navigate a store.

At this point, we were both running out of people to contact, so I texted one of the people I know who works on campus and waited for a response to see if rescue was possible. I realize that it is probably every other teenage girl’s dream to be stranded at a mall with a debit card, but I wasn’t thrilled at all. We couldn’t seem to get anyone to answer our text messages, so we decided to go ahead and go to the movie like we had planned. We stopped and asked someone which side of the mall we should exit from in order to be closest to the movie theater across the parking lot and, after getting lost in Macy’s (yes, we got lost in yet ANOTHER store looking for an exit), we made it out of the mall. Success!

While walking to the theater, we almost got hit by a few cars because the sidewalk wasn’t cleared — so it was necessary to walk in the driving lane that goes through the parking lot. As we were waiting for the movie to start, my phone died. There went contact with the outside world. We watched the movie, and then had to call the same cab service again to get back to campus.

This time, the driver was only about 20 minutes later than the estimated time we were given. And, as luck would have it, we had the same driver. And the SAME woman was in the front seat, and proceeded to ask us endless questions about the movie we had just seen. It was all rather comical. It was almost like our day had been a huge circle and had just looped back around. Then the cab driver came very close to running a stop sign…I don’t think I’ve ever said a Hail Mary that fast in my life before.

So, we made it back to campus, and I plugged my phone up in our room only to discover that the person I had texted earlier had responded and had been close enough to pick us up at the theater. THEN, to top it all off, my roommate and I walked in the freezing cold to get dinner on campus. On the way there, she broke her fingernail down the middle, I knocked over a box of pencils, and I almost spewed apple sauce out of my nose because I was laughing so hard while eating.

fingernail

All in all…this was definitely a day for the books. It was really irritating at first, but it actually ended up being REALLY funny. As I was preparing this blog post, I read parts of it aloud to my roommate and we both kept cracking up with laughter. This is something that would only happen to us.

So if you feel like your day is a comedy of errors, I hope this blog post brightens your mood. Regardless, I hope it gives a least a few people a good chuckle. People told me that college would bring new experiences…they just left out the part about shady cabs and getting lost in stores. :-)

The Loss of Lament

First: I’ve been having serious writer’s block for the past…month. Not like, “I started a post and couldn’t finish it” writer’s block. More along the lines of “I couldn’t even think of a topic” writer’s block. So if you guys have any questions/topics that you’d like to see a post on, PLEASE comment on here, message me on Facebook, or email me. I’d love to hear your ideas! In fact…I’d like to start getting some guest posts on here. So if you guys have any advice for teenagers about living the faith, or if you have a faith experience you’d like to share, or just something cool you found out about your faith — same drill! Message me, comment, or shoot me an email.

lament

Today (and last semester as well) one of my professors brought up the theologian Walter Brueggemann, who talks about how the lament tradition has been lost in Christianity. This form of prayer was recognized in Israel and was one way that people responded to God’s silence in the face of suffering. Laments can be found throughout Scripture, but there’s a concentration of lament in the Book of Psalms. These psalms are characterized by the accusatory language they use towards God and by their urgent pleas for God’s intervention. An example of this is Psalm 88:

 

LORD, the God of my salvation, I call out by day;

at night I cry aloud in your presence.

Let my prayer come before you;

incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is filled with troubles;

my life draws near to Sheol.

I am reckoned with those who go down to the pit;

I am like a warrior without strength.

My couch is among the dead,

like the slain who lie in the grave.

You remember them no more;

they are cut off from your influence.

You plunge me into the bottom of the pit,

into the darkness of the abyss.

Your wrath lies heavy upon me;

all your waves crash over me.

 

Because of you my acquaintances shun me;

you make me loathsome to them;

Caged in, I cannot escape;

my eyes grow dim from trouble.

All day I call on you, LORD;

I stretch out my hands to you.

Do you work wonders for the dead?

Do the shades arise and praise you?

 

Is your mercy proclaimed in the grave,

your faithfulness among those who have perished?

Are your marvels declared in the darkness,

your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

 

But I cry out to you, LORD;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Why do you reject my soul, LORD,

and hide your face from me?

I have been mortally afflicted since youth;

I have borne your terrors and I am made numb.

Your wrath has swept over me;

your terrors have destroyed me.

All day they surge round like a flood;

from every side they encircle me.

Because of you friend and neighbor shun me;

my only friend is darkness.

THAT’S some pretty strong language there! Or, as we say in Arkansas, “them’s fightin’ words”. I don’t think we’d be very comfortable praying this at Mass…or anywhere else for that matter. The psalmist here accuses God directly, names God as the cause of his suffering. “Because of YOU my acquaintances shun me; YOU make me loathsome to them.” “I have born YOUR terrors and I am made numb. YOUR wrath has swept over me,” the psalmist cries. You can almost picture someone shaking his/her fists at Heaven while writing these words.

That makes us feel a little uneasy, huh? In Christianity, we’ve lost this tradition of lament in so many ways. We often think of suffering as being the result of our sin — it’s something that we deserve. Most of the time, we wouldn’t dare to call God out and demand a reason for our suffering, much less lay the blame at God’s feet.

Laments, though, aren’t expressions of hatred. They’re part of the human experience. Let’s face it — life just isn’t always sunshine and daisies. Sometimes things happen and we just can’t figure out why the weight of the world has suddenly shifted to our shoulders, and we feel crushed by pain we feel and the responsibilities we have in the midst of our suffering. Israel recognized that. I think I love the Book of Psalms so much because it teaches me to bring my entire existence before God. Having a great day and want to sing God’s praises for it? There’s a psalm for that. What about those days when you can’t even stand the idea of getting out of bed? There’s a psalm for that. Or those days when it just couldn’t get much worse and it looks like God’s gone AWOL? Hey, there’s a psalm for that too. We don’t need to pray only when things are going right and we have nice things to say. Pray when you’re angry and frustrated, too! Believe me — God can handle that.

Offering a lament to God means that you trust that God is listening to you and believe that He has the power to intervene and help you in your situation. It’s not an insult! You don’t have to hold any parts of yourself back. If you’re having the worst day of your life up to this point, trust that God has the power to change your situation — and take all of that anger, confusion, and frustration to God in prayer. Let it all out…in a lament.

Blog Awards

Wow…I really haven’t been on here in a while. Well, I can’t really think of much to talk about right now, so I’m going to do some blog award stuff that I should have done a while ago. For those of you who don’t know, there are some traditional blog awards that float around on WordPress. When your blog is nominated for an award by another blogger, you are informed in a comment and are supposed to follow certain guidelines, which include writing a blog post with responses to questions and nominations for other blogs. So, here we go.

Sunshine Award Logo

My blog was nominated for the “Sunshine Award” by 1catholicsalmon and by Biltrix. You guys should really swing by and check out those blogs. There are always great posts on both of them!

And now, here are the rules for this award:

1.  Use the award logo in the post.

2.  Link to whoever nominated you.

3.   Write 10 pieces of information about yourself.

4.   Nominate fellow bloggers who meet the indicated criteria.

5.   Leave a comment on the nominees’ blogs to tell them of the award.

Alright. So…10 pieces of information.

1. I am from Arkansas.

2. I am currently an undergraduate student studying Theology. After this, I plan to go on to graduate school to obtain my PhD in Theology with a focus in Biblical Studies. I’m thinking that I want my specialty to be in the Four Gospels because I am specifically interested in how the audiences to which the Gospel accounts were addressed affected the way the accounts were arranged and the images and language used to describe Jesus.

3. You can see from my blog (and the second fact about myself above) that I’m a bit of a Theology nerd. While I enjoy learning about many different facets of Theology — Church history, doctrine, the papacy, etc. — I really love studying Scripture. I mean, if you’re teaching a class on the Trinity, I might sign up. If you’re teaching a class on Biblical Theology, I’m sitting in the front row.

4. I’m an introvert, which means (among other things) that I tend to be rather socially awkward. I’m that person in class who groans when the professor breaks us up into small groups. That means I have to SOCIALIZE, and I usually don’t appreciate it.

5. I have a work study with Campus Ministry on my college campus. I’m a sacristan for one of the daily Masses, and I can honestly say that it’s probably one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. I’m totally paranoid that one day I won’t put enough hosts out for the priest to consecrate, so he’ll run short during communion and there will be a super awkward moment where the priest just looks at me like, “Seriously? You can’t count?”.

6. Reading is a hobby of mine. I was traumatized when I had to leave some of my books behind at home when I moved to college.

7. This is gonna sound really weird, but I recently discovered that I really like formatting footnote citations for academic papers. I had to do it for a paper that I was writing for an undergraduate conference over Winter Break, and I actually enjoyed it…and I’m not even an English major.

8. I recently wrote a paper for an undergraduate conference where I researched the influence of Liberation Theology on Pope Francis’ papacy. It was really interesting. (Not my paper — the research itself.)

9. I’m running out of things to say here. Um…I like Mass? Mass is good.

10. Ooh! Country music. Country music is my favorite.

Basically, blogs are nominated for this award because they contribute some “sunshine” to the blogging world. These are bloggers who positively and creatively inspire other bloggers. I’ll be perfectly honest here — I don’t really have much time to read posts from many of my fellow bloggers (which is definitely my loss…because folks write some really awesome stuff around here). Come on. I know at least some of you made a New Year’s resolution that said something like, “I will read more.” I’m just helpin’ ya out!

That being said, I have a few nominations for this award. Here they are:

1. Just Shine On

2. Thoughts from a Catholic

3. The Light is White

4. Patrick Vandapool

You can’t go wrong reading any of those blogs. Check ‘em out!

Thanks again to Biltrix and 1catholicsalmon for this award. Swing by those two blogs as well — you won’t regret it.

God bless!

Maybe We Shouldn’t Be Angry.

Earlier today, a friend of mine and I were chatting on Facebook and she sent me a link to a picture on a Facebook group page. The picture was one of Pope Francis with a quote from him about economic justice. Here’s the picture:

Pope Francis money

I looked at the picture and then started reading the comments below it. “Unfavorable” and “critical” would be two nice words to describe their content. It reminded me of different sites I’ve been on before where Catholics and non-Catholics (some of whom are hostile towards the Church) just go at it — sometimes it looks like a contest with the grand prize going to the one who most lacks in charity. Sometimes the Catholics win.

I remember that comments like the ones I saw on that picture on Facebook used to really make me angry. People would make remarks about how the Catholic Church is hypocritical, how we ought to focus more on the poor instead of worrying about all of the money we have tied up in the Vatican, how we need to keep an eye on the clergy and hand priests over to the proper authorities when they abuse children instead of covering the whole scandal up. I didn’t think any of it was true, and I thought the people who said things like that just had an axe to grind with Catholicism. I used to get so mad at those people! I might have won a few of those “lacking in charity” competitions myself, a fact which I can’t say I’m proud of.

But you know what? All of that anger that you feel towards people who say things against the Church, all of that frustration…it gets you nowhere. Today, when I was reading those comments, I realized something: maybe remarks like that shouldn’t make us angry at all. Maybe we shouldn’t simply dismiss the people who write them as “anti-Catholics”. Maybe comments like the ones I read can actually help us, as a Church, to be better.

Now, I’m not saying that every critical remark is going to be constructive or even accurate. I’ve seen more than enough comments where people twist facts to suit their agendas and other comments where people simply don’t know what they’re talking about — so no, I’m not saying that every single critical comment points to a real problem that needs to be addressed. What I am saying, though, is that these remarks tell us what people are thinking about Catholicism. They tell us what kind of image we’re putting out there, how we’re being perceived by people — and they just might also show us where we’re falling short and need to do better. For example, you might read a comment that sounds like the author has absolutely no idea what the Church teaches about homosexuality because the person seems to have the idea that the Catholic Church hates homosexuals. Maybe the problem here isn’t that this person hasn’t read the Catechism paragraphs that you diligently quote for him, but rather that this person has seen Catholics make rude and offensive comments against homosexuals. In that case, we learn that we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it, lest we give people the wrong impression about the Catholic Church as a whole. It is not something that we should get all worked up and angry about — it’s a learning experience for us, and a chance for us to show the love and patience of Christ to another human being.

I’ve seen Catholics sit around sometimes and complain about people being “anti-Catholic” and saying rude things about the Church, critical things about how the Church is run and the things that we do. BUT WE COULD CHANGE THAT. We could be better.

You can’t sit around and complain about people calling the Catholic Church hypocritical when YOU cheat your employees out of their wages, or when YOU pass by the homeless person on the street without a thought, or when YOU judge other people harshly without truly seeking to understand their situations and help them. I’m not afraid of what people say about the Church. What we should be afraid of is that they may be right. That’s we have to worry about! People may say that the Church covers up priests who abuse children, that clergy members and laity alike care more about their money than the poor they are supposed to be caring for, and other things as well. Is it true? Instead of getting angry or sticking our fingers in our ears, we should listen and evaluate what the other person is saying. If what they say is true and is a real problem within the Church, then we ought to address it and be grateful that someone brought it up.

You guys, WE ARE THE CHURCH. If someone is complaining about the Catholic Church being hypocritical, realize that the solution to the problem isn’t yelling back at that other person rudely or writing a letter to the Vatican. The solution starts with YOU in your own life, in the way you live every single day. I’m not worried about today when people criticize us — at least that means that they have a high standard for the Church. They’re calling us out for not following what Christ taught, and I’m grateful for that. No, I’m worried about the day when people say nothing about the Catholic Church because they no longer expect anything good from us. THAT’S the day I fear.

When you guys see rude comments about the Church, I beg you to take a deep breath. Don’t answer with hatred or anger. Pray for the person who said it, that they might find peace. Then pray for the Church, that she might address the problem that the person has brought up (if, indeed, it is a problem). Lastly, pray for yourself, that you might have the strength to go out and be what Christ has called you to be. If we all go out and truly live our faith, the Church will be much better for it. The poor will know that we stand with them and love them, those who need hope will have it when they see our example, and the world will see the face of Christ in us.

 “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”

-Saint Catherine of Siena

Christmas Lessons

Holy Family

Merry Christmas!

We’re still in the Christmas season (and will be for a few more weeks). Instead of rushing through the season, let’s take time during these weeks to really reflect on the gift that God has given us — His only Son. I think that we often don’t realize how profound (if you can think of a better word, let me know…I’m at a loss) this is. God became one of us! The humility that Jesus shows us by becoming Man is absolutely beautiful. Not only does He, the Creator, pitch His tent among us and dwell with us as a human being, but He comes to us as a baby. Christ came not as some all-powerful king, but as a helpless infant, dependent upon His creatures for care and comfort. Our Lord humbly gives us the gift of Himself.

Mary and Joseph show us how to accept this gift: with patience, with love, and with gratitude. They welcome the Christ Child into their home and into their hearts with trust and faith. They care tenderly for the Child entrusted to their care.

There are so many things for us to learn here: the humility of Christ, the faith and love of Mary and Joseph,  and the ability to love and care for those who need our help are only a few lessons that we can learn from the story of Christ’s birth. So in the days we have left of this blessed Christmas season, let’s reflect on these things and ask God to help us live with the humility of Christ and the love of Joseph and Mary in our everyday lives.

Merry Christmas!

I don’t know if y’all have been watching the news these past few weeks, but more than a couple of horrible things have happened. Persecutions in other countries, school shootings here in the United States, fatal car crashes, tornadoes…you name it, it’s happening. Sometimes, the world can seem so dark! These terrible things happen, and we look everywhere — anywhere — for some shred of good news, some kind of light in the darkness.

Maybe that’s why I love this icon so much.

Nativity Icon

In the darkness that our world is often shrouded in, the light of Jesus Christ shines forth, illuminating our lives and giving us hope. This is why Christ is given the title “Emmanuel”. He is truly “God with us” in the midst of our busy and crazy lives, in the midst of the suffering that we go through. He is God incarnate, the One who came down from Heaven and became like us in all things but sin so that He could bring the light of His divine love into our world that so desperately needs His light.

Christmas is the time of year that we give gifts to other people. God gave the gift of His Son to humanity, the greatest gift that we could ever receive. So what, then, can we give God in return on this day when we especially remember this divine gift?

Nothing less than the gift of yourself will suffice.

Gift Wrapped Person

“But wait just a second!” you might say. “I’m not good enough! There must be something else — something BETTER — that I can give to God.”

I read a very interesting blog post the other day, and I’d like to share a little bit of it with you. In this post, the author wrote this:

“Finally, when we look into our hearts, we know we are imperfect. Yet it was in an imperfect place that The Lord was born. When we see the manger, let’s remember that we are very much like that, and the Lord wants to be born in us.”

YOUR soul is the manger. Too often, though, our souls are like the inns in Bethlehem. We’re too busy and worried about other things. Who has time and space for God?! I’m guilty of this. I rush around doing a million things at once, but I can’t even take five seconds to simply be quiet with my Creator, to silently praise and thank Him in my heart.

But you know what? Even though I fill my days with a bunch of activities, I find that at the end of a day without taking time for God, my life feels horribly empty. I don’t want to be like the inns! I want my heart and soul to be like the manger, welcoming my Lord and giving Him a place to rest, a place to be loved and praised. Let’s all try to do that on this Christmas day. Just take ten minutes (or longer) and be silent. Welcome Christ into your heart, into your soul, and take some time to just be silent and thank Him for the gift of Himself. There is nothing you could receive that could even come close to the gift that God gave the world on that first Christmas.

May you all have a Merry and Blessed Christmas!

 

God is NOT a Divine Vending Machine

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Prayer is an essential part of our relationship with God. Every relationship requires communication, after all, and prayer is the way in which we communicate our praise, thanksgivings, and troubles to God. Prayer helps us to discern God’s will for our lives, and it strengthens us to do what God wants from us.

Sometimes, though, we really miss the point of prayer.

It’s not “insert prayer, receive request”. God isn’t a Divine Vending Machine, y’all. We have this idea, for some reason, that what we pray for is just going to drop out of the sky, all wrapped up with a nice pretty bow on top of it. That just isn’t how it works! Know why?

Sometimes, we really miss the place of prayer.

Yes, God always hears us and He does answer our prayers. But sometimes His answer is, “Get your butt out of this pew and go DO SOMETHING.” God uses YOU to answer prayers.

You want peace in the world? Go work for it. You want world hunger to end? Get out there and feed the hungry. You want the homeless to have a place to go? Help them find a shelter, open one, or open your own doors to them. If you want to end abortion, then reach out to the woman who is in need of your love and compassion.

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” 

-James 2:15-17

WE are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the world. God acts through me and you — WE are the way He alleviates suffering, comforts the afflicted, and changes the world. YOU just might be the answer to someone’s unanswered prayer.

Pray without ceasing for the strength to do what God is calling you to do! But then don’t forget to go out and do it.

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