Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drawing Number 2!

I will be drawing from those of you who post comments for a Graeter's gift card.  The drawing will happen on Sunday.  Here's what you need to comment on:

-What has been the funniest thing that has happened to you (or that you've witnessed) this Christmas break?

Become a follower and post your comments below.  If you're already a follower, you just need to sign in and then post away!  One submission per person.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oh Holy Night

Last week I had a conversation with a good friend of mine from college.  He drew my attention to the line, "Long lay the world in sin and error pining / Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth."

Long have we lay in sin, pining, grasping for something more.  Longing for happiness.  The next line says it all.  Christ appears and each individual soul finds its worth.  We find all that we had longed for.

Check out the song and lyrics below.  The words and music have a vertical effect on the soul, but we must allow ourselves to be struck by them.

O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night
Of the dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
Till He appeared
And the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night oh night divine

Led by the light
Of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts
By His cradle we stand
So led by light
Of a star sweetly gleaming
Here came the wise men
From orient land
The King of kings
Lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials
Born to be our Friend
He knows our need
To our weakness is no stranger
Behold your King
Before Him lowly bend
Behold your King
Before Him lowly bend

Truly He taught us
To love one another
His law is love
And His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break
For the slave is our brother
And in His name
All oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy
In grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us
Praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord
O praise His name forever
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim
O holy night

CCLI Song No. 4321921
© 2004 Van Ness Press, Inc. (Admin. by LifeWay Christian Resources)
Adolphe Charles Adam | Dennis Allen | John Sullivan Dwight
For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use.  All rights Reserved.
CCLI License No. 800199

Friday, December 24, 2010

Warm wishes this Christmas...

Warm wishes.  Friendship.  Kindness.  Happiness.  Family.  Giving. 

For many who combat the materialism of Christmas, these words have become the "reason for the season."  Fr. Anthony Giambrone, O.P. spoke on this topic during his homily yesterday.   He brought up a point that I'd been pondering about the materialization of Christmas and the counter movement to make Christmas a time of friends, family, warm wishes and cheer.  Fr. Anthony brought up Dickens' The Christmas Carol as an example of this.  

 It was no coincidence that when I got into my car later in the afternoon, the first voice I heard on the radio was an anchor saying something like, "Peace, joy, happiness and family.  These are the true reasons for Christmas."  I chuckled to myself. 

Now, I don't want to take anything way from all of these good things.  Material gifts are often great.  Family and friends are excellent.  Warm wishes are cozy.  Peace and kindness are things we all desire.

But sentiments can cloud our vision.

There is something deeply personal about the Incarnation, and this intimate moment when God becomes man should teach us something deep about our humanity. 

At Christmas we remember - we live the memory - the fact that God became man.  We not only call to mind the birth of a tiny little king, but the whole of His life, and the fact that by dying and rising from the dead, He can be encountered now as He was then by shepherds and Magi.  Christ teaches us what it means to be human.  He does this by teaching us:  how to call God "Father," how to pray, that freedom lies in pursuing the greatest good, what sacrifice means, and that we find ourselves by giving ourselves in the purest form of charity. 

The more this encounter with the Word made Flesh becomes a real event, a real experience, the deeper our conversion will be.

Let us not, in the midst of presents, generosity, friends and family, forget this intimate invitation of the Mystery with our hearts.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.   Ezekiel 36:26

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shock and Awe

Christmas is almost here.

This frustrates me.  And not because I don't like Christmas.

I, once again, failed to enter into the Advent in the way I wanted to.  Not sure if you find yourself in a situation like mine, but two days of Advent is still two days of Advent.  This means there is still time to recall the deepest feeling of anticipation you've ever had and try to apply that feeling to what it means that God took on flesh to save your life.

There is still time to ponder what it means that God loves you and me so deeply that he crashes into our humanity, taking it on fully, in order to teach us what He wants most:  For us to simply be with Him.

May we each be surprised once again, surprised at the announcement of the Incarnation as the shepherds were, this coming Saturday.  And may we, in a spirit of surprise, wonder and awe, make haste to the inner recesses of our hearts to encounter the living God. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Treat

Summer sausage is a Christmas staple, just like turkey fitting tightly with Thanksgiving.  Summer sausage is more impressive than turkey, though, as it is not refrigerated and can be purchased on an end rack at virtually any store.
Wikipedia tells me this is an air-dried, salt-preserved roll of animal organs...namely organs from cows, pigs and even deer.  This is the sort of stuff that goes to waste, unless it finds its way into dog food or slimes together with other animal organs and lots of salt to produce the Christmas delicacy we know and love.  

But that sounds sick. 
Fortunately, I have determined its origin, one that is contrary to the all encompassing knowledge of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, knowing the origin doesn't make you feel any better about eating it. 
I was amazed to find on the buffet table - a table covered with various entree, vegetable, fruit and dessert casseroles (yes, everything was in casserole and constructed with lots of cream-ofs) - not just a couple varieties of summer sausage, but four different types.  Each neatly cut and lying next to cheese and crackers.
Impelled by the goodness, I tried all of them and eventually fell into a salty stupor. 

In this state of unconsciousness, I had a vision, true insight into the origin of the meat. 

Surrounded by my four uncles (the four responsible for the variety of summer sausages on the table, the four who will save up vacation days for hunting season, the four who construct full-size buildings out of a few pieces of scrap wood, the four who can kill an animal, skin it in their kitchen sinks and fry it up in less than an hour - I'm sure you know those types of people), I found myself in the middle of a snow-laden woods.

We were on all fours, eyes focused on the ground in front of us, laying in wait.  Just ahead of us, the leafy bed of the forest floor began to be displaced by a slight tremble and roll.  It was a sausage coming to the surface in search of grubs. 

Whack-a-mole instantly became valuable. 

As the meat's mysterious path turned toward us, Uncle Duane sprung forward and, with the only weapon he had, drove the heal of his boot deep into the moving earth.  

He stunned the summer sausage.

Eagerly anticipating the feast, we surrounded the divot and tore at the ground with our hands, unearthing the creature and sticking it in a brown bag (if you've ever purchased summer sausage from a local shop, you know they always put it in an unmarked, brown bag).

A deep satisfaction was coming over me, when suddenly, I came to.

Back at the Christmas party, I looked over at the counter - just beyond the casserole table - lined with four brown bags.


...something felt as if it were still alive inside of me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Extermination Justification

Hole-in-the-wall.  Mom and Pop.  Greasy Spoon.  DINER (in neon lights). 

These places keep America running smooth, and I love them.  Everywhere I go, I find them and I judge them based upon their home fries.  Greasier is better.  Salty is stellar. 

I've been frequenting a local diner (by the way, real diners are only open for breakfast and lunch) for about six months now.  A real gem in the rough. 

The entryway is a bit dark due to the old wood-paneled walls.  Sometimes I'm not sure if it's open, but the blinking Lottery sign in the window assures my appetite that it will be satisfied.  On cold mornings, the inner portion of the window will be covered with condensation from the eggs, bacon and sausage that are cooking over open fire. 

Beautiful imagery, really. 

This place is legit.  Here's why:
  • The home fries are amazing.
  • The owner has run shop for 37 years and has not aged. 
  • There used to be a beautiful mural of a beach scene (they've since brightened up the place by painting the walls white). 
  • You can order a burger at any time of day.  So far I've had burgers at 6:55am and 9:30am.  
    • I learned about legit diners from my dad who eats a cheeseburger with his Coke every Tuesday around 9am.  
  • The nice waitress often fills my water glass with a Styrofoam cup.  Don't know where it's from or who used it last.  This is family-style service.
  • My order has been memorized.  
  • They openly exterminate pests.
I will elaborate upon my final bullet point.

Several months ago, I was enjoying a breakfast sandwich at my diner.  It was nine in the morning.  I looked up from my treat and spotted a man walking around the perimeter of the room.  Canister in hand.  He was spraying the floor where it met the wall. 

My verbatim stream of consciousness:  "That is the exterminator.  He is spraying for bugs.  I am eating my sandwich just a few feet away from his poisonous spray.  This can't be legal.  I love it.  I love this place." 

Still, I thought it was a dream.  I must have slipped into a grease-induced coma.  It didn't help that he vanished into the kitchen and I never saw him again.  
One may recall Upton Sinclair's The Jungle at a time like this, or maybe even the FDA.  Proper "code" would be for extermination of pests to happen after the restaurant closes and within a certain number of hours before it opens.  Proper concealment of the act of extermination that hints at the high probability of bugs/germs in all restaurants makes everyone feel nice and ignorant (though I will not deny the immanent threat to my health here).  

I like transparency. 

Last Friday, 6:50am, he showed up again.  He was no illusion.  I watched him spray down the dining room, then the kitchen, only to set down his venom and pull up a bar stool for all the fixins'.  

"This really is the diner of my dreams," I thought to myself as I walked over and asked him to spray some beetle juice on my sandwich before I partook in its goodness. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Retreat Video 2010

Here's a look back at In Reverse!  And if you ever wondered what a retreat might be like, here's your answer.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Battle of Willpower

We have a tremendous amount of talent on display.  Kate takes on the teens in a harsh round of Ninja.  Her tactics are unusual, but effective.  Her patience extraordinary.  Her fear, unimaginable.

Notice Jackie's attempted swipe at the face, and Kate's icy flinch.

As the round progressed, Kate's moves became, well, more progressive.

Behold, the gift of courage.

Unfortunately for Kate, the bold move she made - which if you pay careful attention, did not even come close to the hand of her dreaded opponent - eventually led to an even bolder, resulting in the loss the game, and of her hand (too gruesome to show here).

Yet focusing on the loss, here, ignores the evolution of a fighter in front of our eyes.  What courage!  What willpower!

I am told that Kate's hand has regenerated. 

Monday, December 6, 2010


Christmas tree is up.  Ours is not the biggest and definitely not even close to being the brightest.  It's about 4 feet tall and sits on a table (baby-proof).  We only had one strand of lights, so it's a bit dim.

But, to Therese, our one-year-old, it is new, and therefore, it is awesome.  When I carried her into the living room on Sunday morning and set her on the floor, she proceeded to say "wow" nonstop for over 30 seconds.  That might not sound like much time, okay, you try it then.  Set the stop watch on your cell and say "wow" nonstop for 30.

It's a lot of wow-action.

Here's a clip that captures the cuteness factor. 

Upon further reflection, her apparent amazement struck me.  This is wonder - to be filled with amazement and awe.


The simple little dim Christmas tree filled her with wonder.  What a lesson for me and for you during this Advent season.  We are called to actively prepare for the biggest "WOW" the world has ever proclaimed:  The Incarnation.  The Creator of the universe became one of us.  We relive that memory, and are called to live the memory of this extraordinary event always, that in living it, we might stand filled with wonder at its unspeakable mystery.

This pic is filled with wonder.  I like the guy on the right, who is clearly thinking, "Mary, get out of the way.  I want to see this child."  The guy in the nice light blue outfit (front, left) is pointing and saying to his friends, "Check this out...I can't believe what I'm seeing!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Season of Hope

"Hope has to rest on a fact that is present...It is Christ, Christ our hope - that is, present...This is the fact that allows us to face everything" (Msgr. Luigi Giussani). 

Advent is a season of hope. 

Sometimes I have a difficult time with the concept of hope, just like I have a difficult time with the idea of having dreams (as in aspirations...not visions of sugar-plums in the middle of the night...or of turkish delight). 

I've always been told to dream big, so I did.  But big dreams based on zero reality, typically don't go very far.  At least they haven't in my life.  But aspirations that I've built on facts have, probably because they are reasonable.  I think I'm starting to look at hope this way as well.

Every Advent, there is a focus on the second coming of Christ, which serves as a gentle reminder that we're going to die some day.  The world is finite.  We are finite.  And so on.  I used to hope big any time I thought about these "end times."  "Gosh, I hope that I attain salvation."  Throwing words out there as if it would end up being a thing of chance.  But that seems crazy now - now.

Emphasis on the word "now."

The problem with my original stance (hoping big), was that it was not based on a fact that is present now.  This is not unlike a big dream that is based on unreasonable, abstract aspirations.  The original stance forgot the first coming, which is Emmanuel - God with us.  God is with us now.  The fact of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection (which makes the fact present now), ought to give me great hope for my life right now and for my salvation.  It isn't a blind hope or some far-fetched dream.

The Psalmist drills this point home as he says, "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope" (Ps. 130:4-5).

Because of the ways the Lord has made himself present to us, through our encounters with Him in the Eucharist, in each other, in the Church, through the forgiveness we have experienced in Confession, we have been given great reason to hope.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hungry? Grab a Loaf

I checked out today's Gospel this morning.  It is one we've all heard before:

At that time:
Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee,
went up on the mountain, and sat down there.
Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.
Jesus summoned his disciples and said,
“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,
for they have been with me now for three days
and have nothing to eat.
I do not want to send them away hungry,
for fear they may collapse on the way.”
The disciples said to him,
“Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place
to satisfy such a crowd?”
Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,
gave thanks, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.  (Mt. 15: 29-37)

Did you notice how long the crowd was with Him?

Three days!

Three days they sat at his feet.  Surely they ran out of food, were tired, thirsty, and apparently, not bored.  And, what does He do for those who are faithful, who stick it out with Him? 

He provides in abundance. 

This whole idea of "three days" calls me on to a greater focus this Advent season.  Is my focus on Christ, the one who will fulfill my hunger, and satisfy my thirst?  Or, am I trying to satisfy these needs myself?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent is Here.

We will get some Advent-y thoughts up for all of you soon (hopefully tomorrow).

In the mean-time, check out this video clip to get you in a meditative mood.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Going back home is not a reality for most of my readers. Most of you still live at home and won't be leaving for a year or more.

I have been away from home for six and a half years (aside from a few summer breaks and other short trips).

Believe me, it sounds much longer than it feels.

This past weekend, we loaded up the car for some time in Tiffin with my family. Tiffin is a small town surrounded by fields and other smaller towns (some without a traffic light, most with one). We're talking, rural and very small town (people around here are always talking about how Cincinnati isn't really that big...perspectives are so different).

In my town you will find two Catholic churches and one Catholic High School. The kids from the parish schools feed directly into the High School. This means that for my entire childhood, High School was the pinnacle of existence. It dominated all conversation. "Did you know he was dating her?" "How 'bout them Senecas!" "Basketball team will go a long way this year."

High School dominated almost every Mass at my home parish I attended before High School and while I was in it.

Your proper response here is, "What?!"

In grade school and junior high, I blatantly remember thinking, as I looked around at all of the High School kids at Mass, that High Schoolers have it all. They have status...and by status, I think I meant: a girlfriend, a car, popularity, and a varsity letter jacket. In my little mind, that was everything you could ever want. And, when I got to High School myself, that is what I pursued. And did a good job of it. I became the idol for the younger kids, for the town, etc.

Now, only six and a half years later, this past Sunday, I was standing in Mass looking around (not unlike I did growing up).

Everyone looked incredibly old. That was my first thought. My second thought was, do I look that old after 6.5 years?

The third thought was what started to get me.

I realized midway through Mass that I spent all of my childhood aspiring to a certain status, and all of my High School time living the status...which was greatly affirmed by the praise I received from so many sitting in the pews nearby. I did this because I wanted to be unforgettable. What a genuine desire, right? I can't think of a single person that I know who says, "Man, I just want to be forgotten." No, that is unnatural. All of us want to be loved, affirmed and remembered. We want to be unforgettable.

But the world forgets. Those people who admired my status just 6.5 years ago have forgotten me, to the point that they may not even recognize me, and certainly have forgotten me to the point that I am no longer worth approaching after Mass.

I mean, how disheartening is that. I recognized in the course of just one Mass that I had spent the first 18 years of my existence pursuing a status that would make me unforgettable, just to realize harshly that I had been forgotten, replaced. (Recall here the great fear surrounding the toys in the Toy Story series).

But, grace abounds all the more. As I walked up to receive the Eucharist, weighed down by these thoughts, I understood something deeper than ever before.

"But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel: Fear not for I have called you by name: you are mine. Fear not, for I am with you" (Is. 43: 1, 5).

I am unforgotten by only One. This desire that seems to be such a part of my nature, this desire to be unforgettable, this desire that led me to attain a certain worldly status that would "stand forever," cannot be satisfied but in the One who created me. The one who calls me by name, who formed me and knows me.

I am but a blip, yes in the scope of the history of the universe (as we learned in the video presentation on Sunday), but even in the history of my tiny hometown. Present then gone.

But not on the screen of the Father. I hope we can all begin to realize what this means and how it changes the way we perceive ourselves.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The biggest complaint from retreat was that adoration was not long enough. And, there was a lot of positive feedback about adoration and the silent time.

These are all great things.

Adoration was probably about 15 minutes shorter than I intended...and I'll take the blame for that, because I wasn't able to communicate with Father before or during adoration.

Nonetheless, I still think it's good to leave adoration hungry for more. This corresponds directly to our desire to be satisfied and that God always has more for us, should our hunger propel us to seek Him.

This is exactly how we should feel leaving retreat as a whole. God came through big time on retreat; He filled you. But He doesn't want to stop just because you left the retreat site. So, are you hungry enough for more that you will seek Him? silence? Mass? adoration?...during your day?

The gaze of the Father does not stop; we stop looking. This is the work that must be done. We must keep looking at the presence of God before us, just as we looked at Him on retreat. Because He does not stop.

This quote from Fr. Julian Carron stands out to me: "When have I been more myself? You can
examine everything, scan your life; if you have a second of honesty, ask yourselves when you have been more yourselves: when you took care of your own business or when that unmistakable gaze introduced itself?"

What happened this weekend was the unmistakable, and very real, gaze of the Father upon His children. So keep asking yourself that question...when have I been more myself? How can I become more myself?

Monday, November 15, 2010

esreveR nI

Sound off about Fall Retreat....what was your favorite part of the weekend? Why?

Friday, November 12, 2010


Here is a reflection from Sebastian...I've missed the past two Fr. Keller talks, maybe he was way off topic. Maybe Sebastian is off topic. Either way...good reflection. Check it out:

Quite honestly, I think the biggest struggle of being a teen today is just that: we are teenagers. And so, we are viewed as teenagers. We have become our own group, different from adulthood or childhood, and so we are often treated that way. In society, teenagers are given their own stereotypes as being rebellious and troublesome, and so by hearing these stereotypes, we almost come to believe them ourselves. The only reason people still hold these stereotypes is because we, as teens, hold them ourselves, and in many ways fulfill them, if only because they are there for the sole purpose for us to fulfill. If we grow up hearing that we will be a specific kind of person, we will eventually expect to become that kind of person, like a form of self-prophecy. Having this “teenage culture” is honestly a very difficult challenge because things are expected of us and we are considered social outcasts if we do not fulfill these expectations.

With this category of “teen” already set out for us, others who are outside the realm of “teen” tend to treat all those within the realm of “teen” a certain way. We are not children, so we are expected to have a certain level of knowledge and responsibility, but we are not quite adults, and so we are not expected to be able to know or do many things that an adult can do. And in many ways, this is true; we are not ready to be adults. But that does not mean we can’t start trying. The very word “adolescent” comes from the Latin verb “adolescere” meaning, “to grow up.” But we cannot grow if we are not pushed. We may not like being pushed, and sometimes we might push back, but that is how we, as teenagers and as humans, grow.

Another thing to consider is that the very idea of “teen” didn’t exist until quite recently. The Wikipedia article on “adolescence” (an article that I find to be quite insulting and derogatory and I should hope many other teens do as well) states that G. Stanley Hall, a turn-of-the-century psychologist, is credited with his “discovery” of “The Adolescent.” In 1904. So, for the better part of history minus the past 100 years, teenagers didn’t even exist. There was no stage between child and adult. However, Hall’s “Adolescent” was misinterpreted to be a kind of “transition stage” between childhood and adulthood. In fact, Hall’s “Adolescent” was just a term applied to children who commonly rebellious and emotional, which thus led to moodiness, and eventually high risk-taking behavior. He used the term “Adolescent” because he saw that many children who were close to adulthood displayed these behaviors as they grew. So, I don’t know about the rest of teenage society, but I am not really cool with this. It’s actually quite derogatory. We, as American teenagers, are classified by a once derogatory term, and not only do we embrace it, but we allow adults to embrace it by treating us as inferiors.

Now, that was a bit of a tangent, but I had to get that out. I am not, however, going to rebel against adult supervision. Unfortunately for we American teens, we have actually earned ourselves this status. Generations of previous American teens have brought us to where we are today, and psychologically, I do not think we are ready to break away. And perhaps the idea of a “teen” is not a bad one at all; a transition stage between childhood and adulthood has always been present in human history, but not until recently has it been treated as its own stage. So, as consequence of our own human actions, we must accept that we may have fallen off track a little bit by creating this idea of “teen.” Yet, the greatest danger we can fall into is embracing “teen” and furthering this deterioration of humanity by self-fulfilling the stereotypes of “teen.”

So, I guess what I’m really just trying to say is this: for people who work with teens, I suggest trying to treat them less as the stereotypical “teen” and more as adults. A person cannot grow if some one is telling them not to. Dumbing down subjects and trying to make everything “fun” and “teenish” is only making it worse. Instead of presenting a challenge to teens and trying to encourage them to grow, it’s just telling teens, “It’s okay to be rebellious and we embrace you as such and you can do what is fun and easy and we’ll take care of everything else.” If any one good thing has come from the development of “teen,” it’s that the “teen,” by nature, is constantly looking for adventure and a challenge. We’re done with mediocrity and simplicity and everything easy. We want something deep and challenging, yes, even things that require some work and effort. Your average teen goes through some form of emotional heartbreak or injury due to an important relationship at least once throughout high school. And it’s no fun at all, we can all agree on that. But we learn from it. As humans, we are designed to learn from our mistakes. It’s like that line in Batman Begins: “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

If adults keep picking us up for ourselves, we’ll never learn to do it ourselves. If adults keep treating us as intellectually inferior, that’s what we’ll be. The very definition of “teen” is to be growing up, and as such, our minds and emotions are very vulnerable and easily molded by outside influence, even if we don’t like to admit that publicly. Yet the power to mold a mind should not be taken lightly; it is an important role for an adult working with teens and one that should not be taken for granted.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Pope in England

Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple - true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only He can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.

Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but He invites us to respond to that love. You all know what it is like when you meet someone interesting and attractive, and you want to be that person's friend. You always hope they will find you interesting and attractive, and want to be your friend. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change.

Address of Benedict XVI to pupils, London Borough of Richmond, Sept. 17, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Some Discussion

After last night's meeting, I recalled a question that is for the adult small group leaders at Credo. On their application the question goes something like "What do you think are the greatest struggles teenagers face today?"

I'd like to ask that question to the teens. What are the greatest struggles you face today? What are the greatest challenges you face in trying to live out your faith?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Romance Without Regret

I attended the Jason Evert event last night at The Underground. The place was packed. I'd say we had about 25 teens present. Pretty powerful witness and talk. Ask around and find out who went, maybe they have some insight they'd like to share.

You can check out Jason's website by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Way Hardcore

Typically, there are simultaneous do-it-yourself projects happening at my house. These projects are both exciting and stressful for obvious reasons.

Often, I find that I'm a little apprehensive about starting a project, because it will turn out to be much more work than I intended. When you start tearing into something, the problem is usually way hardcore...

Really, though, it is. I'm sure many of you have experienced this with any given project...a research paper you're initially stoked about, then you realize there aren't any primary sources for your topic, or you want to learn how to play piano and get frustrated when you don't pick it up in 10 minutes.

Sometimes the do-it-yourself projects turn out to be way hardcore.

More than we bargained for (I couldn't resist the rhyme).

So, typically in those situations, I seek help. And, I think this provides some insight into the spiritual life. See, we're all broken people. Sin breaks us. The sins of others break us. Most of us realize that there's a problem and we take it upon ourselves to shoulder the burden. I become Mr. Fix-it for my spiritual brokenness.

But the brokenness is too hardcore. Literally, it has made my core (my heart) hard...impenetrable...thick-sculled!

If when I begin a project in the material world that is far over my head and I seek an expert out, why do I not do the same thing in the spiritual life?

This is where the Resurrection of Christ comes in. See, most all of us spend a majority of time in the get the point. Christ has been there. He experienced it, but He didn't stay there. And He doesn't want you to either.

The Resurrection of Christ is an invitation for each of us to allow Him into our broken lives and make them whole. He wants God's life (grace) within us that we might be made whole, that we might have life.

The Resurrection of Christ demolishes our hardness of heart (our hard core), but only if we allow it. Meaning, only if we surrender our feelings of being overwhelmed at our hurt and the fear that healing might be painful.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fall Retreat Teaser #1

Mark your calendar and get your permission slip in! Only 40 spots total for fall retreat this year, In Reverse! Nov 12-14! Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Remember Thy Death

The title of this post sounds a bit frightening, sorry.

In addition to Halloween calling to mind the necessity to live genuinely in all areas of life (see previous post), these days from Oct. 31-Nov. 2 remind us of our death (remember that you are dust...), not to be depressing, but hopeful.

The Carthusian monks, who remained in silence nearly the entire year, used to greet each other by saying, "Frater momento mori," which is Latin for, "Brother, remember thy death." I was going to type up a reflection on this, but I stumbled across one by a priest in St. Paul who studied at the same Carthusian Monastery I did in college. His name is Fr. James Adams and here is his excerpt:


"As a student in college, I was blessed to study at the Austrian campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville. This European setting is in a 14th Century Carthusian monastery nestled in the foothills of the Austrian Alps. Upon arrival, our director of the program there guided us through the place and explained as we entered to second courtyard: “Not a single word was ever spoken in this courtyard for hundreds of years. The monks would gather once a year to meet and they would simply say to each other: “Frater, memento mori!” (“Brother, remember your death!”)

"Why are we so into death (that is, accepting it as it naturally comes) as followers of Christ? Because we are so into LIFE!!! Just as our Savior was born to die, so you and I who follow him in this life are here to die to sin and its effects and live for God. The death of our mortal body (which none of us can escape) is the ultimate consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). Because Jesus comes in the incarnation and through his Church to take away sin by his death, we can face our death here head on. It is what happens after to grave that calls our attention as believers. We are given the precious gift of our immortal soul that will live forever and ever. Each soul has a free will to choose our destiny: God or being without him. What a gift! What a responsibility!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Mask

Superhero and alter ego. Two different people, but the same person. These two things appear to be completely necessary for a good superhero to exist. I love Batman, but who would he be without Bruce Wayne (Who else is excited for The Dark Knight Rises?)?

The more realistic question for us to ask is who would Bruce Wayne be without Batman.

I say this because when the alter ego takes on Superhero, he or she steps outside of reality and becomes something other. This reminds me of Halloween growing up as a kid. I would get so excited to "become" someone else (usually Boomer Esiason) for those couple hours of trick-or-treating. Yet, there would always be this relief when I could take the costume off and just be myself.

Maybe you've experienced that feeling around Halloween as well.

Maybe you've experienced this feeling in daily life.

Too often we wear a mask, or multiple masks. Batman doesn't allow Bruce Wayne to fully become Bruce Wayne. He is this sort of half-person who is always torn between living a somewhat-normal life and dealing with the troubles of Gotham City in relation to his tremendous bat powers. The masks we put on in certain situations, masks that cover our hurt, frustration, joy, pain, in short, our very selves, prevent us from experiencing "life to the full" (Jn. 10:10).

Life to the full is what we are promised and not being ourselves, fully ourselves, completely blocks us from the abundance that is offered.

Halloween is a great time to reflect on how you can be genuine in every circumstance, and to recall that there is only one Person who can give you the courage, strength, and healing, to take off the mask.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I wish to share a brief reflection on last night's meeting topic. But first, I will offer you an anecdote.

Upon my arrival home, I noticed a gigantic black spider in the garage in front of my car. It was huge and fast.

Being the man of the house, I always see the need to protect wife and child from such ugly foes. But, killing this beast was inconvenient for two reasons:

  1. There is a bunch of stuff in front of the car, and I didn't feel like moving all of it. Plus, the spider would've probably taken off at a great speed toward the dregs of my garage.
  2. Smashing it with my shoe would've been a huge, sick mess.
I nearly walked away, leaving the thing to roam about the basement, when I stumbled across a bottle of Spectracide - Weed Killer. Needless to say, I sprang into action, flipped the nozzle to "Stream," which is insect destruction language for "Kill."

I give the little guy credit. He managed to dodge the stream several times, and once hit, he ran around like a madman, before flipping over to his back and curling up in a ball.

Spectracide works well in scenarios like this one.

The Christian Event

When I taught in Denver, I had many conversations with Mr. Lenzini, my mentor teacher. He introduced me to this text from Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete:

"We become Christians because the Incarnation happened in history, because the Paschal Mystery happened, because Pentecost happened, and because those events continue to happen in the world today. They happen now because they happened then and because the Church exists in the world as the life of a communion of persons created by these events, and making them present today through the sacraments.

"They happen because Christ has risen from the dead and can be encountered today with exactly the same results experienced by Andrew, James, John, Peter, Mary Magdalen, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, Zaccheus, and the criminal at the cross next to His. Something happened to them. It was an event. The key to the Christian life, the point of departure, is not an intellectual or cultural proposal. It is this event."

I love this text, and actually have it posted in my office above the computer, because it reminds me of two very important things:
  • The Christian Event (Christ's Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection) happened in history. These events changed the course of history. One man changed the course of history. This is an undeniable fact that I need to seriously consider. As Advent approaches, I hope each of us keep this profound fact, this event (an event is a true experience when it changes you - we have many events in our lives, but rarely enter into them, and thus are rarely changed, or experience conversion within our circumstances) at the center of our thoughts. The Incarnation transforms the way we understand God's love, teaches us how to be human, shows us where holiness lies, and how to become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
  • Christ is present today. He rose from the dead. Is it possible to wrap our minds around what that means? Not sure, but it's worthy of our lifelong effort. He died. He was gone. Buried even. Done. Christ's triumph over death (the death of the soul - hell - is sin's ultimate victory) is not even comparable to the biggest sports comebacks that leave me unable to sleep after they happen. And, due to the Resurrection, He is alive! He is present in our lives now. We know this through the Church, the sacraments, and the witness of those who are clearly animated by Someone much bigger than themselves.
Jesus Christ is the Event that changed history, and He is the one who changes our hearts that we might move history. Passive people don't make it into history textbooks. Albacete's next line reminds us of this point, as he says, "Evangelization is to give witness of our amazement at this unimaginable event."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Truth and Tolerance

A friend posed a question last night that echoed one I had been mulling over. It has to do with dialogue...namely, how can I be certain of Truth and tolerant of other beliefs.

Some of you may have read, or have at least heard of Cardinal Ratzinger's book entitled Truth and Tolerance. I will have you know that I have not yet read this book, though I did just place a hold on it at the library. But, I'm actually happy that I'm tackling this question first on my own, basing it solely upon my reason and experiences. Only after I've attempted to draw a conclusion based upon these criteria, I will check out Ratzinger's book and see if his reflections mesh with mine.

I remember coming to the realization the summer before teaching in Denver, that the meaning of life consists in coming to understand the Truth. Why? Because only Truth can satisfy, and when we are satisfied, we are happy, we are full. This realization, then, called me to literally be willing to give up everything for the truth. If my life has meaning and is satisfied by Truth, then that Truth is worth everything, even my reputation, even my preconceived thoughts about the way things are, even my life.

This pining for Truth is within all of us. It was within me prior to that summer...but I hadn't done the work. Many of us are too lazy to do the active searching, and so we sit around complaining of our boredom.

Now, the search for Truth is based upon experience. Why would I believe something if I can't actually experience it, or if it isn't reasonable? I can believe in the moon, not because I've been there, but because I can see it. I can believe in the sun, because I can see it and feel it. I can believe China exists, not because I've ever been there, but because I see reasonable proof (that I can experience) such as friends who have vacationed there, people I know from China, and of course, Google maps.

Human Longing

Every human heart has the same longings.

That is a bold statement. I didn't believe it at first, until I started paying attention to intimate conversations I was having with people and to, believe it or not, ancient mythology. I was blown away as I was learning and teaching about the Greeks and Romans that they wanted the same things I did. These ancient peoples yearned for Truth, understanding, justice, goodness, beauty, love. My students started picking up on this as well. If human beings, each of which is completely unique and unrepeatable, have the same core desires, there must be a singular Source of satisfaction. I'd liken this to the fact that all humans experience a real desire for food, called hunger, and there is actually food that nourishes and satisfies. The same can be said for all of the other natural desires that all humans experience (notice that word again).

I spent most of my life searching for goodness, beauty, love, understanding, and nothing satisfied. It was as if I was insatiably hungry, and kept eating shards of steel. As if I was indulging in everything that attracted my senses. None of these were very satisfying and the longing persisted.

Here, my search led me to Christ, whom I had left behind back in Junior High. Could Christ actually satisfy my longings? Could He be Truth itself?

This is the moment of conversion...admitting that all of your failed attempts and flings to satisfy did not succeed in converging your entire being onto that point of satisfaction, of happiness.

As I've asked this question since that awakening in college, and continue to ask this question on the journey, Christ continues to answer. Nothing, no one, no situation, no earthly thing (not even marriage, the best Thanksgiving dinner, or most incredible Halloween haul) has satisfied my longings as Christ does when I allow Him to (because Christ respects our freedom). No living being has gone to the depths of my sorrow (Mt. 27:46) or the heights of my joy (Lk. 3:22) as completely as Christ has. Nothing has pierced my heart, torn down my idol of moralism, or changed my entire manner of living, of seeing, as Christ has. Nothing has brought peace so completely as Christ has. No one has been as alive as the only Person in the history of the world who conquered death itself and lives now (Mt. 28:20)!

The craziest thing is, other people have experienced this as well.

And this makes sense to me because the human heart is one and the same. Every human being, throughout the course of history, across every continent, longs for the same satisfaction. Any genre, any type of literature for thousands of years teaches us this.

Christ satisfies the human heart. Of this I am convicted, based upon my search and experience.

But not everyone is, which is where tolerance comes in to play.

Not everyone believes that Christ is the Answer. But, nearly everyone would agree, if you can have an intimate enough conversation or dive into the thoughts of a character in a book, on the universal longings of the human heart.

I can easily tolerate those who have not come to believe that Christ is the Truth, if there is a genuine searching of the human heart for a fulfillment of desire. And in almost every case, there is. Occasionally one will come across a person who is so closed, or bound by preconception, that he or she will not even be open to listening. And, as I understand tolerance, I, in continuing the journey of questioning in order to understand Truth and seeking meaning in life, must be open to listening to those who have beliefs that differ from my own. My pursuit of Truth requires such a humility. As I continue to grow in this virtue of tolerance, and actually tolerate what others believe, I should find that my understanding of Truth becomes clearer and that my conviction grows.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

RJP Pics

Run, Jump,-n- Play was awesome.

The pics are up on our Facebook page "St. Gertrude Youth Group."

Friday, October 15, 2010


Early into this youth ministry bit, I realized that teens are loiterers. Loitering is a fun word to say and apparently fun to do, because teens loiter everywhere. Teens loiter in the parking lot at St. Gertrude, and they loiter at Starbucks.

I will arrive at Starbucks for a meeting and the teens will already be loitering, taking up space at the shop without having made a purchase. Now, I can understand why this would happen. Teens don't have that much money, and if they do, they probably don't want to spend it on coffee at a Youth Group planning session. There are much better things to spend money on, such as movies, silly bandz, Star Crunch and Monster. Nevertheless, I'm instantly embarrassed by the situation, and immediately feel obliged to purchase something.

The problem here is that I'm not into the artistic, caramel-drizzled coffee treats, iced and with a splash of whipped cream. I like a straightforward drink, so I go with a regular coffee every time. This is also the cheapest thing on the menu, which works out twice over.

Once I have my loitering panacea, I breathe easy and spend the remainder of the meeting with the teens huddled around two tables, for two hours, staring at the centerpiece drink.

Starbucks recently caught on to the brilliance of my plan and sought to strike me down. It happened like this:

I walk to the counter right before our meeting is about to start and, listen to this, I say, "Tall Pike Please."

Here you'll notice my conversion to speaking Starbucks, my familiarity with the abbreviation of the name Pike Place Roast (their daily brew), and my good manners. Quite a bit happening in three words.

The proper response by the lady working the register is, "Would you like room for cream?"

I respond, "Yes, please." Again, notice the manners.

Then she struck me down. "That'll be $1.95."

At this point it was too late for me, as I had already practically thrown my debit card to her out of habit. My head started spinning.

"Did I say Tall"?
"A Tall is supposed to only be $1.50."
"Maybe I didn't say Pike."
"Why am I being punished?"
"I only purchase to prevent full-fledged loitering."
"Did I say Tall?"
"How much does a bag of this stuff cost...oh, only $9.95."
"This cup of coffee is costing me $2!"

After the card swipe, the proper question for the register-lady to ask is if I'd like my receipt.

Normally I respond "No," while smiling, but that night I went with the affirmative to see if it did indeed confirm doom.

Doom confirmed.

$1.95 for a small cup of coffee with room for cream, that's a 30% price increase.

This traumatic experience reminds me of a similar one from a couple years ago. I found this really cheap dry cleaner in Denver. $1 per shirt. $2 per pant. That is a good deal. But, once I moved out of my original housing situation with some friends, and into my apartment, that particular cleaner was over 5 miles away.

Just up the street I saw the sign for Paradise Cleaners and thought it was time check into a new place.

So I dropped by without placing a call in advance.

It had a much nicer storefront than the place I had been going and a friendly lady at the desk (this place was so nice that you couldn't even see the giant spinny machine track rack things that deliver the clothing by number). She kindly took my two pairs of pants and said they'd be ready for pickup the next day.

At this point I finally asked how much pants cost.

"$6. And $17 if they are silk."

Now, keep in mind that I've already handed her the pants to be dry cleaned. What can I do in a situation like that, other than say "Thanks" in a cheerful voice and scurry away in full knowledge that I just made the worst decision of my new adult life.

I drove with Katie back to our apartment asking the same two questions repeatedly:
  1. Did she really say $17?
  2. Are my pants made of silk?
It was about a 30 second drive to our apartment. In 30 seconds, those questions can be repeated at least 40 gajillion times.

I was sick to my stomach.

I called Paradise Cleaners and the kind lady answered the phone. In a small, shriveled voice I asked her how much silk pants cost to have dry cleaned.


In a smaller voice I whispered that I had just dropped two pairs of pants off and no longer wanted to use their service.

Sprinting to my car, I realized that I had just stood up to The Man.

The lady had my pants waiting at the front counter. I thanked her and drove the five miles to my cheap cleaner.

"$4.25 with tax."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


It is time for our first discussion question. I've heard from a few of you that you would write up a comment for the blog and it wouldn't save. To prevent loads of frustration, I'd recommend copying and pasting whatever text you write into a Word document. If it fails to post, you can simply try again.

The following question comes from the Question Box and can be answered with Theological reflection/study or through personal experience. I ask that our posts do not turn into an intense argument with personal attacks (as is illustrated below).

Here's the question:

What does it mean to say that God is unchanging?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fr. Paul Keller, OP: On the Mass (part 4)

Here is Sebastian's reflection on Fr. Keller's Oct. 7 class:

Last week, Fr. Keller talked about the beginning of Mass…which was interesting, yes, but what really stood out to me was what he said about when we begin Mass.

In the past, Catholics would get to Mass early, and there would be some one leading prayer by reading the Psalms aloud, and other people would join in by reading the Psalms and praying them. The reading of the Psalms was used to set the mood of prayer and to put you in the presence of God.

So, why did we stop doing this? Why don’t we do it on our own? Why don’t I do it on my own? Why don’t I spend all of Sunday morning before Mass in prayer, at home, or at least get to Church earlier to spend some time in prayer and preparing myself for Mass? Really! I am almost angry about the lack of preparation before Mass in the Church today.

For my First Holy Eucharist, my entire family (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins,) made me a scrapbook with pictures from their First Eucharist and a short story of what they remember. My Sittie and Gido (Arabic for grandmother and grandfather respectively) both had to fast from midnight until they received the Eucharist, and had to wake up extra early to walk to church. My Nana helped her mother to make her dress, which was the habit of Saint Rosa de Lima but in all white. She made her First Eucharist on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and her father’s birthday. To this day, it remains one of the most important days of her year.

We receive that same Eucharist…the Eucharist that deserves our entirety…every time we attend Mass. It is the single greatest thing on this Earth. Literally. It’s the ultimate question. What is the greatest thing ever? The Eucharist. But we prepare more for a highschool dance than we do for Mass. We probably have spent more time watching television or a movie or any other media interaction than we ever have in prayer, let alone in prayer preparing for Mass.

But why? Why would we do that?

Because God made us to.

If He had wanted us to spend all or even a quarter of our life in prayer, worshipping Him and giving Him praise, He would have just saved every one a whole lot of trouble and made us angels. That’s what angels do. They’re the next closest thing to perfect. They need nothing else but God. They want nothing else but God. But we’re not angels. We’re not perfect. (You listening, Fr. Michael?) And that’s okay because we’re not supposed to be.

We’re supposed to be human. As imperfect, as incompetent, as deep in sin and doubt all the days of our earthly lives as we are, God made us to be. So that when we sin, when we fall, or when we simply don’t pray or prepare for Mass, God can give us the grace we need to rise and glorify Him. If it wasn’t difficult to prepare for Mass, we would never understand how incredible Mass is.

Let us all pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance in our prayer and for strength that we might be able to prepare for Mass as the Mass truly deserves.

“Lord, teach us how to pray.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts to follow up.

Last night's Holy Hour focused on the immediacy of the Christian life. Fr. Kyle reminded us of this fact at Credo, when he said, "You are not the Church of the future; you are the Church of now."

Living the faith in the moment, witnessing to the love of Christ in our daily lives, requires work. The work is awareness. We must continually learn and re-learn how to be aware of Christ's presence in our lives and to move. Every human relationship is a movement, it is a journey. The same holds true for the relationship with Christ. It is a journey and it is one that you must move upon, because God respects our freedom so much. He never imposes, or forces you to move. He invites, encourages and affirms our movement toward Himself. This means, the ball is really in our court. We must decide if we are willing to move, to work, to be aware of his presence, not only during those mountaintop spiritual experiences, but on the ordinary journey of life.

This work reminds me of the journey of the Road to Emmaus. This painting was completed in 1516-17 by Altobello Melone. You can learn about it at the National Gallery site.

You can check out the Going Deeper handout for the week, here. This was a homily given by Pope John Paul II during WYD in Toronto.

“You must have initiative; you must take initiative so that your life be a relationship with God."
Fr. Luigi Giussani

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On Adoration

"The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1378).

This Sunday, St. Gertrude High School Youth Ministry will have its first Adoration Night of the year. The video highlights the power of the exposed Eucharist, and the CCC points to the tradition of Eucharistic Adoration in the Church. Adoration is, in short, an extension of the Mass. That which we adore, we receive, we eat.

I'd like to point out two simple things to help with our understanding of Adoration:

  1. Genesis 2:9 says, "And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." Notice the syntax here. The verse first says the tree and fruit of the tree is pleasant to the sight. It is worthy of being adored. It is beautiful to behold. The verse follows immediately with "and good for food." That which is adored is good to eat, it gives us life. These two statements go hand-in-hand.
  2. I will now attempt an Adoration analogy to help it make further sense. Without fail, Thanksgiving happens every year (and the Lions lose). On that day, I stand around a table heaping with beautifully delicious-looking food and pray with my family (while drooling and seriously thinking about drinking the gravy!). That time of prayer is a time of adoration of, and deep gratitude for, what I am about to receive. Eucharistic Adoration is much the same. We look at the beauty of the Bread of Life and long to partake in the Banquet.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fr. Paul Keller, OP: On the Mass (part 3)

You may note - if you are a close follower - that we missed posting on part 2 of the Fr. Keller series. All I can say is, "sorry."

Now, on to part 3!

This reflection is brought to you by Anna.

The Mass is our participation in God's saving work. That's awesome! - but it's also way to important to make up as we go along. Thus, we have the missal which spells out exactly how we are supposed to say and do when we celebrate Mass.

So why the new translation of the Missal? In short, the last translation of the Missal lost much of the simple beauty and exalted language of the original Latin. The idea was to simplify it because average Joe and Mary Catholic can't understand this "exalted language". But wait a minute. The Mass is about God, after all, it is Heaven on earth. We can't perfectly understand God so we won't ever really understand the Mass. In addition, Joe and Mary Catholic are a little smarter than presumed. People are tired of "watered down" religion. We want the whole undisguised truth, the tradition that has been handed down from Jesus to the apostles to the Church today. People leave the Church because they don't understand the Mass. Perhaps the new translation will help awaken Catholics to the reality of the Mass - Heaven on earth and a participation in the saving work of God.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tony and Pam

Today is the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Four years ago, I spent four days in this tiny French town. I often think back to that trip as one of the most poignant experiences of silence, prayer and culture of my short lifetime. If you don't know much about St. Thérèse's life, I'd encourage you to check out this biography and to read Story of a Soul.

St. Thérèse is a fantastic model and patron for us.

This Sunday we're going to be talking about loving our neighbors, those closest to us. St. Thérèse spent her 24 years doing exactly this. She's the patron of missionaries, though she never left the convent! Her patronage highlights the importance of Christ's command to "love thy neighbor;" it also strengthens us to witness to Christ's love to the people we encounter everyday.

The whole "love thy neighbor" theme became especially important to me during my freshman year of college at John Carroll University. Here, I got involved with a local outreach called the Labre Project. For the first time in my life, reaching out to my neighbors became significant. Meeting the people in Cleveland, in my hometown during that year of school, where they were, seeing their conditions and forming friendships with them was simple and profound. What we were doing in Cleveland was much more than passing out food, because relationship transcends physical condition.

When I transferred to Franciscan, I hoped to replicate my experiences in Cleveland.

If any of you have ever been to Steubenville, you know it to be all things "Rust Belt." If poverty reigns, drugs reign supreme. Homelessness, violence, vandalism, arson, prostitution. All have consumed the once-glorious downtown area. LAMP Ministries runs a soup kitchen out of the Cathedral basement in the downtown area. I signed up to help out almost as soon as I arrived, and was blown away in my conversations with the poor about the conditions of the small town.

The Beauty of Relationship

I met Tony at LAMP one morning in the Fall of 2005. He was a middle-aged man of Hispanic decent who looked far older than his years. A mental illness and family break-up left him on the streets of San Diego at a young age. Eventually, drug addiction took hold and he somehow ended up in Steubenville with his wife, Pam, and some friends. When I encountered Tony, he was living in an abandoned downtown building, and was struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. An unoccupied, abandoned building is a nice find for a homeless man. It is so hard for me to imagine what it would be like to have been without a roof over my head, a place of to call my own, for so long that the shelter of a dilapidated building would cause me great joy. But, such was Tony's demeanor. His biggest problem now was not having a sleeping bag.

So, Katie and I picked up one at Walmart, and met him at the post office to deliver it. This was the beginning of our friendship.

During our time in Steubenville, we met frequently with Tony and Pam. We'd bring socks, clothes and some food, but most of all, we brought ourselves...fellowship. This was the most important thing for Tony.

While we were there, Tony continued to struggle with drugs. At one point, he took himself off of his schizophrenia medication and committed a crime that landed him in jail for over a year. Somehow, in the midst of addiction, his struggle to find a place to lay his head, and time in jail, we were always able to keep tabs on where he was.

New Beginnings

At almost the exact same time as our wedding, back in December of 2008, Tony and Pam flew back out to California. Tony and his brother reconciled their differences, and his brother bought them one-way tickets to San Diego. Now, they live on some land about 45 minutes from town, surrounded by mountains and the beauty of nature. Typically they say that changing your environment, or escaping your old environment, doesn't help you to break addictions. But it has for Tony and Pam. No drugs, no alcohol, no violence.

It has been amazing to see the power of relationship over the past five years. Tony and Pam are our good friends and we typically chat with them over the phone once a week. They love to hear about our life and the ways we're fixing up our home. We enjoy hearing about what they're fixing up on the property or new wildlife they see. Incredibly simple stuff, but thus is the beauty of relationship.

I thought it would be cool to share this story because it highlights the "love your neighbor" point. Tony and I just ran into each other at a soup kitchen, but reaching out, the effort on both sides, to understand the other and to seek a friendship, has made this more than a random encounter that you forget about the next day. Every week when we talk with Pam and Tony on the phone, we're reminded of the ways God has been present and used us in this friendship. We're also reminded of how much God has taught us through Tony and Pam.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Heart Revolution

This Sunday, our service committee is going to lead a meeting about Christ's command to love our neighbor as ourselves. I would like to point out one quick point...Christ says, "Love thy neighbor." He doesn't say, "go love the abstract idea of humanity...go save humanity!" He is much more tangible than that, and we should be grateful for this. Everyday we are confronted with a neighbor in an infinite number of situations..."love thy neighbor"...

If you were at last year's Food Fast, you saw this video clip. I think it is a very human portrayal that hits close to home. Why? Because it causes you to look at your own life in relation to the lives of those around you, those whom you encounter daily.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


As most of you know, I had to miss Saturday of Credo (which is essentially like missing the whole weekend). I am wondering how the retreat affected you? What changes in your life because of your experience in encountering our Eucharistic Lord?

Feel free to comment and share your experience below!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Credo 2010

This evening we embark on another Credo weekend. Our group is up to 70 teens. The weekend will be powerful for those who are open to receiving God's grace, mercy, joy and healing.

Credo 2009 from Michael Walsh Productions on Vimeo.

This is last year's promo video.

See all of you tonight!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Living the Faith in Life: A Follow-up

Last night after our meeting, I was checking the news and clicked on the headline that most intrigued me, "For First Time in Months, President Obama Attends Church Publicly." Now, I initially checked this out because I thought every time a person attends Church it is a public matter...unless you're having a private service/Mass for your family or something. Unfortunately after reading the article, I still don't understand that point...except that "publicly" means the media was in the know about it, and anytime a Head of State does anything in public, there are tons of logistics involved. Here's the link to the article, it's pretty short:

I start off by saying that I make no political claims here, nor do I intend any disrespect to our President. I am happy he attended the church service and am simply trying to judge the article based upon my own experiences.

The very first paragraph struck me, as it said, "President Obama publicly attended church Sunday morning for the first time in nearly six months, and shortly after a major survey showed that only a third of Americans can correctly identify Obama's faith as Christian."

This seems profoundly backwards to me. If faith is a part of someone's life, it should be clear and probably not require a public trip to whichever church he or she attends. In other words, faith is meant to be lived! If President Obama is a Christian, I would hope that his words, actions and manner of leading our country, correspond directly to his beliefs. If he is Muslim, I would hope his words and actions correspond to the teachings in the Qur'an. I would hold the same attitude if he were Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist.

This article seems to be another example of how often we compartmentalize faith, our religion. If faith is a thing we do on the weekends, that is some way connected to our status, or something we do without thinking, we're missing the point. Faith is meant to be lived. Christianity is a relationship, that, if truly an encounter, changes our lives. Notice how Christianity doesn't call us to change 15% of our lives, or that Christ didn't say to his apostles, "Come follow me, on Sunday mornings from about 9:30-10:30am. Forget about following me the rest of the time."

This article on President Obama struck me as relating intensely to what we covered last night at our "Living the Faith in School" Youth Night. In hearing reflections on cheating, gossip, language and respecting teachers, I was again reminded in my own life of how often I forget about the relationship with Christ I am wrapped up in. I think the same held true for all of you. When you start to think about the small ways you fall to sin everyday, it's a wake up call. How do we live this life in such a way that your life is a unity? How do we live this life so that we don't have to broadcast that we attended Mass in order to convince others that you indeed follow Christ?

Most every situation that came up last night probably requires a different response. Coming up with a black and white answer about how to deal with struggles and temptations would be to reduce the human element involved in all of our encounters. As we deal with unique situations and unique people, we need a unique response. Christ provides the answer, like a good friend you seek out for advice in time of need. The closer we come to Christ in our relationships with him, the easier the seeking move away from having to "go over to your friend's house" in order to get advice, to knowing in your heart what Christ is calling you to do in a given situation. He becomes a part of your whole being!

Now, this is easier said than done...and I don't think we fully got into the "How to do this" during our sharing last night. If any of you have any concrete insights about how to correctly handle the situations we discussed last night, please post some comments. If you have any thoughts about the CNN article, post those thought as well. Let's continue the discussion that began last night.