Good coffee won’t save your soul – Part 1

There is a plague that has run rampant in Catholic Churches for years. Few have sought to end this scourge. Most have just accepted this fact as an unchangeable reality. The elderly sigh and talk about the good ol’ days when things were different. The young don’t bother to come to the Church for this anymore because they can get fancier, flashier versions somewhere else. The world has become so relativistic that some even challenge the notion that there is good and bad of this fundamental substance.

Of course, I’m talking about coffee.Coffee Cup

Church coffee is notoriously bad. When our bulletin folders are in the office, the coffee is so thin you could read the bulletin through it. For some reason, when particular people make coffee, there is this oily film covering the top. Some days the coffee is so wretched to call it burnt sludge would be an insult to burnt sludge.

Frustrated and deeply desiring a “real” cup of coffee, I made a desperate move. I went to Target and purchased an $18 coffee maker, $3 worth of filters, and an $8 bag of good beans. I brought them back to my office and brewed myself some good coffee. It was magnificent. Read More

Well so was J.C. Wow. You’re in good company.

I spent most of Thursday afternoon woodworking in my basement. Seriously.

Besides constructing some made-from-scratch coat hook racks for the laundry room, I spent the afternoon refinishing some chairs for our office space at the house.  I spent almost 3 hours sanding and priming. I honestly can’t believe I sat in one place for 3 hours doing anything, much less something so mundane.

Turns out, I loved it.

Not because I am trying to be more like J.C. (cue the Meet the Parents quote), but Owen Wilson just wants to refinish chairsbecause my focus was totally and completely centered on one thing. While I was working, all worries, concerns, and future work melted away.  I was left with the chair in front of me and piece of sand covered paper.  I instantly and clearly saw whether I was accomplishing my goal or not.  At the end of the three hours, I had two sanded and primed chairs.

I also had 180 minutes of Fr. Mike Schmitz homilies listened to.

Fr. Mike runs the Newman center at University of Minnesota Duluth.  He speaks at various youth ministry events all over the country.  And his homily caused me to weep while I distributed communion during the closing Mass of our Parish Mission last Lent.  He is a gifted speaker and all around awesome dude.  Because his homily is recorded and podcasted each week, one click and I am challenged, inspired, and moved.

Next time you have some mundane moments (driving, waiting, watching a middle school volleyball tournament) give Fr. Mike Schmitz’s homily podcast a try. It will be worth your time.

Friends don’t let friends be cologne guy.

Cologne Guy in Hawaiian ShirtYou know the guy I am talking about. Maybe he was a high school chemistry teacher or a buddy from college or maybe a crazy old uncle – he was the guy who wore too much cologne.  I don’t know what motivates too much cologne guy to regularly over spray.  Maybe he is worried that he smells badly otherwise. Maybe he thinks this is the way to get the ladies. Maybe it is just habit and he doesn’t know any better.  What I do know is that whatever his motivation, he isn’t aware his odor is overwhelming.

This morning as I was getting ready, I accidently sprayed one spray more cologne than normal and I suddenly became super worried, that for at least today, I was going to be that guy. I was going to be the stinky cologne guy.  In fact, not only was I worried I was going to be outrageously odiferous, but I began to fret about an even worse fate – no one would tell me.  The only thing worse that not being self aware about some personal fault, would be not having anyone in my life willing to tell me, warn me, correct me.  What if I went through life and no one tried to help me by calling me out.  As I write this I am beginning to worry that maybe I AM cologne guy every day and no one is telling me. Quick, smell your computer screen and tell me if my blog smells too strong. (Man, I hope you didn’t actually do that.)  I digress.

Maybe there are people in my life who I should be challenging, warning, correcting.  I don’t mean about the cologne thing (though maybe that too); I mean about important things.  I think there is something truly holy and good about helping out our friends and neighbors by inviting them to change.  If that is true, then we need to figure out a way to challenge our friends without offending and alienating them.

Being called out is hard. No one likes to be told they are falling short or outright screwing up.  This is why people react so crazy to being invited to admit fault and confess sins – they don’t like to be wrong.  People don’t get too crazy about being told about spinach in their teeth or static electricity mucking up an outfit, but when we start to get into the realm of personal behavior people tend to freak out when corrected.

I don’t have a good answer. I don’t know how to do this personally, and I am not sure how to do this communally/institutionally.  What I do know is that at the end of the day the only valid and appropriate motivation is love.  The only reason we can ever call someone out is because we love them, and we want them to be happy, healthy, and holy.  Anything other than that is self-righteous judgment which stinks worse than cologne guy.

Not a Grammy Review or Just Dance: I wish I could

GrammyI’ll admit it, I watched most of the Grammys. I’m not going to blame my wife, though it was on when I got home from work. I enjoyed much of it. Paul McCartney, the Boss, and Dave Grohl on the same stage = awesome-mind blowing-weird-goodness. I’m not going to touch the ridiculously silly Nicki Minoj spectacle (Am I the only one that thought it was funny to watch someone try so hard to be controversial and fail because everyone was so distracted by her lack of talent? Also, if you need proof Catholic persecution is alive and well, there you go. Okay, I guess I am going to comment on it). Adele is proof that talent plus the less is more attitude is beautiful and moving beyond words.  Jennifer Hudson same thing, beautiful tribute. May God have mercy on us all us sinners.

Wait, this isn’t a Grammy blog. I, an adult male, am not reviewing the Grammys. I am writing to say I wish I could listen to more of the kind of music played at the Grammys. I wish I could play some of the big time, top 40 dance music on display last night. But I can’t in good conscience do that. I can’t subject my children, my wife, or my own heart for that matter, to lyrical content of most of the top 40.  Call me a prude, but my job as a husband and father is to protect my family. If that means physically, I will do my best to talk my way out of it (lover not fighter, but will if I have to). It also means I am called to protect their holiness, which means I will do my best to protect them from sin or an occasion to sin. I’m not great at this, but I do my best where I think I can.

I don’t mean to get on my high horse about this, and if you feel judged by this, know that I don’t mean to judge your holiness or level of commitment to your kids.  However, I will judge the lyrical content of music, and I can judge how I behave when I listen to certain lyrics or watch certain movies or TV (had to quit Sopranos for this reason).  I just can’t in good conscience give my daughters a snake when they ask for a fish (goldfish).

Nearly every night as dinner is slowly ending, my family puts on a little dance music and throws a dance party while we clear the table and do the dishes. My girls are fun and funny and bring great joy to our family when we do this. I just wish there was more fun music that I could play while we have our crazy dance party.  Until there is, I will just have to rely on my man Elmo to parody the top 40 for my family.

I’m sorry I couldn’t come up a better title.

I'm Sorry HandsI spend a lot of my time apologizing.  I have a big mouth and a frequently inappropriate mind.  I’m not great at keeping unimportant things to myself (though great at things that pertain to my teen’s lives and my job – thank you Holy Spirit).  Also, I am a bit of a screw up sometimes and this leads to a lot of legitimate reasons to apologize.

This week, in fact has been the week of apologies.  I inadvertently shared the inner workings of a meeting with an outsider through email and had to apologize to one of my best friends in ministry. I got into an argument with my buddy Kory and ended up going too far in order to win the argument and had to apologize. I’ve apologized to my wife about 10 times, but that is pretty normal.  I’m not going to even mention that handful of emails I started with an apology.

The thing is, I’m not that upset about my week of apologies.  Apologizing is a good thing.  Yes I wish I didn’t mess up all the time. Yes I wish I didn’t stick my foot in my mouth constantly.  Yes I wish I was perfect, but I’m not.  The thing about apologizing is that it is good for everyone.  Maybe most importantly, it is good for me.  I think there are 5 reasons apologizing is good for us:

1.  Acknowledges Reality – A real apology that recognizes a legitimate problem or hurt demonstrates a firm grasp on reality.  Ignoring a problem as if it doesn’t exist and refusing to apologize is akin to a blatant denial of what is real. Apologizing is often seeing things for how they really are, not how we would want them.

2.  Shows care for other – When we apologizing we are putting the other person ahead of ourselves and proves we care for them.  For me apologizing says, “I care more that you are happy and holy, than I care that I feel good about myself.”

3.  Heals & Strengthens relationships – Every and any relationship I have been in where I had to apologize is a stronger relationship than one where I haven’t. I got a phone call complaining about something I said during Mass announcements once. I called the gentlemen, apologized and talked it out. By the end of the conversation, he mention how impress he was with me and grateful that I worked at the Church. We went form apology to compliment in 5 minutes!

4.  Training in humility – I secretly believe I breathe excellence. When I am confronted with proof that I do not, I can get pretty upset about it. Apologizing is training me to be humble (which I desperately need) and helping me to be honest with myself. Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us, and apologizing is key in making that happen.

5.   United with the forgiveness of God – I am not a priest (Shocker), so I don’t get to absolve sins during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Yet, I do get to forgive others all the time. When I apologize I get to give others the opportunity to forgive me which is central to the Christian life and straight from scripture (James 5:16).

Apologizing (and forgiving) is an intensely Catholic thing. Heck for any follower of Christ it is essential. Of all the powers that Jesus handed onto Peter, the most obvious was the Church’s power to forgive sins (Matthew 16:17-19). I will probably have to apologize and forgive a bunch of times today, and that is a good thing.  Who do you have to apologize to? Who are you not apologizing to that you probably should? How has apologizing been a good thing in your life?

Hell hath frosted over

Hell must have frozen over because I have seen some things lately that probably indicate Frost Covered Treesthe end times are near. Let me explain.

I was running a retreat at a neighboring parish this weekend. It was one of those required one day confirmation retreats that try to give a retreat experience to those last 10% of kids who haven’t done a retreat yet. Nothing wrong with these teens, we love them, and it seems like church may not be the most important thing in their life. I think you get what I am saying.

At the end of the retreat we did a reconciliation service in the beautiful side chapel of the parish. At this parish, the tabernacle was kept in this side chapel, which was great for us; we got to pray before the Blessed Sacrament while preparing or praying through our penances.  About 40 minutes into our prayer time, this little old lady comes into the chapel and walks before the tabernacle. She genuflects, takes the tabernacle key from its hiding spot and begins to open the tabernacle.

Honestly, it was a bit of a shock. We had just spent all this time praying to Jesus who was stuck inside his tent, and all of a sudden, the tent flaps were opening and Jesus was coming out.  A crazy thing happened next. As I went to kneel, the entire room started moving from their various positions of repose (laying, sitting, leaning), and knelt while Jesus in the Eucharist was removed and moved into the main church in preparation for Mass.  It was a moment.  There was a palpable change in the room. The whispering teens stopped chatting. The sleeping teens awoke.  The teens reading a Bible out of boredom paid attention.  Seriously, it was miracle akin to Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection.

I was moved. Read More

The Miraculous Desk Plant of Chris Kostelc

This is my desk plant.  My wife bought me this plant while on a visit to Ikea almost 3 years My Office Plantago, and it has sat in that place on my desk since.  For the most part, it is green and lush and happy, which makes me happy.  Also, this is a miracle plant. It is a miracle it is still alive because I am a notorious plant killer.  This is plant number 3 for me, and so, everyday it remains more than a brown husk is a win.  Honestly, I rarely remember to water, and then when I do, I go on a bender and water with a fire hose till I have drowned the thing (okay slight exaggeration).

Needless to say, I proud of my little plant that could.  I have brought it back from the edge of death so many times, I have thought about naming it Lazarus. (Then I remember it is a plant and come to my senses; talking to plants is foolish.)  The little leafy beast has come back from death so many times that honestly it has become a mini reminder of life in the face of death.  I live in Minnesota where I don’t see a green leaf or blade of grass for about 5 months out of the year. The little green thing in my office reminds me that soon the world will be resurrected in springtime and life will return to this barren tundra.  As silly as it sounds, my office plant reminds me of the paschal mystery, resurrection, my salvation, and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Really? Yes really. Read More

Taking My Kids to Mass: An Email Response

My Two Daughters

My Girls at Easter. It was kinda cold.

Last week I wrote about taking my kids to Mass, about being the monkey bars for my two year old to climb on for about 46 minutes of the hour. I was a little worried that I was going to offend some parents who either have absolutely no problem with their children at Mass (you know, “that family”), or that I was going to offend the people who have it even rougher, (the other “that family”). We sat next to the other family at Christmas this year. Despite chocolate chip cookies (my kids were wondering where their cookies were), countless books, and the kind of toys that are perfect for pounding on a wooden pew, these kids were a wreck and had a tough Mass. I felt for the parents and spent a good portion of my post communion time praying for them.

In fact, I did get one email with some pretty strongly worded suggestions – from my wife. Read More

B16 explains why I baptized my kids

Pope Baptizes a Child in Sistine ChapelI read this amazing quote from Benedict XVI and had to share:

“What happens in Baptism? What do we hope for from Baptism? You have given a response on the threshold of this Chapel: We hope for eternal life for our children. This is the purpose of Baptism. But how can it be obtained? How can Baptism offer eternal life? What is eternal life?

In simpler words, we might say: we hope for a good life, the true life, for these children of ours; and also for happiness in a future that is still unknown. We are unable to guarantee this gift for the entire span of the unknown future, so we turn to the Lord to obtain this gift from him.

We can give two replies to the question, “How will this happen?”. This is the first one: through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.

This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.

This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God’s love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear.

No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, Read More

I am the monkey bars.

I am the monkey bars. It doesn’t matter the Mass – early or late, long or short, loud or silent, engaging or reflective – my daughter spends nearly 46 minutes climbing on me like I am some sort of human jungle gym. It’s worse for my wife. She was the human pincushion. Sophia used to spend most of Mass poking my wife in the face, stick her hand in my wife’s mouth, and trying to rip her glasses or earrings off. I don’t know why this started or why it has stopped, but at least now it is just the climbing of Daddy mountain every Sunday.

The latest excitement occurred last night. During a pause in the Eucharistic prayer, my daughter blurts, “Is it done?!” “No honey, shhhhh, we have to go get Jesus and then pray and then its done,” we responded quietly amidst the laughter of our neighbors. Communion happens. Our pastor is quietly reflecting after just making Jesus physically present for 600 people in the Eucharist, and Sophia asks again, but even louder, “IS IT DONE?!” This outburst was loud enough for Father to turn in our direction. I’m not as embarrassed as I should be (What? It’s funny), but I’m not thrilled about it either.

Taking my kids to Mass is hard sometimes. Sometimes all I feel I get out of Mass are bruises and frustration. There were Masses Liz and I spent most of our time out in the gathering space chasing kids or quieting a baby. Some weeks it didn’t feel worth all the work, I felt like I was getting nothing out of it. Those are the weeks I have to remember that I don’t just go to Mass for me. Yes, I go to pray, hear scripture, and receive the Eucharist connecting with God in such a physical and intimate way that nothing else can match it (on earth), and that connection is for me. But I also go to Mass for others.

I bring my kids because, as hard as it is, when they are little, don’t get it, and struggle just to sit in the pew at all, I know that the practice of going to Mass takes time and I want them to get good at it. The good news is, I can see it paying off in my 6 year old daughter, Ella. Yeah there are weeks she spaces out during the homily (There are weeks I space out during the homily. There may be weeks priests space out during their homilies – I kid, I kid.) But she actually prays and responds and knowing that I am helping to cultivate some connection to Mass is a huge pay off for me.

I also bring my kids to Mass because my Church needs us. The older people need to see young families committed to the faith. Other families need to know there are others in the same boat with the same struggles. And frankly, as a youth minister, I want teens to see my family at Mass so someday, when it is hard to get to Mass, they figure out a way.
Mass has been such a gift for my family and me. I can’t imagine my life without it. For my life it is worth the sacrifice of tough schedules and irritating, irritated kids.

No judgment on my fellow young parents just trying to find 4 solid hours of sleep and an adult conversation not about diapers and how the carpet has been newly ruined. I get it, I’m with you in this. I want you to know that I am praying for you and that Mass has been worth it for my family and my marriage. Hope to see you this weekend at Mass – Jungle gym, bloodcurdling screaming, awkward questions in the silence, and all.