Our [Imperfect] Family Rosary

“Continue to pray the Rosary every day.”
(Our Lady of Fatima to Sister Lucia)

I don’t think there’s any practicing Catholic out there who would deny the importance of daily recitation of the rosary.  The saints, the Popes, and even the Blessed Mother herself invites us to pray it on a regular basis, promising great spiritual wealth and growth as a result of it.  And, I have no doubt at all that that is true.

childs+hands+holding+rosaryBut, for the vast majority of us, praying the Rosary daily is actually rather challenging.  Or, maybe that’s just me.  I am not sure if it’s that I lack focus or the ability to sit still that long, but when I am attempting to pray it alone (which, let me tell you, happens about 0.1% of the time of my life) or when I am driving (which is more realistic), I easily get distracted.  I do much better when I pray it aloud with other people.

But, the only people I am with on a regular daily basis are these tiny human beings that I call my children.   Which, hey, is GREAT!  Because, praying the FAMILY rosary is possibly an even more beneficial and spiritually efficacious type of prayer than praying it alone.

Maybe efficacious isn’t the right word.  Perhaps saying it’s a source of “great sanctification” is more appropriate.  Especially when your prayer partners are 5, 3, and 20 months old.

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Good Coffee won’t save your soul – Part 3

What do we do when we go to Mass and we “don’t get anything out of it?”Coffee Cup

I think at some point in the Mass as our boredom or frustration mount, we have to make a decision.  Are we going to let something as insignificant as bad coffee get in the way of encountering God?

Sometimes going to Mass is like getting great coffee in a bad cup.

The other day I bought a coffee and didn’t realize that the seal on the bottom of the cup was imperfect. The leaking coffee made huge stains over the front my sweater.  I was hacked off to the point of not being able to enjoy the coffee. Then I considered that there was nothing I could do to change the cup at that moment, so either I could be angry and not enjoy my coffee or I could drink it and enjoy every drop that wasn’t on my shirt.

Even when everything seems to be going wrong at Mass, God is still present. And if God is present, we have an opportunity to find Him. The path to finding God in the midst of the messiness of imperfect Church is a shift in focus from our needs or wants to God’s outpouring of love.  When we move our focus from us to God, the bad coffee matters less and less.  In other words we have to name the coffee as bad, and then get over it.

This is hard.

It is hard to experience God in the midst of poorly done Church. So what do we do? I don’t have a great answer. I wish I did. What I do have are two suggestions for making sure every time we walk out of Mass we know God moved in us. Read More

Lean on Me – Morality, Part 1

Note: This is part 1 of a 3 part series on morality in teens – introduction & explanation can be found here.

We want to be independent. Or rather, we think we want to be independent. But in reality, none of us wants true independence – we want others to depend upon us, and we want others to be there for us to depend upon. Though we have this romanticized view of independence, we don’t really want that.

And neither do teens. More than us, probably, they want to feel a part of something – they want to know they’re not going it alone.

More than teens realize, and more than adults know – teens need us. And I don’t mean that we are needed for our money or housing or food or clothing. I’m talking about being that reliable, safe, trustworthy, accountable, old-steady, even-steven sort of partner for a teen.

Teens need at least one adult they can rely upon and trust.

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Oversimplified morality – in 3 parts

Working in youth ministry with junior high and high school students over the past I don’t know how many years has given me lots of things.  First, it’s given me an incredible amount of failures.  It’s given me a lot of entertainment and laughs.  It’s given me gray hair.  It’s given me headaches and sleepless nights.  It’s given me countless privileges to walk on a faith journey with a young person.  It’s given me lots of tears, stress, extra hours of prayer, challenges, successes, awesome retreats… ok I could go on.

One other thing is that it has given me a little bit of insight into the heart and ind of a teenager.  I’m not claiming to have all the answers – I’m not claiming to be very smart – I’m claiming that my experience with teens over the last 12 years has given me a little bit of insight with teens.

I hope that isn’t too much of a stretch.

Ok, why all this?  Because, morality. There are so many well-meaning people at our parish, at other parishes, and from who knows where telling me we need to do more things to teach morality to our teens – but it all sounds and feels more like “you need to crack open their heads and brainwash them into thinking this one thing that I think is the end all be all issue and it needs to be this.”

And we do morality nights – on chastity, on obeying God, on pro-life, on stealing, on cheating… etc.  Do I expect a big turnaround in the life of teens based upon these nights?  Heck no.  It can start a discussion or get them thinking, but if convincing others of the truth were as easy as one 90 minute youth night, well, we probably wouldn’t have too many youth nights.

I’ve come up with a bit of a theory here – and it is that teens essentially need 3 things to really be empowered to make good moral choices in their life.  All three of these things are important, none of them is a quick fix, and they all take efforts from the teens, the parents and the Church.

So this, I guess, is a 4 part series – and you’ve just read part one.  Congratulations!  And I realize, this told you nothing more than – Hey, I’m writing a morality series!  Parts 2-4 will come out about every other day for the next week or so – so stick with me.

Again, I’m not claiming this is the end all – be all.  And I’m not claiming that this closes the book on teen morality – this is my discussion starter – based on my experiences loving, being rejected by, listening to, supporting, praying for, praying with and observing teenagers.

Good coffee won’t save your soul – Part 2

Why are we so infatuated with coffee or preaching or music, if it isn’t the most important thing?  Are we that shallow? Why do we lose the point in the midst of all the things trying to make the point?CoffeWorship

We know when we have a good cup of coffee.

Things like coffee can be judged and measured. We know when we have heard a good homily because we have an emotional or intellectual reaction. We know when the music works for us because our toe taps, and we are tempted, dare I say it, to sing and pray along.  We know when we walk into a church, look up into the mosaic covered dome and utter “Oh my God” (not at all in vain) in reaction the undeniable beauty before our eyes.

We want to know something has happened when we go to Church. We want to be able to observe or even measure the value we received.  If Church is going to be worth our time, we want to know that it worked.  Not only do we want Church to be actually good for us, we want to be aware, to know, that it was good.

Thus, we put more importance on good music, entertaining preaching (did I laugh?), and coffee because when those things are good, we know we got something out of Mass.  When those things aren’t good we often walk out of Mass and don’t know that we were affected.  We may even think nothing has happened. Read More

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

Nope, That’s NOT Why I’m Catholic (Part 2: Love is in the air)

In my part one, I mentioned that the firestorm of debate that the HHS Mandate has created encouraged a number of conversations with people who are not Catholic or Christian…with atheists, with Satanists, with agnostics…with those who outright hate organized religion and those who are just suspicious of it.

Some of those conversations have been openly hostile, others have been vaguely mocking, and a few have been even curious, but there’s one thing they all have in common.  They all have made (faulty) assumptions about why I am a Catholic.

So, I’m here to set the record straight…

You’re Only Catholic Because You’re Afraid You’re Going to Hell

Going to HellThis is a pretty common argument from those who reject religion outright.  Here is one example from a discussion with an old college coworker (who at least at that time was a self-professed Satanist) on his blog:

The Catholic Church holds itself as the moral standard bearer for the world because it gains its authority from the divine. These rules are not up for a vote or appeal. If its rules are not followed, the sinner is punished in the afterlife. This is coercion not unlike someone giving orders at gunpoint. It negates the possibility of free will.

Or this comment on one of my Facebook posts by a really close friend.  We usually avoid religious discussions, and though he likes to poke fun and provoke me, it’s all in respect and love (I hope).

Well I was going to get a vasectomy but knowing the Church is against it and that Jesus won’t let me into the kingdom of heaven if I do, I’m just going to abstain going forward!

It’s a pretty common argument that assumes that the reason I follow the Church’s teachings or even believe at all is based on my fear of eternal consequences if I don’t.

Just like the “You’re Only Catholic Because You Were Raised That Way” argument, this assumption has some basis in truth, but is missing a much bigger picture.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s an analogy that explains that bigger picture…

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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