A Churning of the Gut

Just last night, as I was easing my way into my day-off today, I had the chance to meet with the parents of an elementary school down here in Los Angeles. I was sharing with them my experience of faith in the family. Really a striking thing for me to reflect on as our Bishops our gather in Rome to really tackle the problems of evangelization and open up to the Holy Spirit’s movements in the immense beauty of the family in God’s plan. I was drawn to the promise and the covenant that God made with Abraham that his decedents would be filled with faith as the sky is just covered in stars, as one can see it in the desert away form the city (Genesis 15) and how Abraham was faced with the gravest encounter a parent could face: what do I trust and long for more, my God’s promise to me or my own child? Only to realize that they are mysteriously one and the same.

The challenges of this promise from God, lived out so imperfectly by us, not just as biological parents, but as spiritual parents, sharing the faith, planting the seeds of faith in others, led me then to walk with these elementary school parents through the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).

That’s when things started getting serious and real for me.

I came across the way that the Father’s reaction is described. Go read it! It said he “was filled with compassion.” And it struck me that that word, compassion, is so weak! Here’s a Father whose been rejected and doubted and pretty much told by his son that he would be better off if he were dead. Still, this Father sees his son crawling back to him, and before he can even cross the property line, the Father embarrasses himself and runs out to him, out of compassion. Well, the actual word used in the original language means a compassion that one feels in the gut. A churning of the gut, something that makes us hurt because we love so much, something that make us almost ill because our love for someone is so real and so tangible, that when we see them in pain and we want them to know they are loved and not forgotten, that we physically feel it and it almost doubles us over. That kind of compassion.

That’s what our God feels. That kind of compassion. When we run away from him. That’s how he looks at us. That’s how he welcomes us back. Not like, I told you so, but with that gut-churning love, that deeply felt pain, knowing that we have been in pain and lonely and unfulfilled.

I got a glimpse of this, I think, in real life, just the other day. Or rather, I should say, I think I felt this. I didn’t plan on sharing this with the parents last night, but I was just so struck as I was reading this story I’ve read so many times by that word, weak as it is in our language: compassion. So I couldn’t help but to share briefly that I’d been following one of our priests around on sick calls to the hospital. We came into a room where a lady had just been diagnosed with a scary disease. I left the room as she was able to go to Reconciliation with Father, but I still got to hear part of her story. I felt that churning in my gut as she described what I won’t go into detail about. About that struggles with her family. And I was just struck by the way sin creeps into our communities, especially our families, and even into our own lives, and tries to tear things apart. It’s not like this was happening to her because of something she did wrong, as if God was punishing her like a petty, vengeful judge.

No, this was our human condition, our struggle with sin, being made real and terrible, and it disgusted me. I was not disgusted by her, by no means! I was saddened by how such a beautiful life could be so hurt by the loneliness and division caused by sin. And so the greater healing she needed was not physical healing, though that is one thing we prayed over her for. Yet, it was the healing of her heart and her family that was most important. That compassion the priest must have for his people can sometimes be a physical, gut-churning hatred for sin. But, so beautifully, that anger and frustration with sin, that we all must feel, especially for our own sin, can lead to a deeper care and love for those we see around us and those we encounter face to face. Then, compassion, in our families and in our friendships, and for those we’ve never met before, becomes more than a fleeting feeling, but something that digs its way into our very being.  That kind of compassion. God’s kind of compassion.

-Tim

Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?

Quite possibly the best moment I’ve ever had in a classroom happened just the other day out here at Sacred Heart. I had just come over to hang out with the 6th grade for maybe 20 or 30 minutes. They love it when the Pastoral Intern Seminarian comes over. Maybe just because it interrupts class for a little bit, but probably because the guys that have gone before me have done such a great job with them too. So there I was, wanting to chat with them a little bit about what we heard at Mass the Sunday before. Knowing that they were studying the Old Testament, many of them maybe for the first time, I had to ask them: So what did you think about when you heard that God sent a bunch of snakes to bite his people? (One of the oh so confusing and painful stories from the OT, found in Numbers 21 and leading up the glorious John 3:16 and ‘For God so loved the world…’ that we heard for the Exaltation of the Cross). But somehow this 20 or 30 minutes got out of hand I was joyed to just pour over the Bible with these kids for more than an hour and a half, question after question.

But right in the middle of it all, right in the middle of talking about the way our God comes running after us, and that even though we suffer in this world, and it may even seem that God is causing our pain, but that he has carved our names on his hand and he gives us our names and makes us who we are because of his desperate love for us (ok, take a breath!), we got to the story of Moses and the Burning Bush and the way that God does not receive his name from us but he gives it to us himself, and we can call on him but not control him, and we can know that we know his name and he knows us! Right in the middle of that, I’m practically leaning over the podium, trying to get across to them how scary and surprising an encounter with God like that can be, but how powerful and life changing and beautiful it can be, I said, “Sometimes these stories from the Old Testament are just so SCARY!” And at that very moment, with the Burning Bush and the fire of God’s love on our hearts…

…the fire alarm goes off!

The kids leaped from their seats, terror on their faces, excited yelps from their mouths. And I’m wondering, jeez, what did I say!? Well, if that’s not the most perfectly time fire drill I’ve ever been a part of, I don’t know how to make it any better.

After we got out some nervous laughter and found our way out to the school yard, well-drilled and ready to get back into the Bible, we came back to the class room and chatted a bit more about the Old Testament and God’s relentless love in the face of a sometimes scary and mean world. From there we looked at Adam and Eve and how we humans are the pinnacle of creation, loved into being and sustained by God’s desire that we know him and live with him forever, written on our hearts from the very beginning of creation.

And I just threw so much information at them, that I was afraid when I left that there’s no way they would remember anything because there was just way too much! But in my heart I am sure of something else: if they don’t remember ever little thing I shared with them, I would hope they remember that moment that God made so exciting. I would hope they remember just how excitable and geeked-out I can get about the wonders of the word of God and how enthusiastic I  was about the way God has been chasing us down throughout history and through Scripture and beyond into our daily lives.

So I learned a lot about Scripture and evangelization myself that day: One of the most important ways we can move lives is not simply by sharing the information, but by sharing the Incarnation. We’re not just all about making sure these kids pass the tests, but making sure they know this stuff has and still is changing our lives. We cannot afford to read the Bible just to impress others with our trivia and book smarts. We will only be able to change lives and get other to read the Bible and fall in love with God’s word, and fall in love ourselves, if we share the excitement, if we make sure others know Jesus has turned our lives upside down, and we would have it no other way.

-Tim (ST)

Even the Most Fleeting of Blessings

Has your heart ever felt like breaking after seeing something so beautiful? Have you ever seen something and said to yourself, This is almost too beautiful, it can’t be true, it must be little more than a tease? We can find ourselves in these moments, knowing that they cannot last forever, almost becoming bitter over the fact that even this beauty too shall pass. Hey, I’m ok with the tough moments, the challenges, the temptations passing on. Yes, Lord, let those pass. But then our hearts can almost want to leap out of our chests when we come across the Beautiful, knowing that, yes, unfortunately, even this too shall pass.

But there is a great joy in this too, is there not? After all, the giants of our faith who have gone before us have been attuned to this, have felt this same anguish. C.S. Lewis, I think it was,  exclaimed that the very fact that our hearts yearn for more than this world can offer means that we have been loved into being for something more than what we see. St. Augustine whispers to our same stretched hearts that we have been made for God, and those hearts are restless until they rest in God. St. John Paul II, with the weight of the Church’s desire for our happiness and fulfillment behind his words, spoke of how it is the face of Christ we seek in whatever we desire. When we seek the Beautiful, the Good, and the True, God has put into our hearts a need for him, and when we realize that, all others things can, in a way, break our hearts.

As long as we hold onto this desire for God, or at the very least, a desire to desire God, nothing will come from our hearts but thankfulness. But there is a temptation here. A very dangerous temptation.

Just this last week, I found myself on a spur of the moment jaunt up to Santa Barbara for my day off. Coming from the desert, the mountains that spill into the sea were more than a welcome feeling under my feet. Lunch on the pier catching up with good friends within sight of one of California’s legendary surf spots was refreshing enough to make me feel just fine not having actually surfed it (the me of 6 years ago would have baulked at that sentiment). But as I was walking down that pier, transfixed by the harbor and the mountains and the stretching sands of the beach, boy, that temptation against being thankful started to creep in.

I wanted this. I wanted to stay. But I wanted to leave. I kept thinking, it was a bad idea to come here, to take this all in, knowing that I just have to leave in a few hours anyway. It was almost too beautiful, to refreshing. And I couldn’t grasp it, hold onto it, possess it, make it my own. My selfishness, my desire to choose just where I wanted to be, my unwillingness to be thankful for such a short-lived gift, tried to creep in and ruin the day.

But it would not last, thanks be to God. The constant reminder that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4), fought that quick feeling of despair. How sad that would have been! To come away to a most beautiful place like Santa Barbara, only to be ungrateful because I could not control it, because it was to be fleeting as well.

We can’t let this happen in our lives, in our friendships, in our ministries, in our relationships with our families and with God. The devil wants to blind us to the gifts we are receiving, to feel like they are not good enough, that others are receiving more without deserving it, to feel like God is playing a cruel joke by blessing us one day and cursing us the next. Do not listen to these lies! Our God is not a fickle God who messes with us by granting us our hearts’ desires one day, and then, waking up on the wrong side of bed the next, steals away all our joy just for the fun of it. Our God is a God who does not play games, but One whose love has come before us and will last into eternity. It is up to our hearts, which desire more than this world can give, to discern, to seek that love even in the most fleeting of blessings.

-Tim(ST)

Called By Name (Whether It’s Actually My Name Or Not)

Well, that’s one week down. I think I’ve got about another 40 to go, or something like that. While I miss having the chance to run up to Santa Barbara to be with you all, I hope you can rejoice with me that I have found a very welcoming home out here in the desert at Sacred Heart. It saddens me that I have this new disconnect between us. But take heart that we can be even more deeply connected through our prayers. But this is nothing like a farewell, by any means. Simply a moving forward, another step closer to trying to figure out where God is drawing me, and all of us really.

With all this in mind, I can’t but help to share some of my hopes and fears and joys and struggles that God is so kindly, and thankfully so gently, showing me since I’ve been here. And so why not start off with one of the silliest, smallest ones, because, after all, sometimes that is where God can speak the loudest.

You see, I’m the eighth in a growing line of seminarians that have come through Sacred Heart over the last eight years. It’s a joy for me to hear their stories, and the ways that the parishioners here have fallen in love with them and helped them grow closer to becoming priests. The funniest part of it all is when people begin accidentally calling me by the names of these other seminarians. One of my friends in the front office actually makes fun of me by doing this on purpose. See, not a big deal at all. But somehow God is trying to open my eyes and ears to something bigger here.

It’s bringing up in my prayer a lot of the feelings and temptations to compare myself with those who’ve gone before me. I begin to think, well, am I as good a preacher as he is? Or better? Will I be better with the youth or young adults? Will I impress them? Will I let them down? Rather than recognizing that I bring in a wealth of my own gifts and talents, I have a tendency to really compare myself to the others. And this can get in the way of my ministry, which is a scary thing for me.

God speaks to our hearts in Scripture about our own gifts and talents and the ways that he is uniquely calling all of us to use what he has given us. For one, there’s Isaiah 43:1 which tells us that, “I have called you by name, and you are mine.” Likewise, Isaiah 49:16 reminds us that, “See, upon the palms of your hands I have engraved you.” Aside from these two passages having the not so subtle references to one’s name being called and remembered and loved, they dwell on the uniqueness and singleminded devotion of God to a single people, Israel, in order to bring the whole world to himself. There were greater, stronger, kinder, more faithful people than the Israelites, but God called them, loved them, fought for them, was faithful to them, and they bore fruit at times and fell apart at others.

But I have no doubt that God has placed me in a parish where I can just be who I am, and find joy in sharing that with others. Still, God’s faithfulness is found in verses like these, and to me this means that he still reaches out individually to each one of us and to every soul, putting in our hearts the desire to be unique, to use our gifts for the good of others, and, even though we may find ourselves jealous or burdened by expectations, he means for us to exalt in being ourselves and serving his people.

The expectations I’ve placed on myself here at Sacred Heart, simply because I have seen how much others have loved those who have gone before me, walks a delicate and fine line between being envious of the success of others and finding joy that other men have grown into amazing priests during their time here. What a joy it is to face this delicate balance head on and recognize that sin lies in and tempts toward the former, while grace, and our faithfulness and docility to it, lie in rejoicing in the joy and success of those who have gone before us. This year at Sacred Heart can easily be scarred by my desire to be better than others and my own competitiveness. On the other hand, and if I just let God take a little more control this should be the case, my future ministry will be something that is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and built up slowly by others (as in 1 Cor. 3:10-17). We all just happen to find ourselves in a beautiful place to add to that project somehow, with the unique gifts and talents we have been blessed with.

-Tim(ST)

The Promise Alone Is Worth It

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    What are we most thankful for? It’s easy to be thankful to God when he has clearly answered our prayers. There’s no feeling quite like praising God in the best of times. But what about that times where we’re desperate for an answer, really crying out that we’d rather be somewhere else, that God would break right into our lives and tell the suffering we’re fighting through that enough is enough; there is no room for despair in this house! What about in those times? Do we give thanks for the struggle? Do we give thanks for the fact that God has made the promise that he will never abandon us, that he will never leave us orphaned and without his sometimes tender and sometimes earth shatteringly powerful help? Do we rejoice only when the promise seems fulfilled?

    Or do we give thanks that the promise has been made in the first place?

    It struck me today, my last day of this summer Spanish immersion adventure here in Mexico, that I’ve been having trouble giving thanks, really, joyfully giving thanks to God while I’ve been down here. Yes, I’ve been so thankful for little things here and there; great big astoundingly beautiful churches and much needed catch-up conversations with dear friends and much-missed family.

    But honestly, I’ve been holding back.

    I’ve been waiting until I get home to be truly thankful. Like, well God, you got me through that, so now I’m ready to give you thanks. I just felt him tugging at my heart today, wondering why I’ve been waiting. Why have I been waiting until I’m sure the promise is fulfilled before I am truly, fully thankful? Am I lacking in trust? Do I need to control this relationship between me and God? Why isn’t the promise enough?

    Let’s wake up and realize how amazing it is that our God makes promises to us, that he welcomes us into his very life and has been telling us our whole lives that he will not abandon us. He’ll even hang on that cross right there with us! Our God is not like those pagan impersonators that were the Roman and Greek gods, making promises and breaking promises and bored out of there minds with humans and with each other. And better yet, our God is far from that watchmaker God of the deists and new agers: some magical force that has no personal relationship with us; who just set the watch and lets it tick itself to eternity. 

    Nope, the fact that our God makes promises should pretty much be enough for us to give thanks. We have to admit that at times these promises may not turn out quite to our own plans. But can we ignore that the promises are made, that our God wants to enter into an intimate encounter of trust with us? And this feast of the Assumption is a perfect reminder that our God desires to give us everything that he is. He has made our Blessed Mother into that promise. We look to her, and we see who we are to God and who he promises that we will be. Her life was filled with sorrows, but her life now is nothing but that promise. That promise of God sharing everything he has with us. Mary is that promise to us!

    And no matter where we are or how much we don’t want to be there, that’s a promise we can be thankful for. 

-Tim(ST)

Where Our Hearts Long To Be

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   As I close in on the home stretch of my time here in Mexico, it’s starting to feel like the time has just flown by. I’ve got just a little over two weeks left here, so it’s surprising to me that I’ve gotten this far. To say that time is flying would be no lie, but it would also help me forget just how difficult this was for me when I first arrived here. And while I am so grateful to God for the incredible hospitality and care I’ve received here, as well as for the wonders of technology that let me stay in touch with you all, my friends and family, there is one thing besides all that that has brought me this far:
   Prayer.
   Well, that might seem kind of obvious. But I’ll keep saying it as I’ve said it in my last couple of posts: I may be here to learn the language and the culture, on the surface, but deeper down, I’m convinced that God has brought me here to feel so out of place, and to feel lonely at times, all in order to fall more in deeply love with Him, to desire and need Him, to learn better how to trust that He has brought me here and will bring me right where He wants me to be. Whether I like it or not, ha!
So I share with you all something that Laura sent to me in those spiritually challenging first days of not being where I wanted to be, but knowing it was where I needed to be. And still need to be. 
St. Francis de Sales wrote about the mortification, the deep spiritual longing and suffering of John the Baptist. Knowing he was searching for the Messiah, and having met Him face to face, John was called to stay in the desert and continue to long for Jesus, so that others might long for Him to. He could not follow the one he had sought:
   “How truly mortified was John’s spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have him so close and not enjoy his presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God’s will and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God, in order to love him better!” 
   I have pleaded with God in my prayer to let me go home. Maybe I could at least make it to 6 weeks and then run home. Knowing the whole time that God wants me here, and that I need to let His sometimes silent and mysterious ways grow in me. Constant prayer on these words of St. Francis has me missing those huge parts of the summer I so dearly love to spend with you all: Camp, Steubenville, even my own (30th!?) birthday. But for me, those are the things God has called me away from for now. To “leave God for God!” To be away from all the ways that I wanted to serve Him, so that somehow I could indeed grow closer, more deeply and profoundly in love with the One who has loved us into being, loved us into exactly the places we find ourselves at this very moment.
My time with you all has fed me spiritually, has brought me closer to God. So I’ve asked Him over and over: why are you taking me away from that!? And quietly, and patiently, more faithful to me than I have been to Him, He has been reminding me that I am where I need to be. And that can become a constant battle we have with God in prayer, as if we know better than He where we should be. I know some of you are facing very real battles with wondering why God has you where you’re at right now. Whether it be trying to figure out if college is going to work out this year, or screaming at God trying to figure out why life at home has to be such a struggle, maybe we can step back and see if those are the deserts God is calling us away to.
   Like John the Baptist, maybe we are taken away from where our hearts long to be. And placed right where our hearts needs to be. I can’t wait to come back and somehow share all the secret, beautiful things God has been doing in my life here. But I get the feeling that will be in God’s time. Right when we need it most. 

-Tim(ST)

Because He Loved Us First

   It can be easy to develop a kind of “savior complex” while in the seminary; as if we are the heroes of grace; the one’s come to save the world. One would hope that a man would enter feeling some kind of call to be of service to God and his people, some kind of call to lay aside one’s own desire and even some of one’s hopes for a life of comfort. One would also hope that a man would not enter the seminary to run away from hardships, to seek to be served, rather than to serve. But, as I have been formed over that last five years, sometimes dragged, sometimes pushed, sometimes cautiously guided closer to the priesthood, I must admit at least one of many things: I’ve focused way more on being the minister than on being ministered to.
But I can no longer deny that to be able to love, we all first need to know how to be loved.
My spiritual director has been questioning me about this for a couple years now. Do I know how to let others love me? But being formed for the priesthood, sometimes it paradoxically feels safer to say, well I’d much rather focus on loving others. Forget about me. It’s not about me. But then it’s easy to forget that love works both ways.
   God has been stripping me of a lot of pride over these last few weeks, and it goes further back than that. He’s certainly been doing this since I first entered the Sem, but I’m think back as recently as June, in Arizona, at the Lifeteen Catholic Youth Ministry Training Conference. I’m used to learning how to be a minister, that when I found myself in a place where someone else wanted to minister to me, it’s like, I don’t know what to do! Give me something to do. Give me something to be in charge of. I’m not used to just sitting back and letting others take charge.
   Well, God’s been having a little chuckle at that attitude of mine. Especially now that I’m here in Mexico, back to learning the basics of a new language. There’s been a huge stripping of pride since I’ve come down here (but don’t worry, there’s plenty more pride in me where that came from; uh-oh!). Not being able to express myself the way I want to, because there is so little English around me, was really freaking me out. Needing people to talk to me a like a little child, slowly and repeating often, certainly has taken the wind out of my supposed pride in being at least somewhat eloquent. Barely being able to order a meal at a restaurant was embarrassing enough, let alone the fear that even that simple task would allude me my whole time here. And then there’s the humility I’m being gifted with in simply accepting the love and care of my host family, who don’t love and care for me because I’ve accomplished anything, or even because of my oft celebrated “yes” to discerning God’s call in my life to the priesthood. I have to learn how to accept their love and care because they love and care for me because I’m in need of it.
   So the point is, none of us is the Savior. None of us has enough pride to get us through our lives all by ourselves, whether we may like I think we do or not. The utterly helpless Christ child needed the care of Mary and Joseph. As a man emboldened by that love and care and by the Holy Spirit and his Father, he let others minister to him. He let others show their love for him. Our pride will kill us and kill our relationships if we do not accept the love of others. It very well may be that the way we let others love us is the way that God will be moving among us. Because we cannot forget, the only reason we can love others, be of service to others, is because he loved us first. We have to accept it. We get to accept it.

-Tim(ST)

Get Out Of the Boat

Some people may think it’s been overplayed for the last year or so, but I’m not getting tired of Hillsong’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” any time soon. It could be because of the huge impact it had on me when I heard it for the first time during that marathon Adoration time at Steubenville last year. I remember just that morning, having read that terrifying, but tremendous story of our lives in Matthew 14, when Peter takes those tentative but trusting steps out onto the water. So when the band was half way through that, what, 15 or 20 minute version of that song, it was hitting me hard. I was starting that day with Jesus calling me out on the water, and finishing that night by taking that scared step into the wind and the waves, trusting he would grab my hand if I started sinking. 

Really, it’s just a song. But now, I feel like I’m really living in it. 

I can tell Jesus to call me out upon the water easily enough, and just keep going the way I’ve been going this whole time. Yes, I know I’ve been in the seminary for five years now, and I have plenty of people thanking me for my yes and encouraging me with prayer. Yes, there have been plenty of joys and plenty of stresses to come along with it all. But honestly, none of it has felt all that hard to control in some way. It’s been full of blessings and friends and affirmations, and I am so thankful to God for this. But you know what it’s kind of felt like for me?

Like I’ve been sitting pretty in the boat. 

Sure, the boat’s been rocking at times. The waves have been a little bigger than I hoped they would be a times (I always did like the little waves when I was surfing). The wind certainly blew me in different directions at times. 

But I’ve never felt as “out upon the water” as I have over the last six days. These next two months, I’m finding, may very well be the most important during my whole time in the seminary in shaping who I can be as a priest.

Part of my yes to being in the seminary and studying to be a priest is learning holy obedience. Learning not just some kind of obedience where we accept absolutely everything without questioning, but learning how to find those times when God is indeed calling us out upon the water, especially when we now in our hearts that we’d rather stay right in that boat, when we’re sure that the best place for us may even be back on the shore. 

But here I am, right in the middle of Mexico, here to practice, and for all intents and purposes, re-learn Spanish. My host family speaks almost no English and my classes are entirely in Spanish. I know I could have done a much better job of getting ready, so when I came flying into Querétaro, I noticed how beautiful were the green, rolling hills and the almost constant rain pregnant storm clouds, but I couldn’t get out of my heart just how much I was already missing home, being around the ones I love, missing out on everything great happening up there this summer: Camp, Steubenville, Fr. Bruce and Fr. James on their way to their new adventures. Honestly, I was near tears, knowing how much I didn’t want to be here.

So as important as it is to be obedient and to go where the seminary and the Archbishop want me to be, the biggest struggle so far has been feeling so far out of my comfort zone, so far away from where I want to be. I can’t imagine Peter was so sure about what was going on when he stepped out onto the water. I wonder if he felt a little like I felt when I came flying into my new home for the next two months: “This is scary as hell, but I’m going to trust you on this one Jesus.” Sure, this is probably the nicest city in Mexico, and I’ve got a ton of very caring people around me (not to mention patient with my broken Spanish), and everyday I come across two or three simply stunning little churches to pray in. 

What’s hardest for me right now is that I simply can’t express myself the way I want to, and I’m so impatient with myself that I fear I won’t ever be able to while I’m here. And so the spiritual battle is real, my friends. Maybe every spiritual battle feeds on those two feelings: feeling alone and not knowing if it’s going to end. No, physically I am doing just fine, but the spiritual battle is real: get back in the boat, run back home; get back in the boat, just hide in your room and don’t talk to anyone; get back in the boat, you’re never going to learn what you’ve come here to learn. 

I am not perfectly comfortable with being out of the boat and out upon the water quite yet. But it’s getting a little better day by day. I’m finding more and more, day by day, that as much as I don’t really want to be here, as far away as I feel from all the things that usually bring me to God, God is working harder and more desperately than ever to bring me closer to him. God is calling me out louder and louder, clearer and clearer, out onto the water and that I don’t need to be afraid. I’m afraid that God is going to strip me of so many things I am attached to back home. But this can only mean that my load will be lighter, and it’ll be that much easier to walk out upon the water. 

 

-Tim(ST)

Really Real

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Every once in a while I have this moment where I am so blown away by the possibility that everything I believe and everything I at least say I believe is real. Really real.

During XLT here in Arizona at the LifeTeen Catholic Youth Ministry Training Conference, God would’t let me go without having to face him eye to eye and challenge him on how really real he is. Mark Hart was giving such powerful witness to the giants we have to face in youth ministry, in our daily lives, and the ways we just kind of cower down beneath them when we don’t trust that God is quite real enough. He challenged us to trust like David trusted when he stood in the shadow of Goliath, facing his taunts as if they were the tantrums of a spoiled child. 

So there I am, standing right at the bottom of the winding stairs leading into our worship space, all fancied up in my liturgical garb, getting ready to process with the priest bringing in the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration. Incense in hand and the right path for procession in mind, Mark’s words in my ears and the giants facing me back home in my heart: one of the teens who I’ve been praying deeply for all week, as her own struggles are a burden of my own; my dear friend who’s carrying a cross that’s starting to get too heavy for her to carry on her own; my own serious nervousness about heading to Mexico for two months next week. I find myself bringing these weights, these crosses, these burdens as a youth minister, as a friend, as a seminarian, all into this night.

And then I realize I’m staring at God face to face, eye to eye.

The monstrance was right there. And if that’s really God there in front of me; if he really really has so humbled himself and made himself so clear to us that he has made himself as vulnerable as a piece of bread blessed and broken and now adored by us; then who am I not to be in wonder?

Who am I to stare God in the face and not bring these things to him? How can I act, in that brief whisper of a moment before walking with our Lord into a room of seven hundred other youth ministers, as if he doesn’t care to stand there with me in all the garbage of sin and treasure of grace, daily life and the extraordinary moments of life? Who am I to ignore a God who placed himself right smack in front of me?

It was shocking, even if it only lasted a moment. It certainly affected the next hour of Adoration and praise and worship. But I’ll never forget that pause, that moment I froze, that encounter with the Holy, made so simple, so visible, so vulnerable.

So what did I say to God?

Nothing. I couldn’t say anything. Actually, by the time we seminarians and the priest made it up to the altar, I was practically laughing to myself. Somehow, in the midst of all the struggles I was facing in praying for those I love and care for, in all the garbage of their fears and my worries for them, all I could do was laugh. I wasn’t laughing at their problems, expecting them to just forget about what was troubling them. It was just this feeling of realizing that God knows what it all means. And I do not.

So all I could do was laugh a little. And just stare at him. And thank him. And praise him. And question him. And challenge him a little bit. And be angry that my friends were hurting. 

But mostly laugh a little. And just stare at him. Because he knows what we’re going through. And he enters right into it. 

 

-Tim(ST)

Where Were You, God?

When Jesus told us that we serve him when we serve the least of our brothers and sisters, he wasn’t telling us that we weren’t going to see poor, naked, hungry people. He wasn’t telling us that everyone would have everything they ever needed and that even the sick and dying would be perfectly content with their pain and loneliness. No, he looks us in the face and says, In the middle of all that pain and loneliness, I am there. And when you find some way to love in the middle of that, you love ME. Because that is where I AM. 

Listen, I know I’m not up there as much as I want to be. I’ve always been weary of Isla Vista and the kind of lifestyle it’s known for. And I know I’ve never had family and friends that I knew intimately and cared dearly for gunned down. But I’m compelled to say something I’m not exactly hearing come out of all of this madness. 

Where is God in all of this if not in forgiveness?

Can we find a place in our hearts to forgive this young man for tearing our hearts out and doing what he’s done? Are we going to put the limit on God’s mercy and forgiveness here?

I’m not saying here to forget what has happened. I’m not saying that we even need to accept it and simply go about saying, It must have been God’s will, or, At least he got what was coming to him. I’m saying, what if we missed Jesus in this young man, in his loneliness and anger and misunderstandings? What if there is more we can do for young people like him, before this explodes again?

Let’s just take a step back from our judgments, even from our anger and fear, and let ourselves be overwhelmed and challenged by God’s forgiveness and mercy.

We don’t let ourselves face God’s judgement enough, I think. So it must be said, here and now, in the face of something so ugly and painful. I wanted this young man to face what he deserves for what he has done. But am I the one to say what he deserved? What do we wish for him after what he has done? Do we wish his condemnation? Do we wish his eternal separation from a God he probably never really knew intimately? Do we wish hell upon his soul?

We need to ask ourselves this, please, honestly: 

If our heads and our hearts have been as overwhelmed and challenged by God’s mercy and forgiveness and love as we sometimes claim, shouldn’t we still desire that this young man somehow find his way back to God, especially after what he has done? Especially since there is nothing more we can do for him, now that his own life has been cut so hideously short, his soul burdened by the lives he has taken. 

As I write this, I don’t know who any of his victims are. I don’t know if I’ve met these people before, or if they were in serious need of some encounter with God before they own lives were taken. There is so much I simply don’t know. 

What I’m pretty sure about, though, is that we can’t simply leave our reactions to all of this at the level of anger and frustrations and fear and pain. Sure, start there. We should feel those things. Yell at God. Ask God why he abandoned us that night. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask the question himself while he was on the Cross. But it does not, it cannot end there. I don’t feel like I’m close enough to the whole situation to simply forgive that young man. And I absolutely cannot say I know how the victims’ families and friends feel, and that they should simply forgive.

But I will say this: the Church, and God himself, will always challenge us to reach deeper and deeper into our pain and anger to find mercy and forgiveness. This time is no different. Let’s go searching for it together, why don’t we. It won’t be easy, but it’s what we’re here for. 

 

-Tim(ST)