Yeah, that abandoned ship at Goleta Beach had some visitors…
Make sure you watch until the END! SPECIAL SURPRISE!
Yeah, that abandoned ship at Goleta Beach had some visitors…
Make sure you watch until the END! SPECIAL SURPRISE!
“Then the LORD said: ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by.’ There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a still, small voice. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
-1 Kings 19:11-13
We can’t always be looking for God in the huge surprises of our lives, the lightning strikes and the earthquakes. Oh sure, he’s in there all right. But when we stop looking for God in the smallest things, even in the “coincidences,” we’re missing the way that God likes to speak to us most clearly.
You see, our God is the God of history (yup, that’s right, “his story,” buh-dump-shuh!), and he acts and makes himself known in some pretty awesome ways, but also sometimes in the silliest little details of our lives. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and reveal himself to us with what we might mistake as “coincidences.”
That’s one of the most important thins to realize here at the Seminary I think. When we forget that God’s going to be working in everything going on here, it’s really easy to start complaining about every little inconvenience, every little stress. Sometimes, though, God makes himself known in some of the simplest ways, letting us know we’re not as completely in control as we sometimes think we are.
Case in point, just last Friday I had been teaching all day at my field education placement. Really, a joy to be able to share my experience and my relationship with God and to call it teaching. So by the end of the day I’m pretty beat (yeah, way more respect for all teachers out there), and I head out for a nice long walk outside of campus. As soon as I make my way back onto the Seminary property, one of my classmates is driving out the gate to head off to Mass at St. Mary Magdalene’s. And it hits me, in my teaching daze and my reflective unwinding, I had forgotten that I was planning on driving myself on over to Mass. So I hop in my buddy’s car and tag along with him. In the end, it was nice to catch up with him and worship with him. I don’t spend enough time with him, so I can’t help but to feel like God was reminding me of a few things with his little master stroke of, that’s right, “coincidence.”
Every little insignificant detail worked itself out just right. From my forgetfulness and exhaustion, to my lack of time to get to my own car in time to drive over before Mass was ended, even to my classmate’s tendency to run a little bit behind schedule on most things (if he had been running early, I would have missed him and probably never even remembered I hadn’t gone to Mass yet), everything worked out well to get me to Mass when otherwise it was beyond my control.
Yeah, so I’m pretty sure God was making himself known in the smallest of ways. It’s no great conversion story of epic proportions, but I hope it’s just silly enough to make one thing clear: God doesn’t need to throw lightning bolts and level mountains to get our attention. Sometimes he just reminds us how he doesn’t mind breaking into our daily life to draw us closer to himself.
“The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk
of a face-to-face encounter with others…”
Do you ever wonder why it’s so important to go to priest for Confession?
After all, aren’t we already forgiven of our sins? Isn’t God’s love so great that all we have to do is ask him for forgiveness and it’s ours? Sometimes our Protestant brothers and sisters don’t get us. Sometimes we don’t get us. Why don’t we go straight to God?
OK, so I probably can’t give you every reason here just why we go to a priest for Confession, but here’s one thought I can’t get out of my head after this last weekend’s Confirmation Retreat: God wants us to be involved.
One of the most moving moments for me during the whole retreat was Saturday night, when we all got a chance to go to Confession, to lay it all out, not because God doesn’t already know our sins and want to forgive them, but partly because we need to admit them to ourselves. Waiting my turn to go, there were a couple of retreatants praying at the cross in the middle of the room. They were holding each other, there were tears, and there was comfort. Then there were three of them together. Then a fourth girl came in to share in the tears and joy. Soon enough, there were five of them, holding onto each other, silent, but sharing the freedom, the relief, of letting go and finding not only themselves, but each other, again.
I found myself thinking, this doesn’t happen if there is no sacrament.
This doesn’t happen if we just go straight to God and leave everyone else out of it. This doesn’t happen if God doesn’t ask us to meet him face to face in another person, to admit that we’re not perfect, and to just ask him to remember that we’re human and need him and need his forgiveness.
This doesn’t happen when we think our own sin only affects us, as if it’s some private affair. When we realize just what sin is, then we’ll see how beautiful it is that God lets us bring ourselves, together, with one another, back to himself. When we realize that sin is breaking the Father’s heart, that we turn our back on the only one who can really see through us and the only one who knows how deeply we hurt for love, then how glorious is it that he wants to forgive us by bringing us back together, face-to-face, eyelash-to-eyelash (that’s pretty much the root of the word reconciliation). When we realize that the most dangerous thing about sin is that it isolates us, makes us feel alone, makes us feel unloved, then there is no better way to be drawn back to each other, to the Church, to God, than that face-to-face encounter with another person who knows what it’s like to fall and to be forgiven, and to let them walk us, hand in hand, back to the Father.
In the end though, these words are too few to say what really happens when the heart is crying out, desperately thirsty for reconciliation, for forgiveness. I can’t tell you what was in the hearts of those five girls, huddled up together, but I can tell you this: we’ll only know for ourselves when we go for ourselves.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Or don’t judge a place by it’s Instagram photo. Or it’s lack of an Instagram photo, I guess.
My classmates and I just spent a day together, away from the Seminary, getting ready for our next big step in formation, our Institution to the Ministry of Acolyte. Every class had the chance to find a retreat center off campus, with a priest of our choice to lead us. My class found ourselves out at a place where I took no photos, from which I sent no Tweets, and of which I won’t even give you the name (even though some of you may already know…).
Does that mean it wasn’t worth an Instagram, or too cheap even for a Tweet, or too secret to be named?
I dare say it was rather too valuable for all that.
Look, I enjoy Instagram and the beauty that can be shed through it, and Twitter and Facebook are great ways to get out that thought that has moved my heart and that I think others would like to hear. But we’ve got to be careful sometimes, unless we start thinking, right when God’s trying to move our hearts, and move our hearts alone for our sake, that we wish we had our cameras, we wish we had internet connection, we wish someone could see what we’re seeing, right here and right now. Then it’s really easy to lose the moment, to miss God’s voice as he whispers to us in that silence, “This moment is my gift to you.”
I could have taken my phone with me up to the cemetery that sat quietly on top of the winding, dusty dirt road, where there lay dozens of the monks who had given their lives and deaths to this small piece of heaven on earth. I could have Tweeted out their names in memoriam, or Snapchatted the breathtaking view of the dry hills and valley that stretched out of sight from the altar on that cemetery hill, on which have probably been said many grateful and tearful Masses for those now bound to that land like they had never been before. Perhaps I cold even have checked-in on Facebook at that hilltop, just so that any of you could know right where I was, when I was there, and who I was with.
But no, I have no photos, no comments, no reminder on my phone about the weather and how cold it was. What I’ve got though is my memories and the way my imagination plays with the colors of the hills and the sky at sunrise, with the long choruses of silence before and after Mass, before the Blessed Sacrament, or wandering around in the desert landscape.
I like to think Jesus spoke about God kind of like that. He walked through the wilderness, through the meadows covered in colors more splendid that the robes of King Solomon (Matt 6:28-29). He new firsthand how hard it was to farm the rough, dry land, and how rewarding was the harvest (Mark 4:3-8). He got his hands dirty, danced and sang his heart out, cried very real tears and shouted out very real cries. He loved this life and knew how beautiful it could be, and he loved to talk about it and share it with those who would listen.
So, no, social media is not a bad thing. But sometimes we’ve got to put it down, let our imagination hold onto and play with the most beautiful things we see, the funniest things we hear, the most painful moments of our day. Then we just might not miss that moment when God whispers quietly in our own ears, “I made this moment for you, just for you, so you might know Me.”
It’s really hard to pray when we’re sick, isn’t it? Or maybe when even the mildest of headaches takes over, it’s a lot easier to stay in bed, in a nice dark room, than to find our way to Mass. Even praying right where we are at, alone in our rooms, for anything more than, God please let this headache go away, feels heavy. I know for myself that even with a sore throat I start focusing more on my self and that little itching pain, that nuisance I probably can’t just pray away. It’s been really rough these last couple of weeks down here at the Seminary because the flu has been going around, knocking guys out of class, leaving our chapel a little emptier during Mass.
All this illness has me really thinking about how really in the body we are. First, I can laugh at myself here, being the one who nearly pulled a muscle genuflecting before the Tabernacle just the other day. I went to one knee, and on the way back up I felt something twinge; my first liturgical injury! Who knew that praise and worship could be so taxing! But with all this feeling the little inconveniences, and dealing as a community with the illness running through the Seminary and ravaging one guy after another, I think there’s a pretty important lesson to be learned here.
It’s not that we need to suffer to show our love to God. Sure there’s a certain gift God gives us when we are less than comfortable, when we learn what it means to give up something we cherish, or something as simple as a small comfort, for the good of those we care for, or even those we don’t particularly get along with. What I’m taking out of this is that we’re not merely spiritual beings. Nope, we’ve got bodies, and our bodies can praise God with song and dance, suffer with those who are sick, and endure the little pains and terrible injuries that God Himself chose to enter into when He became one of us.
I know it’s easy for me to say so, since I haven’t had to deal with the same flu this time around, but there’s something beautiful going on here. Ok, so that might be stretching it a little bit, but how can we ignore that, as St. Paul cries out to the Corinthians, Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19). So how do we use our bodies to praise God? When we’re sick, do we curse God for giving us a body that can feel? In our healthiest moments, or when we’re feasting with dearest friends and family, or when we’re right in that zone, working out, are we’re thanking God for our health, or for the ways He wants to speak to us about Himself in our pleasure?
Don’t think that Jesus didn’t know how to feel. I’m willing to bet that St. Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthians about how holy their bodies were, had the image emblazoned on his mind of Jesus hanging on the cross, but also of Jesus risen from the dead, wounds still clearly showing in his hands and side. Jesus has a body, and it was treated by his executioners about as harshly as one could be treated, but he never stopped praying to the Father. Even from the cross he cried out to God, knowing He was being heard. And that is the same Body He gives to us, that we worship, that we receive in the Eucharist.
If Jesus let His Body become what it has become for us, if His real and physical self became the greatest gift to us, the very reason for our life, what does that say about our bodies. I hope, I believe, I trust that it means that when I bend my knee and genuflect, even if my muscle feels a little funny, I can praise God in that way; when I open my hands and my arms and lift them up in prayer while we sing out to God, I’m not reaching out to nothing; when I’ve got a headache that just pounds and pounds, it’s not because God is ignoring me; even if I was laying in bed, feverish and coughing through the night, I’ve got to know that God is not going to ignore my frustration and my hope for health.
We don’t just pray with our hearts and our minds. Our body is a prayer. A beautiful prayer, a language that Jesus Himself knows very well.
It was really funny how I came to find out about it. About a month ago I was chatting with the seminarian in charge of our music for liturgies (oh yeah, did I mention I was leading a choir as well), and had to let him know I was going to have a scheduling conflict with my sacristan and choir duties later that week. “Oh yeah,” he said laughing, “and you’re going to be the head sacristan next semester too!” Caught me by surprise! I wouldn’t be honest if I said I wasn’t a little thrilled. It was kind of what I wanted all along. But I’d be even more honest to say it was a bit of an overwhelming moment. I think they had just made me officially the busiest seminarian on campus!
But so far it has me thinking mainly of two things: first, I need to pray now more than ever before, and secondly, I need to pray now more than ever before. One of my favorite sayings about prayer is that we all need to spend thirty minutes of quiet prayer every day; except for those who are the busiest among us, we need to spend a full hour. And I’m learning that the more and more I become a leader here at the Seminary, and for the Church, really, the more I need to become a follower.
If we have not first heard the Shepherd’s voice calling us to follow Him, how could we possibly hope to get others to come with us. Pope Francis is challenging all of us by telling us that we shepherds need to smell more like the sheep. But I figure, before we can start smelling like the sheep, we’ve got to hear His voice, the Shepherd’s call, God telling us, I will come running after you, I run faster than You, and I will not let you go, I will put you on My shoulders and bring you home. Then maybe we can let others know we have heard that call, that it is beautiful and comforting and compelling and trustworthy and challenging, and there is nothing in this world that even compares to hearing our name called by the Shepherd.
Oh but it’s so easy to get wrapped up in that voice and keep it to ourselves too. Have you ever sat in prayer and at Mass and thought, I don’t want to leave this, I want to stay here and leave all the world’s problems outside and just stay with you God. I know I could easily become a sacristy seminarian. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in making God’s house a beautiful place, in doing all we can to make it so that everyone else need only prepare their hearts for Mass. But when I’d rather polish incense thuribles than let my rough edges be worked out before the Tabernacle, or I’d rather lose sleep over dirty purificators than learn to rest in receiving Him in the Eucharist, then I’ve got a serious problem. I’d be keeping it all to myself, in a way.
So if we hear that voice of the Good Shepherd in some way, if we feel like we’re being called to something great (which we all are!), it’s only because we’re going to follow Him first.
Seek the parts of God that you’ve never met before!
Woah, now that’s a challenge to take into a retreat. It’s really easy for us seminarians, as we come back from our Christmas break, and enter right into our annual retreat here this week, to think we’ve got God figured out. There’s nothing like being a theology student to be tricked into thinking we’ve got God all figured out. But our retreat director has us figured out, I think. So he came out swinging right away. Stop trying to put God into a box, stop thinking that we can control God with what we do, with what we offer him, with trying to impress him by how holy we are or how much theology we know about him. Just spend these next five days giving God permission to surprise us.
And that’s what I need most right now.
I let myself be way under-prayed these last couple weeks away from the Seminary, and it’s not really anyone else’s fault but my own. Sure, I was away with my family in North Carolina for ten days, not really close to any Church that had a daily Mass, and no Seminary schedule to fall in line with. I could even be tempted to think that I was distracted by spending time with my family so that I didn’t feel like I had time to pray (not true, there is no wasted time when I get to see my whole family together!). But in the end, it came down to not seeking out God where I had not met him before.
This seeking him out where we may not first think to find him has kind of opened up some reflection on my time away from the Seminary. I keep thinking especially of last Sunday. I ended up at a lovely Protestant community. My family was really sweet, knowing how much I wanted to go to Mass at a Catholic Church, and so offering to split up if we had to. That was the last thing I wanted to do; how sad it would be to let the Mass split us up! Any how, the worst way I could have approached the experience was to just write it off because it wasn’t what I was used to on Sundays. I mean, I’ll admit it really felt to me like there was something missing. Certainly, Jesus was not absent from that community; the Holy Spirit brought us together that day; the Father’s gift to us of being able to pray to him was very real. But, and I can’t not say this, even if it means being politically incorrect or whatever, without the Eucharist, without that very tangible communion with our God who has made himself so vulnerable to us as to place himself in our hands and in our mouths, there was something missing.
Still, the whole ten days was a challenge to me, and I didn’t know why at the time. But it’s becoming clearer to me that it was because I let my prayer life get lazy and I didn’t try to seek God in those places I didn’t expect him to be. Yeah, God can make himself pretty obvious when studying theology, or when the prayer schedule is set for us here at the Seminary. I’m always still learning what it’s going to take for me to find God when everything else seems to “get in the way.” I think that’s something we’ve all got to keep in mind as Christians. Are we tempted to think our families are getting in the way of our faith, or are we aware that God has placed those people in our lives to love them in a very special way that we couldn’t do otherwise? Are we taking a vacation from our prayer life when we’re on vacation from school, or do we let our prayer life feed us even when we’re away from where we are most comfortable?
So that’s my prayer for all of you as we wrap up this Christmas season and begin this new year. Be challenged by God. Give him permission to challenge you, so that he might draw you closer to himself. And please keep praying for us here at the Seminary. There are plenty of challenges here, and the temptations to think that our school gets in the way of our experience of God. Let’s all pray for each other, that we find God where we least expect him.
Maybe that’s where we should expect God the most.
I was pretty scared when the wind started. I mean, I knew a lot about being out on the water. I mean, I was a fisherman. It wasn’t that it was night time, or that the rain had started to pick up. We’re kind of used to that out there. But it was that wind, you know, the kind that howls, sounds like someone’s screaming for help, that starts to whip up the water all around the boat, that makes the boat start to heave, up and down, up and down. And then we saw Him. What was He doing? What was He doing out here? How was he out here? Was he… Was he walking on the water?
And I thought the wind was terrifying! We thought he was a ghost! We thought He was something we couldn’t handle. Sure, the wind didn’t look so bad then: give me the water, the night, the rain, the wind, but don’t give me any ghost. Can’t handle that. I was just a fisherman! But no, this was something else, this was something new, this was someone else, this was someone new. He had come to us, when we were most afraid, most out of control, most in need of help. He came out walking on the water.
Can I really put into words what came next? I mean, he told us not to be afraid. Not be afraid! That’s easy to say, ha! He’s the one walking on water, we’re the ones nearly drowning in a boat, one that He sent us out on in the first place! But then I heard something in His voice. It was more than just words, more than just comfort. There was something in His voice! I don’t know, I can’t put it into words. It just felt like a command: Don’t be afraid! It is I. I AM!
I didn’t know what I was saying, what I was doing. I had to call back to Him, I had to make sure it was Him. If it’s you Lord, command me to walk on the water to You! I screamed over the water and the wind and the rain that was suddenly not quite so awful and terrifying. But, man, was I shaking. Have you ever put your feet over the side of a boat, miles out to sea, and just before your toes hit the water, knowing, just trusting, that you would be able to actually take steps on the water! Never! Trust me, it’s pretty damn scary.
Those first couple of steps, I just wanted to make it to Him. I didn’t know how I was going to make it to Him, just that I was going to do what He said, I was going to let my faith take me where my feet normally would fail. I made it a few steps! I was walking on water, but then that wind! The wind got me again, rocked me, shook me, threw me down, all those things I can’t control, all the unstable things of this world and the forces trying to keep me from walking toward Him, and I could feel my feet go under, and then my knees, and my hips. Soon my shoulders were soaked through, and just before my head went under I shot my hands up and cried out, Lord! Save me! And as my eyes were closed in under the dark water, I felt Him grasp my hand. Even in the way He held my hand and pulled me to Himself, on top of the water again, I knew He cared, I knew what it was to not be afraid, even in the worst storm, wildest sea, darkest waters. I knew by his touch, that He is God, and He has never failed, and He won’t start now.
Yeah, so Peter had a pretty special moment with Christ, so we read and we hear in Matthew 14:22-33. Go read it, keep going through it, hear the winds howling, feel the water shooting up into the boat, feel the wonder as Peter swings his feet over the side of boat, and then let Jesus take a hold of your hand. That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole semester down here at the Sem. This passage has kind of been a mantra of sorts for me since the end of July, when I woke up one morning down in San Diego, at Steubenville, only to open my Bible to Matt 14, and then heard the Hillsong tune “Oceans” for the first time that night during Adoration, realizing that my day very unexpectedly opened and closed with this beautiful story of the ways the world can blow us over and put us under the water, until we finally let the Lord take us by the hand to keep our head above the water.
And it was the same thing with the whole semester. From that day at Steubenville to the beautiful weekend I just got to spend with some of you at the Junior Core Retreat, I opened the semester with Peter taking those first steps out on the water, and now my semester is finished, feeling Peter’s hand firmly held by Jesus’, and the boat safe upon the shore. I’ve got to say, they’ve thrown a lot at me this year at the Sem (I guess nothing really that I haven’t taken on myself, darn stubbornness!), but it’s been so important to be faithful to what I’ve taken on,so important to not feel like I have to make it all the way to Jesus on the swirling waters all by myself. Just put my feet over the edge and let my toes hit the water. And do it both feet first.
I think that’s what the Holy Spirit is asking of us, all year long, but I think especially this Christmas. I want all of you, but especially you in the Junior Core, to know this especially. I could think of no better way to celebrate and show my thanks for one more semester done and closer to the priesthood than to serve you in what little way I could this last weekend. It wasn’t easy to delay seeing my parents for a few more days, and it wasn’t the most energizing thing to make the drive from the Sem down to the Cathedral in LA for lunch, and back up to Santa Barbara for the retreat, but there aren’t a lot of other places I would have rather been. I hope you felt the same, that there are easier places to be, more comfortable places to be, but it’s Jesus who calls us to step out of the boat, the only seemingly safe place in a churning sea. That’s Christmas, that’s the Christian life: our God could have stayed in heaven, simply too holy and too distant to care about His creation; instead He was born as a defenseless child, laid in an animal’s feeding trough, and wrapped in clothes that pretty closely resembled a burial cloth. Yup, that’s our God. He swung His feet over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward us. Don’t be afraid to do the same this Christmas.
One of the guys down here at the Seminary shared a beautiful story with me about a pilgrimage he took the Holy Land. He said that he got to make his way down from the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus made his home and fell in love with his friends and neighbors and worked so many of his miracles and shook the world with his simple but profound love. So my friend traveled along the Jordan River, where John the Baptist was calling us all to look for the Messiah, to long for him and desire his coming. This journey that he took led him to the Dead Sea, so salty and toxic to life because it had no outlet. There is no place for all the salt and minerals that find their way into the sea to find a way out, so they’ve concentrated over time, so that no animal could live in it. This seminarian made the point pretty clear: no matter how life-giving the water that flows into our lives, if we make no effort to share that grace, to let it flow out of us to others, it will take the life out of us. We are made to receive God’s grace, but if we refuse to share it with others, we become selfish, we become lifeless.
Pope Francis calls us out in case we start thinking we can get along just fine without others, as if it’s all about “Jesus and me.” He says in his latest Apostolic Exhortation (it’s long, but so worth the read!), “The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pains and pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.” (Evangelii Gaudium, #88).
So I don’t know if there is anything more poisonous for a community of faith than for it to close in on itself, to act as if they are the only ones that matter, the only ones that count. We really get this challenge here at the Seminary. In my experience here, the place is practically bursting at the seams with a need and a desire to reach out, to break out of the walls and gates that surround the campus. We can hear it sometimes in any little silly complaints we might have here; I don’t think we complain because we don’t want to be here, but because we want to take what we live here, what we pray here, what we have to encounter face-to-face here, out to all of you. After all, the more grace we receive here and leave here and keep to ourselves, the more we become just another Dead Sea.
What a beautiful example of this I got to see on this last Monday! I got to celebrate the Immaculate Conception at the parish of a brother seminarian, which shares the name of this great Solemnity. One moment that really struck me in the middle of the hours of celebration, including Adoration, Mass, and a Eucharistic Procession through the streets, was not so much only what happened in the beautiful Church, but in the middle of the street, on a cold clear night, with hundreds of people following our Lord in the Eucharist and carrying a statue of our Lady. I was carrying the processional cross (we know from the Confirmation Mass this last year that I can get a little off track sometimes, ha!) and suddenly they told me to slow down and stop in front of a burnt down house just a block away from the Church. It turns out that the house belonged to a family of the parish; it had burnt down at 3 in the morning not too long ago with everyone in the house, but no one was hurt and everyone survived. So as a part of this celebration, this following of the Lord, we stopped outside this husk of a home and prayed and felt their pain and loss, their thanks for escaping with their lives, and we did it as a community of English and Spanish speakers, priests and seminarians and laity, “a face to face encounter with others.”
Yes, the Mass and Adoration were beautiful and so very important to our faith, but if that was where the night ended, then something would have been lost. So we took to the streets, candles and songs and rosaries, with our Lady and the Eucharist, and brought Jesus where we could, to let him do the healing we could not. We first let the life-giving water flow into our lives, only to literally bring it into the streets. And so it has got to be like this for what’s left of our Advent. We can keep on looking to Mary. As soon as she found out she was going to be the mother of God, she did not hide away and keep the secret to herself; she went “in haste” (Luke 1:39) to see her cousin Elizabeth. That’s right, she was like the first Eucharistic procession, carrying Jesus to others, making her Advent, her very own waiting for Jesus, a mission, a sea overflowing with life.