Vocations can be Challenging

Howdy ya’ll!

So, I think many of you about the struggle Beth and I have been going through the past couple of months in discerning where and what God is calling us to do starting this summer. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for us this spring; we are very appreciative and are finally at peace with our decision.

To update all of you, in January we decided to apply to graduate school at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO. It’s a wonderful school committed to teaching the truths of the Church and has a strong devotion to the teachings of Bl. Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization. We applied, and in mid-March found out that we were accepted, with a scholarship to boot! We were very thankful, but after some prayer and practical thinking, we realized that even with the scholarship, our student debt would be close to six figures by the time we were done with the program. And that would just be for tuition; we would have to work full-time as well to support ourselves through school.

Knowing that, we thought it was in our best interest to forego grad school, at least for this year, and look to do something else. Around this time, a Youth Minister friend of mine was at Camp Gray with her parish doing a retreat. She came up to me during the retreat and told me about a job opening at a parish close to Madison. She said she would recommend me for the job and encouraged me to apply.

I applied to that position, as well as several others in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, either Youth Ministry or Campus Ministry positions. The next three weeks were pretty difficult; I had only heard from a couple parishes, and it was all bad news so far. I have to admit, Beth and I started to despair a little bit at that point. I had applied for every position I could find, and it didn’t seem like anything was happening. However, we continued to trust God to put us where He wanted us for the next year.

In the middle of this month I got a call from the pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Cross Plains, WI. This was the position my friend had told me about, and the job that I most wanted to do next year. He asked me to interview the following week, which went very well. Later that night he offered me the position. I accepted it, and praised God for giving us the patience and trust to get us through the last few months. A couple days later I signed the contract; I am now officially the new Youth Minister at St. Francis Xavier. Beth and I are so excited to settle down in the Madison area. I am especially excited about living close to so many good friends, and of course, Camp Gray. I also know many of the high school students at SFX, and I cannot wait to start working with them this summer.

So far, I hope you can appreciate the grace God gave both Beth and I to get us through the last few months. We received lots of grace, but we also made a conscious choice to trust in God and His will for us. Sometimes that choice came with tears, anxiety, and worry. But we made the choice anyway. It came with difficult questions from our family and friends, which we braved knowing that God would lead us exactly to where He wanted us. The past ten days have been wonderful, and it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. Glory to God!

There’s a little more to this story now. Last week, right before I signed my contract at SFX, I got an email from the Augustine Institute saying that one of the professors, Dr. Edward Sri (you may know him from a Lighthouse Media CD or pamphlet about the new Mass translation last year) wanted to call and chat about the new curriculum at the AI. Beth and I had not told the school that we were not going to be attending, so I sent an email back telling them of our situation and decision.

This past Monday, Dr. Sri called me anyway. He told me about all the changes in classes that were happening this year (all of which sounded fantastic!) and then asked me about my email and our situation. I told him a little bit about it, and he completely agreed with Beth and I wanting to set our family in the best financial situation possible. He then told me about a new scholarship opportunity that he had just heard about, one that would more than double our first scholarship offer. He asked if that would help us enough to change our minds, to which I said “absolutely!” but then told him about the job I had just accepted and contract I had signed. Dr. Sri was disappointed, but understood.

When we had finished our conversation, I called Beth. We were floored to have been offered such a large scholarship, but knew that God had put us where He wanted us already.

Then on Tuesday, I got another call from Dr. Sri. He wanted to tell me that the number he gave me the day before was incorrect, and that the scholarship would in fact even bigger than he originally thought, one that the AI had never been able to offer before. And they offered BOTH Beth and I the scholarship! I was floored. The chance to complete a Masters Degree at almost no cost to both of us…I asked for time to think and pray, so Dr. Sri and I set a deadline of today to make a decision.

I talked for a long time with my dad and with Beth. After some long conversations, it became apparent that God had me sign my contract with SFX for a reason. As difficult as it would be to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we knew that God wanted us in Madison. Beth and I both talked with Dr. Sri the next day, and told him that although we were very flattered and appreciative of the offer, we had to turn it down. He wished us luck, and encouraged us to make it out to Denver someday to study at the AI.

Wow. How could Beth and I turn down such an amazing opportunity, just to work as a Youth Minister in Madison, WI? Good question. Like I said, I know that God had me sign my contract for a reason. God did not want me making this decision, or to be tempted by this offer. So He took it out of our hands. My year at Camp Gray has taught me very much, but I think what I’ve learned the most is how to put my trust in God. There were so many undecided things going into this year, some things that are still not resolved right now. When Dr. Sri called this week, my vocation as a Youth Minister was challenged. At no fault of Dr. Sri or the AI, but I was tempted to break my contract with SFX before it had even started.

Knowing that God had put me here for a reason, I was able to resist that temptation and respectfully decline the AI’s offer. Had Beth and I accepted the offer, I think things would have turned out just fine. We would have started in a great Master’s program this fall, and learned a lot. But even though it would have led to very good things, it was not God’s will for us. And that is something Beth and I weight in every decision we make. Sometimes there are no bad choices, only choosing between good things. Still, God has a plan for each one of us, and we must discern that plan to the best of our ability before making those big decisions. The best way I know to do that is to be close with Christ. If it wasn’t for our prayer life, Beth and I would have been completely incapable of making this decision.

Now, to return to our real plan, we are getting married July 7, and I will start at SFX within a week or so of our wedding. Please pray for the SFX teens and myself, that the work the Holy Spirit does through me will be fruitful and effective in bringing those teens closer to Christ and His Church. Thanks for reading such a long post! God Bless.

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The Spiritual Bloom

No, it’s not really a new post…but here’s something I wrote for the Camp Gray blog this past week, talking about Easter and Lent. Enjoy!

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…And We’re Back!

Howdy folks,

Wow, I can honestly say I never intended to stop posting for as long as I did…It’s been quite some time, so you could say I’m well-rested and ready to go.

It’s actually with quite an exciting purpose that I write today. You see, as I was glancing around at other blogs I follow, I came across this post from Father Z’s Blog (a very good source on Catholic current events, and a source of inspiration for me, I might add. Check it out sometime) about a document published by the United States Bishops yesterday, April 12. The statement is concerning Religious Freedom.

What struck me as I read Father Z’s comments about the statement, as well as the statement itself (right HERE) was how quickly and easily we can forget things like this fight for Religious Freedom. In our world of 24-hour news coverage and constant Tweets and Facebook notifications, things tend to come and go quite fast. For some things this is OK; I would rather forget the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year; and the sooner the Cubs’ 2012 season is over the better. But for other things, the rate at which news comes and goes is very alarming indeed.

Even though CNN has stopped covering the HHS mandate, for instance, it is still coming this August, whether we remember or not. Something I loved about the Bishops’ statement was how it chronicled seven, yes, SEVEN, specific attacks by our government on religious freedom in the past 12 months or so.  Now, I can remember reading about each and every one of these attacks. But because of the nature of our national media, it seems like these happened over the course of years. In reality, it was in a matter of months (and by the same administration too, don’t forget).

Now, do I suspect this as a plan by the national media or the Obama administration? In part, yes. I think it is quite convenient to space all these attacks out, letting them get their coverage and endure the backlash for a few weeks, and then have the American public more or less forget they ever happened. That is a problem!

I am so thankful for the Bishops’ writing this statement for that very reason. It has reminded me about all that is at stake when our government launches attack after attack on our Church and religious freedom as a whole. I hope this post can serve as a reminder to you as well and to restore the zeal and courage necessary to fight such evil and injustice.

The last thing the Bishops’ say in the statement (in case you don’t make it that far) was to call for a “Fortnight for Freedom” dedicated to prayer, education, and awareness of religious freedom and the current attacks by our government. It is scheduled for June 21 (Vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More, who himself once took a stand for religious freedom and conviction) through July 4 (did you catch that significance?), and the Bishops are encouraging all dioceses to participate though planning special events sometime during those two weeks.

I encourage all of you to keep a watch for those events and make plans to participate in as many as possible. We must not forget what is going on in our country! To help with that, try praying this prayer the Bishops have written in preparation for the “Fortnight for Freedom”:

Almighty God, Father of all nations,
For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Hope you all continue having a Blessed Easter season. Check back here for more posts in the coming days!

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New Evangelization 7

Hey folks! We’re finally at the end of journey through Cardinal Dolan’s speech last week about the New Evangelization. The full speech is here, and don’t forget to read Part 1 & Part 2!  Let’s get right into the last part of the Cardinal’s speech.

Pillar 7

“Joy, love . . . and, last point . . . sorry to bring it up, . . . but blood.”

Blood. What we’re talking about here is, of course, martyrdom. In his speech, Cardinal Dolan referenced the connection between the color of his biretta he wears as a Cardinal (red) with his call to shed his blood for the sake of the Church and the spread of the Faith. Let us pray that he will never have to take that step, but that if he does he has the courage to accomplish God’s will.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” Tertullian tells us in Apologeticum. The witness of the Church’s martyrs shouts out to people and evangelizes in a way that words never could. Eleven of the 12 Apostles died a martyr’s death, all choosing to die for our faith rather than live without it. My patron saint, St. Sebastian, was martyred in the early church during the Roman persecutions. Our Church’s history is riddled with examples of men and women shedding their blood for Christ and His Church.

Martyrdom, however, is not something reserved only for Cardinals and Popes. We all must be ready to shed our blood for Christ. Thankfully, many of us will never be asked to shed our blood for our Faith. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot be martyrs. Several bishops have predicted coming persecution for the American Church, where clergy and laity alike could be arrested for proclaiming the Truth. Among those bishops are Cardinal Burke and Bishop Aquila of Fargo, ND.

Taking a look at current events makes it obvious that this is where our country is headed. Sure, the current HHS mandate may yet be tossed away, or at least provide true exemptions for religious employers. But the attack on our Church will not end there. A time is coming, earlier rather than later, when we will be faced with a choice: either be true to the Church or follow the law. The HHS mandate is only the beginning of the war on the Church. We must be prepared to fight this battle!

What a wonderful thing to think about heading into Lent, right? (BTW, Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. Ready to explain those ashes? I found this piece by Mark Hart to be extremely helpful :)) That brings us to the other reason for this post – Lent. Most years, I hear a lot of people talk about giving something up, fasting from something. I am right on board with that. But not drinking coffee for 40 days really only deals with 1 of the 3 pillars of Lent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.

In order to best participate in Lent, we should reflect on ways we can progress in all three areas of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I’ve found it effective to couple up those pillars. For example, this Lent I will be fasting from watching TV shows. Instead of watching TV, I’ve decided to pray with Scripture more. I found a good “Read the Bible in a Year” plan here (FYI, this one also includes part of the Catechism to finish that in a year too!). See how that works? It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

So, what things do you do routinely that are unnecessary? Do you watch way too much TV like me? How about Facebook? Fast from that, and in place of it take up some prayerful activity. For the almsgiving part, maybe pick up a CRS Ricebowl from your parish tomorrow and fill it with loose change.

One more idea to cover all 3: Skip your morning Dunkin Donuts run for Lent. Fast from your coffee, then give that money to charity. Then, with the time you save by not making that extra stop in the morning, pray a Rosary daily, or head to daily Mass if you can!

Now, last week I promised an announcement of some sort. Well, here it is: every week during Lent (and maybe beyond) I’ll post a reflection on the Sunday readings. Look for them around Thursday of Friday each week (maybe you could even make that part of your Lenten observance; it would definitely be penitential to read what I have to say).

Anyway, after this marathon couple of days blogging, it’s time to take a break. Happy feasting on this Fat Tuesday; enjoy it while it lasts (another 7 hours or so). Stay strong during Lent!

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New Evangelization, 4-6

Earlier today, I wrote about the first 3 parts of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s approach to the New Evangelization. In case you missed it, here it is. Now, it’s time to tackle the next 3 parts.

Pillar 4

Cardinal Dolan:

“…but this Person, Jesus, tells us He is the truth. So, our mission has a substance, a content, and this twentieth anniversary of the Catechism, the approaching fiftieth anniversary of the Council, and the upcoming Year of Faith charge us to combat catechetical illiteracy.”

Our mission has content, and that is the Truth. Today catechetical illiteracy is running rampant in our Church. We don’t know what Truth is, let alone how to express it to others. If we do not have a firm grasp on the Truth, how can we expect to evangelize others? Just like evangelizing begins within each of our own hearts, spreading the Truth must begin in ourselves too.

I often hear from people how they were never taught this or that about our Faith while they were growing up. That’s a common result of decades of incomplete catechizing on behalf of our Church. However, that is no excuse for not to know what we believe as Christians! In his first letter, St. Peter commands us to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason to believe” (1 Pt. 3:15). We need to know the Truth is we are going to evangelize! To blame our lack of knowledge on our parish priests or religious ed teachers is passing the buck. But fear not! It is never too late to start learning.

Start with the Bible, specifically the Gospels. Next, try the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Don’t own them? Read them for free at USCCB.org. Also, I would recommend any of the documents from Vatican II, specifically Lumen Gentium. Still need more? Here’s a book list that I find particularly helpful. Any of those would be a great place to go next.

Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to be an expert when evangelizing. “I don’t know” are the three words I say most often when I answer questions about the Faith; there are always questions that I don’t know the answers to. The important thing is that we are humble and honest when we don’t know something, and then find the answer.

Pillar 5

“The missionary, the evangelist, must be a person of joy.”

Who wants to be a part of something that is no fun? There is this weird idea that you can either be Catholic or have fun. Sorry, Billy Joel, but the Saints laugh too, a lot (even the Pope laughs! Cardinal Dolan made him do so in this very speech). Anyone who thinks Catholics don’t have fun has clearly never been to Camp Gray (and why yes, that is me in the Notre Dame shirt!). I’ll let the Cardinal explain the rest of this one with the story he tells next

“A man dying of AIDS at the Gift of Peace Hospice, administered by the Missionaries of Charity in Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s Archdiocese of Washington, asked for baptism. When the priest asked for an expression of faith, the dying man whispered, “All I know is that I’m unhappy, and these sisters are very happy, even when I curse them and spit on them. Yesterday I finally asked them why they were so happy. They replied ‘Jesus.’ I want this Jesus so I can finally be happy. A genuine act of faith, right?

The New Evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown.”

 

Pillar 6

“The New Evangelization is about love.”

The YOUCAT (the Catechism re-written specifically high school and college students) defines love as “the free self-giving of the heart” (YC 402). When we evangelize, it should be out of love. The cross is the greatest example of love the world has ever known. So when we love, it’s supposed to hurt! But when we do it anyway and unite our inconvenience or our suffering with Christ, He transforms it into something so much more. In caring for those around us, we show them the love of Christ. And it is that love that changes souls. Never underestimate the power of that love.

 

Like what you’ve read? Don’t be afraid to comment! And don’t forget to sign up for email updates. Also, if you know people who this blog would benefit, share it with them! Thanks, and come back tomorrow for #7 from Cardinal Dolan’s speech.

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New Evangelization, parts 1-3

It seems I broke a promise in not posting the first part of my take on Cardnial Dolan’s speech on the New Evangelization from last week (get the full text here). My apologies. I really don’t have an excuse; I just got caught up in watching The Dark Knight for the millionth time (hmmm…I’m sensing a post relating that to JPII’s Springtime of Evangelization…). To reward your patience, you can expect 2 entries today: pillars 1-3 now, and 4-6 later today. Number 7 will still be for tomorrow.

To recap, last week Cardinal Dolan of New York City gave a speech to the College of Cardinals in Rome. The topic was the New Evangelization, a term coined by Blessed Pope John Paul II. The New Evangelization focuses on re-proclaiming the Gospel to cultures and people who have grown up in the Church but have experienced a falling away or lukewarmness in their faith, who have heard the Good News but need a refresher. In his speech, Cardinal Dolan outlined 7 ideas to take the New Evangelization to the next level. So without further ado, let’s get this ball rolling.

Pillar #1

What Cardinal Dolan said:

“…we believe with the philosophers and poets of old, who never had the benefit of revelation, that even a person who brags about being secular and is dismissive of religion, has within an undeniable spark of interest in the beyond, and recognizes that humanity and creation is a dismal riddle without the concept of some kind of creator.”

Quite simply, we were created to search for God. His presence is all around us, and yet sometimes we attempt to attribute the beauty of Creation to a coincidence.  I think what Cardinal Dolan is saying here is that even those who seem beyond evangelizing to: the scientists, the philosophers, basically anyone smarter than us, are still in need of salvation. No one is beyond our efforts to evangelize.

Sometimes, I think we are intimidated by evangelization. We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But we need to do it anyway! (more on that in a moment) Jesus calls us to spread the Gospel to all nations and all peoples.  That doesn’t mean one person from each person group, but every single person on this Earth! God loves each and every person in this world perfectly. And Jesus tells us to “be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).

No matter how lost someone may seem, no matter how much they despise the Church, these people are still searching for Something. That Something is God. We must keep that in mind during our encounters with those around us.

Pillar #2

Cardinal Dolan: “this fact gives us immense confidence and courage in the
sacred task of mission and New Evangelization. “Be not afraid,” we’re told, is the most repeated exhortation in the Bible. After the Council, the good news was that triumphalism in the Church was dead. The bad news was that, so was confidence!”

When St. Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he wanted to divorce her. But in a dream an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid (see Mt. 1 for the full story). Without St. Joseph’s courage, we may not even have a Gospel to proclaim. Without his protection of the Holy Family, the infant Jesus could have been slaughtered by King Herod (see Mt. 2). And to think if he had just divorced our Blessed Mother.

We too must not be afraid. Is evangelizing awkward? Absolutely. Will we be met with opposition? You betcha. But we have the Truth! Why should we fear? We get our confidence from Christ, and while we must be careful not to be arrogant, we can be sure that when we spread the Gospel, we are doing God’s will. Thankfully, it is not us who change hearts, but Christ working through us.

But don’t assume that just because we do this or do that that everyone around us will magically turn to Christ. Humility is essential in our lives and in our mission to evangelize. When I get a little high on my horse (which happens more often than I would like to admit…) this quote from St. Josemaria Escriva really helps me:

“Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?”

I am a trashcan. All my gifts come from God. Often times my pride gets in the way of leading others to Christ. Instead of lovingly encouraging others to see the Truth, I force them through debate to admit that I am right. I’ve found that to be a very ineffective way to evangelize. But I continue to seek God’s grace to change my heart and humble myself.

Pillar #3

Cardinal Dolan:

“A third necessary ingredient in the recipe of effective mission is that God does not satisfy the thirst of the human heart with a proposition, but with a Person, whose name is Jesus. The invitation implicit in the Missio ad gentes and the New Evangelization is not to a doctrine but to know, love, and serve — not a something, but a Someone.”

We need to keep in mind that we are not simply trying to convince people to think or act a particular way. When we evangelize, we invite people to have a relationship with our Lord and Savior. Talk of fire and brimstone does not, in my opinion, lead to very strong believers. The power of love conquers all, and it is that love which draws people to Christ. Our Church, our Faith is not simply a list of dos and don’ts, but an engine through which we enter into relationship with the King and Lord of Universe.

When we talk about the New Evangelization, the people we interact with are familiar with the nuts and bolts of our Church. They know what a Bible is, they’ve been to Mass, they’ve abstained from meat on Fridays. What they don’t have is love. They lack a personal relationship with Jesus. Our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters have this down pat. They KNOW Jesus, and introduce Him to people around them. We do not offer a deal to people when we evangelize, but a person: Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

 

As always, comments are encouraged! Let me know what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m doing right! 🙂 Check back later today for the next 3 pillars from Cardinal Dolan’s speech.

 

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Cardinal Dolan, Lead Us On!

Tomorrow, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan (also the President of the USCCB) will be installed as a Cardinal.  I personally am super pumped for this to happen, because Archbishop Dolan is one of the greatest leaders we have in the American Church.  He is the only Bishop I know of that blogs regularly, that uses social media as well as he does to evangelize and teach. Looking forward, there is no doubt in my mind that Cardinal Dolan will play a very important role in the future of our Church and our country.

In a speech given before the Holy Father and the College of Cardinals today, Cardinal-designate Dolan outlined 7 principles for advancing the New Evangelization in the world today. Here’s the full text. Definitely worth your time. Quick sidebar, the New Evangelization, as coined by Bl. Pope John Paul II and continued by Pope Benedict XVI, is the necessity to re-evangelize to those in Christian countries who have lost much or all of their faith. Recently, Pope Benedict has been all about the NE.

To prepare for Lent (which starts this Wednesday!), over the next few days I’ll be going through each of the 7 principles Cardinal-designate Dolan discussed in his speech. Hopefully, this will serve as a meaningful reflection heading into Lent on what each of us can do better in our own quest to evangelize to those around us. A rough schedule:

Sunday: Principles 1-3

Monday: Principles 4-6

Tuesday: a Fat Tuesday edition of number 7, to go along with something special for Lent, maybe even a special announcement

Stay tuned!

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