We observe 40 days of fasting but then ignore 50 days of freedom. I think that’s a mistake.
The picture you saw when you clicked on this blog is of Looking Glass Rock in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. By the end of the summer of 2010, I climbed it (well, some of it). I may not have reached the peak, but in the beginning of the summer of 2010, I didn't even like climbing to the top of a bunk bed.
I remember the day very well. I sat in the back of a van with about a dozen other climbers as we made our way up the windy roads along Forest Service Road 475. The creaking of the van’s undercarriage as we faced dangerously steep roads didn’t bother me, because the higher we went in the van, the less I had to hike.
Growing up in Florida, heights weren’t a thing. I never walked uphill in my life. I had struggled with every hike we’d done so far that summer - and this promised to be one of the worst. When we finally reached the trail head, we got out of the van, loaded all of our climbing gear, camping gear, and food onto our backs, and set off to reach the base of Looking Glass Rock.
For the next 3 miles, we made our way through the woods, many times having to use our hands to help us climb over massive rocks that interrupted the path. Often we had to crawl in order to not fall backwards and down to the bottom. After elevating almost 1500ft, the end was in sight. I stayed in the back of the line to make sure no one was left behind. Also, everyone else was moving faster than me, so it worked out. I made sure to stop every few minutes, to… umm… take in the scenery.
When we reached the base of the rock (the grey rock face that you can see in the picture), we took a water break, set up our ropes, and began to prep for the climb. Looking Glass Rock is a monolith, or one massive rock formation that juts out of the land surrounding it. They’re usually rounded towards the top, and this one is no exception. Using a few of the common rock climbing tools, I managed to find the ledges with my feet, slide my hands into the cracks, and get a good bit of the way up the rock face before stopping, taking in the views, and repelling back down.
This entire day was way outside of my comfort zone. I got into climbing that summer thinking it would be rock walls, you know, in rock climbing gyms. Where the ground is made of bouncy foam and children laugh and play and there’s limited danger. If you had told me from the start that by the end of the summer, I’d be expected to climb Looking Glass Rock, I would’ve quit.
I don’t mean that dramatically - I really would have quit. I would’ve had a litany of excuses: I’m not ready. I don’t know how. I’ve never done anything like that before. That isn’t for me.
Most of us want to know what the future holds. It’s one of the main reasons for our doubt, our anxiety, our frustration with God - he asks for our faithfulness but we want to see the future. I wonder if we aren’t kept in the dark about some things because we’d mess it up if we knew what was ahead us. Stop and think: What might you be missing out on because God’s promises require a process but you won’t go along for the ride?
I first started speaking publicly about my faith when I was 15. I attended a retreat, had my first moment of considering God’s love for me in a real way, and was asked to share my experience with the other kids in the group. My first ‘testimony’. I said yes, reluctantly, because I was asked very nicely by the youth minister. I figured somebody might relate to something I said and it might help them. If you had told me that 13 years later, in 2018 alone, I would have traveled all over the USA, to Europe, the South Pacific and more, giving my testimony and talking about Jesus to tens of thousands of people - I assure you, I would not have given that first testimony. I never would’ve signed up! I wasn’t ready for all of that… I’m not sure I’m ready now.
However, God didn’t need me to be ready in 2005 for what he’d ask me to do in 2018. He doesn’t need us to be ready today for what he’ll ask us to do next week. I don’t think He’s looking for our grand “yes” to the lifetime of adventure He’s calling us on. I think He’s looking for a sincere “yes'“ to what He has for us today. And another “yes” tomorrow, and another the next day.
God doesn't always show us the entire road ahead. But I’ve found that if we lean in and listen, He illuminates the next step… and then the next one… and as we keep walking, His plans unfold before us.
I’m not sure what you’re working on. I’m not sure what you’re working through. But I do believe that whether it’s holiness, healing, being a guitar master or a celebrity chef - it’s okay if you’re not at your destination yet. Life is about moving toward your goals and taking steps in the right direction.
I’ve come to believe that when we’re walking through the darkness, we don’t need the sun to immediately pop up in the sky. In fact, that’d probably blind us, knock us off our feet, throw our senses into a blur. What we actually need, while walking through the dark, is a flashlight. A torch. Something that will help us see the next step.
Perhaps God shields our eyes from seeing the road ahead because if we saw it, we’d turn back. We’d look at where we are now, compare it to where we’re going to be in 20 steps, and we’d just stop walking. But if we did that, we’d be ignoring all of the work God was going to do in our lives over the next 19 steps to prepare us for that one.
Let’s just focus on today. Today will give you and I chances to take steps in the right direction. Will we take them?
“The reason most people fail instead of succeed is they trade what they want most for what they want in the moment.”
— NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
Originally featured on LifeTeen.com
Guys and girls are some of the worlds biggest mysteries… well, to each other anyway. This can make dating pretty complicated. As a guy, I rarely know what the girls in my life are thinking. Classmate, co-worker, sister, friend, girlfriend, mom… it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes I think I understand Calculus better than I understand girls. And umm… I got a D in Calculus.
It’s no surprise, then, that I often sought out advice about dating from men in my life that I looked up to. There was one piece of advice that was always there but that I didn’t always follow. Looking back, this little tip has helped me so much.
“If you’re going to date someone, try and be friends with them first.”
Now, I’m not saying this is the only way to have a successful relationship. However, in my life, it’s proved to be pretty on point.
What’s the Point?
Relationships require hard work. For example, no one’s perfect and mistakes happen. You’re going to need to forgive and ask for forgiveness. It’s also important to view the other person as their own person, and as a child of God, not just someone who is there to make you happy and fulfill your needs. Typically, these kinds of skills have already developed with people you call friends. It’ll make moving into ‘relationship’ status that much smoother.
Another thing to remember is that the ‘high’ you feel around someone when you first begin dating can sometimes wear off. It doesn’t mean that you’re not always going to like them, it’s just a natural part of life. The first few dates are really big and exciting, but what about two months in, when you’re sitting together on the bleachers after all of your friends leave and you realize you’ve got nothing to talk about? You’re thinking, “Whoa, do I really even like this person?”
This is pretty easily avoided by dating someone who you already know you have chemistry with. It’s pretty awesome to be dating someone who you love to be around. If you need to be holding someone’s hand to enjoy being around them, the friendship might not be genuine. Make sure it’s real before you take the next step.
A Little Too Late.
Unfortunately, the order of this handy piece of advice is pretty important. It’s pretty dang difficult to become friends with someone after you start dating. It’s definitely possible, but I think it’s easier to go the other way around.
If you see them as their own person, it’ll help you remember not to be too controlling. If you’ve already practiced forgiving and asking forgiveness, then you already understand that the other person is in fact a human. This will help keep mistakes in perspective and prevent over-reacting. Finally, if you love to be around the person as a friend, the relationship will likely be awesome because it’s getting to go deeper with someone you really like and care about.
If you’re not sure if you like being with that person as a friend, then the perks of being in a relationship (romance, intimacy, always having someone text you in the morning, and the ‘status’ of being in a relationship) might become what you lean on rather than allowing those things to be the icing on an already great cake.
I’m currently dating a girl who is my best friend. And I’m really dang happy.
We were great friends for a while before we started dating. We could spend hours together just talking and laughing with our friends or by ourselves. We got to know each other and learn about each other lives. We respected each other. We went through so much together as friends that it seems like we’re ready to tackle anything as a couple. I give this advice to you from my own experiences.
“If you’re going to date someone, try and be friends with them first.”
This blog was originally posted on Lifeteen.com.
Most of you have heard about the devastation Hurricane Matthew has caused (and is continuing to cause) this past fall. You’ve watched on the news as weathermen tell us how dangerous the storm is and who should be worried. Maybe, if you’re like me, you have family and friends in places such as Haiti and Florida whose lives have been forever impacted.
The day the storm hit my Florida hometown, I was 700 miles away, enjoying a sunny afternoon in Atlanta. We were getting text updates from friends in Haiti about the damage they’d seen, and I watched as my old neighborhood was on the national news, a full river of flowing water running over the streets I once drove down.
I continued to look back and forth between the TV, which was showing all of this destruction, and the window, through which I could see nothing but blue skies. It was an unsettling feeling and left me with a question you’ve probably asked a time or two: Why does God allow this to happen?
This is a really good and important question. You should not feel like a bad Christian if you ask this question. As I’ve dug deeper to get some clarity on this topic, I keep finding that my questions outnumber my answers. The world is a bit hectic right now, especially with the Presidential race… I can’t seem to wrap my head around all of the crazy stuff going on. But a lot of these things are caused by people, and people can be crazy. I get that. I’ve made peace with that.
But a natural force of violent wind and rain moving towards helpless communities, not caring who stands in it’s path or what it leaves in it’s wake? A swirling storm claiming homes, memories, and lives? I have trouble wrapping my head around that.
The reason I struggle with it is that I’ve come to believe God is all-good and all-loving. He is always working for our good (Romans 8:28). I’ve come to believe that there’s nothing going on in our lives that God isn’t planning to work into a blessing or planning to bring good out of. I believe in a God who is all-powerful, who stretched out His hand and demanded that the wind around Him and the waves beneath Him cease, and they obeyed (Matthew 8:23-27).
Why, then, isn’t He doing that same thing now? Doesn’t He know how many people will be killed by a storm like this? Doesn’t He see how many homes will be crushed? I know He can do something about it – doesn’t He care?
I do believe He knows. I do believe He sees. I do believe He cares. I do not understand His ways.
This leads to more questions. If I believe that God could stop the storm, it would also make sense to say that He is letting it happen. In other words, God is in charge. If He could stop something, but chooses not to, then He’s allowing it to take place. This can cause confusion, and sadness, and even anger in me.
It leads me to ask, “Why doesn’t God step in and help us?” It’s easy to feel like God put us on Earth and then abandoned us. And then I’m reminded of the opening song from the Mass I attended on Sunday, Come Thou Fount, which says
“Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood. Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”
I have been struggling to put anything into or get anything out of Mass lately, but this song brought me to tears. See, the whole reason I go to church or even have a church to go to is because God didn’t abandon us. He stepped in and helped us – further, rescued us – in the most important way ever, on the cross. And I believe He still steps in and helps us in more ways than we know. Just not always in the ways we’d like. He does call us to be His hands and feet though, to reach out and help those who are suffering, or even just to mourn alongside them.
Then I ask, “Why do natural disasters even exist?” Well, we need rain for crops to grow, we use wind for energy, and those things are part of nature. Nature is mostly good, but sometimes it escalates naturally and gets dangerous. I believe God can and does intervene, but for God to repeatedly stop that from ever happening would be to ignore or prevent natural law from taking place. So, as hard as it is to grasp, I have to believe that when he doesn’t step in and stop a storm, He is still with us, and still planning to bring good things out of it.
This is easier to say from a couch on a sunny day than on a mountainside in a hurricane. But there are times, brothers and sisters, where you and I have to trust that God is writing a much bigger story than you or I can see. The pages of this book stretch across the universe, and we only get to see bits and pieces. Like in any story worth reading, there are moments of joy and moments of suffering. I don’t know why bad things happen, but I believe that even though God doesn’t cause evil, He permits it. And I know if God permits something, He plans to bring a greater good out of it. All that you and I can do is trust.
The more people I talk to about this, the more I’ve been moved to read the book of Job in the Old Testament. In the very first verse, we learn that Job was a righteous man who served God and “avoided evil” (Job 1:1). Later, all of his possessions, his livestock, and even his 10 children are taken from him, killed by evil and natural disasters. Even though his wife told him to turn from God and curse Him, and his friends could only weep at the sight of his suffering, his response was, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Can you even imagine?
First of all, if you grew up around Church, you’ve probably sung that line a thousand times. I don’t think, in all of the thousand times I’ve sung that refrain, I’ve ever had as much sincerity in my words as Job did in that one instance. The field that he once looked out at to see how his family, servants, and livestock were doing was now the field where they all were buried, but he refused to turn from God. I’m sure he was devastated beyond belief, and I’m sure he missed his children more than anything else.
But because of his faith in a God who sees and knows and loves us, Job chose to remain trusting that God was working to bring a greater good out of everything that happened to him, both the good and the bad. He knew that God, the divine Author, was writing the story working for our good. He didn’t have to understand the small piece of one page he was looking at, because he knew the Author.
I’m far from understanding this, but I pray for that kind of faith.
(Originally published on LifeTeen.com)
It was just after 10:00pm, and my wife and I were watching eagerly as our gelato was piled onto cones, two or three scoops high. We had just finished an incredible dinner in Rome, Italy, and were capping off the night with some of the best of this Italian dessert. As we headed for the door, I looked out the window, where I could see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica only a couple of blocks away.
I was feeling proud to be a Christian. It was only a few days before that I stood just outside of St. Peter’s and met Pope Francis, shaking his hand, sharing a smile, and promising to pray for him. He’s a hero of mine, and that’s probably because he reminds me of Jesus. I also knew he’d want me to enjoy this gelato, so I quickly turned my attention back to that.
As I stepped out onto the sidewalk, there was a man hurriedly digging around in his pocket. Before I could turn and head down the street, he pulled out a small paper cup, which was crinkled as though it was something he used quite often. He smiled, but not with confidence or eye contact - he stared down at the ground shamefully, said a few words in Italian, and extended the cup towards me. I knew he was asking for money, but I said “No, I’m sorry” and kept walking.
I truly didn’t have any change, as I had left the last of it in the tip jar at the gelato shop. Still... as I continued down the street, I couldn’t shake the image of him frantically searching for the cup, hoping to get it out of his pocket before we passed him by.
And I had done just that. I passed him by.
Let’s just be honest for a second. It was late at night in a foreign country. We were on a back street, with very few people around. I was on edge, and it’s totally understandable to not stop and talk to a stranger, isn’t it? Besides, we all know you shouldn’t give people who are experiencing homelessness any money, right? After all, there have been so many stories of them using it for bad habits. Also, my wife was with me, and it’s not always safe or comfortable for women in that situation. All of these things raced through my head so quickly that my response was the only thing I could think to do: Keep moving and basically pretend he didn’t exist.
While, for some, it is the comfortable thing to do, this isn’t the Christian thing to do. It isn’t the human thing to do. This continued to eat away at me for days. I had woken up at 5am and stood in line for three hours just to have the chance of meeting Pope Francis, but I couldn’t be bothered for 20 seconds to interact with a fellow brother on the street? This isn’t the way Pope Francis would want it. It isn’t the way Jesus would want it.
Now, I don’t know where you stand on the proper etiquette of how/if to interact with people who have fallen on hard times and are living in the streets. There are many valid reasons to exercise caution, and I’m not judging anyone who wouldn’t have felt comfortable inviting this man to dinner or handing him a wad of cash, especially if it may be an unsafe setting. Many of us struggle with this but have no clue what the solution is. It seems that regardless of religion or social class, everyone has different opinions on how to handle a situation like that. I’m not an expert, but there’s one thing I know for certain. To ignore him was to ignore Jesus. (Matthew 25:34-45)
Though interacting with people in extreme poverty can be uncomfortable, I believe when we are living in the Holy Spirit, to ignore them would be unbearable. This isn’t about avoiding guilt, it’s about being pro-life and recognizing the God-given dignity of each and every person. If you feel this ache the same way I do, I’d like to offer a few alternatives to simply passing them by.
For starters, feel free to make eye contact. We don’t do that enough anymore. It’s how you let another person know you notice them. When talking to my dog at home, I make eye contact. What possible excuse could I have for withholding that from a person? If you’d like to do more than just make eye contact and smile, start a conversation by asking their name. They’ve likely been called many other names in recent times, including “bum”, but there’s one name they’ve answered to ever since they were a child. It was a part of who they are long before “homeless” was. It will help you see them as who they are - a real person, not just a shadowy shape sitting against a wall. Find out what it is and use it.
Let them know you’re a Christian and offer to pray with them. In Acts 5, Peter’s shadow healed people. I was standing about 200 yards from where Peter’s bones are buried, and I didn’t allow myself to be a vessel of grace like he did. As Christians, we are to bear the light and love of Jesus to everyone, but especially the downtrodden. It might have been a while since they’ve heard the voice of God, and that might be why it’s you encountering them today and not someone else. If they don’t want to be prayed with, promise to pray for them - and actually do it.
Of course, you can also just have a normal conversation with them. Ask them where they’re from, talk to them about the latest in sports or culture - they may have read a newspaper or seen a TV in a public place lately, and be more up-to-date than you might think! They always need prayer, but they might also need a small talk. Small talk can have a big impact on someone’s outlook on life, and make them feel like they’re an actual part of society.
If you don’t carry cash, or feel comfortable giving money to people experiencing homelessness, try instead bringing them something to eat or drink. If it’s something non-perishable, they can keep it for later if they aren’t hungry right then. If you carry around a few fast food gift cards, you’ll always have something to hand them that you can trust they’ll spend on food. Another option would be to adopt a system my wife Sarah and I have been using for a few years, and that is to carry “blessing bags” with you. We keep one or two in the car at all times. We just take a large, sturdy ziploc bag and fill it with toiletries, granola bars, feminine products, some quarters for laundry, wet wipes, and anything else you think might bless them or lighten their load for a bit.
Maybe you don’t have a stash of these things on you, but you’re running errands or heading into a store. Ask them if they need anything, and tell them you’d gladly pick it up for them and bring it out. A coffee, new socks, or some granola bars would be a small expense, and a huge blessing for them.
If you’re really serious, familiarize yourself with some local homeless shelters. Have their addresses or phone numbers handy. There are several apps that can help you find the nearest food pantries or homeless shelters - if you’re traveling to a new city, get one of those on your phone so you can always point someone in the right direction.
The Follow Up
You may not be able to follow up with the specific man or woman you encountered on the streets, but helping those who experience homelessness doesn’t need to end once you walk away from them. You can give your time or money to a local food pantry or homeless shelter. There are several organizations who are helping these people full-time, and your support would be invaluable. You can be a part of the movement in more ways than one.
Spread the word about some of your encounters. This isn’t to show everyone how holy you are, but to encourage them to look compassionately upon those experiencing homelessness and not be afraid to simply have a conversation with them. You may not be able to reach all of the homeless in your city, but between all of your family, friends, and Church family, I bet you can reach most of them. All that’s missing is a little inspiration - it comes from the Holy Spirit, and it can flow through you.
I hope that the next time you find yourself in a situation like mine, you don’t feel that your only option is to look straight and keep walking. As the successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis said, “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”
(Originally published on LifeTeen.com)
'Whoa. Did those last four years just happen? How did they go by so fast?!?'
If you're a recently graduated senior currently transforming into a college freshmen, you've probably thought something like this in the past month or two. As you look back, hopefully there are more things you're happy to remember than hoping to forget. Hopefully you can look back and smile, thankful for all the memories and the friends you made.
But no matter what your high school experience was like, one thing is certain . . . things are about to change!
Starting college is kind of a big deal.
For most people, it means a new house, a new city, new friends, and new challenges. Hopefully while you were in high school you learned everything you could possibly need to know to begin your new adventure, but if you're like me and you didn't, here's a list of pointers to help you out.
1. Go to Mass
Your youth minister, awesome Core members, or best friends may not be able to come with you. There may not be a fun, social church event for you every week. The music may not be as good as you're used to at home. But there WILL be a Catholic Church somewhere near you, and that means there will be Mass. If nothing else, you have that. And guess what? It just happens to be the most important thing to have.
'I believe the earth could exist more easily without the sun than it could without the Mass.' -Padre Pio
2. Spend Wisely
Groceries are expensive and your parents will not be there waiting at the register. However, Ramen noodles are delicious!
3. Change is Okay
The friends you made in high school are all going through the same transition you are. Try to stay in touch but don't be heartbroken if you grow apart from some of them. God has so many new, awesome friends for you to meet along the way.
'There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.' – C.S. Lewis
4. Be Christ
The people you live with may not always share your beliefs. Don't be afraid to live your faith boldly. While loving them where they are, be a positive example and show them Christ. Your joy will be contagious.
'Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason: there is nobody to make them Christians.' – St. Francis Xavier
5. Visit Home
You'll soon be willing to travel on planes, trains, and boats across the globe to have your mom do your laundry. Don't fight it. Visit home when you can. (And bring some dirty clothes.) Your pesky little siblings may have driven you crazy . . . but they're still the cutest kids you know. Put pictures of them up in your room, pray for them, and call them often to tell them you love them.
6. Who Will You Be?
With all that free time, you'll have a lot more decision making to do. You can decide you who want to be and how you want to live, even when no one's watching. Keep faith and studies as high priorities. Get accountability partners. Get involved in Catholic campus ministry. Let your less rigid schedule be a blessing and not a curse.
'Watch and pray that you may not fall into temptation, for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.' Matthew 26:41
7. Don’t Be That Kid
. . . The who brings leftover Chinese food into the classroom and stinks up the place. Just don't. Or the one that says 'president' after hearing your name when your teacher takes roll. It's for the best.
No one is going to be holding your hand or babysitting you through this. Don't wait for the bell to ring and don't expect anyone to nag you about turning in an assignment. Keep a planner and stick to your commitments. You'll grow in virtue and responsibility. Plus, crunch time will be a little less stressful for you.
'Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.' -St. Augustine
You'll be introduced to many new ideas and be given (or forced to purchase) many new books. That's all fine and good, but you know what Book you should keep closest to you.
'As a trusty door, Scripture shuts out heretics, keeping us from error.' -St. John Chrysostom
10. Seriously though . . .
11. Don’t Go Crazy
You know those really strict rules your mom and dad had? Well, it turns out they were for good reasons. They love you, and yes, sometimes they do actually know what's best. Respect them with your decisions even though they're far away.
'Honor your father and mother' (Exodus 20:12).
12. Be You
Have fun! Be your awesome self and embrace all the ways God wants to stretch you and help you grow. Don't hesitate to take your passion for the Lord into this new setting! The world is out there waiting for you. Stay rooted in prayer and rock on.
'If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!' -St. Catherine of Sienna
Oh yeah, and next summer . . . pray about being on summer staff at a Life Teen camp!
Know that we're praying for you. Stay in touch.
(Originally published on LifeTeen.com)
I can clearly remember the first time I was introduced to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I was spending the afternoon with a friend and she asked me if I wanted to pray this prayer that she loved. It was 3pm. Once she taught me the order and the call and response, we began to pray. I remember thinking ‘Wow! I love this prayer! It’s like the rosary but shorter!’ Just what I needed. Then I heard this prayer sung on Catholic radio. ‘I can sing this thing, too?!’ I thought. Yep, it was the perfect prayer. It was long enough to make me holy but short enough to enjoy.
My intentions were good but I was missing the whole point. I wasn’t really capturing the beauty and depth of this prayer. To be honest, I needed a better understanding of God’s mercy. As it turned out, this prayer brought me into a long period of seeking out the answers to a lot of my questions and seeking out the truths to a lot of lies I believed.
I used to think that diving into God’s mercy was almost unfair. I knew I didn’t deserve it. I felt like I was taking advantage of His love. In shame, I’d hide my face from Him. I wouldn’t talk to Him as much and twice, it caused me to stay home from Mass because I didn’t feel worthy to go.
Why Divine Mercy Sunday?
Even if this blog were a million pages long, I could never come close to describing the mercy of Jesus. This coming Sunday is a feast all about diving into the mercy of our Lord. In a statement made on May 23, 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacramentsdeclared that “Throughout the world the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come.”
Divine Mercy Sunday was granted as a feast to the whole Church by Bl. Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000. That’s the same day St. Faustina was canonized. St. Faustina was a young Polish nun who lived a very simple, humble life of service. Jesus appeared to her and spoke to her about His mercy. In many of Jesus’ revelations to St. Faustina, He urged that there be a day dedicated to the Divine Mercy. The following quote is from the diary of St. Faustina, quoting Jesus.
I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy . . . The Feast of Mercy emerged from the very depths of My tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. (Diary 699)
We are encouraged to perform deeds of mercy, stemming out of a love for God. Maybe it’s being merciful to a friend or family member who may have upset us. We are also encouraged to go to the sacrament of Reconciliation, receive Holy Communion, and recite an Our Father and the Creed on this day to obtain the graces of the plenary indulgence.
Mercy Means Freedom
Over the years I’ve come to love this day. What an amazing opportunity to receive grace! God offers us His grace and mercy every day, especially through the Eucharist. Because the tomb is empty, we have freedom. When Jesus descended into Hell he took sin and shame with Him. He left them there, where they belong. It is because Jesus rose that we are free. God’s mercy is so big.
St. John Vianney put it beautifully when he said, ‘Our sins are nothing but a grain of sand alongside the great mountain of the mercy of God.’
Reflect on the song ‘Christ is Risen‘ by Matt Maher. The first lines in the song are my favorite because I can almost feel the chains breaking off of me: ‘Let no one caught in sin remain, inside the lie of inward shame.’
Brothers and sisters, embrace the mercy of Christ. Feel His hand lift up your head. Feel His light hit you. Remember, this great love and mercy calls for a response. God doesn’t pour out His mercy so that we can continue to sin. He pours it out so we can come back to Him. Let’s strive to be holy! Happy Easter!
(Originally published on LifeTeen.com)
Greatness; that’s our goal as men, right?
Whether we want to be a scientist or a lawyer or a football player, we want to be great. That’s a good thing because we are called to greatness by God. However, every great doctor or athlete or plumber or teacher had someone coach them.
If we’re going to be able to face the challenges and do what seems impossible in manhood today, we need a coach. If we want to be men of God, we have to be willing to learn. In our generation, I don’t think the problem is that you and I aren’t willing to learn. I think the problem is that there aren’t enough men willing to teach us.
Have you ever felt unworthy to do great things? I definitely have. A lot of us feel like even if God was calling us to do something big, we wouldn’t be right for it. Little lies have their way of sneaking in. Here’s the thing about lies and insecurities: they have to be sneaky. They stay in the dark, because if they were exposed to the light, we’d be able to see them for what they really are.
The Love of a Father
This is where dads come in. A father is supposed to make us feel secure. A father is supposed to chase away our fears. Often, fear has its roots in us worrying that we won’t have everything we need. Our dad’s love for us is supposed to be a mirror of the love God, the Father, has for us.
In God the Father’s love, we have everything we could ever need. When we’re rooted in that love, fear has no place. However, if we take our eyes off of that love and forget that we are His sons, fear and lies can creep in.
It’s pretty astounding how many of us believe the lies we hear every day, whether it’s from a bully, the media, our friends, or something we tell ourselves. On the other hand, God is always speaking truth into our lives — but often we can’t hear Him. There’s a lot of noise around us and God doesn’t seem to love shouting. Many times, He speaks in whispers (1 Kings 19:11-13). God has many channels through which He speaks to us.
A Holy Model
Though we don’t have any record of Joseph speaking in Scripture, we do have record of him listening. He listened to God on multiple occasions (Matthew 1:18-24, Matthew 2:13-14). Even though Joseph was a great father to Jesus, his biggest witness might be the way he allowed himself to be fathered by God.
For Joseph, a lie that could have crept in would be that he wasn’t a real father to Jesus since he wasn’t blood related, therefore making him totally unworthy of this task God called him to. Since Joseph didn’t have anything biologically to do with Jesus’ birth, this lie may have actually sound like truth at first.
The angel who came and spoke to Joseph in that first dream said to Joseph, “You are to name Him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21). God commissioned Joseph to name the child! That was primarily the duty of the father. Although Jesus’ name was preselected, God gave Joseph the honor of naming Him, as if to solidify Joseph’s fatherly role in Jesus’ life. Joseph didn’t need to doubt — he knew who he was because God said who he was. Even if others had their doubts, Joseph knew what God had done and was not going to be thrown off by the haters.
Furthermore, Mary confirms Joseph’s fatherly role when they find Jesus in the temple and she says “Your father and I have been looking for You with great anxiety.” Now God and Mary both confirmed it. He no longer has to ask himself, “Am I the right man for the job? Am I really called to be Jesus’ father?” Instead, he can focus on what God called him to and ask, “How can I do a better job?”
Joseph listened to God the Father and trusted in Him. Joseph dove into his role as a son of God. Sometimes being a son is one of the hardest things to do, especially when our dads aren’t perfect.
Boys Become Men
So many guys struggle with wounds from their relationship with their dad. I am one of them. We need to forgive our dads for the ways they’ve failed us. The first step is to trust in God, the Father, and believe we are His sons. We need to let His perfect love cast out all fear (1 John 4:18). We need to honor our dads and learn from their good qualities. Then, we can try to understand where they are coming from. They also had imperfect fathers who failed to love them perfectly. These small steps can eventually lead to a deeper understanding and healing in the relationship.
Whether our dads are awesome or not so awesome, whether they are around or not around, and whether we speak with them or not, they are family and they are our dads. They always will be. Growing up doesn’t mean no longer being a son. Joseph’s biggest lesson to us was that even as he became a father, he never stopped being a son.
So for right now, maybe that’s your focus. Just be a son. If you’re dad isn’t around, you’re still a son of God. And regardless of your vocation, you’ll someday be called to be a father figure. This is the great journey us men go on — we transform from boys to men, from sons to fathers.
Joseph shows us that being a good father is rooted in being a son. He shows us how to keep trusting in the face of doubts and weakness.
Loving like St. Joseph isn’t impossible. Being a great man, son and father is not out of your reach, but it’s not easy either. Fight for it.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Dom’s new book, Man Enough, available now in the Life Teen Store.
(Originally posted on LifeTeen.com)
Depending on the household you grew up in, sex may or may not have been talked about a lot. For some, it’s commonplace. It might come up at the dinner table, your uncle who hits the eggnog pretty hard at the family Christmas parties might make jokes about it, or you might have grown up seeing sexually suggestive scenes on popular shows on the television in the living room.
For others, it’s taboo.
“Sex” is considered a bad word. It wasn’t discussed, and any show that even mentioned it has been officially blocked on your TV.
While I’m not the authority on proper parenting, I can confidently say that in my opinion neither of these approaches actually teach us the fullness of truth about sex. While the first approach might teach us that sex isn’t inherently “bad,” it doesn’t train us to know sex is sacred. And while the second approach might teach us that sex is something to take seriously, it might lead us to believe this thing which God created is evil.
Then there’s the ever-awkward sex education in school. Just what we wanted, right? You’re sitting really close to the person you have a crush on. And then there’s your friend behind you trying to make you laugh so you look immature. “Is that the librarian? She’s going to teach us about sex? Is that a powerpoint presentation she brought with her? I’m going to be sick.”
While statistics say a lot about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of sex-ed in schools, you don’t need those statistics to know that most people don’t learn what they need to learn from those classes.
So, where do we learn about sex? The sad truth is that a lot of young people go to the most easily accessible yet dishonest source: porn. Porn is the wrong place to learn about sex. Porn is the wrong place to learn about anything.
As Pope Saint John Paul II said, “The problem with pornography is not that it shows too much; but rather that it shows too little.”
We only see the “sexy parts” in porn; the rest is hidden. No sacrifice. No relationship. No gift of self. No union with God. No marriage. No commitment. Just pleasure and use. And those are really not the good parts. It leaves us constantly craving something new and exciting, and it teaches us that sex is about use rather than love and self-gift. It’s unrealistic and gives us false expectations. Porn doesn’t speak at all of the heartbreak and attachment that so often follow casual sex with multiple partners. That’s not “sexy” enough. It also isolates us, which is precisely the opposite of what sex has the potential to do when held in the proper regard. Sex is about an intimate communion and most people who watch porn do it alone.
While you don’t need to know all the nitty-gritty details about sex while you’re in highschool, the desire to know these things isn’t necessarily bad. You definitely don’t need to be embarrassed about not knowing details about sex. After all, not learning about sex at all in high school is way better than learning the wrong way and having a distorted view. Here are 4 things you can do to learn about the beauty of sex without looking at porn.
Read about it.
I’m not talking about Cosmo, either. Many holy people have written many holy things about sex. There are several great articles on LifeTeen.com about sex, sexuality, and chastity. These aren’t boring, awkward reads either. Look into the “Theology of the Body for Teens” which explains Pope John Paul II’s teachings in language applicable to your life. Check out Jason and Crystalina Evert’s books on dating and chastity. My friend Arleen Spenceley recently released a popular new book called “Chastity is for Lovers.” Shall I go on? Those were just some of the first to pop into my head. My point is that good stuff is out there. Find it and read it.
Talk to a trusted adult.
I would recommend finding someone who shares your faith and morals and who knows you personally so they can mentor you and help you navigate the particular struggles of hormones, relationships, and purity.
Ask for the grace to see sex and sexuality as a gift from God that has a proper place. Pray for the wisdom to be able to recognize when sex and sexuality are being abused, causing disorder, and not being treated how God intended them to be.
If you attend youth group, conferences, or retreats, don’t just zone out during the guys and girls sessions. There is probably really great information being shared in those sessions that some of us let go in one ear and out the other.
Above all, be aware that our culture today doesn’t value sex very highly, unless you’re talking dollar signs. The sacredness of sex is not something that most movies and music released today want you to care about. I’m not bashing pop culture as much as I’m just trying to encourage you to be careful of where you get your information about sex. Guard yourself, and root yourself in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. The Church desires your freedom, not your enslavement. You were made for greatness; don’t settle for anything less.
(If you struggle with an addiction to porn and are ready to be free, check out Matt Fradd’s 5 Step Battleplan for Overcoming Porn!)