10 Ways of Living as a Son of God

Mass on Ramapo Mountain

  1. God literally died for you. You are a son of God and you get your worth from His love for you. God willed your existence out of love. You are not just a product of chance. God willed YOUR existence, He created you exactly as you are, and He loves you as you are. He sees you as His son, and wants to see you prosper and live with the fullness of life that He wants for you. Jesus said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” in John 10:10. That’s pretty cool, huh?! And I haven’t even hit on the part about Jesus dying for us. He thought that we were worth dying for even though we had already messed up. So remember that even when things aren’t going well, Jesus believes in you and wants to give you another chance.
  1. Men are called to serve and protect. In the story of Adam and Eve, after Adam is created, “God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). God gave Adam and all men this duty, to “cultivate and care” for all of the Earth. This includes all of the plants and animals, but most importantly all of humanity. The Hebrew translation of “cultivate and care” is the word “Shamar,” which means to protect and keep.  So God wasn’t just giving us a job of being gardeners, but being protectors of all of God’s creation.  Our job is to honor God in all that we do and to selflessly serve and protect all others in our care, our wives, our families, our communities, those in need, and to even care for nature too, as  Pope Francis has put out so beautifully in his latest encyclical, Laudato Si.  A man is called to sacrifice of himself for others. Our ultimate model of manhood is Jesus Himself, and He gave us a very clear message that we need to put ourselves last in serving others. Sometimes this is in very heroic ways, like soldiers, police officers, and firemen. But we can also give of ourselves for others in everyday matters, like going out of our way to help a friend or someone in need, letting people go before us in lines, and making time to spend with your family instead doing what you want.
  1. Your masculinity doesn’t depend on what you look like. In our culture, there are these lies that in order to be a true man, we need to be super big and ripped. We see this all over: on sports, in commercials, in the locker room. This is a lie. Some men are naturally skinny or overweight, this has no bearing on their manhood. Sure, it is healthy to be in shape and to be able to do some heavy physical labor, but don’t be tempted to think any less of yourself if you don’t have big muscles. God judges us for what we do, not what we look like. In addition, remember that you can act like a man even when you are relatively young. Don’t let your elders convince you that just because you’re young, you’re destined to make mistakes and fail until you’re older. There are plenty of 10 year old boys who live much more manly lives than 40 year olds, by pursuing virtue and excellence in everything that they do.
  1. Pursuing virtue. Once I was privileged enough to attend a talk specifically on manliness at a Catholic conference (another shout-out to FOCUS!), and I was surprised to learn within the first few minutes that the essence of manliness is simply cultivating and living the virtues. Ultimately, this post could simply be about the 7 virtues, but I guess I wanted to flesh them out a little bit more for the sake of making them a bit more practical. The Catholic Gentleman has a wonderful post that highlights the importance of virtue that I would highly recommend, but the 7 virtues are prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, faith, hope, and charity. The first 4 are called cardinal virtues that we can train ourselves in, and the final 3 are called theological virtues which are gifts from God. In your own life, your best bet is to pick out one of the cardinal virtues at a time, research them so that you can understand them, and then continuously work at attaining them. As for the theological virtues, your best bet is to take those into prayer each day, asking God for those gifts. He will provide.
  1. Treating women right. One of the easiest ways to distinguish a man from a boy is how he treats women. A man always treats women with respect, seeing them as a human being with their own life, needs, relationships, and feelings. Boys are sometimes tempted to use women, for their bodies, for a sense of emotional comfort, for power, etc. One of those general rules of thumb to apply here is to see every woman as your mother, sister, daughter, etc. This includes women that you see on screens and images. Would you treat one of them the way that you are treating this stranger? And beware, pornography may seem harmless at first, but it has a crippling effect on you and your relationships with the more beautiful sex. A huge way that we can honor women is by having chaste relationships with them. Save sex for marriage, and make sure to draw the line clearly with how physical you BOTH feel comfortable being with each other if you’re in a committed relationship. Save the “test drive” for cars, because women are so much better than that. It’s an insult to even compare them to cars. If you aren’t willing to lay down your life for them for the rest of your life, you have no right to a “test drive,” this is a go big or go home issue. On a lighter note, some things that I love to see men do for women is to open doors for them, let them eat first, paying for a date, listening attentively, and not talking down to them- especially with regards to subjects like sports and cars where the stereotype is that women don’t know anything about that. Oh yea, and if you’re Catholic, letting your wife / girlfriend / children go before you to receive Holy Communion. What a better way of sacrifice then letting them receive Jesus first?!
  1. True to our promises. A man is as good as his word, goes the common saying. “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation,” warns St. James in James 5:12. How often have you been affected by this in others? One of the most common issues where we see this in the 21st century is Facebook events. I’m guilty of putting “maybe” down for about 5 events in a row, only to never change to yes or no and never showing up. Doing that hurts my friends who went out of their way to invite me and don’t have any idea if I’m coming or not! And this can be applied to greater things, too.. How many times have we encountered people who are always promising to do things and never follow through? We stop taking that person seriously, don’t we? Perhaps the most important promises that affect each one of us are wedding vows. Each one of us has a mom and a dad. And most of our parents, at least at one point in time, were married. They promised to be love and serve each other, through good times and bad. They promised to be faithful to each other for their entire lives. They promised to marry each other for life. Yet, unfortunately, about half of marriages end in divorce. Dang. Talk about a broken promise. Think… they promised that they would love and serve each other in both good times and in bad. So as much as I feel for couples going through difficult marriages, divorce never really was an option according to their vows. Unfortunately these affects have wounded countless numbers of young people in my generation, who are now the likely generation in recent memory to ever get married. There is hurt everywhere because of broken promises. Long story short, a man keeps his word, even if it is very difficult. Even if just each of us as individuals try to get a little better on this, I think it would go a long way in changing the world.
  1. Taking the initiative to pursue a woman. For young men, assuming that you aren’t called to the priesthood or religious life, one of the most exhilarating times of our lives is attempting to win a woman’s heart. Notice how I used the words “pursue” and “win”, verbs that imply that you actually try. You don’t usually find the woman of your dreams by just sitting around waiting for her to walk through your door, but by going out and living life, and meeting her doing the same sort of things that you like to do. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and ask out a woman that you’re interested in! Rejection stings, but you’ll never have a shot if you don’t ask! Unfortunately there seems to be a lot of young women out there looking for relationships and potential husbands, but not many men going out and asking them. Instead, our culture has made hooking up seem like a normal thing to do. This is no way to treat a woman, to use her for her body with no thoughts for who she actually is as a person… to just try and get messed up enough that you don’t even know what you’re doing. That’s not being a man, that’s being an animal. A man goes out of his way to protect women and treat them with respect. The end goal of a relationship isn’t sex or physical pleasure. The end goal of a relationship is life-long friendship, love, and helping each other become closer to Christ. Kids are nice too, when we’re talking about marriage ;-)
  1. Be sharpened by other men. Man was not created to be alone. We were actually created for community. I’ve already mentioned some cool things about relationships with women, but in general fraternal friendships are just as important! Jesus recognized this when He gave us the Church. It wasn’t just Peter alone who continued Jesus’ mission on bringing God’s Kingdom to earth in the Church, but the 12 Apostles, and the 72 Disciples, and countless others! Jesus founded the Church as a community, and it grew as a community. We are all the Body of Christ, and we are stronger together as a “body” as opposed to “a lone ear” or “a finger and two toes.” A pretty cool bible verse that highlights this is Proverbs 27:17, which says, “As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens his fellow man.” Of course this applies to women too, but I love the imagery of iron here and I think it speaks very clearly to men. When I am alone, I am more vulnerable to temptations and not always the person that I ought to be. When I am surrounded by my good friends, they encourage me to be the best that I can be in all things. One simple way that I’ve noticed this is in prayer accountability. As a missionary, I challenged men to commit to praying daily, as I do, so that they could grow closer to Jesus. Beforehand, most of them had never had a very regular prayer life, but after I challenged them to start one and continued to check up on them, they started making impressive improvements and I could see their lives change as they grew closer to Christ through prayer. Accountability and encouragement is one of the best ways that we can help build each other up as men.
  1. Only satisfied by God. This world is great. God has given us so many people to become friends with and countless other joys. But as tempting as it can be to strictly chase the things of this world, we have to remember that in the end only God will satisfy us. We were made for God, and nothing less will give us peace. We will always be wanting more… until we are finally with God, and we will have never-ending peace and joy, ecstasy really! So with that in mind, make daily prayer a part of your schedule, and make sure to be faithful to Sunday Mass and regular confession. Our relationship with God starts right here on earth.
  1. God’s son. Did you know that God desires a personal relationship with you? Kind of like any other friend, except He’s Jesus and He created, unconditionally loves, and died for you! Now, if you’re anything like me, you get a bit turned off by that mushy “God loves us” stuff. The girls eat that up, but for us as guys, it doesn’t really work. I think we need to take a different approach. God gave us two basic ways of seeing Him: as our Father in God the Father, and as our brother in Jesus. Some of us aren’t blessed in having a father or brother in our lives that gives us a glimpse of the true love and care of God/Jesus. As a Father, God cares for us at all times. He watches out for us, is ready to give us advice, and gives us everything that we need to live joyfully as His sons. As a brother, Jesus modeled for us a firm commitment to putting God first in all that we do, a strong work ethic in our day to day labors, compassion and care for those around us who need mercy and help, and is a friend whose shoulder we can lean on whenever we need some support. God is much closer to us than we think and remembering that He is by our side at all times will help us through the good and the bad times ahead.

I hope and pray that these tips inspire and encourage you! God bless!

Note: A couple of months ago I published a post about being a Daughter of God, which inspired me to write this one as well for the guys!

Goodbye Montclair

Men Senior Send Off

Goodbye Montclair. Wow it’s hard to believe that it’s already been two years. It seems like just yesterday I jumped out of my car on a late August night, Illinois snapback and all, to be greeted by Father Jim and Mike (the first one). Father Jim quickly grabbed some things to help me bring them upstairs, but Mike just stood to the side awkwardly. “Uh, Mike, are you going to help?” He responded that ever since he donated his spleen (or whatever organ it was) to his friend, he can’t do any physical activity for a few more weeks. So that’s how my #mishlife started…

I didn’t even know where Montclair State University was. No lie, I thought that it was in Montana at first. It started with an M and Father Jim had a beard. I just put two and two together and assumed I was going west when I read my letter from Perla at placement night. Everyone was running to go join their teams, but I was conflicted because I wanted to pray and thank God and ask for His and Our Lady’s blessing on my time as a FOCUS missionary. So after walking a few steps towards the mass of people… I turned around to walk over to the Ave Maria Oratory. It turns out that Father, Perla, Mike, and Ania actually saw me and were waving to me, so to them it must have looked like I ditched them after seeing them (even though I was totally in another world at the time). To this day they tease me about it hahaha. But it turns out that Montclair is in New Jersey. And we can see NYC and the World Trade Center from our front porch. So I got to learn a lot about New Jersey, NYC, and the whole East coast over the past two years. My favorite thing about the area has probably been the Appalachians. I’ve really gotten into hiking more since I’ve been away from the vast flatness of Illinois and the Midwest.

Being a missionary for these past two years has been such a blessing. I can’t count how many times I’ve been able to watch God work miracles and touch lives. There have been some big ones that I’ll just generally list by name: Liam, Jeff, Jon, Anthony, Anahi (and like all her fam and friends), and Rob. And on top of that there have been some just as important slow but steady conversions of heart that I’ve been privileged to watch in people like Andrew, Brenden, Ian, Mathias, Henry, Jantzen, Justin, and Charles. But hey, God’s worked in more than just those people’s lives. He’s worked in each one of us and it’s been an honor to walk with you all towards Christ. As long as we are open to God’s love, He will work amazing things through us.

I’d like to give a special thank you to Father Jim, Mary, and Kevin for your support and all that you do for us at Newman Catholic. You all make it so much easier for us to live and grow in our faith here in college.

And I’d like to also especially thank my fellow missionaries! Kerry, Kristin, Ania, Perla, Mike, and Mike. You guys are the best and it’s been such an honor to serve Jesus with you! I’m so blessed with your friendships and inspired by your desire to serve God in whatever way He calls you. And I want to thank you so much for joining me in this mission!

All of you students mean so much to me and I’ll treasure our experiences and friendships for years to come. I’m excited to see how each of your grow and how you live your lives! If you want some parting words of wisdom, here’s what I’ve got. Put God first, then everything else will fall into place. Remember that this life is not just here on Earth, but an eternal one. How you live matters. Live it in a way that honors our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and you’ll have the most joyful and fulfilling life possible. I’m not saying that it’ll be easy. We weren’t created for comfort, but for greatness, as Pope Benedict said. Let’s continue to fight the good fight and know of my prayers for you all! Please pray for me too!

So I want to say goodbye to you all, or adios (I treasured my time with the LASO community as well!), but I want to say it in the true meaning of the words:

Good Bye…  “God be with you.”

Adios… “Go with God.”

10 Ways to Live as a Daughter of God- A Man’s Perspective

What does it mean to be made as women in the image of God? How does this reflect on friendships and relationships? Recently one of my missionary friends asked my teammate and I to talk at a women’s night in order to speak into this from a male perspective, and this is what I shared with them!

10 Ways of living as a Daughter of God

1. God literally died for you. You are a daughter of God and you get your worth from His love for you. You are princess peach and Jesus is Mario, and he’s jumping on mushrooms and flinging turtle shells and defeating Bowser at least EIGHT times before he can save you. And he did it all anyways.

So with that in mind, remember that you’re always loved. Even when things aren’t going well in your day to day, you’ve always got a friend in Jesus.

A daughter of God doesn’t get her worth from what other people, especially men, think of her. She gets her worth from God’s love, and that never changes. So no matter what others think of you don’t let that bring you down. Our ultimate fulfillment could never be in this world, anyways.

2. Women inspire men. Heck yes, Mario wasn’t going to stop at anything until he got to rescue Peach. In the same way, men will pursue you, and you have the opportunity to challenge him in that. Early on when I was coming to Christ, when there was a girl that I liked, and she was spending time in the chapel praying or going to mass and bible study, I wanted to be doing those things too. Somewhat selfish reasons, but hey, it worked, I’m a missionary now! My girlfriend Ryann continues to inspire me to greater holiness in her own personal devotion to God, and even though I’m a missionary and sometimes we’re tempted to think that all missionaries are perfect, I really need extra encouragement sometimes. In addition, your beauty also inspires others, since your beauty is a reflection of the beauty of God. There’s nothing on earth more beautiful than a woman, so cherish that fact! Just in who you are, you reveal to all the world, men and women alike, how good and beautiful God’s creation is.

3. Women are beautiful, and that is great. But your worth goes above and beyond your beauty. Your worth is that you are made in the image and likeness of God. A lot of times men abuse this truth in only talking about your physical beauty, and our culture for sure does this in general, judging women so much more carefully on how they look than they do men. But remember that in being a daughter of God, just because you don’t always look fantastic doesn’t mean that you’re worth anything less. There’s no need to be jealous of other girl’s good looks, you are all loved just as much by God. St. Peter has some great advice about this: “Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). The point of this verse is that the beauty that matters the most is your internal beauty, the beauty of your heart. Physical beauty takes a back seat to that.

4. Women have a unique way of witnessing to the tenderness and mercy of God in a way that men never can. I try to be gentle and supportive of people who are in tough situations, but often times I just don’t know what to do or don’t know how to help. On the other hand I often see my teammates Kristin or Kerry jump right forward and they know just the right ways to comfort someone. I think that’s a gift that God has given women, and it’s a gift to treasure. I’m always looking for a “fix” to the problem, while what the person really needs is just someone to be there for them. Another unique feature of femininity is how you are more open to receiving love. Sometimes faith is harder for men because we aren’t as wired to receive God’s love as you are, but you can witness to that for us. See as a guy, when I’m talking about loving someone, I want to do things for them, help them with their work, making sacrifices, giving them gifts, etc. The other part of love is simply being with people through struggles and receiving the affection from someone you love. This is huge in relating to God and to each other in general, and men definitely need to learn from women on this.

5. Don’t lower your standards just to be with a guy. Some girls dress pretty immodestly just to attract the attention of guys. Let’s not deny the facts, though. It works. But what type of guy is an immodest girl attracting? She’s got BOYS all over her. BOYS with no self control and no maturity and class. BOYS who just want her for her body and nothing else. If you want a MAN, you have to dress like a WOMAN. A MAN is attracted to a woman respects herself, who dresses with dignity and class, who isn’t afraid to be herself. A MAN tries to get to know the whole person of the woman that he is interested in, instead of trying to use her for her body. A MAN respects women’s purity and dignity and always treats her with respect. On top of that all, a great way to scare off the BOYS is to dress like a WOMAN. They’ll be able to tell right away that you respect yourself and won’t play any games, so they’ll move on to bother some other girl.

6. A daughter of God should never have to “give in” to a guy physically to secure his affection. Our modern culture has fallen into the error of often reducing women from human beings into “objects of pleasure”, a collection of body parts. You can obviously see this in pornography or strip clubs, but it’s beginning to infiltrate mainstream culture in movies like 50 shades of grey and in most popular music videos. Men see the same things as you and unfortunately it can warp our minds into thinking of women as merely a collection of body parts instead of human beings with dignity. You are not merely a collection of body parts, you are a whole person: body, mind, and soul. A man needs to pay attention to and respect ALL of you.

7. In dating, you need to set boundaries for “how far” you can go. Communicate this clearly, during the day. You need to set the boundaries right away otherwise it’s just too tempting to stop in the heat of the passion. This is especially difficult for guys, we’re aroused so much easier. So with this in mind, remember to honor the lines that you’ve set together, because if you start bending the lines, it’s so much harder to stop. Even though Ryann and I are both devoted Catholics, we made sure to talk clearly about physical boundaries right away and continue to. Usually it’s the guy who kind of leads the relationship in this sense, so as the woman, it’s important for you to make how you feel about this clear to him, otherwise he might assume something else.

8. Being in the image of God, you have a right to be treated like a lady. A guy who is interested in you or dating you should be holding doors for you, paying for stuff on dates, holding their umbrella for you, offering an arm when going up steps, offering you their seat, pulling the chair out for you, etc. Sometimes in our modern culture these things are politicized, and women feel like they are being disrespected when a guy offers to do something gentlemanly. But from my experience, behaving like a gentleman is not at all about disrespecting women but actually for making little sacrifices for a woman to show her your respect. It’s small things like this that go a long way in a relationship, and it’s great practice for marriage, where life together is one small act of sacrifice after another. As women, the best way to respond when a man treats you well like this is to accept his generosity gracefully and thank him. There’s no need to make a big deal about it, but there’s also something nice about having your girl let you know that what you did is appreciated by saying thanks. And honestly, it’s a huge turn off to me if a girl doesn’t let me pay for dinner or something on a date. I guess it makes a girl seem insecure or something? There’s definitely a place for splitting the bill sometimes or helping out with other things, but if it’s a date, and he asked you, then he better pay the bill.

9. Remember that in all things, we will only be satisfied by God. Sometimes it seems like everything is falling down when friendships or a relationship is crumbling, but God alone fulfills our deepest desires. The best thing that you can do to ground yourself for the rest of your life, no matter what your vocation will be, is to have a deep relationship with God. God is our rock, our foundation. With that foundation, he will help transform you into the woman that you’re meant to be, so that you can be the best for everyone in your life. Break ups and falling outs happen, so make sure that you’re always keeping God first and then everyone else.

10. Let the man do the pursuing. It’s in our nature to want to pursue women, and it is a way of showing our dedication. I actually know a pretty good scientific reason why this is: men take forever to make a decision that women can make in seconds. One way that this trait is especially useful is in asking out someone on a date. For a guy, it can take a long time to decide whether or not to ask a girl out. For a girl, you can probably make a pretty good decision right away without needing any extra time to weigh your options. In addition, men pursuing allows women to be treated like they deserve to be as ladies, and weeds out the players from the men who are actually dedicated. Don’t be afraid to play a little hard to get to see if he truly wants to be dedicated to you. Do you really want a boy who you have to baby all the time or do you want a man who will stay with you through thick and thin?

Shout outs to Jason Evert, Mike, Ryann, and Lilly for helping me with some ideas for this!

Update: I wrote a post similar like this for men! Check out 10 Ways of Living as a Son of God.

My FOCUS Mission Trip to El Salvador

Just a couple of weeks ago for spring break I had the opportunity to help lead a FOCUS mission trip to El Salvador!

Group with Sarai

After Sunday mass at the San Miguel Cathedral, while we were still relatively clean ;-)

It was such an amazing experience! I’ve had so many people ask me about the trip and everything in the past couple of weeks, but it’s so hard to put into words what I got to experience throughout that whole week. Here are some of my take away’s, as best as I can summarize them.

The trip was eye opening in so many ways. This was probably my biggest take away. I had never really left the comfortable American world until then: I’ve been blessed to be able to vacation in Mexico and Canada, but even in Mexico we didn’t need to speak Spanish because we stayed at resorts.

In El Salvador, I was immediately confronted by a different culture and way of life. Even in the Avianca section in Miami Airport, we were some of the only people who weren’t speaking in Spanish. I love learning Spanish and I hope to be fluent one day, but for now it was somewhat overwhelming when people spoke to me in Spanish expecting me to understand. I can pick up words and even understand phrases and simple sentences, but when they’re speaking so fast, I had to flag down our friendly Spanish speaking missionaries, Roxio and Mario!

A pic of our local neighborhood.

A pic of our local neighborhood.

 

I couldn’t help but notice the poverty right away. It wasn’t like there were hoards of homeless people (that I saw), but rather nearly all of the homes there made a small “lower class” home in the United States look very nice. They made those “bad” parts of Newark look normal. They did have electricity (the wealthier homes at least- oh and I did see a very modern transmission substation by a highway once) and water (kind of- we couldn’t drink it, and hot water wasn’t common).

It was such a joy to be able to talk and play with the kids! They were shy but they warmed up to us fast!

It was such a joy to be able to talk and play with the kids! They were shy but they warmed up to us fast!

A very interesting thing happened every night while we were there. Everyone got all antsy and said that they had to leave around 5:30 pm. Every single night. It was still bright out and everything, and it was early in the evening, so I was confused about why they needed to get back home so early. It turned out that the gangs have instituted an unofficial curfew over the entire country, especially where we were in San Miguel, at 6 pm. That’s when they come out and it isn’t safe to be outside of your homes. In fact, every home had bars over their windows, cement walls around their yards, and barbed wire on top of everything. There were security guards in most businesses holding guns. Gang violence is very real, and there is the legacy of the civil war that ended in 1993 as well. I was devastated to learn just how deadly the civil war was, with the government (supplied by the United States) sending death squads to local towns by the end of it. I guess that shouldn’t be too much of a shock that it came to that after the whole Archbishop Romero fiasco, which I’ll talk about later.

IMG_4998

This is just a random shot of some homes in El Salvador. If you look closely you’ll notice barbed wire on top, all the fences, and bars over all the windows.

 

The food was seriously out of this world. We had the most amazing deal: some of the women (mostly grandmas) in the parish cooked for us 3 meals a day, and they went all out for us, cooking seriously the most amazing food I’ve ever had (no offense to my mom and grandma!). A couple of the Americans’ stomachs didn’t mix well with the food, but I was surprised to find that my stomach was more bothered coming back to America and eating processed food. Whoops, America.

Typical Salvadorian comida: pupusas on the left, rice in the center, fried plantains on the right. Turns out that plantains go really good with ketchup!

Typical Salvadorian comida: pupusas on the left, rice in the center, fried plantains on the right. Turns out that plantains go really good with ketchup!

The faith of the people was so inspiring! Everyone loved to talk about Jesus, and sometimes it was hard to get them to stop… ;-) They loved putting Jesus stickers everywhere on their cars and every other person seemed to be wearing a rosary (public service announcement, you’re actually not supposed to wear them as a fashion symbol). One of the coolest things that we got to experience was stations of the cross with a local town (Chirilagua, I believe). After mass on that Friday evening, the whole town seemed to gather together outside of the church as we walked around the town carrying a doll/statue thing of Jesus to each station, set up right in front of houses and shops and things.

Carrying the cross for stations of the cross with the community!

Carrying the cross for stations of the cross with the community!

With the parish that we were helping rebuild their church, I was impressed with how tight knit the whole parish seemed to be, with dozens showing up to daily mass with us, many of the male parishioners helped with the construction, and many of the female parishioners helped with cooking for them all and other odds and ends jobs. Another impressive thing about this parish was how they go on house visits each week to families their local community. At each house visit, they see how each other is doing, read the Gospel for the next Sunday together, have a mini bible study, and then close in prayer. That’s an awesome way of outreach that we should try and apply back in the United States! Even more powerful than all of those experiences for me was when the community prayed for us all, with some of the leaders laying their hands on each of us and praying with such emotion for each of us.

Leaders of the parish praying over us... so beautiful!

Leaders of the parish praying over us… so beautiful!

An absolutely stunning story that the locals shared with us was the tradition of Reina de la Paz, patron saint of El Salvador. If you can read Spanish, the more in depth details are here. If not, here’s my basic summary: In 1787, San Miguel Volcano, which is not surprisingly right next to the city of San Miguel, was erupting and threatening to destroy the entire city. The entire city, or I guess town back then, being Catholic Christians, turned to God and the Virgin Mary in prayer. They had this image of Mary that they decided to bring up with them to the volcano, begging for the Virgin Mary’s intercession in saving them and their city. Miraculously, the lava actually stopped and went a different direction, saving them all! Praise God! To this day, that same image of Mary, who they call Reina de la Paz (Queen of Peace), is in the Cathedral of San Miguel, holding a palm branch from the event. Reina de la Paz is the patron saint of all of El Salvador. When we went to the Cathedral for Sunday mass, we got to see Reina de la Paz ourselves and even touch it! It was so beautiful and moving to be able to be so close to something so important to the hearts of the native people. Isn’t their faith so strong?!

The image of Reina de la Paz in the San Miguel Cathedral

The image of Reina de la Paz above the main altar in the San Miguel Cathedral

We didn’t get to personally meet Archbishop Romero, but it felt like we did after getting to know and love this holy man so much that week. Here’s a great article that summarizes why he is such a big deal in El Salvador, and admired throughout Latin America, the Church, and the world at large. Basically Monsignor Romero (as they call him, even though he was an Archbishop) spoke out against the corruption and evils of the Salvadorian government while he was Archbishop and the leader of the Church in that country from 1977-1980. By that time, the government had begun to use violence to try and keep protesters quiet, and for a while it seemed like a priest was killed every month. Months before Romero was actually assassinated, there was a different attempt on his life where there were large amounts of dynamite placed right in front of the Cathedral, which would have killed him and hundreds or thousands more. Thankfully that attempt was revealed, but it didn’t stop Romero from speaking boldly. Above all, Romero was a man of God who wished to share the Gospel and help the poor. He lived a very simple life and was for the most part a very quiet man. But he was placed in a very explosive situation and despite the fear he must have felt, he stayed true to his God and his people above all else. He was shot while saying mass by an assassin on March 24th, 1980. At his funeral mass, tens of thousands showed up, but the government didn’t want that to happen so they shot into the crowd, killing about 60-80 people according to our Salvadorian hosts. Of course, the violence by the government was only beginning at that point. While in El Salvador, we had the opportunity to visit Romero’s tomb, house where he lived, church where he was shot, and even the square where he will be beatified this May! It was inspiring to learn more about this man and he has quickly become one of my favorite saints. Archbishop Romero, pray for us!

A statue of Romero outside the Cathedral in San Salvador.

A statue of Romero outside the Cathedral in San Salvador.

Praying next to Romero's tomb. There were dozens of the faithful coming in to visit and pray by the tomb with us.

Praying next to Romero’s tomb. There were dozens of the faithful coming in to visit and pray by the tomb with us.

The vestments that Romero was wearing when he was shot.

The vestments that Romero was wearing when he was shot.

The most beautiful flowers were growing right outside the church where he was shot.

The most beautiful flowers were growing right outside the church where he was shot.

Archbishop Romero was saying mass at that altar when he was shot.

Archbishop Romero was saying mass at that altar when he was shot. Today schoolchildren come and visit daily.

As we were preparing to leave, we decided to leave our cooks, and through them the entire parish, a little sign of how much they meant to us by washing their feet. We prayed with them as we washed their feet and it was so moving to think about how much God had done through both parties. They had given up so much to serve us, and we definitely had given up some things in order to serve them as well. The sacrifices made by both parties for the sake of God and His Church was so beautiful.

Washing the feet of our amazing cooks!

Washing the feet and praying for our amazing cooks!

Though it might not seem like it, we actually did some work too! So the practical part of our mission trip was to help them build a new church, because the last one was destroyed in 2001 by an earthquake. It’s taken them this long to be able to build a new one because they don’t have the funds. Thanks to about 5 more FOCUS Mission trips to this parish, we’ll be able to significantly help them both with funds and free labor, so that they hope to have it completed in about a year. At the moment we were just working on the foundation, so most of what we did was shoveling dirt and carrying concrete by bucket. They had no back hoes, cement trucks, cranes, lifts, dump trucks, or anything that you’d expect in America. All of the labor was by hand. But it was a lot of fun! I enjoyed being able to work side by side with the locals, chatting it up with my fellow missionaries (both FOCUS and students), and enjoying that wonderful 100 degree dry heat. I swear there wasn’t a cloud in the sky all week.

Doing work!

Doing work!

Our mission trip team with the workers and Father Antonio.

Our mission trip team with the workers and Father Antonio.

One of the most important things that I’ll cherish from this trip is growing in friendship with my amazing teammates! Carly, Grace, Tess, Becca, Roxio, Elli, Sarah, Jonathan, Max, Mario, Michael, and Fr. Jeff. You guys are awesome! It was so beautiful to not really know anybody going into this week, and come out of it with 12 new amazing friends, with plenty of inside jokes to go with it. No espanol. Pwerp. Having a blast! Michael prancing away from the scorpion. Alfredo. Too blessed to be stressed! Liquiddddddd!!! Riding in the back of the pickup truck. God’s pharmacy. Shamar the rear! I saw God in you guys. Your service and selflessness is inspiring and I can’t wait to see where God leads you all! Huge shout outs to Sarah for being in charge of basically everything and being an amazing trip director and Fr. Jeff for joining us last minute and being such a great priest and role model!

Group PicIf you get the chance to go on a mission trip, you should go! It was amazing and transformative and fun! It has helped me grow in my faith, gain a more complete world view, and have some experiences that I’ll cherish the rest of my life. Check out FOCUS Missions!

“To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us.” – Pope Francis

Here’s a video that Mario put together of us!

 

Winning Back the Youth of the Catholic Church

My Montclair State University group at SEEK 2015 this January

My Montclair State University group at SEEK 2015 this January

A critical problem arose in the Catholic Church over the past couple of generations: the faith has not been passed on from generation to generation. This phenomenon is particularly shocking because passing on the faith to the next generation has been taken for granted for practically the entire history of Christendom. Though some of the blame could justly be placed on the new and increasing attacks against the Church in the past century, most of the fault lies on the Church itself, in failing to proclaim the importance of the Gospel, present a relationship with Jesus Christ as the fullness of life, and encourage the family model of discipleship. If these problems continue, the very existence of the Church in the West could be threatened.

The first and most fundamental problem I see is that the Church hasn’t proclaimed the Gospel in a way that reaches the hearts of the people in the pews. The Popes have been great about reinforcing our need for Christ above all else, but by the time we start talking about the faithful in your local parish, the message seems to be lost in translation. The Gospel is the fundamental reason why we are Catholic Christians! It is our greatest treasure and basically the meaning to life. And yet when I ask Catholics why they are Catholic Christians, they can only muster that it was what their parents were. When people respond like that, they haven’t taken ownership of their faith. It isn’t something that they chose to live themselves because they were looking for purpose and hope in life, so how they think of their religion isn’t too different from how they view their ethnicity or nationality.

The most important things for a Catholic – scratch that, for all human beings – to know are the Gospel message and how to live in relationship with God. Without that, all Catholics will just go through the motions because they have this faith tradition but they don’t understand WHY it is important or HOW to live it out.

From my experience, as a whole, today’s parents have not been catechized well and do not prioritize forming their children’s faiths as much as their education, friends, or even sports. As a consequence, their children are barely getting catechized and rarely experience life in a family that strives to put Christ first. Growing up, most of the kids in my CCD classes didn’t know the first thing about faith, and definitely didn’t have many Christ-like role models, myself included. I recently helped out at a Confirmation retreat, and when I questioned the candidates about their prayer habits, very few of them said that they pray regularly. From my own experience as a child, I can verify that. That’s a huge problem. If you’re not praying, you’re not fostering a relationship with God. If you’re not in relationship with God, you’re definitely not on the right track to becoming a practicing Catholic.

How are Catholic children learning about the faith nowadays? Are they learning it at all? Take your average Catholic and ask them how to pray the rosary. Or ask them what the Immaculate Conception is. As a missionary who works with college students, I can tell you firsthand that even most of the students who regularly go to Sunday mass don’t know things like that, things that genuinely help them understand their faith and live it in a way that leads them closer to God.

But simply learning the facts of the faith are not the most important thing: encountering Jesus and learning how to live in relationship with God are the most important things. How many of our children know that they are called to live as disciples of Christ? How many of them know about the Great Commission and that all Christians are called to be missionaries in their own lives? These things aren’t taught best in the classroom, or even at Sunday mass – they are best taught in day to day life by their parents, God parents, and other role models. The results speak for themselves. If attending religious education (RE) classes for a year or two before Confirmation was working, we’d see Catholics living as disciples of Christ for the rest of their lives, and striving to bring others into relationship with the Lord. Instead, 85 percent of Catholics stop practicing the faith within 7 years after their confirmation. (Do the numbers sound high to you? Well, to this 23 year old, it sounds dead on. I was confirmed about 7 years ago, and of the 30 or so peers that were confirmed with me, I’d estimate that 5 or so continue to attend mass somewhat regularly.)

That such a crazy high percentage of Catholic youth stops practicing their faith as they grow up is simply unacceptable. Our bishops and pastors need to get serious about reaching out to the youth. If they are simply worried about parish debt and church merges, they haven’t seen anything yet. 50 more years of 85% of young Catholics leaving and we’ll be lucky to have a handful of parishes for each diocese. Jesus gave us a commission to make disciples of all nations, and here we are losing almost every young Catholic who was born in the Church. If this was a business, people would be getting fired. Since this is an even greater matter – eternal life – souls are being lost. We need to get serious at the parish level about reaching out to the youth.

The most recent popes have seen this problem of re-transmitting the faith in traditionally Christian countries like Europe and the Americas, and have called for a New Evangelization, trying to re-evangelize cultures that used to be taken for granted to be Christian. It’s great to talk about the New Evangelization, and the popes have made great points, but as for carrying it out, I haven’t seen it at the parish level much yet. At the parish level, all that I’m seeing are some youth groups with various success, CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) or RE programs, and very few adult movements.

(Note: To be completely clear, I’m all for youth groups and CCD/RE classes. I’m very proud of all of the people that sacrifice their time for the kids. I’d like to do the same myself one day.)

Youth groups are great if done well, they are a perfect opportunity for kids to be surrounded by other kids who practice their faith. I personally had a powerful experience in a youth group and that’s what encouraged me to take the next steps and make my faith my own. I think that we need to place a greater emphasis on youth groups in every parish because they are a natural way of living and sharing the faith among peers, and can be used to evangelize in an effective way to non-Catholics and non-Christians as well. Make sure that the pastor and any other religious are involved, as they can naturally witness to Christ in a unique way, and the children will think more naturally about their vocations if they see that the priest/sister is joyful and friendly.

CCD and RE programs, on the other hand, are often being used for purposes other than which they were created for. Often they are being used as last ditch efforts to encourage young adults to live their faith as Christian adults, yet they are just one hour sessions in classrooms once a week. It becomes more like an obligation and a class rather than something inspiring and life-giving. I appreciate all that CCD and RE teachers do in trying to share the faith with children, but the problem is that one hour a week will not transform an individual’s life. (Sound familiar? Sunday mass has the same problem. We need our parishes to truly become communities of faith, supporting families and being active more than just Sunday mornings.)

By God’s grace, I am one of the anomalies. I’m actually a young person who found his faith mostly at the end of high school and in college. As I mentioned beforehand, youth groups played huge roles in my faith. I had the basics of the faith from growing up Catholic and going to CCD, but it wasn’t until I saw my peers also living out their faith that I had the courage to explore and live my own as well. In college, I had the opportunity to join a men’s bible study ran by guys just a year or two older than me, and learning how to become a man of God by their witness both in the bible study and in day to day life played a huge impact on my life. They encouraged me to not settle for mediocrity and challenged me to not only live my faith on my own, but to strive to lead others to Christ myself as well. A couple of events also played key roles. The first one was FOCUS Conference (now called SEEK Conference), where I was both amazed by how many other young Catholics there are in the United States and wowed by the wisdom of the speakers as they shared truths about the Church that I had never understood beforehand. The other event that sealed the deal for me was the Koinonia retreat program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. These retreats are almost completely run by students for students, though we of course have a chaplain and religious sister on every retreat for the sacraments and spiritual guidance. This three day retreat inspired me because all of the talks were by other young people my own age who had struggled with living out their faith themselves, and together we strove to pray for and support each other when we were back on campus together. I really can’t say enough about how important FOCUS and Newman Centers have been to my faith life, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without their role in my life. Other groups that I’ve heard of or encountered that also seem to also be inspiring the youth are Life Teen, National Evangelization Teams (NET), Steubenville Conferences, Awakening retreats, Totus Tuus programs, St. Paul’s Outreach, genuinely Catholic colleges, and Catholic Christian Outreach (Canada).

With all of these things in mind, what’s the solution for the Western Church? How are Catholic youth going to encounter Jesus in a way that is lasting and transformative? Here are some ideas I have:

  1. Saints need to witness to Christ in their day to day life. We need to pray that God will send us saints, people who genuinely witness to Christ in all phases of their life, especially to the youth. People like you and me need to abandon our will to God and allow Him to work through us in whatever ways He wants. God wants to renew the world through us.
  2. Parents need to take the faith seriously and pass it on to their children. This is not something that we can take for granted anymore, since most parents aren’t prepared to do this in the first place. Parishes need to give support to parents and help teach them the faith and help them encounter Jesus so that they can do the same for their children. I’ve heard of great retreat groups that do this, but even more than a retreat is necessary… maybe getting small groups of parents together regularly to help encourage each other in this would be helpful? Separate men’s and women’s groups would work too.
  3. Children need to be encouraged to become saints. So many children desire to become police officers, doctors, presidents, and members of the armed forces, and we are proud of them for their big hearts and willingness to serve others. Why don’t we also encourage them to become saints? Becoming a saint isn’t beyond the reach of our children by any means! We can also encourage them to be open to other vocations like the priesthood and religious life in addition to being faithful fathers and mothers. Children want to do great things with their life, and to suggest to them that becoming a saint is unattainable is one of the biggest lies that a parent can teach their children. We must teach them who they are as children of God and how they are all called to be saints in their everyday lives, so that they can be St. Johnny the Fire Fighter and St. Alice the Doctor.
  4. A family should be a school of love. Unfortunately, in modern times there have been many attacks on the family, pitting husband against wife and parents against children. As a whole, the family seems to be more independent and isolated than ever before. This is not God’s plan for family life. Family life should naturally lead children to a life-long relationship with God. Parents have a unique and important role (that they claim at their children’s baptism) of raising their children in the faith. Parents give witness to Christ-like lives, teach their children what true love is, and teach them how to live as disciples of Jesus. The family should always put the salvation of their souls above all else.
  5. “The best instrument to evangelize young people is other young people.” – Pope Francis. Youth groups, bible studies, retreats, and conferences work because young people naturally respond well to other young people who they can relate to better. The trick is to make sure that when young people have that  “retreat high” that they have a support system that can encourage them to live out their faith after the retreat.

Despite the many issues that the Church faces in modern times, I believe that the youth can be won back to Christ and His Church if the importance of the Gospel is presented, personal relationships with Jesus are promoted, and parishes and families took greater responsibility for their children’s faith formation. Though the times are tough in the West for the Catholic Church, there is plenty of hope for the future as there are new movements throughout the Church that have been effective in bringing young people back to Christ. Let’s begin to take reaching out to our youth seriously. The very future of the Church and the world depends on it.

Where else has the Church done a good job in sharing the faith? What are some other ideas that you can think of? Comment below or tweet at me anytime, my handle is  @itschrisgoulet

God bless!

What is Chastity and Why is it Important? An Interview with a Youth Chastity Speaker

The following is an interview with Perla, a youth chastity speaker. I have been so privileged to get to know her personally, and I hope that her story and words of wisdom on chastity inspire you as well!

Hi Perla! Thank you for taking the time to meet with me! Could you start by sharing a little about yourself? What was your childhood like?
Thanks Chris! Well, I come from a family of 5 and am the oldest sibling. I have a really close extended family where I grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. Then my dad worked in the United States, while the rest of us were in Mexico, so we all moved to the United States when I was 10 in order to live together.

What impact did moving to the United States have on your life?
It played a huge impact on my life! It was a whole new world – I had to learn English, the culture was so different, my extended family was so far away, and we didn’t get close to many people outside of our family.

What careers and interests did you have growing up?
I always wanted to become a teacher, I love little kids. I think I even have a special charisma with kids, I loooove kids. And math. So I wanted to become a math teacher. Of course, that changed when I got to college, when my encounter with Christ happened.

What was your encounter with Christ?
I had all the big questions, like what is the meaning of life, what happens after death, etc., but I never looked to the Catholic Church for those answers. I changed my major 5 times, always searching for the answers to life. Psychology gave some answers, but not enough. For a while, I thought that maybe service was the answer, so I did a lot of service. Then next I thought that it was love, so I started dating this guy. But nothing was enough, and I was tired of looking for answers. Then one day one of my friends invited me to join a Catholic bible study. I only joined because I witnessed how much joy my Protestant friends had in their lives, and they did bible study too. So I was willing to give a Catholic one a try. The bible study was run by three middle-aged couples, who hooked my friends and I by offering us a home cooked dinner – it worked for us college kids! In their homes, we went over the scripture readings for the next Sunday mass on Monday nights. I began to learn so much! Once I encountered the truth of the Eucharist and from there the truth of the Catholic faith, I decided to look at Catholic universities to finish college. A son of one of the families that hosted bible study went to Ave Maria University and told me about it. It was the only college that I applied to at that point, and praise God, they ended up offering me a full ride to study there.

What degree did you end up graduating with? And what did you want to do when you graduated?
I majored in Theology with a minor in Philosophy. I had this deep desire to do the same thing for other college students that was done for me: maybe offering a bible study for other college students. Providentially, FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) came to Ave Maria and shared their mission with the students and I, and it lined up perfectly with what I wanted to do after graduation! I applied and got accepted!

You were a missionary with FOCUS for how long, and what was it like?
I was a missionary for three years. It was a great experience, I loved meeting students where they were at and challenging them to take their faith seriously. It was also a great adventure, especially with being open to be placed anywhere in the country. I always thought that it was very humbling to have students open up to me and give me their trust and friendship.

How did you come across your new job?
After my 3rd year with FOCUS, I felt a strong call to come back home and work within my home diocese, San Angelo in Texas. The diocese didn’t have any openings for evangelization or anything like FOCUS, so a close friend invited me to apply for a job as a prevention specialist.

What is a prevention specialist?
We work as a team of 8, most of us are between ages 23-26, and we go to elementary, middle, and high schools in Midland, Odessa, and surrounding cities. Our aim is to prevent them from falling into high-risk behaviors and be fulfilled in their good decisions. So we speak with the students about their self worth, the purpose of their bodies, the purpose of sex, sexual abstinence, the risks of the media, STDs, parenting, and how to build healthy relationships. In addition, we offer assistance for anyone who has suffered from abuse or addiction afterwards.

How long are you at a school?
We are there for three days, Tues-Thurs.

What does a day at a school consist of?
Our presentations last for 45 minutes, but our total pace can vary anywhere from 1 to 7 presentations a day. And we might travel to a few schools per week. So we are aiming to work with around 30,000 students by the end of the school year!

What is your main message to the students?
The thing that I really focus on for them is that they know who they are. We talk about how they have so many important sides to them: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and sexual. We talk about why we have certain yearnings in our hearts in the first place, so that they can see their natural good desires. A big emphasis is placed on showing what is necessary for sex: commitment, faithfulness, truly loving your spouse. Because the purpose of sex is to bond husband and wife together and for the procreation of children. Bottomline. From this understanding we can show them that sex truly belongs in marriage- fulfilling also the heart and mind because all 6 sides of the person would be truly satisfied.

Was there a moment in your life where you started getting interested in speaking about chastity?
Yes! There were major two instances. Growing up, I had the common girl dream of meeting that perfect guy, falling in love, and getting married. But what my friends were doing, what the world was offering, with hooking up and all that, it never satisfied my heart. It was never going to fulfill me at the end of the day. Even a good relationship in high school was not satisfying for me because we weren’t going to get married soon after. There were plenty of attractive guys in high school that I was attracted to, but dating and hooking up just didn’t click right even though I didn’t know why exactly. The other instance was as a missionary on the college campus, where I was seeing women fall under pressure to have sex before marriage and not live chastely. There seemed to be a missing link between their faith, the meaning of their body, and their yearning for true love. It seemed as if God had to be kicked out because all He offered where restrictions to their desires. So I spent a lot of time with some college women learning and reconciling all of these things with God’s desire for us! So we deeply understood that chastity in fact fulfills our desires. It is way more than just “don’t don’t don’t.”

We hear the world chastity a lot, but are less familiar with what it actually means. How do you define it?
I understand chastity as purity of body, mind (thoughts and imagination), and intentions. Purity meaning no stain of selfishness, lust, slavery to passions, but free to love, to choose the best for the other person with joyful selflessness.

As you grew up, did you ever dream that you’d become both a missionary and chastity speaker?
No, not at all. Haha.

What would you have thought?
I would have thought that I would have been going abroad, India or Africa. I would have never thought that I would do it here, home, with my generation. That would have seemed extremely radical.

How has it been now that you’re living it out?
It’s been a transformative experience: to see the goodness of God in how He cares for me. I’ve learned how to put others before me. I’m convicted of the truths that I’m saying as a chastity speaker, as well. It’s challenged me to live with integrity in all areas of my life and truly love everyone who is around me. I’m asking myself questions like “am I building healthy relationships myself?”

Is our culture to blame for these problems of chastity? Or would you attribute this to their youth or something else?
I think that there are many factors. Yes, I think that society plays a role, especially the media like movies, music, and TV. I think those things have a huge pull on young people. It’s also on the parents, if they are not convicted of the truth and share it. Their children need to see good examples from them so that the message will get to their hearts. A third factor is that boys and girls need to be challenged, challenged to do something better. Such as love requires you to wait, to build your character first. Many times they are told that they don’t have self-control because they are young, but they actually do. They can stand up with courage against the current. I don’t think that they hear that enough, or at all.

What is different for the youth growing up in 2015 from what it was like for you growing up?
The biggest difference is that for today’s children the internet is so available, especially on their phones. It offers them so many extra risks and distractions.

What advice would you give the parents of children nowadays?
I would affirm them that they have a big influence on their kids’ lives. They mold their kids. I would challenge them to look into the truth of all these things, to live them out, and pass them on to their kids through example. I’d also ask them to try to monitor their social media time, monitor their exposure to the internet. I’m thinking especially of the risk of pornography.

What sort of role do you think pornography plays in our culture’s battle with chastity?
It plays a huge role. It is so available, and really young people are exposed to it, even as young as 9 years old. Every heart longs for true love so there is a natural curiosity for what intimacy is, but pornography does not offer an answer it actually begins to warp people’s hearts and minds and scar them for life in a sense. It handicaps them for true love and true sacrifice.

As a college campus missionary, it’s common to hear about students “hooking up.” What would you say to someone who just wants to have some fun for one night?
If I could really talk to them, I would ask them, have you looked at the true desires of your heart? Your heart has a true yearning and desire to be loved. You won’t be satisfied until you are known and loved: hopefully by your family and your spouse in the future. That yearning is in everyone’s hearts. One night stands… there is no way to truly love a person through that or be loved. Then understand that the opposite of love is use. Sure, hooking up offers a thrill but at the end it will not be fulfilling and isn’t love. It is the use of each other- most likely girl using guy for emotional gratification and guy using girl for physical aspect. It’s seeing only the body of the person without revealing who they truly are. You in fact see less of them instead of more.

How can someone struggling with chastity start to change their habits?
If you’re Catholic, make sure go to confession. Confess it clearly, humbly, and sincerely. Ask God for healing, in your heart and mind. Go to the sacraments. Besides that, get an accountability partner/group. Most young people ARE struggling with this, in actuality or in understanding. Be honest, form a small accountability group, and set small goals to grow little by little.

Any final thoughts?
I want to stress this: know and believe that God is interested in your love life. God is not a boring God. Trust and believe that He has something beautiful planned for you, and He will not leave you disappointed.

Thank you Perla! Thank you for your very important work with the youth!

Hope Through Brokenness

shattered-cup

For much of my life, I’ve found myself pretending to be perfect.

I care so much about what people think about me, where it bothers me when people don’t think that I’m (cool, fun, smart, nice, insert good thing here). It’s simply a part of the human (*after the fall*) condition: we are insecure about how we are perceived because we don’t completely trust that God and others love us and want what’s best for us.

So I have found myself putting on a face, faking that everything’s alright when it’s not. I’d imagine that everyone reading this can relate. Our world is pro at this, especially with social media like Facebook and Instagram: we put up our best, happiest pictures for the world to see. And then what happens? Everyone looks at those pictures from their bedroom all alone or something and gets jealous thinking that they’re a loser because they aren’t experiencing all of the crazy stuff that their friends are.

We have to remember that life has both good and bad moments, and that’s okay! Pretending that only good things happen is a false hope. Even optimism, as much as I love it, is a false philosophy if it isn’t based on reality. It’s okay to be sad for a while, it’s a regular human emotion that God gave us. Even Jesus cried when His friend Lazarus died! John 11:35. (He later raised Lazarus from the dead… haha goes to show how awesome being Jesus’ friend is… : )

In life we go through a boatload of stuff. Good and bad, happy and sad, exciting and depressing. What keeps you centered through it all? Is what keeps you centered going to constantly be there for you? Does it help both in good times and in bad?

What keeps me centered through all the bumps in the road is my faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is always there for us, even when it’s hard to just have faith in the first place. I love and appreciate the support of my family and friends, but they simply can’t be there for me in the most intimate ways that I need it. It’s one thing to calm someone who is crying. It’s a radically different thing to give peace to a soul. True intimacy not only allows us to share our bodies, as we are accustomed to thinking of it, but also our emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles. If we are holding things back, then we are not being truly intimate (quick stereotypical Catholic thought: apply that to contraception.. (light bulbs, anyone?)). And only our God, who created each of us uniquely, can truly understand us and accept us completely as we are.

I remember a friend of mine making a statement to me a few weeks ago: “Chris, I’m not even sure if Christianity is relevant to me.”

You know, there are probably times when we are all tempted to think that. If everything is going well, if we seem to be in a good place and are living an exciting life, why would we want anything more? But if we come to realize that even in our greatest triumphs, our most ecstatic joys, there is still a part of us that is crying out for more. These moments are oh so familiar for those who are poor, spiritually broken, alone, needy, sick, and mourning. Our souls are longing in these moments for complete and total love. For security and fulfillment. Something that this world cannot give.

As for the relevance of Christianity: it is only as relevant as its God. And our Lord Jesus Christ, the bridegroom to each of our souls, is exactly what we need. We are like broken pots, busy trying to hide our imperfections from each other, afraid that someone might notice. We have two options. We can stay all by ourselves, continuing to try and live a lie of our own self-fulfillment, or we can call out to the master potter, who will hastily come to us, pick up each of our pieces, and put us back together good as new.

This Christmas marks the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to do just that. He came so that He can help us become the children of God that He created us to be. All that we need to do is call out, and He will be with us to help heal our brokenness.

Here’s a prayer that maybe you can join me in praying this Advent: Lord Jesus, I need you. I am broken and in need of your help to heal my body, soul, emotions, and all. Please come and heal my faith, help me to believe in and know you with great conviction. Give me a strong hope to get through the difficult times of life. Give me a strong love for the people in my life, especially those in need. Help me to see you in the poor, the suffering, the needy. Come into my life and renew me, make me your own creation. Amen.