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!

Dia de los Muertos: Why are the Skeletons Happy?

Dia de los Muertos altar

The following is a talk that I gave for a Dia de los Muertos celebration this week, where I looked at the religious significance of the holiday.

Hi everybody, my name is Chris Goulet and I’m one of the missionaries at Montclair with Newman. It was great being able to speak with you last year at the Dia de los Muertos event, and it was amazing to see so many beautiful friendships begin thanks to that event, and I’m hoping and praying that we’ll see more of the same this year!

I’d like to start off with a fun topic: ghosts. What do you think that Catholics think of them, do they exist or not? How about I poll you guys. Raise your hand if you think that Catholics believe in ghosts.

The correct answer is yes! We have to define what we mean by a ghost, though. A ghost is a human soul without a body, which is what everyone is after they die. At death, our souls leave our body. Since humans end up going to heaven, hell, or purgatory, we can technically say that there are ghosts in heaven, hell, and purgatory! We can even see stories of ghosts all over the bible, for example how Moses appeared to Jesus in Matthew 17 at the transfiguration.

I’d be more than happy to try and take a stab at any other questions about ghosts, demons, spirits, zombies, and vampires after my talk if you have questions, but for now I’ll keep it to Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead for those of you who are Spanish challenged.

I think I was in 7th grade when I first saw a happy skeleton. Growing up in the United States, when I thought of Halloween, I thought of ghosts, vampires, demons, and of course skeletons. Halloween was a scary time where we watched horror films and in a sense glorified evil. The skeletons that I grew up around had glowing red eyeballs and would come and strangle you. Has anyone seen the movie Mars Attacks? I think American skeletons remind me of those Martians more than anything else. Anyways, when I saw those happy skeletons in my 7th grade Spanish class, I was pretty confused. These skeletons were definitely the G rated version. They’re singing and dancing and wearing funny hats! I thought that skeletons had to be creepy? Why would those weird Latin American people tease us with these happy skeletons? They must be a little coo-coo… Well, it wasn’t until I learned more about my Christian faith years later that I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of Dia de los Muertos.

In Dia de los Muertos, the dead are remembered by their loved ones. This is a unique take on the Catholic holidays of All Souls Day and All Saints day on November 1st and 2nd. I’m sure that all of you have unique ways that you honor your family and friends that have died. In my family, we often go and visit the gravesites of our loved ones on special days like when they died and Christmas Eve. We bring flowers to decorate their grave and even sometimes pray for them out loud. It’s a way of showing them respect and remembering them after they’ve passed on.

But here’s a question for you: why is it human nature to do things like this? What is it in our hearts, our souls, that makes remembering the dead a natural reaction? Any ideas?

I’d argue that deep down, we know that death is not the end. If death is the end, and we are simply “warm bodies,” then why care about people after they died? If we are just bodies, then we cease to exist at our death. That’s it, I hope you had a nice life. Oh and by the way, there was no ultimate purpose or meaning to it, you simply took up space and added to the greenhouse effect here on Earth.

But I’m sure that most of you agree with me that there is something more to human beings. Life doesn’t end at our death, that’s only the beginning. We know that our loved ones are still close to us even after they die. We naturally are inclined to pray for the dead because we know that there is some sort of judgment at the end of our lives, and we want the best afterlife possible for our loved ones. We also are naturally inclined to ask for their intercession for us, that they pray to God to protect our families and friends. So for all of these reasons, praying for the dead makes sense.

Here’s another question for you: why do you think that death shocks us? If death is a part of life, why is it shocking when people die? After all, we all know what we’re going to die sooner or later.

To answer this, I’d argue that death was not supposed to happen. It’s unnatural. Human beings were created to live forever. The famous story of Adam and Eve in the bible shows us a theological explanation for our death: we die because we are sinners. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to die, but because they chose to disobey God, the entire world was fractured and humanity’s relationship with God was shaken. It is only by God’s mercy that we have an opportunity of a restored relationship with Him, and hope for life after death. This mercy, of course, came in the form of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Jesus came to show us God’s love and defeat sin and death once for all. Thanks to His sacrifice on the cross, we now can hope for eternal life through Him. So this is yet another reason why we pray for the dead.

So those happy skeletons that I was talking about at the beginning? Well, they’re happy because they know that there is more to life than just this earth. It’s a healthy reminder that death isn’t to be feared, but that Jesus came to redeem them, and one day those old bones will come back to life in the resurrection. Death and sin have no power over them when they are in Jesus. Even the devil himself can’t overcome them when God is on their side. The skeletons are happy because they are not removed from their families and friends forever, but instead they are closer than ever to their destiny of love and peace in heaven. They know that the pains of this world are temporary and will soon pass away. They know that there’s hope even in the greatest trials because Jesus is always there for us. They know that death is not the end of life, but merely a transition into a better one.

God bless you all and have a great Dia de los Muertos!

You can check out my talk from last year right here if you’d like.

15 Reasons to go to SEEK Conference 2015

seek cover

SEEK Conference is just around the corner! Here’s 15 reasons why you can’t miss it:

1. Spend 5 days with some of your best friends! Unfortunately I can’t guarantee that a pope will show up…

SEEK 2013 with Pope Benedict

2. SEEK the truth

3. Hear some of the best speakers in the Church. So much so that you’ll have withdrawals..

4. Encounter Jesus in a new and profound way

SEEK adoration

5. Make new friends for life

SEEK 2013 goofy

6. Get some of your deepest questions answered by the experts. Fr. Robert Spitzer’s got science covered, Lisa Cotter has girls covered. I still haven’t decided which topic is more complicated.

Lisa Cotter: Why do Women do that? Understanding What Chick Flicks and Love Songs Have to do with Chastity

7. Meet other college students from all over the country, and even the world!

SEEK 2013

8. Hang out with 10,000 other young people. Some have more… personality… than others

9. Open your life to new opportunities and directions

10. Stay up late every night. People will be playing ninja, signs, what are the odds, and all other sorts of wacky games late into the night… and it’s epic!

SEEK 2013 Ninja

11. There is 24/7 adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

adoration

12. Matt Maher will be there

13. Show off your school pride. Do you know your school’s fight song? You’ll probably want to before you go, and wear lots of school colors.

SEEK 2013 Illinois colors

14. Nashville. I hear there’s a music scene?

Nashville

 15. Jim Gaffigan.

Come SEEK with me. We’re all on this journey of life together.

This was actually my blog post immediately after SEEK 2013… so check out what I thought!

Register now!

Discipleship in the 21st Century

When Jesus walked on Earth, He made quite the scene. If you read the Gospels, you see He wasn’t always this “hippie Jesus” that you see in media…

Jesus point

Or even “nice Jesus” that you see in Christian bookstores…

Jesus Sheep

Sometimes He was more like “God Jesus”.

Jesus Lazarus

Seriously, have you ever seen anyone rise from the grave?!?! It’s probably a heck of a lot more freaky than the bible made it out to be, but John only had a few lines to use on it I guess…

Other crazy things that Jesus did? He performed miracles, announced the Kingdom of God, scandalized people by crossing social norms, whipped people who were disrespecting the temple, and large crowds (Tens of thousands!) followed Him to the point where He quite literally had to sneak away so that He could be alone to pray. Jesus didn’t tone down His message when He was in sticky situations either- the healing on the Sabbath right in front of the Pharisees comes to mind. Needless to say, Jesus caused division in the hearts of everyone who encountered Him. It was more than just being #teamJesus or #teamPharisee, though. The stakes were a bit higher.. because He claimed to be God. This was a matter of life and death, as we can see in hindsight. The Jews and Gentiles had a tough decision to make in choosing to believe Jesus or not…

Who were the disciples?

During His years of ministry, Jesus attracted large crowds pretty much wherever He went. I don’t know how they all got the memo of His schedule without newspapers, twitter, and texting, that alone is a miracle! But out of the tens of thousands, Jesus called 12 men to Himself, the Apostles. These men were called Apostles because they were “sent” by Jesus and given His authority after He ascended into Heaven. The 12 Apostles are sometimes called the 12 disciples, but the term disciple is more broad than that. There were disciples of Jesus who weren’t Apostles, and sometimes in the Bible they are called the 70 or 72. These people weren’t specifically called by Jesus, but they still had a very important role to play in His ministry.

Have you ever thought about what differentiated the disciples from the crowds?

Take a moment to think for yourself… what made someone a disciple of Jesus?

There are plenty of great answers, but a few that I can think of are:

  • Belief that Jesus was God, the Messiah
  • Loyalty to follow Him even for days without food
  • Willing to leave home, family, jobs, and so on just to follow Him
  • Doing whatever He asked of you.. even travelling in twos to distant towns
  • Friendship with Jesus, like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

We can also be disciples!

The funny thing is, all of these things can still be done TODAY. Discipleship isn’t just for the people who were alive when Jesus was, but it is a way of life devoted to Jesus that we can live right now in the 21st century! It takes “discipline”, of course, but ultimately this way of life is sparked by an encounter with Jesus and the friendship with Him that follows.

But… Jesus isn’t here…

So here’s the interesting point. Yes, we can be disciples of Jesus, but no, we can’t do it exactly the same way that they did it in the Holy Land. When Jesus ascended, He didn’t leave us orphans: He gave us the Holy Spirit (God!) to guide us to all truth and the Church (founded on Peter and the Apostles) as our Mother. Through the working of the Holy Spirit and the Church… duh-da-da-dah! comes forth Jesus! Quite literally. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We receive Jesus’ mercy in confession. We hear the Word of God in the Bible. We encounter the hands and feet of Jesus when we are around other Christians.

Discipleship in the 21st century, so how do we do it?

  • Believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior
  • Go out of your way to encounter Him, at mass, in prayer, in serving the poor, in reading the scriptures, in confession
  • Live your life to glorify Him first and foremost, and then everything else will fall into place
  • Courageously share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, both in words and how you live your life
  • Become intimate friends with Jesus, He loves us more purely and completely than anyone in the world. Prayer in adoration is one of the best ways to do this

Isn’t it crazy how for each of the major ways you could be a 1st century disciple, you can become a 21st century disciple?!

Choosing to believe in Jesus isn’t a matter of life and death (on this earth) anymore, but it still is a matter of eternal consequences. We can’t just sit on the sidelines our entire lives without making a choice. Jesus is either a lunatic, or He’s God.

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” – Jesus to the Woman at the well, John 4:10

Climbing Mountains

You don’t just get out of bed and climb a mountain. There are so many things that you have to plan for and have right in order to accomplish a crazy feat like that, otherwise you could be forced to turn around or even be putting your life in danger.

I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream of mine last week by being able to go to Colorado and climb some real mountains with my best friends. I’ve done some hiking before, but I knew that climbing a 14er (14,000 feet and up) would be a whole new challenge. First off, the altitude change is quite drastic for a guy from Illinois, arguably the flattest state in the country. Altitude sickness? Check. It was frustrating because all I wanted to do was climb mountains but my body literally wouldn’t let me that first day. The next major challenge was the lack of oxygen at that elevation. I was literally out of breath after taking a drink of water if I didn’t stop. The pace started fast and slowed down the higher that we went. I really appreciated the encouragement from my friends, because it was discouraging being out of breath so fast and also occasionally experiencing nausea. On top of it all, we were hiking for 6+ hours straight up 3000+ feet: exhausted. We had to be in pretty decent shape at least if we had any hope of summiting. It took a lot of perseverance to finally reach the peak of two 14ers by the end of the week, but man was it ever worth it! I’ll treasure those moments for the rest of my life as well as being able to experience that with my best friends.

As I was hiking, I couldn’t help but notice how climbing mountains has so many connections to the rest of life. Getting to the peak was my goal for the moment, but what are my goals in life? Where’s the finish line?

I really can’t put my hopes in earthly things. What good is that? I know that one day I’ll die. Everything here is passing. Example! Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs. But what good does that do him now? He’s dead, and it’s the eternal things that he has to worry about now. Sold? Ok, good.

Eternal goals. You know, like heaven. I promise that it’s where you want to be. We have such a great God in that He promises us eternal life with Him if we only carry our cross and follow Him. This is an active choice. We can’t just sit around our whole life doing nothing. It won’t work in climbing a mountain, and it sure as heck isn’t what Jesus had in mind. He calls us all to Himself, to follow Him as disciples who give up everything to follow Him. We can’t just assume that no matter how many times that we deny Him, we’ll still somehow be able to join Him in heaven. Jesus is our true treasure in life… forget popularity, success, cars, and all that! And like any other treasure, to reach Him we need to train ourselves and make sacrifices in order to gain Him.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus points this out very clearly:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44

In order to climb a mountain, I needed support from my friends, training, and the right gear. It wasn’t a cakewalk. In a similar way, there is nothing that we should not be willing to give up in order to reach the kingdom of heaven and bring it forth in our everyday lives. Reaching the kingdom of God doesn’t simply make us “good people”, but it makes us who we were meant to be, fully human!

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Standing at the top of the mountain, I was able to look out for miles and miles in order to see how beautiful the world is. Can you imagine just how much more glorious God is compared to that and how worth it that will be one day?

A Gospel Presentation

My friend Andrew and I decided to film a simple Gospel presentation to share with the world over Youtube this year, and thanks to the great editing by our talented friend Becca (check out her Youtube channel with a short film, music videos, and more!), we have the finished video to share with you all! Enjoy!

This is a simple follow up to my longer post last year about how to share the Gospel, specifically as a Catholic. There’s plenty more that we could have said, but we kept it short and sweet at under 90 seconds.

Want to live in relationship with Christ? Say a simple prayer right now asking Christ to come into your life and reveal Himself to you. Make sure to talk with a Catholic friend or your local priest about how you can take the next steps toward joining an RCIA group. A great resource is Catholics Come Home. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions and give advice, as well!

God bless you!