How I Define Myself

About two months ago at the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) general member meeting, we played a very interesting social game. The leader assigned different names to each part of the room: class, race, religion, sex, and gender. We were told to stand in the part of the room that we identify with the most. I really enjoyed the premise of the game, which really made me think, and I especially liked the opportunity to talk as a group about why we identify with one over the other.

Being LASO, the LATIN AMERICAN Student Organization, you can guess which part of the room was most populated… the race one. But I noticed a unique pattern for why people identified with class, race, sex, and gender: they usually identified themselves with the one that they were most discriminated against for. The people who came from the lower class talked about how they didn’t have the same opportunities as their peers from middle or upper class families. Women talked about how because of their sex they have been treated as objects and haven’t had the same respect as men. The story goes on similarly for race and gender.

Interestingly enough, I was the only one to stand at the “religion” section. I’m the white guy in the group, and a missionary on top of that, so yea… I stood out like a sore thumb as always. Because of the awkwardness of being the only one in my group, they didn’t ask me to share why I was standing there. But I think I’d like to share now, in case anyone is curious. It really made me think, that’s for sure.

I identify with religion more than the others not simply because I am a “normal” American. Middle class, white, male. So what. There’s plenty of reasons for me to be proud to be from a middle class family of immigrants that “made it.” The ancestors that I identify with the most is my mom’s side, German farmers who immigrated to America because of religious persecution in 1841. They founded the town that I was blessed to grow up in. (Big honking beautiful Catholic church right in the center. Take that, religious persecution.)

My home parish: St. John the Baptist

My home parish: St. John the Baptist

Note: I very much resonate with and respect the students who identify with their Hispanic heritage above all else. These students are mostly first or second generation Americans, faced with difficulties in their homelands and searching for a better life in America. I bet that many of their parents have trouble speaking English because of that and many other factors school has always been more of a personal struggle for them. I bet that most of their families have been through times of living paycheck to paycheck. I also resonate with and respect the students who identified most with sex, gender, and class. This post is not to bash those students at all in any way. My goal is just to point out that while those are great things to identify with, I believe that religion – properly understood – takes the cake hands down in this one.

I identify with my Catholic Christian religion the most because I do not define myself by what other people think of me, instead I define myself by God’s love for me. I was created out of love for love. People might make fun of me and tear me down, but I try not to be bothered too much by what they try to do or say to me, because no matter what, I know that God loves me exactly the way that I am. God loves each of us exactly the way that we are, no matter our background, skin color, sex, gender, religion, age, etc. This gives me hope at all times and is a relationship to cherish. God is my rock and my foundation, so the rest of my life is at least set on firm ground.

If I were to define myself according to what others think of me, wouldn’t that leave me vulnerable to being hurt by them? I absolutely love this line by Lecrae:

“If you live for their acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” – Lecrae

Our true hope in both good times and bad is God’s love for us. He has a great plan for us, even despite the struggles that we will surely go through, and He reminds the prophet Jeremiah:

“I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I think that most of the students identified with a certain thing because that’s a struggle that they have to deal with from their background. I’d say that that’s okay! We all have struggles, there is no shame in that. But I would encourage us all to turn what we identify with from a negative to a positive. Why dwell on your struggles if you could look forward to the future?

There are also those who identify with something because they genuinely like or treasure it, like their heritage for example. Even this pales in comparison to our relationship with God, our ultimate heritage. At the end of the day, though race, class (that you grew up from), sex, and gender are permanent things, they are just earthly things. The only thing that lasts through eternity is our relationship with Jesus.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we are being slain all the day;

we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39

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Elephants in the Room

Life. You’re living it right now.

If you’re anything like me, you probably take a lot of things in life for granted. I take for granted my life, family, friends, health, gifts, talents, experiences, faith, etc. on a day to day basis. I am who I am, and who has the power to take that away from me?

But there are those moments in life that shock us back to reality. Broken friendships, injuries, and the death of loved ones are common occurrences. They have the power to shock us straight to the core and make us reevaluate everything that we once stood for. What was it that I was looking for in life anyways? What drove me each day?

There’s a danger of living our lives in our own little world. We can get closed off to experiencing new things or meeting new people. We can be tricked into thinking that life can never be anything more than it is right now. What if there was something more to live for?

I’m of the opinion that we don’t necessarily have to wait for a tragedy to happen before we evaluate what our goals are in life and what we’re living for. It’s about being responsible with the gift of life that we’ve been given.

There are elephants in the room of our culture nowadays. We don’t talk about them, but they’re actually probably the most important things to talk about in the world.

Death. It happens to all of us. So why not live for something greater than just earthly things that will pass away anyways? Why not live for eternal things?

Truth. There are a billion different opinions out there, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all true. We have to test them all, and only keep what is true. People are very sensitive nowadays, but believe it or not, it’s actually possible to have a mature conversation about deep topics without bickering and fighting. Hint: they take place face to face, not on Facebook.

Jesus. He claims to be the way, the truth, and the life. Historically we have an overwhelming amount of evidence that He walked this earth. He claimed to be God. Who do you say that He is? Do you know who He is?

Love. Everyone loves love and nobody seems to know what love is. Is it a feeling? Is it just for couples? Is it not worth it? It’s hard to see in a country that celebrates abortion and no-fault divorce, but there is such thing as true love. Love is a verb, a way of serving others before ourselves in all things. Love is a choice to put others before yourself. It will change the world, one choice at a time.

Next time that we catch ourselves taking something for granted, let’s try and remember to cherish this life and look to lead lives of purpose that help others and lead to eternal life 🙂

What other elephants do you notice in our culture? How can we open up a conversation about them with others?

Be honest, are you happy with how your life has turned out so far?

I saw this post on Reddit a few months ago and I thought it was so interesting to read the posts, so I wrote it down to blog about at some point. You can check out the responses from Reddit here.

Yea! Life is awesome!!!

Honestly… I often think of my life as a movie. Not a super exciting action movie,  or even a movie where anything extremely dramatic happens like people dying, or having to run to save my life from zombies, or even from war. It’s a very regular movie about a white kid from the suburbs. 😀 But what makes life exciting is the individual decisions I’ve had to make, the things that I’ve got to experience, the friendships and family time. I definitely see a tale of good and evil (though perhaps less pronounced), just like any good old movie.

Just like any good movie, I have so much purpose in my life! A lot of that comes from recognizing the differences between good and evil and trying to always be on the good side so that I can make this world a better place. This purpose and meaning gets me through the hard times. Despite being a super happy excited guy who gets along with everyone (haha but I’m not afraid to talk and even disagree with regards to religion and politics 😉 ), I have had some rough times in my life as well, just like everyone else. I wasn’t born the person that I am and I sure as heck won’t die who I am right now either. But the joy of it all is that opportunity to continue to grow to become who I (and everyone else!) was meant to be, a saint!

There were people out there who helped me when I needed it the most, and I want to be that person for others as well. Often what makes me the happiest isn’t when I’m trying to help myself but when I’m trying to help others. Seeing changes in other’s lives is absolutely priceless and as a Catholic missionary I get to see that regularly! I just praise God because it was really His work not me and I marvel at how not only are they are living in relationship with Jesus now, but this will lead to a lifetime of them doing the same for others! It’s one of the most fulfilling things ever!

Even in the hardest times, thanks to those great friends and role models that I’ve had and the working of God in my life, I’ve come to know that God has my back at all times, even when I’m in the darkest moments. I know that even if this phase of life doesn’t go so hot, I can hope in life with Him forever. That keeps me grounded. I think we see people all of the time have a couple of unlucky breaks, and then all of a sudden their life spirals out of control. But with faith in Jesus, even the most unfortunate things in the world could happen to me, and I still have hope. Despite everything that can happen to me in this life, if I live it to the best of my ability loving God and others, everything will be okay.

I’m not living for many of the things that people think of when they think of being successful: being famous, powerful, rich, hot, whatever. So that kind of puts my “happiness” more dependent on my relationships and quality of life. Honestly I know that I’m probably not strong enough to be happy without having someplace to live, some friends, and to be liked by most people. But my happiness shouldn’t even depend on that. It’s more realistic this way anyways: what our culture feeds us is just lies to make us buy more stuff or support a cause that they want us to. These things don’t fulfill us the same way as authentic love does. Jesus’ beatitudes reveal that even the poorest of the poor will have joy in the Kingdom of God, and that’s what ultimately lasts.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus in Matthew 5:3-10

I’ve been blessed, but I sure as heck have made mistakes, too! Mistakes humble me and make me remember that I’m not perfect or a “finished product.” In these mistakes I have hope in Jesus’ forgiveness and I especially love being able to go to confession so that I can be forgiven as Jesus instituted that sacrament to do. Talk about a weight off of my shoulders.. and knowing of how easily God forgives us encourages me to forgive others too, the people who have wronged me in the past. The way to peace in the world starts with forgiveness.

In sum: The gift of life has been a joy and I’m so thankful. I feel so blessed. I’m sad that many others on that Reddit thread don’t enjoy life as much, but hopefully one day they’ll find Jesus, the source of eternal joy.

“I keep the Lord always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure, for you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your servant see the pit. You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at  your right hand forever.” – Psalm 16:8-11

No Time Like the Present

Two of my friends have passed on to heaven in the past month.

College kids. Wow. And totally out of the blue. Praise God for faith. I can’t help but think of the divine mercy image and repeat to myself “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Jesus, I trust in Thee

It reminded me that the Christian faith isn’t just for the nice times. No, it’s actually more appropriate for when things ARE NOT okay. Because at times like this when I could easily despair that I lost them forever (with the agnostic outlook), I know through my faith that they are with God in heaven and that this isn’t the end but just the beginning of the glories of life!

Sometimes I forget that people die. But with all of the horrible events in the world news like the bombings in Boston, it’s helped me think more about the necessity to live every moment the way that I’d like to die.

I don’t think that I love enough. I don’t think that I go out of my way for others enough.

Life isn’t about picking the safest path, but about living in boldly to glorify God.

Pope Francis gave a fantastic reflection on this theme today:

“(The parable of the talents) makes us reflect on the relationship between how we use the gifts we have received from God and his return when he will ask us how we have used them. … This tells us that our awaiting the Lord’s return is a time of action … time to make the most of God’s gifts, nor for ourselves, but for him, for the Church, for others. [It is] the time in which to always seek to make good grow in the world. Particularly in this time of crisis, today, it is important not to be locked up in ourselves, removing our talents, our spiritual and material riches, everything that the Lord has given us, but to open ourselves, to be compassionate, to be attentive to others.”

I know that I could do a better job of honoring God with the gifts that He has given me. Often I am too selfish and think about what I want instead of what others need.

“In the square today there are many young persons. To you, who are at the beginning of life’s path, I ask: have you thought of the talents that God has given you? Have you thought of how to put them at the service of others? Don’t take your talents away! Bet on great ideals, those ideals that enlarge our hearts, those ideals of service that make your talents fruitful. We were not given life so that we might hold it back, jealously, for ourselves, but it was given to us so that we might offer it. Dear young persons, you have great souls! Don’t be afraid to dream of great things!”

Don’t be afraid to dream of great things! This was something that I have had some trouble with. For the longest time, I thought that my life had to follow a certain calculated “safe” path. But slowly God has revealed to me how I should not take my life for granted as much. I chose to become a Catholic Missionary, and I’m incredibly excited for that next adventure starting next year! In addition, I have seen many friends discern vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It’s been so inspiring to see their courage and love of God that inspires them to make such radical choices! But dreaming of great things isn’t just becoming a priest or missionary.. there are great people like Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati who simply lived with charity towards all in the midst of regular lives!

“We will be judged by God on charity, on how we have love our brothers and sisters, especially the weakest and most needy of them. Of course, we always have to keep in mind that we are judged, we are saved by grace, by an act of God’s gratuitous love that always precedes us. Alone we can do nothing. Faith is foremost a gift that we have received.”

He’s saying this over and over again because I need to hear it over and over again. Often it is the hardest for me to be charitable in the “normal” times of life: making dinner with my housemates, riding the bus, conversations with family. I have to remember to treat those situations as opportunity to serve God as well.

“Looking to the final judgement must never frighten us, rather, it urges us to live the present better. With mercy and patience, God offers us this time so that we might learn every day to recognize him in the poor and the small, might strive for the good, and might be vigilant in prayer and love. The Lord, at the end of our existence and of history, may then recognize us as good and faithful servants.”