I can’t afford to be a “good Catholic parent”

My two year old is getting more precious (and vocal) by the millisecond.  Her sponge-like ability to retain information for longer periods of time and then have that information explode at the most inopportune (and hilarious) moments is uncanny.  And as we giggle our hineys off at her innocence and pure joy, the vibration that resonates in the back of our minds while we enjoy this time in her life to the fullest is- what we are going to do to educate her and her sister in the most Christian (Ok, Catholic) way possible?

Here’s what my Catholic prejudice tells me:

TJ, you have two options- either send them to Catholic school or school em’ yourself.  

And then, my economic stinginess pipes in,

Ha!  Silly Catholic boy, don’t you know that costs money?  You are a Teacher.  So is your wife.  If the pay freeze continues in your district, you’ll just barely be able to send them to public school!  And you want to pay Catholic school tuition or, perish the thought, ask your wife to stay home with the kiddos and teach them yourselves?  That means you’d have to survive with just your tiny, insignificant, public servant’s wages.  Then it will be ‘good luck if you want to follow God’s order to be fruitful and multiply’.  You can’t be serious!

Dang money.  Dang it all to heck.

Please pray that my kiddos can be taught by the most capable teachers in their lives during their school years and beyond: their parents.  I don’t want to miss a single inopportune (or hilarious) moment with them.  I also want them to know, love and serve God in the most profound way possible.  My wife and I can make that happen if my pay-scale will play nice.

Image Credit:the-friat.blogspot.com

The invisible decade on my rosary

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the different types of religious congregations that help make up the Catholic Church. Writing it was like spiritual therapy because for years I have been discerning where my spiritual talents could be most useful, which Saint could mentor me towards earning my heavenly crown and those of my family.  St. Francis? Our lady of Mount Carmel?  St. Dominic? St. Ignatius?

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Big Therapist in the sky has astounded me once again with His wisdom.  Upon praying the rosary, a sense of belongingness that was silently coaxing me towards a particular religious charism shone through… and it came in the most peculiar way:

This is my rosary.  It was a birthday gift from my wife that I received back in 2010.

Did you notice something different about my rosary?  It has six decades.

Why? Wouldn’t that anti-liturgical?  Truthfully, I don’t know.  I’ll let you battle that out in the combox.

I learned how to pray this sixth decade from a very lesser-known religious congregation called the Christian Brothers.  They are consecrated laymen who vow poverty, chastity and obedience to the superior Brother (not a Bishop) who then answers to the Pope.  They are teachers and dedicate their bodies and souls to the ongoing construction of the God’s Kingdom as teachers.  Since I am a teacher, I gravitated to their founder’s spirituality.  St. John the Baptist De La Salle, while not very well known in the U.S. is worldwide thanks to his Brethren.

Back to that sixth mystery. It turns out that the Lasallian rosary is always prayed with a sixth decade which bears no evangelical mystery.  Instead, it is prayed to strengthen the community through consecration to Mary and her Son, Jesus.

“The sixth and final decade is dedicated to the Lasallian community which I love so very much.”

These are the words I’ve recited thousands of times prior to beginning my secret sixth decade.  Now, it is not longer a secret.  I am Lasallian.

Here are a few problems with that:

The closest Lasallian community is located 3 hours away from me so I can’t be considered an “official” part of their community.

The Lasallians have no “Third Order”, so there is no real enrollment into the community besides what we experienced while serving with them as missionaries.

Finally, almost nobody knows who they are in the U.S. which makes it hard to connect with other Lasallians.

And so, I have no real merit in saying I’m lasallian, but I sure as heck hope that merit is earned by living as one.

What about you?  Have you ever had a calling to serve but couldn’t realize it?  Do you have a secret prayer that is hooking you up with some extra graces?

Shut up and listen

If you are anything like me (perish the thought!), your prayer time looks something like this:

You’re knelt before your bed, probably tempted to lean over onto your elbows but straighten your lumbar region and flex your core to endure the posture-filled prayer stance that joins you (ever so slightly) with Christ’s cross.  After getting over the minuscule pain, you start off with one spiritual foot into the direction of God’s presence.  You get so giddy that you start showering Him with requests, praise, hymns, maybe even a few curse words if you had a bad day.  In any event, the first part of your prayer is filled with your words… and so is the middle…. and the end….

I got a wonderful idea when I was praying in this way: if I want to be more like God, perhaps I too should shut up and listen.

I took a page out of my Father’s book and, for the past week, have done as little speaking as humanly possible.  While most people looked at me funny because I was abnormally silent in the presence, it turned out to be an epic week.  I learned about their deepest desires, their needs and what makes them genuinely happy.

The best part- I listened as they solved their own problems through their own words.  By talking themselves through it, they became very satisfied with their discoveries and then thanked me (for doing absolutely nothing).

And so it is with prayer.  I think God’s silence speaks more than his words ever could.  That’s why, when I think about the Bible, I think about those written words as great pieces of advice, but there is so much that remains unwritten.  It is like outer space, we know a lot about it, but there is so much more to be discovered.

The only way to discover anything, then, is through silence, His and ours, because seeping through the barrier of words grows the profound roots of Truth.

So shut up every once in a while.  In doing so, you’ll know exactly when you should speak up.

Thinking outside of the prayer box

I have a strange prayer habit that  believe was passed down to me by my parents.  The practice in question is praying for someone at the very moment that they have requested my intercession.  For example, my friend goes into surgery tomorrow to remove a kidney and he asks me to pray for him.

I say, “What time does the operation begin?”

He says, “Around 1 pm.”

I say “You got it!”

The next day comes around and it just so happens that at 1 pm I am in the middle of teaching a rebellious group of 30 7th graders.  There’s no chance, not even in Mecca, that I’m going to be able to stop for a brief moment of prayer at exactly 1 o’clock.

So after school gets out at 5, I remember that my friend was operated on a hours ago.  After kicking myself for loving my job so much, I come to my senses and say a prayer that goes something like this:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for my friend.  May his operation go well and may his guardian angel be close to his side.  Also, if you could send my guardian angel to keep the doctors on task, that’d be great too.  In your name, Amen.

Did you notice that I framed this prayer as if it were being said just prior to the operation even though it was well after the fact?  Why would I do that?  Shouldn’t I have used the past tense saying things like “I hope his kidney was removed safely” or “I pray that he didn’t suffer much”?

The answer is simple. Prayer transcends space and time.  We can pray for someone after the fact in the same way we can pray for someone who is halfway around the world.  When we connect with God, we become part of His spiritual community which knows no limits.  Our prayers are not subject to physical laws, they are only subject to spiritual awesomeness.

The next time you feel like “it’s too late” to pray, think again.  By connecting to God through prayer, you get to step out of the world to enjoy a bird’s eye glimpse of what eternity looks like.

Book Review- Dear Communion of Saints by The Ironic Catholic

This book was flippin’ hilarious.  I caught wind of it a few weeks ago after discovering the Ironic Catholic (a.k.a. Susan Windley-Daoust) and her blog.  This piece of work is exactly that, a piece of work.  It takes common (and not so common) questions from the Church Militant and taps the shoulder of the Church Triumphant to field them.  For every question, one or two canonized Saints responds with a soft shell taco filled with the guacamole of humor, the lettuce of common sense and the meat of undeniable truth.  The result is a delicious literary snack for Orthodox Catholics to munch on at any moment of the day.

In one of the questions, the Ironic Catholic herself questions why mothers are unable to bilocate.  She argues that such a grace would be very helpful for a mother whose son is dipping his hand in the cookie jar while she bathes her youngest.  She interrogates the Communion of Saints as to why this particular grace has only been given to consecrated religious nuns and priests up until this point.

The responder is none other than famed bilocator, St. Padre Pio.  He tells her in short discourse that she knows not what she asks, that it is greater to seek Christ first and allow the graces to flow from that love, not the other way around.  To keep the mood light, he finishes saying that the mother should put brussel sprouts in the cookie jar.  Problem solved.

This book is a quick read for Orthodox Catholics looking for a lighthearted giggle as well as “casual” Catholics who are looking to awkwardly laugh with everyone else around them even though they don’t quite get the jokes.  In either case, I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions as I read it, mainly because the Communion of Saints were laughing right along with me.

If you like this book, you might want to try Saint Watching by Phyllis McGinley.

Probably the Most Controversial Thing You’ll Read All Day

I recently read an article by one of my favorite bloggers that stated bluntly that the best way to get more readers is to “break the rules”.  By that, he meant that bloggers should write about a controversial topic and wait for the bickering to begin in the combox.

I’ve been savoring the idea and interesting post titles like “My Church is Better than Yours Because Jesus Founded It”, “Why (enter any religious institution besides Catholicism here) Is Wrong,” and “When He Said, ‘This Is My Body.’.. dude, He REALLY meant His body” came to mind.  However, after grounding my thoughts in ecumenical charity (and facebook and twitter), I arrived to the conclusion that there exists an even more controversial topic.  Sadly, the irony is that this topic will more than likely result in very few page views.

Here it is:

“Jesus Christ is Lord” & “God is love.”

There you have it.  That’s it.  The most controversial thing anyone can say has just been published on my blog.  I stole it from Philippians 2: 11 and 1 John 4:8, so technically I’m guilty of violating two laws:

  1. Plagiarism (what can be more controversial than that!)
  2. Going against the current mood of society

“The Catholic Church never suits the particular mod of any age, because it was made for all ages.  A Catholic knows that if the Church married the mood of any age in which it lived, it would be a widow in the next age.  The mark of the true Church is that it will never get on well with the passing moods of the world.  “I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” John 15: 19

~Venerable Fulton J. Shane

Here’s the ironic part.  While it may be controversial, the odds of it booming my blog stats are slim to nil.  Why?  Because the way people show their love to bloggers is by visiting and commenting on topics that interest them.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of bloggers have already made their vows to the current mood of the world and find my little plagiarized nugget of truth unbearably naive and uninteresting. They won’t comment.  I will not be liked.  Three of my four followers will unsubscribe.

So then, the success of a Catholic blogger is not found in page view totals.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The controversial content of your blog might lead to a true understanding of what St. Paul meant when he said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~2 Corinthians 12:10

I’m a Francarmeliscanite Dominicallian… what about you?

As most of you know, I’m Catholic.  What not too many of you know is I have an affinity towards Religious Orders, especially ones with Third Orders.

Let me back track.  You might not know what all of that means.

One of the jewels of Catholicism is its robust array of charisms.  A charism is almost like a spiritual personality.  It is a manner of living the Gospel that serves one purpose: allowing you to love, serve, and honor God in the most profound way possible.

The Catholic Church has a slew of Religious Congregations that all aim towards giving God right praise and loyal service through a particular charism.  You may have even heard of some of them.  Do the Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, or Daughters of Charity ring a bell?  Those are all examples of religious congregations (or communities) that the Catholic Church approves to do serious work based on a certain spiritual lifestyle.

Each of these congregations have a certain charism for which they are known.  The Franciscans, for example, are known for their devotion to poverty and penance. The Carmelites are known for their dedication to contemplative prayer (and their wicked cool scapulars).  Dominicans are known for their preaching.  And finally, Lasallians are known for their abilities to teach.  There are many, MANY more that have different ways by which they help construct and maintain the Kingdom.

Although I have not officially joined any religious congregation, I find my soul constantly contemplating whether I should.  It is an interesting dual that takes place, is my spirituality more contemplative or Apostolic?  Is it more mission driven or preachy?  Have I been create to teach or act in silence?

The answer I know not.  That’s why I consider myself a Francarmeliscanite Dominicallian (Franciscan, Carmelite, Dominican, Lasallian).

What about you?  Do you have a strong connection to any religious congregation(s)?

Accountability- a dangerous word for many, the key to success for all

I recently sat down to lunch with a colleague of mine to ponder the problems of the world and figure out what we can put into motion to solve a few of them (because that’s what teachers do during their lengthy summer vacation).  I came out of the restaurant with two truths-

Photo by David Roseborough @ Flickr Creative Commons

1) the tacos at El Ganadero on the northeast side of Grand Rapids are undeniably flavorful and

2) everyone in the world needs someone to keep them accountable.

It is true.  It doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer, doctor, teacher, student, writer or professional base jumper, if you don’t have someone motivating/ guiding you to be the best you can be, you will inevitably become mediocre.  And mediocrity spawns a life of disillusionment, fear, and spite towards those who have people keeping them accountable.

Here’s the irony, accountability requires people to humble themselves in the criticism of another.  This means that a certain degree of trust must be established in an accountable relationship.  Trust and humility are two aspects of life that most would prefer to do without.  The “I don’t need nobody” and “I can do this myself” attitude springs forth and a series of unfortunate events ensues.

My colleague and I talk often about our teaching crafts and we have scratched the surface of what our writing means to us.  He, very unknowingly, keeps me accountable in these two portions of my life.

My wife keeps me accountable as a husband and father.  She even gives me time to write and go to adoration to foster not only my spirituality, but that of my family.

So who keeps me accountable to God?  That is the question I have meditated on for many years now.

My wife?  To the (GREAT, WONDERFUL & AMAZING) extent that the sacrament of marriage allows, of course.

My parish priest? En persona Christi during Mass and Confession, yes.

But even with such spiritual giants as these keeping me somewhat accountable, how can I seek even more spiritual growth?

Answer- get a spiritual director.

After reading countless biographical and autobiographical pieces on the Saints, there is one common strand almost all of them share besides loving God more than all things- they all had spiritual directors.

And so, this Monday, I have my first meeting with a spiritual direction pro.  Let’s hope it goes well.  I’ll let you know what we come up with.

What about you?  What are your dreams? Who keeps you accountable for striving for them?  Do you have a spiritual director?  If so, how is it going for you?

Debunking the claim that “we are all animals”

I recently came across a post titled I’m getting pregnant on purpose to piss off my parents and saw this in the combox:

“I have to agree with you, We are all animals and if kids want to have sex, just like dogs, bonobos or bunnies, they will so it’s best that they are prepared to have it as safely as they can.”

Ok, before I begin debunking this claim, I’m not looking for controversy, but I will probably get it.  Here it goes:

I’ll start with some wicked intelligent truth from St. Thomas Aquinas to help me out.  If it is too wordy for you, skip it and go to my explanation below.

   “As we see if we reflect on the order of things, the addition of a greater perfection causes variation in the species of a nature.  Thus, a thing (such as a plant) that not only exists but lives, difers in species from a thing that merely exists (like a rock).

And that which exists and lives and feels (such as an animal), differs in species from the plant, which merely exists and lives.  Likewise a being that exists, lives, feels, and understands (namely, a human), differs in species from the brute animal, which merely exists, lives, and feels…

According to the true teaching of the Catholic Faith, Christ had a real body of the same nature as ours, a true rational soul, and, together with these, perfect deity

The closer any creature draws to God, the more it shares in His goodness and the more abundantly it is filled with gifts infused by Him.  Thus he who comes closer to a fire shares to a greater extent in its heat.”

Translation:

Rocks exist.

Plants exist and live.

Animals exist, live, and feel.

Humans exist, live, feel and understand.

Jesus exists, lives, feels, understands and is God.

The closer we get to Jesus, then, the more like Him we become.

What does this have to do with sex?  Everything.

If we believe sex is merely an animal instinct, humanity takes a step backwards. We become more animal-like and less like Christ in whose image and likeness we were created.

But if we define sex as a moral, holy act whose prime goal is to give oneself to another out of love (and to co-construct the miracle of life with God), we become more like God who, as St. John tells us, is love (1 John 4:8). The more we become like God, the more we draw closer to His original design for us and, essentially, the more human (and God-like) we become.

Want to know more about the sanctity of sex?  Check out 1flesh.org to see how a few sex-abstaining Catholic teens are changing the world.

What about you?  What do you think?

 Aquinas, St. Thomas, The Shorter Summa, Sections 206 & 209

Book Review- The Church and New Media by Brandon Vogt

For the past 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has survived numerous attacks, slanders, conspiracies and persecutions.  It is considered to be “the Bride of Christ”, “the communion of God’s people” and “the pillar and foundation of truth”.  Besides having celestial protection, one of the aspects that makes this Church so great is that it is constantly evolving to better serve its people.

Brandon Vogt’s book, The Church and New Media, is a perfect example of how the Church evolves in its capacity to spread the Gospel message in the new age of communication.  Social media has become the foundation of the current generation, and Vogt’s book introduces readers not only to the new technologies, but to the the main players of those technologies.

For example, when introducing blog technology, he passes the baton to Mark Shea, famed Catholic apologist and writer, to better describe the do’s and don’ts of blogging.  When mentioning the online community, contributor Lisa Hendey goes into great detail as to how to foster them.  In each aspect of social media, Vogt consults with the masters of each domain to paint the best picture of the Christian’s role in online evangelization.

From social media beginners to tech savvy sages, this book is a must have for all Catholics who find themselves online on a regular basis.