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

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Is laughing with the Eucharist in my mouth sacrilege or God’s way of telling a joke?

After celebrating the 5th anniversary of my matrimony to my wife and my daughter’s baptism, we woke up the next morning and realized that even by our mexican standards we would arrive late to our parish’s 11 o’clock mass.  When this happens, we take the opportunity to travel to our city’s Cathedral to celebrate the noon o’clock mass with the rest of the folks who were a bit hesitant to get out of bed.  This is where the following hilarity took place:

All was fine throughout the mass.  My youngest was chillin’ with her abuelita after being doused with chrism and holy water at her baptism roughly over 24 hours ago.  My wife was still a bit sleepy from a long night of baby watching and my two year old was gazing at the beauty of the Church’s architecture singing her own hymns “Ringo, ringo little star!” (A remix of the original version commonly titled Twinkle, twinkle little star) However, as soon as we went up to receive Communion, God got humorous.

I didn’t even see it coming.  She had been a bit sick the past week and her lack of food and sleep made her laxidasical at best.  But when the Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist placed Christ’s body upon my tongue, my little angel, now clinging to my shoulder, was inspired by the holy Spirit to say the first thing that came to her mind…

“Tortilla?”

Immediately, I almost burst out laughing, but I couldn’t because the host was still in my mouth.

She thought that Jesus was one of the corn tortillas we ate daily in la casa.  I closed my eyes to keep from crying with laughter and as I approached the chalice, I pulled myself together.

I mustered out an “Amen”, grasped the cup and took Christ’s blood into my soul.  He wasn’t halfway down when my daughter struck again…

“Juice?”

I. Lost. It.

When I got back to my pew, instead of the silent prayer I usually share with my wife, I attempted to explain to her what had just happened.  We received a couple of stares and shhhhs, but eventually died with that kind of laughter you can only make when you are unable to because of the “serious” environment you are in.

Regardless, I think God had a good chuckle too.

What about you, do you have any “dying of laughter but not culturally appropriate to laugh” church stories?  If not, here’s another one you might like.

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?

Do you stink?

The other day my daughter was eating dinner on my lap and I caught a whiff of a disturbing stench.  Being the father of two kids below age three, these aromas aren’t normally a surprise, but this one was.  I checked my girl’s diaper, sniffed her sweaty head, and checked her arm pits.  Nothing outside of the norm.

Then I thought, maybe it is me…

When one sweats, it is because their body temperature has risen too high. The body’s natural defense against overheating is to release liquid though the pours of the part of the body that is overheated. This sweat acts as a refresher in that it absorbs the heat and provides the body with a cooler temperature.  I can safely say that the majority of Americans are quite overheated as this heatwave continues to roll on.

So when Jesus was praying in the Garden the night when He was betrayed, His body was overheated. This heat was not caused by an exertion of force. In fact, it was more likely that at the hour of His prayer, the temperature was probably quite cool. I would venture to say that He was not running a marathon inside the Garden. In fact, the Bible tells us He was “prostrate” and very likely immobile on the floor, during the cool nighttime hours. (Matthew 26: 39)

So what caused this immobile man to sweat that night during His prayer? Some say it was the pure stress and they might be correct. But, could it be possible that, like the transfiguration, Jesus, in this intimate conversation with His Father, was transfiguring Himself once again into the blazing fire, the heat that other Biblical authors refer to when they speak of the Cherubim angels (Ezekiel 1:13), or the Holy Spirit (Revelation 4:5) or even God Himself (Exodus 3:2)? Could it be possible that, because He sweat blood instead of regular sweat, He was bathing Himself in the purifying “blood of the lamb” (Revelation 12:11) prior to the ultimate sacrifice on the cross? Could this blood have anything to do with “spiritual overheating of the soul” that came to save the earth? Could this be the spiritual refreshment just as sweat is physical refreshment?

I believe that this “sweating of blood” is the Spiritual defense against the overheating of a perfect soul. I believe that this blood was an effect of the raging fire of burning love that dwelled inside the carnal body of God. I believe that this serene soul lives within those today who are able to hear the sound of His resurrected voice when He says “I came to set the earth on fire. How I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49)

Finally, I believe that when we drink this blood at mass, we too cover ourselves in the sweat of our souls so that they might be cooled down from the temptations of this world. Better yet, this blood transfigures our souls to become more like the raging fire of burning love for others. When we are on fire and actively participating in the Will of God, it is then that we become Jesus for others in the most profound way: by accepting the Eucharist we become the fire!

It turns out, the combination of my daughter and I after a day of playing outside in the humidity was the source of the foul stench.  That just made me think about Jesus’ sweat.

I hope that both my daughter and I can stink like God too.

My Ironic Journey Toward Learning the Spanish Language

The Spanish language is something of awe to me. I remember taking intro classes in High School and hating it with all of my being. I thought it was useless for an American like me to learn a language I would never use in the future. Little did I know how much this language would have in store for me in the future, and how God decided to use it to humble me.

When I arrived back from Oaxaca, Mexico in January of 2005, I was very distressed that I could not offer as much help as I wanted to during our 2 week mission trip. It was frustrating that I could not speak with a 5 year old child who wanted nothing more than a piggy back ride. In my misunderstandings, we occasionally were able to communicate through body language, but we wasted so much time that could have been spent helping and loving. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be at all effective as an inner-city school teacher (or missioner for that matter, a vocation that was also on my heart), I was going to have to learn the language.

I got quick to work taking my first introduction to Spanish class with complete seriousness. My teacher was excellent, Maria Villalobos Beuhner. She made me work very hard and I was up to the task. She planted the seed in me that would eventually become my motivation to make Spanish my major.

After one year of constant study, I was off to Spain to study abroad. The language was very difficult at first, but by the grace of God, I was able to find new ways, new friends, and new dictionaries that helped me learn the language. After 3 months, the language was a part of me and I became addicted to it even though I didn’t completely understand it.

When I came back to the States, I attempted to find any outlet to use my Spanish, but it was not welcomed very well. I watched Spanish TV and read Spanish books, even completed a few more Spanish classes, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.

It was then that I met my wife, Maribel. We fell in love and have spoken the language ever since. I recommend falling in love with someone who speaks a different language than you do (as if you really had a choice). It forces you to listen to every single word whether you want to or not. It leaves no room for laziness and a lot of room for patience; these being two great foundations for marriage.

As it is, the language that I hated for so long and to a certain point despised has now become the language in which I love. God has given me this gift to love my wife, my mission, my students, and of course my family in a whole new way. It is a language of love that I personally cannot speak without smiling. It has humbled me in ways that are only explainable by God. For this gift, I am both in awe of God’s power to change people’s lives in creative ways and I am also thankful.

To top it all off, this is the language in which I have been given the mission of proclaiming the gospel both in my hometown of Grand Rapids and in my second home in Mexico. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious (and ironic) ways.

Money “Inhales Wind Violently”

I just finished writing a prolifically short book review in which I stated that I was going to write something fun as a result of reading the book.  I am a man of my word.

Every time I muster up the gusto to review my online banking and watch as my measly earnings fall like plinko chips into the “bills paid” tab, I get frustrated.  Seriously frustrated.  I often ponder what life would have been like had the industrial revolution not happened.  Would I be living?  If so, would I be a farmer, hunter or cattle driver?  Would I be as worried about being financially stable?

I’m sure you’re in the same ideologic boat. But hold on, without the big buildings, boats, trains, planes and automobiles we wouldn’t have Macbook Pros, so the advantages surely outweigh the disadvantages, right?

I digress.

The point I am (failing while) trying to make is this: money sucks.

Father Robert Barron mentioned in his Catholicism Series that the most arbitrary things in life are the ones that matter most.  These trivial actions serve no particular purpose and are done for the sake of themselves which, in return, makes them more important, more meaningful than “justified” undertakings.  Watching a game thus becomes more important than jaunting to the barbershop for a haircut.  Sitting down for lunch with a friend is more important than cleaning the house.  Writing in your blog is more important than working…

You see the dilemma?  Of course you do, you experience it every day.  We would all much rather participate in those meaningless, yet profoundly satisfying activities that we love so much.  What stops us from doing them 24/7?  Money.

We can’t live without money so, we must work.  I won’t spend much more time on this because it depresses me (and you) but we must take into account the great blessing that work is.  God has given it to us for our survival, so that we can complete the meaningless tasks we love so much.  We should appreciate it as a means to prolong our love until we accomplish our missions and can spend eternity alongside Jesus doing them.

Here’s the kicker: we’re stuck here on earth for a while (especially the safely employed).  As long as your job doesn’t involve exposure to toxic materials or strenuous/demanding physical feats of strength, your time to participate in the pointless joys of life are far greater than many starving people in the world who deserve it more than you.  If you own a computer, for example, that purchase took more money than 80% of the people in the world make in an entire year.

I know, money sucks.  But don’t let that hinder your talents.  In fact, we’d be better off living simply and giving our money to those who need it so that they too can stop worrying about their survival and start thinking about their salvation.

You’ve been blessed with work and time to enjoy the pointless jubilations of life.  Take FULL advantage of it and make it your priority to see that others have the same opportunity as you. Otherwise when we arrive at the pearly gates, St. Peter will be like:

*Note, if your name really is “Outcho Mind”, you’re totally in, so no worries.

Words from a Missionary

Psalms from Saltillo- download now for free.  This compilation is a poetic manifesto of what God does to a soul who chooses to give it all. Called to serve the abandoned and abused youth of Saltillo, Mexico, my wife and I were lucky enough to work alongside present-day saints whose reflection of God’s light shone on us. To this day, their examples and the trials faced while helping those most in need have taught us more than we could ever have dreamed of about regarding Catholic social justice. These poems allow readers to relive that experience.

If you missed it I published another book you might like for free yesterday too.