Friday, August 11, 2017

Through Our Goodbyes, God Abides

Throughout summer I wrestled with a major decision about work and life. In the first days of August, I had to make my decision final. My choices were (1) stay at Our Lady of the Valley, an intimately familiar place I love with people I know and a growing mission to minister to teens and families, or (2) move to the Baltimore area to work as the youth minister at Church of the Nativity, a parish I admire and use as an example in my ministry.

I decided this week that God's gentle promptings are leading me to Church of the Nativity. I am mostly packed and ready, and I have a one-way plane ticket for next Friday, August 18. This will be sudden for many of you, and I apologize that I didn't announce things sooner. It's a been long and difficult struggle.

Let me explain how I arrived at my decision.

Originally, I found out about the youth ministry position at Nativity the day after Easter. This happened to be the day after I finished a 90-day journey of prayer, fasting, and spiritual practices with a small group of men at the parish. I don't believe the timing was a coincidence. I didn't know it, but this intense prayer experience prepared me for what was to come.

Somewhat on a whim, I submitted my resume and cover letter for the job, but I didn't apply thinking I would be a viable candidate. I applied to research their process because I knew we would be hiring a new youth minister in the coming weeks as I planned to transition into a new position at OLV. As I mentioned, I admired Nativity and thought I could learn from their process so we could improve ours. Plus, the position had been vacant since October. I figured they hired someone or were close to it.

Even though I was late in applying, Nativity did not find the right fit for their organization in the original pool of applicants. I had two interviews in May with the consulting company they used to filter the applicants, and they thought I might be a fit, so they gave my application to Nativity. We went back and forth until we found a date they could fly me to Baltimore for an in-person interview. During this time I felt guilty. I didn't really want to make a big change. I wanted to be at OLV. I felt like I was betraying the people I was serving. Besides, I was convicted that I should be at OLV as our new pastor arrived and that I would lead Family Ministry through the next steps of growth. Yet God continued to open possibilities at Nativity even as I was unsure.

Meanwhile, I began a consecration to Mary shared by the same group of men at the parish that completed the 90-day challenge. We used the book 33 Days to Morning Glory. This was another journey into prayer as I reflected on what God wanted for me and what I wanted to do next. Mary was with me on the journey. She encouraged me, reminded me that there is often pain in walking with Christ, that faith takes sacrifice, that joy is not found in pleasure but in choosing the Father's loving will.

Eventually I flew to Baltimore. I met the staff at Nativity. I answered questions. I was impressed by their care for each other and shared commitment to their mission. They are making disciples for Christ and the Church.

Two days after I returned from my interview they offered me the job. I talked to trusted people, prayed and prayed and prayed, struggling again to find God's peace and purpose. The timing seemed unfair. Our Lady of the Valley was changing pastors at the end of June. I was sure when Fr. Flores told us he was being transferred that I would be around for the transition to provide continuity and welcome the new pastor into his role. I didn't go seeking a new job. I felt horribly torn between an incredible opportunity that somehow found me and continuing with the people, mission, and parish I loved.

I also had to consider leaving my family, my friends, and my support system in Boise. Even giving up indoor soccer seemed like a big sacrifice.

So after reflecting for a few days, I initially told Nativity no, I would not be joining their team. I was going to stay at OLV.

But God kept gently nudging me. I went through remorse. Would I regret letting this opportunity pass? I couldn't seem to wrap my head around how quickly this decision developed. I wasn't even searching for it! It seemed to find me even though I am the one who submitted my application, who took the interviews, who kept going in the process.

I went through the motions of work in June. We had Junior High Camp. I continued to struggle with what to do. I prayed by myself. I prayed with my spiritual director. I prayed for healing with a couple who have been wonderful to me. I prayed with my family.

At the end of June, I sent Nativity an email I had crafted a couple weeks before and let sit in my drafts folder unsure if I should send it. The email said that even with my reservations, I felt God asking me to be open to this opportunity, so I was ready if they still wanted me. They said yes, they still wanted me.

You would think that might be the end of the ordeal, but throughout July and the beginning of August, I felt little but dread. Dread of leaving, dread of goodbyes, dread of what would happen to OLV after I left, dread of all the arrangements involved in a cross-country move, dread of missing out on family life, dread of leaving the relationships that give meaning to my life.

I was moody and preoccupied most of the last month. I put off doing the things I should have been doing, and procrastination is not normal for me. Nativity grew frustrated at my unresponsiveness. Very few at OLV knew about my discernment because I wasn't sure if it was going to happen. I asked God why these choices are so difficult for me. Significant transitions and life choices weigh deeply on me. They always have. They probably always will.

Starting on July 25, I prayed a novena to my guardian angel asking to better understand my emotions so I could find peace, purpose, and a final decision. I also asked that if God wanted me to stay at Our Lady of the Valley and wanted to reveal it to me at this time, someone would give me an image of Our Lady sometime during the nine days. The nine days passed slowly as I hoped beyond hope for that image of Mary. The image of Mary would give me permission to stay comfortable in my current role with the people and support I already know.

On the ninth day, we had a staff meeting. Our new pastor Fr. Rob set on the table an 8-inch statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus. The meeting went as usual. We read and reflected on Sunday's gospel, calendared, gave our reports, and prayed together. He didn't say anything about the statue. He didn't give it to me. Mary was just there, a somewhat foggy sign from God.

I even asked Fr. Rob about the statue. "I liked that statue of Mary you had at the staff meeting," I told him later in the day. Not knowing about my novena or request for an image of Our Mother (no one did), Fr. Rob didn't take the bait. He just said it was a beautiful piece of German craftsmanship and that we wanted to include Mary in much more of our parish planning and vision casting.

What was I to do? As I drove home from work that afternoon, I knew the statue wasn't substantial enough for me to base a significant decision on it. It was, however, another gentle nudge from God. The statue told me the possibility of OLV still existed, but I had to make the choice. No one was going to make the decision for me. God was not going to override my free will.

On Monday, I talked to Fr. Rob and told him I was still struggling and perhaps wanting to stay at OLV. He said we should pray about it and talk in a day or two.

On Tuesday, I talked to Nativity, and though they were frustrated with my indecisiveness, they still thought God was calling me there.

I spent one last night talking about the decision with my parents, weighing everything I'd said and heard the last three months, praying, reflecting, reading my journals, agonizing, and seeking the Lord.

On Wednesday morning, I called Fr. Rob. He gave me perhaps the last bit of permission I needed to let go at OLV and take the leap. I called Nativity.

"I'm coming," I told them.

Although this announcement is sudden, it's been a continuous struggle for me the last three months. My heart is divided. I love Our Lady of the Valley. I love the people. I love the challenge and fulfillment of the work. I wish I could stay, and I will miss everyone immensely.

Yet I go back to the example of Jesus. He poured himself out to his disciples for three years of public ministry (the same amount of time I've been at OLV), and when the time came for him to carry his cross, depart this life,  redeem humanity, and join His Father in Heaven, Jesus went where the Spirit led Him, not counting the cost. He entrusted the Church to us, a flawed, frail, fallen but redeemed bunch of humans. Here we are 2000 years later, still flawed, still frail, and still fallen but doing our best to follow Christ's lead all the way to Heaven.

I treasure the time I spent at OLV. I will remember everything we experienced together with fondness, as I hope our team does as well. Yet I cannot covet these wonderful parts of my life. They are not my own. They are the Lord's, as is my life, as is yours. I cannot hold onto these things if God calls me to put out into the deep.

As I go, I am so grateful to each person who was a part of my three years at Our Lady of the Valley and in the Treasure Valley. I am sorry if I miss saying goodbye. It's an unfortunate consequence of my indecision that time is so short. Each of you played an unrepeatable role in my life, and I trust fully that God knows what is happening at OLV, at Nativity, in your life, in our Church, and in our world. Lean into the Lord. He will never, ever love you more or less than He does now. His love is endless and relentless. He will be present in the Eucharist. He will heal you in Confession. He will abide when times are dark. He will rejoice when our joy is full. He will wait for us to join Him in eternity, and He will call us to an incredible, heroic earthly life if we come back again and again to sit at His feet.

Though distance may separate us, we continue on the same journey together. That journey is to Heaven. I'm so glad to be part of your journey here on earth and for you to be part of mine, but we can't lose sight of our ultimate destination as we make stops along the way. Let's pray together in thanksgiving for our time together and in anticipation of sharing eternity with the one who is Love.

Viva Cristo Rey,


Friday, August 4, 2017

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

From The Atlantic, By Jene M. Twenge

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”

Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

Click here to continue reading.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother Teresa's Words to the Sisters of Charity...and to Us

Jesus wants me to tell you much love He has for each one of you—beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus—one to one—you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel—but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus—not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person—not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say “I love you”—impossible.

Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead—meditation-only thinking. Jesus wants you each to hear Him—speaking in the silence of your heart. Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes—to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more—He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close.

He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes—He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you.

Only believe—You are precious to Him. Bring all you are suffering to His feet—only open your heart to be loved by Him as your are. He will do the rest.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Don't We All

I was parked in front of the mall wiping off my car. I had just come from the car wash and was waiting for my wife to get out of work. Coming my way from across the parking lot was what society would consider a bum. From the looks of him, he had no car, no home, no clean clothes, and no money. There are times when you feel generous but there are other times that you just don't want to be bothered. This was one of those "don't want to be bothered times."

"I hope he doesn't ask me for any money," I thought.

He didn't.

He came and sat on the curb in front of the bus stop but he didn't look like he could have enough money to even ride the bus.

After a few minutes he spoke.

"That's a very pretty car," he said.

He was ragged but he had an air of dignity around him. His scraggly blond beard keep more than his face warm.

I said, "thanks," and continued wiping off my car.

He sat there quietly as I worked. The expected plea for money never came. As the silence between us widened something inside said, "ask him if he needs any help." I was sure that he would say "yes" but I held true to the inner voice.

"Do you need any help?" I asked.

He answered in three simple but profound words that I shall never forget. We often look for wisdom in great men and women. We expect it from those of higher learning and accomplishments. I expected nothing but an outstretched grimy hand. He spoke the three words that shook me.

"Don't we all?" he said.

I was feeling high and mighty, successful and important, above a bum in the street, until those three words hit me like a twelve gauge shotgun.

Don't we all?

I needed help. Maybe not for bus fare or a place to sleep, but I needed help. I reached in my wallet and gave him not only enough for bus fare, but enough to get a warm meal and shelter for the day. Those three little words still ring true. No matter how much you have, no matter how much you have accomplished, you need help too. No matter how little you have, no matter how loaded you are with problems, even without money or a place to sleep, you can give help. Even if it's just a compliment, you can give that.

You never know when you may see someone that appears to have it all. They are waiting on you to give them what they don't have. A different perspective on life, a glimpse at something beautiful, a respite from daily chaos, that only you through a torn world can see.

Maybe the man was just a homeless stranger wandering the streets. Maybe he was more than that. Maybe he was sent by a power that is great and wise, to minister to a soul too comfortable in themselves.

Maybe God looked down, called an Angel, dressed him like a bum, then said, "go minister to that man cleaning the car, that man needs help."

Don't we all?

-- Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How do I love myself?

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -Matthew 22:36-39

During this first week of Love Month, I realized that when I look at the greatest commandment, I often forget the last two words. I'm not just to love God and neighbor; I am to love myself.

How do I do love myself? It's not as easy as it sounds. You would think this would be easy. In one sense, I am more lenient with myself. I might think of myself as a good person. I go to church. I pray each night. I even go to Confession regularly. I take care of my physical needs by eating well, exercising, sleeping. I do things that stimulate my mind and build healthy relationships.

But are these things really loving myself?

How do I handle self doubt? Do I check my destructive behaviors? Am I practicing moderation and fasting so that I have self control and freedom to make healthy choices? Do I just fulfill my religious duty or am I in relationship with a God I can trust and love?

The difference in providing for myself and loving myself is a fine line, but it is distinct. Taking care of myself is one part, but feeding my soul is another. Jesus didn't specify how we are to love ourselves, and for each person it is different.

Some of the ways I love myself are to seek solitude, spirituality, and silence. These come in many forms.

Solitude can be getting up from my desk in the office so I can have a few minutes of quiet on the other side of the building. Solitude can be going on a run on my day off. Solitude can be foregoing plans with friends so I can have a day to myself for reading, cooking, napping, and doing laundry.

Spirituality can be reading a Christian book. Spirituality can be daily journaling. Spirituality can be praying through memories with a trusted friend.

Silence can be the nightly time reflecting on my day and sitting in the space I allot for God to speak. Silence can be quietly taking in a situation rather than responding emotionally. Silence can be turning off the radio and the noise during the car ride home.

I wish I were better at loving myself. Like most people, I struggle with many things about my physical appearance, my adequacy at work, my purpose in life, and my devotion to God's will. Like most people, I'm on a journey of self love.

What are the ways you love yourself? How well are you following the commandment of Jesus?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Note to Good Fighters

Dear Good Fighters,

Between the long Christmas break and the snow causing us to cancel Family Ministry, I miss you. Like most of you, I've been stuck at home the last couple weeks. I've been trying to get everything ready for our upcoming meetings and ministry, but there's only so much I can do at home. At Mass today, Fr. Radmar preached at St. Paul's BSU about ENCOUNTER. He even had us turn to someone we didn't know, learn the person's name, and encounter the person for one minute. Our faith, our Church, and our God are all about the ENCOUNTER.

Even though you may be stuck at home, God wants to ENCOUNTER you today.

God wants a relationship with you. God wants to love you. God wants you to let him love you. We have so many broken relationships around us (including our relationship with ourselves), but our relationship with God is the one relationship that will never be broken. You are loved as you are, loved where you are going, and loved without condition.

This Sunday at Good Fighters our topic was going to be FOLLOW: How does God guide us into the full life? Even though we can't meet, I invite you to watch the Alpha video below. Think about it. Pray about it. Talk about it. Then, if you're serious about encountering God, journal about this question:

Let’s say God has a plan for your life. Imagine God is giving you a guidebook to SEEK, FIND, and FULFILL that plan. Based on what you know about God, your life experience, what we’ve covered at Good Fighters, your gifts and desires, and your purpose in life, write what you imagine God telling you in your personalized guidebook.

We will add to the Guidebooks in the coming weeks. God is speaking to us. God wants to encounter us. Are we listening? I hope so.

Trying to FOLLOW and ENCOUNTER God alongside you,


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Need a Confirmation Saint?

If you are an Igniter looking for a Confirmation saint, there's a two-minute quiz that matches you with a saint who shares your interests. It might not be a perfect patron, but it's a fun way to start your saint search. Thanks is due to for the Obscure Saint Quiz. Take it here.