• The following is the seventh installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.

    “Failure.” For many of us, it is a word we refuse to accept, the true “F-word” that should never be spoken in polite company. And why would we? We say that the keys to success are in our hands, that the strength we need is within us. We tell ourselves things like, “If you work hard enough you can achieve anything,” and that those who succeed are the ones “Who wanted it most.” We glorify those who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” who don’t need help from anyone else, and who, no matter the difficulties, “Never, ever give up.”

    Failure? No, we will not accept failure. Since we are always in control, there is no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t succeed. Accepting failure means accepting that we were not good enough to succeed.

    And so, in our eyes, we never truly fail. Sure, things don’t always go right, but we can easily defer blame and minimize the effects. That competition was rigged… I actually wasn’t even trying that hard… It was her fault… It’s no big deal… I didn’t want to win anyway. Failure, that is, not being able to achieve what we wanted even though we thought we had the capability to do so, is so shameful, belittling, and dehumanizing that we can’t bear to even acknowledge a simple fact: sometimes we do fail.

    And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay: Jesus shows us that it’s necessary.

    Rarely will you ever hear a vowed religious leader say these words, but Jesus’ mission on earth was by and large a failure. Yes, a failure. On the surface, Jesus set out to reveal the glory and divine will of the Father, namely, that if people were to follow him in humility and peace they would have eternal life in heaven. What happened? Well, Jesus was hated by the religious leaders, feared by the secular leaders, betrayed by his followers, and ultimately killed as a common criminal for blasphemy and inciting a revolt. He was weak, needed help, went through horrific physical agony and emotional shame, was abandoned by his defenders, and left alone to die.

    Even the most lenient of curves is going to have trouble not giving him a big “F” on this test…

    Here was someone who truly did hold the keys of success in his own hands, who, if he had worked hard enough, could have done just about anything he really wanted. More than any other human in history, he had the power to achieve worldly success. And yet, by our earthly standards, his life was a huge failure.

    But of course, it wasn’t a failure. And that’s sort of the point.

    On Good Friday every year, we do not celebrate the fact that Jesus came up short in his mission, we celebrate the power of God to transform even the worst of failures—unjust suffering and death—into the glorious success of our salvation. We celebrate the fact that it is not despite failure that God succeeds, but in fact through it. As is the case all throughout salvation history, God does not “help those who help themselves,” as we often say, choosing those with strength and charisma to achieve great things for God based on their own skills. No, God chooses the weak, the helpless, the lowly, the poor, and the incapable—the “failures” of society who have to rely on God— to show his true power and achieve his success.

    When we enter into this mystery of our salvation, our conception of success/failure and our connection with Jesus’ mission completely changes. In following the path that Jesus has laid out for us—showing us that it is in dying that we are given life, in giving of ourselves in patient humility that we receive—we realize that being weak and asking for help is not “failure,” it is in fact a virtue we must live. We realize that our strength does not come from within, that we cannot actually achieve everything we want if we just work hard enough and want it. We realize that, sometimes, it is the very act of “giving up” and accepting our own defeat that we succeed beyond our understanding.

    Most of all, we realize that failure is not the absence of God in our lives, moments of shame and humiliation that we should avoid, but in reality, the moments in which God is most present to us, lifting us up and transforming us in our most vulnerable state. It is why God, when asked by St. Paul to remove the thorn in his side, said no: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). St. Paul realized—only in a moment of failure, I might add—that true success does not come from our strength but Christ’s strength filling in our weakness.

    And so I wonder. As we continue in this great liturgy of awaiting the Paschal Mystery and realize once again that our salvation does not come despite our failures but through it, how might our conception of failure, the dreaded “F-word,” change in our lives? It is my hope that we may strip ourselves of the inherently inspirational yet tragically flawed clichés of our time—these notions that we can achieve all that we want, that weakness is a flaw we can rid ourselves of, failure a concept we should repress, perfection the goal we seek, and that there is nothing more inexcusable than “giving up”—and put our strength and notions of success completely in God. It is my hope that, as a Christian people, a people that celebrate the power of God to transform failure into life, we may no longer run from or deny the failures we experience in our lives as moments of shame or worthlessness but see them for what they truly are: wide open moments to experience the power of God alive in our lives.

    Failure

    Failure is not only an option, it is the very thing we must seek

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  • Confidence

    In the Passion narrative, there are a lot of voices telling Jesus who He is and what He’s worth. And yet he never wavers.

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  • The following is the fifth installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.

     

    My grandmother lived a very long, full life. In the 91 years before she died, she raised a lively family of ten children—her crown jewel—who then produced her twenty-eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; never once did she go to a party and fail to make an impression on the other guests; and all throughout her life, she found pleasure praying the rosary and going to mass, even being fortunate enough to pilgrimage to both Rome and Medjugorje on multiple occasions. If there was a bucket list for my grandmother, I can hardly think of something that she left unchecked. She lived a very long, full life.

    Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

    Statistically speaking, roughly 160,000 people die every day around the world. Of those, 29,000 are children under the age of five dying from mostly preventable causes. And while overall age expectancy is up to 69 years old—the greatest it has ever been in human history—an estimated one in five people will still die between the ages of 15 and 60.

    Why do three-year-olds die? Why are so many lives cut short leaving behind family and loved ones? Why, oh why, does God allow innocent people to die?

    While some may see these questions as an attack on God, a show of one’s lack of faith or antagonism against religion, I believe that our asking them is not only justified, they are at the very core of our faith. More than anything else, our Christian faith finds its merit in our ability to answer the difficult questions of life and death. In fact, I believe that Jesus wanted us to ask the question so that He could answer it.

    Cue chapter 11 of John’s Gospel.

    Traveling around to preach with his disciples, Jesus hears word that his close friend, Lazarus, is gravely ill. Knowing of course that Jesus has already performed six extraordinary signs thus far in the Gospel, the reader no doubt expects Him to return to his friend to perform one more. But he doesn’t. Instead, and against his disciples urging, he remains where he is and lets Lazarus die. This detail is not lost upon Lazarus’ sister. Upon arriving to Lazarus’ house, now four days after his death, Martha shares with Jesus how she truly feels: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Even though she concludes by showing that she trusts Jesus, Martha, once again, represents how we so often feel. Why, God, when you have such power would you let this happen? Don’t you love us? She, like so many of us in tragedy, is unable to reconcile how God can be all loving and all powerful, and yet allow things like this to happen.

    So why did Jesus delay? Was it because He didn’t truly care for Lazarus? Surely not, as he wept when He saw his tomb.

    Was it because He didn’t have the power to heal him? Surely not, as He had already shown the power to perform incredible signs of the Father’s glory.

    No, the reason he delays, as He tells His disciples on the road that they are delaying, “is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus wanted Lazarus to die so that He could show how pointless a fear of death is. Jesus wanted to show that death—the inevitable event that we dread and so tell ourselves will never happen to us, the thing that grips our souls and leaves us in fear more than anything else— has no power over Him. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He says. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

    Death is not a punishment from God or something to fear because death is not the end of the story. It is a beginning. It is a sign of the great power and wonder of God to give even greater life to those who lose their earthly one, a sign that He demonstrates in his own dying, offering us a path to follow. We have to die if we want to be like Jesus. We have to die if we want to rise and live with him for eternity. In allowing Lazarus to die and demystifying the experience of death—even tragic ones—Jesus calls us to follow after Him, even in death, without fear.

    And so He asks Martha, and I believe asks all of us when we find ourselves struck by tragedy, “Do you believe this?” Do we truly believe that Jesus has the power to conquer death? Do we believe that Jesus truly rose from the grave and that we who are baptized into his death will do the same? Do we believe that death is not the end but in fact simply a new beginning, a gateway into eternal communion with the creator of the universe?

    And what would our lives look like if we truly did?

    My guess is that it would still be sad. Jesus wept when he heard of Lazarus’ death because it’s always sad to lose someone we love. Whether its my 91-year-old grandmother or a three-year-old child, death is always tragic. It is still okay to mourn.

    And yet, if we truly believed what Jesus showed us in his raising of Lazarus, we could never despair or give up hope. Our lives would not be dictated by fear of death, getting old, or losing loved ones, but constantly filled with the reassuring joy that nothing—not even death—can keep us from the communion we share with each other in Jesus. Jesus did not simply “raise from the dead,” Jesus is alive. Jesus is, in the present tense. And so are we. And so is everyone we love now or ever loved in the past. We may never know for sure why some people die tragically earlier than others, and yet we find in Jesus that the question doesn’t have the sting that it used to. Death is not a punishment or the end, but our entrance into eternal life with God and others.

     

    Death

    Even when death is all around us, Jesus reminds us that we have no reason to fear

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  • The following is the third installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.

    Chinese food is one of the many gifts from God on this earth. Cheap, easily accessible, usually sold in enormous quantities, and basically uniform in quality across the country, it’s the sort of food that I absolutely crave from time to time. Who doesn’t love a towering supply of fried meat and simple carbs?

    And yet, the very things that make Chinese food so desirable—price, quantity, convenience, greasiness/saltiness—are the very things that ultimately make it unsatisfying. As much as I have craved and even went out of my way to get it, I cannot remember a single occasion in which I felt great after eating it. Bloated, lethargic, and somehow still hungry, I immediately regret the decision and swear to myself that I will never eat the food ever again.

    Until the next time I’m craving Chinese food and “just have to have it.”

    Naturally, it is a bizarre situation that any sane person can see is unhealthy. Why would you continually do something that is not only unhealthy, but unfulfilling and unsatisfying? Why continue to look for new answers in the same wrong places?

    Now there’s a powerful question for us with implications far beyond Chinese food…

    In our Gospel this week, we find Jesus asking the woman at the well this very question. Having had five husbands, and currently with a man that is not her husband, we sense a potentially unhealthy pattern in her life. The fact that she meets Jesus alone at a well—a biblically symbolic place for romantic partners to meet (see Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and Moses and Zipporah)— indicates that even now, after so many failed attempts, she might be continuing to look for a new ‘lord.’

    Again we might ask, Why continue to look for new answers in the same wrong places?

    More than 1600 years ago, St. Augustine, a man famous for his own unhealthy behavior and failings, offered one of the great spiritual insights: in the opening chapter of his Confessions, he writes, “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” For him, our hearts live in a constant state of uncomfortable longing, incomplete and yearning to be filled. We are so desperate to rid ourselves of this feeling that we look to the world for the answer. What will make me happy, we ask. What will make me feel complete and full and content with who I am? There’s always something out there that we need—if we just had that one thing… our life would be meaningful and fulfilling. Food, relationships, status, power, accomplishments, luxury, comfort, fun, stability. Whatever it is, our longing hearts longs to be fulfilled.

    But it never happens, does it? Like an empty stomach seeking Chinese food or a five-time divorcee seeking another husband, we are never truly satisfied. There’s always something more we want. And then something more. And then something more. As much as we might find pleasure in the things of this world, and as much as some things may be quite good for our spiritual well-being, the fact of the matter is exactly as Augustine says: “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.

    In His encounter at the well, Jesus is inviting the woman—and each of us many years later—to give up the constant search for things that cannot fulfill and to turn to the only one who truly can: Himself. He is the living water that quenches thirst. He is the true “Lord” that will never leave us. And He wants us to turn to Him.

    This week, allow yourself to have a personal encounter with the Lord.

    Yes, a personal encounter. A time when your phone is turned off, the door is closed, and your heart is open to hear his voice. A time when all the other fleeting and unfulfilling desires of the world are put on hold—even if just momentarily—and you can simply be with Jesus. A time when you can simply be you, without all of the masks and fronts and public niceties that we put on, and let the Lord meet you as you are—vulnerable, open, and restless.

    At first, this may seem like a daunting task. In the beginning, it may seem difficult or overwhelming, something meant only for monks and mystics. But it doesn’t have to be. Jesus didn’t test the woman’s knowledge, make her perform amazing tasks, or question her worthiness. All He wanted from the woman was a chance to talk. He just wanted to fill her hungry heart.

    If you have a hungry heart, a restless heart that continues to fill itself up with things that eventually fade, then this blog and video are for you. What Jesus asked of the woman at the well is no different from what He asks of us today. He just wants to fill our hungry hearts. All of ours:

    “No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’ How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 3).

     

    Hungry

    Sometimes we fill ourselves up with things that can’t satisfy. Maybe it’s time for a change.

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  • The following is the second installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the first reflection, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to see the video. If you would like to subscribe via email, click here.

    “I’ve made it.” In a moment of self-reflection, have you ever looked around at your life—all that you’ve done, all that you have, and all that the future holds—and realized that you were on a mountain? In this moment, you realize, this moment of sublime comfort and perfect confidence, all the pieces of your life have fallen into place and you are finally exactly where you want to be. “I’ve made it… and I don’t want to leave.”

    I can distinctly remember this feeling three times in my life.

    There was the spring of my junior year of high school, a time when, with the help of a driver’s license and regular paychecks, I began to develop my own identity and independence. Add that to having my first serious girlfriend, being a starter on the varsity baseball team, taking AP classes that counted towards college, and a faith that was beginning to mean something to me, not just my parents, and it was easy to think, at 17, that I’d “made it.”

    I think also of my sophomore year in college, a time when the confidence I have in myself today  began to materialize. Beyond the awkwardness and doubt of being a freshman and over the heartache and disappointment of losing the dreams of my two high school loves (baseball and girlfriend), I found myself discovering an inspiring world of new ideas, developing serious friends who liked me for who I was, and enjoying an environment that, outside of some moderate work, was nothing but fun and carefree. It was quite easy to think, at 20, that I’d “made it.”

    Most recently, I am reminded of my summer in Triangle, VA as a simply-professed friar, a time when I began to see myself as a public minister for the first time. Encouraged for four years to focus on my weaknesses and go to the places where I felt least comfortable, I finally found myself in a place familiar to my past experience, doing things that played to my strengths, with a brother that inspired me to be a better man. And I was appreciated for it. It was very easy to think, at 26, that I’d “made it.”

    And yet, with the benefit of hindsight, I can clearly see now that I had not, in fact, “made it” in those moments. While each of one represents a “mountain moment,” a peak compared to what I had experienced before and not to be discounted, the continuation of life has shown me that there are often other mountains ahead greater than the ones of the present. Had I, at any of these moments in my life, decided to stay rather than continue on, remain in what was comfortable rather than risk the trek back down, I would have never experienced the amazing things ahead.

    Such is the experience of Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus. Separated from the other disciples, they are witness to what was probably the greatest sight in human history to that point: the Transfiguration. Right before their eyes, Jesus’ perfect humanity and sublime divinity shine like the sun, a visual representation of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Realizing they were on the most hallowed of grounds, they fall to their knees in prayer, overwhelmed with the reality before them: they are speaking to God made flesh. Nothing in their experience, or the experience of anyone else who had ever lived, could match what they were now a part of. They had “made it,” in a sense.

    Naturally, Peter wants to stay. Why would they ever leave the presence of God on the mountain? What could matter more in life than this? He offers to build a tent for Jesus, to make the experience permanent for them all. But Jesus declines. While, yes, they find themselves in a proverbial mountain experience, Jesus knows that this is but a glimpse of what is to come; Jesus knows that there are other mountains to climb, other amazing sights to see. To stay on this mountain would be to forgo His entry into Jerusalem, His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and the sending of His Holy Spirit.

    They cannot stay on this mountain. They have to keep going.

    In the second week of Lent, the story of the Transfiguration is a powerful encouragement to all Christians at the beginning of this long journey. Called into the desert and tested by the devil, there is often a part of us that feels overwhelmed by the task. The road ahead might be too difficult, we say. I don’t know if I can make it. Especially when we look around at our lives and find comfort in what we have, it can be easy for us to stay where we are and convince ourselves that we’ve reached the finish line.

    But we haven’t reached the finish line, have we?

    In showing the disciples the glory of the Transfiguration, Jesus offers them—and us—a glimpse of what they seek, not so that they will be content with what they have and stay, but to give them strength and inspiration to continue on ahead. As Christians, Lent is a time in which Jesus exhorts us to get off the mountain and continue our journey. Stepping outside of what is familiar and comfortable, He reminds us of what we lack and offers us a glimpse of what He offers those who walk with him.

    Like the disciples, we have to walk down the mountain. We have to keep going.

    Keep Going

    During Lent, Jesus calls us to continue the journey to something greater than we could ever know: the resurrection.

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  • Surprised by Goodness

    Sometimes all we can see is the bad when goodness has been there the whole time.

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  • Harry Potter, Death, and the Christian Experience

    Is Harry Potter subtly Christian? No… It’s overtly Christian.

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  • Last year, I started my video experiment. I bought a camera, filmed a road trip, and thought it was a pretty cool medium. When I realized that what I was doing was no longer a cool hobby but rather the next step in my communications ministry, I threw together a welcome video to set the tone for the channel. It was fun and a little corny, but it got the job done. I was happy with what I had made on such short notice and with almost no video background, and it worked.

    After a year, things have changed. That quirky little video we filmed outside of the Church one day wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. The cheesy jokes about Jedi and Medieval Festivals weren’t doing it for me anymore. I wanted something that better reflected where I was now, a year later, and what I hoped to accomplish in the future. I didn’t want a welcome video, I wanted a trailer.

    And so, with time on my hands before things get crazy at the parish, that’s what I did.

    What is a Habit? (Trailer)

    Welcome, Again

    What is Breaking In The Habit about? Here’s a trailer to explain.

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