This summer, I did something a little strange. Rather than being assigned to a specific parish or ministry site, I traveled the country on a preaching mission, stopping one week at ten different parishes. It was amazing.

By the numbers, here’s what the summer looked like:

  • 9500 miles (roughly) traveled
  • 85 days on the road
  • 48 Sunday homilies preached
  • 25 hour-long talks given
  • 20 YouTube videos produced
  • 15 beds slept in
  • 3200 miles traveled in a single day flying (Santa Ana to Newark to Chicago)
  • 787 miles traveled in a single day driving (New York to Chicago)

That… is something else. A summer unlike any I have lived before, and one that I probably won’t live again for a while. But I will live it again, I’m sure. That’s just one of the many things that I learned this summer, found in this week’s YouTube video.

From the start, back when Breaking In The Habit was just a little blog no one knew about, my goal was to share the real life of a Franciscan in the 21st century. Over my first two years, I did almost no teaching or preaching, just sharing stories about my journey as a Franciscan, recounting events, and informing the public on important information. More than evangelization in any specific sense, much more than catechesis, I just wanted people to know what our life was like. Even as the mission has grown and expanded to other forms of media, the essential focus remains at the fore of everything I do.

On the one hand, I am able to share more than ever before. Beyond just a few written posts a week as in the beginning, I can literally show people what our life is like. Through videos and pictures, I can invite people into our lives like never before, allowing for one to make their own interpretation rather than reading my own. Why read my words when you can use your own eyes and ears?

And while this is a major step forward and truly a good thing, it also has a danger to it: people might begin to believe that what I am sharing is the complete and unbiased picture of Franciscan life. This, quite obviously, can hardly be the truth. Simply from a philosophical sense, pure unbiased presentations do not exist; because it is impossible to share every experience of every day, there is always a decision of what to share and what to leave private, which introduces a level of subjectivity. In doing so, we are not necessarily being manipulative, but we must be conscious that the persona we present is far from the whole truth.

Such is the case with Breaking In The Habit: what I show is nowhere close to my full life, but rather snippets of what I find interesting, pieces put together to tell a story I want you to hear. And while I think it is probably well-known to everyone, it something that is worth reminding people about. As much as I make it my mission to share a lot about our life, much of what makes this life significant simply can’t be shared. Truly, what I show is nowhere close to the totality of my life. If it was, I don’t think I could do what I do or be as enthusiastic about it. Behind the camera and beyond the public’s eye is a life that is by no means secretive or scandalous, but nonetheless private in a way that no camera could capture. What we live, day in and day out, can be shared in a simple sense, but can only be truly understood by those who live it.

I hope that makes sense, and I hope you enjoy this video, as well as the others.

I think it’s safe to say that 16-year-old me would be very surprised to see what 28-year-old me is doing these days. Nowhere on my radar was the idea of joining religious life or becoming a priest. The thought of going to college for religious studies would have been preposterous. Heck, at 16, getting me to Church and enjoying it would have been almost unimaginable. And as for social media… WordPress was less than two years old and there weren’t too many “bloggers,” Facebook was a year old and not open to the public, Youtube was in its first year and mostly unknown, and neither Twitter nor Instagram existed. My life has amounted to things that I could not even have conceived of at the time.

And yet, here I am. What a journey it’s been with God so far. As I share in this week’s video, the road was not always straight and it wasn’t always lead with the greatest intentions. God had a way of guiding even my most selfish decisions to work out for the glory of the kingdom.

It’s because of this that I have a very simple lesson to teach from my journey: start doing, figure things out later. While I don’t mean that we should be reckless or thoughtless in our actions, I think we put way too much trust in our own ability to shape our future and not enough trust in God’s ability to shape our decisions for good. It is certainly important to take discernment seriously and prayerfully engage the questions of our day, but too often we worry about finding the “perfect” answer that we never act at all. Truly, I believe, God would prefer that we be running in the wrong direction than sitting lifeless, worried about which direction to go. Sometimes, we have to just start running and let God change our direction if necessary.

Did you hear about Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete Et Exsultate? It’s pretty amazing, if I do say so myself. Not only is it the spiritual food that our world and Church needs today, it’s not too theological, and it’s short! (Don’t get me wrong: I loved Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si, but man… they could have used an editor!)

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, this week’s Catholicism in Focus serves as a good guide to what an Apostolic Exhortation is, what this one is about, and most importantly, what it’s got to do with you!

In the meantime, here is a collection of my favorite quotes!

1. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.

6. “We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.”

22. “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness.”

28. “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness. We are challenged to show our commitment in such a way that everything we do has evangelical meaning and identifies us all the more with Jesus Christ.”

37.”Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity.”

66. “Let us allow his words to unsettle us, to challenge us and to demand a real change in the way we live. Otherwise, holiness will remain no more than an empty word.”

94. “Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.”

102. “We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.”

116. “The saints do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others.”

119. “Here I am not speaking only about stark situations of martyrdom, but about the daily humiliations of those who keep silent to save their families, who prefer to praise others rather than boast about themselves, or who choose the less welcome tasks, at times even choosing to bear an injustice so as to offer it to the Lord.”

125. “Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.'”

134. “Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things. Yet the challenges involved can be like the storm, the whale, the worm that dried the gourd plant, or the wind and sun that burned Jonah’s head. For us, as for him, they can serve to bring us back to the God of tenderness, who invites us to set out ever anew on our journey.”

137. “Complacency is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things, that there is nothing we can do, because this is the way things have always been and yet we always manage to survive.”

164. “Those who think they commit no grievous sins against God’s law can fall into a state of dull lethargy. Since they see nothing serious to reproach themselves with, they fail to realize that their spiritual life has gradually turned lukewarm. They end up weakened and corrupted.”

171. “The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment. Yet we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, to calm our anxieties and to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light. In this way, we allow the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.”

When I talk to Catholics “of a certain age” who have either left the Church or wish to return to the Church of their childhood, the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays—or more accurately the Church’s decision to abandon the practice—comes up with an interesting regularity as to one source of their dissatisfaction. (For those unfamiliar, Catholics used to abstain from meat every Friday of the year, not just during Lent, and it became a strong social marker of one’s identity as a Catholic as it brought us together for fish-frys and separated us from Protestants who did not follow the practice.) Longing for the days of old and disillusioned that the Church could just change what was considered a sin depending on how it felt, this devotional practice remains a point of contention for them.

Frankly, I find the issue to be very complicated and absolutely fascinating.

This week, I’d like to start with the video itself and expand on it. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this week’s Catholicism in Focus, placed above, take a minute to catch up on that before continuing. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Okay, great. What’d you think? Actually, no, nevermind. Moving on.

As I showed in the video, the Church did not abandon the practice, as some think, but actually sought to grow deeper in its penitential acts on Fridays by—get this—treating us like adults and letting us make decisions for ourselves! Instead of just “obeying the law of the Church,” Pope Paul VI wanted us to obey the law of our hearts, prayerfully listening to the Word of God and putting our faith into practice in a personal way. For a world that wants to personalize everything and only do things that we’re passionate about, he was ahead of his time.

There is also a sense that no matter what he did, all that was being changed was a discipline of the Church, the lowest level of Church teaching. To leave the Church because of or spend too much time complaining about a changed discipline suggests to me that many did not quite understand the teaching of the Church. This was not a radical move in which everything was now on the table and it was only a matter of days before Jesus was going to be declared “only human” or the Eucharist “just a symbol”; unlike Dogmas that cannot change and Doctrines that develop slowly over time, disciplines can and should change as our Church and world changes, ever reflecting the faith of the people in a current situation. In this case, the overall spirit of the Church remained the same, in continuity with the whole history of the Church. Only the specific practice changed.

Unfortunately, what resulted from this decision was not what he intended. For the most part, people just abandoned the practice altogether. As a result, there is definitely a sense that something has been lost in the process. While on paper it was both “fitting and right” to change the law, something the Pope had the authority to do and in the best interest of the faithful to help us grow deeper in Christ, one has to wonder if it was ultimately the right decision: although not free to choose the practice, at least people were doing something before, and in doing so, we formed a valuable corporate identity in the process. For better or for worse, there was an ethos to being Catholic prior to 1966, a common sense of identity through uniform practice. Sure, it may not have meant much to many people, just a law to be arbitrarily followed without much understanding of the reason, but it was something we did together. Through mutual submission to a common action, it formed something greater than oneself and brought people together.

Ultimately, this is what our Sunday worship is supposed to do, so it is not as if we no longer have a corporate identity at all. And doing something that is meaningless or even detrimental to one’s faith in the name of community is not spiritually beneficial. But it does raise an interesting question: might we have lost something in the process worth recapturing? In the search for more personal meaning, might we have sacrificed the equally important sense of togetherness? I’m not suggesting that we return to the practices of 1965 or that we arbitrarily impose new rules on the faithful just so we can do something together. I’ve been through novitiate… I know that that doesn’t always go well. But I am suggesting that we take this issue seriously. Let’s recognize that something truly was lost in 1966, and make sure that it was not lost in vain. Our practice may have changed, but the Tradition that guides it has not. Maybe this Friday will be the week that we take up our crosses again. Maybe we’ll even come together with a friend or in groups to do something together.