If you’ve paid any attention to the Catholic Church over the past 50 years, you know that we are a diverse group of people that likes to swing the pendulum of society back and forth. Forget about the “culture wars” of politics, they’re right here in our Church.

Just like the rest of the world, I recognize two problems in our Church: 1) we are a reactionary people, preferring hot takes and quick decisions that favor shallow answers and false dichotomies, and 2) we are unable to conceive of a Church and world in which there might be more than one correct answer. Both of these things are on display when our people argue such things as liturgical norms, social justice, clerical attire, relationships with those outside the Church, and political involvement.

For a Church as rich in diverse traditions as us, this is troublesome.

In this video, my central thesis is this: the faith remains the same, but the way it is expressed and lived necessarily changes with generations. As we grow older, as we learn more, as the world changes around us, our approach to Christian living will inevitably grow with it.

Things these days… yeah. They’re not great. As a new priest, I find myself frustrated with all that I can’t do these days, but I can’t say that the outcome of my life has been dramatically changed. I cannot say the same for those in high school today.

At a time when people are trying to find themselves and their place in the world, it seems like the world is falling apart. I feel incredibly sorry for those who have missed out on such big moments in their lives, who find themselves at a loss and without direction. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be 17 today.

And yet, there’s another part of me that is not particularly sympathetic at all. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I’m sort of allergic to throwing oneself a “pity party,” of moping around and giving up.

Things are tough, yes, but feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to make things better.

In this week’s video, I want to highlight a saint for our age. Her name is Claudine Thévenet, and she is someone that I think teenagers can relate to. Although her college plans were thwarted by a pandemic, she did go to high school during the French Revolution and witness two of her brothers being executed.

So… it’s sort of a push, I guess.

She not only survived a tragic time, it made her into a laudable saint. Her resilience, commitment to service, and love of Christ are qualities that we can learn from today.

A few weeks ago, the friars in our community had a House Chapter, a regular meeting where we discuss fraternal or spiritual issues to grow closer and build up the fraternity. The topic was on fraternal correction: how we do lovingly approach a brother when issues arise.

Overall, it was a fantastic meeting that showed how mature every member of my house is (not always the case…) One brother brought up a story that has stuck with me for weeks. He shared how here was a friar in one house who no one could stand. He was annoying to be around, self-centered, and just problematic to live with. Finally, the brothers got together and requested the he be transferred to another house. In many ways, this part of the story is sadly not uncommon; sometimes, guys just don’t get along. No, what was striking about it was how that brother reacted. Shocked and hurt, he could only respond, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I was difficult to live with?”

So often, we are blind to our own weaknesses. Whether it’s because they’re difficult to spot or simply because we don’t want to see them, others are always better equipped to point out those areas within us that need the most growth. Without a community around us who is mature (and loving) enough to step in a correct us, to point out our blindspots when we can’t see them, we will go through life hurting and annoying others without a care in the world.

I’m not sure about you, but ignorance is not bliss.

For so many of us, it is not that “we don’t know what we don’t know,” it’s that “we don’t even know THAT we don’t know.” We are completely oblivious (or completely deny) that there is even anything in us that needs to change.

And so before we walk away thinking that this reflection is all about others and how we need to fix them, let me bring it back to our poor brother. He was most certainly blind to things that caused trouble for him in his community, and no one can outright fault him for not seeing what he could not see, but it is not entirely up to others to take responsibility for our behavior. Knowing, of course, that we ALL have blindspots—that we all have failings we cannot see, that we all have rough edges that do not reflect the kingdom of God—it is most certainly our responsibility to have the humility to accept this in ourselves and the courage to do something about it.

How we go about that seemingly impossible process… is the topic of this week’s video.

How many people made New Year’s resolutions this year? How many have already dropped them? My guess is that very few people reading today are still committed to something they made at the beginning of the year, mostly because the vast majority of us don’t even bother trying anymore! We’ve failed so many times, what’s the point of coming up with something?

Our readings this past weekend tell us why: because we are called to conversion each and every day. The prophet Jonah goes through Nineveh preaching repentence, reminding us that we need to change, and more importantly, that we can change. St. Paul tells us that the time for change is not tomorrow or some day in the future, but now. Now is the time for the coming of the kingdom. And our Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, shows us the way: we are to leave behind what hold us back and follow him.

So why don’t we? Why are we so bad at coming up with and sticking to new ways of living? I would like to suggest three things we do wrong and three ways to act differently.

1. We don’t even show up

We live by an interesting all-or-nothing attitude sometimes. We think that unless we are 100% committed to something, unless we are passionate, focused, and excited about doing something, we’re just going through the motions and cheating ourselves. If we’re not going to commit, why do anything at all, right?

Yeah… except that’s sort of ridiculous. Can you imagine if we only did the things we wanted to do, only the things that we had passion for? My guess is that we wouldn’t have friends, a family, or a job, because each of those things require that we show up even when we don’t want to. As terrible as it sounds, showing up and doing the right thing, even for the wrong reason, is still better than not showing up at all! Life is made by those who show up, not by those who don’t.

In making good habits in the new year, the biggest mistake we make is letting how we feel about something dictate how committed we are to it. Our motivation is our inspiration/passion/emotion rather than the goodness of the act itself. If prayer is our goal, going to prayer, even when we don’t want to, even when we’re not feeling anything, even when we don’t “get anything out of it,” is still better than not going at all. It may not feel authentic at first, but with time and consistency, it will become a habit. Staying home is not going to make us better at prayer; only showing up will do that.

2. We think only about ourselves

How many of our resolutions have only to do with us? “I want to lose 10 pounds.” “I want to eat healthier.” “I want to read more.” It’s all about “I.” We put the emphasis on ourselves, saying that no one else can do it for us, and we’re only cheating ourselves if we don’t follow through.

But there’s another side to this: we’re only benefiting ourselves if we succeed. There is no sense of community, connectedness, responsibility. Rise or fall, our actions affect us. And if I’m not hurting anyone else, it’s easy to let resolutions slide and never actually change.

But what if our goal was something that could benefit others if we succeed and hurt others if we fail? What if our New Year’s resolution was community-minded or even Christ-minded? My guess is that we would have a little extra motivation. My guess is that we would feel more committed to what we were doing.

In picking habits, we need to move away from ourselves and move towards Jesus. What should we be doing that Jesus wants us to do? What did Jesus do himself and how do we become more “Christ-like”? When we go to pray, when we read about his life, death, and resurrection… that’s when we find the things that we need to change and the motivation to stick to them.

3. We have no trust or patience in God

So often we expect to reach the end of our conversion on the first day. We go to the gym for a week and wonder why we don’t have six-pack abs. We think that just because we set our hearts on Jesus that our lives will all-of-the-sudden be sinless and perfect. And when we don’t see immediate results, it is very easy to get discouraged and give up.

But here’s the thing: conversion takes time. We can’t be today what only tomorrow will bring. We can’t reach the end without running the race, putting in work, and taking our time.

And here’s another, more important thing: conversion is ultimately up to the work of God. If all we do is trust in ourselves and build everything on the foundation our of own strength, we’re going to fail every time. We are simply not good enough in ourselves to overcome sin. We are not strong enough to overcome human weakness in ourselves. It is only God who can truly effect something new in us. It is only God who has the power to conquer sin, to give strength.

We may have setbacks, struggles, and failings. That’s all apart of conversion. Those who reach the end are not those who give up after failing at first, they are the ones who trust in the slow work of God in them.

***

We are all called to conversion. We are all called to take a step towards a more Christ-like life each and every day. The journey will never be completed in the day but is the result of continually showing up, keeping our focus on Christ, and trusting in the slow work of God. If you haven’t had success starting something new in your life this year, maybe this is what you need.

It seems like a rule of nature that conflict is inevitable. While the last two decades has been witness to extremely polarized thinking in both ecclesiastical and political debates, the fact of the matter is that people have always been in conflict. We disagree with one another. We get angry. We fight. Such is life. On this side of the Kingdom, I’m just not sure we can avoid it.

But oh do we try.

When I meet someone who has opinions diametrically different from mine, my first impulse is to try to change their mind. I may not open with that, and really, I may not even pursue it in action, but that desire is there. While small differences in opinion are not only good, they’re necessary, there is something deep inside of me that is unsettled when someone claims something I find absolutely ludicrous. I must fix them.

Maybe you know this feeling. If so, then maybe you know what usually happens in these cases: nothing. In my whole life, in all the people I have met and in all of the conversations about politics, religion, philosophy, or the like, I’m not sure if I have ever changed the opinion of someone who started off diametrically opposed to me. Never. Instead, what almost always happens is that at least one of us gets frustrated at our inability to fix the other person and we leave the conversation worse off than when we started: same opinions held but a worse relationship between us.

What do we do now?

More times than not, we just let it go. Rather than carrying the burden of the frustration with us well after the conversation is done, we try to forget the argument and move on with our lives. And on the surface, this seems like our best option: adding resentment to an altogether meaningless conversation is not good for one’s mental or emotional health, and benefits neither you nor your opponent. Letting the conversation go is probably the best thing we can do.

Rather unfortunately, though, we often let go of much more than that. In my experience, when faced with a difficult person or opinion that we cannot reconcile with the way we view the world, we often let go of the person as well. Rather than having to deal with the frustration that such a perspective is out there, and unwilling to accept that it cannot be reconciled with our world view, we employ a defense mechanism that eliminates the problem: we determine that that person or opinion is fundamentally wrong, therefore not of any worth to our lives.

It’s a nice tactic, actually. Able to put someone in a box—no, they put themselves in a box away from reason, not us!—our commitment to them and their ideas disappears. Those people are so messed up, we say. That one is crazy, we think. Why waste time thinking about or engaging people who are so far from right thinking?

And yet, as nice and comforting it is to us, as neat and tidy as it makes our relationships, when we do this, we forget something rather fundamental to our lives: As Christians, we do not have the luxury of writing people off.

As much as we want to solve problems by cutting people out of our lives and forever ignoring them, we do not have the luxury: we are called to forgiveness.

As much as we want to put people down for being “so messed up,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to love even our enemies.

As much as we want to attack others, play the victim, or try to get people our our side against them, we do not have the luxury. We are called to be meek peacemakers.

As much as the world may find certain behaviors and ways of dealing with conflict acceptable, we do not have the luxury. We are called to another world.

As much as we want to hide from issues and people, avoiding conflict and saying that “it’s not my problem,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to imitate God’s justice and mercy in our world, building up the kingdom of God, not just for ourselves, but for all.

There is no doubt in my mind that conflict has existed as long as life has existed and that it will continue long after I am gone. I have no utopian dreams of creating a world in which everyone holds hands and gets along, all thinking and speaking with one voice. This side of the Kingdom, conflict is a reality at the center of our lives. As Christians, that should not free us from being who we say we are—Christians. No, Jesus himself came and lived in a volatile world with conflict all around him. In fact, it is mainly through conflict that we know what we know about him and how we are to live. As easy as it is to buy into the values of the world—to act like the leaders of camps we see around us, to improve our cause by putting down our enemy, to determine for ourselves who is worth engaging and who is not—we need to remember one thing: if we want to call ourselves followers of Christ, we do not have the luxury of letting go of any part of the body of Christ.