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.

Eight hundred years ago, a little man from Assisi, a man without tremendous wealth, power, stature, or societal influence, set a movement in motion that would leave the Church and world forever changed. That man was St. Francis of Assisi.

Within just a short decade, there were already more than 5,000 friars in countries all across Europe, the Poor Clares had spread to multiple monasteries and established itself as a new way of monastic living, and the penitent movements had received their rule and amassed a larger number even than the rest.

It’s difficult to underestimate the effect that the Franciscan movement had on history. With its great size and diversity came the ability to spread its culture and values, including a number of innovations, in a way that had never been seen before. Constantly on the move, they could respond to the signs of the times, enflaming a people with passion before moving on to the next place. The way they served the poorest of the poor, living humbly themselves, preaching in new and popular ways, and not asking for much in return challenged the secular priests of their day to serve in a different way. The nativity scene and stations of the cross, while not invented by the Franciscans, are popular devotions today because of their insistence on an incarnational way of prayer. And the breviary, the shortened and compacted way of praying the psalms found in every religious house in the world today, was first employed by these traveling preachers.

At every level of the Church, in every country in the world, the Franciscans have not only been present, but have left their mark in irreconcilable ways.

But why? Why didn’t the Dominicans, who were formed around the same time, not grow as quickly? Why did it take the Jesuits, who were founded to do similar forms of ministry, so long to get its first pope (who took the name Francis!) Why haven’t the Benedictines, who have existed for much longer, had such a lasting effect on the imagination of the Church? And why haven’t the countless other religious orders that were founded throughout the history of the Church been able to match what the Franciscans have done in 800 years?

I ask these questions not to put down other Orders or even to shamelessly promote the Franciscans (okay, a little bit of the latter), but simply to marvel at what seems inconceivable: a religious movement started by a simple man like Francis should have never worked at all, let alone have changed the Church and world as it did.

Why is that? And maybe more importantly, what might we learn from the success of this movement 800 years ago in what our Church and world are facing today? That is what I was employed to talk about last weekend at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Arizona. While I can’t repeat all 5 hours of talks, I wanted to share the central points here in this week’s vlog.

I hope it inspires you to join in the movement, in however you can in your situation, and happy Feast of St. Francis to you all!

We always say that evangelization is about meeting people where they are, about speaking their language so that they can understand. But how often do we actually go to where young adults are? How often do we speak their language? More times than not, I think our efforts are aimed at trying to make the Church more inviting to them, which is great, but ultimately the burden is still placed on them: they have to come to us.

Over the course of my five years being in habit, I have never shied away from wearing it in public. Outside of things that are completely impractical (going to the gym or doctor, getting a haircut, swimming, etc.) I have worn my habit in almost ever situation imaginable. While some may find it strange or may interpret it as a form of clericalism, all I see is an opportunity to evangelize people who would otherwise not interact with an official representative of the Catholic Church.

And do you know what? It is often at those places that many find it excessive and bizarre that I have the most fruitful experiences: at the grocery store, in an airport, at a bar. Unlike churches and ministry sites where friars and priests are somewhat expected to be, these are situations where we seem completely out place, where we stand out against the crowd. And believe it or not, more people talk to you when you stand out then when you blend in. Funny how that works.

It’s with that in mind that I bring these two ideas together in this week’s reflection. By no means a novel idea nor is it one for which I have no experience, I present this idea simply because it is underutilized and a missed opportunity. In our attempt to evangelize and reach young people, why not begin to be present—in our religious attire—at bars?

I had planned on using today’s post to advertise my most recent video, a look at the first stop on this summer’s mission tour in Cedar Lake, IN. If you are interested, you can check it out here. But that’s all I’ll say about that.

More immediate to my attention are the suicides of two prominent celebrities this week: fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, and television chef/travel guide Anthony Bourdain, 61. Admittedly, I did not know much about Spade, but Bourdain was a favorite of mine for many years and his death yesterday came with great surprise and sadness. When I heard the announcement on the radio, I audibly gasped.

Maybe the most tragic thing about their deaths is that such situations are far from rare. In fact, they are indicative of growing epidemic. As the CDC reports, suicides in America are up 30% over a 17 year period. In 2016, it claimed the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Those are staggering and somewhat demoralizing numbers that really need to be thought about to sink in.

30% increase over 17 years.

45,000 suicides in 2016.

For me, there is absolutely nothing more tragic than someone taking their own life and there has never been a time that I have heard that word or thought about it that I didn’t immediately produce a tear in my eye. To think that it occurs with such frequency—and is getting worse—saddens me to my core.

It is because of this that this weekend’s Gospel fills me with anxiety and worries about what homilies people might hear. The passage comes from the Gospel of Mark, and towards the end of the reading Jesus is quoted in saying: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” Given our history in the Church regarding suicide—and given what I have already seen in the past 24 hours on social media—I fear that some priests will equate the two together, exhorting their congregations to work to prevent suicide “because those who commit suicide go straight to hell.”

I have a sick feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.

Besides being pastorally inappropriate and potentially devastating to those affected by such a horrible event, it is absolutely wrong from a theological perspective. While some in the Church might have said this before, it is absolutely not the official teaching. Looking to the Catechism, two paragraphs are of great importance:

2282 (2) Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

Nowhere in our faith do we condemn anyone to hell; nowhere in our faith to we say that a sin is unforgivable. Everywhere in our faith do we say that our God is loving and merciful; everywhere in our faith do we say that our God knows the inner workings of our hearts and treats each one as s/he deserves. To judge someone on a single moment of their lives—a moment, not to mention, that is fraught with distress, pain, despair, and diminished freedom of will—is to forget the very essence of our faith: God’s hand is always open to those who need love and mercy.

And so should ours.

For me, one is too many suicides in a year. 45,000 is just unfathomable. As devastating as the deaths of two recent celebrities are, my hope is that their deaths may bring new life in those left behind. That from their tragedies, more will be awakened to the epidemic before us, moved with compassion to care for those who battle inner demons on a daily basis, and work to prevent every last case from happening.

If you know someone who needs help, let them know that you love them, and do not hesitate to step in and help. They may not know that they need help until it is too late.

For those who are having suicidal thoughts, feelings of despair, or struggling to find meaning in life, know that you are not alone and there are plenty of people who can help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website has plenty of great resources, and their free number (1-800-273-8255) is completely confidential.

In last week’s episode, I mentioned that I was nearing the limit of what I could do on my own. Some took this as an indication that I might be letting up on the social media ministry. Hardly. Rather than letting my limitations stop me, I’m seeing them as an indication that I need to look outside of myself for help, seeking out the professionals to take the next step.

Enter Spirit Juice Studios, a Catholic production company that has helped Catholic creators and organizations produce amazing works of evangelization for a number of years, gaining national recognition even in the secular world, taking home multiple Emmy’s in their short time in business.

Last week, I stopped by their studio for a photo shoot. Yeah, a photo shoot. It was a bit outside of my comfort zone, but I guess I’ll just have to take it all in stride like anything else!

Three years ago last week, I posted my very first video on YouTube. It was dreadful. But it was also so cool. With just a camera and a computer, I was able to tell my story in a quasi-entertaining way and reach people all around the world. Sure, it was rough, but after only ten videos, I knew that I had tapped into something special.

In today’s world, nearly anyone can produce high-quality and entertainment works. Technology has become so accessible and easy to use that full-length documentaries and award-winning movies have been shot on iPhones. Right there in nearly everyone’s pocket is all that one needs to reach the world in a breath-taking way.

And so many are taking advantage of this incredible time in history. YouTube is absolutely exploding with new content and creators, standing as the second largest search engine in the world. People with no film background, no media training, and some with as little technology as their smartphones have mesmerized the world with their creativity. They have a story to tell, and they’re doing it. They don’t need a movie studio. They don’t need a production company. They don’t need expensive equipment or big budgets or powerful friends. In today’s world, all you need to get your story heard is a phone and enough ingenuity to tell it right.

For three years, I have operated under that assumption for the sake of growing the kingdom of God. I have a story to tell. We have a story to tell. Even more than from the pulpit or soapbox, our story can be effectively told from our living rooms in front of a camera, reaching people where they are rather than expecting them to come to us. This is not a hobby or a fun activity but a ministry as important to the life of the Church as the early missionaries going to foreign lands. Pope Benedict XVI himself said it a few years ago, encouraging those missionaries who evangelize on the “digital continent” to see what they do as critical to the life of the Church.

But do we? Do we invest enough time, talent, and treasure into our digital media? Do we take seriously our parish websites, Facebook pages, videos, and digital identity? Too often, the Church finds itself in a category of its own: watchable only because it has a good message but otherwise dull and out-of-date. Recognizing of course that there are some out there that do this very well, I think that we could do much better. The stakes are just too high and the opportunity too profitable not to.

As I look to the future of Breaking in the Habit, I find myself called to a two-fold mission. First, I want to encourage the Church to take up this incredible opportunity we have in our age and begin to take seriously the digital world as a realm for evangelization. I want to support new creators to think boldly, offering them what I have learned so that they don’t have to make the same mistakes that I have. I want to remove any excuse in people’s minds that they do not have a story to tell or that they are unable to tell it. The world needs to hear their voice. Your voice.

On the other hand, I want to create an environment of collaboration for the “best of the best” in both the Catholic world and the media world. I know that anything that talks about God will have an obvious disadvantage in our world today, but I honestly don’t think that the bar we have set for ourselves is high enough. Even the best creators in the Catholic world—men and women far more talented than I am—weigh in as below average in the grand scheme of YouTube creators. Maybe we won’t ever be able to amass 25 million followers like some secular channels, but the fact that there are only a small handful of Christian-based channels above 500,000 subscribers and not a single Catholic channel over 150,000 frustrates me. Jesus said to go to all nations… not a population roughly the size of Bridgeport, CT. We can do better.

If either of those goals inspires you, let me know. I do not have a magic potion or a secret plan to accomplish either, but I have three years of experience, a lot of passion, and a few good ideas rolling around in my brain waiting to be put into action. Maybe you’re the person the Church needs to get that done.

Longtime readers will know that I wear my habit everywhere. It’s kind of my thing… School, church, airports, stores, wherever. It’s a great way to evangelize, and I never miss an opportunity.

Well, I guess not never…

This week, I went to one of the few places I will never wear my habit. Turns out its where one of our friars works. Where is this place? Check out this week’s new video!

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

Although a tad overused and basically a cliché, there’s something very truthful about this bit of advice. No one else can get it done exactly the way we want, so why leave it up to others when we are able to do it ourselves? We’re just going to be disappointed.

And if all we’re focused on is a “thing,” a task to be completed, then I think it would be a great motto for life. But is it ever just about the task?

No task is ever separated from relationships; no thing to be done without people doing them. As much as we would like to do everything ourselves, we simply can’t, and really, shouldn’t want to. Doing something ourselves is efficient, yes. It gets a job done and we’re happy. But that’s all it does: it gets a job done. When we do everything ourselves, no one else learns that they can also do it themselves. No one else ever learns that they are capable and responsible and important. Nothing is ever accomplished except for that one job.

What if we had a different approach? What if, rather than “do it yourself,” we tried “do it together”? Sure, each task might be a little more laborious. It might have more conflict and not get done exactly how we want it to. But look what else might happen: others will feel a part of something, share the load, and be able to pass on the skills to the next job. When we do things together, a mission can live beyond us.

For me, this is advice that we greatly need in our Church. Even though we know we should do things together in ministry, even though we’re told to love one another and it’s about the person and not the task, sometimes we can fall into this model, even at Church. Sometimes we try to do everything ourselves, failing to train the next person, to include others, to take the time to make it about “us” rather than the task at hand.

This lent, we are called to go on mission, together. We are called to truly be Church, to look beyond the task right in front of us and see what is really important: the people doing the task. He could have gotten a lot more done if it were about the task. He could have done it all himself and completed it just the way he wanted. Instead, Jesus sent his disciples out of on mission, and never alone. There was something more at work in the mission than just the “work.” Jesus was building something beyond himself, and so must we. As much as we love a “do it yourself” attitude, what our Church truly needs—what we truly need—is a “do it together” attitude.

If you’re interested in more reflections like this, you can purchase my book, Called: What Happens After Saying Yes to God on Franciscan Media:

Faith is an interesting thing. Where does it come from? How do we receive it? Where does it go sometimes?

As we are faced with the sobering reality that so many of our young people are either leaving the Church or being brought up in a secular world, we can see how delicate the faith we possess is. Though nearly two millennia in age, it would take but one generation for it to disappear. If no one receives it today, who will be around to pass it on tomorrow?

Now, I should say that I do not believe that we are in such a bleak situation as to say that the Christian faith is being wiped off the face of the earth. Worldwide the number of Christians continues to rise and is stronger than ever in some places. But I do think, especially in the West, it is a question we have to ponder: are we doing enough to make sure that the faith we possess will live beyond us. While it may not disappear completely, there isa good chance that it will be left weaker than when we received it.

For me, that’s just not good enough. Sure, we are facing a secular society that might be as volatile towards religion as it was at the time of the French Revolution. Of course, levels of atheism or non-affiliation may be the highest they have ever been. These are realities for sure, but they are not excuses. The world has seen troubled times, and our Church, trust me when I say, has been through worse. The issue is not the world; the issue is whether or not we have the faith and charisma and effort to infuse that world with something we know is worth handing on.

Will you help me hand on what you have found to the next generation? You can start by clicking here to watch this week’s vlog.

It’s a terrible state in our Church today that 50%—yes, fifty percent—of our parishes report rates of church attendance below the median.

It’s also true by definition that fifty percent fall below the median because the median of any data set is the exact middle, meaning that I could have said anything and it would have been true! Fifty percent of our children fall below the median reading level! Fifty percent of NFL teams fall below the median in ticket sales! Fifty percent of dogs fall below the median level of treats received in a day.

Now that last one is tragic…

My point in using this bizarre example is to show that statistics do not speak for themselves. Taken out of context, selectively presented, or intentionally deceptive—as in my attempt to confuse you with the word “median”—a bit of information may be factually correct and yet at the same time very misleading.

Such is the case with the priest shortage crisis. For years we have heard statistics telling us that the total number of priests is considerably lower than needed, that seminaries are emptier than they were in 1975, and that more parishes than ever are being run without a resident priest. And in themselves, these statistics are factually true. Thanks to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the Catholic Church can quickly and accurately quote any amount of precise numbers about the shape of the Church across time.

The problem is that these numbered are not often placed  within their appropriate context meaning that they do not necessarily convey the correct meaning. Too often, as we see in politics and advertising, these numbers can be used incorrectly, in a misleading fashion, or simply reported incorrectly, giving the impression that something is better or worse than it seems. For years we have known that there is a crisis on our hands, and yet, for years many have perpetuated misleading or false statements about what that crisis actually is.

In this week’s video, found here for email subscribers, I try to dispel five myths about the priest shortage crisis, putting commonly held statistics and beliefs within their appropriate contexts.

It’s important to note my intention in making this video. I by no means am trying to mitigate the issue or gloss over its effects. Despite trying to break down these myths, I am not trying to say that there is no crisis. There definitely is. The issue, for me, is to make sure we truly understand what that issue is.

One of my favorite movies is Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Looking beyond the chilling plot of the movie—an elusive and deadly virus wipes out a large part of the world’s population—at its core is a kernel of truth that strikes much closer to home: sometimes, the virus of an idea can be more dangerous than a virus of the body.

While the government and world health organizations are working around the clock to find a cure and law enforcement and medical personnel are heroically doing their jobs when all seems lost—everyone who is “in the know” doing everything they can to save lives and keep the world together—there is one character spreading conspiracy theories and inciting a revolt. The government has a cure but they won’t share it with us. There is a cheap cure that the government is trying to coverup and refuses to test. I have been cured by this miraculous drug, so buy my product.

What ensues is mass chaos. Starting first with only those desperate and deranged enough to believe this man’s conspiracy theories (and unable to see how he is profiting greatly from it), some people take to the streets in fits of anger. If they’re not going to help me, I’m going to help myself. Stores are looted. Pharmacy workers are assaulted so they can get more of the “miracle drug.” Laws are disregarded. And while it started as only a few loud and violent people setting the example, their tearing at the fabric of society left the rest of the world with no choice: unless we also start looting, disregarding the law, fighting for our place, and standing up to the government, we won’t survive.

A mob mentality. Uninformed and seeing their peers acting a certain way, rational people find themselves guided by their anger and doing completely irrational things. Surrounded by so many others, they never question their motives, check their facts, search for alternatives, or know when to stop. Things just snowball out of control.

I present this rather dark picture as an extreme example of the tendency many of us have been prone to in recent years. While the increased political nature of our culture represents a people no longer willing to stand aside and be passive when their moral convictions are being challenged—undoubtedly a good thing—the critical thinking, respect for others, patience in due process, and willingness to respond constructively that needs to accompany political and social action has not increased as much. Conspiracy theories have become mainstream, vocal and violent minority groups scare the majority out of rational thinking, misinformation quickly circulates without question, and truth seems to have narrowed to but a singular expression, usually the one that I hold. Those people are wrong, we think. There is an emerging mob mentality in our world.

Oh, and yes, in our Church as well. This week showed us two prime examples.

The first is the case of Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of America Magazine, acclaimed author, and consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. The recent author of a book about building bridges between the Church and the LGBT community, Martin says that he has faced unrelenting hate mail from some in the Church in recent months. Led by three minority but extremely vocal fringe groups in the Church, a campaign of voices directed this anger towards his venues in hopes of “getting him fired.” Despite his talks being about Jesus and not LGBT issues, despite being in good standing with the Church and being officially chosen by the Vatican for a special position, and despite his book in question having the imprimitur of the Jesuit provincial and approved by multiple cardinals of the Church… these venues cowered to the hate speech and cancelled his talks. Even publicly admitted that they did not disagree with what he was going to say, they simply feared the mob.

Another case, same situation. Enter Rebecca Bratten Weiss, college professor and founder of The New Pro Life Movement, an organization focused on integrating Cardinal Bernadine’s “seamless garment” and giving more attention to women’s rights within the “pro life” movement. The recent subject of an attack by one of the same fringe groups that attacked Martin, Weiss’ support of Cardinal Bernadine (yes, a cardinal of the Church), questioning of the mechanics of the current “pro life” movement to make it better, and even her personal life, were brutally chastised online, causing an outcry against the university. This week, Weiss was released from her position, and the president made an official statement to the website in question, assuring its followers that she had been released.

Two recent examples, but not the only ones. Lest what I’m trying to point out be misconstrued as a partisan statement (a criticism that might ironically serve to prove my point), this sort of mob mentality exists on the right and on the left, in the middle and in the apathetic: uninformed people going with the masses and using violence or the power of their voice rather than rational and respectful arguments, is not the exclusive domain of any one group. As we have seen in 2017 alone, mob mentality is everywhere.

And… while I know that this is going to be a longer post than normal, but short answers and loud voices won’t cut it in such a complex situation. I think that this is a critically important issue of our time that needs our attention, and I would like to offer a few suggestions that could help us, as Church, avoid this terrible trap.

There are more than two sides

In our American political system, there are really only two parties: Democrats and Republicans. While there are technically hundreds of parties, no one will ever get elected or do anything significant from outside of these two. Because of this, we are often faced with a false dichotomy: we are told that there are only two answers to a question and we have to choose one. “Which side are you on?” is a famous question to divide people.

The fact of the matter, though, is that every issue has multiple positions one could take, and often, we arbitrarily accept the opinion of a certain party even when it doesn’t fit our view 100%. In doing so, we not only cheapen our own perspective, but we make it easier to see the other as enemy: rather than realizing that there is a spectrum of perspectives and that most people don’t fit perfectly in the box but lean one way or another, we unfairly write people off as “those people” or from “that party” when their opinion might actually be fairly close to ours to begin with. When we realize that there are actually 10, 20, even 50 different ways of looking at things, we are much more likely to engage our neighbor and realize that we have something in common to build off of.

To combat a mob mentality, we need move away from broad categories of large groups and focus on individual people and ideas.

Some sides are in fact wrong: Fact checking

In our post-modern, post-fact world, we have placed the individual above all. While there is definitely a sense in which one’s experience and way they understand the world is valid, as it is their experience, and should be cherished as such, just because something has personal meaning does not mean that it is universally or objectively factual. A good example is something I saw on the news last year. A politician said that his constituents did not feel as safe as they did twenty years ago, therefore, the world was not as safe. It may be true that they do not feel as safe, but statistically speaking, his constituents were drastically less likely to be murdered today. Personally true, factually false and part of a mob mentality when continued to be spread.

I can’t tell you how many times I open my Facebook and see well-intentioned, nice, non-crazy people posting things that are not factually accurate. Usually it’s not a complete lie or slander. No, what I’m talking about is the thing that “sounds” right, comes from a quasi-reputale source, and is about something they like… but is a bit fuzzy on the details. A growing example of this is climate change. Scientifically speaking, there’s no doubt that the earth is warming and that humans are the main cause. And yet, that doesn’t mean that everything weather-related can be used to prove the effects of climate change. A huge hurricane season could be climate change, but it could also be within the statistical probability of a normal climate. One data point does not prove the whole.

To combat a mob mentality, we need to be informed and think critically.

But many sides can be right at the same time: Pluralism is not relativism

On the other hand, just because there might be wrong answers does not mean that there is always only one right answer. Is there only one way to climb a mountain? Surely not. And even though two people may not go along the same path, they can absolutely get to the same place.

As Catholics, those who hold that there are absolute truths about the world, this may sound a lot like relativism, the idea that everything is just as right as another. That’s not what I’m saying. Pluralism, rather than relativism, recognizes that there are absolute truths or ends about the world, but there are also multiple ways of expressing and understanding that truth. Look at our liturgy. Even within the West, the Vatican has allowed the modified Latin rite of the mass to be celebrated along with the normal, preferred rite of Vatican II, as well as having recognized a number of Eastern rites and communions to maintain their own separate traditions. Each are fundamentally different in gesture, purpose, and even outcome, but they all point to the same absolute truth.

In our religious world especially, controversy tends to boil over because we are unable to accept that there might be a different perspective that also holds truth. When we see the way people approach Church, God, family, ministry, and the outside world, there is a temptation in our world to write people off as a false Church, as heretics, as not the true believers. This, I firmly believe, is the result of a lack of faith. Unable to see that God is complex and not capable of being boxed into our small brains, anything that differs from our understanding challenges the validity of our faith… and it has to be stopped. It is easier to call someone a heretic, to protest their talks, to get someone fired, to belittle them as stupid, to laugh at them, or to ignore them than it is to engage what they are saying, where they are coming from, and the ways in which they might be right.

To combat a mob mentality, we need to broaden our worldview and live in the complexity of God’s mystery.

The Church has survived worse

Finally, there is no doubt that our world is witnessing dangers and fears that many of us have never seen before. We are, in some ways, at a turning point in world history, at a fever pitch of tension.

And yet, there’s also a sense that there is nothing new under the sun. The Cold War was much more dangerous than our times. The 1960s and 70s experienced much more social upheaval than today. The 1940s produced more war and death. The 1930s saw a much greater collapse of our world economy. The early 1800s resulted in a much greater cataclysmic tear in the fabric of the religious world. The 1600s witnessed a world in which Protestants and Catholics were murdering each other for different beliefs. Between 800 and 1100 the Church had a pope that sold the papacy, priests becoming overwhelmingly wealthy for doing little work, Church wealth used for war and opulence, and the intellectual decline of our theology. And so on. The Church and world has seen some stuff.

And it has prevailed.

So often in our arguments, our intensity and passion is the result of a narrow perspective: deep down, I think believe that this issue is the most important of history. This issue, whatever one we’re fighting about, proves how terrible the world is, how far we’ve fallen, and that there’s no hope… we have to fight above all else to win it. Too often, we make the stakes too high on the issues, gives ourselves too much credit in being responsible for causing/solving them, and we go nuclear when things don’t go well, failing to live for tomorrow because we believe that everything comes down to this one thing or to us.

There are important issues in our day. Absolutely. And we should definitely be passionate and serious about the world. But we also need to remember that the Church has survived worse. It is not up to us to be its savior, nor is it up to us to employ any means necessary to win an argument—personal attacks, creating false dichotomies, acts of violence, hatred, moral decay—undermining our cause to uphold the kingdom of God by acting against it. We are called to remember that this is God’s institution, not ours, and God will ultimately hold it together, not us.

To combat a mob mentality, we need to take a deep breath and remember that it’s going to be okay. At least in the long run.

I think our world and Church desperately needs these things. To stand for justice and truth, as mobs believe that they are doing, but to do so free of broad, inflexible categories of right and wrong; without personally attacking those with whom we disagree but working to bring the fold together; in integrity for real truth, not just the truth that supports our claims; and with the humility to know that we work for this Church but we are ultimately not responsible for it.

When we do this, standing together for what we believe and engaging the world, we are not a mob… we are a Church.

One of the great things about being Catholic is the uniformity of the liturgy. Go to any Latin-rite Catholic Church around the world—or at least any within one’s episcopal conference—and the liturgy will be pretty much the same: while the songs, homily, and people will likely be different from place to place, the readings, prayers, and overall structure of the mass will remain the same. Unlike some other Church traditions, the Catholic liturgy is not dependent on the charisma or creativity of the priest. It is what it is, regardless of the presider.

And yet, experience shows that the opposite is true as well: despite having a fairly strict formula for celebrating the mass as opposed to other traditions, I would argue that the charisma and creativity of the priest has just as much effect on the liturgy in Catholic masses as in other Christian services. The difference between a dynamic, engaging, charismatic priest and one who simply says the words and performs the gestures is enormous. For some, it can even be the difference between a strong and lively faith experience and slipping away from the Church altogether. As much as we don’t want it to be about the priest and as much as we want to it to be about the liturgy itself, we cannot escape the influence the presider has.

What a joy that presents to someone training to be a priest… and what a danger that presents for the people of God. Compare two experiences I’ve had in recent weeks.

The first was a pretty “standard” mass. As a theology student who has studied the rubrics of the liturgy, I can tell you that everything was done absolutely to the letter of the law. The priest “said the black and did the red,” as we would say. When the world around us is in constant flux, it is not only comforting to enter into a controlled, predictable setting, it also allows for greater participation on the part of the laity: not having to wonder what’s going to happen next or trying to keep up with innovations or high energy, we in the congregation are able to move beyond the mechanics and into prayer.

There was only one problem: the priest was dreadfully boring. Although his homily was not the worst I had heard—it was short and had a clear point, which was nice—it was a bit predictable and did not challenge or inspire. Listening to his voice during the prayers was a bit coma-inducing, and really, I felt that the words were being spoken at me or just to empty space in front of the presider. There was no sense of dialogue or relationship, just proper words and actions. The experience, honestly, was fairly forgettable.

Cue the second experience. Beyond everything else, I left thinking about the priest. A dynamic personality, he walked up and down the rows before mass and introduced himself to people he didn’t recognize, even including people’s names and stories in his homily and announcements. His homily was long and moving, filled with memorable stories that were both entertaining and thought-provoking. The way he prayed was comforting, engaging, and inviting, and I felt at times that we was speaking directly to me in an intimate way.

There was only one problem: the mass was all about him. Despite the wonderful music and the active congregation (oh, and, you know, the liturgy itself), everything was touched by the personality and charisma of the priest. While not the worst that I’ve seen—there were definitely some innovations to the mass that the most hardline liturgists would have objected to, but nothing egregious that would have called into question its validity—it was certainly its own mass unlike any other. This was Father’s mass, and at times it felt like “Father’s One Man Show.” As joyful, inspiring, challenging, and enjoyable as it was, the experience was somewhat off-putting to me.

Both masses were absolutely Catholic. Even with the minor innovations and personality of the second priest, both were completely orthodox, valid masses. And yet, they offered completely different faith experiences, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

There, I guess, is where my question lies: do we accept that each strength cancels out its weakness making the two experiences legitimate alternatives to one another based on one’s liturgical preference, or is there something actually flawed about one or the other that makes even its strengths not that strong?

That second Church was packed more than 99% of churches I’ve seen on a Sunday, and a look at their bulletin shows that they are getting out into the world as well; after so many cult-of-personality priests of the past couple of years and crazy innovations to the liturgy, I left the first church at peace, for once not feeling like I had been at the circus. Maybe there is a place for both experiences.

Or maybe not. Even if people like the calmer, more predictable nature of the first priest, it might ultimately be detrimental to their long-term faith to always be casual, disengaged bystanders because they never experience the fullness of the immanent church around them. Or, even if people are full of life, entertained, and look forward to coming to mass as in the case of the second priest, it might ultimately be detrimental to their long-term faith to focus so much attention on one person because they never experience the fullness of the transcendent church in front of them.

I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that neither expression seems like the complete picture. While it might not be possible to find a perfect middle ground between the two—it might be a situation of trying to balance on a knife’s edge, always ending up falling on one side or the other—I think that we as priests and priests in training have an obligation to try to hold everything together. It is not about me… and yet my life and energy directly affects the faith of others; being engaging is fundamental to worship… but it should always lead beyond to the point of the worship.

For me, all that truly matters is the priest’s ability to better the congregation’s relationship with God and each other. Whatever builds that up—including the priest’s personality—is the work of the kingdom. Whatever gets in the way of that—including the priest’s personality—needs to get out of the way.