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!