It’s amazing what a month can do. Per usual, I took some time over Christmas and the New Year to step back from making videos, to relax and plan ahead. By this time of year, I’m usually a bit burned out and need a break. Come January, I’m back with big ideas and new videos.

This year is no different. I’m happy to share with you some news that I think could quite exciting, not just for me, but also for many of you.

Unfortunately, I’m also quite saddened by recent events in my life (and the life of the friars) to share something very sad.

Because I know that some people like their good news first while others like the bad news first, I’ve decided to create two videos, released them at the same time, and let you decide when you want to watch them. I’ve posted them both below, and they will both go live on Wednesday at 5:00pm.

Here’s the bad news:

Here’s the good news:

 

So I recorded the audiobook version for Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship. Woo. It’s a thing, and obviously we want to promote it. It’s good to get the word out about the book, create buzz, and so a quick, free sample is great.

It’s also kind of boring. For those with little interest in the book, there’s nothing to watch. How could we spice it up, I wondered? How could we add a little entertainment and have a little fun?

The answer, as you’ll see in this video, is a fake infomercial for audiobooks. Enjoy…

Back in June of 2017, I signed a contract for my first book, Called: What Happens After Saying Yes to God (although it didn’t have a title at that point.) In a conversation with my editor, discussing the plan for the book and how we might market it, she said something that stuck with me: “I’m not trying to put the cart before the horse, but there will come a day when we come back to you and ask you about your second book, so be thinking about that while you’re writing. What do you want to put in this one, and what do you want to save for another topic?”

second book? I haven’t even written this one!

But a seed was planted. Even two years ago I began thinking what I might do in the future. After Called was published and the book tour over, I began to think a bit more intently on it. Not trying to rush anything, not wanting to force it, I felt no need to publish so quickly… but I was thinking. What would I write?

At the start of the year, I had an idea. I let it sit for a little while without telling anyone. If it’s a good idea, it’ll stand the test of time, right? So I sat on it for two months. When the idea didn’t go away, I began to explore it a bit more. I made a video based on the topic in March to see how others would react to it. I loved it. Putting the concept to words, saying it out loud… it clicked.

I spend a few more weeks sketching an outline. It was great to have this general idea, but I needed to see categories, chapters. How would this idea flesh itself out into an entire book. For a few weeks I jotted down notes. Any time an idea would come to me I wrote it down and put it in a category. By April, I knew I had something worth pitching. I sent it to Franciscan Media, and they accepted it.

And since then, I’ve been writing, planning, and waiting to tell you about it. Last month the marketing team met and we decided on a title (Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship) and came up with a cover concept:

I loved it. And I can’t wait for your to read it. It’s set to hit stores January 30, just in time for Lent, I might add. The book is broken into seven chapters, meaning that you could start reading it the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday before the first Sunday of Lent, read one chapter a week, and be done by Easter. Talk about a great way to prepare for the feast!

More information is sure to come, but for now, you can watch the video I made last week, and if you feel so inclined, preorder the book on Franciscan Media or Amazon.

Ever since I finished the final episode of A Friar Life two years ago, I’ve been thinking about how I would reboot the series. Last summer I even started tinkering with a different introduction. I thought about friars I wanted to include, what I would do with them, and so on. I couldn’t wait to start again.

There was just one problem. Okay, two problems: time and money.

Living in Chicago and being a full-time student made the prospect of filming friars very difficult. Not only did I have little time to travel, but being from the East Coast province, there weren’t many guys in the Midwest that I actually knew. Even if I had the time, there weren’t many friars within driving distance to film.

Well enough is enough, I say. Excuses excuses. I clearly have the time to travel (as I have been on and off of an airplane multiple times a month for the past year), and since these travels often include speaking and selling my book—two things that I have been given permission to funnel back into the ministry—the money wasn’t really an issue anymore either. With my first priestly assignment on the horizon, I felt that it was sort of now or never.

And so… for the past two months I have been traveling around the country to show the life that we live. I’ve been to a center for the poor, a university, retirement home, and high school, and over the next I plan to visit the friars in foreign missions and urban ministry.

My hope is to have an official trailer of the places I’ve been so far in about 2 weeks, and to release a new episode each Friday this Easter season. Talk about something to rejoice over!

I hope that everyone has a blessed Holy Week!

I received my letter of obedience from my provincial this week and I am extremely excited for what’s about to come. Besides the fact that I will be finishing school and devoting myself full-time to ministry (which is a gift unto itself no matter where I live), I have been assigned to live and work at the Catholic Center on the campus of the University of Georgia. Far from the tiny liberal arts college I attended for undergrad, a place that had around 25 people at a weekly Catholic meeting and 50 or so students at mass on Sunday (in a chapel we shared with the other organizations and could only use at a reserved time), this behemoth, 38,000-student state school has its own building just for Catholics, own church with multiple masses, and enough of a budget to have two full-time friars and a staff!

Yeah, this will be a slightly more involved experienced than I had as an undergrad.

Besides that, the province has supported my desire to evangelize and catechize online as well as to further my work in the ministry of the word, meaning that I have been given permission to include that in my ordinary work each week (rather than a “hobby” I do in my free time and on vacation). The friary and Catholic center have some extra rooms available, and I’ve been told already that I can have one for a dedicated studio (which will be soooo nice to have a bedroom that’s actually a bedroom again and not filled with lighting equipment everywhere!)

Fraternally, the guy I’ll be living with is a great friar, one who has always made me laugh and been a joy to be around. He also just so happens to be an accomplished chef… so that doesn’t hurt either. While some friars would be hesitant to be a part of a community with only two people, I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve mentioned before that I prefer smaller, more intimate houses, and with just the two of us, it has the feeling like I’m a part of something new. Rather than joining a house of 8 in which I’m the only new person and so would simply adopt the preexisting culture of the house, we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to build a fraternal life plan from scratch. That is an intriguing concept.

So, yeah. Obedience. What a horrible thing, right? In this process, I did not request UGA. I didn’t really request anything. The province asked if I had any top choices, which I didn’t, but I was able to share some values I had for ministerial and fraternal life. They thought about it, weighed the needs of the Church and Order, and handed me an assignment. This was not a democratic process. It was not one in which I could have the final say. It was a conversation in which my provincial listened, thought, and then directed.

Which, for many people, sounds absolutely terrifying and horrible. While poverty and chastity are strange concepts to most, oddly enough, I get the most confused and interesting questions around the vow of obedience. The idea of giving up one’s will and doing what someone else wants is just unacceptable to most. There is this sense that we are blind followers of an autocrat, lemmings running off a cliff with no reflection. Who would ever give up their will and accept the commands of another outright? So ridiculous! So un-American! You must fight to be in control and only do what you want!

And yet, I have to say, it was actually a pretty encouraging experience. There is something genuinely great about a vow of obedience, even a sense of tremendous freedom in it. Forced to come up with my own path, to choose what was best for me at this time, I don’t know what I would have chosen. I don’t know if I would have made a good decision, to be honest. In letting go of my need to be in charge and to make every decision, I was forced into a position of trust, to recognize that someone else cares about my well being and might actually have a better sense of what’s good for me and the world than I do. My duty in this was not to waste time making big decisions or worrying about the overall picture; all I was asked to do was to go out and faithfully do my job, loving those I encounter and building up the kingdom of God.

I think we place too much emphasis on the big questions of our life (what am I going to do, where am I going to live) and we let it get in the way of the experience itself. Too focused on worrying if we’re making the right decision, we never fully invest in what we’re actually doing. That… is never a problem for someone with a vow of obedience, and, as ironically as it may sound, I find this to be such a liberating experience.

Bring on the obedience. Also, go Dawgs.

In 128 days, I will be ordained to the priesthood. That means a world of new responsibilities. Celebrating mass. Hearing confessions. Anointing the sick. Being the person people turn to in times of crisis and need. That is going to be a big step in my life as a pastoral minister.

And it has raised an interesting question: what will that do to my “other” ministries of evangelizing and catechizing through social media, preaching and teaching in various parishes around the country? It is a question that I have thought about for more than two years, a question that, frankly, has caused me to be a bit hesitant with what I started as I didn’t know if it would be able to continue.

We’ve reached the point where that question is beginning to be answered.

Last week, I have a conversation with my provincial and vicar provincial about my future. I shared what I was thinking, they shared what there were thinking, and we came to a pretty good conclusion: they want me to find a way to continue doing this ministry into the future.

What that will look like, I’m not 100% sure. But my guess is that I’ll have a much clearer answer in a few weeks time…

After a month off from social media (but not a month off… just so we’re clear), I’m happy to say that I’m back in the swing of things with YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the podcast (whew… that’s a mouthful). While I’ve received many messages over the past few weeks wondering where I was, questioning whether I was stepping away from this ministry, the question was never in doubt; as with past Christmases, I take some time away, not just to rejuvenate, but to plan the next semester.

And yet, there was something a bit different about this break, I’ll admit. I didn’t have the same enthusiasm about the next semester’s lineup of videos. I wasn’t completely invested as I was in years past. A part of me was a bit frustrated with the work, a bit burnt out from the constant pressure to produce, and frankly, a bit disillusioned by the whole thing. Maybe I was discerning what the future would hold for Breaking In The Habit.

As I share in this week’s reflection, I found myself asking more and more last semester, “Am I even making a difference?” Sure, I was getting “likes” and nice comments. Sure, I have amazed at how many “followers” I have. But really, in the mission of Christ, was I really making progress in a way that reflected the work I was putting in and what I hoped to accomplish?

I share this, not because I’m still discerning this ministry or because I’m looking for compliments, but because I think that what I’m experiencing is very common in this life as a Christian. I think that we all hit walls, struggle to see the fruit of our labors, and have to fight the urge to give up. This is not the first time I have struggled in this way, and it will most certainly not be the last.

So, how do we respond. In this video, I want to suggest two things: 1) live with personal integrity, and 2) trust in God. At the end of the day, we cannot let our perception of success dictate how we act; besides the fact that our definition of success is different from God’s, we don’t always see the whole picture. It is important to remember, sometimes, that just because we don’t see progress, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

And so, I leave you with one of my favorite prayers, one related to this issue. Often attributed to St. Oscar Romero, it was written by then-Fr. Ken Untener (later, Bishop Untener) for the use in a homily delivered by Cardinal Dearden in 1979. I hope that it gives you the hope that it does for me, and that the wisdom of this prayer may guide us as we continue on.

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

A little over three years ago, I had an idea one morning: why don’t I answer the most common questions I get asked and put them together in one video? That afternoon, I threw it together. In what was probably the quickest turnaround of any video I have ever made—from idea to posting in under 24 hours—came the most successful video of them all. Not only did it produce a response from people that would take more than two years to match in another video, it has consistently been top five in new views each month since.

Just last week, that cumulated in quite a feat: 100,000 total views.

In honor of that occasion, I decided to recreate one of my earliest videos with an updated script. Now three years later, interacting with people in different settings on a different scale, what questions do I find myself answering on a regular basis? As with the original video, I made a list of questions, got people to ask them on camera, and I just answered them on the spot. There was no script, no extensive preparation, just me in front of the camera answering (sort of) in the way I would respond as if I were really right there on the street being asked a question. It was not meant to be super refined, just quick answers to normal questions.

Which… is why I have a few caveats and additions.

  1. Since it’s still warm out, I don’t get this question often, but in about a month the number one question I’ll get is “aren’t your feet cold??” The answer is always no. My body runs very hot and wearing sandals in the winter serves as a necessary exhaust system to keep me cool with all the layers on.
  2. In question 2, I slightly “misspoke.” In answering a question about sexual activity, I said that Christians cannot engage in sexual activity unless it is unitive and “for the purpose of” procreation. What I meant to say was “open to procreation.” Not every sexual act has to have this as its intention, but it must be open to the possibility if that is what God wills.
  3. I get a lot of questions about traditional Catholicism, e.g. the Latin Mass, placement of the tabernacle, design of the Church, particular prayers, or liturgical theology. It might be the number one thing I respond to on YouTube. Given the tone and scope of this video, I didn’t think responding to any of those questions in 30 seconds would be appropriate or adequately address the issues, and so I have planned to answer many of them through Catholicism In Focus.
  4. I still get asked all of the time, “What’s the difference between a monk and friar?” “Are you a Jedi?” and “What’s the difference between a priest and brothers?” but since I have answered them pretty regularly elsewhere, I decided to leave them out.

Other than that, these ten question are legitimately the top ten questions I get asked on a regular basis. If you have questions you’d like me to answer, head over to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube and let me know!

I’m in the midst of my summer vacation at my parents so I’ll keep this quick, but I have a great announcement that I would like to share with everyone about my ordination: it’s going to happen! Well, that’s not exactly news, but the date and location are set. On June 22, 2019, I will be ordained a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, NC by Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama.

At this point, that’s all I know, but I will certainly keep everyone updated as the process progresses.  For now, I’m enjoying a lazy and quite rainy Monday afternoon watching the Office on Netflix, so… I’m going to get back to that! I’ll be up and running again by the weekend where I’m headed to Raleigh, NC for stop number 8 on the Called Mission Tour! Catch you soon!

Better late than never, right? With all of the chaos of starting the mission tour this week, I completely forgot to post this video to the blog. My apologies to all, hopefully you haven’t been waiting around to hear the decision!

Anyway, the vote passed among the six OFM provinces of the United States, and we’re looking forward to our future together. More details certainly to come, but thank you for your prayers and be sure to continue to pray for us!

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.

Two weeks ago, I learned of the deaths of two extraordinary men: Saul Rodriguez and Albert Hendel. In many ways, they had very little in common. Saul was a seminarian with the Capuchin Franciscans, was 31 years old, and died suddenly; Albert was my grandfather, the father of ten, nearly 98 years old, and died after a number of weeks of preparation. One represents what we would call a tragedy, while the other is the ideal situation we can all hope for.

And yet, there is a sense that even in the case of Albert, something is still tragic. Death, it would seem, is always tragic.

Why, even though we believe in the resurrection, is there still the sting of death? Why, even when someone dies after a long life with little pain, are we still upset about it? Why, in a world where death is inevitable and a faith built upon it, are we so bad at accepting death? This week’s video is my attempt to make sense of it all from a Christian perspective. I hope that you will join me in praying for the families of the deceased and for all of the deceased that go unnoticed. May we all find ourselves, one day, in the heart of God with the saints.