Down through history, the Bible has been as much of a weapon as any manmade contraption. Used not to inflict a deadly blow but rather to entrap, oppress, or belittle, one could argue that it is the most powerful forces of violence the world has ever seen.

In fact, many do argue that.

And yet, we as Christians hold it as the most sacred of books. We hold that this controversial book is not just important, it is the Word of God, so divinely inspired and life-giving that it offers us a pathway to salvation.

How do we reconcile the two? How do we, as faithful Christians, respond to those who see genocide, slavery, and incest within its pages and dismiss its importance? Forget responding to others—how do we reconcile this within our own consciences?

Naturally, these are questions that would take hours to answer, and even still we mind find ourselves struggling with the paradoxes we find. But I would like to offer a start. It may not be a solution and it may not offer concrete answers, but I would like to offer a means by which we begin to answer the difficult questions of faith.

In this week’s vlog, I look to the Bible as a complicated and confusing book, but one that can offer us powerful truths if we know how to read it. My hope is that it begins a conversation, evokes a deeply hidden question, and inspires us to take seriously our call to know and live the Word of God in our lives.

For email subscribers, click here to watch the video. As a reminder, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for exclusive content not found here on the blog.

Sometimes, life is hard.

Yeah. That’s the sort of amazing insights that keep people coming back to Breaking in the Habit.

Throughout our life, we face challenges, difficulties, frustrations, setbacks, and feelings of immense stress. At the midpoint of my first semester back in school, those words have a particular familiarity to me right now.

But what’s interesting about the situations that these words describe is that nothing ever starts out that way. No, normally, we begin a new project or stage in our life with excitement and joy. A fresh start. A new opportunity. We begin with idealism for what might come, for all that we can accomplish.

And maybe that’s what makes our frustrations that much more frustrating: we expected something very different than we got. Our idealism has been replaced with a disappointing reality.

That was the topic of my reflection this week, something that I found in the readings at Wednesday’s daily mass. For email subscribers, click here to watch the video.

For those subscribing by email, click here to see the video.

Often referred to as the “Word of God,” Sacred Scripture is foundation of our faith, offering insight to who we are before God and guidance for the future. The centerpiece of our liturgical worship and the backbone of all of our theology, it is difficult to escape its ever-present nature among us.

And you know what they say: familiarity breeds contempt.

As critical as it is for our faith and as surrounded with it as we are, sometimes we don’t take the time to step back and ask ourselves a simple question: where did the Bible actually come from? It may sound like a juvenile question—obviously it came from God—but I think it is among the most important questions we can ask ourselves, one that can determine a tremendous amount about how we actually read it.

Did the writings come to us all bound and edited, “signed, sealed, delivered” from God in its present form without any input from us?

Or maybe God literally spoke to a prophet who wrote down each text, word-for-word, making sure that everything was as God intended.

Or maybe… just maybe… God chose to work in and through the human experience, inspiring his people with the grace of heaven but entrusting the whole process to them. Maybe the people of God wrote about their experiences in their own words, prayerfully decided amongst themselves what was considered authoritative, and found the authority to interpret such texts within their own worshipping community because that was the only way that it could truly be authentic to our human experience.

As I’m sure you can guess, my thoughts are with the latter answer. The process of producing the Bible that we have today was a complicated and messy ordeal, one that took many centuries, and even today, remains somewhat unresolved. There were many authors, many revisions,  many opinions, many disputes, many uses, and many interpretations over the years. Some of what we read is the result of hundreds of years of prayer, shared writing, and ongoing redaction, not as simple as it may seem.

And while some might find this troubling to their faith, beginning to believe that the Bible is nothing more than a really old human creation, I find the long and complicated process of organizing the Bible to be its greatest quality: God did not just give us a list of rules to follow from on high, he inspired us to be a part of every aspect of the process of creation, allowing us to express in our own words, decide for ourselves, and teach from authority about the things that God had revealed through us. The Bible does not find its authority in the fact that “God said so,” but in the worshipping community that experienced God first and so knows what to write down and how to understand it.

This video is a part of the Catholicism in Focus series, a series devoted to taking a deeper look at our faith to uncover the richness beneath. Each Monday I will post a new video on a topic of faith.

Failure

The following is the seventh installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.

“Failure.” For many of us, it is a word we refuse to accept, the true “F-word” that should never be spoken in polite company. And why would we? We say that the keys to success are in our hands, that the strength we need is within us. We tell ourselves things like, “If you work hard enough you can achieve anything,” and that those who succeed are the ones “Who wanted it most.” We glorify those who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” who don’t need help from anyone else, and who, no matter the difficulties, “Never, ever give up.”

Failure? No, we will not accept failure. Since we are always in control, there is no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t succeed. Accepting failure means accepting that we were not good enough to succeed.

And so, in our eyes, we never truly fail. Sure, things don’t always go right, but we can easily defer blame and minimize the effects. That competition was rigged… I actually wasn’t even trying that hard… It was her fault… It’s no big deal… I didn’t want to win anyway. Failure, that is, not being able to achieve what we wanted even though we thought we had the capability to do so, is so shameful, belittling, and dehumanizing that we can’t bear to even acknowledge a simple fact: sometimes we do fail.

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay: Jesus shows us that it’s necessary.

Rarely will you ever hear a vowed religious leader say these words, but Jesus’ mission on earth was by and large a failure. Yes, a failure. On the surface, Jesus set out to reveal the glory and divine will of the Father, namely, that if people were to follow him in humility and peace they would have eternal life in heaven. What happened? Well, Jesus was hated by the religious leaders, feared by the secular leaders, betrayed by his followers, and ultimately killed as a common criminal for blasphemy and inciting a revolt. He was weak, needed help, went through horrific physical agony and emotional shame, was abandoned by his defenders, and left alone to die.

Even the most lenient of curves is going to have trouble not giving him a big “F” on this test…

Here was someone who truly did hold the keys of success in his own hands, who, if he had worked hard enough, could have done just about anything he really wanted. More than any other human in history, he had the power to achieve worldly success. And yet, by our earthly standards, his life was a huge failure.

But of course, it wasn’t a failure. And that’s sort of the point.

On Good Friday every year, we do not celebrate the fact that Jesus came up short in his mission, we celebrate the power of God to transform even the worst of failures—unjust suffering and death—into the glorious success of our salvation. We celebrate the fact that it is not despite failure that God succeeds, but in fact through it. As is the case all throughout salvation history, God does not “help those who help themselves,” as we often say, choosing those with strength and charisma to achieve great things for God based on their own skills. No, God chooses the weak, the helpless, the lowly, the poor, and the incapable—the “failures” of society who have to rely on God— to show his true power and achieve his success.

When we enter into this mystery of our salvation, our conception of success/failure and our connection with Jesus’ mission completely changes. In following the path that Jesus has laid out for us—showing us that it is in dying that we are given life, in giving of ourselves in patient humility that we receive—we realize that being weak and asking for help is not “failure,” it is in fact a virtue we must live. We realize that our strength does not come from within, that we cannot actually achieve everything we want if we just work hard enough and want it. We realize that, sometimes, it is the very act of “giving up” and accepting our own defeat that we succeed beyond our understanding.

Most of all, we realize that failure is not the absence of God in our lives, moments of shame and humiliation that we should avoid, but in reality, the moments in which God is most present to us, lifting us up and transforming us in our most vulnerable state. It is why God, when asked by St. Paul to remove the thorn in his side, said no: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10). St. Paul realized—only in a moment of failure, I might add—that true success does not come from our strength but Christ’s strength filling in our weakness.

And so I wonder. As we continue in this great liturgy of awaiting the Paschal Mystery and realize once again that our salvation does not come despite our failures but through it, how might our conception of failure, the dreaded “F-word,” change in our lives? It is my hope that we may strip ourselves of the inherently inspirational yet tragically flawed clichés of our time—these notions that we can achieve all that we want, that weakness is a flaw we can rid ourselves of, failure a concept we should repress, perfection the goal we seek, and that there is nothing more inexcusable than “giving up”—and put our strength and notions of success completely in God. It is my hope that, as a Christian people, a people that celebrate the power of God to transform failure into life, we may no longer run from or deny the failures we experience in our lives as moments of shame or worthlessness but see them for what they truly are: wide open moments to experience the power of God alive in our lives.

The following is the sixth installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” If you were ever a child on a playground, chances are you’ve heard this little jingle. Taught to kids as a way to fend off bullies and maintain their self esteem, it reminds children that words only have power over us if we let them. No one, no matter how powerful, can control how we feel or what we think of ourselves.

And yet even the weakest words from the weakest people often do just that, even to as adults.

Likely, it is not “sticks and stones” that cause us the most grief on any given day—things that will objectively hurt us—but rather those little, insignificant, and powerless words that come from our neighbor. How easily we are thrown into fits of anger, frustration, and misery when called something offensive. How quickly our sense of self comes crashing to the ground when told something hurtful. For many of us, what people say and think about us is often the greatest source of strife we face, defining us and bringing us down.

We know the opposite to be true as well. How surprisingly happy, uplifted, and hopeful we feel when given an unexpected compliment. How bolstered our sense of self becomes when we are affirmed by someone we respect. For many of us, what people say and think about us is often the greatest source of assurance we receive, defining us and lifting us up.

Quite contrary to what we tell our children, words in fact do have power over us. And I wonder: should they?

To find the answer, we once again look to Sacred Scripture and call ourselves to imitate the One we follow. In the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Passion read each year on Palm Sunday, we find a man bombarded with “words.” Ranging from glorious hymns of praise and thanksgiving for His life and ministry to ruthless shouts of disgust and vitriol for His religious dissent, Jesus is surrounded by others’ opinions of Him. Any one of us, I can only assume, would have been moved to ecstatic joy to crushing despair in mere hours. And yet Jesus is unwavering: hearing His name called like a celebrity does not inflate His ego or fill Him with pride, and being falsely accused and treated like a common criminal doesn’t cause Him to lose hope.

How? He has confidence in who He is, and no one, good or bad, can take that way from Him.

But here’s the thing: Jesus’ confidence does not come from within. He is not simply some super guru or courageously-willed survivor who believes He’s able to accomplish anything He sets His mind to. It is not Himself that Jesus believes in. No, his confidence comes from God the Father. The reason that Jesus is completely unfazed by what people are saying around Him is because He knows who He is and where He comes from: He is the Son of the Father. Who could ever take that away? What could ever challenge that status? What “words” could cause Him to think more of less of Himself than He already does? Jesus lives with unbridled confidence in this fact.

And so should we.

In our being created in the image of God and recreated in our baptism, we find ourselves as adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly God. More than anything else, this status found in our relationship to the Father defines everything about us. I’ll say it again: we are adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly God. If this is the case and we truly believe it, what could ever matter more in life than pleasing God? What could ever define our sense of self more than what God thinks of us?

In this Lenten season, as we approach the joy of Easter, we are reminded time and time again how much God loves us and wants to be with us. That which we seek most is right before us. Emboldened by this ultimate truth, may we live with the same confidence that led Jesus to accept the world around him without wavering, saying with true conviction that “words will never hurt me.”