In the United States, it is rare to find a church that is more than 100 years old. Unlike Italy that has churches more than a thousand years old on every corner (when the “New Church” in Rome is from the 16th century…), you are hard-pressed to find a Catholic Church in most areas older than 75 years old. In my case especially, having lived in the “new south” for many years in which the number of Catholics is growing and new churches are actually being built all around us, finding a church from the 1980s, let alone the 1880s, is not all that common.

You can imagine my reaction, then, to walking into a church built in 1884 this week. Talk about ancient by our standards! And yet, nothing about it seemed all that old. With the revitalization of church buildings after the Second Vatican council, this one was a beautiful blend of old traditions and new faith, adorned with statues and grand art while also being open and bright, facilitating participation and active engagement. Quite to my surprise, I actually found the church to be quite nice.

A quick update, by the numbers (as of 6/22):

  • Days on mission: 21
  • Miles traveled: 6586
  • Homilies preached: 22
  • Talks given: 12
  • Videos produced: 8
  • Miles run: 47.96 (14 runs)
  • Books read: 1.75
  • Episodes of The West Wing watched: 42 (I was on vacation for 5 days…)

I’m currently in Cincinnati, OH, where I’ll be preaching at St. Monica-St. George Parish (student center) tonight and tomorrow. Be sure to check YouTube tomorrow for a new video that I’m actually walking out the door to film!

It is often said that, in our world today, more people than ever are “spiritual but not religious,” that they have a sense of God, want to live in communion with others, and do what is right, but have no interest in conforming to the norms of an institutionalized religion. You probably know quite a few people like this.

But what about those people who are “religious but not spiritual”? Now, admittedly, I’ve never actually met someone who identified as such, but I interact with them on a regular basis. People who are concerned with rules and tradition, who attend prayer services and identify with a particular congregation, but have no sense of the sacred, prayer life, or foundation in Jesus Christ for what they do. You probably know quite a few people like this as well.

In this week’s video, I want to subtly address this issue I encounter far too often in the Catholic Church: people can come to church their entire lives without knowing Jesus. As hard as it is to believe, it is very true. People come to mass each week for many reasons and it’s not always for spirituality or a relationship.

I think that this is a problem worth addressing.

Having posted this video a few days ago, I have had some time to hear some feedback and reflect on my own words, and I’d like to offer a few further thoughts. (Please pause this blog post and watch the video before continuing. I’ll wait.)

In one of my more provocative lines on Breaking In The Habit history, I say, “I would much rather people be in love with Jesus in a Protestant Church than wasting away in a Catholic Church. What matters is Jesus Christ, not your congregational affiliation.”

Yeah, I said those words. And after thinking about it more… I stand by it.

Despite what some have said in the comments, I do not want people to leave the Catholic Church; even less so do I think that all Christian Churches are created equal and that it doesn’t matter what you believe. I am very proud of my Church and believe that it holds the fullness of Truth, that it is the sacrament of salvation. I would love for every person in the world to be a practicing Catholic!

But the reason for this is not so that we can all bear the same name; it’s not because I think the way we worship, our stance on Mary or the saints, or the pope himself are constitutive for our salvation. Those things are great, but they are not why I want everyone to be Catholic. The reason that our Church is amazing—and truly the only reason necessary—is Jesus Christ. Our Church is endowed with the special mission of proclaiming his life, death, and resurrection, of caring on the work of the Kingdom. That is what makes our Church significant.

And so, back to my comment, if people are attending the Catholic Church and not living this mission, and if said people are able to live this mission within the bounds of another Church, growing closer to Jesus in holiness through love and sacrifice… you better believe that I would rather they have the option with Jesus in it. Jesus is what matters, not the congregational affiliation, and we do ourselves a great disservice to the kingdom of God when we think that we are automatically saved by being Catholic or that Jesus is unable to save those unlisted in our baptismal registry. St. John the Baptist admonished the people, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father'” (Mt 3:9). He is speaking to that mentality in us.

Let’s not make the same mistake, okay? Let’s not be like the hypocrites in Jesus’ time who confused what was important:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Mt 23: 16-19)

What is more important, the institutional church or Christ who makes the Church holy? Going to mass and receiving the Eucharist without any faith at all, leaving us unchanged, or attending a Protestant service on fire for the Lord in such a way that it causes us to be transformed into different people? Being a Catholic who doesn’t know Jesus or a Protestant who joins him to build up the kingdom?

I honestly hope that the latter choice is always the answer, but more than that, I hope that we Catholics will be unsatisfied with both choices. For those who got upset with my supporting the latter choice—saying that being a Jesus-following Protestant was better than a spiritually dead Catholic—I hope you see my real point in it all: I don’t want either of these things. As a Catholic minister, and without any disrespect to my Protestant and Orthodox brothers/sisters in Christ, I want for everyone to be a Jesus-following, spiritually nourished, on-fire disciples of Jesus Christ… within the Catholic Church. For me, that’s the endgame and nothing less.

I want Jesus, and I want his Church.

But short of that, in a world in which our Church fails to bring Jesus to people, I want people to be where they can find Jesus. Can we do that? Can we be that place? Can we make Jesus our highest priority, our identity as Christian first and foremost, our call to discipleship over our call to parish registration?

I hope so, and that’s my message this week.

There are few things that I’ve done in this world that I think are all that unique. While, yes, being a part of a religious order is rare in today’s world, it is a 1400 year tradition that has seen hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) join. Not all that special. I’ve been to college. Ho hum. Spent a summer in a foreign country to learn another language. Yup, so do thousands of others every year. And, sure, I wrote a book, which is cool. But when there are an estimated 130,000,000 books in the world… it’s not quite as unique.

This past weekend, I feel like I actually did something that very few people have ever done. And for good reason. It was kind of foolish and I don’t recommend it! That thing, you ask? Well, since it’s the title of the post you can probably already see, but I was in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—in that order—in less than 24 hours. I mean, I’m sure people have gone from east to west or west to east, but how many people can honestly say that they have gone from Los Angeles, flying over Chicago to get to New York, and then 12 hours later turn around and go back to Chicago?

The better question, really, is WHY?

I hope you enjoy this week’s vlog! Look for a more reflective piece coming up next week as I get back on the road and settled into my routine on the road!

And the trip rolls on. Another 854 miles on, actually. After keeping it “weird” in the damp and lush hills of Portland, my cross-country journey led me south last week to the dry desert of Southern California. Unlike my first two stops, this was not a small country parish or intimate community. From 900 families the week before up to 4200, Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in Huntington Beach, CA could rightly be called a Mega Church in the Catholic world. Each of its five masses filled the large worship space, and even though it was summer, there were activities galore each day on its grounds.

A quick update, by the numbers (as of 6/22):

  • Days on mission: 21
  • Miles traveled: 2696
  • Homilies preached: 13
  • Talks given: 10
  • Videos produced: 5
  • Miles run: 31.1 (9 runs)
  • Books read: 1.25
  • Episodes of The West Wing watched: 16

It’s now Monday, June 25, the second day of my first week of vacation this summer, and I find myself back in Chicago in my own room, relaxing and preparing for the next leg of the journey. I will hopefully be posting another video tomorrow or Wednesday, but likely no others until next week. Thanks for all of your prayers and support on this mission so far!

 

When we see things like, “All that matters in life is that you’re happy,” or “You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live a life you are excited about. Don’t let others make you forget that,” we may easily be taken in by the sentiment. Written in whimsical font, placed on a serene background, and it just seems right. Who could say no to these things? They’re the sort of quotes that help us through a bad day and give us the motivation to take on the world.

There’s only one problem: they’re completely baseless.

While a major user of social media platforms and a believer that they can be used for amazingly productive purposes (evangelization anyone?) I must admit that the ease at which misinformation and cheap philosophies are spread makes me grow quite weary from time to time. Do we really stop to think about the things that we are sharing? Do we ever think critically about the catchy phrase, inspirational quote, or feel-good proverb that immediately gets a share? Too often, what gets shared does not stand up to our Christian believes. Positive and encouraging, maybe, but hardly sentiments that we should be promoting.

I want to push back against that trend. I want to offer something a bit more substantial, a bit more meaningful. Although not as self-fullining or encouraging as the above lines, I think that the truth is far more satisfying and ultimately leads to a much more lasting sense of contentment: the measure of one’s life is not found in happiness but in love and sacrifice.

That is the topic of this week’s video reflection. If this topic resinates with you and you wish to promote more Christian-themed motivational posters on your social media platforms, I have created two for you use.