And God Made A Father

“I can’t believe you have a freakin’ kid.”

I hear that phrase a lot now from my old high school and college friends.

“I know,” I say in reply. “It’s crazy.”

It is still a little weird to me, I guess. Even weirder how time seems to have sped up since the day I first laid eyes on my son.

As I write this, there are bags and party favors and crafts scattered across the desk, remnants of party décor and goodie bags that my wife has been frantically putting together in preparation for Timothy’s first birthday.

I was the first to procreate out of a tight knit group of friends who came together in the early days of grade school.  This sometimes makes me feel like a bit of a spectacle to the rest, something to marvel at as their lives splinter off, childless, spouseless, and free to do whatever they please while I’m fixed in place with a wife, a mortgage, and a baby who is a miniature eating, pooping, drooling machine.

Some of them might look at my situation and think they’d like to be where I am, but not yet. Others might see it as something to avoid altogether.

To me?  I can’t think of anything greater than being a parent. I can barely remember life before my son, and I certainly can’t imagine life without him.

Regardless, I still catch myself in the mirror and marvel at the fact that the guy staring back at me is a father, even though I know I don’t look the part.  Bearded, a silver gauge still hanging out of my left ear and convinced I’ll never be too old to wear a Rage Against the Machine shirt out of the house or play bass in a punk band.

Growing up, my dad was a suit guy. He was a professional, a banker.  Me?  I write.  Blogs, columns, essays.  I put words on paper.  And since I’m a starving artist, I spend my days screen printing t-shirts and working odd jobs to supplement our household income.

It’s okay though, because I love who I am, and I love my life, struggles and all. But ultimately it doesn’t matter what I do for a living. It doesn’t matter if I’m a writer, or a screen printer, or a punk bassist. All that matters is THAT MOMENT when I heard the nurse squeal with joy as my wife gave one last push. 

THAT MOMENT when I heard the voice of my baby boy for the first time. 

THAT MOMENT when God made a father.  

When I think back to my childhood, what I remember most about my father was that he loved me unconditionally and worked his whole adult life to provide for my sister and me.  He was never too tired or too angry or too stressed to make time for us.

And in turn, when my children are grown and out on their own, it’s not going to matter what kind of job their old man worked, either. It’s not going to matter if I was suits guy or a t-shirt guy — a banker or a writer.

What they will remember is that I was there for them; that I made time for them — to love them, and teach them about life, about God, about good music, good food, good books and everything in between.

That’s my goal — to fulfill my purpose. 

Because when God made me, he made a father.

 

The Blessing of Children: A Brief Lenten Reflection

My wife and I, being absurdly in love with one another while struggling to be faithful Catholics, are very open to, and actively pray for, a large family.

This often brings about reactions of bewilderment from friends, even Christian ones, along with the inevitable question: “How do you think you’re going to afford all those kids?”  To which our reply is always the same: “God will provide.”

For some reason, that answer never seems to suffice. When it comes to having children, God’s will needs to fall in line with their will. 

However, the Scripture makes it clear that children are ALWAYS a blessing, no matter the situation:   Certainly sons are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.  Psalm 127:3-5

My wife and I know that raising a big family will bring many struggles, and that money doesn’t just fall from the sky.  But as the Lord blesses us with children, his grace gives us strength and motivation to work hard and accept the necessary sacrifices as we provide for our family. 

When we trust God’s will, we’ll find more joy than we could have ever hoped to achieve on our own.

Getting the Eucharist

A while back, I wrote a piece on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. What I’d like to do now is share with you a personal story about my first real “revelation” surrounding this beautiful and holy Sacrament. 

It happened roughly six months after my conversion. I was sitting in Mass with my wife, trying to pay attention while simultaneously attempting to contain my fidgety baby boy.  At that point in my Catholic life, I had long since accepted Church teaching on the Eucharist. I had read the scripture, the books, the essays, I’d attended Mass, discussed it in RCIA, and I fully believed that it was the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. Every Sunday since I was confirmed, I knew that when I stepped up to the front of the communion line, I was receiving Christ.

But here’s the thing, I spent years as a Southern Baptist drinking grape juice and eating tiny crackers made of sawdust believing that the whole “This is my Body” ordeal was a just a big ‘ol symbol for…something. Despite the fact that I really and truly did believe that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ, I still felt like there was a mental block somewhere. It was like I understood it, but I didn’t fully get it. Get it?

So, I prayed. I prayed at every Mass for Christ to reveal himself to me through the Eucharist. I wanted him to break me, punch me in the gut, and make me see this sacrifice for what it really is.

That particular Sunday was no different. I said a little prayer from my kneeler, and when it was time to get up, I made my way to the Communion line.

I can’t remember the hymn, but I do remember it being really beautiful and touching. As I slowly walked behind my wife to the front of the Church, I felt compelled to look upwards at the enormous, incredibly detailed crucifix hanging above. (Seriously, this thing is a piece of work)

It wasn’t the first time I’d ever looked upon our crucifix, and it certainly wasn’t my first time seeing a depiction of Christ on the cross. But for whatever reason, I started meditating on the passion and focusing on whom that really was hanging there, nailed to two pieces of wood, broken, bloodied, and humiliated.

It wasn’t just some guy named Jesus. It wasn’t some troublemaker, or revolutionary, or some pest to Rome. It wasn’t just a teacher, or a prophet, or a “really good dude”. That was God, my God, the creator of the universe, who is love, who is truth, who spoke our world into existence. He made himself flesh, and let his very own creation strip him, beat him, and kill him. And for what?

Us. Me. You. The entire human race: an undeserving group of sinful, selfish, ignorant, stupid people who are entirely deserving of Hell and eternal separation from God. But lucky for us, our Lord loves us so much that He, an all knowing, all powerful, omniscient, eternal being that exists outside of time itself, became man through Christ and died for us.

It’s like when a parent takes responsibility for something really stupid that their child did, except multiplied by infinity.

I was gazing up at the crucifix with those vivid thoughts burning in my head, and I realized that it was my turn to receive. I stepped up, bowed, and Father presented the Body to me.

“The Body of Christ.”

It wasn’t the first time those words had been spoken to me, but it was the first time I think I’d ever heard them, and I mean really heard them.

The. Body. Of. Christ.

In my imperfect, undeserving hands, I held the Body of Christ.

Our God didn’t just sacrifice himself for us; He took it a step further. He gave us his body to take and eat. EAT! To ingest, chew, swallow, and put in our imperfect, human bodies. He offered himself to us—totally, fully, unconditionally—so that we could feed our spiritual hunger, so that we could have salvation. That’s how much He loves us.

How could we possibly comprehend that?

I took the body. I ate it. I went back to my seat, and I prayed. Hard. I was broken. You get what you ask for, I guess.

As someone who’s been at least somewhat of a Christian his entire life, I’d spoken about the love of God before. I’d written about it. I’d shared it. But this was the first time I’d ever really felt it. It was the first time I looked that realization in the face, and saw the infinite, unfathomable love that God has for me—for all of us.

There’s that gut punch.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface of the truth and theology behind the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is just how Christ revealed it to me. This is how he answered my prayers. I think what I find so special about this revelation is that there was no bright light, no vision, no voice. It was quiet, gentle, yet humbly overwhelming.

After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.

Through all of this, what became abundantly clear to me is that I don’t need to understand everything about my faith right this very moment. It’s easy to get discouraged, or bothered, or frustrated when we don’t really get something, but it’s important to remember that salvation is a journey, and everyone’s is different. Even the Twelve Disciples had trouble understanding at times. We just need to trust that God knows what he’s doing and open ourselves to Him. If we can do that much, he will deliver every time.

 

No Work Makes For A Dead Faith

Last month I wrote about how Catholics do not accept the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (meaning scripture alone) as truth.

Now I’d like to move to another “Sola” that is perhaps the one of the biggest rifts separating Catholicism and Protestantism: Sola Fide.

Sola Fide translates to “faith alone”. Adherents of Sola Fide express that it is only through faith in Christ that we are saved, rejecting the idea that works are vital to our salvation.

The Catholic Church does not accept this as truth. Quite frankly, for the first 1500 years of Christianity, no one did. Sola Fide, like Sola Scriptura, is a product of the Protestant Reformation.

So, lets take look at this doctrine so that we can further understand its flaws.

More often than not, the most common Bible verse used to support Sola Fide is Ephesians 2:8

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Now, at a first glance, that verse may seem like a solid argument in favor of a “faith alone” salvation, but if we read, literally, the next line of text (Eph 2:10) it says:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

What this verse means is that yes, the grace of God and faith save us…initially.

The works mentioned in Eph 2:8 refer to the works of Mosaic Law—i.e the law of the Jewish people, the Old Covenant. Christ, however, through is death established the New Covenant. No longer do people have to follow the Jewish tradition for salvation.

This is specified in Galatians when Paul writes:

We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified

This, however, is no excuse to avoid good works of faith.  Eph 2:10 it tells us just that. That we are meant to do good works for God, and the New Testament is filled with scripture that attests to this belief.

James 2:26 tells us that faith without works is dead.

Matthew 2:21 says: Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but rather he who does the will of my Father.

And In Romans 2:6, Paul tells us that God will repay everyone according to their works with eternal life.

Any time the Bible mentions being saved through faith and not by works, it specifically addresses works of the law (Romans 3:20; 28). In fact, the only time the words “faith” and “alone” are found together in Scripture is James 2:24 where it says: “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

 So what exactly do we mean by good works?

 The works of mercy are a good place to start:

* Feed the hungry

* Give drink to the thirsty

* Clothe the naked

* Shelter the homeless

* Visit the sick

* Visit the imprisoned

* Bury the dead

We also have the commands to evangelize, love, spread the Word of God, and turn away from sin; and for Catholics, we have the obligation to attend Mass and partake in the Sacraments.

Much of these good works were brought to light by Christ in Matthew 25: 31-46 when he described Judgment Day, and the time he will separate the sheep from the goats. 

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

It’s a misconception that salvation is a one time event made up of a simple profession of faith or a single prayer. Salvation is a lifelong journey, an ongoing challenge that lasts from the moment we accept Christ to the moment we stop breathing.  Let’s take advice from the Apostle Paul and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” — Phillipians 2:12