I had committed to service in Honduras for a year (link to that blog here), but as part of my visa, I had to leave the country every three months. It was an odd requirement because I only had to leave for a few days and then come back, but it was a great opportunity to see something new.
Two of the other missionaries and I wanted to visit some Franciscans that were living in Nicaragua. We hopped from bus to bus and finally made it to Managua, Nicaragua. The buses in Managua were much more crowded.
When we got on one of the buses, it was standing room only, and at every stop more people got on until we were so packed that I probably could have lifted my feet off the ground and been held up by people smashed into me on all sides. Although, not many people spoke English, it was common for people to try the few English words they knew on the white guy. “Haylow.” “How are jew?” Stuff like that. (I can’t imagine how bad my accent must have sounded to them.)
Well, on this bus there was a guy that was pretty proud that he knew a few profanities and kept yelling the “F-word” at us along with a few other colorful expressions. We pretended like we didn’t know what he was saying, as if they weren’t really English words and someone had just played a trick on him.
It was finally our stop and we wiggled our way to the door. I’m pretty sure there was a popping noise when we got off the bus like when you put your finger sideways in your mouth — you know what I’m talking about?
As the bus pulled away, we were figuring out where we were going next. Then I realized, someone had picked my pocket. My I.D., credit cards, cash… it was all gone. I checked my backpack in case I had just misplaced it, but it was definitely gone. The other guys were missing things too. We deduced that while potty mouth was distracting us with his linguistic skills, someone must have been going through our pockets.
Losing the money was unfortunate. But canceling credit cards and getting a new identification while in a foreign country, well, that is not fun or easy!
In the chaos, my friend Tony said, “Let’s pray for the person who did this.” Wow. Praying for the guy that just stole all of my money and my I.D. was literally the last thing on my mind… so I let Tony say the prayer. It was beautiful. And he was right.
He didn’t pray that the thief would bring the money back. He didn’t pray that the thief would break his leg. It was a prayer of love — that the man would come to know God, follow Him, and seek forgiveness.
We are supposed to pray for our enemies, but how often do we really do that? When was the last time that you prayed for someone that hurt you? When is the last time we prayed for people that disagreed with us? When is the last time you heard a prayer intention at Mass for a terrorist group? And I’m not talking about a prayer of revenge or restitution, but a prayer of love for the person, the soul, regardless of how misguided it might be.
Back in Honduras, I was leaving the Missionaries of Charity (Blessed, soon to be Saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order), and I asked one of the sisters to pray for me. Side note: If you see a religious sister, ask her to pray for you. She has to say, “Yes.” (I think.) Free prayers! Anyway, the sister looked at me and said, “I pray for everyone.”
I thought, wow, what a cop out! Does she sit down at her hour of adoration and say, “I pray for everyone and everything, Amen” and then daydream about breakfast for the rest of the time? But I thought, no, she probably actually prays for everyone that she encounters, anyone that comes into her thoughts! Even people that annoy her or hurt her… probably especially them!
So, I’m saying this as a reminder to myself. Let’s pray for our enemies. Honestly, most of us don’t have enemies. I mean, it’s not like we’re superheros with arch rival villains going after us.
We need to pray for those who hurt us, and for those that annoy us or frustrate us. And especially, pray for those that steal from us… whether they steal our money or attempt to steal our joy. It’s easy to pray for our family and friends, tax collectors can do that, but we are asked to love the difficult, just like God does (Matthew 5:44-48).
One morning, I walked into the kitchen and noticed a few ants crawling around on the counter. There were a few crumbs hanging out that didn’t get cleaned up well, so I got rid of the ants, wiped down the counter, and felt pretty good about my domesticated self.
After dinner that night, we cleared the table and I went outside to play with my boys for a bit. When we came back in, we noticed that while there were only small remnants of food on the plates in the sink, this was a mountain of food for the ants. They lined up all organized, as if they knew we were going to wash that dish if they didn’t get all the spaghetti sauce off it in the next five minutes.
Even after wiping down the counters, the sink, washing all the dishes, taking out the trash, and flossing my teeth (for good measure), the ants kept coming back… probably just to laugh at me.
So, I got out the bleach and scrubbed everything. I vacuumed the floors; I even wiped down the chairs (which might sound obsessive until you see how much food my kids can spill on a chair).
I was certain that I wouldn’t see an ant in the house again for at least a week.
But you are already ahead of me aren’t you? You know that when I walked into the kitchen the next morning, I was shocked to see (yeah, you guessed it) ants wandering around as if they were saying, “I heard you were giving out free food here.” [face palm] What?!!? Did someone hang up fliers on the anthill or something?
Well, that was it. These ants were not going to win.
While I was at the grocery store that day, I bought some ant poison (let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that the grocery store sells stuff that will kill you, a mere 15 feet away from the milk).
I got home and opened up the package, riddled with warnings. I sat and watched as the ants explored this circular plastic dome; home to an abundance of ant deliciousness. I let out a maniacal laugh while twisting my mustache. Things were going just as planned.
It was slow at first, but within a few hours, our kitchen had ants hanging out like it was Spring Break and my counter top was Miami. They could not get to the stuff fast enough. On top of this, if the instructions were correct, not only were they consuming this “goodness” themselves, but they were taking it home and sharing it with their friends and family. It was only a matter of time before the ant apocalypse would strike, and none of these ants would be “left behind.”
By the next day, the ants were gone, and my kitchen was back.
These ants had no idea what they were doing. They thought the circular all-you-can-eat ant poison buffet was good for them. They had no idea that the food they were bringing home to their ant children was going to kill them (OK, now I’m feeling a little bad about all this – wait – no I’m not).
But let’s say that one ant had learned how to read ant poison warning labels. When he got to the circular disc of ant glory, he read the label and realized that it was poison. What would he do? What shouldhe do?
Would he eat the poison? Would he tell his friends and family that it was poison? Would he even try to stop random stranger ants from eating the poison?
What if the other ants didn’t believe him, and thought he was being too uptight? What if they thought he just wanted them to be unhappy?
Can you imagine the difference that one ant could have made on the entire ant population if he told others about this poison that could kill them? However, in order to tell others to avoid the poison, he had to avoid it first.
If you saw all your friends lining up to consume poison, wouldn’t you say something? Wouldn’t you try to stop them? This may seem like it’s a far-fetched idea, but people consume poison everyday.
To put it quite simply, sin is poison. It is poison to our soul, which is even worse than poison for our bodies (check out last weeks post about my moped). It may not kill you physically, but spiritually, sin killsour relationship with God. For St. Paul tells us “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
But before we can tell another to stay away from poison, we need to avoid the poison ourselves. What good is it to tell someone not to do something, while we are stuffing our face full of this deadly concoction?
We need a relationship with God, and a desire to love and serve Him. With this foundation, we will want to learn more about the teachings of the Church and the Bible. As we learn it, we can live it. And as we live it, we can share it.
If that educated ant that could read warning labels cared about the other ants, he would want them to know the truth. This is the (perhaps weirdest) definition of evangelization: Sharing the good news with others. We are called to share this same good news and help others avoid the poison of sin.
And the good news is that if you leave that poison alone, there is some grape jelly right around the corner!
In college, I bought a moped. I saw it as an opportunity to save some gas. Not to mention, it was a great opportunity to look cool since a moped is practically a motorcycle, and anything that remotely resembles a motorcycle is really a Harley, right? Plus, it could fit in the back of my minivan!
With a minivan and moped, I was really maxing out my “cool” potential.
The moped needed a little work, so I took it to a shop downtown. Meanwhile, I made a promise to myself that I would always wear a helmet, even though the law didn’t require it. I knew I was going to be a safe driver, but I wanted to protect my brain from the crazy drivers around me.
Well the day came and the moped was working and running! I sat down on the vinyl covered seat and could feel the fuel-efficiency rumble. I grabbed my helmet and looking like some guy from an X-Games competition, I put my helmet on and gripped the handlebars.
I began to accelerate and before long, I was going a solid 28 miles-per-hour. If only the minivan naysayers could see me now! I slowed down to turn the corner and then picked up speed on the straightaway when, BAM!!!!!
Something hit me! Or let me rephrase that… something flew into me. I experienced my first fly-to-the-eye collision. And yes, that’s a real thing (that I just made up). A fly was flying by and I must have been going too fast for him to get out of the way and he had a head-on collision with my eye! Oh, man did it hurt. I took off my helmet and (probably against any doctor’s recommendation) began to rub my eye, hoping to wipe out the bug remains (are your eyes watering yet?).
With my helmet back on and one eye closed, I slowly idled around the block and parked my ride. No matter how much I rinsed my eye, it felt like there were still a few insect legs under my eyelid. Don’t tell me this isn’t making your eyes water just reading this.
The next few mornings, I woke up with my eye sealed shut from sleepy-dirt, which was my eye’s way of trying to flush out the fly parts.
Here’s the deal: I wore a helmet, but I didn’t put down the visor.
A fly could have hit me anywhere else, but it hit me in the eye. I was worried about protecting myself, but I wasn’t protecting the most fragile things that are necessary to operating any moving vehicle: my eyes.
Oftentimes we get caught up worrying about what other people think of us, our diet, our grades, our income, our future… and we don’t worry about the most fragile thing: our souls.
There is nothing more important than our souls and yet, it is often the last thing we worry about (if we worry about it at all). Our souls will long outlive our bodies (by about infinity), so what are we doing to protect them? And don’t worry, we can still take care of our souls and look cool.
Protecting my eyes was simple: use my visor. Had I put down my visor, I would’ve avoided the week of recovery that accompanied seeing eye to eye with a fly.
Protecting our souls is important as well. It starts with a relationship with God through prayer. Take advantage of Mass (the greatest prayer), the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and building virtue in your life and your soul will be better protected rather than ignored. The visor is like building up virtue to protect your soul from the fly, I mean sin.
So don’t just protect the external things, protect the one thing that matters most: your soul. And if you need any tips on cool modes of transportation, you better ask someone else.
Have you ever felt like something didn’t fit right? Not like a pair of pants, but maybe a relationship or a job. Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but something inside you said, “This isn’t going to work long-term.”
There is a very popular baby toy with a yellow plastic can and a blue lid. The lid has holes in the shape of a circle, square, and triangle. There are also blocks in the shape of circles, squares, and triangles (I know these are actually cylinders, cubes, and triangular prisms, but let’s keep it simple for the kids).
The goal for the child is to pick up a shape, and put it in the correct hole. When he is finished, he takes off the lid, dumps out the shapes and begins again. This should keep your kid occupied for at least two or three years.
The way the shapes are designed, you can only fit a circle in the circle hole, triangle in the triangle hole, and yep, the square in the square hole. This isn’t rocket surgery, but what do you expect from a toy for 2-year-olds?
Each of my sons have gone through a phase of figuring out this game. The first step is frustration because it seems like none of the shapes fit. The second is a few accidental successes. Eventually, the kid will figure out which shapes go where and get hired at Google (I think that’s how it works).
Sometimes I wonder how hard it would be to get the plastic circle into the triangle hole. What would I have to do? Smash it with a hammer? Melt it with a blowtorch? Cut it with a saw? When you start thinking outside the box, nothing is impossible! I can hack this system.
But there is no way to get the shape through the wrong hole without destroying the block itself, or the hole. Whoever invented this toy had a very obvious intention for the circle block. It doesn’t matter how the circle feels, or where all the other triangle blocks are going, the creator of the toy intended for it to enter through the circle hole.
Similarly, our Creator has a specific place for us, a shape for our life that matches each one of us specifically and perfectly. We can come up with our own path, we can ignore the intention of our designer, and we can even make it work.
We are able to do whatever we want, go wherever we want to go, and be whoever we want to be because of our free will. God has given us the gift to freely choose to follow Him, or not.
But when we defy our Creator, and do our own thing, a part of us is mangled. Is it fixable? Of course. But we will be so much happier if we can figure out why we are “shaped” the way we are (not our physical dimensions, but our gifts, strengths, weaknesses… our purpose).
Just because all the triangles are doing one thing, doesn’t mean that we should do that. If you are a circle, be a proud circle.
Someone called to the priesthood can get married and make it work, but they won’t have the joy that they would’ve found as a priest. Our school, occupation, dating relationships, vocation, and thousands of daily decisions can be slipping us nicely and neatly through the hole God created for us, or can push us violently into a place we were never designed to be.
As for me, I am going to go get a blowtorch and teach my kids a lesson about vocations.
Facebook is amazing. It has allowed me to stay up-to-date with friends and relatives across the country and on the other side of the world with a simple “drag of my finger.” My old roommate had a baby, my friend from 7th grade is moving back into town, and a guy that I don’t recognize just had pulled pork for lunch. Okay, some things on social media are obviously more interesting than others.
Whether you realize this or not, you don’t see every post from every Facebook friend. Facebook has a complicated algorithm that shows you the post that it thinks you would most like to see (Instagram might adopt this soon). If you frequently click on your buddy’s pictures, comment on your sister’s dumb posts, or like Uncle Leroy’s cat videos, Facebook is probably going to pop those in your timeline the next time you login. But if you always ignore Chris from math class, you probably won’t see any of his future posts.
In 2012 Facebook did a little experiment. They took about 700,000 people and divided them into two groups. For the first group, Facebook analyzed posts from their friends and removed anything that seemed to have negative words in it. “I hate all this snow, can’t wait for summer #noidontwanttobuildasnowmananna” probably didn’t make it into their timelines.
The second group was the opposite. Any status updates with positive words in it were eliminated from their feed. So, “Pizza and Jesus at youth group?!! Yes please!! Can’t wait to get my prayer on. My life is amazing! [smile emoticon]” was never to be seen.
So the first group got an abnormal amount of positive posts, and the second group was left with mostly negative updates. What happens next will blow your mind! (Doesn’t that make you want to keep reading?!)
As Mark Zuckerburg (the founder of Facebook) sat back and ate… whatever billionaires eat these days, the results of the experiment unfolded. The people that received mostly negative posts were much more likely to start posting negative posts themselves. And, as you might be able to predict, the Facebook users that were seeing mostly positive posts were starting to post more positive updates.
Long story short: People were being influenced by the status updates of their friends.
We might think that we aren’t influenced by the things around us. But the reality is that we are. We think that we are beautiful unique snowflakes that aren’t influenced by the weather around us, but if it gets hot, Olaf, you’re going to melt (sorry, I promise that will be the last Frozen reference).
Our friends, family, magazines, books, TV, movies, music, and yes, social media change us. You can follow Kanye or the Pope on Twitter and get two different perspectives on life. I’m not saying social media is bad, or that listening to a secular song is wrong, or even that hanging out with an atheist is going to send you to hell. Of course not.
But we should be careful. It’s important that we strive to have people around us that are positive influences in our lives, especially on social media. So follow the Pope on Instagram, or find your youth minister on Snapchat because the more we can reduce our negative influences and increase our positive influences, the better off we will be.
The day I watched my wife deliver our first child, everything in my life changed. There is no way to explain it to you if you don’t have kids, but having a child is basically trading sleep, flexibility, and freedom for perspective, love, and ultimately, joy.
As I write this, I am sitting in a hospital room, at least the 6th room I’ve slept in at this particular hospital in the past month. Our third son, at three months old, has been really sick. He has been through so much already, and his little fragile body is working so hard to hang on for another day. Every step forward in his recovery has been quickly followed by two steps back.
Walking through this experience with my son’s health issues has been eye opening in so many ways to me. As a kid, I never understood how much my parents loved me. Now as a parent, I would do anything to protect my sons because I love them so much.
I remember crying as I told my wife that I would do anything to trade places with our suffering baby. I would gladly suffer twice the pain if my son could just be healthy and not hurt anymore. I think any father would think those same thoughts upon seeing their child suffer.
Without God though, this situation would be so much harder. But the reality is I am a child of God because of my Baptism. Which means that God is my Father, and He loves me infinitely more than I could ever love my son. In fact, we are all children of God. In Scripture, God is frequently referred to as our Father (Matthew 6:9), and the Catechism refers to the Church as our mother (CCC 169).
The longer I am a parent, the more amazing this becomes to me.
During this time, my wife thinks of Mary, who had to watch her son suffer. It must have been so hard to know that He didn’t do anything wrong and yet had to go through so much pain.
I think of Jesus who did exactly what I wish I could do. He was crucified for our sins. He literally took our place of pain and suffering so we could have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him. That is how much God loves us. He knows the pain and suffering that our sins cause and still chose to take our place.
My love for my kids is imperfect, but even in my flawed love there is an instinctual urge to protect my kids from pain. How much more so is God’s love for us – being the perfect manifestation of my imperfect love?
I’ve heard the Church called our mother, but never really thought about what that means. What does it mean that our Church would love us like a mother loves her child? Obviously wanting what’s best for us.
My parents weren’t perfect, but as I get older, I understand why they did some of the things they did. I can see why they imposed certain rules. It wasn’t to be mean, or because they didn’t understand me, but because they loved me and wanted what was best for me.
In the same way, God doesn’t have rules to make us miserable, but to help us to enjoy life more fully. God gave us the Church to help lead us to truth, because truth is what leads to ultimate freedom and happiness. God wants us to be happy, even if that requires His sacrifice.
As a child of God, I make many mistakes. I also experience pain sometimes because of the mistakes I made and sometimes due to natural causes. It blows me away to think about a God who is my perfect Father and would do anything to take my place. I wish I could do the same for my children.
Note: I wrote this nearly a year ago and since that time, our son has recovered well. Today, I reflect on this experience as Holy Week progresses. Our son’s healing has been an answer to prayer and every time he laughs, I am filled with joy. May your Holy Week be blessed and your Easter overwhelmingly joyful.