Who Am I?

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I'm just a guy trying to trust in God and be the best I can be for God and others, then myself.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Journey Continues

I've been home since June. All the family are happy to have me back. Dad probably the most since he has someone to talk to now.
Last year seems almost like a dream or an extended vacation that I'm finally recovering from.
For the next few months, until June at least, I'll be working as a Youth Minister and Campus Minister. "Middle school to Grad School" ministry as I like to say. There are plenty of challenges to keep me busy, challenges that I expected. But there are also challenges that I did not foresee which are making thinking about the future difficult.
Basically I am a Band-Aid for two different programs this parish is trying to figure out just what to do with. Very few youth are engaged and the numbers of engaged university students is not great either. The parish has an identity crisis as I see it. The church building itself was built in order to be a place to help foster ministry to the nearby university. It is in the middle of a neighborhood with only on-street parking. There is no parking lot whatsoever. Over the years though it has become a hodge-podge parish of families from all over the area to the point that it is the second biggest parish in town.
Basically I'm working for a parish that was never meant to be a parish but is trying desperately to continue to be a parish while sort of trying to stay true to its original purpose. And the kicker to all of this is there is another parish, one actually meant to be a parish with significantly better facilities, only 6 blocks away.
No one else seems to get the internal conflict that I feel in trying to do my job well. Focusing on the university might mean dropping youth programs while on the other hand focusing on youth programs and general parish life might be hurting the campus ministry program.
This issue is also a symptom of a larger problem here in my hometown of a very disconnected Catholic community. And since this is my hometown I feel somewhat obligated to try to help this community go in the right direction.

I'm here to stay, or at least I hope and believe I am. So I'll do what I think God is calling me to. Thankfully, after my experiences from my last year away from home, I'm not afraid any longer of upsetting people.

From one oven to an even hotter one...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Commencement Speech for 2017

Thank you for the privilege of being your graduation speaker. First of all, I’d like to say congratulations, you did it, you made it. All your work has paid off and now you sit here surrounded by your classmates for most likely the last time.

I’ve never given a graduation speech. What I know about these speeches is they are supposed to be filled with good advice and plenty of encouragement to you, the graduates. So that is what I intend to do. Give you the last bit of advice that I can and offer you some hard truths and joyful encouragement.

At the beginning of the year you might remember that I told all of you I was going to treat you like adults. I would not force you to listen or learn anything beyond what was expected of you because that is the way it will be for you after high school.  No one will hold your hand and guide you along the way once you leave this hill for the last time. As it turned out many of you were not ready for that.  For my part, I’d like to say that I am sorry. I’m sorry for not being a better teacher who truly challenged you day in and day out. I hoped that some of the freedoms I would allow might help you to flourish. Instead, I got subpar work and performance compared to what you were all capable of. You’ve been conditioned and allowed to put in the least amount of effort in order to get the passing grade or the much coveted “A” and that has been a disservice to all of you. When it came to written assignments, do you know how many times I was asked, “How much do I have to write” or “How long does this have to be?” Too many to count. Those questions had nothing to do with learning. They scream to the teacher “what is the least amount of effort I need to put into this to get a good grade?” I did try to break you out of this mindset by never giving anyone a perfect grade on any project. Many of you asked why points were taken away. My answer was always “no one is perfect” and today I add to that... “you could have done more”. Just doing the basics is not going to change the world. To approach excellence you must go above and beyond, and that is not easy.  If you think you’ll be able to wow professors or bosses in the future simply by doing the bare minimum you will be woefully disappointed. So I urge you, do more than you need to. Give all that you can to everything you do. Write more, because you want to prove and share your knowledge. Study harder because you want to deepen and solidify your understanding. In everything you do, put forth all the passion and enthusiasm that you can, because from now on, it’s all on you.

You’ve been told many times just how great of students you all are. Well, I’m not going to be telling you that tonight. Honestly, you’ve barely scratched the surface of what you are capable of.  Many of you have shared with me your dreams for the future. Those dreams are very much achievable but that path will not be easy.  And it certainly won’t be as easy as anything most of you have done in your educational career so far. So yes, be happy for graduating high school, but know full well that it is what you do from here on out that will determine whether your dreams are achievable.

When it comes to your future and your life ahead, there are a few things I hope you’ll remember.

The first is a tough lesson - have a healthy distrust for your emotions.
Today, society tells you that your emotions are so gosh darn important.  Society tells you that your feelings matter so much, that everyone else should care about them. Well guess what, that is ridiculous. Emotions can be good things, but when you start letting them run your life you will be in for a world of hurt. Making critical decisions while in a state of emotional upheaval is one of the worst things you can do, and I’m telling you that from experience. Logic and reason are some of your greatest tools and if you’re making a decision without them, only going by what you “feel,” you will likely regret your decision. You have a brain and a heart, use both of them.

My second piece of advice is simply this… be joyful. Smile more, laugh more and be kind to the people you meet and are surrounded by. From the very start of school to the very end, this class has been great at “throwing stones”. I encouraged you at senior retreat to be kinder to one another. Some of you tried, but old habits die hard as they say. Pointing out others faults and antagonizing someone to see what reaction you can get are not ways to make friends or keep them. Complain less, don’t be as critical and please just be kind. Do this and you will have joy in your life.

At this point some of you might be thinking: what kind of theology teacher is this guy? He has yet to mention anything about God. Well, I’m saving the best for last.

Many of you seemed almost traumatized from past experiences when I arrived here at Loyola. This led me to quickly realize that I needed to first and foremost...show you love. More specifically you all needed to see the face of Jesus Christ in me, and that is what I tried to do. Right from the start I told you all that I was here because I love you. I left my home and family because of that love for you. Yet, whatever I was able to do was because of God’s love for you and for me. Wherever you are in your faith you must know that God loves you more than you can imagine, and I hope I’ve been an example that you can remember back to if you should ever doubt or question that.  You are loved and you’ve been loved during your time here at Loyola.

As for Loyola, this school that you are now leaving behind, well, some things need to change if you are to come back someday to the school you remembered. First and foremost, Jesus Christ must be the reason for this school. No longer can Loyola just be because a few really want it to be. The legacy of Loyola as a great school will not carry it much farther the way things are going. Many of your teachers did their very best to show you the face of Christ over the years and they will continue to even after you leave. But Christ’s love needs to be reflected from the very top down here at Loyola. Jesus Christ must be the driving force for this school because as humans our best is not enough. The true teachings of the Catholic faith that Christ established almost 2000 years ago need to be renewed as the focal point for everything that goes on within this community. That means embodying the rich history of Catholicism through caring, compassionate love, while not being afraid to dish out the tough love this world needs. Jesus needs Loyola to wake up and be the shining beacon of faith on the hill that it can and should be.

Class of 2017, you need to do that as well. Place God’s love at the center of your life. When you are struggling, ask God for guidance. When things are going great, stop and say “thank you”. When you need to feel loved, go to Mass. That is one of the greatest things about being Catholic. We are all united in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Heaven and earth become one when we celebrate at the altar of God. Because of that, we don’t have to say “goodbye”, we can simply say “see you at mass”.

Pope Francis says “Every person is a story of love that God writes on this earth.” Go out and continue to write your story of love and change the world with the unending love that God pours out for each and every one of you.

As I finish things up here, I’d like one last time to pray the words that we prayed every day in my class. Words that I hope you will never forget. So together let us begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Soul of Christ, sanctify me…


Thank you Class of 2017. I love you and I’ll see you at mass.

An Interesting Year

As this year comes to an end there is a lot that could be said. My title does not really sum anything up. I've got 3 days left, and I know that tomorrow will be a very interesting day.
For myself it has been the last 8 days that have been the most interesting. For the first time, and probably the last, I gave a graduation commencement speech. The Catholic school I've been at this last year is like many others across the country. Declining enrollment coupled with a lack of true intentional identity or mission has put the school at a low point. In my speech I spoke some hard truths about the graduating class who I had taught over the last year and also some truths that the school needed to face if it is going to survive.
I received a few positive reactions and not much else. In typical Mid-west fashion those that took offense to what I said never told me directly so all of the grumblings I've had to hear second hand. One or some of my former students even took the liberty to tag my truck with a nice reminder, or confirmation, of the truths I spoke.
For the first time in my life I feel persecuted for speaking the truth. It is not a feeling that I believe should be a comfortable one. I'm more sad than anything at this point. But I said what I believe needed to be said so what comes of it will come. I've done what I could I pray.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dealing With Death

Most every day in class I ask a few questions to kind of get things started. They might have something to do with the days or they might not. I've asked a wide range of questions and as you can imagine I've gotten a wide range of answers from these teenagers.
Recently I asked some questions about death. Teaching a world religions course we look at how the different religions look at death, so I asked three questions to get my students thinking. These were the questions I asked...

     1. What do you believe happens to humans after they die?
     2. How have you come to this belief?
     3. Is death something you fear? Why or why not?

Most students gave the expected answers. They believe we either go to heaven or hell with a few mentioning purgatory. That they learned this from parents, the church or religion class. Most were somewhat afraid of death, with hoping not to die young for fear of not doing enough on earth. Pretty standard answers until I got to a student who has bugged me all year.
Here are this students answers to the three questions...

     1. Undecided
     2. There’s so many different beliefs and stories that say what happens. Too much to sift through. I’d rather just not waste my time until I’m faced with it
     3. Yes, because it’s unknown. You can control most things in your life and how to happen, but not death.

The answer to #2 has really gotten to me. I give this student credit in saying what others would not or do not fully comprehend. Most teenagers live this way anymore. Well, honestly, many adults do as well. That mentality is frustrating to me though, and again, I feel almost powerless to help change it. 
Death is not a problem, it is something we will all face. Yet so many don't want to think about what is to happen after death. There are a great number of feet firmly planted in this world with no desire to look heavenward until they feel they absolutely have to.

I've been thinking about death a great deal lately. Only a few hours after I wrote my last post my grandfather passed away.

Rest in peace Pop. I love you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Cross is Steady

The Carthusian order of monks have a motto: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, which in Latin means, “The Cross is steady while the world is turning.”

My world is turning right now. Back home in Montana my grandfather is dying. Dementia has been slowly affecting him for the last 4 to 5 years but it has been rapidly speeding up as of late. My grandmother has thankfully been getting more help. It seems to figure that as soon as she has gotten help he has started to quickly deteriorate. 
Since I left home in August there has been the worry of sad news coming every time my cell phone has rung. That feeling looms even deeper now that I truly know that that call will be coming sooner rather than later. 
That was a choice I had to make over the summer. How much of it was really my decision, in the end, I really cannot tell. The need to get back into doing some kind of ministry drove me only a year ago now. I could have taken a job closer to home, but this job seemed like a better fit. I honestly thought it would probably be easier as well (my laziness has unfortunately guided too many of my decisions in life).  So I moved over 1000 miles from home knowing that my grandfather could pass at any time. As of right now, I do not regret my decision to move. My time here teaching these students has honestly been a good thing I truly believe. The students I have worked with, at the very least, have less of a bad taste in their mouths towards God and the Catholic Church. At the recent senior retreat I truly felt like I had made an impact on them thanks in large part to their own words.  
As I have said before I've felt like my work here has been that of a missionary. Leaving home to bring to good news of Jesus Christ to those who are in need of God's love is what I have done.  This is not something I have done perfectly, but I have tried to do it with great love.

There is a statement made by Jesus to one of his disciples that has always bothered me a bit.
"Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead." - Matthew 8:22
 I feel as though I have in a sense done just this. Leaving my home to witness to the Gospel while my grandfather has wasted away has been tough. Some would say I should have stayed. At this point I believe I am meant to be where I am. The struggles my family has gone though were ones that I could not have done much to have eased. Maybe I am trying to convince my self of this. God only knows. But I do know that I will be able to return home when I am needed to help bury my grandfather and console my family. For this I am truly thankful.

So the cross remains steady, and thankfully, if I focus on that cross, the turning of the world seems less chaotic.

Peace all

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Modern Suffering

I've been helping at a local parish with some youth catechesis. Unfortunately I'm to the point where I dread the every other week two hour stint I'm there. The freshman class that I'm trying to help with is tough. The main teacher is a very sweet lady who is a retired teacher. She does the very best she can and if nothing else is showing them love even when they show her very little. This class has gained a reputation of being a tough group to handle and are continuing to live up to that. They are all public school kids who have been coming to religious education their whole lives but can't really tell you much about the Catholic faith. Most don't attend mass on Sunday but there parents make sure to drop them off at R.E. twice a month on Wednesday nights. Next year when they start Confirmation prep and are required to attend mass it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the parent drop their kids off at mass on Sunday and come back to pick them up.
The lack of parental involvement in the Church is in my opinion what is causing the majority of problems with religious education. I can't blame the kids that they can't take the faith seriously when they don't see their parents taking the faith seriously.
And then there is Kyle. Kyle's parents are in the midst of a divorce. The few classes I've been to I've never heard Kyle say a word. He sits with ear buds in and talks quietly to his friend. He doesn't participate, he doesn't follow any directions and he clearly does not want to be there. Tonight he pulled out his phone and the teacher asked him to put it away. He refused and as she went take it from him he got up and stormed off while uttering a few curses. I went to check on him and ended up sitting next to him on some stairs. With horrible rap music blaring very loudly in his ears he didn't acknowledge me at all, so I just sat there. He finally got up and moved to a different spot away from me, and that was that. There are most likely I believe some other mental or psychological problems there, but maybe not.
What frustrated me the most out of the whole encounter was this...

I did not know how to show him love.

This young freshman in high school and many others like him are suffering and I have to answer on how to help them.
It's getting to be too overwhelming when I think about kids like Kyle, who through no fault of there own are suffering in a very real way.

Pray, pray and pray some more.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Catholic Missionary at a Catholic School

Over Christmas break is was able to figure out just how this year has felt in terms of teaching theology at this Catholic school. I'm doing my best to teach a group of teenagers the Catholic faith. The tough aspects and the easy to understand, all with compassion and understanding. The reactions I've gotten coupled with the eye opening realizations have been fun but also sad. Questions that have been both encouraging while also slightly unbelievable. I've got students who have gone to a Catholic school for 10+ years who are learning new things, simple things, from me.
I feel like a Catholic missionary bringing the Catholic faith to a Catholic school.
It's a testament to what Catholic education has become across much of the United States. Being Catholic in name but not in substance. This Catholic school like many is not really ingrained into the community, rather it has created its own little community that it thrives off of. I have a few coworkers who have been at the school for 20+ years. They've seen small changes over the years, but at the end of the day the school hasn't really changed much. Being proud to be a Catholic school but failing to be authentically Catholic has been the way things have gone for a long time as far as I can tell.
I have a student who is extremely bright. She has recently been accepted to Notre Dame and is one of those students who has challenging questions every day and is always ready to pounce should I slip up. I mentioned to her class how I feel like a missionary and all she could do was laugh. She understood completely and the only reaction she could muster was full on hysterical laughter.
So I've got one semester left to continue my missionary journey at this school and hopefully leave it better than I found it.

Peace all