Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pull Them In!!! Catholics and evangelization

On April 15th, 1912, in the early hours of the morning, the luxury liner the ‘Titanic‘ hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean.  Of the 2240 passengers and crew aboard the vessel, 1514 died that night.  One of the main problems was that the vessel did not have near enough life boats.  When inquiries happened as to why more life boats were not available, the main reasons were that the builders had such great faith in the technology of the time and  had such great faith in the strength of the vessel,  that they thought it unnecessary to have the needed number of lifeboats to accommodate the entire manifest of passengers and crews.  When the lifeboats were launched that night, many were two thirds full.  After the Titanic sank, only two of the boats went back to pick up any survivors whose groans could be heard in the now stillness of the night.  Many died that night of hypothermia in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic.  While many would not be able to be saved, some could have been, but as the majority of lifeboats stayed away, we will never know who would have survived after being pulled out of the water.
    For many centuries humanity has become enamored by its own power, wealth, and wisdom.  In our society, we are continually chasing after the newest technology, the newest research, the newest gadget, all in the hopes that these things will someone how make us better, safer, and happier. Faith is seen as a crutch, the spiritual equivalent of a security blanket, for those who have not yet grown to maturity and is regulated to the status of a pious hobby.  Like the builders of the Titanic, we believe our wisdom is sufficient to the task and that it will keep us from harm.  Yet, this society is one of the most dysfunctional in history.  There are so many who are wandering, floating, and even drowning among us.  So many, upset with the hole left when the money and power are either not forthcoming or are unable to fill the emptiness, will numb that emptiness with sex, narcotics, alcohol, risky behavior, and other such things that leave them ‘damaged goods’.  Sometimes, those wanderings have taken them to very dark places and the scars and mistakes are readily visible.  It is easy to look from our perch in the lifeboat and wonder if we want ’that type’ in the boat with us.  It is easier to focus so much on me and Jesus that we forget that when He was asked to teach us how to pray He directed to us to pray OUR Father.  No one was created to be outside the lifeboat; no one was created to be condemned.  We should be no more comfortable leaving these people floating out in the harsh world than we would be comfortable in letting a person float in the North Atlantic.
    The major reason why the boats stayed away from the survivors was fear.  Based on testimony after the fact, the reason the other 16 boats didn’t go back to pick up survivors was for fear than they would be caught in the suction of the sinking ship as it plummeted to the ocean floor and out of fear of being swamped by desperate survivors who knew they were only moments from death if they remained in the ocean.  Fear can prevent us from doing what is foolish but, more often than not, prevents us from doing what is necessary as well.  As followers of Christ, we are never to be ruled by any fear of anything of this world.  When we see someone struggling with life, we respond as Christ would: with hand outstretched.  So many times we back away from the job of evangelization, that is, the spreading of the Gospel, because we are scared of the response.  We may fear rejection.  We may fear anger.  We may fear getting in one of those “you Catholics…(worship Mary and the Saints, believe you earn your way into heaven, are led by nothing but pedophiles) and either feel we lack the knowledge or just don’t want to get into a fight.
    There also has to be a country club mentality that needs to be defeated.  On the Titanic, those who were of lower classes and rode in 2nd and 3rd class died in far greater numbers and percentage than those in 1st class.  While 63% of the 1st Class passengers survived, only 43% of 2nd class, and 25% of 3rd Class (which compromised 2/3 of the total passengers) survived.  It is easy to look at those outside our faith or who have dropped away and see them in a way that asks whether their joining/re-joining actually adds to who we are.  It is easy to treat those who are related somehow better than those who are not.  This is just human nature: we prefer to stick to the familiar and shun away from that which is different.  In the Scriptures, Jesus did not pick and choose who got to hear His message.  He healed all who asked.  He frequented the homes of sinners, tax-collectors, and other assorted riff-raff by the standards of His day.  He showed no fear in calling all those who were in need of His help and grace.  As Catholics, we must reach out for all in need of a home.  Like Christ, we don’t reach out for people so as to leave them there, but to lift them up from the ashes into a new life infused by God’s grace.  It does not matter whether they come from the right families, the right socio-economic class, the right race, or whatever else we use as separating influences to sort the invited from the uninvited.  Evangelization isn’t about picking the ‘right ‘people as if were picking pledges for a fraternity; it is about reaching out for all who are seeking, letting them know that we have a Father who desperately wants them home.  Because we are called to mimic the love of Christ in all things, we can never see anyone as beyond help or beneath us to help.  We cannot be in a lifeboat who will not go back to pick up the drowning because it is captained by fear.  By the grace of God, we are called to be better than that!
    My questions to each one reading this are simple: who will you give the chance to join us?  Who will be part of our faith because of your outreach?  How will you be the way that God reaches out to a lost soul?  Who will you invite?  Who gets into the lifeboat because you reached out?  Fear nor disinterest are options for those who follow Christ.  Only looking to my own salvation is unbecoming for those who have received the gift of new life from God.  By God’s grace you have been pulled into the boat.  Maybe you are one who needs to be pulled into the boat.  Either way, in the lifeboat you and those around you belong.  This is something we can measure concretely.  There is no shortage of those flailing in the sea drowning in the emptiness of materialism, sin, and addiction.  It is to such that God reaches out.  In the task of evangelization, a task we are given by virtue of our baptism, the target is anyone who seeks, anyone who needs to find their way home, and anyone who needs the safety and security of being pulled into the lifeboat.  Identify them.  Pray for them.  Model the faith for them.  Invite them!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A True Legacy for our Youth

A few days back I saw the following posting on Facebook, which I reposted, and have thought a great deal about consequently: " We need to teach our daughters how to distinguish between a man who flatters her and a man who compliments her .... a man who spends money on her and a man who invests in her .... a man who views her as property and a man who views her properly ..... a man who lusts after her and a man who loves her ..... a man who believes he is God's gift to women and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man.....And we need to teach our boys to be THAT man.”  It captured a pre-occupation that I have had for several years now.  We live in a society that teaches our young men that women are something to be manipulated into sexual activity, dominated in life, and discarded when it is no fun anymore.  It has started teaching young women the same thing about how to treat young men.  Furthermore, it teaches women that they merely have to settle for the best that they can hope to get and, if anything, treat their boyfriend or spouse to be as a reclamation project, the human equivalent of a fixer-upper.  I have rarely seen this end well.  As I have told young couples in marriage preparation, “Marriage is not a magic wand that makes all the deficiencies of your future spouse evaporate into the ether.”    By the same token, a man who would not make a good husband will not make a good priest either.
    Our children get swamped with the negative messages about human relationships and sexuality.  The way to reverse the damage is a two pronged approach: to point out and limit their diet of a poisoned message and replace it with a healthy life giving message.  Our parish and our families must act in union with each other to accomplish this.
    On the parish level, we are doing the following.  As all our 9th graders are boys this year, we are using the book, “Be a Man” by Fr. Larry Richards as the text for their education this year.  The book is a great study on what being a Catholic man is about and how being a Catholic man directly effects everything, including how we, as men, treat and view women.  It encourages an embrace of manly virtue and a courageous and selfless lifestyle.  With our confirmation students, we are using Theology of the Body for Teens with Chris Everet to talk about the same issues in a way that they understand that their being a good Catholic reflects in every avenue of their life.   We gave the parents the parents’ handbook so that they may follow up what we do in class.   I cannot encourage this enough.  I am contemplating getting the Theology of the Body for Jr. High, so that we may be able to begin this positive life affirming message earlier.  If anyone would like to help pay for the program, which would be several hundred dollars, and help buy a copy of it for the parish library. I would greatly appreciate it.  The Theology of the Body for Teens is already in the parish library and is frequently out.  Each have a 10-12 lessons set of DVDs, parents guides, and workbook for the youth.  I started using the Theology of the Body for Marriage as the primary tool for our engaged couples.  I really believe that this positive message paired with what I have been saying from the pulpit will hopefully at least provide a lot of seed which we hope will take root.
    On the diocesan level, we began summer camps for our young men and women (camps Maccabee and Siena, respectively) to help our youth understand what it means to be a young Catholic woman or man.  The topic is often brought up in our youth rallies and Confirmation Reflection Days. We believe, as a diocese, that every cent invested in our diocesan youth is a cent invested in the well being of our youth and their futures.  The well being of their future directly effects all of us as these youth will provide the next generation of priestly, religious, and lay leaders.  Giving them all that we can to promote a healthy self-identity and a healthy way of treating one another only bodes well for our collective futures.
    As I alluded to earlier, parents must be partners with the Church in this.  When your children were baptized, you vocally accepted the responsibility of bringing them  in the ways of the faith.  This is more than giving them a set of data to memorize, but instructing them in a relationship based in the love of God and neighbor.  Parents should be and can be the most effective teachers in their children in the ways of the faith.  What is provided in the home will be one of the primary nourishments of our youth.  This means several things.  First, I would assume no loving parent would purposely feed their children poison, even if that poison tasted good.  Poison is poison regardless of the way it tastes. We have to monitor what our children ingest in this culture as most of it is poisonous.  For example, I can think of two shows off the top of my head that are or were very popular: Two and Half Men and Sex and the City, both built on the premise that the opposite sex is something to be manipulated, used, and dumped at will.  So many shows on TV have the same message as do many of our movies.  The same message is dominant in music, regardless of the genre.  A steady diet of these things does have an effect on our youth in showing them what the world considers normative behavior.  It can be no surprise that our youth will act out on these premises and find out that the consequences of that acting out cannot be wrapped up quickly and without lifelong harm.  I know it is not popular, but parents must be as vigilant with what their children entertain themselves with as much as they would with what their child eats.  Poison should be recognized for what it is and dealt with accordingly.
    Along these lines, we should make sure that our youth are warned about the great scourge that is pornography.  Pornography, by its very nature, teaches to reduce another human being to a thing for self-satisfaction.  It is a cancer.  Because of the internet, it is also all too readily available.  Pornography isn’t bad because the human body is something ugly and sinful, it is wrong because the human body is good and beautiful; pornography debases that beauty, robs the dignity of another (even if they are offering up that dignity), and teaches the person to turn themselves and others into nothing more than a means of pleasure.  It is a devastating lesson that has horrible long term results.  Parents should treat porn with the ferocity they would treat a criminal trying to break into their home to harm their children.  Porn can have no harbor in any Catholic home!  I know they may not like it, but monitor what your child sees on the internet.  There are far too many wolves more than happy to expose your children to truly awful things.
    What we teach our children is the legacy they will pass on to their children.  We should want what is best for them and protect them from what would harm them.  Let us work together towards this common good so that we raise godly young men and women.  No woman or man should have to settle for anything less that the dignity that God has created them to experience.   Let us protect that dignity and raise our youth to do the same.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Triumph of the Cross

This is taken from my Pastor's Pen for this coming weeknd:
This last week we celebrated the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.  To our ears, the words triumph and cross being in the same phrase and in relation to one another does not seem odd.  In the time of Jesus, these words would have seemed as foreign to each other as if we were to say ‘the triumph of the gas chamber’ or ‘the triumph of the firing squad’; we would not assume the executed had triumphed, but that the executioner had triumphed.  Crucifixion is a form of capital punishment.  In fact, it was devised to be an extraordinarily slow and painful form of execution meant to terrify anyone from crossing the Roman government or any other empire that used it.  In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was primarily used against those who rebelled against the Roman Empire.  Were one to say ‘the triumph of the cross’ in the time of Jesus, it would have been understood as the triumph of Roman execution over those who wanted freedom from them.  This, of course, is not what is meant when we say it, and what we mean by it is not spinning a defeat into a win, as we see so often in this world, especially in politics.
    For Christ, the Cross was not to be avoided, but to be embraced.  He came into this world for one reason, to set us free from our enslavement to sin and death.  Unlike the Jews of Jesus’ time who had been conquered by a foreign empire they had fought, sin and death had been invited in and had been submitted to by those who invited it in.  We had not had our freedom ripped from us, rather, we had surrendered it on the false promise of getting to be our own god.  Our turning from God surrendered what our relationship with God has entailed; we surrendered the temporary for the eternal, that which could be destroyed for that which was indestructible, that which seeks our destruction from that which sought our eternal good.   Humanity willfully enslaved itself and brought upon itself its own death.  Were God not a loving God, He could have left us to our destruction, turned away from our enslavement with nothing more than a dismissive caveat emptor to us who had chosen so foolishly.  However our God is a loving God and would not abandon us to our enslavers.  He would purchase back His fallen creation at the steepest of prices; he exchanged His only Son for the slaves and allowed His Son to suffer the wrath due us.  The triumph of the Cross is that we are gathered back at the cost of God’s love for us displayed by the crucified Christ.  We are the benefactors of the triumph!  Not by anything we did ; in fact, very much contrary to what we did.  God gathered back to Himself what had been estranged through sin.  Christ triumphs over sin and death by the supreme act of selfless love in submitting Himself to the cross, enduring its sacrifice and suffering out of love for each one of us!
    This has direct implications for us.  We should not surrender that which has been gained for us through the cross of Christ!  To willfully sin is to surrender what Christ has done for us. To willfully sin is to try to rob the cross of its triumph.  I say ‘try’ in that the sacrifice of Jesus, done once and for all, can never be undone by human choice ever again; however we do have the power to exclude ourselves from the triumph of the cross by willfully sinning.   Why?  Because all sin is antithetical to the cross; the cross is the ultimate act of selfless love, all sin is an action of selfishness.  The cross, the form of execution of a rebel, opened the gates of heaven to those who had rebelled.  How foolish it would be to embrace rebellion again after so hard a fight and victory as had been engaged by Christ!  To share in the triumph is to share in its freedom from sin and death.
    Another implication of the Triumph of the Cross is in sharing the vision of each other that led God to send us Son and in His Son’s willingness to lay down His life.  The Gospel today (John 3:12-17) reminds us that the Father sent the Son into world not to condemn it, but to save it.  Think about the implications of that in how we are to view one another.  Several weeks back, I wrote Pastor’s pens regarding the damage that could be done by the seven deadly sins and their virtuous antidotes.  There were three I have not covered: lust, wrath, and envy.  These three deal with how we view one another.  These three drive us to diminish the humanity of another, to attack the dignity of another, and to see each other as worthy of only scorn, judgment, and revenge.  These sins pit us against each other and coerce us into a very different vision of humanity than that which God has. God never reduces the person to being an end for selfish pleasure as lust does.  Nor does God seethe with envy at what we have and wish to destroy us for it.  Were God interested in wrath, that is revenge, the Son never would have come into this world.  There would be no triumph of the cross because the cross could not happen as an act of divine vengeance.  The triumph is a triumph of divine selfless love over revenge and wrath.  The triumph of the cross is a triumph that tells us God wants to pull our dignity to Himself despite the fact that we so often surrender that dignity to sin.

    This final aspect of the Triumph of the Cross beckons us to see ourselves and those around us with the eyes of the Father; to live as those who share in the triumph of the cross.  We share in that triumph every time we choose to be selfless and heroic.  We share in the triumph whenever we look at ourselves as salvageable and worthy of God’s love, not by what we have done, but by what God chooses to do.  We share in the triumph when we widen that same vision upon those around us.  When we choose to see what is good about a person before we see what we do not like.  When our vision of others is not truncated by race, socio-economic status, political leanings, educational levels, and the myriad of others differences we choose to put before what is to be loved, respected, dignified, and reinforced in the goodness of another.  When we seek truth over ambition and wish for that which is truly good for others, then we share in the triumph of the cross.  The cross was not a weapon by which God condemns man, but a means by which He saves humanity. Mimicking the love of the cross which embraces sacrifice and suffering for the good of another is what speaks to that noblest  part of us which is created in the image and likeness of God.  To attach ourselves to the cross is to attach ourselves to its victory.  Thus we must see past the sin and dinginess of humanity to that which God saw as worthy of His love and worthy of His Son’s life.  God did not use the cross to enable our sinfulness but to give us the means to rise above it.  Let us use, then, that same cross to live the truth and in doing so, to allow the grace of God to raise each human person to share in the triumph that the cross bears to this world.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Lessons of 9/11:What have we learned?

We are coming upon the 10th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  How one responds to tragedy say much about the individual.  For example, I have buried young men and women whose deaths were caused by drinking and driving.  Some of their friends learn from the tragedy and refuse to drink and drive; some, believe it or not, will mourn the death of the individual or celebrate the life of the individual by engaging in the same exact destructive behavior that killed their friend!  Tragedy is a part of life.  It is what we take from that tragedy and the lessons learned that are important; tragedy can change us for the better or can leave us reeling.

So what do I think are the lessons of 9/11?  First, radicalized forms of Islam despise us.  We can theorize why for years to come.  But the fact of the matter is that militant radicalized Islam hates us.  We did not need 9/11 to drive home that point; the World Trade Center was attacked before, there were the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, the bombing of the USS Cole, and about a million US flags regularly burned across the Islamic world that would have told us that the resentment and hatred run deep. 10 years later and 2 ongoing wars, we are still hated, maybe even more.  Hate runs deep and doesn't need to be reasonable.  It is not easily cured nor can be as long as those that hate wish to keep hating.  We cannot control another person's hate, but we can control ours.  But human nature is that we want to control another person's reaction and give free reign to ours. Initially we controlled out hate.  We didn't go out and mow down every Muslim in this country we could find; we didn't burn their homes or businesses; we didn't demonstrate in their neighborhoods.  We have not yet.  This speaks well for us.  However, as a society, we are more divided than ever amongst ourselves.  The infernal bickering and infighting that left us weakened before exists even more strongly today.  We need to remember that our strength comes from our unity; not a forced unity, but a willingness to look beyond the plethora of divisions we soothe day in and day out.  A divided country makes for an easy target.  The lesson to be learned in this is that if we expect to effectively ward off the attacks of those who hate us, then we will have to pull together, despite our differences of opinion, and see ourselves as fellow countrymen before we see ourselves as liberals or conservatives, or whatever other divisions we exploit amongst our own in this country.  We were able to do that immediately after 9/11, perhaps we need to make that a more permanent fixture in American life.

We also learned on 9/11 that all our power and wealth could not save us.  The terrorist were intentional on their targets: the World Trade Center, a towering glory to our financial wealth and power, the Pentagon, a testament and symbol of our unmatched military power, and presumably the White House (the presumed target of flight 93), the symbol of our government.  The message was simple, "Your power, wealth, and might cannot and will not save you."  Recently, the head of an atheist association, remarking on his objection of the Ground Zero cross's presence in the 9/11 memorial, said that how could we want a symbol of a mythical god who obviously didn't exist because if he had, then 9/11 would not have happened.  The problem with that is that we switched gods many decades ago, driving God out of the public square in the name of cultural diversity and political correctness, replacing him with the god we worshiped and power.  It was that idol that let us down.  It continues to do so.  We cannot push God's hand away and still expect His protection.  God is not some servant that we beckon when we need something and then dismiss from the conversation when guests come over.  Unfortunately, as a country, that is what God has become for us.  It is prevalent in our society.  We blame God when things go wrong and otherwise ignore Him.  God has let us make our choice, if we choose money and power, then that is what He will let us have until it shoots out of our collective noses.  Even though these idols have an extremely poor track record, worship them we will anyways.  This lesson has not been learned by most.  After 9/11, many people went to Church for awhile, but it dissipated rather quickly as they discovered why they quit going to begin with: they went for themselves, to be entertained, to be inspired, etc.  They didn't go to worship THE God, they went expecting the God to worship them...He didn't and they left again. Change was short lived and back to our over consumption we went.  I remember President Bush telling us to go out and consume after 9/11 to prove that the terrorist couldn't collapse us and our economy.  I remember thinking that certainly we proved our resilience when our brave cops, firefighters, EMTs and their chaplains rushed towards the collapsing towers to save who they could even if it meant they gave their lives.  I thought we did that when we withheld taking revenge in our own streets against our own Muslim population.  I thought we did that when , for a moment, we put apart all our petty differences aside as acted as a people. Bravery, mercy, and unity should be what defines us...and oddly enough each of these are supposed to be defining qualities of Christianity. These traits are seen in every young man and woman who signs up into the military knowing full well they will be putting themselves in harm's way.  Our nobility as a people comes not from our wealth or power, but in our courage, self-control, selflessness, and the actual living of our faith.  Our nation cannot continue its reckless pursuit of empty idols and expect any different result.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  There is debate as to whether Benjamin Franklin said this or not, but the words still ring true. We have learned that, complain though we might, in the end we are willing to surrender a great deal of privacy and liberty in the name of security.  Security lines at the airport have all the modesty of a peep show anymore; we remove items of clothing, allowed ourselves to zapped with radiation so that images of our naked torsos could be seen, limited what we could bring on a plane, and suffered other indignities at the hands of those who say they are protecting us. Big brother now has the ability to literally look in every nook and cranny of whomever they please.  Historically this has never ended well.  It will not this time either.

The sad fact is that America looks very much the same after 9/11 as it did before, except with a undercurrent of paranoia.  This Sunday we will remember the events of 9/11.  We will commemorate those who died...and we should.  We will remember the selfless sacrifice of the first responders...and we should.  We will hopefully pray for healing...and we should.  The best way though, I believe, to commemorate 9/11 is learning the lesson of 9/11 and becoming better people because of it. If we can pull together as a people, remember who is the God that actually does save, and become a people united in our bravery, strength, generosity, self-control, wisdom and virtue, then, and only then, can we rightly repay the bravery shown on 9/11.  Tragedy can either show our strengths or expose our weaknesses; it is our choice. For future generations, we would do well to chose wisely.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thoughts arising from an untimely death

This morning, we did at our school what we do every 1st Friday.  WE move the Blessed Sacrament from the Adoration Chapel were it sits waiting for those to come in for Perpetual Adoration, into the main church and onto the main altar.  During that time we make the opportunity for Confession for our grade school students as they come to spend some time in Eucharistic Adoration.  Since I take the visiting priest’s confessional, as a courtesy to the other priest that comes to help, I have only the option of anonymous (behind the screen).  Occasionally, a student will come in and step around the screen.  That happened more than a few times today.  One of the young men came around and stared right into my eyes the whole time.  I was a bit taken aback.  It was nothing he did.  Last night I read an obituary of a young man from a former parish who had died in a freak tractor accident.  They had a picture of the young man, and I swear, the boy standing in front of me could have been him 10 years ago.  My head has been in the wake service of the young man to which I went a few days back.  I had this sudden urge to take the boy, wrap him in bubble wrap, and tell his parents to never let him out of their sight.  This preoccupied my mind as each student came in.  The young man who had died had been in my instruction at one time.  He was a fine young man who was mature and wise beyond his years more often than not. When I looked into the eyes of his parents at the wake and saw two people who had just lost their only son and just looked weary, it broke my heart.  When I saw his grandmother, a very dear sweet woman, who also looked so very tired, and saw his aunt, who couldn’t stop crying, it just was heart wrenching.  Although the pastoral care of this family belonged to another, these were people I cared about and to see them in such pain was troubling.

Of course, we can’t bubble wrap our children and keep them forever at our sides.  They grow.  We always pray that they grow strong and wise and live up to their full potentials as human beings and as people of faith.  We have to count on their learning those lessons well and being ready to answer for  how they lived their lives when their day comes to pass from this world.  We will fidget and groan as we watch them make mistakes and even mess their lives up entirely.  But there is always a hope that tomorrow they will come to their sense.  As this death this week reminded me, as does every funeral I have, all of us will come to a point where today is the last day of our life.  So what do we do with it? We’ll not be able to pass though our days here without experiencing some pain, disappointment, and grief.  It is part of life. It occurred to me this evening as I was pray Evening Prayer that while do not have any real control over when or how we die, we do have tremendous control over how we live.  I got to thinking about what I would say to every student I have had over the years.  It would go something like this.

I really believe that every single person that has ever been born has the deep inset desire to be remembered; a consequence of having made one’s mark in the world.  What will be your mark?  Will it be positive, negative, or barely visible?  Will it change other people’s lives for the better or will other people be sorry they ever met you?  I do not think anyone wants to be the person that makes other people’s lives hellish, but so often will do so because it is easier that make another person’s life better.  You were born into this world, created by God, to make other people’s lives better and be a positive force for good.  I know that is hard because it requires you to be selfless and exhibit self-control.  I know the temptations to be selfish and out of control are overwhelming.  I  cannot speak to being a young lady, but I can to being a young man.  I know the temptation to strip the dignity away from a woman is ever present.  I know society expects you to be promiscuous even if it later condemns you for doing so.  I know you are told over and over again that you have to rely on your physical prowess in sports to get anywhere in life.  I know you are told that religion is for the stupid, for children, or for the women…but that men do not need a God other than themselves.  I know you are tempted to party hard, drink hard, ingest whatever mind altering substance happens to be around.  I know you are told to ignore whatever emptiness might come from this.  I know as you get older that the definition of success comes from the accrual of power and wealth. I know you struggle with wanting to be a real man in a world that is quite content for you to remain a boy.  Boys are easy to control.  I know it because I have been there or still get tempted towards these things.  I know it sucks and that it easier to give into rather than rise above it.

Remember, though, each of us is only given one chance at this life.  We don’t get to redo it.  What we have at the end of our lives is the finished product of our lives; an accumulation of our choices.  Choose wisely, knowing that you are held responsible for what you do.  Be selfless, courageous, and strong.  Do not waste your life on numbing it.  Make your mark in such a positive way as to make a permanent positive change.  God gives you so many graces, charisms, talents, and abilities for this purpose; He expects a return on His investment.  Be thankful for the blessings in your life; never allow envy or greed be what motivates you.  Protect the dignity of those around you, don’t rip it away through lust.  Treat your life and your faith as the precious gifts they are.  While you gave neither of these to yourself, you are responsible for how you develop them. Please stay away from risky and dangerous behavior!  In 14 years I have buried far too many young men and women and had to witness the crushing and haunting look of an inconsolable parent, mourning the loss of their child.  I can assure you, that look will stay with you for awhile.  So many times the deaths were completely avoidable.  There are many people out there that actively care about you and are concerned for your well being; people who want to see each one of you grow up into a great and strong adult.  I know, because I am one of them.

You have to want this for yourself. I know this.  I have tried to fill the void we are born with so many things that the world says will work, but don’t.  I have tried money, power, drinking, and other things to fill the void and they failed.  I know faith has provided for me not only a firm foundation from which I can weather any storm and find comfort in the bleakest of moments, but helps me to become all that I am created to be.  The man who has faith has nothing to fear, not even death.  Faith is all that we get to take with us past this life, where our faith is and how we actively allowed it to be developed will be shown in how we acted.  Choose well.  May each person who reads live a long happy life. Be all that you are created to be and do not allow any fear of any person rule you.  In the end you are answerable to God and God alone.  May each of you hear when that time comes :“Well done my good and faithful servant.”