11/16/2017

It’s late. Well, it’s 10:00 p.m. and I’m 25 years old with a son, a wife, a house, and a full-time job that supports all three. I wake up at 4 a.m. to pull my son out of his crib because he doesn’t like to sleep alone and every morning I think, “I should stay up and write and pray and not crawl back into bed,” but I crawl back into bed anyway.

Sometimes my son wakes me up to say, “Hi dad” in a soft, scratchy, high-pitched voice that I wish he would keep forever. Sometimes I press the sleep button on my alarm so I can lay next to him longer, my hand on his stomach, his body close to mine.

Love is a tree that climbs tall and roots deep.

Love is a little boy and a wife and a home and waking up at 4 a.m. and realizing how lucky you are. Even though you are just 25 and life just started.

Following My Father’s Example

Last spring, The Atlantic published a series of articles under the headline of “Choosing my Religion.” The articles are diverse in scope, covering the mass exodus of millennials from organized religion, personal struggles under religion’s expectations, and one compelling series where readers responded to the question: “What was your biggest religious choice?”

I have read countless articles on the religious practice of millennials, but none has made me pause quite as much as the series about their readers’ biggest religious choice. The responses were filled with the honest struggle of living a life of faith. The series also included many tragic stories about faithful people becoming disillusioned by the hypocritical actions of religion’s elite.

Ever since discovering this discussion a couple of months ago, the question of my biggest religious choice has troubled me. Being part of a generation that is largely skeptical of organized religion, I feel having an answer to why I practice is important. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about this because I find it really hard to come up with an answer.

Lately, every time I sit down next to my wife and son in the church pew, I wonder if not having an answer to that question is acceptable. Am I just wasting my time? Am I setting a bad example for my son? Why don’t I have a clear answer to why I am here?

I’ve always been an observant person, a by-product of my introverted personality. When I was growing up, my favorite place to people watch was church. In the pews ahead of me, I would watch older ladies pray the rosary during Father’s homily. Beside me, I would watch harried mothers attempt to control their bored children. And behind me, I would see men with polo shirts tucked into their jeans not utter a single word throughout the entire service.

It seemed obvious to me why the older ladies were at Mass. I figured they must be praying for something very important to not listen while Father gave his message. I certainly knew why the harried mothers and their children were at Mass, a lesson I learned quickly when I wouldn’t get up for church on time.

My mother, never weary of telling us what to do, would march into my room, pull the sheets off my bed, and tell me that I needed to go to church because Jesus required it of me. I just imagined all of those children were in the same position as me, at church with their mothers because that is what Jesus required.

The cadre of men with their polos tucked into their jeans always perplexed me. They never looked happy and they never said a word. Yet, they were there out of obligation to God, their wives or their children. When I think about not having an answer to my biggest religious choice, I think about this group of seemingly unhappy men. But luckily for me, there was another man I would often watch in church: my father.

My dad distinguished himself from this group of men in a number of ways. First and foremost, his standard church dress was, and still is, a polo tucked into khaki pants with a pair of white tennis shoes on his feet. That outfit is a product of many years in a public school classroom.

Second, he always sang and said the responses. Third, he prayed before church and always knelt down in prayer after communion. Finally, he was anything but faceless around our parish community. He was the director of religious education, the youth minister, a member of the parish council, and the one person everyone went to with a question about this or that.

On Sundays, my dad would wake up early and head to church to roll out tables in the parish school basement, set out religion books, prep the teachers, and then give a morning reflection before religion classes started. After religion, he would put the books away, clean up the tables and chairs, head over to the church to write his name on the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion sign-up sheet, and then sit down next to his wife and three boys in the pew.

He would lift me up and hold me on the church pew when I couldn’t see the priest, he would run his finger across the words in the hymnal so I knew what words to sing, and he would always actively participate in the liturgy.

In all of this, he never once spoke to me about the reasons he worked so hard for the church or why he helped me pray the liturgy. And honestly, I am not certain he has an answer for why he is so obviously committed to his faith. I can say that because my dad has never been a man of many words, but he has always been a man of faith-filled action.

I take comfort in my dad’s example when I am uncomfortable with not knowing the exact reason I show up to church each Sunday. Each time I open the hymnal to sing, kneel down to pray after communion and lift up my son to see the priest, I think of when my dad did that for me.

I am grateful for the faith handed down to me from my father, even if I don’t always understand it. In his example, when I don’t always have the words of faith, I can take comfort in the testimony of my actions. Actions that I sincerely hope my son will pass down one day to his family.

What is my biggest religious choice? Maybe it’s not something tied to a moment in time. Maybe it’s every Sunday when I walk into church next to my wife holding my baby boy and decide to follow the faith-filled example of my dad.

-Christian

Originally published in Saint Meinrad’s Echoes from the Belltower blog on June 15, 2017

Making a Working Man’s Casserole

I don’t have anything too important to say this week so I decided to post the recipe to one of my favorite dishes instead. Who doesn’t like a good meal right?

This dish is very basic and I am sure it has been made in your house from time to time. I call it the working man’s casserole because it is quick to put together, easy to clean up, and it is a very hearty meal.

To start, chop up 2 bell peppers, 2 apples, 2-3 large sweet potatoes into cubes, and slice 4 links of sausage. I really like a flavored chicken sausage, but any smoked sausage would work.

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After it is all chopped up move it to a pyrex or other baking dish. The trick here is covering the dish with aluminum foil so cleanup is easier.

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After all the ingredients are in the dish, stir it up a bit to ensure they are all mixed together. Then I put about a 1-2 tsp. of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (for a little kick) on top. I also include a clove or two of garlic. I love garlic so I always add a little more. To top it off, I drizzle a little over 1 tbsp. of olive oil on top.

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Then I put the dish in the oven at 425 degrees for 45 mins. – hour. I stir it up intermittingly while it cooks to ensure all of the potatoes cook. Like, I said – super easy! This is nothing special, but Gillian and I love it. After about an hour, it will come out looking like this!

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If you do end up cooking this or something like this, my only requirement is that you sit down and enjoy it with your family! Meals at the table are the best meals.

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-Christian

Cat Videos, Pope Francis, and Lessons Learned from my Cell Phone

Pope Francis recently said that when people don’t put down their phones in the home, it is the start of a war. “When there’s no dialogue at home when we’re at the table and instead of talking everyone is on their phone … it’s the start of war because there is no dialogue.”

Lately, I’ve been privileged with the opportunity to put Simon down to sleep at night. He is nine months old so this usually involves changing him into pajamas, letting him play for a bit, and then feeding him a bottle while rocking him to sleep. This was usually Gillian’s domain because she loved nursing him to sleep. But, a couple weeks ago we decided it was best we share that responsibility.

Honestly, I’m very glad we decided to do that. Like most, I’m gone at work for the majority of the day, so the only time I can hold and interact with Simon is at bedtime. I’ve noticed, though, that once he is dozing off I reach for my phone because what else am I supposed to do while sitting in the quiet?

The other night I was holding Simon in such a way that prohibited me from grabbing my phone. I was left with two options. Either I move him into a more conducive position at the risk of waking him or I sit in the dark holding him without reading my phone.

No one will deny the enticing prospect of scrolling through your Facebook feed when it is quiet and there is seemingly nothing else to do. Nevertheless, I didn’t move him and I didn’t reach for my phone. In the words of Robert Frost, I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.

As I sat lamenting about all of the cat videos I could be watching, I started down a dangerous path of thought. Why is my urge to look at my phone so strong? Why can’t I just sit here in the quiet? Is Facebook more valuable to me than enjoying these few precious moments with my son?

Pope Francis recently said that when people don’t put down their phones in the home, it is the start of a war. “When there’s no dialogue at home when we’re at the table and instead of talking everyone is on their phone … it’s the start of war because there is no dialogue.”[1]

But how can cat videos start a war? Surely Pope Francis is not looking at my Facebook timeline!

The heart of Pope Francis’ comment, of course, is that we should intentionally engage in the reality around us before losing ourselves in the digital reality of our phone. He reminds us that being human is a real experience and not a digital one. If we lose ourselves in the digital world, we may forget the common humanity we all share.

After coming to terms with sitting in the quiet of my son’s room phone-less, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I became aware of my son’s soft breaths, the creaking of the rocker every time I leaned back, and the cold air on my feet as it was the only part of my body not covered in a blanket.

As I rocked back and forth, I heard Gillian working on the dishes then a little later start her homework. I thought of all those nights she sat in this very chair listening to me clean the kitchen then move to other chores. There was an intimacy in that as I became aware of our shared experience.

It is possible I would have heard all of that while I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone but so often, our phone is what we use to hide away from the sights and sounds of daily life. They can also, unintentionally, pull us away from ourselves to a point where in those quiet moments it is uncomfortable to simply sit and be.

What happens when we stop talking with ourselves? Do we become unaware of the struggles that rage within? Or of the greatness that lies within? As I mindlessly scroll on Facebook and compare my life to my friends’ lives, do I become ever more detached from the beautiful life I do have?

I won’t promise that every time I put my son down to sleep I won’t reach for my phone. But, before I do, I will try to sit and listen for a little while. The voice of my heart, the sounds of my home and the soft breath of my baby boy teach far greater truths about this human experience than my Facebook feed ever could. Even if those cat videos are really cute.

-Christian

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/17/using-mobile-phones-dinner-table-start-war-says-pope-francis/

Simon’s Thoughts

After all of that, I sat down to process. I ended up with a poem that brings me joy every time I read it. It may not end up in the anthology of the world’s greatest poems, but if I were to compile a collection of my own, this one would certainly be included.

I like to think of myself as an aspiring poet. Although, ‘aspiring’ is a bold word but I certainly would never claim that I am a poet. Perhaps, it is more accurate to say that every so often I write down words that may pass as a poem if you stand on one foot, close your left eye and look at the text from an angle.

A couple of months ago I was throwing Simon up in the air and finding great joy in the way he laughed. It caused me pause. I wondered what he was thinking and feeling in those moments. Did he know just how much I loved him and how much I loved being with him in that moment? Was he enjoying my presence as much as I was enjoying his?

I gather from other parents that these questions are common for our kind. I suppose we all ask them in our own way.

After all of that, I sat down to process. I ended up with a poem that brings me joy every time I read it. It may not end up in the anthology of the world’s greatest poems, but if I were to compile a collection of my own, this one would certainly be included.

Simon’s Thoughts

Peek-a-boo just one more time!
I’m still learning how to smile!

Where’d you go mom?
There you are! Giggling away.

Lift me up! I want to fly!
Daddy don’t put me down!

I love to fly high toward the sky!

I love how you catch me
before I hit the ground.

At nighttime when I miss you
I snuggle in your breast.

I love to hear your heart beating
As I fall asleep nestled in your chest.

When I wake up in the morning
I love to find you looking back at me.

I like to smile big and bright
To welcome in all the sunlight.

I like to stretch and reach out for you.

Now throw me up! It’s the morning time!
We have some playing to do!

-Christian

 

 

 

 

Blessed Are Those

In prayer, we ask, plead with and talk to what we have never seen. And to all of us doubting, Jesus only answers: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

“How do you know that God answers prayers if you have never seen His face?” asked the man in old jeans and a tattered sweater standing in the food line at the homeless mission. “I mean, I go to church and I believe in God, but how do you know?”

Clammed up, nervous and inarticulate, the volunteer answered, but only to a barrage of other questions pertaining to faith and the presence of God.  I was glad I was just watching and listening. Thankfully, he was not asking me.

When I left, the first question stayed with me. I thought to myself: “I go to church and I believe in God, but, how do you know?”

I have always liked questions that can be answered. I love the dialogue, the process and, ultimately, the solution. It is exhilarating to discover, explore and solve questions.

The church-going man in his old jeans and tattered sweater shared something in common with me that night. We both loved questions that can be answered. Unfortunately for the both of us, I am not sure his question is one that can be.

In prayer, we ask, plead with and talk to what we have never seen. And to all of us doubting, Jesus only answers: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

That is not necessarily the kind of clear answer I love. But that is the problem all along. I too often love the answer to my question and forget to love the One who is the answer.

When I am struggling with something, I always turn to my wife and talk through it. Sometimes she responds with answers that I love, sometimes with ones I don’t like and other times with only a listening ear. Most of the time, it is not her answer that solves my problem, but her presence through my struggle.

And so it is with God. God, it may not be your face that I see, your hands that I feel or your voice that I hear. But by faith, I know your presence and I know you are near to me. Your answer to my prayers is your love for me. My answer to your nearness, your constant presence and your love – is my own.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on January 5, 2017

A Thanksgiving Story

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks.

I feel somewhere along the way we have forgotten we belong to each other. But then again I wonder if that has always been the case. I am not sure there was any period in human history where there was not war, hunger, or someone seeking to harm the other. It is naïve to believe there ever was a golden age of togetherness, respect, and love? Is it naïve to believe one could come?

In 2016, I made my first thanksgiving dinner. I bought a turkey and roasted it. I mashed up potatoes, made green beans, made cornbread, and bought the pumpkin pie. Most of the essentials were there with the exception of sweet potato casserole. But I wasn’t bold enough to make that quite yet.

With all of the food on the table we sat down to eat. Before we started all of us went around the table and said one thing we were grateful for from the past year. To me, it is not thanksgiving unless you practice giving thanks. Without that it simply becomes another meal at the table – albeit a nice one.

Making the meal took a lot of work. One has to prep the turkey, season the turkey, pray and hope the turkey doesn’t burn or taste terrible once it is done cooking. One has to cook the potatoes, the green beans, the cornbread, and kill a few sticks of butter in the process. It is one big dance that needs to come together at just the right moment so nothing is left sitting too long to get cold. I cook often so even though I know my way around a kitchen this was still a formidable challenge.

However, even though cooking the food is a lot of work, Thanksgiving is not necessarily about eating the food one cooks. It is a holiday of being thankful we have the food to cook and people around us to share it with. At its core, Thanksgiving is a holiday to remember that we belong to each other. The Thanksgiving story of the pilgrims and the Native Americans gathering around a table to share their harvest reminds us of that truth.

I personally love stories. I love nestling up to my son and reading him the classics: Winne the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Charlotte’s Web. I love their interesting plots and the meaningful lesson at the end. Jesus loved stories too, I think. He told them often and they always had a meaningful lesson – even if those listening did not always understand.

The course of human history is certainly a story and our lives are one small chapter or maybe just a few lines. Intertwined in our story, undoubtedly, are the holidays we come together and celebrate. I wonder if I opened that book to look back and see that a couple times a year groups of people came together from all over to share a meal, tell stories, laugh, and give thanks – if I might see that as a moment in time when the world remembered it belonged to each other.

It may not be naïve after all to believe there are times in human history where we remember we belong to each other. It seems to me that when we forget that truth we should make time in our lives to come back together again and give thanks. The story of human history is filled with chapters of war, hunger, and despair. Those are chapters we should read and continue to work toward resolving. That work never ends and because of that our coming together should never end.

So grab a seat at the table, place your napkin, and pick up a fork. I am grateful for you and most grateful for those times I remember we belong to each other.

-Christian

This was originally published on Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology’s blog, Echoes from the Bell Tower on November 23, 2016