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Allen Fatherhood Guest Posts Perspective from the Head Vocations

All You Need Is Love

The Beatles were right, all we need is love.  As the father of nine children, one of my biggest concerns is ensuring that my children receive a solid foundation rooted in our Catholic faith.  In my experience, achieving this end is a delicate balance of clear boundaries coupled with love.  As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, we can do all the right things as parents, have the most efficiently run home on the block, provide our kids the best education, use the right form of discipline every time, always have the right words to say to soothe a broken heart or a scraped knee, but if we do not have love, then we are a noisy gong (and we will not achieve our desired goal).

A Lesson in the Importance of Love

A few years back one of my daughters was participating in a sport and was not giving it her best effort.  For many children this may not be a big issue, but for her I saw this situation as a perfect opportunity to teach her an important lesson about the importance of perseverance in the difficulties that we encounter in our lives.  For her, most things come easy and when she encounters something that is difficult, she is tempted to give up rather than persevere.

In my endeavor to teach her a lesson in the virtue of fortitude, she questioned my love for her.  When she believed that my love for her was conditional based upon her success in that particular sport, she effectively ceased to listen to what I had to say.  She even got really mad at me and refused to speak with me for a couple of days.  Instead of trying to prove my point about the virtue of fortitude, I decided to tell her that no matter how mad she was at me, there was nothing she could do to cause me to stop loving her, it didn’t matter if she was successful and I would still love her even if she didn’t love me.  She thought about that for a little while and when the anger subsided, we were able to talk about the situation and the motivation behind my actions.  No matter how right we may think we are in an argument, if the other person does not believe that we have their best interest at heart (otherwise known as loving them), we risk being a clashing cymbal or a banging gong and the message we are trying to convey could be lost.

The love of God is much more than many of us have experienced in our earthly relationships.  His love is patient and kind, it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and His love for us will never end.  As a father, I can tell you that I fall short of demonstrating God’s love within my family on a regular basis, but I get back up and try again each time.  A quick search of the Internet will show a plethora of articles citing the reality that the way our earthly father shows us love has a major influence on our perception of God’s love.

The Love of God

We have all been told that God loves us since we were young, and thus there is a temptation to believe that we know that and thus don’t need to meditate upon it again, however I don’t think we will ever truly know the depths of that Love until we, God willing, meet our creator in Heaven.  His love is not conditional, He does not love us because we obtain some great achievement, He does not love us because we are beautiful, He does not love us because we love him, He loves us because of who we are and by the mere fact that He is our Father.  There is nothing we need to do to earn his love.  He only desires us to love him back, but even if we completely reject him and mock him and offend him, He will never stop loving us, in fact He will pursue us even more to save us from ourselves.  The more we run away from his love and reject him, the more He will do to draw us back to himself.

God’s love may seem irrational and foreign to many of us, but that may be due to our lack of experience with it.  Through prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, and reading scripture, we can come to a better understanding of God’s love and thus be able to love our children as God loves us. “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

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Allen Domestic Church Evangelization Marriage Parenting Perspective from the Head

A Light in the Darkness

“The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” Matt 4:16.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of the Light of the World, what joy we should feel that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to save us from our sins.  In spite of the seemingly endless occurrences of senseless violence in our society, acts of terrorism, wars, increased crime, and a general departure from Christian morality, we should still be filled with joy at all times because we are deeply, scandalously loved by the God of the Universe.

The question is, do we really believe what we profess to be true?  Do we Christians live as a people of joy, knowing that we are adopted sons and daughters of the almighty God?  When people meet us, do they know that we are Christians by our love?  As we meditate and reflect upon the scandalous love that God has for us, we cannot help but be filled with joy, a joy that the world cannot give.

Sadly, our culture has largely rejected the gift that God has offered to them.  Many who are baptized Christians have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator” Rom 1:25.  What can we do to draw our brothers and sisters back towards the Lord and giver of life?  I propose that it is by lighting a candle and not cursing the darkness.  It is an ongoing temptation for me to notice all the problems in the world and curse those who promote ideas and lifestyles contrary to God’s plan.  I have found this to be quite fun to do: complain, complain, complain, and yet not much changes.  Facebook is a great platform for engaging in such useless activities.

So what is a good Christian to do?

It is easy for some of us who remember the good old days to be upset and want to do what we can to change it back to the way it used to be, or to hold the ground that has not been lost to a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity, but I don’t think we will be very successful.  I am not proposing that we give up on important issues like the dignity of Marriage, the right to life, or religious freedom; however, I am proposing that we change the way in which we go about promoting the Good News in the public square.

Why do people want Gay Marriage?

The recent national election showed beyond a doubt that most people in our country do not view traditional marriage as something that holds any unique value for our society and surely not something that is worth fighting for.  A lack of authentic Christian marriages has left many in our culture wondering why marriage between a man and a woman should be the only option since it has failed on so many levels.

It appears that a many believe that this country founded on Christian principles has failed to achieve its goals and a different approach should be tried.  Even back in the good old days when the rate of divorce was less than 20%, there were many stories of extremely dysfunctional families in which the kids wished that their parents had divorced rather than stayed together.  Whatever the root cause of the breakdown of marriage and family life, it has indeed broken down and instead of successful marriages being the norm, they are the exception.  The Alexander House, founded by Greg and Julie Alexander, is devoted to restoring the Christian vision of marriage, not just preventing divorces, but providing the tools for couples to live out God’s plan for their marriage.  I believe that instead of cursing those promoting non-Christian views of marriage, we need to strive to be better witnesses to the beauty that is possible by following God’s plan for marriage and sharing that vision with everyone you know.

We must also transform our families into the image of the Holy Family.  Our families should be a refuge from the difficulties in our world.  They should be a place where peace, harmony and joy reign.  I know, I know, it seems impossible.  With nine kids, I know personally how difficult it is to strive for this ideal.  While we may never achieve it perfectly, we must prioritize our lives to ensure the best chance for success.  If we are closed to God’s gift of new life, and place sports, school events, and vacations before Sunday mass, family prayer, study of our faith and church related activities, we are doomed to fail.  It is a difficult task, but well worth the effort.  Gwen (Servant of God) and Jerry Coniker started the Apostolate for Family Consecration to assist families in this difficult task.  The fruits of their apostolate has had profound effects on numerous families.   For more information on this wonderful apostolate and to find some incredible resources for bringing joy to your family life, visit www.familyconsecration.com.

A Call to Action

We are called to make our marriages and families something that people want for themselves.  We are called to be a light in the darkness and to not hide our candle under a bushel basket, but to place it on a lamp stand to give light to the whole room.  We don’t even need to use words, just living our family life according to God’s plan and with joy is enough that people will take notice.  We cannot be content with an average marriage or an average family, we are called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  While this may be impossible for man, all things are possible for God. (see Matt 19:26)

We will only win the culture wars with love, not by casting stones.  A vicious, angry reply to a gay marriage advocate or an abortion supporter will only confirm their negative opinion of Christians who hold biblical truths contrary to theirs.  We will accomplish very little by defending what little ground we have left in this battle, we need to go on the offensive and show the world that Christianity is a powerful force for good in this broken world.  We know this to be true; now the tough work begins, but you are not alone. Jesus promised to be with us always and He will not abandon us.  He loves all of us, even those who are persecuting Christianity.  In fact, Scripture tells us that He loves them more.  Do we love them too?

 

For those of you who love music, Matt Maher has written a great song that may inspire you in this area: Heaven Help Me: “Everybody’s quoting the bible, I think it could be truth or lies, and I’m standing on the corner with the saints and the sinners trying to quote your love with my life”

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Allen Apologetics Catechism Communion Doctrine Evangelization Faith Formation Guest Posts Perspective from the Head Reversion Sacraments

Recovering Catholics

In the past 50 years, the Catholic Church has struggled to properly catechize and evangelize many of its own members. I have met far too many former Catholics, who self identify themselves as “recovering Catholics.” Recovering Catholics often cite a lack of encounter with Christ, hollow spirituality, or disagreement with the moral teachings of the Church as their reasons for leaving. Most will also tell you that they were approached by a member of a Christian church and that is where they fell in love with Christ and embraced their Christian faith. When Christ is encountered and the love of God is presented in a real, personal way, your life will never be the same. Often, adult faith formation classes focus on secondary elements assuming that the faithful have already been evangelized and received the Good News, but quite often this assumption is not correct.

Saints Evangelize, not programs

Based on my personal experience, we need to do a better job evangelizing our members, many of which were born Catholic and received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation and sometimes Matrimony and the associated sacramental preparation. Receiving the sacraments has a supernatural reality, but it needs to be complemented with the practical VBS 2012 (1)aspect of growing in holiness to be fully effective within the life of the Christian. While each sacrament imparts many supernatural graces, if the individual Christian is not open to receiving that grace due to a life of sin or a lukewarm faith (i.e., a dead spiritual life), no visible change will take place after receiving a sacrament. The graces lie dormant until the individual makes a conscious decision to respond to the love of God.

The Catholic Church has educated many many people in the faith. Countless Catholics have memorized prayers, prayed rosaries, attended Mass every Sunday, and learned the moral teachings of the Church through religious education, but despite all of this knowledge and the practice of pious activities, there are still many who have not been evangelized and encountered the Father, Son and Holy spirit in a real and personal way.

I received the sacraments of initiation, attended Catholic Schools all my life, took part in the weekly Mass, but it wasn’t until I was 27 that I was evangelized. Admittedly, this was in large part due to my own personal failings. I wasn’t evangelized through my parish, rather it was a combination of a

holy deacon and a series of novels written by a lay Catholic evangelist. After this sequence of events, I saw the Church in a new light and I would never be the same. The Mass, the Eucharist, the Sacraments, all made sense now. I better understood all the pious practices performed by my grandmother and how effective her prayers for me had been.

At one point in the history of Christianity, the responsibility and duty to pass on the Faith to young Catholics resided within the family. Mom and Dad rightly felt a responsibility and duty to pass on their beloved faith. The Faith is transmitted by people, not institutions or catechetical programs. If you encountered Christ in the Catholic Church it was probably not through religious education classes or even attendance at Mass on Sunday. It was through your family, a holy priest, religious sister or RE teacher. But despite the presence of holy priests, religious sisters or RE teachers in a parish, if someone is not open to God’s love (either due to being in a state of serious sin or just an apathetic relationship with God), they may not even notice these holy people and respond to God’s call being transmitted through them.

The Year of Faith

Thanks be to God, many cultural Catholics have been evangelized by members of other Christian communities. The Lord is the hound of heaven and ardently desires to show each person His love and gather all peoples to himself and He will use any means necessary to do so.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared a year of faith beginning in October of this year. In his apostolic letter, “Porta Fidei”, he writes, “The Year of Faith…is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord”. The Pope calls the faithful to renew themselves in the faith, by prayer and study aided by the Church. Each Catholic who has the gift of faith and leads an active life within the Church is called to share that faith with their fellow Church members.

This could be as easy as meeting someone after Mass who you have not yet met, attending an activity at church during the week to serve the poor, faith formation for youth or other adults. It could also be to meet your neighbors and get to know them and share reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15), you might encounter a lapsed or former Catholic who was not evangelized and may even be angry with the Church for its failings. We are called to share our faith with others, it is not a private matter, Jesus told us to go out into the whole world and share the good news (Matt 28:19).

If you are a “recovering Catholic”, I personally apologize that you were not given the fullness of truth and I ask for your forgiveness. Consider taking an objective look at the claims of the Catholic Church. It is the Church that Jesus founded on the rock of St. Peter and despite all its flawed members, the teachings of Jesus Christ has been preserved for 2,000 years and Jesus himself is waiting for you in the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church.

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Allen Guest Posts Movies Reviews

The Way to Where?

Last summer when I heard about the new movie by Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen entitled, “The Way,” I was very excited about seeing it.  After all I have seen “The Fourth Wise Man” and Martin Sheen is Catholic and holds passionate Pro-life views .  Instead of providing an inspiring, uplifting movie that led the viewer towards a deeper relationship with God, it depicted broken people who, while traveling the Camino de Santiago, they journey towards self discovery and learn to accept and love who they are, character defects and all.

THE POWERFUL EFFECT OF MEDIA 

Media of all types is very powerful, the views of the writer or director come through in the story and are intended to convince us of something or help us to see an issue or lifestyle in a new light.  We are profoundly shaped by the media we consume, the more time we spend with it, the more it shapes our attitudes, values and life choices.  The effect is intensified the younger the viewer is.  Be careful little eyes what you see and hear, they are the portals into our souls.  I have written much more about the effect of media at my personal blog, please read this article if you need more convincing.

A REVIEW OF THE WAY 

Based on my conviction that media is a very powerful means of shaping our beliefs and attitudes, I have reviewed “The Way”.  The Way is set in a picturesque area of the world that many of its viewers are unfamiliar with.  The Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) begins in France at the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains and travels about 800 km to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Most of the pilgrimage is through quaint Spanish towns with a healthy dose of character.  The journey is completely on foot and the accommodations along the way are rustic.  The Camino de Santiago is a traditional Catholic pilgrimage route and there are many Catholic pilgrims, artwork, and Churches along the way.  The Way features a Catholic priest pilgrim who carries with him more than a few rosaries to distribute to other pilgrims. The police officer whom the main character meets prior to his journey is a devout Catholic who attempts to share his religious experience of the way, which he has made three times (there and back).  The movie almost reaches its climax at the Cathedral of St. James where it appears the pilgrims attend mass, but the main scene in the Church is of the Botafumeiro, which is a famous thurible, that swings over the altar.  For the casual observer, you might think it is some kind of side show or tourist attraction that takes place within the Church.  The entire film was shot on location and thus there are many real life pilgrims who were caught on film with the actors.

QUESTIONABLE, BUT LIKABLE CHARACTERS

The main character, Tom, is a lapsed Catholic who is mourning the death of his son.  The Dutchman is experiencing difficulty in his marriage and struggles with his weight.  The lone Female was a battered wife, committed an abortion and is a chain smoker.  Lastly, we encounter an Irish writer who is very eccentric, has writer’s block and hasn’t set foot in a Church in quite a few years.  Each of these characters is likable, we see much of ourselves in them.  Only the Dutchman appears to have a true encounter with God at the end of the movie and appears to surrender to the divine physician for healing from his brokenness.  However, at the end of the tale, each character comes to accept him or herself as they are with no apparent resolve to amend their lives.

QUESTIONABLE CONTENT

This movie is rated PG-13 for a reason, this is not a kid friendly movie about a Catholic pilgrimage.  Drugs are a prominent and recurring theme throughout the whole movie.  The drug use is displayed in a humorous, “Breakfast Club” kind of way, no bad effects from drug use, only fun, fun and more fun.  The movie does have some profanity, I can’t recall the number of times nor the specific words, but it is fairly recurrent throughout the film voiced mainly by the hip young people.  It is portrayed as normal to use vulgar language as part of everyday speech.  Smoking is also featured positively and all the cool people are doing it.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when the Female traveler rises early and is taking in the beautiful scenery and a man wearing only a thong yells out a greeting to her while he is gathering his clothes from the drying line.

QUESTIONABLE MESSAGES

Director Emilio Estevez stated during the question and answer session at the screening I attended, that the main message of the movie is “I’m ok with being exactly who I am”.  We are all broken, true enough, and each character seems to receive some healing from this brokenness, but it was unclear where this healing came from.  In a sense, they accepted their brokenness instead of seeking out God to heal it.  The positive portrayal of vices, smoking, drug use, gluttony, is a real point of concern for me as a father.  Smoking, drugs and over indulgence are real problems in our society today, our Christian faith calls us to be free and to be masters of the flesh.  This movie presents an alternate message that to indulge is human and it can be fun and rewarding too!

The body of Tom’s son was cremated, and then distributed along the Camino and dumped into the ocean at the end of the movie.  Besides this going against Canon law (which Emilio and Martin made clear that they were aware of and didn’t care), it communicates a lack of respect for the human body.  The Church’s law concerning the proper treatment of mortal remains exists to protect the dignity of the human body.  The movie uses this recurring activity (disposing of the ashes) to symbolize Tom’s letting go of his son and it is effective, I fear that it may cause many more people to choose this method of saying farewell to a loved one.

IS THE WAY A CATHOLIC MOVIE? 

In this writer’s opinion, the answer is no.  Unfortunately, it is being promoted heavily in

Basílica de Santiago
Basílica de Santiago

Catholic circles.  The Way is a secular movie in a Catholic setting.  Unfortunately, one can come away from this movie viewing the Catholic Churchas scenery in everyday life.  In Europe this has already happened, the beautiful Catholic Churches are more museums than places of worship.  The message of Christianity is viewed as historical fiction, rather than the living good news of God communicated to his children.  According to director Emilio Estevez, The Way is a departure from the message given in popular Hollywood movies today (Emilio and his Dad funded the movie themselves and thus it is considered an Indie film), but I beg to differ.  Many movies contain too much violence, too much sex, and frequent positive portrayal of objectively immoral actions, the Way avoids most of this and instead preaches a gospel devoid of God. God is portrayed as unnecessary for happiness, the only thing that is required is to get away from the rat race and take a long walk, it is in this solitude that you will find yourself and then you will truly be happy.

Have you seen The Way?  If so, please share your thoughts on the movie and if you agree or disagree with my observations.