Saturday, December 27, 2014

Evangelize – Proselytize – Catechize, what is the difference?


Evangelize – Proselytize – Catechize, what is the difference?

Evangelization and proselytization are both acts which are done with the hope of converting someone from a particular religion, or no religion, to another religion. Evangelization when done properly is the sharing of one’s faith in a non-confrontational manner with the hope that the sharing sparks an interest in the listener and the conversation continues. Proselytization is a more direct, confrontational approach that tries to convert a person by making them believe that a particular way is the only right way and that you must believe that way as presented or suffer the consequences. Proselytization has never been overly successful and is illegal in some countries. It never less remains one of the most popular ways to try to convert people to a particular way of thinking. To catechize is to instruct someone in the principles of a religion (most commonly associated with Catholicism) by means of question and answer, typically using a catechism. Catechism continues what evangelization begins.

This blog is a bit of both evangelization and catechization. It is my way to share my faith with you while providing some instruction and explanation on why Catholics believe what we believe. Going through RCIA the second time with my wife and son I found that I like to share my faith. More so, I found that I enjoy explaining or teaching why we believe what we do. There is no end to the number of people, Catholic or not, who are willing to tell you why we believe and do what we do. Unfortunately, the number of people who get it wrong are more numerous than the web pages that will back up their claims. The Church, at least in America, has done a poor job through the ages in properly catechizing the faithful. As a result we have a church full of people who stand together on Sunday and proclaim, “I believe….” But then get to the parking lot and say, “But I think the Church is wrong on….”

The Catholic Church has the magisterium. The magisterium is the authority that spells out exactly what the authentic teaching of the Church is. It stems from apostolic succession. Jesus taught his disciples and gave them the authority to teach their replacements. The replacements came to be known as bishops. Bishops have the authority, responsibility and duty to teach the authentic teachings of Christ to the faithful. The magisterium consists of the pope and the bishops who are in communion with him.

What the magisterium ensures is that every Catholic Church teaches the same thing no matter where they are in the world. Truth and teaching is not left up to the individual parish or person to define for themselves. Jesus taught his disciples one way, one truth. Today we have over 41,000 Christian denomination and non-denominational churches throughout the world each teaching what they believe to be the truth. I think it is safe to say that there are not 41,000 different versions of the one truth.

The Catholic Church is the only church that can back up a claim of having an unbroken line of apostolic succession leading directly back to Jesus himself. What the Church teaches today is exactly what the first disciples taught and received directly from Jesus. Church teaching may have been clarified through the years but it has never changed, even during the bad years of even worse popes. No matter how corrupt they may have been none of them changed Church teaching even to benefit themselves.

The key word behind teaching a faith is authority. By whose authority are you teaching? If I were to show up at your house and demand you let me in because I was with the FBI I would be in a lot of trouble. I am not there with the authority of the FBI. The same is truth with faith. Am I teaching the faith according to Christ or am I teaching the faith according to Bob? Where does my authority come from? For a Catholic, the authority to officially teach the faith (catechize) comes only from the diocesan bishop. All Catholics are called to evangelize their faith as a mandate of their baptism but only those with the bishop’s approval may officially teach the faith.

I wanted to join our parish’s RCIA team but I would first have to gain the bishop’s approval to teach with authority. The following week I saw a notice in the church bulletin announcing that a new class of ministry formation was about to begin. The diocese offers a two year course for people who want to become a Catholic lay minister in one of the many ministries the church offers. The description of the course reads as follows:

 

What is the Ministry Formation Program?

 

A two-year formation program for Catholic lay men and women with at least a high school education who want to:

 

  • offer leadership in an area of ministry,
  • deepen spiritual awareness,

  • enhance theological knowledge,
  • develop pastoral skills for a particular area of ministry.

Who benefits from the Ministry Formation Program?

You and your parish.  Well trained lay ministers will promote the Gospel and encourage the involvement of others.

 
To learn more about the ministry formation program CLICK HERE.

 I sought approval from our parish priest and was enrolled in the course. Orientation day I felt very out of place. I wasn’t very comfortable around “church people” and these were definitely people who wanted more out of their faith than just a Sunday Mass. In the first class we had to do an introduction, state what parish we were from and tell what rolls we currently do for our parish. I listened to my classmates tell who they were, where they were from and the title after title of the ministries they were involved in. When it was my turn it simply went, “Hi, I’m Bob from St. Rita in Rockford.” It was the exclamation point on the “you’re in the wrong place” sentence echoing in my mind.

I am now half way through my second year of ministry formation and I can honestly say that it has been one of the best things I could have ever done. It has been transformative in my life. I have learned my faith at a deeper level while making some very good friends along the way. It has changed the way I think and look at people. It is leading me in directions I never thought I’d go. Before taking this course I would say that I did more proselytizing than evangelizing. I can only hope that my proselytizing days are long behind me.

As with all things with God each door he opens leads to a larger room. One just has to be willing to walk through the door. I am now almost through the room of ministry formation and am faced with yet another door. God is asking if I want the door to be opened and now instead of presenting excuses why I don’t I am willing to say yes and see where it leads.

I am now walking this road to Damascus with purpose instead of wandering aimlessly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!


“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
 
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

       “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.”

Luke 2, 1-20

And so began the first Christ Mass or Christmas where man received the greatest gift we would ever receive. Prepare your hearts to be as empty mangers waiting for the baby Jesus to come. Welcome him into your life and love him as any good parent loves a child. Let him shine through you into the New Year as a beacon of faith, hope and charity. Without him we are but dust. With him we become adopted royal heirs to God’s great kingdom or basileia.
 


 
"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it."
John 1, 1-5

Rejoice for the Christ has come!
 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Right as Rain


It was now time to enroll our children in CCD. When we called to register we found out that my oldest was now too old to be entered into the program.  If he wanted to get confirmed he would have to go through the RCIA program instead. It was disappointing news at first but worked out better in the end. The middle two children were enrolled in CCD and began their religious education.

Seeing RCIA is an adult formation program it wasn’t something I was going to force my son to go through. If he wanted to become Catholic we would enroll him in RCIA. If he didn’t or wasn’t ready we wouldn’t force him to go through it. My son aims to please everyone and said he wanted to go through the program. I hoped that he wanted to go through it for himself and not just to please me. He assured me that it was something he wanted to do. His mother wasn’t very happy with this decision but said she would support him in it. He chose his grandfather to be his sponsor.

Much to my surprise when we enrolled my son my wife also enrolled. She had decided that she wanted to get baptized and become a full member of the Church. I could not be her sponsor because of our marriage situation but I attended classes with her and my son.

Going through RCIA the second time was more difficult for me. I had learned more about my faith and was looking to receive a greater depth of instruction than what was taught. I had forgotten that RCIA was meant to be a taste of the faith, enough so the person could understand what they were committing to but not too much to be overwhelming. It was perfect for what my wife and son needed. RCIA in our new parish was taught by a team of seven people. Many of them have become dear friends. One has become my mentor.

It was finally time for our family to right our relationship with God. I am sure it was with divine help all of the puzzle pieces started to fall into place.

First – my annulment was granted. I was now free to marry. My wife’s first marriage was also reviewed and she was cleared to marry as well. Free to marry, we could have our marriage blessed and be viewed as husband and wife by the Church. Father Ariel Valencia witnessed our marriage in a private ceremony in the chapel of our church on March 16th, 2013. We had already done the big show wedding. This one was for our family and God.



Next – I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. This was something that was overlooked the first time I went through RCIA and my Lutheran baggage told me that this was something I didn’t really have to do. With that baggage gone and a deeper understanding of my faith I understood that this was a huge hurdle keeping me from God.  One by one I went through the list of sins I had committed over the course of forty years. Some were extremely painful to say out loud. Some brought forth immense shame. Both of those were good things as it showed me that I was sorry for what I had done. Many people have told me about the weight they feel lifted off of them when they hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins.” I didn’t have that experience. It was good to know that I had been forgiven but at the same time some healed wounds leave scars and I have some that run very deep. In any event I was now a man with a clean slate and a blessed marriage. I was now in a right relationship to receive the Eucharist again. The thought of this brought me joy but that joy failed in comparison to what happened next.

We were now entering Holy Week where the catechumens (unbaptized) and candidates (baptized adults seeking full confirmation) were preparing to become full members of the Church. On Easter Sunday, 2013 my wife and her two children were baptized. Then my wife and oldest son were confirmed and became full members of the Church. Next my wife, my oldest and I all received the Eucharist together. For me it was the first time receiving the Eucharist in thirteen years. One could argue that it actually the first time I received the Eucharist correctly.

This by far was the greatest day of my life and the source of the greatest joy I have ever known. A husband and father’s primary responsibility is to make sure that his wife and children make it to heaven. When I first started down this road I had little hope of fulfilling that task. I am constantly amazed at what God can do if you only allow him to work through you. I now had a Catholic family, all baptized and growing in their faith.

God was far from done.

Father Ariel Valencia, my wife and children - Easter Sunday 2013.
 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A New Home....


The religious education of children is one of a parent’s greatest responsibilities. This was a responsibility I was woefully negligent of when it came to my oldest son. I walked away from the Church when he was three years old. The only churching he got was on the rare occasion when he went to Mass with his grandparents or when he went with his mother to one of her progressive churches. She was now very anti-Catholic because the Church would not accept the gay lifestyle or ordain women. This created a great deal of animosity between her and her parents and an even greater deal of confusion for my son, which he still struggles with today.

I have only myself to blame for this. I rarely shared my faith with my son and I tried never to address the gay issue with him out of respect for his mother. This meant that he only heard her beliefs and lies not countered become truth. I am happy that I have a son who is caring and respectful of all people.  I wanted him to be that caring and respectful while still knowing the truth. It was time I step up to the plate and be the dad I am meant to be.

At the same time I had two step-children who never got much religious education either. It was time that all my children learn about the beauty of the Catholic faith. The religious education program for children is called CCD or Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. The parish that we were part of charged a fee per child that put this program out of our reach. We made an appointment to discuss the matter with our parish priest.

We told Father about our issues. He countered by asking how our Mass attendance had been. We admitted that it had begun to fall off. Our youngest, quickly approaching the terrible twos, was becoming more and more disruptive during Mass. This parish did not have a cry room and I thought it wrong to disturb people who had come to worship. We started staying away.

Father told us that it was more important for us to come to Mass than it was for us to come to Mass at his parish. He recommended that we switch to a different parish closer to our house. That parish had both a cry room and a family plan for CCD. He would be sad to see us go but happy if we would continue to grow in our faith life.

I had mixed feelings about this idea. This parish was the parish where I converted and came into the Catholic faith. I had a lot of history with this parish. The hardest part for me was that they had a very good and holy man as parish priest. A good priest is like a good doctor or a good mechanic. When you find one you want to hold on to them for as long as possible.

My wife on the other hand couldn’t have been happier with the suggestion. Although she also liked the priest she was never comfortable in that parish. My history at that parish was with my ex-wife and her family and she could not see this parish ever becoming “our” spiritual home. There were too many constant reminders of past ties.

I understood her feelings but had a hard time letting go. I am very conservative (orthodox) with my faith. My church was the old design, Protestant style church. The new church was more new fangled “church in the round” style. We had a conservative/orthodox priest. Who knows what the new church had. I had heard too many horror stories of poorly formed priests and liturgical abuses to be comfortable.

In the end it was more important that my children receive the religious education they deserve and my wife be happy with the parish we attend than it was for me to be an unchanging stick in the mud. I took a chance and we switched parishes. St Rita Catholic Church, Rockford, Illinois became our new spiritual home.

My wife never seems to tire of saying, “I told you so.” St. Rita has been an absolute blessing to our family. My fears of a poor priest couldn’t have been further from the mark. Both the priest and his associate were good and holy men. Everyone we met was warm, welcoming and friendly. It was definitely the best move we could have made and key to our righting our relationship with God.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

A New Man...


I have just gotten through what will probably be one of the worst weeks of my life. I have come out the other side a very humble guy. God surly has greater plans for me and right now I am all ears.

I have a horrible family medical history. My father had a major heart attack when he was only thirty-eight. He had quadruple bypass open heart surgery at forty-two. His heart attack jump started rheumatoid arthritis and by the time he had the open heart surgery he was fully disabled. I was only fifteen and very lucky to still have a father.

The rheumatoid arthritis created a laundry list of other health issues, destroying his body slowly and very painfully. By the time he died he had survived six additional angioplasties, three hip replacements, cornea replacements, spinal stenosis and had beaten hepatitis C. He not only endured suffering but taught us how to bear suffering with grace. There was never a doctor, nurse, care giver or fellow sufferer that he did not leave with a smile, a laugh or a pleasant memory.

I lost my father when he was sixty-six. He lost his father to a heart attack when he was sixty-seven. He lost a brother to a stroke and a heart attack when he was sixty-two and a nephew to a heart attack at fifty-six. Like I said, I have a horrible family medical history and this is only the tip of the iceberg. My father constantly warned me to change my ways or I would walk his path. Of course, in my youth, I was superman and nothing could hurt me.

In 2008 I turned thirty-eight and began to notice the symptoms of a clogged ticker. Because of my father my doctor sent me straight in for an angiogram. They found one block that was 50% - 60% closed. They can’t touch a block until it hits 70% so I was sent home with instructions to change my lifestyle. This was also the same year my father died and I got married. I was already dealing with too much emotionally so I didn’t pay the doctor much mind.

Over the last two years I have had an increase in symptoms that are clogged heart related. We were really struggling financially and couldn’t pay additional medical bills so I fell back to VA medical coverage. I complained to them about the symptoms expecting that they would get me in for testing and corrective measures. Year one went by and no response from the VA. I complained louder during my physical the next year and they did another write-up. Six or seven months went by and no word from them. I have been traveling more than usual the past year and the symptoms have really begun to show more and more. I was constantly worried about having a heart attack while on the road so I decided I could not wait any longer for the VA to respond.

I went back to my regular doctors and they immediately sent me for an angiogram. I fully expected that the one block would now be 70%+ and that they would be able to balloon me back into health. Ten minutes into it the cardiologist stopped the surgery and told me I was going to need open heart bypass. The one block that we knew of was now at 75% - as it was expected. What came out of nowhere was that the other two arterial branches were at 90% and 95% blocked. My heart was a time bomb with little time left on the clock. I was devastated.

To look at this from the positive side of the coin we had caught this before any damage was done. I didn’t find out about it by waking up in a hospital in Newark, New Jersey or by collapsing on a plane while flying over Colorado. Given the location and seriousness of the blocks there was a great possibility of not waking up at all. I am also young making recovery an easier proposition. Because it was not an emergency the surgery was scheduled three weeks out.

He's a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again.”

Rule #1 of blogging – never miss the opportunity to use a good Jaws quote. But that quote illustrated exactly how I felt. I was ok with the surgery, although still a bit shocked by it. But from the time I got the diagnosis to the time everything went dark in the OR I was in fear that this would go from a scheduled surgery to an emergency surgery. Every little pain, ache or tickle in my chest was amplified.

My wife was amazed at how calm I was in the time leading up to the surgery. She was not taking the situation nearly as well. It is times like these when your true faith presents itself. It is that faith that is then tested. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Do you truly trust God no matter what the outcome?

I would receive the Sacrament of Anointing before going in for surgery. My sins are forgiven and I am made ready for the journey if that is God’s will. If I died on the table I would go straight to Heaven, no purgatory. I asked my wife to look at things through my eyes for just a moment. What is the worst possible outcome that could happen? She answered, “You could die.” to which I responded, “No, I could come through this just fine and live another thirty years.” If that was the worst that could happen to me how could I be worried? Trust in God. It works.

On November 12th at 7:00AM I was wheeled into the OR. My wife and I exchanged kisses and “I love yous.” I looked her in the eyes and said, “Have faith,” just as everything went black. Truth be told, my greatest fear was waking up after the surgery with the breathing tube in. I have a bad gag reflex and I couldn’t imagine having a tube down my throat. As the anesthesia wore off and I began to come to I did my best to relax and let the machine breath for me. I gagged many times before they could remove the tubes from my throat. I had made it through to the other side of surgery. Sorry to say that I do not have any stories of the tunnel of light, walking with angels or being sent back by Jesus. As interesting as those experiences sound I for one am really happy not to have had them.

When it was all said and done I had a quintuple (5) bypass. I out did my father by one. Who says I am an underachiever? As I write this blog I sit here bruised and battered but happy to be alive. I am also very overwhelmed and humbled. When I had the first angiogram in 2008 I could count the number of people who were actually praying for me on just my fingers. Since that time I have let God back into my life and he has begun to slowly transform me as a person. I have spent most of my life feeling pretty much alone. I kept people at two cubits distance (arm’s length reference – See Genesis 6:15). Today I am anything but alone.

The people who were praying for me during this ordeal numbers in the thousands. I have the entire Catholic faith community in general and a dozen or more parishes in particular. I am in the thoughts and prayers of many different protestant denominational and nondenominational churches as well as a few people in non-Christian religions. People are praying for me not only in many different states across this country but in a few other countries as well. The priest who married my wife and I heard about it through Facebook and drove over an hour and a half to sit with her in the waiting room during the surgery.  My parish priest was there shortly after surgery to anoint me again and give me deep comfort in my suffering. My ministry formation group held prayer services and sent me cards of sentiment. One even passed on a medal of Saint John of God, the patron saint of those suffering with heart disease. That medal never left my side during recovery in the days that followed in the hospital.  Family, friends, neighbors and at least one stranger have been by our side every step of the way. I am anything but alone.

This has all been extremely overwhelming and humbling to me. The outpouring of love I have received has been staggering. I wish I could thank you all here by name but that would be impossible. Know that your prayers have been heard and answered and that God still has a use for me. I look forward to being able to serve and return your love for decades to come.

There is one person I need to thank by name. That is my wife – Nicole. She was by my side every moment of this journey tolerating me while I was less than hospitable. She put up with the bear who emerged after surgery who could find nothing right in anything she did. She continued to care for me with nothing but love and compassion through it all. She said it was all in the vow she took but the vow is all but useless if it is not backed by the right word – agape.  She is that to me.

Thank you all for the prayers, support, casserole, cards, beef stew, lunch, hugs and every other offering I have received in the past weeks. Your outpouring helps heal a broken soul and body.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Huge Step Forward


We were now attending Mass each week as a family. Our faith life began to grow. I found myself missing the Eucharist more and more each week. As the patriarch of Clan Collins I needed to get our family into a right relationship with God. How does a Catholic, civilly divorced and remarried outside of the Church go about reconciling this relationship?

According to Catholic teaching there are only three ways this can be done:

1: Your original spouse dies. Once your spouse dies you are no longer bound by the sacrament of marriage and are free then to marry again (until death do us part…remember?).

2: You and your current spouse take a vow to live as brother and sister. You see, it’s all about the sex. Sex is reserved to one man and one woman bound together in a covenantal marriage. Notice that I did not say a sacramental marriage. It is possible to have a Church blessed wedding that is not sacramental. This is often the case between interfaith marriages (a Catholic and a Buddhist) or in the case where one of the spouses is not baptized. The marriage is recognized but it is not a sacrament and you do not receive the sacramental grace that goes along with it.

Couples in my situation can take a vow to live as brother and sister, that is, live in a sexless relationship. Once done I could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then be able to start receiving the Eucharist again.

3: You can seek an annulment.

Seeing my original wife was not dead and that there was little chance of this new marriage going sexless seeking an annulment was my only choice if I wanted to right this relationship with God.  An annulment is not a Catholic divorce. If a person can show where there was something not correct with the first marriage then that marriage can be declared void – it wasn’t a marriage from the start.

So what constitutes a valid marriage, which can never be annulled?

There are three basic requirements for two people to wed in the Catholic Church:

1: The couple must be capable and free to marry – they must be a man and a woman of proper maturity who are free from any impediment to marry.

2: The couple must be freely giving their consent to marry one another. No arranged or shotgun marriages allowed.

3: They must follow the canonical matter and form required by the church.

An annulment in the Catholic Church is a very serious matter. The Church is basically ruling that a conferred sacrament was never really conferred in the first place. This is something they have to be absolutely sure about. If your first marriage was indeed a validly sacramental marriage and they allow you to remarry the sin is on the person who allowed it. I am sure there is no honest priest who wishes his soul be damned to hell just to let a couple he will likely never see again unknowingly commit adultery.

Because of this the Church has a very arduous, thorough and legalistic process that must be completed. Each spouse is appointed an advocate.  Something a kin to a deposition must be completed by the person seeking the annulment as well as at least four witnesses who knew the couple before and after the marriage. The other spouse is given a chance to give their side of the story and contest the annulment if they so desire. The couple must also be civilly divorced before starting this process.

Once all of the paperwork is complete the advocates go over it and it is brought before a tribunal for review. If the tribunal feels that there are grounds to proceed the petition for annulment is then sent to a judge for a ruling. If the judge finds just cause to issue the annulment it is automatically sent to the court of second chance. There everything is reviewed once again and a final decree is then issued. If both judges come to the same conclusion a decree of nullity is issued and both parties are free to marry again.

Like I said, this is serious stuff. The Church has to make sure that it gets this right.

But all the thoroughness comes with a price. My annulment was pretty straight forward. It still took the better part of ten months to complete. This is the process the recent synod on the family has been discussing. How can we be thorough and correctly review each petition yet speed things up and make it an easier process?

I thought my annulment was pretty cut and dried. I was surprised at the amount of time it took. My ex had hidden the fact that she was gay from me so I did not have the knowledge I needed in the beginning to make an informed choice. The grounds on which my annulment was filed was indeed deception on her part even though it was not a wanton or malicious act. She was struggling with that issue at the time we were dating so neither of us were “free” to marry when we made the decision to do so.

As for me they ruled that I lacked the proper maturity to be able to marry. My ex was the first person I honestly dated and therefore they felt that I jumped into marriage far too quickly. In retrospect they were right. In the end they granted me the annulment which made it possible for me to remarry.

My wife was also married before. Her husband was “Catholic” although he didn’t actively practice, if he believed any of it at all. She also had to have her first marriage reviewed for validity although she did not have to petition for an annulment. Her review was much simpler than mine. First, she wasn’t baptized. Second, her ex had been married several times without ever seeking an annulment. Third their marriage lacked the proper form and matter to be considered a valid marriage. Form and matter is a topic of another discussion and another time. It was ruled that she was also free to marry.

That was the largest hurdle in getting this relationship right with God. We were both now free to marry and we could get our marriage blessed by the Church. Seeing my wife was not baptized we could have a blessed marriage but not a sacramental one. If we had a blessed marriage and she were to get baptized it would instantly become a sacramental marriage and we would receive all the grace the sacrament brings with it.

We were taking big steps forward and God had many more blessings in store for us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Respect Life Month

A life to be celebrated or a burden to be terminated?


The answer to that question currently depends on the will of the mother. If the mother wants the child then it is considered a life and protected to the full extent of the law. If the mother does not want the child she is free to have it murdered and removed from her womb.
This is one of the most divisive issues in the United States today – Pro Life vs. Pro Choice.
 
Let’s take religion out of the argument for just a moment. They only reason this is an issue today is because we as a people, a society and a country have not decided when a human life begins. Once we do that this argument is over. This is funny to me because science has determined when all other life begins and that is upon conception of that life. The opinions seem to change a bit when we are dealing with the human animal. Then majority opinion is still at conception but some change their minds. Why?
 
Again, leaving religion out of the discussion, the Constitution of the United States protects ALL HUMAN LIFE within the borders of this country and our territories. One cannot be deprived of their life without due process of the law. If we were to officially define life as beginning at conception it would mean that babies are protected from the moment of conception. One could not abort a baby without due process of the law or, in other words, one would have to prove what crime, punishable by death, the baby had committed in order for it to be put to death and removed from the womb. This would end abortion.
I will only make one comment from the religious side of this coin;
 
No society that ever practiced child sacrifice has survived. God has wiped them all from the face of this planet. We are next in line if we do not change our ways. Make no mistake – abortion is child sacrifice. Children are sacrificed every day to the gods of convenience, selfish desire and ignorance. More children have been sacrificed (murdered) by abortion than by any of the recognized evil men have killed – Hitler, Hussein, Chairman Mao, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin – all murdered less people than the number of aborted babies in this country alone. 57,243,184 since abortion was legalized in 1973. 837,450 this year alone.
 
 
October is Respect Life Month. Each and every one of us is a masterpiece made by God. We should not only respect life but we should cherish and celebrate it.
 
For the record, the baby pictured at the beginning of this post is a life that is celebrated. That is my youngest daughter – Madelynn Nicole.
 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Baby steps forward.

I had been back to attending weekly Mass for about a month when my wife surprised me by telling me that she would like to go with me.  This was a pleasant surprise to me seeing the Catholic faith was the only Christian faith my wife once told me she would not consider. Now she was willing to give it a try. The next week that our children were with the “others” we attended Mass together for the first time as husband and wife….kind of.

She came away from Mass full of questions, which showed interest. We went together again and more questions – more interest. It wasn’t what she expected. She didn’t agree with everything she saw but then again she didn’t understand everything she saw either. She had always wanted a family faith life so it wasn’t long before we started taking the kids with us every week.

Now I said that we attended Mass as husband and wife…kind of. We were husband and wife in the eyes of the state. We had the signed license. We went through the prescribed ceremony. But in the eyes of the Catholic Church we were adulterers.  We were sinners committing mortal sin and therefore could not fully participate in the Mass.
In the Catholic Church marriage is one of the seven sacraments. As we learned in a previous post a sacrament is a sacred oath taken until death. Marriage being a sacrament explains the “until death do us part” business you always hear at weddings. You also always (used to) hear a part that basically goes like “what God has joined together let no one separate”.

This goes all the way back to creation itself. God created man and then woman. He joined the two together and made them one flesh, the first marriage. How did that end? Woman, who could not be told what to do, ate the apple and now I have to wear pants. Ok, maybe it’s not that simple. Plus if Adam had done his job and protected his wife none of that would have happened. So it’s really man’s fault I have to wear pants. Figures.
Jesus reaffirmed this with his teaching to the Jews when they questioned him about divorce. Moses, a man, allowed divorce because their hearts had hardened to the will of God. Jesus reminded them of the first marriage and that man and woman are bound together as one flesh which cannot be separated. This is the Catholic belief and teaching. Once married a man and woman are bound inseparable until one of them dies. Only then is the survivor allowed to remarry. There is no such thing as a divorced Catholic.

Both my wife and I had been previously married, I in the church and she in the backyard. Seeing the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize the word “previously” we both were “currently” married to other people. That made us adulterers with mortal sin separating us from a right relationship with God. We could not partake in the fullness of the Mass and could only watch from a distance.

The important thing was that we were at Mass, together, with our children, desiring to be in a right relationship with God. Where there is a desire God will provide the path for healing.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Knights of Columbus

I interrupt the regularly scheduled blogcast to bring you this breaking news:

Today I completed my second and third degrees in the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus is the largest Catholic men’s fraternity in the world. The following is taken off the Knights of Columbus website:

“Thanks to the efforts of Father Michael J. McGivney, assistant pastor of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven and some of his parishioners, the Connecticut state legislature on March 29, 1882, officially chartered the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal benefit society. The Order is still true to its founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity.

The Knights was formed to render financial aid to members and their families. Mutual aid and assistance are offered to sick, disabled and needy members and their families. Social and intellectual fellowship is promoted among members and their families through educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.

The history of the Order shows how the foresight of Father Michael J. McGivney, whose cause for sainthood is being investigated by the Vatican, brought about what has become the world's foremost Catholic fraternal benefit society. The Order has helped families obtain economic security and stability through its life insurance, annuity and long-term care programs, and has contributed time and energy worldwide to service in communities.”


A Catholic men’s fraternity that promotes Charity – Unity – Fraternity. Brothers helping brothers and their widows and orphans. If you are a Catholic man and you are not a Knight why aren’t you? There is a huge difference between the Knights sending condolences to your wife upon your passing and the Knights sending condolences with a check upon your passing. If you are not a Knight give it a look. Give me a holler. If it’s not for you then no harm, no foul. It’s hard to turn away from a group of Catholic men publicly living their faith, putting their money where their mouth is and leading with charity, unity and fraternity. You may find it to be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

 
Now back to the regularly scheduled blogcast.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Catholics Come Home

Several years ago the Catholic Church started a commercial campaign to bring fallen away Catholics back to the church.  It was called Catholics Come Home. Most of the commercials talked about the many things the Catholic Church has achieved in its two-thousand year existence. I believe a majority of these things were not known even to a lot of cradle Catholics. These commercials should fill every Catholic with a deep sense of pride while giving anti-catholics something to really despise. Contest them as they have the commercials are none-the-less factually accurate.

 
I was now back to being a husband and a father. My knowledge of my faith was growing daily with the help of Catholic radio. A desire started to grow within me and I began to miss the Mass. More to the point, I began to miss the Eucharist. The desire was strongest during Advent when our Lord became incarnate and again during Lent when he offered himself as sacrifice for all humanity.  Several years I stayed up late and watched midnight Mass at the Vatican. Finally I got to a point where I could not stay away any longer. It was time this Catholic came home.

It was an overcast Sunday. I went to Mass alone, because returning this first time had to be something I did alone. I sat in the parking lot and stared at the church. It looked menacing and I was intimidated. I could imagine how the prodigal son must have felt as he looked upon the place of his birth after foolishly squandering his inheritance. How would I be welcomed? What would people think of me?

I got out of the car and walked up the steps to the doors. I went inside and sat in the very last pew all the way to the right of the church. I tried to be as invisible as I could. As Mass began a sense of calm came over me and I was filled with a joy so great that it was hard to keep the tears from flowing and flow they did. I did not receive the Eucharist that day and that was alright by me. Jesus had welcomed me back.

Before I walked away from the Church those many years before I had been an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and I received the Eucharist every week. I did so without ever receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, even one time. As I have said, I was a Catholic with Lutheran baggage. I thought the Church was wrong to demand that only Catholics in good standing be the only ones who received communion. They would share the word of God with anyone who would listen but they kept the body of God to themselves. Why not give the body of God to anyone who wanted it and let God work from within those people. What could it hurt?

That was before I learned the original meaning of the word ‘sacrament’. Sacrament originally meant “oath to the death”. It was what Roman soldiers took to Caesar. When we go up for communion we aren’t going to receive but to give. When we accept Jesus in the flesh we are pledging a solemn oath to the death that we will give our lives for him. This is the most serious thing we can ever do and it should never be done flippantly. I think that if Catholics actually understood and believed what they were doing when they receive the Eucharist the lines to receive our Lord would be even shorter than they are today.

In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that we aren’t led into temptation. More accurately translated we are asking that we not be put to the test. We aren’t asking protection from any run of the mill temptation – don’t tempt me in taking a penny when I don’t need one or the temptation to eat too many donuts.  What we pray is that we aren’t put to the ultimate test, the test of Peter. Would we freely go to the cross with our Lord the way he did for us or would we deny him three times like Peter did before the crucifixion? That is the temptation or test we pray we never have to take.

When I entered the church that day I did so without my Lutheran baggage, with a greater knowledge of what my faith teaches and an understanding that obedience is more pleasing to God than even sacrifice.  This is the date of my second, my full and my complete conversion.

God wants to mold all of us in his image. Instead of being soft clay needing a gentle touch I chose to be granite needing repeated whacks with a large hammer. My rock hard heart was now beginning to soften.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Rocky Beginning

My life was looking up. Things were going well between my girlfriend and me and our kids got along well together. I asked them to move in. A short time later I asked her to be my wife. She wanted the big church wedding complete with white dress and reception that she did not get to have her first go around. I wanted to make her happy. We began planning and ran smack dab into our first challenge.

She wanted to get married in a church, as did I, but she had never belonged to any church before. I have an issue with using someone’s building without giving them patronage. To me it doesn’t matter if it is a gas station bathroom or, in this case, a church. I insisted that if she wanted to get married in a church that she find a church she liked and become a member.
Which church to choose? There are so many. She did not know one faith from another. The only church out of the question was the Catholic Church. She didn’t know anything about it but she knew they had rules and no one was going to tell her how she should live her life.
Our kids played sports at a nearby Central Christian Church and she had attended a few services there with a friend. They had a modern service for the young kids and a more traditional service for the older crowd. She thought it would be perfect and asked if I wanted to join that church.
She was a bit surprised when I told her no. It was ok with me if she wanted to join but I could not. She asked me why and I said because I am Catholic. She could not understand this. I had not been in a Catholic Church for almost a decade and in her mind all churches were basically the same. I tried to explain that, to me, faith was like a blood type. I was Catholic and that was something I was not capable of changing.
She really wanted to begin a faith life and she wanted to do it as a family. If I wouldn’t join any of the protestant churches then neither would she. Seeing she wouldn’t join the Catholic Church we were at an impasse.  Instead of throwing in the towel she searched for a compromise.
About two weeks later she called me and asked if I would consider getting married in a little country chapel that performed marriages and funerals and had services but no membership. I was familiar with the chapel she was talking about. It was the chapel we had my step-sister’s funeral in.  It was beautiful and reverent, respectful and graced with the spirit of the Lord. The pastor was a traditionally ordained protestant minister. It was the perfect compromise. The date was set, the dress bought, invitations sent. We were on our way to making this a legal family.
Four months before the wedding my father died. I was devastated although I couldn’t show it. I was my father’s oldest and his only son. It was my duty to be the rock for my sisters and his wife. I swallowed as much of the grief as I possibly could and through tear filled eyes I laid my father to rest. On one hand I was happy that he was no longer in pain. He spent far too long bearing his cross of medical problems, never complaining, while bringing smiles to all who cared for him. On the other hand I mourned the loss of one of my greatest inspirations and teachers. A man I deeply respected and loved. I was lost.
Grief buried deep and not expressed can go rancid becoming toxic and poison the soul. This happened to me and has been the demon I have had to battle ever since. I lost my passion and direction in life. Everything was viewed from the negative and I became very easy to anger. I was in borderline despair. How my wife has been able to endure me is beyond my comprehension.
I wanted to give my bride-to-be the perfect wedding. When viewed through the prism of the negative nothing went according to plan. The tux, the limo, the centerpieces, the reception hall, my wedding party – everything had problems. Even the day upset me. When I should have been over the moon because I was marrying my best friend I was angry because instead of a bright shining day we got severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that kept over half of the guests away. It was a hot and humid June day and when we arrived at the reception hall we found the air conditioning not working as well as it should have. One of the misunderstandings during this time led to me breaking off ties with my best man and cousin and not talking to him for over two years. It is time I will never get back and a relationship I will never be able to fully repair.
We were married and despite my problems I have a family that is flourishing. It’s not without its challenges, the biggest being me, but God continues to bless my life and draw me nearer to him. It was time to return home.


5:00PM - June 7th, 2008
(Yes...that's 5, 6, 7, 8...)
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Windex for the Soul

I commute over one hundred miles round trip a day for work. I am spending between three and four hours a day driving. The radio is my sole entertainment. My preference changes from day to day and I jump from political talk radio to music to CDs of my beloved Jimmy Buffett. One day out of sheer boredom I decided to play radio roulette and spin the dial. Where it came to rest had a profound effect on my life and my walk on this road to Damascus.

The dial read 930AM out of Joliet, Illinois and the station was Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio alternative to EWTN. The priest’s voice I heard coming from the speakers was Father Richard Simon and the show was Go ask your Father. It is a call-in show where people can ask any question they have about the Lord, the faith or the Church. Father fielded the questions giving the nuts and bolts answers in a way anyone could understand.  He did so with charity and humility.  Humility – that was something I rarely heard on political talk radio. It was refreshing. I was interested.
I tuned in the next day. It was a different Father but the show was the same. I came to learn that the show was hosted by a core of three priests with an occasional guest priest filling any holes that came about. I liked all the priests but Father Simon was my favorite. He was a man after my own heart who could teach obscure facts with even more obscure humor. He knew how to laugh at himself and was always charitable, especially with those who just didn’t get it. Father Simon became so popular that Relevant Radio gave him his own show – Father Simon Says.  He now does a bible study of the daily readings as well as answer questions from callers. Most enjoyable are his harangues on any number of subjects concerning the Church and the faith. I was hooked.

Father Simon quickly became my favorite person to listen to. I worked backwards through his pod casts and his writings. Soon the Lutheran walls around my Catholic faith began to crumble as I learned why the Church does what it does. It was like looking through a window with forty years of grime on it. I couldn’t see anything clearly and therefore questioned the very fundamentals I claimed to believe. Father Simon cleaned that window allowing me to see the truth as never before. The truth will set you free and I was now free to grow in my faith in profound and monumental ways. So began my true conversion and I walked this road with new sight and understanding.
I am saved by grace through faith but if I had to give credit to those who brought me to Christ they would be:

My parents for believing faith instruction was something to be passed on.
Pastor Mueller for baptizing me.
Pastor Stienkie for confirming me.
Father Mullane for converting me.
Bishop Doran for accepting me.
Father Ariel Valencia for welcoming me home.

And special appreciation goes to Father Richard Simon for his continued instruction on what it means and takes to be a true Catholic in this world. His teaching broke my Lutheran mindset and was the instrumental force behind my second, my full conversion to the Catholic faith. If I had not found Relevant Radio and Father Simon I may have never found my way home.

 
God provides for all. Sometimes he will give you exactly what you need. Sometimes he gives you more. When he gives you more he provides you to someone else in need. He provided what I needed when I needed it but there is always a reason why.

 
To learn more about Relevant Radio check out their website:

 

To learn more about Father Simon or to enjoy one of his harangues start with his blog:
 
http://reverendknow-it-all.blogspot.com/                                  

Father Richard Simon

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lost in the desert


My life had been turned upside down. I was no longer a husband. Although I had my son a large majority of the time I was really only a part-time father. I had been given a do-over and was effectively back to where I was when I left the Navy. Being socially inept, especially when it came to talking to people of the opposite sex, I turned to the internet to try to find a relationship.

If the internet had been around when Dante had written the Divine Comedy I have no doubt that he would have included a tenth circle of Hell just for internet dating.  The eleventh would have been reserved for Face Book but that’s another post.  I have heard that there are millions of success stories when it comes to internet dating, including mine, but for every one that goes right there has to be a hundred or more that end in tragedy or worse.

I had nothing but the best intentions in the beginning.  I was a nice guy and had a lot to offer the right woman. That is when I learned that nice guys don’t finish last as I always had heard the saying go. Nice guys are devoured by ravenous succubae that lurk behind every virtual rock and tree. I was no exception and was gobbled up and spat out over and over again.

I bounced between relationships with great moral ambiguity. My once uncompromising principles were checked at the door. I found myself engaged in behavior that I abhorred just years before and hurt a few good people along the way. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize the person looking back. I didn’t like what I saw.

Now I said that God was with me every step of the way. I would like to think that he protected me from the really big mistakes and the things that could not be undone. He guided me through the bad so that I may recognize the good. There was a girl, recently divorced, also wondering in the desert. An unbaptized mother of two unbaptized children. When the time was right our paths crossed.

Two years later she took my name in a quaint country chapel. In the hours leading up to the wedding severe thunderstorms battered the area and tornadoes were sighted both north and south.  Somewhere someone was not very pleased that we wed but in heaven there was joy. God smiled down upon us that day.

I was picked up, dusted off and led back to the road to be given another chance. God was far from being done.

Friday, August 29, 2014

God answers prayers


About a year after leaving the military I met a girl and we started to date. She was the first girl I truly dated and she was Catholic. Sunday obligation was important to her parents and they tried for months to get me to go with them.  I always refused. I wasn’t Catholic and I didn’t need a building to have a relationship with God. I had my faith and that was enough for me. But as time passed they wore me down and I reluctantly went with them one Sunday. That experience deserves its own post.

Within three months her mom knew that I was the one and began planning the wedding, much behind my back. We had talked about it but nothing serious had been discussed. One day I was told that if I were serious about getting married I had better pick a date because all of the best reception halls were getting reserved a year or more out. A year and a half later their daughter walked down the aisle in a dress of white to a beautiful Catholic wedding.

If any of you have witnessed a Catholic wedding you know that the bride and groom take vows stating that they will be open to life as God grants it to them and that the children be raised with the Catholic faith. I took this vow. Long before I ever learned the true meaning of words like vow, oath, promise or sacrament I held their meaning in my heart.

In the second year of our marriage she got pregnant with our first child. I vowed to raise my children Catholic and I had every intention to do so. I felt it was dishonest to raise a child in a faith that I did not myself hold so I entered the RCIA program at our parish. RCIA stands for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and is the instruction usually needed for an adult convert to enter into the Catholic Church. On Easter Sunday in 1997 I was accepted into the Catholic Church as a member in good standing. This is the date of my first conversion.

RCIA is meant to open the door to the Catholic faith. It is not meant to answer all questions but to give you a taste of what the faith is all about. For many that is about the extent of their learning about their faith. For some the taste leads to a desire to know more and the more you learn the more you desire to learn. For a few that desire becomes an unquenchable thirst and lifelong quest. When I accepted the faith as my own I brought along my Lutheran baggage. Like so many in Mass today I stood and said “I believe” while in my heart I was saying “but I disagree”. It could be said that I only half converted that day but God wasn’t done with me yet.

Now, as Paul Harvey said so eloquently, here is the rest of the story. Our first three years of marriage went as many of them do. We adjusted to life with someone else and struggled to make ends meet. In general we were as happy as most newlyweds are. Things changed after having our baby. I continued to grow in my newly found faith but she started to grow distant. The distance turned to depression and the depression changed her behavior. In our sixth year of marriage she came to tell me something I had known for a while. She told me she was gay.

I had taken a vow to love her until my last breath. I do not take vows lightly and I was not ready to walk away from this one. I gave her a choice. I told her I would stay with her and be her husband but she would have to stop the lies and behavior that she had been engaged in or I would grant her freedom and she could pursue a life of her choosing. She chose the latter.

I was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the time. I served at the Easter Mass in 2000 and then walked out of the church not to return for the next thirteen years. I did not lose my faith. I had asked God to make me a husband and a father and he granted both. I could not believe that he would want me to live the rest of my days alone.  If the Catholic Church would not grant me an annulment and allow me to remarry I wanted nothing to do with the Catholic Church. The Catholic faith was now in my blood and that was something I could not change. One cannot accept a faith as being true only to exchange it for another simply because one’s situation in life has changed. Far too many do but truth is truth and does not change its nature at my whim or desire. I had become Catholic and Catholic I would stay.

I left the road to Damascus and began my sojourn in the desert. God walked with me every step and guided me to where I needed to be. When I was ready he brought me home.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Tug at the Soul


Everyone is called for a purpose though most will never realize it. Fewer still will actually hear their call and only a small number of those will answer it. I can look back through my life and see God’s hand at work. For me to be where I am today clearly took some intervention. I remember the first time I heard God’s call and like most that call went unanswered.

“I am sorry. Bob isn’t in right now. Please leave a message and he will get back to you in, oh, let’s say thirty years…*Beep*”

The first time I can remember God’s call in my life came during the dark years after confirmation. When I turned seventeen I joined the United States Navy. It was an attempt to get as far away from home as I could and escape what seemed to me to be little chance at a prosperous future. I reported to active duty shortly after graduating high school and after a year of technical training I became a gunner’s mate on a warship stationed in Long Beach, California.
 
GMMSN Robert Collins
USS Francis Hammond 1988

One night, lying in my rack, a strange feeling came over me. A thought came into my mind in the voice of my subconscious. It told me quite clearly that I should become a priest, that I would make a good priest. Now this idea presented several problems for me, the least of which was that I wasn’t Catholic or that I didn’t have the foggiest notion what a priest actually was. But the voice persisted.

The logical side of my brain couldn’t reconcile the idea of me being a person of the cloth with the person I currently was. I was a specialist on a nuclear capable missile launching platform on a warship deployed mainly to the north Pacific during the height of the cold war. I was on the ship’s security force and stood armed roving watches. I was the body guard to the boarding officer on the alpha boarding team and I was a .50 caliber machine gunner serving as close in ship defense.  During Operation Desert Storm I had the self proclaimed title of DrBob DeathDealer. In short, it was my job to break things and kill people and I could do my job with impunity. 
DrBob DeathDealer
Operation Desert Storm 1991
This wasn’t the only argument my brain presented but it was the strongest. In addition my brain told me that I wasn’t a practicing Christian, didn’t really belong to any particular church and I wasn’t really comfortable around “church people” better known as “bible thumpers”. With all of these arguments before me it was easy for me to say no to the little voice in my head.

But that didn’t keep it from trying. It was persistent. It was annoying. It kept on for at least two weeks. Finally I prayed about it. I told God that I wasn’t cut out to be a priest and would rather be a husband and a father. I asked for that instead. All I really wanted was to find a woman who could love me and raise a large family. Wasn’t that enough?

I may not have listened to God but that didn’t stop him from listening to me.