Be Not Afraid

This is a adaptation of a reflection I gave yesterday online for the parish. As I’ve been personally reflecting on the environment we find ourselves in, I’m drawn to the lessons of history to find a way through. Old Testament, New Testament, and history since, the Lord is always calling us to pray and fear not. A timeless lesson.

The Lord moves through history, after all it’s HIStory. I love history. Especially listening to podcasts about it. Right now I’ve been digesting What We Saw: The Cold War and my favorite over the years, Revolutions. There is so much to pull from the tides of history, lessons learned can save us heartache. What I would like to do here is highlight how the 20th century can reflect us in the 21st.

I’m going to start in 1917, just over 100 years ago. Our Lady appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal. The signs and wonders that came from her messages revealed three things I would like to highlight,

1. Recite the rosary everyday for peace in the world and for the end to WWI. However if people don’t continue offending the Lord there will be a second and more deadly war.

2. Establish a devotion in the world to her Immaculate Heart

3. Consecration of Russia, otherwise she will destroy nations and oppress the faithful.

The requests fell on mixed ears. People were already praying for the end of the Great War, so adding more was a natural inclination. Dedicating Russia? Fell on deaf ears and didn’t happen. Later that same year, the Tsar was overthrown and the Communist regime took power. We’ll set that aside for now, and let it simmer. Or fester if you will.

The very next year on November 11,1918, known then as Armistice Day or as we call it today, Veteran’s Day, ended World War I with much rejoicing. That is unless you were Germany in which you were saddled with crippling reparations that would later breed resentment and the rise of the Nazi’s.

Two years later however, we enter the decade of the “Roaring 20’s”! Life was improving as the modern era took hold with electricity, cars, and planes arriving across society. Literature like the Great Gatsby capture the imagination in this fast paced decade with flappers, prohibition, and high flying stocks. Interestingly enough we see the start of our own decade with memes and social posts reflecting the same title of the “Roaring 20’s” here and now.

What tends to happen when things go well in society? We get distracted. We get busy. We lose sight of our relationship with God. Materialism and hedonism tend to rule our time and imaginations. It isn’t the Lord that walks away from us but we who walk away from Him. During this time, people became distracted and didn’t hear the call from Fatima.

Black Tuesday, 1929. The market crashed. This launched a decade of poverty and desolation across the world. Food lines and high unemployment along with failing crops in the Dust Bowl are reflected in works such as Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath.

I remember my grandma telling us stories of the Great Depression and living frugally her whole life. She would share tales of being out in a field in Springville as a kid, picking beans to bring home a little money for the family. I was a witness to one of the last times she, my mom, and aunts canned for the last time. I never liked canned tomatoes. A skill obtained from the time that was necessary. I wouldn’t know where to start today, never needed to because you can just grab it at the store. Stores never fail.

One of my grandma’s favorite scripture quotes, that has since become one of mine as well, is Psalm 91. Fittingly it seems to fit times such as these as the Lord is always reaching for us. Hard times always seems to be an opportunity for us to hear him more clearly.

Thankfully the Great Depression eased. Only for the price of the second Great War. The Great Depression fueled resentment in Germany as normal people carted wheelbarrows of marks for bread. The rise of the Nazi’s fed off of this and seized power from a weak and unsupported republic. The Soviets consolidated their power and crushed dissension in their motherland.

World War II killed over 75 million people. People raised in this age knew fear. They knew anxiety. Real fear was marching into a death camp or staring down the hull of your landing craft approaching Omaha beach. Fear was wondering if your loved one was coming home or if you were coming home in a pine box.

The world went from World War II straight into the Cold War, marking peak of the communist, atheistic, Soviet regime behind the Iron Curtain. The Nazi’s were notorious for a methodological and industrial process in exterminating over 11 million in camps that I had the honor of walking in myself. The Soviets however. Over 27 million perished because of their reign, inside the motherland and reaching across the world. The close ideological brethren in China, killed over 45 million in the Great Leap Forward.

Fear and anxiety now covered the world because of the reaches of the Atomic Age. Rocketry and splitting of the atom was sure to deliver a sun at anyone’s doorstep within twenty minutes of the press of a button. Only thing you could do was pray and hide under the desk.

Headlines from this era consisted of the Berlin Airlift, The Korean War, Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the brutal Vietnam War. From the Bolshevik takeover in 1918, atheistic Communism, started in Russia, claimed over 100 million lives.

In the midst of all the fear and evil in the world, there was certainly hope. With great fear comes the Hope and Love of the Lord. In desperate times comes great Saints who rise to the occasion not because of some chemical or program but cause of great faith. Just to highlight a few humble 20th century Saints below who lived a relationship with the Lord and let Him guide them in dire times…

  • 1930’s, Sr. Faustina shares the message of the Divine Mercy, along with that is the famous image and chaplet of the Lord. She passed away from an illness, tuberculosis, in Poland at 33 years old, the Jesus year, just before the outbreak of the War in Europe.
  • 1941, Fr. Maximillion Kolbe gives his life in place of a father at the death camp at Auschwitz, Poland.
  • 1978, Pope John Paul II in his inaugural address, stared down the communist leaders in Poland and the Soviet Union and told the people to “Be not afraid!” as he led the Poles and the world in faithful fortitude.

Since the failure of consecrating Russia in 1917, the Church rallied and not only consecrated Russia but the world. By 1989, the iron grip of the Soviets was spent and outmatched. In the end, they couldn’t stomp out the flame of faith and hope. The hope for peace prevailed. By the power of prayer, martyrdom, and the blessings of ingenuity of the free world, the predicted Russia terror was over.

Now we as the free world are asked by Saint John Paul II, “Yes free, but free to do what?”

We’re just twenty percent into our own century but by this time in the last, those Saints were already walking, working, and living out a mission. They were youth and young adults. Who are the Saints of the 21st? They could be you. You just have to decide to be one. It starts with an invitation of the Lord. Difficult times gives us pause and a chance to reflect on our relationship with Him. How do we heed the call to prayer? More time. Less distractions. Clarity. He has only been calling for us for all of history. HIStory.

I’ll leave one last reflection below, just simply an except from Saint John Paul II’s inaugural address I referenced earlier. I think you may find hope and a timeless relevancy in it…

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.“ JPII – inaugural address October 22, 1978


You can follow his work at stgregsym.org and righteousco.com.

Church, Get In The Game

Church, we need to get in the game.

By Church, I mean you and me, the Body of Christ. This means the faithful of course but I specifically want to address the youth and young adults out there. You’re not the Church of tomorrow, you’re the Church of today. Here is the field we are playing in and we need to get at it…

2019 A.D. in Buffalo, NY, the Church is taking a beating. Of course the Church has been through worse in history. Christians aren’t being fed to lions or lit on fire to illuminate the roads. But we have been better. What’s more, we can be better.

A few decades of erosion have been working on our foundation. Lack of engagement, uninspired faithfulness, relativism, and scandal have given our Church a weathered attitude. This is not the story of being Catholic. It’s time to snap out of it.

The Church which includes our parishes and Diocese as well as charities, schools, and ministries are sagging under the pressures. I want to use this moment of your attention to call you to arms. We can’t run from the fire, we need to run to it. 

It’s time to get in the game. Ask not what the Church can do for you, but what you can do for the Church. If we are the hands and feet of Christ, how are we moving? If our Body isn’t in motion, then we don’t move forward. 

Here is how you can help us win the fight for a better Church.

1. Pray: Make the time to get back into the pews (or chairs if the church is under repair) on Sunday. Be a part of the community prayer in the Mass. Show up, participate, listen, sing, learn, and reconnect. Pick up your bible and start with the Gospels or visit Jesus in Adoration. Pray for one another.

If you’re not registered at a parish and young adults are notorious with this, go to a parish and commit to the community. Stop bouncing around or leaning on the coattails of your parent’s registration. Belong and commit

Get in the game.

2. Time: There are plenty of roles that need to be done that just require some time and not a lot of training. Find them, commit to a time slot in a ministry that needs help. Greeters, core teams, catechists, money counters, Eucharistic ministers, and so on. Follow your strengths. Pick up the bulletin or look it up online and see a role that could use some hands.

Try things out. Find what clicks and stay long enough to be a leader and make changes if needed. Just don’t go in like a bull in a china shop. Be humble and learn from the role and the leader in place. 

Get in the game.

3. Talent: In addition to roles that need to be done, the Church needs your talent. You have skill. You’re good at that one thing. What is it? How can you use it in the Church? Ask someone how you can plug it in. Can you donate that skill? Can you apply that full-time?

Are you in banking or finance? Marketing and design? Build websites? IT? Barista and can make a good coffee? Set designer? Corporate trainer? CRM specialist? Chef? 

Get in the game.

4. Treasure: Yes the Church needs money to run. It especially needs funds to grow. I know, I know, you don’t want to pay for the scandal but let me put your mind at rest. 

Your donation in the envelope doesn’t go towards that. Upon This Rock doesn’t go towards that. Catholic Charities and Fund for the Faith doesn’t go towards that. The bishop sold his residence and some investments to do so. We’re also covered in insurance. If you’re running from the fire, it’s giving people on the front line less to work with. That’s us going backwards. 

Give your first fruits and be regular. Can you commit to 10% of your income? Shoot, can you commit to $20 a week? Lights need to be on, youth ministers need budgets, and the Church needs tools and people.

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” Proverbs 11:25

Roll up your sleeves, get in the game, and let the Lord use you and your resources. Come with a servant’s attitude. Take a bit of that drive you have for school and workplace and bring it to God’s House. Give your first fruits of prayer, time, talent, and/or treasure. 

Collections and participation are down around the Diocese by 10-20% this year alone. The older generation that has been supporting the Church is dying off. Imagine what we would look like if we brought our talent and resources back into the game? Run to the fire. Take this to prayer with you. Ask the Lord how you can help. He’s knocking. 

The Discipline Series: Exodus

I’ve been working over the past several years on my self-discipline. I heard a talk years ago at one of the Franciscan U. conferences about building discipline in your life. Being painfully unstructured in my early 20’s, I heard that as a call to arms. It was already a hunger but I didn’t know how to put it into words or action. The speaker, ex-military, spoke of starting your day off right by making your bed well. Every single day. Even days you just don’t feel like doing it and build off of that.

So I did.

Started off strong but as days turned into weeks I noticed I started losing the will to keep at it. I recognized that desire to quit. It was something I was familiar with. I’d get excited about something, get started, then move on to something else. Not everything was like that however. There were enough things in my life that I was keeping up on. Just enough to make me feel consistent but I was fooling myself.

I began to realize I was losing time and burning opportunity to be the best I could be. I realized I wasn’t living as what Matthew Kelly would call “the-best-version-of-yourself”. The most capable version of myself that God had designed. If God truly built me for more than I was being, then how would I get there?

That answer has been lying in the hard fought battle of prayer and self-discipline; prayer providing the compass and discipline as the engine. Jocko Willink, ex-SEAL and entrepreneur, defines discipline in his “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual” as such,

Discipline: The root of all good qualities. The driver of daily execution. The core principle that over comes laziness and lethargy and excuses. Discipline defeats the infinite excuses that say: Not today, not now, I need a rest, I will do it tomorrow.

While I am far ahead of where I was, I feel like I am just getting started. Starting February 15th I will be starting an intense 90 day regimen focusing on asceticism and physical discipline with a program called Exodus90. I will be shedding the niceties and distractions of life like warm showers, sugar, and social media (except for work). In addition to what will be cut, it will include rigorous physical and spiritual exercise. Lastly, a small group of us will keep each other accountable. All of this is designed to wrench out vices and build virtue in men.

I’m building a small band of guys looking to enhance the same thing in their life. Calling it “The Brotherhood”, we’ll keep each other accountable with a group chat and weekly meet up. This will be the most challenging Lent yet but as one of the Brothers have said, “Let’s make this the best Lent ever!”. Definitely not your “I’m giving up chocolate,” kind of fast.

I feel as if the Holy Spirit has been leading me further down this road, so appropriately, the 90 days end with Pentecost. I’m hoping this will be the start of a series on the topic of discipline. I will try something new with the blog by interviewing other men in what it means to been disciplined in their life. I will also be cataloging the 90 days periodically through our young adult Instagram account for St. Greg’s, @stgregsyouth (that’s the work element) with the intention that our test group will serve as an example for future endeavors. Stay tuned for more.

Check out Exodus90.com for more information.

Christmas season – Vocational thoughts

As I sit at Delta Sonic waiting for an oil change for Ani’s car, I thought I’d put together some thoughts I’ve been having over Christmas. It’s the second day of Christmas and my true love sent to me, one adorable family.

I didn’t think it was possible but I’ve been growing more in love everyday with my wife and baby. Both surprise me more everyday. Ani has been having a tough go with sleep lately but regardless, still has a glow to her. Izzy just keeps getting cuter everyday. She is becoming more aware and audible, melting my heart just over a week ago with her first “dada!”.

I was sitting down with the girls Christmas morning opening Izzy’s first gift, a dolly, and I just had a moment where I couldn’t be more greatful for my vocation of marriage. Me and my girls, sitting on the floor by the tree, just having fun. I just took a mental note. God has done wonders through this marriage to my heart as I continue to discipline myself to be the husband and father I’m created to be. God is good.

The girls and I will be representing the Holy family tonight at St. Greg’s and I’m just reminded of St. Joseph’s example. As a young dad, I’m sure he had his fears like the rest of us. Some relatable and some not. Relatable, how am I going to put food on the table? Not relatable, how am I going to raise the Son of God? 

He did it one day at a time, trusting the Almighty in his labor and love. So tonight, I will huddle with my wife and kid among live animals and hay, dressed as St. Joseph and just give my trust and thanks to God. 

Labor of love? Ministry and the new labor regulations

                 I’ve been hearing rumors of the new regulations starting up December 1st with the Fair Labor Act. It has been hearsay up until last week when I finally got to hear from our Diocese about the matter. I am dismayed at what this means for our Church and field. 
                Churches can’t afford to pay overtime but the amount of time a dedicated minister needs to complete their job is so much more. For those of us who are salaried, we know our bills are paid and time is given by those who drive hard to accomplish what needs to be done. 70-100 hour weeks are not out of the ordinary during the year and a self regulated average of 50 per week is necessary. Measuring out the ebb and flow from week to week would create shortfalls in a personal budget. 
                A church cannot afford to pay that overtime and if they do, the weekly average would be minimal. We are cutting out those who are going above the typical “40 hour work week” which anyone in ministry would know as necessary to accomplish ministry. This is not a typical job. 
                Getting a full time job to open up at many parishes for youth is hard enough before you create disincentives to hire with this. No church is going to pay a full-time salaried staff $47,476 and anyone held to 40 hours is chained. A 25-45k price point is healthy and palatable for our industry. The average youth minister is making 34k nationally already which speaks to what parishes are willing and able to pay. 
                I think this is a disaster for church staff, in particular youth ministers and religious ed directors. I don’t think we should roll over on this and need to make some push back. I don’t think our Church needs more inhibitors but we do need to create the right opportunities and incentives to hire well tuned professionals. Lest we continue the brain drain. This regulation is poorly conceived even for the business world but it certainly wasn’t written with us as a thought. Those who are advocates for such a change will argue that this is a step in the right direction for social justice yet this is a very real example on why it is not. One size does not fit all. I’m sure those in the non-profit world would surely agree but I would love to hear their thoughts as well. Much of this can even apply to entrepreneurs and self-starting employees looking to go places.
                I’ve called my Congressman and the White House already. I suggest we consider a larger pushback. Are there any plans or petitions to stand against this? Would you push back?