Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Year of Favor From the Lord

2011 has been a great year! I can't believe how much life has changed in the past year and how much more it is going to change in the year and years to come. Mary Beth and I shared a lot of great moments over the past year. There were some tough moments as well but honestly all in all it was a incredible year. In past years I have blogged about best and worst moments. This year I am only going to focus on the best because in all honesty I can't think of many bad ones and I figured I would end 2011 with an attitude of graditude.

So here are some highlights from 2011 in chronological order:

1. A visit from Steve which was paid for by Bishop Carroll. He gave some chasitity talks around town and we got enjoy a few days of hang out time with him.

2. A trip to California with my in-laws. This included a trip to Disney Land which allowed me to be 5 for a day not to mention a trip to Stone Brewery in Escondito and some good chill time with family and a night with the my boys Beschen, Thompson, Matt Gregory, and their families.

3. A Trip to Denver for Fr. John Nepil's Ordination. Such a great weekend and so blessed to have been part of the celebration.

4. A visit from Laurie, Larry, and Brad for Father's Day weekend.

5. Celebrating our one year anniversarry with a trip to Peru. This included time in Lima with my extended family and a trip to Cusco and Machuppichu! This was a trip of a lifetime.

6. A trip to Rockford and Chicago for Daniella Andrade's Wedding.

7. A Trip to Texas for Brad's 30th Birthday Party.

8. Finding out we were expecting our first child!

9. A Trip to Rockford Labor Day Weekend for what was an incredible weekend with family as we celebrated my brother Diego's wedding. I gained a pretty awesome sister-in-law that weekend too!

10. A Trip to Denver for the Nova et Veterra Conference and time with Friends.

11. Finding out we are having a little girl! Sophia Rose will be joining us in April!

12. A trip to Illinois for Christmas. We got to spend some much needed relaxation time with family and friends, got a brand new T.V. and Sophia Rose got spoiled to death at a Baby shower put on by my mom.

All in all it was such great year! I am lovign my job teaching, Mary Beth is subbing and doing well and we are also blessed with a second job of me being a TA for the Augustine Institute! God is good! Bring on 2012, the year that will bring Sophia Rose into this world!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Faithful Friend is a Sturdy Shelter

The other night before we went to a nice dinner at Altamore in Rockford with my family we decided to open a bottle of wine and enjoy a nice drink and conversation before heading to the restaurant. While enjoying my family the topic came up about how my parents, brother, and wife are all amazed at how many friendships I maintain in my life. In some senses I guess I am too. This is not something that is news to me though. Throughout my entire life this has been something everyone I know points out about me. This is one of the gifts God has blessed me with. Throughout high school and college my friends in Rockford referred to me as the social secretary of the group. If I didn't call everyone and plan it people sat at home. That is just the way it went. Since college I have been called the glue that holds some of my different friendship groups together. When it came time to planning the guest list for our wedding my wife wanted to scream when she saw my list. Of the 520 people we invited to the wedding, 400 of those where from my list.

The crazy thing is that of course there are people in my life I am closer to than others but I have several friends I consider "close". People think I'm crazy when I say this but there are genuinely a fairly large number of people who have had a large impact on my life. These are the friendships that have shown me Christ. These are the friendships who have challenged me to be a better man, who have held me accountable, and have shown me the face of Christ in countless ways. I know it is crazy to have so many “close” friends but I have lived several places throughout my life and everywhere I have lived I have discovered and developed strong friendships and community. We as human begins are made for relationship. We can only truly discover who we are in becoming vulnerable and sharing ourselves with others. Through this we not only more deeply find ourselves but we more deeply encounter Christ as well. The funny thing is that friendships of mine that are faith based are the ones that have lasted. The friendships that were not are the ones that have fallen by the wayside. Don't get me wrong I still think about some of those people and pray for them but because the only thing really binding us together was common experiences. Theses friendships faded to the back ground when there were no more experiences to share because we moved away from each other. The other friendships God has blessed me with however have forever changed me and will continue to be a part of my life. I may not see or talk to some these people every day or every month even but I know we will always be a part of each other's lives in some way. I would like to introduce you to some of them.

The Rockford Crew: Melissa, Mary, Mike, and Kyle are the closest to me of the Rockford crew. Yes there are others I stay in touch with occasionally and see when I come back to Rockford but these four know me better than anyone else. And of these four Melissa is the closest. She is like a sister. We literally call each other bro and sis. I am her son’s godfather. But the five of us really do everything we can to see each other and spend time together whenever we are in Rockford at the same time. We have known each other since high school. We were involved in youth group together, we spent late nights drinking coffee together, watching movies, having really stupid conversation and sharing in some pretty deep and meaningful conversations. We have traveled far and wide to each other's weddings and we know exactly the things to say to one another that will piss us off and the right things to say that will cheer us up. We have seen each other through good times and bad. We have had to call each other out on stupid crap and celebrated joyous moments in life together. Through it all we have welcomed spouses and girlfriends into the mix and hope to see the day when our children are all old enough to play together and become friends. I would aslo be remiss If I did not mention my friend Alex here. We probably see eachother the least out of everyone from Rockford because our schedules just don't seem to mesh, however we tend to continually be in touch in other ways. He has been around the longest in my life out of any of my Rockford friends. Though we don't always see eye to eye on things I can honestly say there is a special bond between us that keeps us in each other's thoughts, prayers, and lives.

The Steubenville Crew: People who didn't go to school here do not realize the intensity of the bonds that are formed there. The friendships I made there are some of the most profound I've ever had. I am especially close with my Household Brothers from the Knights of the Holy Queen. These men showed me what it is to be a real man. These men drew me into deeper relationship with Christ and Our Lady. My closest friends from this group are Matt, Guy, Andy, Grignon, Cedor and Beschen. Five of these six guys where in my wedding (the only reason Beschen wasn't was because he couldn't get off work to fly out for it). I don't talk to these guys as often as I would like but when we see each other we pick up right where we left off. I have laughed the hardest with these guys as well as shared myself with them more than I have with anyone else. I also continue to stay in touch with these guys and other household brothers through an e-mail list we have. We share prayer request, struggles, make fun of each other, and banter about sports and politics. These e-mails get me through my day a lot. It is a constant reminder of the bond we all share that most people will never understand, especially if they didn't go to Franciscan. Within the Franciscan crew I also must give a shout out to the women in my life from there: Adrien, Abby, Abbie, Maria, Rosko, Trene, Marchelle and Lindsay. These ladies have truly been sisters to me. They have kept me accountable and shown me how girls deserve to be treated and are examples of true womanhood. I was honored to have some of them travel so far to my wedding. It is always great to stay in touch and hear from them occasionally as well.

The Wichita Crew: The Brandts and the Daisy House Crew have been my constants. They provided me with friendship and community at a time in my life where I thought I would never find friends like the ones I had from Franciscan and Rockford again. But they showed me it was possible to love and enjoy a place like Wichita, KS. Tony, Kelly, Andrew, Kristi, Lisa, Sr. Sophia Grace, Marianna, Bonny, and the rest of the Daisy House Crew loved me unconditionally and provided community for me at a time in my life I so desperately needed it. They continue to be constants for me and have welcomed my wife into their lives with open arms as well. They are the people we will raise our children around and share our day to day lives with.

The Denver Crew: I was only in Denver for two years and was a grad student with two part time jobs so friendships were tougher to build but five friendships in particular stick out here. The first is Dave. Dave and I were roommates and going through similar struggles at the time we lived together. We were also both thinkers and over-analyzers, not to mention both enjoyed drinking scotch. This lead to many late night conversations. The second and third are friendships that started in Steubenville but were more of acquaintances there, Hugh and Fr. Kevin. I worked for Fr. Kevin so we go to know each other well through late nights of Makers Mark at the Rectory and at St. Malo's for Totus Tuus training. Hugh moved to Denver shortly after I did with his family and we spent many a late night enjoying beer and good conversation. The next has probably become one of my all time closest friends, Steve. Steve and I met through Totus Tuus training. Over the next year we spent a lot of time enjoying great conversations over beer and whiskey. He ended up being there for me and around for my entire relationship with Mary Beth. He was there with the newness of the relationship, through the struggles and joys, and was there to celebrate with me when we got engaged. Steve ended up being a groomsman and is going to be the godfather of our child. Lastly there is Steve's brother, Fr. John. He, like Steve, was around to see my relationship with Mary Beth Blossom. He welcomed me into their community of friends and made an effort o bring me in and make me feel welcome in Denver. We shared many a good conversation over whiskey as well. These men all provided me with community and support during those years of being a student when I was away from family and friends.

It probably sounds crazy that I would be able to stay in touch with this many people. It honestly amazes me as well but I think it is a special gift and grace God has given me in my life. I think it is because I experience Christ through these friendships. The reason I try to stay in touch with all of these people is because all of them have strengthened my faith. Every one of them has piece of me that has profoundly affected who I am. When I pray I pray for them. When I have opportunities I go see them. When I have time I call them. I am a better man for having every one of these friendships in my life. This then naturally translates into my prayer life. I think that because I have this perception of friendship and I see Jesus not only as a friend, but my best friend I try and spend time with Him by praying and going to mass as often as possible. If I put that much effort into earthly friendships, how much more effort do I need to put in when it comes to my friendship with Christ? I cannot wait for the day we are all in Heaven together, adoring the one who brought us together.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Truth and Society

I love being a teacher. I have taught a variety of things throughout my time but by far my favorite thing to teach is Catholic Social Teaching. I love this subject for many reasons. I love it because it is so relevant. It gives me the opportunity to talk about and apply Church principles to many of our modern day problems. I love it because it is controversial and it ticks people off when they hear the truth that it proclaims. I love it because it fires me up. I love it because it is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted teachings of the Church. I love it because so many people take it out of context and use it to justify their liberal and immoral agenda. It sounds strange that I would love it for that reason but I do. It allows me to really enter into dialogue and conversation with someone about the faith as it applies to modern day problems.

First of all, I find it a little odd that we have a completely separate section of Theology called Catholic Social Teaching. In some ways I get it, it is a practical way of catechizing people in our modern world. But when it boils down to it Catholic Social Teaching is simply the application of the gospel message to society. If we know Jesus and what the Church teaches then Catholic Social Teaching should come as no surprise to us. Every principle that is laid out is rooted in the teachings of Christ and the Old Testament Prophets. It seems that often times groups within the Church that are more "liberal" use the fact that we have a separate section called Catholic Social Teaching to justify actions that go in contradiction to the teachings of Christ by taking those teachings out of context. The more "conservatives" use it as an excuse to not learn about Social Teaching because in their minds it is a "liberal" thing and therefore good Catholics don't really have to know about it. For example, have you ever heard someone say, "Oh that group is only about social justice”? Well actually all Catholics are about Social Justice. It is the "only" part that we have to be concerned about. Actually there is no way to "only" be concerned with social justice. If you are not a disciple of Christ it is not possible to live the social teaching of the Church.

Secondly, as a Church WE ARE NOT social workers. Mother Teresa was NOT a social worker. We are first and foremost followers of Jesus. If Jesus is not a real person that we engage in conversation and relationship with every day then we cannot live social teaching effectively. There is a reason Mother Teresa and the missionaries of charity sit in front of the blessed Sacrament every single day for at least an hour and went to mass along with that before they even set foot on the streets of Calcutta to help the poor. This may sound crazy but unlike the rest of the secular world the reason we are called to help the poor and those that are needy and marginalized in our world is not simply because we feel sorry for them or to make ourselves feel better. The reasons we are called to help the less fortunate is simply because Jesus asks us to. Well why does Jesus ask us to? So that we can draw their attention away from their earthly needs so that they can pay attention to their spiritual needs. When a person has their physical needs taken care of they can then be more free to pay attention to their spiritual needs. We are called to live by the Eschatological Principle. This means that we live in this world for the sake of the next! Our goal is Heaven!

Therefore ultimately the social teaching of the Church is about recognizing the dignity of every single human person and drawing them into communion with Christ so that we can all journey to Heaven together. That means that above all the most important thing we have to fight for is the right to life. If we do not have the right to life we don't have anything. If life is not protected at its earliest stages then it is a hypocrisy to be concerned with the poor on the streets. Do you want an answer to the economic crisis in this country? Start having children! Reach out to women who are in crisis pregnancy situations! Defend the Family! Educate people in chastity and natural family planning! Fight against the contraceptive mentality in our culture! That is social justice! Think about it. If we secure the family and make more babies then we have more people in our country who will spend more money and stimulate the economy. The effects of abortion in our country and in the world are coming to fruition. There are more elderly in the world than young people. Our population is depleting. There IS NOT an overpopulation problem. That is a LIE!

According to John XXIII the individual person is the foundation, cause and end of all social institutions; therefore all societies and institutions must be at the service of the person. This is not the case in our society. Financial figures, technology, and economic progress are primary. Wake up people, all those things our world is worried about will improve if we prioritize and start caring about Human life! For some the Environmental crisis is the issue they want to see addressed. Well read Caritas in Veritatae by Benedict XVI. In that encyclical he clearly states that of course there is an environmental crisis, how could there not be when we don't care about Human Life. How are people going to be concerned with taking care of trees and the environment when they aren't concerned with defending human life in all its stages?

In the end Catholic Social Teaching is not simply about serving at a soup kitchen or protesting outside an abortion clinic. It is about defending and loving Human life in all its stages and the only way to truly understand what that means is by entering into relationship with Christ. He can reveal to us how loved we are and how loved every single soul ever created is! If we want to understand catholic social teaching we must begin by entering into relationship with Christ. Then we should enter into the dialogue by actually reading what the Church has to say in its entirety. We cannot make our own assumptions. We must not take things out of context. We have to be open to where Christ is leading us. We may find ourselves taking some more "conservative" positions on things if we have labeled ourselves as liberal or we may find ourselves taking some more "liberal" positions on things if we have labeled ourselves as conservative. This might be difficult to swallow but remember our job is to be CATHOLIC and the Church is neither democrat nor republican! Sometimes we make the mistake of being more democrat or more republican than Catholic. If we want to start changing this world for the better we as Catholics have to take the lead on this and stop associating ourselves with parties and start preaching the truth regardless of which party line the truth falls under. When the reign of the truth is brought about through charity only then will justice prevail!