I’m heartbroken. The art of acting and movie making and performance has always fascinated me. Although I knew politically the actors I admired and I would never agree, I was able to separate that from the beauty of what they brought to the stage or screen. As a coach of the dramatic arts, I also had no illusions of how far off an artist moral compass could be. But still, I was heartbroken when I learned about Kevin Spacey. The man who played Keyser Söze, the power grabbing Frank Underwood and the cop that finally finds purpose in L.A. Confidential had wiped clean any desire for me to watch any of his films ever again. And it stems from his inability to take responsibility. Spacey decided to use his attraction to the same sex and his political beliefs to dismiss being a sexual predator. There have now been a number of cases like his with high profile men claiming that somehow it is okay to have sex with someone underage so long as its another male.
This pattern has become one of the many behaviors that show how far off the moral beam our society has gone. It seems as if we have an exception for calling immoral any and all human acts. Even in many of the Protestant Churches, we see a collapse moral principles like abortion even while science is proving that the fetus is clearly a living being. It seems as if millions of Catholics in the United States ignore the teachings of the church simply because they claim to ‘know better.’ Some even speak out against the church in their homes and in public while stating their loyalty to the faith. William May writes in his book, Introduction to Moral Theology, “The sinful choices of individuals, when tolerated and accepted by the society in which they live, soon become the practices of the society” (pg. 193).
So what has society been teaching us? We are taught that we not responsible for our behavior because either we can’t help ourselves, or, worst yet, that the act isn’t even wrong. God teaches us something much different. John Paul II writes, “Human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them” (Veritias Splendor no. 71). It’s not possible that all of us can have our own truth. We also don’t get to have our own moral truth either. And yet, we are not judged simply by one act. Although there are moral absolutes, our responsibility can be diminished based on more than just the act itself. In Veritatis Splendor John Paul explains it like this, “The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law, which has its intimate and living centre in the moral conscience, is manifested and realized in human acts” (no. 71). In another word, our actions do matter regardless of what society tells us.
One example: it is always wrong to lie. Yes, as I explained the other day to an 8th-grader, even when it is to save someone’s life. The act itself does not become good because of the person’s intentions. It certainly makes the act understandable, but not morally good. It can also be said that a person in this situation is under diress and therefore his or her responsbility for the sin is diminished. However, as Francis J. Connell writes in Human Acts, “To be truly good, an action must be good in object, circumstances, and end… (“Good is from the entire cause, evil is from any defect”)” (pg. 21). To volunteer so others will see you do good corrupts the act because of the end, or intentions of the person. Not much different than Jesus chastising the Pharisee’s for cleaning only the “outside of the cup or dish.”
People reject the idea of moral absolutes for many reasons. One idea is that moral “goodness” is derived from a person’s intentions. The behavior itself no longer is inherently good or bad but instead dependent on the person’s goodness. Dismissed is the idea behind an “objective moral evil” as John Paul II puts it. What is evil when I do it, is not neccesarily evil when you do it. This not only spits in the face of natural law but of Catholic moral teaching. It is in this type of thinking that as a society we have messed up the idea of judgement. Yes, it is true that I cannot truly judge what is in another’s heart, but I can judge the object or human act of the person. And I can judge those acts as right or wrong.
There is no better example than our sexual desires. C.S. Lewis writes that “Chasity is the most unpopular of the Chrsitian virtues” (Mere Christianity, pg. 85). Lewis goes on to explain how warped our sex lives are in society in a book first published in 1952. One priest said to me, “We Catholics love sex, but only in its proper place, marriage.” Our society said birth control would allow married couples to better plan their families. We were then told that it will cut down on unwanted pregnancies. After more time had gone by, we needed to protect ourselves and our children from all types of diseases, pregnancy had become the least of our problems. In the 90s we were sold on the idea that we can make abortions ‘rare.’ Where has that taken us? We have abandoned morality to the point of rationalizing an inherently evil act like abortion.
Yesterday I watched a video of Star Parker giving testimony in front of the Judiciary committee on the Heartbeat bill in Congress. A woman I have watched many times on television speak with confidence was raw and vulnerable when speaking about her our experiences with abortion. Her arguments were grounded and a strong testimony against the lies of the pro-choice movement. Parker invoked natural rights stating that they extend to the baby in the womb.
Jordan Aumann writes, “However, true Christians do not overreact against the world and brand all creation as evil, nor do they disdain anything that does not bear the label of Christian” (Spritiual Theology, pg. 248). Parker’s testimony met the world right where it is at and showed why moral absolutes are so vital to the Catholic faith. God wants us to remain free and wants us to be happy. We chase the darkness thinking that is where joy is hidden only to find ourselves slaves to the sins we commit. God not only has the answers but is the answer. Moral absolutes guide us leading us to want to clean the “inside of the cup.” Act our way into right thinking. It doesn’t work the other way around. Moral absolutes are like a compass directing the faithful to the joys of the Gospel and right into the arms of Jesus. St. Paul tells us we cannot separate the love of God from the commandments. Without the Church teachings, we are like lost sheep. We drift further and further away from God’s love until we can longer experience it at any level. We become like the five foolish virgins that are totally unprepared for the gifts God has waiting for us.
So I come full circle back to Kevin Spacey. I was heartbroken. Then I was angry. It was in prayer that I finally saw my own weaknesses, my own sins that broke a moral absolute grounded in love thy neighbor. I put my trust and faith in a man instead of God, breaking a commandment. I began to see Mr. Spacey in a different light. He was on top and now his life has been completely shattered. The truth always comes out. I also discovered compassion in the midst of my anger and heartbreak. And although his actions, like mine, can be measured in black and white, right or wrong, and good or evil, I can take comfort in the ability to forgive him, as Jesus tells Peter, “…not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22).
In The Truth About Freedom, Avery Dulles writes, “If my motives could never transcend my individual self-interest or the collective self-interest of my group, I could never be truly free.” For years I was convinced that any life lived under moral ‘rules’ or guided by maintaining a certain amount of restraint was like living in a prison cell. I lived a life based on self-interest. The real crux of the problem? It didn’t work. It was my first glimpse into Dulles’ words that freedom is meaningless if choices are arbitrary.
The law was not much different in my eyes. I not only broke the laws of God, but the laws of man as well. The problem I see with mankind in today’s world is that the only place freedom and law mix is when a person breaks one, gets caught, and loses the other. I don’t know if I am just more tuned in or if using the Lord’s name in vain has reached the level of quite possibly being an epidemic. The sexual norm in western civilization has transformed to the point that I bet we are not too far off from having the debate of dropping all age of consent laws. An article I read recently concludes that teenage sex is just part of growing up. The story about David Bowie having sex with a fifteen-year-old girl gets plenty of defenders. Missing the relationship between freedom and the law is not unique. The Catechism says it best, “The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the “slavery of sin”” (CCC 1733).
The Problem with Freedom
The problem with freedom is that man abused it. God commanded; Adam disobeyed. Pope John Paul II writes in Veritatis Splendor that “the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone” (no. 35). I certainly have been a victim of my own brilliance. We act like children with his ball threatening to go home. Americans suffer from this twisted version of freedom more so than others. Our extreme version of individualism has a tendency to have us leaning more towards who was right rather than what is right. If we ever realize what is right it will lead us to the true freedom we all crave. We will shine even brighter on that hill President Reagan once alluded to.
Pope John Paul II writes that God’s law does not do away with freedom, but instead protects and promotes it. I can’t imagine telling this to a skeptic. But man instead uses his freedom to “create values,” as the pope puts it. “You’re free to do as you want,” is the message the devil wants all of us to hear and abide by. What are we really being told is this quote? That we don’t matter. That our lives have no purpose. That it really doesn’t matter what we do. The idea that we are getting what we want by doing whatever feels good leaves us empty. When I look up at the cross at Sunday Mass I can pretty much guess that what Jesus did for us didn’t “feel good.” A life lived chasing that “feel good” always leads us needing more.
And so we start looking for how we can find the right kind of freedom. For some it is found in their childhood beliefs. Others have been exposed to it, but never quite understood it. Then, there are some that discover it like a child that experience Christmas for the first time. The law. It’s already something written in our hearts and stamped into our souls. However, the cynical world we live in mixed with a heavy dose of ego buries the truth. At some point, or maybe there’s a thousand of them, each person is faced with the question, “What is the meaning of life?” A tap on the should by God himself. Some accept, skeptical at first, others say no until they find themselves begging to say yes, and a few train themselves to ignore the question entirely. But each of us ask ourselves that very question. It is in our answer that we can find true freedom. It is in our answer that we discover the good in the law.
God’s original law, the Ten Commandments, brought joy to the people. Finally, a way to live our lives. It embodied the message Jesus would bring thousands of years later: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. It was exterior and didn’t speak to the heart of the people. Some ended up not paying as much attention to it as they should, not much different than today, and others used it as a self-righteous club to knock down those they saw as inferior, not much different than today. The problem was they were incomplete, and only guided the people but telling them what not to do. The negative liberties in the U.S. Constitution is similar; the people tell the government what they can’t do. In theory both work perfectly. In practice man brings his humanness to them.
Jesus showed up to make the law internal. “The moral law finds its fulness and its unity in Christ” (CCC 1953). It no longer becomes a white-knuckle journey to be good, but instead a journey in love. Christ comes in friendship and shows us how to act like a servant-leader. The command that we follow the law is not an order like the military officer asking us to clean the latrine, although sometimes, at first, it feels just like that. Instead, it is what happens to be in our best interest. Following His path will create the freedom we truly crave. As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, the law is not “mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did.” The law has purpose. We have purpose.
Freedom and Law: A Love Story
Today we are presented with a dilemma. A growing number of people find that freedom and the law are in conflict, but Pope John Paul II writes that they intersect. Humans experience freedom in obedience to God. However, we don’t obey out of fear, but out of love because of Christ. The internal love story that brings our freedom in line with the law allows us to see how beautiful (and free) life is when we obey God’s law. Even when we forgive, we free ourselves. Emmet Fox, in his book, The Sermon on the Mount, writes, “It is a Cosmic Truth that it takes two to make a prisoner; the prisoner — and a gaoler” (pg. 173).
So, what does happen when we disregard the law? When we claim to be free to decide for ourselves, individually, what is right or wrong? Doesn’t it make sense that if we all have our own truth that nothing is true? Something must be universal. I believe the law is just that, universal. And since God is not a dictator, we are free to follow it, or not follow it. However, once we “disregard or are ignorant” of the law, as the former pope puts it, our actions always cause real damage. A lie keeps us separated, first, from the one we told it to, but ultimately from all those in our lives. If we are angry with someone we might talk badly about them, spreading negativity, or stew within ourselves lashing out at those closest to us. Our best bet is to freely choose God. His grace will save us in the times we get it wrong, but will free us the more we get it right. “For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified” (Rm 10:4).
One of the main reasons I wanted to become Catholic came down to a much different understanding of church and God than I had ever had in the past. I had spent most of my life to get everyone and everything to conform to what I thought or felt was right. You needed to understand me... then, maybe, we could communicate. There were no better ideas than the ones I had. They were compassionate, caring, but to be honest I had done little research on any of them. I heard the story about Abraham and figured who would want a God that asked someone to kill their own child. Many of my political and cultural beliefs were based on how it made me feel or what, on the surface, appeared to do no harm. For example, what could possibly be wrong with pornography? What someone does behind closed doors is none of my business, right? Well, not only do I see this in a much different light based on what chastity really is, but there's real evidence out there of how destructive it has become in our society. For one, it destroys marriages. Not to mention what it does to the women and men in the pictures or videos. This will have a major impact on our culture that will have terrible consequences. The family is already under attack. Lincoln said it best, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."The sexual revolution of the 60s has led to the exact opposite of what they intended. Freedom and liberty are just a bumper sticker. There must be some sense of responsibility and duty to each other. Our founders said that, only a moral people can govern themselves. I was part of the problem for longer than I care to admit. I realized through all this that my opinions on how things should be are not always spot on. Many of those 'ideas' were just flat out wrong. So I have been busy trying to learn what God's ideas are rather than mine.
Through the study of the Catholic faith I have learned there are two things that guide us: Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Of course there is more to it, but without these two the entire house falls. Faith and reason are also both vital. I always figured those religious people believed despite evidence; I couldn't have been more wrong. Sure, I cannot prove God, but there is enough evidence to show how a reasonable person can believe there is a Creator.
So Sacred Tradition is inspired ideas. An example would be the Trinity. Nowhere in the Bible is the theological idea of the Trinity laid out, but through study and reason it has become a core teaching of the majority of Christian Churches. Sacred Scripture is the Bible, or the inspired words. When we read the Bible there are certain passages that we are absolutely convinced about their meaning. For example, Jesus stated he is the Son of God, and we believe without question that he is who he says he is. To claim anything else would be a heresy. Other sections of the Bible are open to different interpretations so long as it does not contradict Truths like: Jesus is the Son of God. Catholics look at physical science as studying the mind of God. He created it, and we would see no issue with him also creating an order to the world and the universe. It actually does more to prove that God does in fact exist. Nothing created itself. Reason (along with faith) points to a God responsible for it all.
Now, my faith and belief in God came before I learned how to reason. However, it was that faith in God that led me to search for the answers. The spiritual experience I had did not convince me Christianity was the Truth. That took some time and reading and praying and meditating. I can't point to a date, but after enough evidence I could no longer be skeptical about what God had done for all of us. Yet, I still found comfort in trying to get God to conform to my way of thinking. In time I figured He would come around and see it as I did.
One day it hit me. If that is true, if God needs to see it my way, then I was basically claiming that I knew better than He did. If the Bible was wrong, then as a Protestant my entire belief system was wrong. When I turned to the Catholic Church, there still was a small voice inside saying I could just take what I like and leave the rest. Plain and simple, I was playing God. A tough pill to swallow when you think you have finally turned the corner and started to live life the way God had intended. I listened to what I was being taught about the Church with an open mind. I saw that, although I didn't like all of it, I did need to be obedient to God's Word. Obedience has never been something I practiced. This has been the biggest change for me. The funny thing is how much more joy I experience as a result. It's also on the top of the list of why I left the Protestant Church and decided to become Catholic. I read the Bible and see how us humans have lost so much because we do not trust that God has our back.
This all leads me to what I wanted to write about today. Marriage. A bunch of Cardinals sent a letter to Pope Francis over a few issues they wanted better explained. It comes down to three Sacraments: Marriage, the Eucharist, and Reconciliation (confession). The Cardinals have asked for a sit down. One of the main problems comes down to the confusion over if a divorced Catholic, or some are stating even two people living together, can take communion. I'm not going to try and get into the Holy See's mind, and my prayer is that he will clarify so we can once again be universal in our teachings and practices. When Jesus gave Saint Peter 'the keys to the kingdom' in Matthew 16, I believe this was handing the authority, or responsibility of the church over to what we call the Papacy.
I thought this might be a perfect opportunity to discuss my own journey when it comes to marriage and the church. Many Catholics and non-Catholics have continued to comment on how ridiculous the process of annulment had been for me. I'm asked, 'Why is it taking so long?' or 'You're still going to do that?' Yes, yes I am. And here's why, it is what God is asking of me. I agree with many that it is taking a long time, but I also know those asked to defend marriage are serious about what they do. Although each Sunday I yearn for the Eucharist, I have also experienced gifts I would not have realized if not for the process it takes to get a declaration of invalidity. Which is not to say that the marriage never took place, only that there was some impediment that kept one or both of us from fully committing in the eyes of God. An example would be getting married because the woman got pregnant. Did both parties have the freedom to marry? Or did one or both feel forced to 'do the right thing?' Remember, this is just an example, it certainly doesn't mean that a couple that marries and is already expecting automatically didn't fully commit.
Jesus was clear about marriage in Matthew 19:
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
And then in 1 Corinthians 11 Saint Paul warns that I should not eat the bread or drink the cup without first examining myself. I can actually bring judgement upon myself which, he states, is why some of them were ill or in fact dying. I take Paul at his word. You see, I know better. I know that so long as Tammy's annulment and my two are still pending, that I have to wait. The Bible is either Truth, or it is not. I can't sit on the fence claiming that somehow Jesus was a good teacher, but might not have been the Son of God. There is no escape, I can't call a man a good teacher and then a liar. God does not allow us to 'play it safe' by keeping our options open.
So, I wait. And I have found a faith I never thought was possible. Although we worship in different churches, I have never been more in love with my wife. It grows stronger each day. I owe some of that to the Church for asking me to clean up the mess I made in the past. My hope is that it also works as a way of making amends to my first two wives and God. I didn't know how to be married. I pray that at a spiritual level I can heal the damage I did to both of them. That we can all 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' And through my own healing, I can become light in other people's lives.
But that doesn't just happen. It is imperative that I, for once in my life, practice obedience. Not to an ideology, or a man or woman, but to the teachings of the church because it has been given to us by God. The case for marriage being a Sacrament was made, and I had to agree. I was presented with what I needed to do so I can enjoy all of the Sacraments with impunity. It was a choice. God gave us free will. Even though I turned my back on Him more times than I can remember, He never gave up on me. How can I possibly turn my back on Him now? He has called me home to the Catholic Church. For my own sake, for the sake of those around me, I have to answer that call.
And so when those that ask with skepticism why I still wait, why I continue down this path when it would seem that the Church does not want me, I answer them with this blog. I answer them with the idea that Jesus said it is but a narrow path. I say, the Catholic Church has made me a better father, a better husband, a better child of God, and I'm not even Catholic yet! If that isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't what is. In so many ways I have escaped death. I am blessed to live the life I do today. I hope to never forget that. I pray that God blesses your life as he has mine.
Until next time... God Bless!
It is difficult to get your point across when it's based on a lie. When Black Lives Matters hit the scene with, Hands up, don't shoot, the evidence told a different story. Time was wasted arguing over the validity of their call sign rather than the real issue, the need for real reform in many of our police communities around the country. In North Dakota claims of companies destroying Indian burial grounds have cause most people to no longer know what is actually being protested! When I first read this, I wanted to catch ride up north and join in. However, I learned that the claim was false, and that hurt their cause in my eyes.
You see, when Martin Luther King Jr. began to march and protest for a race of people to be treated equally, fair minded Americans agreed. His premise was rooted in truth. A great injustice had been inflicted for too long. Even though the man himself certainly battled his own sins, as we all do, his message of truth shinned like a beacon of light. Since our founders original premise for government was grounded in natural law, most people could no longer accept the lie that an entire race of people were in some way inferior based on the color of their skin. And so the words and actions of King like, being judged by the content of their character, exposing the fraud of separate but equal, and standing up for something as simple, yet powerful, as a seat on a bus; became a prime example of using truth to battle over a hundred years of struggle.
The same has happened in my life. I have discovered some truths. I titled this blog weeks ago when I had an entirely different angle in mind. I kept it because it serves a purpose, and I didn't think, Confessions from a Conservative Leaning Guy, had the same title worthy impact.
Since deciding on the title, Confessions from a Conservative, I have learned a thing or two about how we view ourselves in this volatile time in American history. You see, I am not a Conservative. That statement does not define who I am. I am not a liberal, nor have I ever been. These type of identity politics statements allow us to get offended when another does not think as we do. If I am something, and you disagree, you have made it personal and now I am hurt, or claim you to be a hater. It also doesn't define me since there was no point in my past that I had some type of transplant that turned me from a liberal to a conservative. Certainly it wasn't as if I had to have some or all of my brain removed or replaced when I thought I had discovered some truths in socialism only to settle on becoming a libertarian for a spell in my late twenties. It was a journey in truth.That being said, although my mind has closed on certain truths, some of what I believe could still change if presented with evidence to the contrary.
Let me give you some examples. On the issue of healthcare, I would have stood up and said I was wrong if the Affordable Healthcare Act had accomplished cheaper rates, better care, and coverage for everyone. I am still open to ideas from both sides of the aisle to bring the costs down, help the helpless, and hold the clueless accountable. Although I am a conservative, oops, I mean I have conservative leaning ideals, I have an altruistic outlook on our society. My beef is where that help comes from, not that we don't help people.
On the issue of school choice, I have yet to read anything from the other side that convinces me that this is a bad idea. I am grateful that the dialogue has stopped being about Betty DeVos and I now can read articles from the other side of the issue on why they disagree with school choice. I want to have that conversation, not listen to a bunch of hyperbole about what a horrible person our new Secretary of Education is, and how she somehow is going to bring the entire system down. News flash! We have some serious issues in getting our kids a high school diploma. I want to listen, but hateful rhetoric will not solve our problem with failing schools. Just remember, I may not change my mind, yet we can still walk away friends.
I have seen many posts about the school choice issue from my former professor. She is concerned that her entire life's work is being questioned. That what she has done will be for nothing. I disagree. Her passion and drive made me and others she taught push ourselves as educators beyond our own expectations. I am the teacher I am today because of her. And we couldn't disagree more on political issues. However, we found common ground on our love for educating young people. Our conflicting philosophy on where education is best served only shows that we both want what is best for the students. There's a confession for you, this conservative leaning guy does want public education to work, but finds nothing wrong with "a parent's right to choose" is this arena.
Now on to truth. Jesus Christ is divine. He was not just a human that walked the earth and shared a philosophy of living that works for some. He is the true God. Now, I certainly don't feel the need to round up those that think differently and force them to accept this or die. It is through love and my actions that I will try and convince others of this truth. "Always be preaching the gospel," Saint Francis said, "and sometimes you might have to use words." That also does not mean I cannot be friends with someone who is Jewish. If I really got down to what they truly believe, a Jew would call Jesus a fraud, but that is where true tolerance comes in. The word itself means I'm not going to like what is being said or believed, and that I need to still love the person as Christ taught me. His teachings are quite clear on this point. Certainly I fall short of this principle to love others as myself; however, I have a loving God in my life that has given me enough grace to allow for progress, not perfection.
Another truth is that abortion is evil. I can state that truth and still sympathize with those that struggle with what to do in all kinds of difficult situations. Each time this subject comes up with a person with liberal leaning views always wants to know if I plan on throwing the woman in jail. This has never even crossed my mind, nor has it been any type of discussion that I've had with my conservative leaning friends. Of course, after reading that some liberal thinkers felt we needed to punish climate change deniers, I see why this is always the first question. And since we are on the topic of science, I will state that it has only strengthened my position that a life is being ended. I do not write this to offend, although many will feel that way, but because it is true. This is a case of speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves. This is where God will judge the human race even more harshly than those that supported slavery. I can't find a way around this one.
Pope Benedict said that moral relativism is the biggest problem facing the world today. Considering how screwed up so many things are in some many areas, that is a rather bold statement. If we all have our own truth than really truth doesn't exist at all. In fact, it robs us of meaning in life. I have fallen prey to this kind of thinking. By telling you that you can do whatever you want in life, I am saying your life has no purpose. Really, it doesn't matter what you do because there is nothing you can contribute to this world. It is the devil at work. Convince us that anything goes so that we never make any difference in another persons life. It's a greater trick than the one where we think he doesn't even exist. It wasn't until I became a teacher and found that I no longer yearned to be something else, that I saw God's work in action. I followed some crazy ideas on faith that it was what the Holy Spirit was calling me to do, and found that true happiness is not what I want to do, but what I was created to do.
The beauty of having Jesus in my life is that I now have a purpose. When I thought I had to be good because it was some sort of cosmic law, I discovered I struggled not to sin. I couldn't keep myself from sinning. But when I developed a relationship with God I found it easier not to sin. In some cases I didn't even think about it. I didn't want to be a disappointment to my creator. It was important that I not break our relationship because it was based on love. He was my rock and sin would keep me separated from Him. It wasn't Jesus shutting me out, but instead it was me, through sin, separating myself from Him. The joy and happiness I experienced in life was evidence enough of how much better my life went when I was close to God.
What I have experienced is not that I no longer commit any sin, but that I long to become more holy because I am becoming more and more convinced that trusting what God has planned for me is infinitely more than I could ever want for myself. The real confession here is not that I am a conservative, or that I have conservative leaning ideas, but that there is something bigger than political ideology or more than where I stand on a certain issue. Much of what I believe has changed or might change in the future. We can all still stand and discuss our differences in a way that leads to listening first, so that we might find common ground. But what really shapes me is more than an I am statement, unless, of course, that I am statement is that I am a child of God.
God Bless... oh, and God Bless America
As I trudge through my spiritual journey, I am often reminded of my father. You see, for about a year now I have been praying for him each day. He died back in 2009, but I realize even though we did our best while he was here to patch things up, that much was still unresolved between us. I am not sure how long it has been, but at some point in the last year the anger that brews up within me we I would discuss my father has vanished. It is as if praying for his soul in purgatory has repaired the relationship between us. Purgatory. One of those ideas once I learned about it that I LOVE about Catholicism.
Just over ten years ago I was caught up in some life choices that did not go over too well with my father. And for good reason, I might add. But the crushing part was how my dad treated me. I understood the anger in it all, yet I felt shut out from his love, from his counsel. It certainly wasn't the first time I had disappointed my father or other members of my family. However, it was the first time he treated me as an outsider. Or at least that's how I felt. It was as if I had been excommunicated from that side of my family. I was heartbroken. I also knew it was my actions that had caused such turmoil. It was a tough road to travel. I kept my feelings inside until now because I didn't want it to be about me. It was the first grown-up thing I ever did for an extended period.
And then came this whole father/son business with Christianity. The idea of God came to me suddenly but coming to terms with Jesus, and his Father was quite another trip. How could I possibly trust a Father I can't see, that did the things I was convinced he did; like ask Abraham to slaughter his son, or destroy the world leaving Noah drunk on the beach, and claims He loves me? It was similar to how I felt about my father. He told me he loved me too. Many times. But just like God, he didn't want to get to know me. You know the real me. The funny thing is even if my dad had asked, or God for that matter, I couldn't have possibly given either one of them an answer that was sufficient. To them. To me. To anyone.
I do not write this to throw my father under the bus. I know he loved me. I loved him. We both did the best job we could in our time together with what we had. Plus, I have worked with kids long enough to know how truly blessed I am with the people I have, and I have had, in my life. There is real tragedy out there that I pray each day asking how I can be of assistance. I'm just an overly emotional, overly sensitive, you know, a guy with an ego disorder.
You see, the point is that I had long ago come to terms with the intellectual God our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I had no doubts. And when they crept up I had learned from the Vicar of Christ himself to pray his prayer, "Lord I believe, but help my unbelief." I loved it. The Pope himself showing such humility. Again, the idea of an Apostolic Church was another reason I had started to fall in love with the Catholicism. And that is exactly what I'm writing about here, falling in love. It was about two years ago I had started to see Jesus as a friend. The intellectual version that, yes, God did exist had taken a turn towards realizing He was listening. That there was a relationship to build here. It was new and exciting and powerful. My prayer life was all over the place: messy, sometimes routine, I often (and still do) felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I prayed every day, but the when, where and how was a real moving target.
And then I heard someone ask how I was going to answer the following question from God when I died. "Did you read my book?"
Would I say I didn't have time? Maybe I could tell him it was too difficult to read. But how would I know that? I had never even cracked it open. And then there's that whole He would know I was lying to Him thing. Maybe I could tell him I had read bits and pieces of it while at church. You know, as my mind begins to wonder if everybody here is judging me and keeping tabs on how long I kneel before and after the Mass. The important stuff in life that keeps me from fully engaging in the Mass on a regular basis. And that's not to say that I don't love the Mass as well. I do. It is so rich in the Old and New Testament and the Word of God, but, I too, am just human. My mind wonders off into the "it's all about me" world. I do cherish those times when I can get through an entire Mass or prayer session or any other event in my life when I can fully engage for the whole time. The idea behind "God is in the Now" is to do whatever you are doing as if it is the most important thing in the world. Playing with a child, hanging out with your spouse, Mass, shaving, doesn't matter.
But I digress... as I often do...
So how did I get to know Jesus as a friend? I read His book. Sounds too simple to be true, but that's exactly what I did. And then came what I believe is the true payoff of praying for my father each and every day for the past year. It was in repairing that relationship that I learned how to love God as my own Father. Mixed in with praying the Rosary building yet another relationship with my spiritual Mother. And becoming completely blown away by what the Son did.
So I leave you with the two things that I came away with this Christmas... O Come Let Us Adore Him... and.... Peace be With You.
Just this past April I was in Minneapolis for a workshop for the new ACT Aspire test. We finished up early on Friday, so I decided to go check out the Mall of America since I had never seen it. I took the Metro system to the mall that was only a couple of blocks away from where we were staying. The workshop had been a bit of a mental grind, but the rooms were fantastic and the food was to die for. The ACT crew paid for it all, including the transportation, and even put some extra cash in our pockets for all the hard work we had done. I was able to catch my first NBA game live, and I got to see the ballpark that the Twins play in. I even sent my students a picture of how tough I had it while they worked on the assignments I had left for them.
Okay, okay, so I didn't have it that rough. In fact, there was a moment on that train I took to the Mall I still think about often. I haven't told anybody about it until now. A young lady and her friend hopped on the train shortly after I got on. I watched as one of them made phone call after phone call. Something began to tug at my heart as I couldn't help but hear the terror in her voice. She was asking for money. And I have always struggled with this whole idea of giving people money sitting on their you-know-what with a sign or needing cash due to mistakes they made in their own lives. I always figured any change or dollars I give them would go towards their next high or drunk or enable them to continue to make the same mistakes again and again. But I could hear a voice, this time, nudging me to hand over the ten dollar bill I had in my pocket. Her child needed diapers; she needed to get to work. After the third phone call, she covered up by pulling the hoodie over her head and wept. Even her friend was at a loss for words or actions. Still, that voice was in my head urging me to take action. To comfort another human being. To go against everything I had done in the past when faced with this situation.
What would Jesus do? the voice asked.
I could only guess, but I know what I did… nothing. I sat there. I did not allow that nudge, that voice, that urging to take over. Instead, I practice my will, not His. The few minutes I had to act seemed to last a lifetime. I knew what the right action was but still did nothing. The usual cynic that comforted me in these situations did not appear once she exited the train. Instead, I felt empty. A missed opportunity. I knew the money I was asked by Jesus to give her would have made the world a better place. That small ripple in the lake that would have created rings reaching far beyond me, a young woman, and her child. I thought of how she would have been able to provide, even for just that one day, for her child, and how that child would have felt the love of her mother minus that day's worries and fears and isolation.
But I blew it.
And then I hung my head down and asked God to forgive me. I promised right then and there never to neglect that feeling I had that day. It was all I could do. When I got home, the next day I went out and bought a large box of diapers and donated it to Catholic Social Services. I couldn’t find the size I figured was most needed, but since I wanted to make sure I did something right away I picked up what the store had at the time. Come to find out the size I brought in was exactly what they had been needing. God is good.
It was what I came up with on the plane ride home. I knew I needed to make some gesture for ignoring the will of God. I prayed that God would put someone in that young ladies life that would do what I failed to do.
And then, I swore on my knees, that if ever I felt as I did that day on the train, I would act on it. I moved forward knowing that if I stayed stuck in what I didn’t do, that I would miss the next chance in life to do what I needed or I was asked to do.
This past Wednesday I had my interview with the Tribunal office for my annulment. The last piece, or so I thought, to clean up so I can enter the church. I left early hoping to get some chapel time at Terra Sancta where the diocese is located. I wanted some alone time to ask Jesus to guide me to just tell my story and leave out any motive to try and tweak it in a way that I think the Catholic Church wants me to say it… so I can get what I want. Yes, I have a tendency to try and please others, and in my past, it was ALL for my own gain. I flew off the exit and saw a man sitting on the side of the road with a sign asking for help. He was a Vietnam Veteran. The feeling I had on the train came rushing back. I hadn’t even thought about that day in months. The cynic went to work with questions like: Why doesn’t he just get a job? Or Is he really a veteran, or is he just looking for a free ride?
But the feeling was there. Would I ignore it this time?
I passed him telling myself I needed to get to the Tribunal office. But you have time! the voice reminded me. I started to think about all the veterans out there that are incapable of working because of what they endured so I could go about my life free to choose my own path. The number twenty-two came to mind. That’s how many veterans kill themselves each day. This time, I acted. By the time I was finished I had just enough time to make it for my appointment.
I rushed into my interview with a clean feeling inside.
It did not go as planned. I walked out heartbroken with a burning desire to rip the Go Bold, Go Catholic bumper sticker off my truck. I was so angry I planned on quitting my job since I work for those Catholics. Feelings stirred up in me I thought I had dealt with many years ago. You see, I was told that a priest would not baptize me when I was an infant because my father was divorced. I carried that anger for those evil Catholics for years. And I told everyone how bad they are and said some things I have spent the past decade or so trying to reconcile. There were no plans to join; that is just God having a sense of humor. Or better yet, calling me home as I saw it. And still do. But having another priest block my way into the church brought back all those resentments and pain and fear and negative thoughts.
He was sharing with me the truth, perhaps void of any compassion or love, but it was the truth nevertheless. I met with my priest who did the most important thing; he apologized for the step that was missed. It didn’t make everything perfect, but it did mean so much to me. I was also able to see it from the perspective of the Tribunal priests.
But I was heartbroken. I could have used a bit of a pep talk at the time that I did not get from the priest sitting in front of me. I felt as if I had entered a church purgatory. You see, I can’t go back to a Protestant church after all I have learned. And I was being told I cannot be a Catholic based on the information given to me at the time. Purgatory, plain and simple. The Eucharist I was yearning for was now out of reach.
Needless to say, it was a rough day. I have walked through it because of people in my life. I made a phone call and was able to talk with a friend. I talked with many others that helped me through it as well.
But the love and support of my wife were beyond measure. Tammy, you are my “everything.”
So my journey continues: I am just a little bit better at listening to the voice of God, a little stronger in my resolve to join the church, and much better at not overreacting. Yes, the bumper sticker is still there.
So, until next time… when I will finally discuss some of what I found during RCIA... God Bless… and be good to each other!
Before I get started on the rest of my story, I need to pipe in on the Brexit. Why? Well, a) because I can, and b) because I teach early American history and this historic event gave me hope. I hear all the talk about economic collapse, how the people really didn't know what they were doing (only progressives make this argument... just sayin'), and how bad its going to be. However, I have a different take. This is the British declaring their independence. When the United States did it back in 1776, the world thought we were crazy. The British back then made it quite difficult for us to do business literally stealing our sailors right off our ships! Although we were not perfect, we were doing what was right. We evoked natural law; that these rights were God given.
I know, I know, somebody out there is crying what about slavery? What about slavery? I like to ask my students this questions: Did our founders fail us?
I’ll let everyone answer that for themselves. But I will say that it is a mistake to put our 21st Century thinking on anyone or anything that has happened in the past. How many people would give up their homes and jobs today if it meant the end of racism? Before we judge, let us remember what they would be giving up to take a stand with action that would cause financial hardship for their entire family. Not to mention the slaves that would have quite the struggle to feed their family as well.
Another question: Would the United States had survived long enough to abolish slavery, pass the 14th Amendment, extend the vote to women, and give birth to a man like Martin Luther King that knew enough to know that American’s would do what was right? Liberty has not exactly caught on globally. How many of us would want to be a woman or homosexual in the Middle East? What's the pay for the average person in China? We should see hope in the about face they did in England. Their freedom to govern themselves had been taken away. Plain and simple.
I realize that Brexit might be bad economically, it might lead to some civil unrest, but in a country where their Supreme Courts and laws were being dictated by a far off country (sound familiar?) it does not surprise me that many stood up and said, Give me liberty! God never states that the right way is the easier way. In fact, quite the opposite as I learned the day I came home and told Tammy that I was discerning about becoming a Catholic.
First, a recent story. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated Father’s Day in Minnesota on a fishing trip with my brother and sister-in-law. The fishing was terrible; the time with family was special. When I came home from Boston in early June, my Rosary had completely fallen apart in transit. It was a bummer since my mom had given it to me… and mentioned, often, that it was expensive! Oops.
And so Father’s Day arrived. Tammy bought me a new Rosary (pictured below) and a book about praying the Rosary.
We have come a LONG way since that infamous day back in March of 2015.
I went into the conversation convinced she already knew what I was going to say. Big mistake. It hit her like a Mack truck, and it took months to recover. The pastor at our Lutheran Church called me in for a conversation. A friend, who is already not a fan of the church, informed me that Tammy was a German Lutheran, “They don’t change,” he assured me. The questions of why we pray to Mary came from multiple directions. Tammy told Father Marcin that she wanted to push me over when she saw me praying the Rosary. I would hide out in the extra bedroom to pray it after hearing that. In a strange way, I felt like Luther must have back in the early 1500s.
Any talk of Jesus filled the room with fear, doubt, and a feeling of separation. The devil was working hard to drive a wedge between us. Any conversation about the Bible or the sermon we just heard, or even if it was still the afternoon or evening created a tension in the air. Both of us waiting to see if the other was going to make a rhetorical mistake. And I certainly had my share of boneheaded comments. I prayed each morning just to keep my mouth shut in certain situations. Many of you that know me realize how I need God’s help on that one! Even when I worked hard not to fight, we would fight. I was starting to wonder why Jesus had me on this path. I thought perhaps it would be best just to keep going to the Lutheran church and give in.
But never once did the voice of God stop inviting me to the Catholic Church.
And then it happened. We sat in a council meeting (remember, I was still president of our Lutheran church) where the conversation put us on the same side. We jumped into the car after a very emotional meeting, and she said, “I’m going to Mass with you tonight!”
No, she didn’t decide to become Catholic, but the barrier between us began to crumble. That night we spent some time with the word of God and talked about the scripture we were reading. Neither one of us claimed to be a scholar; we just read and started discussing how each of us saw it. Both of us listened to the other. The wedge had become flexible. All looked good… until RCIA…
Which is where I will begin next time. Until then, God Bless!
Another school year has come to a close. Four years have come and gone, and for the first time in my life I'm not dreaming about doing "something else" with my life. Sure, I want to be a bestselling author and do book tours... but in the summer. I have found what God has been calling me to do for as long as I can remember.
Each year I reflect on what changes I need to make for the next year. I ask what worked and what didn't work. I can go on for hours on what didn't work and why...
But the real question on this Wednesday morning is this: What made this year so special? The kids? Certainly I always enjoy them, but this group was no better or worse than past years. The staff? Always our little middle school has that family feel even thought they introduced yet a new way to mock me with Flores Fridays. I forgive them. I couldn't ask for a better bunch of people to work with, and even with the upcoming changes I know that special culture we have will not fade.
So was it my wife? My daughter? My family? No, there have been ups and downs there as always, and I do feel that we become closer each and every day, but the real reason has to do with where God has led me rather than some event or person. And all I've done is follow what I truly believe is God's will for me.
I tell people all the time that the biggest issues facing our nation, or us as individuals, are a result of pushing God aside. Most of them claim that our problems aren't that easy. That it can't possibly be that simple. I just shake my head. A living example of what God can do in a persons life is sitting right next to them, but the message is interrupted by doubt. By doing what I once did in my life, pushing away the salvation freely offered to me. I can't blame them; I couldn't see until I could see it. I wish I knew the exact formula, yet I have no idea why a guy like me got it while others, perhaps more worthy, sit on the sidelines contemplating "the meaning of life." And when did we start putting the punctuation after the quotes??? I'm not doing it! I'm not, I'm not, I'm not!
But I digress... back to the journey.
It was my second year as the president of the Lutheran Church we belonged to where I experienced "some not-so-spiritual" moments that had me seeing things from an entirely different angle. It was the first time I started to ask about the Catholic faith in a way that was not merely to show respect for the job I had as a teacher in their school system, but instead because I was beginning to question the theology I was learning. This was more than just awkward: first, I'm the president of a Lutheran Church, second, I knew my wife would be less than pleased, and finally, after reading about Martin Luther and reading his writings, I liked the guy! Much of what he did was bold and courageous. His 95 Theses were nailed to the wall at a time when the church had lost its way.
And on top of all those reasons I really didn't want to "have to" go to Mass every week. I mean, what was wrong with taking off a week here and there? I also knew there was this marriage thing I had to do. And that meant asking for paperwork and asking others to be a part of the process. And then there was the "commitment' of every Thursday night until the end of time. Okay, so it was only seven months, but still...
There were also holy days of obligation and praying the Rosary and the Novena and the... quite frankly, there are so many I can't possibly list them all here! Mainly because I don't know them all! Not yet, at least. And then I would be the victim of all those Catholic jokes I promised Father Mark I would stop telling eight or nine years earlier. All this and I knew for the most part I would be going alone. I knew I would in many ways be traveling this road by myself. That scared me. Plus walking into a Catholic Church can be less than welcoming most of the time. That's one of those issues I hope will change. Perhaps that's one of the reasons God has called me to the church. I don't know. Putting my hand out first has always been a struggle.
So I bothered the 8th grade Religion teacher to no end, and have since added the other Religion teacher to my list of persons to bother about this Saint or this piece of dogma or this doctrine. I gathered the information and started to read, read and read. And so I found myself now in the third year of my presidency of a Lutheran Church, dealing with a new pastor, and suddenly yearning for Thursday so I could attend Mass. Fear crept in. What do I do? I prayed, hoping it was just simply getting use to the change going on in my own church. But it was more than that, and I knew it. I had to come clean. I discussed how I could possibly talk with my wife about this with a couple of trusted friends. It was time. I couldn't hold on to it any longer. I sat down with Tammy and decided now was the time...
And I screwed it ALL UP!
Until next time... God Bless...
So, I have to admit it took me awhile to really 'get' what was going on at Mass. In fact, I even struggled when first attending the Lutheran Church and sitting through the readings and Communion and the Hymns I wished were a bit more upbeat.
But I just knew I was there for a reason. For the first time in my life I was teachable. I knew both churches were filled with a richness that God had not revealed to a guy like me yet. It would come, just like today as I wait to experience the gifts of the sacraments, I just knew it would come. The readings were in context. I had become skeptical of people like I had been in my past that would rattle off one line from the Bible to prove their point of view. And as I drew closer to the Catholic Church I immediately discovered there was no deep, dark secret hiding what they believed. All of it was available to anyone who wanted to know.
I took comfort in that...
But that certainly is not how I have always been. My journey to Catholicism is quite the rocky road. When I was young, I was told the Catholic Church would not baptize me since my father had been divorced. I spent a good twenty-five years with hate in my heart. I had a special dislike for Christianity, but nursed my resentment for Catholics on a daily basis. The fairy-tale, mythical creature in the sky is just one of many ways I explained the existence of God.
And then it happened. Or finally I opened myself up to the power. It was in the midst of the darkest dawn of my life. I was alone. I was scared. I was out of people to blame for the mess my life had become. It was at that moment I realized I was to blame. Tough medicine to take when living a life based on self-reliance. I was lost.
Kneeling for the first time in my life, I prayed a prayer I can't remember to this day. It wasn't very long, yet I remained on my knees long after I finished. A power covered me like a warm blanket as I let go of those 'old ideas' that were killing me. Touched by the love of God, I wept like a child. It was quite profound. Once I lifted myself up, I no longer doubted the existence of God.
That was about as much as I knew at that point. it was my first step towards the Church, however, I certainly didn't see it that way at the time. In fact, there wasn't a church, religion, or spiritual journey that ranked below becoming a Catholic, but I did know one thing for sure; I had some forgiving to do. I also needed to make right the vitriol I had spread over the years about the Catholic Church. It was the right thing to do.
So how did God see fit to make this happen? He sent Father Mark to the business I owned at the time. No need to enter the church. It appeared to me that the Power I had tapped into wasn't making too big of demands of me. I should have added 'yet.' It seems along this journey that He gives me exactly what I am willing to do at the time. He was willing to take the baby steps needed to win over someone like me. Humbling. More so each day I realize the love God has for me. His Only Begotten Son... overwhelming when you think about it.
I love the words of Father Mark once I had the opportunity to sit down and explain what I was doing. "Well," he started, smiling a beautiful smile that shows a deep love of God in his life, "first, Anthony, you could stop talking bad about the Catholic Church. That would be nice, " we both chuckled.
"I can do that, Father," I said without hesitation.
"I would also like you to come to Mass, just once," he continued. At this, well, I just nodded. I would do it, but I figured I didn't have to like it! I did as I was asked checking off of my list one of the many amends I needed to make.
Little did I know that seven years later I would take a job that required I go at least once a week. Just in case you didn't already know, God does have a sense of humor.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. It wasn't as if I started attending Mass every Sunday or even knew who or what God was at that point. But I had learned that priest and pastors were just people. Father Mark may not remember the next time we got together at the Catholic Church in Black Hawk, but it was at that meeting that he shared with me a prayer I read over and over again. He said it reminded him of me. It was as if God was putting yet another human being in my life to show me He cared and loved me.
At this point, I was attending a church on a regular basis. The Catholic faith was right there, but still a million miles away...
Until next time... God Bless...
It's official. I'm now from the Midwest. Just a few weeks ago I was traveling home from Aberdeen with the debate team and it happened... as another vehicle passed going the opposite way my index finger lifted up. With no need to even think about it I engaged in the Heartland wave. I started to realize that just a few cars before I did the two finger wave, and even before that the full hand one in an effort to mix it up a bit. I was dumbfounded! What, really, does all this mean? Did the California kid that moved to South Dakota over a decade ago finally cave in? Or is something deeper going on?
When I first moved here I had illusions of taking over and teaching them a lesson. On my way to the top, perhaps I would show these South Dakota how to "do it right" once they elected me governor. It was all quite surreal as I dreamed these types of dreams from the corner bar stool knowing it was only a matter of time.Of course, these dreams were aided by a bit of John Daniels. I know you may call him Jack, but, when you've know him as long as I have... well...
And then it happened. The so-called teacher became the student. It was not an easy lesson to learn, and many were hurt on my way to understanding life from an entirely different angle. I would like to tell you I was humbled, but it was more along the lines of humiliated. However, that was not the end, but merely a beginning. I certainly didn't see it that way at the time, and I would've short changed myself had I remained content with how God had changed me at that moment instead of asking what more He had in store for me.
Right now I am rewriting my second novel titled, Pivot Point. There is a lot of "me" in it to a certain degree as my daughter points out when I read it to her and Tammy. That's true of any author who writes any story, but in many ways she gets to see her father walk through profound moments in life. And that's a miracle. I do not doubt for a minute that without God in my life my relationship with my daughter would be radically different; and not in a good way.
Anyway, back to the book. Pivot Point is the story of a high school kid that has a spiritual experience while attending the Easter Vigil. Sawyer King (don't hold me to the name, it could change), the main character, saves the life of the boy he once bullied. His story is about how one can change his ways through the power of Jesus, and the struggles he encounters from others that either try and pull him back into the darkness, or refuse to believe he has changed at all. My hope is for an October or November release.
Sawyer, in the novel, is converting to Catholicism. A journey I am on right now. Due to past decisions I based on my own selfish desires, I am still waiting to experience the sacraments. That's okay. I have spent my entire life looking for the shortcut, the easier, softer way. It hasn't been easy and there are days I want to say, "Who are they to tell me..." and then the deacon of the church shares that one word comes to mind when he thinks about me, perseverance. Defined as: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Wow. Others tell me their faith has been strengthened watching me walk through this part of the journey. Now I understand the difference between humility and humiliation.
Now it's time for me to share my journey into the Catholic Church with the world. Or at least with those few that follow my blog. First and foremost this is a love story. It is the story of how I fell in love with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit that I pray to guide me each morning. My plan is to do a series of episodes that I hope will make you laugh, cry, or at least crack a smile. But my real vision is that through my faith journey someone will find the courage to develop a deeper relationship with the Lamb of God. So until next time... God Bless!
Anthony D. Flores loves to spend his summers writing fiction. His strong Christian faith and love for this great country find its way into his fiction. His work is also available on Amazon by Clicking Here.