Catholic Heart Work Camp 2012

I had to sit on a crowded bus filled with teenagers all night long, sleep on an air mattress in a room with smelly teenage boys, eat school cafeteria-style food and work in the hot South Carolina sun for an entire week. However if I had a chance to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat! I am referring to Catholic Heart Work Camp 2012. I had the joy of taking 13 of the high school students and 3 adults to Hardeeville, South Carolina for a faith-filled and work-filled week. This was my second year going to CHWC and I pray it won’t be my last! As the youth leader, I was proud of every one of the students that represented St. Andrew’s at CHWC. Not one of them complained or slacked on their job sites. The biggest fear of being in charge is having to deal with disciplinary problems and I was thankful to have such a great group of young men and young ladies representing our parish.

The best part of the week from my perspective was watching these young people come out of their shells and get excited to be Catholic as the week went on. When we first arrived, it took awhile to get settled in to our rooms and unpack. Then we had the joy of trying to find out where everything was located (bathrooms, showers with ice cold water, cafeteria and snacks, etc). The first night is every teenager’s favorite part (sarcasm intended)…ICEBREAKERS! All +300 kids were broken up into groups of 6-8 along with 1-2 adults. There were roughly 48 different groups and 1-3 groups per work site. Most of the sites involved painting or cleaning residential houses. We would spend the next 4 days working from the morning until the late afternoon at these sites.

The thing that really made the week special was that every morning we opened with Mass and then ended the day with a program that engaged the teenagers. It really energized you in spite of working in the hot sun. Even the adults leave CHWC with a renewed Catholic spirit. The two most powerful nights were when we had Eucharistic Adoration one night and then Four Corners the next. Adoration was in the gym and all 350 in attendance kneeled in silent prayer around the Eucharist. Hearing the emotion coming from many of the kids made me realize they understood what a special gift we Catholics have in the Eucharist. Four Corners was equally powerful. I had the opportunity to sit down and listen to teenagers pour out their heart to me about their fears and problems and then we just sat there and prayed together for God’s help. Powerful and emotional are the two words that come to mind when I reflect back on those events.

I believe every Catholic youth should participate in something like CHWC. It gets them excited about their faith, makes them appreciate what they have and encourages them to go out and spread the Gospel to others. If all the Catholic teenagers are like the ones I met at CHWC, our Church has a bright future!

We Are Catholic!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 22, 2012)

Jer 23:1-6

Eph 2:13-18

Mark 6:30-34

There once was a royal family that lived in a large castle. One day, the army of a neighboring king snuck into the castle and attacked the royal family in hopes to take over their kingdom. All but the infant of the king was killed. An old lady who was one of the servants managed to take the infant away and gave him to a poor potato farmer to keep him safe. The peasant family took good care of the child, raising him as their own. He grew up working in the family’s potato fields. He would work long, hard hours. One day, when the boy was a teenager, an old lady came out of the woods and approached him. “Do you know who you are?” the lady said. “Why yes, I am the son of a potato farmer and I farm potatoes.” “No, you are the son of a king.” The old lady proceeded to tell him the story about where he came from. She then walked back into the woods and disappeared. The young prince paused for a moment; straightened up, standing a little taller, a little prouder, and then went back to picking potatoes, but this time, with a purpose and with more joy in his heart.

You see sometimes we forget where we came from. We get bogged down in the details of everyday life. If we don’t have a purpose in life, we tend to let our stresses overpower our happiness and joy. We miss out on God’s infinite love. You see the young prince, after finding out he was the son of a king, didn’t change what he was doing but went back to the humble job of picking potatoes. However, he did it with more joy in his heart because he knew he is the son of a king. You and I are also sons and daughters of a king; a king that loves us without reservation; a king that gave up his life for us.

 Jesus is our King and Sheppard, the one who gives us strength and guides us. Without Him, we would be lost, little sheep. Jesus knew we needed help here on earth after His resurrection and glorious ascension. That is why he established the Church. Jesus is the foundation of our Church, built on Peter and the Apostles who in turn handed it down to the Bishops and priests under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. No other institution has been around for as long as the Church. It is made up of people who are tempted by sin, which is why our history has not always been perfect. However, the Church has been standing almost 2000 years, in spite of this imperfection, because we are being guided by the Good Sheppard.

So where do we come from? We come from Christ, the Good Sheppard! We are Catholic! But what does that mean???

When I lived in Ohio, I was never challenged on my Catholic faith. I took it for granted. I got a wake up call when I moved down here to Kentucky. Neighbors and patients in my office would constantly ask me if I had found a church yet and invited me to theirs. The first few times I was asked, I would say that I’m Catholic. This usually would lead to “the look.” You’ve all experienced it….”Oh, you worship Mary” and then they would proceed to tell me all kinds of mis-truths about MY faith as if they were teaching me sound doctrine. I quickly learned it was easier to not tell people I was a member of St. Andrew’s or that I was even Catholic at all. I would simply answer “yes” when people asked if I had found a church home yet, and pray they didn’t ask me where? I was a scared, lost sheep.

Something changed though. I hired a protestant girl for my office that was on fire for her faith. When she found out I was Catholic, she hoped that she could convert me and wouldn’t let me walk away from her tough questions. We had many discussions about the bible, church history, the pope, purgatory and even if Jesus used grape juice or wine at the last supper. I am grateful to her because she forced me to learn my faith in a way that I could explain it and defend it to others.

10 years later, I now welcome the question when people ask me where I go to Church. I proudly stand up straight, smile, and look them right in the eye and say, “I am Catholic.” I do this because I now know without a doubt that the Good Sheppard formed the Catholic Church so that His flock would not be without guidance. I am no longer afraid to call myself Catholic when asked. I speak with authority and confidence now because that one word, “Catholic”, stands for something even if this crazy, mixed up and confused world doesn’t understand us. To be Catholic means that we are…..

Obedience, we are joy, we are Tradition, we are passion, we are The “Story of a Soul,” we are beauty, we are faith, hope and charity…

We Are Catholic…

We are happy, we are works of mercy, we love life, we love Him, we are blessed, we are forgiven, we are Papists, we are in the world but not of the world, we are universal…

We Are Catholic…

We are a voice crying out in the wilderness, we become like children, we are strong and of good courage, we are extraordinary, we are sacred, we are a light in the dark, we are proclaiming the kingdom of God…

We Are Catholic…

We are Rome sweet home, we are courageous, we are athletes and students, we are yound and old, we are prayerful, we are confirmed, we are marked…

We Are Catholic…

We are descendants, we are carrying our crosses daily, we are defenders of the faith, we are the future, we are peaceful, we are contemplative, we are jubilant, we are home…

We Are Catholic…

We are family, we are waiting, we are singing out to the Lord, we are Pro-Life, we are laying down our life for others, we are raising our eyes, we are devoted, we are on a journey…

We Are Catholic….

We are in awe, we are converted in our hearts, we are humble, we are alive in the Saints, we are the body of Christ…

WE ARE CATHOLIC!!!

Pope Benedict said, “Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”

It’s time…brothers and sisters it is time that we as a Church, guided by the Good Sheppard, start standing up for what we are…without fear. If you are here today and you are not Catholic, the same applies to you. We all need to start living out our faith in our actions, not just our words.

So on those days when you feel like you are a lost little sheep wondering around in the wilderness without a sheppard, pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Then stand tall and know that you are the Son or the Daughter of The Great King!

(Below is the video that inspired this homily)

We Are Catholic

Trust In God

Trinity Sunday (June 3, 2012)

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Romans 8:14-17

Matthew 28:16-20

I wish God spoke to me in big bright…..flashing…..neon signs…..but he doesn’t. If he did, I probably would have less debt, less stress, less temptation and less sin in my life.

You see, we worship a God that loved us enough to not control our every move. He didn’t create us to be puppets so that we would turn to him in worship and adoration. No, he loved us so much that he gave us free will, in hope that we would turn to him in worship and adoration. After all, forced love is not really love at all. Loving God means we have to trust Him…this can be very hard and even confusing at times. Think about it for a moment, Jesus taught us to love our enemies?? He said if someone strikes you on the face, we are to turn and offer the other cheek??  We are supposed to pray for those who persecute us?? We hear in Scripture that the poor and hungry are blessed?? And my favorite…..Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me!” I don’t think I have to remind anyone what happened to Jesus when He took up His cross!!! So why should we trust God, even when we don’t understand Him at times…

To answer that, I want to talk about today. On the church calendar, we call today the Most Holy Trinity. It’s a day set aside to give special Honor to our triune God. I want to ask the younger kids a question, just go ahead and shout out the answer if you know it. What is 1 + 1? What is 2 + 2? What is 1 + 1 + 1? So then how can one Father + one Son + one Holy Spirit = 1 God? Christianity can be so confusing at times!!!

But that’s just it, sometimes we need to just throw up our hands and say, “God, I don’t understand everything and I don’t know what you want out of me, but I’m going to trust you.” You see God knows the beginning and so do we. We’ve seen and studied the past, a past created by God. The problem is, we don’t know the future…but God does. He’s seen the entire story of our lives, the beginning and the end, whereas we’ve only seen a small chapter of the entire story. And now we suddenly want to skip to the end? Where’s the fun in that? Or should I say where’s the trust it that?

Five years ago, Deacon Richard came up to me and said, “Brian, I think you’d make a good Deacon. There is an informational meeting that you and Angie should attend.” My first thought, besides that Richard drank too much of the alter wine, was that I was too young.  So I went to Fr. Danny and he pulled out a canon law book and we read that the minimum age one had to be at ordination for a permanent deacon was 35. After doing some quick math, we realized I would turn 35 about 4 months before ordination. There’s one excuse out the window. Our next concern was our young kids. They were 2, 4 and 6 at the time. We went to the informational meeting and found out that we had to meet one weekend a month for five years for classes. We didn’t know what we would do with the kids? There was a couple at that meeting in Deacon Rich’s class that was in the same situation. They had young kids and no family close by. They told us they were scared about finding sitters to watch the kids, but it ended up working out in the end because their friends volunteered out of the blue to help out. So we decided if it became too much of a hardship to find people to watch the kids, then that was God’s way of telling us this is not the right time.  I can honestly say that in the five years of classes, only a few times did we have trouble finding someone to watch the kids. Angie and I owe a big thank you to both our out of town family and our St. Andrew’s family who stepped up and helped us without hesitation. THANK YOU! So I guess excuse #2 went out the window as well. You see I was trying to skip to the end, when I was only at the beginning. Granted there were plenty of times during the past 5 years that I struggled with God’s call, but I kept praying and trusting God, even when I didn’t get that big bright, flashing, neon sign. It’s all about trust.

All three scriptures we heard today tell us to trust. First God tells us to “fix in your heart that the Lord is God.” In other words, God is saying, “let’s get one thing straight here, I made you and I am a part of you, so don’t doubt Me!” If we can fix God in our hearts, then the Spirit of God will lead us and we will be called children of God. Therefore we need to rely on our heavenly Father to guide us in all things whether we understand them or not.

But what if we trust God and still it seems like we are getting slapped in the face day after day? Even the Apostles, Jesus’ most trusted inner circle of followers, had their doubts. One even betrayed Him! We hear in Matthew that the Apostles “worshiped, but they doubted.” How did Jesus react to those most trusted friends when they worshipped with doubt? Did he condemn them or yell at them? Did he suddenly say, “of course the Trinity is three persons but one God why don’t you get this?” NO. Jesus knew that people wouldn’t understand everything. He even knew that some would doubt Him. But he still told his followers to go out and spread the good news.

St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)

When it feels like you don’t understand or trust God’s plan or you feel like God had abandoned you, we can rely on the words of St. Therese of Lisieux when she was asked about this feeling of abandonment. She said, “I turn to God and the Saints, and in spite of this feeling, I thank them, for I am sure they only want to see how far I am going to trust them.” God knows the entire story. You may not understand all the chapters, but take comfort that the author of the universe, the author of the bible, is the same author of your life. Trust Him.

Planting Seeds

I joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1999 after going through RCIA in Ohio. I distinctly remember Deacon Tom, who taught the RCIA classes, say something that stuck with me for 13 years now. He said that if we really enjoyed learning about the Catholic faith, we needed to make sure to pay it back someday. He was encouraging us to keep learning about Catholicism and help others do the same after the Easter Vigil. He told us not to become “luke warm” Catholics but to volunteer and get involved. Deacon Tom was the first one to plant a seed that would eventually lead me to becoming a Catholic Deacon 13 years later.

Shortly after that Easter Vigil, Angie and I moved off to Iowa for a few years to attend college. We got busy with school, work and the birth of two of our boys. Church was not a high priority on the list because life was too busy. We didn’t get very involved in our local church because we knew we’d only be there a few years. We had our struggles in Iowa as well. The cost of Chiropractic College, being newly married and then being young parents can really put a toll on a young couple.

After moving to Kentucky from Iowa, we started attending St. Andrew’s. It was here that more seeds were planted. Fr. Joe was the first priest I got to know on a personal level. He encouraged me to help teach the high school formation class. When a new pre-marriage program was starting at the diocese, Fr. Joe suggested Angie and I to become trained instructors. It was at St. Andrew’s that I became an extraordinary minister of holy communion and a lector. Angie and I felt at home here and really enjoyed getting involved in the parish. The problem was that with each thing I volunteered to do, I felt called to do more. It was then that Deacon Abbey mentioned something to me about becoming a Deacon. I immediately blew him off. Apparently the Holy Spirit was working in me because I kept coming back to that word…Deacon. Who am I to be a Deacon?!?! So I asked a few people in the parish that I highly respected what they thought about me becoming a Deacon. Each one of them encouraged me to pursue it. More seeds.

I often wondered why I struggled so much early in my Catholic journey. The only answer that made sense was that it was leading me to June 2, 2012. That is the day I will be (God-willing) ordained a permanent deacon. Even as I write that line, I am filled with emotion that I cannot describe. I’m not big into public confessions but just know I’ve had my share of struggles in the years following that Easter Vigil in 1999. I truly believe that God allowed me to go through that journey so that I would one day be able to help others through similar struggles. Deacons are ordained to serve the Church by serving others. I am truly humbled by the opportunity God has put in my life to serve His Church as a deacon. It would not have occurred though without the many seeds that were planted by others. That is why I encourage each and every one of you to plant seeds. If you think someone would make a good priest, deacon, monk, nun, etc. don’t be afraid to tell them! You never know what kind of fruit the seed you plant may bring.

The soon-to-be Deacons, their wives and Bishop Ronald Gainer on retreat about one month before ordination.

Please continue to pray with and for me and for the other 22 men being ordained as deacons on June 2, 2012 at the Cathedral of Christ the King during the 10:30am Mass. Consider this your invitation from me to attend! It is truly an awesome sight to see all of the clergy in our diocese come together with the Bishop for such a celebration. I especially encourage you to attend if you have ever considered holy orders a possibility in your future! I look forward to serving the St. Andrew’s community for many years to come.

Looking Back At My Ordination Day

It was a packed house. Friends and family from all over crowded into the Cathedral to witness the ordination of 23 men to the diaconate. Three of those men would, God willing, go on to become priests. Twenty of those men would be ordained as permanent deacons. Angie and my youngest son (Jacob) were anxiously waiting in their pew while my two older boys were dressed in red cassocks waiting to process in with all the deacon candidates, deacons and priests of the Lexington Diocese along with Bishop Gainer. The incense was lit, the church choir started up and off we went. The procession itself was a sight to see. To see all of the ordained clergy of our diocese come together for such a blessed event was powerful. It was a three-hour Mass but all I could think about was those five years of formal classes were behind me. Where in the world did the time go? Now all of a sudden I was kneeling before the bishop in front of the altar at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Bishop Gainer laid his hands on my head in an ancient rite that dates back to the time of the Apostles.

           “…so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.” (Acts 6:5-6)

These men were the first deacons of the church. I was nearly moved to tears as I felt Bishop Gainer’s hands upon my head. God had chosen me to that same group we read about in the Book of Acts. Ordained to serve the church and the community but also ready to lay down my life for the church. This example is given to us also from the Book of Acts. St. Stephen (the first deacon of the church) was also the first martyr of the church (Acts 7:60). This is what was going through my mind as I arose from my knees after Bishop Gainer laid his hands on my head. Humble, obedient service to God and His church. I really didn’t “feel” different, but I knew that I “was” different. No more excuses, God now gave me a mission to serve His church as a deacon.

I encourage all of you to ask God to give you guidance when discerning your vocation in life. This could be to religious life (priest, monk, nun, deacon), married or single life. God has a purpose for each and every one of us. The hard part is to remain humble, obedient and quiet long enough to listen for the Holy Spirit to move you in the right direction. Remember, prayer is a two-way conversation. It involves talking AND listening. Listen for His answer and be ready to follow it even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. God’s plan is so much easier when you join Him rather than resist Him!

God’s Blessings,

Deacon Brian