This Post is Addicting

August 2, 2017 v4 p30

There were a lot of things I was looking forward to when I returned to my faith.  Coming face-to-face with my worst faults wasn’t one of them.

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I began looking for more content about my faith a couple of years ago.  I came across a bunch of different speakers on YouTube.  Fr. Mike posts all of his podcasts there so I put his name into the search bar.  It returned a bunch results that weren’t his weekly podcasts.  It seem that he is a speaker in high demand around the country at Catholic Conferences.  I started listening to his talks at some of these conferences while I do my inventory control work, where I’m out in the warehouse away from the rest of my team.  It is something I look forward to every morning.  My wife and I started watching them together after the kids go to bed and they turn control of the TV back over to us.  There are a lot of the other speakers from those events who have their talks posted as well.  They are all great, and very insightful to me.  There are two besides Fr. Mike that I listen to regularly.

After a few months I started to notice something in common among most of the male speakers I listen to.  Almost all of them have admitted to having an addiction to pornography earlier in their lives.  That really hit home, because one of those faults I wasn’t looking forward to meeting was what I’ve now come to realize was my own addiction to porn.  This has been a significant thing for me to come to grips with.  I’ve listened to the speakers describe how the women are usually drunk when performing, forced into performing, and generally treated as a slave.  It help me put together that by watching porn I not only backed the people enslaving the performers, but I was more or less treating all women the same.  It really made me think about how I treated sex in my own marriage.  I’ve apologized to my wife for the way I approached out sex life.  It’s allowed me to take my faith to a whole new level.

There are some pretty astonishing facts about the porn industry that actually shocked me.  The porn industry in the United States makes more sales than all four professional sports leagues.  The average adolescent boy has seen a pornographic image by the age of 11.  I was way ahead of the curve on that one, thanks neighborhood high schoolers.  So it’s out there, everywhere.  It’s never been as easy to access it as it is right now.  There was a report done on the local news on how a teenager could access porn in less than 10 seconds on their mobile devices a few weeks ago.  It showed how simple it is to find it on search engines.  We do image searches to see what kind of parts we’re looking for at work.  The joke used to be how far you would have to scroll down on the results before you came across a result that was NSFW.

It’s starting to make its way into mainstream media as well.  As people become desensitized to what they see in private, it takes more for something to grab your eye in public.  That has caused marketing teams to gravitate towards more immodest advertising.  Clothing industries start making their clothes smaller.  Sports media groups start publishing magazine article with athletes posing nude.  It’s hard to go on the internet and see articles that show how little a celebrity wore to the beach.  Which famous person is in the latest sex scandal.  These images are the biggest struggle I have with my addiction right now.  I struggle to not click on the articles or scroll through the slideshow in the magazine article.  To help combat that I don’t do much surfing on the web.  I spend more time on the internet than most people because of my job, and that help’s too.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched what most people would consider pornography.  Unfortunately I have many images stuck in my head that I have to struggle against for the rest of my life.

I gain the strength to fight this addiction from my faith life.  The speakers I listen to.  My deepened love for my wife, our marriage, and our Covenant with God.  My daily prayer life is centered on asking for forgiveness.  I have been to confession for this, and it was at that point when I began to feel the His forgiveness.  It also lead me to more introspection about myself.  Through that I have been able to be more of the man my wife needs me to be so that I can fulfill my Covenant by making sure she makes it to heaven.  I have come to realize that is what I am here for.  Through all of our past I always felt that it was still meant to be.  We took a tough road to get here, but I hope my wife can see how I have changed and trusts that I will do everything I can for her.  I can never say I’m sorry enough for the pain I put our family through due to my addiction.

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They say addicts are never really fully cured.  I guess for now you can say that I’m “on the wagon.”

Won’t You Join Me?

July 27, 2017 v4 p29

One of the first things I knew when I returned to my faith was that I needed to be more involved than I was growing up.  I have been trying to figure out how to do that ever since.

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When I made the decision to return to my faith I wasn’t sure where it was going to lead me.  I’ve shared that whole story a couple of times I believe.  After a few months I began to get the feeling that I needed to serve more in my church.  I began to pray to God and let him know that I was ready to serve in whichever way he wanted me to.  It didn’t take too long for that way to be revealed to me as I was approached about joining the local Knights of Columbus Council at our Parrish.  I had figured I would end up joining them anyway before I started those prayers because I could see how they were active in both the church and the community, much as I am through Scouting and was through the Lions Club.  It was pretty much a no-brainer.  I joined and immediately felt welcomed to the Council and began volunteering whenever I could.  The older members have been more than appreciative for my support.

I was told a few months later that it didn’t take long for my name to start coming up for leadership positions.  That doesn’t surprise me.  In every job I’ve held I have showed up and done my job to the best of my ability.  That has always resulted in me being given more responsibilities, and ultimately promotions.  All of that coupled with all of the other leadership positions I’ve held in volunteer organizations explain to me why those conversations were happening.  I had hoped it would be a couple of years before I was approached about taking a leadership position, but I kind of knew that I could only delay the inevitable for so long.  I stepped up this year to take on the role of treasurer, which I’m sure is the first of many positions I will hold in this organization.

One of the directives of the Knights is evangelization.  I’m fairly certain that this is tied to the Pope’s call for a new evangelization of the church.  I began sharing some of the Catholic blogs that I have been following with my wife and some fellow Catholic friends.  They have all found them very helpful.  But those are the easy people for me to evangelize to.  They are already active in their faith, and while everyone needs to continue to grow their faith, there’s a different audience I would like to reach.

I know a lot of people that were involved with the Catholic Church growing up.  Most of them, like myself, strayed away throughout their late teen and adult years.  During that time is when the Catholic Church began to fall on hard times.  There were multiple sex scandals, the beliefs and teachings of the church were skewed in the public eye.  There really wasn’t much of a reason to stick around.  That’s not why I left my faith, but I am fairly certain those may be some of the reasons that some of them did leave.  These are the people I would like to reach.  These are the people I would like to share more of my journey with.  These are the people I would like to be a part of their journey.

One of the biggest factors in my faith formation as an adult was reading The Bible.  Not just a few of the books, or specific chapters.  I read then entire Catholic Bible, from cover to cover.  After I finished it I tried looking for a different way to continue my faith formation.  I tried simply reading the daily scripture readings, something I had picked up during my first reading.  It was nice, but I was feeling like I still needed more.  A few months ago I decided to read all of Letter’s from the Apostle Paul, in chronological order.  That’s been pretty insightful.  I’m almost through all of them and need to figure out what area I want to read next, I’m leading towards the Psalms.

Aside from reading my Bible on a daily basis there are a few Catholic speakers that I get a lot of good content from.  One of them is Fr. Mike Schmitz, a younger priest from Minnesota.  Most of the rest of the speakers that I’ve listened to have mentioned him in their talks.  He seems to be the unofficial face of the new evangelization.  He is very well spoken and is very engaging.  I have shared a few of his posts on social media and get a positive response from Catholics and Protestants alike.  Another one of the speakers I started following early on is Jeff Cavins.  He is a former Protestant Pastor who was raised Catholic, left the church in his late teen years, only to be called back to Catholicism by The Lord.  His journey is a really fascinating story.  Both of these speakers publish their podcasts through the Catholic media company, Ascension Press.

Along with their weekly blogs they produce faith formation materials.  They range from studies of The Bible, adult and teen faith formation, and historical studies of the Catholic Church.  During some of the podcasts I subscribe to from Ascension they run short ad spots for their study programs.  In each of them they mention that some of them are free if you get a group of four or more to participate.  I haven’t looked too far into that but this is where I feel my calling to evangelize is leading.  I’m looking for a deeper understanding of The Bible.  The program I’m particularly interested in going through is “The Bible Timeline.”  This study takes the participants through the entire Bible and dives deeply into each period of salvation history.  There are multiple ways to read The Bible, and chronologically is one I’d like to try.

This is where you come in.  If you’ve been interested in deepening your faith and understanding of The Bible, I believe that this may be one way for you to do it.  If you’re looking to get back to your faith, Catholic or Protestant, this may be one way for you to do it.  I’m not looking to try and convert anyone to Catholicism, but if it happens I will support you any way I can.  What I hope to get out of this is a deeper understanding of my own faith, to help other people gain a deeper understanding of their faith, and possibly strengthen some families or friendships.  Feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested in joining me this fall.  I don’t know what the study group would look like yet, but that’s something I will figure out along the way, much like I have the rest of my faith formation.

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So if you were Catholic, have always been Catholic, are interested in learning more about the Catholic Church, or are a Christian looking to strengthen your faith, please consider joining me.  What have you got to lose, except everything you could gain by participating?

What I Belive – Part 5

April 27 2017 v4 p17

The more I study my faith, the more I become aware that I am heading in the right path.  I’m learning that I really believe a lot differently than I used to.  Here’s a start to what I’m talking about.

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Just in case you haven’t been following along, I would like to start by reminding you that I am a Catholic Christian.  I was born and raised Catholic, and no, I wasn’t brainwashed by my parents or the church into those beliefs.  I did question our faith growing up, more about why we were Catholic and not some other sect of Christianity.  The answer my parents gave me didn’t cause me to want to change that in any way.  To sum it up, they explained how the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus, and that while the other Protestant sects believed in Christ, they didn’t always agree on things with the Catholic Church.  At that young age I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus in his original church.  Even during my early adult years when I was away from my faith, I always answered the questions about my faith with a firm reply that I was Catholic.  Even though I wasn’t practicing.

Some arguments may be made that not everyone has the same view point as Catholics, so their sect of Christianity is still right.  I certainly can see why someone may have that point of view.  Here’s where we start getting into the meat of this series.  One of the resources I have found to aid me in my faith formation is a priest from Minnesota, Fr. Mike Schmitz.  He is the director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese that Duluth MN is part of.  He is also the priest at the Newman Center on the University of Minnesota at Duluth Campus.  Where I found him is through Ascension Press, a Catholic Media group.  He hosts a weekly pod cast that has short five to ten minute videos that really hit home with me on a wide variety of topics.  And one fun fact about Fr. Mike is that he made it to the final cut of auditions to play the role of “Robin” in the movie “Batman Returns.”  He is one of my major sources for my faith formation over the last couple of years, so I will often reference what I have taken away from his speeches.

When it comes to the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism he uses the analogy of a large boat.  After Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven there was one Christian Church.  So picture everyone on the same boat, and it sets sail.  Over time some people feel that there are parts of that boat that they don’t like, so they decide to build their own boat.  But, they’re out in the middle of the ocean.  Where are they going to get their materials?  Those must come from the original boat.  So over time, numerous different “boats” have been built out of the original one.  How do I know that Catholicism was the original boat?  If you trace the history of the Pope back to the very first one, it is St. Peter.  In Matthew 16:18 we are told “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  I’m not sure how much more clear that can be.

Does that mean I feel your point of view is wrong?  No, what it means is that we have different points of view.  Is that ok?  Yes, if we all thought the same way there would be no variety in the world.  Everything would be beige.  And while Jim Harbaugh’s wardrobe would fit in well, but I don’t think too many other people would.  This is where the problem lies with political ideologies such as Communism and others similar to it, but that’s a whole other tangent I would like to stay away from.

The Parrish mission of the church I attend is stated as “We are called as a family to know, love, and serve God.”  Every time I leave the church, whether it’s after a meeting, or service, or I just stopped by to say a quick prayer, I am reminded of that as I leave.  There is a sign on the way out of the parking lot that reminds us that we are entering the mission field.  This church mission is directly in line with the directive of the Catholic Church.  The Vatican mandates that as Catholic Christians we must treat all human life with compassion, dignity, and respect.  This includes all human life.  Whether born or unborn.  Whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, etc.  Whether you are a murder, drug user, alcoholic, or a member of the LGBT community.  That’s all human life.

I’m sure most of you have had an encounter with a Catholic person that doesn’t match up with that directive.  It really doesn’t surprise me if you have, and would actually be more surprising to me if you haven’t.  I have had that same type of experience with fellow Catholics and I didn’t really think they were in the right.  That isn’t the Catholic Church that I was raised to know.  In every form of religion though, there are extremists.  Examples would be ISIS, or the Westboro Baptist Church.  Groups that do things to the far extreme of what they feel is right.  By doing that, you are doing exactly the opposite of what Christ was trying to teach.

I can confidently say that I haven’t had an encounter of that type with another Catholic since returning to my faith in January of 2015.  In fact I will be the first to tell anyone who is willing to listen how much of that compassion, dignity, and respect I have seen from my fellow Catholics.  I try my best every day to treat everyone with compassion, dignity, and respect.  I say that I try my best because as much as I study the scripture and pray, I’m still a sinner.  I still have faults.  I still fail God every day.  One of the parts of my nightly prayers before bed is to look back to see where I have failed to treat people in those ways.  This is part of an Examen Prayer that was discussed this spring during our Parrish mission speech.  It causes you to look back on yourself on a daily basis, it’s very introspective.  The longer my wife and I have been doing this to end our day, the quicker I have become at identifying when I have that failure and I know that I need to ask for His forgiveness.

I’m not telling this story because I’m trying to convert anyone.  If you’ve read something here that has caused you to want to convert, great!  If you’ve read something here and want to ask me some questions, I’m willing to answer the best I can, or try to point you in a direction to find an answer (I’m still “young” in my faith formation).  If you’re willing to take some time on your own, I would encourage to you go on YouTube and check out Fr. Mike Schmitz.  He has a lot of 5-9 minutes podcasts, but if you search far enough you’ll find a lot of speeches he has given at various conferences around the country.  Those are the ones where I find the most value.  They usually range in time from 20 minutes to up to a couple of hours.

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There is a huge misconception about the Catholic Church in our country.  All that I ask is that you give me the same courtesy as a Catholic that I give everyone else regardless of who they are or what they believe.

What I Believe – Part 4

April 20, 2017 v4 p16

As I returned to my faith I knew I had to do more than just show up, I had to understand what all of it meant to me.  It didn’t take long to figure out which sect I belonged to, and what I needed to study.

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There were a few instances after my wife and I returned to our faith that really showed me that I was heading in the right direction.  There was the obvious one when we first went to Mass.  There were some other times when the Gospel readings and the Homily delivered by the priest felt almost as if he had written them specifically aimed to me.  There was the instant connection my wife and I had with the priest.  The more we got to know him on a personal level, the more we knew that this man wasn’t the same type of priest we had grown up around.  I could tell at an early time that I needed to serve the church more, but I didn’t know how.  Shortly after I began praying for guidance on how that I was supposed to serve it was revealed.

I was approached by one of the other gentlemen from our church at a breakfast one weekend between the early and late Sunday Mass.  He explained to me a little bit about the Knights of Columbus and joining them was something that had immediately came to mind when I returned to church.  However, I knew that before I could join I needed to make thing right between myself and the Lord.  It had been nearly 23 years since I had been to confession, something that is required of Catholics to do on a yearly basis.  My wife and I found the time to go and we began to make atonement for the sins of our early adulthood.  After that first confession I almost immediately knew that I had received His grace and mercy.  There is not greater feeling than when that happens.  I love my wife deeply, but the love I feel for and receive from God is like no other.  I can’t describe it, but I know when He shows it.

Shortly after joining the Knights I discovered that one of the things Catholics are called to do is evangelize.  Again, this not like what the corrupt mega-church pastors (not all mega-church pastors) do.  My first thought was to start attempting that through my blog.  There were two things that held me back.  First, I didn’t have a great knowledge of what I believed, I just knew that what I was doing felt right so I kept doing it.  Second, I was afraid that writing about that subject could cause problems.  I might lose some friends, I might get dragged in to some conversations with people and end up chasing rabbits down a hole (I’ve written about it before).  So I decided that if I was truly going to do that I needed to know what I was writing about.

During the Advent season, then again during Lent and the time following Lent our church provided some small books.  These were short, daily readings that tied into that day’s scripture and a little bit of guidance.  During the reading of those books the first season I began to follow more Catholic groups on social media.  This is where I really began to see what direction my faith formation needed to take.  Once I completed those short books, they were about 45 pages each, I began to read a book that our Parrish had provided to the entire congregation.  This was about another Catholic gentleman’s journey through his faith.  While his was much stronger through his entire life, I found many similarities in my own life, things were really starting to come together.  It was after I finished that when my faith formation really took a precedent over everything else in my life.

At the end of each daily reading the pages close with, “Spend some quiet time with the Lord!”  It was at that point when I first started to kneel and pray on a daily basis.  I had never done this type of thing before so I didn’t know if I was doing it right.  I started off praying for guidance and blessing for my family.  I would then finish with the opening pray sequence to The Rosary.  As time has gone on that has become a daily activity.  I still pray for those same things, as I have seen how my prayers have been effective.  There are things that I add for certain time frames, such as when the Knights of Columbus call for a Novena.  There are other things that I have added that will always be in my prayers.  I still finish with the same opening sequence of The Rosary.

About a week after I had finished that book and had started back to reading my professional development books I started to notice a change in my life.  My attitude had been different, my focus was off, it felt like something was missing, or had gone away.  I began to look inward and discovered that the only thing that had changed over that short time was that I wasn’t getting the daily reading that I had been.  What a huge difference it had been, in a really short time.  That’s when I knew that I needed to get back to reading the scripture more.  So in early June of 2016 I picked up my bible and started at Genesis 1:1.  When I read for professional development I read 10 pages every day, no matter what I’m reading, so I figured that would be a good place to start.  Well, I don’t know how many bibles you’ve ever looked at, but the print is pretty small in most of them, and 10 pages is probably closer to the equivalent of 15 pages in a normal book.  None-the-less, I made it my new morning ritual.

This put a damper on my professional development reading.  I didn’t want to rob myself of anymore sleep than I already was, so I put that to the side.  What I ended up doing was finding a few evenings here and there when I could get that professional development reading in.  It slowed down my pace, but I knew in the long run that it was what I needed to do.  There are some pretty tough spots in the Old Testament to read.  In the book of Joshua it speaks a lot of how the Holy Land was to be divided.  There are portions of it where it almost reads like a real-estate manual, describing by landmarks where certain tribes were to make their stake in the land.  I could feel myself getting a little discouraged.  At some point during this time frame I began following a social media page that would post the daily Gospel reading.  So after a tough reading of the Old Testament one day I decided to look up the Gospel reading again.  What Google gave me was another avenue for my faith formation.  The first page in my search was for the daily Mass readings as specified by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Here was a new part of my daily reading.

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It took me about six months to finish the entire Bible, and it had changed me.  It had changed what I knew, and explained why I believe in the Catholic Church.  This has been a long route to get to it, but my next post is where I will begin to “unpack” some of that.

Prayer

January 27, 2017 v4 p4

When I made the decision to return to my faith two years ago I knew it was going to include a fairly big learning curve.  This journey has been the most involved one I’ve ever been on, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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The biggest learning curve I knew I was going to face going was how to pray.  A quick internet search of the definition of pray returns “address a solemn request of expression of thanks to a deity or other object of worship.”  I always knew that was the meaning, but I never put it into practice.  Growing up I never really engaged in church.  I think that was because my father has a way of making it seem like he was forcing me to go, or that it was a requirement to be part of the family.  I always recited the “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” prayers in church or in my catechism classes going up.  And I say recite because I wasn’t really praying, just reciting the words.  I never prayed in church during Mass, and I certainly didn’t pray at home.  I think the only time I can remember actually saying prayers other than reciting the ones during Mass was at my Grandmother’s funeral when I was in 5th grade.  I still wasn’t sure if I was doing it right.  In my adult life I’m fairly certain the only times I prayed where around the times when my parents passed away.

The first service my wife and I attended back in January of 2015 was different.  Knowing full well I was going to engage more at this time in my life than I ever had, I knew that I needed to start praying.  I’ve been Catholic my whole life.  I attended a Baptist church with a friend during one summer in high school while my parents were out of town for a few weeks.  Having been in a place like that at a time like that I don’t really remember much beyond the first 10 minutes of the first service when I realized my beliefs and their beliefs weren’t really in line with each other.  I had to be there thought to satisfy my parents and my friend’s parents.  Having not really attended any other services from different sects of Christianity, I can’t really talk about their traditions or procedures.  As a Catholic though I know that upon entering the sanctuary and finding my seat I was supposed to kneel before the alter and pray.  That first service I don’t really know that I said a specific prayer.  It was more along the lines of an intercessory prayer.

Nothing like what happened that evening had ever happened before in the small number of times I had prayed before.   Nothing came out of the sky and appeared to me.  I didn’t suddenly become a saint.  But what did happen was amazing.  In my prayer that day I asked God to show me if I was doing the right thing.  I asked him to show me some guidance.  I didn’t ask expect it to come so quickly.  All of the reading for the Mass that evening and the Homily that the priest gave spoke directly to me.  The theme of all of them was to be ready to listen when God speaks to you.  My wife and I discussed it on the way home and we both knew at that moment that we had found the right path for our journey.  I continued to pray more intently every week when we would go to Mass.  It would be about different things usually, but eventually I started to find a routine to my prayers.  A few months after we had returned to church a teenage girl from our church was tragically killed in a car accident.  She was about three weeks older than my oldest son, so it really hit home.  When I heard the news it was the first time I remember stopping my life in public to say a prayer.  It felt good and I didn’t care what anyone around me thought.

As I began to really study more about my faith and deepen my relationship with Christ I began to find more about how I could pray.  It was about 10 months ago when I added daily prayer to my morning routine.  I had been reading a book that my church had gotten for every family and its author spoke about the need for daily prayer.  That was when I decided that it was a necessity in my life.  There have been times when the things I pray about have been revealed to me within short amounts of time, and there have been times where they have taken longer or have yet to be revealed to me.  I have sometimes doubted whether what I was doing was worth it, but then I remember the feeling of fulfillment I get when I do have the things I pray about revealed to me.  So I continue to pray until it is fulfilled, or revealed that it wasn’t meant to be.  I’m really just cracking the surface on the true power of prayer.

The reason I chose to write about this topic in this post though has to do with last week’s post.  I wrote about how a lot of people have their priorities in the wrong place, and there’s no greater evidence of that than on social media.  When people do post genuine things about their lives they are often times not for the greatest reason.  I totally remember posting about my father’s death on Facebook.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t post about the death or illnesses that are going on in their lives, either personally or with family and friends.  Social media is a great place to find support for your healing in times of need.  My issue is with some people’s response to those posts.  One of the most common responses people give to those type of posts is “I’m praying for you” or “Prayers” or “sending prayers your way” or something else along those lines.  I get it and I’m sure a lot of people posting those types of things are actually praying.  Unfortunately the majority of the people I see post those types of responses most likely aren’t.  When the majority of your posts are not in line with the very few that you say you’re praying in, it doesn’t lead me to believe you are actually praying.  Just saying or typing the words “I’m praying for you” is not praying.  In order to pray you must enter into a state of intimate conversation between yourself and God.  Anything else is nothing more than promising to pay a bill and never mailing the check.

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So before you type or say those words, ask yourself if you’re actually willing to go through that.  Are you willing to do what is necessary to give yourself up to Jesus?  I am.

I’m praying for wisdom, strength, and guidance.

I’m praying for my wife and children.

I’m praying for the mental and physical health of my friends.

I’m praying for my country.

I’m praying for my church.