Education leads us to God

Last week, we went on a parish pilgrimage to Pilsen, KS. While we were there, we heard a talk on Fr. Kapaun’s life growing up, we learned about the miracles associated with him, and I was able to celebrate Mass on the High Altar that Fr. Kapaun would have used. It was a great day!

During the talk about Fr. Kapaun’s life, we heard that he would walk three miles to school and three miles back every day, and this was after doing all sorts of chores on the farm. At school, the teachers recognized that he was a sharp student. He was diligent in his studies, and it showed. Even when he went to school, the faith that his parents had taught them was very important to him. If the teachers ever lost track of him at recess, they would just go check the church and find him there.

As school is starting, all sorts of thoughts are swirling around in my mind, and they are all coming to the same conclusion: education, to truly be education, must lead us to God. When I was preparing for my talk at the Open House, I was playing around with the Latin word “duc”. Most of the time, the word “duc” means “lead.” It’s the root of many words, the most obvious being, perhaps, “duke.” Much more interesting to me, though, is that the word “educate” is a descendant of the word “duc.” The Latin components of the words literally translate as “to lead out.”

To lead out of what? When we educate, where are we leading one another?

When we look at the example of Fr. Kapaun, we can see where education must lead us: to God. God is the one who created us, who gave us the gift of reason, who gave us curiosity, who gave us the ability to wonder. He did not give us these gifts so that we would hide them. The true situation is quite the opposite, in fact. God wants us to look up at the stars and experience wonder at the cosmos. God wants us to be curious and ask, “how does that happen?” God wants us to think through a problem, even if we already know the answer, so that we can understand why. God wants us to recognize that he created us out of love and wants us to be happy with him, in heaven, forever.

Education leads us out of ourselves so that we might experience the universe God created in all its beauty, so that we can answer some of those questions we ponder every day, so that we can recognize that my true fulfillment comes not from myself, but from another. Education leads us out of ourselves, through wonder and curiosity, into knowledge. Not just book knowledge. Knowledge of reading and writing, history and science, mathematics and religion, all are important, but beyond that, we must have knowledge of life. We can learn in so many ways. We can learn through prayer about God and our relationship with him. We can learn through practice how to play a piano or to tie a knot. We can learn about the beauty of the stars by looking up at the night sky. We must learn in these many ways, because it is through all of ourselves and all of our knowledge—practical and theoretical—that we learn to experience God in all his glory.

Fr. Matt celebrating Mass at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen, KS.

One of the ways Fr. Kapaun learned was by looking at the statues of saints and the windows in his parish church St. John Nepomucene. He is the most prominent saint in the whole church, placed at the top of the high altar. Looking at that statue every day, then-little Emil Kapaun learned that a priest would rather die than violate the seal of the confessional, because that is why St. John Nepomucene gave his life. Rather than betray the seal of confession as the king demanded him, he accepted torture and death by drowning instead. When we look around our church here at Blessed Sacrament, we can learn about the Gospels in the windows, we can learn about Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the Divine Mercy of Christ.

None of us can afford to stop learning. There is so much in this universe that is interesting and fascinating if we open our eyes and look for it. For example, even if we already know the stories in our church windows, we can always ponder their meaning and how they can teach me in my life right now. We must always keep learning: Learning helps us grow closer to God. We must help those around us learn, because Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Every day we are given the opportunity to wonder at the beauty of God. Let us take inspiration from Fr. Kapaun, and when we get a chance, let’s not be afraid to steal away marvel at God.

Pray like Jesus

I just finished reading Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love. I don’t want to admit how long it took me to finish this book, but in it I found some great insights and a few reminders about prayer.

The first and most important thing that we must always remember is that prayer is always about relationship with God. God has invited us into relationship with him, and prayer is our response to that invitation. We see this exemplified perfectly in Jesus Christ. Jesus, who is God, takes time away regularly in the Gospels to pray. The Gospel writers never hide this. They tell us that Jesus went away to pray, especially when something huge was going on. Jesus, the Son of God, did not need to pray to maintain his relationship to God the Father. The relationship between the two of them drew Jesus to prayer.

As we grow closer to God in our own prayer, we will find something similar happening in our lives. In our prayer, we put in the effort to grow closer to God. It is very challenging at times. To truly grow closer to God, we must grow in humility and vulnerability. We humbly recognize that God is God, and I am not. Through our humility, often a painfully challenging virtue to learn, we can then be vulnerable to God. Our humility before God reminds us that he has the answers and we do not, so the smartest thing we can ever do is bring them to him so that God can heal us. We can present him with those dark corners in our hearts, those dark corners that we really don’t want to admit to anybody—sometimes not even ourselves. This is not fun. It is hard.

True change is never easy, but that is exactly what happens when we bring our vulnerabilities to God in silent prayer. We entrust ourselves, our futures, and our souls to God, knowing that he will never hurt us. Remember what Christ said, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11)

There is so much more in this book that I could share, but I will save it for another article. In Ephesians today, Paul writes, “So be imitators of God, as beloved children.” When we were baptized, we became the children of God. We must imitate him in his love and generosity. If we ever wonder what imitating God looks like, we can go straight to the source and look at the example of Jesus Christ. He brought all of himself to the Father in prayer. We should strive to do the same.

St. Cyril of Alexandria writes that “Prayer is happy company with God.”

May we strive to keep that happy company.

Letting the silence move your heart

A year or so before I entered seminary, I was getting more involved at my home parish in Wichita. One day the gentleman who was in charge of the Adoration Chapel over there, asked me if I’d be interested in taking an hour for him.

My (naïve and overly-optimistic) response, “Sure, what hour do you need filled the most?”

“2am Friday morning.”

“OK…”

I could tell all sorts of stories about my 2am hour. There were the times I got pulled over by the police. (When they asked where I was going, I said “Church, to pray for an hour, you can come too if you want.” Fun fact: I found something you can say that does surprise a police officer!) There were the times I almost didn’t wake up in time. There were the times I sat down and promptly “rested my eyes”… for 45 minutes.

But despite the occasional hiccup or craziness, most of my Friday mornings passed without anything unusual happening. A few weeks into my 2am commitment, I had a good routine for Thursday nights so I wasn’t super tired during my adoration hour, and I began to truly enjoy the time with God. There is simply something different about the world at 2am. You can guess the obvious things: no traffic, not a lot of noise, it’s dark. But describing those mornings in that way never felt right. I never felt that such descriptions did that adoration hour justice. The world “silence” came close to describing the experience, but even that didn’t seem sufficient. I never could find the word to describe that hour on Friday mornings.

It wasn’t until six months into seminary that I stumbled across a word to describe what I felt those mornings in the adoration chapel. I began to read the book Meditations before Mass by Romano Guardini. He begins his book by meditating on stillness, writing:

When Holy Mass is properly celebrated there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent. The priest continues to officiate as the rubrics indicate, speaking very softly or refraining from vocal prayer; the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation. What do these intervals of quiet signify? What must we do with them? What does stillness really imply?

Later, he writes:

It implies above all that speech end and silence prevail […] People are often heard to say: “But I can’t help coughing” or “I can’t kneel quietly”; yet once stirred by a concert or lecture they forget all about coughing and fidgeting. […] Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depth of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert of oppressive about it.

This meditation moved my heart and gave me the word I had been seeking for years. Stillness is the word for the world at 2am from the perspective of the Adoration Chapel. There is nothing going on. The noises are gone. You can finally focus on the one person that matters: Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

I have not yet mastered stillness in Adoration or while at Mass, but the pursuit of stillness allows for a tranquility of heart that has been vital to my life. I know where to go when I’m in trouble, need help, am anxious, whatever. More accurately, I know to whom I must go. No matter where I am, whether I’m saying Mass with a lot of exuberant children, standing in the middle of an airport where everyone is on edge because the flight is late, waiting at the bedside of someone who will soon be going to their eternal reward, I can always go back to those moments of stillness and remember who is there to save all of us and who I am meant to bring into the situation. I am meant to join Christ in making his love incarnate. (This is one of the reasons I love Christmas so much: despite the excitement of the season, I feel a great stillness when I am at Christmas Mass celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.)

It took me a long time to understand what happened to me at those 2am Adoration hours on Friday mornings, but my encounter with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration was a school of interior stillness which has been a source of grace and peace for years.

Sacraments and Stewardship

When I talk about stewardship, I often think of the “time, talent, and treasure” formula that people my age grew learning in Wichita Catholic schools. More recently, the diocese has recognized that stewardship is “the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares these gifts in love of God and neighbor.” We can easily apply this definition to our time, talent, and treasure: After we focus our attention, we recognize the vast multitude of gifts we receive from God every day.

When we try to apply that definition of stewardship to the rest of our lives, though, it gets a little harder. Time, talent, and treasure give us a nice, clean workspace. But if we limit our stewardship to these categories, we run the risk of getting ourselves stuck in a box. In reality, the entirety of our life is a gift from God. The only worthy response is to give ourselves entirely over to God. We can’t settle for just giving God one hour of my Sunday. That’s only 0.6% of the week, for those who are counting. We can’t kid ourselves into thinking that we are giving ourselves back to God by throwing a few bucks in the collection and helping with some charitable activity every once in a while.

Our gift to God must have deeper roots. God demands and desires to be present in our lives at every moment of every day. St. Paul wasn’t joking when he said, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess 5:17) He truly intends for us to lift ourselves to God at every moment of every day. In order to do this, God must be a constant companion in our hearts. His love must be the source of all our action.

This love starts and is nourished by the sacraments. In Baptism, we are reborn into the life and light of Christ. In Confirmation, we receive the love of the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength and courage to spread and defend our faith. In the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith (Lumen Gentium no. 11), we receive the love of God in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, and allow Him to transform us into the people he created us to be.

Because these sacraments are the source of God’s love in our daily life, we should take great care as Catholics to ensure we do our best to make use of them. Going to Confession regularly, participating at Mass, and following our vocational call to marriage, the religious life, or the priesthood are ways we are stewards of the life that God has given us, because we are returning to God to allow him to live more deeply within us. One of the major points of the council fathers of Vatican II was for the faithful to recognize the incredible importance of the gift of the sacraments and liturgies of the Church. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, they wrote “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations.” (no. 14)

We are bound together by our common worship of God, in which we recognize that all we have been given—our life, our time on this earth, and the salvation won by Christ—is a gift from God. At Mass, we receive this gift, share it with those around it, and offer the depths of ourselves to God in return. The sacraments are where stewardship begins. The Mass is where we learn how to practice stewardship and are gathered as a community to share the love of God. Let us not be afraid to share our gifts in service of the liturgy, whether as readers, servers, ushers, musicians, the faithful gathered in worship, or, for some of us, perhaps as a priest.

For the Greater Glory of God,

Fr. Matt

“Don’t care how. I want it now!”

Veruca Salt, in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, summed up the last decade way back in 1971. Personally, I find it extremely amusing that this movie is available from all the “On Demand” type services, or if I simply must have the 4k Blu-ray, Amazon can get it to me tomorrow.

More and more, we are only content when we get exactly what we want and when we get it now. It’s not just merchandise and movies. We want policy changes in the government now. We want to lose 40 pounds now. (Well, in my case, it’s a little more than 40!) We want an answer to our email/text/phone call/letter now.

Having everything now is not good for us. Our culture’s gospel of immediacy is also a gospel of impatience and, often, vain materialism. There are many ways we can fight these unhealthy tendencies.

One great way is to pick a day every week to do a digital fast. On that day, you’d only use your phone, tablet, and computer for calls, texts, emails, and whatever you’re required to do for work. A digital fast means not getting on social media, avoiding YouTube, Netflix, and all of that. It’s a day to take a step out of the immediacy of modernity and back into a place where we can rest and be in relationship with one another. Let’s be honest: it is much more fulfilling to spend a few hours talking, eating, or doing some sort of activity with a friend than to watch a movie with them, and both are more fulfilling than spending three hours on Facebook or Twitter. Fridays would be a great day to do this digital fast. The Church still calls on us to make some sort of sacrifice every Friday. While not eating meat is an option outside of Lent, another great option is a digital fast.

Why is a digital fast so effective against all these things? Social media, while it can connect, also promotes a strange sort of vanity where self-worth is quantified by “likes.” Online shopping, while it makes all sorts of things more accessible, makes it easy to fall into materialistic tendencies where our self-worth is quantified by “stuff.” Online video, games, and all of that, while they entertain, often gives us an escape from our surroundings so that we can withdraw from reality and completely lose ourselves. All of these things show us that results are possible right now, and they give us the illusion that we are in control of our immediate future.

When we break the stranglehold that our digital culture has on us, we start to recognize how unrealistic and unsustainable our instant-fulfillment culture is. We begin to recognize the beauty of the people around me. We can see that it is not always a big deal if something takes a little while—that sometimes the best things are the ones you wait for.

In the peace of Christ, who made the sloth too,

Fr. Matt