Reflection on the Single Vocation

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.  To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.”
1 Corinthians 7:7-8

 In light of the recent political debates around marriage, the single life is unconsciously restated as less desirable. Whether you are religious or secular, singleness seems curiously odd to both. It encompasses the divorced, widowed, and never married. Described in relation to marriage and not given its own identity. Welcome to the single life, more precisely, in the Christian community, the single vocation. The following reflections derive from discussions with Christians living both the single and married vocations.
Ugly Duckling Complex. In the Hans Christian Anderson story, the swan was an outcast because he did not look like the other birds. He finally grew into an adult swan and was accepted. Those who are married, and even some of the single laity, view those who are unmarried in the same light. You are an ugly duckling until married. It is reflected in asking questions about whether you are dating anyone, offering hope that someone is out there for you, and encouraging you to use your extra time to volunteer in the church. Instead, let’s encourage the individual in their faith journey and emphasize the goodness and blessing of God in their lives.

Bi-polar: Depressed and Partying.
Two extremes used to generalize the state of singles. The first one encompasses a view that the single vocation is lonely because you are not in a relationship. It is a state of life akin to sitting in a drab waiting room with Kenny G playing over the speakers while you are forced to re-read the same self-help magazines over and over and over again. The other stereotype is the view that this lack of relationship with oneperson means you spend your time partying and living up life. The second one was either created by a married person using the “grass is greener” argument or a single person trying to compensate for their inability to embrace the vocation God has placed them in. Everyone has a cross to bear. It does not matter your vocation. Instead of stereotyping, strive to learn about each person as a unique child of God.

Worry-free Illusion
. There certainly is stress from learning to work in constant collaboration with another person in marriage. Sin and temptation does not discriminate by vocation. Singles may, or may not be parents, but they are a part of a family. They are not immune to the struggles that come from being a sibling, cousin, aunt/uncle, or godparent. The lure of materialism in this world remains. Lastly, deciding to live a life of chastity in a society that is drenched in a base view of physical intimacy is a challenge. The 1 Corinthians 13 definition of love applies to all believers.

Celebration Blackhole
. Over the past decade of my life, many of my friends have gotten married, started families, and added an extra set of celebrations to their lives. Of all the differences between single and married, there is a distinct inequality in the number of celebrations one has built into their vocation. One of my friends is, jokingly, dreading all the parties and social rituals that accompany the time from engagement to marriage. There are struggles in being single and married, but a single person must be intentional in celebrating moments in their lives. While the married vocation gives us microcosm of church life, the single vocation emphasizes the need for forming and fostering the Christian community and communion of saints.

All Christians were made with the same dignity. Our baptism connects us all in the roles of priest, prophet, and king. We are all called through our faith to follow the Great Commission and share the love of Christ with the world. We are called to encourage and edify each other in our faith journey. These are the things that bind us, no matter our vocation, in the larger community of believers. 

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Word Became Flesh

“I would like everyone to feel comfortable, that’s why I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.”
- Jim Gaffigan

Ever notice that the easiest way to make people nervous is to start talking about Jesus and Christianity? Even Christians get nervous when the topic comes up at work or family gatherings. Thoughts start racing through your head, “What if they start talking about controversial subjects? How am I supposed to defend God? I don’t know enough to explain my beliefs.” And yet, as disciples of Christ, we are told “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. The Great Commission sends us out in the word to proclaim the Good News. We are given the privilege to share with others the Word who became flesh. So, what does that look like?

GK Chesterton has written a lot about his dislike for big words and long sentences. I believe Chesterton would have been a fan, or at least intrigued, with Twitter. Limited to only 140 characters in your message, you can’t mess around with fancy language. In Orthodoxy (1908) he wrote, “It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable.” While I won’t promise only one-syllable words, I offer the following tweets with short explanations in italics for those who need more than 140 characters.

7 Tweets for Disciples
  • "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ" St. Jerome #ReadYourBible
Spend time reading and learning about Jesus.

  • "All human evil comes from a single cause, man's inability to sit still in a room."
    Blaise Pascal #ClassroomOfSilence
Spend time in prayer in which you simple listen to God.

  • "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33 #GodsAlreadyWon
God doesn’t need you to convince every person or win every argument. Relax.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15 #Gentleness
In addition to reading Scripture, read the Catechism, join a Bible study group and learn about your faith.

  • It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” But make sure you go find out the answer. #HumilityisNotDefeat
You aren’t expected to know the answer to every question. Never let a person cause you to doubt because you have no answer. Embrace it as a chance to learn more about your faith.

  • “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23  #WeAllNeedJesus
Don’t neglect to tell someone about Jesus because you are afraid to bring up the sin you see. We all need salvation. We all were born with original sin.

Make sure to read the whole chapter. James encourages us to find joy in the trials that test our faith.

Please Re-Tweet

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church).

Jesus, the Just One

Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
Matthew 12:18

“It’s not fair.” A sentence exclaimed when a person believes that have not been treated as they should. Or, in my experience, exclaimed when a person does not get what they want. When we talk about justice we seem to apply this same underlying definition. It makes sense that these two words get used interchangeably since fairness is used to define justice in the dictionary. I think in our hearts we have a better understanding of the definition of justice. Just look at the themes and titles in the Christian section of any bookstore. The major theme is God’s mercy. We all love God’s mercy. Now, God’s justice? Well, good thing we have his mercy to take care of that issue. Deep down, even when we incorrectly cry out injustice towards ourselves, our clinging to God’s mercy demonstrates our acknowledgement of what we truly deserve.  Paul writes in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” And so we love to hear of God’s mercy and cry foul when we are confronted with his justice.
Let’s take a step back. I think justice deserves another look. God’s justice is as desirable a virtue for us to cling to in our relationship with God as mercy. It is an attribute of himself that he calls us to desire, “He has told you, O man, what is good; 
And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, 
and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) In the ministry and mission of Jesus we are given an example of justice.
In the parable of the workers in the field (Matt 20:1-16) Jesus tells of a landowner who went out to find workers to tend his field. As the day went on he gathered more workers. When it was time for everyone to get paid the ones who had been there since the morning expected to be paid more. The farmer paid everyone the same amount. Just as we might do, they became angry at being treated “unfairly” because they worked longer. The farmer reminded the workers what they agreed on for their wage and that he did not break that promise. In the same way, Jesus teaches us that his justice will never waiver. That is a priceless security. What he has promised he will do. His justice is unchanging.
We are called to show this same justice to others. Jesus shows us that everyone is worthy of being treated with the dignity in which they were created. He reached out to the lowest in society’s eyes and brought them the same gift of salvation. There are not different levels in heaven for economic classes, ethnic groups, or occupations. It is to all people he offers the gift of heaven. We are commissioned to share that same justice and invite all people to become workers in the Lord’s fields.

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Conversion as a Resurrection Experience

'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "  Luke 15:31-32

In the story of the prodigal son, we have two sons who make drastically different life decisions.  One stays and works on his father’s farm, while the other takes his inheritance and goes away from his father.  After ‘experiencing’ the world and finding it wanting, he returns to his father, not expecting forgiveness, but merely the safety of the farm and employment.
This is a story of our relationship with God.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve took their inheritance early by eating from the tree and separated themselves from God.  As children of the Fall, we have all found ourselves in the stress and sin of the world.  Deep within there is a longing to come back into our Father’s protection.  Just like the prodigal son, when we return to God, we find not only peace in our heart, but forgiveness from our sins.
Conversion is a turning toward God.  In the Christian faith, it is acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior and following the will of the Father through the aid of the Holy Spirit.  Cradle Catholics can make the mistake of thinking this is an experience for those who have never been in the Church, or have never believed in God. 
In fact, each one of us who believe and follow Christ must share in this experience.  At some point in our lives we make a decision to turn towards God with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  Whether this looks like a dramatic moment in time, or a slower, less poignant moment, the conversion experience has the same power.
When we give our lives to Christ, we share in His resurrection power.  We who were dead in sin become alive again in Christ.  Through the power of Christ, death is conquered in our lives and we become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).          

Believers focus on strengthening their relationship with God during Lent.  This may mean repentance from sins that are keeping them from a full life with God.  This repentance, or turning away from sin and back towards God are smaller conversion experiences.  Even after our initial conversion experience, there are times that we lose focus and become once again consumed by the world.  During these times it is important to not only look upon the cross, but also to remember the power of the Resurrection.  Turn once again towards God and reclaim yourself for your God this Lent.     

“I am the resurrection and the life.”  John 11:25

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Personal Faith and Spreading the Faith

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

When I was twelve years old I remember sitting in church on Sunday and it hit me that there was something big going on in this place.  For the first time I began to make my faith my own.  It was something I wanted in my life, not just an event that happened once a week.  In fact, I joke with my friends that one of my “rebellious” actions as a teenager was my strong desire to attend church by myself. 

In college I had a crisis in my faith. A friend was challenging me about why I believed what I believed.  She grew up Southern Baptist and had a lot of questions.  God broke me through this experience.  At the same time He used my brokenness to grow my faith.  I finally understood the “whys” behind all the doctrines I had been taught growing up. 

God gave me plenty of opportunities to share my faith after this experience.  I had to practice putting 1 Peter 3:15 in my life.  Learning to share my faith with compassion.  Learning to speak in love and not worry about winning the argument. 

We are each called to come to Christ in a personal relationship.  Once there, we join the Communion of Saints in growing closer to our Lord and King.  Part of growing closer to Christ is joining in His mission to spread the Good News, to share our faith.  Jesus commands us to  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)  We are all called to evangelize the mission field God has placed us in.

John Paul II stated in Redemptoris Missio that “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”  In our lives we are to proclaim Christ through words and deeds.  Evangelization is not reserved to the street preacher or the foreign missionary.  We are all called to “give the reason for the hope” we have. 

Sharing your faith can be as simple as telling others about how God has worked in your life.  You can also share your faith through your actions; how you treat your co-workers, your family, and the strangers you encounter during your day. 

For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor 9: 16) 

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Mary: Our Model Evangelizer

 Mary is not counted among the apostles. She is not a Doctor of the Church. She did not write a book in scripture. Despite these, she is our great example of discipleship, faithfulness, and evangelization. She was the first to say yes to the call of bringing the good news to the world. In a most literal sense, she carried the Good News for nine months in her womb. She remained at the foot of the cross while the apostles fled in fear. After her time on earth, she has come back in different times and places with one mission, to call people to her son.
More than anyone, Mary’s life is focused on pointing the world to the message of Christ. She follows Paul’s command “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). Unfortunately, throughout Church history, people have been attracted to Mary and stopped there. They have admired her role as the Mother of God, but have forgotten her purpose. In her revelations around the world, her continual message is for people to turn to her son, to worship him, and to believe in his everlasting mercy.
At the wedding at Cana, when the servants did not know what to do about the wine she told them, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). With that declaration she set into motion Christ’s public ministry. This strength to submit to God’s will and cooperate with Christ’s mission of salvation for all did not come from quick decisions. Several times we are given of glimpse of how she lived out her faith and was able to trust in events unfolding during her life on earth. As events to place she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). She hid Gods word in her heart (Psalm 119:11) and through that was able to witness to the world with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
What does this all mean for us? How does it affect our faith journeys? We are all called in baptism to be priests, prophets, and kings. As we look at Mary’s role as the great evangelizer, we are given an example of our role as prophets. Whether we are sent to proclaim the Good News on a street corner, or quietly writing letters to friends who may not yet believe, we are all called to always point to Christ. Learn to say yes to God, trust in his provisions to help us in the mission he gives, and declare through our lives the reason for our hope.

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church). 

Practicing Justice Through Mercy and Forgiveness

Jimmy Buffet once wrote in a song, “Relationships, we all got ‘em, we all want ‘em.  What do we do with ‘em?”  While he was talking specifically about romantic relationships, I think his sentiments could be pointed at the root desire of everyone, which is being in communion with others.  God created us to be in communion, so it is no surprise that all of our struggles contain a dimension of relationship issues.

One answer in relieving the struggles is to understand God’s justice and how it relates to our relationships.  Our society today conditions us to make judgments first and then perhaps later find out the truth behind a person.  Along with that it seems like somewhere in our middle school years we learn to judge first has a defense, or social survival method.  If we never move beyond influences like these in our life, and look at relationships with God’s justice, I think we are destined to struggle.

Justice here is defined as “a moral quality or habit, which perfects the will and inclines it to render to each and to all what belongs to them” (Catholic Encyclopedia). That which most certainly belongs to each person is the dignity and worth given to them by God. That does not render them faultless, nor sinless. It does place upon us the responsibility in our relationships of practicing justice towards them. In doing so, we may be bringing them, and ourselves, closer in relationship with Christ.

All of us have made decisions in our past that we would rather not let people know about because they may reject us.  On the other side, there have been people in our lives who have revealed parts of their lives, which made us want to reject them.  God’s justice asks us to show mercy and forgiveness towards others and ourselves.  Lack of forgiveness traps a person within a space in time.  Showing justice through God’s mercy, we can help set that person free from that decision or habit, and allow them to move on to truly live in the dignity God gave them.

In order to practice God's justice we need to begin by suspending judgment on others. This is difficult in a world where, whether we publicly subscribe to it or not, our society trains us to make a judgment first, and perhaps show mercy later.  One of the most telling scriptures showing God’s justice through mercy is the woman caught in adultery (John 8).   The people were quick to judge her and dispense worldly justice.  Christ never said she was not committing a sin.  In fact, he ends by telling her to go and sin no more.  His justice requires mercy.  In our relationships we to need to practice God’s justice by first showing God’s mercy.

Ask yourself these questions:  Do I show God’s justice to others?  Am I willing to look beyond where a person has been to where they are and want to be?  What are some common judgments I pass on others?

**This article was written for Today's Disciple (a magazine published by my parent's church in Orlando, FL: St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church).