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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Legend of the Cedar

My First Storm
In my very first post I wrote about how I wanted to see how I could grow closer to God through the “Storms of Life.” Up until just a few nights ago, by some miracle I really haven’t had to face a bad storm. Cold yes… some drizzling yes…but not a storm.

Tuesday night I found myself walking out my back door with the rain pounding in front of me. I know tents are not water proof so I had honestly thought I may not be able to sleep outside, but I still wanted to make sure. Sprinting out to my Eureka home, I unzipped my front door and dove inside. Surprisingly enough it was completely dry!

Hearing the rain splashing above me I pulled out my Lenten devotional and read the following story. I don’t think it could have been any more perfect.

The Legend of the Cedar
It was a terrible storm and the angel needed shelter from the blinding rain. A nearby cedar saw the angel’s plight and opened its branches to protect the angel from the rain and wind. 

In gratitude, the angel prayed that the cedar would bear a fruit which would bless all people. God heard about the kindness of the cedar tree, and decided to answer the angel’s prayer.

The cedar was chosen to be the wood used for the cross of Jesus.

I Lay it Down
Sitting there in my tent I found myself in awe of what I had just read, yet at first I could not understand why. There was no explanation of the story, or recap, or “how to apply this to your life,” simply those words on a page next to the date of April 19th. So I read the story again…and again…and eventually it hit me. I am the Cedar tree.

My entire life I have always strived to do good things. I volunteered to feed families for thanksgiving in high school, signed up for two little Brothers in college, and eventually became a missionary on a college campus. I have seen many in need, and I have done all I can to cover them from the storms they face. I think God was rejoicing at the fact that I was able to help a child of His in need, but in His infinite wisdom knows that to bear any fruit that I must die to myself and embrace His redemptive plan.
That Cedar tree had to die in order to become the Cross. If I allow Him, God could use me to bring His love to this world instead of me simply trying to give my own. I just pray that I may have the strength to say yes to whatever that may be. 

“Everything I am…Everything I long to be…I lay it down at your feet.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Road to Seminary

The Beginning
Sophomore year of high school I still remember sitting there on the last day of a huge Lifeteen retreat. I'm crammed in the back of a gym with 2000 others from all across the nation. We just finished Mass and at the end the presiding Priest asked any man who felt they may be called to the vocation of the priesthood to stand, come forward, and receive a blessing.

Slowly men around me all began to stand and walk forward. The crowd began to cheer and the room was filled with great joy at the Spirit leading these men to be open to such a radical call. Although I felt a great burning in my heart I was hesitant because I knew what it meant if I stood. It meant I would not be able to marry a woman. As I continued to watch men pour forward towards the stage my own desire to join eventually was to much to ignore. I stood, left my seat, tripped over my friends, and jogged up to meet about one hundred other men at the front of the stage to receive a blessing.

It only took a few days for that burning desire to subside and my own fears and desires about becoming a priest to take over. After the retreat it was rarely talked about amongst my friends. The adult leaders brought it up a few times saying that I would make a great priest one day, but I would push those thoughts to the side thinking "they have to say that...or yeah but God wants me to be happy, and I just don't see that being where he wants me to be."

A cycle of wanting to become a priest and not wanting to becoming a priest continued throughout high school and college. I told many of my friends at GCSU about it, and I would always get a lot of encouragement, but I never did anything about it. I was honestly too scared.

The Vocation Retreat
This past December I found myself at Mass the day before Christmas. The same Lifeteen program that brought me on that retreat was volunteering that day to decorate the Church. Being 6'5 I of course felt compelled to help!

It has now been over 4 years since I left the program so I did not know many of the students involved. I began to strike up a conversation with many of them, but one in particular I will never forget. A senior named Taylor told me he was heading on a vocations retreat for the Archdiocese of Atlanta the next week and he invited me to come along!

After Christmas I found myself on the phone with the vocations director and of course spots were still available. I called old roommate from college, Scott Samford and convinced him to come with me. Being a missionary himself, it wasn't very hard, and it was nice to have the company.

After the retreat was over I knew one thing, it was that I knew nothing. I was not certain at all about who I was or who God was calling me to be.

Lent in a Tent
This past lent I have been meditating on two quotes:

"In order to give oneself, one must first possess himself"

"Anyone who looks at another as a means to an end does violence to that very person." 

John Paul II

My teammates Steve and Anne Marie gave a talk the week before lent started on JPII's theology of the body. These quotes truly struck me, but of course being unprepared I did not write them down. Fortunately just a few days after lent began I found a piece of paper with them written on it. They were Steve's notes and he told me I should keep them. They didn't leave my pocket for an entire week, and when they finally did it was only because I had engraved them in my memory.

After 22 years of life I would have liked to think I had possessed myself, but I could not be farther from it. This quote turned my prayer from asking God to help me be more like others whom I admire, and asking Him to help me be more like the person He created me to be. The more time I spent in prayer, the more I felt the joy and the peace that one day he may be calling me to the priesthood.

The second quote has only confirmed my desire and calling to the priesthood as I know I am not looking at God the same way I have looked at all my relationships in the past. As I look back it's easy for me to see how much I looked to my past girlfriends to be the source of my happiness. I wanted to know someone could love me even if I didn't already love myself. I was looking at them to fulfill all I had been told I should desire and all I believed would make me happy...and by doing that I was not only doing violence to myself but more importantly I was doing violence to them. I am so sorry.

My call to the priesthood is a different kind of desire. I am not looking to God to fulfill my desires, but it is I who desire to give myself to God and His Church. I can't help but just smile at the thought of being able to lay down my life in this way. Today my prayer is no longer "God are you calling me to seminary?" but "God if you are not calling me to seminary let me know..because I am heading that way."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

One Body in Christ

So we are on day 22 (Sundays do not count as part of 40 days of lent) and for all of you who are taking part in a lenten sacrifice with me know this is probably the hardest time on the journey. The excitement of receiving ashes and sharing with your friends that you are giving up sweets or sleeping in a tent is long gone. We are the nitty gritty weeks where we truly see what we are made of. It is during this time that I believe we truly get a good look at who we are, and where we are in our own journey with Christ.

The Temptation 
Last night I think I had my first real temptation throughout my entire journey. My roommate Steve left for Colorado Thursday afternoon and so I knew that this weekend was probably the last weekend of the year I would have the house to myself. Although I love the man I am not going to lie I was pretty excited! This meant I would not have to do dishes right away, I could play music as loud as I would like, and I knew I would not have to share the N64! Steve and I both love Zelda and we take turns playing all the time, so the idea of not having to worry about hogging the t.v. was as exciting as watching grandma's apple pie bake in the oven on thanksgiving! I was really looking forward to it!

Last night I walked into the house at 10 pm after a long day at Church and just getting a lot of things done. I was tired but I also felt great at all I was able to accomplish, and so of course I decided to reward myself with a game of Zelda. I don't know if any of you have ever played Zelda or any adventure video game but seriously it was like I didn't even blink and it was already 2 a.m! That was the longest I have ever played a solo video game like that since I was a kid! All that I felt like I had accomplished during the day diminished into a feeling of exhaustion and regret of playing for 4 straight hours. I immediately thought of all I could have accomplished instead....such as updating the blog, cleaning my room, or even reading more Narnia. It was in that time of regret that I turned and noticed a little rain and wind outside. I was not prepared to enter the tent.

My feelings from my last blog about a cold front coming in could not have been more right. I knew God would not make sleeping outside that easy for me. This past week it's been getting into the low 20's at night. The other day I even woke up to frost and snow was beginning to fall! So of course being really tired and having no immediate accountability from Steve, I honestly thought about sleeping inside. I don't think my bed has ever looked more warm and comfortable than at that moment.

I will tell you the only thing that kept me from getting in that bed at that moment is that I knew I would regret telling everyone that I failed. Of course I wouldn't have too, no one would no if I didn't tell them, and I probably would have said it in a way that would not make me look as bad such as "the weather was just to rough" or "I wasn't felling well enough to be outside." But I knew the truth, and I thank you for helping me stay accountable simply by reading this blog. It was because of you that I put on my two layers of socks, sweatpants, jacket, and hoodie, and went outside to face the cold.

The truth is that as soon as I stepped outside I noticed the rain died down to nothing but a light drizzle and the inside of my tent was still completely dry. Just like all the other cold nights once I got into my sleeping bag I was fine. I warmed up, set my alarm, and thank God for the strength to embrace the tent for one more night. I went right to sleep.

The Lesson
In light of what happened last night, it hit me that we are not people who are called to be alone. It was being in am empty house and having no accountability that I put myself in a position to choose my own comfort over my own love for God. Having a community of brothers and sisters that are running the same race with you makes it so much easier than being on an empty track. What I am trying to say is that I miss Steve and I cannot wait for Him to come back!

For anyone else who may be struggling to remain faithful with their sacrifice or have had similar temptation, I wanted to help remind you, as I reminded myself last night, the reason we chose to make a lenten sacrifice in the first place. It was to show that nothing on this world could possibly provide more happiness and pure joy than that of having a relationship with Christ. So together for 40 days we are wiling to give up the gifts of this world and make them our own offering to God. Demonstrating not only by prayer or simply Church attendance, but by our very actions, that He is the only thing worth living for...worth dying for. It is difference between being at the foot of the cross and being on the cross. Just as he chose to freely be crucified, we freely give up our comforts so rightly given to us, so that we may participate in His sorrowful passion.

Last night sleeping in the cold did not bring me immediate happiness, but I will tell you when I woke up this morning I was so thankful and I rejoiced that I was given another night to show God just how much I loved Him.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

7 Guys....1 Van....31 hours....One Unforgettable Week

The Grand Canyon! All of us resting above the Colorado River.
Camping out West

Last week was spring break for IUPUI so 7 of us (four students, myself, my teammate Steve, and a friend of ours named Joe) hit the road for Arizona. After 31 very long hours, sleeping with elbows pinched to my sides, and with my entire body yelling at me for not moving for so long, I will admit I had my doubts. But as you can see from the view above it was definitely worth it!

We also took advantage of daily Mass at a local church in town, St. John Vianney. The priest there was so funny and very welcoming. On only our second day in town he told us to come back and use his shower (I'm guessing he could smell us coming down the communion line) After hiking the Grand Canyon on Wednesday (check out the picture above!) we took him up on his offer and took our only shower of the week Thursday morning.

Hitting the Old Dusty Trail

My favorite moment of the week was listening to Michael Connor share his experience while hiking a trail just footsteps away from our camp site. Michael Connor, at senior at IUPUI, was recently accepted into seminary and he told us he definitely see's himself giving a homily on the Christian journey from being on the trail. Here a preview of it below.

If all we did our entire hike was look down and just try not to trip (which is exactly what I was doing most of the time) we could easily miss all the beauty that surrounds us. It is only when we take the time to be still and look up that God's glory and beauty is so clearly revealed. 

And that its true that most of our hike will consist of taking one step at a time, but we also have to remember our end goal. It's not simply to "not trip" but its to make it to the top of the mountain. When we do trip we get back up, shake the dust off, and look up to the top. Always remembering that is why we began the trail in the first place. 

Our goal as Christians is not simply to get through life. We constantly need to look up and be reminded by God why we began the journey, it was to be with him. And as we walk the trail we pick up anyone who may have seemed to have lost their way and point them straight to the top of the mountain, reminding them once we get there we can finally rest and gaze upon the most beautiful sight we have ever seen.

St. Augustine. -"Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Night One: Camping on Camp Street

Camping off of Camp Street
My first night on camp street was absolutely epic. Maybe it was just the excitement of starting something new, but I think I needed this more than I realized I did! After just a few minutes it wasn't the cold or the rain that wanted me to go back inside, but it was the desire to get on my computer and get on my phone, the two things I do every single night right before I fall asleep. Once I made the realization that I didn't need to do anything right away, and that between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am nothing was going to change, I was able to freely let go and honestly just rest!

The Art of Silence
To be honest the epicness really didn't come from something, but actually out of nothing...silence. After reading and saying a few prayers I turned off my LED flashlight and just sat in complete silence with God. This may seem crazy but somehow silence outside is more intimate than silence inside. The sound of the wind, the trees, the occasional police siren...it just brings me to a natural state of relaxation and the ability to just be sill and know that He is God. Although I wasn't saying or doing anything a great sense of fulfillment came over me. It made me even more excited to see what God has in store for the days ahead. I will be in Arizona in just a few days!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Journey Begins Tonight

Being a FOCUS missionary I have an incredible opportunity to grow into a deeper relationship with our Lord on a daily basis. In fact I am actually expected too, and I should be, as I would not be an effective missionary without daily communication with God.

This time of Lent I know God is calling me into an even deeper relationship with Him. Instead of giving up desserts or praying a daily rosary as I have done in the past, this lent I have decided to offer up every single night to Him.

I am not much of a camper, but that is about to change. My nights are going to consist of sleeping in my backyard and using that time to read, write, and grow as a man.

I am pumped as any man would be. Although I am not entering the wilderness I am excited to begin this challenge and write about how God can work through even during the cold and rainy nights here in great city of Indianapolis.